Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Gianforte Issues Stomach-Turning "Apology" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday Greg Gianforte melted down and assaulted a reporter who tried to ask him a question. Today he issued one of the most repugnant apologies I've ever heard:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">"When you make a mistake you have to own up to it. Last night I made a mistake.. I'm sorry" - Gianforte<br><br> "You're forgiven!" - Woman in crowd</p> &mdash; Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) <a href="">May 26, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Yesterday, when it might have hurt his election chances, Gianforte went the full Trump: he belligerently denied doing anything wrong and issued a craven statement that basically blamed Ben Jacobs for assaulting Gianforte's fist with his nose. His supporters all roared their approval. That Jacobs guy had it coming for having the bad manners to ask a question about some breaking news.</p> <p>Now, when there's no longer any price for apologizing, he apologizes. That's squalid enough. But to pretend that he's manning up is just stomach turning. What a disgusting human being.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 06:43:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 333866 at Mr. Ivanka Trump Now Under Investigation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We now know for sure <a href=";tid=a_breakingnews&amp;utm_term=.62ef3b1873fe" target="_blank">who the person "close to Trump" is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump&rsquo;s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.</p> </blockquote> <p>So the Russia investigation now has at least three targets: Manafort, Flynn, and Kushner. That seems like a lot. But maybe it's all just a big coincidence.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 22:44:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 333851 at Paul Romer and the Parataxis of the World Bank <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via Tyler Cowen</a> I learn that "Bankspeak," the jargon of the World Bank, is a big issue. Who knew? Here's an excerpt from a <a href="" target="_blank">2015 report of the Stanford Literary Lab:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The biggest surprise came with the most frequent collocate of all: &ldquo;and&rdquo;. &ldquo;And&rdquo;? The most frequent word in English is &ldquo;the&rdquo;: everybody knows that. So, <strong>what is &ldquo;and&rdquo; doing at the top of the list?</strong> Two passages from the 1999 Report may help to explain:</p> <blockquote> <ul><li>promote corporate governance and competition policies and reform and privatize state-owned enterprises and labor market/social protection reform</li> <li>There is greater emphasis on quality, responsiveness, and partnerships; on knowledge-sharing and client orientation; and on poverty reduction</li> </ul></blockquote> <p>The first passage&mdash;a grammatico-political monstrosity&mdash;is a small present to our patient readers; the second, more guarded, is also more indicative of the rhetoric in question. Knowledge-sharing has really nothing to do with client orientation; poverty reduction, nothing to do with either. There is no reason they should appear together. But those &ldquo;ands&rdquo; connect them just the same, despite the total absence of logic, and their paratactical crudity becomes almost a justification: <strong>we have so many important things to do, we can&rsquo;t afford to be elegant; we must take care of our clients, yes (we are, remember, a bank); but we also care about knowledge! and partnership! and sharing! and poverty!</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Paratactical? The Stanford folks might want to think about their dedication to clear language too.<sup>1</sup> That aside, here's a lovely scatterplot showing the skyrocketing use of the word <em>and</em> in World Bank reports:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_world_bank_and.gif" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>Hmmm. "Frequency per million words (thousands)"? I'm just spitballing here, but maybe this could be "frequency per thousand words" instead? Once again, the Stanford folks have some work of their own to do on the plain-speaking front.</p> <p>Anyway, this brings us to the meat of our story. Apparently Paul Romer, highly-respected macroeconomist and scourge of lazy thinking, decided to start a campaign to improve World Bank writing. He was well placed to do this since he is, these days, the chief economist of the World Bank. <a href="" target="_blank">Here is the <em>Financial Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Circulating a draft of the upcoming World Development Report, Mr Romer warned against bank staff trying to pile their own pet projects and messages into the report. <strong>The tendency, he argued, had diluted the impact of past reports and led to a proliferation of &ldquo;ands&rdquo;.</strong></p> <p>....&ldquo;A WDR, like a knife, has to be narrow to penetrate deeply,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;To drive home the importance of focus, <strong>I&rsquo;ve told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of &lsquo;and&rsquo; exceeds 2.6%.&rdquo;</strong>...The use of the word &ldquo;and&rdquo; over the years had doubled to almost 7 per cent in World Bank reports, Mr Romer pointed out in a January memo to his staff.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">And Bloomberg:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Romer expressed to those around him that the department should communicate more clearly, dive right into public debates, and align its work with the institution&rsquo;s goals of ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality....Romer asked for shorter emails and insisted presentations get straight to the point, cutting staff off if they talked too long, said another person familiar with the matter. He canceled a regular publication that didn&rsquo;t have a clear purpose, one of the people said.