Harold Pollack says that Bernie Sanders has started a political revolution:

Not enough of one to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but enough to put the dream of single-payer health care back on the national political agenda in a way few would have expected five years ago....Just this week, Gallup released a poll indicating that "58% of U.S. adults favor the idea of replacing [the Affordable Care Act] with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans." Politico Magazine reports that Sanders’s health plan "is the most popular of the three remaining candidates."

I'd be thrilled about this if it were true, but I have my doubts. The problem is that Americans have a long history of supporting things in the abstract but not so much when they become concrete partisan proposals. Take Obamacare. In 2013, a CNBC poll showed 37 percent unfavorability toward the "Affordable Care Act," but 46 percent toward "Obamacare." In 2014, a Morning Consult poll showed 71 percent support for offering Medicaid to all adults under the poverty line, but only 62 percent support for expanding Medicaid "as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act." A Marist poll in Kentucky showed 57 percent disapproval of Obamacare but only 22 percent disapproval of kynect—Kentucky's version of Obamacare. And of course, we have years of polling showing that lots of people like nearly all the individual elements of Obamacare, but then turn around and insist that they hate Obamacare itself.

As for universal health care, a Harris poll last September found 63 percent approval. A Kaiser poll in December found 58 percent support for Medicare-for-all. Gallup polls going back 15 years show higher support for government guarantees of health care during the Bush years than they do now.

So color me skeptical that Bernie Sanders has really had much effect on the health care debate. Gallup's poll last week didn't so much as breathe the word "taxes," and if it did, support for the universal health care option would sink like a stone. Americans have long had mixed feeling about universal health care, and those feelings are deeply tied up in partisan attitudes and willingness to pay. Unfortunately, Sanders doesn't seem to have moved the needle on this at all.

I was pretty gobsmacked last night watching Norah O'Donnell's interview with Obama chum Valerie Jarrett. O'Donnell has been covering politics for a long time, but she nonetheless badgered Jarrett for nine consecutive questions about whether Obama is a failure because he's not friendly enough with congressional Republicans. Here's her side of the interview:

Norah O'Donnell: Valerie, this is probably one of the last big fights of the president's term in office. And he can't even get Senate Republicans to give him a hearing. Most Republicans won't even meet with Judge Garland. Does that say something about President Obama's inability to reach across the aisle? To have friends on the other side?

Norah O'Donnell: But in two terms, seven years, why hasn't the president been able to find a Republican that he can call up and say, "Help me out on this"? Does he have any Republican friends?

Norah O'Donnell: Isn't that part of the president's job? Is to convince people on the opposite side to do something like this? To get a judge up on the Supreme Court?

Norah O'Donnell: So since the president doesn't have a personal relationship with Republicans, instead you're gonna go to the American people and put political pressure on them? It's a campaign? It's a political campaign--

Norah O'Donnell: Isn't politics about schmoozing, though? And isn't politics about friendship?

Norah O'Donnell: Maybe they don't feel welcome here.

Norah O'Donnell: But Valerie, it's front page news when the Republicans come here to the White House. That shouldn't be front page news.

Norah O'Donnell: This has nothing to do with the president's style of leadership, or his ability to reach across the aisle?

Norah O'Donnell: It's all the Republicans' fault?

I'll give O'Donnell a break only this far: Valerie Jarrett is one of the toughest interviews in Washington. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone as relentlessly on message as Jarrett and as unwilling to provide any actual information. So maybe O'Donnell figured that repeated badgering was the only way to break her down.

It didn't work, though, because she was asking about something so patently dumb. As Jarrett said repeatedly, what's going on with Merrick Garland has precisely nothing to do with Obama's schmoozing or lack thereof. Hell, Republicans themselves say the same thing. They have nothing against Garland and nothing new against Obama. They just don't want to allow another liberal onto the Supreme Court. End of story. They make no bones about it.

More generally, the idea that Obama's problems with Congress have to do with schmooziness betrays a truly puerile view of politics. It's remarkable that there are reporters out there who are apparently still in thrall to this nonsense.

