• Here’s the Real Inside Story of How Paris Won the 2024 Olympics

    Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    Ladies and gentlemen, I present possibly the most ridiculous story ever written. This weekend the New York Times explained how Paris won the 2024 Olympics after repeated failures in recent years:

    Paris Won the 2024 Olympics by Learning From Its Mistakes

    Although the Olympic bidding process is notoriously opaque, Paris’s successful bid for the 2024 Olympics seems to have benefited from the hard-learned lessons of its past failures. Here are some of the things it did differently this time.

    ….“The main conclusion was that you had to put sports much more at the center of the bid”…. Emmanuel Macron, used his image as a young, new and popular president to push the bid into the homestretch…. “It’s important to show some unity to the I.O.C. members,” said Thierry Rey…. Bid leaders argued that their Games would be ecologically responsible, and that 95 percent of the sports venues were either already built or would be temporary…. And there was one more lesson learned by the French, according to Mr. Lee of Vero, and this one was perhaps the hardest. You must lobby, which he described as “the L word in France.”

    Oh please. Hamburg, Budapest, and Rome withdrew after realizing that bidding for the Olympics was stupid and immensely costly. Los Angeles voluntarily agreed to host the 2028 games. Paris was the only city left bidding for the 2024 games. That’s why they won.

    How is it possible to write more than a thousand words on this subject without mentioning that tiny little fact?

  • I Tried To Freeze My Credit. It Was Kind of Infuriating.

    No, this is not actually me.Getty Images

    While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

    Kevin, as you’re probably aware, has strong opinions on the Equifax disaster, so let’s keep that ball rolling while he enjoys fiddle tunes and a half-pint in the Irish pubs.

    Over at the New York Times, finance columnist Ron Lieber has kept busy shaming the credit-reporting giants, posing questions from readers on their handling (or lack thereof) of the unprecedented (so far as we know) Equifax breach that compromised the personal and financial data of up to 143 million Americans. (Equifax reluctantly answered some of Lieber’s questions but not others—and not always accurately.)

    This whole nightmare has reminded Americans what the credit-reporting industry is: a rapacious, unaccountable corporate beast that sucks up, stores, and sells our secrets whether we like it or not, and seeks to avoid any liability should anything go wrong. Then, when something inevitably does go wrong, the big three—Experian, TransUnion, and until last week, Equifax—take advantage of laws that allow them to charge us to freeze our credit files so they don’t fall into unauthorized hands. (Innovis, a smaller player, doesn’t charge for this service.)

    As my colleague Hannah Levintova noted last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) just introduced a bill that would impose new regulations on the industry; in a letter to Equifax, Warren took issue with the company’s “sluggish response to the hack, its lack of transparency about exactly what information may have been accessed by hackers, and Equifax’s initial attempt to enroll affected customers in free credit monitoring—only if they give up their right to sue the reporting agency.”

    By the time I got around to taking care of my own credit freezes, Equifax had already been shamed into temporarily waiving its fees. Experian’s freeze cost me $10 and I had to agree to its fine-print “terms of use,” which I actually read, and they seemed fine—even if it gave me the willies to enter my social and credit card numbers.

    TransUnion was another story. First of all, the company has been diverting customers who want a credit freeze and urging them instead to “lock” their credit by signing up for a currently free TransUnion service called TrueIdentity. The Times’ Lieber has asked TransUnion for more details about locking, a sort of credit-freeze-lite that isn’t described in consumer law, but he hasn’t received a satisfying response. And when you sign up for TrueIdentity, as far as your right to take legal action, you basically have to give them your first-born.

    But I didn’t even get that far. Before I could even request a freeze with TransUnion, I was directed to register with its website. To do so, I had to enter my social security number, address, etc.—and then agree to legal terms that stopped me in my tracks.

    Tell me if the following excerpt from TransUnion’s “Disclaimer of Warranties and Liability” doesn’t give you pause. To me it suggests that, in order to interact with the company at all, I have to absolve them of liability for anything that might happen to my data on their watch. (You’ll find an identical clause in TrueIdentity’s terms of service.) 


    Does this seem reasonable? I’m no lawyer, so I showed this language to one, and he seconded my assessment that it’s “about as broad as it gets.” In California, at least, it’s probably not enforceable, he added, because you could argue that it’s coercive: If you have to freeze your TransUnion credit file, it’s not like there’s somewhere else for you to go.

