Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Americans Are Surprisingly Stressed Out About News and Politics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Via Wonkblog, here's a fascinating little chart <a href="" target="_blank">courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.</a> They just released a survey about the causes of stress, and things like health and money problems are predictably the biggest <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_stress_events.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">sources. But how about all those niggling little daily causes of stress? What are the biggest routine things that send you into conniptions?</p> <p>Well, it turns out that two of the biggest contributors to high blood pressure are watching the news and hearing about what politicians are up to. And boy howdy, does this beg for a follow-up. I really, really want to know what news sources cause the most stress. Is it listening to NPR? Watching Fox News? Getting your daily Limbaugh fix? Reading Kevin Drum's blog?</p> <p>Perhaps the mere act of making you think about this is, at this very moment, making you red in the face. Then again, maybe not. I want to know more. Who's most stressed out by the news? Liberals? Conservatives? Everyone? And what outlets cause the most stress? Obviously my money is on the Drudge/Fox/Limbaugh axis, but maybe I'd be surprised. I want to hear more about this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:26:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 255871 at Republicans Love Obamacare! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's an additional tidbit from that recent <a href="" target="_blank">Commonwealth Fund survey about Obamacare:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_satisfied_obamacare.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 10px 110px;"></p> <p>That's a lot of Republicans who are satisfied with their Obamacare coverage. They might not realize it's Obamacare&mdash;perhaps they know it as Kynect or Covered California&mdash;but they like it. And if you take it away, they're going to be unhappy. That's several million potentially unhappy Republicans if the national GOP continues its anti-Obamacare jihad. Just saying.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:59:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 255856 at Who's Afraid of an Itsy Bitsy Bit of Inflation, Anyway? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Why are so many people obsessed with "hard money"? Why the endless hysterics about the prospect of inflation getting higher than 2 percent? Paul Krugman, like many others, thinks it's <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_inflation_fear.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">basically a class issue. If you have a lot of debt, inflation is a good thing because it lowers the real value of your debt. But if you're rich and you have lots of assets, the opposite is true. Here's Krugman <a href="" target="_blank">using data from the Census Bureau's SIPP database:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Only the top end have more financial assets (as opposed to real assets like housing) than they have nominal debt; so they&rsquo;re much more likely to be hurt by mild inflation and be helped by deflation than the rest.</p> <p>Now, it&rsquo;s true that some of these financial assets are stocks, which are claims on real assets. <strong>If we only look at interest-bearing assets, even the top group has more liabilities than assets.</strong></p> <p>But the SIPP top isn&rsquo;t very high; in 2007 you needed a net worth of more than $8 million just to be in the top 1 percent. And since the ratio of interest-bearing assets to debt is clearly rising with wealth, <strong>we can be sure that the truly wealthy are indeed in the category where they have more to lose than to gain by a rise in the price level.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Brad DeLong isn't buying it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is true that the rich do have more nominal assets than liabilities....But it is also true that America's rich have a lot of real assets whose value depends on a strong and growing economy.</p> <p>I find it implausible to claim that the net gain is positive when we net out the (slight) real gain to the rich from lower inflation with the (large) real loss to rich from lower capital utilization. It's not a material interest in low inflation that we are dealing with here...</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't think I buy Krugman's claim either. He's basically saying that hard money hysteria is driven by the material interests of the top 0.1 percent, but even if you grant them the clout to get the entire country on their side, do the super rich really love low inflation in the first place? Do they own a lot of long-term, fixed-interest assets that decline in value when inflation increases? Fifty years ago, sure. But today? Not so much. This is precisely the group with the most sophisticated investment strategies, highly diversified and hedged against things like simple inflation risks.</p> <p>Plus there's DeLong's point: even if they do own a lot of assets that are sensitive to inflation, they own even more assets that are sensitive to lousy economic growth. If higher inflation also helped produce higher growth, they'd almost certainly come out ahead.</p> <p>So what's the deal? I'd guess that it's a few things. First, the sad truth is that virtually no one believes that high inflation helps economic growth when the economy is weak. I believe it. Krugman believes it. DeLong believes it. But among those who don't follow the minutiae of economic research&mdash;i.e., nearly everyone&mdash;it sounds crazy. That goes for the top 0.1 percent as well as it does for everyone else. If they truly believed that higher inflation would get the economy roaring again, they might support it. (Might!) But they don't.</p> <p>Second, there's the legitimate fear of accelerating inflation once you let your foot off the brake. This fear isn't <em>very</em> legitimate, since if there's one thing the Fed knows how to do, it's stomp on inflation if it gets out of control. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people with a defensible belief that a credible commitment to low inflation does more good than harm in the long run. After all, stomping on inflation is pretty painful.</p> <p>Third, there's the very sensible fear among the middle class that high inflation is just a sneaky way to erode real wages. This is sensible because it's true. There are several avenues by which higher inflation helps weak economies that are trapped at the zero bound, and one of them is by allowing wages to stealthily decline until employment reaches a new equilibrium. I think that lots of people understand this instinctively.</p> <p>Fourth, there's fear of the 70s, which apparently won't go away until everyone who was alive during the 70s is dead. Which is going to be a while.</p> <p>It's worth noting that hard money convictions are the norm virtually everywhere in the developed world, even in places that are a lot more egalitarian than the United States. Inflationary fears may be irrational, especially under our current economic conditions, but ancient fears are hard to deal with. As it happens, the erosion of assets during the 70s was unique to the conditions of the 70s, which included a lot more than just a few years of high inflation. But inflation is what people remember, so inflation is still what they fear.</p> <p>Bottom line: Even among non-hysterics, I'd say that hardly anyone really, truly believes in their hearts that high inflation would be good for economic growth. It's the kind of thing that you have to convince yourself of by sheer mental effort, and even at that you're probably still a little wobbly about the whole idea. It just seems so <em>crazy</em>. Until that changes, fear of inflation isn't going anywhere.