The Supreme Court Is Allergic To Math

Oct. 17th, 2017 10:00 am
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Posted by Oliver Roeder

The Supreme Court does not compute. Or at least some of its members would rather not. The justices, the most powerful jurists in the land, seem to have a reluctance — even an allergy — to taking math and statistics seriously.

For decades, the court has struggled with quantitative evidence of all kinds in a wide variety of cases. Sometimes justices ignore this evidence. Sometimes they misinterpret it. And sometimes they cast it aside in order to hold on to more traditional legal arguments. (And, yes, sometimes they also listen to the numbers.) Yet the world itself is becoming more computationally driven, and some of those computations will need to be adjudicated before long. Some major artificial intelligence case will likely come across the court’s desk in the next decade, for example. By voicing an unwillingness to engage with data-driven empiricism, justices — and thus the court — are at risk of making decisions without fully grappling with the evidence.

This problem was on full display earlier this month, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case that will determine the future of partisan gerrymandering — and the contours of American democracy along with it. As my colleague Galen Druke has reported, the case hinges on math: Is there a way to measure a map’s partisan bias and to create a standard for when a gerrymandered map infringes on voters’ rights?

The metric at the heart of the Wisconsin case is called the efficiency gap. To calculate it, you take the difference between each party’s “wasted” votes — votes for losing candidates and votes for winning candidates beyond what the candidate needed to win — and divide that by the total number of votes cast. It’s mathematical, yes, but quite simple, and aims to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering.

Four of the eight justices who regularly speak during oral arguments1 voiced anxiety about using calculations to answer questions about bias and partisanship. Some said the math was unwieldy, complicated, and newfangled. One justice called it “baloney” and argued that the difficulty the public would have in understanding the test would ultimately erode the legitimacy of the court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch balked at the multifaceted empirical approach that the Democratic team bringing the suit is proposing be used to calculate when partisan gerrymandering has gone too far, comparing the metric to a secret recipe: “It reminds me a little bit of my steak rub. I like some turmeric, I like a few other little ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you how much of each. And so what’s this court supposed to do? A pinch of this, a pinch of that?”

Justice Stephen Breyer said, “I think the hard issue in this case is are there standards manageable by a court, not by some group of social science political ex … you know, computer experts? I understand that, and I am quite sympathetic to that.”

“What Roberts is revealing is a professional pathology of legal education.”

And Chief Justice John Roberts, most of all, dismissed the modern attempts to quantify partisan gerrymandering: “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe it as sociological gobbledygook.” This was tough talk — justices had only uttered the g-word a few times before in the court’s 230-year history.2 Keep in mind that Roberts is a man with two degrees from Harvard and that this case isn’t really about sociology. (Although he did earn a rebuke from the American Sociological Association for his comments.) Roberts later added, “Predicting on the basis of the statistics that are before us has been a very hazardous enterprise.” FiveThirtyEight will apparently not be arguing any cases before the Supreme Court anytime soon.

This allergy to statistics and quantitative social science — or at least to their legal application — seems to present a perverse incentive to would-be gerrymanderers: The more complicated your process is, and therefore the more complicated the math would need to be to identify the process as unconstitutional, the less likely the court will be to find it unconstitutional.

But this trouble with math isn’t limited to this session’s blockbuster case. Just this term, the justices will again encounter data again when they hear a case about the warrantless seizure of cell phone records. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Data & Society Research Institute, and empirical scholars of the Fourth Amendment, among others, have filed briefs in the case.

“This is a real problem,” Sanford Levinson, a professor of law and government at the University of Texas at Austin, told me. “Because more and more law requires genuine familiarity with the empirical world and, frankly, classical legal analysis isn’t a particularly good way of finding out how the empirical world operates.” But top-level law schools like Harvard — all nine current justices attended Harvard or Yale — emphasize exactly those traditional, classical legal skills, Levinson said.

In 1897, before he had taken his seat on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a famous speech at Boston University, advocating for empiricism over traditionalism: “For the rational study of the law … the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics. It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” If we hadn’t made much progress in the 500 years between Henry IV and Holmes, neither have we made much progress in the 120 years between Holmes and today. “What Roberts is revealing is a professional pathology of legal education,” Levinson said. “John Roberts is very, very smart. But he has really a strong anti-intellectual streak in him.”

I reached Eric McGhee, a political scientist and research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who helped develop the central gerrymandering measure, a couple days after the oral argument. He wasn’t surprised that some justices were hesitant, given the large amount of analysis involved in the case, including his metric. But he did agee that the court’s numbers allergy would crop up again. “There’s a lot of the world that you can only understand through that kind of analysis,” he said. “It’s not like the fact that a complicated analysis is necessary tells you that it’s not actually happening.”

During the Gill v. Whitford oral argument, the math-skeptical justices groped for an out — a simpler legal alternative that could save them from having to fully embrace the statistical standards in their decisionmaking. “When I read all that social science stuff and the computer stuff, I said, ‘Is there a way of reducing it to something that’s manageable?’” said Justice Breyer, who is nevertheless expected to vote with the court’s liberal bloc.

It’s easy to imagine a situation where the answer for this and many other cases is, simply, “No.” The world is a complicated place.

Documentation of the court’s math problem fills pages in academic journals. “It’s one thing for the court to consider quantitative evidence and dismiss it based on its merits” — which could still happen here, as Republicans involved in the Wisconsin case have criticized the efficiency gap method — “but we see a troubling pattern whereby evidence is dismissed based on sweeping statements, gut reactions and logical fallacies,” Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, told me.

One stark example: a 1986 death penalty case called McCleskey v. Kemp. Warren McCleskey, a black man, was convicted of murdering a white police officer and was sentenced to death by the state of Georgia. In appealing his death sentence, McCleskey cited sophisticated statistical research, performed by two law professors and a statistician, that found that a defendant in Georgia was more than four times as likely to be sentenced to death if the victim in a capital case was white compared to if the victim was black. McCleskey argued that that discrepancy violated his 14th Amendment right to equal protection. In his majority opinion, Justice Lewis Powell wrote, “Statistics, at most, may show only a likelihood that a particular factor entered into some decisions.” McCleskey lost the case. It’s been cited as one of the worst decisions since World War II and has been called “the Dred Scott decision of our time.”

Maybe this allergy to statistical evidence is really a smoke screen — a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality.

Another instance of judicial innumeracy: the Supreme Court’s decision on a Fourth Amendment case about federal searches and seizures called Elkins v. United States in 1960. In his majority opinion, Justice Potter Stewart discussed how no data existed showing that people in states that had stricter rules regarding the admission of evidence obtained in an unlawful search were less likely to be subjected to these searches. He wrote, “Since, as a practical matter, it is never easy to prove a negative, it is hardly likely that conclusive factual data could ever be assembled.”

This, however, is silly. It conflates two meanings of the word “negative.” Philosophically, sure, it’s difficult to prove that something does not exist: No matter how prevalent gray elephants are, their numbers alone can’t prove the nonexistence of polka-dotted elephants. Arithmetically, though, scientists, social and otherwise, demonstrate negatives — as in a decrease, or a difference in rate — all the time. There’s nothing special about these kinds of negatives. Some drug tends to lower blood pressure. The average lottery player will lose money. A certain voting requirement depresses turnout.

