Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2014/01/bridgegate-edges-closer-and-closer-chris-christie-himselfvia%40motherjones http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Friday Cat Blogging - 25 July 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/friday-cat-blogging-25-july-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Say hello to Mozart, the latest addition to the Drum family menagerie. One of my mother's neighbors found him wandering around, so naturally he ended up at my mother's house. He's a very sociable cat and appears to be very pleased with his choice of home. To celebrate his appearance, today you get two catblogging photos: one that shows his whole body and one that's a close-up of his face. Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mozart_body_2014_07_25.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 5px 60px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mozart_face_2014_07_25.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 10px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 25 Jul 2014 18:50:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 257001 at http://www.motherjones.com Doctors Aren't Really Very Smart About Buying Generics http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/doctors-arent-really-very-smart-about-buying-generics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Sarah Kliff takes a look today at our use of generic drugs. Long story short, it's surprising how few of us save money by buying generic pain medicine instead of name brands (Advil, Tylenol, Bayer, etc.). Why? In most cases, I suppose it's just ignorance: people don't realize that the "store brand" is genuinely identical to the name brand. In other cases it might be something else. I buy generic ibuprofen, and it usually comes in the form of small brown pills. One day, however, I went to to a different drug store to stock up, and it turned out that their generic ibuprofen came in the form of small <em>orange</em> pills. Marian used these for a while, but really hated them. Eventually she cracked, and insisted on buying a new bottle from our usual drug store. Sometimes little things can make all the difference.</p> <p>Anyway. The main point of Kliff's post is that generics are good, and as evidence of this she puts up a chart showing what doctors themselves buy. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/7/25/5936739/shop-like-a-pharmacist-dont-buy-advil" target="_blank">Here's an excerpt from the chart:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_doctor_generics_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 10px 5px;"></p> <p>It's true that doctors mostly favor generics when it comes to basic pain relievers. But frankly, what's amazing to me is how <em>little</em> they prefer them. For chrissake, they prefer generic <em>aspirin</em> by only ten percentage points. That means they buy the name brand about 45 percent of the time. Why would a doctor do this? Granted, the extra few dollars is probably no big deal to them, but why waste it anyway? Certainly not because of ignorance. Are their spouses doing the buying? Or what?</p> <p>And why the active preference for name-brand rubbing alcohol, of all things? It's hard to think of anything more generic than that. What's the deal here?</p> <p>As for Alka-Seltzer, the dislike of generics is so huge that there just has to be some real difference here. But what?</p> <p>In any case, I suspect this might have some real importance beyond the question of doctors spending a few dollars they don't have to. If physicians aren't really sold on generics in their own personal lives, does this mean they're not really sold on them in their professional lives too? Do they tend to prescribe name brands when they shouldn't? And how much does this cost all of us?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 25 Jul 2014 18:05:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 256996 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Maybe Not as Inept as We Think http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/republicans-maybe-not-inept-we-think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Paul Waldman thinks Republicans have become a <a href="http://prospect.org/article/how-did-gop-turn-such-bunch-clowns" target="_blank">bunch of bumblers and idiots:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Think about it this way: Has there been a single instance in the last few years when you said, "Wow, the Republicans really played that one brilliantly"?</p> <p>In fact, before you'll find evidence of the ruthless Republican skillfulness so many of us had come to accept as the norm in a previous era, you'll need to go back an entire decade to the 2004 election. George W. Bush's second term was a disaster, Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006, they lost the White House in 2008, they decided to oppose health-care reform with everything they had and lost, they lost the 2012 election&mdash;and around it all they worked as hard as they could to alienate the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gallup_republican_self_id.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">fastest growing minority group in the country and make themselves seem utterly unfit to govern.</p> <p>In fact, in the last ten years they've only had one major victory, the 2010 midterm election.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. It's true that the GOP has had a rough decade in a lot of ways. The number of self-IDed Republicans has <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/166763/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx" target="_blank">plummeted since 2004;</a> their standing among the fast-growing Hispanic population has cratered; and their intellectual core is now centered in a wing of the party that believes we should return to the gold standard. This isn't a promising starting point for a conservative renaissance.</p> <p>Still, let's not kid ourselves. If Republicans were really as woefully inept as Waldman says, then Democrats should be kicking some serious ass these days. I haven't especially noticed this. They won in the sixth year of Bush's presidency, when out parties always win, and then won in 2008, when an economic collapse pretty much guaranteed a victory for anyone with a D after their name. Then they had a single fairly good year&mdash;followed by an epic blunder that lost them a sure seat in Massachusetts, and with it control of the Senate. They got crushed in 2010. They won a squeaker in 2012 against an opponent who made a wedding cake figurine look good by comparison. For the last four years, they've basically gotten nothing done at all.</p> <p>And what about those Republicans? Well, they have a hammerlock on the House, and they might very well control the Senate after the 2014 election. They've won several notable Supreme Court victories (Heller, Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, etc.). They control a large majority of the states, and have passed a ton of conservative legislation in areas like voter ID and abortion restrictions. Their "Just Say No" strategy toward President Obama has tied Democrats in knots. They won an all but total victory on spending and deficits.</p> <p>Nor is it really true that today's GOP is notably more bumbling than it used to be. The myth of "ruthless Republican skillfulness" in the past is just that: a myth. George H.W. Bush screwed up on Supreme Court picks and tax hikes. Newt Gingrich&mdash;ahem&mdash;sure didn't turn out to be the world historical strategic genius everyone thought he was in 1994. George W. Bush&mdash;with the eager backing of every Republican in the country&mdash;figured that a war in Iraq would be just the ticket to party dominance for a decade. Ditto for Social Security reform. Republicans were just sure that would be a winner. By contrast, their simpleminded Obama-era strategy of obstructing Democrats at all times and on all things has actually worked out pretty well for them given the hand they were dealt.</p> <p>Make no mistake: It's not as if Republicans have been strategic geniuses. There's no question that they have some long-term issues that they're unable to address thanks to their capitulation to tea party madness. But if they're really so inept, how is it that in the past 15 years Democrats haven't managed to cobble together anything more than about 18 months of modest success between 2009-10?