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:19:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 255851 at Pundits, Start Your Engines! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So what's the next step in the border crisis? President Obama has introduced an emergency proposal; he's traveled to Texas to discuss it with his political opponents; and in order to stem the tide of immigrants he's declined to engage in photo-ops at the border that might encourage the tide to continue.</p> <p>Republicans, for their part, appear at the moment to be completely unwilling to do anything at all.</p> <p>So here's the next step: a barrage of columns from our nation's pundits acknowledging Republican intransigence but then insisting that, ultimately, the lack of action is Obama's fault. Because leadership. Because LBJ. Because schmoozing. Because lecturing. Because relationships. Because political capital. Because great presidents somehow <em>figure out a way to get things done</em>. Rinse and repeat.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Immigration Media Thu, 10 Jul 2014 15:16:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 255831 at It's More or Less Final: Obamacare Has Insured About 11 Million People <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jonathan Cohn passes along the results of a new study from the Commonwealth Fund which estimates that the ranks of the uninsured have dropped by about 5 percentage points <a href="" target="_blank">since the start of the Obamacare rollout:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>To put that in more concrete terms, there are still a lot of Americans walking around without health insurance today. <strong>But there are about 9.5 million fewer of them than there were last fall,</strong> almost certainly because so many people have enrolled in the newly expanded Medicaid program or purchased subsidized insurance through the Obamacare marketplaces.</p> <p>How does that compare to expectations? The Congressional Budget Office predicted that, one year into full implementation, Obamacare would reduce the the number of Americans without insurance by 12 million. That included the young adults who got insurance before 2014, by signing onto their parents&rsquo; plans. There&rsquo;s been some controversy over exactly how many people that is, <strong>but the best estimates I&rsquo;ve seen place it somewhere between 1 and 2.5 million.</strong> Add that number to the 9.5 million from the Commonwealth survey, and you're close or equal to the CBO projections.</p> </blockquote> <p>So that's probably a total of around 11 million or so. Nearly all of the estimates now seem to be converging around this number, and given the inherent uncertainty in measuring the uninsured it seem like this is about as good as we're going to get.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 10 Jul 2014 04:31:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 255816 at Quote of the Day: "This Isn't Theater" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>From President Obama, asked why he wasn't making a visit to the border during his trip to Texas today:</p> <blockquote> <p>This isn't theater. This is a problem.</p> </blockquote> <p>"I'm not interested in a photo-op," he said. "I'm interested in solving a problem." It would be nice if he weren't the only one.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Immigration Obama Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:18:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 255806 at Medicare Just Keeps Producing Great Budget News <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Medicare has been a bastion of good news lately. Every year, the CBO reduces its baseline estimate of Medicare costs, which have dropped by more than $1,000 since 2010. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicare_baseline.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">So what's going on? Tricia Neuman and Juliette Cubanski of the Kaiser Family Foundation <a href="" target="_blank">round up the evidence:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is clear that the <strong>Medicare savings provisions in the ACA,</strong> such as reductions in provider payment updates and Medicare Advantage payments, have played a major role....In addition, the <strong>Budget Control Act of 2011</strong> also exerted downward pressure on Medicare spending through sequestration that reduced payments to providers and plans by 2 percent beginning in 2013.&nbsp; And yet even after incorporating these scheduled payment reductions in the baseline, CBO has continued to lower its projections of Medicare spending.</p> <p>So what else might be going on here? In addition to scheduled reductions in Medicare&rsquo;s more formulaic payment rates, providers may be tightening their belts and looking to deliver care more efficiently in response to financial incentives included in the ACA, and it is possible that these changes are having a bigger effect than expected. For example, CMS recently reported that <strong>hospital readmission rates dropped by 130,000 between January 2012 and August 2013.</strong> It is also possible that hospitals and other providers are using data and other analytic tools more successfully to track utilization and spending and to reduce excess costs. Another more straightforward factor is that <strong>several expensive and popular brand-name drugs have gone off patent in recent years,</strong> which has helped to keep Medicare drug spending in check.</p> </blockquote> <p>No one knows for sure if these reductions are permanent, or whether high growth rates will reappear in the future. But even if the low growth rates of the past few years can't be sustained, I suspect that Medicare growth will continue to be lower than anyone expected. There are two reasons for this. First, the growth rate of medical costs in general <a href="" target="_blank">has been declining steadily for the past 30 years,</a> and this has now been going on long enough that it's highly unlikely to be a statistical blip. After a surge in the 80s and 90s, we really are returning to the growth rates that were common earlier in the century, and obviously this will affect Medicare.</p> <p>Second, Obamacare really will have an impact. Not everything in it will work, but it includes a lot of different cost-cutting measures and some of them will turn out to be pretty effective. And who knows? If Republicans ever stop pouting over Obamacare, we might even be able to experiment with different kinds of cost reductions.</p> <p>There's a fair amount of year-to-year variability in health care inflation, and we should expect to have some years of high growth. But I'll bet the average over the next decade is somewhere around 2 percent above the general inflation rate. That's not too bad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 09 Jul 2014 18:20:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 255786 at Vladimir Putin Abandons His Erstwhile Allies <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Julia Ioffe writes about the <a href="" target="_blank">latest from Ukraine:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As the Ukrainian army chases separatists from the strongholds they've held for months, Moscow has barely said anything&mdash;despite its springtime rants about protecting Russians wherever they may be in the world....As I wrote back in May, <strong>now that he's sown chaos in Ukraine&mdash;but uneager to participate in someone else's civil war&mdash;President Vladimir Putin has thrown the rebels under the bus.