Kevin Drum

Yep, Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Is All About Suppressing the Vote

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 1:31 PM EDT

Let's be clear here: it's not exactly breaking news that photo ID laws are designed not to fight voter fraud—which is all but nonexistent—but primarily to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote. Still, it's nice to hear it from the horse's mouth sometimes. The location, once again, is Wisconsin:

You wanna know why I left the Republican Party as it exists today? Here it is; this was the last straw: I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters.

Think about that for a minute....A vigorous debate on the ideas wasn't good enough. Inspiring the electorate and relying on their agenda being better to get people to vote for them wasn't good enough. No, they had to take the coward's way out and come up with a plan to suppress the vote under the guise of 'voter fraud.' The truth? There was almost none.

That's from Todd Allbaugh, former chief of staff for Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Schultz (R). TPM's Tierney Sneed gave him a call:

Once he left politics, Allbaugh opened a Madison, Wisconsin, coffee shop, where TPM reached him over the phone and he elaborated on those claims.

“It just really incensed me that they started talking about this particular bill, and one of the senators got up and said, ‘We really need to think about the ramifications on certain neighborhoods in Milwaukee and on our college campuses and what this could do for us,’” Allbaugh said.

....According to Allbaugh, at this point in the point of meeting, Schultz brought up his own concerns with the voter ID legislation. “He was immediately shot down by another senator who said, ‘What I am interested in is getting results here and using the power while we have it, because if the Democrats were in control they would do they same thing to us, so I want to use it while we have it.'

I wonder how many cases we need of legislators and aides either admitting this outright (like Allbaugh) or accidentally telling the truth about it (like Pennsylvania's Mike Turzai) before the Supreme Court is willing to take a fresh look at its naive 2008 ruling upholding voter ID laws. At the time, the court wrote that concerns about voter fraud "should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators." Since then, evidence has continued to pile up that voter fraud is an entirely fake concern and partisan interests are the only motivation for voter ID laws. It's time to overturn Crawford.

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Environmentalists Get Bit By California's Premier Environmental Law

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 12:24 PM EDT

I'm a pretty committed environmentalist, but it's still hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude over the problems that California's premier environmental law has had on the construction of bike lanes:

The California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, has stymied bike lanes up and down the state for more than a decade....“The environmental law is hugely frustrating,” said Dave Campbell, advocacy director for Bike East Bay, which has pushed for the Fulton Street bike lane. “It’s a law that allows you to say no. It’s not a law that lets you say yes.”

....The issue has festered for a long time. A decade ago, a lawsuit against San Francisco's citywide bike plan stalled the city's plans to add more than 30 miles of bike lanes for several years....Even without the threat of litigation, the environmental law can stop bike lanes in their tracks. When city of Oakland officials wanted to narrow a wide road near a major transit station and add two bike lanes, they realized it would be difficult to comply with the environmental law’s rules and didn’t proceed, said Jason Patton, Oakland’s bike program manager. About a decade later, the road remains a six-lane highway.

“CEQA is an incredible burden to doing work in urban areas,” Patton said. “And I say that as a committed environmentalist.”

The environmental law requires proponents of new projects — including bike lanes — to measure the effect the project would have on car congestion. When a traffic lane is taken out in favor of a bike lane, more congestion could result along that road. That result can put proposed bike lanes in peril. And traffic studies to show whether installing a bike lane would lead to greater congestion can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oftentimes, cities won’t bother with the effort.

Needless to say, this is the same complaint that developers have long had with CEQA: It allows NIMBYs to hold up construction of new projects endlessly with faux environmental objections. Go ahead and just try to build a dense development in LA. Plenty of folks would love to do it. But you'd better be prepared for years or more of grinding lawsuits from every nearby resident who doesn't want more traffic.

I'm no expert on CEQA, so I won't try to offer any detailed criticism here. Generally speaking, though, I'd like to see the law reformed so that genuine environmental concerns get the hearings they deserve, but no more. There needs to be some kind of stopping point or reasonableness test in there. A $100,000 bike lane shouldn't require $200,000 in environmental impact reports and another $200,000 defending lawsuits from bike lane haters. Likewise, a proposed apartment building should be required to acknowledge genuine environmental impacts—on traffic, on sewage, on air quality—but there needs to be a limit to how detailed this needs to be. Bike lanes are great, but so are apartment buildings.