</p> <p>I dunno. Republicans keep getting crazier and crazier and more and more conservative, and liberals keep thinking that <em>this time</em> they've finally gone too far. I've thought this from time to time myself. And yet, moving steadily to the right has paid off pretty well for them over the past three decades, hasn't it?</p> <p>Maybe it will all come to tears in the near future as the lunatic wing of the party becomes even more lunatic, but we liberals have been thinking this for a long time. We haven't been right yet.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:49:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 256991 at http://www.motherjones.com Gruber: "It Was Just a Mistake" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/gruber-it-was-just-mistake <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Why did Jonathan Gruber tell an audience in 2012 that states which failed to set up Obamacare exchanges would be depriving their residents of federal subsidies? Jonathan Cohn caught up with Gruber this morning and <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118851/jonathan-gruber-halbig-says-quote-exchanges-was-mistake" target="_blank">got an answer:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I honestly don&rsquo;t remember why I said that. I was speaking off-the-cuff. <strong>It was just a mistake.</strong></p> <p>....There are few people who worked as closely with Obama administration and Congress as I did, and at no point was it ever even implied that there&rsquo;d be differential tax credits based on whether the states set up their own exchange. <strong>And that was the basis of all the modeling I did,</strong> and that was the basis of any sensible analysis of this law that&rsquo;s been done by any expert, left and right.</p> <p>I didn&rsquo;t assume every state would set up its own exchanges but I assumed that subsidies would be available in every state. It was never contemplated by anybody who modeled or worked on this law that availability of subsides would be conditional of who ran the exchanges.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it: Gruber screwed up. More importantly, as he points out, he's performed immense amounts of technical modeling of Obamacare, and all of his models assumed that everyone would get subsidies even though not every state would set up its own exchange. As Cohn says, this was pretty much the unanimous belief of everyone involved:</p> <blockquote> <p>As I&rsquo;ve written before, I had literally hundreds of conversations with the people writing health care legislation in 2009 and 2010, including quite a few with Gruber. Like other journalists who were following the process closely, <strong>I never heard any of them suggest subsidies would not be available in states where officials decided not to operate their own marketplaces</strong>&mdash;a big deal that, surely, would have come up in conversation.</p> </blockquote> <p>Kudos to Peter Suderman and his sleuths for uncovering this and getting everyone to talk about it for a day. It's a news cycle win for conservatives. But restricting subsidies to state exchanges just flatly wasn't part of Congress's intent. There's simply no way to rewrite history to make it seem like it was.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:17:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 256981 at http://www.motherjones.com 57% of Republicans Want to Impeach Obama http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/57-republicans-want-impeach-obama <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is completely, barking <a href="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/07/24/rel7e.pdf" target="_blank">insane:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poll_obama_impeach.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 2px;"></p> <p>I don't even know how to react to this stuff anymore. A solid majority of Republicans wants to impeach President Obama for....what? An EPA regulation they don't like? Postponing Obamacare's employer mandate for a year? Not prosecuting some immigrant kids who have been in the country since they were three?</p> <p>This goes beyond politics as usual. It's nuts. Fox News is now officially in charge of one of America's two major political parties.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama The Right Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:38:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 256971 at http://www.motherjones.com Did Congress Actually Intend to Withhold Subsidies From Federal Exchanges? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/did-congress-actually-intend-withhold-subsidies-federal-exchanges <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the <em>Halbig</em> case, the plaintiffs argued that the provision in Obamacare limiting subsidies to people enrolled through state exchanges was no typo. In fact, they claimed, Congress <em>intended</em> to limit subsidies to state exchanges as an incentive for states to set up their own exchanges instead of relying on the federal government. The problem with this theory is that <a href="https://twitter.com/ezraklein/status/492670708305391616" target="_blank">literally nobody</a> who was involved with the legislation or who covered it during its passage remembers anything of the sort, and the rest of the bill pretty clearly assumes that everyone gets subsidies regardless of whether they're enrolled via a state exchange or the federal exchange.</p> <p>Today, however, Peter Suderman presents some evidence that this was indeed Congress's intent. It's not evidence from 2009-10, when the bill was being debated. Nor is it from anyone involved in Congress. It's from Obamacare expert Jonathan Gruber <a href="http://reason.com/blog" target="_blank">speaking to an industry group in January 2012:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>What&rsquo;s important to remember politically about this is if you're a state and you don&rsquo;t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits&mdash;but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you&rsquo;re essentially saying [to] your citizens you&rsquo;re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't really know what to make of this. It's a very odd mistake for Gruber to make, because in January 2012 the IRS had already issued a preliminary ruling on this exact question and had already held a public hearing asking for comments. Gruber surely knew this, and therefore knew that (a) the final ruling hadn't been issued yet, but (b) the IRS had already signaled that it intended to rule that subsidies were allowed on federal exchanges. Maybe he misremembered the IRS's preliminary ruling, or maybe he was just mixing this up with something else. Who knows? Perhaps Gruber will tell us on Friday.</p> <p>In any case, I doubt this changes anything too much. Although Gruber was a consultant on the law and intimately familiar with its details, he was neither a legislator nor a congressional staffer. The fact that he bollixed an audience question two years after the law's passage doesn't mean much. It's a nice gotcha moment, but probably not much else.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:24:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 256956 at http://www.motherjones.com Power Outage Blogging http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/power-outage-blogging <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hey, I'm back! It turned out that today was the day for our annual neighborhood power outage, and at first I thought I was sitting pretty. I've got a Windows tablet, which means it's compatible with MoJo's blogging software. I've got my Bluetooth keyboard. And my phone will act as a WiFi hotspot, so I can connect to the net. Who needs electricity?</p> <p>Well, apparently this year's blackout was so extensive that it took out the local T-Mobile cell tower. So that was that. No internet connection. I thought I had this thing wired, but apparently not.</p> <p>Anyway, at the time my computer died I think I was writing a brilliant post about Republicans and abortion, but I no longer remember just what brilliant point I was going to make. It probably amounted to an assertion that they've always been against it and nothing has really changed. Maybe I'll remember tomorrow.