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It Turns Out That Ferguson Is Pretty Typical of America

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 12:40 PM EST

The Ferguson police department famously arrests blacks at a rate three times higher than other races. A USA Today investigation shows just how commonplace that is:

At least 1,581 other police departments across the USA arrest black people at rates even more skewed than in Ferguson, a USA TODAY analysis of arrest records shows. That includes departments in cities as large and diverse as Chicago and San Francisco and in the suburbs that encircle St. Louis, New York and Detroit.

Those disparities are easier to measure than they are to explain. They could be a reflection of biased policing; they could just as easily be a byproduct of the vast economic and educational gaps that persist across much of the USA — factors closely tied to crime rates. In other words, experts said, the fact that such disparities exist does little to explain their causes.

Curious to know how your city fares? Click here and check out various places in your state. My hometown, it turns out, beats out Ferguson easily, arresting blacks at a rate nearly four times higher than other races. The difference, of course, is that Irvine is only 1.7 percent black to begin with, so there's hardly anyone here to complain about it. That makes it easy to ignore, but that's about all it means.

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Voter ID Laws: Terrible Public Policy, But Probably Pretty Feeble

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 11:47 AM EST

Republican-led voter-ID laws may be pernicious, but Nate Cohn says there are three reasons to think their actual electoral impact is overstated:

To begin with, the true number of registered voters without photo identification is usually much lower than the statistics on registered voters without identification suggest. The number of voters without photo identification is calculated by matching voter registration files with state ID databases. But perfect matching is impossible and the effect is to overestimate the number of voters without identification.

....People without ID are less likely to vote than other registered voters. The North Carolina study found that 43 percent of the unmatched voters — registered voters who could not be matched with a driver’s license — participated in 2012, compared with more than 70 percent of matched voters.

....There’s no question that voter ID has a disparate impact on Democratic-leaning groups....[But] voters without an identification might be breaking something more like 70/30 for Democrats than 95/5. A 70/30 margin is a big deal, and, again, it’s fully consistent with Democratic concerns about voter suppression. But when we’re down to the subset of unmatched voters who don’t have any identification and still vote, a 70/30 margin probably isn’t generating enough votes to decide anything but an extremely close election.

When I looked into this a couple of years ago, I basically came to the same conclusion. Only a few studies were available at the time, but they suggested that the real-world impact of voter ID laws was fairly small. I haven't seen anything since then to suggest otherwise.

None of this justifies the cynical Republican effort to suppress voting via ID laws. For one thing, they still matter in close elections. For another, the simple fact that they deliberately target minority voters is noxious—and this is very much not ameliorated by the common Republican defense that the real reason they're targeted isn't race related. It's because they vote for Democrats. If anything, that makes it worse. Republicans are knowingly making it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote because they vote for the wrong people. I'm not sure how much more noxious a voter suppression effort can be.

These laws should be stricken from the books, lock, stock and extremely smoking barrel. They don't prevent voter fraud and they have no purpose except to suppress the votes of targeted groups. The evidence on this point is now clear enough that the Supreme Court should revisit its 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion that upheld strict voter ID laws. They have no place in a decent society.

At the same time, if you're wondering how much actual effect they have, the answer is probably not much. We still don't have any definitive academic studies on this point, I think, but Cohn makes a pretty good case. It's possible that Kay Hagan might have lost her Senate race this year thanks to voter ID laws, but she's probably the only one.

Why Scott Walker Might Be Our Next President

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 10:38 AM EST

In 2012, I basically considered Mitt Romney a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. I figured that he'd hoover up most of the moderate votes—and despite all the breathless press accounts, moderates still account for at least half of GOP voters—plus a share of the tea partiers, and that was that. The rest of the field would destroy each other as they fought over their own sliver of the tea party vote, eventually leaving Romney battered and unloved, but triumphant.

Sure enough, that's what happened. But I don't see a strong moderate in the field right now. I suppose Jeb Bush and Chris Christie come the closest, but even if they run, they strike me as having some pretty serious problems. Romney was willing to adopt tea party positions across the board, even as he projected a moderate, adult persona, but neither Christie nor Bush will kowtow in quite that way. That's going to cause them problems, and Christie's fondness for showy confrontations is going to be an additional millstone around his neck. Either one might win, but neither seems like an especially likely nominee to me.