Enos and his coauthors call this the “negative effect fallacy,” a term they coined in a paper published in September. It’s just one example, they wrote, of an empirical misunderstanding that has proliferated like a tsunami through decades of judges’ thinking, affecting cases concerning “free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance.”

Another example of this fallacy, they wrote, came fifty years later in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, a 2011 campaign finance case. The topic was Arizona’s public campaign financing system, specifically a provision that provided matching funds to publicly financed candidates. The question was whether this system impinged on the free speech of the privately funded candidates. A group of social scientists, including Enos, found that private donations weren’t following the kind of patterns they’d expect to see if the public funding rule were affecting how donors behaved. The Supreme Court didn’t care and ultimately struck down the provision.

In his majority opinion, John Roberts echoed Stewart and repeated the fallacy, writing that “it is never easy to prove a negative.”

So what can be done?

McGhee, who helped develop the efficiency gap measure, wondered if the court should hire a trusted staff of social scientists to help the justices parse empirical arguments. Levinson, the Texas professor, felt that the problem was a lack of rigorous empirical training at most elite law schools, so the long-term solution would be a change in curriculum. Enos and his coauthors proposed “that courts alter their norms and standards regarding the consideration of statistical evidence”; judges are free to ignore statistical evidence, so perhaps nothing will change unless they take this category of evidence more seriously.

But maybe this allergy to statistical evidence is really a smoke screen — a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality.

“I don’t put much stock in the claim that the Supreme Court is afraid of adjudicating partisan gerrymanders because it’s afraid of math,” Daniel Hemel, who teaches law at the University of Chicago, told me. “[Roberts] is very smart and so are the judges who would be adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims — I’m sure he and they could wrap their minds around the math. The ‘gobbledygook’ argument seems to be masking whatever his real objection might be.”

But if the chief justice hides his true objections behind a feigned inability to grok the math, well, that’s a problem math can’t solve.

What Happened To DeMarco Murray?

Oct. 16th, 2017 10:15 pm
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Posted by Tony Chow and Neil Paine

The Tennessee Titans play the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football this week. One of the key questions in the game is whether the good version of DeMarco Murray will show up. Play above to see how much worse Murray has gotten over the last few years.

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Posted by FiveThirtyEight


Former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon declared “war” on the GOP establishment at the conservative Values Voter Summit on Saturday. Bannon is reportedly planning to back a slate of primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators next year.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team considers which senators might be most at risk from a primary challenger and how Bannon’s influence could affect the 2018 midterms overall. The crew also discusses the political impact of President Trump’s decision to halt subsidies that help low-income people pay for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

Why The Spurs May Have A Down Year

Oct. 16th, 2017 07:04 pm
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Posted by Chris Herring

The 1997-98 NBA season had little in common with today’s league. There were teams in Vancouver and Seattle; the Warriors were lousy and won only 19 games; and the Utah Jazz shared the NBA’s best record while hitting just 3 threes per game. But the one thing that was the same then and has never changed: The Spurs won at least 50 games.

San Antonio’s regular-season success has been so consistent, we’ve all largely come to assume it over time. The only year the Spurs didn’t win at least 50 games in the past 20 seasons was 1998-99, when there were only 50 games total because of a lockout: San Antonio won 37 games and the NBA title. And given the club’s relative roster stability this summer after last year’s 61-win campaign — one in which a legitimate superstar was born — it would seem prudent to expect another such year from the team in silver and black.

But if there’s ever been a season to wonder whether the Spurs are due for a real regression toward normalcy, this may be the one.

Player health could loom larger than usual this year for San Antonio. The team will begin the regular season without Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who was held out of the preseason and now will miss at least the season opener because of a right-quad injury sustained last season. A lack of athleticism on both ends of the floor, particularly if Leonard is forced to miss significant time, figures to stand out more this season than it did last year after a couple of free-agent defections.

And it’s unclear how much longer the Spurs can keep finding moderate success with players who, at least in some ways, seem to go against the grain of the analytics movement that the club has been at the forefront of.

Heading into the start of this season, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions3 peg the Spurs at exactly 50 wins — tied for fourth with Minnesota, an up-and-coming team that may have its own growing pains, and just one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets, who are estimated to finish No. 6 out West. Only the Atlanta Hawks (projected to have 17 fewer wins) and Chicago Bulls (-14) — teams that started the rebuilding process this summer — are projected to have steeper drop-offs than San Antonio’s 11-game decrease. And if anything goes wrong for them, the Spurs could easily miss that 50-win mark.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never been shy about resting his best players. But being down two starters to begin a season would be navigating uncharted territory. (No public timeline for a return has been set for Leonard.) As such, longtime Spur Manu Ginobili acknowledged that San Antonio might be a bit slower out of the gate this season while teammates try to develop a rhythm without two key players. “We are not going to start full-throttle,” he said. “We’re not going to start as ready to compete as in previous years. But we’ll figure it out.”

The Spurs will have to learn how to create offense without two or three of their most aggressive scorers from last season. Parker, Leonard and Jonathon Simmons, who’s since joined the Orlando Magic, accounted for a whopping 68 percent of the team’s drives to the basket on a per-game basis.4 If both Parker and Leonard are simultaneously forced to miss considerable action, it would put a strain on their teammates, who, despite boasting some of the best 3-point shooting in the league, aren’t necessarily the best shot creators.

There’s also the question of whether some of San Antonio’s players are meant to play specific roles — ones that only work with teammates who accentuate their best attributes. Patty Mills, who had largely perfected his gig off the bench, is the best example here. Mills is a dangerous spot-up shooter off the bench, but he hasn’t proven capable of truly running an offense himself for more than a minute or two at a time.

Part of what sets Mills apart is the frenetic pace at which he plays. He ranked among the NBA’s top-five players in terms of how fast he moves around the court in each of the past four seasons. Yet the energy it takes to play as fast as Mills does — he basically plays a high-speed version of the playground game Tag in order to get open shots — can only be provided in spurts.

Because of how deep the Spurs have historically been, spurts were generally all they needed from Mills. But with Parker out another month or two, that will change this season.

To be totally clear: None of this is to suggest that the Spurs won’t be a good team this year. They just may not be Spurs good. If there’s a team that can overcome these sorts of flaws, it’s one coached by Popovich, who regularly motivates his teams not only to play above their heads but also to adapt from year to year to the ever-changing NBA. (FiveThirtyEight’s preseason forecast had the Spurs winning 52 games last season; they blew that out of the water, winning 61 games.)

The vast majority of their league-best defense is still intact. And the team’s basketball IQ — for example, its ability to know exactly who to leave open, evidenced by its league-best defense against corner threes — is uncanny, sometimes making up for what the Spurs lack in athleticism. While the Spurs didn’t land Chris Paul this summer, convincing Rudy Gay to sign on was a coup — he’s someone who can help fill in for Leonard if need be and reasonably match up as a small-ball power forward against teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers.

