• Lunchtime Photo

    This is the very last picture I took on our vacation. We landed right at sunset, and this was taken from inside Terminal 2, where we deplaned. Circling over Los Angeles just before sunset was a lovely way to return home, and a good reminder that every place has its own beauty. It almost made me wish I were rich enough to rent the Goodyear blimp and take a whole series of aerial pictures of LA when the light is good.

  • Revisiting the Sins of Mark Halperin

    Patrick Fallon via ZUMA

    Eve Fairbanks says that Mark Halperin did a lot more harm than just abusing women. Via his authorship of The Note, he spent years abusing the entire city of Washington DC:

    I want to talk about the deeper, subtler, more insidious effect Mark Halperin had on our politics — one which we’ll be paying for for years to come. The Note purported to reveal Washington’s secrets….It replaced normal words with jargon. It coined the phrase “Gang of 500,” the clubby network of lobbyists, aides, pols, and hangers-on who supposedly, like the Vatican’s cardinals, secretly ran DC….Halperin wrote about Washington like it was an intriguing game, the kind that masked aristocrats played to entertain themselves at 19th-century parties: Everyone was both pawn and player, engaged in a set of arcane maneuvers to win an empty jackpot that ultimately meant nothing of true importance.

    At the same time, The Note made it seem that tiny events — a cough at a press conference, a hush-hush convo between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in a corridor — held apocalyptic importance. Cloaked in seriousness, with the imprimatur of Peter Jennings’ ABC News, in reality The Note was not news but simple gossip.

    ….I dare say Halperin is the single journalist most responsible for Donald Trump….After all, what did Trump respond to? Most of all, two things: the sense among Americans that the language of politics has become an incomprehensible jargon of the elite, and the sense that a disaster or a dramatic change that will upend everything looms at every moment — hidden from sight, but still imminent. We have an apocalyptic politics in part because Halperin helped promote an apocalyptic approach to political coverage.

    I don’t really buy this. The Note was gossip and palace intrigue, but that’s the exact opposite of apocalyptic. Gossip makes everything trivial and fleeting, and Halperin’s writing was invariably aimed at the world-weary cynic who was too cosmopolitan to ever find anything truly apocalyptic. Gossip is both the great leveler of men and the great enemy of policymaking, which was always a subject that was just too, too dreary for readers of The Note.¹

    But if Halperin wasn’t responsible for the apocalyptic approach to politics, who was? There’s really not much question about this: it came from post-Gingrich movement conservatives, especially (and fittingly) conservative evangelicals. I don’t feel like digging up chapter and verse here, but all you have to do is read the speeches and emails and newsletters that they produced to understand exactly where this has come from. For years, they’ve told each other that the United States is literally² on the verge of collapse if the liberal agenda continues much longer. That’s what produced Donald Trump, not Mark Halperin.

    That said, Trump is also a creature of gossip, and Halperin certainly helped set the stage for the centrality of gossip—and the disdain for policy—that’s so widespread among thought leaders in modern politics.

    And for what it’s worth, this is why I always refused to read The Note and its imitators from the day I started blogging. It’s not possible to read this stuff “just for fun” and then pretend that it doesn’t affect you. Nor can you read it and pretend that its selection of topics that will “drive the news” doesn’t affect you. The only way to avoid being affected by it—and the only way to avoid boarding its puerile bandwagon—is not to read it at all. Does that mean I missed out on things? Not that I can tell. Over the past 15 years, I can’t recall more than two or three items of any importance that were reported first in one of the morning gossip newsletters. They may not be responsible for apocalyptic politics, but they have plenty of other sins to account for.

    ¹It’s worth noting that Washington DC, like all company towns, has always been a hornet’s nest of gossip. Halperin didn’t start this, he just packaged it for the masses and made it reputable.

    ²Note that I’m using the word literally in its correct sense here.

  • Obamacare Enrollments Continue to Thrive

    CMS reports today that Obamacare enrollments through the federal exchange are now up to 2.3 million this year. That’s about a 50 percent increase over the same period last year. If we assume that state exchange enrollments are up the same amount, total enrollments so far amount to just over 5 million:

    This is all based on eyeballing Charles Gaba’s famous chart, so it might be off slightly. And projections are, obviously, just projections. We don’t have confirmed figures for total national enrollment yet. Still, it’s good to see that signup activity seems to be very robust. With only three weeks left to sign up on the federal exchange, this needs to keep up.