Sunday Goose Blogging - 22 May 2016

As promised, here's our local crop of Canada goose babies. First up, this is one of the goslings that we originally saw a few weeks ago. As you can see, he's going through those traumatic teenage weeks. But I'm sure he'll get over it and grow up to be a majestic, honking adult:

And here comes the brand new crop of babies:

Aren't they adorable? But I'll tell you something: I'll never complain about photographing the cats again. These little guys are hard. You can't get too close or else the mama geese get upset. So that means using the longest zoom setting on the camera. And these goslings zigzag along relentlessly. Keeping them in focus and in the middle of the viewfinder is tricky business. But I succeeded a few times:

Here's a couple of them taking a (very) short break from the grueling task of eating whatever it is they're eating.

Finally, breakfast is over and it's nap time under the watchful eye of mama.

Evil Dex For the Win!

The Evil Dex is becoming eviller. Or perhaps more cunning. As you already know if you obsessively follow every word I write, my doctor recently switched me to a lower dose of dexamethasone. I now take only 12 mg once a week, so my sleeping should be less disrupted. Right?

Well...not so much. The problem is that the effects of dex accumulate over time, so it becomes hard to predict exactly how it's going to work. In my case, it takes 4-5 hours to kick in and lasts for about 36 hours. But I'm taking a lower dose! So on Friday I decided to try taking it in the morning. On the bad side, that meant it would be at full strength by bedtime. On the good side, it would be worn off completely by Saturday night.

So I took the dex in the morning and then took a double dose of sleep meds at bedtime. Remarkably, this had no effect. None. I was up all night and only barely a little drowsy. This accounts for the late night blogging (remember to subtract three hours when you look at the time stamps on my posts). The silver lining to this is that my experiment had extremely clear results, so next week I'll go back to taking the dex at night.

So why the headline? You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I promised you pictures of our Canada goose babies. That turned out to be harder than I expected. I found them again once, but the pictures I took were pretty so-so. After that, they just weren't around. But yesterday, since I was up at 6 am anyway, I figured I'd go out and see if they were active in the morning. And they were! So later this morning I'll regale you with a photo album of adorable Canada goslings. Never say that this isn't a full-service blog.

What's So Great About 401(k)s, Anyway?

After I wrote my Thursday post on 401(k) plans, I got a fair amount of pushback. Essentially it boiled down to "What's so good about them compared to old-style pensions? Why not just get rid of them and expand Social Security instead?"

The answer to the second question is simple: 401(k)s are meant as supplements to Social Security. If we want to expand Social Security, that's fine. But that's no reason not have additional options to save privately for retirement.

Fine. But why 401(k)s? What is so good about them? The basic answer, of course, is that they're set up to encourage monthly contributions in a hassle-free way and the money you contribute is tax-deferred. Beyond that, though, there are several advantages that a 401(k) plan has over a traditional pension. Here are five:

  • 401(k) plans are portable. They begin accumulating immediately (or close to immediately) when you start a new job, and if you leave your job your 401(k) comes with you. This isn't true of old-style pensions.
     
  • If you want, you can withdraw your 401(k) as a lump sum when you retire. This can be handy if you want to use a portion of your retirement savings for a single large purchase, like a house or a motor home.
     
  • If you die early, your kids will inherit your 401(k). They won't get a dime from Social Security or an old-style pension. This may or may not be something you personally care about, but a lot of people do.
     
  • The main drawback of a 401(k) is that it's risky: since you don't know how long you'll live, you can never be sure how much you can safely withdraw each year. But in 2014 the Treasury issued guidance that made it easier for 401(k) owners to allocate all or part of their contributions into an annuity fund that pays out steadily upon retirement.
     
  • Annuities are getting better, but it's still true that you have to be pretty careful selecting one. Some are bad deals. But there's another way to effectively annuitize your 401(k) without paying a dime: delay your Social Security retirement age. Here's how it works.

    More and more people are retiring at age 62, but this reduces your Social Security payment by about 20 percent compared to retiring at age 65. For example, a $2,000 monthly Social Security payment would be reduced to $1,600 if you retire at 62.

    Instead, use your 401(k) to fund your retirement from 62 to 65. In this example, it would require a final 401(k) balance of about $72,000 or a little less. You'd draw out $2,000 per month and then, at age 65, switch over to your Social Security payout. You've basically guaranteed yourself a lifetime income of $24,000 per year instead of $19,200 without any worries about whether your 401(k) will last forever.

Nothing in life is perfect. There are also advantages to old-style defined-benefit pensions, as well as to a simple expansion of Social Security. And 401(k)s require workers to shoulder more responsibility for figuring out how to invest their savings. They also have to shoulder more of the risk of market downturns.

