• Republicans Are Mean

    Here’s a story for you. My mother grew up in a Republican family.1 When Herbert Hoover was on the radio, everyone listened. But later she became a Democrat. What happened?

    Well, she went off to college. But not some bleeding heart lefty bastion. She went to USC, which was even more Republican in 1950 than it is now. She didn’t get indoctrinated by a bunch of fuzzy liberal professors.

    So what caused the switch? I asked her once, and she said that during her college years she came to the conclusion that Republicans were just mean. So she became a Democrat.

    This struck me because I’ve long used the exact same word in the privacy of my own thoughts. I can write a sophisticated critique of conservative ideology as well as the next guy, but the truth is that it mostly boils down to a gut feel that Republicans are mean. I’ve never said this out loud because it sounds so kindergarten-y, but there it is. I think Republicans are mean, just like my mother did.

    But now our time has come. Donald Trump started it, with his contention that Paul Ryan’s health care bill was “mean.” Today, Barack Obama picked up the ball, writing on Facebook about the “fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.” And then Chuck Schumer weighed in with a big red poster calling the Senate health care bill “meaner.”

    So that’s that. It’s now OK to ditch the ten-dollar words and just spit it out. Republicans are mean.2

    1I’ve never figured out what the deal was here. My grandfather was very much a working-class guy, an electrician for Western Union. But he hated FDR. I don’t know why.

    2The weird thing about this is that I live in Orange County and I know lots of conservatives. For the most part, they aren’t mean. But put ’em all together in a single political party, and it’s all torches and pitchforks.

  • Our Score So Far: Republicans 89, Democrats 1

    This comes via a 4th-grade friend, who got it from some guy on Facebook, who probably got it from Daily Kos, who got it from Wikipedia:

    In the criminal convictions contest, the score is Republicans 89, Democrats 1. And that’s not even counting all the high-level Iran-Contra folks who probably would have been convicted of various felonies if they hadn’t been pardoned by GHW Bush.

    Among Democrats, there’s been only one criminal conviction in the past 50 years. The unlucky schmoe is Ron Blackley, who was collateral damage from a special prosecutor who even Ken Starr thought was kind of nuts. The guy ran amuck in a futile attempt to pin something on Secretary of Agriculture Ron Espy,1 and in the process he managed to win a perjury conviction against Blackley, who served as Espy’s chief of staff, for failing to disclose a pittance in consulting fees from a former consulting business in Mississippi.

    I wonder if Donald Trump can break Nixon’s record? One thing going against Trump is that he’s barely able to hire anyone these days, and you can’t garner lots of corruption convictions if you don’t have anyone working for you. On the other hand, he’s Trump. You never know.

    1He got a grand jury to hand down a bunch of indictments, but his case was so thin that Espy didn’t even bother mounting a defense. The jury acquitted Espy of everything.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    A field of California poppies at sunset, as the flowers start to close up for the night. You are getting sleepy, sleepy….

  • Five Ways the Senate Health Care Bill Raises the Cost of Insurance

    The Senate health care bill takes an axe to Medicaid, but it also does a ton of damage to private insurance purchased on the exchanges. It does this in five ways:1

    • Tax subsidies are reduced right out of the gate by changing the benchmark used from “second-lowest cost silver plan” to “applicable median cost benchmark plan.” The “applicable” median plan has an actuarial value of 58 percent, compared to a minimum of 70 percent for a silver plan. This makes it much cheaper, and thus makes the benchmark subsidies lower.
    • Subsidies stop entirely at an income of about $42,000, compared to $48,000 currently.
    • The age band is increased from 3:1 to 5:1, which will increase premiums for older workers.
    • Obamacare’s essential health benefits are eliminated, which allows insurers to offer crappier insurance.
    • CSR subsidies are eliminated, which will substantially increase deductibles and copays for poor people.

    The end result of all this is that subsidies will go down, coverage will get worse, and deductibles and copays will get higher. Older people will also see an increase in their premiums.

    How much does all this add up to? Quite a bit, I’m sure, but we’ll have to wait for the CBO score to put a solid number on it.

    1That’s how many I’ve discovered so far, anyway. There are probably other little gems hidden inside the bill that I haven’t caught. I’ll add them to the list when I hear about them.

    UPDATE: My original post used the wrong excerpt of the bill to illustrate the elimination of essential benefits. It’s actually part of something called a “1332 waiver,” which allows states to apply for an exemption to some of Obamacare’s requirements. Among other things, this exemption can include essential benefits.

