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#Feelthebern? Not Really: Hillary Clinton Is Still the Odds-On Favorite.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

Should Hillary Clinton's recent spate of problems (Bernie Sanders, the email server, sagging favorability numbers) be enough to make people nervous about her chances of winning the Democratic nomination? I can answer that in four words:

It's August, folks. Chill.

In the early stages of primaries, people get nervous about candidates all the time and start tossing out bizarre ideas (Hillary will get indicted, maybe Joe Biden should run, etc.). But even strong candidates never win all the votes or cruise to victory without any problems. With the exception of incumbents running unopposed, you should expect that no candidate will get more than 60-70 percent of the vote. The fact that Bernie Sanders is polling at 30 percent or so isn't a sign of Hillary Clinton's weakness. It's a sign of a perfectly normal campaign. Nate Silver goes into more detail:

Being “inevitable” doesn’t mean you’ll sweep through all 50 states with no opposition. In the modern era (since 1972), the non-incumbent candidates who were similarly “inevitable” to Clinton, judging by the number of endorsements they had early on in the race, were Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, and George W. Bush in 2000. You can probably also add George H.W. Bush in 1988 to the “inevitable” list; he had a narrower endorsement lead but was the presumptive Republican nominee by virtue of being the sitting vice president.

Among these candidates, only Gore went undefeated in the primaries (and Bill Bradley came within a few percentage points of beating him in New Hampshire). In 1988, George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa — behind Dole and Pat Robertson. In 1996, Dole lost New Hampshire to Pat Buchanan. George W. Bush lost badly to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000.

....In Sanders, Clinton has drawn an opponent who is relatively well suited to New Hampshire and Iowa....Based on current polling averages, Sanders would almost exactly replicate Bradley’s performance in 2000, losing Iowa by double digits, giving Clinton a close call in New Hampshire, then losing badly once the calendar turned to more populous and diverse states. Or Sanders could do better than that, winning New Hampshire and a few other states in New England, the Upper Midwest or Pacific Northwest, perhaps along with one or two surprises elsewhere. But that too would be consistent with the losses that “inevitable” candidates like Clinton have endured in the past.

Silver goes on to say that emailgate doesn't seem to have hurt Hillary much (the slide in her approval ratings was both slow and inevitable) and she was going to get lots of unflattering press coverage no matter what she did. He puts her chances of winning the nomination at an unchanged 85 percent.

Barring some kind of epic meltdown, I'd put it even higher. I just don't see any credible competition out there: Bernie Sanders has a fairly low ceiling and it's too late for Joe Biden to get in. And so far, at least, I don't see much evidence that her email server problems are serious enough to cause any permanent damage.

It's traditional for leading candidates to inspire a movement to stop them. It's so traditional, in fact, that there's even a name for it: AB__. That is, "Anybody But ______ ." If Hillary Clinton inspires a similar movement, she'll be in illustrious company.

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This Pro-Gun Researcher Wrote a Viral Op-Ed As a Young Woman Who Really Wants a Gun

John Lott channels his feminine side…again.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:15 AM EDT

Last fall, a first-person narrative by Taylor Woolrich, a student at Dartmouth and a stalking victim, went viral. In the article, which appeared on FoxNews.com, Woolrich wrote that her stalker of several years would soon be let out of jail, yet the college wouldn't let her carry a gun. The headline read, "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself." The article went on:

I feel that I have no control over my life. My family was forced to move. I have had stay indoors [sic], keep drapes closed, avoid posting on social media sites, and even change my car. It’s almost like being held hostage.

Should myself and other female victims just have to put up with this? The answer, hopefully, is "no." Women must be able to defend themselves. The most effective way of doing this is by using a gun. When police arrive to enforce a restraining order, it is usually too late.

But Woolrich didn't write the article. Instead, it was penned by John Lott, a Fox News columnist, economist, and gun advocate whose research claiming that guns reduce crime has been repeatedly challenged and dismissed. Now, Woolrich believes that her experience was repurposed to promote a cause that she never intended to support. "I wanted to talk to the media, if it could mean something positive," Woolrich recently told BuzzFeed. "But I wanted to talk to the media about stalking. I didn't realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet."

Woolrich's interactions with Lott go back to last summer, when he asked her to speak on a panel at the Students for Concealed Carry conference. She agreed, admitting in her presentation that she didn't particularly identify with the pro-gun movement but wanted to help stalking victims. Around the same time, Lott and Woolrich shared a byline for an article for the Daily Caller about her experience. Woolrich says Lott wrote it, but she agreed to share the credit with him to make the piece "more reputable." Afterward, Fox News asked her to write a first-person op-ed. She said she didn't have time, so Lott offered to write it.

