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Debts Canceled by Bankruptcy Still Mar Consumer Credit Scores

Bernadette Gatling said she has lost job opportunities because employers viewed her credit report, which included voided debts.

Debts Canceled by Bankruptcy Still Mar Consumer Credit Scores

In the netherworld of consumer debt, there are zombies: bills that cannot be killed even by declaring personal bankruptcy.

Tens of thousands of Americans who went through bankruptcy are still haunted by debts long after — sometimes as long as a decade after — federal judges have extinguished the bills in court.

The problem, state and federal officials suspect, is that some of the nation’s biggest banks ignore bankruptcy court discharges, which render the debts void. Paying no heed to the courts, the banks keep the debts alive on credit reports, essentially forcing borrowers to make payments on bills that they do not legally owe.

The practice — a subtle but powerful tactic that effectively holds the credit report hostage until borrowers pay — potentially breathes new life into the pools of bad debt that are bought by financial firms.

Now lawyers with the United States Trustee Program, an arm of the Justice Department, are investigating JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial, formerly known as GE Capital Retail Finance, suspecting the banks of violating federal bankruptcy law by ignoring the discharge injunction, say people briefed on the investigations.

The banks say that they comply with all federal laws in their collection and sale of debt.

Still, federal judges have started to raise alarms that some banks are threatening the foundations of bankruptcy.

Judge Robert D. Drain of the federal bankruptcy court in White Plains said in one opinion that debt buyers know that a bank “will refuse to correct the credit report to reflect the obligor’s bankruptcy discharge, which means that the debtor will feel significant added pressure to obtain a ‘clean’ report by paying the debt,” according to court documents.

For the debt buyers and the banks, the people briefed on the investigations said, it is a mutually beneficial arrangement: The banks typically send along any payments that they receive from borrowers to the debt buyers, which in turn, are more willing to buy portfolios of soured debts — including many that will wind up voided in bankruptcy — from the banks.

At the center of the investigation, the people briefed on it said, is the way banks report debts to the credit reporting agencies. Once a borrower voids a debt in bankruptcy, creditors are required to update credit reports to reflect that the debt is no longer owed, removing any notation of “past due” or “charged off.”

But the banks routinely fail to do that, according to the people briefed on the investigation, as well as interviews with more than three dozen borrowers who have discharged debts in bankruptcy and a review of bankruptcy records in seven states.

The errors are not clerical mistakes, but debt-collection tactics, current and former bankruptcy judges suspect. The banks refuse to fix the mistakes, the borrowers say, unless they pay for the purged debts. And many borrowers end up paying, given that they have so much at stake — the tarnished credit reports showing they still owe a debt can cost them a new loan, housing or a job. The Vogts, a couple in Denver, for example, paid JPMorgan $2,582 on a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy because they needed a clean credit report to get a mortgage.

There are many more who make payments on debts that they no longer legally owe, but never alert anyone because they do not realize the practice is illegal or cannot afford to litigate.

 
Did the Author of Obamacare Admit It’s Evil?

Did the Author of Obamacare Admit It’s Evil?

By Jonathan Chait

Earlier this week, the Daily Caller found videos of economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped write the Affordable Care Act, committing gaffes. Conservatives have responded with wild anger at what they take to be a confession that the hated law was designed to fool the public. Gruber “said that lack of transparency was a major part of getting ObamaCare passed, and that it was written in such a way as to take advantage of ‘the stupidity of the American voter,’” cries Fox News. The right-wing media is treating Gruber’s comments as a “scandal” and even proposing possible hearings in Congress. The furor over Gruber’s comments is based mostly on a simple misunderstanding, but there is enough truth in conservative claims about what he said to draw the mainstream media into the outrage.

2. The stupidity of the American voter. Here is where Gruber’s comment most rankles. “Stupidity” is unfair. Ignorance is a more accurate term. Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare — most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating.

Since people know so little about public policy in general and health-care policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences. Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

 
Obama and Net Neutrality: he president we've been waiting for

obama computer

Obama's stand on net neutrality finally feels like the president we've been waiting for

Lawrence Lessig

It may have taken six years, but does the president’s sudden willingness to do the right thing finally signal a liberal, liberated, post-political Obama?

Barack Obama delivered on his promise to make a stand for a free and open internet: by declaring his support for network neutrality this week, he has finally put the weight of his administration behind a position he had originally – and strongly – campaigned for. Now, after six years of posturing, will he get something done?

Network neutrality is a regulatory commitment to preserving the architectural principles upon which the internet was founded, guaranteeing that no content or application could be discriminated against by a network owner. It was guaranteed because the technology of the internet didn’t have the capacity to do anything else – the ability to discriminate was not in its code.

But over the last decade, technologists have developed new code that makes it increasingly simple for network owners to pick and choose the content and applications they want to favor, or to block or slow the content and applications they oppose. And armed with these new anti-neutrality tools, it could be Comcast or AT&T that decides what the future of the internet will be, not the innovators and users who have built it so far. Without the rules of network neutrality, they would use the power their own code provides, as any corporation would, to maximize their profits, regardless of the effect on internet innovation.

The puzzle in the president’s move, however, has little to do with the substance. Network neutrality is the right policy. It cuts across the left and right among internet activists. But does the president’s willingness to take up this issue now signal a newly liberated, post-political Obama? Or is this the beginning of a fight for executive authority against a clunky and captured “independent” agency – the Federal Communications Commission?

 
Secret talks and a personal letter: how the US-China climate deal was done

john kerry xi jinping

Secret talks and a personal letter: how the US-China climate deal was done

Suzanne Goldenberg

The climate deal announced on Wednesday between the world’s two biggest carbon polluters was struck after a personal letter from Barack Obama, and nine months of intensive diplomacy. But American and Chinese officials had been in search of an agreement – through official meetings and back-channel negotiations – since the days when George Bush was president.

