Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Lehigh Valley's Reign of Terror Over?

Neil will be heartened to learn that North Carolina's ARML team finished in first place this year, over Lehigh Valley. making them the de facto national championship math team. North Carolina has had up and down years but often fares quite well at the ARML competition, thanks to schools like the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and an unusually high number of PhD-holding parents in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Lehigh Valley is no slouch, though, as they were the runners-up. Exeter, LV's previous nemesis, apparently did not compete this year. Georgia finished a respectable sixth place.

Let me again register my plea for the White House to do what they do for MATHCOUNTS and invite the winning ARML team to the White House.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Senate Is More Exciting

I'm occasionally clicking over to 538, looking at the more or less static presidential race numbers, and wishing that I could get more information about Senate races.  There's so much interesting stuff going on in the Senate this cycle.  There's the Hawaii Democratic primary pitting solid party-liner Mazie Hirono against LieberDem Ed Case, the Wisconsin race with Tammy Baldwin against whoever emerges from an exciting GOP primary, the much-beloved Elizabeth Warren in MA, a serious chance for Democrats to hang on in North Dakota, George Allen trying to rise again in Virginia, and a whole bunch of other races going on.  But Nate's got nothing to tell me on that.  The other sites I look at (RCP and TPM) don't really have much in the way of groundbreaking Senate analytics, though they're okay for just seeing what recent polls have said.  

On Iran, Some Options Should Be Excluded

Taken in the most straightforward way, Romney's "no option should be excluded" line about how to deal with Iran is ridiculous.  Of course some options should be excluded.  These include (1) sending all State Department employees to Iran to demonstrate the Hokey Pokey, (2) kidnapping thousands of Iranians and gluing them together, and (3) killing all Americans first so that Iran can't kill any of us.  There are many others.

Sometimes when you say "no option should be excluded", you mean no option within some understood narrow range.  (It's like when you say "there's no more beer!" and you mean that there's no more beer at the party, not that there's no more beer in the universe.)  If we had a common understanding of what that range was, this wouldn't be a problem.  But I don't think there's such a common understanding here.  I take an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran that kills millions of people to be an utterly evil non-option that should be excluded.  The Hokey Pokey and gluing options are in fact a lot better.  But there are people in our system who hear Romney saying "no option should be excluded" and are happy to think that he might do that.  Part of the reason we do politics is to keep those people out of power.

I think I see what Romney and other politicians of both parties who say this stuff are trying to do, though.  They're trying to look tough for American audiences, including Americans who are okay with blowing up the cute little Iranian boys pictured above, while not committing themselves to anything.  Well, that's politics in a democracy.  And I hope Iranian leaders have the sense to recognize it for what it is.  Because if they think that America really is getting ready to do something insane, they might reach for desperate countermeasures, and I don't think I'd like what they'd come up with.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Walking In A Wisconsin Wonderland

Wisconsin has an exciting Senate race, with our side being represented by Tammy Baldwin, one of the most liberal people the House.  (She would be the first openly lesbian US Senator.)  The Republican side seems like it'll be represented either by old ex-governor Tommy Thompson or rich Wall Street neophyte Eric Hovde.  You can see the recent polling here.

I'm hoping Hovde wins on the GOP side, not just because most polls have him running a little weaker against Baldwin, but because he's more likely to collapse in the general election under gaffes or scandals.  He's less experienced at politics, and has said some ill-advised things so far in the campaign.  I'd estimate a higher probability of his having currently undiscovered skeletons in his closet.

I'm checking the Wisconsin Senate polls pretty frequently these days, and it usually comes out disappointing because nobody has reported a poll of the Republican primary for the last 3 weeks.  With the primary election to be held on August 14, that's a weirdly long polling drought.  What we do have recently is a small (500 voter) Rasmussen poll in which Tammy Baldwin leads all GOP candidates by margins between 3 (Eric Hovde) and 7 (Tommy Thompson).  Again, I think Hovde is still the candidate I want to go up against, since most of the polling goes the other way and Hovde has more downside.  But in any event it's a nice result.