    Why would TransUnion ask such a thing from consumers who, through no fault of their own, are scrambling to keep their data out of the hands of crooks? I emailed Dave Blumberg, TransUnion’s senior director of public relations, late last week to ask whether the company really considers this waiver fair or necessary. I let him know a response was needed urgently and, well…can you hear the crickets?

    Maybe we should all start emailing and tweeting and Facebooking questions to Dave and all the rest of ’em until they give us some real answers. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your own experiences trying to deal with this stuff. Let us know in the comments.

  • Donald Trump Is Normalizing Bald-Faced Lying

    One of the worst things about the Trump era is the way it’s normalized bald-faced lying. I don’t mean cherry picking or exaggerating or twisting facts. I mean people just telling outright lies because they figure no one will bother checking—and if they do, well, who cares? You can ignore it or bluster your way through it, just like Donald does.

    Here’s an example. It’s not an important one, but it happened to catch my eye a couple of days ago. Over at National Review, Michael New decided for some reason to criticize a month-old column about teen pregnancy programs by Aaron Carroll. Here is New:

    Carroll’s interest in the rigorous evaluation of sex-education programs is commendable. However, like many of his colleagues, Carroll eagerly criticizes abstinence-based programs without evaluating the effects of other types of teen-pregnancy-prevention curricula.

    This is just flatly untrue. Carroll’s column is here. Click the link if you want to check me. The bulk of the column is indeed about abstinence-only sex education, but paragraphs 12 and 13 are explicitly about reviews of “other” curricula (“Comprehensive programs reduced sexual activity, the number of sex partners, the frequency of unprotected sexual activity, and sexually transmitted infections… increased the use of protection… improved knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and outcomes”).

    I understand that this is hardly the biggest deal in the world. What gets me, though, is that it’s not just untrue, it’s obviously untrue to anyone who clicks the link and scans Carroll’s piece even casually. It’s the kind of thing you’d put in print only if you’ve learned from Donald Trump that nothing matters anymore. Just say whatever’s convenient and move on.

    By the way, New also says this:

    Overall, the decline in the teen-pregnancy rate is one of the unheralded public-policy success stories of the past 25 years. Teen-pregnancy rates reached their peak in 1990 and have fallen every year since then.

    This is absolutely true, and it’s true for teen birthrates as well. Here are the overall teen birthrate stats from the CDC:

    Neither New nor Carroll suggest how teen pregnancy and birthrates could have plummeted so astonishingly over the past 25 years. But whatever caused it, it has to be something that’s been happening steadily for the past quarter century, so it’s not abstinence-only sex education, and it’s probably not contraceptive use either. It’s a mystery. What kind of thing might have peaked around 1990; affected the entire country; and had a bigger impact on blacks and Hispanics than on whites? Can you think of anything else like this? I can.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    One of the great things about County Kerry in Ireland is that it makes photography easy. Maybe too easy. Basically, you just pull off the road every once in a while, point your camera in a random direction, and take some pictures. They’ll all be great.

    But let’s start out with something simple. This perfect rainbow greeted us on our first day here. And there was no price to pay, either. The weather was great, with just an occasional light sprinkle. That was enough.

    By the way, you have Marian to thank for this. I didn’t even notice the rainbow because I was too busy trying to keep the car in one piece. I’m a bit of a leadfoot driver, but the speed limits here are pretty unbelievable. Even on small, twisty roads, the posted speed limit is 60 mph, and I rarely feel safe above 30-40 mph. But the Irish drivers hurtle along even though the lanes are only a few inches wider than the cars themselves and hairpin turns can appear out of nowhere at any time. On the bright side, we’re still alive and I’ve got loads of beautiful pictures.

    For those of you keeping score at home, this picture was taken in the vicinity of Loher. Today we’re driving up to Portmagee to take a boat tour of the Skellig Islands. The weather is spectacular right now, clear and sunny and nicely cool, so it should be a nice trip. Puffin season is over, to my great sorrow, but I’m sure there will be plenty of other attractions.

