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Fight for $20

[ 8 ] May 20, 2015 |


Yesterday’s bill in Los Angeles to ease in a $15 minimum wage is great. But it isn’t enough to live on in Los Angeles because housing is so expensive. A $15 minimum wage really just needs to be a first step in the larger fight for living wages for working people.

NFL changes extra point rule to make it 3% less boring

[ 91 ] May 19, 2015 |

super bowl

The NFL had a chance to improve its anachronistic extra point rule, but ended up barely modifying it. PATs will now be snapped from the 15. The only other change in the rules is the adoption of the college system whereby blocked kicks and turnovers off two-point attempts can be returned by the defense.

Given that NFL kickers now make about 95% of their 30-35 yard FG attempts, this change is adds almost no extra strategy or uncertainty to the post-TD ritual, which already takes up too much of that increasingly precious portion of airtime during NFL broadcasts not dedicated to advertisements.

A better rule would have done away with PATs altogether, while awarding seven points for a touchdown. Teams would have the option of going for an eighth point from the two-yard line, at the cost of having the TD reduced to six points if the attempt failed.

Trident Replacement

[ 29 ] May 19, 2015 |
Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland MOD 45152118.jpg

“Nuclear Submarine HMS Vanguard Passes HMS Dragon as She Returns to HMNB Clyde, Scotland MOD 45152118″ by Photo: CPOA(Phot) Tam McDonald/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a terrible idea for the United Kingdom to spend a big portion of its dwindling defense budget on a Trident replacement. The scenarios in which London might need its own nukes in order to reach out and touch someone, or at least get back at someone, are vanishingly few. And replacing the SSBNs that currently prop up waning British prestige keep the Queen safe will make a huge hole in the UKs defense budget for a very long time. From my point of view, one of the few true bright spots in the potential for Scottish secession lies in undermining the remaining arguments for Trident replacement.

Oh, and then there’s this:

If you’ve never seen a missile compartment before you probably have a picture of a glistening high tech piece of equipment in your head. Before Captains rounds or a VIP visit it is pretty glistening but during most of the patrol it’s far from it. Missile Compartment 4 deck turns into a gym. There are people sweating their asses of between the missiles, people rowing between a blanket of s**t because the sewage system is defective, sometimes the s**t sprays onto the fwd starboard missile tubes and there’s also a lot of rubbish stored near the missile tubes. Not an image you would expect of the “most advanced weapon system on the planet”.

There were a few incidents of people in the gym dropping weights near the nuclear weapon’s firing units. I heard one person joke about how he accidentally throw a weight and it nearly hit a missiles firing unit. A person was caught using a Bluetooth speaker to play music on MC 4 deck. The captain found out and a warning issued over Full Main Broadcast (FMB) all personal electronics would be banned if anyone else was caught using Bluetooth in the Missile Compartment.

This is a quote from CB8890 (0430) – With live missiles embarked, the only portable radios authorised for use in the MC / AMS 2 are Cromwell Radios and Fire Fighter helmets with built in communications (FFHBC).

E. Electronic equipment in the MC other than that required for safety and security must not be operating.

Personnel Electronics should be banned yet the policy isn’t enforced. You can bring whatever electronic devices you want onboard: laptops, phones, pads etc. Almost everyone onboard sleeps on a level of the Missile Compartment. They use their own personal electronics right beside the missiles.

Simple rules like no e-cigs and no shaving are also not obeyed. With the ventilation constantly circulating air around the submarine it is possible for the hairs to be picked up and cause short circuits. In the Missile Control Centre a Power Alert Alarm kept appearing and disappearing. A possible cause is something like dust or hair creating a short.

They Hate Us for Our Branes

[ 283 ] May 19, 2015 |


Normally I would not link to stuff like this but I am in a weird mood. Anyway, I read it. Now you have to. What you’re clicking on is probably the unsexiest circle jerk of all time. OK, I’ll quit hedging: It’s Vox Day talking about how people don’t like him because he’s just too goddamn smart. Thanks (??) to Origami Isopod.

Transgender History

[ 6 ] May 19, 2015 |


The speed in which the transgender rights movement is moving is utterly remarkable and truly amazing. Here’s a useful timeline of the movement’s history.

Labor History in the Classroom

[ 11 ] May 19, 2015 |


Above: Strikers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1949

While right-wing states are freaking out about the new AP standards (never mind that this year’s AP US History DBQ was on the rise of the conservative movement), Connecticut has now passed a bill encouraging the teaching of labor history in the state’s classrooms, albeit with a caveat to also include free market economics, i.e., the destroyer of working people. Despite this, a major advance in including working people’s history in education.