The plan unveiled in Beijing by Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, commits the two countries to ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, and could spur other big polluters to similar efforts.

After years of mistrust, the deal began to coalesce last spring after Obama sent a personal letter to Xi suggesting the two countries start to move in tandem to cut carbon pollution, the White House said.

The immediate inspiration for the letter arose from a visit to Beijing by John Kerry, the US secretary of state. Kerry, who had a strong environmental record when he was a senator, raised climate change to a top priority after taking over at State. He floated the idea of setting joint targets in his meetings with Chinese officials, a senior administration official said.

“The idea was first hatched in a bilateral visit that Secretary Kerry had in early February, where he broached it with the Chinese,” the official said. “And when the Chinese side seemed potentially receptive, we followed up with that letter from President Obama to President Xi.”

What came next was a flurry of diplomatic meetings – including a pivotal encounter on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in September between Obama and the Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who has charge of climate and energy.

........................................

By early November, officials were parsing the language of an eventual announcement – a process that evidently went down to the wire, in the official’s account.

“We were here the week before last and had intensive discussions about what our respective targets would look like, and then finally were able to negotiate a text which was finalised late yesterday.”

By the time it reached that crunch point, however, US and Chinese officials had spent the better part of two years trying to overcome their mutual suspicion – and nearly a decade in on-off negotiations for a two-way climate deal.

After the disaster of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, when Obama was on the receiving end of a pointed diplomatic snub from Chinese officials, the two countries began to put in the hard work needed to repair the relationship.

As those familiar with United Nations climate negotiations recognised, there was no other way. China and America between them are responsible for 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Unless they were serious about cutting carbon pollution, there was no hope of fighting climate change.

The primacy of the US-Chinese relationship was familiar to a number of highly placed officials in the Obama administration.

Beginning in late 2007, when George Bush was president, a group of leading Republicans and Democrats led two secretive missions to China to try to secure a bilateral climate agreement.

The initiative included John Holdren, now the White House science adviser, and culminated in a meeting at a luxury hotel at the Great Wall of China in July 2008.

It also produced a draft agreement in March 2009, two months after Obama took office, but it was never signed. Obama’s hopes of passing a climate law died in Congress.

After his re-election, however, Obama recommitted to fighting climate change, and again took up pursuit of the China deal.

“At the beginning of the second term the president recognised that he had to both take domestic action to have credibility but also to begin bilateral negotiations with China to actually bend down the global emissions curve,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate change official under Bill Clinton. “From the moment of his re-election, this process began. This is essentially the culmination of two years of effort, recognising that until Chinese emissions begin to decline, global emissions cannot decline. That is just the reality of the problem.”

 
Western diets must be abandoned for vegetarianism or ....

Experts from Minnesota University claim that by 2050 plant-based diets will be replaced with ones high in refined sugars, fats, oils and meat, which will, in turn, increase greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. If left unchecked, this could also lead to an extra billion hectares of habitat being destroyed globally

Western diets must be abandoned for vegetarianism or greenhouse gases will rise by 80%

By Victoria Woollaston for MailOnline

A love of meat and sugary treats could be damaging the planet, as well as your health.

By 2050, experts predict that these so-called western diets, which are typically high in fats and oils, will cause greenhouse gas emissions to increase by 80 per cent.

If left unchecked, this could also lead to an extra billion hectares of habitat being destroyed to make way for the extra land needed for food production and agriculture.

‘Rising incomes and urbanisation are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats,’ explained ecologists Professor David Tilman and graduate student Matthew Clark from the University of Minnesota.

‘By 2050, these dietary trends will be a major contributor to an estimated 80 per cent increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing.’

 
Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

rakoff_1_12014.jpg

Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

Jed S. Rakoff

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.

The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.

In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.

 
3 Essential Mindsets for Athletic Success

3 Essential Mindsets for Athletic Success

By Jim Taylor, Ph.D.

When I talk about mindset, I mean what is going on in your head just before you begin a competition, whether on the field, course, court, track, what-have-you. What happens in your mind during that oh-so-important period sets the stage for whether you perform to the best of your ability or crash and burn. I have found three mindsets that the best athletes use most.

In an interview after her first World Cup victory of this season, Mikaela Shiffrin, the 19-year-old alpine ski racing prodigy who has already won Olympic and World Championship gold medals, indicated how “I’m trying to take more of an aggressive mindset” that helped her overcome her pattern of relatively sluggish skiing in the first half of race runs.

When I talk about an aggressive mindset, I don’t mean that athletes should try to hurt their opponents. Rather, I think of aggressiveness as a mindset in which athletes are proactive, assertive, and forceful, for example, driving hard to the hoop in basketball, going for a risky shot in golf or tennis, or setting a fast pace in a marathon.

This aggressive mindset is often needed for athletes to shift from solid performance to exceptional performance because it allows them to take their performances to the next level, particularly for those who aren’t naturally aggressive in how they perform. For example, I worked with a top NFL draft pick at linebacker who was so gentle off the field that he wasn’t able to naturally “take it to” the offense while playing. For him to be successful in the NFL, he needed to adopt an aggressive mindset.

An aggressive mindset can be so valuable because many sports these days have become “combat sport,” meaning that opponents or competitive conditions are trying to literally or figuratively beat athletes. Athletes do battle not only with opposing teams and players, but also weather and field court, or course conditions. Only by assuming an aggressive mindset do some athletes have a chance to vanquish those enemies.

 
Pot smokers could lose IQ points, but their brains might also be compensating for that

UT Dallas study: Pot smokers could lose some IQ points, but their brains might also be compensating for that

By Robert Wilonsky

If you smoke marijuana regularly, a just-published study out of the University of Texas at Dallas has some possible good news and some possible bad news.

