Tuesday, August 19, 2014


This will all be over quicker if you just submit. [Link]

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Police Militarization over a less violent public

Violence has been going down, so why do we need militarized police? [Link]
Over the past generation or so, we’ve militarized our police to protect a public that has broadly become less and less violent.
It all starts back in 1990, a time when the country found itself with less demand for military equipment abroad and new use for it back home. Within our shores, the drug wars were escalating; gang violence was surging; and sociologists were warning of sociopathic child “superpredators.” At the same time, the military was starting to shrink as the Cold War ended. Put two and two together and you get the 1033 program, which transferred assets from the military to the police. (Here’s a capsule history.) 
A bigger flush of money and equipment followed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Times reports, when the federal government equipped local police outfits to be the front line of the Global War on Terror:
Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson, said Nick Gragnani, executive director of St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which administers such grants for the St. Louis area. 
Since 2003, the group has spent $9.4 million on equipment for the police in St. Louis County. That includes $3.6 million for two helicopters, plus the Bearcat, other vehicles and night vision equipment. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was paid for with federal money, Mr. Gragnani said.
“The focus is terrorism, but it’s allowed to do a crossover for other types of responses,” he said. “It’s for any type of civil unrest. We went by the grant guidance. There was no restriction put on that by the federal government.”
But here’s the thing. Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime. (Drug crime follows somewhat different trends, though drug use has been dropping over the same time period.) The number of murders dropped to 14,827 in 2012 from 23,438 in 1990. The number of rapes has plummeted to 84,376 from 102,555. The number of robberies, motor-vehicle thefts, assaults — all have seen similarly large declines. And the number of incidents has dropped even though the country has grown.

Women rising in Algeria

Good. [Link]
Women make up 70 percent ofAlgeria’s lawyers and 60 percent of its judges. Women dominate medicine. Increasingly, women contribute more to household income than men. Sixty percent of university students are women, university researchers say.
In a region where women have a decidedly low public profile, Algerian women are visible everywhere. They are starting to drive buses and taxicabs. They pump gas and wait on tables.
Although men still hold all of the formal levers of power and women still make up only 20 percent of the work force, that is more than twice their share a generation ago, and they seem to be taking over the machinery of state as well.
“If such a trend continues,” said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, “we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women.”
The change seems to have sneaked up on Algerians, who for years have focused more on the struggle between a governing party trying to stay in power and Islamists trying to take that power.
Those who study the region say they are taken aback by the data but suggest that an explanation may lie in the educational system and the labor market.
University studies are no longer viewed as a credible route toward a career or economic well-being, and so men may well opt out and try to find work or to simply leave the country, suggested Hugh Roberts, a historian and the North Africa project director of the International Crisis Group.
But for women, he added, university studies get them out of the house and allow them to position themselves better in society. “The dividend may be social rather than in terms of career,” he said.
This generation of Algerian women has navigated a path between the secular state and the pull of extremist Islam, the two poles of the national crisis of recent years.
The women are more religious than previous generations, and more modern, sociologists here said. Women cover their heads and drape their bodies with traditional Islamic coverings. They pray. They go to the mosque — and they work, often alongside men, once considered taboo.
Sociologists and many working women say that by adopting religion and wearing the Islamic head covering called the hijab, women here have in effect freed themselves from moral judgments and restrictions imposed by men. Uncovered women are rarely seen on the street late at night, but covered women can be seen strolling the city after attending the evening prayer at a mosque.

Rational Scientology

Richard Dawkins as L Ron Hubbard. I wonder when Dawkins will buy a ship? [Link]
My man in the pub was at the very low end of what believers will do and pay for: the Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.
When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts.
But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’
The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.
At this point it is obvious to everyone except the participants that what we have here is a religion without the good bits.

Michael Brown Autopsy

The evidence does not match the witness stories. [Link]
Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was killed by a police officer, sparking protests around the nation, was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, a preliminary private autopsy performed on Sunday found.
One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.
Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.
With that, the police still handled the aftermath poorly, escalating tensions rather than defusing them.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Drink up!