According to BuzzFeed,

The piece incorporated elements of her talk at the conference, but otherwise it was essentially the same article written by Lott, which is still online at the Daily Caller. "It's his op-ed," she says. "Word for word, except the chunks that match what's said in my speech." The references to Lott's disputed research? Not hers. The link to the Amazon sales page for his book? Not hers. The headline? "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself."

"I think his first priority was his cause," she says. "He saw me as a really great asset."

So did Fox News. "THANK YOU for putting this in the first person," wrote a Fox editor to Lott. "Here's hoping this piece might go viral."

It's unclear if the Fox editors were aware of the extent to which Lott was involved in writing the piece. An editor's note at the bottom mentions that Lott "contributed to this story." But Fox News executive editor John Moody told BuzzFeed that FoxNews.com "published what was characterized to us as a first person account of Ms. Woolrich's experiences."

This isn't the first time that Lott has written in the voice of a young woman seeking safety from a gun. In 2003, Lott was forced to admit he had posed as an active online commenter named Mary Rosh, who presented herself as his former student at the University of Pennsylvania and fiercely defended his research. "Even if I am not wearing heels, I don't think that there are many men that I could outrun, especially over a short distance. Unfortunately, women are not as fast as men on average," Rosh/Lott wrote. "You obviously don't know what it is to be seriously threatened by someone who is much stronger than you are." Lott later explained that "on a couple of occasions I used the female persona implied by the name in the chat rooms to try to get people to think about how people who are smaller and weaker physically can defend themselves."

A Judge Just Handed Abortion Supporters a Huge Win in the Deep South

Finally, some good news.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:10 AM EDT

At last, some good news in abortion rights. Last week, a federal judge in Alabama blocked a regulation that might have closed the state's largest abortion clinic for good.

The West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa closed back in January after the clinic's previous physician retired. The clinic's new doctor was unable to gain admitting privileges at a local hospital or establish a contract with another doctor who had those privileges, putting the clinic in violation of state requirements. Proponents of the regulation said it was needed to protect women's safety should complications arise when ending a pregnancy, while abortion rights advocates argued that it was an attempt to shutter clinics that rely on providers who live out of the state. Major medical organizations have generally opposed such laws as medically unnecessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on the clinic's behalf challenging the requirement, and on August 13, US District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order putting the clinic back in business. Thompson said the closure of the clinic put an "undue burden" on women who were forced to travel longer distances to obtain abortions.

The Tuscaloosa clinic was one of only two in Alabama to provide second-trimester abortions up to the state's 20-week legal limit. In 2013, it performed 40 percent of the state's abortions; after it closed, the closest clinic in Huntsville saw a 57 percent increase in women seeking abortions.

The judge cited evidence that the increased distances and the additional strain on the state's remaining clinics forced women to delay abortions until their pregnancies were past the 20-week limit. Thompson also cited the concern that the regulation's effect on reducing abortion access "increased the risk that women will take their abortion into their own hands," and noted that the Huntsville clinic reported calls from women seeking advice on how to terminate their own pregnancies, or threatening to do so. Thompson also referred to a "'severe scarcity of abortion doctors…nationwide and particularly in the South,' with no residency program offering training in performing abortion in Louisiana, Alabama, or Mississippi." 

"For all Alabama women, the closure of the largest abortion provider in the state, one of two providers in the state that administers abortions after 16 weeks, has reduced the number of abortions that can be provided here," Thompson wrote.

Thompson has been consistently supportive of abortion rights. Last year, the judge, who served as Alabama's first African-American assistant attorney general before being nominated to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, issued a broader ruling in a similar case involving several other clinics.

Palehound's Debut Album Is Smart And Engrossing

"Dry Food" offers lots of promise for this new artist.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Palehound
Dry Food
Exploding in Sound

It's hard to pin Ellen Kempner down. Recording as Palehound, the Boston native just produced a smart, engrossing debut album (following a strong EP), which deftly juggles skittish rockers and woozy ballads, covering a dizzying amount of ground in less than a half-hour. Her lyrics can be intriguingly oblique, than come into sharp, funny focus for tart stories of desperate need and fumbled connections. "I'm pushing back your tongue/With my clenched-teeth home security system," she croons languidly on "Easy," fending off a "swollen, sickly guest"; in the toe-tapping "Cushioned Caging," which would be a big hit in a better world, she concedes, "I knew you were a close call/I loved you/It's all my fault." Throughout Dry Food, Kempner's quietly emphatic voice is subtly compelling, inspiring great expectations for whatever she does next.

California Is on Fire. This Map Shows Where.

On the two-year anniversary of the Rim Fire, the state confronts more vicious blazes.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 7:21 PM EDT
A wildfire burning near Clearlake, California, earlier this month.

On August 17, 2013—two years ago today—a deer hunter near California's Yosemite National Park ignored a campfire ban and burned trash from his dinner. The embers blew into dry brush, starting the third worst wildfire in the state's history. All told, the Rim Fire, as it came to be called, burned 257,314 acres in and around Yosemite.