All this is a long way of explaining why I think Scott Walker is the frontrunner. He has a record of governance. His persona is generally adult. He doesn't say crazy stuff. Relatively speaking, he's attractive to moderates. But at the same time, the tea partiers love him too. The big strike against him, of course, is that he's lousy on TV. He's a terrible public speaker. And he's just boring as hell. However, Ed Kilgore perfectly explains why this doesn't make him another Tim Pawlenty or John Kasich:

This is why Walker is so very commonly compared to Tim Pawlenty in 2012; the Minnesotan was perfectly positioned to become the most-conservative-electable-candidate nominee in a large but shaky field. And he wound up being the first candidate to drop out, before a single vote (other than in the completely non-official Ames Straw Poll) was cast. His sin was congenital blandness, and the defining moment of his campaign was when he all but repudiated his one great zinger: referring to the Affordable Care Act as "Obamneycare."

But TPaw's demise does point up one big difference between these two avatars of the Republican revival in the Upper Midwest: nobody suspects Scott Walker may be too nice for his party. He may be bland, and a bad orator, but his bad intent towards conservatism's enemies is unmistakable. He's sorta Death by Vanilla, or a great white shark; boring until he rips you apart. I think Republican elites get that, and it excites them. But how about voters?

Mitt Romney managed to base nearly his entire campaign on hating Barack Obama more than anyone else. It worked. Whenever someone started to score some points against his sometimes liberalish record in Massachusetts, he'd just launch into an over-the-top denunciation of Obama and the crowd would go wild. Walker can do the same thing, but without the artifice. Unlike Romney, he really has been fighting liberals tooth and nail for the past four years, and he has the scars to prove it. This will go a long, long way to make up for a bit of blandness.

Besides, it's worth remembering that people can improve on the basics of campaigning. Maybe Walker will turn out to be hopeless. You never know until the campaign really gets going. But if he's serious, he'll get some media training and start working on developing a better stump speech. A few months of this can do wonders.

Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if he runs, I rate Walker a favorite right now. If his only real drawback is Midwestern blandness—well, Mitt Romney wasn't Mr. Excitement either. Walker can get better if he puts in the work. And if he does, he'll have most of Romney's upside with very little of the downside. He could be formidable.

CNN's Don Lemon Tells Woman Accusing Bill Cosby of Rape She Could Have Bitten Her Way to Safety

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 10:32 AM EST

Following weeks of renewed rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, CNN host Don Lemon wanted Joan Tarshis, who has accused Cosby of sexual assault, to know she could have escaped the alleged 1969 attack, if she had used her teeth as a weapon during oral sex.

Lemon, insisting he was not trying to be "crude," suggested this tactic while interviewing Tarshis on CNN Tonight:

Lemon: You know, there are way not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it.

Tarshis: Oh, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn't even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have.

Lemon: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right?

Tarshis: Yes, that's what I'm thinking you're....

Lemon: As a weapon.

Tarshis: I didn't even think of it.

Lemon: Biting.

Tarshis: Ouch.

Lemon: Yes. I had to ask. I mean, it is, yeah.

The awkward exchange followed an interview Tarshis gave to Lemon the day before, in which she claimed she had lied to Cosby about having an STD in order to convince him not to rape her. She alleged that Cosby then forced her perform oral sex on him. In the first interview, Lemon asked, "Why didn't you tell police?"

Update, Wednesday, November 19: Following the backlash incited by Lemon's comments, the CNN host issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon: "As a victim myself I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape. If my question struck anyone as insensitive, I’m sorry as that was not my intention." In the past, Lemon has discussed being sexually abused as a child.

Elizabeth Warren to Banks: Prove You Can Protect Customer Data From Hackers

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 6:15 AM EST

Elizabeth Warren is off to a running start in her new leadership role with the Senate Democratic caucus. She called out Walmart for its terrible labor practices. She wrote an op-ed this week warning the president against appointing Wall Street insiders to the Federal Reserve. And Tuesday morning, she called on financial institutions to prove that they can protect customer data from cybercriminals.

Over the past year, cyber attackers have stolen roughly 500 million records from financial institutions, according to federal law enforcement officials. In a joint letter also signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Warren asked 16 firms—including Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—for detailed information about cyberattacks they experienced over the past year and how they plan to prevent future breaches.

"The increasing number of cyberattacks and data breaches is unprecedented and poses a clear and present danger to our nation’s economic security," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Each successive cyberattack and data breach not only results in hefty costs and liabilities for businesses, but exposes consumers to identity theft and other fraud, as well as a host of other cyber-crimes."

