Oh FFS. We're still not done with the lawsuits over Hillary Clinton's emails:

A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that a lower court judge erred when he threw out the cases as moot after the State Department received tens of thousands of emails from Clinton and more from the FBI following the criminal investigation it conducted.

Watchdog groups Judicial Watch and Cause of Action filed separate suits in 2015, asking that Secretary of State John Kerry and the head of the National Archives, Archivist David Ferriero, be required to refer the Clinton email issue to the Justice Department to consider filing a civil suit to get missing federal records back.

Judicial Watch was founded for the purpose of destroying Bill Clinton, and then switched effortlessly to a new mission of destroying Hillary Clinton. It took more than 20 years, but they finally won. Victory is theirs. Bill Clinton has been out of office for years and Hillary Clinton will never be president of the United States.

But they just can't stop. Maybe there are more emails! Somewhere there's a smoking gun! There just has to be. I swear, 20 years from now, on the day after the funeral of whichever Clinton lives the longest, Judicial Watch will be filing lawsuits against their estate demanding more emails.

POSTSCRIPT: I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I'll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn't happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.

So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton's emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here's my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton's emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?

I know I'm missing something here, but I've been missing it for a long time.

Thanks Donald!

Today in Trump tweets:

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index for December surged nearly four points to 113.7, THE HIGHEST LEVEL IN MORE THAN 15 YEARS! Thanks Donald!

Gee whiz, Donald. Thanks indeed! But maybe you should get back to us after you preside over an eight-year rise from 25 to 109. I'm sure that teensy little one-month blip at the end of the chart was all your doing, but even kindergartners usually fill a whole page with their finger painting before begging for praise from the teacher.

In the aftermath of the UN vote condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank, John Kerry plans to give a speech today:

In a last-chance effort to shape the outlines of a Middle East peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry is to outline in a speech on Wednesday the Obama administration’s vision of a final Israeli-Palestinian accord based on bitter lessons learned from an effort that collapsed in 2014.

....Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution.

I don't really understand the motivation at work here. This has nothing to do with my skepticism about the peace process in general, but with the pointlessness of the speech itself. It's sort of like writing a piece of fanfic, where you get to demonstrate to your circle of friends how cleverly you'd tie up all the questions and loose ends in the original work. Except it's not even fanfic: it's more like an outline for a piece of fanfic, and without the opportunity to even display any cleverness.

Both Israel and the Palestinians are keenly aware of every issue separating them. Their inability to make a deal has nothing to do with the lack of a clever-enough plan. They just don't agree with each other and they don't trust each other. Actual negotiations, in which Kerry applied pressure to compromise and helped to build trust, were perfectly defensible even if I personally think there was never any chance of success. But a speech outlining a plan? Why bother?

I dunno. With everything in tatters and only three weeks left in the Obama administration, maybe Kerry feels like he can rip off the diplo-mask and give a truly bracing speech of the kind that no American has ever dared to give. I suppose that could have a modest effect. But what are the odds he has that in mind?

This post starts out in an all-too-familiar way: with a Fox News headline. Here it is:

Food Stamp Fraud at All-Time High: Is It Time to End the Program?

Now, the obvious response to this is twofold. First, they're just lying, aren't they? And second, this is like a headline that says, "Traffic Deaths at All-Time High: Should We Ban Cars?"

But at this point the story takes a strange turn. First, I have no idea where Fox's $70 million figure comes from—and I looked pretty hard for it. The Fox graphic attributes it to "2016 USDA," but as near as I can tell the USDA has no numbers for SNAP fraud more recent than 2011.1

But that's not all: $70 million is a startlingly low figure. In the most recent fiscal year, SNAP cost $71 billion, which means that fraud accounted for a minuscule 0.098 percent of the program budget. Even if this is an all-time high, the Fox high command can't believe this is anything but a spectacular bureaucratic success.

And it would be, if it were true. But it's not. If you look at inaccurate SNAP payments to states, the error rate since 2005 has decreased from 6 percent of the budget to less than 4 percent. However, this isn't fraud anyway: It's just an error rate, and most of the errors are eventually corrected. SNAP "trafficking"—exchanging SNAP benefits for cash—is fraud, but it's been declining steadily too, from 3.8 percent in 1993 to 1.3 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which we have records):

So in any normal sense, the Fox story was a lie. SNAP fraud isn't at an all-time high. It's been declining for years. But here's the thing: The fraud rate in 2011 may have been low, but this was in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when total SNAP payments were very high. So although the percentage is low, the dollar value of fraud clocked in at $988 million. Fox could have used this far higher number, which is, in fact, an all-time high. It's only an all-time high because SNAP was helping far more people, but still. In the Fox newsroom, that would hardly matter.

