• Why Oh Why Did Susan Rice Become a Republican Punching Bag?

    Andrew Harrer/DPA via ZUMA

    Susan Rice, the right’s favorite new¹ punching bag over the past few years, talks about her experience of continuing to be a punching bag even after she left government service:

    I ask Rice why she thinks she became a target. She laughs, sort of. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. What do you think?”

    I mention Benghazi, the moment when much of the right’s base became aware of Rice’s existence. “Does it start there?” she asks. She is not a person given to agitation, but here, Rice’s focus sharpens — she looks at me more directly, with heightened intensity. “And why me? Why not Jay Carney, for example, who was then our press secretary, who stood up more?”

    Carney isn’t an African-American woman, of course….I point out that she has a reputation for being tough, and a strong-willed woman who seems sure of herself makes a certain kind of man nervous.

    “Let me just put it this way,” she says. “I do not leap to the simple explanation that it’s only about race and gender. I’m trying to keep my theories to myself until I’m ready to come out with them. It’s not because I don’t have any.”

    Well, I for one will be eager to hear her theories once Rice decides she’s ready. Rice is certainly the most unfairly maligned public servant of the past few years, all because she went on TV and told the truth about Benghazi. That was her real sin, of course.³

    And as long as we’re on the subject, I’ll just take this opportunity to add that progressives didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory while Rice was being endlessly slandered by conservatives over Benghazi. For weeks they mostly held their tongues or damned her with faint praise (“she probably shouldn’t have mentioned the video….”). But Rice literally did nothing wrong. Zero. On her infamous Sunday show appearances, she told the absolute truth as it was then understood by the intelligence community. This was, unfortunately, a precursor to progressives also failing to aggressively defend Hillary Clinton over her emails. Why? I suppose because lots of progressives were afraid there might be a smoking gun somewhere and didn’t want to risk coming strongly to her defense and then looking foolish. Cowards. In the end, of course, we eventually learned that Clinton had also done literally nothing wrong and the FBI never had even a weak case against her.

    ¹As opposed to favorite longtime punching bags Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.²

    ²Both of whom are also women. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

    ³Aside from being female and black, that is.

  • Support for Gay Marriage Just Keeps Going Up

    Let’s start the day off with some good news. You never know: it might be the last we get today. Here’s the latest on same-sex marriage from Pew Research:

    Everyone is getting more comfortable with gay marriage: all ages, all races, all religions, and all parties. On the other hand, I guess we still have to sort out whether a Christian bakery can refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. That’s going to seem pretty quaint a few years from now.

  • Here’s the tl;dr Version of the Republican Health Care Bill

    Need a quick couple of quickie graphics to summarize the Senate health care bill? I’m here to help. First, the basics:

    Next, a comparison of premiums. It’s true that the Republican bill generates lower premiums than Obamacare, but that’s only because its coverage is so skimpy and its deductibles and copays are so high. It’s like bragging that a gas-guzzling old jalopy is cheaper than a new Prius. However, Kaiser has crunched the numbers to come up with average premiums under BCRA and Obamacare for similar policies. Here they are. These estimates are for a current average silver plan after all tax credits have been applied:

  • CBO: Trumpcare Would Cut Taxes on the Rich, Slash Health Coverage for the Poor

    The CBO’s score of the Senate heath care bill is out. There are no surprises: it contains big tax cuts for the rich and big health care cuts for the poor. But let’s go through the dreary details anyway:

    • By 2026, spending on Medicaid will be slashed $772 billion. (Page 5)
    • As a result, there will be 15 million fewer people on Medicaid. (Page 16)
    • By 2026, spending on subsidies for private insurance will be slashed $408 billion. (Page 5)
    • As a result, there will be 7 million fewer people with private insurance. (Page 17)
    • This sums to a total of 22 million more uninsured people by 2026, compared to 23 million under the House version of the bill.
    • Revenue would be reduced about $750 billion, mostly via tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy. (Tables 2 and 3)
    • Obamacare is not in a death spiral: “The subsidies to purchase coverage, combined with the effects of the individual mandate…are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for the market to be stable in most areas.” (Page 6)
    • BCRA would also be stable. However: “A small fraction of the population resides in areas in which—because of this legislation, at least for some of the years after 2019—no insurers would participate in the nongroup market or insurance would be offered only with very high premiums. Some sparsely populated areas might have no nongroup insurance offered….In addition, the agencies anticipate that all insurance in the nongroup market would become very expensive for at least a short period of time for a small fraction of the population residing in areas in which states’ implementation of waivers with major changes caused market disruption.” (Page 7)
    • Deductibles for silver plans will increase from about $3,600 to about $6,000. (Page 8)
    • The actuarial value of health care plans will be reduced to 58 percent. This means that even after buying insurance, consumers are responsible for 42 percent of their total health care expenses. “As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan.” (Page 8)
    • “Because nongroup insurance would pay for a smaller average share of benefits under this legislation, most people purchasing it would have higher out-of-pocket spending on health care than under current law.” (Page 9)
    • Because of the reduced value of health care policies under BCRA, premiums will go down. (Page 9) However, net premiums after accounting for subsidies will go up for most people. Among those with modest incomes, net premiums for silver plans would go up $500 for 21-year-olds; $1,300 for 40-year-olds; and $4,800 for 64-year-olds. Among those with higher incomes, net premiums would go down except for 64-year-olds, who would face increases as high as $13,000. (Table 5)
    • The share of uninsured older folks with low incomes would skyrocket from about 11 percent to 26 percent. (Page 16)
    • Caps on Medicaid spending will likely cause some states to reduce already low reimbursement rates for doctors. If this happens, “fewer providers might be willing to accept Medicaid patients….If states reduced payments to Medicaid’s managed care plans, some plans might shrink their provider networks, curtail quality assurance, or drop out of the managed care program altogether.” (Page 30)

    Reading the CBO report in its entirety, it’s hard to see that BCRA offers any improvements over Obamacare aside from cutting taxes for the rich. Net premiums go up for most people—quite massively in the case of older consumers; deductibles go up; out-of-pocket expenses go up; the working poor are virtually shut out of the insurance market; the quality of coverage gets worse; and 22 million people lose insurance.

    The only plausible path for any improvement is the increased flexibility states would have to run their own health care progams. Historically, this has accomplished little except to allow conservative states to cut back on health services to the poor, so you’d need to be mighty starry-eyed to think that it will produce amazing innovations this time around. But that’s about it: believing in the power of states to innovate because they have less money is the only path for defenders of BCRA.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Last week I put up a picture of a guy cycling and texting at Santa Monica beach. That’s kid stuff. Here’s a guy cycling, texting, and holding a beer¹ in his teeth. That’s how we roll in Huntington Beach, my friends.

    ¹Or something.

  • Trumpcare Now Has 6-Month Waiting Period for Slackers

    A new revision of the Senate health care bill is out, and as expected it adds a 6-month waiting period for anyone who hasn’t maintained continuous coverage:

    Can they get away with this under reconciliation rules? I’d say no, since it doesn’t have a direct effect on government spending or outlays. But I assume they already ran this by the parliamentarian, and she approved it. So that’s that: if you don’t maintain continuous coverage, you have to wait six months before you can buy insurance.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s a way of coaxing people into buying health insurance, just like the individual mandate penalties in Obamacare. But I wonder what the point is? Obamacare already restricts new signups to an open enrollment period at the beginning of each year, so for most people there’s already a waiting period if they don’t have continuous coverage. That’s still around in the Senate bill, so I guess this is just a way of tightening things up. Everyone who lacks continuous coverage has a minimum 6-month waiting period, even if they sign up during open enrollment.

    However, there’s an exception! There is no waiting period for “a newborn who is enrolled in such coverage within 30 days of the date of birth.” All heart, these guys.

  • If Trumpcare Fails, Republicans Will Continue to Sabotage Obamacare

    This is unusual, but it’s actually worth paying attention to one of President Trump’s tweets today:

    If Democrats manage to defeat Trumpcare, that’s hardly the end of the battle. If Obamacare remains the law, Republicans will do everything in their power to ensure that it does indeed “crash & burn.” They will stop funding the CSR subsidies, which will devastate the poor. They will stop enforcing the individual mandate. They will do everything legally possible to issue damaging insurance regulations. And they will make it crystal clear to insurance companies that there is nothing they can count on, and they might as well just exit the Obamacare exchange market now.

    This is not me being pessimistic. This is just the reality of what Republicans will do. Their goal is to repeal Obamacare, not to provide medical care to the poor and working class. That’s what we’re up against.