The Gay signing fit a recent trend for the Spurs, one that both explains how they’ve remained contenders and illustrates what could end up making them mortal again at some point: San Antonio has developed a knack for picking up players who aren’t necessarily a perfect analytical fit based on where the league is headed.

LaMarcus Aldridge, for instance, joined the Spurs in 2015, right after he’d fired up a league-high 11.1 shots per game from midrange — a look today that’s widely considered to be the most inefficient shot on the floor. Upon leaving the Trail Blazers, he said he didn’t want to play center exclusively, even as scores of power forwards have made that shift in light of the small-ball movement. Yet the Spurs got considerable mileage out of him despite his inefficiencies and did so by playing him often at the center position. A year later, they added Pau Gasol, who also seemed a dubious fit because of his lack of defensive mobility. But San Antonio, which deserves credit for allowing Gasol to let it fly from 3-point range, also managed to withstand his defensive shortcomings as the team logged the league’s best defense last season. (The Spurs surprisingly gave the 37-year-old Gasol a new three-year, $48 million contract this past summer.)

Gay fits better than either Gasol or Aldridge did, both in terms of his contract and his playing style. But it’s also not clear yet whether he’ll be himself, given that he’s coming off an Achilles tear. He played well the past few years but did so for losing teams out in Sacramento. Before that, the analytics friendly Grizzlies and Raptors both dealt him away and then immediately saw their on-court product improve.

The Gay signing is the type of head-scratcher that the Spurs have proved their doubters wrong about in the past. But at some point, going against the grain will stop working for the Spurs. And between those gambles and the injuries to Leonard and Parker, there may finally be enough loose strings to bring San Antonio’s amazing 20-year run to an end. After all, no team — not even the Spurs themselves — can be Spurs-level good forever.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

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Posted by Walt Hickey and Morgan Jerkins

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

My roommate thinks it’s hilarious to steal test tubes from our university’s chemistry lab and fill them with his bodily fluids. He keeps the test tubes in our fridge. He says he’s saving them to prank someone, but I can’t say anything about how much I hate it because the person he pranks will then be me. I can’t touch them to throw them away because they’re disgusting. So far I just nervously laugh and change the subject whenever he brings them up. Don’t know what to do, and I’m running out of options. — From Jacob

Walt: Buckle up, readers.

Morgan: Oh, my God. Report him. Get a mediator immediately. Jacob needs to go down to the university housing offices as soon as he can.

Walt: I’m still in shock after reading this one.

Morgan: People are terrible.

Walt: I can think of only three or four acceptable reasons to have bodily fluids in the freezer, and “pranking people” isn’t any of them.

Morgan: Three?!

Walt: Or four!

Morgan: Don’t even tell me. I just ate breakfast.

Walt: Anyway, barring the possibility that the roommate is lying and the fluids are actually for an embarrassing medical condition, they gotta go. You think the best strategy is to call the housing people? What if they’re in off-campus housing?

Morgan: If they are off-campus, have a sit-down with him and tell him about his problem with the test tubes. But if that anxiety over whether he’s going to get pranked doesn’t go away, start looking for new places. Don’t tell the roommate.

Walt: I think this may be a situation where becoming a fan of fresh, never-frozen foods and continuing to nervously laugh and change the subject is not the worst option!

What if he just threw all the test tubes out? (Bear with me here.) What is the worst thing that could happen?

Morgan: Are you trolling?

Walt: I’m just considering our options here.

When I talked about this internally with a few colleagues, esteemed science reporter Christie Aschwanden suggested getting a test tube of his own and filling it with something yellow and drinkable and then just walking into the room and drinking it. That could make it real enough to end the conversation.

Morgan: Oh, no, absolutely not.

Walt: This guy thinks he’s such a prankster.

Morgan: No. No. No! We are talking about bodily fluids here. It’s too much of a risk! Just talk to the roommate!

Walt: But, realistically, if I think what’s happening is happening, the guy is just keeping a container of clean urine in the freezer so he can pass a drug test after graduation. Which falls under “Walter’s Four Potentially Acceptable Reasons To Keep Bodily Fluids In An Appliance.”

Really, it’s the “not asking first” that is getting to me here.

Morgan: I think this roommate is just weird as hell. Let’s not try to wring reason out of all this. Jacob hasn’t told us if this roommate smokes weed or shoots any type of drug, so it may not even be about a drug test.

Walt: In which case “just throwing them out” violates roommate protocol but not as much as keeping urine in the freezer. So Jacob should just do that if talks break down.

Morgan: But if he does that, I’m worried that roommate might piss in Jacob’s orange juice or something.

Walt: To rip off an old proverb, “The best time to start staying on a friend’s couch is three weeks ago. The second best time is now.”

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran Aug. 9-12 and received 1,009 responses. We presented respondents with Jacob’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Call a mediator if you can.


  2. Sit down and have a talk with this person.


  3. Just throw them out.


  4. Attempt to counter-prank your roommate.


  5. None of the above is good advice.


Morgan: Oh, God. Now I’m nauseous.

Walt: This is not the decisive response in favor of alerting the authorities we were hoping for.

Morgan: Can you REALLY talk to a person like that?

Walt: How negotiable is — at best — urine in the freezer? Can this wild card be reasoned with? I still contend, as do a quarter of respondents, that disposing of the samples is the most expedient route out of this jam.

Morgan: I really think a mediator needs to get involved here. I can’t believe people didn’t think that the most extreme option is justifiable here.

Walt: It seems like a solid majority is in favor of talking regardless of the age; young people were more amenable to phoning in backup:

18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
Call a mediator 11% 8% 5% 5%
Have a talk with this person 46 50 57 56
Throw out the fluids 26 27 23 23
Counter-prank your roommate 8 3 1 1
None of the above is good advice 9 11 14 16

Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

Morgan: Psh. I am judging these people so hard right now.

Walt: Eight percent of the future leaders of America will roll the dice on counter-pranking the madman. Risky as heck, but, hey, fortune favors the brave.

More of our advice:

These Dodgers May Be Different

Oct. 16th, 2017 03:32 pm
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Posted by Neil Paine

Between 2013 and 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers won 369 regular-season ballgames (second-most in baseball) and played the second-most playoff games (30) of any MLB team. They advanced to the National League Championship Series twice, each time coming within a couple of wins of securing the franchise’s first pennant since 1988. But L.A. also had a knack for throwing away winnable games, losses that crippled any chance of postseason success. Whether they were falling short despite starting one of the best pitchers in the game or otherwise finding ways to lose, the Dodgers would show clear championship potential and then promptly bungle it.

This year, however, Los Angeles has turned that narrative on its head. The Dodgers had MLB’s best regular-season record, and once again they’ve found themselves against teams with on-paper upset potential in the form of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs. They’ve even found themselves trailing early on multiple occasions. And yet, L.A. has been the one storming back and winning at the expense of another team’s misery.

Maybe these Dodgers really are different after all.

During that 2013-16 period, the Dodgers lost nine playoff games during which they had at least a 60 percent chance of winning at some point, according to The Baseball Gauge — including five in which they had at least a 75 percent win probability. On the other side of the ledger, they won only six games in which they had at least a 60 percent chance of losing, and three with at least a 75 percent chance of losing. In other words, L.A. excelled at botching games from ahead and struggled to win from behind.