No wildfires of that scale have occurred since, but, thanks to drought and climate change, California is far from out of the woods. In fact, in 2015, 4,382 wildfires have already scorched a total of 117,960 acres, more than double the five-year average for this time of year. Firefighters have finally controlled the largest two fires, in Northern California's Jerusalem Valley, but not before the blazes razed nearly 100,000 acres. 

The map below, made by California's wildfire fighting agency, Cal Fire, gives a sense of where these fires are occurring. To read more details about each fire and how much of it is contained today, click on the map's fire icons or see Cal Fire's ongoing reports here

And California isn't even the state with the most acres burning right now. A blaze in Idaho has consumed more than 200,000 acres so far. In Alaska, wildfires have burned more than 5 million acres this year. This map from the research organization Climate Central shows where wildfires are occurring nationwide:

Report: 0.03% of Families in Public Housing Make a Lot of Money

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 5:54 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports today on what's sure to become a shiny new conservative talking point. Here's the inevitable headline:

In a nutshell, the story behind this is pretty simple: HUD checks your income when you apply to live in subsidized housing, but they never check it again. Most people who climb up the income ladder move out anyway because they want to live someplace nicer, but a few don't. And of those few, a very few make really large amounts of money.

How many? Well, out of 1.1 million tenants, about 2.3 percent are over the income limits. Most of them, however, are only modestly over, or have been over the limit for just a short time. Only 0.03 percent are "egregiously" over the limit. Still, 0.03 percent is 0.03 percent, and these are the families the audit report focuses on. Why not kick them out?

HUD tweaked its policy on high-earning tenants in 2004, encouraging the thousands of housing authorities in the system to move families out of public housing if they earn more than the income limit for their area. While HUD gives money to the housing authorities, they’re run by states and local governments.

But the 15 authorities investigators looked at told them they had no plans to evict these families, because if they did, poverty would continue to be concentrated in government-subsidized housing. The goal, they said, was to create diverse, mixed-income communities and allow tenants who are making good money to serve as role models for others.

Okey doke. The programs are actually run by the states. And the states unanimously allow over-income families to stay because they think it has a positive impact on the housing projects.

As usual, then, once you read past the click-bait headline, the actual story turns out to be considerably less inflammatory than it seems. HUD encourages states to kick out over-income families, but doesn't require it. The states prefer to keep them, and for a seemingly good reason. And if you limited yourself to kicking out just the "egregious" cases in the blaring headline, you'd save only 0.03 percent of the budget.

Opinions may differ on this, but any way you look at it, it's just not a big problem. The number of very high earners in public housing is minuscule, and it's a pretty self-policing system since families that make half a million dollars mostly don't want to stay in public housing anyway. More than likely, then, it's probably best to ignore the whole thing and leave the program alone.

That's not likely, though. I wonder who will be the first Republican candidate to make this a standard part of their stump speech?

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First Amendment Law is Facing Some Very Big Changes

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 3:31 PM EDT

Adam Liptak says that Reed v. Town of Gilbert is the sleeper Supreme Court case of the past year. It unanimously struck down an ordinance that discriminated against signs announcing church service times, but only three justices ruled on the basis of existing law. The other six signed an opinion that went further, ruling that many other speech regulations are now subject to "strict scrutiny." How far will this go?

Strict scrutiny requires the government to prove that the challenged law is “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.” You can stare at those words as long as you like, but here is what you need to know: Strict scrutiny, like a Civil War stomach wound, is generally fatal.

“When a court applies strict scrutiny in determining whether a law is consistent with the First Amendment,” said Mr. Abrams, who has represented The New York Times, “only the rarest statute survives the examination.”

Laws based on the content of speech, the Supreme Court has long held, must face such scrutiny. The key move in Justice Thomas’s opinion was the vast expansion of what counts as content-based. The court used to say laws were content-based if they were adopted to suppress speech with which the government disagreed.

Justice Thomas took a different approach. Any law that singles out a topic for regulation, he said, discriminates based on content and is therefore presumptively unconstitutional.

Securities regulation is a topic. Drug labeling is a topic. Consumer protection is a topic.

This is obviously not news to people who follow this stuff carefully, but it was news to me. Apparently the reach of Reed is pretty spectacular: three laws have been struck down by lower courts in just the past two months based on the reasoning in the case. Any law that treats, say, medical records or political robocalls or commercial speech differently from any other kind of speech is in danger—and there are a lot of statutes on the books that do exactly this.

They say that hard cases make bad law. But Reed was an easy case. It failed "the laugh test" said Elena Kagan. And yet, it seems likely to have provided an excuse for an astonishingly broad change in how speech is regulated. So far it's stayed mostly under the radar, but eventually something bigger than panhandling or ballot selfies will get struck down, and suddenly everyone will notice what happened. What then?