It is good for you, even if they don't want to admit it. [Link]
So the more you drink—up to two drinks a day for woman, and four for men—the less likely you are to die. You may have heard that before, and you may have heard it doubted. But the consensus of the science is overwhelming: It is true.
Although I dispute many of the caveats offered against the life-saving benefits of alcohol, I will endorse two. First, these outcome data do not apply to women with the “breast-cancer gene” mutations (BRCA 1 or 2) or a first-degree (mother, sister) relation who has had breast cancer, for whom alcohol consumption is far riskier. Second, drinking 10 drinks Friday and Saturday nights does not convey the benefits of two or three drinks daily, even though your weekly totals would be the same: Frequent, heavy binge drinking is unhealthy. But then you knew that already, didn’t you? If you don’t distinguish binge drinking from daily moderate drinking, that would be due to Americans’ addiction-phobia, which causes them to interpret any daily drinking as addictive.
The global summary of alcohol’s benefits raises a key question: How much do you have to drink regularly before you become as likely to die as an abstainer? We’ll see below.
First, let’s address some typical objections to these findings. Of course, abstainers may not drink because they are already ill. Thus the meta-analysis relied on studies that eliminated subjects who are abstaining due to illness, or else contrast drinkers with lifetime abstainers. Additionally, objectors note, drinkers showing such longevity may be wine-sniffling, upper-middle-class professionals (virtually no study has ever found that the type of alcohol consumed impacts these results), people who exercise, eat right, and don’t smoke. To counter this argument, researchers from the prestigious Harvard Health Professionals Study published a paper which found that even men with four healthy life factors (diet, weight, non-smoking, exercise) had one-third to one-half the risk of suffering a heart attack if they had one to two drinks daily, relative to comparable men in each category who abstained.
Now let’s turn quickly to four special topics—biological mechanisms; cognitive benefits of drinking; the resveratrol myth; and the answer to our key question: If you drink just a little too much alcohol, doesn’t your death rate shoot up way over that of abstainers? (This is the so-called “J–shaped curve.”)

Congress under pressure from left and right to 'demilitarize' police

Good. [Link]
Groups on the left and right are uniting behind calls to end what they say is the rise of a "militarized" police force in the United States.
They say the controversial police tactics seen this week in Ferguson, Mo., are not isolated to the St. Louis County police department and warn the rise of heavily armed law enforcement agencies has become an imminent threat to civil liberties.
“What we're seeing today in Ferguson is a reflection of the excessive militarization of police that has been happening in towns across America for decades,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU is aligned with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and groups on the right who are calling for an end to a controversial Defense Department program that supplies local police departments with surplus military equipment, such as armored tanks, machine guns, and tear gas.
According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $4 billion in discounted military equipment has been sold to local police departments since the 1990s.
“Why are those guns available to the police?” asked Erich Pratt, spokesman for the conservative Gun Owners of America. “We don't technically have the military operating within our borders, but they're being given the gear to basically operate in that capacity.”
The Gun Owners of American and the ACLU are both backing a forthcoming bill from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would curtail the sale of DOD weapons to local police departments.
Johnson announced the legislative effort on Wednesday, telling colleagues in a letter that, “our main streets should be a place for business, families, and relaxation, not tanks and M16s."
“As the tragedy in Missouri unfolds, one thing is clear. Our local police are becoming militarized,” Johnson's office said in a statement. 
Critics say the Pentagon program is “blurring the lines” between the police and the military in dangerous ways.
“When you begin to confuse and blur the lines between the military and police, you get unnecessary violent confrontations, such as what we're seeing in Ferguson,” said Tim Lynch, a criminal justice expert at the libertarian Cato Institute.
But Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, defended the program, saying it has helped law enforcement keep up with criminals.
"All police are doing is taking advantage of the advances of technology in terms of surveillance, in terms of communication and in terms of protective equipment that are available to criminals on the street," Pasco said.
The issue of military-style police departments was thrust into the spotlight this week as media outlets began broadcasting footage of officers in Ferguson squaring off with protesters.
Police have been using military-style armored tanks and machines guns to deal with the demonstrations, which began after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in a street confrontation.
The images of Ferguson have drawn comparisons to war zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. President Obama warned law enforcement officers Thursday to stop “bullying” protestors.
“They're turning Americans into the enemy,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director for the ACLU's Missouri branch. “We are not the enemy. We are citizens, we are protestors, we are Americans. We don't deserve to be treated like we are at war.”
Lynch noted a SWAT team in Atlanta recently threw a flash bang grenade into the crib of a toddler by accident, sending the child into a coma.
“Acting like soldiers in war zones is not appropriate for American communities,” Dansky said.
Military style tactics are becoming more and more common for police departments around the country, according to Adam Brandon, spokesman for the conservative group FreedomWorks.
Brandon said he often “can't tell the difference” between police officers and the military.
“When I think of a police officer, I typically think of a guy in a blue uniform, he's got a badge, you can see his face,” Brandon said. “But when I see pictures of police today, they look more like special forces units than normal police officers.”
“This is an unnerving trend that I keep seeing in American society, where police officers are getting over-militarized, their tactics are getting more and more aggressive.”
ACLU's Dansky said the show of strength by police departments tends to escalate the problems that they are trying to contain.
“When people see what looks like a tank in their neighborhoods, they start to think they are under siege,” she said. “It's an excessive show of force. It tends to put people in harm’s way and exacerbates the risk of violence.”
These things need to happen:

