Blogs

Hobby Lobby Case Adds Yet Another Log to the "War on Women" Bonfire

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 1:27 PM EDT

Steve Benen thinks the Hobby Lobby case may be an electoral problem for Republicans this November:

GOP lawmakers and their allies are clearly delighted today, basking in the glow of victory....The trouble is, the American mainstream and GOP policymakers really aren’t on the same page. The latest national polling reinforces the fact that most of the country wanted today’s ruling to go the other way.

....Watching Republican-appointed justices to limit contraception access, while Republican lawmakers cheer them on, may be just what Democratic campaign officials needed.

This is based on the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, which does indeed show a majority of Americans opposed to the prospect of employers deciding which contraceptives their health plan covers:

Unfortunately, I don't think this poll demonstrates much immediate danger for Republicans. Sure, the liberal position has majority approval, but 53-35 percent isn't a huge margin in these kinds of polls. You really need to see upwards of a 70 percent consensus before the danger lights start to flash, and in some cases (such as gun control) even that's not enough. What's more, there's also the question of intensity. The Reuters poll doesn't get at this (polls rarely do), but if I had to guess, I'd say the 53 percent who take the liberal position don't feel all that strongly about it. Their votes won't swing based on this issue, whereas many of the 35 percent who take the conservative position will indeed vote based on it.

Still, although this specific case may not really pose much of an electoral threat to Republicans, it does add another log to the "war on women" bonfire. Conservatives are desperate to argue that this is a myth; that it doesn't matter; that it's really liberals who hate women; etc. etc. But I think the evidence is pretty strong that, in fact, this really is a growing problem for Republicans. At the moment, it's more a national problem than a local one, but that could change as the bonfire grows. And the Hobby Lobby case will add some fuel to the fire.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Kansas Disproves Supply-Side Magic Yet Again

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 12:41 PM EDT

Paul Krugman writes today about what's the matter with Kansas:

Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think.

As Krugman goes on to say, the lesson is not that supply-side tax cuts don't supercharge the economy. We already knew that. The lesson is that this was never really about supply-side theories in the first place: "Faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want."

This is true. Corporations and rich people want low taxes, but even in post-Reagan America they're a bit reluctant to just come out and say that the reason they want lower taxes is because they want to keep more of their money. As near as I can tell, they aren't reticent about this because it embarrasses them, they're reticent because they understand that it's wildly unpersuasive to anyone who's not rich. So they need some plausibly altruistic excuse for supporting tax cuts on themselves. Enter supply-side economics.

Still, we're all capable of astonishing feats of convincing ourselves of things that we want to believe. So here's what I wonder: do today's rich really believe this stuff anymore? The fact is that it really was a plausible theory in the early 80s, when it was being applied to income tax rates of 70 percent. Today, when it's being applied to federal rates of under 40 percent and state rates of well under 10 percent, there's not even the slightest hint of plausibility. It's as close to a completely bankrupt theory as it's possible to have in a field like economics.

And yet, most of them must still believe it, right? The alternative is that we have a large class of people who are consciously lying about all this and don't feel a twinge of remorse. It's nice to think about your ideological opponents that way, but aside from the occasional sociopath here and there, that's really not the way most people operate. That want lower taxes, and they also want to believe that they themselves are good people. So they continue to believe in a theory that's been about as conclusively disproven as phlogiston.

But how? It's easy: you just cherry pick your evidence. Look at Texas! Low taxes and great growth. Look at California! High taxes and lousy growth. (And pay no attention when those trends reverse course.) As for Kansas, eventually they'll slash spending on the poor enough to balance their budget, and eventually their economy will recover. Economies always do. And then, it will be: See? We told you that tax cuts would supercharge the economy!

The Good Guys Are 0-2 in Supreme Court Today

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

The Supreme Court could have obliterated public sector unions today by ruling that workers can't be required to pay representation fees if they disagree with the union's political stands. It's been longstanding practice that such workers don't have to pay full union dues—which include money used for political activity—but do have to pay fees that are used to support collective bargaining activities that benefit everyone.

