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Air Attack!

[ 67 ] February 3, 2015 |

I turned my listicle-sense to attack aircraft last week:

Is the dedicated attack aircraft a dying breed? Few air forces are developing new attack aircraft, preferring to rely on fighter-bombers carrying precision-guided munitions to do the dirty work of close air support and battlefield interdiction. But then it has always been such; tactical attack has long been shunted to the side by air forces more interested in fast fighters and majestic bombers. Many of the attack aircraft used in World War II began design life as fighters, only becoming attack planes when they “failed.” And yet these attack aircraft have, over the years, ably performed one of the most critical airpower missions—the destruction of the fielded forces of the enemy, and the support of friendly ground troops.

Do not read the comments!

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[ 62 ] February 3, 2015 |

For what seems like half of my life and the entire time I have written at this site, I have been talking about my logging book. Well, as of today, Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests is under contract with Cambridge University Press. No official publication date yet, but it should be sometime next year and I will keep readers posted.

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The Moops-Invaded-Spain Argument Is Farcical, But Not Funny

[ 68 ] February 3, 2015 |

How many people would die were a bare majority of the Supreme Court to accept the risible argument that the ACA did not make tax credits available on federally established exchanges? The answer is a grim one:

In a brief to the Supreme Court, dozens of public health scholars, along with the American Public Health Association, detail the harm the Court would create by ruling for the challengers in King vs. Burwell. Most of their analysis is rooted in the basic point that stripping insurance away from eight million people would dramatically impede their access to the health system. But they also flesh out the corollary argument that an adverse ruling would have deadly consequences, and ballpark the number of avoidable deaths such a ruling would cause.

“Researchers found that, in the first four years of the [health care reform] law in Massachusetts, for every 830 adults gaining insurance coverage there was one fewer death per year,” the brief reads. “Using the national estimate that 8.2 million people can be expected to lose health insurance in the absence of subsidies on the federal marketplace, this ratio equates to over 9,800 additional Americans dying each year. Although the specific policy context and population impacts of any policy cannot be directly extrapolated from one setting to another, the general magnitude and power of these findings from the Massachusetts study demonstrate that even when approached cautiously, these earlier findings carry enormous public health implications for withdrawing subsidies and coverage from millions of Americans.”

The Moops-invaded-Spain argument might be a joke, but the consequences of the Supreme Court buying it would be anything but.

I also see that Michael Strain has a reply to his critics. It seems to consist of inhabiting the moderate Republican equivalent of the lefty alternate reality where Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman were ready to nationalize the American health insurance industry had Barack Obama only been willing to ask them in the right way:

Responding to critics in a followup article, Strain brushes this all aside by stipulating that Republicans would never allow all this suffering. “I think it’s very likely that the congressional GOP would enact some sort of replacement if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare,” he writes. “They would very likely take measures to address the needs of those who lost their subsidies as a result of the Court’s action.”

To back up his suspicions, he cites a suspiciously limited set of news reports, quoting Republicans who claim to be working on such a plan—or, at least “talking about how to build consensus on a replacement.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sorry, my mistake — it’s the precise equivalent of lefties who think that Lincoln Chafee was a fair representative of Republican health care policy thinking, and Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich were totally serious about advancing his ideas.

It’s just amazing that anyone could write that with a straight face. We’ve repeatedly seen that the Republican offer to the uninsured is “nothing.” We have seen one Republican statehouse after another refuse a very generously funded Medicaid expansion. We have seen a legal argument based on tendentious misreadings and outright lies that would result in 10,000 or so deaths a year be taken seriously by federal judges. But congressional Republicans would never let anyone die because they lack health coverage, heavens no!

I’ll leave the punchline to Brian:

He does not quote from this Wall Street Journal article titled, “Republicans to Block Legislative Fix to Health-Care Law,” or this article by TPM’s Sahil Kapur titled, “Republicans Are At A Loss On What To Do If SCOTUS Nixes Obamacare Subsidies.”

I’ll give Adler and Cannon this: they may be lying to others, but at least they’re not lying to themselves about what they want to accomplish.

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The New Republican Public Health Agenda Leaps Ahead Hourly

[ 108 ] February 3, 2015 |

It’s not just vaccinations that are outraging Republicans. It’s also government requirements for restaurant sanitation. Senator Thom Tills (R-Art Pope):

On Monday, the freshman senator ended his talk at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) with a story to illustrate his philosophy on government regulations.