Anyway, this is one of the races that I'm thinking about opening up my wallet for.  Baldwin will be a reliable Democratic vote on everything and a force to move the party leftward.  She seems to be pretty good at avoiding trouble, and since she's only 50, she could occupy the seat for a long time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Romney Wants To Win, And Not Much Else

The second half of Kevin Drum's post discusses Mitt Romney's comment that he doesn't even know when Rafalca's Olympic dressage competition goes on, saying that it's just his wife's thing.  As Kevin points out, nobody is so blase about Olympic events where his wife is involved.  Romney is just being insincere and playing dumb about dressage as part of rich guy image damage control.  

I don't really mind this, in and of itself.  If you're running for president in the modern era, there are plenty of times when you'll need to tell little lies to close off damaging lines of questioning and stay on message.  If you're running for president because of something a lot bigger than yourself -- perhaps because you want to set up a decent health care system or help poor people -- all these lies may actually be justified.  Telling minor lies to save or dramatically improve lives is, I think, justifiable.

But I don't have any sense that Mitt Romney is running for president for any such reason.  He's changed his positions on a variety of huge issues, from abortion to health care, over the course of his career.  The only real constant I can see is that he's hungry for the biggest achievements possible, and he'll say and do whatever he can to get them.

This makes him less dangerous than other Republicans.  Those with no principles can't have bad principles.  The downside is that he'll be an easy captive of whoever holds power over him, and in his case Wall Street and a lot of the Republican institutional infrastructure will be in the dominant position.  That'll influence things like Supreme Court nominations and executive appointments in all kinds of unwholesome ways.  While this isn't good, it's better than having someone like Santorum who has turned prejudices into principles, or someone like Gingrich who has turned self-aggrandizing delusions into principles.  A Romney administration would be an interesting test of the power of democracy to make a purely self-interested ruler benefit the people.

There's a path Romney's political career could've taken where he'd be a Democrat rather than a Republican.  The President Romney who had made his promises to Democrats rather than Republicans, staffed his administration accordingly, and made appointments in line with his commitments would be worth voting for over the Romney we see now.  My guess is that Obama is a couple notches left of where counterfactual Democratic Romney would be, at least because their life experiences and backgrounds are different.  I think I'm relatively soft on Romney, for a Democrat, and I'm not a tremendous Obama booster.  But the choice is between Obama and a self-interested candidate emerging from the Republican side of the system, and there's nothing difficult about that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back In The Saddle

Thanks to Andreas for filling in while I've been away and putting up some excellent policy-focused posts.  I've had a good, eventful, and hyper-busy time traveling from NYC to upstate to Bath to Cardiff to Oxford to London to Naples to Salou to Barcelona, excluding all the places I went to where I didn't actually sleep, and now I'm in the hills above Barcelona in a woodland hostel.  The woods seem to be full of wild pigs, and they collect around the hostel in the evening and get snorty.  They don't seem dangerous or aggressive, as far as I can tell -- when I walked towards one, it kind of shuffled off in a sideways direction.

The TV behind me just displayed Mario Draghi intoning, "The ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the Euro. And believe me, it will be enough." I'm happy to see him talk big, and I hope he actually steps up and generates the easy money that Europe needs.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Pre-review of The Dark Knight Rises

This is a movie about a rich guy who puts on a rubber suit and fights villans with totally impractical gadgets. Everyone should take a deep breath and go back to arguing about whether or not the movie is entertaining.

Monday, July 23, 2012

An Argument Only A Lawyer Could Love

It's a little hard to parse the judge's argument in the opinion Paul Campos references here, but taken as a while the dismissal of the case is demoralizing. Cooley Law School is a for-profit, low-tier Law School that takes very low-performing students. Their promotional materials advertises "statistics" that, to an untrained eye, appear to claim that a large number of their graduates are employed in permanent full-time positions that require a law degree and/or passing the bar, and with a decent salary to boot. The statistics appear to be, at best, technically accurate but highly misleading and/or incomplete. And again, remember that these students are not the sharpest tools in the shed. In this case, the judge reasons that the statistics are so misleading incomplete that a reasonable person would not rely on them as convincing evidence that attending Cooley would improve their employment & salary prospects. Had Cooley tried harder to gather or present more accurate statistics, they might have run more risk of actually defrauding their students. As a question of law, the judge here might well be correct, but as a question of justice, this is pretty horrid stuff. One wonders if the judge's standard of a reasonable person is the judge himself, who is almost certainly a cut above these students in terms of LSAT score and probably basic numeric reasoning.