</strong> In June, rebel leader Igor Strelkov said that "Putin betrayed us," and that betrayal has only deepened as Kiev launched its all-out offensive last week. Moscow, having started all this, has offered no help to the rebels.</p> <p>The betrayal, it seems, may be even nastier than that. According to a Ukrainian security council spokesman, the Russians have sealed their border, shutting down three key crossings. Not only are they not letting men and materiel into Ukraine from Russia, but they're also blocking men and materiel from flowing in the opposite direction. <strong>That is, the very men that Moscow has riled up to the extent that they have taken up arms and are ready to die in order to get the region out of Ukraine and into Russia are not welcome to seek refuge in Russia.</strong> (Not even, it seems, the ones originally from Russia.) A group of 300 fleeing rebels reportedly even came under fire by the Russians as they tried to escape into Russia.</p> </blockquote> <p>That Putin. He's quite the guy, isn't he? It appears that he eventually figured out that Ukraine wasn't going to fall neatly into his lap, and the cost of fomenting an all-out war there was simply too great. It turned out that Ukrainians themselves didn't support secession; Western powers were clearly willing to ramp up sanctions if things got too nasty; and the payoff for victory was too small even if he had succeeded. So now he's had to swallow a new, more pro-Western Ukraine&mdash;the very thing that started this whole affair&mdash;along with the prospect of renewed anti-Russian enmity from practically every country on his border.</p> <p>But he got Crimea out of the deal. Maybe that made it worth it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:31:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 255731 at Yet Another Day in Republican Scumbaggery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_crocodile_tears.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Today President Obama asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help deal with the surge of minors crossing the border. You may color me unsurprised over the <a href="" target="_blank">Republican response:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The proposal was quickly met with broad skepticism among Republican lawmakers, <strong>who were doubtful that the package would be approved quickly &mdash; if at all</strong>....GOP leaders, who have called on Obama to take stronger action, said they were reluctant to give the administration a &ldquo;blank check&rdquo; without &shy;more-detailed plans to ensure that the money would help stem the crisis at the border.</p> <p>The president &ldquo;is asking to use billions of taxpayer dollars without accountability or a plan in place to actually stop the border crisis,&rdquo; Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.</p> <p>Asked if he thought lawmakers would approve the proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, <strong>&ldquo;No, given the mood here in Washington, I don&rsquo;t have confidence it will happen.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well, of course it won't happen. The crisis along the border is tailor made for Republicans. It makes their base hopping mad, it juices their campaign fundraising, and anytime the government is unable to address a problem it makes Obama look bad. Why on earth would Republicans want to do anything to change any of this?</p> <p>As long as Obama is president, chaos is good for Republicans. After all, most voters don't really know who's at fault when things go wrong, they just know there's a crisis and Obama doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. Exploiting that may be cynical and revolting, but hey, politics ain't beanbag. And in case you haven't heard, there's an election coming up.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration The Right Wed, 09 Jul 2014 05:00:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 255726 at Finally, Someone With the Guts to Call for Obama's Impeachment <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I see that Sarah Palin is apparently starved for attention again. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's her latest:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama&rsquo;s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here. It&rsquo;s not going to get better, and in fact irreparable harm can be done in this lame-duck term as he continues to make up his own laws as he goes along, and, mark my words, will next meddle in the U.S. Court System with appointments that will forever change the basic interpretation of our Constitution&rsquo;s role in protecting our rights.</p> <p><strong>It&rsquo;s time to impeach;</strong> and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.</p> <p>The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he&rsquo;s not impeachable, then no one is.</p> </blockquote> <p>Quite right. Minors are swarming our borders because American exceptionalism is at risk thanks to Obama's failure to help the Ukrainians which means our enemies no longer fear us and the dollar is being debased. Or was it because he failed to arm the Syrian rebels? I forget. Something to do with Putin, though. And the Fed. Plus, um, recess appointments and one-year extensions to TyrannyCare mandates. And Benghazi.</p> <p>Whatever. Impeach Obama! I sure hope every Republican in the country is asked to weigh in on this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama The Right Tue, 08 Jul 2014 18:34:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 255686 at Will the Washington Post Destroy "Incidental" NSA Intercepts When It's Done With Them? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of days ago the <em>Washington Post</em> published an article based on a cache of thousands of surveillance intercepts that it got from Edward Snowden. That produced the suggestion&mdash;not widespread, I think, but still out there&mdash;that the <em>Post</em> was now <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nsa_logo.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">violating privacy just like the NSA has been. Glenn Greenwald thought this was pretty dumb, <a href="" target="_blank">but Julian Sanchez wasn't so sure:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Doesn't seem TOTALLY frivolous. I hope you &amp; WaPo are destroying copies of intimate communications once reporting's done.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is actually....a good point. The charge against the NSA isn't just that it ends up surveilling thousands of innocent people who are merely innocent bystanders in court-approved investigations. Even critics concede that this is inevitable to some extent. The problem is that once the NSA has collected all these "incidental" intercepts, they keep them forever in their databases and make them available to other law enforcement agencies for whatever use they want to make of them. At the very least, privacy advocates would like these incidental collections to be destroyed after they've served their immediate purpose.</p> <p>So will the <em>Post</em> do this? Once they've finished their immediate reporting on this, will they destroy these intercepts? Or will they keep them around for the same reason the NSA does: because, hey, they have them, and you never know if they might come in handy some day?</p> <p>There's always been a tension inherent in Edward Snowden's exposure of the NSA's surveillance programs: Who gets to decide? You may think, as I do, that the government has repeatedly shown itself to be an unreliable judge of how much the public should know about its mass surveillance programs. But who should it be instead? Snowden? Glenn Greenwald? The <em>Washington Post</em>? Who elected them to make these decisions? Why should we trust their judgment?