  • CNN: Trump Asked Intel Chiefs to Publicly Exonerate His Campaign

    From CNN:

    Two of the nation’s top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that President Donald Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.

    Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.

    This goes further than what Trump asked James Comey to do. He wanted Comey to publicly acknowledge that Trump himself wasn’t under investigation, which was at least true. But he apparently asked the intelligence chiefs to say that his campaign didn’t collude with the Russians, which is precisely what’s under investigation. That’s like asking the district attorney to publicly exonerate a murder suspect while police are still collecting evidence.

    This may not have been an order to interfere with an ongoing investigation, but it was sure as hell inappropriate, as both Coats and Rogers obviously knew.

  • New Study Suggests Police Stop Minorities at Moderately Higher Rates Than Whites

    The Stanford Policing Project is a massive effort to collect data on police stops nationwide. It’s basically an attempt to find out whether police unfairly stop and search blacks and Hispanics at greater rates than whites, and they’ve now released the data they have so far.

    What they find is that police stop Hispanics at about the same rate as whites, but stop blacks at a somewhat higher rate. Once stopped, both groups are ticketed, searched, and arrested at significantly higher rates than whites. But is this because of racial discrimination? The Stanford researchers used two different tests to find out.

    First up is what’s called an “outcome test.” If, say, police search blacks at twice the rate of whites, but also find contraband at twice the rate, it suggests there’s no bias in who they choose to search. They’re using a roughly equal standard of suspicion for both. Here are the results of that test. Note that the dashed black line represents white searches, while the dashed red line is my eyeball guess at the difference for blacks and Hispanics:

    Although police search blacks more often than they search whites, they find contraband at about the same rate. They appear to be using similar criteria for both. However, they find contraband at a lower rate in searches of Hispanic drivers. This suggests they’re using a tougher standard of suspicion against Hispanics.

    But that’s not all. There’s also something called a “threshold test.” This is a more direct measure of the standard police use to search drivers they stop. Here are the results:

    When this more sensitive test of outcomes is applied, it shows that the threshold for a search is lower for both blacks and Hispanics. Very roughly speaking, it appears that police need about a third less suspicion to search black and Hispanic drivers compared to white drivers.

    I’m not sure how this compares to previous studies. My initial sense is that it’s less than I would have guessed. Overall, police do stop and search black and Hispanic drivers at unfairly high rates, but not at enormously higher rates—although it’s obvious that in certain communities the stop rate of minority drivers is far, far higher and the standard of suspicion is far, far lower than it is for white drivers:

     We’ll certainly find out more about this in the future, since the Stanford researchers have placed their massive database online and made it available to anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the data. They also continue to collect information from police departments around the country.

  • Senate Health Bill Would Wreck the Individual Insurance Market

    This is tentative, but….

    I’ve just taken a quick look at the Senate health care bill. Neither preexisting nor continuous are anywhere in the bill. None of the section titles deal with preexisting conditions. It doesn’t appear that the Senate bill affects Obamacare’s protections for preexisting conditions at all. This is almost certainly because the Senate parliamentarian ruled that this had nothing to do with spending or outlays.

    The Senate bill also abolishes Obamacare’s individual mandate penalties. The net result is that if this bill passes, people will be free to go without insurance while they’re healthy, and then buy insurance if and when they get seriously ill. This is a disaster for the health insurance industry.

    I don’t see how insurance companies can continue to dither at this point. The Senate bill would almost certainly be a huge financial blow to anyone who stays in the individual insurance business, and since the wording is driven by reconciliation rules it means that any final bill negotiated with the House would have to be the same. They can’t possibly accept this, can they?

  • Senate Health Bill Finally Drops, and It’s a Huge Giveaway for the Rich

    Thirteen senators have labored mightily and brough forth a mouse. The Senate version of Obamacare repeal dropped today, and it’s pretty much the same as the House version:

    • It’s a huge tax cut for the rich.
    • It slashes Medicaid for the poor.
    • It allows states to cut back on essential benefits.
    • It abolishes the individual mandate.

    Unlike the House bill, it keeps Obamacare’s income-based subsidies, which makes it a little more friendly to the working poor. However, it also cuts back on those subsidies.

    I’ll have more details later as they become available. But the bottom line is pretty simple: it cuts a trillion dollars in taxes on the rich, which means it also cuts a trillion dollars in spending on the poor and working class. That’s simple arithmetic. As a result, it’s going to take health insurance away from a lot of people. It might be 23 million, like the House bill, or it might be slightly more or slightly less. The CBO will tell us in a few days. But whatever the answer, this is pretty much the same horrific bill that the House has already passed.