</p> <p>....Romer said the limit on &ldquo;and&rdquo; was a &ldquo;gimmick&rdquo; he used to show he&rsquo;s serious about good writing. <strong>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve worked it down to 3.4 percent. They said, &lsquo;We&rsquo;re getting there&rsquo;.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>It seems to me that Romer is cheating. If you take the lowest and highest numbers from the Stanford report, use of <em>and</em> has gone from about 2.9 percent to 5.5 percent. But using outliers isn't kosher. An eyeball regression suggests that the real increase has been from 3.1 percent to 4.5 percent. That's not great, but not quite so horrible, either. But then again, maybe the report Romer commissioned came up with different numbers. Who knows?</p> <p>In any case, my guess is that the proliferation of <em>and</em> has less to do with "pet projects" and more to do with bureaucratic dynamics. If you leave out knowledge-sharing, the communications staff get upset. If you leave out client orientation, the field workers get upset. If you leave out poverty reduction, the poverty folks get upset. So it's easier just to cut and paste them all in to keep everyone from getting upset. Who needs the grief?</p> <p>The ending of this story is a sad one: the World Bank staff rebelled and Romer no longer manages the research group. "They felt under-appreciated," he said. "It reflected a kind of siege mentality that I can't quite understand." It's possible, of course, that they were on high alert already. After all, shortly before he took over at the World Bank Romer gave a speech in which he <a href="" target="_blank">called modern macroeconomics a "pseudoscience" that was now "post-real."</a> This probably gave him a rough start managing a group of macroeconomists.</p> <p>As for better writing at the World Bank, I wouldn't count on it. The key imperative for anyone in a big bureaucracy is to make sure that (a) you don't offend anyone, and (b) no one can blame you for anything. In a big <em>international</em> bureaucracy, this imperative is even stronger since God only knows who you might accidentally offend if you choose the wrong words. Mushspeak is a natural reaction to this.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>From <em>parataxis</em>, "the placing together of sentences, clauses, or phrases without a conjunctive word or words."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 22:27:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 333841 at Trump: I'll Put a Stop to Germany Selling Cars in the US <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This from <em>Der Spiegel</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>US President Donald Trump complained bitterly about the German trade surplus on his meeting with the EU top in Brussels. "The Germans are evil, very evil," said Trump. This was learned by the SPIEGEL from participants in the meeting. Trump said, <strong>"Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we'll stop that."</strong></p> <p>....According to a report from the "S&uuml;ddeutsche Zeitung", the EU side was terrified about the lack of awareness of the Americans about trade policy. <strong>Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Two comments. First of all, this is a remarkably lifelike translation from Google Translate. There were a few hiccups elsewhere, and I doubt that Trump called the Germans "evil." I'm guessing he called them "nasty," which <em>Spiegel</em> translated to "b&ouml;se," which Google then translated back to "evil." Nevertheless, I could read the entire article and figure out what everything meant without any trouble.</p> <p>Second, forgodssake, when are the Trumpies going to learn that they can't do a trade deal with only Germany? It's the whole EU or nothing. Last month we heard <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> that Angela Merkel had to tell Trump a dozen times before he finally got it, but it sounds like he's already forgotten.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 21:02:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333821 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's a morning glory with a busy little bee inside. Actually, two bees, I guess. Isn't it nice to see everyone doing the job nature has assigned them?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Not a bee! I thought it looked a little small. Apparently it's a hoverfly, or some related critter, mimicking a bee.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_morning_glory_bee.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 19:30:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 333716 at Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Travel Ban <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>An appeals court has <a href="" target="_blank">upheld the injunction on President Trump's travel ban:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Trump's order "speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination," Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in his ruling.</p> <p>The 10-3 ruling relied heavily, as other courts have done, on Trump's statements during his campaign in which he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the United States. The plaintiffs who have challenged the travel order have argued that it is a disguised version of the Muslim ban that he called for during the campaign.</p> </blockquote> <p>Please note that this comes from the centrist 4th circuit, not the radical lefty zealots of the 9th circuit. The vote was 10-3. And the opinion was written by a guy who was appointed by Bill Clinton and re-appointed by George W. Bush.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 18:41:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 333796 at Let's Drop the Hysterics About Trump and NATO's Article 5 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Is Donald Trump committed to NATO? Here's what the press says about that today:</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">New York Times:</a> "President Trump on Thursday once again refused to explicitly endorse NATO&rsquo;s mutual defense pledge, instead lecturing European leaders on what he called their 'chronic underpayments' to the military alliance."