Last year Gallup reported that the number of uninsured had dropped during the final quarter of 2013. That was good news, but might have been a statistical fluke. Today, via Greg Sargent, Gallup reports that the ranks of the uninsured have now dropped substantially for two quarters in a row:
The CBO estimates that the number of uninsured will drop by 4-5 percentage points in 2014 thanks to Obamacare. If you use 2011-12 as an approximate baseline, Gallup reports a drop of about 1.5 percentage points through February. These numbers probably aren't precisely comparable, but they represent a ballpark—and it doesn't look like a statistical fluke anymore. We're making progress.
For decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests....Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country....Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this strategy. It needs to fundamentally re-align Americans around an issue with a deep and latent importance: the environment.
I don't really want to pick on McElwee here, but I guess I'm feeling a little peevish this morning. Why is it that the working class often votes against its own economic interests? Well, let's compare the sales pitches of the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to pocketbook issues:
Republicans: We will lower your taxes.
Democrats: We, um, support policies that encourage a fairer distribution of growth and....and....working man....party of FDR....um....
There are two problems with the Democratic approach. First, it's too abstract to appeal to anyone. Second, it's not true anyway. Democrats simply don't consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes. Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005. They've done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies and next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways. They don't do anything for labor. They're soft on protecting Social Security. They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can't even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one.
Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor. They support increases in the EITC and the minimum wage. They support Medicaid expansion. They passed Obamacare. They support pre-K for vulnerable populations. They expanded CHIP. But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.
Now McElwee wants to use environmentalism to appeal to the working class. I'm all for that. But you don't have to play 11-dimensional chess to figure out how Republicans will respond. They'll say that Democrats want to raise your taxes. They'll say Democrats want to take away your plastic bags. They'll say Democrats want to make us all drive tiny cars or take the train everywhere. In coal country they'll say Democrats want to take away your jobs.
And then Democrats will wonder yet again why a big chunk of the working class votes for Republicans. It's a stumper all right.
Apologies for being peevish. But honestly, Democrats have done virtually nothing for the middle class for three decades now. They're nearly as reliant on the business community for campaign funding as Republicans. Can we all stop pretending that there's some deep mystery about why lots of working and middle class voters figure there are no real economic differences between the parties, so they might as well vote on social issues instead?
CPAC, that great annual gathering of conservative red meat and can-you-top-this condemnation of President Obama, came to an end Saturday (with a petulant, syntax-challenged stemwinder from Sarah Palin, natch). In passing, Lexington mentions something that's long puzzled me:
It is traditional for journalists to be a bit sniffy about CPAC straw polls, and with reason…CPAC attracts a very specific slice of the conservative movement, and its straw polls have a woeful record of predicting actual presidential nominees. Half the voters in this year’s effort were aged between 18 and 25, and two-thirds were male. Many seemed keen on Mr Paul’s brand of libertarianism, with its government-shrinking, pot-legalising, tax-cutting, privacy-obsessed, pull-up-the-drawbridge isolationism.
…Yet those who dismiss CPAC as a youth club for Ayn Rand (and Star Wars) fans risk overlooking the importance of the speeches here. Though the speakers pander to the crowd, they know that their words are whizzing around blogs, Twitter, talk radio and cable news TV. As a result, the senators and governors with presidential ambitions often give voice to what they believe their voters want to hear.
My puzzlement has always been just the opposite: The national political press mostly doesn't dismiss CPAC as an inconsequential libertarian love-fest. They love covering CPAC. But why? Every year, CPAC demonstrates its own irrelevance by overwhelmingly supporting Rand Paul or Ron Paul or some other eccentric conservative type in its final-day straw poll. It's solid proof that the attendees at CPAC represent a small and only slightly influential wing of the conservative movement.
And yet, the mere fact that CPAC reliably delivers the crazy seems to guarantee them plenty of coverage. I confess that I don't really get it. The average CPAC attendee wants to legalize drugs, cut the military, and rein in the NSA. The conservative movement writ large supports exactly the opposite: it wants to put the stoners in jail, give Vladimir Putin what for, and send the NSA a thank you card for protecting us from terrorists.
So why all the media love for CPAC? What's the deal?
U.S. Special Forces Soldiers attached to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, practice combat marksmanship skills training on a range, near Kabul province, Afghanistan, Feb. 24, 2014. USSF members maintain their skills for continued efficiency while assisting in operations with Afghan forces. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Connor Mendez)
"I'm being really ratchet right now," the up-and-coming rapper Le1f tells me over the phone. He's on a train, and I've asked him what his wildest music video fantasy would look like. He laughs, but he doesn't demur. "I don't think I'm being like Marina Abramovic, but that's totally where I want to take it: pulling strands of pearls through wounds in my body while rapping. That sounds really crackin' to be honest."
If you don't know Le1f, aka Khalif Diouf, you will. He's been making waves in the New York rap scene among queer and straight listeners alike. And for all his subversive ideas, he's got the potential for broad appeal. (Referring to him as a "gay rapper," while accurate, is a misdirection, he points out; "female rap" isn't a genre either.)
"I don't necessarily need it to be a fucking Lady Gaga," Le1f says. "But I definitely have ideas that require screens and projection and hired dancers."
Hey, Le1f's new EP dropping tomorrow, includes the single "Boom." ("How many batty boys can you fit in a jeep?") It's his first project since signing with Terrible Records, a move that establishes his position in the indie scene with labelmates like Grizzly Bear and Dev Hynes. The deal is part of a joint venture with XL recordings, which carries blockbuster names such as Thom Yorke and Vampire Weekend. "I don't necessarily need it to be a fucking Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson production," he says. "But I definitely have ideas that require screens and projection and hired dancers."