The opinion makes reference the term "median average", which gives me the rough sensation of what it's like to have someone press their thumb directly onto my brain.

Today In Pointless Polls

I don't even understand what could possible be accomplished by polling Iowans about the 2016 elections years before anyone has started campaigning for the job is. This demonstrates to us that Hillary Clinton has very high name recognition among Democrats and probably some built-in popularity, and the Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have retained popularity from their campaigns and Fox News gigs, and that a bunch of Republicans watch Fox News so they know who Chris Christie are. I'm not even sure Martin O'Malley has ever set foot in Iowa. At this time in 2004, very few people outside of Illinois knew who Barack Obama was, and yet today he's President. So let's find another waste time for the next four years.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Torture and the 8th Amendment

In response to a question about torture, Scalia says: "“[W]e have laws against torture but I don’t think the Constitution addressed torture, it addressed punishment. Which means punishment for crimes. … I’m not for [torture]. But I don’t think the Constitution says anything about it.”

Yeah, no.

The United States cribbed the 8th Amendment, which prevents cruel and unusual punishment, from the 1688 English Bill of Rights. Due in part to Oliver Cromwell, and in part to Elizabethan court politics, the English had come perilously close to routinizing torture. So, prior to the adoption of the 8th Amendment, what did legal commentators have to say on the subject of Torture and the English Bill of Rights?

Well, Blackstone said the following:

"The rack, or question, to extort a confession from criminals, is a practice of a different nature: this being only used to compel a man to put himself upon his trial; that being a species of trial in itself. And the trial by rack is utterly unknown to the law of England; though once when the dukes of Exeter and Suffolk, and other ministers of Henry VI, had laid a design to introduce the civil law into this kingdom as the rule of government, for a beginning thereof they erected a rack for torture; which was called in derision the duke of Exeter’s daughter, and still remains in the tower of London: where it was occasionally used as an engine of state, not of law, more than once in the reign of queen Elizabeth but when, upon the assassination of Villiers duke of Buckingham by Felton, it was proposed in the privy council to put the assassin to the rack, in order to discover his accomplices; the judges, being consulted, declared unanimously, to their own honour and the honour of the English law, that no such proceeding was allowable by the laws of England."

An absolute ban on torture preceded the Constitution. It was considered to have been a part of the English Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers were aware of this. Scalia, of course, would prefer that this not be the case, so he can resort to facile textualism as a substitute for originalism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There Is No Tea Party

So, Slate is slightly surprised that the Tea Party has returned to voting for politically-connected Republican party operatives. They shouldn't be. Why?

There's no such thing as the 'Tea Party.'

Demographically, the 'Tea Party' is just a synonym for 'the Republican base:' over fifty, overwhelmingly white, generally male, exurban, theologically conservative, and middle-class to rich. They watch Fox News, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and read the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They are, in other words, indistinguishable from people who vote for Republicans generally, except that many conservative independents identify as Tea Partiers.

In this regard, the transition from 'Republican' to 'Tea Partier' has followed the trajectory on the left from 'liberal' to 'progressive.' A widely deprecated term becomes replaced with a more neutral term, which then becomes deprecated itself, and so on and so on and so on.

But there's no reason to believe, considering that Tea Partiers are simply the people who vote in Republican primaries, and always have, that two years would result in a substantial difference in endorsement or voting patterns. And so we find ourselves, in 2012, with the Tea Party supporting the same people they've always supported: Republican party apparatchiks.

Raising the Gas Tax And Living To Tell About It

I realize that in politics, it is forever some indeterminate year between 1982 and 1994 (pardons! litmus tests! owls versus jobs!), and therefore noone is allowed to raise the gas tax 18-30 years after this seminal era in American history. But the problem with the gas tax hike in the 1993 wasn't the specific tax that was raised, it was that no one saw the connection between the tax hike and any tangible benefit. People thought Clinton raised taxes, basically, to reduce the deficit and do nothing else. Sure, the '93 budget did some things liberals wanted, like expanding the EITC, but the deal was largely sold as a deficit reduction package.