But the court stepped back from the brink today, ruling in favor of workers who objected to the fees, but then saying their ruling was limited solely to home health care workers:

The ruling was limited to this particular segment of workers — not private sector unions — and it stopped short of overturning decades of practice that has generally allowed public sector unions to pass through their representation costs to nonmembers.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said home care workers are different from other types of government employees because they work primarily for their disabled or elderly customers and do not have most of the rights and benefits of state employees.

....The workers had urged the justices to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court decision which held that public employees who choose not to join a union can still be required to pay representation fees, as long as those fees don’t go toward political purposes. They say the union is not merely seeking higher wages, but making a political push for expansion of Medicaid payments.

Alito said the court was not overturning that case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That case, he said, is confined “to full-fledged state employees.”

So public sector unions live to fight another day. At this point, the question is whether a majority on the court is truly unwilling to overturn Abood, or whether they want to do it slowly and today's case is just an opening volley.

In other news, the good guys lost in the Hobby Lobby case:

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a setback to President Obama's healthcare law Monday and ruled that Christian business owners with religious objections to certain forms of birth control may refuse to provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives.

In a major 5-4 ruling on religious freedom, the justices decided the religious rights of these company owners trump the rights of female employees to receive the full contraceptive coverage promised by the law.

Alito wrote the Hobby Lobby opinion too, and he was careful to say that this case doesn't apply to much of anything else that a religious employer might object to. Only things related to abortion, apparently. Because....um, that's plainly more important than any other religious objection on the planet. Or something.

In the end, I suppose that's good news. A narrow ruling is better than a broad one. Today's holding applies only to closely-held corporations (those in which a small number of people have majority control of the company), and Kennedy's concurrence apparently says the government can pay directly for contraception coverage if it want to. It could have been worse.

Here Is the Supreme Court's Decision in the Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:46 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The court ruled that most companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. Here is the decision:

 

Read the Supreme Court's Decision in The Blockbuster Labor Case Harris v. Quinn

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 30, 2014

Mon Jun. 30, 2014 9:31 AM EDT

US Marines rappel from a helicopter in a training exercise at sea. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alisa Helin)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Mastodon's "Once More ‘Round the Sun" is as Exciting as Hard Rock Gets

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mastodon
Once More ‘Round the Sun
Reprise

Mastodon Once More 'Rounds the SunHeavy metal is so prone to self-parody and general silliness that it's shocking to remember how powerful the music can be when done correctly. Current Exhibit A: the Atlanta quartet Mastodon, whose ear-shredding Once More ‘Round the Sun is as exciting as hard rock gets. Of course, they've never been a stereotypical knuckle-dragging crew, with earlier credits including a concept album inspired by Moby Dick (Leviathan) and a split seven-inch collaboration with folk-pop siren Feist, on which both parties covered one of the other’s tunes. Here, songs like "The Motherload" and "Aunt Lisa" are taut, soaring epics marked by piercing guitars, clattering drums and heroic vocals. There's plenty of spots on the album where Mastodon could be mistaken for a punk band, so don’t be afraid to shed those preconceptions and dive in for a righteously noisy experience.

Seriously, What Accounts for the Right-Wing Obsession With Military Tribunals?

| Sun Jun. 29, 2014 1:16 PM EDT

From the Guardian today:

Mike Rogers, the chair of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, told CNN Khattala had been “compliant but not cooperative” through 10 days of interrogation on a navy ship before being transferred to Washington for a civilian trial. Rogers said Khattala should be classified as an enemy combatant and held at Guantánamo Bay.

....“We have a military tribunal process and I do believe in it. We've used it in the past, in World War II and subsequent to that. We have a process where they get a trial and their guilt or innocence is established.