  • New Seattle Study Suggests Ideal Minimum Wage of About $12

    By chance, another study of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage has just come out. It’s from the University of Washington group that’s been issuing periodic reports, and it comes to a different conclusion than last week’s study. Among jobs paying less than $19 per hour:

    We estimate statistically insignificant hours reductions between 0.9% and 3.4% (averaging 1.9%) during the three quarters when the minimum wage was $11 per hour. By contrast, the subsequent minimum wage increase to $13 associates with larger, significant hours reductions between 7.9% and 10.6% (averaging 9.4%)

    The authors suggest that Seattle lost about 10,000 low-wage jobs when the minimum wage increased from $11 to $13. If this is confirmed in subsequent studies, it suggests that a minimum wage of, say, $12 per hour, has a minimal effect on low-skill employment. But $15 will  have a significant effect.

    The effect on hours worked is similar. At $11, the reduction in low-wage jobs is small and probably illusory anyway: “It appears that any ‘loss’ in hours at lower thresholds is likely to reflect a cascade of workers to higher wage levels.” But at $13 it looks like this:

    The key thing in this chart is that the solid line never reaches zero: “Thus, there is no evidence to suggest that the estimated employment losses associated with the second phase-in reflect a similar cascading phenomenon.”

    This study is more pessimistic than previous studies, but it’s well done and scrupulously honest. Nor should it necessarily be a surprise. There’s a mountain of evidence that modest increases in the minimum wage have little effect on low-wage jobs, but the key word here is modest. We’ve never tested how high the minimum wage can go before it starts to have a serious impact on low-wage jobs, because no one has ever raised the minimum wage more than modestly. This means that the question of how high the minimum wage can go is an empirical one—and there’s no special reason to think it’s $15. It could be higher or lower. And if this study holds up, the answer at the moment is around $12.

    One other thing worth noting: Among other rich countries, the minimum wage is roughly 50 percent of the median wage. Depending on how you measure it, that comes to $11-$13 in the United States. So if the ideal minimum wage turns out to be $12 per hour—roughly the same as it was in the 60s—no one should be taken aback.

    UPDATE: EPI has released a critique of the new UW study: “The authors’ analysis…suffers from a number of data and methodological problems that bias the study in the direction of finding job loss, even where there may have been no job loss at all.” I won’t try to arbitrate this, since I don’t have the econometric chops to do it. Eventually this will all get sorted out, but it’s likely to take a few years.

  • Supreme Court Partially Restores Travel Ban, Removes Trump’s Excuse for Halting Work on New Rules

    Donald Trump won a partial victory today on his Muslim travel ban:

    The Supreme Court handed President Trump a victory Monday by reviving part of his disputed ban on foreign travelers from six Muslim-majority nations….The justices said the travel ban may go into effect, except for “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” such as a spouse or close relative.

    ….”The student from the designated countries who have been admitted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity,” the court said. “So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience.” But this would not extend to other foreigners who lack this connection.

    Despite the fact that tightening up visa requirements was supposedly a critical national security concern, Trump dropped the whole thing after his travel ban was stayed by several lower courts. He’s had plenty of time to craft new vetting rules—which were supposed to take 90-120 days from February—but he’s done nothing.

    The official excuse is that the courts prevented this, which is ridiculous in the way Trump’s statements are always ridiculous. There was nothing stopping him from working on new, permanent rules. But he didn’t, presumably because personal pique was more important than the supposedly porous borders that he inherited from President Obama.

    With the Supreme Court rules now in place, even this thin excuse is gone. So will he restart work on new rules so he’ll be ready to go as soon as the Supreme Court gives the OK? That’s what he’d do if he really thought this was important. Let’s wait and see.

  • The Truth About Medicaid

    With the Senate health care bill finally out in the open, a tediously familiar game is unfolding once again. The game is to defend massive Medicaid cuts by claiming that Medicaid is useless anyway. In fact, maybe worse than useless. You see, people on Medicaid don’t have mortality rates any better than people with no insurance at all.

    This is tiresome, especially since it invariably comes from folks who have private insurance and would sooner cut off their big toes than give it up. My guess is that if they were suddenly poverty stricken, not a single one of them would choose to go uninsured rather than accept Medicaid.

    But that’s just my frustration talking. Instead, let’s talk facts. There are two big reasons why I find this nonsense so annoying.