Bernie Voters Not Very Interested in Non-Bernie Democrats

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 11:38 AM EDT

Dave Weigel notes that Wisconsin's Supreme Court race was yet another setback for Democrats:

They saw a decent chance to defeat Rebecca Bradley, a conservative justice appointed to the state Supreme Court by Walker. Her opponent, JoAnne Kloppenburg, nearly won a seat on the court in 2011.

…Bradley won the election, a surprise to Democrats. This morning, some progressives picked a culprit: voters who cast ballots for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and left the rest of their ballots blank. According to exit polling conducted by the independent group DecisionDesk and BenchMark Politics, perhaps 15 percent of Sanders voters skipped the Bradley-Kloppenburg race; just 4 percent of Hillary Clinton voters did the same.

Bernie endorsed JoAnne Kloppenburg, so this isn't a matter of him refusing to play ball with anyone running on the Democratic ticket. Nonetheless, it's a serious issue, no matter what you think of Bernie versus Hillary on the issues. Bernie is basing a lot of his campaign not just on anti-Hillary sentiment, but on anti-Democratic-Party-establishment sentiment. That's fair enough, but like it or not, the Democratic Party is all we have to compete with Republicans.

Bernie has been asked before if, for example, he'd raise money for Democrats if he won the nomination, and he responded, "We'll see." That's really not going to cut it anymore. Bernie doesn't have to mindlessly support every Democrat on the ballot, but voters deserve to know what he'd do if he won the Democratic nomination. Would it be all Bernie all the time? Or does he become a fighter for all the down-ballot races Democrats need to win in order to pass all that revolutionary legislation we hear so much about?

Bernie: Hillary Not Qualified to Be President

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 10:35 PM EDT

Hmmm. Today Hillary Clinton criticized Bernie Sanders: "I am concerned that some of his ideas just won't work, because the numbers don't add up." And this: "I think he himself doesn't consider himself to be a Democrat." And this, in response to his widely panned Daily News interview: "I think he hadn't done his homework, and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood."

That's a tough attack—though not exactly thermonuclear. Bernie, however, decided that it was time to go to DEFCON 1:

"Not qualified to be president"? I guess it was inevitable. As campaigns wear on, opponents begin to seriously dislike each other. But I sure hope this doesn't get any nastier.

Radical Transparency is the Latest Hot Trend in Online Journalism

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 9:47 PM EDT

The latest hot trend in online journalism is transparency in the editing process. For example, there's this from the New Republic:

The secret is that this is from my RSS feed. You won't see it if you click the link and go directly to the TNR site. Then there's this from Vox:

This one, however, turned out not to be a secret RSS bug. Vox just posted the wrong version on their site, and then removed it a few minutes later. Spoilsports. Personally, though, I applaud this trend. I think everyone should publish both initial drafts and final edits, along with all editor queries. Or, maybe some clever anarchist should hack into the New York Times content management system and download a few years' worth of initial drafts and editor comments. Wouldn't that be interesting?

NOTE: Do not target me. Someone else, please. Besides, no one edits my blog posts, so there are no fun editor queries. All the mistakes, idiotic opinions, and transparently anti-Bernie/anti-Hillary propaganda is my fault alone.

Chuck Grassley Is Making Sense

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 2:21 PM EDT

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who heads up the Judiciary Committee, took to the floor yesterday to criticize Chief Justice John Roberts, who says that politicized confirmation hearings have caused the public to believe the court itself is politicized. Now, Roberts made those comments two months ago, so I'm not quite sure what prompted Grassley to suddenly get worked up about them. Nonetheless, Grassley is taking a lot of heat for his crazy talk. Let's listen in:

The Chief Justice has it exactly backwards. The confirmation process doesn't make the Justices appear political. The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the court has drifted from the constitutional text, and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences....In fact, many of my constituents believe, with all due respect, that the Chief Justice is part of this problem.

....As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that? The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases. For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others....The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

That sounds...surprisingly reasonable. It was anger at Supreme Court rulings that turned confirmation hearings political, not the other way around. And Grassley is right that for truly impartial justices, the law shouldn't be any harder to interpret in hot button cases than in more obscure cases. And yet, hot button cases are very often split along partisan lines.