    One other note: I don’t know yet how it handles pre-existing conditions. Thanks to reconciliation rules, I don’t think it can change them much. More on this later.

    Watch Elizabeth Warren tear into her Republican colleagues in the Senate.

    I am sick of explaining this to Republicans

    Women aren’t fools. We can tell the difference between reality and lies. And that’s why we’re here, fighting back on the Senate floor, to stop the Republican health care bill.

    Posted by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday, June 21, 2017

  • Liberals Haven’t “Lost Their Way” On Immigration

    Over at the Atlantic, Peter Beinart laments that liberals have become too doctrinaire over the past decade in their defense of illegal immigration:

    Prominent liberals didn’t oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America’s economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, “immigration is an intensely painful topic … because it places basic principles in conflict.”

    Today, little of that ambivalence remains. In 2008, the Democratic platform…referred three times to people entering the country “illegally.” The immigration section of the 2016 platform didn’t use the word illegal, or any variation of it, at all.

    Why did the left move even further left on immigration? Beinart chalks it up to politics: Democrats began to believe they’d dominate elections forever if they could sew up the Hispanic vote, and that motivated them to become ever less compromising on issues important to their Hispanic base.

    I suppose that’s part of it, but I’m surprised that Beinart doesn’t mention the obvious: there have been two big attempts in the past decade to pass a moderate, compromise immigration bill. The first time was in 2006, when both the House and Senate passed bills by large margins. But thanks to a backlash from talk radio and social conservatives, the bills never went to conference and the effort died.

    The second time was in 2013. A bill passed the Senate by a large, bipartisan majority, but once again it hit a backlash from the tea-party wing of the Republican Party. John Boehner never allowed the bill to come up for a vote in the House, and the effort died again.

    These two episodes have made it clear that compromise on immigration is pointless. That being the case, why bother playing Hamlet about the effect of illegal immigration on the wages of low-skilled natives? Especially since it’s largely a red herring anyway: it’s true that undocumented immigrants have an impact on the wages of low-skill native workers, but the effect is pretty moderate.

    UPDATE: My initial post used the wrong numbers for the effect of immigration on wages. The estimates below, along with the chart, have been corrected. Thanks to Jason Richwine for pointing out the error.

    Beinart repeatedly mentions the findings of a National Academies of Sciences report on immigration and the economy, but never mentions the precise number it comes up with: for low-skill native workers, an average of all studies suggests that an influx of even a million immigrants would only lower wages about 4.6 percent in the short run.1

    The same is true for state and local spending. The NAS report estimates that new immigrants cost states a net of about $1,600 per year.2 This means that an influx of a million immigrants would create a net burden of $1.6 billion. That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of all state and local spending. It’s a rounding error.

    These numbers are small, and are used mostly as intellectual cover by opponents of illegal immigration. They are not even remotely the reason for opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, which comes mostly from educated native whites whose wages and taxes aren’t impacted more than a hair by illegal immigration. The real reason is almost purely cultural: dislike of non-English speakers, an inchoate fear of crime, and a vague sense that white America is fading away. But hardly anyone wants to admit that these are the real terms of the argument.

    Quite a bit of new research has been done over the past decade, and the result has been, if anything, a reduction in the perceived economic effects of illegal immigration. The wage effects are roughly zero overall, and even for low-skill workers are fairly small in the short run—and get smaller over time. The fiscal effects are even smaller, and become zero over the long run. Given all this, it’s hardly a surprise that supporters of comprehensive immigration reform no longer give economic arguments much attention.3

    1This is the average of all studies in Table 5-2 that focus on high school dropouts. The mean result was a wage effect of -0.56 percent for an increase in the low-skill labor supply of 1 percent, which amounts to about 120,000 workers. That comes to -4.66 percent per million new immigrants.

    2Table 9-6.

    3This is not the post I intended to write when I started out. But after reading the NAS report, it’s the one I ended up with. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write the post I originally had in mind.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Looking for cheap eats in Orange County? My go-to burger place is Duke’s, on the corner of Fairview and Warner in Santa Ana. The burgers are actually so-so, but the fries range from good to fantastic, depending on how the cook is feeling. This adds a nice frisson of anticipation every time I go there. Will it be a good fries day or a great fries day? There’s only one way to find out!

    NOTE: I have received no compensation from, nor do I hold any equity stake in, The Duke’s Corporation or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. I just like their fries.

