They Play The Long Game and They Tell You Their Every Move

Many of you have heard about Clarence Thomas making the news:

ustice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday called for the Supreme Court to reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 ruling interpreting the First Amendment to make it hard for public officials to prevail in libel suits.

He said the decision had no basis in the Constitution as it was understood by the people who drafted and ratified it.

“New York Times and the court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Justice Thomas wrote.

This is, of course, completely unrelated, I am sure, to conservative animus to a free press calling out right-wing perfidy. It also has nothing to do with Donald Trump’s longstanding war with the media and, notably, Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post. This is also completely unrelated:

Lawyers for 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School junior who faced off with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last month, have filed a $250 million lawsuit against The Washington Post, one of many newspapers to report on viral video of the incident.

“This is only the beginning,” said the attorneys, Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry, on their firm’s website, noting that it was the “first lawsuit” on Sandmann’s behalf.

This is also unrelated to the Covington boys hiring a right wing PR firm hired by Scott Jennings, a protege of Mitch McConnell. Why, I’d even wonder what roads some of the attorneys at Hemmer, DeFrank, and Wessels traveled. Who clerked with who, who went to law school with who, etc.

Or maybe I am just being paranoid and conspiratorial. But I have no doubt that the free speech zealots on the right at the court will suddenly drop that position if it helps their side. They’re all hacks and frauds.

You Do Understand Why He is Doing This, Don’t You?

Cheryl wrote about the administration’s attempts to nuclearize the Middle East, but I just want to make sure something is crystal clear. Obviously, there are probably a ton of people trying to get filthy rich off this, and I am sure someone promised Trump or his family money somehow for this, but I think it is super important we remember why Trump signed off on this and is letting people pursue it.

It’s because one of Obama’s major issues was nuclear proliferation. It’s something he was interested in and pursued as a Senator, it is something he talked about frequently, and something he believe was extremely important. It’s one of the first things he pursued in 2009 in Prague, it’s why he worked so hard to achieve the Iran deal, it’s why he was very focused on the 2016 Nuclear Summit- it was a big deal for him.

Obviously, like everything, his record did not meet his goals, but goals are, you know, aspirational. But it was very, very important to him.

And that’s why Trump is doing everything he can to dismantle it. Sure, there are hawks who wanted to kill the Iran deal for a variety of reasons, but for Trump, it was because Obama’s admin negotiated it. It’s why Trump walked away from the INF. It’s why he is ok with this.

Everything Trump does is about Trump- of course he is surrounded by enablers and opportunists who realize he is a dolt who can be used to achieve their own ends, but Obama humiliated Trump at the WHCD several years ago, so everything that Obama has done must be destroyed.

It’s important we remember that with a narcissist and a sociopath like Trump, the motives are always right there in the open. There’s no reason to wrap yourself around an axle trying to figure out why Trump would be ok with this. It’s that simple- he’s doing it because Obama would oppose it. It’s the same with the fucking ACA and everything else.

Heartland Values

Those of who who read TPM might have heard about the novel argument for the death penalty made by Wyoming State Legislator Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne), but wait, hold her beer.  First, for those who missed it, her Jesus-based reason for the death penalty:

“The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me,” she said. “I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. If it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.”

Second, what she told some LGBTQ high school students while discussing a workplace protection bill for LGBTQ employees:

The students wanted Hutchings, their district representative, to support the bill, according to the complaint letter.

According to the complaint, she responded by saying: “If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Line up the 100 biggest assholes in the country and the first 25 will be state legislators.

(h/t to a long-suffering Wyoming reader)

The WV Education Bill is Mostly Dead

Dropped off Steve at the groomers, and on my way home, I picked up a dozen donuts , a dozen paczki, some apples, and a case of bottled water and dropped it off at the teacher strike. By the time I got home, the bill was mostly dead:

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted today to kill an education omnibus bill that would have provided a pay raise to teachers and school workers, but would also have opened the door to charter schools and private education savings accounts, among other measures opposed by teachers and school workers unions.