First, the bad: You might — might — be shaving a few points off of your IQ, especially if you started smoking in your teens. That said, the brain does appear capable of rewiring itself to make up for the drop. But, for how long …?

Maybe not for too long, and certainly not forever, says Dr. Francesca Filbey, an associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders at the Center for BrainHealth. Filbey authored the paper “Long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain” published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the impact of “chronic marijuana use” among 48 people who smoked pot three times a day. Sixty-two non-users also took part in the study.

The UT Dallas study found that chronic marijuana users have smaller brain volume in what’s called the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain said to impact everything from mood to addiction to decision-making. But the study also shows that the brain’s capable of rewiring itself to make up for that shrinkage, at least for a little while.

Heavy pot use causes “long-term effects on the brain, and these effects are complicated,” says Filbey. “We found the decrease in [brain] structure, but that was alongside increase in connectivity. There’s definitely a way the brain tries to compensate for changes due to marijuana use, and what’s just as interesting and surprising, these compensatory mechanisms, while that initially increased, after prolonged use that connectivity started to decline, suggesting the brain may be compensating but may not be able to do so after long-term use."
 
Why Wall Street Loves Hillary

Why Wall Street Loves Hillary

She's trying to sound populist, but the banks are ready to shower her campaign with cash.

An odd thing happened last month when, stumping just before the midterms, Hillary Clinton came in close proximity to the woman who has sometimes been described as the conscience of the Democratic Party. Speaking at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston as she did her part to try to rescue the failing gubernatorial campaign of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Clinton paid deference to Senator Elizabeth Warren, the anti-Wall Street firebrand who has accused Clinton of pandering to the big banks, and who was sitting right there listening. “I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve it,” Clinton said to cheers. But then, awkwardly, she appeared to try to out-Warren Warren—and perhaps build a bridge too far to the left—by uttering words she clearly did not believe: “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said, erroneously echoing a meme Warren made famous during an August 2011 speech at a home in Andover, Massachusetts. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics? That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.”

The right went wild. See? Hillary Clinton has finally shown her hand. After having sat out the financial crisis and all the economic turmoil that has followed in the past six years—and with good reason, since for most of that time she was tending to the nation’s diplomacy as secretary of state—she is proving to be an anti-Wall Street populist too, and as much a socialist as her former boss, President Obama.

But here’s the strange thing: Down on Wall Street they don’t believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.

Although Hillary Clinton has made no formal announcement of her candidacy, the consensus on Wall Street is that she is running—and running hard—and that her national organization is quickly falling into place behind the scenes. That all makes her attractive. Wall Street, above all, loves a winner, especially one who is not likely to tamper too radically with its vast money pot.

 
Eat Spinach, Lose Weight?

Eat Spinach, Lose Weight?

By Edward Abramson, Ph.D.

Eating spinach made Popeye strong but adding this spinach extract to your drink may help you curb cravings and lose weight.

 
Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet

Ahead of the landing, Rosetta took a number of images of Philae during its daring descent. This view shows the lander's consert antennae deployed. It also shows three lander feet and the Rolis descent camera boom

Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 

By Jonathan O'Callaghan and Ellie Zolfagharifard for MailOnline

After a daring seven-hour descent, the probe has made space history by becoming the first ever craft to land on a comet.

In an emotional speech, Esa director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said: 'It's a big step for human civilisation.'

Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Pictured is the mission control team in Darmstadt, Germany celebrating immediately after the announcement 

Scientists hope data from the probe will help reveal how the solar system was first created 4.5 billion years ago.

The confirmation of the landing was relayed via Rosetta to Earth and picked up simultaneously by a ground station in Malargüe, Argentina and Madrid, Spain, before being confirmed in Darmstadt.

'After more than 10 years travelling through space, we're now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our solar system,' added Alvaro Giménez, Esa's director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

'Decades of preparation have paved the way for today's success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration.'

Rosetta has chased comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko through space for more than ten years in what has been described as 'the sexiest, most fantastic mission ever'. 

After a four billion mile (6.5 billion km) journey, the probe this morning successfully released Philae from its grip to land on the comet.

'We are extremely relieved to be safely on the surface of the comet, especially given the extra challenge of the comet's unusual shape and unexpectedly hazardous surface,' says Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center.

There are a number of things that could go wrong with the mission. For instance, Rosetta might not release Philae at the right spot if the thrusters are activated at the wrong time. Jets of gas spewing from the comet could also cause problems during the descent. Pictured is an overview of potential problems facing Philae

 
Gallup: Dems plunge to record low

Nancy Pelosi (left) and Harry Reid are pictured. | Getty

Gallup: Dems plunge to record low

Favorability for the Democrats has hit a record low as things go from bad to worse for the party after significant midterm losses, according to a new poll.

Only 36 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic party, a 6-percentage-point drop from before the midterms, the Gallup poll released Wednesday found. With the GOP standing with 42 percent favorability, it is the first time since 2011 the GOP has had a higher rating than the Democrats.

The favorability rating for Democrats is the party’s lowest since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.

“After the 2012 election, many political analysts focused on the GOP’s ‘image problem’,” the polling firm said. “Now, it is the Democrats who appear to have the more battered image. Their favorability rating has never been lower, and they are reeling from defeats that cost them control of the U.S. Senate and strengthened the Republican House majority to levels likely not seen in 90 years.

 
Ted Cruz is leading the charge against Obamacare. But no one's following.

Ted Cruz is shown. | Getty

An army of one

By David Nather

Ted Cruz is leading the charge against Obamacare. But no one's following.

Ted Cruz is still ready to use any means necessary to repeal Obamacare.

But even his fellow conservatives aren’t all jumping on board – a sign that the Republican repeal or bust movement is struggling while Obamacare continues to enroll millions of people with health insurance.

