Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2015/01 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Marx and Keynes Put Economics on the Map, and They Can Take It Right Off Again http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/marx-and-keynes-put-economics-map-and-they-can-take-it-right-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/09/03/why-political-science-cant-and-shouldnt-be-too-much-like-economics/" target="_blank">Over at PostEverything,</a> Dan Drezner wonders why economics has managed to wield such an outsized influence within the social sciences. His strongest point&mdash;or at least the one he spends the most time on&mdash;is that economists "share a strong consensus about the virtues of free markets, free trade, capital mobility and entrepreneurialism." This makes them catnip to the plutocrat class, and therefore the favored social scientists of influential people everywhere.</p> <p>Fine, <a href="https://twitter.com/ModeledBehavior/status/639477696876138496" target="_blank">says Adam Ozimek,</a> but what about liberal economists? "Why is Paul Krugman famous? Robert Shiller? Joe Stiglitz? Jeff Sachs? 'To please plutocrats' is not a good theory." <a href="https://twitter.com/ModeledBehavior/status/639478252780785664" target="_blank">And this:</a> "Why do liberal think tanks with liberal donors supporting liberal <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_marx_keynes.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">causes hire so many economists? To please plutocrats?"</p> <p>I think Drezner and Ozimek each make good points. Here's my amateur historical explanation that incorporates both.</p> <p>The first thing to understand is that in the 19th century, economists were no more influential than other social scientists. Folks like David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus were certainly prominent, but no more so than, say, Herbert Spencer or Max Weber. What's more, economics was a far less specialized field then. John Stuart Mill had a strong influence on economics, but was he an economist? Or a philosopher? Or a political scientist? He was all of those things.</p> <p>So what happened to make economists so singularly influential in the 20th century? I'll toss out two causes: Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.</p> <p>The fight for and against communism defined the second half of the 20th century, and Marx had always identified economics as the underpinning of his socio-historical theories. Outside of the battlefield, then, this made the most important conflict of the time fundamentally a fight over economics. In the public imagination, if not within the field itself, the fight between communism and free markets became largely identified as the face of economics, and this made it the most important branch of the social sciences.</p> <p>Then Keynes upped the ante. In the same spirit that Whitehead called philosophy a series of footnotes to Plato, economics in the second half of the 20th century was largely a series of footnotes to Keynes. Rightly or wrongly, he became the poster child for liberals who wanted to justify their belief in an activist government and the arch nemesis of conservatives who wanted no such thing. In the same way that communism was the biggest fight on the global stage, the fight over the size and scope of government was the biggest fight on the domestic stage. And since this was fundamentally a fight over economics, the field of economics became ground zero for domestic politics in advanced economies around the world.</p> <p>And that's why economists became so influential among both plutocrats and the lefty masses. Sure, it's partly because economists use lots of Greek letters and act like physicists, but mostly it's because that window dressing was used in service of the two most fundamental philosophic conflicts of the late 20th century.</p> <p>So does that mean economics is likely to lose influence in the future? After all, free market capitalism and mixed economies are now triumphant. Compared to the 20th century, we're now arguing over relative table scraps. And, as Drezner points out, the profession of economics has hardly covered itself with glory in the opening years of the 21st century. Has their time has come and gone?</p> <p>Maybe. I mean, how should I know? Obviously there's a lot of inertia here, and economics will remain pretty important for a long time. But the biggest fights are gone and economists have an embarrassing recent track record of failure. If the rest of the social sciences want to mount an assault on the field, this would probably be a pretty good time to do it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:38:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 283361 at http://www.motherjones.com Florida Governor Refuses to Admit That His Own Investigators Have Cleared Planned Parenthood http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/florida-governor-refuses-admit-his-own-investigators-have-cleared-planned-parenth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Good news! Florida regulators have finished their investigation of Planned Parenthood and concluded that there were no problems with their handling of fetal tissue. But you might not know that if you read their press