    First, improving mortality is hardly the only goal of medical care. For most of us, it’s not even the main goal: the vast majority of doctor visits aren’t for life-threatening conditions. So even if it were true that Medicaid did nothing to extend lives, it still does plenty. If you get a toothache fixed, or your migraine headaches treated, or a meniscus repaired, it doesn’t affect your lifespan at all. But it sure makes you feel better. And if, in addition, it does this without subjecting you to $10,000 in debt and a horde of bill collectors on your ass 24/7, that’s pretty damn helpful too. Unless you’re explicitly looking for a cynical reason to claim that Medicaid is useless, you just can’t pretend that this stuff doesn’t matter.

    Second, the average age of adult Medicaid recipients is 38. At that age, there isn’t much mortality in the first place: less than 2 per thousand each year. To meaningfully distinguish mortality rates given such a low baseline you’d need a huge study. And it better be a pretty good one. General mortality (as opposed to mortality for, say, a chemotherapy drug) only makes sense if you follow a population for five or ten years. So it needs to be a long-term study. And it needs to account for the fact that the Medicaid population is different from the general population: poorer, sicker,¹ more stressed, more disabled, etc. I don’t know if any studies have ever been done that meet these criteria.

    However, there have been studies. Warts and all, they’re the best we have. The most famous is the Oregon Experiment, which is especially useful because it used genuinely identical treatment and control groups. However, each group consisted of only 10,000 people, which means the expected mortality in each group was 18 per year. That’s so low that the authors of the study couldn’t reach any conclusions at all about whether Medicaid had any effect on mortality. They did, however, draw null conclusions about other health indicators like blood pressure and cholesterol. The problem, again, is that the treatment group was so small that it’s hard to put much stock in this, especially since the study only lasted two years. However, if you nonetheless take their null conclusions about blood pressure and cholesterol seriously, you also have to take seriously their extremely positive results about depression, self-reported health, decrease in pain, and lack of financial catastrophe.

    Either way, that’s only one study. There have been others. A trio of researchers reviewed Medicaid studies recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, and came to these conclusions:

    The Oregon experiment found…significant increases in the rate of diagnosis of diabetes…along with a near-doubling of use of diabetes medications…. Meanwhile, the Oregon study found…a 30% relative reduction in rates of depressive symptoms.

    ….Multiple analyses have found improved self-reported health after the ACA’s coverage expansion, either in broad national trends or Medicaid expansion studies….Self-reported health is a validated measure of the risk of death….One study compared three states implementing large Medicaid expansions in the early 2000s to neighboring states that didn’t expand Medicaid, finding a significant 6% decrease in mortality over 5 years of follow-up….A more recent analysis of Medicaid’s mortality effects was one life saved for every 239 to 316 adults gaining coverage.

    ….One head-to-head quasi-experimental study of Medicaid versus private insurance, based on Arkansas’s decision to use ACA dollars to buy private coverage for low-income adults, found minimal differences. [That is, Medicaid was as effective as private insurance.]

    That’s pretty impressive, and it doesn’t even count aching teeth, repaired cartilage, treated migraines, or any of the hundreds of other routine things that don’t show up in studies of chronic conditions. Nor does it validate the frequent claim that Medicaid is useless because doctors won’t see Medicaid patients: most studies show that Medicaid patients did indeed see doctors when they needed to and were generally pleased with their treatment.

    That said, there’s a pretty obvious reason that Medicaid might not always produce dramatic differences compared to people with no insurance: by hook or by crook, the uninsured do get treatment for serious conditions. The main difference is that they have to pay for it. Here are the results of the Oregon experiment on the finances of the folks who received Medicaid:

    Adults on Medicaid had 81 percent fewer catastrophic expenses. And in this case, the methodology of the Oregon Experiment is fine. A sample of 10,000 is plenty big and a timeframe of two years is plenty long. These are not things that affect only a tiny percentage of people, or that need years to show an effect. In addition to its medical benefits, Medicaid is a financial godsend for poor people.

    One final thing: the folks who claim that Medicaid is useless never provide any feasible mechanism for this. Statistical studies are fine, but if they really do show null results for Medicaid coverage, there has to be some plausible reason why it produces no results. If we assume that medical care in general has positive results, why wouldn’t Medicaid? It may not provide the quality of care of private insurance, but it’s hardly the domain of quacks and shysters. It pays for care by real doctors and real hospitals, and it would be remarkable if that care really did no one any good. So what’s the theory here?

    None of this means that Medicaid is perfect. It reimburses too little and really does seem to fail on some measures. It’s a serious drain on state budgets. And it has other problems as well that we ought to address. Liberals and conservatives alike should be dedicated to continually improving it.