Professor [Robert] Post said the majority opinion, read literally, would so destabilize First Amendment law that courts might have to start looking for alternative approaches. Perhaps courts will rethink what counts as speech, he said, or perhaps they will water down the potency of strict scrutiny.

“One or the other will have to give,” he said, “or else the scope of Reed’s application would have to be limited.”

Stay tuned.

The Push to Unionize College Football Players Just Suffered a Huge Blow

But Monday's labor board decision left the door open to future unionization efforts.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 3:16 PM EDT

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday dismissed a bid from Northwestern University football players to form the first-ever college athletes' union, overturning an earlier regional board ruling and ending a year-and-a-half-long battle that included several union-busting efforts by the school and the team's coaches to persuade athletes to vote against unionization.

From the Chicago Tribune:

In a unanimous decision, the five-member board declined to "assert" jurisdiction over the case because doing so would not promote uniformity and labor stability in college football and could potentially upset the competitive balance between college teams, according to an NLRB official.

The board, the official said, analyzed the nature, composition and structure of college football and concluded that Northwestern football players would be attempting to bargain with a single employer over policies that apply league-wide.

The decision marks a significant blow for Northwestern athletes, who won a regional board decision in March 2014 that determined they were university employees and could therefore seek union representation. However, it is unclear what effect the latest ruling will have on potential future unionization attempts at other schools; the board's decision applies strictly to Northwestern's case, and it declined to decide whether the athletes were employees under federal law, leaving open the possibility for athletes to unionize elsewhere.

The College Athletes Players Association, a collection of former athletes spearheading the bid, could appeal the ruling in federal court, but, according to the Tribune, that appears unlikely. Former Northwestern star quarterback Kain Colter, who had pushed the athletes' union efforts, expressed disappointment over Monday's ruling on Twitter, noting that the jury was still out as to whether college athletes are still employees. 

CAPA president Ramogi Kuma called Monday's ruling a "loss in time" in a statement, in that it delayed "the leverage the players need to protect themselves." But, he said, it didn't stop other athletes from pursuing unionization. "The fight for college athletes' rights," he told the Tribune, "will continue."

One Angry Man: Trump (Finally) Reports for Jury Duty

The GOP front-runner has a history of skipping out on summonses.

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 2:30 PM EDT
Donald Trump enters a Manhattan courthouse for jury duty on August 17.

Celebrity tycoon and GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump arrived at a courthouse in Manhattan on Monday morning to report for jury duty. He pulled up in a limo and fist bumped bystanders on his way into the State Supreme Court. Last week, at a rally in New Hampshire, Trump said he would willingly sacrifice valuable campaign time to answer his jury summons.

But prior to professing his commitment to civic responsibility, Trump has perennially skipped out on jury summonses in the past.

Trump's attorney Michael Cohen confirmed to CNN that Trump has missed five jury summonses over nine years. But Cohen claimed that Trump was not shirking his civic duty. The summonses, he said, were delivered to the wrong address.

"You gotta serve it to the right property," Cohen said. "I believe he owns the building but he doesn't reside there, and nobody knows what happened to the document."

It's true that master jury lists are often outdated; an address mix-up is feasible. But in general, wealthy individuals are usually more likely to report for jury duty. Lower-income people often cut out due to the various economic pressures that come with jury duty: time off from work, reduced pay (in most states, jury pay is less than $50 a day), and child care needs.

Because he made it to the courthouse today, CNN reports, Trump will not have to pay the $250 fine he was facing for previous failures to appear. It's doubtful the threat of such a fine compelled him to show up. But a cynic can certainly wonder what will happen the next time he is called to jury duty when he is not a presidential candidate.

Social Security Is More Important Than a Lot of People Realize

| Mon Aug. 17, 2015 1:41 PM EDT

The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute is out, and it shows the usual: hardly anyone thinks that Social Security benefits will remain stable in the future. They expect cuts, cuts, and more cuts.

This may be part of the explanation for the two charts on the right. If you ask current workers, only a third think that Social Security will be a major source of retirement income. But if you ask current retirees for a reality check, two-thirds report that Social Security is a major source of their retirement income.

Why the big difference? If workers think Social Security benefits are likely to be cut, that's probably a part of the explanation. But a bigger part is almost certainly just invincible optimism. Current workers are sure they're going to save enough, or get a big enough return on their 401(k), or get a big enough inheritance, or something—and this will see them through their retirement. Social Security? It'll just be a little bit of extra pin money for fun and games.

But in reality, that's not how it works. For most people, it turns out they don't save nearly as much as they think, which in turn means that their little Social Security check is what keeps them solvent. If more people understood this, public acceptance of conservative plans to cut Social Security benefits would probably be a lot lower.