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Nuclear Targets

[ 58 ] March 7, 2015 |

_56356891_hmssheffieldpaOne of the lessons we can draw from the best work on nuclear weapon handling accidents, a lesson available from both the theoretical and the anecdotal accounts, is that the accidents happen due to an accumulation of unexpected errors that interact in unpredictable ways.  A falling wrench tears open a pipe; changes in personnel rotations lead experienced people to ignore weapons loaded onto a plane; and so forth.

I’m not sure that “sending nuclear-armed ships into an area where they’re being fired on by Exocet missiles” counts as this kind of normal accident:

The Ministry of Defence admitted for the first time last night that British ships carried nuclear weapons in the Falklands war.

The disclosure came as the government was forced to concede – after a long-running campaign by the Guardian – that seven nuclear weapons containers were damaged during a series of wartime accidents.

But many of the details of these accidents are still being kept secret by the MoD.

The ministry also refused to say whether any nuclear depth charges were on board HMS Sheffield, which was sunk during the war.




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[ 29 ] March 7, 2015 |

It was 50 years ago today.

Securing the franchise for African-Americans, nearly 100 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment, was a major accomplishment, driven by the courage of the disenfranchised. Which makes the extent to which the rights remain under attack disgraceful.

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Hiatt’s Gonna Hiatt

[ 54 ] March 7, 2015 |

Fred Hiatt’s editorial board on the beleaguered Rahm Emanuel.

It shouldn’t escape notice that Mr. Emanuel’s willingness to take on these very same unions as he tackled some of the city’s most pressing problems landed him in political trouble in the first place. Instead of ignoring, for example, the grossly underfunded pensions of government employees that threaten to drive the city into bankruptcy, Mr. Emanuel engineered sensible reforms to the municipal and laborers pensions and is intent on fixing the police and firefighter funds.

Where Mr. Emanuel was most fearless — and where, as the New York Times recently reported, he seems to be reaping the angriest payback from riled unions — is in school reform. He backed the closing of dozens of underused and underperforming schools, insisted on a longer school day and school year, toughened teacher evaluations and helped expand charter schools. These reforms have produced encouraging results: graduation rates up, suspensions and expulsions down, more African American students taking Advanced Placement classes. But success for long-neglected children appears immaterial to a teachers union focused on protecting its turf. Mr. Garcia got into the race at the urging of Chicago Teachers Union leaders, who along with their national affiliate are leading the charge against the mayor.

Mr. Emanuel is not the only Democrat who, faced with choices in governing, has opted for the general welfare over special interests and as a result incurred their wrath. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, for example, faced similar pushback, but happily voters in their states ended up backing their sensible approaches to government finance and services. What unites these progressive Democrats is not an allegiance to corporations, as the slurs might have you think, but a recognition that their predecessors made unaffordable deals that can’t be fully honored without harming people who lack powerful advocates: poor students, people who use city playgrounds, patients in public clinics.

David Broder is smiling from the grave. The only good Democrat in Beltway wisdom is the one in the pocket of Wall Street, the one who busts unions, the one who declares war on the poor while claiming to be representing them.

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Capitalism in India

[ 9 ] March 7, 2015 |

This is a really fascinating interview with Indian novelist Rana Dasgupta on the impact of capitalism upon India. While I think he’s a bit too sanguine about the history and impact of capitalism in Europe and the U.S., one can certainly understand how that view could develop watching the incredibly tumultuous last twenty years in India. The interview is very much worth your time.

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Today In the Noble Ideals of Amateurism

[ 14 ] March 7, 2015 |

I knew this would happen when the NCAA removed bans on compensating players:

As you might expect, many of the course assignments that the support staff emailed to players’ professors had not been written by those athletes. The report cites an internal investigation that checked the metadata of the documents handed in, and found that “the ‘Author’ and ‘Last edited by author’ field was attributed to someone other than the student-athlete.”

This stuff presumably goes on at most programs, and it’s tough to get too worked up—neither these athletes nor their programs believed they were in school for any reason other than basketball—but there are two things worth noting:

  1. I’m impressed at how streamlined Syracuse made this process. Rather than requiring the players hand his assignment to a tutor, getting it back completed, and turning it into his professor, Orange players could stay out of things altogether and let the tutors just pretend to be them at every step.

  2. I’m depressed that a university was devoting time, money, and resources to tricking itself.

Hopefully, we can go back to the good old days in which players were denied compensation and hence student-athletes were students first and athletes a very distant second.

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American Exceptionalism and White History

[ 90 ] March 7, 2015 |

In the Oklahoma version of the attack on AP U.S. History standards, the bill (now withdrawn) read:

“founding documents of the United States that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of the representative form of limited government, the free-market economic system and American exceptionalism.”

In other words, AP U.S. History standards should conform to stories that confirm current Republican positions.