    Of course, speaking for myself, I’d love to eliminate Medicaid. And Medicare. And Obamacare. And employer insurance. A simpleminded national health care system would cover more people, almost certainly cost less than our current hodgepodge, and produce better results than what we get now. But that’s pie in the sky in this particular political moment. Given the reality of what we have, Medicaid is a critical part of our health care hodgepodge. Slashing it in order to give a big tax cut to the rich is obscene.

    ¹You may be surprised to learn that low reimbursement rates aren’t the only reason doctors are reluctant to see Medicaid patients. It’s a big factor, but nearly as important is that Medicaid patients take up so much time. This is because they’re generally sicker than other patients. So doctors are getting paid half as much for patients who have much more complex medical needs than average. The general stress of being poor accounts for most of this, but lack of consistent health care over their lifetime probably accounts for some of it too.

  • Trumpcare Will Bring Chaos to Health Care Market

    The LA Times reports on the Senate health care bill:

    Congressional Republicans, who for years blasted the Affordable Care Act for disrupting Americans’ healthcare, are now pushing changes that threaten to not only strip health coverage from millions, but also upend insurance markets, cripple state budgets and drive medical clinics and hospitals to the breaking point.

    ….The cascading effects of such a retrenchment will reach far beyond those who lose coverage, according to doctors, hospital leaders, insurance executives, patient advocates and state officials across the country….Governors and state legislators, facing huge reductions in federal Medicaid funding, may soon have to decide whether to reduce services, limit who can enroll in the healthcare safety net or make cuts to other state programs, such as education or transportation….Those coverage losses, in turn, will put new pressures on doctors, clinics and hospitals as they face growing numbers of patients with no insurance who are unable to pay their medical bills.

    ….The strain on hospitals and doctors will reach beyond the healthcare system. American employers, which provide health coverage to more than 150 million workers and their families, could see their costs rise as hospitals and physicians try to make up for losses they incur caring for more uninsured patients….It also will probably hit employees, who will see insurance premiums increase and wages stagnate as businesses shift healthcare costs onto workers, as has happened repeatedly in the past.

    Republicans have been saying for seven years that they want to repeal Obamacare, so I can hardly pretend to be surprised that they’re doing it after winning the 2016 election. But now that it’s actually happening, I still find it hard to believe. What kind of people do this just so the rich can get a modest tax cut? How cold-blooded do you have to be? Especially when Obamacare’s modest problems could be fixed with nothing more than a few minor changes and additional funding of $5-10 billion or so. Of course, if we did that the millionaires wouldn’t get their tax cut.

    This whole thing is just profoundly depressing. What the hell kind of country is this?

  • Over 50? Trumpcare Will Raise Your Premiums $4,500.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation has figured out what the net premiums would be under the Senate health care bill for all 3,143 counties in the United States. For folks in their 20s, premiums go down in most places by an average of a few hundred dollars. For people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s with modest incomes, premiums go up—in most cases by thousands of dollars.

    The net premium is the cost of coverage minus the tax credit subsidy. For you quantitative types who like to see your data in chart form, here it is for a working-class 60-year-old. There is one (1) county in the entire country that sees a net reduction:

    And for you visual types, here it is in map form:

    And keep in mind that with the end of protection for essential benefits and the elimination of CSR subsidies, these higher premiums are almost certainly paying for worse coverage, higher deductibles, and higher copays.

  • Twitter Is a Cesspool, But It’s Our Cesspool

    Poor Bret Stephens. He’s the latest punching bag for the left among New York Times columnists, and apparently he’s getting sick of it. “Twitter is about the naked, grunting brain,” he says. “It’s whatever pops out. And what pops out is altogether too revealing.” So he’s quitting Twitter.

    There’s not much question that Twitter is a cesspool, but I think he’s making a mistake nonetheless. A lot of people blame social media for making our politics cruder, but that misses the reality. Our politics has always been this crude. We just didn’t know it. All Twitter has done is expose our collective id in a way that’s hard to brush off.

    This is difficult to accept. Is this really what America is like in the privacy of our own thoughts? Yes it is. There’s no point in denying it. The question is, are we better off knowing it, or were we better off when we all pretended to be better people than this?