  • Training to deescalate situations instead of intimidating people
  • Training to view people who aren't cops as Us instead of Them
  • Always-on cameras that can't be erased or 'lost' to protect cops and citizens
  • Removing the paramilitary gear which fosters an occupying army mindset
  • Shutting down most SWAT teams as very few cities or towns actually need them and they get overused

How should police respond to protests?

I think we can all agree that how Ferguson was handled was wrong. [Link]
We then have an incident that represents all of these problems in a very concentrated form — an unarmed black man was killed by a (reportedly) white police officer who had stopped him as he was walking home. The police have since refused to release the officer’s name. They’ve said they have no intention of releasing the autopsy performed on Michael Brown. Police Chief Thomas Jackson refused to even say how many shots were fired at Brown. (He claimed he didn’t know, though that would be pretty easy to figure out.) Though the police department has body cameras, it hasn’t required its officers to actually wear them. All of this only adds to perception of a Ferguson Police Department that is detached, unaccountable, opaque, and unconcerned with how it is perceived by the community it serves. (Gassing, arresting, and threatening journalistsdoesn’t help with the perception that they feel they’re above transparency.) The police then showed up at a peaceful protest with military vehicles and weapons. If a town’s citizens are reminded over and over again that the law has no respect for them, we shouldn’t be surprised if they begin to lose respect for the law. This isn’t an excuse for the looting and rioting. But it does contextualize what we’ve seen.
This raises a question I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook from a number of people — how should police respond to protest? And how should they respond when protests turn violent?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Welcome back to the 50's

When do they take out the attack dogs and water hoses? [Link]
The protests were peaceful for many hours, and turned chaotic when police shot rubber bullets, tear gas (or another form of noxious gas), used an LRAD sonic weapon to blast the crowd with painful sound, and assaulted protesters.
Livestreams: onetwothree.
From the Los Angeles Times:
"Hands up! Don't shoot!" demonstrators chanted as they walked down West Florissant Avenue in a permitted march. Some young men at the back of the group raised their middle fingers as they passed a Ferguson Police Department officer, shouting profanities at him. About 30 demonstrators, who were almost all black, sat down in the middle of an intersection near a line of about a dozen riot police, who were all white.
Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were arrested. They were among reporters live-tweeting events in Ferguson this afternoon, and ducked into a McDonalds to recharge their smartphones and other devices. Subsequent tweets indicated they were taken into police custody. Lowery confirms: "Was arrested. Also Ryan Reilly of Huff Po. Assaulted and arrested. Officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them." Both journalists have been released, possibly thanks to a phone call from Matt Pearce of the LA Times to the Ferguson police chief, asking why the men were being held.
"Ferguson chief tells me Lowery and Reilly's arresters were 'probably somebody who didn't know better," tweeted Pearce. Here is video of the arrest.
I would hope this will be the catalyst to change the militarization of policing in America, but I fear it will require more incidents like this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This is why people think there is media bias.

Why you never see the 'D' when there is a scandal. [Link]
It is such common sense as to be undeniable that basic journalism requires a party label to be affixed to a story about an elected public official, the president excepted. It is the DNA of the “who” in a news report. “Senator Robert Byrd, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, died today.” Take out “Democratic” and try that sentence. It doesn’t work. “Mike Lee, GOP senator from Utah and God’s gift to mankind, coasted to reelection last night.” Ditto.

It follows that the rule applies to stories about political scandal, precisely because it’s just that — politics. But what happens when that cardinal rule is applied to one party but ignored for the other? Favoritism? Bias? No, it’s far worse than just that. It is a commitment to abide by the rules of journalism with one party and then a deliberate attempt to protect the other, even if it means violating the most basic rules of news reporting.