release about the investigation. It turns out that Florida governor Rick Scott <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/florida/2015/09/8575790/scotts-office-scrubbed-release-cleared-planned-parenthood" target="_blank">preferred to keep this under wraps:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Emails between the governor&rsquo;s office and AHCA, obtained by POLITICO Florida through a public records request, show the agency prepared a press release that same day noting that <strong>&ldquo;there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p><strong>Scott's office revised the release to exclude that sentence,</strong> an email sent by Scott&rsquo;s communications director, Jackie Schutz, shows. Additionally, the revised release noted the AHCA would refer physicians who worked at the clinics to the Board of Medicine for possible disciplinary action.</p> </blockquote> <p>Kinda reminds you of a half-bright middle schooler who thinks he has a genius idea, doesn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 17:08:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 283331 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Shot Themselves in the Foot Over Iran http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/republicans-shot-themselves-foot-over-iran <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Why did Republicans <a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-iran-deal-20150902-story.html" target="_blank">fail to kill the Iran nuclear deal?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Opponents of the deal may have miscalculated the degree of public interest in the debate. They hoped for the kind of outpouring of public anger that gave rise to the tea party and nearly doomed Obamacare in August 2010. <strong>But the Iran deal &ldquo;just hasn&rsquo;t had that kind of galvanizing effect&rdquo; on the public, said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who backs the agreement.</strong></p> <p>....A Republican invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress in March appears to have backfired. His harsh denunciation of the negotiations then underway, which the White House portrayed as a snub of Obama&rsquo;s foreign policy, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_iran_nuclear_deal.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">made the debate more polarizing and partisan, pushing Democrats to the president&rsquo;s side.</p> <p><strong>Another factor, said one frustrated Republican on Capitol Hill: &ldquo;Trump happened.&rdquo;</strong> The GOP leadership aide, granted anonymity to discuss the setback, said billionaire Donald Trump&rsquo;s attention-grabbing presidential campaign, along with scrutiny of Hillary Rodham Clinton&rsquo;s email server, overshadowed all other issues this summer, making it harder for the Republicans&rsquo; message to attract attention.</p> <p>....Democrats have felt free to back the deal in part because they heard from many in the American Jewish community who split from the more hawkish AIPAC....The dozen or so Democratic opponents in Congress come mainly from parts of New York, New Jersey and Florida with large politically conservative Jewish populations. <strong>But the opponents failed to mount a serious effort to persuade other lawmakers to buck the White House.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>First things first: don't blame this on Donald Trump. He's been scathing about the deal, and has probably drawn more attention to it than all the AIPAC-funded ads put together. As for Hillary Clinton's email woes, it would please me no end if Republicans had shot themselves in the foot by focusing the fever swamps on that and leaving no room for outrage about Iran. But I doubt it. There's always stuff going on. Nobody ever fights a political battle in a pristine environment. There was plenty of room for Iran outrage.</p> <p>As it happens, though, I think Republicans <em>did</em> shoot themselves in the foot, but in a different way. Ever since 2009, their political strategy has been relentless and one-dimensional: oppose everything President Obama supports, instantly and unanimously. They certainly followed this playbook on Iran. Republicans were slamming the deal before the text was even released, and virtually none of them even pretended to be interested in the merits of the final agreement. Instead, they formed a united, knee-jerk front against the deal practically before the ink was dry.</p> <p>This did two things. First, it made them look unserious. From the beginning, the whole point of the economic sanctions against Iran was to use them as leverage to pressure the Iranian leadership to approve a nuclear deal. But by opposing it so quickly&mdash;based on an obviously specious desire for a "better deal" that they were never willing to spell out&mdash;Republicans made it clear that they opposed any agreement that lifted the sanctions. In other words, they opposed any agreement, period.</p> <p>Second, by forming so quickly, the Republican wall of opposition turned the Iran agreement into an obviously partisan matter. Once they did that, they made it much harder for Democrats to oppose a president of their own party. A more deliberate approach almost certainly would have helped them pick up more Democratic votes.