</p> <p>In the meantime, what happened this afternoon? Anything I need to get on top of?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 25 Jul 2014 05:02:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 256951 at http://www.motherjones.com Help Us Solve the Rotisserie Chicken Mystery http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/help-us-solve-rotisserie-chicken-mystery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Megan McArdle alerts me today to a story from a local TV station that answers a question I've vaguely wondered about for a while: Why is it cheaper to buy a cooked and seasoned rotisserie chicken than a raw chicken? <a href="http://www.kcet.org/living/food/the-nosh/grocery-store-rotisserie-chickens.html" target="_blank">Cat Vesko provides the straight dope:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Right now, an uncooked chicken at Ralphs runs you $9.87, but a rotisserie chicken is $6.99; at Gelson's, you'll pay $8.99 for a cooked chicken or $12.67 for the raw version; and at that beloved emporium of insanity Whole Foods, a rotisserie chicken is $8.99, while a whole chicken from the butcher counter is $12.79 ... per pound.</p> <p>....In most cases, preparing meals from scratch is significantly cheaper than buying them pre-made. What makes rotisserie chickens the exception? The answer lies in the curious economics of the full-service supermarket....Much like hunters who strive to use every part of the animal, grocery stores attempt to sell every modicum of fresh food they stock. Produce past its prime is chopped up for the salad bar; meat that's overdue for sale is cooked up and sold hot. Some mega-grocers like Costco have dedicated rotisserie <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_rotisserie_chicken.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">chicken programs, <strong>but employees report that standard supermarkets routinely pop unsold chickens from the butcher into the ol' rotisserie oven.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This is a curiously roundabout explanation, but it boils down to this: whole chickens that are about to reach their sell-by date&mdash;and be thrown out&mdash;are instead taken to the deli to be cooked up. The grocery store doesn't make as much money as it would selling the chicken fresh, but it makes more money than it would by throwing it out.</p> <p>I guess this makes sense. Except for one thing: the number of rotisserie chickens in your average supermarket is huge. As near as I can tell, the number being roasted in any single hour is greater than the total number of raw whole chickens in the entire poultry section. In other words, there's just no way that supermarkets toss out (or come close to tossing out) enough whole raw chickens to account for the vast pile of rotisserie chickens on offer. An awful lot of these chickens must have been purchased explicitly for the rotisserie. At least, that's what my informal eyeball estimate tells me.</p> <p>What's more, the availability of all those cheap rotisserie chickens is a conspicuous incentive to stop buying whole raw chickens in the first place, and supermarkets obviously know this. This is one of the reasons most supermarkets stock so few whole chickens these days.<sup>1</sup> So selling rotisserie chickens cheaply is just cutting their own throats. Why would they do that <em>and</em> lose money on the chicken?</p> <p>So there must be something else going on. I'm not sure what, but I suspect there's more to the story than just using up chickens that are approaching their sell-by date. Do I have any readers who work in supermarkets and can enlighten us?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Not the only reason, or even the main reason, of course. The main reason is that most of us just don't want to bother cooking a whole chicken these days.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> The most popular guess in comments is that rotisserie chickens are a loss leader. Sure, you lose a dollar or two on each one, but you make up for it with the cole slaw and 2-liter sodas and so forth that everyone buys to go with them.</p> <p>This is the most obvious explanation, and I'm totally willing to buy it. I just want to know if it's true. Not a guess, but a confirmation from someone who actually knows if this is what's going on. Anyone?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Thu, 24 Jul 2014 18:18:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 256921 at http://www.motherjones.com A Question About Botched Executions http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/question-about-botched-executions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm reluctant to ask a question that may strike some people as too cavalier for a subject that deserves only serious treatment. But after yesterday's botched execution in Arizona&mdash;the latest of several&mdash;I continue to wonder: why is it so damn hard to execute people?</p> <p>For starters, there are plenty of time-tested approaches: guillotines, firing squads, hanging, electrocution, gas chambers, etc. Did those really fall out of favor because people found them too grisly? Personally, I find the sterile, Mengele-like method of lethal injection considerably more disturbing than any of the others. And anyway, if you're bound and determined to kill people, maybe you <em>ought</em> to face up to a little bit of grisly.</p> <p>Beyond that, is it really so hard to find a lethal injection that works? Obviously I'm not a doctor, but I do know that there are plenty of meds that will very reliably knock you unconscious. And once you've done that, surely there are plenty of poisons to choose from? Or even asphyxiation: place a helium mask over the unconscious prisoner and he'll be painlessly dead in about ten minutes or less.</p> <p>Can anyone point me to a readable but fairly comprehensive history of executions over the past few decades? When and why did lethal injection become the method of choice? Why does there seem to be only one particular cocktail that works effectively? Lots of people have asked the same questions I'm asking, but nothing I've ever read really seems to explain it adequately.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:45:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 256911 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: John Boehner Invites Obama to Ignore Congress on Immigration http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/john-boehner-invites-obama-ignore-congress-immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/boehner-wants-obama-act-his-own-border-crisis" target="_blank">From House Speaker John Boehner,</a> who is currently beavering away on a plan to sue President Obama for dealing with too many problems on his own:</p> <blockquote> <p>We&rsquo;ve got a humanitarian crisis on the border, and that has to be dealt with. But the president clearly isn&rsquo;t going to deal with it on his own, even though he has the authority to deal with it on his own.</p> </blockquote> <p>Man, this begs for a follow-up, doesn't it? What exactly does Obama have the authority to do on his own, Mr. Speaker? What unilateral actions would you like him to take without congressional authorization? Which particular law would you like him to reinterpret? Inquiring minds want to know.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Obama Thu, 24 Jul 2014 15:49:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 256896 at http://www.motherjones.com A Quick First Look at Paul Ryan's Anti-Poverty Plan http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/quick-first-look-paul-ryans-anti-poverty-plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ryan_anti_poverty.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Paul Ryan is out today with his anti-poverty proposal, and my first reaction after a quick skim is that I'm surprised at how limited it is. Maybe that's fine. There's no law that says every white paper has to offer a comprehensive solution to every federal program ever invented. In any case, Ryan is offering ideas <a href="http://budget.house.gov/uploadedfiles/embargoed_expanding_opportunity_in_america___7232014.pdf" target="_blank">primarily in three areas:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Experimentation.