At Wesleyan University, where he majored in dance, Le1f, 24, wrote beats for Das Racist, including the track "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," which made them internet famous. But Le1f was destined to make his own mark on the widening hip-hop landscape. He has released three mixtapes, most recently Tree House, whose track "Damn Son" Pitchfork called an "unqualified banger."
When I ask Le1f for a tour of his musical influences, he narrates his version of Genesis in a matter-of-fact tone. "Music history starts in 1994 with Aaliyah. And then you put on Missy Elliott and Timbaland and that's the second day, and on the third day there was Lil' Kim and Junior Mafia. After that it's like Bjork and weird shit."
Perhaps the most unique thing about Le1f's music is it's deep sensuality in a genre that tends toward phallus comparisons, the objectification of women, and the trivialization of sex. He is at times theatrical or ironic, but the defining characteristic of his music is potency. His lush, clubby beats and agile lyrical delivery thrust him toward a trajectory of pop-rap radio play.
That's not to say his lyrics lack depth or timely social commentary. "It's my place to talk about issues within the gay community as well as gay rights," he says. "Taxi," one of the songs on his forthcoming full-length album, is about "racist gay dudes in the club" who ignore him precisely the way taxi cab drivers ignore him on the street.
"The Gaystream doesn't care about diversity," Le1f says. "I'm not going to shy away from what it feels like to be unaccepted as a gay person."
Twelve studio albums is a long time to maintain your edge, but Drive-By Truckers show no signs of fatigue on the compelling English Oceans. While the band has maintained a consistent identity over the years, telling hard-luck stories of everyday people with nonjudgmental eloquence, subtle changes have helped them stay fresh, namely new faces in the supporting cast and a gradual shift to a greater sharing of creative power. Where Patterson Hood seemed to be the main driving force in the early days, fellow writer and singer Mike Cooley has emerged as a more substantial and confident contributor, and provides 6 of the 13 songs here. His folkier voice may sound too understated at first, but serves as an effective counterpoint to Hood’s bluesier and brasher displays. Highlights include "Made Up English Oceans," inspired by real-life political smear master Lee Atwater, and the epic, eight-minute lament "Grand Canyon."
Equally adept at dirty, two-fisted rock and tender ballads, Drive-By Truckers still have their mojo. Long may they roll.
When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, one of his selling points was the promise of a more modest foreign policy than that of his predecessor. And when Obama won reelection 16 months ago, he renewed that pledge....Mitt Romney warned at the time that Obama wasn't being tough enough on Vladimir Putin, but the president scoffed at the idea that Russia was a serious geopolitical threat.
It's not quite fair to accuse Obama of direct responsibility for Putin's occupation of Crimea, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other hawkish critics have. After all, Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, and no one accused Bush of excessive diffidence in defending American interests.
But it's still worth asking: Has Obama's downsizing of U.S. foreign policy gone too far?
This stuff is driving me crazy. Later in the piece, McManus mentions Obama's Middle East policy, and I suppose that's fair game: Obama really has downsized our military footprint there. Personally, I'm just fine with a president who conducts foreign policy in the interests of the United States, regardless of whether Israel and Saudi Arabia approve, but I suppose your mileage may vary. Feel free to argue about it.
But it's nuts to talk about Ukraine the same way. Putin didn't invade Crimea because the decadent West was aimlessly sunning itself on a warm beach somewhere. He invaded Crimea because America and the EU had been vigorously promoting their interests in a country with deep historical ties to Russia. He invaded because his hand-picked Ukrainian prime minister was losing, and the West was winning. He invaded because he felt that he had been outplayed by an aggressive geopolitical opponent and had run out of other options.
None of this justifies Putin's actions. But to suggest that he was motivated by weakness in US foreign policy is flatly crazy. He was motivated by fear; by shock over the speed of events in Kiev; by a sense of betrayal when the February 21 agreement collapsed; by nationalistic fervor; by domestic political considerations; by provocative actions from the new Ukrainian parliament; by an increasing insularity among his inner circle; and by just plain panic.
The one thing he wasn't motivated by was US weakness. Can we at least get that much straight?
How did they go about it? Well, it's really hard to use raw number crunching to figure out how many people in the individual health care market had their policies canceled. Clean data just doesn't exist. But there's a way to cut through this Gordian Knot: just ask people. In December 2013, the Health Reform Monitoring Survey did just that, and concluded that about 18.6 percent of those with individual health insurance reported that their policies were no longer being offered to them. The best estimate we have is that about 14 million people had individual policies last year, which means that 2.6 million people faced cancellation:
Many whose non-group policy was cancelled appear to be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid....While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was cancelled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies. Consistent with these findings, other work by Urban Institute researchers estimated that slightly more than half of adults with pre-reform nongroup coverage would be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid.
So that means about 1.3 million people had their policies canceled and had to pay full freight for a new policy. Since the error bars on this estimate are fairly large, that comes out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 million people. In other words, less than 1 percent of the country, mostly made up of people with incomes that are higher than average.
You can decide for yourself if this is a lot or a little. My own take is that it's pretty modest given that Obamacare probably benefits about 20-30 million people. Any big new piece of policy is going to have winners and losers, and a ratio of 20:1 or so is about as good as it gets in the real world.
Western discussion of Pakistan tends to focus on geopolitics and terrorism. In this refreshing break from the policy stuff, Haroon Ullah, a Pakistani American scholar and diplomat, tells the story of a middle-class family struggling to stay united as violence, political turmoil, and extremism threaten to tear the country apart. The book reads like a novel—whose rich dialogue, colorful characters, and vivid descriptions of Lahore blend seamlessly with historical context to offer glimpses of a Pakistan we rarely see.