ProPublica

86 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

In An Ugly Election Result, Hate Surges Online

Trump protest Patchogue
Protestors rally against Donald Trump outside a campaign rally in Patchogue (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

 

By A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke, ProPublica

Over the past month, more than 564,000 unique visitors have spent time on the Daily Stormer, a website that takes its name from a Hitler-era German tabloid, “Der Stürmer.” The site bills itself as “America’s #1 Most Trusted Republican News Source” and features headlines like “Jew Billionaires Meet to Overthrow Trump Government,” “Faggots and Jews Whining About Bannon Appointment,” and “Yes, Trump Really Can Make America White Again.”

Throughout Donald J. Trump’s ultimately successful run for the presidency, many worried that he had, willfully or recklessly, emboldened racists across the country. On Tuesday, Trump told the New York Times that had not been his intent.

ProPublica will be covering hate crimes in the coming months — who commits them, where they happen, who should be tracking them. Readers with tips or other information please contact reporter A.C. Thompson at A.C.Thompson@propublica.org.

“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” Trump told the Times. He said he wasn’t sure what impact, if any, previous Republican campaigns had had in fomenting extremists, and thus if his impact had been distinctive. “I don’t know where they were four years ago, and where they were for Romney and McCain and all of the other people that ran, so I just don’t know, I had nothing to compare it to.”

Some who track the behavior and public profiles of racists in America, however, say Trump’s effect has been unmistakable. According to Alexa, a company that tracks web metrics, a range of white supremacist and so-called Alt-Right websites have seen surges in traffic across the last year. Those sites include Radix Journal, Virginia Dare, Red Ice, American Renaissance, and The Right Stuff, according to Alexa.

Most of the racist online publications still have relatively modest readerships, attracting between 100,000 and 300,000 unique visitors per month, far less than the typical daily newspaper in a small American city. But all have seen rapid growth. And many sites, among them Red Ice, which has advanced the idea that “the United States of America was built by white people for white people” and American Renaissance, which derides African Americans and Latinos as low-IQ losers, have seen their traffic more than double over the past year.

But Daily Stormer seems to have seen the most dramatic spike in readership. In a recent post, Daily Stormer claimed that since the election the site “has had an added 30% traffic.” Over the past month the site has had nearly 10 million page views.

“Daily Stormer is a website run by Andrew Anglin, who is a neo-Nazi,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “Andrew Anglin has actively encouraged trolls to harass Jews and others online. He is still encouraging trolls to harass people.”

Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, have watched as Anglin’s site has eclipsed older white supremacist sites since its founding in 2013.

For years, said the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz, the “go-to racist site” was Stormfront, a discussion forum started by ex-Klansman Don Black back in the 1990s, which had long served as the nexus of extreme right conversation on the web.

But Stormfront’s traffic has been surpassed by that of the Daily Stormer.

The success of the Daily Stormer, which features an abundance of crude humor and plenty of shareable memes and graphics, represents “a passing of the baton” from one generation of racists to the next, said Lenz who edits SPLC’s Hatewatch.

Of course, white supremacists are also making use of existing social media platforms and web forums, including Reddit, which features a robust Alt-Right subreddit that has also seen a spike in traffic this month, pulling in more than 80,000 unique visitors so far in November.

In Segal’s view, social media, along with heavily-trafficked forums like Reddit and the troll-haven 4chan, “are much more significant” tools for the rising white supremacist movement than avowedly racist web outposts like Daily Stormer and its ilk. Video clips, speeches and interviews featuring Alt-Right figures and white supremacists are also proliferating on YouTube, where some are drawing sizable audiences.

“The [white racist] sites aren’t insignificant but they’re not the whole picture,” Segal said.

In October the ADL issued a report documenting epidemic levels of anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter, much of it aimed at journalists covering the presidential campaign. “We found 2.6 million tweets using language commonly used by anti-Semites,” noted Segal. After coming under heavy criticism for tolerating a culture of abuse, Twitter has taken some steps to curb harassment and recently banned a handful of racist figures, including Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer.

In his remarks to the Times, Trump pledged to take his own steps to counteract any rising racism.

“What we do want to do is we want to bring the country together, because the country is very, very divided,” he said. “It’s very, very divided, and I’m going to work very hard to bring the country together.”

Moving quickly on that work would be welcomed by many.

Segal said he has tracked a disturbing pattern over the past several weeks. “What we were seeing in terms of harassment online we’re now seeing on the ground” in the form of hate crimes in the physical world, he said. “It’s not surprising: We’re coming out of a very divisive election where white supremacists felt emboldened by the public discussion. They feel like they have a champion in the highest office.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Surprise: Trump’s Advisor on Wall Street Regulations is a Longtime Swamp-Dweller

Donald Trump

 

By Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition-team adviser on financial policies and appointments, Paul Atkins, has been depicted as an ideological advocate of small government. But the ways that the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are likely to approach financial deregulation could serve Atkins’ wallet as well as his political agenda. Like Trump himself, Atkins himself faces potential conflicts between his business dealings and his public role.

In 2009, a year after he finished his term as a Republican member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Atkins formed Patomak Global Partners, a consulting firm headquartered on 17th Street, nestled blocks from the Hay-Adams Hotel and the south lawn of the White House. While Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington, Atkins’ environs could not get any swampier. Patomak’s president is Daniel Gallagher, also a right-leaning former SEC commissioner who might be a candidate for SEC chairman under Trump. Former high-level government officials populate Patomak’s ranks.

Patomak has thrived as financial firms tried to navigate the new world of post-crisis regulations. Patomak and its counterparts, like Promontory Financial Group, are not technically lobbyists, but they exploit their connections to regulators to help their clients — banks and other financial institutions — navigate the rules. (Such consulting firms say they help clients comply with, not circumvent, the rules. A Patomak spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.)

The firms stand as emblems of the Washington revolving door. Banks pay a premium to former high-level regulators, valuing them for their contacts at the regulatory agencies. Stacked with Republicans, Patomak is well positioned to benefit from the new power structure in Washington. “They have better lines of communications with those in power. They are better able to see and understand what is coming down the pike,” says one former high-ranking regulator who now works for a hedge fund.

Under a court order last month, Atkins and his firm are now monitoring Deutsche Bank’s agreement with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to properly oversee and disclose its derivatives trading. Separately, Deutsche Bank is negotiating with the Department of Justice over the size of its fine to settle mortgage related misdeeds. Donald Trump has outstanding loans from Deutsche Bank. These inter-connections raise a host of conflict of interest issues. Will Patomak monitor Deutsche Bank vigilantly? Will financial regulators, perhaps appointed by Trump on Atkins’ recommendation, be inclined to soften their regulatory stance on Deutsche Bank in exchange for business favors to the Trump empire?

Wall Street is thrilled about the incoming Trump administration. Bank stocks are soaring. Atkins, who is overseeing the appointees to the independent financial regulators like the SEC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, will be able to help shape the Trump Administration approach to financial regulation. But just what does that vision entail? Or, among the disparate groups vying for influence, whose ideas will win out?

There seem to be three tribes in the Trump financial regulatory coalition: ideologues, Wall Streeters and populists.

Atkins belongs to the first tribe. “I think of him as more libertarian than conservative,” says Simon Lorne, the former general counsel for the SEC, who worked with Atkins in the Clinton Administration.

In testimony last year to the House Financial Services Committee, Atkins opened by approvingly quoting Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist and philosopher beloved by libertarians. Hayek, Atkins explained, identified the “fatal conceit”: the idea that “man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.”

Governments, in Atkins’ view, share this hubristic notion. When they try to corral capital markets to prevent exploitative or risky behavior, they end up hurting the economy. Since the financial crisis, Atkins has been a part of the steady assault on Dodd Frank.

“The real tragedy — or inconvenient truth — behind Dodd-Frank and the hundreds of other rules flowing from Washington every year is that consumers, investors, and small business are harmed the most,” he told Congress in May.

But as the existence of Patomak demonstrates, even ideologues find the regulatory state lucrative.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street crowd appears to have a seat at the table. Steve Mnuchin, the former Goldman Sachs partner who was the Trump campaign’s national finance chairman, is a possible Treasury secretary.