The Dodgers don’t choke anymore

Postseason wins and losses by the Los Angeles Dodgers that featured big comebacks or collapses, 2013-17

Dodger comebacks (wins) …
2017 NLCS Cubs 2 64%
2017 NLCS Cubs 1 75
2017 NLDS Diamondbacks 2 72
2016 NLDS Nationals 5 77
2016 NLDS Nationals 4 65
2015 NLDS Mets 2 79
2013 NLCS Cardinals 5 68
2013 NLDS Braves 4 78
2013 NLDS Braves 3 73
… and Dodger collapses (losses)
2016 NLDS Nationals 3 67%
2016 NLDS Nationals 2 79
2015 NLDS Mets 5 75
2015 NLDS Mets 3 84
2015 NLDS Mets 1 62
2014 NLDS Cardinals 4 84
2014 NLDS Cardinals 1 98
2013 NLCS Cardinals 1 74
2013 NLDS Braves 2 65

A big comeback or collapse is defined as games where the eventual loser had at least a 60% chance of winning at any point during the game.

Source: The Baseball Gauge

This postseason, however, the Dodgers have three comebacks from win probabilities below 40 percent, including two against the Cubs to start the NLCS. And they didn’t let up with huge leads against the D-Backs in the Division Series — the kinds of games they ought to win but haven’t always in the past.

Facing the defending champs, the Dodgers have been the ones performing heroics at the plate — in Game 2, Justin Turner cranked L.A.’s first postseason walkoff home run since Kirk Gibson’s iconic blast 29 years earlier (to the day). And the Cubs have made the head-scratching managerial decisions (Joe Maddon brought past-his-prime starter John Lackey into the ninth inning instead of closer Wade Davis). The Dodgers won even though Clayton Kershaw didn’t have his best stuff, a situation that has doomed them in playoffs past. They look every bit the part of the dominating club we saw at midseason, when they were clear World Series favorites.

There’s still time for Chicago to mount a comeback of its own, of course. The Cubs were down 2-1 to the Dodgers last year, with only about a 30 percent chance of winning the series; right now, that probability is about 20 percent. But it would require one of the biggest LCS comebacks of the past couple decades, against a Dodgers team that might finally have all the pieces in place to escape its history of playoff disappointment.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

Things That Caught My Eye

Mr. Kaepernick Goes To Washington

On Sunday, representatives of Colin Kaepernick — the free agent NFL quarterback best known for launching a league-wide protest over police mistreatment of African-Americans and who has not been signed to a roster — filed a complaint alleging collusion between teams essentially blackballing him from the league. While this is interesting in and of itself, there’s a bigger component of the filing that affects the whole operation: Under the collective bargaining agreement, the entire CBA can be terminated if there’s clear and convincing evidence of one incident of collusion involving one player. Whether there’s actual evidence is to be determined, but the Kaepernick case now has immense ramifications and could potentially give players lots of leverage over NFL owners in a hypothetical negotiation resulting from the threat of CBA termination. [NBC Sports, ESPN, Mike Freeman]

Cricket picks up in the U.S.

Increased immigration from the Indian subcontinent has primed the U.S. Cricket for growth. For instance, in the Washington Cricket League there are 42 teams, with another 18 competing in the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board. The sport is huge around the world, and according to the International Cricket Council there are 200,000 U.S. players on 6,000 teams in 450 leagues. I have failed at literally every other sport; maybe in cricket I will finally find my true calling. [BBC]

40-year-old Bostonian achieves personal milestone in New Jersey swamp

Congratulations to Mr. Tom Brady of New England who set a record yesterday when playing in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. After defeating the New York Jets, he beat two retirees — a Mr. Brett Favre and one Mr. Peyton Manning — in cumulative number of regular season wins in the NFL, with 187 across his career. Congratulations. [ESPN]

Best football team in New York

Currently 5-0, the Columbia Lions are the winningest football team in New York City, beating out all the other college teams, the local professional football team, and also the Giants. This is legitimately insane: Columbia, which won again Saturday, hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, and since 1982 have finished .500 or better on only three occasions. [FiveThirtyEight]

College football flips the table

This was a ridiculous weekend in college football. Clemson lost to Syracuse, dropping its chances of making the playoff from 55 percent to 29 percent according to our playoff projections. Washington lost to Arizona State, dropping its chances of making the playoff from 43 percent to 23 percent. Their losses appears to be gains for Ohio State and Wisconsin. [FiveThirtyEight, ESPN]

Vegas, you’re full of it

Right now Las Vegas bookmakers have the Golden State Warriors with around a 47 percent chance of repeating as NBA champions. Our CarmELO system has them closer to a 38 percent shot of repeating. Feel free to use this information of the house edge to fleece your friends at your own leisure. [FiveThirtyEight]

Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!

Big Number

-29.4 points

Aaron Rodgers was injured yesterday and may be out for the rest of the season. This is a massive deal for the Green Bay Packers. With Rodgers starting for all the remaining games, there was a 79.6 percent chance Green Bay made the playoffs and a 53 percent chance they win the division. Without him, those chances drop to 50.2 percent and 25.1 percent, a massive swing of -29.4 points to make the playoffs. [Brian Burke, ESPN]

Leaks from Slack: Gnats


Washington easily the most disappointing franchise in Wild Card era history according to Elo


[Screenshot of a color coded spreadsheet mentioning:

  • 0.00: Washington actual league championship series appearances in wild card era
  • 2.03: Washington expected league championship series appearances in wild card era
  • -2.03: The difference between those numbers
  • {rows and rows of higher numbers}: That difference but for all the other teams who play baseball.

…and other information]


obviously a huge shortfall between expected LCS appearances and actual


Oh, and don’t forget
Women in FIFA18 story mode!

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

19 percent

Percentage of apparel sales that were made online in 2016, up 11 percent in five years. Amazon is poised to enter the sportswear business, according to sources in the industry, news that initially depressed the stock prices of some companies already in the athletic apparel business. [Bloomberg]

31 years old

Austria is poised to have the youngest leader in Europe following elections there Sunday. Conservative Sebastian Kurz, 31, is expected to attempt to form a coalition with a far-right populist party. Kurz’s People’s Party won 31.4 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, with his potential ally, Freedom Party, receiving 27.4 percent. [The Los Angeles Times]

85 percent

As of Sunday, 85 percent of Puerto Rico still doesn’t have electricity. The governor hopes to have power at 95 percent by December 15. [CNN]

6,663 inmates

Over about one month, 6,663 inmates in Texas contributed a cumulative $53,863 towards Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, which is serious charity from the group, many of whom typically have less than $5 in their commissary accounts. [The New York Times]

360,000 claims

Approximate number of automobile and truck damage claims in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That tally is roughly equivalent to one-quarter of the new vehicles sold in the month of August in the United States. [Bloomberg]

$1.1 million

The campaign fund of President Trump reported it’s paid over $1 million in legal bills over the past three months, and the Republican National Committee has joined the campaign in contributing to the legal fees of Trump family members. The Trump campaign paid $802,185 to Jones Day, $25,885 to the Trump Organization, $237,924 to Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney Alan Futerfas and $30,000 to Williams & Jensen. [POLITICO]

Check out Besides the Points, my new sports newsletter.