While Cruz wants to use a draconian budget measure to repeal Obamacare with just 51 votes in the Senate, he looks to be increasingly out on a limb. Utah Republican Mike Lee, a leader in the conservative movement, isn’t sold on the so-called budget reconciliation procedure to gut the law. Rand Paul says he’s for repeal but is hedging on exactly how to do it.

Mitch McConnell, who may enjoy a 54 vote Senate Republican majority by January, won’t commit to using the simple majority vote to kill Obamacare. And none of the Republican 2016 presidential candidates are pushing hard for the more radical Senate procedures to repeal the health care law.

Interviews with a wide range of key figures in the Senate and within the conservative movement show that while the party may be united rhetorically on repealing Obamacare, Republicans are surprisingly squishy on exactly how to do it.

The most popular response is to say, “yes, I’m for repeal,” but without saying how. Paul spokesman Brian Darling says the Kentucky senator “is committed one hundred percent to a full repeal,” but added that “using regular order or reconciliation or both is an inside the beltway fight.” And Steve Daines, the newly elected senator from Montana, said through a spokesman only that he “supports fully repealing Obamacare” and “will closely examine how to most effectively achieve that goal.”

 
Towering Ambition: Tallest Wood Office Building

Rendering of a seven-story office building planned for Minneapolis, which if built would be the tallest modern all-timber structure in the U.S.

Towering Ambition: Tallest Wood Office Building

 
How the Rosetta Probe Will Try to Land on a Comet

How the Rosetta Probe Will Try to Land on a Comet

Scientists are nearing the crucial moment when the Rosetta space probe attempts to land on a comet. Gautam Naik explains how this will be done.

 
The Dreadful Inconvenience of Salad

The Dreadful Inconvenience of Salad

If healthy food was as easy as junk food, would we eat more of it?

By Olga Khazan

A start-up will contribute an interesting answer to the million-dollar food-policy question: If healthy food was as easy as junk food, would we eat more of it?

At a drab community center on Chicago’s West side, there’s a room where families sit around idly. Unemployment is high here, and so is crime: Last month, East Garfield Park was ranked the seventh most violent out of 77 Chicago neighborhoods. The center offers everything from domestic-violence help, to financial assistance, to warmth during the long winter.

It also offers salads, which visitors can purchase from a futuristic-looking vending machine. The salads are made from high-end ingredients like blueberries, kale, fennel, and pineapple. Each one comes out in a plastic mason jar, its elements all glistening in neat layers, the way fossils might look if the Earth had been created by meticulous vegans. They cost $1.

The salad machine is the invention of 28-year-old entrepreneur Luke Saunders, who launched his company, Farmer’s Fridge, a year ago at a nearby warehouse. His goal is to offer workers a fast, healthy lunch option in areas where there’s a dearth of restaurants. Instead of popping into McDonald's out of desperation, they can simply grab salads from their buildings’ lobbies and eat them back at their desks.

Most of Saunders’s machines are installed at private office buildings, food courts, and convenience stores, where the salads cost upwards of $7. Eventually, he wants to drive down the price to the point where anyone can afford them.

As an entrepreneur with a new startup, Saunders is confronting any number of challenges. Among them is a question that has stumped many of America’s top food-policy experts for decades: If healthy food were more convenient, would more people eat it?

Before Saunders decided to feed leafy greens to the masses, he spent two years working at an industrial-lubricants business in New York. After his girlfriend (now wife) moved to Michigan for law school, he joined her in Ann Arbor, where he got a job selling metal finishings. His work took him through various industrial neighborhoods and far-flung food wastelands around the country. Nearly everywhere he went, he was surrounded by Burger Kings and KFCs, and yet, for him: “There was nothing to eat.”

 
It’s Legal to Buy Votes in America

Undo Citizens United? We’d Only Scratch the Surface. The problem runs far deeper, to an absurdly narrow legal definition of ‘corruption’ that throws democracy on the trash heap.

If you think Citizens United was the problem in this election, you’re wrong. It’s worse than that.

My state, North Carolina, was supposed to be the silver lining in the dark midterm cloud, the place where organized people beat organized money. “Moral Mondays” activists have been mobilizing against a Tea Party legislature for two years, and they sent organizers into every county in the state. Sure enough, early voting figures showed Democratic voters turning out in much larger numbers than in 2010, and polls showed Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan ahead. Instead, before midnight last Tuesday, the race went to Thom Tillis, the president of North Carolina’s senate and the face of two years of laws restricting voting and abortion rights, blocking Medicaid expansion, and cutting back environmental protection. It was the most expensive Senate race in history, topping $113 million, of which more than $80 million came from outside groups.

Organized money swamped organized people (in fairness not all outside money was right-wing). Each vote cost more $16. That’s approaching the $20 price tag for literal vote-buying in West Virginia when I was growing up there, though some people said you could also get a vote for a pint of whiskey.

Everyone says this is how things were bound to go after Citizens United declared corporations people. That’s why there’s a movement to pass an amendment repealing corporate personhood. Citizens United has become the symbol of money’s power in politics.

Sadly, repealing corporations’ constitutional personhood wouldn’t help much, and even overturning Citizens United wholesale wouldn’t be nearly enough. The Supreme Court has been hollowing the idea that democracy is a constitutional value for almost 40 years, and the damage we need to undo goes much further than changing a single case.

In 1976, the Court ruled that wealthy individuals, candidates, and campaigns could spend as much as they liked on elections. Citizens United extended that logic to corporations and unions—a significant change but not a huge one.

It’s unsettling how much sense Citizens United and the earlier cases make from within First Amendment law. Money is the universal means: it lets you do just about anything. If you have a right to do something that’s otherwise legal, such as have an abortion, the government can’t do an end-run around that right by making it a crime to pay for an abortion. In a market economy, having a right generally means being able to pay to exercise it.

