Here's the front-page headline from Monday's Washington Post:

Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college

And here's the first sentence of the fifth paragraph:

There is no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton....

And this from the 26th paragraph:

Clinton’s contract with Laureate was approved by the State Department’s ethics office....An ethics official wrote that he saw “no conflict of interest with Laureate or any of their partners,” according to a letter recently released by the conservative group Citizens United, which received it through a public-records request.

Roger that. I hope everyone will excuse me if I ignore this entire story until there's even the slightest hint of some kind of wrongdoing or corruption.

Why did Hillary Clinton handle her email account the way she did? Generally speaking, the focus has been on the possibility that she wanted to keep her official emails on a private server so they wouldn't be accessible to the public via FOIA requests. I think this is probably wrong, but before I explain why, I want to lay out the following fact pattern:

  1. In 2009, when Clinton took office, the State Department was willing to issue her an official BlackBerry with a state.gov address, but the device wasn't allowed to connect to a personal email account. Likewise, a personal device could connect to a personal account, but not to a state.gov account.1 So if Clinton didn't want to haul around two devices, her only choice was to use a personal BlackBerry and conduct official business on a personal account. That's what she decided to do.
  2. This was a dumb and fateful choice. So was her decision to use a single email account instead of two separate accounts for work and personal business. Why did she do it? It's impossible to say for sure, but there's abundant evidence that Clinton was almost completely technically illiterate. She had virtually no experience even using a computer, and frequently discarded new BlackBerries after a few days because she was frustrated that they worked differently than her old one. She had no computer on her desk. She was famously confused by her iPad. Like a lot of people, she basically treated email like magic: you type some words, press a button, and your words end up somewhere else. All the intricacies of protocols and servers and intermediate storage and backups were like so much Greek to her.
  3. That said, Clinton was well aware that her department emails were official records and had to be retained. The evidence makes it very clear she knew this. What's more, while her use of a private server may not have been known widely, there were plenty of people who did know. It's hard to believe that she did this with FOIA in mind, since a non-government email account would have been a spectacularly stupid and ineffective way to try to avoid FOIA requests.
  4. Clinton did in fact retain all of her emails on her private server. When the State Department asked for them, she turned everything over to them promptly, with no hedging or negotiation.
  5. There's been lots of feverish speculation that Clinton may have deleted some official emails before turning them over to State, but there's no evidence that this ever happened. In fact, it's harder than it sounds to do this. If you delete an email—and its stored copy and its backup—and that email is referenced from another email, you're busted. If there's an email chain that suddenly ends without having been resolved, you're busted. If there's an unexplained "18-minute gap" in the email IDs, you're busted. If Clinton or her aides had deleted a bunch of embarrassing emails, they'd have to be very, very careful to make sure there was no evidence of a "missing" email anywhere in the stuff she turned over. That would require a lot of extremely careful work.
  6. As it happens, a number of Clinton's emails have been recovered that were missing from the material she handed over to State. Did she or her aides deliberately withhold them? Not a single one of them has been even remotely suspicious or embarrassing, so it hardly seems likely. After all, why delete innocuous emails?
  7. In November 2010, Clinton's BlackBerry was malfunctioning and her staff suggested getting an official State BlackBerry. In response, Clinton wrote, "Let's get separate address or device but I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."

When you put all this together, it leads to an obvious conclusion: Hillary Clinton did want to protect her emails from FOIA, but the emails she was concerned about were her personal emails. Unfortunately, her initial decision to use only a single email account—probably because she was technically illiterate and simply didn't understand why this was such a bad idea—turned everything into a circus. Before turning her records over to State, she had to carefully pull out all the personal emails and then make it clear that she wanted them deleted so they could never, ever be retrieved. Her experience led her to believe that personal or not, if they were somehow accessible they would be subpoenaed and leaked and everyone would go bananas over them.

