Kevin Drum

Hispanic Vote Unlikely to Be Crucial in 2014

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 12:47 PM EDT

Republicans have repeatedly failed to pass anything of substance regarding immigration, and their latest fiasco over the border crisis makes their haplessness more apparent than ever. But will it matter this November? Nate Cohn says no:

Hispanic voters are all but absent from this year’s most competitive Senate battlegrounds. Hispanic voters make up about 11 percent of eligible voters but represent 5 percent or fewer of the eligible voters in eight of the nine states deemed competitive by Leo, The Upshot’s Senate model.

....Hispanic voters will have even less influence over the composition of the House, which is all but assured to remain in Republican hands....The reason is simple. In districts held by House Republicans, Hispanics represent only 6.7 percent of eligible voters. The Hispanic share of eligible voters is nearly as low in the House battlegrounds, 7.4 percent.

Add to this the fact that Hispanics already vote for Democrats in large numbers, and Republicans just don't have very much to lose. Even if they lost another 10 percent of the Hispanic vote (an improbably huge number), that would represent considerably less than 1 percent of the total vote. That just won't make a difference except in a few of the very tightest races.

The main exception here is Colorado, which has a substantial Hispanic population. But Colorado has never been a likely Republican pickup anyway, so it's unlikely to affect overall Republican chances of taking control of the Senate this year.

Now, as Cohn says, in a tight race anything can make a difference. And the Senate race is tight enough that control could easily come down to one close race in one state. If Georgia ends up being decided by a 51-49 vote, it's just possible that Hispanic turnout could make the difference.

Probably not, though, and this is a good illustration of the current dynamics in American elections: national demographic trends are making it harder and harder for Republicans to win the presidency, but those same trends don't affect congressional votes that much as long as Republicans can hold onto their base. So the GOP can maintain its ability to obstruct, but is losing its ability to lead.

In other words, you should probably get used to gridlock. It's not going away anytime soon.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

House Report: Benghazi Is Just Benghazi

| Mon Aug. 4, 2014 10:54 AM EDT

The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee—officially now just a bunch of RINO traitors, I guess—is about to release a report saying that what happened in Benghazi is pretty much what the entire non-insane world has figured all along:

The House Intelligence Committee, led by Republicans, has concluded that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, said Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena, the second-ranking Democrat on the committee....Among the Intelligence Committee's findings, according to Thompson:

  • Intelligence agencies were "warned about an increased threat environment, but did not have specific tactical warning of an attack before it happened."
  • A mixed group of individuals, including those associated with al Qaeda, (Moammar) Khadafy loyalists and other Libyan militias, participated in the attack."
  • "There was no 'stand-down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, no illegal activity or illegal arms transfers occurring by U.S. personnel in Benghazi, and no American was left behind."
  • The administration's process for developing "talking points" was "flawed, but the talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis."

We'll know shortly whether the full report really says this, or whether Thompson is leaving out the juicy parts. If his summary is accurate, this report represents a rare display of GOP levelheadedness before we get started with the Trey Gowdy conspiracy theory fest later this year.

Lotus Watching in LA

| Sun Aug. 3, 2014 8:55 PM EDT

I spent the afternoon up in LA with my mother, and she wanted to go over and check out the new, rejuvenated Echo Park along with its new, rejuvenated lotus plants. It's a little late in the season to see them in all their glory, but they're still blooming. See here for the rather remarkable backstory about how the lotuses, once thought dead and gone forever, were brought back to life.

Can Obama Order Immigration Amnesty All By Himself?

| Sun Aug. 3, 2014 1:37 PM EDT

Normally, says Ross Douthat, all the recent alarmist liberal chatter about impeachment "would simply be an unseemly, un-presidential attempt to raise money and get out the 2014 vote." But not this time:

Even as his team plays the impeachment card with gusto, the president is contemplating — indeed, all but promising — an extraordinary abuse of office: the granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.

Such an action would come equipped with legal justifications, of course....But the precedents would not actually justify the policy, because the scope would be radically different. Beyond a certain point, as the president himself has conceded in the past, selective enforcement of our laws amounts to a de facto repeal of their provisions. And in this case the de facto repeal would aim to effectively settle — not shift, but settle — a major domestic policy controversy on the terms favored by the White House.

....In defense of going much, much further, the White House would doubtless cite the need to address the current migrant surge, the House Republicans’ resistance to comprehensive immigration reform and public opinion’s inclination in its favor.

But all three points are spurious. A further amnesty would, if anything, probably incentivize further migration, just as Obama’s previous grant of legal status may well have done. The public’s views on immigration are vaguely pro-legalization — but they’re also malleable, complicated and, amid the border crisis, trending rightward. And in any case we are a republic of laws, in which a House majority that defies public opinion is supposed to be turned out of office, not simply overruled by the executive.