Now wait a minute, Bozell. What about another possibility? Why can’t it be an honest mistake? Cannot we believe that even if such an egregious violation is committed it might not just be an accident, a reckless, sloppy oversight? If it happened once, fine. Stunning but fine. Twice? I don’t believe in coincidences. The record, however, shows it is much worse than that.

On Friday, September 29, 2006, Representative Mark Foley of Florida resigned after ABC News exposed him for having sent explicit e-mails to male House pages. That evening and on the next day’s morning news shows, ABC, CBS, and NBC all tied Foley to the GOP. “This is more than just one man’s downfall,” Today co-host Matt Lauer solemnly declared on NBC. “It could be a major blow to the Republican party.”

On March 10, 2008, news broke that New York governor Eliot Spitzer had been linked to a prostitution ring. It took NBC News four nights to acknowledge Spitzer’s party affiliation. In its first two days of coverage, Matt Lauer’s Todayshow ran 18 segments on the scandal and never once identified him as a Democrat.

But what happens when a Republican elected official is linked to a prostitute? In July 2007, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana was revealed as a client in the phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam. Every broadcast network ran stories on the scandal and every story underscored that Vitter was a Republican.

The previous month, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho had been arrested at the airport in Minneapolis for the infamous toe-tapping men’s-room solicitation. When the news became public in August, the networks jumped on the story. Every morning and evening news show pointed out he was a Republican. On NBC’s Today, Lauer drilled further, tying him ideologically to conservatives. “Can the right wing withstand yet another scandal involving one of its own?”

On June 16, 2009, Senator John Ensign of Nevada admitted to an extramarital affair. In the following day’s reports, all three broadcast networks covered the scandal and all three reported that he was a member of the GOP. One week later they were back in action, this time giving major attention to the story that South Carolina governor Mark Sanford also had admitted to cheating on his wife. Again the perfunctory declaration that he was a Republican.

Four years later, after weeks of tumultuous scandal involving allegations of multiple cases of sexual harassment involving numerous women, on August 22, 2013, San Diego’s Democratic mayor (and former congressman), Bob Filner, finally resigned. All three networks covered the story in both their morning and evening broadcasts, but only CBS mentioned his party affiliation.

Still not convinced? Okay, so we’ll continue.
Journalistic malpractice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A better world?

A might have been if Hillary had won instead of Obama. [Link]
Well, Kevin Drum tickled my counterfactual fancy this morning with the following aside: “I don't have any problems with Hillary's domestic policy. I've never believed that she 'understood' the Republican party better than Obama and therefore would have gotten more done if she'd won in 2008, but I don't think she would have gotten any less done either. It's close to a wash.”
I’m actually going to disagree a bit here. I think that Hillary Clinton would have been more cautious when dealing with Republicans, and therefore ultimately more successful in some ways. At the very least, she would not be facing the same level of vehement opposition in Congress.
I think liberals really do not understand emotionally the extent to which the Tea Party was created by the Affordable Care Act and the feeling that its government was simply steamrolling it. From the Tea Party's perspective, you had an unpopular program that should have died in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Social Security privatization did: because sensible politicians saw that, no matter how ardently they and their base might desire it, this was out of step with what the majority of the country wanted (and no, you cannot rescue the polls by claiming that the only problem with the law was that it wasn’t liberal enough; when you dig down into what people mean when they say that, the idea that there was ever a majority or a plurality that was secretly in favor of Obamacarecollapses).
The rage was similar to what progressives felt as they watched George W. Bush push the country into a war in Iraq. That defined and animated the anti-war movement (which is why said movement collapsed when Bush left office, and not, say, when Bush agreed to a staged withdrawal of our forces). Yes, those people would still have hated Republicans, even if there had been no Iraq War. But they would not have been as passionate, as organized or as powerful without it.
Liberals tend to write off this anger as racism, as irrational hatred of Barack Obama, or as perverse joy in denying health care to the poor, but at its root, it’s the simpler feeling that your country is making a mistake and you can’t stop it because the people in charge are ignoring the obvious. Yes, a lot of money and energy was poured into the Tea Party by rich backers, but rich backers cannot create a grassroots campaign unless the underlying passion is there in the voters (paging Karl Rove and Crossroads). The Obama administration created that passion with Obamacare.
I think that Hillary Clinton would have pulled back when Rahm Emanuel (or his counterfactual Clinton administration counterpart) told her that this was a political loser and she should drop it. I’ve written before about how my Twitter feed filled up with comparisons to 1932 the night that Obama took the presidency, and it’s quite clear to me that the Obama administration shared what you might call delusions of FDR. It thought that it was in a transformative, historical moment where the normal rules of political caution didn’t apply. The administration was wrong, and the country paid for that.
That’s not to say that Republicans would have somehow been all kissy-kissy with Clinton -- they weren’t very nice to her husband, after all. She would of course still have faced stiff opposition in Congress, because the partisan divide in this country is getting wider and congressional districts are getting more polarized, which makes it harder and harder to do deals across the aisle, or even treat each other with a modicum of decency. But I doubt she would have had the debt ceiling debacle or the deep gridlock of the last four years, because it was Obamacare that elected a fresh new class of deeply ideological Republicans who thought they were having their own transformative political movement, and they were willing to do massive damage to their party, their own political fortunes and, in my opinion, to the country in order to take a stand against “business as usual” -- business that included legislating or paying our bills.
Of course, in my counterfactual, Hillary also probably wouldn’t have proposed ambitious health-care reform; she’d have done something more modest, like a Medicaid expansion. Progressives might well say that they’d rather have the first two years of the Obama administration, followed by gridlock, than steadier but more modest achievements by a Hillary Clinton administration. And that doesn’t even get us into foreign policy, where the differences were deeper and more passionate.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Who's obstructionist?

