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Obamacare Secretly Changing Your Party Affiliation

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If you get insurance through Covered California (an Obamacare health care exchangemaroo), be prepared to have your party registration automatically switched over to Democrat for you. At least, that's what an ABC news story alleges:

A local couple called 10News concerned after they received an envelope from the state's Obamacare website, Covered California. Inside was a letter discussing voter registration and a registration card pre-marked with an "x" in the box next to Democratic Party.

The ABC story goes on to explain that the couple didn't want to be identified, and that the couple attempted to contact the California Secretary of State office, which investigates voting fraud, but "could not get a hold of anyone."

 

So yeah, we're gonna go ahead and file this item under the heading That Happened.

Come on, ABC. First rule of journalism is you have to name your sources. Well, maybe not the first rule, but it's in like the top 10 rules. A source needs a really good reason to not go on the record. And when they have a good reason, you disclose it to the reader so they know.

Second rule of journalism is that if you've just got one piece of evidence, and that evidence is really shaky, you go looking for more evidence. That's actually maybe the first rule. We don't really know, we're not journalists. But, we do know that anyone could just get an unmarked form, mark it, and then call ABC and claim it was pre-marked. There's no way for ABC to know the difference. Now, it's a judgment call whether or not to run the allegation, but if you do run it you certainly don't say, "Inside was a [...] registration card pre-marked with an 'x' in the box next to Democratic Party." What you do say is "The couples alleges that the card was pre-marked with an 'x'..."

The third rule of journalism is that if there are 4 million other voter registration mailings being sent out by Covered California, you go find someone else with a pre-marked card.

The fourth rule of journalism is if someone says they called the Secretary of State and no one there is answering the phones, you get damned suspicious of the story. But hey, it's the start of Spring, so maybe?

The fifth rule of journalism is you call the Secretary of State yourself and tell us what they had to say.

The sixth rule of journalism is that when you talk to Covered California and learn that the mailings come not from them but directly from the Secretary of State, you think hm... I SHOULD CALL THE SECRETARY OF STATE.

The seventh rule of journalism is Preston Phillips, you should stop doing journalism, because...

The eighth rule of journalism is That Happened.

Things White People Like: The Death Penalty?

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Yesterday, Slate.com writer Jamelle Bouie wrote about a Pew survey and why he thinks so many more white people support the death penalty. Spoiler: It's racism. Now before jumping in, let's go ahead and make one thing perfectly clear, there are racial disparities when it comes not just to the death penalty, but to criminal punishment in general. And also, those disparities are bad.

That said, Bouie is completely wrong when it comes to why white people like the death penalty so much. Or, to be more exact, his argument is without meaningful support. He could in fact be right, but he certainly hasn't made his case.

He first lays out the Pew data:

Overall, 55 percent of Americans support capital punishment, and 37 percent are opposed. Among whites, however, support for the death penalty jumps to 63 percent, compared to 40 percent for Hispanics and 36 percent for blacks.

So far so good, but Bouie is concerned with the why, not just the what. To begin his explanation for why white people like the death penalty, he first reminds us of its racist historical use:

Before we get into why whites are so supportive of the death penalty, it’s important to remember this: There’s no separating capital punishment from its role, in part, as a tool of racial control.

There's a bit of internal inconsistency in this statement's logic. It's that "in part" bit. That phrase implies there's another part, and if there is that other part, then a sufficiently sophisticated mind actually can separate one part from the other part. That's kinda what it means for there to be parts. And what is that other part? Capital punishment's use as a tool of crime control. And you know why it's so easy to mentally separate these two parts? Because capital punishment predates racially diverse civilization. Ancient Greece didn't exactly have a lot of black people in it, but you could be sentenced to death for the crime of giving funeral rights to a traitor, or corrupting the youth with your weirdo philosophy.

So, there is in fact some separating capital punishment from its role as a tool of racial control. And duh, the Pew data bears it out. 36% of blacks support it. If you were to ask about things with more direct ties to racism, such as segregation or lynching, we suspect the number of black supporters would be considerably lower. We think it's safe to say that the black supporters of the death penalty probably do a bit of separating.