Nonetheless, 401(k)s aren't bad. The 2006 Pension Protection Act improved them by allowing employers to sign up workers automatically (they can opt out if they want), and this has significantly increased the number of workers who participate. It's especially raised the number of low-income workers who participate. The PPA also allowed employers to automatically increase the contribution rate over time (again, workers can opt out), which promises to make 401(k)s more substantial retirement vehicles. It also encouraged the use of low-fee lifecycle funds that make riskier investments when you're young and slowly switch to safer investments as you get closer to retirement.

All of these things have improved the 401(k) landscape. The economic recovery has too: a lot of the scare stories about 401(k) plans were based on using data through 2011 or 2012, which meant choosing an end date literally in the middle of the worst recession since World War II. That's cherry picking of the worst kind. 401(k) plans were bound to recover within a couple of years, and they did. If you look at data through 2014 or 2015, average 401(k) returns look pretty good. When it comes to retirement funds, you have to look at the long term, not just the best or worst years.

I'm going to venture into dangerous territory and just hope that everyone will give this a sympathetic reading. I'm not trying to shift blame or dismiss a real problem.

The problem in question is the treatment of women by men on Twitter and other social platforms. In a word (or two), there's a subset of really loathsome assholes out there who harass women mercilessly: comments about looks, about rape, about death threats, etc. etc. The best solution, of course, is to get these men to knock it off, but there's no way that will happen quickly. At best, it will take many years to leach this kind of misogyny out of the internet.

In the meantime, the problem is that this treatment causes women genuine pain and stress. I don't get anywhere near this kind of abuse, but I sometimes get a bit of it, and it's no fun. So I have at least a glimmer of what it's like.

So here's my question: is there any kind of relatively simple therapy that can train people not to succumb to panic attacks over Twitter mobs attacking them? I'm not talking about ignoring genuine threats, like folks posting addresses and suggesting someone should be raped. Those should go straight to the police. It's all the rest that I'd like to learn to take in stride as nothing more than the meaningless ravings of cretinous sad sacks.

So: Is there anything like this? Does anyone know a reliable method for building up a thicker skin? Sort of like the hypnosis of Peter Gibbons in Office Space, except something that actually works. I know we shouldn't have to, but sometimes it's worth it even if it's galling that we need to do it at all.

How About a Constitutional Right to Vote?

I have a longstanding belief that a liberal democracy is basically in good shape if it guarantees three rights:

  • Freedom of speech/press.
  • The right to a fair and speedy trial.
  • The right to vote.

I don't mean to denigrate other important rights. Freedom of religion is important, but plenty of free countries operate just fine with state religions. Freedom of assembly can probably be mandated by law. Warrants for searches are necessary, but again, could probably be mandated by law. A ban on slavery is important, but we already have it, and it's not really a pressing issue in the 21st century anyway. And lots of democracies take wildly different views on the right to bear arms. The bottom line is that all these things can be in the Constitution, but if they're not they probably don't preclude a pretty free society.

The first two rights on my list are already enshrined in the Constitution (speech and press freedom in the First Amendment; fair trials in the Fifth through Eighth Amendments). The third, for generally disgraceful reasons, isn't. But for some reason, among the dozens of pet amendments that various interest groups propose even though they're mostly pie in the sky, this one gets almost no attention. Why not?

Don't worry too much about the precise wording of a voting rights amendment. Here's a proposal from Reclaim Democracy! that originated with Jesse Jackson:

All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.

Reps. Pocan and Ellison have recently proposed a shorter version:

Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

Maybe you'd want to add some further protections: change voting day to voting week; mandate early voting; make changes to redistricting rules to better guarantee that all votes count equally. I'm agnostic about this.

Needless to say, this would open a can of worms. Basically, anyone who shows up to vote is assumed to have the right to vote unless the government has actively put them on a list of non-voters. Possibly some kind of ID would be required: maybe a Social Security card or a national ID card. Perhaps everyone would be required to enroll for voting on their 18th birthday, and would be given a card that identifies them as a voter. They could do it at the same time they enroll with Selective Service (just as soon as women are added to Selective Service requirements).

There would be exceptions. Can prisoners vote? The Supreme Court has already ruled that prisoners have limited access to free speech rights. They obviously have no right to freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms has been curtailed with extreme prejudice. This would almost certainly be the case with voting rights as well, though it could easily be written into the text of an amendment if it was considered important enough to spell out specifically.