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.


Oct. 16th, 2017 11:15 pm
krait: a sea snake (krait) swimming (Default)
[personal profile] krait

I am so pleased. My relationship with my laptop has been saved. Not to mention my relationship with DW, AO3, DragCave, online banking, and anything else requiring a login!

Rejoice with me by telling me what you've been up to lately. :D
[syndicated profile] slacktivist_feed

Posted by Fred Clark

French, like many other vocal "conservatives," doesn't understand what consent means and doesn't understand it's moral significance. Specifically, he's deeply confused about the distinction between necessary and sufficient.
[syndicated profile] obsidian_wings_feed

Posted by SuperUser

by wj

This is really more Dr Science's area.  But since she is having problems connecting, I figured someone else needed to put it out there. 

Basically, on August 17 (but just formally announced today) astronomers detected both  electromagnetic radiations and gravitational radiations for an explosive merging of two neutron stars.  These sort of events are thought to be responsible for creating everything from iodine (without which life as we know it doesn't happen) to gold to uranium.  They are not thought to be particularly rare, but this is the first time one has been observed like this. 

It made the local paper, as well as the Economist and probably lots of others, so you may have seen it already.  But what you might have missed is today's NASA "Astronomy Picture of the Day", which has a video that is simply awesome.

Monday Works Roundup, 10/16/17

Oct. 16th, 2017 02:09 pm
[syndicated profile] erinptah_feed

Posted by Erin Ptah

But I’m A Cat Person
We Are The Crystal Masters (art | Bianca, Miranda, Sparrow, Patrick | worksafe)

Leif & Thorn
Moss and Thorn (art | Moss, Thorn | worksafe)
Rebuilding (wallpaper | Mata, Pato | worksafe)
Gone Floating (art | Leif/Thorn | worksafe)
Teaching something new (sketch | Birch/Annie | worksafe)
Cooking together (sketch | Leif, Katya | worksafe)
Objectified Objects (art | Leif/Thorn, Katya | NSFW-ish)

Ultimate Sailors Pip x Seras (art | Seras/Pip | worksafe)
Ultimate Sailor Kim (art | Kim | worksafe)

Revolutionary Girl Utena
Ensnared Juri (art | Juri/Shiori | worksafe)

Rick and Morty
You Would Be Great On The Council (sketch | Rick/Rick | worksafe)

Figures, Hands, and Feet (life drawing, worksafe)

This Week in But I’m A Cat Person:
Jany tries her hand at hacking! Not on her own, thankfully.

This Week in Leif & Thorn:
Leif gets an update from Katya, and wants to go visit Thorn…if he can finish his work first.

Filed under: And Shine Heaven Now, But I'm A Cat Person, Leif & Thorn Tagged: art, Hellsing, life drawing, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Rick and Morty, Sailor Hellsing

(no subject)

Oct. 16th, 2017 08:18 am
copperbadge: (radiofreemondaaay)
[personal profile] copperbadge
Good morning everyone, and welcome to Radio Free Monday!

Ways To Give:

Ashley linked to a fundraiser set up by a California credit union, Redwood Credit Union, to help communities impacted by the California wildfires. You can read more and give at their donation page.

[personal profile] kuwdora is a long-time fandom vidder who recently enrolled in a career coaching program with tv/film editor Zack Arnold, and she is now working to pay off the last installment of the program and transition from a vidding hobby to a professional editing career in Hollywood. You can read more here, give to her gofundme here, and buy art from her etsy here.

[ profile] catlinyemaker linked to a fundraiser for [ profile] neolithicsheep, a disabled Navy vet and sustainable agriculture educator who is raising funds to get a border collie to help them with their Sovay sheep. You can read more about the fundraiser and retweet in a twitter thread here, and purchase various shirts and other branded goods at their Teespring here.

[personal profile] xturtle linked to their friend Marcia, who is raising funds to help cover vet bills for her sick bunny; she is running out of unemployment benefits and looking for work; in the meantime Caspian needs testing to determine what the lump in his stomach is and get his teeth fixed. You can read more and help out here.

Anon linked to a fundriaser for [ profile] ohcrakerjacks, a victim of black toxic mold. She and her parents are raising funds to replace walls, insulation, flooring, and furniture. You can read more and check out commissions here and give to her ko-fi here, which will support supply purchases for the cross-stitch embroidery she sells.

Buy Stuff, Help Out:

[ profile] suriel's husband is about to have two surgeries, each costing several thousand dollars, and they are raising money to cover expenses. They have sales in all their online shops: Fandom buttons and more, caramels and toffees, and their band shop. You can read and reblog here.

Anon linked to [ profile] vaspider, who is running a sale on their Etsy shop ($10% off $30 or more) to help with living expenses and home repairs after a job loss and other unexpected life events this year. You can check out the Etsy shop here; it includes a lot of nerdy/geeky Judaica as well as secular clothes, accessories, and cosplay.

News To Know:

[personal profile] brainwane linked to a writeup that [personal profile] kaberett posted about desensitizing themselves to board games; Board Game Desensitization Process is a template for people who may have a difficult relationship to card/board games but want to participate in the increasingly popular social events focused around them.

And this has been Radio Free Monday! Thank you for your time. You can post items for my attention at the Radio Free Monday submissions form. If you're not sure how to proceed, here is a little more about what I do and how you can help (or ask for help!). If you're new to fundraising, you may want to check out my guide to fundraising here.
[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Maggie Koerth-Baker

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, Allan Rivera had still not had a full night’s sleep. “Every three hours … I get up and do some maintenance on the generator,” he told me. His wife — who has multiple sclerosis — relies on air conditioning to help minimize her symptoms, but Toa Baja, the town where he lives on the island’s north coast, was still without electricity. That meant Rivera had to keep a gasoline-powered generator running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This is a cruel irony for Rivera, the president of a Puerto Rican organization that advocates for renewable energy. And it’s a situation that he and many other Puerto Ricans are likely to be stuck with for some time. Maria knocked out all of the island’s electricity. As of Friday, only 9 percent of Puerto Ricans had gotten it back. But that number isn’t stable — over the course of the week it went from 16 percent, to 10, and back up to 17 percent before falling. Two days after the storm, experts on the island said it could take four to six months to restore service. Rivera told me he was hearing that it could be eight months to a year before the whole island — big cities, small towns and rural countryside — is electrified again.

Puerto Rico’s electric grid was in bad shape before the storm. But that fact was more than just a portent of doom: It’s also a harbinger of what’s to come. The system failed so spectacularly because it was stuck in a downward spiral of increasingly poor service. And that spiral is going to be difficult to escape during the rebuild. Despite a number of nonprofit and for-profit groups interested in designing a renewable, resilient replacement grid, stories like Rivera’s are unlikely to end in a feel-good engineering fairytale — at least not anytime soon.