</strong> In a few select states, he wants to consolidate a number of federal poverty programs and then allow states to use the money to test different approaches to fighting poverty. It would be revenue neutral ("this is not a budget-cutting proposal&mdash;this is a reform proposal") and states would have to agree to a rigorous program of testing and research to evaluate how well their plans work.</p> <p><strong>EITC.</strong> Ryan wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. This would be paid for by unspecified cuts in other anti-poverty programs.</p> <p><strong>Education.</strong> This is a bit of a hodgepodge and requires some reading between the lines. Mostly, he seems to want to block grant spending on early childhood programs; increase federal support for K-12 vouchers; "modernize and reform" tuition assistance for colleges; and block grant job training programs.</p> </blockquote> <p>Ryan also has some ideas about prison reform and loosening occupational licensing standards. I'll try to have more on this later after I've read his paper more thoroughly. Overall, my initial reaction is that I like the idea of more rigorously testing different anti-poverty approaches, but I'm pretty skeptical of Ryan's obvious preference for eventually eliminating most federal anti-poverty programs and simply sending the money to the states as block grants. This is a longtime conservative hobbyhorse, and not because states are models of efficiency. They like it because it restricts spending, especially during recessions when federal entitlement programs automatically increase but block grants don't. That may please the tea party set, but it's bad for poor people and it's bad for the economy, which benefits from countercyclical spending during economic downturns.</p> <p>This is just a quickie reaction. More later.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:34:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 256891 at http://www.motherjones.com For Lower Back Pain, You Can Skip the Tylenol http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/lower-back-pain-you-can-skip-tylenol <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's the latest from the <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/acetaminophen-no-better-than-placebo-for-back-pain/?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">frontiers of medical research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>About two-thirds of adults have lower back pain at some point in their lives, and most are told to take acetaminophen, sold under brand names like Tylenol, Anacin and Panadol. Medical guidelines around the world recommend acetaminophen as a first-line treatment.</p> <p>But there has never been much research to support the recommendation, and now a large, rigorous trial has found that acetaminophen works no better than a placebo.</p> </blockquote> <p>The good folks at Johnson &amp; Johnson will no doubt disagree with extreme prejudice, but I'm not surprised. I suppose different people respond differently, but I've basically never responded other than minimally to Tylenol. It might dull a bit of headache pain slightly, but that's about it. However, there's more:</p> <blockquote> <p>Dr. Williams said that acetaminophen had been shown to be effective for <strong>headache, toothache and pain after surgery</strong>, but the mechanism of back pain is different and poorly understood. Doctors should not initially recommend acetaminophen to patients with acute low back pain, he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hey! That's right. I had some mild toothache recently thanks to a filling that involved a fair amount of work beneath the gum line. It acted up whenever I chewed food on that side of my mouth, and I found that Tylenol made it go away within 20 minutes. I was pretty amazed, since Tylenol had never really worked for anything else. But it was great for toothache.</p> <p>Anyway, everyone is different, and Tylenol might work for you better than it does for me. It might even work for back pain. It doesn't <em>on average</em>, but that doesn't mean it's ineffective for everybody. In the meantime, maybe the medical research profession could hurry up a bit on that business of understanding what lower back pain is all about, OK? It so happens that I could use some answers on that score.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:24:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256866 at http://www.motherjones.com The Great Third-Pound Burger Ripoff http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/great-third-pound-burger-ripoff <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_math_phobia.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">This is from a <em>New York Times Magazine</em> piece about <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">America's innumeracy problem:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&amp;W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald&rsquo;s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&amp;W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&amp;W&rsquo;s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&amp;W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. <strong>Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.</strong></p> <p>Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. <strong>The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed.</strong> Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald&rsquo;s. The &ldquo;4&rdquo; in &ldquo;&frac14;,&rdquo; larger than the &ldquo;3&rdquo; in &ldquo;&acirc;&#133;&#147;,&rdquo; led them astray.</p> </blockquote> <p>Are Americans <em>really</em> innumerate compared to other countries? Perhaps: Author Elizabeth Green says that American adults did pretty poorly in a 2012 international test of numeracy. The rest of her piece is all about how we could teach math better if we really put our minds to it, but unfortunately, after inventing all the best methods for teaching math we gave up, leaving it to the Japanese to perfect them. I don't know whether or not this is a fair summary of the current state of play in math ed.</p> <p>Still, the A&amp;W anecdote was too good to check, and too good not to pass along. If it's not true, it should be.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Elizabeth Green tweets that her source for this anecdote is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Threshold-Resistance-Extraordinary-Career-Luxury-ebook/dp/B000RO9VM2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1406161812&amp;sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>Threshold Resistance</em></a> by Alfred Taubman, who owned A&amp;W in the 80s. Here's the relevant passage, after Taubman has called in Yankelovich, Skelly and White to figure out what was wrong with their burger:</p> <blockquote> <p>Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half of the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. "Why," they asked, "should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald's? You're overcharging us." Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you go.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:19:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 256846 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Oil Is Getting Harder and Harder to Find http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/chart-day-oil-getting-harder-and-harder-find <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Oil expert James Hamilton has an interesting summary of the current world oil market up today, and it's worth a read. His bottom line, however, is that <a href="http://econbrowser.com/archives/2014/07/the-changing-face-of-world-oil-markets" target="_blank">$100-per-barrel oil is here to stay:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The run-up of oil prices over the last decade resulted from strong growth of demand from emerging economies confronting limited physical potential to increase production from conventional sources. Certainly a change in those fundamentals could shift the equation dramatically. If China were to face a financial crisis, or if peace and stability were suddenly to break out in the Middle East and North Africa, a sharp drop in oil prices would be expected. But even if such events were to occur, the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_oil_production_capex.