So why not do it? It seems like a pretty populist idea for a Democratic presidential candidate. How about it, Hillary? She already supports automatic voter registration at age 18, and that's a short jump to a constitutional amendment.

I spent the afternoon catching up on the latest in the world of liberal scuffles. Here's the background: Lefty gadfly Matt Bruenig got into a Twitter fight with Joan Walsh yesterday morning over the topic of young people supporting Bernie Sanders. It culminated with this from Bruenig: "I have a daughter too. Your pathetic ageism against young people (remember taunting them as "barely shaven") is sickening to me." About then, CAP president Neera Tanden weighed in with a light comment defending Walsh, which prompted this follow-up from Bruenig:

Tanden is—and has been for a long time—a Hillary staffer and ally, so it's not unreasonable to suspect that she might have supported welfare reform in the 90s. But Tanden denies ever having supported it, which is believable on its face since (a) her family used welfare when she was growing up, and (b) she was in law school at the time welfare reform was being debated.1

In any case, Bruenig's tweets were nasty, apparently unfounded, and a bit two-faced (charging Walsh with "ageism" followed by insulting Tanden as "geriatric"). So what happened next? I'll get to that, but perhaps some of you don't know who Neera Tanden is. You should. To the best of my memory, I've never interacted with her and don't really know anything about her, but a bit of googling turned up this:

  • Her birthday is a deeply held secret. However, she was born in 1970 and says she's 45 now, so it must be sometime after May 19.
  • Her brother attended USC and she attended UCLA. Woot! I approve already. We need less Ivy League and more West Coast in high places.
  • She uses the word "actually" a lot. Maybe she picked this up at UCLA.
  • She is the president of CAP, the Center for American Progress. CAP is a high-powered progressive think tank that most people think of as either a very influential mainstream liberal think tank or, if you want to be a little more insidery, as the Clinton family's personal think tank.2 Being president of CAP is, as Joe Biden might say, a Big Effin Deal. Tanden is the kind of person who gets mentioned frequently as a possible chief-of-staff in a Hillary Clinton White House.
  • Here's the Washington Post shortly after she took over CAP: "At 5 feet 2 inches tall, with an infectious laugh and impatience for ineptitude, Tanden brims with a moxie that can shift to sarcasm. Critics and allies alike describe her as an effective molder and messenger of intricate policy, as well as an expert practitioner of in-house politics. Friends say she is remarkably well-rounded: a model wife and mother, ideal company for a glass of wine, a perfect partner for spontaneous office dancing." Yikes!

OK, so what happened next? Bruenig works for Demos, a lefty think tank (yeah, they're everywhere), which got wind of his tweets and immediately apologized: "Sincerest apologies for @MattBruenig's judgment and demeanor. It's unacceptable and we're on it. While @MattBruenig blogs with Demos, we do not condone personal attacks. We are dealing with this internally. Thank you for understanding. We value the important work you've done and continue to do. @neeratanden @joanwalsh" This afternoon Demos fired him:

Today, we are taking a harder look at how our staff, fellows and independent contractors engage on social media—and unfortunately, we are finding that we have not met our own standards of vigilance to ensure that nobody associated with Demos is crossing an important line. After our tweet apologizing for Matt’s personal attacks including the term “scumbag,” we received emails from multiple individuals who made it clear that we were not aware of the extent to which Matt has been at the center of controversies surrounding online harassment of people with whom he disagrees.

It was evidence of a pattern of behavior that is far out of line with our code of conduct. After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter. We part ways on the effectiveness of these kinds of personalized, online fights and so we are parting ways as colleagues today. And just as we did with Matt three years ago when he first joined our blog, Demos will continue to find and amplify the voices of lesser-known progressive policy commentators to make for a more inclusive public sphere.

As their statement goes on to say, there's an overlay of Bernie vs. Hillary in all this, and this prompted a flurry of Twitter condemnations of Demos. Glenn Greenwald was fairly typical:

So which was it? Was Bruenig fired for offending the great and good, or was he fired for being a jerk? It's hard to say, isn't it? Demos says it got a pile of emails that suggested a longtime pattern of "online harassment." But the rest of us haven't seen those emails, so who knows? They also say they had "multiple conversations" with Bruenig, and apparently he declined to just apologize and move on. It also sounds like he declined to rein in his behavior.

