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Sam R. Hall:
Cochran presser: Most entertaining conference call ever

A conference call set up by the campaign for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran devolved into a shouting match and then ended, after which time supporters of GOP primary challenger Chris McDaniel chatted for a bit.

California-based blogger Charles C. Johnson posted the call-in number on Twitter and encouraged people to call in and crash the call. He succeeded.

Cochran campaign advisor Austin Barbour started the conference call normally. After a few minutes of talking about working with McDaniel volunteers in the Hinds County courthouse reviewing ballots and how the campaign set up its GOTV effort, an unidentified male started asking about harvesting cotton and black votes. (The call was aimed at national and other media who could not make their Jackson presser.)

Barbour tried to continue on, but he was repeatedly cut off by the man. Eventually Barbour and Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told media that they could be reached by email or cell phone and then hung up...

At the time of this posting, some 30 minutes after the call started, someone was playing soundbites from President Barack Obama, Animal House and news shows. Eventually, some of the clips became racist and vulgar.

Wildly entertaining but wholly unprofessional.

Daniel Strauss:
"Why is it okay to harvest the votes of black people?" the caller asked.

"Alright so listen I will give everybody a chance to answer a question when we get through and we'll be happy to answer any question from members of the media," Barbour said at first.

"I'd like to know if the black people were harvesting cotton why do you think it's okay to harvest their votes?" the caller asked again. "They're not animals, why're you treating black people like they're just votes?"

"Sir, I don't know where you're calling from but I'm happy to address any question, no matter the lunacy of it —" Barbour said before being cut off.

"It's not lunacy. Why did you use black people? Why did you use black people to get Cochran elected when they're not even Republicans and you're treating them as if they're just idiots that they'll vote for Cochran just because they're black," the caller said.

More politics and policy below the fold.

Ben Jacobs:

The call always had the potential to go off the rails. Certain elements of the conservative blogosphere have become ardent supporters of McDaniel. One of the first people to join in was a Florida blogger named Andrea Shea King who introduced herself to everyone who came on as “Andrea from Florida.” She spent the minutes before the call, musing about whether the election had been stolen and making a dismissive remark about the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s reporting.

Afterwards, Barbour told The Daily Beast that McDaniel supporters were trying “desperate measures” to “inflate some number of votes that they’ve got issues with.”

Barbour also said that he thought the campaign would reconsider how it would hold future conference calls. The veteran political operative did realize the joy that national reporters took from the fiasco. “I’m proud to have made your day by giving you that.” In the meantime, anonymous people were playing clips from Animal House on the call.

Jill Lawrence:
Democrats have been bearing the burden of the unpopular Affordable Care Act for years. They may finally be on the verge of getting some political mileage out of it, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Conservatives were ecstatic about the court’s ruling Monday that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, because of their owners’ religious beliefs, could not be required under the ACA to include certain types of contraception in their employee health plans. But Democrats have the better hand.

First of all, they are on the same side as public opinion, which favors the ACA requirement that employee health plans cover contraception, even when that goes against a company owner’s personal beliefs. And let’s not forget the optics. Here were five male justices ruling by a slim majority that a for-profit corporation could opt out of a federal law that just happened to deal with women’s health. They further cautioned that corporations should not assume they will necessarily win if they challenge mandated coverage for other procedures forbidden by certain religions, such as blood transfusions and vaccinations. Decisions in those areas, they said, might be different.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a cutting and impassioned dissent, wondered how the court would know which exemptions to grant — how the decisions would avoid appearing to favor one religion over another — and said she feared the justices had ventured into a minefield. The legal and constitutional implications of the ruling will play out in the years to come, in what Ginsburg predicts will be an avalanche of lawsuits from corporations that want religious-based exemptions from other laws and requirements.

But for now, it’s all about the women, both in substance and politics.

Michael Hiltzik:
The U.S. reliance on employers to provide coverage on this scale is unique among major industrialized nations. In those countries, as Jonathan Cohn observes, "the government takes on this responsibility directly, by creating its own insurance program or regulating insurers as if they were public utilities." This is essentially a definition of single-payer healthcare.

The alternative produces ludicrous results such as the Hobby Lobby decision.

It was hoped that the Affordable Care Act, which was at the center of that decision, would begin decoupling American healthcare from the tyranny of employer sponsorship. Americans who are out of work, or whose employers can't or won't provide them with healthcare benefits, now can buy coverage on their own, with government financial assistance if necessary.

Uwe Reinhardt:
Imagine yourself in a bar where a pickpocket takes money out of your wallet and with it buys you a glass of chardonnay. Although you would have preferred a pinot noir, you decide not to look that gift horse in the mouth and thank the stranger profusely for the kindness, assuming he paid for it. You might feel differently, of course, if you knew that you actually had paid for it yourself.

Persuaded by both theory and empirical research, most economists believe that employer-based health insurance is an analogue of this bar scene.

The argument is that the premiums ostensibly paid by employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees are actually part of the employee’s total pay package – the price of labor, in economic parlance – and that the cost of that fringe benefit is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.

Paul Waldman:
While you were getting ready for the heartbreaking World Cup match yesterday, President Obama was needling Republicans over the dwindling Highway Trust Fund. The fund, which pays for maintaining and improving roads, bridges and mass transit systems all over the country, is running out of money fast. This is a problem that’s going to turn into a crisis, and unfortunately, in the current political environment it’s hard to imagine the president and Republicans in Congress arriving at a solution.
Charles M. Blow:
There are no easy answers for how to move forward on domestic policies if Republicans are blocking the doorways, and there are no easy foreign policy choices without getting Americans embroiled in another foreign conflict for which there is nearly no appetite.

And yet, the president can see the end of his presidency fast approaching, and can look back with regret about what could have been if only Congress were in the ballgame.

So now the president appears legitimately angry. He is promising to go even further with executive actions if Congress refuses to act, and daring members to follow through on their threats to take legal action against him for doing so.

As the president said Tuesday at an event in Washington: “Middle-class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me.”

The bear may be trapped, but he’s not browbeaten. He’s growling.

Joseph Stromberg:
A review of 166 independent studies confirms vaccines are safe and effective
But they are expensive. From NY Times.
Michael Haydock, an analyst at the London-based consulting firm Datamonitor Healthcare, said no vaccine had ever been such a big seller. “It’s expensive in part because it’s a very effective vaccine,” he said. “And also because they’re exploiting their monopoly.”

That does not sit well with many doctors. Even though the vaccine has not changed, the price of the current version, Prevnar 13 (it protects against 13 strains), has gone up an average of 6 percent each year since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010.

“You have to make back your investment and pay your shareholders, but at what point do you say, ‘Look, you’ve had your steak, gravy and potatoes and this is enough?’ ” said Dr. Steven Black, a vaccine expert at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who served on the government committee that recommended all children get Prevnar 7, an earlier version of the vaccine.

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