Brexit has already claimed the leadership of one of Britain's major parties, and now it's claimed another: Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labor Party, overwhelmingly lost a vote of confidence this afternoon, 172-40. Of course, Corbyn never really had the confidence of his party in the first place, so I suppose this is no surprise. This now officially puts the party regulars in massive conflict with actual Labor voters, who appear to still support Corbyn. In other words, Corbyn is now sort of a lefty British version of Donald Trump.

In other Brexit news, German chancellor Angela Merkel is changing her tune. At first she was the voice of calm among European leaders, but now she's decided the Brexiteers are delusional and need to be told so:

Ms. Merkel reiterated that there could be no talks with Britain on leaving the European Union until Britain starts formal procedures to leave....“The talks can begin only then, and not before — either formally or informally,” she said.

She made clear that Britain could not expect full access to the European Union’s common market without accepting its conditions, including the free movement of people. Immigration was the crux of the often ugly debate that accompanied the so-called Brexit campaign.

“There must be and will be a noticeable difference between whether a country wants to be a member of the European Union family or not,” Ms. Merkel said.

There's no telling how serious everyone is about this position, but it's bad news for Boris Johnson and the other leaders of the Leave contingent. And that's not all. In addition to fessing up to the lies they told about how much money Brexit would free up, they're also walking back their tough talk on migrants:

On immigration, too, there was immediate backtracking from Mr. Johnson and Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament from the Conservative Party, who told the BBC, “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the E.U., they are going to be disappointed.”

....“There is a clear tension between what the voter wanted and what senior euroskeptic leaders want to produce,” said Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent. “If they don’t deliver radical reforms on immigration, it would be the equivalent of pouring gasoline on the populist UKIP fire that has been burning since 2010.”

In the meantime, the pound is still down, Britain's credit rating has been cut, and Scotland is making noises about being able to veto the whole deal. Can they do that? No one really knows, but if party leaders start casting around for an excuse to nullify the referendum vote, it might do.

On the bright side, financial markets seem to steadying up a bit. That's no surprise. I suspect that after the initial shock has worn off, everyone is going to realize that Brexit does not, in fact, represent a massive shock to the global economy. It probably won't even represent a massive shock to the European economy. In the long run, the only economy it will hurt significantly will be Britain's.

The GOP elephant labored mightily for over two years, and today delivered a mouse:

Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.

The 800-page report, however, included some new details about the night of the attacks, and the context in which it occurred, and it delivered a broad rebuke of government agencies like the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department — and the officials who led them — for failing to grasp the acute security risks in the Libyan city, and especially for maintaining outposts in Benghazi that they could not protect.

In other words, nothing. Previous reports have already criticized the security in Benghazi, including the State Department's own investigation, which was concluded nearly four years ago.

Still, the investigation accidentally uncovered the fact that Hillary Clinton used a private email server while she was Secretary of State, so I suppose it was mission accomplished after all.

What is life like in a medium-security private prison? MoJo's Shane Bauer applied for a job at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana to find out. Winn is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, which earned over $150 million running 61 prisons across the country last year. Why is running prisons so profitable? After four months working at Winn, Bauer reports that one reason is simple: the pay for guards is abysmally low and the facility was chronically understaffed. This certainly helped CCA's bottom line, but it also produced persistent violence that the tiny staff was barely able to control:

On my fifth week on the job, I'm asked to train a new cadet...."It's pretty bad in here," I tell him. "People get stabbed here all the time." At least seven inmates have been stabbed in the last six weeks....Three days later, I see two inmates stab each other in Ash. A week after that, another inmate is stabbed and beaten by multiple people in Elm. People say he was cut more than 40 times.

....If I were not working at Winn and were reporting on the prison through more traditional means, I would never know how violent it is. While I work here, I keep track of every stabbing that I see or hear about from supervisors or eyewitnesses. During the first two months of 2015, at least 12 people are shanked. The company is required to report all serious assaults to the DOC. But DOC records show that for the first 10 months of 2015, CCA reported only five stabbings. (CCA says it reports all assaults and that the DOC may have classified incidents differently.)

Reported or not, by my seventh week as a guard the violence is getting out of control. The stabbings start to happen so frequently that, on February 16, the prison goes on indefinite lockdown. No inmates leave their tiers. The walk is empty. Crows gather and puddles of water form on the rec yards. More men in black are sent in by corporate. They march around the prison in military formation. Some wear face masks.