Compare this experience to Washington State's gas tax hike in 2005. The tax increase was sold as a way of keeping gas taxes in line with inflation. The money went directly to pay for specific road improvements. Local officials blanketed TV, radio, and smalltown newspapers with op-eds and editorial interviews pointing out the tangible improvements in road safety, traffic congestion, and construction employment that the new revenues would bring. An initiative to repeal the tax increase was soundly defeated, and in 2006 state Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate.

Passing tax increases is hard, but it's less difficult if you can point to goodies that everyone will get to use as a consequence of the tax increase. This is one of those cases where communications are genuinely a big part of the issue. Creating a new bill for everyone to pay and that is hard to administrate doesn't help anyone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns

Here's what I suspect is going on with Romney's tax returns:

In at least one year in the past five, Romney likely realized enormous capital losses, on paper, in order to cash out an enormous amount of capital gains. In economic downturns, large shocks to net wealth can be leveraged to permit owners to 'unstick' tax-unfavorable positions and move wealth to tax-favored vehicles without ever taking the capital gains. This is a relatively routine sort of transaction for people with large potential tax liabilities, but which results in a sort of shocking-looking tax return.

From a tax accounting perspective, there are thousands of people whose tax returns look much like Romney's. From a political perspective, any factoid which requires one sentence to state and ten sentences to rebut is a winner. The best possible outcome for Romney releasing his tax returns is to provide Obama with a facile attack line which requires an elaborate explanation of tax law to rebut.

That won't happen, so Romney won't release.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Harder To Come Up With A Good Canola Joke

Traveling through the Czech Republic for a conference two months ago, I saw many fields full of yellow flowers. I asked if it was mustard, and the organizer told me it was rape -- the plant from which one makes rapeseed oil. (Canola oil is a more happily-named variety.) He recounted a conversation with some Americans years ago when he spoke worse English. They were discussing social problems like rape and he brightly said, "Yes, rape! It is all over my country!"

To get all philosophy of language about this, that's a "rape" joke rather than a rape joke.  But anyway, Daniel Tosh was doing it wrong.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bloomberg News: Hurray for Foreclosures!

So, in the aftermath of the housing boom, the housing market needed a massive price correction. That obviously happened. Banks are feeling a bit more enthusiastic about the upward slope of housing prices, so, per Bloomberg News, they're taking possession of some of the houses they're owed.

But I'm unsure that an uptick in foreclosures represents a 'rebound' in the housing market, for one important reason: there's the shadow inventory, of houses held by banks but not on the market, and then there's the shadow-shadow inventory, of houses which are presently delinquent but which haven't been foreclosed upon. As houses start to filter out of the shadow inventory and onto the market, the banks have decided to refill that inventory from the bottom by foreclosing on more homeowners.

Simply proceeding with business-as-usual foreclosures prolongs the pain: the banking system needs to simply register the losses and call it good, rather than attempting to liquidate the existing balance of housing stock. As it stands, the banking system is simply emptying out more houses to sell to people who can't afford them.

And that's all dark cloud, and no silver lining.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Construction Time is Too Damn Long

Talking about rail projects that will take a generation
to complete is as silly as talking about flying DeLoreans.
I get that building a new high-speed rail line from DC to Boston would be fairly time consuming, but no one is going to vote for anything that won't be completed until their not-yet-born children have started having children. Talking about projects that won't finish until 2040 is as silly as worrying about the 75 year shortfall in Social Security.

Split the project up in such a way that there are tangible benefits within five years, and sell those alongside the grandiose design for SUPERTRAINS.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Obama on Taxes: A Failure of Imagination, Extended Dubstep Remix

It looks Team Obama has decided to go back to using tax cuts to draw a distinction between Obama and Mitt Romney. Let me just quote myself:
But Barack Obama campaigned against "the smallness of our current politics". He talked about the failure of the country to envision a government capable of doing big things. And he has now delivered us a debate between two governing parties that doesn't extend beyond the four corners of a Heritage Foundation whitepaper. The best thing government can deliver to the American people is a tax cut, and the only difference between the two parties is the question of which taxes get cut. I don't know about you, but I would have a hard time waking up in the morning to go work in OEOB if that's all I were there for.
Tactically, this isn't as tough choice as Ezra Klein makes it out to be. "The base" is not as ideologically committed to raising taxes as the conservative base is to cutting them; the point of raising taxes is mostly to get the government to do useful things not to just increase the size of government for its own sake. Tax cuts are overwhelmingly popular especially if they are broad based or targeted at the middle class. But no one ever wrote a folk song extolling the virtues of cutting taxes not quite as much as the other guy while not even trying to maintain existing levels of state & local spending during mass unemployment.