“I was having this discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,” Tillis recalled. “Let an industry or business opt out as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment, literature, whatever else. There’s this level of regulations that maybe they’re on the books, but maybe you can make a market-based decision as to whether or not they should apply to you.”

Tillis said that at about that time, a Starbucks employee came out of one of the restrooms.

“Don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentlemen to wash his hands before he serves your food is important?” Tillis was asked by the person at his table.

“I think it’s one I can illustrate the point,” Tillis told the women. “I said, I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as the post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restrooms.’ The market will take care of that.”

I look forward to Republican candidates debating over just how unsanitary restaurants should be in the 2016 primary debates.

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About that new Harper Lee novel…

[ 15 ] February 3, 2015 |

…it’s important to remember something about statements like this one reprinted in the BBC:

“I hadn’t realised it [the original book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it,” Lee continued. “After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication.”

Namely, that they were in all likelihood written by her “dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter,” who has been writing such statements on Lee’s behalf — if not with her knowledge — since at least 2012.

In an interview with NPR last year the author of The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills, noted that the blind and deaf Lee — who recently suffered a stroke — often signs any document put in front of her by Carter.

I know everyone is very excited to read this sequel/prequel of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I have a feeling that something very sad precipitated this novel’s publication, and that it involves taking advantage of an elderly woman.

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Is Vaccination Mythology-Curious Official GOP Policy

[ 151 ] February 3, 2015 |


First Chris Christie, then the Only Progressive Choice in 2016, and now Rep. Sean Duffy:

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) became the latest Republican on Tuesday to speak out against vaccine mandates, saying: “We should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do.”

“I want that to be my choice as a parent,” Duffy, a father of seven, said said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rundown With José Díaz-Balart.” “I know my kids best. I know what morals and values are right for my children. I think we should not have an oppressive state telling us what to do.”

Duffy’s remarks came as an outbreak of measles — a potentially fatal disease thought to be eradicated from the U.S. just 15 years ago thanks to safe and effective vaccination — had sickened more than 100 Americans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) came under heavy criticism Monday for appearing to align themselves with the anti-vaccine movement.

The Wisconsin congressman explicitly defended vaccine critics, saying: “I think a lot of parents who are smart, well-read — they’re the ones who are choosing not to vaccinate. And oftentimes, those who may not be as well-read — they are vaccinating. So to say you just have a bunch of crackpots who are choosing not to do this to their children, I just don’t think that’s actually true.”

Will Jeb Bush have to make an anti-vaccination statement to remain relevant in 2016? Many people in bed with measles are excited to find out!

Can we change the GOP symbol from the elephant to a 10 year doubling over from a whooping cough fit?

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“A child would know it, he’s right. You’re going to make something up, be sure it will help or keep your mouth closed.”

[ 38 ] February 3, 2015 |

Above: Michael Cannon (5)

ACA Troofers-in-Chief Adler and Cannon claim to have a letter showing that 11 House Democrats thought that tax credits would not be available on the federally established exchanges.  You may not be entirely surprised to find out that the letter does not say what they say it does:

While a different brief for the ACA’s opponents continues to beat the Gruber dead horse, he is mercifully absent from the Adler/Cannon brief. Instead, the lawsuit’s architects cite a letter sent by 11 Texas House Democrats, which they say constitutes evidence for the assertion that “[m]any House members disapproved of the Senate passed PPACA, some because they recognized it conditioned subsidies on states creating Exchanges.”

Adler and Cannon’s characterization of the letter is blatantly dishonest. It says absolutely nothing about subsidies being unavailable on federally established exchanges. The letter’s argument that under the Senate bill “millions of people will be left no better off than before Congress acted” — which Adler and Cannon quote — is preceded by a discussion of how some conservative states have cut or failed to expand benefits under Medicaid and CHIPRA.

In other words, the concern of the Texas Democrats is not that federally established exchanges would not provide subsidies to insurance purchasers. Rather, their concern is that if conservative states established exchanges they would do so badly, and hence make it impossible for some residents to obtain affordable insurance. Adler and Cannon stand the meaning of the letter on its head.

Tacitly recognizing that the argument they attribute to the House Democrats is not remotely supported by the text, Adler and Cannon attempt to conscript one of the country’s foremost health care reporters into their crusade, citing an NPR report by Julie Rovner to buttress their misreading of the letter’s meaning. But, again, nothing in Rovner’s story says that the Senate bill would not provide subsidies on federally established exchanges. I contacted Rovner by email, and she confirmed that “there was never any discussion about only state exchanges offering subsidies that I was party to. I never meant to imply it in my story.”