 

Bouie concludes his article with this:

It sounds glib, but if you needed a one-word answer to why whites are so supportive of the death penalty, “racism” isn’t a bad choice.

And for no particular reason, these seems to us a good place to introduce some other statistics, and we decided on the racial breakdown of people who've been executed since 1976. No surprise, blacks are grossly over-represented, making up 34% of those executed, about twice their percentage in the population.

That disparity is alarming for sure, but it should also set off a red flag as it relates to Bouie's argument. What about the other people? 56% of those executed were white. So, in Bouie's interpretation of America, white people aren't only using the death penalty for racial control, but are so hell bent on keeping the blacks in line that they'll kill 5 white people just to kill 3 black people. We're either really bad at being racist, or still working through some fodder left over from the Clone War.

We think Bouie's argument has some holes in it now, but it's not quite sunk. Maybe white people don't realize how many other whites are executed. Or maybe they're just happy with the disparity because it both kills the criminals who need killing, and also keep the blacks in line. If only there was a way to corroborate Bouie's theory.

And thankfully there is! Great thing about America is that it's racist to just about everyone, and it's got a lot of different races to be racist against. So let's look at Asians. They were abused in the construction of the continental railroad, their home countries have been exploited by colonial trade, and there was that slight incident where we imprisoned every single Japanese person in the country. Asians make up about 5% of the American population, but are an even tinier number of those executed.

Of course, most of the death penalty states are in the South, which has a smaller Asian population. In Alabama, they're only 1.2% of the population, but also only 0.5% of current death row inmates. In Texas, Asians are 4.2% of the population and 1.3% of death row inmates. And looking at California where Asians are 13.9% of the population, and where you'd expect a history of racism against Asians to have its strongest lingering effect, they're only 3.4% of death row inmates.

 

What can we conclude from all this? That if white people favor capital punishment because they're racist, then they suck at racism. And that Bouie sucks at talking about race and the death penalty, because he also quotes another interesting figure from the Pew study: 64% of white protestants support the death penalty. Now we haven't read our Bibles in a while, but we're pretty sure there's some stuff in there about justice, and morals, and eyeballs and some other such things, and that maybe the reason why white protestants are so much in favor of the death penalty isn't because of racism, but because they have a different take on criminal justice generally.

Crazy Uncle Ron Doesn't Understand Crimea

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In a USA Today op-ed, Ron Paul asks why the United States should care about what's going on in Crimea:

What's the big deal? Opponents of the Crimea vote like to point to the illegality of the referendum. But self-determination is a centerpiece of international law. Article I of the United Nations Charter points out clearly that the purpose of the U.N. is to "develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."

Why does the U.S. care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?

If you read most mainstream news coverage of the Crimea referendum, you've probably heard about the 97%+ vote in favor of joining Russia, and how the vote was probably rigged or otherwise influenced by the occupying Russian army. Ron Paul argues that the illegitimacy of the vote shouldn't matter:

Critics point to the Russian "occupation" of Crimea as evidence that no fair vote could have taken place. Where were these people when an election held in an Iraq occupied by U.S. troops was called a "triumph of democracy"?

Just, wow, holy shitballs, where to start...

Yes, both regions were occupied by a foreign invader. Here's the differences:

(1) Iraq was being asked to whether or not to become a member of the nation that just invaded it.

(2) The options in Iraq weren't, "Would you prefer to be ruled by a governor appointed by George W. Bush, or to break into half a dozen smaller autonomous nations?"

You see, in the Crimean referendum the choices were only to join Russia or to become autonomous. The decision to maintain the status quo as part of Ukraine was taken off the table, which is why the vote was so skewed towards joining Russia -- people who wanted to stay in the Ukraine decided not to vote as a form of protest.

 

Now all that aside, there still is the question why we should care if people decide to secede from their nation. And to answer that question we can go back 150 or so years to Abraham Lincoln and the years leading up to the Civil War.