Speech is a right that has no natural limit. As long as you can pay for more, your speech gets bigger and bigger. Other rights—abortion, intimacy—are like your appetite for dinner: they’re contained by certain inherent limits. Even Second Amendment gun rights, though guns are notoriously for sale, will only let you shoot what you can hold in your hands, even if you buy a thousand firearms. Spending millions on speech is more like raising your own militia.

 
Gumchew diplomacy: The president's unsightly habit

Gumchew diplomacy: The president's unsightly habit

Terrence McCoy

In June, President Obama’s physician dispatched the results of his third physical examination of the commander in chief. The doctor noted Obama was in “excellent” health except for one minor problem: his history of smoking. But Obama, the report found, was now “tobacco free,” buoyed by the “occasional use” of “Nicotine Gum.”

It’s difficult to find a larger advocate of gum-chewing than the president. Obama chews gum while ensconced in Air Force One watching football. He chews gum while in the throes of a campaign. He chews gum when presiding over World War II commemorations. And to the horror of conservatives, he chewed gum at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Beijing. Amid the gallantry of Vladimir Putin and the accusations of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, there was Obama, chewing away.

It’s kind of his thing. And regardless of the criticism facing Obama over the habit, he’s obviously hooked.

For Obama, gum isn’t about vanity. His aides described his quest to kick cigarettes as a “lifelong struggle.” “I was one of these teenagers” who smoked, he said in 2009. “And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.” And even as late as mid-2010, his medical team reported he was still smoking. Navy Capt. Jeffrey Kuhlman, the White House physician, recommended Obama stick with “smoking cessation efforts,” such as “the use of nicotine gum.”

Of course, not everyone is sympathetic — certainly not the French. “One thing: OBAMA was chewing gum almost uninterrupted,” one Twitter user bleated after Obama was caught chewing gum at a World War II ceremony. “How disrespectful!” Another added, “And #Obama welcomed the Queen with chewing gum in his mouth… #shocking #boor.”

The Chinese, too, weren’t so keen on the president’s jaw workouts. “This is the American manner and humor, but in traditional Chinese culture, it is immature and not serious behavior!” the Wall Street Journal quoted one blogger saying. Another said it spoke to something bigger: “No wonder he doesn’t get any support.”

Republicans seized on the gum-chewing as another example of Obama’s fecklessness. On Fox News, columnist Charles Krauthammer was particularly unforgiving, castigating Obama for chewing gum at this pivotal moment in history: “My mother used to say, ‘Don’t chew gum.’ And that was just in class. Look, the Chinese of all people have been extremely sensitive to the rituals, the decorum, the subtleties, the deference of diplomacy. This goes back 3,000 years! In China, chewing gum is a sign of disrespect.”

There is cause to dispute that assertion, given the wild popularity and eclectic nature of gum in China. (Taijixing Double-Deck Lunch Box Chewing Gum, anyone?) The economic gods have been kind to gum in the Middle Kingdom, where industry behemoth Wrigley controls 45 percent of the gum market. In 2005, the Asia Times even ran a graphic of Mao Zedong blowing a giant bubble above a Tiananmen Square covered in gum. Today, gum in China enjoys “dynamic growth,” the Wall Street journal found earlier this year.

 
Xi’s Rapid Rise in China Presents Challenges for U.S.

President Obama and President Xi Jinping drank a toast at a lunch banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Credit Pool photo by Greg Baker

Xi’s Rapid Rise in China Presents Challenges for U.S.

By CHRIS BUCKLEY

President Xi Jinping has bold ambitions at home and abroad and sees China as a peer of the United States.

A pledge on Wednesday from President Xi Jinping of China to help fight climate change is expected to send a strong signal, analysts and policy advisers said, since meeting global emissions-reduction goals will require sustained efforts from Beijing in curbing the country’s addiction to coal and greatly bolstering sources of renewable energy.

At the same time, the experts said, there are many questions surrounding the plan, announced in Beijing alongside President Obama: Does it go far enough in helping check climate change, and how will China meet its stated targets?

Mr. Xi said China planned to have carbon dioxide emissions peak “around 2030” and to increase the share of renewable energy to 20 percent by that year.

Although those goals — and a corresponding pledge from Mr. Obama that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005 — still need to be put into a formal agreement, the fact that America and China were able to announce solid numbers after months of negotiations sends a message that the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases are willing to work together on the issue, the experts said.

 
Tracking Isis, stalking the CIA: how anyone can be big brother online

The lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Tracking Isis, stalking the CIA: how anyone can be big brother online

Tom Fox-Brewster

There are a startling number of legal and free tools that let anyone set up NSA-esque operations – or just infiltrate the neighbour’s webcam

“Our choice isn’t between a world where either the good guys spy or the bad guys spy. It’s a choice of everybody gets to spy or nobody gets to spy.” So said the security luminary Bruce Schneier at BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit in October. He was considering a world in which the metadata zipping around us and the static information sitting on web servers across the globe is accessible to those with the means and the will to collect it all.

With so many cheap or free tools out there, it is easy for anyone to set up their own NSA-esque operations and collect all this data. Though breaching systems and taking data without authorisation is against the law, it is possible to do a decent amount of surveillance entirely legally using open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools. If people or organisations release data publicly, whether or not they mean to do so, users can collect it and store it in any way they see fit.

That is why, despite having a controversial conviction to his name under the Computer Misuse Act, Daniel Cuthbert, chief operating officer of security consultancy Sensepost, has been happily using OSINT tool Maltego (its open-source version is charmingly called Poortego) to track a number of people online.

Over a few days this summer, he was “stalking” a Twitter user who appeared to be working at the Central Intelligence Agency. Maltego allowed him to collect all social media messages sent out into the internet ether in the area around the CIA’s base in Langley, Virginia. He then picked up on the location of further tweets from the same user, which appeared to show her travelling between her own home and a friend or partner’s house. Not long after Cuthbert started mapping her influence, her account disappeared.

