I've written about this before in connection with the 4th Circuit Court overturning North Carolina's new voting law, but today William Wan of the Washington Post takes a closer look at how the law took shape. It all started when Republicans finally installed one of their own as governor:

Within months of McCrory’s victory, emails show, the state election board began receiving requests for demographic data from a group of GOP lawmakers....They asked for statistics on voter behavior broken down by race: Who voted early, and who voted on Election Day? Who voted out of precinct?

They asked about what kinds of people were registered to vote but did not have a driver’s license....In another email exchange, officials at the University of North Carolina received a data request from Lewis. “I was asked by a State Representative about the number of Student ID cards that are created and the % of those who are African American,” a university official says to his lower staff. No explanation is given on why Lewis needs the data, just a plea to hurry on it. “He needs it in 2 hours or less.”

Literally within hours of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina began putting together their bill. As the 4th Circuit opinion stated, the bill targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision." Nonetheless, Rep. David Lewis, the ringleader of the legislation, was offended by the suggestion that race had anything to do with it:

Lewis said he deeply resented critics who have painted the bill and its supporters as racist. “When Democrats were in power, I may not have agreed with them, but I never questioned them personally or tried to impugn their reputations,” he said.

Uh huh. But in a way, he's right. A North Carolina party wheel explains:

Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse. “Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.

This is probably true, but also spectacularly tone deaf. If a law with a reasonable motivation happened to do some harm to bakery owners or accountants, we'd shrug. Every law has disparate effects, and it's almost inevitable that some groups will do worse than others.

But a law that not only differentially affects African-Americans, but deliberately affects African-Americans, is plainly different for reasons that hardly need explaining. It hardly even matters if David Lewis is racist. He may have done what he did for reasons of cynical political calculation, but the effect was egregiously, indefensibly racist. It's not even faintly plausible that he and the rest of the Republican caucus in North Carolina don't know this.

That's all bad enough. But here's what's even worse: four members of the Supreme Court voted to let this bill proceed despite the overwhelming evidence that it was almost entirely race-based. If we're willing to spend weeks freaking out about Colin Kaepernick's protest against racism in America, perhaps we could spend a few weeks freaking out about this too?

Quote of the Day: A Taco On Every Corner

From Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos For Trump:

My culture is a very dominant culture. If you don't do something about it, you're going to have taco trucks on every corner.

This guy really needs to learn how to make threats. Murderers on every corner? That would be bad. Chihuahuas on every corner? That would be annoying. Taco trucks on every corner? That would be pretty tasty. Trump's surrogates really need to up their game.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

The American economy added 151,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a modest 61,000 jobs. Both the number of workers and the number of unemployed increased, and the headline unemployment rate stayed steady at 4.9 percent. Labor force participation was unchanged. Overall, this was a weak but not unusual jobs report.

Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 2.3 percent compared to last month. That's nothing to write home about, but given our very low inflation rate at the moment, it's not bad.

I have some bad news for you, though I admit it won't be immediately obvious from this Wall Street Journal article:

Americans are starting to fight back against a wave of insurance-price increases on decades-old life policies.

Over the past year, several major insurers have notified tens of thousands of people of higher costs to keep their policies in force, with increases ranging from midsingle-digit percentages to more than 200%, according to financial advisers. To justify the increases, they blamed the impact on their investments from the Federal Reserve’s decision to keep interest rates lower for longer.

....“Companies are under a lot of pressure to boost returns in this low-interest-rate environment, and this is one lever they have,” said Scott Robinson, an associate managing director at Moody’s Investors Service....Life insurers have been among the companies hardest hit by the Fed’s policies, which have been mirrored by many central banks around the world. These firms earn much of their profit by investing customers’ premiums in bonds until claims come due.

So what's the bad news, aside from the fact that a bunch of folks who bought life insurance are getting screwed? Just this: insurance company investments are doing poorly, and that means premiums have to go up. This hits life insurance first, but soon it will hit other types of insurance too—including medical malpractice insurance. This has happened three times in the past four decades, and in all three cases the result has been a tidal wave of claims that medmal suits are ruining the country and nuisance suits need to be reined in.