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">emerging economies would surely subsequently resume their growth, in which case any gains in production from Libya or Iraq would only buy a few more years.</p> </blockquote> <p>The chart on the right shows the situation dramatically. In just the past ten years, capital spending by major oil companies on exploration and extraction has <em>tripled</em>. And the result? Those same companies are producing <em>less</em> oil than they were in 2004. There's still new oil out there, but it's increasingly both expensive to get and expensive to refine.</p> <p>(And all the hype to the contrary, the fracking revolution hasn't changed that. There's oil in those formations in Texas and North Dakota, but the wells only produce for a few years each and production costs are sky high compared to conventional oil.)</p> <p>In a hypertechnical sense, the peak oil optimists were right: New technology has been able to keep global oil production growing longer than the pessimists thought. But, it turns out, not by much. Global oil production is growing very slowly; the cost of new oil is skyrocketing; the quality of new oil is mostly lousy; and we continue to bump up right against the edge of global demand, which means that even a small disruption in supply can send the world into an economic tailspin. So details aside, the pessimists continue to be right in practice even if they didn't predict the exact date we'd hit peak oil. It's long past time to get dead serious about finding renewable replacements on a very large scale.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Energy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:46:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256826 at http://www.motherjones.com Lots of Americans Think Obamacare Has Benefited Nobody http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/lots-americans-think-obamacare-has-benefited-nobody <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Greg Sargent points us to an interesting new <a href="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/07/22/rel7c.pdf" target="_blank">CNN poll</a> about Obamacare. It asks the usual question about favoring or opposing the law, with the usual results. The basic question shows that Obamacare is unpopular by 40-59 percent, but when you add in the folks who "oppose" it only because they wish it were more liberal, it flips to 57-38 percent. In other words, if you confine yourself to garden variety conservative opposition to Obamacare, there's not nearly as much as most polls suggest.</p> <p>But then there's another question: Has Obamacare helped you or your family personally? About 18 percent say yes. How about other families? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/07/23/morning-plum-republicans-certain-obamcare-hasnt-helped-anyone-in-america/" target="_blank">Do you think Obamacare has helped <em>anyone at all</em>?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>And guess what: A huge majority of Republicans and conservatives don&rsquo;t think the law has helped anybody in this country.</p> <p>Among all Americans, the poll finds that 18 percent say the law has made them and their families better off....Meanwhile, 44 percent say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anybody &mdash; a lot, but still a minority.</p> <p>Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anyone. (Only <em>one percent</em> of Republicans say the law has helped them!) By contrast, 57 percent of moderates say the law has helped them or others. Independents are evenly divided.</p> <p>Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare <em>can&rsquo;t</em> be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm a little more dismayed by the news that even a large number of moderates and independents don't think Obamacare has helped anyone. In a way, that's more disturbing than the dumb&mdash;but predictable&mdash;knee-jerk Republican view that automatically produces a "no" whenever the question relates to something positive about Obamacare.</p> <p>I guess the lesson is that liberals still haven't done a very good job of promoting the benefits of Obamacare. Maybe that's an impossible task since, after all, it's not as if you can expect the media to run endless identical stories about local folks who finally got health insurance. Still, it's a funny thing. If you passed a law that gave cars to 10 million poor Americans, pretty much everyone would agree that <em>some people</em> benefited from the program. But if you pass a law that gives health insurance to 10 million poor Americans, lots of people think it's just a gigantic illusion that's helped no one. What's more, the number of people who believe this has <em>increased</em> since last year's rollout.</p> <p>Why? Certainly not because they think health insurance is worthless. Just try taking away theirs and you'll find out exactly how non-worthless they consider it. Is it because they don't think Obamacare policies are "real" health insurance? Or that all these people had health insurance before and the whole thing is just a scam? Or what? It's a peculiar view that deserves a follow-up.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:00:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 256816 at http://www.motherjones.com Nobody Knows What Makes a Good CEO http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/nobody-knows-what-makes-good-ceo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ceo_pay_performance.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Bloomberg has done a bit of charting of CEO pay vs. performance, and their results are on the right. Bottom line: there's essentially no link whatsoever between how well CEOs perform and <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-22/for-ceos-correlation-between-pay-and-stock-performance-is-pretty-random" target="_blank">how well they're paid:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An analysis of compensation data publicly released by Equilar shows little correlation between CEO pay and company performance. Equilar ranked the salaries of 200 highly paid CEOs. When compared to metrics such as revenue, profitability, and stock return, <strong>the scattering of data looks pretty random, as though performance doesn&rsquo;t matter. </strong>The comparison makes it look as if there is zero relationship between pay and performance.</p> </blockquote> <p>There are plenty of conclusions you can draw from this, but one of the key ones is that it demonstrates that corporate boards are almost completely unable to predict how well CEO candidates will do on the job. They insist endlessly that they're looking for only the very top candidates&mdash;with pay packages to match&mdash;and I don't doubt that they sincerely think this is what they're doing. In fact, though, they don't have a clue who will do better. They could be hiring much cheaper leaders and would probably get about the same performance.</p> <p>One reason that CEO pay has skyrocketed is that boards compete with each other for candidates who seem to be the best, but don't realize that it's all a chimera. They have no idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:51:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 256811 at http://www.motherjones.com Will Republicans Finally Find a Tax Cut They Hate? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/will-republicans-finally-find-tax-cut-they-hate <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Charles Gaba makes an interesting point about today's <em>Halbig</em> decision: if upheld, <a href="http://acasignups.net/14/07/22/gop-shoves-massive-tax-hike-down-middle-class-voters-throats" target="_blank">it would amount to a tax increase.</a> Everyone who buys insurance through a federal exchange would lose the tax credits they're currently entitled to, and losing tax credits is the same as a tax increase. This in turn means that if <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_grover_norquist.