But the whole idea of American exceptionalism is an inherently white construction, as it celebrates, rather than critiques, the history of a white settler state centered around the oppression of minorities and the dispossession of land from indigenous people, ignoring those critical issues in understanding it. Historians David Wrobel and Amanda Cobb-Greetham:

David Wrobel, Merrick Chair of Western History at the University of Oklahoma, says in response to Fisher’s position, “The idea of American exceptionalism is deeply connected to the mid-19th century idea of Manifest Destiny…. But it’s important to bear in mind that Manifest Destiny developed as a justification for American expansion…. To accept it as the explanation for American development, to say as historians that God favors one nation over other nations…would be to write history on faith rather than engage in historical analysis.”

Amanda Cobb-Greetham, Chickasaw, director of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, has another take on the term, “In its classic form, American exceptionalism refers to the special character of the United States as a uniquely free nation because of the principles and beliefs on which it was founded, democratic ideals of individual liberty, freedom, justice, equality. To my mind, if we’re exceptional, it’s because we continue to strive for those ideals, not because we have met them in every circumstance. We haven’t.”

That’s nicer than I would have been.

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Leader in Racist Protection Racket Turns Out Not to Respect Rule of Law

[ 40 ] March 7, 2015 |

The satirical novel we’re all living in continues to be rather heavy-handed:

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

Ronald J Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.

Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.


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Doc Watson

[ 13 ] March 6, 2015 |

On this Friday evening it’s worth remembering how amazing Doc Watson was.

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[ 56 ] March 6, 2015 |

In 2014, I completed two books. Out of Sight is coming out in June and Empire of Timber is probably being published in March 2016 if not a touch earlier.

So what to do in 2015? I suppose I should just watch baseball for the next 8 months or find a way to relax. But I don’t really do that. The only answer at this point in my life is to write another book.

This week I signed a contract with The New Press for a book currently titled No Surrender, No Retreat: A History of America in Ten Strikes. This will be my synthesis of American labor history using ten labor actions as a entry point into the larger stories of working people that define a given era. I’m still working out precisely which ten to choose, but they will probably include the Lowell Mill Girls strike of 1845, slaves walking away from the plantations at the end of the Civil War, a couple of the classic Gilded Age strikes, the Flint sit-down strike, the Oakland General Strike of 1946, Lordstown, and the Air Traffic Controllers or Phelps-Dodge union busting of the 80s. The book will end with the Justice for Janitors campaign, which I think is the logical way to sum up where we are at now–SEIU, Latinos and organized labor becoming a movement of immigrants, service workers. The book will not be in depth discussions of the details of these actions, but rather a way to retell American history for a popular audience that centers the focus on working people.

No publication date yet obviously and it won’t be for awhile since I haven’t written it yet.

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The ACA Did Not Seek To Build One-Legged Stools

[ 33 ] March 6, 2015 |

The audio from oral arguments in King v. Burwell that should have been streamed in real time are now up. As Irin Carmon said on Twitter, among other things it’s worth hearing to hear Carvin repeatedly address Justice Sotoma – YEER.

Ezra Klein’s piece on why Carvin’s Moops-invaded-Spain theory is such lunacy is very good. At one point, I think he actually understates the case:

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Carvin, tries to deny this fact. “There’s not a scintilla of legislative history suggesting that without subsidies, there will be a death spiral,” he told the Court.

But Michael Cannon, one of the architects of the King v. Burwell case, knows better. The reason he was so interested in the lawsuit, he told Vox, was that removing the subsidies would kick out “one of the three legs of Obamacare’s three-legged stool.”

The “three-legged stool” refers to the idea that for an exchange to work, it needs three things: regulations that force insurers to sell to everyone, a mandate that forces even young and healthy people to buy insurance, and subsidies to make that insurance affordable. No subsidies, no affordability. No affordability, no critical mass of young and healthy people. No critical mass of young and healthy people, no way to avoid a death spiral.

That’s what happens when you remove a leg of a three-legged stool: the stool falls over.

And it’s even worse than that — if you eliminate the subsidies, you essentially eliminate the mandate. (There might be a few uninsured people who can get health insurance plans that cost less than 8% of household outcome, but a “mandate” that applies only to a vanishingly small number of people is no better than having no mandate at all. A mandate that covers a tiny number of people, to put it mildly, does not solve the free rider problem.) And even Carvin concedes that without the mandates you’d get a death spiral.

And yet the case is essentially a coin flip at the Supreme Court, which should tell you all you need to know about the nation’s highest tribunal.

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Albert Maysles, RIP

[ 2 ] March 6, 2015 |

The great documentarian has died.

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The Reformicon Defense of ACA Trooferism

[ 87 ] March 6, 2015 |


He wouldn’t dream of allowing anyone to lose their health insurance, Scout’s Honor!

Negotiating the various perils of the “card says Moops!” and “Moops invaded Spain” arguments, Ross Douthat ends starts off in the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ camp. On the way, he throws out a major howler:

1) Having gone back and forth over the evidence presented, I’m not convinced by the plaintiffs’ argument that the people responsible for drafting for Obamacare consciously intended to limit subsidies in order to induce states to set up their own exchanges. The famous comments suggesting that they did, from Jonathan Gruber and others, make me suspect that this possibility floated somewhere in the Obamacare hive mind, and the much-discussed path that different versions of the bill took through the Senate allows room for the possibility that somebody involved with the process had that idea in mind, and that this person’s sense of how the law ought to work played some role in why the language that we have ended up in there.

