Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

How the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Debacle Will End [Addendum added]

I have known for the last five weeks—since January 27, to be exact—that the Supreme Court will uphold the Administration’s interpretation of the federal-subsidies provisions in the ACA when it issues its decision in the infamous King v. Burwell case whose argument date at the Court is Wednesday.  I also have known since then that the opinion will be unanimous, or nearly so, and that Antonin Scalia is likely to write it but if not will join it.

I considered revealing this to AB readers earlier, but feared an F.B.I. inquiry into suspicions that I hacked into the computer system in Scalia’s chambers, so I hesitated.  But it’s now or never—Scalia will make his position clear at the argument, and then I will have lost my one chance, ever, for a career as a Vegas oddsmaker—and I think I can persuade the F.B.I. that I received my information not illegally but instead from a report recounting extensive, pointed comments Scalia made in open court on January 21, in a case that is not about the ACA but is, like King, about the methods the Court uses to interpret lengthy, highly complex federal statutes with multiple interconnecting sections and subsections whose purpose is to establish a cohesive policy.

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Tamir Rice: 2nd Amendment Martyr

An American citizen exercising his Constitutional (or for some God-Given) Right to Bear Arms was shot down on sight by Police in Cleveland.

The Police defense was “We were in fear for our lives”. But as the good folks at Open Carry Tarrant County and many other 2nd Amendment defenders point out no citizen, including police officers, should EVER feel “fear for their lives” simply at the sight of American citizens carrying weapons, including civilian versions of combat weapons. In fact Open Carry Tarrant County explicitly believes that their rights are violated even in the case of Texas laws that allow open carry of long arms but prohibit open carry of handguns. From their website:

In the Tarrant County area? Support the 2nd amendment? We are going to be conducting open carry walks with our long guns on a regular basis, keeping an eye on pro gun candidates and keeping up on gun legislation. In Texas it is legal to open carry your long gun or a black powder pistol but not your handgun. We want constitutional carry for all. Join us!

We do walks all over Tarrant and surrounding areas. We sometimes travel to different cities all over the state! If you have a suggestion of a place for us to walk that you think would be beneficial, let us know!

We are a peaceful group and do not advocate violence in any way. We are not here to start confrontations with Police or any of the such, but we will assert our rights

Given this you would think that 2nd Amendment Absolutists would be up in arms (literally) in defense of the Martyr Tamir Rice. After all the fact (if fact it was) that Tamir was carrying a toy gun that had its distinctive orange tip obscured or removed is irrelevant in context. Like any American citizen he is principle should have been able to be carrying a REAL pistol. As long as he was not directly threatening others. Now there may be reasons why the exercise of certain Constitutional Rights should be denied to minor children (though most 2nd Amendment Defenders tend to deny them and promote Eddie Eagle and gun training for all ages). But there is no reason why a CHILD violating that (arguably un-Constitutional) law or regulation should be subject to immediate execution by the State.

But who am I trying to kid here? It is perfectly clear that Open Carry Tarrant County and all their allies are willing to apply one simple qualifying clause to the 2nd Amendment: “2nd Amendment-ing while Black Should be Done at Your Own Risk”.


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Netanyahu Lied so far no one Died

February 23 Al Jazeera and The Guardian reported leaked memos from Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to the South African intelligence agency. The memos contradicted claims of fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently made in his UN Speech (the one with the illustration of cartoon bomb with a burning fuse). This post mainly points to an excellent article by J.J. Goldberg in The Jewish Daily Forward (h/t Josh Marshall)

The heart of Netanyahu’s U.N. speech concerned Iran’s progress in enriching uranium to weapons-grade purity, which he said was only months away from completion. Of the three stages of enrichment — refining raw ore to 5% pure uranium, then refining it again to 20% and finally to bomb-grade 90% purity — Iran had “completed the first stage” and was “well into the second stage,” which would be finished “by next spring, at most by next summer,” meaning 2013.
“From there,” he said, “it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

And once Iran had a bomb, he said, it would use it, because its “apocalyptic leaders” believe a nuclear holocaust would bring the rapture, when “their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.”

The Mossad memo, dated less than a month earlier, said that “even though Iran has accumulated enough 5% enriched uranium for several bombs, and has enriched some of it to 20%, it does not appear ready to enrich it to higher levels.” For one thing, the 20% stockpile was “not increasing” because quantities were being “allocated” to the civilian-based Tehran Research Reactor.

Second, enrichment to weapons-grade, the third stage, wouldn’t be possible until work was finished on a separate facility, the IR40 heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak. “We assess,” the memo said, “that this will not happen before mid-2014” — a full year after Netanyahu said the quickie third stage would begin.

Netanyahu was taking advantage of the fact that Mossad communications to him are top secret to lie about the intelligence he was receiving. He didn’t contest Mossad’s analysis, he claimed it was different from what it was.