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Democrats introduce a bill to fix the language in Obamacare to keep the tax credits in place, it will basically be a tax cut.</p> <p>This leaves Republicans in a tough spot, doesn't it? Taken as a whole, Obamacare represents a tax increase, which makes it easy for Republicans to oppose it. But if the <em>Halbig</em> challenge is upheld, all the major Obamacare taxes are unaffected. They stay in force no matter what. The <em>only</em> thing that's affected is the tax credits. Thus, an amendment to reinstate the credits is a net tax cut by the rules that Grover Norquist laid out long ago. And no Republican is allowed to vote against a net tax cut.</p> <p>I'm curious what Norquist has to say about this. Not because I think he'd agree that Republicans have to vote to restore the tax credits. He wouldn't. He's a smart guy, and he'd invent some kind of loophole for everyone to shimmy through. Mainly, I just want to know <em>what</em> loophole he'd come up with. I'm always impressed with the kind of sophistries guys like him are able to spin. It's usually very educational.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court The Right Wed, 23 Jul 2014 01:38:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 256791 at http://www.motherjones.com Seven Hours of Sleep Is Just About Optimal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/seven-hours-sleep-just-about-optimal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>How much sleep does a normal, healthy adult need? <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/sleep-experts-close-in-on-the-optimal-nights-sleep-1405984970?mod=trending_now_1" target="_blank">The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep&mdash;not eight, as was long believed&mdash;when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.</p> <p>Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night's sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep&mdash;not just too little of it&mdash;is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's sort of interesting. In the past, I would have had no idea how to guess at this. I always slept exactly the same every night, so I always felt about the same every morning. Over the past couple of years, however, my sleeping habits have become far more erratic, spanning anywhere from six to eight hours fairly randomly. And sure enough, I've vaguely come to the conclusion that six hours makes me feel tired throughout the day, and so does eight hours. Seven hours really does seem to be pretty close to the sweet spot.</p> <p>Unfortunately, I don't seem to have much control over this. I wake up whenever I wake up, and that's that. Today I got up at 6, tried to get back to sleep, and finally gave up. There was nothing to be done about it. And right about now I'm paying the price for that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Science Wed, 23 Jul 2014 00:11:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256786 at http://www.motherjones.com What Happens If Obama Loses the Halbig Case? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/what-happens-if-obama-loses-halbig-case <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So let's suppose the <em>Halbig</em> case goes up to the Supreme Court and they rule for the plaintiffs: in a stroke, everyone enrolled in Obamacare through a federal exchange is no longer eligible for subsidies. What happens then? Is Obamacare doomed?</p> <p>Not at all. What happens is that people in blue states like California and New York, which operate their own exchanges, continue getting their federal subsidies. People in red states, which punted the job to the feds, will suddenly have their subsidies yanked away. Half the country will have access to a generous entitlement and the other half won't.</p> <p>How many people will this affect? The earliest we'll get a Supreme Court ruling on this is mid-2015, and mid-2016 is more likely. At a guess, maybe 12 million people will have exchange coverage by 2015 and about 20 million by 2016. Let's split the difference and call it 15 million. About 80 percent of them qualify for subsidies, which brings the number to about 12 million. Roughly half of them are in states that would be affected by <em>Halbig</em>.</p> <p>So that means about 6 million people who are currently getting subsidies would suddenly have them yanked away. It's even possible they'd have to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obamacare_site_new.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">pay back any tax credits they'd received previously.</p> <p>So what's the political reaction? The key point here is that people respond much more strongly to <em>losing</em> things than they do to <em>not getting them in the first place</em>. For example, there are lots of poor people in red states who currently aren't receiving Medicaid benefits thanks to their states' refusal to participate in Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. This hasn't caused a revolt because nothing was taken away. They just never got Medicaid in the first place.</p> <p>The subsidies would be a different story. You'd have roughly 6 million people who would suddenly lose a benefit that they've come to value highly. This would cause a huge backlash. It's hard to say if this would be enough to move Congress to action, but I think this is nonetheless the basic lay of the land. Obamacare wouldn't be destroyed, it would merely be taken away from a lot of people who are currently benefiting from it. They'd fight to get it back, and that changes the political calculus.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Top Stories Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:54:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 256756 at http://www.motherjones.com The (Possibly) Frightening Implications of the Halbig Case http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/possibly-frightening-implications-halbig-case <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the <em>Halbig</em> case that struck down subsidies on federal Obamacare exchanges earlier today, one of the key issues was deference to agency interpretation of the law. Longstanding precedent holds that courts should generally defer to agency interpretations as long as they're plausible. They don't have to be perfect. They don't even have to be the best possible interpretations. They merely have to make sense.</p> <p>The DC circuit court decided that there really wasn't any serious ambiguity in the law, and therefore no deference was due to the IRS's interpretation that state and federal exchanges were meant to be treated the same. The dissent was scathing about this, since the record pretty clearly showed tons of ambiguity. So if and when this case makes it up to the Supreme Court, what's going to happen? A lawyer buddy of mine is pessimistic:</p> <blockquote> <p>Sadly, I think the Supreme Court will eagerly uphold the challenge because it gets to an issue that conservatives have generally despised: deference to administrative agencies' interpretation of statutes.</p> <p>It's long been a fundamental principle in administrative law that an agency's interpretation of a federal statute that they are charged with enforcing is entitled to judicial deference, unless such deference is unreasonable. Conservatives would prefer that courts not defer to the government because #biggovernment. Thus, they want to weaken the deference standard and <em>Halbig</em> gives them basically a two-fer. Or a three-fer since the agency interpreting the statute is the IRS: Take out Obamacare, knock back the deference standard, and punch the IRS. This invariably will help advance the conservatives' legal goals because with a lower deference standard, their eccentric theories (such as on tax issues) have a better chance of surviving.</p> <p>In normal times, the deference standard would likely be left intact because weakening it raises serious issues with government enforcement across all agencies, and courts are loath to send the country into a tailspin. But those days are apparently long past. Truly frightening times.