  • Here’s a Better Identity Theft Idea for Elizabeth Warren

    Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    Hannah Levintova reports that Elizabeth Warren has introduced legislation in response to the Equifax hack:

    The bill, titled the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act, would require credit reporting agencies to offer customers free options to impose or lift a “credit freeze” that stops the sharing and selling of personal credit information to third parties. Currently, there is no federal rule requiring that credit reporting agencies offer any sort of freeze option, and agencies that do, charge between $2-$10 each time a freeze is imposed or lifted.

    ….The bill—also sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)—would also offer consumers better fraud alert protections in the wake of the breach, requiring credit reporting agencies to offer up to seven years of renewable fraud alert protections.

    As happy as I am to see Warren responding to this—even if there’s precious little chance of Republicans offering their support—I’m surprised that her bill is so weak. It should be stronger and less complicated.

    A “credit freeze” is a simple thing: it means that if you apply for credit and someone asks for a credit report, Equifax¹ has to contact you first to make sure that it was really you who applied for credit. That’s it. This should be the default. No hassles, no loopholes. Your personal financial information never gets shared with anyone else until you give explicit permission.

    In some cases this would delay getting credit. But these days, it would be a minor imposition for most people. Think about what happens when you forget a password and have to change it. You get an email or a text within seconds and then you click a Confirm button. Done. It could work the same way for credit. There should a single central clearinghouse that links Social Security numbers with email addresses and phone numbers, and credit reporting agencies would all use that clearinghouse to contact credit applicants for confirmation.

    Note that this would be kept entirely separate from the credit report itself. This means that if a hacker does somehow get hold of your credit report, they still don’t know your email address or phone number, so they can’t use the information in the report to go on a credit application spree.

    Is this perfect? No, but nothing is perfect. It means you have to keep your contact information up to date if it changes. If you forget, it could result in a long delay getting credit approved. And what if you don’t have email or a smartphone? Then the credit reporting agency would have to contact you via phone, or maybe even postal mail. If that’s too much of a hassle for you, you could apply to have your account permanently accessible to anyone who wants to see it—i.e., permanently unfrozen. Needless to say, if you did that you’d be responsible for any credit hacking or identity theft.

    These days, a simple text/email confirmation would be easy for 95+ percent of us, with that number increasing every year. It’s a better solution than Warren’s.

    Could more be done? Probably. If the credit reporting agencies were made statutorily responsible for identity theft, I’ll bet they’d think of a few more ideas. So how about it, Senator Warren? Why not a bill that requires identity confirmation in all cases and makes credit reporting agencies responsible for identity theft? It’s simple, easy, and effective. It would make the credit reporting agencies unhappy, and it would drive up their costs, but I think I can live with that.

    ¹And TransUnion and Experian and anyone else who sells credit reports.

  • Perhaps Evangelicals Really Are “Easy to Command” After All

    While I’ve been tromping around in Ireland, I see that this chart from Thomas Edsall has been making the rounds:

    Edsall comments on this and other recent poll results:

    What happened in the interim? The answer is obvious: the advent of Donald Trump….Michael Barber and Jeremy C. Pope, political scientists at Brigham Young University, reported in their recent paper “Does Party Trump Ideology? Disentangling Party and Ideology in America,” that many Republican voters are malleable to the point of innocence.

    ….Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law and political science at Stanford, described his surprise at the docility of Republican officials in an email: “While I and others had written extensively about the partisan tribalism of both elites and the mass public, I guess I would have expected greater defections by Republicans in the wake of Charlottesville.”

    As these quotes make clear, the issue here isn’t religion per se, but Republican affiliation. An awful lot of Republicans apparently have very weak views on most subjects and are willing to support whatever Trump supports. Conversely, those with no religious affiliation, who are heavily Democratic, changed their views hardly at all. That’s not to say they’re unaffected by tribalism, but apparently they’re affected a lot less.

    Any way you look at it, though, the strongest effect by far came from white evangelicals, who were almost literally willing to flip their views upside-down when Donald Trump told them to. I’m reminded of the famous description of evangelicals in a Washington Post article 25 years ago as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”

    The Post apologized almost instantly, but this nonetheless became legendary on the right as shorthand for the contempt that Beltway elites feel toward evangelicals. But maybe the Post should have held its ground after all. In the age of Trump, it seems like maybe it’s evangelicals who ought to be the ones apologizing. Compared to other religious traditions, evangelicals in general really are poorer, less educated, and easier to command.