The third tribe, in theory, is the populists. Trump campaigned with a populist message but they have no representatives on regulatory transition team or among the rumored appointees. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist and a former Goldman Sachs partner, has criticized the 2008 bank bail-out, and the Republican platform called for breaking up the big banks. But few expect anything resembling that.

Experts say the GOP isn’t likely to repeal Dodd Frank wholesale. Instead, they will likely chip away at it, opening up loopholes. Some changes will come from Congress, others from inside the regulatory bodies themselves. Many “elements can be dismantled in back rooms,” says Marcus Stanley, policy director of the consumer group Americans for Financial Reform.

Instead of shuttering the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the GOP-controlled Congress may change its leadership structure, shift its source of funding, and shave its budget. Instead of repealing the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from trading for their own account, regulators may widen the number of trades that fall outside the definition. Legislators have floated proposals to loosen derivatives trading rules. They aspire to weaken the Financial Stability Oversight Council. Congress will likely continue to trim the budgets for the SEC and the CFTC and reverse rules extending fiduciary standards to new classes of financial advisors.

Such moves diminish Republican vulnerability to Democratic attacks that a repeal of Dodd Frank is a gift to Wall Street. Maintaining a sprawling kudzu of arcane rules and regulations preserves the necessity of specialists in the art of navigating the bramble of the swamp. Including firms like Patomak.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

High-dollar Prescribers Proliferate in Medicare’s Drug Program

 

By Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones

The number of doctors who each prescribe millions of dollars of medications annually in Medicare’s drug program has soared, driven by expensive hepatitis C treatments and rising drug prices overall, federal data obtained by ProPublica shows.

The number of providers who topped the $5 million mark for prescriptions increased more than tenfold, from 41 in 2011 to 514 in 2015. The number of prescribers—mostly physicians but also nurse practitioners–exceeding $10 million in drug costs jumped from two to 70 over the same time period, according to the data.

Most of the doctors atop the spending list prescribed Harvoni or Sovaldi, relatively new drugs that cure hepatitis C. Other providers on the list prescribed pricey drugs to treat cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Medicare’s drug program, known as Part D, covers more than 41 million seniors and disabled people. In 2015, it accounted for $137.4 billion in drug spending, before factoring in rebates from drug companies. That was up from $121.5 billion a year earlier.

“The trends in this space are troubling and don’t show any signs of abating,” said Tim Gronniger, deputy chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs Medicare. “It’s going to be a pressure point for patients and the program for the foreseeable future.”

During the recent presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump pledged to tackle the rising costs of prescription drugs. Since his election, however, President-elect Trump’s transition agenda for health care hasn’t featured the topic, a shift the Los Angeles Times reported.

Medicare has released top-level data on drug spending for 2015, including the number of doctors who prescribed medications worth more than $1 million. But the agency has only published data on individual doctors up to 2014.

Dr. Ben Thrower, medical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Institute at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, was near the top of the list in 2014. He prescribed medications costing $11.5 million that year, mostly for multiple sclerosis drugs. “We get that it’s very expensive,” Thrower said. “I think all the MS providers working in the U.S. would like to see the costs go down.” But prices have climbed steadily in recent years for drugs used to treat the neurological condition, even those that have been on the market for quite a while.

Most of the spending on Thrower’s prescriptions – $8.5 million — was for MS drugs Tecfidera and Copaxone, which can slow progression of MS and reduce the chance of relapse. Thrower has received payments from the makers of those and other MS drugs, but said he cut ties with the companies in January of this year.

“It was kind of exciting when the first one came out,” Thrower said. “The problem we’ve seen is the cost for these drugs has just gone up and up and up.”

Thrower said he no longer prescribes Tecfidera to new patients because it can lower white blood cell counts, putting them at risk for infections.

Notes: Counts include initial prescriptions and refills dispensed. Retail price includes patients’ out-of-pocket costs but does not reflect drug maker rebates. *Average prescriptions per patient, per provider has been adjusted to give more weight to doctors who treat more patients. (The unadjusted average is 5.6).

Just because a doctor prescribes costly drugs doesn’t mean he or she has done anything wrong, Gronniger said. “It’s much more about drug pricing … than it is about the behavior of any individual physician, many of whom are equally concerned about the price of these products as we are.”

Today, ProPublica is updating its Prescriber Checkup online tool, which allows you to look up your doctor and see how his or her prescribing in Medicare Part D compares to others in the same specialty and state. Our tool covers the year 2014. You can compare the percentage of each doctor’s prescriptions that were for brand-name medications, the average cost per prescription and the average number of prescriptions per patient, among other things.

Allyson Funk, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group, said Medicare’s figures leave out important context.

“It is important to note physicians’ prescribing patterns are dynamic and based on individual patient needs,” she said in a statement. “When looking at Medicare Part D, government data on spending at the point of sale does not include the substantial rebates for brand name medicines negotiated between manufacturers and plans and therefore does not accurately reflect actual prescribing dollars or program spending.”

These rebates are confidential by law, but Medicare said this week that the average rebate for brand-name drugs in 2014 was 17.5 percent.

The new data on high-spending prescribers is the latest indication of the burden of drug prices on government health programs.

In the past couple of years, Medicare’s drug tab has surged, in large part because it picks up the vast majority of the cost of drugs once enrollees exceed a certain threshold each year. In 2015, beneficiaries over the limit, which was $4,700, spent $51.3 billion on drugs. In 2013, the figure was $27.7 billion, government data shows. (Taxpayers, through Medicare, pick up 80 percent of the cost of this so-called catastrophic benefit.) The Associated Press first reported the ballooning cost in July.

Another sign could be seen in a drug dashboard released by Medicare this week. It showed that 1 percent of drugs prescribed in the Part D program accounted for more than one-third of the program’s cost in 2015 (before rebates). Some drugs were incredibly expensive. The drug H.P. Acthar Gel, used to treat several conditions, such as multiple sclerosis relapses and a rare kidney disease, cost an average of $162,371 for each of its 3,104 users—a higher per-user cost than any other drug in the program. That’s up significantly from several years ago, when ProPublica flagged the drug’s expense.

Harvoni, used by more than 75,000 people, cost an average of $92,847 per person, for a total cost of $7 billion (also before any rebates).

Michael Chernew, a professor of health care policy and director of the Healthcare Markets and Regulation Lab at Harvard Medical School, said the number of high-dollar prescribers in Medicare doesn’t surprise him. Given the increased cost of prescription drugs and the latest treatment advances, “the entire distribution is shifting to the right.”

Chernew said that, in the long term, Medicare and insurance companies have to examine the total cost of caring for patients with certain diseases, taking into account drugs, hospital visits, medical tests and more. Only then can anyone tell if certain expenses, such as a pricey new drug, are justified.

For now, he said, “How do we know what’s good or bad?”

Physicians say their top priority must be the patients in front of them, not the costs to the system.

Dr. Bruce Bacon, a liver specialist at St. Louis University, had the highest total Part D drug costs in 2014, $22.7 million. He was a frequent prescriber of Sovaldi and Olysio, another expensive hepatitis C medication.

Bacon did not return a call for comment for this story. In a 2015 interview, he said he did not realize his prescriptions were so costly to Medicare.

“I really don’t think about the cost,” he said. “I think about taking care of the patients. Should I not take care of the patients because the cost is expensive?”

Thrower, the multiple sclerosis specialist, said the high cost of drugs frustrates him and his colleagues, but ultimately the successful treatment of patients comes first.

“On one hand, we get that,” he said. “On the other hand, when you’re sitting in the exam room and looking someone in the eye, you can’t say, ‘I’m not going to treat you because of the cost.'”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Revenge of the Forgotten Class

buy american
Donald Trump speaks at Grumman Studios in Bethpage on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 (Long Island Press photo)

By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

In March, I was driving along a road that led from Dayton, Ohio, into its formerly middle-class, now decidedly working-class southwestern suburbs, when I came upon an arresting sight. I was looking for a professional sign-maker who had turned his West Carrollton ranch house into a distribution point for Trump yard signs, in high demand just days prior to the Ohio Republican primary. Instead of piling the signs in the driveway, he had arrayed them in his yard along the road. There they were, dozens and dozens of them, lined up in rows like the uniform gravestones in a military cemetery.