</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal:</a> "Mr. Trump&rsquo;s refusal to say he supports NATO&rsquo;s common defense provision, known as Article 5, left European diplomats dismayed."</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">The Washington Post:</a> "Trump refuses to back NATO Article 5." (This is from memory. It was something like that.)</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Washington Post</em> quickly realized it was practicing pack journalism and rewrote their story. It doesn't even mention Article 5 anymore.</p> <p>As well it shouldn't. At today's unveiling of an Article 5 memorial at NATO headquarters, Trump said this about the aftermath of 9/11: "Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments." Later he added: "This twisted mass of metal reminds us not only of what we have lost but also what forever endures: the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve, and the commitments that bind us together as one. We will never forget the lives that were lost, we will never forsake the friends who stood by our side."</p> <p>It's true that Trump didn't explictly say "We stand behind Article 5," but it's hard to read his comments any other way. Within a few minutes Sean Spicer confirmed this:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Spicer says Trump wasn't trying to be cute at NATO, the U.S. is 100% committed to Article 5 - per <a href="">@JenniferJJacobs</a></p> &mdash; Justin Sink (@justinsink) <a href="">May 25, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Everyone needs to calm down. Sure, Trump probably <em>was</em> trying to be cute. Alternatively, the failure to repeat our commitment to Article 5 might have been yet another example of Trump's ham-handed approach to negotiation, trying to create leverage for more defense spending by making everyone in Europe nervous. Or it could be nothing more than Trump's familiar resolve never to back down: If they want him to say he's committed to Article 5, then that's the one thing he <em>won't</em> say. (He also insisted on doubling down on his much-mocked description of terrorists as "losers," for example.) Or maybe Trump is just being a dick. He wants attention, and this is a way to get it.</p> <p>Still, he was clear enough, and his press secretary was as explicit as he could be afterward. What's more, before the speech his Secretary of State said without qualification, "Of course we support Article 5." Campaign bluster aside, there's really no indication that the Trump administration is any less committed to NATO than previous administrations. Here's the whole speech:</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 18:16:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 333781 at The Intel Community Needs to Fire Someone—Fast <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The US intelligence community has screwed up. Someone (or multiple someones) passed along British intel about the Manchester bombing to US reporters before it had been publicly released. This is bad for at least three reasons:</p> <ul><li>It quite possibly impedes an active investigation.</li> <li>It pisses off British intelligence.</li> <li>It gives Donald Trump a very reasonable excuse to <a href="" target="_blank">demand an investigation</a> into leaking from our intelligence agencies.</li> </ul><p>This is a bit like the reporters who fail to verify their stories properly and end up making mistakes. It might not happen very often, but it gives Trump ammunition for his claims that the media is out to get him with endless fake news. For that reason, reporters in the age of Trump need to be doubly careful about what they write.</p> <p>If the intel community is smart, it will figure out where these leaks came from and fire someone fast. But are they smart?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I'm using "intel community" in a very broad sense here since we don't know where the leak came from. It includes the FBI, which recent reporting has suggested is the most likely culprit.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 17:04:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 333761 at CBO Agrees: Trumpcare Wipes Out Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Earlier this month</a> I passed along a note from Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution. Long story short, he suggested that the Republican health care bill would do more than eliminate community rating only for folks who failed to maintain continuous coverage.<sup>1</sup> He theorized that once a separate set of rates was set up, insurers could open it up to anyone. Since this second rate schedule would be medically underwritten&mdash;i.e., based on health status&mdash;it would be very cheap for young, healthy folks. In the end, healthy consumers would all gravitate to the medically-underwritten rates while unhealthy consumers would be stuck with the higher community-rated prices. Over time, the difference between these rates would grow, which means that anyone with a pre-existing condition would end up paying much higher rates than similar healthy people.</p> <p>This was an interesting suggestion, but since then I haven't heard anyone else support Fiedler's argument. Until today, that is. AHCA allows states to apply for waivers from two provisions of Obamacare. The first is the requirement to provide essential health benefits. The Congressional Budget Office <a href="" target="_blank">describes the other waiver:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A second type of waiver would allow insurers to set premiums on the basis of an individual&rsquo;s health status if the person had not demonstrated continuous coverage; that is, <strong>the waiver would eliminate the requirement for what is termed community rating for premiums charged to such people.</strong> CBO and JCT anticipate that most healthy people...would be able to choose between premiums based on their own expected health care costs (medically underwritten premiums) and premiums based on the average health care costs...(community-rated premiums).