Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.


Natural Disasters Are Not Photo-Ops

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Obama Administration

Federal response to the floods in Louisiana has been pretty good, by all accounts. That much destruction is going to be painful, and housing is going to be an issue for some time. But according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge, the federal response to the current flooding is light years ahead of what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

The governor of Lousiana, John Bel Edwards, advised against a presidential visit right now (President Obama will visit next week), citing concerns about the motorcade and security and the press corps and whatever while people still needed rescuing. So the President has stayed away, and so has Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, Donald Trump and Mike Pence showed up today, and did so without bothering to advise the governor.  Gov. Edwards was not pleased

“Donald Trump hasn’t called the governor to inform him of his visit,” a spokesman for Edwards’ office said in a statement Thursday evening. “We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op. Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

So Trump toured Baton Rouge today, telling residents he was “here to help.” As near as I can tell the only thing anybody actually got from him was his autograph. I, for one, will not be holding my breath waiting for Trump to donate anything to the LA Flood Relief Fund.

Update: I spoke too soon; it turns out Trump spent all of 49 seconds unloading toys off a truck. Well, never mind.

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What’s Happening Now

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Obama Administration

The Justice Department is going to phase out the use of private prisons. This news prompted a sudden drop in stock prices for private prison companies. Heh.

Aetna is dropping out of the health insurance market in about two-thirds of the counties it now serves. The ditched counties are mostly rural, low-population ones. Now it turns out that Aetna had threatened to drop out of Obamacare if the feds blocked its proposed merger with Humana. The Feds have sued to block the merger, and Aetna started shedding counties.

Bernie Sanders has revived the fight for a public option on the insurance exchanges.

“In my view, the provision of health care cannot continue to be dependent upon the whims and market projections of large private insurance companies whose only goal is to make as much profit as possible,” Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday.

“That is why we need to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege,” he said.

Aetna announced late Monday that it would pull out of ObamaCare exchanges in 11 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas. The company’s CEO, Mark Bertolini, cited $200 million in losses over the past few months as a major reason for the move.

According to Wikipedia, Bertolini received $30.7 million in compensation in 2013, so if the company needs to cut some corners, I can think of a place to start.

In other news, Gawker.com will cease operations next week.

The NRA wants women to keep guns in their homes for protection. But if a woman actually uses a gun to protect herself, the NRA doesn’t come to her defense when she’s thrown in jail. Why is that?

Finally, you probably heard that The Great Awfulness/Bad Hair has hired Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, to be his new campaign manager.

Since June, Manafort has tried fruitlessly to mold Trump into someone palatable to establishment Republicans and the swing voters he’ll need to win over if he’s to have any chance of beating Hillary Clinton. Bannon, who becomes chief executive of the Trump campaign, represents a sharp turn in the opposite direction—a fireball hurtling toward the 2016 presidential election. (In announcing the hiring, the Trump campaign quoted Bloomberg Businessweek’s description of Bannon from a profile last fall as “the most dangerous political operative in America.”) Along with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, Bannon will encourage Trump to cast aside political niceties and aggressively go with his gut. “I’ve known Steve for a long time—he is an extraordinary guy, an extraordinary talent, and he, like me, truly loves our country,” Trump said in a statement to Businessweek.

Trump’s own diagnosis of his campaign’s shortcomings led to this unusual prescription—which is the diametric opposite of what most Republicans have been counseling for their embattled nominee. “The campaign has been too lethargic, too reactive,” says a senior Trump official. “They wanted to bring in someone who understood new media, understood digital. It’s not going to be a traditional campaign.” Trump was frustrated by Manafort’s efforts to contain him and angry about his plummeting poll numbers. With Bannon in the fold, the source adds, Trump will feel free to unleash his inner Trump: “It’s very simple. This is a change election. He needs to position himself as anti-establishment, the candidate of change, and the candidate who’s anti-Washington.”