  • Perhaps Some Day People Will Be Able to Afford California After All

    Rich Pedroncelli/AP

    California has an affordability problem. The median cost of a home is $505,800—up $321,000 from five years ago. Homelessness is also on the upswing, with more than 118,000 people without shelter—more than any other state in the country. Californians “are living during the worst housing crisis our state has ever experienced,” said David Chiu, a state assemblyman out of San Francisco and chair of the state housing committee.

    So on Thursday evening, with just a hint of late-night drama, the California Assembly passed a package of six bills aimed at boosting funding and easing regulations with the potential to spur affordable housing development throughout the state. The bills are now with Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. 

    One measure, Senate Bill 3, authorizes a $4 billion bond measure for the 2018 ballot, with $1 billion going toward funding home loans for California’s military vets and the rest boosting existing affordable housing programs. Another, Senate Bill 35, streamlines the approval process for developers in cities that have fallen behind on state housing production goals. Three other bills, meanwhile, seek to strengthen existing laws and compel cities to sign off on more housing developments. 

    The most controversial measure of the night came in the form of a proposed fee on certain real estate transactions: Senate Bill 2 establishes a scheme that attaches a $75 price tag to real estate documents like those filed during mortgage refinancing. The total fees would not exceed $225. Proceeds are set to be funneled into financing for affordable housing programs; state Senate estimates show that the plan could generate between $200 and $300 million each year and more than $5 billion over the next five years.

    With Democrats holding a super-majority in the California legislature, the proposed fee required a two-thirds vote to pass. Even after Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein broke from his party and announced on the floor he would vote in favor of SB 2, the measure remained two votes shy of approval. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon left the vote open for almost an hour while lawmakers lobbied two Democratic holdouts, Marc Levine and Adrin Nazarian. A third, Sabrina Cervantes, a Democrat from the potential swing district of Riverside, voted against the measure. During the legislative recess, Levine had spoken out against the fee hike and instead wanted to pay for affordable housing by taxing corporations more. In the end, Levine and Nazarian voted for the funding measure. 

    The state Senate already approved earlier versions of the measures and met Friday to finalize the package. Brown, who negotiated the package with lawmakers, is expected to sign it.

    After the Assembly’s progress Thursday night, the governor tweeted his approval:  

  • Goodnight, Cassini

    While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

    Early Friday morning, the Cassini spacecraft ended its 20-year-long journey as it burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere. 

    Cassini spent seven years in transit (space travel ain’t quick), followed by 13 years orbiting Saturn and collecting data from the solar system’s second largest planet and its moons. Over the course of its run, Cassini sent back countless breathtaking images.

    For folks my age (I’m 31), it’s easy to forgot just how new and perception-altering it is to have pictures of other planets in the solar system. Humans didn’t have pictures of our neighbors in the far reaches of the solar system until Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1977. That’s a major shift in how we view the solar system, our galaxy, and the universe! Thanks to missions like Cassini, people now grow up not just imagining what other planets might look like, but actually getting to explore Saturn’s rings and other wonders from space.

    Here’s a brief sampling of images we have thanks to Cassini’s journey.

    A view of Saturn released in 2005.

    A storm in Saturn’s atmosphere in 2011.

    Saturn’s rings, photo from 2009.

    Photo of Saturn from 2013.

    Cassini’s “holiday greetings” message to Earth, on December 24, 2004.

    An image of Jupiter from 2003.

    An image of Saturn from 2004.

    (All pictures via NASA. There are plenty of more amazing photos in their database—both from Cassini and other missions—so take a break from depressing Trump news to enjoy the beauty of the universe.)

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 15 September 2017

    I may be traipsing around in Ireland right now, but the miracle of technology has allowed me to make sure you get your weekly dose of cat. Here is Hopper cooling herself off from the afternoon heat in the underbrush of the jungle that is our backyard. Next week I hope to have an Irish cat or two in this space. We’ll see.

