Public Policy Polling is out with their 3rd annual TV news trust poll. Among Republicans, as the chart on the right shows, the shape of the river is simple: they don't trust anyone except Fox News, who they adore. These numbers are spreads, with NBC, for example, garnering 17% trust vs. 69% distrust. Fox News, conversely, garners 73% trust vs. 17% distrust.

Well, you say, maybe this just means that trust in the media is really low these days? Nope. Democrats and Independents may not trust Fox, but they do trust everyone else. The percentages vary, with more skepticism toward some outlets than others, but what non-Republicans don't do is simply dismiss television news en masse as a bunch of lying corporate shills. Paul Waldman explains:

While I was in the car yesterday I turned to a conservative talk radio station, which I recommend all liberals do from time to time. The host, whom I didn't recognize, brought up some innocuous piece of news reporting that appeared in the Politico. As you know if you care about these things, the Politico is a complicated media entity. On one hand, they employ a lot of reporters and they sometimes break interesting stories. On the other hand, they're almost a parody of the inside dope-obsessed Washington media, which finds the question of whether Eric Cantor's press secretary and John Boehner's press secretary are feuding far more compelling than, say, the question of what effects cuts in Medicaid would have on struggling Americans. But when this conservative talk show host mentioned the Politico, he found it necessary to refer to it as "the left-wing rag the Politico."

Here in Washington, almost no one in either party is crazy enough to think that the Politico is actually a left-wing rag, an ideologically-motivated news outlet whose purpose is to advance the liberal cause. And whether this talk show host's listeners know or care much about it in particular isn't my point. My point is this: If you are a consumer of conservative media, you get constant reminders — every day, multiple times a day — that you absolutely must not believe anything you hear or read in any news outlet that is not explicitly conservative.

Everybody — yes, everybody — is subject to confirmation bias. We all get the warm fuzzies when someone tells us something we want to hear, and we resist listening to people who tell us things we don't want to hear. But there's still a difference. As Paul says, "Conservatives and liberals are not equally prone to huddle within their self-reinforcing cocoons." Liberals don't immediately dismiss as a conspiracy everything they hear from the news media that doesn't fit their preconceived notions. They might downplay unwelcome news or even ignore it, but they're still willing to listen to it. Increasingly, conservatives simply aren't. They want to believe the world is a certain way, and they're just flatly not willing to countenance anything that might challenge those beliefs. This is not a healthy development for a modern democracy.

UPDATE: Chart edited to show the correct figure for the Fox News trust/distrust difference (56%, not 73%). Thanks to reader Dan H. for catching the error.

Jonathan Chait:

Mitt Romney’s run of luck during the Republican nominating race is beginning to defy belief. Begin with the fact that Rick Santorum turns out to have won the Iowa caucuses. Finding this out now is approximately 0.001 percent as valuable as having it announced the night of the caucuses. There was an old Fed Ex commercial depicting an aging pool cleaner suddenly discovering a 20-year-old acceptance letter from Harvard he had never received, and imagining the life he could have had. That man is Santorum. He has to wonder if the Iowa vote counters were gay.

What's equally remarkable is that even with Romney's incredible string of good luck, he's still having trouble sealing the deal.

At least, that's the conventional wisdom. But is it really true? Not counting Ron Paul, who will stay in the race to the bitter end because he was never really running for president in the first place, the GOP race is already down to three candidates. In 2008, we still had five major candidates remaining at this point. So Romney is doing at least as well as McCain did. If Gingrich and Santorum drop out by the end of February, things will have unfolded almost identically to 2008.

So maybe Romney isn't quite the pariah that he's been made out to be. But he's still incredibly lucky.

Rick, we hardly knew ye:

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas will end his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday and endorse Newt Gingrich, two campaign officials confirmed, a decision that could influence the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

....Mr. Perry will not participate in the debate here on Thursday evening, an aide said, and will make the announcement to supporters and contributors in South Carolina at an 11 a.m. news conference. He had been aggressively campaigning across the state, hoping that the first Southern primary would revive his candidacy.

Actually, it turns out we knew ye all too well. I will now use this occasion to take a victory jog for my early and prescient blog post, "Why Rick Perry Won't Win," because, honestly, I don't get the chance all that often. The truth, though, is that Perry turned out to be even more of a moron than I ever suspected. At the very least, I figured he was a canny politician, even if he needed to make the transition from Texas canny to national canny, and he turned out not to be. I'm not sure we've ever quite seen the combination of debate flubs ("oops" etc.) and debate gaffes (Gardasil, immigration) from another candidate that we saw from Perry.