The sign man wasn’t home, but he had left a married couple in charge of the distribution. I got talking to the woman, Contessa Hammel. She was 43 and worked at the convenience store at a local Speedway gas station after four years in the military. And this was the first time she was voting in 25 years of eligibility.

I was startled to hear this — it’s rare to find voters entering the political process after decades of disconnection; in fact, I’d met a handyman in his 70s at a Trump rally on the other side of Dayton that same day who said he was voting for the first time, but I had dismissed it as a fluke.

I asked Hammel why she’d held back all those years. “I didn’t want to make an unintelligent decision,” she said, in a tone that suggested she was well aware of what an admission that was. But this year’s Republican nominee was different, she said. “He makes it simple for people like me,” she said. “He puts it clearly.”

Donald Trump’s stunning win Tuesday, defying all the prognosticators, suggested there were many more people like Hammel out there — people who were so disconnected from the political system that they were literally unaccounted for in the pollsters’ modeling, which relies on past voting behavior.

But Hammel was far from the only person I met in my reporting this year who made me think that Trump had spurred something very unusual. Some of them had never voted before; some had voted for Barack Obama. None were traditional Republican voters. Some were in dire economic straits; others were just a notch up from that and looking down with resentment at the growing dependency around them. What they shared were three things. They lived in places that were in decline, and had been for some time. They lacked strong attachment to either party at a time when, even within a single metro area like Dayton, the parties had sorted themselves into ideological, geographically disparate camps that left many voters unmoored. And they had profound contempt for a dysfunctional, hyper-prosperous Washington that they saw as utterly removed from their lives.

These newly energized voters helped Trump flip not only battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa but long-blue Northern industrial states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin — without which he would have lost to Hillary Clinton. Nationwide, his margin with the white working class soared to 40 points, up 15 points from Romney’s in 2012.

Two days after meeting Hammel, I tagged along with some Trump supporters, women who’d come all the way from Buffalo to go canvassing door-to-door in the adjacent Dayton suburb of Miamisburg. It was a rainy day, and few were answering their doors in this neighborhood of frayed frame houses and bungalows, but they persisted in their yellow ponchos; I couldn’t help but be reminded of the doggedness I’d observed among Obama volunteers in 2008.

At one small house, someone finally answered the door. Tracie St. Martin stepped out onto the porch, a 54-year-old woman with a sturdy, thick-muscled build and sun-weathered face, both of them products of her 26 years as a heavy-construction worker. St. Martin greeted the women warmly, and when they told her what they were there for she said, sure, she was considering Trump — even though she usually voted Democratic. And when they got talking, in the disjointed way of canvassers making a quick pitch, about how Trump was going to bring back the good jobs, St. Martin was visibly affected. She interrupted them, wanting to tell them about how she had, not long ago, worked a job that consisted of demolishing a big local GM plant. Her eyes welled up as she told the story and she had trouble continuing.

The canvassers gave her some materials and bade her farewell. But I doubled back a little later and visited with St. Martin in her kitchen, which she was in the midst of tidying up, with daytime TV playing in the background. Space in the kitchen was tight due to the treadmill she recently bought to help her get into better shape, which she hoped might make her less dependent on the painkillers for the severe aches she got from her physically demanding job, pills that had gotten a lot harder to obtain from her doctor amid the clampdown on prescription opioids.

St. Martin apologized, unnecessarily, for her emotions on the porch and expanded on what she had told the women from Buffalo: She was a proud member of Local 18 of the operating engineers’ union, which had been urging its members to support Hillary Clinton. The union provided her health insurance and decent pay levels, and trained her for demanding work, which, just months earlier, had required her to hang off of a Pennsylvania cliff face in her dozer as part of a gas pipeline project.

She came from a staunch Democratic family and had voted for Barack Obama in 2008, before not voting in 2012 because, she said, she was away on one of her long-term jobs. She was a single mother with three grown daughters. She had experienced all manner of sexual discrimination and harassment on very male-heavy worksites over the years.

She was, in other words, as tailor-made a supporter as one could find for Clinton, a self-professed fighter for the average Jane who was running to become the first woman president.

And yet St. Martin was leaning toward Trump.

Her explanation for this was halting but vehement, spoken with pauses and in bursts. She was disappointed in Obama after having voted for him. “I don’t like the Obama persona, his public appearance and demeanor,” she said. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” She regretted that she did not have a deeper grasp of public affairs. “No one that’s voting knows all the facts,” she said. “It’s a shame. They keep us so fucking busy and poor that we don’t have the time.”

When she addressed Clinton herself, it was in a stream that seemed to refer to, but not explicitly name, several of the charges thrown against Clinton by that point in time, including her handling of the deadly 2012 attack by Islamic militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya; the potential conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation; and her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State, mixing national security business with emails to her daughter, Chelsea.

“To have lives be sacrificed because of corporate greed and warmongering, it’s too much for me — and I realize I don’t have all the facts — that there’s just too much sidestepping on her. I don’t trust her. I don’t think that — I know there’s casualties of war in conflict, I’m a big girl, I know that. But I lived my life with no secrets. There’s no shame in the truth. There’s mistakes made. We all grow. She’s a mature woman and she should know that. You don’t email your fucking daughter when you’re a leader. Leaders need to make decisions, they need to be focused. You don’t hide stuff.

“That’s why I like Trump,” she continued. “He’s not perfect. He’s a human being. We all make mistakes. We can all change our mind. We get educated, but once you have the knowledge, you still have to go with your gut.”

Hand-wringing among Democrats about the party’s declining support among white working-class voters goes back a long time, to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that signing the Civil Rights Act would sacrifice the allegiance of white Southerners. Then came the rest of the historical litany: the crime wave, riots and anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, the consolidation of suburban white flight, Nixon’s Silent Majority, Reagan Democrats, NAFTA, gun control, the War on Coal, and on and on. By this year, many liberals had gotten so fed up with hearing about these woebegone voters and all their political needs that they were openly declaring them a lost cause, motivated more by racial issues than economic anxiety, and declaring that the expanding Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and college-educated white voters obviated the need to cater to the white working class.

But this assessment suffered from a fatal overgeneralization. The “white working class” was a hugely broad category — as pollsters defined it, any white voter without a four-year college degree, roughly one-third of the electorate. Within that category were crucial distinctions, especially regional ones. Democrats in national elections had lost most white working-class voters in the Deep South — indeed, virtually all white voters there — a long time ago. They had in the past decade and a half seen much of Greater Appalachia, stretching from the Alleghenies to Arkansas, follow suit, to the point where West Virginia, one of just five states that Jimmy Carter won in 1980, went for Mitt Romney by 26 percentage points in 2012. It was hard to see how the Democrats were going to win back coal country like Logan County, W.V., which Bill Clinton won with 72 percent in 1996 but where Obama got only 29 percent in 2012.

But there was a whole subset of the white working class Obama was still winning: voters in northern states where unions, however diminished, still served to remind members of their Democratic roots (and build inter-racial solidarity). In these states, voters could still find national figures who represented them and their sort, people like Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Vice President Joe Biden. Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, centered on Biden’s hometown of Scranton, went for Obama with 63 percent of the vote in 2012. Rural Marquette County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, went for him with 56 percent of the vote. In Ohio, there were a couple counties in the state’s Appalachian southeast that went stronger for Obama in 2012 than they had in 2008. In the opposite corner of the state, gratitude for Obama’s bailout of the auto industry helped win him 64 percent of the vote in Lucas County, around Toledo. Across the North, Obama ran even or ahead with John Kerry and Al Gore among white working class voters; their raw vote total for him nationwide exceeded his tallies of college-educated white voters and minority supporters.