...................................

For those who want instant visual results, the Shodan search tool is a remarkable piece of work. Simple searches can reveal miraculous details. For instance, type “IP camera” into the search bar and more than 1.3m internet-connected IP cameras show up from across the world. Add “country:gb” and you’ll be shown more than 54,000 based in Great Britain. You could specify a manufacturer too, such as Samsung. That provides just 13 results. From there, it’s a matter of clicking on the IP addresses to see which ones allow you to view live footage either with or without a password (if you guess the password, even if it’s a default one such as “admin”, it will mean you are likely to have broken the Computer Misuse Act).

Either way, it is very easy to find poorly secured cameras - many have a username of “admin” and no password whatsoever, according to previous research. It is that straightforward: no coding skills required.

I ran a search for webcamXP, which bills itself as “the most popular webcam and network camera software for Windows”, and uncovered a large number of UK-based feeds without any authentication (see images below). One was inside a classroom at Lancaster University, which ironically has one of the top cyber security research teams across UK academia. I managed to view an entire seminar free of charge (though there was no sound and there was nothing useful to be gained other than looking at the morose faces of students awake before midday).

The university took down the feed soon after the Guardian disclosed its discovery.

Many showed footage from inside people’s living rooms. They are likely to be oblivious to the fact that anyone on the web can see into their lives, unless they simply do not care. As a pro-privacy writer, I am choosing not to publish images from inside people’s homes. But my searches made it apparent anyone can create their very own voyeuristic version of Gogglebox, all because people have neglected to put usernames and passwords on their CCTV cameras.

Even a search as simple as “default password” on Shodan will bring up reams of results, showing you exactly what login credentials are needed to access things like routers and web servers. It is startling how much insecure kit there is on the internet.

It is possible to take information found on Shodan and use it for even more malicious means such as data theft. For hackers, the search service provides a marvellous way to see how many vulnerable systems are open and ripe for compromise. Searching for systems running the now unsupported Windows XP (meaning it is vulnerable to many exploits - though you will need proper security skills to exploit them) brings up fruitful results - 54,000 machines in fact.

 
Navy SEAL Team Six Never Intended to Capture Bin Laden

Site: O'Neill also revealed that he and his fellow Navy SEALs did not think they would return alive after the raid on bin Laden's hideout (above)

Bin Laden shooter says the US government always planned on killing 9/11 mastermind.

Navy SEAL Team Six believed it was a suicide mission

By Wills Robinson for MailOnline

Robert O'Neill, the former Navy SEAL who claims he killed Osama bin Laden says the government had no intention of bringing back the al-Qaeda chief alive and Navy SEAL Team Six believed they were on a suicide mission.

'The more we trained on it the more we realized this is going to be a one-way mission,' said O'Neill in the first clips of his eagerly anticipated interview with Fox News which will air tonight on Veterans Day.

'We’re going to go and we’re not going to come back. We’re going to die when the house blows up, we’re going to die when he blows up, or we’re going to be there too long, we get arrested by the Pakistanis, and we’re going to spend the rest of our lives in a Pakistan prison.'

 
Ten Reasons to Focus on Your Strengths

Ten Reasons to Focus on Your Strengths

By Michelle McQuaid

Discover why studies are finding people who use their strengths more at work are happier, healthier, more confident, more creative, more engaged and more satisfied with their work. Could the chance to do what you do best each day at the office be what's missing from your career?

 
'World War II Isn't Over': Talking to Unbroken Veteran Louis Zamperini

'World War II Isn't Over': Talking to Unbroken Veteran Louis Zamperini

John Meroney

Before his death in July at 97, the man immortalized in Laura Hillenbrand's book reflected on courage, forgiveness, and why he doesn't consider himself a hero.

None of us believed it. None of us. Never once. Not underneath, even.

That’s what Sylvia Zamperini would say about her family during World War II when confronted with the idea that her brother, Louis, had been killed. Even when the War Department assigned Louis Zamperini an “official death date,” and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a condolence letter, his mom knew he was still alive and that she would see him again, one day. She was right.

As the world now knows, thanks to author Laura Hillenbrand, Louis Zamperini waged one of the most astonishing personal battles in World War II as an Army Air Corpsman. In May 1943, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. For 47 days, he floated on a raft in the ocean. He was then captured by the Japanese, who held him prisoner until August 1945. These experiences tormented Zamperini’s postwar life, but in 1949 things began to turn around for him. Zamperini forgave the men who held him prisoner, including the sadistic Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was known as the “Bird.” This saga is chronicled in Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The book has remained on the bestseller lists since it was published in 2010, and in December, Universal will release a film adaptation, directed by Angelina Jolie.

Even before his war experience, Zamperini was a remarkable figure, “one of the greatest runners in the world,” as Hillenbrand writes. A track star at the University of Southern California, Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He didn’t win the gold medal, but he returned to Los Angeles a celebrated athlete and continued to set college records.

World War II isn’t over. People are still suffering from it. I received a letter from a fellow who told me, “My dad came home from the war, he became an alcoholic, destroyed our family life, and I’ve hated his guts ever since. But after reading your book, I’ve forgiven him. I wish he were still alive so I could tell him I love him.” Letters like that come in all the time. Unbroken was published as a help to society.

 
Obamacare consultant under fire for ‘stupidity of the American voter’ comment

Obamacare consultant under fire for ‘stupidity of the American voter’ comment

Economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the Obama administration's consultants on the Affordable Care Act, is under attack from conservatives for comments he made last year in which he seemingly said the "stupidity of the American voter" was a factor in passing Obamacare in 2010.

The comments were made during the panel sessions at the Annual Health Economics Conference last year. A shortened video of the panel began circulating Monday night on conservative media. (Skip to about the 20:25 mark for the relevant comments.)