So her staff complied. Once the official emails had all been turned over, they ordered the electronic records deleted, the hard disks erased with BleachBit, and the backups destroyed, along with a new retention policy that all of Clinton's personal emails would be deleted after 60 days. This was done not because there were missing official emails they wanted to hide, but because they wanted to make sure Clinton's personal emails were well and truly gone.

I believe the fact pattern of Clinton's email usage fits this conclusion far better than any other. We've now seen tens of thousands of Clinton's official emails—more than we've ever seen from any other high-level federal official—and they're boring as hell. We've seen emails that were deleted and then recovered from other people's accounts. They're boring as hell. The vast bulk of them are short conversations with a handful of close aides, and are largely restricted to the tedious minutiae of press releases, talking points, schedules, and other day-to-day matters.

What's more, paranoia over exposure of her personal emails fits perfectly what we know about Clinton's character. She distrusts Republicans in Congress, she distrusts the press, and she feels that both will take any chance they can to embarrass her with out-of-context leaks of her personal life. Whether or not you think this attitude is justified, it's unquestionably the attitude she has.

One final note: I'm a partisan. I'm keenly aware that I'm motivated to find innocent explanations for Clinton's actions—partly because I like her, and partly because I don't think she's shifty and scheming. Obviously you have to take this into account. Nonetheless, I think the evidence pretty clearly points in one direction: Hillary Clinton was concerned about her personal emails being made public, and after her initial bad decision to use a single account for everything she was stuck. Anything she did to erase her personal emails would inevitably affect her official emails too. She never cared about those, but everyone else did.

1I think this is true. If anyone knows different, let me know.

I had a conversation today on Twitter that suggests there's something that perhaps a lot of people don't quite understand. Hillary Clinton says that she trusted her staff to make sure they sent only unclassified information to her email account. That's fine for her close aides, who knew what she was doing, but what about people who didn't realize she was using an account on a private server? Perhaps they felt free to send her classified material because they assumed she was on a state.gov account?

No. First of all, they could see her email address when they sent her stuff. But that's not the real explanation. The real reason they made sure not to send her classified material was because they themselves were using unclassified systems. Here's a typical email:

Philip Crowley is sending this email from his state.gov account. Reines, Mills and Verveer also have state.gov accounts. But that doesn't mean they're secure accounts. They aren't. They're supposed to be used only for nonsensitive material. If you want to exchanged classified information, there's a separate State Department system. (Or you can do it in person, or over a secure phone or fax.)

That's why Clinton trusted her staff to follow proper procedures. It didn't matter whether she had a state.gov address or not. Even if she did, it would have been limited to unclassified material, and everyone knew it. With one trivial exception, everybody followed this rule faithfully: no one in four years sent Clinton anything via email that they thought was sensitive. This remains true even if some classification authorities in the intelligence community—which tends to be far more hypersensitive than State—disagreed several years later.

Bottom line: Whatever else you think of Clinton's reasons for using a personal server, she wasn't endangering classified material by using it. Everyone else was also using unsecure email, and they knew not to use it to send classified documents.

However, what Clinton was doing was endangering proper storage and retention of her emails. Why did she do that? I'll have more about this tomorrow.

A Quick Follow-up on Hillary Clinton's Email

In my piece last night about the FBI report on Hillary Clinton's email, I didn't spend much time on minutiae about the number and type of classified emails that were found on Hillary's server. We've been through all that, and the report didn't have anything new to add on the subject. But I did say this:

Most people the FBI talked to used private email accounts all the time; did their best to keep classified information out of these channels; and didn't believe that any of the emails they sent included classified information. Other classification authorities have disagreed, as we all know by now, and the entire discussion gives you a taste of how subjective the classification process is. Basically, we have lots of experienced people who disagree about whether various things really ought to be classified.

I got a bit of pushback on this that boiled down to: "Classified is classified. It doesn't matter if you disagree. There are strict rules about how you can handle sensitive information, and you have to follow them whether you like it or not."