The House vote to kill the bill, officially a vote to postpone it “indefinitely,” was 53-45. A previous motion to delay consideration of the bill until 4 p.m. failed by the same margin.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The Senate will need to learn that the House of Delegates is a co-equal branch of government, and learn to work with them rather than trying to just ram shit through. Additionally, it is worth remembering that what they were trying to do was to take the teacher pay raise that Justice promised last year, and add in a bunch of egregious nonsense, and force it through that way. However, it ain’t just over yet:

BREAKING NEWS: It’s been brought to our attention that Delegate Steele (R-Raleigh) switched his vote at the last minute even after giving a passionate speech against those who killed SB 451 with the Motion to Postpone Indefinitely. It appears the Republicans still have some tricks up their sleeve, because according to parliamentary procedure the Republicans could technically move to make a Motion to Reconsider the Motion to Postpone Indefinitely which would bring the motion back to the floor for another vote. Only Delegates who voted in favor of the winning motion can move to reconsider it. In a process full of dirty parliamentary procedure tricks, it appears we aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Ultimately, we don’t think they can flip enough votes to change the outcome, but it’s a possibility….

They’re sneaky and shameless. In the years before social media and cell phones, they would have gotten away with it.

A Quick Post On Selling Nuclear Technology To The Saudis

Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ken Dilanian was the first with the story, and Washington Post is catching up. Like a lot of stories about the Trump administration’s dicey connections with foreign governments, it adds some new information to a story that I’ve been following for a long time.

The current emphasis is that Saudi Arabia (which I’ll refer to as KSA) wants a nuclear program that might eventually be used to produce weapons. That misses a lot. Michael Flynn was trying to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis for quite some time. That attempt has continued. I have a copy of the report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, but what I want to do here is discuss the context of the actions described there. This post will be a quick outline, without most of the links it should have.

Early on, Flynn was working with IP3 to sell nuclear reactors to KSA. At the time, KSA said they wanted 16 nuclear reactors. Flynn’s plan included working with Russia and perhaps China to provide the reactors; it also included a heavy security plan that looked likely to include a contractor like Erik Prince to provide the muscle.

As the price of oil went down, KSA could no longer afford 16 reactors, and the plan cratered. But Flynn continued to try to sell reactors to them. He also included American reactor manufacturers. When Flynn was taken down by his Russian connections, interactions to sell reactors to KSA continued.

As recently as last week, Donald Trump was meeting with reactor manufacturers on the subject. Current concerns revolve around safeguards against KSA’s using its nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons. To do this, the United States requires what is called a 123 Agreement, named for its legal basis. The trend has been toward disallowing uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel, the two pathways to nuclear weapons, although they can also be justified for peaceful use. KSA does not want those restrictions. It appears that the news today is that some in the administration are trying to meet KSA’s preferences.

The bigger story is that the administration, via Flynn and now others, has been eager to supply KSA with the technology it wants. Other recent news, like the administration’s unwillingness to admit KSA’s brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, suggests a relationship similar to Trump’s favoritism toward Russia.

In January 2017, Erik Prince met with Russian and Middle Eastern representatives in the Seychelles.

There is a nonproliferation issue here, but I think the larger issue is the quid pro quo. KSA wants the nuclear technology. What is the quo?

On The Lack Of Analytical Utility Of The Concept Of Deterrence

With the US withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, we will be hearing more about deterrence. That word is used far too broadly, muddying discussions of military strategy and focusing discussions of war and peace too narrowly.

As the Cold War progressed from open competition for bigger bombs in the 1950s, through the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the realization that Ronald Reagan expressed so nicely, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” slowly formed, although seldom expressed openly by the governments of the United States or the Soviet Union. Nuclear war became more unthinkable, and communication and arms control measures were instituted to make it less likely.

That uneasy standoff continued through the fall of the Soviet Union. It is often attributed solely to both countries’ possession of enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other, that rough equality called deterrence. But there are many other reasons to avoid nuclear war, like developing a country’s economy and attending to other areas of instability. When those reasons are left out, discussions of strategy are distorted.

Deterrence is the ability to warn off another party from doing something bad to you. “If you do something bad to us, we will do worse to you.” The emphasis on mutual nuclear destruction pulled the term toward nuclear use, but it is more general. Deterrence theory is now largely about nuclear weapons and often descends into unrealistic game theorizing. Nuclear arsenals are often referred to as “deterrents,” a concretization and  further distortion. Deterrence is a relationship, not a thing in itself.

Deterrence can lead to an arms race as one party seeks to overcome the other’s power to deter.  That was why arms control treaties were a stabilizing factor in the later Cold War.