    I’m not sure. There are surely advantages to norms of civility in public life. A Burkean conservative would probably say that those norms have been developed over a long time and we should respect the fact that we’ve historically found them useful. However, one thing Twitter (and Donald Trump) have demonstrated is that there are damn few Burkean conservatives in the United States. Conversely, a liberal would presumably believe that it’s important to know the raw truth. On the other hand, it’s liberals who are the biggest complainers about the rampant sexism, racism, xenophobia, and so forth that are so common on Twitter.

    As for myself, I have an unusual attitude toward this stuff: it doesn’t bother me much. In fact, it kind of amuses me, which is why I’ve never blocked anyone. I get a little bit of a kick out of seeing the tidal wave of idiocy that comes my way periodically when someone gets pissed off for one reason or another and brings along a troll army.

    Of course, I’m white, male, straight, and sort of emotionally stunted. So I don’t get burning crosses sent my way, or threats to rape me, or piles of people telling me to get the hell out of the country. The stuff I get is plenty nasty, but in a generic sort of way—and since I have stunted emotions it never upsets me that much. In fact, it’s kind of useful to know how idiots feel about stuff, since I don’t spend much time with idiots in my day-to-day life.

    This could all change, I suppose. One thing I find odd is how uncreative Twitter trolls are. There are things that would provoke me, but they never seem to have any clue what they might be. They just stick with all-purpose insults that are so dumb it’s hard to believe anyone actually being upset by them. I wonder if they’ll ever get smarter?

    Probably not. After all, they’re idiots. If they were smart, they wouldn’t be doing this kind of dogpiling in the first place. In the end, I think this is what will save Twitter. There’s only so much damage that idiots can do, and I think we already know what it is.

  • Senate Republicans Are Ready to Repeal Obamacare

    This is just a note about the Senate health care bill. Do not believe any prattle about Mitch McConnell “being OK with a loss.” Or about “moderate Republicans” who will vote against it. Or about conservatives who are “revolting.” Or about “desperate attempts” to hold the Republican caucus together.

    Next week the CBO will release its score of the bill. They will confirm that it doesn’t increase the deficit. The Senate will debate for a day or two; pass a few minor amendments; and then pass the bill. The vote will be 51-50, with Vice President Pence breaking the tie.

    If Paul Ryan is smart, he will simply bring up the Senate bill for a vote and be done with it. It will pass because everyone will understand that this is their only chance. Either vote yes, or else give up on repealing Obamacare and give Democrats a big win.

    The only way to break this cycle is to generate some new opposition. Senate Republicans already know that Democrats oppose the bill, AARP opposes the bill, hospitals oppose the bill, and so forth. They don’t care. The Democrats won’t vote for them no matter what they do and the others aren’t threatening to withdraw campaign support. They oppose the bill, but only on paper. They also know that their bill will take away health coverage from millions. They don’t care about that either. They never have.

    This is it. There’s a week left. Lefties need to generate some new opposition to the bill that wavering senators are actually afraid of. Any ideas?

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 23 June 2017

    Catblogging is a few minutes early this week because I have to drive Marian to the airport. She’s flying to Colorado via Phoenix, where it’s a balmy 112º today. Apparently this means that the tarmac won’t melt the wheels of her plane, so everything should be hunky dory.

    In cat news today, Wim Van Neer of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels has been collecting ancient cat specimens for the past decade and putting them through the genetic wringer. His conclusion: “It was the Egyptians who turned them into the lovable fur balls we know today.” Thanks, Egyptians!

  • Liberals and Immigration

    A couple of days ago I wrote a post responding to Peter Beinart’s recent article about Democrats and illegal immigration. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I intended to write one thing and then ended up writing something else, which made the post a little disjointed. Then it turned out I’d made an arithmetic mistake, and had to rewrite a chunk of the piece on the fly. Blecch.

    But I did promise to eventually write the piece I initially had in mind, so here it is. I’m a little pressed for time, so I’ll keep it short.

    Statistics aside, one of Beinart’s main points was not that liberals should become big opponents of immigration, but that they should be willing to admit that there are drawbacks as well as benefits to large flows of illegal immigration. It’s complicated, and everyone should be willing to admit it.

    I agree completely, and this is hardly a problem limited to immigration. I blame it mostly on conservatives, but I imagine conservatives blame it mostly on liberals, so I’ll skip trying to assign blame. Either way, the upshot is that there never appears to be any political advantage to admitting that an issue has both upsides and downsides. But every issue important enough to be worth talking about does. It’s just that there’s hardly any audience left that cares.

