As much as I loved Cryptonomicon, it was probably inevitable that I’d start in on the Baroque Cycle. I feel like I should be paying a lot more attention to Stephenson’s concepts and his plot, but his prose just slays me. I can’t imagine anyone else seeing a hanging this way:
The rope clutches a disk of blue New England sky. The Puritans gaze at it and, to all appearances, think. Enoch the Red reins in his borrowed horse as it nears the edge of the crowd, and sees that the executioner’s purpose is not to let them inspect his knotwork, but to give them all a narrow—and, to a Puritan, tantalizing—glimpse of the portal through which they all must past one day.
In an odd way, he reminds me of Hilary Mantel. Where Mantel’s all fragments of prose, sharp, strange images, Stephenson tends towards run-on sentences, infinite outward expansion. But they both do lists in the same way, conjuring worlds into existence with arcane nouns and adjectives. For Stephenson, it’s alchemists’ experiments or the stores of a cellar that turns into a solid block of gold in the great fire. For Mantel (in Wolf Hall at least), it’s merchant’s stores and catalogues of estates. They’re both beautiful.
The Wisconsin Newark Neighbors Coalition (aka history’s greatest monsters) is getting their day in court to block a mixed-use supermarket project:
Last July, the Zoning Commission gave their unanimous approval of the project, to which WNNC responded by filing an appeal, claiming that the Zoning Commission does not have the power under the PUD (zoning change approval) to eliminate a neighborhood commercial zone designation on the subject lots. In short, WNNC objects to the changes incurred in the rewriting of the Comprehensive Plan that was first drafted in 2006 that they perceive will increase height of the project and density of the area.
WNNC wants the city to revise the PUD as a two-stage application, and have asked the court to overturn the Commissions decision to grant the PUD within a neighborhood commercial overlay zone district, in what is a fairly typical zoning decision, claiming the Commission lacked authority.
Note that in addition to the badness on the merits of the goals being advanced (sprawl, lack of affordable housing, lack of job opportunities) here there mere existence of so many hurdles a project needs to clear is a huge deterrent to investing in the District of Columbia. Putting lots of discretion into the system may sound like a good idea, but clear rules are really helpful to making business opportunities attractive.
An e-mail was circulated earlier this month by a member of Congress accusing me of trying to “wipe out” the entire health care reform law, eliminate health care coverage for children with congenital heart defects, and take prescription drugs away from seniors. Hours later, Gov. Chris Gregoire, flanked by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, accused me of trying to have the entire law thrown out. She raised the specter that many seniors would each lose $250 worth of coverage and small business people would lose tax credits, among other ominous claims. [...]
I have publicly stated from the beginning that there are specific parts of the 2,700-page law that I believe are unconstitutional, and that these parts should be struck down and severed from the remainder. Federal Judge Henry Hudson reached the same conclusion in Virginia’s challenge to the individual health insurance mandate. Judge Vinson, in the 26-state case in Florida, disagreed and invalidated the entire law. While I believe that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately agree with Judge Hudson, the Vinson ruling against severability highlights the needless risk taken by Congress in incorporating the mandate while deleting the severability clause.
Nevertheless, it is quite significant that McKenna is running away from his own opposition to the ACA just weeks after scoring a brief victory in Judge Vinson’s court. While conservatives have succeeded in turning much of the country against the ACA by telling tall tales about “death panels” and “government takeovers,” the ACA’s actual provisions are wildly popular. More than 7 in 10 Americans approve of the law’s insurance industry regulations, subsidies for low and middle income Americans, expanded Medicare prescription drug coverage for seniors, and tax credits for small businesses who provide insurance to their employees. Even the provision requiring all Americans to either carry insurance or pay slightly more income taxes receives broad support when people understand that this provision is necessary to make the law’s insurance regulations function properly.
So McKenna may be the first right-wing official to run away from his own record on health care once people begin to understand exactly what his radical agenda entails, but he is unlikely to be the last.
On Monday, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) attempted to side-step my question about how Newt Gingrich’s divorces would effect his ability to lead on “family issues” — which he is emphasizing in the early stages of his exploratory bid for president. Santorum — who has always been quick to judge gay people or supporters of a woman’s right to choose — refused to pass judgment on the former Speaker, saying only, “I think that’s for people of Iowa and other places to decide.”
But in a 2008 interview with SIRIUSXM’s Michelangelo Signorile at the 2007 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Santorum admitted that divorce is actually more disruptive to families than same-sex unions and praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for speaking frankly about his failures:
SIGNORILE: Sarah Palin, her daughter is the product of a Christian Conservative family and her daughter is obviously somebody who is now in a very difficult situation and they are dealing with it. How does gay marriage factor into that as something that helped break down the family. It seems to me that here’s an example of people who espouse Christian conservative values and they are heterosexual, nothing about gay marriage in that and yet conservatives are always focused on gay marriage as something that breaks down the family.