Wait — it gets even worse for Adler and Cannon. The letter not only fails to lend a shred of support for their argument, it also destroys another of their key claims. One of the many problems with their approach is that it nonsensically assumes that Congress established a federal backstop that was intended to fail. Responding to this obvious objection, Adler and Cannon have suggested that Congress “reasonably expected that states” would establish exchanges, which explains why they didn’t bother to provide the subsidies. The letter cited by Adler and Cannon in this brief, however, makes clear that this assumption is erroneous.  “A number of states opposed to health reform have already expressed an interest in obstruction,” the Texas Democrats correctly observe.

The federal backstop was not created by accident — it was in the bill because it was well understood that not every state would establish an exchange before the deadline, and because failing to create a workable federal exchange would provide strong incentives for conservative state governments to obstruct the ACA.

As things stand, then, the only evidence for the Moops-invaded-Spain theory is the comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Governor of all 50 states, and Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Jonathan Gruber.  (Note: offer void in 2010 or 2014.)

One footnote about this double own-goal is that I believe that for a long time Adler’s position was that evidence about the intent of House members was irrelevant because the ACA was a Senate bill. Apparently, this “principle” was applicable until he thought he found “evidence” that supported his interpretation of the statute. (This kind of thing is apparently more widespread than you’d prefer to think.) I’d hope that if I was going to make things up in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court I’d have a better cause than “kicking millions of people off their health insurance,” though.

Finally, let us turn things over to Daniel Davies:

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

…since there’s been some confusion on this on social media, I should clarify that I didn’t write the title. On the question of how the Supreme Court is likely to rule, I remain a doomsayer.

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Syllabus: U.S Social and Economic Policy

[ 33 ] February 3, 2015 |

Apparently I must have done well enough last time to merit another class at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, because this semester, I’m teaching PADM 611, “U.S Social and Economic Policy.” In this class, we’re going to be breaking down the normal barriers that separate the study of social and economic policy, to study the impacts of economic policy on social policy and the economic implications of social policy. We start with the development of social and economic policy in the new American state, and how these two tracks of policy-making interacted from the emergence of the United States through to the major “big bangs” of the New Deal and the Great Society. We will then examine intensively how the new world of regulated “mixed market” capitalism and the welfare state was dismantled in the 1970s through 1990s, and what the future holds for both social and economic policy.

Anyway, I thought I’d post my syllabus here for anyone who’s interested. Also, if you have any recommendations for documentaries about NYC and the 1970s urban crisis, I’m all ears.

Read more…

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America’s Progressive Alternative in 2016 Defends Inalienable Right of Children to Contract Whooping Cough

[ 135 ] February 2, 2015 |

America’s foremost civil libertarian stands up for the most important liberties once again, trumping that squish Chris Christie:

The default position of most Republicans, and Republican candidates, is that individuals can be trusted and the government can’t. How does that manifest when Republicans are asked about vaccine mandates? Kentucky Senator Rand Paul gave a demonstration on Monday when conservative radio host Laura Ingraham asked him to respond to the measles story.

“I’m not anti-vaccine at all, but particularly, most of them ought to be voluntary,” said Paul. “What happens if you have somebody not wanting to take the smallpox vaccine and it ruins it for everybody else? I think there are times in which there can be some rules, but for the first part it ought to be voluntary.”

And surely this principled libertarian stand also has a sound scientific basis?

More crankishly, Paul actually endorsed the belief that vaccines can cause autism. “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he argued very, very wrongly.

Since he also opposes Obama’s bailout of the health insurance industry, I think your vote in 2016 should be obvious.

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No matter how thoroughly I am assimilated by the neuroscience borg …

[ 46 ] February 2, 2015 |

… and I basically have been, in my heart, I will always love psychology because you can teach chicks to walk towards cards with dots, and it deservedly becomes a Science paper. This is so cool.

The short version: The authors put some baby chicks in a compartment and taught them that food was behind a square with five dots. Then they removed that card and replaced it with two identical cards on either side of the compartment. In one condition the cards both had two dots. In another condition the cards had eight dots. When the cards had two dots, chicks walked to the left card 70% of the time. When both cards had 8 dots they went to the right card 70% of the time. In other words, when they thought of the number on the card as relatively small, they moved to the left. When they thought of it as relatively big, they moved to the right. And then in a second experiment the chicks were were trained on a card with twenty dots and chose between two cards that both had 8 dots in one condition or two cards with 32 dots. Now the eight dot cards represented a relatively smaller number, and the 32 dot cards represented a bigger one. And still, when they were looking at the smaller number, they preferred to walk toward the left. When they were looking at the bigger one, they walked toward the right. So chicks apparently have an innate number line that’s ordered from left to right, and that’s pretty suggestive that the tendency to left-to-right ordering of the human number line is innate too.