This has become such a knee-jerk reaction from right-wing politicos that I almost don't even notice it anymore. But seriously, what is it that accounts for the conservative obsession with military tribunals? Abu Khattala would get a taxpayer-paid defense attorney either way. He'll be held securely either way. He's got about the same chance of being convicted either way. And if he is convicted, he'll be shipped off to an appropriately grim prison cell either way.

So what's the deal? Is this really just code for we should ship him to Gitmo and interrogate him in, um, an enhanced way? Is it code for Obama is doing this so we're against it? Or is there something more to it? There's a mountain of evidence suggesting that civilian courts are more effective at prosecuting terrorism than military tribunals, so that's not it. Unless torture and abusive treatment are their goals, it's a mystery why folks like Rogers keep banging away endlessly on their infatuation with military tribunals.

Facebook Just Admitted It Tinkered With People's News Feeds to Manipulate Their Emotions

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:43 PM EDT

Emotional contagion is when people subconsciously take on the emotions of those around them. It's when happy people are around sad people and then feel rather down themselves. Or when sad people are in happy crowds and suddenly just want to dance.  Like so many things in real life, this happens on the internet as well. Your emotional state converges with the general feeling of your Twitter feed or your Facebook friends. This is how humans work, it's how we're wired, and it's nothing to lose sleep over.

What may in fact be worth losing sleep over is that Facebook just admitted to intentionally manipulating people's emotions by selectively choosing which type of their friends' posts—positive or negative—appeared in their News Feed.

Take it away, Next Web:

The company has revealed in a research paper that it carried out a week-long experiment that affected nearly 700,000 users to test the effects of transferring emotion online.

The News Feeds belonging to 689,003 users of the English language version were altered to see “whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors,” Facebook says. There was one track for those receiving more positive posts, and another for those who were exposed to more emotionally negative content from their friends. Posts themselves were not affected and could still be viewed from friends’ profiles, the trial instead edited what the guinea pig users saw in their News Feed, which itself is governed by a selective algorithm, as brands frustrated by the system can attest to.

Facebook found that the emotion in posts is contagious. Those who saw positive content were, on average, more positive and less negative with their Facebook activity in the days that followed. The reverse was true for those who were tested with more negative postings in their News Feed.

Ok, let's break some stuff down:

Can they do this?

Yes. You agree to let the company use its information about you for "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when you agree to without reading the terms of service. It's the "research" bit that's relevant.

Should they?

I don't know! There are clearly some ethical questions about it. A lot of people are pretty outraged. Even the editor of the study thought it was a bit creepy.

Should I quit Facebook?

You're not going to quit Facebook.

No, really. I might.

You're not going to quit Facebook.

You don't even know me. I really might quit. No joke. I have my finger on the button. I saw an ad for a little house out in the country. No internet. No cell service. I could sell everything and go there and live a quite, deliberate life by a pond. I could be happy there in that stillness.

Cool, so, I personally am not going to quit Facebook. That seems to me to be an overreaction. But I do not presume to know you well enough to advise you on this matter.

(You're not going to quit Facebook.)

Anything else?

Yes, actually!

Earlier this year there was a minor brouhaha over the news that USAID had introduced a fake Twitter into Cuba in an attempt to foment democracy. It didn't work and they pulled the plug. Let's dress up and play the game pretend: If Facebook has the power to make people arbitrarily happy or sad, it could be quite the force politically in countries where it has a high penetration rate. (Cuba isn't actually one of those countries. According to Freedom House, only 5% of the population has access to the World Wide Web.)

Economic confidence is one of the biggest factors people consider when going to vote. What if for the week before the election your News Feed became filled with posts from your unemployed friends looking for work? Not that Mark Zuckerburg and co. would ever do that, but they could!

Have fun, conspiracy theorists!

Adorable Doughnut Thief Apprehended

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 3:06 PM EDT

Who took the doughnut? Who took the doughnut?

Detective Ben thinks this little girl took the doughnut.

(via Jezebel)