</p> <p>....CBO and JCT expect that, as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, <strong>and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law,</strong> if they could purchase it at all....<strong>As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So the CBO expects precisely the result that Fiedler predicted. This is genuinely big news and deserves wider reporting. For all practical purposes, AHCA eliminates the requirement that insurers charge the same rates to everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions. They still can't flatly turn you down, but they can do the next best thing: make insurance so expensive for those with pre-existing conditions that most people can't afford it. That's especially harmful since the subsidies under AHCA are so skimpy.</p> <p>This provision of AHCA has no direct budgetary impact, so it ought to get tossed out by the Senate parliamentarian.<sup>2</sup> We'll have to wait and see how that turns out.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>"Community rating" is the requirement that everyone pays the same price for insurance, even if they have a pre-existing condition.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>AHCA is being passed as a reconciliation bill. These bills are only allowed to address issues that directly affect the federal budget.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 16:13:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 333751 at Obamacare Is Pretty Stable — Unless Republicans Cripple It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The CSR subsidies that President Trump keeps threatening to kill are pretty important:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina seeks 22.9% rate increase on 2018 ACA plans &ndash; would be 8.8% if cost-sharing payments guaranteed</p> &mdash; Anna Mathews (@annawmathews) <a href="">May 25, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Here in California, our insurance commissioner has asked all health insurers for <a href="" target="_blank">two sets of rate hike requests:</a> one that assumes the CSR subsidies continue and one that assumes they don't. We won't get the rate requests for several weeks, but I expect that we'll see the same kind of difference. At a guess, average rate increase requests will be around 6 percent with CSR and 15 percent without.</p> <p>Just to be crystal clear about this: What this means is that if Republicans stop screwing around with CSR, rate hikes nationwide would probably be in the 5-10 percent range, which is fairly normal. It also shows that the market has started to stabilize after last year's big increases. The only reason we're likely to see another year of big increases is because of a deliberate campaign to undermine the Obamacare market by Republicans.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 15:02:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 333731 at Greg Gianforte Is Surprisingly Sensitive About the CBO's Score of AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Greg Gianforte is running for the House seat in Montana left open when Ryan Zinke was named Secretary of the Interior. It turns out he really, really doesn't like being asked what he thinks of the CBO's score of the Republican health care bill:</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>For more on this bizarre incident, <a href="" target="_blank">read Tim Murphy's story</a>.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 00:27:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 333711 at Chart of the Day: Here's How Many People Lose Insurance Under AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This really needs no explanation:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ahca_vs_obamacare_uninsured_2.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 00:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 333706 at Meet New AHCA, Same as Old AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The long awaited <a href="" target="_blank">CBO score of the new Republican health care bill</a> is out! You're excited, aren't you? Without further ado, here's the CBO's key chart showing how much better new AHCA is than old AHCA:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_old_ahca_new_ahca_1.gif" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>As you can see, under old AHCA the number of poor with no insurance rose from 15-20 percent under Obamacare to 30-40 percent under AHCA. But under <em>new</em> AHCA, it's more like 29-39 percent. Hot diggity! Here are a few other numbers:</p> <ul><li>Old AHCA reduced the deficit by $150 billion (over ten years). New AHCA reduces the deficit by $119 billion.</li> <li>Old AHCA took away insurance from 24 million people (by 2026). New AHCA takes it away from 23 million.</li> <li>Old AHCA cut Medicaid by $839 billion (over ten years). New AHCA cuts Medicaid by $834 billion.</li> <li>Under old AHCA, a low-income 64-year-old paid an annual premium of $14,600. Under new AHCA, the premium is $16,100. On the bright side, states that take advantage of new AHCA's permission to gut essential benefits can get that all the way down to $13,600. This compares to $1,700 under Obamacare.</li> </ul><p>Those are some mighty big changes, aren't they? You can certainly understand why the (former) head of the Republican "moderate" caucus worked so hard to revive AHCA and make these adjustments. It's like a whole new bill.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 22:23:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 333691 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is my neighborhood a little after sunrise. Marian loves this picture and insisted that I put it up. I took it several weeks ago, and I can't remember quite why I was up and about at such an ungodly hour.