I have a particular interest in emotion research, so my eye was caught by this paragraph in the Perspective:

What is the role of emotions in the spatialization of magnitudes? In both natural environments and laboratory situations, “more” is commonly equivalent to “better.” Chicks, like other animals, prefer more over less food and prefer to follow many rather than few companions. In animals and humans, the left cerebral hemisphere is specialized for the processing of positive emotions, the right hemisphere for negative emotions. If more feels better, could the left hemisphere’s positivity bias favor an association of larger magnitudes with the right side of space, which it primarily controls?

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Can The Worst Play Call In Super Bowl History Be Defended? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 156 ] February 2, 2015 |

Before we get to the #Slatepitch #Voxpitch, you should read Barnwell if you haven’t. In particular, Edelman and especially Hightower aren’t getting enough credit. He also persuades me that Lockette deserves more blame for the decisive pick than Wilson. (My general point on that still stands: Lockette is what he is. Not only is he a very marginal player, the reason he draws an NFL paycheck is his downfield speed. If Bevell thought he was good at winning one-on-one battles in tight spaces with corners he wouldn’t be a backup player among one of the weakest groups of wideouts in the league. It’s wrong on multiple levels for Bevell to try to deflect the blame onto Lockette.)

On the issue of The Play, he makes some attempts to defend the abstract logic of the play, but this is the key point that leads him to his conclusion that it can’t be defended:

The key phrase there, of course, is “in a vacuum.” This wasn’t a vacuum. This was the Seahawks and the Patriots, and while the size of the stage shouldn’t matter, the matchups should. As I mentioned in my Super Bowl preview, this was a matchup specifically built for running the football with Lynch in short yardage. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were the worst team in the league in power-running situations and fifth-worst in terms of stuffing the opposition for no gain or a loss. Seattle was the second-best power running team and the sixth-best team at avoiding stuffs. If there was ever a matchup that called for a team to live and die on the back of its running game from the 1-yard line, this was it.

Right. It’s not hard to construct a general argument in favor of a pass. But on one hand, Lynch against the Patriots short-yardage rush defense is the most favorable matchup the Seahwaks have. And on the other, the Seattle wideouts against the Patriots secondary is by far the most favorable matchup for New England. If New England is in that situation, a pass makes perfect sense. Brady has a case as the greatest QB in history because of his laser-precise short passes, and he has multiple viable targets on any pass play, allowing him to search for a bad matchup. For Seattle, it’s a different story. You’re obviously not challenging Revis with Baldwin, Kearse didn’t get open and also isn’t very good, leaving only one viable target who isn’t the one you want to have to make a play. And while Wilson isn’t Tim Tebow on short passes or anything, he’s also not Brady — having him try to make an absolutely perfect throw on an inside slant isn’t a good use of his strengths.

With all that, there’s still a possible case. Barnwell made this point, but I think the contrarian floor belongs properly to Yglesias here:

In incomplete pass stops the game clock. An unsuccessful run does not. A timeout also stops the clock, and Seattle only had one timeout left. So if the Seahawks had run on second down and failed to get a touchdown, they would have had to call timeout.

Now, it’s third down, and they have no timeouts left. So if they run on third and fail, the game is over. But if they pass on third and fail, the clock will stop, and they can run another play. So they basically have to pass on third, and the New England defense knows they have to pass.

By contrast, if you throw on second down and fail, the clock stops. Now it’s third down, and you still have your time out. That means you could run on third, fail, and use the timeout to stop the clock and run another play on fourth down. That means New England has to defend against both the pass and the run, which puts Seattle in a more advantageous strategic position than they would be had they run and failed.

Unlike Bevell’s gibberish, this makes a certain amount of sense. Because of two unnecessarily burned timeouts from the School of Andy Reid, Seattle probably couldn’t have run the ball three times. If you can’t run three times, why not do it on the down where you gain the most strategic advantage?