    In other news, the Economist has produced a chart of presidential pets that allows us to identify our most cat-friendly president. The winner is…Rutherford B. Hayes! His three cats make him an honest winner of this contest, unlike his rather dubious election to the White House. The Presidential Pet Museum informs me that his first cat was Siam, given to him as a gift from the American consul in Bangkok. She was the first Siamese cat in America. His second cat was Miss Pussy, another Siamese cat. Finally, with his third cat, he started to show a bit of naming creativity, choosing Piccolomini for reasons lost to history.

    It’s been a long time since a president had more than one cat. Calvin Coolidge was the most recent, with his two cats Tiger and Blacky. I have a feeling I know what they looked like.

  • There Will Be Zero Counties Without Obamacare Insurers in 2018

    While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

    As Republicans have tried to rip apart Obamacare this year, one of their most frequent rhetorical strategies has been highlighting areas of the country where there might be zero insurance plans sold on the insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. 

    That threat was mostly overhyped. In various counties around the country, after insurance companies pulled out, other insurers quickly stepped in to fill the void. But last week an insurance company suddenly pulled out of Virginia, leaving 48 counties and 73,000 Obamacare participants without out an insurance option. That would have been a big deal! And unlike past insurance company announcements, this one came late in the process, leaving the state little time to correct the problem before 2018 open enrollment starts in November.

    But those fears proved misplaced. Virginia’s governor announced Friday that Anthem—which earlier this year announced it would pull out of Virginia—would step back in and fill the state’s gaps.

    White House officials have regularly trumpeted news reports about insurance companies pulling out of markets. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the White House to celebrate the latest news that there will be no bare counties next year.

  • My Tough Life As a Blogger

    Here is my new blogging home:

    This is not intended to make anyone jealous. It’s purely informational. Also, I met one of my neighbors this morning:

    I told him I had just arrived from America, and his reply was, “Bah.” I guess that’s appropriate.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The expression on this little girl’s face is priceless. I took this picture at Disneyland, on the raft leaving Tom Sawyer’s Island, and I figure she’s either bored by the whole TSI experience or annoyed at being forced to leave so soon. Hard to say which. But she’s definitely projecting some attitude.

  • If We Impeach Trump, We Can Set a New Record

    Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA

    I know what you’re thinking: no president has ever been successfully impeached, so of course it would set a new record. But that’s not what I have in mind.

    At the moment, we have five living ex-presidents: Carter, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama. Has this ever happened before? Yes! When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, we also had five living ex-presidents: Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. This lasted for 320 days, when Tyler died on January 18, 1862.

    It’s also happened twice since then, most recently when George W. Bush was inaugurated. This lasted for more than three years, until Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004.

    We will exceed that record in 2020—assuming everyone stays alive until then. But we can do better! If we impeach Trump, we’ll have six living ex-presidents. I think this is a record worth trying for. Republicans like setting records, don’t they?

  • We Liberals Sure Do Love to Blather, Don’t We?

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    I’ve still got an hour before I have to leave for the airport, so let’s take note of two examples of party dynamics today.

    First up is Bernie Sanders and his Medicare-for-All bill. What’s been the response among the lefty wonkocracy? Let’s call it…hesitation. Everyone’s for single-payer, that’s not the problem. But Bernie’s plan has issues. And he doesn’t say anything about how he’ll pay for it. Plus it might be too generous. And how do we handle all the people with employer health care who will be nervous about losing their doctor? Etc. etc.

    Compare this to Repeal and Replace. It literally had no detail at all, but Republicans ran on it for seven years and everyone was all for it. During that time, no one on the right spent more than a few minutes seriously wondering what the replacement would look like. There were occasional “white papers” that tossed out the usual Republican cocktail—tort reform, state lines, high-risk pools, HSAs, blah blah blah—but that was it. Nobody cared.

    Next up: Hillary Clinton’s memoir. What’s been the reaction on the left? Endless griping. Why is she relitigating 2016? Why won’t she accept any blame for her loss? Why won’t she just go away? Haven’t we had enough of the Clintons?

    On the right, I guess losers don’t write post-election memoirs. Do they? And if they do, the response is mostly respectful. The guy’s a true conservative and should be proud of his service to the nation.