True enough. But this only applies to documents that are marked classified at the time they're sent. In this case we're talking about documents created by folks at State that hadn't been classified yet. This doesn't let the originators off the hook: they're supposed to know whether anything in their email is sensitive and take appropriate precautions. But it's still a judgment call, and it's quite possible that ten people will have ten different opinions.

In this case, the originators all believed they were phrasing things in such a way that they were safe to send over an unclassified email account. Years later, classification authorities disagreed in a number of cases. So who's right? There's no way for the public to know. We just know that a lot of high-level State employees made judgments that were apparently uncontroversial at the time but were eventually overruled by classification authorities.

Of course, this doesn't include the three emails that were marked classified in the body of the email. Here's what the FBI report had to say about those:

The emails contained no additional markings, such as a header or footer, indicating they were classified. State confirmed through the FOIA review process that one of these three e-mail chains contains information which is currently classified at the CONFIDENTIAL level. State determined that the other two e-mail chains are currently UNCLASSIFIED.

So two of them aren't classified at all and shouldn't have been in the first place, while the third is obviously something trivial ("Confidential" is the lowest possible level of classification). If that's your case against Hillary—one trivial email over four years that shouldn't have been sent—then go to town with it. The rest of us will spend our time on stuff that matters.

For more on this, see Fred Kaplan for an overview and Kurt Eichenwald for a deeper discussion of how classified information is handled.

Donald Trump, the scourge of illegal immigrants who are taking away jobs from hardworking Americans, owns a modeling agency that has knowingly employed...illegal immigrants. MoJo's James West has all the deets, including this strong and gutsy non-denial:

Trump's campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, declined to answer questions about Trump Model Management's use of foreign labor. "That has nothing to do with me or the campaign," she said, adding that she had referred Mother Jones' queries to Trump's modeling agency. Mother Jones also sent detailed questions to Trump Model Management. The company did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting comment.

Elsewhere, the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold and Rosalind Helderman compare and contrast Trump's charitable giving with that of the much reviled Clinton family's:

How much money have Clinton and Trump each donated to charity?

For Hillary and Bill Clinton, the total is $23.2 million between 2001 and 2015. That figure comes from the Clintons’ joint tax returns, which the Democratic nominee has released....Clinton and her husband donated about 9.8 percent of their adjusted gross income.

Trump says he is worth far more than the Clintons. He recently claimed his net worth as more than $10 billion....The Washington Post has identified about $3.9 million in donations since 2001 from Trump’s own pocket.

Fahrenthold also makes it clear that the Clintons are (a) more transparent about their donors than Trump, (b) more transparent about their giving, and (c) far more generous. I guess that's why the Clinton Foundation has gotten so much more scrutiny.

Finally, I love this tweet from Trump's social media guy:

A beautiful prayer indeed. Note that while everyone else has their head bowed, Trump sits there staring blankly into the middle distance, obviously bored by the whole thing. Such a religious guy.

Kremlinology Isn't What It Used to Be

This is awesome. Akiyoshi Komaki, the Moscow bureau chief for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, recently got suspicious about Vladimir Putin's official schedule. The Kremlin had released pictures of Putin meeting with four regional governors on four different days, but Komaki thought they looked suspiciously similar. Here's a blow-up of the four photos:

The Washington Post tells the story:

Something didn't seem quite right to Komaki about these photographs. So he began to look closely. He realized that in the photographs from the 18th, 23rd and 24th, the pencils and papers on Putin's desk appeared to be in an almost identical, if not totally identical, arrangement. However, they were in a subtly different position on the 22nd. How had they jumped back into place for the next day?

There are similar blow-ups of Putin's shoes and a stack of paper on the desk. Clearly Putin is busted.

None of this matters, but I love little conspiratorial nuggets like this. It's like a C-list version of the Kremlinology of old, this time digging out minuscule cover-ups of things that no sane person would ever bother with. Back in the day, we'd obsess over stuff like this wondering if some admiral or Politburo member was about to meet with a fatal accident and have his family shuffled off to Siberia. Today, it's about whether Vladimir Putin is trying to look a little busier than he really is. It's disappointing in a way, but it certainly suggests that the world is a better place than it used to be.