There are some current analyses that use the word “deterrence” but are talking about something else. Deterrence is treated as a concrete thing that exists on its own, when it is a descriptor of a particular relationship. If deterrence is a thing that can be imposed on a situation, or a characteristic of particular weapons, then much becomes possible.

Escalate to De-Escalate

Russia is believed by some to have a military doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate.” Russia would use a small nuclear weapon early in a conflict to indicate its willingness to go nuclear and thus scare off an opponent and end the war at a time favorable to Russia. There is a question as to whether this is in fact Russian doctrine. If deterrence depends on knowing what the other party is thinking, then it’s important to know whether this is Russian doctrine.

In response to such a move, more than one action is possible. The United States might indeed calculate that withdrawal and negotiations toward peace are best. But the decision equally could be to retaliate in kind: Russia nukes Tallinn, and the United States nukes Rostov. And then what? Or the response might be a different sort of attack. The decision depends on a calculation of costs and benefits. Use of a nuclear weapon has been felt to change the course of war fundamentally. Does that assumption fail to hold for a small and early nuclear attack?

Within the United States, those who assume escalate to de-escalate is Russian doctrine argue that low-yield nuclear weapons are necessary to deter that strategy or to meet it if its use is not deterred. The threat of meeting it, of course, is part of deterrence. It could also be argued that having only high-yield weapons (which is not the case) deters an escalate to de-escalate strategy because of the potential escalation to the use of those weapons. Instead, the argument is that the United States would hold back from using those weapons.

Those arguing that low-yield weapons are necessary to deter an escalate to de-escalate strategy are choosing one set of actions and responses, one set of motivations, out of that group. I do not see that clarity.

 “We Must Match Their Weapons”

Vladimir Putin claims that Russia is working on exotic new weapons – a stealth underwater drone to deliver a radioactive tidal wave, a nuclear-powered nuclear cruise missile, a hypersonic delivery vehicle. All seem to be impractical or not a material change in the balance.

I am highly doubtful that the first two will ever exist, and the third is a very expensive way to evade missile defenses that can be overcome with the numbers of nuclear weapons Russia possesses. Nonetheless, some people’s definition of prudence demands that we match those weapons. A pointless expenditure of billions of dollars may be what Putin is baiting us into whether or not those weapons are real.

The point of deterrence is to avoid war and to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. Decisions for war or use of nuclear weapons are much broader than matching weapon for weapon. There is an argument that deterrence requires that each new development be met with a new development on our side. This opens the way for all those imaginary weapons every boy ever wanted. And it’s not how deterrence works.

“This Weapon Is For Deterrence Only”

That claim is nonsense.

The weapons laboratories have long justified their work by saying that they design and build nuclear weapons so that they will never be used. That justification is attributed to Norris Bradbury, the second director of Los Alamos.

Deterrence depends on a believable threat to use force. The effectiveness of nuclear weapons in deterrence depends on the possibility that they will be used. But if deterrence works, they won’t be used. That’s the basis of the Bradbury justification. It’s a paradox.

To develop a new weapon and assure the public that it’s for deterrence only, not use, undercuts the believable threat to use it. If this is the justification, developing it is pointless because it makes no difference to the balance of power.

These three scenarios do not illustrate deterrence, but rather tactics that can lead to escalation. Deterrence means that war or nuclear use will be avoided. The decision is whether war or nuclear use will be disastrous for the whoever takes the step. That is a big, overall decision. The details worked out in these three examples would be a small input.

Although nuclear weapons were not used during the Cold War, it’s unlikely that nuclear deterrence was the only reason. Trade relations, treaties and other agreements,and  internal divisions within a country all influence decisions on peace and war. Diplomacy played a role. And the bottom line is that a nuclear war is in no country’s interest.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.

Pray For Me I Am Dying

Steve has been sequestered in one of the guest rooms since six am when he woke me up for breakfast. I picked him up and loved on him like I normally do every morning before walking downstairs to feed him, but instead of putting him down and heading downstairs, I carried him into the guest bedroom. We are heading to the groomers this morning, and instead of spending my usual three hours trying to find him and then showing up late, I planned ahead. I even moved his litter box into the spare bedroom last night because I knew he would be in there.

In short, I have an unfed feral bobcat who feels tricked and betrayed locked in my spare bedroom. The low growls have ceased as has the headbutting of the door, so I think he has prepared an ambush. I am going to shower and put on my overalls and gloves and I will get back to you. I hope.

