Storms over the US

This is a satellite image of three storms over the US, but really I just think it’s a nice image of the Earth (Credit: NASA/Caption: Rob Gutro):


Obamacare decreases the percent without insurance

I wonder when we’ll actually see things like this reported:

Overall, 11.8% of U.S. adults say they got a new health insurance policy in 2014. One-third of this group, or 4% nationally, say they did not have insurance in 2013. Another 7.5% got a new policy this year that replaced a previous policy.

That’s a lot of people. 2.1% of the newly insured said they got their insurance through the exchanges and the other 1.9% got it elsewhere (through their parents or Medicaid or decided to take advantage of insurance they already had access to, I assume). Here’s some of the breakdown of the newly insured:

The newly insured are, on average, much younger than the overall population, with most younger than age 65.

The newly insured have lower-than-average annual household incomes, as might be expected. This skew toward the lowest income categories is particularly prevalent among those who signed up through the exchanges, who are significantly more likely than the overall population to be in the less than $24,000 household income category.

More needs to be done, but this is a good start.

It’s my right to take whatever I want

Some people still believe in ‘state’s rights’:

Bundy, 67, doesn’t recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville and the Utah and Arizona lines.

What’s funny is that Nevada wrote this into their constitution:

But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

This is also funny:

The crowd protesting Saturday recited the pledge of allegiance, and many offered prayers.

That’s right, a group of people who gathered together under the assumption that the federal government has no rights in Nevada pledged allegiance to that same federal government.

There is some nice commentary here, here, here, and here. It’s very much a part of the flesh and blood that has popped up from time to time–I wonder what Cliven Bundy’s full name is.

Protecting ‘security’ not people

Well, this is comforting:

The National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said.

The NSA’s decision to keep the bug secret in pursuit of national security interests threatens to renew the rancorous debate over the role of the government’s top computer experts.

Heartbleed appears to be one of the biggest glitches in the Internet’s history, a flaw in the basic security of as many as two-thirds of the world’s websites. Its discovery and the creation of a fix by researchers five days ago prompted consumers to change their passwords, the Canadian government to suspend electronic tax filing and computer companies including Cisco Systems Inc. to Juniper Networks Inc. to provide patches for their systems.

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

Currently, the NSA has a trove of thousands of such vulnerabilities that can be used to breach some of the world’s most sensitive computers, according to a person briefed on the matter. Intelligence chiefs have said the country’s ability to spot terrorist threats and understand the intent of hostile leaders would be vastly diminished if their use were prohibited.

I had thought the purpose of the NSA, like other security organizations, was to protect the citizens of the US.

But it’s not:

The NSA/CSS core missions are to protect U.S. national security systems and to produce foreign signals intelligence information.

Given that they specifically do not inform anyone about bugs they find even though that makes cybercrimes more likely, I guess they really don’t think protecting US citizens is part of their job.

Update: The NSA denies that they knew about Heartbleed.

Which denomination wins?

I haven’t yet commented on this:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down decades-long limits on how much individuals can make in combined contributions to political campaigns, another step in the court’s steady reversal of Watergate-era rules that were adopted to curb the influence of big money in American politics.

But the court’s majority — reinforcing the concept that political spending is the equivalent of political speech — said First Amendment rights allow citizens to contribute the legal maximum to as many individual political candidates as they please. The justices nullified the government’s aggregate limit, which had been set at $123,200 for federal elections.

“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority opinion.

“If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

There’s a difference that Roberts doesn’t want to see:

When the preferences of interest groups and the affluent are held constant, it just doesn’t matter what average folks think about a policy proposal. When average citizens are opposed, there’s a 30 percent chance of passage. When average citizens are wildly in favor, there’s still only a 30 percent chance of passage. Conversely, the odds of passage go from zero when most of the affluent are opposed to more than 50 percent when most of the affluent are in favor.

Money affects how our representatives vote, allowing some people to donate more means I have less say in how our government is run. And this really is a tiny share of the population:

The ruling appears to mostly benefit a small pool of the wealthiest donors: During the 2012 election, only 644 donors — including hedge fund and private equity managers — hit the donation limit to federal candidates and committees, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Oligarchy here we come.

CIA tortured to get little information and then lied

How much information did the US get using torture? It seems, almost none:

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there. The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give.

Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

So, the CIA tortured people, lied about it to Congress all to get little or no information. Doesn’t it make you feel good about the US? And no one will go to jail because of it.

Support for Obamacare

Today is the last day to sign up for healthcare and not get penalized. It looks pretty good:

The first yearly sign-up period for the new federal health program will close Monday, with early data suggesting that the administration may be near its original enrollment goal of 7 million people, which was set before the troubled startup of the insurance exchanges.

Actually, it’s even better than that:

As the law’s initial enrollment period closes, at least 9.5 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage.

• At least 6 million people have signed up for health coverage on the new marketplaces, about one-third of whom were previously uninsured.

• A February survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found 27% of new enrollees were previously uninsured, but newer survey data from the nonprofit Rand Corp. and reports from marketplace officials in several states suggest that share increased in March.

• At least 4.5 million previously uninsured adults have signed up for state Medicaid programs, according to Rand’s unpublished survey data, which were shared with The Times. That tracks with estimates from Avalere Health, a consulting firm that is closely following the law’s implementation.

• An additional 3 million young adults have gained coverage in recent years through a provision of the law that enables dependent children to remain on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, according to national health insurance surveys from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• About 9 million people have bought health plans directly from insurers, instead of using the marketplaces, Rand found. The vast majority of these people were previously insured.

• Fewer than a million people who had health plans in 2013 are now uninsured because their plans were canceled for not meeting new standards set by the law, the Rand survey indicates.

There are possible problems in the future (rates are still rising pretty fast for example), but this is a very good start. The problem is that you don’t hear this very often in the news (if you want to get the best estimates go here). Perhaps that’s why we get news like this:

Despite a late surge in sign-ups, support for President Obama’s health care law is languishing at its lowest level since passage of the landmark legislation four years ago, according to a new poll.

The Associated Press-GfK survey finds that 26 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act. Yet even fewer — 13 percent — think it will be repealed. A narrow majority expects the law to be further implemented with minor changes, or as passed.

Of course, as Kevin Drum often notes, this is deceptive because some of the people who say they don’t support Obamacare think it doesn’t go far enough (for example, we want single-payer or don’t think the subsidies are large enough). This has been true since Obama started talking about his healthcare plans so you might think reporters would include the percent that either support Obamacare or want it expanded, but they usually don’t. Kaiser does a pretty good job here, but you have to dig a bit.


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