I still don’t really buy it because of the matchup question. But, again, while the logic can defend calling a pass it certainly can’t defend the play that Bevell actually called. The argument collapses on itself because they made no attempt to disguise that the play was a pass. The formation was a shotgun with three wideouts, not a goaline formation that would signal a run. There was no attempt to fake to Lynch or roll Wilson out, which would create deception as well as being better tailored to Wilson’s strengths. There are pass plays in that context that are potentially defensible — but a pass out of a passing formation so obviously telegraphed that a rookie with fewer than 200 pro snaps could read the play perfectly is very definitely not one of them. They didn’t get any strategic advantage from calling that play on 2nd down, and so we’re left with them passing on their most favorable talent matchup and getting their worst.

There’s a related issue that returns me to the most important takeaway to the game. Carroll suggested that he was surprised by how the Patriots reacted to the personnel they sent on to the field, hence Carroll talking about “wasting a down” before they could get a better matchup for the running game. I’m genuinely baffled by what they could have been expecting (4 DBS? 5?) It’s been repeated to the point of cliche, but it’s still true — Belichick is committed to doing what he can to minimize the other team’s strengths. If you decide that you’d rather put the game in Ricardo Lockette or Jermaine Kerse’s hands rather than Marshawn Lynch’s at the goal line, Belichick is giving you that matchup 100 times out of 100. The fact that Carroll and Bevell apparently thought that Belichick would get out of his goal line defense if they sent another shitty wideout onto the field is almost as jaw-dropping as the play call itself.

And this is what puts Belichick on another level. As Brien says in comments, the focus and discipline with which Belichick exploits weaknesses and favorable matchups is remarkable. It’s harder than it sounds. Jim Harbaugh is a fantastic coach, but he pissed away multiple games to Seattle in part because he couldn’t resist challenging Richard Sherman, with predictable results. And of course Pete Carroll isn’t a bum; he’s very likely headed to the Hall of Fame, and Seattle was in the Super Bowl in part because he completely outmatched another Super Bowl-winning coach in the previous game. But it’s very hard for creative coaches to avoid the temptation to get cute or to prove something rather than just focusing logically on the best play in a given situation. Carroll has done a fantastic job in Seattle, but he made a ghastly error at the worst possible time. Belichick’s 4 rings aren’t an accident.

UPDATE: 538’s analysis. which a couple commenters have linked, has similar problems. It focuses way too much on general probabilities rather than the specific context, and it meaninglessly judges the efficacy of a generic “pass” play as opposed to the actual play Seattle called.

Update II [PC]: Haven’t read through all the comments so don’t know if it’s been pointed out that Seattle absolutely could have run Lynch four times on that series — Yglesias is wrong that if they had run on second down they would have to pass on third. Seattle snapped the ball on second down with 26 seconds left. A run by Lynch doesn’t take more than five or six seconds, even if there’s a big scrum. If Seattle uses its last time out at that point they have 20 seconds left. That’s an eternity in a goal line situation where all your players are already at the line of scrimmage. A third down run would have left them a good 15 seconds left to line up and run any fourth down play, including Lynch again. 15 seconds to get a play off isn’t even a particularly fast snap in a contemporary hurryup situation. And if the Patriots would have tried to stop guys from lining up by staying on top of them the refs were going to stop the clock.

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Chris Christie’s History of Troofer-Curiosity

[ 40 ] February 2, 2015 |


The vaccine troofer-curisoity from Chris Christie Erik mentioned early today isn’t new:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested Monday that officials find a “balance” between requiring vaccinations and allowing parents to turn them down. But his run in with the issue may go back much longer.

Louise Kuo Habakus, an anti-vaccination activist who runs the site, provided a letter to MSNBC Monday in which Christie purportedly endorsed her concern that vaccines may be linked to autism – a concern long discredited by public health officials. She shared a photo showing Christie meeting with her and what she said were other anti-vaccination activists with her organization, the NJ Vaccination Choice Coalition, as well as other autism groups at a meeting they organized with the then-candidate in August 2009.

Christie won election twice in a blue state, and is likely to run for president. Conservatives making vaccinating your kids a conspiracy liberal elitists inflict on your kids, like global warming or evolution, is just going to be awesome if you like lots of unnecessary death and suffering. (Hey, at least when you don’t vaccinate you save a few bucks on the front end!)

…And while we’re here, let us also consider Christie’s disgraceful killing of the new Hudson tunnel.  In fairness, he’s not opposed to all infrastructure: wherever there’s a casino in an over-saturated market or a useless mall, he’ll be there will taxpayer money.  He’s just opposed to useful infrastructure.

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