If you assume that Demos is telling this straight, it's hard to see how they could hold onto him. This is the kind of thing that I'd normally call a non-firing offense, but only if the offender agrees there's a problem and promises to rein it in. The risk of having an employee like this go completely ballistic at some point and write something either libelous or just plain repellent3 is too great. All of these tweets may have been on Bruenig's private account, but he's still very publicly associated with Demos—which is explicitly in the influence biz and has to be careful about making lots of random enemies just because one of its employees has a bit of a temper problem.

The whole thing is a damn shame. I hope Bruenig lands on his feet somewhere, but I'll bet that any future employer will ask for pretty much the same promise about tone and harassment that Demos did. It's a little hard to imagine any outfit in the think tank trade not caring about this. In the end, I suspect Matt Yglesias has the final word:

1It's times like this I wish I still had access to Nexis so I could check this out, but I don't.

UPDATE: Nexis problem solved. I searched "Neera Tanden" for the entire decade of the 90s. The first hit is from 1992 in the Los Angeles Times: "UCLA student Neera Tanden was awarded the first Sam Law Leadership Award by the Asian Pacific Alumni of UCLA at a Nov. 17 reception held at Royce Hall on the campus. Tanden, a senior planning to attend law school, was selected for her leadership experience, community and university service."

The other 11 hits were all the same: she was listed as a contact in press releases for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996. I did a more cursory search from 2000 through the present, and found mostly mentions of health care reform. The closest thing I could find about welfare was from a 2014 interview where Tanden criticized Republican budget cuts: "Food stamps have been cut. Proposals to cut nutrition aid would drop children from school lunch programs. Section 8 housing and welfare aren't keeping up with the need. I'm concerned about how the attack on these programs is going to impact people in our country because I know that I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't been available to me."

If Tanden ever so much as mentioned welfare reform, she sure didn't do it publicly.

2Dammit, is there a synonym for think tank?

3More repellent, anyway. You know what I mean.

Donald Trump, Still a Skinflint?

David Fahrenthold reports today that Donald Trump's $6 million fundraiser for veterans actually raised only $4.5 million. I don't have a big problem with that. Sometimes people make pledges and then back out of them. That's life in the fundraising biz, where a 75 percent fulfillment rate probably isn't unheard of. But Fahrenthold managed to identify two of the donors who backed out. One was a shopping mall magnate. The other was...

The other donor had made a much bigger promise: Trump, with his vow to give $1 million. In the past few days, The Post has interviewed 22 veterans charities that received donations as a result of Trump’s fundraiser. None of them have reported receiving personal donations from Trump.

Did Trump make good on his promise to give from his personal funds? “The money is fully spent. Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent,” Lewandowski said.

Who did Trump give to, and in what amounts? “He’s not going to share that information,” Lewandowski said.

This is just weird. Is it really possible that Trump reneged on his promise to donate $1 million? That would be completely nuts. It would be like me promising to toss in twenty bucks for an office party gift and then backing out, even though I knew there was a good chance I'd be caught. What kind of pathological skinflint would do that?

And yet, if he has donated $1 million, what possible reason is there for not telling us where it went? That's crazy too, since it inevitably leads to stories just like this one. Even Trump's most rabid fans would probably hold it against him if it turns out he lied about making a donation to veterans.

Aside from everything else, Trump is one seriously weird dude.

Friday Cat Blogging - 20 May 2016

This morning I have the most tedious possible doctor's appointment: one that I don't need. A high blood-pressure reading during a visit last week provoked Kaiser Permanente's computer into a flurry of activity, starting with an email, building up through web and phone messages, and finally peaking with a call from my doctor telling me to come in so we can chat about my blood pressure meds. Sigh. I knew I was going to pay a price when I skipped a second reading that day. The thing is, I see doctors a lot these days, which means I get my blood pressure tested a lot, and it see-saws up and down with no rhyme or reason. I barely pay attention anymore since I check it myself at home pretty routinely. (Yes, on a meter that's been calibrated by KP.) So I already know my blood pressure is fine, but now I have to go through all the tedium of trying to convince my doctor of that.

Anyway, the good news is that this means catblogging is a little early today. As you can see, Hilbert and Hopper have their eyes glued to the native wildlife, which they will never have a chance to chase around. They probably wish they lived a mouser's life, like Palmerston the foreign office cat. Or perhaps Kevin, the permanently surprised cat.