</p> <p>All that said, keep in mind that Democrats only needed 34 senators <em>or</em> 145 House members to guarantee passage. That's not a high bar for a historic deal backed by a Democratic president. In other words, it's quite possible that Republicans actually did nothing wrong. They simply never had a chance in the first place.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 16:06:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 283311 at http://www.motherjones.com Anchor Babies Exist, But Probably Not Very Many of Them http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/anchor-babies-exist-probably-not-very-many-them <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Do "anchor babies" exist? Or are they just a pernicious myth invented by the anti-immigration right? The <em>LA Times</em> sent reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske to Rio Grande City in Texas to <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/immigration/la-na-texas-anchor-babies-20150903-story.html" target="_blank">check things out:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In this county in the heart of the impoverished Rio Grande Valley, so-called anchor babies have been delivered for decades, some to women who have already settled in Texas, others to those who crossed the river expressly to give birth on U.S. soil. "About six months ago I got one who was literally still wet from the river," [Dr. Rolando] Guerrero said.</p> <p>....Just how many Mexican mothers come to give birth to the babies and the cost of caring for them are unclear. <strong>"They do come on purpose," said Thalia Munoz, chief executive of Starr County Memorial.</strong> "We have to absorb the costs.&hellip; It's a persistent problem. It's a fact: They come over here for the anchor baby, they come over for the benefits."</p> <p>....The doctors said they saw fewer women coming to have babies after Texas officials ordered a surge of law enforcement and National Guard troops to the border last summer in response to an influx of Central American immigrants. Instead of gunfire at night, Margo heard U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Department of Public Safety helicopters. <strong>But since then, "slowly, it's been going back up," Guerrero said.</strong></p> <p>....At Starr County Memorial, <strong>most of the mothers the doctors see do not cross intentionally to give birth,</strong> they said &mdash; they were already living on the U.S. side of the border with families of mixed status. "I have families where I've delivered three or four" U.S.-born babies, Guerrero said.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's unlikely that we'll ever get a firm handle on how common this phenomenon is. But if the evidence of this story is typical, we can say that (a) anchor babies certainly exist, but (b) probably not in very large numbers. That's not likely to satisfy anyone, but sometimes life is like that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:07:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 283306 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Do High Schools Erase All the Test Score Gains of the Past 40 Years? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/why-do-high-schools-erase-all-test-score-gains-past-40-years <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>SAT scores have been dropping slowly but steadily <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sat-scores-at-lowest-level-in-10-years-fueling-worries-about-high-schools/2015/09/02/6b73ec66-5190-11e5-9812-92d5948a40f8_story.html" target="_blank">for the past decade:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The steady decline in SAT scores and generally stagnant results from high schools on federal tests and other measures reflect a troubling shortcoming of education-reform efforts. <strong>The test results show that gains in reading and math in elementary grades haven&rsquo;t led to broad improvement in high schools, experts say.</strong> That means several hundred thousand teenagers, especially those who grew up poor, are leaving school every year unready for college.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;Why is education reform hitting a wall in high school?&rdquo;</strong> asked Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank. &ldquo;You see this in all kinds of evidence. Kids don&rsquo;t make a whole lot of gains once they&rsquo;re in high school. It certainly should raise an alarm.&rdquo;</p> <p>It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decline in SAT scores, but educators cite a host of enduring challenges in the quest to lift high school achievement. Among them are <strong>poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills</strong> that plague many urban neighborhoods.</p> </blockquote> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_9_year_17_year_test_scores_0.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm delighted to see an education story that acknowledges <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/08/kids-school-test-scores-charts-kevin-drum" target="_blank">the plain evidence of test score gains,</a> even if just in an aside. The simple fact is that through middle school, standardized test scores have risen significantly over both the past decade and the past four decades. Elementary and middle school test scores have <em>not</em> been either stagnant or dropping, but based on the usual reporting of this stuff, I doubt that one person in a hundred is aware of this.