On Election Day 2012, one voter I spoke with in Columbus, Ohio, encapsulated how well Obama had managed to frame the election as a “who’s on your side” choice between himself and the private equity titan Mitt Romney, and thereby hold onto enough white working-class voters in crucial swing states. Matt Bimberg, 50, was waiting by himself at a remote bus stop in a black neighborhood on the edge of town. He had in the past decade lost jobs as a telecom technician for Global Crossing (he still carried a Global Crossing tote bag) and at a factory making escape hatches for buses. But he had just landed a job at a nearby warehouse as a forklift operator, a success for which he credited a three-week training course paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor. And as gratitude for that, he was voting for Obama after voting for John McCain in 2008. “My line of thinking was that under Romney and [Paul] Ryan, it would be more of a trickle-down administration,” he said. “Their thinking is to give that money to corporations and the rich in tax breaks, and some will trickle down. But it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Romney reminds me so much of Reagan’s theory of supply-side economics. It scares me.”

Not so long ago, Hillary Clinton would have seemed ideally suited to keep such northern white working-class voters in the fold. After all, she had trounced Obama among many of these very voters in the 2008 primaries, as she beat him in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania and at one point went so far as to declare herself, in a slip of the tongue, the champion of “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

But things had changed in the intervening years. For one thing, she was further removed from her stint representing downtrodden upstate New York as a senator — she had spent the years since 2008 in the rarefied realm of the State Department and then giving more than 80 paid speeches to banks, corporations and trade associations, for a total haul of $18 million. For another thing, cause for resentment and letdown had grown in many of those Rust Belt communities where Obama had held his own — they might be inching their way back from the Great Recession, but the progress was awfully slow, and they were lagging ever further behind booming coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, where the income gap compared with the rest of the country had grown far larger.

Most crucially, she was running not against Mitt Romney, the man from Bain Capital, but against Donald Trump. Yes, Trump was (or claimed to be) a billionaire himself, but he was not of Romney’s upper crust — they scorned him and his casinos and gold-plated jet, and were giving him virtually none of their campaign contributions. Trump attacked the trade deals that had helped hollow out these voters’ communities, he attacked the Mexicans who had heavily populated some of their towns and had driven much of the heroin trade in others, and, yes, he tapped into broader racial resentments as well. Faced with this populist opposition, Clinton fatefully opted against taking the “I’m on your side; he’s not” tack that Obama had used so well against Romney, and had instead gone about attacking Trump’s fitness for the presidency.

Back in Dayton, where Clinton never visited during the entire campaign, I had run into two more former Obama voters after Trump’s March rally there. Both Heath Bowling and Alex Jones admitted to having been swept up in the Obama wave, but had since grown somewhat disenchanted. Bowling, 36, a burly man with a big smile, managed a small siding and insulation business, and as he’d grown older he’d had gotten more bothered about the dependency on food stamps he saw around him, especially among members of his own generation, and demoralized by the many overdose deaths in his circle.

Jones, 30, who worked part-time at a pizza shop and delivering medicines to nursing homes, joked at first that his vote for Obama might have had to do with his having been doing a lot of drugs at the time. He grew serious when he talked about how much the Black Lives Matter protests against shootings by police officers grated on him. Chicago was experiencing soaring homicide rates, he said — why weren’t more people talking about that? He was upset that when he went out on the town in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine bar district, he had to worry about getting jumped if he was on the street past a certain hour — and that he felt constrained against complaining against it. “If I say anything about that, I’m a racist,” he said. “I can’t stand that politically correct bullshit.” He had, he said, taken great solace in confiding recently in an older black man at a bar who had agreed with his musing on race and crime. “It was like a big burden lifted from me — here was this black man agreeing with me!”

Polls had consistently showed that Trump’s support was stronger with white working-class men than women, and in October came a revelation that seemed sure to weaken his standing among women of all classes, release of an 11-year-old tape in which Trump boasted of trying to commit adultery with a married woman and grabbing women “by the pussy.”

A few days after the release of the tape, which was followed by a string of accusations from women saying they had been sexually harassed and assaulted by Trump, I checked back in with Tracie St. Martin to see if she still supported him. She was working on a new gas plant in Middletown, a working-class town near Dayton that was the setting of the recent best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” Here’s what she wrote back in a text message: “I still appreciate the honesty in some of his comments. Most of his comments. I still favor what he says he may be able to do. I am voting against Hillary, come what may with Trump. It’s important to me that ‘we the people’ actually have political power. And electing Trump will prove that. I am AMAZED at the number of people voting for him. The corruption is disgusting in the press. Yes, as of right now I am voting FOR Trump.” She was sure he would win, she said: “His support is crazy! The polls have to be wrong. Have to be fixed.”

And she shared an anecdote that reflected how differently Trump’s comments had been received in some places than others. “I’m setting steel for this new gas plant…I’m operating a rough terrain forklift,” she wrote. “So today, I kept thinking about the debate and the audio was released … And I got underneath a load of steel and was moving it…I was laughing and laughing and one of the iron workers asked ‘what are u laughing at.’ I said ‘I grabbed that load right by the pussy’ and laughed some more…And said ‘when you’re an operator you can do that ya know’, laughed all fucking day.”

Just last week, I was back in Ohio, in the southeastern Appalachian corner. I was at a graduation ceremony for opiate addicts who had gone through a recovery program, and sitting with four women, all around 30, who were still in the program. Someone mentioned the election, and all four of them piped up that they were voting for the first time ever. For whom? I asked. They looked at me as if I had asked the dumbest question in the world. All four were for Trump.

The most of the loquacious of the group, Tiffany Chesser, said she was voting for him because her boyfriend worked at a General Electric light-bulb plant nearby that was seeing more of its production lines being moved to Mexico. She saw voting for Trump as a straightforward transaction to save his job. “If he loses that job we’re screwed — I’ll lose my house,” she said. “There used to be a full parking lot there — now you go by, there are just three trucks in the lot.”

But Chesser also was viscerally opposed to Clinton who, the week prior, had endured a surprise announcement from FBI Director James Comey that a newly discovered cache of emails of hers was under scrutiny. “If she’s being investigated by the FBI, there’s a reason for it,” she said. I asked the women if they weren’t equally bothered by the many women’s accusations against Trump. They shrugged. “It’s locker-room talk,” Chesser said. “I know girls talk like that, and I know guys do.” But what about the accusations of assault? “Why are they just coming forward now?” she said. “If he did it to me before, I’d have come forward then. I wouldn’t wait until now.”

The next day, I met with Taylor Sappington, a native of Southeast Ohio who, after graduating from Ohio University, had decided to run for town council last year in Nelsonville, pop. 5,400, and won a seat. Sappington, who had been raised in a manufactured home by a single mother and whose brother works as a corrections officer, was a proud Democrat. He had volunteered for Obama’s 2012 campaign and took comfort in knowing that parts of Southeast Ohio had remained solid for the Democrats, unlike so much of the rest of Appalachia. But he knew that Clinton would not perform as well in the area as Obama had. “It’s a Democratic area. But Trump has blown a hole through it,” he said. “They feel like this is a forgotten area that’s suffering, that has been forgotten by Columbus and Washington and then they hear someone say, we can turn this place around, they feel it viscerally.”

And he feared that the national Democratic Party did not realize how little it could afford such a loss, or even realize how well it had those voters in the fold as recently as 2012. “I’m a believer in the Democratic coalition, but they’re writing off folks and it’s going to hurt them,” he said. “To write them off is reckless.”

A week later, on Election Day, I drove to a polling station in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, a small town south of York, just across the Maryland line. The polling station was inside an evangelical church housed inside a vast, mostly abandoned shopping plaza. It’s Republican country, where Romney outpolled Obama 2–1, but I was still startled by how long it was taking me to find a single Hillary Clinton voter.

But there was yet another woman voting for the first time in her life, at age 55, for Trump. “I didn’t have much interest in politics. But the older you get you realize more and more how important it is,” said Kelly Waldemire, who works in a local plastic-molding plant. “When it got to the point where the country is going in the wrong direction, I thought it was time.”

And there was yet another voter who had been for Obama in 2008 — Brian Osbourne, a 33-year-old Navy veteran who now drove all the way to Washington, D.C., every day to do commercial HVAC work because it paid double there what it would in Shrewsbury. The local economy had come back a little, he said, but “there’s a lot of people working jobs that they’re overqualified for.” That wasn’t all, he said. He hesitated, warning that what he was about to say wasn’t “politically correct,” and then said, “We’re really getting pussified as a country.”