The shake-up is an ominous development for Republican elected officials alarmed at Trump’s collapse and the effect he could have on down-ballot races across the country. In recent years, Breitbart News has bedeviled Republican leaders, helping to drive out former House Speaker John Boehner and, more recently, making life difficult for his successor, Paul Ryan. Last fall, at Bannon’s insistence, Breitbart reporters visited Ryan’s Wisconsin home (which is surrounded by a wall) and published a story shaming him for not endorsing Trump’s proposal to erect a wall along the Mexico border.

See also Nate Silver, “Trump Is Doubling Down on a Losing Strategy.” Also, Sam Wang says the Dems are currently favored to take back the Senate.

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Stuff to Read About Trump

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Bad Hair, elections, Obama Administration

Charles Pierce argues that now is the time for the Republican Party to die. See also The End of the Republican Party at FiveThirtyEight.

While I don’t see the Republican Party disappearing anytime soon, Donald Trump’s chances of becoming POTUS are sinking faster than cement shoes in the East River. Per FiveThirtyEight, on July 30 it was Trump, 50.1, Clinton, 49.9. Now it’s 18.4 and 81.5, respectively. At this rate Trump will be in negative numbers by Monday.

A former Wall Street Journal reporter writes about his days covering Donald Trump. He writes that Donald Trump is a bad, bad businessman.

A former deputy director of the CIA endorses Hillary Clinton. This is the juiciest bit:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Trump’s erratic behavior is getting so much media attention that Hillary Clinton is nearly invisible. This may be helping her also.

Clinton’s biggest problem now is that she’s not doing so well among Millennials.

And yet even though roughly three-fourths of all battleground-state Millennials expressed these disparaging views of Trump, the survey found Clinton drawing just 43 percent against him in a four-way race that included libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. While Trump attracted only 24 percent, nearly as many picked Johnson or Stein, and the rest said they were either undecided or wouldn’t vote. By comparison, Obama carried two-thirds of Millennials in 2008 and three-fifths in 2012.

But in comparing two-way and four-way polls at Real Clear Politics, it seems to me that the two fringe party candidates, Stein and Johnson, are taking votes from both Clinton and Trump about equally. So that may be a wash.

Fortunately, the Olympics will give us a little relief from politics. Enjoy.

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Making Derp Great Again

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Obama Administration

I caught a bit of Chris Christie’s speech last night and savored the irony of Mr. 26 percent — that’s the percentage of New Jersey registered voters who still think Christie is doing a good job — calling Hillary Clinton “incompetent.”

It occurs to me that both parties are primarily running on scaring the bejeezus out of the voters. Vote for X, because Y will bring about the Apocalypse. But, true to form, the Right is threatening more violence. Josh Marshall:

As we’ve discussed, it’s not normal for one nominee and his convention delegates to be chanting for the opposing party nominee to be put in prison. I felt a bit silly writing that because that is extremely obvious. But it’s not some silly novelty. You go from opposition, to demands for imprisonment and finally for murder. We saw that case with the state rep down in West Virginia. Now we have a Trump delegate and advisor saying Clinton should be “shot for treason.” This kind of incitement is poisonous to the political process and civic life generally. And let’s be honest, it can have horrific consequences. This has the feeling of the crazy talk that was circulating about President Kennedy before November 1963.

And then there’s this:

According to xHamster, one of the leading aggregators of online porn, traffic from users in Cleveland spiked significantly this week as the Republican National Convention got underway. Viewership in the city shot up by 184 percent from its pre-convention average, surpassing traffic the site gets from people in large cities including New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

“This increase is unprecedented,” said Mike Kulich, a spokesman for the web site. “They’re making porn great again.”

Since the GOP platform declares that porn is a public health menace, perhaps they were doing research.

Although it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Clint Eastwood and the Chair, Melania Trump’s partly plagiarized speech has gotten more media attention than whatever it was Chris Christie said last night. The Trump campaign has offered up a number of excuses, until today when a staffer fell on her sword and took the blame. But the damage was done.