The problem with the “Jonathan Gruber and others” assertion is that if you click the link, you will find that there are in fact no “others.” Not only that, everybody quoted explicitly rejects the fantasy version of the ACA reverse-engineered by Adler and Cannon. So President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Prime Minster and embattled mayor of Chicago Jonathan Gruber remains only person in any way associated with the Affordable Care Act who has ever suggested that subsidies would not be universally available, and not only has Gruber repudiated this interpretation of his comments his calculations always assumed that the subsidies would be available on both state and federal exchanges. Given the mountain of evidence to the contrary, citing Gruber (2012) is like throwing a bucket of sand in the Pacific Ocean and calling it a beach, which is presumably why Douthat can’t quite go there even if he can’t quite repudiate the theory either.

He then moves onto the “card says Moops!” theory with problematic results:

At the same time, a serious blunder in legislative drafting is just not the same thing as a Moors/Moops “typo”. It was a legislative accident, to take a famous example, when in the process of reforming its prostitution laws Rhode Island created a loophole legalizing prostitution so long as it happened indoors. But that didn’t license the state police to just enforce the law as if the accident hadn’t happened and the law still banned houses of ill repute; instead, the legislature had to pass a revised version of the law and the governor had to sign it to make prostitution illegal once again.

There are two problems, each of them fatal, that render this analogy null:

  • It’s well-settled, and for good reason, that ambiguities in criminal laws be resolved against the state. You don’t read them the same way you read regulatory statutes.
  • Unless the Rhode Island provision was embedded in a 900-page legislative scheme that contained many other provisions that don’t make any sense if you read an isolated subclause literally and with no attention to its context, it’s neither here nor there as far as this case is concerned.

Douthat continues:

And after going round and round reading analyses of King v. Burwell, I still can’t see a good reason why, if this were a lower-stakes piece of legislation and a less polarizing issue, the same principle would not apply. On a plain-meaning-of-words reading of the law, it only seems to authorize federal subsidies for state exchanges, and so the constitutionally-appropriate way to make those subsidies available on the federal exchange is for Congress to correct the accident and authorize that spending in the actual legislative text. Here I agree with Sean Trende, who writes that “if this were some obscure statute — say, the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act … the plaintiffs could be reasonably confident of victory.”

The counterfactual can’t be proven either way, but as a commenter here observed yesterday I think this stands reality on its head. I think that if in a politically non-salient case the administration that signed a recently passed bill issued a regulation to resolve what appears to be a minor technical anomaly in the statute, without the objection of a single member of Congress who voted for the bill, there probably wouldn’t be any legal challenge to the regulation at all, and if there was it wouldn’t have gotten past the District Court level. (Indeed, I would love to hear of another example of another statutory interpretation case involving a recently passed law in which there was literally no support for the plaintiff’s reading from any member of Congress who voted for the statute either contemporaneously or after the fact.)

Again, Adler and Cannon didn’t write their fairy tale, and even try to manufacture evidence for it, for no reason. The “card says Moops!” argument is a loser — if there was a “glitch” that created a self-defeating result, the appropriate course of action is to allow the relevant executive agency to resolve the anomaly.

I will have a longer piece about the next subject next week, but quickly:

The textual problem with the law exists in the first place because the Obama White House didn’t want to scale back its policy ambitions after Scott Brown’s shocking victory, and pushed a creative end-around that avoided the necessity of more congressional votes but also precluded some necessary edits.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The better way of looking at it is that “the textual problem with the law exists because the Republican minority in the Senate refused to allow another vote on legislation that had the support of a substantial majority.” Allowing the obstructionists to benefit from this by having their allies in the courts destroy a regulatory scheme created by Congress makes the “constitutional decadence” problem worse, not better.

And, finally, we have the inevitable imagining of a Republican Party that doesn’t exist:

In this case, unless he or Kennedy comes up with a clever constitutional move, the court would be deferring to the executive branch and the administrative state while essentially enabling congressional abdication and dysfunction. From my vantage point, that seems like a much worse outcome for our political system than the previous rescue of Obamacare. And that in turn is why, without being particularly happy about it, and while expecting a more politically-expedient ruling, I find myself hoping that the court rules for the plaintiffs — and that Congressional Republicans are then forced, through pressure from the voting public, to do what our system asks of them and actually legislate when legislation is required.

To re-state what should be obvious, if the Supreme Court willfully misreads the law and wrecks the exchanges it won’t force Republicans in Congress to do a damned thing. Their plan for dealing with the uninsured has always been a briefcase full of Styrofoam pellets — why would that change now? It seems worth noting that Ted Cruz’s plan — the most detailed of the Potemkin Republican plans being discussed to reassure the Court — would “solve” the problem of subsidies being denied on the federally established exchanges by ending them for everyone. Oh, and this would be combined with by deregulating the state insurance markets, so in the unlikely event that you could afford insurance it would probably be worthless. Congressional Republicans are not politically suicidal enough to actually enact this plan, but Cruz and his allies will veto anything that isn’t like this plan, and hence the Republican Congress won’t do anything. The idea that reversing King v. Burwell would be a solution to legislative dysfunction is deeply strange.

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