Bottom line: Yes, Fox is lying in any ordinary sense of the word. But they're also vastly understating the amount of SNAP fraud. Even when they're trying to deceive their audience, it turns out, they're also incompetent.

1SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program = food stamps.

Carrie Fisher at the 2011 NewNowNext Awards in Los Angeles.

Carrie Fisher, who died today at 60, was famously open about her own mental illness and relished in calling out crazy wherever she saw it.

Here are her best tweets about Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

Rest in peace, Carrie.

Here's a headline over at Vox:

11 things to think about when you lose hope over the rise of white nationalism

The accompanying article is by Jenée Desmond-Harris. Her piece has some excellent correctives for anyone who thinks 2016 was nothing but a long slide backwards into racist hatemongering. Her examples include everything from Beyoncé performing "Formation" at the Super Bowl to the quadrupling of women of color in the Senate.

But I want to argue with the headline (which was probably not written by Desmond-Harris). Has there really been a "rise" in white nationalism? There's no question that neo-Nazis/white nationalists/alt-rightists have gotten louder this year. Nor is there any question that they've gotten a lot of media attention. Nor that they're big fans of Donald Trump. Nor that Trump rather unsubtly accepted their support. But does that mean they've actually become more numerous or more popular or more influential?

This is a real question, and I can't figure out how to get a handle on it. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems to conduct polls asking about support for white nationalism. Nor can I find any estimates about the current and past sizes of white nationalist groups. There are statistics for hate crimes, but they're tricky to use and aren't current anyway.

Other proxies aren't much better. Gallup has recorded a steady decline since the turn of the century in the number of people who want less immigration. Among the white working class, racial resentment scores on the American National Election Survey have been pretty stable for decades, though they ticked up slightly this year. White turnout was no higher in 2016 than it was in previous elections, which means there's little evidence for any kind of "white backlash."

These are crude measures that might relate to broad racial animus but don't tell us anything specifically about white nationalists. The raw number of neo-Nazi types is probably so small that they don't even show up as a blip unless you're focusing solely on them.

The reason I bring this up is simple: If white nationalists aren't, in fact, growing either in numbers or influence, then there's not much reason to write about them in routine news reports. All we're doing is giving them the publicity they crave even though there's nothing especially newsworthy about them.

So are they? Does anyone know of any real evidence on this score?

As long as we're talking about health care this morning,1 it's worth mentioning why Republicans are suddenly so gung-ho about "repeal and delay"—that is, repealing Obamacare now but waiting a couple of years to replace it with something else.

The official excuse is that health care is hard. Sure, Republicans have had six years to come up with something since the passage of Obamacare, but dammit, that's just not enough time! Unlike Democrats, who jammed Obamacare down everyone's throats in a mere 14 months, Republicans want to do the job right. They care about policy details, you see?

Does this sound unlikely? Your instincts are sound. Both Paul Ryan and Tom Price have legislative templates that could be turned into statutory language in a few months if Republicans wanted to. So why don't they want to?

There are two reasons. First, they're hoping that the mere passage of a repeal plan will cause insurers to abandon the exchanges and destroy Obamacare without any Republican fingerprints on it. But that's dangerous. It could leave a lot of registered voters completely uncovered until the replacement plan passes. Even worse, there's a chance this could destroy the entire individual health insurance market, not just Obamacare. That would earn them the ire of the insurance industry, the health care industry, and plenty of Republican voters.

So why take that chance? Because of the second reason for delay: If Republicans offer up a replacement plan immediately, it will inevitably be compared to Obamacare. And that won't be pretty. There will be lots of losers, and every one of them will suddenly barrage their representatives with complaints. The media will aid and abet this with endless point-by-point comparisons of the two programs. The contrast with Obamacare will be so plainly and obviously negative that even outlets like Fox News will have trouble spinning the GOP alternative as a good thing.

Smart Republicans are keenly aware of this, and under no circumstances do they want to unveil a concrete plan that can be concretely compared to Obamacare. This is the reason for delay. The rest is just pretense.

1Remember, it's still morning in California.

How do doctors feel about the nomination of Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services? The New York Times weighs in:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump chose Representative Tom Price of Georgia to be his health and human services secretary, the American Medical Association swiftly endorsed the selection of one of its own, an orthopedic surgeon who has championed the role of physicians throughout his legislative career.

Then the larger world of doctors and nurses weighed in on the beliefs and record of Mr. Price, a suburban Atlanta Republican — and the split among caregivers, especially doctors, quickly grew sharp. “The A.M.A. does not speak for us,” says a petition signed by more than 5,000 doctors.