</p> <p>It's not a question with a satisfying answer. Sometimes you just have to muddle along and, in this case, hope that the whistleblowers end up producing a net benefit to the public discourse. But this time we don't have to muddle. This is a very specific question, and we should all be interested in the answer. Do Greenwald and the <em>Post</em> plan to destroy these private communications once they're done with them? Or will they hold on to them forever, just like the NSA?</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> Yes, there's a difference here. On the one hand, we have the government, with its vast law-enforcement powers, holding onto massive and growing amounts of incidental surveillance. On the other we have a private actor with a small sample of this surveillance. We should legitimately be more concerned with possible abuses of power by the government, both generally, and in this case, very specifically. But that's a starting point, not the end of the conversation. Sanchez is still asking a good question.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:27:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 255661 at Quote of the Day: Bizarro John Boehner Joins Twitter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Steve Benen points me to the latest foray into social networking from <a href="" target="_blank">Speaker John Boehner:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Democrats like to say they want to fix #ObamaCare, but where&rsquo;s their plan? They don&rsquo;t have one.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's not worth belaboring the fact that this is epically dumb. What I'm curious about is what Boehner thinks this will accomplish. Who is it supposed to appeal to? To the tea party true believers, it's too weak to be effective. They want red meat. To liberals it's just laughable. To folks in the middle it's incomprehensible. To the media&mdash;which knows perfectly well that Dems have plenty of ideas and Republicans are hopelessly fractured over health care&mdash;it's idiotic.</p> <p>So who's the audience for this?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Health Care Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:42:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 255651 at Defining Stalinoid Down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last night I was paging through the <em>New Republic</em> and, for some reason, ended up torturing myself by reading Leon Wieselter's latest exercise in pretension and self-regard. It was fairly ordinary, as these things go, but included <a href="" target="_blank">this aside about supporters of the Iraq War:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>(The other day Rachel Maddow, who has never been significantly wrong about anything, published this Stalinoid sentence in <em>The Washington Post</em>: &ldquo;Whether they are humbled by their own mistakes or not, it is our civic responsibility to ensure that a history of misstatements and misjudgments has consequences for a person&rsquo;s credibility in our national discourse.&rdquo;)</p> </blockquote> <p>Stalinoid? Seriously? For a very mild suggestion that people with a history of being wrong should be thought less credible in the future? That sounds more like a bare minimum of common sense than a cultural pogrom aimed at neocons and liberal hawks.</p> <p>I've suggested in the past that we should all calm down a bit over analogies to Hitler and Nazis in popular discourse, so I'm hardly one to complain about using Stalin in the same way. But this is still a pretty reprehensible slur. Wieselter needs to find a better outlet for his frustration over being wrong about the Iraq War.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:05:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 255641 at Yet Another Chuckleheaded Covert Op in the US-Cuba Relationship <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Remember that story a couple of years ago about Sen. Robert Menendez supposedly cavorting with teenage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic? <a href="" target="_blank">Well....</a></p> <blockquote> <p>According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, <strong>linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.</strong></p> <p>....The intelligence information indicated that operatives from Cuba&rsquo;s Directorate of Intelligence helped create <strong>a fake tipster using the name &ldquo;Pete Williams,&rdquo;</strong> according to the former official. The tipster told FBI agents and others he had information about Menendez participating in poolside sex parties with underage prostitutes while vacationing at the Dominican Republic home of Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye doctor, donor and friend of the senator.</p> <p>....The allegations against Menendez erupted in public in November 2012, when the <em>Daily Caller</em>, a conservative Web site, quoted two Dominican women claiming Menendez had paid them for sex....Last year, three Dominican women who had initially claimed to reporters that they had been paid to have sex with Menendez recanted their story.</p> </blockquote> <p>Is there any other pair of countries in the world responsible for launching more stupid covert ops against each other than Cuba and the United States? Apparently the brains of intelligence operatives in both Havana and Washington DC turn to tapioca at the mere mention of the other country. It's just astounding.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 08 Jul 2014 04:24:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 255616 at Murder Is Down 63% in San Francisco. Lead Probably Isn't the Reason. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Every time a city reports a big drop in crime, someone sends me a link to a story about it. <a href="" target="_blank">San Francisco is the latest:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>During the first half of the year, the city saw 14 killings&nbsp;&mdash; a 36 percent drop from the 22 recorded at the midpoint last year and a <strong>63 percent decrease from the 38 in 2012.</strong></p> <p>...."The best guess one can make is that they're associated with a national trend of lowered homicide rates over the last 20 years," said Robert Weisberg, a law professor who co-directs the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. "They have settled a bit, but they have gone down in some places."</p> <p><strong>Weisberg said one big factor in the national drop in killings is "just smarter policing,</strong> which requires more police and smarter police, and that includes the use of technology, the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_violent_crime_san_francisco.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">targeting of hot spots and CompStat-style policing and gang intervention."</p> </blockquote> <p>I know what you're wondering: is it lead, Kevin? What about this "smarter policing" stuff? Here are a few things that should help you think about this stuff:</p> <ul><li>The long-term trend in San Francisco is <a href="" target="_blank">pretty familiar,</a> and pretty similar to other mid-size cities. Over the past 20 years, a big part of San Francisco's drop in violent crime is probably due to the phaseout of leaded gasoline between 1975 and 1995.</li> <li>However, lead isn't responsible for short-term changes. It has nothing to do with the 63 percent drop in homicides since 2012.</li> <li>Generally speaking, you have to be careful with homicide numbers. Overall violent crime statistics are based on a large number of incidents, so they're fairly reliable. But even big cities don't have that many murders, which means the numbers can bounce around a lot from year to year just by random chance.