</p> <p>You can't see our house, however. As I recall, the houses on the water cost about a third more than the houses that backed up to the main street, so we bought a house that backed up to the main street. This used to be something of a pain, because the dog people walked their dogs early in the morning right outside our bedroom window, and their dogs would all bark at each other when they passed by. For some reason that stopped a few years ago. Perhaps there was some big community meeting where the dog people and the late risers had it out once and for all. If so, I was blissfully unaware of the whole thing. Whatever the reason, it's pretty quiet these days except when the crows start squawking. I don't know what has them so upset lately, but they've sure been making a racket for the past couple of weeks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_lakeside_morning_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 19:30:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333491 at Housing Prices Are Booming in Southern California <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em> today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The median home price in Los Angeles County <strong>has reached the all-time high set in 2007,</strong> a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012.</p> <p>....<strong>Orange County surpassed its pre-bust high last year,</strong> and in April set a new record of $675,000. <strong>San Diego County also exceeded its pre-bust peak for the first time last month,</strong> as the median price &mdash; the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less &mdash; climbed 7.4% to $525,000.</p> </blockquote> <p>Inflation has risen 20 percent since 2007, so this means home prices in Southern California haven't really set a record. They're still 20 percent away from that. Here's how CoreLogic scores the current housing market compared to its bubble peak:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_corelogic_housing_2006_2017.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>So things look OK. Loan delinquencies are low, credit scores have remained high, and national housing prices are high but not stratospheric.</p> <p>And yet...Southern California, Arizona, and Florida are all overvalued. That's three out of the four states that led the bubble in 2006. Even Texas, which avoided the last bubble, is looking high. And anecdotally, homes are selling pretty fast around here.</p> <p>This is the kind of thing that makes me think we might be back into a recession by 2018. The expansion is nine years old, unemployment is about as low as it can get, housing prices are increasing at a good clip, auto sales are anemic, and corporate profits are rising steeply. On the other side of the ledger, economic growth and wage growth are pretty modest, and there are no signs of an oil price spike around the corner.</p> <p>I dunno. Things just feel a little fragile right now. But maybe I'm off base.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 19:22:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 333601 at Donald Trump Really Likes to Drop Military Secrets Into His Conversations <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of days ago <em>The Intercept</em> released a <a href="" target="_blank">leaked transcript</a> of President Trump's recent phone call with President Duterte of the Philippines. Here's a piece of it:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_submarines.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p><em>BuzzFeed's</em> Nancy Youssef got some feedback about this from <a href="" target="_blank">folks in the Pentagon:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. <strong>&ldquo;We never talk about subs!&rdquo;</strong> three officials told <em>BuzzFeed News</em>, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission.</p> <p>....By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise &mdash; an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.</p> <p>Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. <strong>Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Needless to say, Trump wasn't expecting that his conversation would be leaked. But these things happen&mdash;along with other ways that private conversations can end up in the wrong hands&mdash;which is why presidents don't just casually drop military secrets into meetings with foreigners for no better reason than to make themselves look tough. This is now (at least) the second time Trump has done this, and there's a price to pay:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-cards="hidden" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">1/2 Why Trump&rsquo;s &ldquo;we&rsquo;ve sent the subs!&rdquo; gaffe can be so damaging:<br> Now that CN/RUS *know* US subs were there, can go back &amp; calibrate sensors. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; James Fallows (@JamesFallows) <a href="">May 24, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-cards="hidden" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">2/2 &ldquo;This is how it looked when subs were there; we&rsquo;ll look for that pattern again.&rdquo;<br> N Yousef story <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; James Fallows (@JamesFallows) <a href="">May 24, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>We're quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don't trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 18:12:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 333551 at Productivity Is the Key to Economic Growth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Mick Mulvaney says the haters <a href="" target="_blank">don't know what they're talking about:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In his remarks Tuesday, Mulvaney mentioned that the economy had often grown in the past at rates of 3 percent and called people's objections to the Trump administration's expectation of growth rates that high "absurd."</p> <p>"It used to be normal. Ten years ago, it was normal. <strong>In fact, it's been normal for the history of the country,</strong>" said Mulvaney.</p> </blockquote> <p>Mulvaney is sort of right about this. But there's more to it. The basic formula for economic growth is simple: Economic growth = Population growth + Productivity growth. Population growth has been slowing down for decades, and Mulvaney isn't going to change that. We know exactly what the population of the country is going to be over the next few years.