Electricity is generally a reliable service in the United States. Data from 2015 shows that, on average, Americans could expect a little more than three hours a year in which their electricity wasn’t working properly.5 But Puerto Rico is a different story. There, the 2015 goal of the Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica — a government agency that owns the island’s electric distribution system and much of its generation capacity — was to have no more than 9.6 hours of outage per customer, and the utility still wasn’t able to meet that goal.6 At the same time, Puerto Ricans pay higher prices for electricity than almost everyone else in the U.S. — nearly 20 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential customers, compared with a U.S. average of about 13 cents per hour. In July, only three states paid more.

That combination of poor service and high prices is partly a function of living on a mountainous island and partly a result of the economics and politics on Puerto Rico, said Jose Maeso, who was the executive director of the Puerto Rico State Office of Energy Policy from 2013 to 2016 and is now the director of a Department of Energy-funded research consortium. There are universal challenges to running an electric grid on a tropical island. Salt vapor in the air corrodes electric equipment. Forests grow up quickly and are hard to keep away from power lines, especially in rural areas. Rural electrification, in particular, has been a challenge for Puerto Rico, Maeso told me. Outside narrow swaths of coastal plain, the island rises up in mountains and cliffs. Electrical lines were built through this terrain, Maeso said. And some of those lines pass through regions where there isn’t good road access, increasing the difficulty of doing maintenance and repairs. It’s no coincidence that two of the three states with higher electricity rates than Puerto Rico are Alaska and Hawaii, which offer their own logistical challenges for electricity production and distribution.7

Puerto Ricans check their cellphones from a road near the top of a mountain, where service is said to be best.

getty images

Being an island has also, historically, limited the types of energy resources Puerto Rico could use and raised their cost. The island’s electricity is almost entirely generated by burning fossil fuels, mostly oil — and all of that fuel has to be imported. When the cost of oil goes up, so do electric bills. Even if you burn natural gas — which is a cheaper energy source than coal or oil — that still costs more when you have to haul it across an ocean. Until 2012, the Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica didn’t have facilities that could burn natural gas, anyway.

All of this helps to explain why Puerto Rico’s grid was in such bad shape before Maria hit — and why it will take so long to rebuild. The AEE has long been under political pressure to not raise prices, said José Román Morales, interim president of the Puerto Rico Energy Commission, a government body formed in 2014 as a regulator for the AEE and private electric generation companies. That made sense in some ways: Electricity is crucial, and Puerto Ricans, in general, don’t have a lot of spare cash — the median income is just $19,350, and more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

But those pressures, combined with the realities of running an electric grid on an island, created problems. The AEE didn’t raise its base rate — the part of the electric bill that’s meant to cover basic operating costs and maintenance — between 1989 and January 2017. But the price consumers actually pay — the total bill — still went up over that time period because of rising fuel prices. Puerto Ricans became trapped in a feedback loop where the AEE had less and less money to keep the grid working well, but consumers had more and more reason (from their perspective) to demand that the agency not raise rates.

Making matters worse, the lack of cash for maintenance has made maintenance more costly than it would otherwise be. Before Hurricane Maria, most of what was getting done was reactive maintenance — fixing immediate outages — not preventative maintenance or upgrades, Morales said. That means AEE’s equipment — from its power plants on down — is old and out-of-date. The median age of an AEE power plant is 44 years, compared with an electric industry standard of 18. “They suffer mechanical failures constantly,” Morales said. “They have to wait a long time to get parts, and the original manufacturers consider them like a speciality part.” Even workers with the expertise to manage these aging units are in short supply and retiring quickly.

Aerial photographs of Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria.


Not having enough money creates a system that is more expensive to operate, which results in even tighter budgets. It’s not going to be easy for Puerto Rico to get out of that cycle, especially with a history of mismanagement by AEE that’s left such spotty records and data analysis that a 2016 independent expert review of AAE’s operations and finances concluded that the utility can’t accurately predict its own upcoming customer demand.

In the U.S., if you’re already poor, the same services can often cost more than they would for people in better financial circumstances. The media often refers to this with the maxim “it’s expensive to be poor” — and there’s something similar going on with Puerto Rico’s grid. Puerto Ricans don’t have much money, which puts pressure on the utility to not raise rates, which makes the system more expensive to operate, which drives the utility into debt, which forces it to spend money that should have gone to maintenance on the costs associated with just keeping its head above the financial waves.

The 2016 expert review noted that the utility was spending more than $100 million a year — more than its entire proposed budget for the cost of generating electricity in 2017 — on unnamed miscellaneous expenses. When I asked Morales if there was any indication what those expenses were, he said AEE staff had explained during a hearing that this money was being spent on debt service, fees and legal bills — all costs incurred because the utility was so short on funds.

Hurricane Maria scattered debris through a solar panel field in Humacao, Puerto Rico.


So what happens next? Despite hopes for the future, Puerto Rico is, once again, forced to focus on reactive maintenance. “There is no time to redesign the system or apply new technologies at a large scale now,” Carlos Reyes, general manager of operations for EcoEléctrica, a private company that operates one of the few power plants not owned by AEE, told me in an email. Other experts agreed. It’s unlikely that Puerto Rico’s grid will be rebuilt stronger and better over the next year. It’ll be enough work just to get it back online in its same old state.

The work of reimagining the grid — and, more importantly, designing a system that won’t put people right back in the dark the next time a hurricane hits — will take more than just technological improvements. Puerto Rico will need to reimagine the system that led to outdated, run-down technology, too.

[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Michael Salfino

The Steelers may be 3-2, but the mood in Pittsburgh is dour. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a five-interception fiasco against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the latest and worst in a run of lukewarm performances this season. Plenty in Steeler nation are beginning to question whether the 35-year-old Roethlisberger has hit the wall. One of those people is the actual Ben Roethlisberger.

The numbers are definitely not pretty, especially when compared to his career averages. That interception festival he hosted in Week 5 torched his passer rating, which has sunk to 75.8 and is way below his 94.1 career rating entering the season. More alarming than the spate of picks is that Roethlisberger’s yards per attempt, which for his career prior to this year stood at a near all-time-best 7.9, is a career-low 6.5 so far this season.

But a closer look at the numbers shows there’s good reason to believe that this bad stretch is just that: a bad stretch. Here are the key reasons Steelers fans should still have hope — regardless of what Roethlisberger himself is saying or thinking.

History is on his side

We identified several quarterbacks who struggled in the first five games of their age-35 seasons when compared to what they did through age 34.8 In almost every case, these QBs bounced back to something much closer to their established levels. To be sure, there’s some selection bias at play here — most of these quarterbacks are generally excellent, because erratic and unreliable passers do not usually last in the NFL until they are 35.

Struggling 35-year-olds mostly rebounded nicely

Quarterbacks who posted subpar numbers in their first five games during their age-35 season and how they fared in rest of that year, 1978-2017

Dan Fouts 1986 SD 81.8 7.8 55.4 6.3 84.0 7.7
Jim Hart 1979 STL 70.6 6.9 49.0 5.7 59.0 6.0
Ben Roethlisberger 2017 PIT 94.1 7.9 75.8 6.5
Jim Kelly 1995 BUF 85.8 7.5 67.8 6.3 87.0 7.1
Trent Green 2005 KAN 87.9 7.7 80.5 6.9 94.3 8.3
Drew Brees 2014 NOR 95.3 7.5 91.8 7.2 99.6 7.7
Brett Favre 2004 GNB 86.9 7.1 86.0 7.1 95.4 7.8
Matt Hasselbeck 2010 SEA 83.3 6.9 74.8 6.4 72.3 7.0
Ken Anderson 1984 CIN 82.0 7.3 68.0 7.7 96.1 7.6

*Through age-34 season.
Minimum 125 passes in first five games, with a QB rating worse than career numbers prior to that season.