This is a long piece, and it's not easy to summarize. Its power comes from the relentless, detailed buildup of Bauer's record of daily life at Winn. Do yourself a favor and put aside some time to read it.

And if you also want to watch the video version, we have that too: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Parts 4-6 to come later in the week.

Reporters sure are desperate to demonstrate some kind of shadiness on Hillary Clinton's part. Here's a headline in the LA Times today:

House Democrats mistakenly release transcript confirming big payout to Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal

Sounds shady! I clicked immediately, wanting to know who gave Blumenthal a big payout. The answer, it turns out, is Media Matters, for which he works. This is in no way shady and in no way connected to Hillary Clinton anyway. And here's an AP headline from this weekend:

Clinton's State Dept. calendar missing scores of entries

This also sound shady! But no. It turns out that on Hillary Clinton's official State Department schedule, she sometimes had private meetings and didn't list the participants. "No known federal laws were violated," the article says.

Sheesh. Is this the best they can do? I know that we're all desperate for balance given the tsunami of lies and sleaze coming from the Trump campaign, but surely there's something a little more concrete we can lay at Hillary's feet? This is lame.

Three Quotes of the Day About Donald Trump

Here's what people said about Donald Trump on the Sunday chat shows yesterday. Keep in mind that these quotes are all from Trump's supporters:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Trump's repeated statement that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased against him because of his Mexican heritage: "I don't believe that Donald Trump meant it in the manner that he said it."

Newt Gingrich on Trump's constant backtracking: "I think he stands for an evolving process of trying to come to grips with really big problems."

Sen. Mitch McConnell on whether Trump is qualified to be president: "I'll leave that to the American people to decide."

And as long as we're on the subject of Trump, be sure to check out Michael Finnegan's piece in the LA Times about Trump's failed condo development in Baja California: "Most of the Trump Baja condo buyers accused Trump and two of his adult children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., of duping them into believing that Trump was one of the developers, giving them confidence that it was safe to buy unbuilt property in Mexico." It's yet more of the usual Trump sleaze.

Today's abortion decision is good news for supporters of reproductive rights, but it didn't provide much guidance about what it means for a law to place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions. The majority opinion ruled that Texas's law failed the test laid out in Casey, which balances the burden a law places on women seeking abortions with the benefit the law confers. The problem is that HB2 so plainly provided no benefit that it wasn't really a hard call. Here is Justice Breyer on the requirement that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital:

When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.

....That brief describes the undisputed general fact that “hospitals often condition admitting privileges on reaching a certain number of admissions per year.”...The president of Nova Health Systems...pointed out that it would be difficult for doctors regularly performing abortions at the El Paso clinic to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals because “[d]uring the past 10 years, over 17,000 abortion procedures were performed at the El Paso clinic [and n]ot a single one of those patients had to be transferred to a hospital for emergency treatment, much less admitted to the hospital.” In a word, doctors would be unable to maintain admitting privileges or obtain those privileges for the future, because the fact that abortions are so safe meant that providers were unlikely to have any patients to admit.

And here he is on the requirement that abortion providers meet the requirements for surgical centers:

The record makes clear that the surgical-center requirement provides no benefit when complications arise in the context of an abortion produced through medication. That is because, in such a case, complications would almost always arise only after the patient has left the facility.

Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death, but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient’s own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion.

The majority opinion relied primarily on reams of real-world evidence that made it crystal clear that HB2 provided no bona fide safety benefits. Unfortunately, that means that no real discussion of "undue burden" was required, so it's not clear what effect this case will have as precedent. We'll have to wait and see what lower courts do with it and how the anti-abortion forces rewrite their laws in order to get another crack at a different ruling.

Britain Is a Total Mess Right Now

The day before the Brexit vote, Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, wrote a piece titled "What you will wake up to if we vote to Leave..." It's astonishingly prescient and worth a read. Apparently not very many people believed him, though.

But he was totally right, and no one knows what the hell is going on anymore. The process of leaving the EU officially starts when Britain invokes Article 50 of the EU charter, but oddly enough, no one seems to be especially eager to do that. David Cameron, the caretaker prime minister, has announced that he doesn't plan to do this anytime soon, and Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexit forces, seems to be OK with that:

Mr. Johnson offered no details about when or how Britain should invoke Article 50 — the formal process for leaving the European Union — nor did he lay out a plan for how Britain could maintain free trade with the European Union, the world’s largest common market, without accepting the bloc’s demand for the unrestricted movement of workers.