</p> <p>But I'm also happy to see the flip side of this acknowledged: in general, all these gains wash away in high school. On the "gold standard" NAEP test, math scores have gone up just a few points among 17 year olds and reading scores have been flat. The usual explanation is that education reforms have initially been centered on elementary and middle schools, and scores will go up for older kids once those reforms start to become widespread in high schools.</p> <p>Maybe. But that excuse is starting to look old in the tooth. And even if high schools haven't seen a lot of reforms yet, why is it that they seem to have a <em>negative</em> effect on student performance? If math scores were up, say, ten points by the end of middle school and remained ten points up by the end of high school, that would be one thing. High schools wouldn't be adding anything, but they wouldn't be doing any harm either. But that's not the case. Kids come out of middle school better prepared today, but come out of high school no better than they did in 1971. High school is actually <em>erasing</em> gains.</p> <p>This is, needless to say, troubling. Poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills are problems at all ages, so that explains little. Nor does disaggregating scores by race, since demographic changes have been similar at all age levels. But the plain truth is that the only thing that really matters is how well prepared kids are when they finish high school. All the test score gains in the world mean nothing if they're gone by age 17. This is something we really need to figure out.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 14:22:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 283301 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: The Future of Health Care Costs Looks Surprisingly Rosy http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/chart-day-future-health-care-costs-looks-surprisingly-rosy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>You've seen various versions of this chart from me before, but perhaps you'd like to see it from a pair of highly-qualified researchers rather than some shorts-clad blogger? Not a problem. <a href="http://www.nber.org/papers/w21501.pdf" target="_blank">A recent paper</a> out of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC shows that the annual increase in health care costs has been dropping steadily for more than 30 years. The green arrow shows the trendline.</p> <p>Obviously this won't go on forever. But once again, it shows that the recent slowdown in health care costs isn't just an artifact of the Great Recession. That probably helped, but the downward trend far predates the recession. Bottom line: there will still be spikes and valleys in the future, but there's every reason to think that the general trend of health care costs over the next few decades will be either zero (i.e., equal to overall inflation) or pretty close to it.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_annual_increase_1960_2015.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 03 Sep 2015 01:25:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 283291 at http://www.motherjones.com Donald Trump Has Lost Between $1 and $6 Billion Over His Business Career http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/donald-trump-has-lost-between-1-and-6-billion-over-his-business-career <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This post is about Donald Trump&mdash;sorry!&mdash;but the topic is something I've been a little curious about for a while: how much of Trump's wealth is inherited vs. earned? The basics are easy: Trump's father turned over control of the family real estate business to him in 1974. At the time, it was worth about $200 million. Trump would eventually inherit one-fifth of this, so his share of the company was worth about $40 million to start with.</p> <p>Over at <em>National Journal</em>,&nbsp;Shirish D&aacute;te estimates that if Trump had put that money into an index fund of S&amp;P 500 stocks, it would be worth about $3 billion today. If he'd taken the $200 million he was reportedly <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_s_and_p_return_1974_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">worth in 1982 and done the same, he'd be worth $8 billion. So how does that compare to Trump's actual net worth? <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/twentysixteen/2015/09/02/1-easy-way-donald-trump-could-have-been-even-richer-doing-nothing" target="_blank">Here's D&aacute;te:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;Every year, Trump shares a lot of information with us that helps us get to the figures we publish. But he also consistently pushes for a higher net worth&mdash;especially when it comes to the value of his personal brand,&rdquo; <em>Forbes</em> reporter Erin Carlyle wrote this June, explaining the magazine&rsquo;s assessment that Trump was worth <strong>$4.1 billion,</strong> less than half of his claimed net worth. A subsequent review by Bloomberg found he was worth <strong>$2.9 billion.