  • $15 Minimum Wage in Seattle Working Fine So Far

    Brad DeLong points to the latest study of employment in Seattle as it steadily increases its minimum wage to $15 per hour. As usual, what we want to know is not what absolute employment in Seattle looks like, but how it compares to a similar city with a lower minimum wage.

    But what is a “similar” city? The obvious candidates are cities just over the border from Seattle. But those aren’t perfect, since they might have different demographics. The latest and greatest technique, then, is to create a “synthetic” city made up of various other places similar to Seattle. If you do this properly, you get a control that tells you how Seattle is doing compared to how it would be doing with a lower minimum wage. Here’s the result for the food service industry, which is a heavy user of minimum wage labor:

    As you can see, synthetic Seattle is identical to real Seattle prior to the minimum wage hike. That suggests it’s a pretty accurate composite. After the minimum wage hike, they stay pretty similar. In fact, real Seattle has slightly higher employment. The obvious conclusion is that raising its minimum wage hasn’t depressed employment in Seattle at all. DeLong comments:

    Low-end labor markets simply do not appear to work like competitive markets. Rather, they work like markets in which employers have substantial market power—and thus minimum wage laws have the same efficiency benefits as does natural-monopoly rate regulation. Why low-end labor markets do not appear to work like competitive markets is a very interesting—and, I believe, unsolved—question. But it is in all likelihood a fact to deal with.

    I’d add an obvious caveat to this: it’s possible that a modestly higher minimum wage has little effect when the economy is doing well. We don’t know yet how employment in Seattle will respond when the economy turns down.

  • The Pelosi Factor in Georgia

    I get tweets:

    This is a reference to yesterday’s election in Georgia, where Karen Handel ran endless ads linking Jon Ossoff to Pelosi. Here’s the thing. When you and I hear “Nancy Pelosi,” we think of this:

    When Karen Handel’s voters hear “Nancy Pelosi,” they think of something like this:

    Any other questions?

  • Jared Kushner Is Bringing Peace to the Middle East

    Ivanka Trump’s husband is on the move:

    Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, Jared Kushner, has arrived in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories for a whistlestop visit aimed at restarting the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Kushner’s carefully managed visit – conducted far from media scrutiny and lasting less than a day – comes amid scant indication of any imminent breakthrough between the two sides in a peace process that has been moribund since 2014.

    Sure, whatever. I think Benjamin Netanyahu knows how to handle the likes of Kushner:

    Here’s what Bibi is bragging about:

    Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced the beginning of building work on the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in 25 years, a day before a visit by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and envoy, Jared Kushner, aimed at reinvigorating the stalled peace process. The new settlement, known as Amichai, is being built to house about 300 hardline residents of the illegal West Bank Jewish outpost of Amona who were evicted by police in February after a court ruled their houses were on privately owned Palestinian land.

    If you believe the timing is just coincidental, you might want to ask Joe Biden for his opinion.

  • My Hot Take on Jon Ossoff: Just Calm Down, Everyone

    Brian Cahn via ZUMA

    At the risk of sounding a little too Kevin Drummish, everyone should settle down about Jon Ossoff’s loss last night. Also all the other Democratic losses recently. They just don’t tell us very much.

    On the one hand, Democrats did a lot better than they had recently. On the other hand, parties always do better in open seats than they do running against incumbents. The “swings” of +20 or +15 or whatever are nice to see, but they don’t mean a whole lot.

    It’s also way too early to draw any conclusions anyway. Keep in mind that Republicans haven’t even done anything yet. Twelve months from now, who knows what they will have accomplished? Passed a suicidal health care bill? A huge tax cut for the rich? Gotten us into a two-front war in the Middle East? Withdrawn from NATO? Declared that lead is healthy and mandated that it be put back in gasoline? Who the hell knows?

    If Democrats want to win, they just need to do all the usual stuff. Find good candidates. Create an effective message. Close the character assassination gap. Raise lots of money. In other words, all the things they’d do if Hillary Clinton were president instead of Donald Trump.

    Oh, and stop sniping at each other. Every district will require a different kind of candidate. Moderates for red places, liberals for purple places, Bernie-approved lefties for blue places. It’s all good.

  • Hillary’s Emails Are the Well That Never Runs Dry

    Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA

    I promise you I’m not making this up:

    The State Department has opened a formal inquiry into whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her aides mishandled classified information while she was the nation’s top diplomat….Depending on the outcome of the current State Department inquiry, Clinton and her aides could have their access to sensitive government documents terminated.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, confirmed to Fox News the department’s formal inquiry. Meanwhile, Grassley’s committee launched its own inquiry into Clinton’s handling of emails, an inquiry that began in March.