I asked what he made of reports that Trump wrote off as much of a billion dollars on his taxes to avoid paying any at all. He shrugged it off just as every Trump voter I spoke with there did. “That doesn’t worry me all that much,” he said. “That’s what he does — that’s the loophole the government created. He takes advantage of what the system created. I’d do the same thing.”

As for Obama, his promise of racial reconciliation had been a “big letdown,” he said. “I thought it would help with race relations, but it’s getting way worse,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another civil war in this country.”

And there were yet more women willing to wave off Trump’s comment on the tape and the women’s accusations against him. “I don’t take that crap seriously,” said Tammy Nuth, 49, who cares for Alzheimer’s patients. “Men are men.” As for the women accusers: “I think they’re getting paid off.”

As I was preparing to leave, I glimpsed a young woman who I guessed might’ve voted for Clinton, and approached her to help balance my reporting. I was wrong. Stephanie Armetta, an 18-year-old working as a grocery store cashier before heading to community college, had cast her first-ever ballot, for Donald Trump. Her family had many members in the military, she said, and she thought Trump would “have more respect” for them. She thought it was wrong that if her brother got deployed, he got only two meals per day, while people in prison get three. And then of course there was Benghazi, “that she left [the four Americans] there, that they weren’t her priority.” She was bothered by Trump’s comments on the tape, for sure. But, she said, “I’m glad how he didn’t lie about it. They caught him and he said, yeah, I said an asshole thing.” Not to mention, she said, “Bill Clinton isn’t good either on that subject.” Her vote, she concluded, was “more against Hillary than for Trump.”

Trump won that one small precinct by 144 more votes than Romney had won it in 2012 — a 20 percent increase. And all across rural and small-town Pennsylvania, that pattern repeated itself. In Scranton’s Lackawanna County, where Obama had won 63 percent, Clinton won only 50 percent.

In Michigan’s rural Marquette County, where Obama had won 56 percent, Clinton got only 49 percent. Trump became the first Republican since 1988 to win Pennsylvania or Michigan.

In Ohio’s Mahoning County, home of Youngstown, where Obama got 63 percent, Clinton got only 50 percent. In Hocking County, just adjacent to Nelsonville, Clinton fell even further, getting 30 percent, down from the 48 percent Obama had gotten, and realizing Taylor Sappington’s fears.

And at Tracie St. Martin’s working-class precinct in Miamisburg, where Obama had managed to get 43 percent in 2012, Clinton’s support plunged to 26 percent, giving Trump a margin of 293 votes just in that one precinct, triple Romney’s margin four years earlier. That helped provide Trump a historic claim: the first Republican majority in Dayton’s Montgomery County in 28 years. Statewide, Trump won by a whopping eight percentage points, a swing of 10 points from four years earlier. He had brought new voters out of the woodwork; he had converted some white working-class Obama voters while others had just stayed home.

St. Martin, who was still hard at work on the Middletown gas plant with a “great bunch of ironworkers,” was elated. “I just really needed to know that I was part of a majority that recognized we need these things that Trump spoke of,” she told me. “More importantly for me, to NOT have Hillary as Commander in Chief.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

The Democrats’ Bad Map

The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo by DAVID ILIFF)

By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

Even as Hillary Clinton appears poised to win easily against a highly erratic candidate with a campaign in meltdown, a sobering reality awaits Democrats on Nov. 9. It seems likely that they will eke out at most a narrow majority in the Senate, but will fail to pick up the 30 seats they need to reclaim the House. If they do manage to win a Senate majority, it will be exceedingly difficult to hold it past 2018, when 25 of the party’s seats must be defended, compared with eight Republican ones.

The Republican Party may seem in historic disarray, but it will most likely be able to continue to stymie the Democrats’ legislative agenda, perpetuating Washington’s gridlock for years to come.

Liberals have a simple explanation for this state of affairs: Republican-led gerrymandering, which has put Democrats at a disadvantage in the House and in many state legislatures. But this overlooks an even bigger problem for their party. More than ever, Democrats are sorting themselves into geographic clusters where many of their votes have been rendered all but superfluous, especially in elections for the Senate, House and state government.

This has long been a problem for the party, but it has grown worse in recent years. The clustering has economic and demographic roots, but also a basic cultural element: Democrats just don’t want to live where they’d need to live to turn more of the map blue.

Americans’ tendency toward political self-segregation has been underway for a while now — it’s been eight years since Bill Bishop identified the dynamic in “The Big Sort.” This helps explain why red-blue maps of so many states consist of dark-blue islands in the cities surrounded by red exurbs and rural areas, a distribution that is also driven by urban concentrations of racial minorities and by the decades-long shift in allegiance from Democratic to Republican among working-class white voters.

That hyper-concentration of Democratic votes has long hurt the party in the House and state legislatures. In Ohio, for instance, Republicans won 75 percent of the United States House seats in 2012 despite winning only 51 percent of the total votes for the House. That imbalance can be explained partly by Republican gerrymandering. But even if district lines were drawn in rational, nonpartisan ways, a disproportionate share of Democratic votes would still be clustered in urban districts, giving Republicans a larger share of seats than their share of the overall vote. Winning back control of state legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan could help Democrats in redistricting in 2020. But it would help more if their voters were not so concentrated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

“It would be awfully difficult to construct a map that wasn’t leaning Republican,” said the University of Michigan political scientist Jowei Chen. “Geography is just very unfortunate from the perspective of the Democrats.”

More recently, a confluence of several trends has conspired to make the sorting disadvantageous for Democrats on an even broader scale — increasing the party’s difficulties in House races while also affecting Senate elections and, potentially, future races for the presidency.

First, geographic mobility in the United States has become very class-dependent. Once upon a time, lower-income people were willing to pull up stakes and move to places with greater opportunity — think of the people who fled the Dust Bowl for California in the 1930s, or those who took the “Hillbilly Highway” out of Appalachia to work in Midwestern factories, or Southern blacks on the Great Migration. In recent decades, though, internal migration has slowed sharply, and the people who are most likely to move for better opportunities are the highly educated.

Second, higher levels of education are increasingly correlated with voting Democratic. This has been most starkly on display in the 2016 election, as polls suggest that Donald J. Trump may be the first Republican in 60 years to not win a majority of white voters with college degrees, even as he holds his own among white voters without degrees. But the trend of increasing Democratic identification among college graduates, and increasing Republican identification among non-graduates, was underway before Trump arrived on the scene. Today, Democrats hold a 12-point edge in party identification among those with a college degree or more. In 2004, the parties were even on that score.

Finally, in the United States the economic gap between the wealthiest cities and the rest of the country has grown considerably. The internet was supposed to allow wealth to spread out, since we could be connected anywhere — but the opposite has happened. Per capita income in the District of Columbia has gone from 29 percent above the United States average in 1980 to 68 percent in 2013; in the Bay Area, from 50 percent above to 88 percent; in New York City, from 80 percent above to 172 percent. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, exert a strong pull on mobile, highly educated, Democratic-leaning voters, while at the same time stirring resentment in the less prosperous areas those voters leave behind. And these economically dominant cities tend to be in deep-blue states.

How extreme is Democratic clustering? If you compare President Obama’s 2012 performance with Al Gore’s in 2000, you can see a huge increase in the Democratic percentage of the vote in the 68 largest metro areas. But it barely budged everywhere else. Some of that increase was caused by voters already in those cities flipping from Republican to Democratic. But it was also the gravitational effect.

This clustering of Democrats helps explain why Trump has been keeping it close in Ohio and Iowa, both states where some 72 percent of white residents over 24 lack college degrees, the highest share among the 13 most competitive states.

It works the other way in presidential elections, too. Democrats have gained in some other swing states with high levels of college-educated voters, like Virginia and Colorado, and they do at least reap a benefit in the Electoral College for having a lock on big states such as New York and California.

But it’s another story in the Senate, where this dynamic helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.

