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Obama Shuts Down White House Heckler: "You're in My House"

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 9:23 AM EDT

While celebrating an event for LGBT Pride Month at the White House on Wednesday, President Obama was interrupted by a woman shouting demands that he end the deportation of LGBT immigrants. Obama was not into it:

"Listen, you're in my house," the president told her, visibly irritated by the disruption. "You're not gonna get a good response from me by interrupting me like this. I'm sorry. No, no, no, no, no. Shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this."

Cheering Obama's response, the crowd was heard booing her calls and attempting to shush her.

The woman, transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, was promptly escorted out.

"I'm just very disappointed with the way it was handled," Gutiérrez later told the Advocate. "I'm part of the LGBT community, and they didn't back me, instead they were booing, which to me was like a slap in the face to all these people in detention centers."

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Health Insurance for All Is About a Lot More Than Just Health

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 6:28 PM EDT

Megan McArdle writes today that there's little consistent evidence showing that giving people health insurance actually does much to save lives. This is based largely on a couple of recent papers (plus a few other older ones), and she's basically right. She's also right when she says that health insurance does save people lots of money. I don't want to address this literature in detail right now, but if you want to know more about it you should read Ezra Klein's post about this and then McArdle's response.

However, I do have some quick comments I want to add to this conversation. Some of it echoes what the other posts say, while some of it is new. Here it is:

  • The single biggest piece of evidence about the effect of health insurance is a study of Medicaid in Oregon a few years ago. It showed that people who randomly got Medicaid coverage didn't show much improvement in their health, nor did they live any longer than those without Medicaid.
  • However, as important as it was, the Oregon study was small; the time frame was short; the population was drawn entirely from the poor; and the results were ambiguous. Nobody should ignore this study, which was unique in being a true controlled trial, but no one should think it's the final word either.
  • The results of the Oregon study would probably not scale up. One way or another, Oregon's health care system can absorb a few thousand uninsured people. Some of the cost gets absorbed by hospitals that don't get paid. Some gets absorbed by local programs. Some gets absorbed by free clinics. It's a strain, but the system can handle it without breaking completely.
  • But this isn't an argument against health insurance generally. If half the state were uninsured, the system would almost certainly break down. There would simply be too many people who either couldn't or wouldn't pay for their care, and not enough people left over to absorb that cost.
  • Also, as I like to point out ad nauseam, there's more to health care than mortality. A dental filling won't extend your life, but it will sure make you feel better. Ditto for a hip replacement or an antidepressant.
  • Health insurance is a financial lifeline, and in many cases prevents bankruptcy. But there's more. It's also a huge reliever of stress. Trying to cobble together care from a complicated, ad hoc network of clinics, ERs, doctors who don't want to see you, and friends who can loan you a few bucks is soul destroying—especially for people whose lives probably kind of suck to begin with.

In the end, I think this is what health insurance is mostly about: financial security and common decency. Yes, the uninsured can usually patch together health care in an emergency, and sometimes even when it's not. This is why access to health insurance probably has only a modest effect on health. (Though I don't believe it's zero. If we could do a bigger, better, longer-term study we'd almost certainly see a difference.) Still, is a constant, desperate search for health care really a decent thing to tolerate in the richest country in the world? Is relentless, gnawing worry about whether to buy food this week or take your child in for a checkup a decent thing for us to tolerate? Is an endless, threatening barrage of harassment from hospital bill collectors a decent thing for us to tolerate?

It kills me that some people think it's just fine to tolerate this—among the poor, anyway. It's true that there are lots of things that are inevitably going to afflict the lives of the poor. Compared to the better off, they'll have worse food, worse housing, worse cars, and worse clothes. But should they have worse health care? That's a moral question, not a scientific one. And my moral compass says that health care is one of the things all of us should have decent, regular access to. In fact, it makes me a little sick to my stomach every time I have to face up to the fact that a lot of moral compasses here in America apparently don't agree.

Shout-Out to the Baltimore Sun, Which Just Bought Charleston's Newspaper a Stack of Pizzas

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 5:54 PM EDT

This is a nice story. Last week, we wrote about the heroic efforts of Charleston's main daily newspaper, the Post and Courier, and their dogged, round-the-clock coverage of the massacre at the Emanuel AME church.

We noted that city newsrooms have been leading breaking coverage during big, national news stories, from Boston to Ferguson, Baltimore to Charleston. In April, the Boston Globe sent lunch to the Baltimore Sun's newsroom. It was their way of paying forward another act of newsroom generosity when in April 2013, the Chicago Tribune bought the Globe pizzas during the bombing coverage. "We can't buy you lost sleep, so at least let us pick up lunch," the Tribune wrote in a letter at the time.