It's worth pointing out at the start that we don't know what Obama has in mind. It's entirely possible that he's deliberately leaking some fairly extreme ideas merely to get people like Douthat wound up. If and when he does issue executive orders over immigration, they might turn out to be a lot more moderate than anything the Fox News set is bellowing about. It wouldn't surprise me.

But suppose Obama does issue an unusually bold executive order, one that halts immigration enforcement against a very large segment of the undocumented immigrants currently in the country. What then?

Well, it would depend on exactly what the order entails and what the legal justification is, but if it really does have a broad scope then I agree that it might very well represent presidential overreach. And, as Douthat says, congressional inaction wouldn't be any kind of defense. Congress has every right not to act if it doesn't want to. Aside from genuine emergencies, that provides not even the slightest justification for presidential action.

So I'll just repeat what I said on Thursday: an executive order is hardly the end of the game. For starters, Republicans can take their case to the public, using Obama's actions as a campaign weapon in 2016 to spur the election of a president who will reverse them. They can also go to court. In a case like this, I suspect they wouldn't have much trouble finding someone with standing to sue, so it it would be a pretty straightforward case.

As it happens, I think the current Republican obsession with presidential overreach is fairly pointless because their examples are so trivial. Extending the employer mandate might very well go beyond Obama's powers, but who cares? It's a tiny thing. Alternatively, the mini-DREAM executive action is fairly substantial but also very unlikely to represent any kind of overreach. Ditto for recent EPA actions.

Presidents do things all the time that push the envelope of statutory authority. To be worth any serious outrage, they need to be (a) significant and (b) fairly clearly beyond the scope of the president's powers. I don't think Obama has done anything like this yet, but if Republicans want to test that proposition in court, they should go right ahead. That's what courts are for.

Friday Cat Blogging - 1 August 2014

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 3:00 PM EDT

Domino's new favorite snoozing spot is the closet in our master bedroom. Naturally, knowing that everyone would want to be kept up to date on this development, I took a picture. Unfortunately, it turns out that cameras need a stream of photons to work properly, and the inside of a closet doesn't have many. So all I got were a bunch of black blurs. Soon enough, though, Domino saw the camera and came out. So I followed her over to the water dish, and eventually took a picture there. Even with plenty of help from Mr. Photoshop, however, it wasn't very good either. So I waited. Eventually, Domino went back into the closet and curled up, and this time I took some pictures with the flash.

Which picture to use? I hate flash pictures. I especially hate them when they basically lie—making a dark closet look brightly lit, for example. But the other picture was pretty lousy. Decisions, decisions. In the end, I opt for lousy but honest. Let's call it "Still Life With Two Cats" just to make it seem a little more refined. Like Domino.

John Brennan Needs to Leave the CIA, One Way or Another

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 1:43 PM EDT

What's going on with the CIA hacking into Senate computers? Here's a very brief, very telescoped timeline to get you up to speed:

2009: The Senate Intelligence Committee begins working on an investigation of CIA torture during the Bush administration. Then CIA Director Leon Panetta secretly orders a parallel internal review.

December 2012: The Senate finishes a draft of its report and submits it to the CIA for review and declassification.

March 2013: John Brennan takes over from David Petraeus as CIA director.

June 2013: The CIA issues a blistering response to the Senate report, vigorously disputing its conclusions that the CIA routinely engaged in brutal torture of detainees.

December 2013: Sen. Mark Udall reveals the existence of the "Panetta Review"—actually a series of memos—written at the same time Senate staffers were collecting material for their report. He suggests that it "conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report." In plainer English: the CIA lied about what its own review concluded.

The CIA, apparently under the impression that Senate staffers had gotten access to the Panetta Review improperly—and had removed copies from their secure reading room at CIA headquarters—hacks into the computers used by Senate staffers. As part of their secret investigation, they read emails and do a keyword search to find out how the Senate staffers had gotten access to the memos. No one on the Senate is aware of any of this.

January 2014: The CIA presents the results of its investigation to the Senate Intelligence Committee and accuses its staffers of misconduct. They also refer the matter to the FBI for criminal investigation.

March 2014: Sen. Dianne Feinstein launches a blistering attack on the CIA for hacking into the Senate computers in violation of an explicit agreement that they wouldn't do so. Brennan counterattacks vigorously. "As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth," he says.

Yesterday: The CIA inspector general releases a report conceding that the "factual basis" for the FBI referral of the Senate staffers was "not supported" and that five CIA staffers did indeed hack into Senate computers. In other words, Brennan was very badly mistaken in March when he loudly insisted that nothing of the sort had happened.