  • Another Shoe Drops in the Florian Jaeger Affair

    WBNS-10TV

    Last month Madison Pauly reported on Florian Jaeger, a linguistics professor at the University of Rochester:

    Celeste Kidd was elated when she learned, in 2007, that she had been invited to interview for a Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester in New York….As she began the interview process, Kidd was told that in addition to Aslin, she would be encouraged to work closely with the department’s prized recent hire, professor T. Florian Jaeger, an expert in linguistics and computational methods. She met with Jaeger—but left the interview disturbed. Rather than asking about her research, she says, the professor invited her to a party that weekend, which she declined. Within days, he had sent her a message on Facebook. “you should have come to that other party,” he wrote.

    “I wanted to come, and ordinarily I would have but what with my not being accepted into Rochester yet, I didn’t want to make myself look like I enjoyed myself too much too often, you know?” Kidd wrote back.

    “you should not be worried about that type of stuff. at least no with me,” Jaeger replied. He added: “rochester used to be the place for legendary parties (with lots of nudity,etc. =)”

    Things got much worse after that, leading to a series of formal complaints. Initially the university defended Jaeger and dismissed the complaints filed by Kidd, now an assistant professor at Rochester, and six other faculty members (plus one former grad student). But that was pre-Harvey Weinstein. Today the Washington Post reports that a second shoe has dropped in the Jaeger affair:

    Hundreds of professors are urging their students not to apply to the University of Rochester, a private research university in western New York. The boycott comes after allegations that Florian Jaeger, a professor in the brain and cognitive science department, preyed on female students. Eight current and former Rochester researchers filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the university in September for what they viewed as the administration’s failure to adequately protect its students.

    ….[It] is unprecedented for these discussions to occur openly. This the first time academics have issued this sort of public statement, said Heidi Lockwood, a Southern Connecticut State University professor of philosophy and co-author of the letter of concern.

    ….The university has commissioned another investigation, led by attorney Mary Jo White, a former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission….White “has accepted the assignment on conditions of unconditional independence and unfettered access to all witnesses, documents, and information within the University’s control,” a representative for the University of Rochester wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

    Stay tuned. In September, this might have gone nowhere. Today, it might finally get taken more seriously.

  • Nine Out of Ten Economists Agree: The Republican Tax Bill Is Ridiculous

    The latest question put to the IGM Economic Experts Panel was about the Republican tax plan. Without further ado, the results:

    Will it increase GDP? Oh hell no. Will it increase the debt? Hell yes. It’s designed to increase the debt.

    My favorite answer to Question 1 comes from Oliver Hart of Harvard: “The incentive effects are unclear to me. Some of the simplifications make sense but many of the changes look like hand-outs to the rich.”

    You don’t say? Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago wins for his answer to Question 2: “Cut taxes. Lose money. Repeat.”

    What a mess. There’s really no reason to think that corporate taxes are too high in America, but it’s still possible that legitimate tax reform could help the economy. That calls for a tax bill that simplifies the corporate code; thoughtfully reforms our current worldwide taxation system; reduces industry subsidies and tax preferences; moderately lowers rates; and ends up revenue neutral. Unfortunately, what we have is a tax bill that includes a few useful features buried inside a chaotic assortment of giveaways to the wealthy and other special interests. It’s unlikely to accomplish much except to make a few rich people about $1.5 trillion richer over the next ten years. Even most conservatives support it only tepidly.

    But if there’s a single thing in this bill that demonstrates the difference between Republicans and Democrats, it’s not the favoritism toward the rich. I pretty much take that for granted these days. Rather, it’s the treatment of worldwide income.

    There’s broad agreement that the US system, which taxes all the income of domestic companies but provides credits for taxes paid to foreign countries, is clumsy and inefficient. Most countries rely instead on a territorial system that taxes only income earned within their borders. This is something that Republicans could have taken on and that the business community would likely have supported. The problem is that it’s not a simple matter that fits on a bumper sticker or gets cheers at a rally. Transitioning to a territorial system is complex and full of potholes.

    If this were a Democratic priority, liberal think tanks would have spent the past decade churning out dozens of detailed models and white papers, and legislative aides would be ready to dive in and start working on it. But if you scan conservative think tanks, you’ll find a few op-ed length proposals for a territorial tax and not much more. Not enough, anyway, that Republicans felt confident about taking it on this year. They just don’t care enough about detailed policy to be able to do stuff like this. So instead they threw a few ideas in the air, tossed out the ones that got any pushback, and ended up with an embarrassing collection of hobbyhorses and giveaways. It’s the same story as health care: after seven years of denouncing Obamacare, Republicans had little more than a few bullet points to work with when it turned out they couldn’t just repeal the entire law and be done with it. Detailed replacement proposals were almost nonexistent.