West Virginia Teacher Strike

A work action has been initiated today in West Virginia, and all county schools (save one) are closed because of a really bad education bill that the Senate is trying to ram through:

A little less than a year since the start of West Virginia’s first statewide public school workers strike, leaders of the state’s three major school employee unions called Monday evening for another strike to begin, starting Tuesday, over the education overhaul bill.

All but one of West Virginia’s 54 countywide public school systems canceled school Tuesday. The outlier was Putnam County, which is among West Virginia’s wealthier counties and is near the state Capitol.

“We are taking action,” said Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia branch of the American Federation of Teachers union. “We are left no other choice, but, as of tomorrow, we are calling a statewide strike.”

He briefly referenced that he’s been told there’s support in the House of Delegates for a version of the bill that the unions oppose.

Long story short, the Republican led legislature in the state, which did not even mention “comprehensive education reform” as a legislative priority before the session started, has been up to their usual bullshit. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, who is as wingnutty as they come, was dead set on retribution for last year’s strike, so some heretofore relatively unknown Senator introduced a piece of ALEC written legislation with all sorts of nonsense, to include charter schools, union-busting, and a whole sort of stuff that had no chance in the House of Delegates.

The Senate, being the Senate, passed it anyway despite the fact that Republicans in the House said they hated it, the Republican governor said he would veto it as is, and virtually everyone who has ever worked in or works in education said the bill is horrible. It then went to the House of Delegates, which promptly stripped most of the crap (you can get a good look at the changes here) and passed it with a bipartisan majority. It was then sent back to the Senate.

Once back in the Senate, they promptly went back to putting all the crap back into it, including jacking up the number of charter schools, removing a provision that said legislators can not profit off charter schools, and reincluding measures to punish unions and prohibit striking. The Senate Republicans refused to allow the minority party to see the bill, and wanted to rush a vote for last night, but there was so much outrage that the votes were postponed until today. It’s a bad bill, but these are Republicans and don’t give a shit. My Senator, William Ihlenfeld (you might remember I volunteered for him and we fundraised for him) put it this way:

Last night, the comprehensive education reform bill was amended by a 18-16 vote and now will go back to the House of Delegates for consideration. Changes from the most recent House version include the increase of charter schools from 2 to 7 and putting ESAs back in after they had been removed. The amendment (130+ pages worth) was worked on all weekend by the majority without any input from the minority, and then provided to everyone 10 minutes before we were asked to vote. This is not how government is supposed to work but it is how the West Virginia Senate operates in 2019.

I voted against the Senate Amendment because of the expansion of the charter schools provision, the addition of ESAs, the uncertainty of what else was in the amendment (even the lead sponsor admitted she hadn’t read all of what was being proposed), the lack of real input from West Virginians, and the oversized influence from outside interests like ALEC and the the Koch brothers-funded Institute for Justice. We don’t need outsiders to tell us how to run our system of education in West Virginia but that’s what has happened with SB 451.

The House Version that was passed last week wasn’t perfect but it was much better than the mess of a bill that the Senate passed out originally. What the House sent back to us was a gift and Senate leadership should have accepted it and said thank you. Instead, they refused it, and added back in much of the garbage that the House had removed.

I’m hearing that the House of Delegates may have the votes to pass the Senate version but that the margin is very slim. I encourage you to contact your representatives to let them know how you feel. Make sure that your voice is heard as you may be able to persuade those who are on the fence.

If you are an educator and will be in Charleston today, please stop by my office in W-229 and say hello. If you need a place to put your jacket, charge your cell phone, or fuel up (I have lots of candy), my office is your office. I hope to see many of you today at the Capitol, and despite what the Putnam superintendent did, we are still #55Strong.

We’ll see what happens next. Now we have to watch as the legislature tries to ram through campus carry over the objection of every educator and educational establishment in the state.

Sanders Announces 2020 Campaign

Via Dave Weigel at The Post:

Sen. Bernie Sanders will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose 2016 presidential campaign grew from a left-wing insurgency to a force that reshaped the Democratic Party, announced Tuesday that he will seek its nomination for president again in 2020…

“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history. It is not only about winning the Democratic nomination and the general election,” he wrote. “Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

The senator, an independent, cited health care, climate change, student debt, the “demonization” of undocumented immigrants, income inequality, gun violence and the myriad problems of America’s needy as propelling him into his second presidential contest.