Have you read the entire FBI report on the agency's investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices? No? Well, I have, because that's the kind of professional I am. And I'm going to provide you with all the most interesting excerpts.

The report starts off with a whole bunch of technical detail about how the Clinton email server was set up and managed, and is basically uninteresting except to nerds. As everyone knows, Hillary's email was originally hosted on a personal server in her home (referred to as the "Pagliano Server") and was later transferred to a commercial hosting service, Platte River Networks (the "PRN Server"). We'll pick up the action on page 7:

Page 7: At the time of the FBI's acquisition of the Pagliano Server, Williams & Connolly did not advise the US Government [...] that Clinton's clintonemail.com e-mails had been migrated to the successor PRN Server remaining at Equinix. The FBI's subsequent investigation identified this additional equipment and revealed the e-mail migration.

This strikes me as bad. Hillary's lawyers gave the FBI the old Pagliano Server when they asked for it, but didn't tell them that everything had been migrated to PRN. Why not?

Page 8: [Huma] Abedin recalled that at the start of Clinton's tenure, State advised personal e-mail accounts could not be linked to State mobile devices and, as a result, Clinton decided to use a personal device in order to avoid carrying multiple devices.

In other words, Hillary could get a State-approved device but couldn't receive her personal email on it. Likewise, she could use a personal device, but couldn't get State email on it. The only way to get both was to carry two physical devices. She considered this inconvenient, and decided to keep on using her personal BlackBerry for everything. This is exactly what she's been saying all along.

Page 8: FBI investigation identified 13 total mobile devices [...] which potentially were used to send e-mails [...] eight of which she used during her tenure as Secretary of State.

This has become a big talking point on the right for some reason. Hillary didn't have one device for convenience, she had 13! This is ridiculous. Over time, she had 13 devices, but the report makes it clear that she always had just one device at a time.

Page 9: According to Abedin, it was not uncommon for Clinton to use a new BlackBerry for a few days and then immediately switch it out for an older version with which she was more familiar. Clinton states that when her BlackBerry device malfunctioned, her aides would assist her in obtaining a new BlackBerry, and, after moving to a new device, her old SIM cards were disposed of by her aides.

I'm only including this because, WTF? How often did Hillary's BlackBerries malfunction? If she had eight in four years, it means they each lasted about six months. Why were they so fragile? Did they just buy a new BlackBerry every time there was some kind of bug they couldn't figure out how to resolve?

Page 11: On January 23, 2009, Clinton contacted former Secretary of State Colin Powell via e-mail to inquire about his use of a BlackBerry while he was Secretary of State (January 2001 to January 2005). In his e-mail reply, Powell warned Clinton that if it became "public" that Clinton had a BlackBerry, and she used it to "do business," her e-mails could become "official record[s] and subject to the law." Powell further advised Clinton, "Be very careful. I got around it all by not saying much and not using systems that captured the data."

This is important. First, it makes clear that Hillary conversed with Colin Powell two days after becoming secretary of state, not "a year later," as Powell has claimed. Second, Powell essentially told her that he had just gone ahead and broken the law by "not using systems that captured the data." Hillary, by contrast, chose instead to retain everything as the law required.

Page 11: While State policy during Clinton's tenure required that "day-to-day operations [at State] be conducted on [an authorized information system]," according to the REDACTED the Bureau of Information Security Management, REDACTED there was no restriction on the use of personal e-mail accounts for official business. [...] In 2011, a notice to all State employees was sent on Clinton's behalf, which recommended employees avoid conducting State business from personal e-mail accounts due to information security concerns.

This makes it clear that although State "recommended" that employees not use personal accounts, there was no rule prohibiting it. And apparently personal accounts were very widely used.