Update: Amazingly, Nancy Pelosi has signed on to Chuck Schumer's "compromise" that retains tax cuts to earners up to $1 million. In theory this could be used to create a fourth tax bracket, which would be wonderful. In practice ... if we can only tax the tiny sliver of earners at that level of income, the government is never going to be able to afford anything more than its current level of service, if that.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Obama Caption Contest and Kitsch Cover

President Barack Obama celebrates the birthday of Bloomberg White House correspondent
Julianna Goldman aboard Air Force One during the flight
from Ramstein, Germany, to Joint Base Andrews, Md., May 2, 2012.
Today's kitsch cover comes to us from Woe, is Me, performing Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night". You might want to turn the volume down.

Say What You Want About the Tenets of Libertarianism, Man: At Least It's an Ethos

Writing here, Sarah Posner discusses Ron Paul's religious-conservative supporters.

Actually, libertarian religious conservatives aren't a new phenomenon. They aren't a 'new' addition to Ron Paul's base. They're the politico-religious tradition that Paul himself rose out of.

Before adding college students, geeks, Objectivists, and Rush fans to his base, Ron Paul's core supporters were from the junction between Christian Reconstructionism, Austrian libertarianism, and the neo-Confederate movements. His most prominent hires and supporters were from some combination of the three. Lew Rockwell was an Austrian neo-Confederate. Gary North was an Austrian Christian Reconstructionist. Chuck Baldwin was a Christian Reconstructionist neo-Confederate.

To an outsider, that seems like an unusual combination. But Christian Reconstructionists and neo-Confederates share one major feature with libertarians: the federal government prevents them from using their power in the way they prefer. And they're willing to rewrite both history and their own philosophy in order to hitch their wagon to a successful candidate.

I obviously object to Cato Foundation libertarianism on some fairly important philosophical grounds. But whatever else is philosophically wrong with that sort of Beltway libertarianism, it's at least underpinned by a consistent philosophical commitment to economic liberty. But Ron Paul's motley coalition of second-string tyrants has no such consistency: they're just waiting for the federal government to remove its boot from their neck so they can resume whatever sort of petty oppression they engaged in before they were prohibited from doing so.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Your Insurance Premiums Under the Affordable Care Act In One Table

Insurance premiums under Obamacare (click for full-sized image)
The Vermont's HCR Agency (seriously, they made a whole new department just to handle Health Care Reform?) has published a very nice table showing how much a typical household earning less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Line can expect to pay for health insurance. It's unclear to me whether or not there is any sort of regional cost-of-living or cost-of-insurance adjustment to these figures. But it should give readers a good ballpark estimate of how much they might pay for insurance.

The basic story here is that households qualifying for subsidized insurance won't pay more than 9.5% of their income for insurance. In many cases, they'll be paying much less. Also, everyone will be getting something for their money, since all insurance plans sold on the exchange will have to offer 100% coverage of most preventative services. Past 400% of FPL, the subsidies disappear, but most people who earn that much money already have employer-sponsored insurance.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Insurance, Negotiation, and Obamacare

In Forbes, Avik Roy claims that Obamacare's medical loss ratio rule will result in private insurance monopolies, and that premiums will therefore go through the roof:
As I mentioned above, smaller plans will get squeezed, because they won’t be able to take advantage of economies of scale, nor of a more “favorable” mix of enrollees. Larger plans will be just fine. Carl McDonald of Citigroup, an HMO analyst who has done the most detailed work on medical loss ratios, estimates that Obamacare’s mandated rebates will cost the six biggest insurers about 1.4 percent of premiums collected. [...] 
Obamacare’s MLR mandates will make health care more expensive, and harm those who are most in need of health coverage. Those who think that this is a good thing have revealed something about themselves.
Let's assume Roy's basic premise here: if Obamacare requires insurers to spend 80% of their revenues on medical care, reserving only 20% for administrative costs and profit, small insurers will go out of business, driving down competition. However, even assuming that administrative costs axiomatically cannot be reduced to levels similar to Medicare, there is an embedded economic conclusion: that competition decreases insurance prices across the market.