Across the country, slack-jawed Republican political operatives and speechwriters expressed expletive-laden bewilderment at the organizational breakdown allowing such an episode to occur.

“It’s like some guy trying to paddle across a river in a rowboat who shoots a hole in his boat,” said Stuart Stevens, who wrote speeches for Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, throughout the 2012 campaign.

In interviews, alarmed Republican speechwriters outlined the layers of formal scrutiny, apparently disregarded by the Trump campaign, traditionally applied to almost every draft of a major convention address. They described word-by-word fact-checking by a dedicated team of experts and computer software designed to catch plagiarism. Several online programs, like DupliChecker, are available at no cost.

The Trump family: Making Derp Great Again.

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Notorious RBG Gets Snarky

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Obama Administration

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been speaking her mind about Donald Trump.

Here’s a look at what Ginsburg, the 83-year-old justice appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, said about Trump in three interviews.

One note: The media that did the interviews did not publish transcripts of Ginsburg’s complete remarks. What follows are all of the quotes that were published.

Interview July 7, 2016 with Associated Press

Asked what if Trump won the presidency, Ginsburg said: “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.”

Interview July 8, 2016 with New York Times

“I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president. For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.

Referring to something she thought her late husband, tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg, would have said, she said: “Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand.”

Interview July 11, 2016 with CNN

“He is a faker. He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that ….

“At first I thought it was funny,” she said of Trump’s early candidacy. “To think that there’s a possibility that he could be president ….

“I think he has gotten so much free publicity ….

“Every other presidential candidate has turned over tax returns.”

Now, all manner of people, including the New York Times editorial board, has the vapors because Supreme Court justices aren’t supposed to say political stuff like that. Trump himself tweeted that “her mind is shot,” which is hilarious coming from him.

Dahlia Lithwick:

There can be no disputing that this conduct was improper under the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which prohibits judges from endorsing or opposing a candidate for office, and under basic conventions that prohibit judges from overt politicking during election season. We can debate how improper it actually was, but it’s clear she upset the norms that we generally ask judges to respect. And with all due respect, it’s not a legitimate counterargument to claim that it’s OK because Ginsburg is on a lot of tote bags and T-shirts sporting a crown.

The serious arguments in favor of Ginsburg’s conduct are that (1) the nation faces an unparalleled existential threat, at the nomination of a man who imperils the very rule of law and (2) nobody really believes judges are impartial anyhow, so why shouldn’t we celebrate her for ripping off the umpire mask and telling it like it is.

Under the first theory, Ginsburg is correct to expend whatever moral capital she has accrued to say out loud what most politicians are afraid to say, because we are in an extraordinary moment in history, a terrifying period of racism, xenophobia, and violence, and it’s incumbent on even traditionally temperate citizens to speak out. According to this view, the failure to condemn Trump would be its own form of cowardice, and Ginsburg only did what a sane person facing a fascist leader should do. Under the second theory, nobody over age 7 really thinks judges have no political preferences, and it’s better to have them laid bare than hidden under flimsy claims of oracular impartiality.

Like Lithwick, I applaud that first argument. The Trump candidacy shouldn’t be given the dignity of, well, dignity. It’s a joke. He’s a joke.

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Update on the Dallas Shooting — No “Assault Weapon”

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Obama Administration

Following up on what I wrote last week about assault weapons — a news report said the Dallas shooter used an SKS, which is a Soviet-designed semi-automatic carbine that’s been around since the 1940s. The standard SKS has a fixed magazine rather than a detachable one, which means it doesn’t qualify for anybody’s legal definition of “assault weapon.” There are models of the SKS that have detachable magazines, however, and these are illegal in California (at least). But because these weapons lack many of the other standard features attributed to “assault weapons,” they may not be considered assault weapons in some state codes even if they have detachable magazines.