    On the left, we just can’t help ourselves. We have to get things off our chests, regardless of whether it’s useful or helpful. If we want to flatter ourselves, we call this a dedication to intellectual honesty. If we want to be a wee bit more self-aware, we’d call it an endless hunger to show off our intellectual chops. Is it helpful? Does it work? Hard to say. But it’s all part of who we are. And it’s very much not a part of who conservatives are.

  • Lunchtime Post

    This is the Killarney Pub in Huntington Beach. I had lunch there on Monday and—

    Oh, who cares where I had lunch on Monday? I have much more important news: I’m going on vacation! Can you guess where? Huh? Can you?

    Yep: Marian and I are going to Ireland. We’ll be in County Kerry for a couple of weeks, a few miles south of Killarney in the general vicinity of Sneem. I expect it to be cool, relaxing, and rainy. Then it’s off to England, where we’ll spend three weeks in London. If you happen to live in either Kerry or London and want to get together for lunch or something, just drop me a line. My sister is housesitting for us, so Hilbert and Hopper will be in good hands.

    However, this is only a partial vacation. I expect to blog the entire time at a reduced pace and possibly at odd hours. Other folks might also fill in here, though that’s up to the gods. The only way to know for sure is to check in now and again to see what’s here.

    I’ll be traveling today and tomorrow, but I’ll most likely post something on Friday or Saturday, assuming we don’t get hopelessly lost and fall into the North Atlantic. Keep an eye on Donald for me while I’m gone.

  • Hillary Clinton Understood the Prose, But Never Got the Poetry

    Starmax/Newscom via ZUMA

    Over at Vox, Ezra Klein has an interview with Hillary Clinton about the 2016 election. Here’s his nickel summary:

    Clinton is not a radical or a revolutionary, a disruptor or a socialist, and she’s proud of that fact. She’s a pragmatist who believes in working within the system, in promising roughly what you believe you can deliver, in saying how you’ll pay for your plans. She is frustrated by a polity that doesn’t share her “thrill” over incremental policies that help real people or her skepticism of sweeping plans that will never come to fruition. She believes in politics the way it is actually practiced, and she holds to that belief at a moment when it’s never been less popular.

    This makes Clinton a more unusual figure than she gets credit for being: Not only does she refuse to paint an inspiring vision of a political process rid of corruption, partisanship, and rancor, but she’s also actively dismissive of those promises and the politicians who make them.

    This makes me sad, but not because I disagree with Clinton. In fact, I agree completely. The Bernie revolution was never going to happen, and neither will the Trump revolution. Otto von Bismarck had a saying about this: Politics is the art of the possible. If you want to get things done you have to understand that.

    But there’s another saying, this one from Mario Cuomo: You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose. Would Clinton have won if she could have figured out the poetry part? I guess we’ll never know.

  • Republicans Want to Audit the Poor…Again

    Catherine Rampell writes about the latest Republican effort to punish the poor:

    Never accuse Republicans of being uncreative. Once again, they’ve found an innovative way to punish the poor and simultaneously increase budget deficits — all with one nifty trick!

    To pull off this impressive twofer, they would put every American applying for the earned-income tax credit (EITC) through a sort of mini-audit before getting their refund. This would both place huge new burdens on the working poor and divert scarce Internal Revenue Service resources away from other audit targets, such as big corporations, that offer a much higher return on investment…. The language is vague but appears to refer to a Heritage Foundation proposal that would require the IRS to “fully verify income through a review of Form W-2, Form 1099, business licensing or registration, and relevant invoices” before dispensing any refunds. So, a mini-audit.

    Rampell is right about almost everything. But she gives Republicans too much credit for being creative. They’ve been going after the EITC ever since the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. Here is David Cay Johnston in Perfectly Legal:

    The most vociferous critics of the credit were those in the forefront of the campaign to cut taxes on the rich, notably House Speaker Newt Gingrich…. President Clinton, fearing that the new Republican majority had the votes to savage the program, proposed a diversion. How would Congress feel, Clinton asked, about giving the IRS more than $100 million a year just to audit applicants for the credit to make sure that only the deserving working poor benefited? Congress went for the deal.

    In 1999, for the first time, the poor were more likely to have their tax returns audited. The overall rate for people making less than $25,000 was 1.36 percent, compared with 1.15 percent of returns filed by those making $100,000 or more.