Page 12: State Diplomatic Security Service (DS) instructed Clinton that because her office was in a SCIF, the use of mobile devices in her office was prohibited. Interviews of three former DS agents revealed Clinton stored her personal BlackBerry in a desk drawer in DS "Post 1," which was located within the SCIF on Mahogany Row. State personnel were not authorized to bring their mobile devices into Post 1, as it was located within the SCIF.

I'm only including this because it's gotten some attention on the right. This paragraph says Hillary always checked in her BlackBerry when she came into the office, as she was required to do, but checked it into Post 1. Apparently this was the wrong thing to do. But if it was, surely this is the fault of DS, not Hillary, who plainly had no incentive to store her BlackBerry in the wrong place.

Page 13: Thirteen individuals, consisting of State senior-level employees, work-related advisors, and State executive administrative staff, maintained direct e-mail contact with Clinton.

That's not very many. It's not as if potentially sensitive information was flying around to hundreds of people.

Page 14: Heather Samuelson, an attorney working with [Cheryl] Mills, undertook a review to identify work-related e-mails, while Kendall and Mills oversaw the process. [...] Clinton was not consulted on specific e-mails in order to determine if they were work-related.

This is how Hillary's work-related emails were separated from her personal emails after State asked for them. It's only relevant because it makes clear that Hillary herself had no input into the selection process. She just gave the order to produce the emails requested by State. Apparently she wasn't very concerned that there would be anything embarrassing in there.

This is nothing new. FBI Director James Comey said as much months ago about emails the FBI had recovered: "We found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from the system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her e-mails, so it is not surprising that we discovered e-mails that were not on Secretary Clinton's system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 e-mails to the State Department."

Pages 18-19: According to Mills, in December 2014, Clinton decided she no longer needed access to any of her e-mails older than 60 days. [...] On March 2, 2015, The New York Times (NYT) published an article titled "Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules." [...] In his interviews with the FBI, REDACTED [a PRN techie] indicated that sometime between March 25-31, 2015, he realized he did not make the e-mail retention policy changes to Clinton's clintonemail.com e-mail account that Mills had requested in December 2014. [...] He believed he had an "oh shit" moment and sometime between March 25-31, 2015 deleted the Clinton archive mailbox from the PRN server and used BleachBit to delete the exported .PST files he had created on the server system containing Clinton's e-mails.

This explains why data was removed from the PRN server after the New York Times article and after the Benghazi committee had subpoenaed Hillary's emails. It had nothing to do with anyone around Hillary Clinton. An IT guy at PRN realized one day that he'd forgotten about the retention order and went ahead and implemented it.

The report makes clear that Cheryl Mills sent an email, which the PRN techie received, telling PRN about the preservation request from the Benghazi committee. The techie said he knew it meant he shouldn't disturb the Clinton server but apparently got confused and didn't realize this meant he shouldn't touch the old archives or the backups.

Page 20: When asked of her knowledge regarding TOP SECRET, SECRET, and CONFIDENTIAL classification levels of USG information, Clinton responded that she did not pay attention to the "level" of classification and took all classified information seriously.

For some reason there are people guffawing at this, but I don't know why. The plainest reading is not that Hillary had no idea what various classification levels meant, but that she treated all classified information seriously no matter what level it was at.

Page 22: The FBI interviewed multiple officials who authored and/or contributed to e-mails, the content of which has since been determined to contain classified information. USG employees responsible for initiating classified e-mail chains include State Civil Service employees, Foreign Service employees, Senior Executive Service employees, Presidential employees, and non-State elected officials.

I can't quite tell if the report suggests that every classified email they recovered was initiated by someone else, but it seems like it. Basically, other people sent stuff to Hillary, and she trusted that these folks knew what they were doing. She didn't initiate any email exchanges herself that included classified information.

Page 23: During FBI interviews, State employees explained the context for why classified material REDACTED was sent and provided reasons to explain why they did not believe information in the e-mails was classified. [...] Authors of the e-mails stated that they used their best judgment in drafting the messages and that it was common practice at State to carefully word e-mails on UNCLASSIFIED networks so as to avoid sensitive details or "talk around" REDACTED classified information.