SANTORUM: Well, I would say that first and foremost the thing that his broken down the family is divorce, has had the biggest impact on family disintegration in America and is a huge problem. And I think you’re right in suggesting that folks who are marriage advocates don’t go out and say look, we need… John McCain, to his credit, said that his greatest failure in his life was his divorce… [divorce] hurts families, it hurts children, it hurts moms, it huts dads. It’s a destructive and coercive element in our society with respect to families.
Earlier this week, Gingrich also tried to justify his divorces, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that he engaged in his affairs because he was overworked and overcome with patriotism for America “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” he said. “And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.”
As an addendum to the post below, let me note that I worry some folks might get the impression from Mike Konczal’s post on Nickel and Dimed that America has lately become a cesspool of workplace injuries. According to Maury Gittleman and Brooks Pierce at the Bureau of Labor Statistics this is not at all the case and workplace injuries have been declining for years:
The fatality rate has also been declining, though not as sharply:
The dangerous sectors in terms of illness and injury are “transportation and warehousing” followed by manufacturing followed by “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” followed by construction. The picture looks a bit different for fatalities with manufacturing suddenly looking safer.
All-in-all, though, it looks like an impressive achievement to me and one the hard-working folks at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health deserve some credit for, along with overall economic progress and structural shifts into safer occupational categories. This sort of thing gets too often overlooked in the macro sense even though we’re well aware of it on the micro level. Everyone knows that the dudes on The Deadliest Catch are earning a risk/unpleasantness premium for participating in a workplace so unsafe there’s a TV show about it. This same tradeoff exists on a social level to an extent, and thanks to the declining marginal utility of money it makes sense for a richer society to start putting more emphasis on avoiding injury and death in working class occupations and less on maximizing cash wages. It’s unfortunate in this context that despite these workplace safety improvements we still seem to lag well behind peer countries in terms of overall chronic disease, perhaps due to our low-performing health care sector.
A prank call from a man purporting to be petrochemical billionaire David Koch to Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) a few weeks ago revealed that Walker had crafted his “budget repair” bill in a bid to crush the labor unions. The revelation was at odds with the GOP’s public argument, that removing collective bargaining rights has something to do with the state’s budget deficit.
In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly moments ago, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), one of Walker’s closest allies in the legislature, confirmed the true political motive of Walker’s anti-union push. Fitzgerald explained that “this battle” is about eliminating unions so that “the money is not there” for the labor movement. Specifically, he said that the destruction of unions will make it “much more difficult” for President Obama to win reelection in Wisconsin:
FITZGERALD: Well if they flip the state senate, which is obviously their goal with eight recalls going on right now, they can take control of the labor unions. If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.
Fitzgerald’s transparent effort to defund his political opponents by stripping the rights of teachers and nurses is facing a backlash. In a few months, the defunders may be deposed. Following a report by ThinkProgress that several pro-Walker state lawmakers are eligible for recall, progressive activists around Wisconsin began filing the paperwork to remove eight GOP state senators from office.
After initially describing the Affordable Care Act as a one-size-fits-all government take over, Republicans are now criticizing HHS for granting temporary waivers to companies and states that may have trouble complying with the new regulations in the law (that would require plans to eliminate annual spending limits and meet medical loss ratio standards). Republicans have gone so far as to accuse the Secretary of cronyism in selecting the waiver recipients, claiming — without presenting a shred of evidence — that she granted a disproportionate number of waivers to unions. Here is Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) pressing the case this morning on the Senate floor:
BARRASSO: Last Friday night, the Secretary of Health and Human Services granted another 150 waivers. Another 150 waivers. Now there are over 1,040 waivers covering 2.6 million individuals…Well, of those 2.6 million who have received waivers, Madam President, 1.2 million are members of unions. So that’s 46 percent of the waivers have been given to union members. Now, the website were you go to for that information, of course, the Secretary has tried to disguise how they label those individuals and union plans are now called “multi-employer plans.”
Two million individuals represents a relatively small percentage of American workers, but even so, the ever expanding list of waivers would lead one to dismiss the argument that the agency is a top-down ideologically driven institution that’s interested in imposing its own version of health reform on employers and states regardless of consequences. Quite the opposite. In heeding the concerns of employers and giving plans more time to adjust to the new regulations and limit any coverage disruption, HHS is displaying a degree of flexibility that’s necessary in any mass scale implementation.
It’s also difficult to argue that the Secretary is “disguising” the waivers given to unions. If you click over to this page of approved waivers, it says:
Collectively-Bargained Employer-Based Plan Applicants: Most of the other health plans receiving waivers are multi-employer health funds created by a collective bargaining agreement between a union and two or more employers, pursuant to the Taft-Hartley Act. These “union plans” are employment based group health plans and operate for the sole benefit of workers. They tend to be larger than other typical group health plans because they cover multiple employers. There are also single-employer union plans that have received a waiver. In total, 182 collectively-bargained plans have received waivers.
“Union plan” is slightly inaccurate, however, since the plans are actually governed by a board on which employers and unions are equally represented. Moreover, unlike non-union labor negotiations which can be re-negotiated annually, collective bargaining agreements tie unions down for multiple years and the waivers, I suspect, are being granted to give them more time to change their plans and adjust to the new requirements. It’s the kind of flexibility Republicans supported during the health debate, but are now against.