Clustering is part of the problem. All those Democrats gravitating to blue strongholds like New York and California get the party no more Senate seats than Republicans get from Idaho and from Wyoming, a state with a population of about 580,000, slightly more than Fresno, Calif. If the Democrats are going to gain a lasting hold on the Senate, they have to win seats in swing states. But that gets harder the more that Democratic-leaning voters flock to big, blue states, abandoning swing states like Ohio, where the Republican Rob Portman is gliding to re-election, or smaller red states where Democrats might still have a shot at holding Senate seats, like Montana, Indiana or North Dakota.

Jenn Topper has thought about this dynamic a lot, because she’s a clear example of it. Topper, 31, grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, a city that has lost nearly half its population since 1960. She left for college at Florida State, then for a public relations job in New York, then for a political communications job in Washington.

“When you grow up in Ohio, there’s a bigger world out there, and if you know about it, you just want to go to it,” she said.

A couple years ago, Topper and some colleagues who were also from Ohio were excited to meet “their” Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, at an event. He asked them where they lived in Ohio. But they don’t live in Ohio — and won’t be able to vote for him in what is sure to be a tough race in 2018.

Topper’s high school classmate Brett Stelter, 31, left Dayton after attending Ohio University. His father was a district parts manager for Honda, which has a plant near Dayton, and Stelter himself did part-time work at the plant. But his dream was to be an actor, and so he ended up in Los Angeles.

“There’s just nothing to do in Ohio,” he said. “The jobs are limited, but it’s not just the jobs and the industries that are in Ohio, it’s the mind-set that I didn’t gravitate to.”

Stelter, who voted twice for Obama, is disappointed that his vote is superfluous in California, and tries to make up for it by engaging on social media with people back home — people like his father, who is leaning toward Trump. “Part of me wishes I could be there to personally talk to people instead of trolling them on the internet,” he said. But his political irrelevance is not enough to make him consider moving back. “Going back to Ohio to be able to vote every four years is not enough for me.”

This clustering is happening even as many smaller cities and outlying regions are experiencing mini-cultural renaissances. For one thing, a foodie or beer snob now has much less to complain about when contemplating dining outside a big coastal city. And most of these places are much more affordable than Brooklyn or Los Angeles. But they can’t seem to compare with the profusion of cool elsewhere.

Even cities making comebacks, with restored downtown buildings and plenty of locally brewed I.P.A., have the memory problem. If a city was on the ropes when young people left it, it’s frozen in that form in their image of it. “You’re competing with memory,” Topper said. “People look back and remember what it was like when they were there. You don’t often hear about how things are moving or growing or new things are happening. That picture of when you have left is all you have.”

Of course, some people do go back. Brittney Vosters, 30, who went to high school and college in Dayton, left for several years, living in Chicago and enrolling in graduate school in public administration at Rutgers in New Jersey. She recently moved back to Cincinnati so her husband could go to graduate school in northern Kentucky. It has struck her how much her former Dayton classmates have sorted out politically. “It’s noticeable that the people who left are more liberal-minded and the people who stayed are more Republican,” she said.

And this sorting out is self-perpetuating, too. The fewer people you encounter of the opposite political persuasion, the more they become an unfathomable other, easily caricatured and impossible to find even occasional common ground with. By segregating themselves in narrow slices of the country, Democrats have also made it harder to make their own case. They are forever preaching to the converted, while their social distance also leaves them unprepared for what’s coming from the other end of the spectrum. Changing that would mean adopting a broader notion of what it means to live in a happening place, and also exposing themselves to discomforts that most people naturally avoid, given the human tendency to seek out our own kind.

Vosters, for one, appreciates that her vote counts a lot more now in Ohio than it did when she was in New Jersey and Illinois. But she has no doubt where she’d like to end up for good. For her next move, she said, “I’d look at the political map and go toward the blue, because it’s more comfortable to be around people who are like you.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

By Julia Angwin, ProPublica

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.

“The fact that DoubleClick data wasn’t being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand,” said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.

“It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy,” he said. “That wall has just fallen.”

Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville emailed a statement describing Google’s change in privacy policy as an update to adjust to the “smartphone revolution”

“We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices,” Faville wrote. She added that the change “is 100% optional–if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged.” (Read Google’s entire statement.)

Existing Google users were prompted to opt-into the new tracking this summer through a request with titles such as “Some new features for your Google account.”

The “new features” received little scrutiny at the time. Wired wrote that it “gives you more granular control over how ads work across devices.” In a personal tech column, the New York Times also described the change as “new controls for the types of advertisements you see around the web.”

Connecting web browsing habits to personally identifiable information has long been controversial.

Privacy advocates raised a ruckus in 1999 when DoubleClick purchased a data broker that assembled people’s names, addresses and offline interests. The merger could have allowed DoubleClick to combine its web browsing information with people’s names. After an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, DoubleClick sold the broker at a loss.

In response to the controversy, the nascent online advertising industry formed the Network Advertising Initiative in 2000 to establish ethical codes. The industry promised to provide consumers with notice when their data was being collected, and options to opt out.

Most online ad tracking remained essentially anonymous for some time after that. When Google bought DoubleClick in 2007, for instance, the company’s privacy policy stated: “DoubleClick’s ad-serving technology will be targeted based only on the non-personally-identifiable information.”

In 2012, Google changed its privacy policy to allow it to share data about users between different Google services – such as Gmail and search. But it kept data from DoubleClick – whose tracking technology is enabled on half of the top 1 million websites – separate.

But the era of social networking has ushered in a new wave of identifiable tracking, in which services such as Facebook and Twitter have been able to track logged-in users when they shared an item from another website.

Two years ago, Facebook announced that it would track its users by name across the Internet when they visit websites containing Facebook buttons such as “Share” and “Like” – even when users don’t click on the button. (Here’s how you can opt out of the targeted ads generated by that tracking).

Offline data brokers also started to merge their mailing lists with online shoppers. “The marriage of online and offline is the ad targeting of the last 10 years on steroids,” said Scott Howe, chief executive of broker firm Acxiom.

To opt-out of Google’s identified tracking, visit the Activity controls on Google’s My Account page, and uncheck the box next to “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services.” You can also delete past activity from your account.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Fact-Checking Trump & Clinton On The Billionaire’s Tax Break

presidential debate

By Alec MacGillis, ProPublica

The only thing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seemed to agree upon in last Sunday’s debate—indeed, one of the few substantive policy exchanges they had—was the need to eliminate a tax benefit that collectively saves private equity, real estate, and venture capital partners billions of dollars each year. But their exchange might have left viewers confused about the issue, not least because it included several misleading insinuations, particularly on the part of Trump.

[ProPublica has been covering this issue throughout the campaign, to explain the origins of the so-called carried-interest loophole and why it’s survived so long. See: How Philanthropist David Rubenstein Helped Save a Tax Break Billionaires Love and The Surreal Politics of a Billionaire’s Tax Loophole.]

During the debate, here’s what Trump had to say about the carried-interest break, which also goes by the “hedge-fund loophole,” though it benefits that industry less than others.

One thing I’d do is get rid of carried interest. The—one of the greatest provisions for people like me, to be honest with you, I give up a lot when I run because I knockout the tax code. And she could have done this years ago, by the way. She is—she was a United States senator. She complains that Donald Trump took advantage of the tax code. Well, why didn’t you change it, why didn’t you change it when you were a senator? The reason you didn’t is that all your friends take the same advantage that I do. And they do, you have provisions in the tax code, that frankly, we could change. But you wouldn’t change it because all of these people gave you the money so you can take negative ads on Donald Trump…

And here’s what Hillary countered with:

Well, everything you’ve heard from Donald is not true. I’m sorry I have to keep saying this, but he lives in an alternative reality. And it is sort of amusing to hear somebody who hasn’t paid federal income taxes in maybe 20 years talking about what he’s going to do, but I’ll tell you what he’s going to do. His plan will give the wealthy and corporations the biggest tax cuts they have ever had. More than the Bush tax cuts by at least a factor of two. Donald always takes care of Donald and people like Donald. And this would be a massive gift…

Which prompted this rejoinder from Trump:

Hillary Clinton is extremely complex. Hillary Clinton has friends that want all of these provisions, including, they want the carried interest provision, which is very important to Wall Street people, but they really want the carried interest provision, which I believe Hillary is leaving, and it’s very interesting why she is leaving carried interest…

It is true that both candidates have, since early in the campaign, vowed to close the loophole, which allows investment managers to have the large sums they receive as compensation for managing other people’s money taxed at the lower capital gains rate, as if it was the result of their own investment, rather than at the higher tax rate for ordinary income.