Fight for $15

[ 24 ] May 19, 2015 |


The Los Angeles City Council voting 14-1 to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is a very big deal. Doing this city by city or state by state is not ideal. But given the broken government at the federal level, it’s the best option we have now and could transform minimum wages around the state of California and beyond. A major victory for workers.

Personally, I look forward to the Fight for $20.

Was Gonzales v. Raich Wrongly Decided? [Spoiler: No.]

[ 53 ] May 19, 2015 |

Pursuant to our recent discussions, I would urge people interested in issues of federal power to actually read the Raich opinions, just as it’s useful to actually read Wickard. The Stevens opinion for the Court is a very clear description of the relevant doctrines and persuasively explains why the actions of the government were, while wrong as a policy matter, constitutional. And while I’m sure Ginsburg extensively quoted Scalia’s concurrence in Sebelius partly to tweak him, she also did so because it’s brilliant. Congress has the power to regulate interstate markets, and it also has the power to pass regulations necessary to effectuate these regulations, even if the additional regulations reach behavior that is local or noncommercial. (Here’s one tip, gleaned from having taught these cases multiple times: if someone tells you that the Supreme Court found that Raich and Monson were themselves “engaged in interstate commerce,” you know that either they haven’t read the opinion or don’t understand it.) As long as the connection between the broader scheme and the regulation is rational, the courts should defer to Congress’s judgment.

Still, I can see a counter. The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs is a moral catastrophe. Aren’t liberals entitled to their own cynical uses of federalism? I don’t think you could write a Raich opinion I would want to join, but perhaps you could write one that wouldn’t do much damage. You could begin by emphasizing that Wickard was correct and remains good law. As all three Raich dissenters did, you could certainly distinguish the cases. Raich is more like Wickard than Lopez because there’s a connection to a broader regulatory framework, but the link between the CSA and the actions of Riach and Monson is more attenuated than the link between the AAA and Filburn. (The quotas at issue in Wickard by definition applied only to commercial farms of significant size; the CSA is less discriminate.) If you could write a decision narrowly enough to protect people like Riach without threatening the regulatory state, what’s the harm?

Well, first of all, if you wrote the opinion that narrowly the effect on the W O (scopwus) D would be trivial. Raich presented a relatively unusual set of facts for a federal action. Cases involving the purchase of controlled substance, large-scale possession, distribution, links to firearms, and/or links money laundering could all go forward — in other words, the federal level of the drug war would pretty much proceed as usual. At the state level, Raich would not help at all. The negligible benefits of restricting the federal power to destroy small amounts of homegrown marijuana do not justify the risk of narrowing the federal commerce power.

Alternatively, you could write a broader opinion that might undermine more federal actions under the CSA — but there’s no way of writing such an opinion that wouldn’t threaten huge swaths of the federal regulatory state. If Wickard is overruled — if the federal government cannot regulate activities that are not interstate commerce even it deems them necessary to a broader regulation of an interstate market — then the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a great deal of environmental regulation is unconstitutional, and so on. Sure, as Scalia and Kennedy showed if you’re hacky enough you find a reason to uphold or not uphold anything, but since a liberal has no reason to believe that a liberal will typically occupy the median vote of the Supreme Court, hoping that the Supreme Court will use more aggressive federalism doctrines to strike down laws you don’t like without striking down laws you do like would be really dumb.

Indeed, the idea that the commerce power could be used to attack the war on drugs without threatening other aspects of the federal regulatory scheme is, if you know anything about the history of the Supreme Court, almost painfully ignorant and naive. The federal courts are, in fact, particularly unlikely to apply their discretion to narrow the ability of the government to enforce drug laws. Raich itself is an excellent argument against the idea of applying more heightened levels of scrutiny to the necessary and proper clause in the hope of stopping the drug war.

The Court’s judgment in Raich was sound. As Sebelius and Shelby County demonstrate, once the courts stop deferring to reasonable congressional judgments about what is “necessary and proper” or “appropriate,” a great deal of mischief can ensue, and the court’s judgments about what is “proper” and “appropriate” will be inherently arbitrary and political. The consensus the Court reached about federal power in the wake of the New Deal made sense, and revising it would be a terrible idea.

David Brooks’s Pathetic Iraq Excuses

[ 176 ] May 19, 2015 |


David Brooks starts off his apologia with some stoned-dorm-room stuff about how if Hitler had been strangled in the crib we wouldn’t have the GI Bill or as many women in the workforce, which means that nobody can really held responsible for Iraq. It does not improve from there. First, note this crafty bit of dissembling:

Which brings us to Iraq. From the current vantage point, the decision to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.