The evidence is pretty clear that this isn't true. The last time I looked, during the medmal crisis of 2003, it was quite clear that neither the number of medmal suits nor the amount of money paid out had changed much. What had happened was the usual: insurance company investments were doing poorly and they raised premiums to make up for it.

So if insurance companies are once again having portfolio problems, it's a good guess that this will hit the medmal industry sooner or later, and premiums will go up. Doctors will start screaming, and Republicans will demand caps on malpractice payouts—something that does nothing to rein in nuisance lawsuits but does hurt trial lawyers badly. And trial lawyers give lots of money to Democrats.

Maybe we'll dodge a bullet this time. But if we don't, and medmal premiums start rising again, keep your ears open for all the usual bogus tort reform arguments. They'll follow just as surely as the night follows the day.

Voters Sure Are Pissed Off This Year

Voters are angry this year. Bernie Sanders proved it on the Democratic side and Donald Trump on the Republican side. People are sick and tired of the old guard that talks and talks but never gets anything done. The establishment has turned politics into a corrupt charnelhouse catering to the rich and powerful instead of regular Americans, and voters are finally fed up. The tea party was a start, Occupy Wall Street was next, and now there's a volcanic, bipartisan fury erupting all over the country.

So, um, that means incumbents should be in big trouble on both sides of the aisle. It's probably been a bloodbath in the primaries this year—though of course the lamestream media will never tell you about it. Let's take a look.

Hah! There's your evidence right there. In 2014 four incumbents lost their primary contests. This year five have lost. Behold the fury of the American electorate. Truly this year represents the long-awaited revolt of the voters against the entrenched interests that bailed out Wall Street and sent all our jobs overseas.

Wall Street Is Whining Yet Again

File this one under "Yes, we almost destroyed the world, but how long are you going to hold that against us?"

Bank trade groups and industry advisers are debating the possibility of legally challenging the Federal Reserve in an attempt to force changes to annual “stress tests” of the biggest U.S. lenders, people familiar with the talks said....The discussions are at an early stage and...have centered on legal strategies that would allow a challenge to the stress tests, with much of the focus on their opacity and how the Fed changes certain aspects of the exams each year.

....The exams arguably have made banks safer by forcing them to better measure risks they face. They also dictate the amount of capital banks can return to shareholders, in turn influencing returns on equity and share-price valuations....Fed officials have disclosed more in recent years about how the tests work. They have described in more detail the mathematical models used to determine how much money banks would lose under the tests, pointing out changes from year to year.

But the central bank still unilaterally designs the doomsday scenarios that are simulated during the tests. It also doesn’t disclose all the details of the models, which keeps banks guessing about their results. The central bank says that if it gave banks more information about the models, bankers might be able to game the tests.

First off, are banks allowed to chat with each other about strategies for suing the Fed? It seems like the kind of thing that competitors aren't supposed to do. But maybe banks are different.

That aside, what a bunch of whiners. Big banks have a pretty good idea of what the Fed expects, and history demonstrates pretty clearly that if you make the requirements too explicit banks will indeed bend their every synapse toward figuring out how to game the rules. That's largely what banks around the world did during the aughts, and it's a big reason they weren't prepared for the housing crash.

An alternative, of course, is to simply put in place crude leverage and capital requirements and make them very explicit indeed. But banks don't like that. Why? Because it's hard to game.

So buck up, Wall Street. Millions of high school students every year take the SAT even though their test prep courses only prepare them for approximately what it will be like. They make do with that, and so can you.

Here's a Must-Read Tale of Quiet Suburbia

My quiet little hometown of Irvine has been the site of a truly bizarre little scandal for the past few years. I've followed it off and on the entire time, and it's an object lesson in how a seemingly ordinary couple can go completely off the rails and try to frame a neighbor over a slight so small most people would have forgotten it by the next day.

Anyway, now that it's basically over, Christopher Goffard of the LA Times has written the definitive series about it. I was going to wait until it was done to recommend it to you, but the damn thing is six parts long. We're up to part 4 today, so you might as well go ahead and start reading it now. There's no political lesson here, but it's one of those riveting tales that's so creepy and outlandish you don't want to miss it. It turns out that fictional suburbia is nowhere near as interesting as the real thing.