    Republicans can blow raspberries at honest wonks all they want, but this is the result: For anything complex, they’re incapable of passing legislation that’s worthwhile even from their own point of view.

  • We’re in Danger of Squandering Our Sexual Abuse Moment

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    John Conyers is the latest politician to be accused of sexual harassment:

    Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, moved swiftly on Tuesday against the House’s longest serving lawmaker, calling for the House Ethics Committee to investigate sexual harassment charges against Representative John Conyers Jr., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

    Good for Pelosi. If there’s a credible accusation against a Democrat, it should be investigated. Ditto for Republicans.

    But there’s the rub. The charges against Conyers were leaked to Mike Cernovich, a nutcase white nationalist who was a big supporter of the insane Pizzagate conspiracy last year. The partisan motivations here are pretty obvious.

    Likewise, after Leeann Tweeden accused Al Franken of improper behavior, a conservative radio host jumped on the bandwagon with a series of absurd allegations. Again, this was obviously a partisan hit.

    Meanwhile, Roy Moore and Donald Trump have simply denied all the allegations against them—loudly and threateningly. Earlier today, Trump basically endorsed Moore on this basis. “He totally denies it,” Trump explained.

    There’s a partisan issue here, but there’s also, for lack of a better phrase, an asshole issue as well. If you’re fundamentally a decent human being, like Franken, you apologize. Then you get investigated. Then you might resign, because lots of your fellow decent human beings think you should.

    But if you’re an asshole, not only do you deny the charges, you do your best to smear the accusers. That’s what Moore and Trump have done. This gives your fellow assholes the cover they need to back off while they “wait for more evidence.”

    The result is that the more decent you are, the more likely you are to pay the price for your sexual misconduct. The more of an asshole you are, the less likely you’ll pay any price.

    This is hardly an ironclad rule. Harvey Weinstein is pretty clearly a huge asshole, but the allegations against him are so numerous and so disgusting that nothing he says or does is going to matter much. That said, if we’re going to investigate Al Franken for some fairly minor offenses, let’s also investigate Donald Trump over his far worse and far more numerous offenses. And if we’re going to investigate John Conyers over allegations that were eventually settled by Congress’s Office of Compliance—as we certainly should—let’s not rely solely on partisan leaks. Let’s open the books and take a look at everyone who’s been accused of bad behavior.

    The fastest way for this moment in time to be squandered is for it to become a partisan football. If liberals eat their own because they believe sexual abuse is intolerable, but conservatives survive by simply denying and blustering, what do you think will happen? First, conservatives will spot an opportunity: a way of taking advantage of liberal principles that they’ve learned doesn’t apply to them. Second, liberals will probably start to back off. Like it or not, this is just human nature. No group ever remains completely committed to a principled stand if it becomes obvious that it only applies to themselves.

    I wish I had an answer to this problem, but I don’t. Nevertheless, it’s worth putting out there. Maybe somebody else has something productive to say about this.

  • Net Neutrality Is All About the Little Guy

    Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts/Newscom via ZUMA

    The FCC is getting ready to kill off net neutrality rules, which means that internet providers will be allowed to play favorites with different content from different companies. Tyler Cowen suggests this is really no big deal. He looks at two studies:

    In the past, the FCC went through a process to extend [net neutrality] in response to a court order invalidating its earlier net neutrality policy….Most relevant corporate share prices didn’t much react to these events, which suggests that the net neutrality decisions weren’t so important for the sector.

    ….A second recent study is by José Francisco Tudón Maldonado, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Chicago. Tudón Maldonado looked at Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch.tv, a popular platform for video games, eSports and musical performances, among other services. Twitch itself advocates net neutrality, but applies its own service prioritization rules within the system. Tudón Maldonado found that Twitch users benefit from this prioritization, receiving higher quality programs and suffering less from bandwidth congestion.

    I think this misunderstands the entire net neutrality debate. The first study looks solely at large public companies, but those aren’t the ones likely to lose out if net neutrality goes away. Generally speaking, they’re big enough and rich enough to cut favorable deals with internet providers regardless of the regulatory environment. It’s startups and small companies that are more likely to have problems. If YouTube has to cut a deal with Comcast to keep its videos running smoothly, they’ll do it. But what if a startup competitor wants the same treatment? They might not be offered the same deal, and even if they are they probably can’t afford it anyway. None of this shows up in the stock prices of big content providers.