This is an excellent example of why pushing for an “assault weapons” ban is stupid. Ban semi-automatic firearms, period, I say.

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HRC’s Non Indictment

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Obama Administration

FBI director James Comey’s announcement that Hillary Clinton would face no criminal charges regarding the emails actually was something of a relief. I didn’t expect her to be indicted, and I’m damn tired of the children on social media eagerly anticipating the indictment that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t help that clickbait sites and hacks like H.A. Goodman continued to exploit the last, best hope of Bernie Sanders die-hards by promising them an indictment.

Charles Pierce has a good analysis of the email issue. Once again, Hillary Clinton used absolutely terrible judgment.  This is from FBI.gov:

 Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.

In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails). None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail. Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked “classified” in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.

To which Pierce comments,

Let us also state plainly at the outset that what Comey is describing above is a more than legitimate issue in the presidential campaign, and that “Hoorah! I’m Not Indicted!” isn’t exactly an inspiring Message Of The Day for your first appearance on the stump with the president.

It’s inspiring enough for Clinton supporters, who remain supremely confident that Their Glorious Candidate did absolutely nothing wrong. But in a normal election year, this would have been a serious, damning blow to Clinton’s presidential hopes, indictment or no indictment.

However, it’s not a normal election year, and Donald the Doofus is ignoring the serious issue of Clinton’s terrible judgment and is instead arguing that Clinton wasn’t indicted because the system is rigged. Well, the system is rigged, but in this case there are legitimate reasons to argue she shouldn’t have been indicted. Pierce goes into those, too.

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More Stuff to Read

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Obama Administration

We may think about Washington and national elections when people talk about dark money, but it permeates state and local elections as well.

Voters probably know much less about the candidates in contests like that, which get little news coverage but whose winner will have enormous power to affect energy company profits and what homeowners pay for electricity. For a relative pittance — less than $100,000 — corporations and others can use dark money to shape the outcome of a low-level race in which they have a direct stake.

Over the last year, the Brennan Center analyzed outside spending from before and after the 2010 Citizens United decision in six states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts — with almost 20 percent of the nation’s population. We also examined dozens of state and local elections where dark money could be linked to a particular interest.

We found that, on average, 38 times more dark money was spent in these states in 2014 than in 2006. That’s an even greater increase than at the federal level, where dark money rose 34 times over the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Compounding the problem was the growth in “gray money,” spent by organizations that are legally required to disclose their donors but receive their funding through multiple layers of PACs that obscure its origin.

The Washington Post has published more details about the Texas mother and gun, um, enthusiast who killed her daughters. The article includes this bit:

The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office has not yet determined what led to the bloodshed Friday night, only that it began after a family argument. Deputies had responded to the home more than a dozen times in the past, reported the AP. A sheriff’s office spokesman told People magazine the calls involved a “mental crisis” related to the 42-year-old mother.

I wrote  last week that “severe mental illness” was behind only 4 percent of gun homicides in the U.S.  This may be one of those. Without knowing more details it’s hard to say. But there appears to be no way to disarm someone exhibiting mental instability, and by disarming I mean taking their firearms away from them before they kill somebody. And doing whatever is necessary to be sure they can’t acquire more.

WaPo also says Donald Trump is a charity cheapskate. Not surprised.

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Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

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Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

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Another Day, Another Atrocity

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Obama Administration

I was out all day and am just catching up on the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. So terribly sad.

I understand the current thinking is that the gunman was a “lone wolf,” born in the U.S. of Afghan parents, who talked about fighting for ISIL/Daesh but had no known ties to it. He’d been investigated by the FBI twice and wasn’t connected to any terrorist organization. He had legally bought guns in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, a guy identified as James Howell of Indiana was detained in Los Angeles with a car full of guns and explosives, allegedly intending to use them at a Gay Pride event.

Meanwhile, all over social media, people are posting every video they can find of Bible-thumping preachers calling for gays to be put to death.

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