Now, the Baltimore Sun's Executive Editor Trif Alatzas has sent a about a dozen pizzas from D'Allesandro's in Charleston to the Post and Courier newsroom, as a way to pay it forward again:

I asked Mitch Pugh, the Post and Courier news boss, were the pizzas "hot and tasty?"

"They chose wisely," he said.
 

This Extremist Group Vows to Picket the Charleston Funerals. Anonymous Vows to Stop Them.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:43 PM EDT

Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious group of religious extremists that is basically just one family, has said it will attempt to picket the funerals of people killed in the Charleston shootings. In recent tweets, Westboro has suggested the shooting was God's punishment for late pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pickney's having supported Hillary Clinton.

Protesting at funerals is a tactic the group has also tried (unsuccessfully) at burial services following other mass killings, including for victims of the Tucson shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But before the Kansas-based hate group can wave its familiar "God Sent the Shooter" signs for the TV cameras, it may have to overcome opposition from the hactivist group Anonymous.

"While it is doubtful these idiots will show up, it is critical that Anonymous have a well-prepared presence on the ground in Charleston," the group said in a press release announcing "Operation Shut Down Westboro Baptist Church." Coordinated by the Anonymous faction Operation Ferguson, which got its start with the Black Lives Matter protests, the effort will reportedly involve surrounding the Westboro protesters and blocking their signs.

Anonymous has periodically targeted Westboro since around 2011, when it hacked the group's website during a televised media interview. The following year, Anonymous helped block Westboro protesters who had shown up at the funeral of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, Anonymous garnered significant media attention when it "brandjacked" Westboro, creating a fake Facebook site for the group.

So far this week, Operation Ferguson has tweeted out links to personal information of Westboro members. One Anon also posted what could be construed as death threats against members of the church, though he has often drawn rebukes from other members of Anonymous, which tends to disavow violence.

On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council passed a temporary ordinance restricting all protests to at least 300 feet away from funerals.

You Were Right. Whole Foods Is Ripping You Off.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:35 PM EDT

For anyone who regularly gawks at Whole Foods' sky-high prices in New York, here's some righteous vindication: The grocery store is being investigated by city officials for overcharging customers.

The Daily News reports New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs has opened a probe into a laundry list of pricing violations going back to at least 2010, mainly dealing with mislabeling prepackaged food products with incorrect weights. An agency spokesperson said that when investigators weighed 80 different items at eight locations, every single one of the labels were found to be incorrect, usually overcharging the customer.

One item cost $4.85 more than its correct price.

"Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers," commissioner Julie Menin said. "As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem—the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged."

As a result, Whole Foods has been hit with more than 800 violations. In a statement, a company representative denied the charges and said Whole Foods was "vigorously defending ourselves."

Around this time last year, Whole Foods was forced to shell out $800,000 to the municipal governments of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Diego for similar violations in its California stores.

Meryl Streep Is Pushing Congress to Finally Revive the Equal Rights Amendment

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 2:17 PM EDT

On Tuesday, Meryl Streep sent all 535 members of Congress a letter urging them to bring back the Equal Rights Amendment in order to finally ratify it into the Constitution.

"I am writing to ask you to stand up for equality—for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife or yourself—by actively supporting the Equal Rights Amendment," the letter read.

Accompanying Streep's letter was a copy of "Equal Means Equal" written by EPA Coalition president Jessica Neuwirth.

"The ERA is not just a women’s rights issue—it will have a meaningful benefit for the whole human family," she added.

Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment back in 1972 and thirty-five states ratified it but that was three ratifications short of the constitutional requirement.

Streep, who will be starring as British suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst this October, has long been a vocal advocate for women's rights and has also spoken out against rampant ageism against women in Hollywood. During Patricia Arquette's impassioned acceptance speech at this year's Oscars, Streep was seen cheering enthusiastically in support of Arquette's call for gender equality.

In her letter on Tuesday, the Oscar-winning actress called on Congress to revive the issue for a "whole new generation of women and girls are talking about equality—equal pay, equal protection from sexual assault, equal rights."

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What Is Going On With This Bobby Jindal Announcement Video?