Back to Texas, Rick, though I'm not sure even they want you back at this point.

We got some tentatively good news today:

The number of people seeking new unemployment benefits in the U.S. fell last week to the lowest level since April 2008, a signal that the labor market is continuing the improvement than began late last year. Initial jobless claims fell by 50,000 to a seasonally adjusted 352,000 in the week ended Jan. 14, the Labor Department said Thursday. The decline was the largest in a single week since Sept. 24, 2005.

It's only a single report, but it's consistent with other improving economic news. If Europe can avoid a complete implosion, perhaps soon we will all be Smithians. The chart below, stolen from Steve Benen, shows the long-term trend.

Marianne Gingrich, a woman who has said she could destroy Newt with a single interview, might have decided to do exactly that:

An ABC News executive tells The Associated Press that the network has interviewed Newt Gingrich's second wife and is likely to air the segment Thursday on "Nightline."

This should be good. You can tune in to the Republican debate tomorrow from 8-10 pm on CNN knowing that 90 minutes later you watch Brian Ross talk to Mrs. ex-Gingrich for half an hour in a possibly devastating interview. Everyone on the stage will know it too. That should certainly add a fillip of tension to things, shouldn't it?

Today the CBO released a study of various demonstration programs designed to improve care and reduce costs for Medicare patients. One category of program, disease management and care coordination, attempts to get patients with chronic illnesses to understand their treatment better and take better care of themselves. The goal is to reduce hospital admissions. So how did that work out?

On average, the 34 care coordination and disease management programs had little or no effect on hospital admissions or regular Medicare spending…

Bad news! But maybe not. As the chart on the right shows, there was a very wide variance in the effectiveness of the programs. So while the average may have been zero, having lots of different programs allows us some insight into which ones worked and which ones didn't. For example:

The programs used nurses as care managers to educate patients about their chronic illnesses, encourage them to follow self-care regimens, monitor their health, and track whether they received recommended tests and treatments. In most programs, the care managers were not integrated into physicians’ practices, and their contact with patients was primarily by telephone. In some programs, however, the care managers either were employed in physicians’ officesHospital admissions fell by an average of 7 percent and regular Medicare spending declined by an average of 6 percent for programs in which care managers had substantial direct interactions with physicians. In contrast, there was no effect, on average, on hospital admissions or spending resulting from programs in which care managers had little or no direct interaction with physicians.

So perhaps we've learned something. These kinds of program can reduce costs, but it turns out that financial incentives didn't make much difference. What did make a difference was allowing the nurses doing the care coordination to spend a lot of time with the primary physicians.

Unfortunately, there's some additional bad news. First, even the programs that worked didn't reduce overall costs because their savings were less than the fees they were paid to implement the program in the first place. Second, it's not clear that outcomes improved much: "Although the programs increased the percentage of beneficiaries who reported being taught self-management skills, they had little or no effect on the percentage who reported that they were adhering to prescribed self-care regimens." Back to the drawing board.

Was Newt Gingrich's comment about Barack Obama being a "food stamp president" a racist dog whistle? For chrissake. Of course it was. But I'm a little curious about why he's only now getting so much attention for it. Back in October 2010 Gingrich said that Democrats are "earning the title of the party of food stamps." In May 2011 he called Obama "the most successful food stamp president in American history" (and David Gregory called him out for using "coded racially-tinged language.") I don't know if it goes back even farther than that, but this has certainly been a well-honed applause line of his for at least the past year or so. It was no off-the-cuff zinger.

The World Bank is pessimistic. They've reduced their 2012 growth forecast for Europe by 2.1 percentage points and for other rich countries by about a point. But this is only their mildly pessimistic scenario, and it assumes that the crisis in the eurozone is reasonably well contained. But what happens if it isn't? Here you go:

In a second scenario (box table 4.2) the freezing up of credit is assumed to spread to two larger Euro Area economies (equal to around 30 percent of Euro Area GDP), generating similar declines in the GDP and imports of those economies. Repercussions to the Euro Area, global financial systems and precautionary savings are much larger because the shock is 6 times larger. Euro Area GDP falls by 6.0 percent relative to the baseline in 2013. GDP impacts for other high-income countries (-3.6 percent of GDP) and developing countries (-4.2 percent ) are less severe but still enough to push them into a deep recession. Overall, global trade falls by 2.6 percent (7.5 percent relative to baseline) and oil prices by 24 percent (5 percent for food).