I have no special reason for posting this except that a few folks were discussing it in my Twitter feed. The proximate stimulus was an old piece by Gallup's CEO claiming that the standard unemployment rate is a "lie" because it doesn't count people who aren't looking for work, or who are forced to work part time, etc. So here's the U6 unemployment rate, which includes all those things:

Since 1994, when the series begins, the average U6 rate has been 10.7 percent. Today it's 9.7 percent. But even at that, it's about a point higher than the average during the last two expansions and two points higher than its best during the Bush era. In other words, it could still stand to drop another point or two, but it's really in pretty good shape. Jobs are out there for most people who want them. Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone burbling about how unemployment is really way worse than the government is telling you.

Here is Politico today:

Bill Clinton aides used tax dollars to subsidize foundation, private email support

Taxpayer cash was used to buy IT equipment — including servers — housed at the Clinton Foundation, and also to supplement the pay and benefits of several aides now at the center of the email and cash-for-access scandals dogging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

This investigation, which is based on records obtained from the General Services Administration through the Freedom of Information Act, does not reveal anything illegal. But it does offer fresh evidence of how the Clintons blurred the line between their nonprofit foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and the business dealings of Bill Clinton and the couple’s aides.

Sounds shady! Let's count the paragraphs until we get to an actual concrete description of what this is all about. Here we go: 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10... 11... 12... 13... 14... 15... 16... 17... 18... 19... 20... 21... 22... 23... 24... Bingo:

According to several people familiar with the former president’s operation, the rationale behind the interwoven payrolls is that they allow for a small team to assist Clinton in a variety of settings without having to do logistically complicated hockey-like line changes. In a given day, Clinton might deliver a paid private speech (during which time his employees’ salaries could be paid by the executive services corporation) and a public speech in his capacity as a former president (during which his staff could be paid by the GSA funds). And he could attend events for the foundation (where staff time would be paid by the foundation) as well as his wife’s presidential campaign (staff time would be paid by the campaign).

....A GSA spokesperson declined to comment on specific employees, but said ex-presidents have broad discretion over how they choose to divvy up the $96,600 they are provided each year for staffing. They can give the entire sum to a single employee or divide it among multiple employees.

So Clinton gets the princely sum of $96,600 each year for staff, and tracks the work these staffers do in his capacity as ex-president. He bills the GSA for that work, and bills other organizations when the staff does work for them. This is bog standard stuff. Staff time is tracked, and then charged out. This is not just "not illegal," it's the way pretty much any similar kind of operation works. Even me. Mother Jones pays me an annual salary, but if I write an op-ed or something, I bill that time to whoever I wrote the op-ed for.

Go ahead and read the whole thing. There's really nothing even remotely blurry or scandalous or shady or anything else. It's just the standard way anyone operates who has multiple interests, multiple funding sources, and staffers who do work for multiple organizations. There's no hint that any of the charges were incorrect, or that any of the purchases were misallocated. As near as I can tell, it was all entirely above board, and the GSA was actively involved in scrutinizing everything.

Basically, the reason for headlines like this is because Bill Clinton decided after his presidency to set up a large and active foundation that raised a ton of money for exceptionally worthy causes around the world. If he had decided to just lounge around instead, none of this would ever have come up. It's a little hard to believe that he's getting so much grief for this.

Charts of the Day: Thatcher vs. Blair

Here's a fascinating little chart courtesy of Thomas Forth. It shows income inequality in the UK (on the vertical axis) vs. growth in disposable income (horizontal axis). Here it is for the poor:

In the go-go 80s under Thatcher, the poor made no progress at all. Under Blair, their disposable income increased from about £9,000 to £12,000. But what about the well-off? They probably did great under Thatcher and then got the shaft under Blair. Let's look:

Under Thatcher, the well-off did indeed prosper. Incomes of the 95th percentile went up from £23,000 to £37,000. Under Blair they went up from £42,000 to £58,000.

So under Thatcher the poor got nothing and the well-off saw their incomes rise by about 60 percent. Under Blair, the poor did pretty well and the well-off saw their incomes rise by about 40 percent. Choose which country you'd rather live in.