However, Trump’s vow to close the loophole is largely canceled out by other provisions in his tax plan, which could reduce the income tax rate for partners at many investment firms to as low as 15 percent. That is what Clinton is correctly referring to when she says that his plan will “give the wealthy and corporations the biggest tax cuts they have ever had.”

Trump is even more misleading when he suggests that Clinton is “leaving carried interest” untouched. Not only does Clinton want to close the loophole, she has vowed to close it by administrative fiat if congressional Republicans continue opposing legislation to close it. In this, she is going further than President Obama, who has held back from administrative action on it.

However, Trump is closer to the truth when he suggests that Clinton did not push as hard as she could have to close the loophole when representing New York in the Senate. For one thing, Clinton did not sign on as a co-sponsor of the first proposal to close the loophole in 2007, unlike then-Senator Obama.

And Trump is also right that many of the people on Wall Street who would be hurt by closing the loophole are supporting Clinton and giving money to her. In fact, not a single employee at any of the top four private equity firms has given money to Trump’s campaign. But that is not driven by a calculation that Trump would be worse for their taxes than Clinton, because that is simply not the case. It is one of the great ironies of this very unusual campaign that the candidate who is far more likely to raise taxes on top Wall Street money managers, Hillary Clinton, is receiving virtually the entirety of their political largess.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

U.S. Labor Department: States Are Failing Injured Workers

By Michael Grabell, ProPublica

A U.S. Department of Labor report released today details the bleak fate facing the nation’s injured workers, noting that those hurt on the job are at “great risk of falling into poverty” because state workers’ compensation systems are failing to provide them with adequate benefits.

The report lays the groundwork for renewed federal oversight of state workers’ comp programs, providing a detailed history of the government’s past efforts to step in when states fell short. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement Tuesday night that he was drafting legislation “to address many of the troubling findings laid out in this report” and hoped to advance it in the next Congress.

The 43-page report was prompted by a letter last fall from 10 prominent lawmakers, including Brown, urging more action to protect injured workers following a ProPublica and NPR series on workers’ comp. The stories found that since 2003, more than 30 states had changed their laws, causing some workers to lose their homes, or be denied surgeries or prosthetic devices their doctors recommended.

The Labor Department’s conclusions echo ProPublica and NPR’s findings that states have decreased benefits, created hurdles to medical care, raised the burden of proof to qualify for help and shifted costs to public programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Labor Department, made similar findings last year. But Wednesday’s report underscores the prominence of the issue, as departmental investigations are typically reserved for White House priorities, such as increasing the minimum wage and guaranteeing paid family leave.

The report provides a roadmap of potential actions, but stops short of new policy recommendations in what appears to be a tacit nod to the fact that President Obama’s term is waning and substantial changes must wait for another administration. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who was shortlisted as a potential vice presidential candidate, is expected to hold a top job if Hillary Clinton wins the election next month.

“With this report, we’re sounding an alarm bell,” Perez said in an interview Tuesday. “A critical part of the safety net is being both attacked and eroded in no small measure because there are no federal minimum standards for workers’ compensation.”

“I hope that Congress will step up,” he added. “We have to fix this system.”

Workers’ comp dates back more than century, with each state having its own system of benefits, insurance rules and courts. Typically, when a worker is injured, employers pay their medical bills, a portion of their lost wages and compensation for any permanent disabilities. In exchange for prompt and certain benefits, workers are barred from suing their employers.

But as ProPublica and NPR found, the benefits can vary drastically, with compensation for an amputated arm ranging from $45,000 to $740,000, even in neighboring states.

The Labor Department report details how states have changed their laws largely in an effort to reduce business costs as they compete for new corporate headquarters, factories and warehouses — a trend the report calls a “race to the bottom.”

It calls for policymakers to explore how to prevent the costs of workplace injuries and illnesses from being transferred to public programs, how to increase the sharing of injury data between insurers and public health researchers, and how to develop programs that help disabled workers return to the job.

Most significantly, it floats the idea of increasing federal oversight of state workers’ comp programs, which could include the appointment of a national commission, federal tracking of state laws and the establishment of minimum standards and penalties if states fail to meet them.

A presidential commission in 1972 came up with 19 guidelines for states to improve their workers’ comp systems and recommended that Congress mandate them if states didn’t act. Many states did, but as political winds shifted in the early 1980s, the threat of federal intervention passed.

The suggestion of increased federal involvement has set off alarm bells in the insurance and employer communities.

“Federal requirements imposed on a national basis would be inconsistent with the state workers’ compensation system, which has been in place for more than 100 years without federal oversight,” wrote Douglas Holmes in a recent blog post. Holmes is president of UWC, a business lobby group focused on unemployment and workers’ comp.

But in its report, the Labor Department notes that as far back as 1939, the agency considered setting guiding principles for workers’ comp as part of its mission. President Harry Truman spoke of promoting standards for state programs while President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s labor secretary sponsored the drafting of model workers’ comp laws.

Such involvement continued through the Ford and Carter administrations but was curtailed during the Reagan era. The Labor Department continued to track states’ compliance with the 1972 commission guidelines until 2004, when budget cuts ended the program.

Courts and lawmakers in several states have moved to restore workers’ comp protections since the ProPublica and NPR series published in 2015. Top courts in Florida and Oklahoma have overturned a number of business-friendly reforms highlighted in the series, including a two-year cap on wage benefits and a provision that allowed Oklahoma businesses to opt out of workers’ comp and write their own plans to care for injured employees. This summer, New Mexico’s Supreme Court granted farmworkers the right to workers’ comp for the first time in 100 years.

In California, the governor last week signed a bill that will reduce the roadblocks for workers to get medical care. And the state’s workers’ comp bureau is in the final stages of writing a new regulation that would allow more severely injured workers to qualify for home health care.

Last year, ProPublica profiled workers who had their home health aides taken away after a new law allowed insurance companies to reevaluate cases based on a more restrictive regulation.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Donald Trump and the Return of Seditious Libel

Trump Redecorate White House
Would Donald Trump redecorate the White House in the styles of his hotels and casinos should he be elected president?

By Richard Tofel, ProPublica

In 1733, New York printer John Peter Zenger began publishing the eighth newspaper in the American colonies, and the first willing to venture criticism of the government. The New-York Weekly Journal was the second paper in a city of 10,000 or so people, 1700 of them slaves.

As we are reminded in Richard Kluger’s comprehensive new book, “Indelible Ink,” the first full-length account of Zenger’s travails, by 1735, Zenger (and the likely editor of his paper, James Alexander) had so offended Britain’s royal governor of New York and New Jersey, William Cosby, that Cosby brought suit against Zenger for seditious libel—the crime of criticizing the government. Under the law then in effect in Britain and its colonies, truth was not a defense to this charge. The leading legal treatise of the day explained that “since the greater appearance there is of truth in any malicious invective, so much the more provoking it is.” And: “The malicious prosecution of even truth itself cannot… be suffered to interrupt the tranquility of a well-ordered society.” This was deemed especially the case with true attacks on those in power, as they would have “a direct tendency to breed in the people a dislike of their governors and incline them to faction and sedition.”

New Yorkers in 1735, though, weren’t buying it. While the jury in the Zenger trial was instructed that the truth of Zenger’s attacks on Cosby was no defense, Zenger’s lawyer argued that it should be, and asked the jury, if they found the stories true, to acquit the printer. This the jury did, striking a dramatic blow against the law of seditious libel, and launching a proud American tradition, ratified in 1791 in the First Amendment, and laid out over the centuries in a range of Supreme Court decisions.

For at least the last 30 years, since Chief Justice William Rehnquist acquiesced in the constitutionalization of the law of libel, which has safeguarded the American press for more than a half century, we appeared to have a consensus in this country around our modern system of protections for the value of a free and untrammeled press to the process of self-government.

Until now. This year, for the first time since at least Richard Nixon, the leader of one of our major political parties has pledged to limit press freedom by restricting criticism of his prospective rule.