</p> <p>So that leaves productivity growth, which the BLS estimates <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> Here's what all three factors have looked like since 1960:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_economic_growth_1973_2021.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>In order to achieve 3 percent economic growth, we need productivity growth of about 2.3 percent. This is decidedly not normal for the history of the country&mdash;not in the past 50 years, anyway. With the brief exception of the unsustainable housing bubble era, we haven't hit that since the end of 60s.</p> <p>Productivity growth is a real problem, and it's something of a mystery why it's been so low lately. But it's a mystery to Mulvaney too, and it's certainly not due to punitive tax rates or heavy-handed regulations. Despite this, Mulvaney is suggesting that Trump can more than double the productivity growth rate of the past ten years, reaching a target we haven't hit in a normal, healthy economy for the past half century. There's simply no reason to believe this, and Mulvaney hasn't even tried to explain how he thinks Trump can accomplish it. Not even hand waving. He's literally said nothing about productivity growth at all.</p> <p>Until he does, nobody should believe his growth estimates. It all comes down to productivity, and that's what Mulvaney needs to talk about.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 16:42:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 333521 at Corporate America Is Doing Great <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If you're wondering why the stock market is doing so well lately, <a href="" target="_blank">here's the answer:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Earnings at U.S. companies grew at the fastest pace in nearly six years in the first quarter,</strong> the latest boon to a bull market that has stretched into its ninth year.</p> <p>With nearly all companies in the S&amp;P 500 having reported results, <strong>aggregate earnings for the first quarter are on track to grow 13.6% from the year-earlier period</strong>....Beyond the jump in growth, many investors have been encouraged by signs that the quality of the results is improving. That contrasts with recent years, when investors worried that corporate share buybacks and ultralow interest rates were juicing stock gains in the absence of business improvement.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's not Trumpmania, it's just old-fashioned earnings growth. More people are buying stuff and companies are making more money. It's simple.</p> <p>How long will this last? I don't know any more than anyone else, but my guess is that the current expansion has another year to go. I'm starting to see signs of an economy that's getting a little too exuberant, and I suspect that 2018 is going to be a mild recession year. Please note that this prediction is worth every cent you paid for it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 15:44:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 333526 at Health Care Systems Are Expensive. Deal With It. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>How much would a single-payer universal health care system cost in the United States? You don't need to do anything very complicated to get a ballpark figure. Here's the arithmetic:</p> <ul><li>Total spending on health care in the US is <strong>$3.2 trillion</strong></li> <li>Of that, $1.5 trillion is already funded by federal and state programs. That leaves additional required spending of <strong>$1.7 trillion.</strong></li> <li>A universal system will still require some copays and other out-of pocket expenses. Figure $200 billion or so. That leaves <strong>$1.5 trillion</strong></li> </ul><p>So that's it. A universal health care system in the US would require about $1.5 trillion in additional government spending. If you want to make heroic assumptions about how much a single-payer would save, go ahead. But nobody serious is going to buy it. If we're lucky, a good single-payer system would slow the growth of health care costs over the long term, but it's vanishingly unlikely to actually cut current costs.</p> <p>There was a lot of surprise today about an estimate that a single-payer plan for California would have a <a href="" target="_blank">net additional cost of about $200 billion.</a> But California has 12 percent of the nation's population, and 12 percent of $1.5 trillion is $180 billion. So that estimate is right in the ballpark of what you should expect. Short of some kind of legislative miracle, there's really no way around this. Health care is expensive.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 04:52:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 333496 at Budget Crankery For Geeks: Real Nonresidential Fixed Investment Edition <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If you want to read about President Trump's just-released budget, the rest of the news media has you covered. They have articles about cuts to food stamps, cuts to the border wall, cuts to the NIH, cuts to health research, cuts to Medicaid, cuts to the State Department, cuts to the EPA, trillions and trillions in cuts all over the place, and explainers about why 3 percent growth projections are ridiculous. Here's the tl;dr version: Trump's budget proposes huge cuts in spending on the poor along with preposterous assumptions about how much revenue they'll raise. The details really don't matter much since no one in Congress will read it. It's just a statement of Trump's callous guiding values.</p> <p>So I'm mostly going to skip the whole thing unless someone points out something especially amusing. And someone has! Section 2 of the <a href="" target="_blank">budget document</a> is titled, "What went wrong: Inheriting $20 trillion in debt and a broken, stagnant economy." Sure enough, it contains page upon page of woe. That Obummer dude sure did screw up the economy something fierce.</p> <p>However, a reader emails to point out something he thinks I'd appreciate: "Note the cherry picking of dates going on around pages 6 and 7 of the just-released Trump budget. Just as do the climate 'skeptics,' the authors of the Trump budget document pick inconsistent starting dates when they calculate growth rates of various things in order to get the good or bad results they desire. The best, perhaps, is the growth rate for real private nonresidential fixed investment."