It's not the House. [Link]
The Senate has not voted on jobs bills sent by the House, any “fix” for Obamacare or a domestic energy development bill. The Senate will not take up a real vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. It will not take up Iran sanctions. It did pass Veterans Affairs legislation and Iron Dome funding, not exactly difficult votes. Other than that, not much of consequence has gone on in the Senate, but not because of Republican objections. The GOP would love to take up many of these subjects, debate them and offer amendments; it is Reid who either won’t take up meaty issues or won’t allow any minority amendments, a practice he has taken further than any modern Senate leader. Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said succinctly: “Well, if you look at the last six years, the president and his people, I think, believed they got just about everything they wanted legislatively the first two years.”
In essence, the Senate has become an adjunct of the White House. Reid’s side comes up with no innovative (or even non-innovative) initiatives of its own and doesn’t allow any from the GOP. It changed the Senate rules to rubber-stamp Obama appointees and won’t allow votes on things that will make the White House uncomfortable. It is not that the Senate has been unproductive; that would be an improvement. Rather, it has been counterproductive time and again. It propagates nasty partisanship. “The Senate majority did not want the president to be challenged on anything, which of course leaves him free to pursue his agenda through thebureaucracy, all of whom work for him,” McConnell said. He pointed out, “And of course that serves the president’s purpose because it gives him a Congress to run against and it gives him the freedom of his bureaucrats to pursue his agenda, largely unimpeded by the kind of restrictions on the spending process that Congress would normally write in to appropriation bills if they ever passed them.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The perils of unexamined legislation

Judges rule ACA actually means what it says. [Link]
This result isn’t entirely shocking. As Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the legal strategy behind Halbig, noted today on a conference call, the government was unable to come up with any contemporaneous congressional statements that supported its view of congressional intent, and the statutory language is pretty clear. Members of Congress have subsequently stated that this wasn’t their intent, but my understanding is that courts are specifically barred from considering post-facto statements about intent.
When you read through the ruling, it’s easy to see the many ways in which the law’s architects brought this on themselves. The law was highly complex, badly drafted and highly controversial. When a Republican won a special election for the Senate in Massachusetts (!), the Democrats had to push it through on a straight party-line vote with some adroit parliamentary maneuvering -- which gave them a health-care law, but one that was badly put together and couldn’t be substantially amended. The gaping holes were patched with administrative fixes, like an Internal Revenue Service ruling that held federally established exchanges to be equivalent to an exchange established by the state. But the vast scale of the law meant that the administrative gymnastics that held it together might not be sustainable.
For example, the core of the government’s case is that Congress cannot have meant to leave federal exchanges without subsidies, because without the subsidies, the insurance markets in states with federal exchanges would inevitably enter into a death spiral. And obviously Congress wouldn’t do that.
The problem, as the justices point out in their brief, is that the government has done just that. Federal territories are subject to the mandates, but they don’t get subsidies. So clearly the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services think that, at least in some cases, Congress would and did enact exactly the system -- guaranteed issue, community rating, but no subsidies -- that the government lawyers are claiming they would never consider.
Courts are cautious about fatally damaging major laws, and if this ruling stands, it would be pretty damaging. Most of the people who bought new insurance on the exchanges qualified for subsidies; many of them will exit if the subsidies are withdrawn, and those most likely to exit are the young and healthy. Which brings us back to the specter of an insurance market death spiral in states with federal exchanges.
That’s not a guaranteed outcome -- I’ll write more about the possible permutations later today. But even if it’s not guaranteed, it’s certainly a risk. So this is a major ruling, which will potentially have major impact on a major law. And that itself is always a bit surprising. The Fourth Circuit reached the opposite result, in another ruling released today: “the court is of the opinion that the defendants have the stronger position, although only slightly.”
So what happens next? In the short term, the case probably goes to an en banc hearing in front of the full appeals court, sometime in the fall, and then quite possibly to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the administration says the subsidies will continue to flow, though it’s not clear upon what they are basing that -- whether it expects a stay of the decision pending en banc review, or whether it is signaling their intention to ignore the ruling until the appeals are exhausted.
This quote seems appropriate:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6) 