So there you have it. If the eurozone crisis turns out to be worse than we think, growth in the EU will be nearly 6 points below their last forecast and growth in other rich countries — including us — would be more than 3 points below their last forecast. That's enough to send us skittering back into a recession regardless of whether our economic fundamentals are in good shape or not.

How likely is this? That's more a political question than an economic one, which makes it more than usually difficult to forecast. Against all odds, I still think that European leaders understand the stakes and will avoid the worst once they run out of all other choices. But I'm not sure what odds I'd put on that.

Yesterday I wrote that Saudi Arabia has very little spare oil production capacity, which means it also has very little ability to affect world oil prices. On Twitter, Ed Crooks of the Financial Times took issue with that, suggesting that Saudi Arabia has spare capacity of 2 million barrels per day, about what the Saudi oil minister says. (He actually claims 2.2 million barrels of immediate spare capacity and another 700,000 barrels that could be brought online in a few months.) Unfortunately, there's no way to resolve this definitively since the Saudis simply don't share enough information publicly to judge whether they're telling the truth. My own guess, not to put too fine a point on it, is that the Saudis are lying. They may have a million barrels a day of spare capacity right now (mostly in heavy crude), but I'd be surprised if it were much more than that.

I might be wrong about that, of course. Regardless, though, Stuart Staniford points out that Saudi Arabia still has pricing power, it's just that they don't have much power to move prices down. They do have the power to move prices up:

If you are betting on oil prices falling at the moment (for example if you judge that a European recession and a Chinese slowdown will put a crimp in demand), then you've got to be very aware that during the last recession Saudi Arabia (with a few key OPEC allies) cut production sharply at the end of 2008. After falling as low as $40 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Saudi production cuts brought them back to around $70 give or take — fairly consistent with the $75 that King Abdullah had said was a fair price in November 2008.

So, now, in betting against oil prices you'd have to worry that the one power Saudi Arabia does have is to make sure that oil prices don't go far under $100 for very long. Since Brent is about $110 as of this writing, that leaves a lot more room for it to increase than to decrease.

The point of the original Brad Plumer post that I linked to was that the Saudis (and some other OPEC countries) are now addicted to high prices and probably have an incentive to keep them up. And that's true. Even if they're mostly pumping flat out, they still have the ability to cut production if they think prices are falling too low. Given the leakiness of OPEC production "quotas" in recent years, it's not clear how long they could keep this up, but they could probably keep it up for a while. So if Saudi Arabia says it doesn't want oil prices to fall below $100, that might be meaningful after all. In my haste to pour scorn on the Saudi oil minister last night, I lost track of that.

(At the same time, when the Saudis say they can make up for any reductions in Iranian oil supply, I'd be very skeptical. Maybe they can, but I think the bulk of the evidence suggests that they simply don't have the production capacity they say they have. Hopefully we won't have to find out anytime soon.)

Is President Obama playing a "long game," as Andrew Sullivan says, or mostly just reacting to political realities, as I think? A Democratic staffer emails to take issue with me on one particular topic:

The big place where I think Sullivan is right and you’re wrong is on deficits/ jobs/ confrontationalism. After the 2010 elections, I think any spending whatsoever, on jobs or anything else, paid for or not, would have been literally laughed out of town and had Senate Democrats racing to the microphone to denounce it. Obama therefore dove into the deficit fight. It was virtually certain, regardless, that there were going to be long-term deficit cuts, and for that matter that House Republicans were not going to give in on revenue without major concessions. So Obama began a process that inch by inch, day by day, painted Republicans into a hated obstructionist corner, and in the end Obama basically gave up what he was going to have to give up all along.

The end result was that spending cuts happened, which I actually think in the long term there’s a sound progressive policy rationale for; they were backloaded so they wouldn’t hurt the economy in short term; the deficit debate was largely taken off the table; a half-trillion dollar stimulus package became a potent weapon rather than a laughable liability; and after years of Republicans obstruction without consequence they are suddenly paying a price for it every time and it has becoming a defining tenet of the Republican brand. As a result, Obama can bash the crap out of them while not sacrificing the mantle of being a guy who means what he says rather than being a cheap partisan.

Obama actually pivoted to talking about deficits a year earlier than this, during the 2010 State of the Union address, which was likely a mistake even if you buy this staffer's argument. I'm not entirely convinced myself, but he makes some good points that I thought were worth passing along.