If I were curator of Sanders’ political legacy, I would have advised him to take credit for pulling the party leftward and play kingmaker. Losing a second primary contest will take the wind out of the “Bernie woulda won” contingent’s sails and diminish Sanders’ influence.

Sanders will almost certainly lose this primary, IMO. The fundamentals have changed. As we’ve noted here endlessly, he won’t get the kid-glove treatment this time around.

Sanders’ “lane” is ably filled already by Senator Warren, who has a deep understanding of structural wealth inequality and detailed plans to address it. (I’m very much looking forward to Warren being asked to define the differences between her ideas and his.)

After the last Democratic presidential primary and in the run-up to the 2016 election, trillions of pixels were expended on the question of whether Sanders supporters would come around to supporting Clinton or not. Most did, but a critical minority did not.

We probably won’t see much speculation on whether Clinton supporters will support Sanders in his bid for the nomination this time. It should be a hot topic because Clinton supporters are the majority of the party, and many believe Sanders played a role in Clinton’s loss.

In her campaign memoir, Clinton wrote:

“His attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.”

The lasting damage wasn’t only to Clinton, IMO. Clinton supporters may doom Sanders’ candidacy this time around, and relatively quickly. But they’ll do it during the primary, which is how intra-party rivalries are supposed to be settled.

Be a good citizen, comment on rule making

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent out their draft Notice for Benefit Payment Parameters (NBPP)-2020 in January. This is the Exchange play book for 2020. It covers how drugs must be covered, what open enrollment looks like, how risk adjustment should work. CMS also asks for advice on two big matters: Silver Loading for CSR payments and auto-enrollment. Comments close tonight at 5:00 PM EST. They can be submitted at Regulation.Gov .

If you have domain specific knowledge, commenting on rule making is good citizenship. Agencies are required to consider advice and comment in their final rules. Sometimes they will look at a comment and say “Yep, we’ve considered it and are still making our original decisions”. Sometimes an agency will go “Oops, you’re right, what we wanted to do is well intention but a pragmatically dumb idea…. let’s revise…..” And other times they won’t look at the comments at all which will get them in trouble when they get sued for violating the Administrative Procedures Act.

Commenting is citizenship. It helps define the world in which we live in. It helps contour the possible. So comment if you can.

I’ve worked on two comments. I have advised several law students as they write an informational comment on Silver Loading. I have also submitted a comment on risk adjustment as I think that CMS is still leaving an opportunity to game prescription drug based risk adjustment due to treatment initiation strategies available and there is a likely big curveball on PrEP coming.

My risk adjustment comment is below the fold.

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On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Juicers who are are on the road, traveling, or just want to share a little bit of their world via stories and pictures. So many of us rise each morning, eager for something beautiful, inspiring, amazing, subtle, of note, and our community delivers – a view into their world, whether they’re far away or close to home – pictures with a story, with context, with meaning, sometimes just beauty. By concentrating travel updates and tips here, it’s easier for all of us to keep up or find them later.

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the picture!

Another older submission, showing a Juicer doing good work!

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Tuesday Morning Open Thread: A Responsible Social Safety Net

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s heard Elizabeth Warren talk about being a single mom desperately using M&Ms to toilet-train her daughter over a long weekend… because if the toddler wasn’t out of diapers, the daycare center wouldn’t admit her, and if the daycare center balked, Mommy wouldn’t be able to take the job she desperately needed to feed them both.

Whether or not it’s the best metric, money is how we measure the worth of jobs, and establishing that the people who care for our kids are ‘worth’ a living wage, well…

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There Will Be Days Like This

This morning:

This evening:

On the plus side, he moved. Tomorrow I hope to get him out of it so I can vacuum the damned thing.

Klobuchar Town Hall

Anyone watching? It’s on CNN with Don Lemon.

She brought up rising insurance rates as a current effect of climate change. That’s something that will ring true for many coastal folk.

She’s doing well half an hour in. Has a good command of facts and reasonably detailed responses to policy questions.

So cool that we have several serious women candidates now and that it doesn’t feel like a huge deal anymore. (Thanks, Hillary!)

Open thread!

Update: Ratfvcker Rog “Apologizes” (for What That’s Worth)

Grifters gonna… cover their flabby arses:

Gave the lawyers on twitter some cheap entertainment, at least…

Did you say ‘lawyers on twitter’?…
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