Among the passers on this list, the average QB rating improved from 71.2 in the first five games to 86.0 for the remainder of the season. Their yards per attempt also rebounded, from a pedestrian 6.7 to a solid 7.4, on average. If Roethlisberger improves at the same rate, his passer rating for the rest of the year would be 88.4 and his yards per attempt would bounce up to 7.2. But Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Jim Kelly beat those averages, so it’s certainly possible that Roethlisberger could outperform them as well.

Roethlisberger is still doing Roethlisberger things

While the box scores have been ugly, many of Roethlisberger’s underlying numbers have been typical for his career. His accuracy hasn’t declined significantly: Only 17.5 percent of his throws have been off target, which is only a shade worse than the 16.9 percent rate he posted in the regular season from 2014 to 2016. And on deep passes,9 Roethlisberger has actually been a hair more accurate, 28.2 percent of his throws have been off target this year compared to 28.3 percent in the past three years.

You would think that as Roethlisberger ages, he would start to lose his trademark ability to move outside the pocket on broken plays and find something down the field. But in a limited sample so far this year, he has still been effective when chased from the pocket — he has posted a 101.2 passer rating on just nine dropbacks in these situations this year compared with 124.2 on 93 dropbacks in the prior three seasons.

One logical explanation for Roethlisberger’s poor start would be that something was amiss with his offensive line. Perhaps he’s under more pressure than usual? But in fact, the Steelers QB is tied with Oakland’s Derek Carr for the least pressured quarterback in the league this year — both have been under threat on just 15.1 percent of dropbacks. And that’s the way it has been for a while in Pittsburgh; Roethlisberger had the second-lowest pressure rate in the league (behind Peyton Manning) from 2014-16.

So if Roethlisberger hasn’t suddenly become inaccurate and he’s not suddenly facing more pressure, the Steelers’ offensive problems may extend beyond the QB and O-line.

Bell and Brown are not helping matters

The real explanation for Roethlisberger’s poor start may be the decline in efficiency of his two top targets, wideout Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell.

On Roethlisberger’s 62 targets to Brown this year, his passer rating has dropped to just 71, down from 112.2 on 480 targets in the past three years. And while it’s hard to tell from a passer rating whether the quarterback or receiver is more to blame, other stats provide some evidence that the 29-year-old Brown is not quite himself this year. According to the NFL, defenses are playing Brown much more tightly at the snap — his average cushion has declined from 5.2 to 4.5 yards, one of the lowest among all receivers. But he’s not making defensive backs pay by running by them, as his average separation is unchanged (2.9 yards).

Bell’s receiving ability, meanwhile, is downright ordinary this year. The prior three years, Roethlisberger had 105 passer rating when throwing to Bell. This year, it’s 85.4. Bell is averaging 3.85 yards before contact and just 1.48 after. The prior three years, those figures were 6.64 and 2.20. It’s hard to blame Roethlisberger for Bell being unable to get open and make defenders miss.

Bell’s ineffective performance so far has also meant that Roethlisberger can’t use him as a safety valve, which has crushed the QB’s stats against the blitz. In the past three seasons, Roethlisberger had a 96 rating on 381 dropbacks against blitzing defenses — mostly because the underneath pass to Bell was so effective. This year, his rating on those plays is down to 54.6, the lowest in the league.

Sunday, Roethlisberger travels to Kansas City to face the unbeaten Chiefs, who have been winning more with offense than defense, which may mean his receivers will be able to find a little more space. And Roethlisberger’s attitude about his ability to perform has undergone a 180-degree turn. “They can question me. I don’t question myself,” he said, three days after his “Maybe I don’t have it anymore” interview. “I think you guys are much more panicked than we are.”

And unless Roethlisberger is a huge outlier and suddenly craters at age 35, or Bell and Brown have completely lost their ability to be dominant receiving threats, it seems there actually is little reason for Steelers fans to panic.

[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Michael Wilner

President Trump has revealed his strategy on the Iran nuclear deal: Pressure Congress to take the heat for killing it or incur the blame for keeping it. Out of the gate, there is little sign that Capitol Hill is willing to play along. Trump’s strategy requires the support of at least some Democrats in the Senate (and key allies in Europe), and no one seems especially eager to lend it.

The president could have made good on his campaign threat to kill the deal by withdrawing from it outright. He could have also urged Congress to reimpose strict sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program — a move made possible by his decision on Friday to “decertify” the deal under U.S. law. New sanctions would have likely caused Tehran to say the U.S. was in material breach of the accord and pull out.

Instead, perhaps aware that he was unlikely to get Congress to pass such sanctions and unwilling to shoulder international criticism for being the side to violate the deal, the president on Friday called on lawmakers to amend a 2015 U.S. law allowing for congressional oversight of the nuclear deal; if they fail to do so, Trump threatened to “terminate” the deal entirely.

Trump’s proposed amendment would spell out triggers for new sanctions on Iran if it continues behavior that, to the president’s dissatisfaction, was not covered by the nuclear deal itself — such as missile development and terror activities. The idea is to hold Iran’s feet to the fire so that it enters into further negotiations to strengthen the deal without the U.S. having to scrap the deal itself first — an action that would likely forfeit the very support of the international community Washington would need for those negotiations. Since the deal says only that the U.S. can’t reimpose the sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program it lifted at signing, State Department lawyers claim this amendment won’t violate the pact.

We explained earlier this week why pushing Capitol Hill to pass deal-killing sanctions was unlikely to succeed. But does this push for new legislation have any more chance of working? Trump is upping the pressure on members of Congress by threatening to exit the deal if the legislature doesn’t do his bidding. But in the end, this amendment is likely an even heavier lift for Trump than sanctions would have been, as key moderate Democrats are already balking at his proposal and some GOP heavyweights are expressing equal skepticism.

If Trump simply asked Congress to reimpose deal-killing sanctions, he would need only 50 votes in the Senate by the terms of the existing law (votes he already seemed to be short of). But with this new proposal, he now needs 60 senators: all 52 Republicans and at least eight Democrats or independents.10

Only four Democratic senators voted against the original nuclear deal in 2015, and three of them immediately announced opposition to Trump’s strategy on Friday: Chuck Schumer of New York, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ben Cardin of Maryland.11 That’s, in part, because Democrats are painting the amendment as deal-killing action akin to the earlier concept of re-imposing strict sanctions — an action even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted, in a briefing with reporters on Thursday, would be “tantamount to walking out” from the deal. There’s little sign that they are more open to the configuration announced Friday.

The Republican sponsors of the legislation insist, like the State Department, that this new proposal doesn’t undermine the Iran deal. “Instead, it would set conditions that halt Iran’s nuclear program and provide a window of time for firm diplomacy and pressure to work,” said Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. But Corker acknowledged that foreign allies will have to express some support for the updated legislation “in order to bring the Democrats along.”