The implication is that more than 70% of the public supported the war ex ante. But if you click the link — which readers of the hard copy edition won’t be able to — you’ll see that the 72% approval rate comes from a poll done with the troops already in the field. Before this rally effect, support was significantly lower. A majority of the public still supported the war, but particularly given the post-9/11 context this support was rather tepid. So I’m afraid Brooks can’t brush this off by saying that the consensus was wrong — there was plenty of opposition at the time even as the public was being misled.

It gets worse:

The first obvious lesson is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.

That doesn’t gibe with the facts. Anybody conversant with the Robb-Silberman report from 2005 knows that this was a case of human fallibility. This exhaustive, bipartisan commission found “a major intelligence failure”: “The failure was not merely that the Intelligence Community’s assessments were wrong. There were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.”

As Chait observes, the obvious problem here is that Robb-Silberman was only allowed to go forward on the condition that it would not judge the administration’s responsibility. As he explains the evasion: “Step 1: Prevent a Senate report from looking into whether the administration lied. Step 2: Ignore the existence of the report that did show the administration lied. Step 3: Pretend that an intelligence failure and a deliberate effort to cook the intelligence are mutually exclusive.” When congressional investigators were finally allowed to judge the administration’s culpability, they found them plenty culpable.

In addition, Chait is still being too generous to himself and other supporters of the Iraq War by continuing to use the essentially useless term “weapons of mass destruction.” There was, I agree, some evidence that Iraq possessed some of what were labelled WMD as the term was used, even if the administration exaggerated some of it and made up a lot more of it. What there never was any serious evidence that Iraq had WMDs that would pose any threat to American civilians or more threat to people under Huessein’s control than any number of conventional weapons. And, as always, what Davies said. If you’re a sophisticated observer and were still taking the administration seriously after Colin Powell went to the UN and lied his ass off that’s on you.

After some of the dime-store Brukeanism that Brooks remarkably used to defend the Bush adminisration’s lack of planning, the punchline:

I wind up in a place with less interventionist instincts than where George W. Bush was in 2003, but significantly more interventionist instincts than where President Obama is inclined to be today.

If I understand correctly from the preceding paragraphs, this means that the U.S. should ramp up the killing without even the pretense that it’s bringing democracy with it. I suppose Brooks has learned something, but it’s really not the right lesson.

…Greg Sargent has more on the attempt to whitewash Iraq.

…and see also Maloy.

The TPP and Environment

[ 18 ] May 19, 2015 |


The Trans Pacific Partnership is likely to be as disastrous on environmental issues as it is for labor and intellectual freedom.

In order to avoid dangerous climate change, scientists estimate that 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuels need to remain in the ground. But coal, natural gas, and oil left in the ground means profits left on the table for fossil fuel companies. And under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), corporations will likely be able to sue governments that interfere with their business — even if it’s by enacting carbon reduction goals and passing environmental legislation.

“Creating a corporate bill of rights to protect investors is incredibly undermining to our ability to protect the environment,” Ben Schreiber, the climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth, told ThinkProgress.

Previous trade deals have, in fact, led to lawsuits over fossil fuels. An American mining company, Lone Pine Resources, sued the Canadian province of Quebec in 2013 for passing a ban on fracking. The company says the ban cost them $250 million and that under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Quebec is liable for the lost revenue. That lawsuit is ongoing.

In another lawsuit, Chevron alleged that Ecuadorian activists had defrauded the company, after it was ordered to pay $18.2 billion in damages for environmental contamination.

Life as a Fast Food Worker

[ 76 ] May 18, 2015 |


Fast food workers fighting for $15 an hour took pictures of their homes to publicize what their life is like. Powerful stuff.

Is the William Daniels Voice Optional?

[ 194 ] May 18, 2015 |
Knight Rider Supercar KITT instrumentation.jpg

“Knight Rider Supercar KITT instrumentation”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Without evaluating the likelihood of the changes described (I think the author gets the impact on manufacturing a bit wrong, even accepting his priors) or the timeline, I’m curious what folks think about the political effects of a transformation in transport.

Most people—experts included—seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation.

Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced. They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.

In particular, I’m wondering what a progressive coalition looks like in this world; we simultaneously reach (and indeed, vastly exceed plausible estimate of success) goals in safety, energy use, environmental impact, and urban livability, while also laying waste to vast swaths of the working class. Does a move to autonomous vehicles continue and enhance the urban renaissance, or does it revitalize suburbia by significantly reducing the costs of long-range commuting?


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