</li> <li>A drop in crime can create a virtuous circle, because it allows police to spend more time on the crime that remains. So lead might well have acted as a sort of tailwind here, producing a drop in violent crime that allowed systems like CompStat to be more effective, thus producing further drops even after the impact of lead has flattened out.</li> </ul><p>The phaseout of leaded gasoline did its job in San Francisco, but at this point any further drops will most likely have to come from other sources. More effective policing strategies are certainly one of the things that can make a difference.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Mon, 07 Jul 2014 23:21:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 255591 at In Defense of Optics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_opticks.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Here's a Twitter conversation this afternoon between Jamison Foser and me:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Foser:</strong> Dumbest words in politics: &ldquo;Optics,&rdquo; &ldquo;Gaffe,&rdquo; &ldquo;Hypocrisy.&rdquo; (That latter one is a real thing, but misused to the point of meaninglessness.)</p> <p><strong>Drum:</strong> But &ldquo;optics&rdquo; is just short for &ldquo;how this will look to others.&rdquo; Nothing really wrong with that.</p> <p><strong>Foser:</strong> &ldquo;Optics&rdquo; = &ldquo;I cannot articulate a substantive problem with this, so I&rsquo;ll just suggest others won&rsquo;t like it.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s a house of cards.</p> <p><strong>Drum:</strong> But don't politicians routinely consider the optics of their actions? I mean really, genuinely, think about it. It's a real thing.</p> <p><strong>Foser:</strong> Not sure why that means anyone should care, or how that validates 99% of use of word by reporters/operatives/pundits....And I&rsquo;ve really, genuinely thought about it for a couple decades.</p> <p><strong>Drum:</strong> What word would you suggest instead? The concept itself is pretty ordinary.</p> <p><strong>Foser:</strong> I don&rsquo;t think we need a word for &ldquo;people might not like the Congressman&rsquo;s cheesesteak order.&rdquo; I think we need to shut up about it.</p> <p><strong>Drum:</strong> Hmmm. It's a slow day. Maybe I'll blog about this since I think my disagreement is more than 140 characters long.</p> <p><strong>Foser:</strong> Then here&rsquo;s another angle: To the extent &ldquo;optics&rdquo; claims are about &ldquo;analyzing&rdquo; rather than sneakily influencing reactions, I find that pointless as well. &ldquo;Here&rsquo;s what I think people will think&rdquo; is generally dull &amp; unimportant.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here's the thing: like most anything, there are good uses of the word <em>optics</em> and dumb uses of the word <em>optics</em>. To the extent that it becomes an excuse for fatuous preoccupations with Al Gore's earth tones or Hillary Clinton's speaking fees, then yes, it's dumb. The world would be a better place if campaign beat reporters spent a lot less time on this kind of soul-crushing imbecility.</p> <p>But that's not the only use of the word. As I mentioned in my first tweet&mdash;though see the note below for more about this&mdash;it's also used as a shortcut for a specifically political meaning of "how something will look to other people." And if you object to that, then you're just railing against human nature. Unless you're clinically autistic, obsessing with how our actions will appear to others is fundamental to the human condition. Ditto for obsessing with other people's appearances.</p> <p>That's especially true for anyone in the sales and marketing business, where appearances are literally what the job is all about. And who's more in the sales and marketing business than a politician? Sure, they have actual products&mdash;universal pre-K, cutting tax rates, whatever&mdash;but most people don't buy their products based on a Brookings white paper outlining the pros and cons. They buy it based on how it fits into their worldview, and that in turn owes more to <em>how</em> it's sold than to what's actually being sold.</p> <p>So when you try to figure out why, say, Marco Rubio's immigration reform plan crashed and burned, you're missing half the story if you only look at the details of his plan. If you're covering a campaign, you're missing half the story if you don't report about how the campaign is trying to mold public perceptions. If you're writing a history of the Iraq War, you're missing half the story if you don't spend time explaining the marketing campaign behind the whole thing. For better or worse, politicians spend a lot of time thinking about how various audiences&mdash;supporters, opponents, undecideds, pundits, members of Congress, the media&mdash;will react to their proposals, and they shape their messages accordingly. If you're reporting on politics, you have to include that as part of the story, and <em>optics</em> is as good a word as any to describe it.</p> <p>That said, we'd be better off if there were fewer dumb appeals to optics. If you're going to talk about optics, it should be based on either (a) ground-level reporting about what someone's political operation is actually doing, or (b) empirical data like poll numbers about how people react to things. If all you're doing is inventing stuff that no one on the planet would have noticed if you hadn't been hard up for column material, then you're responsible for making us collectively stupider and giving optics a bad name. Knock it off.</p> <p><strong>FULL DISCLOSURE:</strong> I've defended the word <em>optics</em> against critics before, which suggests that in my mind <a href="" target="_blank">I really do think it's OK to use it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When someone says "optics," for example, I know that they're talking not just about general appearances, but about how something plays in the media and how it plays with public opinion. Using the word <em>optics</em> also suggests that you're referring to a highly-planned operation managed by media pros, not just some random event on the street.</p> </blockquote> <p>On the other hand, I don't actually use the word very much myself, which suggests that in my heart I agree with Foser more than I'm letting on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Mon, 07 Jul 2014 21:57:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 255586 at John Boehner May Plan to Sue Obama Over Immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_boehner_eyes.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Fine. Washington is consumed with trivia. So let's talk trivia. A couple of weeks ago, when John Boehner announced he would sue President Obama over his refusal to "faithfully execute the laws of our country," he listed <a href="" target="_blank">several issues of particular concern:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>On matters <strong>ranging from health care and energy to foreign policy and education,</strong> President Obama has repeatedly run an end-around on the American people and their elected legislators, straining the boundaries of the solemn oath he took on Inauguration Day.&nbsp;</p> </blockquote> <p>At the time, I wrote that I was surprised Boehner didn't include immigration in this list, since this is one of the tea party's biggest hot buttons. Was this just an oversight, or was it deliberate? Well, on Sunday, Boehner wrote an op-ed for CNN that <a href="" target="_blank">said this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The President's habit of ignoring the law as written hurts our economy and jobs even more. Washington taxes and regulations always make it harder for private sector employers to meet payrolls, invest in new initiatives and create jobs&nbsp;&mdash; but how can those employers plan, invest and grow when the laws are changing on the President's whim at any moment?