    The second study looks at the effect of content-neutral congestion policies. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole here, but in simple terms it’s safe to say that no one objects if internet providers adopt policies designed to manage traffic congestion on their networks as long as those policies don’t discriminate based on the content of the traffic. This is a tricky issue, and the Twitch.tv case isn’t entirely cut and dry. But it’s mostly about favoring content that its customers access most often, which means they aren’t discriminating based on who owns what content.

    In other words, I don’t think either of these studies addresses the real issue of eliminating net neutrality: namely that it allows internet providers to actively discriminate against small companies that can’t afford to pay special fees for good service. It also allows vertically integrated internet providers—like Comcast/NBC and AT&T/Time Warner—to favor their own content at the expense of others.

    If there were real competition in the internet provider space, this would all be moot. If Comcast screwed around with competitive content providers, its customers would get disgusted and switch to someone else. But in practice, most areas don’t have any real competition. You sign up with your local cable company, and that’s pretty much it. If some small sites don’t seem to work very well, you’ll probably shrug and just figure that they aren’t very good. And even if you figure out that Comcast is deliberately screwing with them, there isn’t much you can do about it.

    Of course, the big internet providers all swear they would never do this. Maybe so. But if they’d never do it, why the big objection to rules that say they can never do it?

  • Thousands of Blacks Are Denied Voting Rights Because They’re Poor

    I did not know this:

    Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being denied the right to vote because they are poor. In nine states, Republican legislators have enacted laws that disenfranchise anyone with outstanding legal fees or court fines. For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 people who owe money — roughly 3 percent of the state’s voting-age population — have been struck from voting rolls.

    AL.com adds a bit more detail:

    In Alabama and eight other states from Nevada to Tennessee, anyone who has lost the franchise cannot regain it until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. In Alabama, that requirement has fostered an underclass of thousands of people who are unable to vote because they do not have enough money.

    In a recent paper, Marc Meredith and Michael Morse calculate that in Alabama, the fees and fines levied on felons amount to an average of about $5,000 per person, and half of the money owed is in the form of legal fees. Here’s how those fees break down:

    This affects blacks much more than whites:

    Many laws that have a disparate impact on the poor also are likely to have a disparate racial impact because of the strong link between race and wealth in America….The right panel of Figure 3 supplies the missing data and demonstrates that black ex-felons are about 9.4 percentage points (p.p.) less likely to be eligible to vote because of an outstanding [legal] debt….[The] fourth panel of Figure 4 reveals that the disparate impact in eligibility is reproduced in the share of applications denied….Black applicants are 26 p.p. more likely to be denied due to an outstanding debt than non-black applicants.

    Here are figures 3 and 4 from the paper. The size of the fees and fines levied on felons is about the same for blacks and whites, but blacks are more likely to have unpaid fees and fines and far more likely to be denied restitution of voting rights due to outstanding fees and fines:

    This is the intersection of class and race. The reason blacks are more likely to have unpaid fees and fines is because they’re poorer than whites. But the reason they’re poorer is inextricably bound up in persistent and systemic racism. No court has ever found that this disparate impact of unpaid fees and fines on voting rights is disallowed by the Constitution, but Meredith and Morse suggest that maybe they should start.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a koi swimming around at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon, one of the few semi-rural places left in Orange County. I was there a few months ago, and was surprised to learn they had a koi pond. I don’t think it was there the last time I visited, which was probably about 50 years ago. I guess I should keep a little more up to date.

  • The Senate Tax Bill Will—Oh, You Know Already, Don’t You?

    I still feel like crap today. On the bright side, I feel slightly less like crap than yesterday. Nevertheless, that probably means I should stick to nice, easy subjects. I think I managed to screw up yesterday’s post about the income of the top 1 percent five or six times before I finally got it right.¹

    The Republican tax bill is always good for an easy post. Let’s try that. Here’s the latest Penn Wharton estimate of the effects of the bill all the way through 2040²:

    There you go. By 2040, more than two decades from now, the Senate bill will create an extra $2 trillion in debt. At the same time, it will increase both GDP and labor income by 0.5 percent. That’s 0.02 percent per year, which is basically noise level. We can’t even come close to measuring GDP that accurately. For all practical purposes, the likely effect of the bill on GDP and labor income is zero.

    No one in the Republican Party seems to care about that, and charts full of numbers don’t have any impact on the average voter. Still, just for the record, I figure it’s worth posting this stuff. Someone ought to.

    ¹It’s now correct, and probably fairly understandable too. Thanks, readers!

    ²The Penn Wharton folks produce both high and low estimates. I’ve averaged them here to get a single number for each category.