</strong></p> <p>....Perhaps the most deeply researched account of his wealth is a decade old: the book <em>TrumpNation</em>, by former <em>New York Times</em> journalist Tim O&rsquo;Brien, who found three sources close to Trump who estimated that he was worth <strong>between $150 million and $250 million</strong>....Trump wound up suing O&rsquo;Brien for defamation, claiming his book had damaged his business. The suit was eventually dismissed, but not before Trump sat for a deposition in which he admitted that he routinely exaggerated the values of his properties.</p> <p>....That 2007 deposition also revealed that in 2005, two separate banks had assessed Trump&rsquo;s assets and liabilities before agreeing to lend him money. One, North Fork Bank, decided he was worth <strong>$1.2 billion,</strong> while Deutsche Bank found he was worth no more than <strong>$788 million.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So....at a guess, Trump is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion in 2015. Anything above that is based on valuations of his personal brand&mdash;which might be worth something in theory, but buys no jet fuel or campaign ads. In terms of actual, tangible net worth, he's worth considerably less than the $3 billion (or $8 billion) he'd be worth if he'd just dumped his share of the family fortune into a Vanguard fund.</p> <p>In other words, over the course of the past four decades, Trump's business acumen has netted him somewhere between -$1 billion and -$6 billion. Ouch. Virtually every person in America can claim a better financial record than that.</p> <p>Now, in fairness, D&aacute;te's numbers for the S&amp;P fund assume that all dividends are reinvested, which would have meant Trump had no income to live on. Obviously he spends a fair amount every year, and if you take that into account the Vanguard strategy wouldn't look as good. Plus, of course, there's the fact that D&aacute;te is a THIRD-RATE LOSER who is JEALOUS of Trump's BRILLIANT CAREER and does anything he can to DEMEAN Trump's SUCCESS. So take him with a grain of salt.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 23:06:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 283281 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary Clinton's Favorability Ratings Are Right In Their Normal Groove http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/hillary-clintons-favorability-ratings-are-right-their-normal-groove <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/09/02/what-hillarys-sinking-poll-numbers-really-mean-in-one-chart/" target="_blank">Greg Sargent says</a> that Hillary Clinton's tanking favorability ratings should take no one by surprise. It's what happens every time an election starts up and she's once again viewed as a partisan political figure. "Her drop was probably inevitable once she made the transition from Secretary of State &mdash; a job that carries the trappings of above-politics statesmanship, or if you prefer, states-womanship &mdash; to candidate for president."</p> <p>There's much more at the link, but the annotated chart below pretty much tells the story. When she's removed from the fray, her unfavorability ratings bounce around between 20 and 40 percent. When she's involved in an election, they go up to 45-55 percent or even a little higher. The same thing is happening this time around.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hillary_clinton_unfavorability_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 30px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 18:55:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 283271 at http://www.motherjones.com Iran Will Always Be Three Months Away From Having Nukes http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/iran-will-always-be-three-months-away-having-nukes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Paul Waldman writes about the asymmetric political risks that Democrats and Republicans face <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/09/02/in-an-unusual-development-congressional-dems-display-admirable-backbone/" target="_blank">over the Iran nuclear deal:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If the agreement proves to be a failure &mdash; let&rsquo;s say that Iran manages to conduct a nuclear weapons program in secret, then announces to the world that they have a nuclear weapon &mdash; it will indeed be front-page news, and the Democrats who supported the deal might suffer grave political consequences. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nuclear_explosion.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">So in order to vote yes, they had to look seriously at the deal and its alternatives, and accept some long term political peril.</p> <p>By contrast, there probably is less long term risk for Republicans in opposing the deal.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s true that if the deal does achieve its goals, it will be added to a list of things on which Republicans were spectacularly wrong, but which led them to change their opinions not a whit....Iraq War....Bill Clinton&rsquo;s tax-increasing 1993 budget....George Bush&rsquo;s tax cuts....But if the deal works as intended, what will be the outcome be? Iran without nuclear weapons, of course, but that is a state of being rather than an event. There will be no blaring headlines saying, &ldquo;Iran Still Has No Nukes &mdash; Dems Proven Right!