Meanwhile, the pound continues to fall and the financial community continues to panic. Tomorrow the Labor Party will hold a vote of confidence on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, which he's expected to lose by a landslide. Scotland is threatening to secede yet again. And the EU is saying that if Britain wants to retain access to the common market, then they have to accept free immigration too:

If it wants access to the bloc’s single market, post-Brexit Britain must accept EU freedom of movement rules and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice, EU diplomats have warned ahead of a vital summit. The idea that Britain could have access under a European Economic Area style deal and impose border controls was a non-starter, diplomats said.

Well, who knows? Maybe that's just their opening negotiating position. But the Brexiteers are in for some serious trouble if it turns out that the price of access to the European market is the very thing that prompted their victory in the first place.

What a mess. And all for nothing.

OECD Report: Pure Math > Applied Math

Over at the Washington Monthly, Jill Barshay reports on the latest study comparing math instruction between nations:

Researchers looked at math instruction in 64 countries and regions around the world, and found that the difference between the math scores of 15-year-old students who were the most exposed to pure math tasks and those who were least exposed was the equivalent of almost two years of education. The research was based on how students answered survey questions that accompanied an international test, called the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

The result was surprising for two reasons. First, the PISA exam itself is largely a test of applied math, not equation-solving....It’s also surprising because many veteran educators recommend using real-world applications of abstract math concepts as a motivational tool. And the OECD doesn’t disagree. But real-world examples aren’t enough. Students still need to learn the broad concepts and the mathematical notation. In South Korea, for example, students get a big dose of both applied and pure math instruction and they score among the top 10 in the world.

I browsed through the report myself, and unless I missed something I can't say that these results surprise me even slightly. As the report notes, kids are tracked into different kinds of math instruction in most schools, and the brighter kids are therefore exposed to more advanced math than the others. That's both normal and necessary, and the only real question is whether it's done properly. If poor kids are tracked into less advanced classes at unfairly high levels, then we have a problem. Here's what the report says about that:

Across the OECD countries, socio-economic differences among students and schools account for around 9% — and some countries, as much as 20% — of the variation in familiarity with mathematics concepts.

That's surprising all right, but mainly because 9 percent is a pretty low number. I would have guessed higher. What we're primarily left with here is that some kids are better at math than others; those who are good at math take more advanced classes; and more advanced classes expose them to more abstract concepts. So where's the surprise?

As for the ability to solve real-world problems, there's no surprise there either. I doubt the difference is due to the kinds of math the kids are exposed to. It's due to the fact that some kids are better at math than others in the first place and have taken more advanced classes. The PISA exam may be a test of applied math, but obviously you have to know the underlying pure math too.

Finally, one related note: I've always wondered about the use of using real-world problems as a "motivational tool." The problem is that once you get past the level of basic arithmetic, real-world problems tend to be pretty artificial. There just aren't very many real-world applications of high school algebra or geometry, and I've often wondered if story problems only make that more obvious. In introductory algebra, for example, you often get problems about trains meeting or how much of a head start someone on foot needs to get somewhere before a car would. Those are so obviously non-useful, though, that they also seem non-motivational. If this is all you can do with algebra, why bother?

I don't think there's a good answer to this. Real life just doesn't require much in the way of algebra or geometry for most people. But I guess you have to try.

Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren took a little trip to Ohio today to see the sights, do some antiquing, and eviscerate Donald Trump.

Here's the distinguished senator from Massachusetts up first:

And now, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee:

They have a pretty good buddy cop situation going on here. Maybe Clinton will make her VP after all?

Supreme Court Sets a Limit on Anti-Abortion Laws

The Supreme Court has overturned HB2, a Texas law designed to all but eliminate access to abortion in the state:

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“We conclude,” Justice Breyer wrote, “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution.”

HB2 was an obvious TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law. Its provisions do virtually nothing to protect women's health, but they do make it nearly impossible for most abortion clinics, especially those outside large cities, to operate. In the aftermath of the law's passage, the number of abortion clinics operating in Texas plummeted almost immediately.

It was obvious from the start that this ruling would split on partisan lines, with Anthony Kennedy as the tiebreaker. This means that probably the most important thing we've learned today is just how far Kennedy can be pushed. He's voted in favor of several abortion restrictions over the past decade, but this one went too far. In practical terms, that means abortion opponents have tested the limits of what they can get away with, and the Texas law represents the outer boundary.

More here from the majority opinions.