In numerous speeches Lincoln talked about preserving the Union, and the reason wasn't just that the United States is so awesome. To Lincoln the preservation of the Union meant something much greater, it meant the survival of democracy and the rule of law. If secession became the mechanism by which nations resolved major disputes the nation would soon fall completely apart. The North and South would split, then New England may split from the rest of the North (an idea that had been contemplated there before the war). Rich areas would secede when they decided they didn't want to support poor areas. States would split off over abortion, the death penalty, health care, social security, war votes, defense spending, any number of things. With more small nations with competing interests we'd see the kinds of local conflicts predicted by the authors of the Federalist Papers, and we'd devolve into warring city states until an authoritarian empire invaded.

That's why we care about self-determination going to the point of secession.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Against Loan Forgiveness

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This White House petition just came to our attention resulting in a massive headdesk:

The Presidents proposed 2015 Budget includes a provision that will change the Public Interest Loan Forgiveness (PILF) program by capping overall forgiveness to $57,500. This change only hurts the hard working employees who work by serving their community often in low-wage jobs. These individuals' student loan amounts often exceed the cap as they consist of people with more than a college degree: Social Workers, Speech Pathologists, Lawyers, etc. These dedicated public servants chose to work for the public good with the added promise that their dedicated service of 10 years would be rewarded with complete loan forgiveness, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them by a misstep by the administration. Please sign this petition and support those who work to help you.

This is just another case of special snowflake syndrome, but not the way you think. The people calling for loan forgiveness are absolutely right that education is way too expensive and if you have to use debt to finance your education you'd be unable to take low paying public interest jobs. They're not asking for loan forgiveness because of a sense of entitlement, they're asking for it because they want to be public servants and they don't see any other way of doing it with their debt loads.

It's special snowflake syndrome because it fails to ask a very simple question: How does this affect other people?

Loan forgiveness programs present the college-bound with a very enticing narrative: Either you'll make a lot of money in the private sector and your loans won't be a problem, or if you don't get such a job you can go into the public sector and your loans won't be a problem. Either way you do not need to care about how large your loans are. And when customers don't care how much they have to pay, prices skyrocket.

And that royally fucks things up for the folks starting college after you. Tuition keeps rising and when they enter the workforce fewer of those private sector jobs will cover their debt. That increases competition for public interest programs and that competition means there's too many high-debt grads for the number of jobs. Now you've got people with huge debtloads who can't pay them off.

Just to kick the folks behind you in line while they're already down, the more of your loans that you get forgiven, the less money there is to go around for everything else, and the less popular these forgiveness programs become, making it increasingly likely that we'll have to either lower the amount available or get rid of the forgiveness entirely.

 

The better alternative to loan forgiveness is increased wages. If your job pays (after taxes) $30,000 and gives you $10,000 in loan forgiveness that's exactly the same as paying you $40k and letting you give the bank $10k. Bank gets paid the same and you have the same money left over.

What's different though are the incentives. If you're going to be making $40k no matter how high your loans are, you're going to seriously consider keeping them low. Price competition among universities helps to bring down the cost for everyone, so bam, you've already done a tremendous public service even before you've graduated.

Funneling the money into salaries also allows public sector jobs to attract better employees. By having so much of the compensation tied up in loan forgiveness the jobs attract people with lots of debt while people with high debt will tend to look elsewhere. Now this is just going to be a general trend, but we're willing to bet that people who graduate with little debt are more likely to be desirable employees. People who got scholarships tend to be pretty bright, people who worked to pay their way have experience, and people whose parents paid out of pocket have parents who can donate to the public interest organizations their kids are working for (and have friends that can be hit up for donations as well).

So, people with debt aren't any worse off, people without debt are better off, there's an incentive to keep your costs under control so you're better off, and keeping costs under control helps everyone else. Who's hurt by this? People with above average debt. If the money is moved into salaries, people aren't being compensated based on their debt, so people with a ton of debt are now worse off. ...Tough? It's certainly not a perfect system, and governing means making choices, picking winners and losers. Sure there will be some losers, people who were previously winners in the system, but the current plan of debt forgiveness just makes the entire game stink.

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