"This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes," he said during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October, 2013. "Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the 'stupidity of the American voter' or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Gruber's comments were part of a broader public conversation between him and economist Mark Pauly on the economics of health care reform. Gruber was responding to a remark by Pauly about financing transparency in the law and the politics surrounding the ACA's individual mandate. The political process, he said, striking a critical tone, resulted in inefficiencies in the law which should be corrected.

"In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which explicitly said that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed," he said. "You can't do it politically, you just literally cannot do it. It's not only transparent financing but also transparent spending."

“On Tuesday, conservatives tore into Gruber's 2013 remarks, saying they served as an admission of intentional deceit by the Affordable Care Act's architects.”

"There you go, America. That is what the Democrat Party thinks of you," Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Monday, according to a transcript of the show. "They think most people are incompetent and will make the wrong decisions if living a life of self-reliance."

 
China Turns Up the Rhetoric Against the West

China Turns Up the Rhetoric Against the West

ven as his government was making red-carpet plans to host President Obama this week, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, praised a young blogger whose writing is best known here for its anti-American vitriol.

In one widely circulated essay published by state news outlets titled “Nine Knockout Blows in America’s Cold War Against China,” the blogger, Zhou Xiaoping, argued that American culture was “eroding the moral foundation and self-confidence of the Chinese people.” He compared unfavorable American news coverage of China to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. In another essay, he said the West had “slaughtered and robbed” China and other civilizations since the 17th century, and was now “brainwashing” it.

Mr. Xi, speaking at a forum last month aimed at tightening political control of the arts, said the blogger exhibited “positive energy.”

His embrace of Mr. Zhou, who has been hailed by propaganda officials but widely mocked by scholars here, is just the latest sign of rising anti-Western sentiment, bordering on xenophobia, that has emanated from the highest levels of the Communist Party and sent a chill through Chinese civil society and academia.

Using ideological language reminiscent of the Cold War, Chinese officials have voiced conspiracy theories with relish, accusing foreigners, their companies, national agencies and nongovernmental organizations of plotting to weaken or overthrow the party. Chinese institutions with ties to Western entities, no matter how benign, have also come under attack. Meanwhile, state-run newspapers have taken to blaming “hostile foreign forces” for any major disturbance, whether it is ethnic violence in western China or student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

The vilification of foreigners as enemies of China has been a staple of propaganda by the Communist Party since before its rise to power, and analysts say the leadership tends to ramp up such rhetoric when it feels under pressure at home.

“Historically, during every period with many deep conflicts within the country, there has been a surge of anti-foreign sentiments from the party,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian, pointing to Mao Zedong’s disastrous Cultural Revolution as an example. At the moment, he said, “the political establishment needs the public to turn their rage toward foreign countries” because anger over the widening gap between rich and poor in China has reached “crisis levels.”

But unlike earlier campaigns targeting the West, the current wave of nationalism comes as China is ascendant. Mr. Xi presides over a country that is on the verge of overtaking the United States as the world’s largest economy and that enjoys influence around the world, especially in Asia, where it has sought to expand its territorial footprint.

In speeches, Mr. Xi has openly called on other nations to push back against the United States on specific issues. In July, for example, he told Brazil’s National Congress that developing nations must “challenge U.S. hegemony on the Internet.” Two months earlier, Mr. Xi suggested at a conference in Shanghai that the United States should cede power in Asia, saying, “It is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia.”

The surge in anti-Americanism extends beyond speeches. Over the summer, for example, the Chinese government began a security review of foreign NGOs operating in China, as well as Chinese NGOs that receive foreign support, scrutinizing their finances and freezing bank accounts. A strident, 100-minute anti-American propaganda film made by the People’s Liberation Army last year laid out the case that American NGOs were out to undermine the party. (It used the martial theme music from the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”)

 
Jeb Bush’s Greatest Weakness: His Family

Jeb Bush’s Greatest Weakness

It's not his politics. It's his family.

It was late October, and notices were flying that Jeb Bush’s lean, handsome son would be at The Prospector’s Grill & Saloon in College Station, Texas, to do some last-minute campaigning for his first political run. The social-media alerts had also been blasting the news that the Mike Ryan band was going to be playing, probably ready to uncork one of its signature songs: “Wasting No More Whiskey.” For now, sitting on his campaign tour bus, George P. Bush stared at ABC’s Jonathan Karl and listened to how the conversation was swinging pretty far away from what George P. planned to do in case he won the election for Texas land commissioner.

..............................

Some visitors joke that you can rap a stick on the ceiling as you are queuing up to buy “George Bush socks” at the gift shop and that maybe Barbara Bush herself will knock back from above. Texas A&M, of course, isn’t to be confused with the presidential library and foundation George P.’s uncle, George W., has erected 180 miles to the north in the heart of Dallas.

It’s right here, in the heavily Christian heart of the state, where three generations of Bushes tried to convince voters that they’re really connected to the heartland. That the Bush family DNA is defined by ordinary American values—and not the blue-blood lineage that traces to Yale, the private schools in the Northeast and straight to Wall Street.

It’s been part of every Bush campaign dating back to the early 1960s, and the strategy often seemed to reach its apotheosis in College Station, a place so comfortable to the Bushes that some dubbed it “Kennebunkport South.” Years later, it was a pretty easy decision to steer the first Bush presidential library to the city. The Bush clan liked coming here. So did their friends. Chuck Norris and Garth Brooks (and Brit Hume) were known to come pay homage.

Today, though, it is also the perfect place to map out the attack plan to derail Jeb Bush and any presidential aspirations he harbors. Here, where the Bush shadows linger, Jeb Bush will be forced to confront the conflicted legacies of both his father and brother—and even that of his first child from his marriage to his Mexican-born wife, Columba.