    Note to Republicans: Hillary lost. She will never run for anything again. And you didn’t just beat her. You beat her in the most humiliating way possible: on the back of a jaw-droppingly unqualified and emotionally unstable former reality-TV star who now occupies the Oval Office and spends his days tweeting bitterly about his latest imagined slights. Isn’t that enough? Is there truly nothing that will sate your unholy obsession with Bill and Hillary Clinton?

    On the bright side, I guess we finally have evidence of at least one thing that Rex Tillerson has accomplished in the past few months.

  • Jon Ossoff Loses Georgia Special Election

    Dave Weigel was in town a couple of weeks ago and we had a conversation that went something like this:

    Weigel: I think Jon Ossoff has a real chance.
    Me: Nah.
    Weigel: Why do you say that?
    Me: It’s Georgia.

    It seems like I’ve heard about a hundred times in the last decade that Georgia would somehow turn blue. Maybe the whole state, maybe a single district, maybe something to do with the legislature. But it never happens. It has a Republican governor, two Republican senators, 10 (out of 14) Republican members of Congress, a heavily Republican state Senate, and a heavily Republican state House. I predict that it will keep disappointing Democrats for years to come.

  • Here’s the Dashcam Footage of the Philando Castile Shooting

    I don’t know what to say about this. Philando Castile had been pulled over because he and his girlfriend “looked like” people who had been involved in a robbery. Nevertheless, for the first minute it’s an ordinary traffic stop, with both officers able to get a good look at Castile and his girlfriend. Then Castile tells one of the two officers that he has a gun in the car:

    Castile, calmly: Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.

    Officer, calmly: Okay, don’t reach for it then.

    Officer loosens gun and pulls it halfway out of its holster.

    Castile, calmly: I’m, I, I was reaching for…

    Officer, deliberately: Don’t pull it out.

    Castile, calmly: I’m not pulling it out.

    Girlfriend: He’s not…

    Officer, panicky: Don’t pull it out!

    Officer fires seven gunshots in two seconds.

    Officer, panicky, nearly in tears: Don’t pull it out. Don’t move. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Don’t move. Don’t move.

    I’m not a cop. I don’t know what it’s like to be a cop. But it’s hard to believe this had to happen. It’s dusk, so there’s enough light to see by. The other officer on the scene is calm the entire time, with his hands up around his chest. He doesn’t seem to think Castile presents any threat. And even if the first officer was being overly cautious, surely having his gun drawn and ready to fire was sufficient. Nothing in this scene makes it look like he had a good reason to fire when he did.

  • Donald Trump, Classy As Always


    Let’s see. So far President Obama has (a) wiretapped Trump, (b) deliberately planned the destruction of Obamacare for 2017, (c) caused the Mike Flynn debacle by failing to properly vet Flynn,1 (d) personally organized anti-Trump protests around the country, and (e) caused the death of Otto Warmbier because he was too weak-kneed to stand up to North Korea.

    It’s standard practice for new presidents to declare that “things are even worse than I thought,” usually offered up as an excuse for why the country hasn’t blossomed under new leadership within the first month.2 It’s also standard to attack your predecessor’s policies. But it’s decidedly not standard to accuse your predecessor personally of illegal, unethical, and cowardly acts.

    I suppose Obama will continue to stay quiet about this, partly because it’s tradition, partly because that’s who he is, and partly because speaking up might be counterproductive at the moment. But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who wishes he’d toss tradition aside and just lay into Trump. I’d pay to see it.

    1For the record, Flynn was fired by Obama in 2014 because he had become deranged. Obama personally warned Trump about this.

    2Also newly elected governors, mayors, district attorneys, sheriffs, dogcatchers, and PTA presidents.

  • Donald Trump Has No Foreign Policy

    The latest from our president:

    It’s pretty obvious to everyone except Trump that China did not, in fact, try. They were just playing Trump for a patsy.

    Here’s the score so far: Trump has been suckered by China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. He has pissed off Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Australia, and most of our other traditional allies. Nobody knows what his policy toward Israel is. Or his policy in Afghanistan. Or his policy in Syria. Or his trade policy toward anyone. Or whether he ever bothers talking with his Secretary of State.

    Welcome to our new foreign policy, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t it great that we finally have a firm leader at the helm once again?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    One of the beautiful people cycling and texting at Santa Monica beach shortly before sunset.