And that’s unlikely to happen. Britain, France and Germany issued a rare joint statement after Trump’s speech warning Congress to “consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA,” using the acronym for the deal.

That doesn’t bode well for the White House’s argument that the proposed amendment will push the Europeans to join the U.S. in renegotiating the deal. But the key response will be the one that comes from Tehran. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first to withdraw from the deal,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday. “But if its rights and interests in the deal are not respected, it will stop implementing all its commitments and will resume its peaceful nuclear program without any restrictions.”

Corker and Cotton are also getting pushback from fellow Republicans. Some are intent on fixing the agreement but also fear ostracizing America’s allies in Europe if the U.S. is seen to be moving unilaterally. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for example, issued a statement after Trump’s speech that he is “eager to collaborate with our partners and allies to revisit the most problematic provisions of the nuclear deal” while underscoring the need for “a unified, forceful international front in the event that Iran materially breaches the terms of the agreement.”

There are even challengers emerging from the right. “I will reserve judgment until actual legislation is presented. But I have serious doubts about whether it is even possible to fix such a dangerously flawed agreement,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio said. “Ultimately, leaving the nuclear deal, reimposing suspended sanctions, and having the president impose additional sanctions would serve our national interest better.”

It’s important to note that Corker and Cotton have not yet published their amendment — likely to give themselves maneuvering room after they gauge reaction to Trump’s speech. It is possible that the two Republican senators settle on a formulation that wins over Democratic support. But they have been working on the broad outlines of this for weeks, and in its basic principle, the few Democrats who might have been sympathetic to their arguments have already defected.

Iran’s position has always been that it will not allow the U.S. to force it into being the party that kills the deal. That appears to be Congress’ position now: Lawmakers are refusing to take upon themselves the president’s weighty diplomatic responsibilities.

The administration may not truly care if the amendment passes after all — its goal may simply be to establish leverage and a negotiating position, to buy time and the credibility of their threat to withdraw with allies and foes alike. Tillerson admitted, “We don’t want to suggest this is a slam dunk on the Hill. We know it’s not.”

Tillerson said that he hopes Congress will pass this amendment within 90 days, before the next deadline for the president to certify Iran’s adherence with the deal. It suggests another priority of the administration in pushing the new proposal is to save the president the legal responsibility and political headache of repeatedly verifying Iran’s compliance as U.S. law currently mandates.

But there’s a third possibility: that Trump is serious about withdrawing unilaterally if Congress fails to act. The initial response from lawmakers and foreign diplomats suggests that they think Trump is bluffing — but Trump has time before he needs to reveal his cards.

copperbadge: (Default)
[personal profile] copperbadge
Because I am me, I systematized my home search as much as I could – I have a spreadsheet in google that has not just my list of Best, Acceptable, and Totally Unacceptable buildings in it but also my mortgage calculator from the bank and various other financial stuff. I also went into the top few real estate websites (primarily Zillow and Estately) and set several different searches to be sent to my non-fandom inbox, where they were then filtered into a Housing folder (different from my other Housing folder, which has all my documents/communications with my realtor). 

Now I’m looking at my Housing folder which constantly has new emails in it and wishing there was just an “I BOUGHT A HOME, YOUR SERVICES ARE NOW IN VAIN” button I could press to notify all of those sites that no, really, I seriously do not anymore need your Real Estate Tips And Tricks newsletter anymore. 

Fortunately changing my address everywhere won’t be the nightmare my mum always complains it is, because I also have a spreadsheet of every website I’ve ever built a login for, and I just go through the spreadsheet (also it’s an excellent opportunity to delete my account from sites I never use). 

I’ve rarely lived anywhere for more than five years, and my phone number was deeply unstable for a while for similar reasons, but it’s a small wonder our generation prefers email to most other forms of communication – after all, my gmail addresses have been stable now for more than ten years. 

I believe I have now been Copperbadge On Social Media for longer than I have ever lived in any single residence. 

from Tumblr

What we have lost

Oct. 14th, 2017 11:38 pm
[syndicated profile] obsidian_wings_feed

Posted by liberal japonicus

by liberal japonicus

With this comment by the Count, which names Las Vegas shooting victim Michelle Vo, age 32, 19 out of the 58 victims names,or just about one-third, have been posted as comments. Janie and the Count have been doing this, I went back after I realized what they were doing and added links, but for the past handful of names, Janie and the Count have found links.

I started adding the links to try to give a sense of what was lost/what we have lost. I looked for individual articles (as opposed to obituaries) from local news sources rather than what has been published in by either national media or the Las Vegas Review Journal, which has listed the victims in their crimes section. The Count and Janie have followed that, trying to find links that present the victim in a way that helps make clear what was taken away. I especially appreciate Janie finding this NYTimes article by a NYTimes reporter who discussed his connection to one of the victims. Janie also listed Floyd East, Jr., the officer killed in a shooting at Texas Tech, thinking that maybe we should expand this. However, according to the Gun Violence Archive, roughly 450 gun homicides have occurred since the Las Vegas mass shooting. 

In the last comment, the Count provided the name and Janie the link, about Michelle Vo's death as it related to a person she had just met at the concert site, Kody Robertson. The Count's comment came as I was reading this article on William Walker. I'm a big believer in diversity, because with diversity comes new ideas, new outlooks, new possibilities. The person that is shut out might have, under other circumstances, had an insight to a cure for cancer, or been able to do something that would have changed life for the better. That second article shows that we can usually only talk about what we know we have lost. All the possibilities, unseen chances and relationships, the network of potentials that undergird our lives can only be hinted at.

With google, it is relatively simple to find an article, but at this point, where we still have 2/3rds of the victims to go, I thought it would be good to post the google spreadsheet, open for comments, so anyone from ObWi who finds a link they think is particularly good can post it in a comment, so that spreadsheet is here. Though I'm not sure about the math of the probabilities, I think that it is not inconceivable that someone reading here knew one of the victims personally and it is much more probable that someone knew someone who knew a victim. The list so far, hot linked to the articles that they were linked to in the comments, are below

  1. Lisa Romero, 48
  2. Denise Salmon Burditus, 50
  3. Rhonda LeRocque, 42
  4. Victor Link, 55
  5. Charleston Hartfield, 34
  6. Chris Hazencomb, 44
  7. Calla Medig, 28
  8. Thomas Day, Jr., 54
  9. Jack Beaton, 54
  10. Keri Galvan, 31
  11. Rocio Guillen, 40
  12. Cameron Robinson, 28
  13. Jennifer Irvine, 42
  14. Candice Bowers, 40
  15. Kelsey Breanne Meadows, 28
  16. Stacee Ann Etcheber, 50
  17. Carrie Rae Barnette, 34
  18. Kurt Allen Von Tillow, 55
  19. Michelle Vo, 32 and this 
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Posted by Fred Clark

"Essentially what the dollar stores are betting on in a large way is that we are going to have a permanent underclass in America. It’s based on the concept that the jobs went away, and the jobs are never coming back."



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