This whole section is a description of common practices at State. Basically, most people the FBI talked to used private email accounts all the time; did their best to keep classified information out of these channels; and didn't believe that any of the emails they sent included classified information. Other classification authorities have disagreed, as we all know by now, and the entire discussion gives you a taste of how subjective the classification process is. Basically, we have lots of experienced people who disagree about whether various things really ought to be classified.

Page 25: On the morning of June 17, 2011, Clinton asked [Jake] Sullivan to check on the status of talking points she was supposed to have received. Sullivan responded that the secure fax was malfunctioning but was in the process of being fixed. Clinton instructed Sullivan that if the secure fax could not be fixed, he should "turn [the talking points] into nonpaper [with] no identifying heading and send nonsecure." State uses the term "non-paper" to refer to a document which is authorized for distribution to a foreign government wihout explicit attribution to the U.S. government and without classified information.

This provides an explanation for the "nonpaper" thing that got so much attention on Fox News a while back. It's nothing nefarious. It's standard jargon at the State Department for turning a classified document into an unclassified document and removing all the headers. This incident shows not negligence, but a rather strict adherence to the rules.

Page 27: FBI investigation and forensic analysis did not find evidence confirming that Clinton e-mail server systems were compromised by cyber means.

This section goes on for pages and pages, but this is really the only sentence you need. It could be that Hillary's email server was hacked. Anything is possible. But despite tons of forensic analysis, the FBI found no evidence of it. This doesn't mean that Hillary should have used a private server, and it doesn't mean her server used best security practices. She shouldn't have, and it didn't. Nonetheless, there's no reason to think her server was ever hacked other than "don't be an idiot, of course it was."

Oddly, the FBI never really addresses the issue of whether Hillary violated federal record retention rules. They obviously believe that she should have used a State email account for work-related business, but that's about it. I suppose they decided it was a non-issue because Hillary did, in fact, retain all her emails and did, in fact, turn them over quickly when State requested them.

There's also virtually no discussion of FOIA. What little there is suggests that Hillary's only concern was that her personal emails not be subjected to FOIA simply because they were held on the same server as her work emails.

If you read the entire report, you'll find bits and pieces that might show poor judgment on Hillary's part. The initial decision to use one email device is the obvious one, something that Hillary has acknowledged repeatedly. Another—maybe—is her staff's view of what was safe to send over unclassified email. But this is very fuzzy. It could be that her staff knew exactly what it was doing, and it's the subsequent classification authorities who are wrong. This is something that it's impossible to judge since none of us will ever see the emails in question.

That said, this report is pretty much an almost complete exoneration of Hillary Clinton. She wasn't prohibited from using a personal device or a personal email account, and others at state did it routinely. She's told the truth all along about why she did it. Colin Powell did indeed advise her about using personal email shortly after she took office, but she chose to follow the rules rather than skirt them, as Powell did. She didn't take her BlackBerry into her office. She communicated with only a very select group of 13 people. She took no part in deciding which emails were personal before handing them over to State. She had nothing to do with erasing information on the PRN server. That was a screw-up on PRN's end. She and her staff all believed at the time that they were careful not to conduct sensitive conversations over unclassified email systems. And there's no evidence that her server was ever hacked.

There's remarkably little here. If you nonetheless believe that it's enough to disqualify Hillary from the presidency, that's fine. I have no quarrel with you. But if the FBI is to be believed, it's all pretty small beer.

Friday Cat Blogging - 2 September 2016

Our new set of sticks with strings and feathers attached is a huge, monster hit. I'm not sure how we didn't know this before. Marian thinks maybe we've never had any around the house with our current cats, and I guess that's possible.