And it turns out that's simply not true. Competition in health insurance markets isn't correlated with plan quality or service prices -- which seems unusual, until you look at what health insurers actually do.

Health insurance companies aren't 'insurance companies' in the normal sense. They don't 'insure' against unexpected events. Most of us can expect to visit doctors, some of us can expect to get pregnant, and all of us can expect to die. In practice, health insurers operate more like buyers' cartels, setting prices for a wide variety of services ahead-of-time, so that consumers don't have to negotiate for critical care while under threat of imminent death.

Because of this negotiating function, the market for health insurance is double-ended: they sell policies to consumers on one end, and negotiate for health services on the other. To raise its profits, an individual insurer can either negotiate with providers for lower prices, which is generally in the interests of buyers, or raise prices on consumers, which obviously isn't. Whether a health insurer will behave antisocially (and raise prices on consumers) is essentially a function of its incentives. Those incentives are essentially a function of market structure.

Competitive, highly contested insurance markets fragment the negotiating power of individual insurers, narrowing margins and increasing the cost of medical care. On the other hand, uncontested monopolies allow insurers to dictate prices both to consumers and to providers, allowing them to take a larger share of profits. As a consequence, in most cases, the ideal shape of a health care market is a contested duopoly, which concentrates negotiating power while providing an active 'fringe' of small insurers. 

In other words, if Obamacare's medical loss ratio rule reduces the amount of competition in the insurance market, we may start to see some of the advantages of oligopsony in formerly highly contested markets. Except, perhaps, for small insurers, that will be a good thing for everyone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Minority Report Court

Writing about liberal pressure here, Peter Suderman complains that public discourse about the Constitutionality of Obamacare 'intimidated' John Roberts into changing his vote.

In the universe Suderman lives in, until last Thursday, the Supreme Court floated comatose in a pool of judicial milk, like the fucking telepaths from the Minority Report. But this time, comments about the Constitution disturbed their reverie, throwing off Roberts' otherwise-infallible Constitutionality-calculating process. He then voted improperly. As citizens and politicians, we therefore have a responsiblity to remain silent about ambiguous clauses in the Constitution to avoid disturbing the calculation process.

In the universe the rest of us live in, textual ambiguities in the Constitution are decided in three ways: (a) by reference to outside ethical axioms, (b) by reference to facts in the outside world, and (c) by reference to precedent. As this case was wholly unprecedented, the Court could not make reference to precedent. It was then left to make its decision by referring to outside ethical axioms and external facts.

This process is not improved by restricting the Supreme Court's access to external axioms, external facts, and public sentiments about the legitimacy of their decisions. Nor is it improved by an insipid, deferential public discourse about the strength of our feelings on the subject. Without that feedback about the public's axioms, facts, and sentiments, the Supreme Court is left drifting whenever the text of the Constitution is vague.

It's unclear to me why he thinks this will improve the quality of American jurisprudence.

Obamacare and the Court: Who Leaked?

As already seemed clear from the unsigned dissent, John Roberts changed his vote on the Constitutionality of Obamacare's insurance mandate. But the most interesting part of this story isn't the story itself. 

The most interesting part is this: who leaked?

It isn't likely to have been a clerk: the Court keeps a tight ship, and your average reserved, status-seeking Supreme Court law clerk would be unwilling to throw away the rest of his career to talk to CBS. It isn't likely to have been a liberal justice, as the entire tone of the article seems to have been set by conservative complains about Roberts' consistency. It isn't likely to have been non-legal staff, as the source apparently has personal knowledge of the first round's result. Taking that in mind, it seems likely that at least one of the conservative justices is so incensed at Roberts' decision that he's gone to the media to complain.

While I'm generally in favor of greater transparency in the Supreme Court, it's extraordinarily unusual for it to have externalized its disagreements in this way.. A leak of this scope seems like the very tip of a very large, very unpleasant iceberg. Roberts may have permanently (or semi-permanently) alienated himself from his most natural allies on the Court.

If that's the case, this is only the first of several 5-4 decisions and deeply-split concurrences -- though perhaps not the ones which conservative activists would have hoped for.