I just want to add some background in case someone doesn’t find “mid 2014” reassuring. Construction of the Arac IR40 heavy-water reactor has been suspended as part of the interim agreement between Iran and the group of six (UN security council permanent members plus Germany). The Mossad memo asserts that Uranium enrichment is not the path to an Iranian bomb which, if it were made, would be made with Plutonium. Also the stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium is no longer merely “not increasing” — it was reduced due to the interim agreement.

While producing the weapons grade fissionable material is the slow and difficult part of making an atomic bomb, it isn’t the only challenge — it is also necessary to develop the ability to shape the fissionable material into an extremely uniform sphere. Years ago, the US intelligence community concluded that Iran had ceased efforts to do that.

Netanyahu’s interpretation of the evidence is fundamentally different from the interpretation of the vast majority of experts. This has been clear for years. The new and important (but unsurprising) news is that he lied about what those experts were telling him.

update: minds think alike “Netanyahu’s US speech a ‘blessing’ for Iran talks? ì”

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Madison Protesters the same as ISIS

I lived in Mad City for 12 years, a place I had wished I could of lived as a child. Instead, I was able to raise my children there. Flying back to Madison after a consulting gig and seeing lakes Mendota, Monona, Wingra, the Capital on the Isthmus between Mendota and Monona nestled in the woodlands was akin to returning to sanctuary. It was safe haven for those of us who lived there and returned there after working elsewhere.

Madison always had a different way about it.  While running for election, Gov. Dreyfuss called it “30 square miles (1978) surrounded by reality.” We were different and we made it different as we paid higher taxes to ensure better schools and services for those who lived there. We bought Dreyfuss daughter’s home on the west side. Given my knowledge of Mad City and knowing it is illegal by state law for public workers to strike in Wisconsin, it is interesting to read Scott Walker’s comments about protesters there:

“‘We will have somebody who leads and ultimately will send a message that not only will we protect American soil, but do not take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world.’

Here comes the zinger.

‘We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I could take on 100,000 protesters (in Madison, Wisconsin), I can do the same across the world.’

So that we’re clear here, Scott Walker just compared American citizens exercising their right to free speech to violent, homicidal extremists in the Middle East.

What did Walker do to ‘take on’ the Madison protesters? Well, he locked them out of the Capitol, threatened to call out the National Guard, had them arrested, and exposed himself as the corrupt Kochhead that he is.'”

I knew we were tough; but, we were not extremists by any stretch of Walker’s imagination. Let us be sure, Walker is no leader and has pretty much ruined the state of Wisconsin with his governance of it which will carry on for years to come. Walker did catch flak for his comments comparing Wisconsin protesters to extremists as Senator Warren took Scottie-boy Walker to the wood shed:

“If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firemen as his enemies; maybe it is time we take a closer look at his friends,” Senator Elizabeth Warren . . . One could only hope she would run for president.

Scott Walker’s friends are the ultra conservatives such as the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, etc. It is no secret the Koch Brothers spent far more on the 2012 election than the top ten unions (which they are trying to bust) spent. Furthermore by Federal law, those unions have to report what they have spent on elections.

2016 will be an interesting election.

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Scott Walker Announces His Foreign Policy: Privatize Social Security and Medicare; end the food stamp program and CHIP, and repeal the National Labor Relations Act

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Two days after provocatively suggesting that standing up to organized labor in Wisconsin has prepared him to fight terrorists overseas as president, Scott Walker told a crowd of conservative donors on Saturday that “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime was when Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers. …

“Candidly, I think foreign policy is something that’s not just about having a PhD or talking to PhDs. It’s about leadership,” he said. “I would contend the most significant foreign policy decision in my lifetime was made by a president who was previously a governor. A president who made a decision that wasn’t even about foreign policy. It was in August of 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers.”

Scott Walker pressed for specifics at Club meeting, James Hohmann, Politico, yesterday

Turns out that that was the second time in a week that Walker said this.  The first time was in his speech at the private fund raiser in which Giuliani said Obama doesn’t love America, or love Giuliani, or love the donors in attendance at the dinner, later citing as supporting evidence that he (Giuliani) rarely hears Obama profess his love of country using the cants that Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt—er, Reagan and Bill Clinton—did regularly. (Free speech is for college students and human and corporate campaign donors, but not for presidents, who must recite a loyalty oath every few weeks.  Joe McCarthy was right!  That ole five-star general who conned his way into the White House in ’53 was a Communist after all!)  But Walker’s comment received little notice, because … well … you know.

But Larry Kudlow, one of the people whom Giuliani identified by group (Kudlow was an attendee) as someone whom Obama doesn’t love, and who reported on Walker’s speech for Real Clear Politics, did take note:

Noteworthy, Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as to our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Noteworthy, indeed.