Anyway, this is now their absolute favorite thing in the world, especially for Hopper. We keep them in the laundry room (where we keep everything that needs to be kept away from the cats), and Hopper figured this out very quickly. She now spends much of her time lounging in front of the laundry room door, hoping that someone will come by and bring out the toy. If either of us walks in the general direction of the laundry room, she immediately trots over with a hopeful expression on her face. A couple of days ago the cleaners left the door open, and Hopper jumped up on the dryer, fished out the toy, and dragged it into the living room, where she promptly shredded it. It's since been replaced by a somewhat sturdier model.

Hopper still hasn't figured out where we hide the upstairs stick, but I suppose she will eventually. In the meantime, here she is outside the laundry room hoping that I'll put down the camera and come play with her. I did.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill gave us the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, designed to protect consumers from predatory lending. So how about a Consumer Pharmaceutical Protection Bureau to protect us from predatory drugmakers? That's pretty much what Hillary Clinton proposed today in the wake of outrage over the 500 percent increase in the cost of EpiPens. Her proposed agency would be empowered to investigate price hikes for old drugs:

Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Hillary’s plan would make new enforcement tools available, including:

  • Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.
  • Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.
  • Penalties for unjustified price increases to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines — and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.

In combination with her broader, previously announced prescription drug plan — which addresses the costs facing consumers from both long-standing and patented drugs — these new tools to address price spikes for treatments available for many years will lower the burden of prescription drug costs for all Americans.

EpiPens are hardly the first case of this happening. We've seen it many times before, and Republicans and Democrats alike join in a familiar dance: outrage, congressional hearings, and demands that this kind of price gouging end. But that's it. Congress has no actual power to do anything, and eventually the attention dies away.

So now Hillary Clinton is suggesting that Congress do more. Instead of cheap grandstanding, create an agency with the power to actually do something. Republicans will rush to agree, right? Because they always claim to be as outraged by this stuff as Democrats. Right?

I've written about this before in connection with the 4th Circuit Court overturning North Carolina's new voting law, but today William Wan of the Washington Post takes a closer look at how the law took shape. It all started when Republicans finally installed one of their own as governor:

Within months of McCrory’s victory, emails show, the state election board began receiving requests for demographic data from a group of GOP lawmakers....They asked for statistics on voter behavior broken down by race: Who voted early, and who voted on Election Day? Who voted out of precinct?

They asked about what kinds of people were registered to vote but did not have a driver’s license....In another email exchange, officials at the University of North Carolina received a data request from Lewis. “I was asked by a State Representative about the number of Student ID cards that are created and the % of those who are African American,” a university official says to his lower staff. No explanation is given on why Lewis needs the data, just a plea to hurry on it. “He needs it in 2 hours or less.”

Literally within hours of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina began putting together their bill. As the 4th Circuit opinion stated, the bill targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision." Nonetheless, Rep. David Lewis, the ringleader of the legislation, was offended by the suggestion that race had anything to do with it:

Lewis said he deeply resented critics who have painted the bill and its supporters as racist. “When Democrats were in power, I may not have agreed with them, but I never questioned them personally or tried to impugn their reputations,” he said.

Uh huh. But in a way, he's right. A North Carolina party wheel explains:

Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse. “Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.

This is probably true, but also spectacularly tone deaf. If a law with a reasonable motivation happened to do some harm to bakery owners or accountants, we'd shrug. Every law has disparate effects, and it's almost inevitable that some groups will do worse than others.

But a law that not only differentially affects African-Americans, but deliberately affects African-Americans, is plainly different for reasons that hardly need explaining. It hardly even matters if David Lewis is racist. He may have done what he did for reasons of cynical political calculation, but the effect was egregiously, indefensibly racist. It's not even faintly plausible that he and the rest of the Republican caucus in North Carolina don't know this.

That's all bad enough. But here's what's even worse: four members of the Supreme Court voted to let this bill proceed despite the overwhelming evidence that it was almost entirely race-based. If we're willing to spend weeks freaking out about Colin Kaepernick's protest against racism in America, perhaps we could spend a few weeks freaking out about this too?