</p> </blockquote> <p>So what's next? <a href="http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/07/22/breaking-fourth-circuit-panel-unanimously-upholds-obamacare-subsidies-for-all-eligible-purchasers/" target="_blank">In breaking news,</a> the Fourth Circuit court has just upheld the federal subsidies in Obamacare, ruling squarely on deference grounds&mdash;and disagreeing completely with the DC circuit opinion, which held that the legislative language in Obamacare was clear and plain. In fact, said the Fourth Circuit, the statute <em>is</em> ambiguous, and therefore the court owes deference to the IRS interpretation. This is good news for Obamacare, especially if today's DC circuit decision by a three-judge panel is overturned by the full court, thus giving the government two appellate court wins. If that happens, it's even possible that the Supreme Court would decline to hear an appeal and simply leave the lower court opinions in place.</p> <p>But I'd say an eventual Supreme Court date still seems likely. There's no telling if my friend's read of the politico-legal climate among the Supreme Court's conservative majority is correct, but I thought it was worth sharing.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Supreme Court Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:07:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 256726 at http://www.motherjones.com Europe Agrees to Levy Moderate New Sanctions Against Russia http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/europe-agrees-levy-moderate-new-sanctions-against-russia <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Europe has agreed to further sanctions against Russia <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28415248" target="_blank">in response to the shootdown of MH17:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The EU will widen its sanctions against Russia to include more individuals and consider targeting the defence sector, the Dutch foreign minister says. Frans Timmermans said "unanimous" and "forceful" decisions had been taken on enhanced sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.</p> <p>....A new sanctions list naming individuals and organisations will be drawn up by EU ambassadors by Thursday, Mr Timmermans told reporters after meeting his EU colleagues in Brussels. He said there was also agreement that the European Commission would look at further measures to be taken against Russia in the fields of defence, concerning "dual-use goods in the field of energy", and in financial services.</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Telegraph</em> reports that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10974050/Malaysia-Airlines-plane-crashes-on-Ukraine-Russia-border-live.html" target="_blank">not everyone is impressed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[The sanctions] are not likely to satisfy not the United States and more hawkish members of the EU, including Poland and the Baltic states, who lobbied for tough sanctions against the Russian economy. In their conclusions, the ministers said they would only ask the 28-nation bloc's executive arm to prepare for more forceful economic sanctions&nbsp;&mdash; including targeting the arms, energy and financial sectors.</p> </blockquote> <p>No surprises here. Most European leaders are willing to do more, but not too much more. They simply have too much invested in their economic ties with Russia to take more drastic steps.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:38:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256716 at http://www.motherjones.com DC Circuit Court Kills Federal Subsidies for Obamacare. Next Stop Is Probably the Supreme Court. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/dc-circuit-court-kills-federal-subsidies-obamacare-next-stop-probably-supreme-cou <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Well, the DC circuit court has ruled 2-1 that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/us/court-rules-against-obamacare-exchange-subsidies.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LedeSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Obamacare subsidies apply only to exchanges set up by states,</a> not to exchanges set up by the federal government. This is because one section of the law says that taxpayers can receive tax credits only if they enroll in a plan "through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA]." The court ruled that a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_prettyman_courthouse.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">state is a state, and as far as that goes, it's reasonable enough. Even if this was merely a drafting error, it's pretty clear that the federal government isn't a state.</p> <p>The problem is that there's more to it than that. The court is also required to ensure that its interpretation of a single clause doesn't make a hash out of the entire statutory construction of a law. The majority opinion makes heavy weather of this for a simple reason: virtually everything in the language of the law assumes that subsidies are available to everyone. Why, for example, would federal exchanges have to report detailed subsidy information if no one even gets subsidies on federal exchanges in the first place? The court blithely waves this off, suggesting that it's merely to allow the IRS to enforce the individual mandate. But that's pretty strained. Enforcing the mandate requires only a single piece of information: whether a taxpayer is insured. It doesn't require detailed information about eligibility for subsidies and the amount of the subsidies each taxpayer gets. The fact that all these details are required certainly suggests that Congress assumed everyone was getting subsidies.</p> <p>The court, following the arguments of the plaintiffs, also makes a brave effort to figure out <em>why</em> Congress might have done something so transparently ridiculous as limiting subsidies to state exchanges. Their conclusion is that Congress deliberately withheld subsidies from federal exchanges as an incentive for states to set up exchanges of their own. On this point, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/documents/1225631-halbig-dccircuit-20140722" target="_blank">Judge Harry Edwards was scathing in his dissent:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Perhaps because they appreciate that no legitimate method of statutory interpretation ascribes to Congress the aim of tearing down the very thing it attempted to construct, Appellants in this litigation have invented a narrative to explain why Congress would want health insurance markets to fail in States that did not elect to create their own Exchanges. Congress, they assert, made the subsidies conditional in order to <em>incentivize</em> the States to create their own exchanges. This argument is disingenuous, and it is wrong. <strong>Not only is there no evidence that anyone in <em>Congress</em> thought &sect; 36B operated as a condition, there is also no evidence that <em>any State</em> thought of it as such. And no wonder: The statutory provision presumes the existence of subsidies and was drafted to establish a formula for the payment of tax credits, not to impose a significant and substantial condition on the States.</strong></p> <p>It makes little sense to think that Congress would have imposed so substantial a condition in such an oblique and circuitous manner....The simple truth is that Appellants&rsquo; incentive story is a fiction, <strong>a <em>post hoc</em> narrative concocted to provide a colorable explanation for the otherwise risible notion that Congress would have wanted insurance markets to collapse in States that elected not to create their own Exchanges.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>There's no evidence that Congress ever thought it needed to provide incentives for states to set up their own exchanges. Certainly they could have made that clear if that had been their intention. As Edwards says, this claim is simply made up of whole cloth. In fact, he says acerbically, the entire suit is little more than a "not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ":</p> <blockquote> <p>The majority opinion evinces a painstaking effort&nbsp;&mdash; covering many pages&nbsp;&mdash; attempting to show that there is no ambiguity in the ACA. The result, I think, is to prove just the opposite. <strong>Implausible results would follow if &ldquo;established by the State&rdquo; is construed to exclude Exchanges established by HHS on behalf of a State.