Kevin Drum - April 2012

"Forfeiture Corridors" Are the New Speed Traps

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 1:20 PM EDT

You all know what a speed trap is, right? If you have a highway running through your small town, you can make a lot of money by ticketing out-of-state drivers who are going one or two miles per hour over the speed limit. How many victims are going to waste time trying to fight it, after all?

But have you heard about "forfeiture corridors"? That's a little different — and quite a bit more lucrative. All you have to do is pull over an out-of-state driver for supposedly making an unsafe lane change, have your police dog sniff around for a bit of marijuana residue, and then use civil asset forfeiture laws to impound any cash you might find. Apparently it's especially popular on highways leading into and out of casino towns. Radley Balko has the details here.

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Rick Santorum Really Doesn't Like Mitt Romney Much

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 11:34 AM EDT

I know that conventional wisdom says that primary contenders can hold hands and sing Kumbaya in the fall no matter what they've said about each other in the spring. But Rick Santorum sure seems bound and determined to perform a destruction test on this conventional wisdom. This ad, especially by Republican lights, is just brutal.

Breaking News: Women Like Having Access to Contraception

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

So how's that whole contraception thing working out for the right? The latest Gallup poll of swing states suggests that it's not going so well: Obama now leads Romney in these states 51%-42%. Here's why:

The biggest change came among women under 50. In mid-February, just under half of those voters supported Obama. Now more than six in 10 do while Romney's support among them has dropped by 14 points, to 30%. The president leads him 2-1 in this group.

USA Today breaks this down a bit more in the chart below. Most people still don't have much of an opinion about birth control, but among those who do, 27% agree with Obama's view while only 11% agree with Romney's view. This might all blow over by November, but if the Obama campaign manages to keep it in play it could become a pretty serious albatross for the right.

Chart of the Day: How We Spend Our Money

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 10:09 AM EDT

Via Brad Plumer, here's an interesting chart from the BLS showing how much we spend on stuff compared to a few selected other countries. We spend a lot more on housing than the other countries, somewhat more on healthcare, and quite a bit less on food. Hooray factory farming!

Brad has some commentary to go along with this chart, but I have a different takeaway. Looking at these numbers, it's hard not to conclude that we have a lot of headroom on healthcare. I could easily see healthcare rising to at least the same level as food expenditures, and maybe as high as transportation too. That could happen because we collectively decide to spend less on food and transportation, or it could happen just by spending the same fixed amount on these items as wages rise, and then plowing all of our additional income into healthcare. On past performance, that might very well be something we do happily.

In other words, it's true that to some extent rising healthcare expenditures provide their own pushback. When we collectively decide we're spending too much, we'll collectively start reining in our spending. But as the chart below makes clear, that time could be quite a way away.

Obamacare and the Fate of the Supreme Court

| Sun Apr. 1, 2012 10:37 PM EDT

Jonathan Cohn says the Supreme Court itself was on trial last week:

Before this week, the well-being of tens of millions of Americans was at stake in the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act. Now something else is at stake, too: The legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

....The plaintiffs have conceded that a universal health insurance program would be constitutional if, instead of penalizing people who decline to get insurance, the government enacted a tax and refunded the money to people who had insurance....Think about that for a second: If the justices strike down the Affordable Care Act, they would be stopping the federal government from pursuing a perfectly constitutional goal via a perfectly constitutional scheme just because Congress and the Preisdent didn’t use perfectly constitutional language to describe it.

There are two ways to look at this. The first is through the lens of what it would actually mean to overturn Obamacare. On this score, Jonathan is right: it would be unprecedented. The Supreme Court has handed down plenty of big decisions before, but very, very rarely has it overturned a major piece of federal legislation. Not since the mid 30s, in fact. What's more, it would be overturning this legislation — a consummately political compromise forged in a consummately political area of public policy — based on a distinction that I think even most of Obamacare's critics would acknowledge is a very fine point of constitutional law. And that's not all. It would be overturning the law on a party-line 5-4 vote, and it would be doing so in the wake of oral arguments in which several of the justices made arguments so transparently political that it felt more like we were listening in on the Senate cloakroom than the chambers of the Supreme Court.

So yes: in terms of its actual impact, overturning Obamacare would be a very big deal indeed, and among a large chunk of the chattering classes it would certainly lead to a more jaundiced view of the modern Supreme Court as a nakedly political body.

But there's also a second lens to look at this through: the lens of public opinion. And although poll results on this are a little tricky to parse, there's no question that Obamacare is not much of a barnburner among the general public and isn't getting more popular over time. Even a generous reading of the survey data suggests that only about half the country likes Obamacare, and even among that half support is fairly lukewarm. When the Supreme Court started overturning New Deal legislation in the 30s, it ran into a buzzsaw of public condemnation. If it overturned Obamacare, most of the public probably wouldn't care very much.

So no: in terms of the public's view of the court, overturning Obamacare probably wouldn't have a big impact at all.

So which matters more? The general public's view? Or the view of a small but dedicated segment of elite opinion? In the short term, the general public probably matters more. In the longer term, probably elite opinion. Obviously we won't get a reprise of FDR's disastrous court-packing scheme, but overturning Obamacare could end up mobilizing movement liberalism in the same way that the Warren Court mobilized movement conservatism four decades ago. The nomination of Supreme Court justices is already an intense partisan battleground, and getting more intense all the time. Overturning Obamacare would raise the stakes even higher.

NBC Jumps the Shark on George Zimmerman

| Sun Apr. 1, 2012 11:47 AM EDT

According to the Today show, here's what George Zimmerman said to a 911 dispatcher as he was trailing Trayvon Martin last February:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

What a racist! Obviously Zimmerman had a real hang-up about black kids. But no. It turns out some bright spark at NBC decided to edit the conversation just a wee bit. Here's the whole exchange:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

This is now fated to be Exhibit A in conservative charges of mainstream media bias for about the next century or so. And who can blame them? What a cockup.