    Republicans have been obsessed for decades with fraud among the working poor who receive the EITC. At the same time, they’ve also been obsessed with reducing funding for audits of rich people:

    During the Trump era, I’m sure we can count on audits of the rich continuing to go down, while audits of the poor get a new lease on life. He’s a populist, you see.

  • Trump Won’t Sign Any Bill That Might Help the Health Insurance Market

    Percy Alban via ZUMA

    Cassidy-Graham, the last-ditch effort by Republicans to replace Obamacare, is probably going nowhere. But how about a more modest bipartisan bill to authorize Obamacare’s CSR subsidies? No dice, apparently:

    Meanwhile, a bill aiming to bring the parties together to shore up insurance markets is in jeopardy, people close to the negotiations said…GOP legislators have been open to authorizing the funds, and insurers have warned they would have to raise premiums or pull out of insurance markets if the funds disappear. But Republicans say that in return, they want to offer states more flexibility in implementing the ACA.

    …Even if Senate Republicans and Democrats bridge their differences, [White House legislative-affair director Marc] Short suggested in an interview last week that Mr. Trump was extremely unlikely to sign a bill that guaranteed insurer payments without other changes in the health-care system. “The president has no interest in bailing out insurance companies,” he said.

    Trump is doing everything he can to force Obamacare to fail, even though it’s fundamentally in good shape. One way or another, he refuses to be embarrassed by the spectre of a functioning health care program that provides insurance to millions at a reasonable cost. That would be more than he could bear. It’s not his program, after all.

  • It’s Time to Regulate the Hell Out of Credit Reporting Agencies

    Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA

    Yesterday I wrote about freezing your credit records, so I guess I should stay up on the latest news. Via the New York Times, here it is:

    You howled in protest, and Equifax had no choice but to respond.

    On Tuesday, the company said it would waive all fees until Nov. 21 for people who want to freeze their Equifax credit files. It will also refund any fees that anyone has paid since Thursday, though the company would not say whether this would be automatic.

    Why do I hate credit reporting agencies? Let me count the ways. It’s beyond unbelievable that Equifax didn’t do this immediately, since there’s certainly no reason that anyone should have to pay for a freeze that they need only because of Equifax’s own negligence. But this level of imperiousness is par for the course for these guys.

    For any normal company, a fee like this would have been lifted instantly. They’d understand immediately that anything else would be an epic PR disaster. But the thing is, you aren’t a customer of Equifax. They don’t give a rat’s ass about you. Nor do they care about a PR disaster. It’s not as though they’ll lose your business, after all, since they never did any business with you in the first place. All they do is collect all your financial data without your permission and then sell it to other people.

    (Actually, that’s not all they do. They also make your life hell if you have the gall to find an error in your credit record and ask them to fix it.)

    Needless to say, Equifax declined to talk to the Times reporter about any of this, because why should they? However, he did hear something from a reader:

    A reader named Kimberly Casey forwarded me an email exchange between her and Mr. Adams where he apologized and said that a service to “lock” Equifax, Experian and TransUnion files simultaneously would be coming soon.

    This is beyond belief. There are three credit reporting agencies, and if you want your credit records frozen you have to order a freeze from all of them. This was outrageous when I wrote about it twelve years ago, and obviously nothing has been done about it since then. Why? Because none of the credit reporting agencies care about you. Their customers are the businesses who request credit checks, and their attitude toward everyone else is that they should pound sand. Congress lets them get away with this because—well, who knows? Probably because Congress doesn’t really care either unless their reelection is threatened somehow.

    Where are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren when you need them? They should be screaming about this. The credit reporting agencies have gotten away forever with treating consumers like bothersome children: screwing up their credit records, ruining their lives, making it deliberately difficult and expensive to lock accounts, and making money off the whole thing by offering “insurance” against problems that they themselves cause. Someone in Congress who allegedly cares about ordinary working folks should introduce a bill to regulate the hell out of these folks. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s hard to think of any industry that more richly deserves it.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    What kind of duck is this? Is it just a common duck type of duck that happens to be gray? They seem to hang out with our white ducks a lot. Does that mean they’re young ducks who will grow up to be white ducks? Or maybe white swans like in the fairy tale? Or is this just a breed of duck that happens to be gray? We’ve never seen ducks around here like this, so it’s all new to us.