Of course, our Soviet enemy abroad in August 1981 was led by a man who by then was spending much of his time in a hospital, and who died 15 months later at the age of 75, presumably having never recovered from the shock of having to deal with a U.S. president who fired his country’s striking air traffic controllers.  He was replaced with a man who, also elderly, died in office 15 months later after spending all but  the first three months of his presidency in such poor health that it was doubted at the time that he (or anyone else) was actually running the country.  He was replaced with an elderly man who lived only 13 months, not the full 15 months that his three predecessors each had managed while dealing with the stress of trying to oppose a U.S. president who had won his war against unionized air traffic controllers.  The next Soviet president, seriously concerned that Reagan was onto something with his unconventional, remote-control, foreign-policy tactic, and wanting to remain healthy for at least two years into his presidency, waved the white flag and declared glasnost and perestroika.

So I can see why Walker would contend that the most significant foreign policy decision in his lifetime was Ronald Reagan’s decision in August of 1981 to fire the air traffic controllers.  Walker’s lifetime began on November 2, 1967, and nothing much of importance has happened in foreign policy since then.  But even if that weren’t so, fending off four Soviet presidents in as many years simply by firing the striking air traffic controllers was indeed a significant foreign policy achievement.  As well as a major technological advance.  Computer science history books record all this as the first known instance of virtual reality.

But I don’t think Putin will be as easily dispensed with as Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko—he’s younger than they were, and looks pretty healthy—or as cowering as Gorbachev was.  And I definitely doubt that Jihadi John or ISIS’s military leaders follow U.S. labor law politics very closely.  So simply ending collective bargaining rights here probably won’t cause ISIS to surrender or Putin to end his attempts to annex Ukraine.

No, Walker would have to up the toughness ante.  Something that will grab ISIS leaders’ and Putin’s attention.  Something that they’ll understand.

Social Security.

Once President Walker starts privatizing Social Security and makes clear that next up is Medicare, Putin and ISIS will know whom they’re dealing with.  But President Walker, an impatient leader and a man of action, won’t wait to press the point further.  Ending the food stamp and student-lunch programs will provide awesome video of people who starved to death, and ending CHIP will yield perfect photos and stories for the administration’s foreign-policy messaging.  Walker may not even have to push through Congress a measure mandating the shooting on sight of all stray dogs and cats, to get ISIS to surrender.

He’s an irresistible candidate.  Sure, we don’t want those domestic policies, and we, and he, know that they can’t be justified to the public on their own merits.  But we do really want to see Putin end his military aggression in Ukraine, and we really, really want to see the demise of ISIS.  And we want these to happen without the assistance of U.S. ground troops.  So the trade-offs seem fair.

Uh-oh.  Poor Hillary Clinton.


POSTSCRIPT: As someone who has followed the Wisconsin political situation in the last four years fairly closely, I’ve been downright dismayed at the political news media’s facile adoption of the line that Walker is the candidate who can appeal both to the party’s base (pun intended; read the first few paragraphs of Alec MacGillis’s outstanding June 2014 longform article in The New Republic) and the party’s Establishment.  Hillary Clinton, and I, will keep our fingers crossed that the Republican Establishment doesn’t read the MacGillis article or is too clueless to foresee ads featuring audio clips from the two radio shows those first few paragraphs describe, broadcast days apart on some show hosted by someone named Mark Belling, in late 2013.  There is no possible definition of civilized society in which this would be considered a plus for someone campaigning to be its leader.

Then again, I’ve also been sort of chuckling at the Conventional Wisdom of the last few months among political news media folks that the Republican field is much stronger than their 2012 field.  Rick Perry is starting to look good, folks, especially since he’s now remembered the third Cabinet Department he wants to shutter.

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Guest post: Comparing performance between Republican and Democratic years

Guest post:  by Nathan Salminen (Politics that work)

Comparing performance between Republican and Democratic years

The performance gap we see at the state level could still theoretically be the result of factors other than policy. It could be that the red states have simply drawn the short straws and happen to have inferior access to natural resources or trade or that they simply lost out in the lottery of history. That seems unlikely because states that are very different in every other way still tend to perform similarly to states with which they share little other than policy, but it is still a possibility. So, to eliminate the possibility that the differences are the product of localized factors, next we want to see how the policies of the parties perform when we hold the locality constant and look instead at years when each party was in power.

The most fundamental measure of economic performance is the rate at which the gross domestic product (GDP) grows. At the national level, the differences between how fast our GDP has grown during years when the Democrats have controlled both the legislature and the presidency, how fast it has grown when the Republicans controlled both, and years when the parties have split control are as follows:


rate of growth in the gross domestic product under Republicans and Democrats

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