 
Megyn Kelly F-bombs Huckabee's name

Megyn Kelly is pictured. | AP Photo

Megyn Kelly F-bombs Huckabee's name

“Joining me now, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s the host of F—kabee—Huckabee!” Kelly said, quickly correcting herself, as Huckabee himself was shown smiling on the split screen.

Neither the former Republican governor nor Kelly, who continued right into her questions, acknowledged the gaffe during the nearly four-minute segment of her show on the network, “The Kelly File.”

“Governor, good to see you…” Kelly began the interview.

 
When Healthy Eating Calls For Treatment

JUICING DIETS, CLEANSES:  Pro: If used short term to kick start eating more fruits and vegetables, this diet can be acceptable.   Challenge: Juices aren’t nutritionally complete. And cleansing is a misnomer as your body is ‘cleansed’ by the kidneys, digestive tract and lungs.

When Healthy Eating Calls For Treatment

By Sumathi Reddy

A Desire to Eat ‘Clean’ Food Can Become an Obsession

Some doctors and registered dietitians say they are increasingly seeing people whose desire to eat pure or “clean” food—from raw vegans to those who cut out multiple major food sources such as gluten, dairy and sugar—becomes an all-consuming obsession and leads to ill health. In extreme cases, people will end up becoming malnourished.

Some experts refer to the condition as orthorexia nervosa, a little-researched disorder that doesn't have an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, considered the bible of psychiatric illnesses. Often, individuals with orthorexia will exhibit symptoms of recognized conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or end up losing unhealthy amounts of weight, similar to someone with anorexia.

Researchers in Colorado recently proposed a series of criteria they say could help clinicians diagnose orthorexia. The guidelines, published online in the journal Psychosomatics earlier this year, also could serve as a standard for future research of the disorder, they say.

 
A Decade of the Rosetta Mission in 90 Seconds

A Decade of the Rosetta Mission in 90 Seconds

From Rosetta’s takeoff in French Guiana in 2004 to its rendezvous with comet 67P this past summer, WSJ’s Gautam Naik looks at the Rosetta mission’s milestones in the past 10 years.

 
Latinos Aren’t a ‘Cheap Date’ for Democrats Anymore

Latinos Aren’t a ‘Cheap Date’ for Democrats Anymore

Was the increased Latino support for Republicans a blip or trend line? If the Democrats aren’t careful, it’s most certainly the latter.

Now that they’ve failed their midterms, Democrats are spinning the election losses and trying to convince themselves and everyone else that things are really not so bad. Meanwhile, privately, they’re thinking about 2016 and hoping it doesn’t get worse.

They must take comfort from the likelihood that they’ll likely have the formidable Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, and she’ll be hard to beat. They expect to maintain the White House, and then, they tell themselves, everything will return to normal.

Part of what they mean by “normal” is that the Hispanic vote will return to their column, that last week’s result—when 36 percent of Hispanic votes went Republican, up from 27 percent in 2012—was an aberration that they can get beyond.

But is it really? Or is this something they should be worried about for the long term? Given the changing demographics of the voting population, it’s an important question that Democrats can’t afford to get wrong.

Hispanic voters made up just 8 percent of 2014 voters, according to the national exit poll. Keep in mind that Hispanics are the second-fastest growing ethnic group in America, after Asian-Americans, and that, every month, another 50,000 U.S. Hispanic teenagers turn 18 and thus become eligible to vote.

And yet the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project estimates that the turnout rate for Hispanic voters was about what it was in the last midterm election, around 31 percent. And that means that, even as the number of potential Hispanic voters continues to climb, their participation rate in midterms has flat lined.

The only silver lining for those who would like to see more Hispanics vote is that they do tend to make a better showing in presidential election years. In 2012, when President Obama squared off against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Hispanics accounted for one in 10 voters. And since they gave more than 70 percent of their votes to Obama, it’s no exaggeration to say that Hispanics played a major role in reelecting the president just as they helped elect him the first time four years earlier.

Democrats got spoiled.

And it appears that many of them were counting on this trend to continue this year. For the last several months, prominent Democrats have urged Hispanics to make their voices heard on Election Day. They just naturally assumed that Hispanics would show up in large numbers and cast an overwhelming majority of their votes for whatever Democratic candidate happened to be on the ballot.

 
Why Obamacare risks falling into a ‘death spiral’

Why Obamacare risks falling into a ‘death spiral’

So it turns out there is an Obamacare death panel after all.

It has nine members and it operates out of a marble building directly across the street from the Capitol.

When the Supreme Court on Friday announced that it would take up another challenge to the Affordable Care Act in March, it delivered the threat of two mortal blows to the signature achievement of the Obama presidency.

First, it raised the possibility that the justices, who narrowly spared the law in 2012, will in June come out with a new ruling that would dismantle the law on different grounds. But even if the justices make no such ruling, the very act of taking up the challenge to the law will itself undermine the law. The justices announced their decision just a week before the open-enrollment period for 2015 begins — and the looming possibility that the high court will strike down the law will probably deter those who are considering signing up for its coverage.

Thus did Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the new secretary of health and human services, find herself in a defensive posture Monday afternoon, even though she was in the friendly environs of the liberal Center for American Progress. An event had been scheduled to generate enthusiasm for the new open-enrollment season, but the host, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, had little choice but to acknowledge the elephant that John Roberts had led into the room.

“What do you want consumers to know and should they be concerned, as we head into this open-enrollment period, about this Supreme Court decision?” he asked gingerly.

Burwell’s practiced reply: Nothing to see here.

“The most important thing for consumers to know is that nothing has changed,” she said, assuring all that the law’s tax credits would continue. “And so as we go into open enrollment, nothing has changed,” she repeated. She kept her face determinedly in a smile, though nothing about the gesture indicated pleasure.

 
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