</p> <p>I don't take the House legal action against the President lightly. <strong>We've passed legislation to address this problem (twice),</strong> but Senate Democrats, characteristically, have ignored it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait a second. Which problem? What is Boehner talking about here? Brian Beutler, who apparently reads tea leaves better than I do, suspected Boehner may have been signaling an interest in immigration, so he called Boehner's office to <a href="" target="_blank">ask about that:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Boehner didn't name the two bills in the article. But his staff confirms that they are the ENFORCE the Law Act and the Faithful Execution of the Law Act, both of which were drafted with an eye toward reversing DACA. The former would expedite House and Senate lawsuits against the executive branch for failing to enforce the law. The latter would compel government officials to justify instances of non-enforcement.</p> </blockquote> <p>DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals directive, which Obama signed in 2012. It instructs immigration officials to stop trying to deport children who arrived in the United States at an early age and are still undocumented.</p> <p>This is potentially interesting. If you'd asked me, I would have said that Boehner's best bet for the first couple of lawsuits would be Obama's unilateral extension of both the employer mandate and the individual mandate in Obamacare. Politically it's a winner because it's Obamacare, and the tea party hates Obamacare. Legally, it's a winner because Boehner has a pretty good case that Obama overstepped his authority.</p> <p>But if Beutler is right, he may instead be targeting DACA, the so-called mini-DREAM Act. This is peculiar. True, the tea party hates it, so it has that going for it. However, it was a very popular action with the rest of the country. It was also, needless to say, very popular with Hispanics, a demographic group that Republicans covet. And legally, this puts Boehner on tricky ground too. Presidents have pretty broad authority to decide federal law-enforcement and prosecutorial priorities, so Obama will be able to make a pretty good case for himself. It's not a slam-dunk case, and it's certainly possible he could lose. But he sure seems to be on more solid ground than with the Obamacare mandate delays.</p> <p>We'll see. ENFORCE and FELA both cover more ground than just DACA, so we're still in the dark about what exactly Boehner plans to sue Obama over. Mini-DREAM sure seems like a loser to me, though. Do Republicans really want to put a final nail in the coffin of their efforts to expand their reach in the Hispanic community? This would do it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Immigration The Right Mon, 07 Jul 2014 17:44:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 255546 at Will TSA Soon Have Bins Full of Dead Smartphones? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Security screening at airports for certain flights to the United States is about to get <a href="" target="_blank">even more annoying:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_smartphone.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.</p> </blockquote> <p>Two comments. First: this is new? I remember being asked to turn on laptops and such before business flights in 2002-03. In fact, I distinctly remember one flight where some poor guy was running around in a panic asking everyone if they had a charger for an IBM Thinkpad because TSA wanted him to power it up. I happened to be using a Thinkpad in those days and came to his rescue. But I haven't traveled on business for a long time, so maybe TSA gave up on this years ago.</p> <p>Second: lots of us have had the experience of having to toss out a bottle of liquid or a pocket knife at a TSA checkpoint. But a cell phone? That's a whole different animal. If TSA starts forcing people to toss their $500 smartphones into a bin, never to be seen again, there's going to be some serious public outrage. Is that really going to start happening?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:56:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 255531 at All That's Left Are Fights Over Trivia <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Here's the latest political news:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Political Battle Over Export Bank Heats Up</strong></p> <p>Lawmakers at a recent House hearing on the future of the Export-Import Bank were given an extra piece of reading material: a personalized index card laying out exactly which companies in their districts benefit from the financing agency and how many people they employ.</p> <p>The cards, which supporters of the bank plan to give to every member of Congress in coming weeks, are part of a lobbying push by corporations such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co., and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers. Their goal is to combat the most serious threat yet to the survival of the agency, which is under assault by new House leadership and conservative groups that say it amounts to corporate welfare.</p> </blockquote> <p>What does this say about us?&nbsp; As near as I can tell, this is the most important domestic political battle in the country right now. That's right: <em>reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.</em> Can you think of anything more trivial? This is a government agency that costs taxpayers nothing&mdash;in fact, it's recorded a profit over the past decade&mdash;and, at worst, will cost us no more than a tiny amount in the future. On the flip side, although reliable figures are hard to come by, its impact on our export business is probably pretty minuscule.</p> <p>So it costs nothing and has a tiny impact on the economy. And that's what we're fighting over this month. Why? Because there's not much point in fighting over anything that's actually important. Welcome to America in 2014.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:25:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 255521 at The NSA Said Edward Snowden Had No Access to Surveillance Intercepts. They Lied. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>For more than a year, NSA officials have insisted that although Edward Snowden had access to reports <em>about</em> NSA surveillance, he didn't have access to the actual surveillance intercepts themselves. It turns out they were lying.<sup>1</sup> In fact, he provided the <em>Washington Post</em> with a cache of 22,000 intercept reports containing 160,000 individual intercepts. The <em>Post</em> has spent months reviewing these files and <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_snowden_intercepts.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">estimates that 11 percent of the intercepted accounts belonged to NSA targets and the remaining 89 percent were "incidental" collections from bystanders.</p> <p>So was all of this worth it? The <em>Post</em>'s review illustrates <a href="" target="_blank">just how hard it is to make that judgment:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Among the most valuable contents&mdash;which <em>The Post</em> will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations&mdash;are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.</p> <p>Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, <em>The Post</em> is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.</p> <p>Many other files, <strong>described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained,</strong> have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.