</p> <p>Hmmm. Real private nonresidential fixed investment, you say? Here's what the budget document says:</p> <blockquote> <p>Due to high taxes, high regulations, and poor economic policies, <strong>real private nonresidential fixed investment has grown by only 1.3 percent each year</strong> (on a fourth quarter-over-fourth quarter basis) since 2007, <strong>compared to 4.9 percent annually before the recession.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Yikes! That sucks. Is it true? I admit that I can't quite replicate their numbers, but let's call it close enough for government work. It's pretty nearly correct.</p> <p>Of course, it only works if you start precisely at 2007 so that you include the big drop from the recession. Here's what it looks like over the longer term:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nonresidential_investment_1999_2017.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>It doesn't really look all that different anymore, does it? In fact, since the Bush-era growth rate caused a massive property bubble and subsequent massive crash, we might well prefer a wee bit less growth than we had before 2007.</p> <p>I suppose it says something disturbing about me that I find this kind of technocratic lying with statistics more interesting than a thousand words about how the cuts to food stamps will hurt the poor. Then again, if you made it this far, it probably says something disturbing about you, too. In any case, I figure this is my comparative advantage. Everyone is writing about food stamps, but who else will point out the obscure but telling lies like this?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 22:16:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 333461 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Remember that Canada Goose nest <a href="" target="_blank">I showed you a while back?</a> It came to a sad end, unfortunately. I'm not sure what happened, exactly, but it was abandoned shortly before the eggs would have hatched.</p> <p>But there are other Canada Geese around, and they've had better luck. Here's a pair of goslings trying to catch a quick nap after a tiring day of pecking away at the grass looking for bugs. <em>[<strong>UPDATE:</strong> According to Rob Mac in comments, they aren't looking for bugs, they're just eating the grass.]</em> Aren't they adorable? Mom and Dad are keeping a close eye on the kids below.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_canada_goose_goslings_sleeping.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_canada_goose_parents.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 19:30:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333416 at Brennan: CIA Was Original Source of Trump-Russia Investigation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>How did the FBI's investigation into the Trump-Russia connection get started, anyway? Former CIA director John Brennan says <a href="" target="_blank">he was the one who got the ball rolling:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;<strong>I encountered . . . intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,</strong>&rdquo; Brennan said, adding that he did not see conclusive evidence of collusion but feared that Trump associates were wittingly or unwittingly being used to advance the interests of Moscow.</p> <p>....Brennan testified that he was disturbed by intelligence that surfaced last year showing a pattern of contacts between Russian agents or representatives and people with links to the Trump campaign. <strong>&ldquo;That raised concerns in my mind,&rdquo;</strong> Brennan said....With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began in July &mdash; the first time a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's from the <em>Washington Post</em>. Brennan was testifying before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election, <a href="" target="_blank">and the <em>New York Times</em> adds this disheartening tidbit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>On Aug. 4, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Mr. Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia&rsquo;s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., not to meddle in the election. Not only would interference damage relations between the two countries, he said, it was certain to backfire.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,&rdquo;</strong> Mr. Brennan said. &ldquo;I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Mr. Brennan&rsquo;s warning proved futile.</strong> Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered with the election, <strong>it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion.</strong> President Trump has declared that &ldquo;Russia is fake news&rdquo; and tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't blame Brennan for thinking that Russian interference in the election would outrage everyone regardless of party. I suppose I might have thought the same thing. But it ain't so anymore:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">At Trump-Russia hearing with John Brennan, Republicans focus mostly on protecting Trump. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; David Corn (@DavidCornDC) <a href="">May 23, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>As always, click the link for the whole story.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 18:51:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 333436 at How Should We Respond to the Turkish Assault in Washington DC? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last week, a bunch of security goons working for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan waded into a demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Washington DC and started beating up the protesters. A few days ago, the <em>Washington Post's</em> Philip Bump made a <a href="" target="_blank">pretty good case</a> that Erdogan did more than just watch as this happened. He actually ordered his guards to attack. <a href="" target="_blank">Rich Lowry has the right response:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This is second offense for the Turks. A year ago, they beat up protesters and disfavored journalists outside an Erdogan talk at the Brookings Institution in Washington. One reporter wrote of that earlier incident, &ldquo;Never seen anything like this.&rdquo; If you hang around President Erdogan long enough, though, you&rsquo;ll see it all.</p> <p>....The Trump administration is obviously not putting an emphasis on promoting our values abroad. But it&rsquo;s one thing not to go on a democratizing crusade; it&rsquo;s another to shrug off an assault on the rights of protesters on our own soil. If nothing else, President Donald Trump&rsquo;s nationalism and sense of honor should be offended. Not only did the Turks carry out this attack, they are thumbing their noses at us by summoning our ambassador over it.</p> <p>The Turkish goons who punched and kicked people should be identified and charged with crimes. They are beyond our reach, either because they are back in Turkey or have diplomatic immunity. But we should ask for them to be returned and for their immunity to be waived. When these requests are inevitably refused, the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. (heard saying during the incident, &ldquo;You cannot touch us&rdquo;) should be expelled.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's obvious that Turkey is a delicate problem. On the one hand, they're a NATO member, and their location makes them a critical player in the war against ISIS. On the other hand, Erdogan is steadily converting Turkey into a totalitarian state. In the real world, sometimes you overlook this because you need allies and you don't always have the option of choosing someone who's pure and unsullied. But even if you accept this, Turkey is on thin ice since the Kurds are also our allies and Turkey interferes pretty seriously with our ability to team up with them. Even from a strictly realist/strategic perspective, our alliance with Turkey comes with a price.</p> <p>I won't pretend to have the answer. It's above my pay grade. But ordering your embassy security to attack protesters <em>in the US</em> who are lawfully and peacefully assembled is a whole different thing. That deserves a strong response even if it might cause strategic tension. Enough's enough.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 17:27:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 333411 at BREAKING: Trump Budget Numbers Make No Sense <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jon Chait says the Trump White House has <a href="" target="_blank">made a $2 trillion mistake:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Trump has promised to enact &ldquo;the biggest tax cut in history.&rdquo; Trump&rsquo;s administration has insisted, however, that the largest tax cut in history will not reduce revenue, because it will unleash growth....But then the budget assumes $2 trillion in higher revenue from growth in order to achieve balance after ten years. So the $2 trillion from higher growth is a double-count. It pays for the Trump cuts, and then it pays again for balancing the budget.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's true that the <a href="" target="_blank">budget summary document</a> includes a line item called "Effect of economic feedback" (in Table S-2) that comes to $2.062 trillion over ten years. Is that the same as the economic feedback that will pay for tax cuts? Who knows, really. It's all just made-up nonsense anyway. But here's an interesting thing. In the detailed projections, the <a href="" target="_blank">Trump budget</a> projects <em>lower</em> tax revenue than the final <a href="" target="_blank">Obama budget:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tax_receipts_obama_trump_2014_2021.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>What's up with that? Does the Trump budget not include any economic feedback after all? But even if it doesn't, why is their projection lower than Obama's? Is it so they can use this lower number as a new baseline for comparison when they unveil their growth-exploding tax plan later in the year?</p> <p>I know, I know: who cares? The Trump numbers are just random gibberish plucked from the sky. Still, you'd think they could at least make them agree from one spreadsheet to the next. Where's the economic feedback in the tax revenue numbers?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 16:52:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 333401 at Mulvaney: Trump's Promise Not to Cut Medicaid Has Been "Overridden" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at the <em>Weekly Standard</em>, Michael Warren interviews <a href="" target="_blank">budget chief Mick Mulvaney:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If a budget proposal is a message about priorities, it's clear entitlement reform isn't even on President Trump's radar. When starting on 2018 budget proposal, Mulvaney came to the president with a one-page list of entitlement programs to reform.</p> <p>"We went down the list: Yes, Yes, No, No, Yes, No, Yes, No, No," said Mulvaney. "The nos were <strong>all Social Security and Medicare.</strong> And that's it. He said, '<strong>I promised people on the campaign trail I would not touch their retirement and I would not touch Medicare, and we owe it to them.</strong>'"</p> </blockquote> <p>That's quite a trick memory Trump has. He actually promised not to touch Social Security, Medicare, <em>and Medicaid</em>. But he seems to have forgotten all about that last one. What happened?</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">at briefing today, Mulvaney told me Trump promise not to touch Medicaid had been overridden by Trump promise to repeal/replace Obamacare <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) <a href="">May 23, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Oh.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 23 May 2017 15:31:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 333391 at