Warren and Cummings requested the firms provide information on the number of customers that may have been affected by breaches, data security measures the companies have taken in response, the value of the fraudulent transactions connected with the cyber attacks, and who is suspected to have carried them out. The letters also request that IT security officers at each firm brief the lawmakers on how they are protecting their data from cybervillains.

The lawmakers hope to use the information the firms provide to inform new federal cybersecurity legislation. Current cybersecurity law is unclear about when companies are required to notify the government about a data hack. Warren has previously called on Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission more power to regulate data breaches.

The American financial sector is one of the most targeted in the world, according to the FBI and Secret Service officials. The hackers who stole data from JPMorgan Chase earlier this year—compromising information from 76 million households—also targeted 13 other financial institutions, Bloomberg reported last month.

Today's Winner in Washington: The Filibuster

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 8:24 PM EST

Today, Democrats blocked action to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. A few minutes later, Republicans blocked a bill to regulate the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA.

Both bills had majority support. Both failed thanks to filibusters. It's good to see that life is back to normal in Washington DC.

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Today's Math You Can Use: Marijuana + Big Corporations = A Lot More Marijuana

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 4:51 PM EST

Here's a good example of how cavalier snark can get the better of you. This is Kevin Williamson writing at National Review:

From the annals of issues that only intellectuals are capable of misunderstanding: Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, is worried that the drug trade might end up being dominated by people who care about making money. My experience with drug dealers suggests very strongly that they are a profit-seeking, entrepreneurial lot as it is.

Har har. Mark is a friend of mine, so I guess I'd be expected to defend him, but I'm pretty sure he didn't mean his short piece about the commercialization of pot to be an attack on the free market. Quite the contrary. In fact, he has a powerful appreciation of the efficiency of the market, and knows very well that drug gangs are actually pitifully incompetent at the basics of modern distribution and logistics. Put them in competition with Philip Morris or RJ Reynolds and they'd go out of business in a few months. At the same time, with a truly modern, efficient multinational corporation at the helm, sales and consumption of marijuana would most likely skyrocket.

Remember what happened to all those mom-and-pop stores when Walmart came into town? It would be about like that.

I don't even know that I agree with Mark about trying to keep pot away from the commercial sector. My guess is that it's not really workable. Still, his argument is simple: The free market is powerful. Big corporations are far, far more efficient than a bunch of hoodlums. So if big corporations start selling drugs, then drug use (and abuse) is going to increase. Maybe a lot. You might still favor complete legalization, and that's fine. But you should at least recognize that it comes with a likely cost, just as it did with cigarettes and alcohol.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Some Pretty Great Advice For This First Grader

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 3:55 PM EST

A 6-year-old girl wearing a badass Albert Einstein t-shirt recently had the rare chance to ask everyone's favorite cosmologist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, what first graders like her can do to help the Earth. 

Tyson's response? Keep banging those pots, keep stomping in those muddy puddles.

"You are making a splash crater," Tyson explained. "These are experiments. Just tell your parents they're experiments and you want to become a scientist and they won't stop you from doing anything you want."

Basically, don't let the grown-ups squash your curiosity! Watch his heartwarming advice in full below:

 

 

Watch This Adorable Hamster Celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner Wearing a Pilgrim Hat

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 2:48 PM EST

Adding to our collection of adorable creatures delightfully feasting away on autumnal foods, is a magical clip featuring a hamster nibbling away at Thanksgiving dinner with his closest furry friends. They all wear tiny Pilgrim hats and dine on equally tiny portions of pie and turkey, thanks to the folks at HelloDenizen, the creators of the video.

Just look at those cheeks.

(h/t Buzzfeed)

Public Evenly Split on Immigration Action

| Tue Nov. 18, 2014 1:30 PM EST

So how does the public feel about President Obama changing immigration rules via executive action? Pretty evenly split, it turns out. According to a USA Today poll, Democrats want action now; Republicans want him to wait; independents are split down the middle; and the overall result is slightly in favor of waiting, by 46-42 percent.

In other words, pretty much what you'd expect. Politically, then, this probably holds little risk for Obama or the Democratic Party. Especially in light of this:

On one more issue, Americans are in agreement: The elections two weeks ago aren't going to make Washington work better. Just 15% predict Obama and the new Congress, now under solid Republican control, will work together more closely to reach bipartisan compromises.

The American public is pretty politically astute, I'd say. They may not be up to speed on all the details of policymaking, but when it comes to the big picture, they know a lot more than the Beltway pundits seem to.