</p> <p>&hellip;If Snowden's sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 "transparency report,&rdquo; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year's collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden's sample, <strong>the office's figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>The whole story is worth a read in order to get a more detailed description of what these intercepts looked like and who they ended up targeting. In some ways, the Snowden intercepts show that the NSA is fairly fastidious about minimizing data on US persons. In other ways, however, the NSA plainly stretches to the limit&mdash;and probably beyond&mdash;the rules for defining who is and isn't a US person. <a href="" target="_blank">Click the link</a> for more.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Naturally, the NSA has an explanation:</p> <blockquote> <p>Robert S. Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a prepared statement that Alexander and other officials were speaking only about <strong>"raw" intelligence,</strong> the term for intercepted content that has not yet been evaluated, stamped with classification markings or minimized to mask U.S. identities.</p> <p>"We have talked about the very strict controls on <strong>raw traffic</strong>&hellip;" Litt said. "Nothing that you have given us indicates that Snowden was able to circumvent that in any way.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Silly intelligence committee members. They should have specifically asked about access to <em>processed</em> content.</p> <p>Jesus. If someone in Congress isn't seriously pissed off about this obvious evasion, they might as well just hang up their oversight spurs and disband.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Top Stories Sun, 06 Jul 2014 04:45:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 255496 at Here's What Happens When You Challenge the CIA Through "Proper Channels" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>One of the standard criticisms of Edward Snowden is that he should have tried harder to air his concerns via proper channels. This is fairly laughable on its face, since even now the NSA insists that all its programs were legal and it continues to fight efforts to change them or release any information about them. Still, maybe Snowden should have tried. What harm could it have done?</p> <p>Today, Greg Miller of the <em>Washington Post</em> tells us the story of Jeffrey Scudder, who worked in the CIA&rsquo;s Historical Collections Division. This is a division <em>explicitly</em> set up to look for old documents that can be safely released to the public. Scudder discovered thousands of documents he thought should be released, and he worked diligently through channels to make this happen. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cia_floor.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">When that ran into repeated roadblocks, he eventually decided to try to force the CIA's hand&mdash;legally, openly&mdash;by <a href="" target="_blank">filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Scudder&rsquo;s FOIA submissions fell into two categories: one seeking new digital copies of articles already designated for release and another aimed at articles yet to be cleared. He made spreadsheets that listed the titles of all 1,987 articles he wanted, he said, then had them scanned for classified content and got permission to take them home so he could assemble his FOIA request on personal time.</p> <p>....Six months after submitting his request, Scudder was summoned to a meeting with Counterintelligence Center investigators and asked to surrender his personal computer. <strong>He was placed on administrative leave, instructed not to travel overseas and questioned by the FBI.</strong></p> <p>....On Nov. 27, 2012, a stream of black cars pulled up in front of Scudder&rsquo;s home in Ashburn, Va., at 6 a.m. <strong>FBI agents seized every computer in the house, including a laptop his daughter had brought home from college for Thanksgiving.</strong> They took cellphones, storage devices, DVDs, a Nintendo Game Boy and a journal kept by his wife, a physical therapist in the Loudoun County Schools.</p> <p>The search lasted nearly four hours, Scudder said. FBI agents followed his wife and daughters into their bedrooms as they got dressed, asking probing questions. &ldquo;It was classic elicitation,&rdquo; Scudder said. &ldquo;How has Jeff been? Have you noticed any unexplained income? Cash? Mood changes?&rdquo;</p> <p>....Last summer, the board recommended that Scudder be fired. Around the same time, <strong>he was shown a spreadsheet outlining his possible pension packages with two figures &mdash; one large and one small &mdash; underlined. He agreed to retire.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So, um, yeah. Snowden should have tried harder to work through proper channels. What harm could it have done?</p> <p>At this point, of course, I have to add the usual caveat that we have only Scudder's side of this story. The CIA naturally declines to comment. This means it's possible that Scudder really did do something wrong, but spun a self-serving version of his story for Miller's benefit. We'll never know for sure. Nonetheless, I think it's safe to say that this isn't exactly a testimonial for aggressively trying to work through the proper channels, even if your goal is the relatively harmless one of releasing historical documents that pose no threats to operational security at all. By comparison, it's pretty obvious that having his pension reduced would have been the least of Snowden's worries.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Sat, 05 Jul 2014 16:14:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 255491 at Friday Cat Blogging - 4 July 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I think it's time to stop pretending there's going to be anything to blog about this morning, and just get straight to catblogging. I was hoping for something patriotically themed, but that was a no-go. Domino is just not a dress-up kind of cat. So then I thought I'd get her to lounge in front of all the various goodies for tonight's picnic. She wasn't having any of that either. The best I could do was this tableau, which lasted about a second or two before Domino scampered away as if the Peeps were going to leap up and attack her. It's just hard to get her in the proper spirit.</p> <p>For the rest of you, though, have a lovely 238th birthday party.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_07_04.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 04 Jul 2014 16:13:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 255486 at The Surly Bonds of Earth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is hardly the biggest problem American Apparel has right now, <a href="" target="_blank">but:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>American Apparel issued a public apology Thursday after the company posted a stylized picture to its Tumblr page of the space shuttle Challenger disaster <strong>thinking it was fireworks.</strong></p> <p>The company was immediately hammered with negative feedback.</p> <p>In its apology, the company said it was an honest mistake by the social media manager, who was born after the 1986 explosion that killed all seven crew members, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.</p> </blockquote> <p>In related news, I would like to apologize on behalf of my entire generation for using that&nbsp;picture of a dirigible on fire earlier this week. I thought it was a still from the latest Transformers movie.