Monday, July 21, 2014

11 Commandments

A good rebuttal. [Link]
Elizabeth Warren, best known for being a super white lady who pretended to be Indian to fulfill an EEOC requirement, is trying to establish herself as the “Youthful” alternative to Hillary Clinton for a presidential run. This is understandable since Clinton was born in ’47 and Warren was born in ’49, and that’s like seven Prog years.
Anyways, Warren gave a speech and listed off the 11 Commandments of Progressivism.
Since I despise Progressivism to the very core of my being, let’s take this opportunity to go through these commandments together. As we’ll see, most of them sound all nice and fluffy but are actually pure evil, sort of like pulling a bunny slipper over a jackboot. Each one of these is so ridiculous that responding to it would take a thesis, so I’ll just hit the broad philosophical points.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Border Crisis

Peggy Noonan. [Link]
It's like you live in a house that's falling apart. The roof needs to be patched and there are squirrels in the attic, a hornet's nest in the eaves. The basement's wet. The walkway to the front door is cracked with grass growing through it. The old boiler is making funny sounds. On top of that it's always on your mind that you could lose your job tomorrow and must live within strict confines so you can meet the mortgage and pay the electric bill. You can't keep the place up and you're equal parts anxious, ashamed and angry. And then one morning you look outside and see . . . all these people standing on your property, looking at you, making some mute demand. Little children looking lost—no one's taking care of them. Older ones settling in the garage, or working a window to the cellar. You call the cops. At first they don't come. Then they come and shout through a bull horn and take some of the kids and put them in a shelter a few blocks away. But more kids keep coming! You call your alderman and he says there's nothing he can do. Then he says wait, we're going to pass a bill and get more money to handle the crisis. You ask, "Does that mean the kids will go home?" He says no, but it may make things feel more orderly. You call the local TV station and they come do a report on your stoop and then they're gone, because really, what can they do, and after a few days it's getting to be an old story.
No one's in charge! No one is taking responsibility. No one who wants to help has authority, and no one with authority is helping.
America is the house that is both falling apart and under new stress. Those living within it, those most upset by what they're seeing, know America has big problems—unemployment, low workforce participation, a rickety physical infrastructure, an unsound culture, poor public education. And of course discord of all sorts—a lot of mad squirrels running around the attic. They know America can't pay its bills. They fear we're living on the fumes of greatness. They want us to be strong again. Watching our border collapse doesn't look like a harbinger of progress.
Here it must be said that those who live comfortable lives can afford to roll with the historical punches. But people who are not affluent live closer to the ground, and closer to the country's deterioration. The rougher America becomes, the more they feel the abrasion. They're not protected.
And they know no one wants to be in charge, wants to seize this thing and take responsibility. The mind-boggling fact is that everyone in charge more or less suggests they're powerless to do anything. And the children keep coming.
Give the president points for honesty. He doesn't want to enact an "I care and am aware" photo-op. He will pay a political price, but it is clearly a price he is willing to pay. He never has to face a voter again.
The latest border surge has been going on for at least two years. Children and others are coming because they believe that under the president's leadership, if they get here they'll get a pass to stay. (They're probably right.) This was predictable. Two years ago Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote the president that the number of unaccompanied children was spiking sharply. He warned that unless the government moves, other minors would attempt the journey and find themselves in "extremely dangerous situations." The generally agreed-upon number of those who've come so far this year is 50,000. Now government estimates are rising to at least 90,000 by year's end.