A faithful reader emails to ask: "I remember reading recently that a shockingly low number of doctors are members of the AMA. So what is it exactly?"

Membership numbers, it turns out, are not a secret, exactly, but neither does the AMA go out of its way to make them easy to find. Their current membership is about 235,000, but you have to adjust this number to remove students, retired doctors, and so forth. Based on publicly available data, and guesstimating that about one-fifth of its members aren't practicing physicians, the chart above shows what the AMA's membership looks like. They were indeed a powerhouse in the 50s, but not so much anymore:

Keep this in mind whenever you hear that "the AMA" endorses a political position—regardless of whether it's one you approve of or not. They represent only about a sixth of all the physicians in the country. The rest may have very different opinions indeed.

S&P says that Obamacare isn't failing at all:

With better data supported by actual individual market experience, most insurers put in for increased premium pricing for 2016. Also, several insurers introduced narrower network products to control medical costs. Regulatory changes such as tightening the SEP rules also helped this year-over-year improvement. We expect the full-year 2016 underwriting losses to be lower than in 2015 and 2014.

....Insurers have put in meaningful premium rate increases for 2017...[but] we view 2017 as a one-time pricing correction....For 2017, we believe the continued pricing correction and network design changes, along with regulatory fine-tuning of ACA rules, will result in closer to break-even results, in aggregate, for the individual market, and more insurers reporting profits in this segment.

Hey, how about that! Now that insurers are pricing their coverage about where the CBO expected it to be, they're starting to move toward profitability. Who could have guessed that?

This reminds me of something. A lot of lefties were unhappy with Obamacare because, in the end, it didn't include a public option. Thanks, Joe Lieberman! But the truth is that although a public option would have been nice, it's not really what Obamacare needed. What Obamacare needed was two things:

  • About twice as much funding.
  • A higher tax penalty for not buying insurance.

That's it. But Democrats were fixated on Obamacare costing under $1 trillion (over ten years), and that prevented them from creating a program that people truly would have loved. If, instead, they had supported funding of, say, $2 trillion, generous subsidies would have continued into the working and middle classes; maximum deductibles could have been set much lower; and more insurers would have entered each local market. Combine that with stiffer penalties to back up the individual mandate and a lot more young people would have joined the insurance pools—and would have done so without resentment since the cost would truly be affordable. All of this together would have made Obamacare far more popular with the public and much easier to manage for insurers.

But where would that extra trillion dollars have come from? This is where the hack gap comes into play once again. If this were a Republican plan, and it were something they really wanted, they wouldn't have bothered with funding. They would have just made up a story about medical inflation coming down (which it is) and broader health coverage leading to improved economic growth blah blah blah. Democrats weren't willing to do that. Alternatively, they could have just funded a $2 trillion program. That would have meant even higher taxes on the rich and maybe some higher taxes all the way down into the upper middle class. Or maybe a small increase in the payroll tax. Who knows? There are plenty of possibilities.

But Democrats weren't willing to be hacks and they weren't willing to raise taxes more than they did. This is despite the fact that the public plainly doesn't care much about deficits no matter how much they may say so, and the public is positively delighted with higher taxes on the rich. Multiple polls repeatedly show this by a wide margin.

This would have solved virtually every problem Obamacare has had. Higher taxes on the rich would have been a populist winner. Higher funding would have made the program genuinely affordable and far more popular. And the increase in both funding and the mandate penalty would have made the eventual insurance pool closer to what insurers expected, which would have kept them nearer to profitability and truly duking it out to gain market share against their competitors. It was a missed opportunity.

Politico reports that Donald Trump's driver's license lists his height as 6-foot-2:

Size apparently matters to Trump. A letter that the businessman candidate displayed this summer from his longtime gastroenterologist — while appearing on the Dr. Oz show — stated he was 6-foot-3, though media reports were quick to point out discrepancies.

Slate, for example, posited that Trump was adding an inch to his height to avoid crossing into obesity territory — he also weighed 236 pounds — on the BMI index. That Slate article pointed to multiple media that pegged Trump as 6-foot-2, including Google, though the search engine now has Trump at 6-foot-3.

ZOMG! Trump is a vain, narcissistic liar? Who knew?

But this reminds me of something. By a remarkable coincidence, I happen to be 6-foot-2 and weigh exactly 236 pounds. I have an unfortunate amount of belly fat to show for this, but nowhere near what Trump does. At a conservative guess, Trump weighs at least 30 pounds more than I do. So he's lying not only about his height, but also about his weight.

And before you ask: yes, it's fairly likely that this week will be filled with posts like this. There's just never much real news during the week between Christmas and New Year's.