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 2:06 PM EDT

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal launched his presidential campaign on Wednesday by releasing a video—a very strange video. In it, he and his wife, Supriya, break the news to their three kids that he'll be spending much of the next six months (at least) in Iowa. What makes it so unusual is that it appears to have been filmed with a camera hidden in a tree. Jindal himself is partially obscured by a large branch. His kids don't sound particularly excited about their father's presidential bid. Maybe they've seen the polls.

Watch:

 

I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015

 

It's Time for Another Obama Apology Tour

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 1:49 PM EDT

Here's our latest "crisis":

French President Francois Hollande held a crisis meeting of the country's Defense Council on Wednesday after newspapers published WikiLeaks documents showing that the United States eavesdropped on him and two predecessors.

After the meeting, the council issued a statement lambasting U.S. spying as "unacceptable" and declaring that France had demanded two years ago that the National Security Agency stop snooping on its leaders. The latest WikiLeaks revelations, published by the daily newspaper Liberation and the investigative news website Mediapart, claim the NSA eavesdropped on telephone conversations of former Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy as well as Hollande.

Look, can't we just assume the NSA has been spying on every world leader around the globe? Clearly, the answer is for President Obama to put this finally to rest by embarking on an apology tour of the entire planet—except for leaders we don't like and plan to keep spying on. This will accomplish two things: (a) it will take care of the whole spying thing all at once, instead of having it dribble out every month or two, and (b) Obama really would go on an apology tour, which would make Republicans deliriously happy. Finally they'd be able to accuse him of going on an apology tour and they wouldn't even have to lie about it. How cool is that?

Then, when it's all over, we can go back to spying on everyone, except more carefully. I mean, you didn't really think we were going to stop spying on these guys, did you?

The Rest of the World Is Pretty Happy With President Obama's Handling of World Affairs

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 12:36 PM EDT

President Obama has had his ups and downs on the world stage. Libya didn't turn out so well. There's been no progress between Israel and the Palestinians. Vladimir Putin continues to be annoying. Still, all things considered, he hasn't done badly. He's started some new wars, but none as horrifically bad for US interests as George Bush's. He appears to have managed passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He negotiated the NEW START treaty with Russia. He's mostly stayed out of Syria, despite endless braying from Republicans. The pivot to Asia has been moderately successful. And he might yet sign a treaty that will halt Iran's nuclear bomb program, though it still looks like no more than a 50-50 proposition to me.

But enough about me. What does the rest of the world think of Obama? According to a new Pew poll, they think surprisingly well of him. Obama's foreign policy is astonishingly well regarded in France, Italy, and Germany—and surprisingly, although his numbers are down from last year, he still does reasonably well in Israel too. And here I thought Obama was universally hated in Israel because he had betrayed them to their enemies thanks to his preoccupation with sucking up to Muslims. I guess that'll teach me to listen to Republicans.

Obama bombs in a few countries too, notably Russia, Jordan, and Pakistan. Russia and Pakistan are easy to understand, but what's the deal with Jordan? I don't quite remember what we've done to piss them off.

China is surprisingly positive: 44-41 percent approval. The rest of Asia is strongly positive, probably because they trust Obama to stand up to China.

Anyway, Obama's median approval throughout the world is a surprisingly healthy 65-27 percent. He could only wish for such strong approval at home.

Home Weatherization Not As Good a Deal As We Thought

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

Brad Plumer passes along some bad news on the effectiveness of residential energy efficiency upgrades. A massive controlled test in Michigan showed that it doesn't pay for itself:

The researchers found that the upfront cost of efficiency upgrades came to about $5,000 per house, on average. But their central estimate of the benefits only amounted to about $2,400 per household, on average, over the lifetime of the upgrades. Yes, the households were using 10 to 20 percent less energy for electricity and heating than before — but that was only half the savings that had been expected ahead of time. And households weren't saving nearly enough on their utility bills to justify the upfront investment.

The culprit appears to be the real world. Engineering studies suggest that residential upgrades should pay for themselves in lower energy costs within a few years, but in real life the quality of the upgrades is never as good as the engineering studies assume:

These engineering studies may not always capture the messiness of the real world. It's easy to generate ideal conditions in a lab. But outside the lab, homes are irregularly shaped, insulation isn't always installed by highly skilled workers, and there are all sorts of human behaviors that might reduce the efficacy of efficiency investments.

....In this particular study, the economists found that the federal home weatherization program was not a particularly cheap way to reduce CO2 emissions. Although energy use (and hence carbon pollution) from the homes studied did go down, it came at a cost of about $329 per ton of carbon. That's much higher than the $38-per-ton value of the social cost of carbon that the US federal government uses to evaluate cost-effective climate policies.

Back to the drawing board.