Now, it's worth noting a couple of things. First, Grassley's beef with Roberts is precisely that he didn't vote on partisan lines when he upheld Obamacare. So he's not exactly on the moral high ground here. Second, the court has always been political. But for most of its history it was politically conservative and mostly confirmed Republican positions. That changed after World War II, and what conservatives are really upset about is that the Supreme Court now hands down both liberal and conservative rulings. They want it to go back to being an arm of the Republican Party.

So Grassley is hardly presenting a balanced picture here. But he's a Republican partisan, so why would he? More generally, though, I'd say his view of the Supreme Court is pretty defensible, and certainly more accurate than Roberts' view. I see no particular crazy talk here.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

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Bernie Sanders' Path to Victory All Hinges on This One Chart

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:35 PM EDT

For those of you wondering how well Bernie Sanders did last night, here's a table that you might want to keep handy. It's from Nate Silver, and it shows how big a margin Bernie needs in the remaining states to catch up with Hillary and get a majority of pledged delegates. In Wisconsin, for example, he needed to win by 16 points, but he won by only 13 14 points and picked up 47 48 delegates instead of the 50 he needed:

Roughly speaking, Bernie broke even yesterday. He'll need to do this well or better in every future election. In any case, this is a good table to keep at hand for upcoming primaries. It gives you an idea of how big a victory Bernie needs in order to catch up with Hillary. Anything less is basically a setback; anything more is a victory.

NOTE: I excerpted the table to include only the states with more than 50 delegates. The full table is at the link.

Quote of the Day: Photo ID Will Help Republicans Beat Hillary

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:02 PM EDT

From Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman on how Republicans can win his state this November:

I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.

Shhh! You're not supposed to admit publicly that this is the point of photo ID laws. But Grothman is a freshman, so I guess he can be excused. He'll learn.

Brokers No Longer Allowed to Scam You on Your IRA Investments

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 10:59 AM EDT

After six years, a new rule requiring brokers to act in their clients' best interests has finally gone into effect:

The fiduciary rule is aimed at curbing billions of dollars in fees paid annually by small savers who transfer money out of 401(k)s, which are required to operate in their best interests—and into individual retirement accounts, which aren’t currently bound by such protections. There, savers may be working with financial-product salespeople who earn more selling certain products and don’t have to put their clients’ interests before their own.

Administration officials intend it as a direct attack on what they consider “a business model [that] rests on bilking hard-working Americans out of their retirement money,” Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters Tuesday.

....“Unless we see fundamental changes, this rule will remain unworkable, and we will consider every approach to address our concerns,” David Hirschmann, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s capital-markets division, said in a statement Tuesday. The chamber has said it was considering a lawsuit to block the regulation.

Unworkable! Sure, brokers have been following this rule for years with 401(k) plans, but extending that to IRAs will bring Wall Street to its knees. That's despite a wide range of concessions from the administration after it received comments on the proposed rule:

Mr. Perez said, for example, that an employee of MetLife Inc. wouldn’t be obligated to advise clients about offerings from a competitor, like New York Life....To cut down on paperwork that industry officials said would be too burdensome, the new version of the rule only requires that firms sign one “best interest contract” with clients when they open an account.

....The latest rule also clarifies that brokers and others can continue offering a wide range of guidance without having to clear the “fiduciary” bar for “advice.” It specifies that investor education isn’t considered advice, allowing companies to continue providing general education on retirement savings. Also excluded from the advice category are general circulation newsletters, media talk shows and commentaries as well as general marketing materials.

Hmmm. "General education." I have a feeling these are going to be boom times for general education. Stay tuned.

The Guy Behind the Planned Parenthood Sting Videos Is Now In Trouble With a Second State

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 1:26 AM EDT

Y'all remember David Daleiden, the guy behind the attack videos against Planned Parenthood, don't you? Well, his videos generated a bunch of state investigations that turned up no evidence at all of any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. But how about wrongdoing by Daleiden? That's a whole different kettle of fish. A second state is now going after him:

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said. Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

Daleiden is now in trouble with both Texas and California. But I suppose it's all good PR as long as they spell his name right. At this point, Daleiden can probably do better as a martyr for the cause than he can as a straightforward activist. After all, his activism produced squat—except for lots of death threats against abortion providers. But maybe that was the whole plan.