&rdquo; Five or ten years from now, Republicans will continue to argue that the deal was dreadful, even if Iran&rsquo;s nuclear ambitions have been contained.</p> </blockquote> <p>In a way, it's actually worse than this. Even if Iran doesn't get nukes there will be endless opportunities to raise alarms that it's going to happen <em>any day now</em>. Israeli leaders have been warning that Iran is three months away from a nuclear bomb for over two decades. There will always be new studies, new developments, and new conflicts that provide excuses for hysterical Fox News segments telling us we're all about to die at the hands of the ayatollahs. To see this in action, just take a look at Obamacare. All the top line evidence suggests it's working surprisingly well. Maybe better than even its own supporters thought it would. But that hasn't stopped a torrent of alarming reports that provide countless pretexts for predicting Obamacare's imminent doom. Premiums are going up 40 percent! Workers' hours are being slashed! You won't be able to see your family doctor anymore! Death panels!</p> <p>So have no worries. Iran could be nuclear free in 2050 and Bill Kristol's grandkids will still be warning everyone else's grandkids that the ayatollahs are <em>this close</em> to getting a bomb. It's kind of soothing, in a way, like a squeaky door that you'd miss if you ever oiled it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 17:43:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 283256 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's the Price Tag for CAP's New Child Care Program: About $100 Billion http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/heres-price-tag-caps-new-child-care-program-about-100-billion <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Center for American Progress&mdash;aka "Hillary's Think Tank"&mdash;has released <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/report/2015/09/02/119944/a-new-vision-for-child-care-in-the-united-states-3/" target="_blank">"A New Vision for Child Care in the United States."</a> But it's not really very new. It's just a tax credit that varies with income. If you're at the poverty level, you'd get a tax credit of about $13,000 paid directly to the child care facility of your choice. If you make more, the tax credit <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cap_child_care.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">would be less. The maximum out-of-pocket expense for families would range from 2 percent at the low end to 12 percent at the high end.</p> <p>Does this sound familiar? It should: it bears a strong family resemblance to Obamacare.</p> <p>But it might be a good idea regardless of how new it really is. I'm certainly a fan of both preschool and subsidized child care. The big question is going to be how much it costs, and that's something the authors don't address. There's probably a reason for that. My very rough horseback calculation suggests it could run up a tab of $100 billion per year. Maybe more.<sup>1</sup><strong>[See update below.] </strong></p> <p>That's a lot of money. How's it going to be paid for? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/02/this-could-be-the-new-big-idea-about-childcare-from-democrats/" target="_blank">Danielle Paquet asked CAP about this,</a> and was told vaguely that "restructuring the tax system" and "closing wasteful loopholes" might do the trick. I dunno. That's a lot of wasteful loopholes.</p> <p>Needless to say, this is one of the downsides of taking public policy seriously. If you're Donald Trump, you just tell everyone not to worry. "I'm going to be great for the kids," and he'll take care of it from there. But if you're a Democrat, you normally feel obliged to present an actual plan that can actually work in the real world&mdash;and that means people can attach a price to it. And that, in turn, means you can be badgered about how you're going to pay for it.</p> <p>Politically speaking, this is something that Democrats will need to be careful about. There's a temptation among liberals to be the anti-Trump, tossing out dozens of detailed white papers to solve all the world's problems. But this gives conservatives an opening to add up the cost of all those white papers and start bellowing about how their very own proposals prove that Democrats want to bankrupt the country and tax millionaires into insolvency. It's best to tread carefully here.</p> <p>On the other hand, maybe Hillary could benefit from a small dose of Trumpism. Maybe she should adopt CAP's proposal and just declare that she's going to soak the rich to pay for it. Why pussyfoot around it? After all, polls show that taxing the rich at higher rates is a pretty popular idea. Maybe it's time to go bullroar populist and just beat the tar out of the malefactors of great wealth.</p> <p>Then again, maybe not. That doesn't really sound much like Hillary, does it?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>The program is for kids aged 0-4. My estimate is based on about 20 million kids qualifying, with an average tax credit in the neighborhood of $8,000 each. That's $160 billion. If two-thirds of all families take advantage of this tax credit, that comes to about $100 billion. Needless to say, more detailed cost estimates are welcome.