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 04 Jul 2014 13:44:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 255481 at Supreme Court Now Playing Cute PR Games With Hobby Lobby Decision <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In Monday's Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Samuel Alito struck down a government requirement that employer-provided health insurance cover access to contraceptives. Among other things, Alito wrote that any requirement must be the "least restrictive" means for the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_supreme_court_0_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">government to achieve its goals, and the health insurance mandate <a href="" target="_blank">clearly wasn't:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>HHS itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs. As we explained above, HHS has already established an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections. Under that accommodation, <strong>the organization can self-certify that it opposes providing coverage for particular contraceptive services.</strong> If the organization makes such a certification, the organization&rsquo;s insurance issuer or third-party administrator must &ldquo;[e]xpressly exclude contraceptive coverage from the group health insurance coverage provided in connection with the group health plan&rdquo; and &ldquo;[p]rovide separate payments for any contraceptive services required to be covered&rdquo; without imposing &ldquo;any cost-sharing requirements . . . on the eligible organization, the group health plan, or plan participants or beneficiaries.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>The obvious implication here is that the court approves of this compromise rule. That is, requiring self-certification <em>is</em> a reasonable means of accomplishing the government's goal without requiring organizations to directly fund access to contraceptives. Today, however, the court pulled the rug out from under anyone who actually <a href="" target="_blank">took them at their word:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In Thursday&rsquo;s order, the court granted Wheaton College, an evangelical Protestant liberal arts school west of Chicago, a temporary injunction allowing it to continue to not comply with the compromise rule....College officials refused even to sign a government form noting their religious objection, saying that to do so would allow the school&rsquo;s insurance carrier to provide the coverage on its own.</p> <p>....The unsigned order prompted a sharply worded dissent from the court&rsquo;s three female members, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.</p> <p>&ldquo;I disagree strongly with what the court has done,&rdquo; Sotomayor wrote in a 16-page dissent. Noting that the court had praised the administration&rsquo;s position on Monday but was allowing Wheaton to flout it on Thursday, she wrote, <strong>&ldquo;those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>For the last few days, there's been a broad argument about whether the Hobby Lobby ruling was a narrow one&mdash;as Alito himself insisted it was&mdash;or was merely an opening volley that opened the door to much broader rulings in the future. After Tuesday's follow-up order&mdash;which expanded the original ruling to cover all contraceptives, not just those the plaintiffs considered abortifacients&mdash;and today's order&mdash;which rejected a compromise that the original ruling praised&mdash;it sure seems like this argument has been settled. This is just the opening volley. We can expect much more aggressive follow-ups from this court in the future.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> It's worth noting that quite aside from whether you agree with the Hobby Lobby decision, this is shameful behavior from the conservatives on the court. As near as I can tell, they're now playing PR games worthy of a seasoned politico, deliberately releasing a seemingly narrow opinion in order to generate a certain kind of coverage, and then following it up later in the sure knowledge that its "revisions" won't get nearly as much attention.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Reproductive Rights Supreme Court Thu, 03 Jul 2014 23:23:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 255446 at Europe's Memory Hole Gets Ever Wider and Deeper <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday I passed along the news that a BBC article about Stan O'Neal, the former head of Merrill Lynch, had been removed from Google searches in Europe. Today the <em>Guardian</em> reports on several of its recent pieces that have been <a href="" target="_blank">scrubbed from Google searches:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Three of the articles, dating from 2010, relate to a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee, Dougie McDonald, who was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a Celtic v Dundee United match, the backlash to which prompted his resignation.</p> <p>....The other disappeared articles&nbsp;&mdash; the <em>Guardian</em> isn't given any reason for the deletions&nbsp;&mdash; are a 2011 piece on French office workers making post-it art, a 2002 piece about a solicitor facing a fraud trial standing for a seat on the Law Society's ruling body and an index of an entire week of pieces by <em>Guardian</em> media commentator Roy Greenslade.</p> <p>The <em>Guardian</em> has no form of appeal against parts of its journalism being made all but impossible for most of Europe's 368 million to find.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's a little hard to see how articles that are a mere three or four years old can be deemed "irrelevant," but in Europe, I guess that if you declare something about yourself to be irrelevant, then it is. Congratulations, EU Court of Justice!</p> <p><strong>UPDATE 1:</strong> Interestingly, it turns out that yesterday's removal of the BBC story wasn't initiated by Stan O'Neal. Apparently it was initiated by someone who left a comment on the original story. I'm actually not sure if this is better or worse.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE 2:</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Over at the Monkey Cage,</a> Henry Farrell argues that it's not really the ECJ that's censoring content, it's Google. But even with the caveats he includes, I think Farrell is being far too kind to the ECJ, which issued an unforgivably fuzzy decision that basically puts Google in the impossible position of being forced to act as a privacy regulator with neither the tools nor the guidance it needs to do the job properly. However, he agrees with a suggestion I made yesterday that Google might be reading the ECJ's directive over-broadly in a deliberate attempt to get everyone in a tizzy over it:</p> <blockquote> <p>Google may have incentives to accede to [the takedown] request without complaint &mdash; and to publicize that it is so doing &mdash; <strong>because it knows that this is likely to send journalists into a frenzy.</strong> Even if the ECJ can press Google into service as an unpaid regulator, it can&rsquo;t force Google to regulate in the exact ways that it would like Google to. And Google, like the Good Soldier Svejk in Jan Hasek&rsquo;s novel, can perhaps interpret the court&rsquo;s mandate in ways that formally stick to the rules, but in practice actually undermine it. There are, of course, other possible explanations for Google&rsquo;s actions &mdash; it may be that there are excellent private reasons why Google is acceding to this request. But for sure, <strong>the controversy surrounding the request helps Google to push back (as it wants to push back) against strong interpretations of European privacy standards.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe so.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties International Thu, 03 Jul 2014 18:06:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 255431 at