But Nixon’s threats were private, revealed only by his own taping system, while Donald Trump’s are very public, loud and clear. And to be fair to Nixon, he never made good on his private threats, and in the one Supreme Court case he argued personally as a lawyer, he seemed to accept modern constitutional protections for libel.

In fact, Trump is more hostile to the legal and constitutional rights of the press than any major presidential candidate of the last two centuries. What he proposes is reminiscent of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 championed (to his immortal disgrace) by President John Adams in the last serious attempt to relitigate at the federal level what had seemed resolved in the Zenger case. It is cold comfort—although it may be some warning to Republicans inclined to go along—that Adams was not only defeated for re-election after passage of those laws, but lost the White House to Thomas Jefferson and his close associates James Madison and James Monroe for a quarter of a century, while Adams’ Federalist Party never really recovered.

In case you think a comparison of Trump’s goals with Zenger’s opponents or the sponsors of the Alien and Sedition Acts is unfair, a quick review of the record may be in order.

Trump has said that most reporters are “absolute dishonest, absolute scum.” He’s said that “I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible.”

In February he pledged that “one of the things I’m gonna do if I win, and I hope that I do, and we’re certainly leading, is I’m gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re gonna open up those libel laws. So that when the New York Times writes a hit piece that is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money rather than have no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. You see, with me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people, but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money. We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never got sued before.”

Nor is a threat by Trump to sue for libel an idle one. In 2006 he brought such a suit against a book that asserted he had wildly overstated his wealth. He lost the case on the merits as well as for failure to prove fault. But the Washington Post reported that “Trump said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. ‘I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make [author Tim O’Brien’s] life miserable, which I’m happy about.'” Trump has also sued the Chicago Tribune and comedian Bill Maher, and threatened to sue the New York Times (more than once), ABC, the Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, the Huffington Post, reporter David Cay Johnston, TV host Lawrence O’Donnell and comedian Rosie O’Donnell

In the February rant, Trump also seemed to threaten to force Jeff Bezos to divest himself of the Washington Post, asserting that it had been purchased to obtain political influence, and declaring that such purchases should be forbidden.

Asked in June if his stance on the press would continue as president, he said, “Yeah, it is going to be like this… You think I’m gonna change? I’m not going to change.” He repeated his view that “I am going to continue to attack the press. I find the press to be extremely dishonest. I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest.”

In August he tweeted that “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”

Melania Trump’s libel lawyer (she is suing the Daily Mail in Maryland for a story on her modeling days) is even more specific, saying that New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that established modern press protections, should be overruled.

Anyone paying attention knows there is a great deal at stake in this election. Freedom of the press in this country may be among those stakes.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Which Voters Show Up When States Allow Early Voting?

Early voting center at Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center in Rockville, Maryland on Oct. 28, 2012. (Photo by Ben Schumin/Wikimedia Commons)

By Sarah Smith, ProPublica

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states now offer voters some way to cast ballots early and avoid lining up at the polls on Election Day.

These options are popular. About one-third of voters made use of them in the 2012 election.

There is no act more central to a democracy than voting. Electionland is a project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election. Read more and sign up.

But so-called “convenience voting” remains controversial: In some states, various types of early balloting has been challenged on grounds that it opens the door to fraud, though there’s been little evidence that such fraud is taking place.

Supporters of early voting say partisan politics is what really drives the objections. Research shows early voting increases turnout by 2 percent to 4 percent. In some cases, it particularly boosts voting among minorities, a constituency that tends to vote Democrat.

A GOP consultant acknowledged as much after a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s effort to curtail some kinds of convenience voting on the basis that legislators had targeted measures that disproportionately aided African Americans.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” the consultant, Carter Wrenn, told the Washington Post. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.”

We took a look at some convenience voting tactics and what they do—or don’t do—for turnout, particularly in minority communities:

In-person Absentee Voting

This form of early voting has a confusing name but an easy concept: Voters get a ballot before Election Day and turn it in at a designated place. The ballot is counted with other absentee ballots. This is also known as in-person early voting or early in-person voting.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported that 14 percent of voters in nine of the top-turnout states with in-person absentee as an option used it in 2012, up from 13 percent in 2008 and 8.4 percent in 2004. Political science research hasn’t come to a consensus on what it does for overall turnout: A study out of the University of Wisconsin found that in-person absentee voting actually decreased participation.

Other studies have shown that in-person absentee voting has boosted black turnout, in part because some states allow people to submit votes on the weekend. This has enabled African-American churches’ “Souls to the Polls” initiatives, in which churchgoers are transported straight from the pews to the ballot box.

A paper examining the effects of Florida’s early voting patterns in the 2008 election showed that African Americans were more likely to cast in-person absentee ballots than white voters. African Americans made up 13 percent of registered voters in Florida, but cast 22 percent of the in-person absentee votes.

The same pattern holds true in Ohio, which has been embroiled in litigation over cuts to the state’s “Golden Week” of early voting. A 2015 paper showed that restricting in-person absentee voting in Ohio would have disparate impacts on different racial groups and that African Americans would be hardest hit by such cuts.

No-excuse Absentee Voting

Every state allows people who cannot get to polling places for specific reasons – illness or disability, military service, etc. – to mail in absentee ballots before the election.

Some 27 states — plus the District of Columbia — also let residents vote by absentee ballot without providing a reason.

The first states allowing no-excuse absentee voting—California, Oregon and Washington—did so in the 1980s and other states followed suit in the following decades. An early study in the 1990s found that opening up absentee voting can lead to a small increase in turnout, but since then research hasn’t shown that it has a significant impact on how many people vote.

Vote By Mail

Oregon, Washington and Colorado conduct elections entirely by mail, sending out ballots to all eligible voters and giving them until Election Day to mail them back in.

Oregon was the first state to conduct its elections by mail after a ballot measure passed in 1998. Washington, which had allowed counties to choose whether to conduct elections regularly or by mail, switched to an entirely postal system in 2011. Colorado followed in 2013.

The first wave of vote-by-mail studies found a huge jump in turnout, ranging from 10 to 19 percent. But as voters settled into the new laws, follow-up studies showed significantly less impact. A 2007 study in Washington found a 5 percent impact. A study in Switzerland, conducted from 1970 to 2005, saw a turnout increase of 4.1 percent.

There’s also no indication that these modest increases are skewed toward any particular racial or ethnic group.

In addition to the various modes of early voting, there’s a couple more way states make it more convenient to vote:

Same-day Registration

In at least 13 states and the District of Columbia, voters can show up at polling stations on Election Day, register and vote (some states such as Maryland only allow same-day registration during early voting). In addition, Utah passed a 2014 bill enacting a pilot project of same-day registration; the project will continue through 2016.

To register and vote at the same time, voters typically must show proof of residency (such as a driver’s license or, in some states, a utility bill) and provide an ID to verify their identity (photo or non-photo, depending on the state).

Groups that advocate for same-day registration say it not only eases access, but also solves the problem of inaccurate voter rolls from which people who move frequently might have purged or left off. According to a study from Demos, one such group, same-day registration can increase turnout from 3 percent to 6 percent. Pew Charitable Trusts found that one in eight voters in states with same-day registration used it in the 2012 election.

Not having to register in advance appears to boost minority voting disproportionately. In North Carolina, African-American voters accounted for 35 percent of those who used same-day registration in 2012, though African Americans made up only 22 percent of the electorate, according to PBS.

While voters who move frequently tend to be younger, and younger voters tend to vote Democrat, that’s not always the case. A 2012 study looking at Wisconsin’s same-day registration found that while it increased turnout, it actually decreased Democrats’ share of the presidential vote.

North Carolina passed a law banning same-day registration in 2013, but it has since been overturned.

Automatic Registration

Five states have recently approved automatic voter registration, which registers citizens who come into contact with government agencies (often at a DMV) to vote unless they opt out.

Oregon passed the first major automatic registration law in 2015. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have bills pending that would implement automatic registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

While it’s too soon to have significant studies on how automatic registration affects turnout, advocates contend the practice not only makes elections more accessible, but saves money and improves the accuracy of voter rolls.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.