Meanwhile some in the conservative press call the president incapable, unable to handle the situation. But he is not so stupid he doesn't know this is a crisis. He knows his poll numbers are going to go even lower next month because of it. He scrambled Wednesday to hold a news conference to control a little of the damage, but said nothing new.
There is every sign he let the crisis on the border build to put heat on Republicans and make them pass his idea of good immigration reform. It would be "comprehensive," meaning huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief. His base wants it. It would no doubt benefit the Democratic Party in the long term.
The little children in great danger, holding hands, staring blankly ahead, are pawns in a larger game. That game is run by adults. How cold do you have to be to use children in this way?

Monday, July 07, 2014

Intent vs Textualism

A big fight coming up for Obamacare. [Link]
To review from my original post on the matter: The law’s plain language says subsidies are available only when a health plan is purchased on an exchange “established by the state under section 1311.” 34 states refused to establish an exchange, after which the HHS Secretary invoked her authority to set up federal exchanges under a different section: section 1321. Then the IRS promulgated a rule that said exchanges set up by the Secretary under section 1321 were actually exchanges “established by the state under section 1311.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say: “state” does not mean “federal government.” The exchanges established by the HHS Secretaryunder section 1321 are not “established by the state under section 1311.” Making the point even clearer: a “state” is defined in the ACA as “each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia,” they note, and not the federal government.
The Obama lawyers say: oh, come on. Don’t look at the plain language of that one provision. You gotta look at the whole law and the intent of Congress.
If a law means whatever you want it to (intent), then that law is meaningless because as soon as someone who disagrees with you as to what it means is in charge, they can make it mean whatever they want it to. The law is the text, any other way is madness.

Appealing to Congress’s subjective “intent” is the subsidies’ only hope for survival. An appeal to “intent” is the only method leftists have available in this case to twist the words to their purpose. A textualist approach means most ObamaCare subsidies will be found unlawful. There is zero debate: a plain language, textualist approach in this case means Obama loses. That’s why every Democrat rejects a plain language approach in this case, and tortures the text to argue that Congress’s “intent” was to provide subsidies for all. As one of the judges said at oral argument, the legislative history is a “wash” — which at least gives Democrats a fighting chance to argue for their version of “intent.”
Notably, Nancy Pelosi and others have filed a brief (.pdf) in Halbig saying: we really meant to provide subsidies on federal exchanges. If a court elevates subjective intent over the plain language of the law, that court might well give great weight to Pelosi’s brief.
But even if Pelosi is telling the truth, that does not end the matter. Even if we foolishly looked only to “intent” and not to the plain language, the “intent” of everyone who voted would be relevant, I would think. And there’s the rub. Pelosi might have “intended” one thing, and Ben Nelson another. This shows why trying to divine legislative “intent” is a fool’s errand. As I have argued before, legislative intent should not be a judge’s focus in interpreting a law. For one thing, you can’t ever discern a collective “intent” from a collection of different politicians, except by examining what they actually said. That’s why the only reasonable way to resolve the issue is to look at the plain language of the law, and enforce that.
Forget “intent.” Intent does not matter unless it is conveyed in the language of the law. Period. This isn’t just about one result, however important that result is. Original understanding alone preserves the rule of law.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Venus Ho!

Colonizing Venus may be a good idea. [Link]
The second planet from the Sun might seem like a nasty place to build a home, with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere so dense it would feel like being submerged beneath 3000 feet of water. But the air on Venus thins out as you rise above the surface and cools considerably; about 30 miles up you hit the sweet spot for human habitation: Mediterranean temperatures and sea-level barometric pressure. If ever there were a place to build a floating city, this would be it.
Believe it or not, a floating city might be a feasible project. Scientist and science fiction author Geoffrey Landis presented a paper called "Colonizing Venus" [PDF] at the Conference on Human Space Exploration, Space Technology & Applications International Forum in Albuquerque, New Mexico back in 2003. Breathable air floats in Venus's soupy carbon dioxide atmosphere, which means on Venus, a blimp could use air as its lifting gas, the way terrestrial blimps use helium to float in our much thinner atmosphere.