So then: The CIA lied about the conclusions of its own internal review. The Senate found out about this. The CIA then hacked into Senate computers to find out how they had discovered the incriminating evidence. Then they lied again, denying that they had done this. David Corn lays out two possible explanations for Brennan's misleading statements in March:

Either he knew that his subordinates had spied on the Senate staffers but had claimed otherwise, or he had not been told the truth by underlings and had unwittingly provided a false assertion to the public. Neither scenario reflects well upon the fellow who is supposed to be in-the-know about the CIA's activities—especially its interactions with Congress on a rather sensitive subject.

Nope. Either way, he ought to resign or be fired. This is simply not excusable behavior in a public official.

UPDATE: I've reworded the sentence about the IG report. It did not explicitly find that Senate staffers had done nothing wrong. It said that the CIA filed a crimes report against the staffers, but that "the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based.  After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Should Pundits Apologize More Often?

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

From Dan Drezner:

One norm I’d really like to see emerge is pundits admitting error and apologizing when they get things wrong, and Frum did that.  But I’m curious what other norms, if any, should be strengthened among the pontificating class.

I'd dissent slightly from this. Should pundits do a better job of admitting when they get things wrong? Sure. Who can argue with that? But should they apologize? I'm not so sure. Being wrong isn't a sin, after all, especially for someone in the business of offering up opinions. I'd be happy to see a bit more self-reflection about what caused the error, but there's no need for an apology.

Now, Drezner wrote this in the context of David Frum's allegation that a New York Times photo had been faked, which turned out to be untrue. This is obviously a case that calls for an apology since Frum accused someone of wrongdoing. But that's a bit different from simply being wrong in an analytic or predictive way. That kind of error, as long as it's honest, deserves some reflection, but not an apology.

Opposition to Obamacare Suddenly Spiked in July

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 11:16 AM EDT

Here's the latest news on Obamacare from the Kaiser Family Foundation: it suddenly became a lot more unpopular in July:

So what happened? I can't think of any substantive news that was anything but good, so I figure it must have been the Hobby Lobby decision. Did that turn people against Obamacare because they disapproved of the decision? Or because it reminded them that Obamacare pays for contraceptives? Or what? It's a mystery, all the more so because every single demographic group showed the same spike. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all spiked negative. The rich and the poor spiked negative. The young and the old spiked negative. Ditto for men, women, whites, blacks, and Hispanics. It's a little hard to figure out why the Hobby Lobby decision would have affected everyone the same way, but I can't think of anything else that happened over the past month that could have caused this. It certainly wasn't John Boehner's lawsuit, and I very much doubt it was the Halbig decision.

So it's a bit of a puzzler—though perhaps another chart explains it. It turns out that in conversations with family and friends, people have heard bad things about Obamacare more than good things by a margin of 27-6 percent. Likewise, they've seen more negative ads than positive by a margin of 19-7 percent. Roughly speaking, the forces opposed to Obamacare continue to be louder and more passionate than the forces that support it. I don't think that's actually changed much recently, so it probably doesn't explain the sudden spike in July's polling. But it might explain part of it.

Or, it might just be a statistical blip. Who knows?

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in July

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 10:22 AM EDT

The American economy added 209,000 new jobs in March, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 119,000. The headline unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 6.2 percent.

The jobs number is a little lower than expected, and continues to show that the recovery is weak. On the bright side, the unemployment number increased not because more people were out of work, but because more people were entering the labor force. It's basically not a negative sign. As Jared Bernstein says:

There is some evidence that the all-important labor force participation rate may be stabilizing. It rose a tenth last month to 62.9%, but has wiggled between 62.8% and 62.2% since last August. If the firming job market has in fact arrested the decline in this key metric of labor supply, it will be an important and favorable sign.

Overall, the economy still appears to be dog paddling along. GDP growth is OK but not great; jobs growth is OK but not great; and wage growth is positive but not by very much. More and more, this is starting to look like the new normal.

California Projects Very Modest Obamacare Rate Hikes in 2015

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 1:30 AM EDT

Good news from the Golden State!

Defying an industry trend of double-digit rate hikes, California officials said the more than 1.2 million consumers in the state-run Obamacare insurance exchange can expect modest price increases of 4.2% on average next year.

...."We have changed the trend in healthcare costs," said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director. "This is good news for Californians."....State officials and insurers credited the strong turnout during the first six-month enrollment window that ended in April for helping to keep 2015 rates in check.

It's still early days for Obamacare, and it's not yet clear if it deserves credit for keeping California's rate hikes low. It may instead be due to the recent slow growth of medical costs nationally. Nonetheless, this is a very positive sign. California is a big market, and it's one that's traditionally seen steep rate hikes in the individual insurance market. At the very least, we can certainly say that conservative predictions of catastrophically high rate increases thanks to Obamacare have turned out to be groundless. Again.