</strong> This is why the majority opinion strains fruitlessly to show plain meaning when there is none to be found.</p> <p>....This court owes deference to the agencies&rsquo; interpretations of the ACA. Unfortunately, by imposing the Appellants&rsquo; myopic construction on the administering agencies without any regard for the overall statutory scheme, the majority opinion effectively ignores the basic tenets of statutory construction, as well as the principles of <em>Chevron</em> deference. <strong>Because the proposed judgment of the majority defies the will of Congress and the permissible interpretations of the agencies to whom Congress has delegated the authority to interpret and enforce the terms of the ACA, I dissent.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Will the Supreme Court agree? Given the obviously political motivations of most Supreme Court justices these days, I think that's hard to predict. A lot will depend on John Roberts. Having already betrayed his fellow conservatives by voting to uphold Obamacare, will he side with the government in order to show that he meant what he said and doesn't want to invite an endless series of desperate attempts to kill the law? Or has he had second thoughts, and will therefore welcome this as a chance to essentially reverse himself? I can't read his mind, so I don't know. We'll find out soon enough.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> This ruling will, I assume, be stayed during appeal, so it has no immediate impact. The next step is for the Obama administration to either ask for an emergency en banc review from the entire DC circuit court, or to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Either way, it will end up at the Supreme Court sooner or later.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT 2:</strong> White House press secretary Josh Earnest has <a href="https://twitter.com/aterkel/status/491604394165534722" target="_blank">confirmed</a> that the administration will ask for an en banc review. Since the full court now has a liberal majority, they presumably hope they'll get a more favorable ruling before heading to the Supreme Court.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Regulatory Affairs Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:35:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 256706 at http://www.motherjones.com For Republicans, It's All Going According to Plan http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/republicans-its-all-going-according-plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen draws a contrast today between an activist president who's at least trying to get things done, and a dysfunctional Congress than <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/day-the-life" target="_blank">can't even make the attempt:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Remember the VA crisis? Lawmakers quickly approved a reform bill, which now appears likely to fail because of House Republicans&rsquo; reluctance to compromise. Remember the plan to address the border crisis? The plan was for Congress to act before taking August off, but that now appears unlikely, too.</p> <p>The effort to extend unemployment benefits is dead. So is raising the minimum wage. So is ENDA. No one even talks about gun background checks anymore. The Highway Trust Fund will probably benefit from a stopgap measure, but even this hardly represents real governing.</p> </blockquote> <p>Unfortunately, I think Republicans would call this a big win. Getting things done doesn't really do them any good at the ballot box. Making the government appear impotent and incompetent does. So that's the path they've chosen.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:07:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256701 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama Planning to Retire to Rancho Mirage? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/obama-planning-retire-rancho-mirage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/hot-property/la-fi-hotprop-barack-obama-20140721-story.html" target="_blank">Let the speculation begin!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama and his wife, Michelle, could be the owners of a home in Rancho Mirage listed at $4.25 million before the month is out. The First Family is believed to be in escrow on a contemporary home in a gated community <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_rancho_mirage.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">where entertainers Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby once maintained estates.</p> <p>The White House said rumors regarding a home in Rancho Mirage are not true.</p> <p>....The 8,232-square-foot compound in question sits adjacent to a bighorn sheep preserve on a 3.29-acre hilltop with panoramic views. The custom-built main house, constructed in 1993 and designed for entertaining, includes a gym, four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms. A 2,000-square-foot casita has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Over-the-top exterior features include a pool with a 20-foot waterfall, a rock lagoon, two spas, a misting system and a putting green with a sand trap.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have to say that the Obamas don't really strike me as Rancho Mirage kind of people, but who knows? Maybe I've misjudged them.</p> <p><em>Photo by <a href="http://clarkdugger.com/" target="_blank">Clark Dugger Photography</a></em></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Tue, 22 Jul 2014 01:01:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 256676 at http://www.motherjones.com Wage Stagnation Is No Illusion http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/wage-stagnation-no-illusion <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Bloomberg has a long article today wondering whether wage stagnation is <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-21/yellen-wage-gauges-blurred-by-boomer-millennial-workforce-shift.html" target="_blank">mainly due to demographic shifts:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>25- to 34-year-olds will make up 22.5 percent of the workforce by 2022, compared with 21.6 percent in 2012....Meanwhile, the share of 45- to 54-year-olds in their best earning years will drop by 3.3 percentage points in the decade ending 2022.</p> <p>....Hollowing out the middle-aged working population could cut median earnings because such employees bring home the biggest paychecks. The median 45- to 54-year-old household earns $66,400 a year, compared with $51,400 for 25- to 34-year-old households.</p> </blockquote> <p>Well, sure. Compared to 30 years ago, the theory goes, we have more young workers bringing down the average and fewer prime age workers raising the average. As a result, the average is declining. But all that means is that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_median_wage_age_25-34_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">baby boomers are aging out of the workforce, not that wages are necessarily in bad shape.</p> <p>That makes sense. At least, it <em>would</em> make sense if it were true. The thing is, in an article more than a thousand words long, we never learn that we can look at this directly. The chart on the right shows the median wages of just 25-34 year olds, and as you can see, they've been declining for more than a decade. This has nothing to do with demographics because it's measuring wages for the same age group the entire time.</p> <p>Now, these figures don't include health insurance, and they only go through 2012. So they aren't of much help if, say, the Fed is trying to gauge the tightness of the labor market in the second quarter of 2014. Nonetheless, they certainly show a long-term trend of wage stagnation that plainly has nothing to do with demographics. This makes it vanishingly unlikely that wage stagnation over the past six months is merely due to demographic shifts.</p> <p>It's a nice fairy tale to pretend that wage stagnation might just be an artifact of boomers retiring, but easily available data quite clearly shows otherwise. It's real.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:00:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 256661 at http://www.motherjones.com