    I have no idea what, if anything, we can do about this. But I will say this. I lurk on a number of message boards populated by liberals, and what they say privately is very often more nuanced than what they say publicly.¹ On immigration, there are probably lots of liberals willing to concede that there needs to be a limit to the flow of undocumented workers. There are cultural, economic, and nationalistic reasons for this. But there’s little benefit to saying so in public. It just invites massive, social media swarms insisting that you’re a closet racist.

    I’ve long been on record as a moderate liberal on immigration. I think there are benefits to keeping illegal immigration to a modest level,² and details aside, I think the way to do this is a rigorous version of E-Verify along with tough employer sanctions. In my own personal utopia, I’d pair this up with a national ID card. Basically, if undocumented immigrants can’t get jobs, they’ll stop coming. There’s no need for a wall.

    I wonder how many liberals agree with me, more or less? I wonder how many are waiting for someone else to say it before they do? I wonder how many just flatly don’t consider it worth the blowback, so they stay quiet? Questions, questions.

    ¹As you might imagine, this is partly because the boards I’m attracted to aren’t run by shouters and nutballs. Still, I’m curious: is the same true of moderate conservative boards? Any wingers out there care to comment?

    ²And drawbacks to getting too tough on illegal immigration. There are good reasons to protect our borders, but there economic, humanitarian, and police state reasons not to have a goal of zero illegal immigration.

  • Republicans: Comey Is a Liar

    NBC News asked Americans who they believe: Donald Trump or James Comey. The results are pretty much America in a nutshell:

    Democrats and Republicans live in different worlds. Democrats believe Comey by a margin of +74 percent. The Republican margin is -40 percent. That’s a difference of 114 percent. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a partisan gap that wide on anything.

    But I guess it’s no surprise. If you get your news from Fox and Drudge and talk radio, it’s obvious that Comey is just a big fat liar who has it in for Trump. It’s Spock’s beard at work.

  • My Thoughtful Critique of Trumpcare

    Avik Roy has a request:

    OK, here’s my Top 5 list:

    1. Medicaid: The Senate bill slashes spending on Medicaid in order to cut taxes on the rich. This is a cruel and unnecessary tradeoff for the richest country in the history of the world.
    2. Death Spiral: It eliminates the individual mandate; reduces subsidies for the poor; reduces benchmark plans to an actuarial value of 58 percent; and increases deductibles and copays. Whatever instability Obamacare currently has, this will make it far, far worse.
    3. Essential Health Benefits: Like the House bill, the Senate bill makes it easy for states to cut essential health benefits, which motivates insurers to offer low-end policies for the working poor that are worthless—but only if you read the fine print.
    4. More Uninsured: It will lead to tens of millions fewer people having health coverage. CBO will provide an exact number in a few days, but we already know it’s going to be big.
    5. Lifetime Caps: Guts protections against annual and lifetime caps, and because of the way the bill is written, it’s likely to do this even for employer insurance, not just for the individual market.

    There’s more, like the substantial increase in premiums for older workers and the quiet kickback to insurance company CEOs. And what are the benefits? Unless you’re rich or you really, really want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, it’s hard to see any.

  • Saudi Arabia Demands Qatar Shut Down Al Jazeera

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that have severed ties with Qatar issued a list of severe demands to end the worst regional diplomatic crisis in years, telling their Persian Gulf neighbor to close state broadcaster Al Jazeera, curb ties with Iran and end Turkey’s military presence on its soil….The government of Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has 10 days to accept the demands, which include paying reparations and providing information on all opposition groups it has supported, the document says, without specifying what penalties the Saudi-led group will impose if Qatar fails to comply.

    And there you have it. Does Saudi Arabia really care about Qatar’s tightrope walk relationship with Iran, which it shares a gigantic gas field with? Or the 200 Turkish troops in Qatar? Or its ties to Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood?

    Well, sure, they care. But Qatar is just pursuing standard small-country diplomacy, trying to balance its alliances so it doesn’t become a client state of the local hegemon. It’s hardly a threat to Saudi Arabia.

    But Al Jazeera is, because it provides a view of the outside world to ordinary Saudi citizens that’s not controlled by the Ministry of Keeping Everyone In Line. That’s really the only thing Qatar does that’s truly threatening.

  • WaPo: Putin Personally Ordered Campaign Interference to Help Trump

    Metzel Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA

    Never forget:

    Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House….Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

    But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

    ….The White House turned to Congress for help….But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

    Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

    This is from the Washington Post. Read the whole thing.