Let’s see if any of the serial disinformers have the minimal human decency to put up a full retraction of their falsehoods [so far the answer is no]. I have Mann’s response at the end.
Last month we saw the umpteenth exhaustive investigation of the stolen emails that ended up vindicating the science and the scientists, this time by NOAA’s IG. “Inspector General’s Review of Stolen Emails Confirms No Evidence of Wrong-Doing by NOAA Climate Scientists,” as NOAA’s release put it.
A bunch of widely discredited pro-pollution scientist-smearers — Anthony “shout them down” Watts, Chris Horner, Marc Morano, Steve McIntyre — have spun a partially leaked transcript from the IG investigation into a bunch of libelous falsehoods. Sen. Inhofe has now reposted those stories on the Senate EPW website (here). The most plausible theory is that Inhofe himself leaked the information to right-wing fabricators so he could quote those stories (see below).
Sadly, no matter how many times Dr. Michael Mann has been vindicated, there will always be those who think libelous smears against one of the country’s leading climate scientists is their best strategy. Such people deserve to be widely condemned — especially since their lies are primarily aimed at undermining efforts to preserve the health and well-being of billions of human beings.
UPDATE: The disinformers almost made me forget that the whole point of their smears is to distract attention from the science, specifically the increasingly strong scientific vindication of Mann’s original Hockey Stick analysis. Multiple independent analyses reveal that recent warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause.The rate of human-driven warming in the last century has exceeded the rate of the underlying natural trend by more than a factor of 10, possibly much more. And warming this century on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions is projected to cause a rate of warming that is another factor of 5 or more greater than that of the last century. As WAG notes, within a few decades, nobody is going to be talking about hockey sticks, they will be talking about right angles (or hockey skates, see figure above) “” when they are done cursing our greed and myopia and gullibility in the face of polluter-funded disinformation, that is.
Katie’s got an interesting list of actors she likes who mostly work in television who are, currently, without roles in existing shows or new pilots. I say interesting mostly because when I think about actors I’d like to see on TV, it’s not primarily in terms of wanting to see more of them in general—it’s about wanting there to be certain kinds of characters and stories on television that for me, those actors embody. I want to see Katee Sackhoff on screen more, because I want more stories about smart, steely, unconventional women. I don’t like her enough to go see, for example, The Haunting in Georgia.
Of course, there are occasional casting decisions that make me change my sense of what a pilot’s going to be, and how it’s going to come across. I probably never would have checked out Glee competitor/ripoff Smash, which is apparently about a group of people who bond while they’re part of a production of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, if not for the news that Angelica Huston was going to be in it. The sudden appearance of someone delightfully regal and strange—and someone who has never been a TV regular before—in an otherwise pedestrian-sounding concept is almost alchemical.
Mike Konczal has written about what he sees as the problems with “pity-charity liberalism, where the goal of the liberal project is to give some sort of ex post compensation for brute bad luck instead of giving workers agency or power.”
Somewhat in that spirit I want to complain that in response to overreaching rightwing attacks on public services, I feel like I’m seeing a lot of people come dangerously close to explicit advocacy for what I’d call “make-work liberalism,” where the goal of the liberal project is to offer direct public sector employment to as many people on as generous terms as possible rather than try to actually make the economy work. This is brought to mind by recent blogospheric interest in technological change and the ever-recurring question of where the jobs of the future will be as automation allows for less labor-intensive production in many sectors of the economy. One potential answer to that query is that public sector work can be made as arbitrarily labor-intensive as you like. A town can always hire an extra teacher or firefighter or bus driver. You can simply decline to replace toll booth attendants with EZ-Pass machines. And public sector works exists in an appealing way all up and down the skill spectrum. There are lawyers and doctors and college professors working for public institutions, but also janitors and road construction. There are butch jobs (cops) and femme jobs (nurse) and above all else there are the stable middle class career paths of alleged yore with stepwise raises and a pension at the end.
There’s a lot to like about this, but it’s important to recall on some level that a world where ten rich bankers pay the taxes to finance make-work jobs for ninety other people isn’t an alternative to a pity-charity version of economic justice it’s just a way of hiding the ball.
I think it’s important not to do that. The important thing about public services is the provision of services, not the provision of jobs. The right question to ask about firefighters’ pensions isn’t a moralizing one, it’s a practical one—will reducing them imperil public safety in some important way? The answer is sometimes that, yes, you really do need to stand up for the public sector. Congressional efforts to “de-fund” various regulatory agencies and/or push for staffing reductions or salary freezes is a clear effort to do an end-run around enforcement of environmental, labor, civil rights, and financial regulation. But the point of our local transit agency is to provide transportation services, not to improve the living standards of bus drivers and it’s possible for public sector personnel expenditures to be wasteful even without it being the case that the janitors at the DMV are the real fat cats of our time or any such nonsense. Over the longer run if you can make the private economy work to provide growth and jobs and income, then the public sector needs to be generous to be competitive. But the reverse strategy of building up a generous public sector as the lever for producing an income-generating economy doesn’t work.