Slippery slope

300 is now 750. [Link]
[T]hey could be there for airstrikes against the terrorist army that Barack Obama unaccountably just let set up shop again in Iraq. Continuing on…
The Pentagon also sent over additional surveillance drones.
President Obama on Monday sent 200 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel amid growing fears that Sunni militants in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could overrun the country. The order brought the total number of U.S. ground forces in Iraq to 750.
…Wasn’t it supposed to be capped at 300? Why, yes.  Yes, it was.
Barack Obama announced on Thursday [June 19, 2014] that a contingent up to 300 “military advisers” will be sent to help Iraq’s beleaguered army repel the advance of Sunni insurgents, but insisted the US would not be dragged into another bloody war in the country.
It’s not even a month and we’re already seeing the mission being expanded. I wonder what our troop strength in Iraq will be by August.  Of course, I also wonder if there’s still going to be an Iraq at that point…

Bond as Moneypenny

Velvet, a spy thriller comic from Ed Brubaker. [Link]
In the opening issue of the comic book Velvet, the secretary to the director of an elite British spy agency decides to go digging into the mysterious death of a secret agent. This, she learns, is a mistake, and soon enough she finds herself standing over a dead body, and framed for murder. “This is as bad as it gets, secretary,” says one of the armed men who bursts in to arrest her. “No,” she answers, “it isn’t.” Seconds later, every secret agent in the room is writhing on the floor, and she’s leaping out the window in a stealth suit.
Turns out this isn’t a story about Moneypenny, the secretary waiting for James Bond behind a desk at MI6. It’s a story that asks, what if a 40-something secretary was secretly James Bond all along?
And this on casting:
“I loved the idea of flipping the typical male-oriented spy story, and doing one about a woman who was also a mature, middle-aged woman,” says Brubaker. He saw the character’s age as fundamental to the story; it helped cement her as mature, seasoned rather than a vulnerable young woman-in-danger, and it allowed her to have a deeper, richer history as a spy. “In the espionage field, it totally makes sense that someone could have a secret history; they could have a job for 20 years that turns out to be a front, basically,” says Brubaker. “But it has to be someone who’s lived a real life.”
When he started pitching the concept as a TV pilot, however, Velvet’s age turned out to be more controversial than expected. “The notes that we got from everybody were that she needed to be 25, and an agent-in-training learning from the cool male secret agent. I was just like ‘OK, this is… just appalling to me,’” Rather than a character that had lived a real life, they wanted a woman 20 years younger, stripped of Velvet’s expertise and maturity. “Imagine Taken, if Liam Neeson’s character were 30,” he adds. “It’s just not the same movie.”
Brubaker recalls one of his favorite actors, Diane Lane, talking about how all the good roles seemed to evaporate after she turned 40, leaving nothing but moms or jilted wives left for younger women. “How is it possible that nobody wants to write an amazing part for a woman that’s not basically a kid? Most of the [male] actors we see in the world are in their 40s, or late 30s,” he says. “You don’t see the person who chose to be James Bond but also happens to be a woman.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Big Brother parenting in Scotland

Talk about nanny state. [Link]
Imagine the very worst home a child could grow up in: No food in the fridge, parents strung out on drugs, the children covered with scabs and beaten regularly. You would want someone to step in and save the kids.
And then there's Scotland.
Scotland wants to treat all families as potentially abusive and appoint a "named person" (that is, a guardian) as soon as the child is born and up through age 18 to oversee the parenting. This "shadow parent" would be empowered by the government under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, which will take effect in 2016.
As Josie Appleton, founder of the U.K.'s Manifesto Club, writes in SpikedOnline:
It is based on the idea that a person who has been named by the state, touched on the shoulder, has a superior authority and insight to others. Those who have been ‘named’ are seen as better qualified to ‘safeguard’ the wellbeing of a whole nation’s children. Therefore, concern for children’s wellbeing becomes a state-appointed position.
...This is a new kind of parenting-by-surveillance.
The day-to-day role of a named person is to follow ‘reports’ about a child, to keep an eye on their files. They will have rights to see private medical reports, and to request information about that child from other agencies (there is a legal ‘duty to help named person’).... The other aspect of a named person’s role is to propose ‘interventions’. They will have a role in drawing up a ‘child’s plan’ if a child is found to have a ‘wellbeing need’: this plan will outline the ‘targeted intervention which requires to be provided… in relation to the child’.