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I am mistaken. CAP estimates a cost of $40 billion for their proposal, which they believe would not just help working families, but also stimulate the economy:</p> <blockquote> <p>The economy as a whole benefits from policies that help working families. As an example, the Canadian province of Quebec developed a nearly universal child care assistance program, and economists at the University of Quebec and the University of Sherbrooke estimate that the program boosted women&rsquo;s labor force participation by nearly 4 percentage points, which in turn boosted GDP by 1.7 percentage points.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm habitually skeptical of claims that social programs will recoup all or part of their costs by boosting the economy, but it's probably true in this case. The effect of increased employment on GDP is pretty straightforward. The policy question, of course, is <em>how much</em> this will offset the program costs. But then, that's always the policy question, isn't it?</p> <p>In any case, I'm not sure how CAP gets to $40 billion, and it strikes me as a little low. But it might be right. It would be interesting to see an estimate from a reliable third-party source.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 16:21:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 283241 at http://www.motherjones.com September Is All Set to Be Ben Carson Month http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/september-all-set-be-ben-carson-month <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Donald Trump's moment in the spotlight is up. He won't go gently into that good night, but go he will. The big question at this point is who will replace him as the tea party's temporary favorite? The answer appears to be Ben Carson, the retired <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ben_carson_hands.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">neurosurgeon who made a name for himself among conservatives with a speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. Here's a short excerpt:</p> <blockquote> <p>The PC police are out in force at all times....We&rsquo;ve got to get over this sensitivity....what we need to do in this PC world is forget about unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought....PC is dangerous....one last thing about political correctness, which I think is a horrible thing, by the way....I&rsquo;m not politically correct....</p> </blockquote> <p>Do you notice a trend? Carson also talked about HSAs (a replacement for Obamacare) and tithing (a 10 percent flat tax) and the deficit (bad) and education (good) and moral decay (ruined the Roman empire) and, yes, even mentioned God a few times. But political correctness is his real schtick, and he hates it even more than Trump.</p> <p>But why? Since Carson seems set to become the Next Big Thing, Ed Kilgore decided to explain him to us. In the first GOP debate, Carson made mention of the "Alinsky Model," which enjoyed a brief vogue among conservatives a few years ago and then sort of disappeared from sight. <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/the-secret-to-ben-carsons-success-calm-bedside-manner" target="_blank">Kilgore takes off from there:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The &ldquo;Alinsky Model&rdquo; is a dog whistle to a certain breed of conspiracy minded hard-core conservative, as is the identification of [Hillary] Clinton with the &ldquo;secular progressive movement.&rdquo; Both are references some might recognize from Glenn Beck&rsquo;s many discourses, and both are meant to describe people who are actively and consciously working through deceit to enslave if not destroy (Carson&rsquo;s word) America. <strong>The Alinsky Model&rsquo;s main weapon, according to most aficionados of this sort of thinking, is &ldquo;political correctness,&rdquo;</strong> which happens to be Dr. Ben Carson&rsquo;s favorite phrase for everything he is fighting against.</p> <p>....The more you listen to Carson talking about &ldquo;political correctness,&rdquo; the more it becomes obvious he&rsquo;s not attacking college speech codes or disputes over racial or ethnic or gender terms, but liberal elite mockery of right-wing conspiracy theories....In this context, it becomes clear that Carson&rsquo;s occasional &ldquo;gaffes&rdquo; aren&rsquo;t really accidents, but what he believes: <strong>Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery; Obama might be planning to cancel elections; Democrats are opening the borders to bring in immigrants who will increase the welfare population and thus keep Democrats in power.</strong> Even though these are not unusual beliefs in the fever swamps of the far right, they are exotic for a major-party presidential candidate.</p> <p>....And there&rsquo;s something extra special about an African-American preemptively labeling suspected incidents of racism and sexism as mere political incorrectness, which he then defends as essential free speech! Let it rip!</p> </blockquote> <p>Ladies and gentlemen, this is your next man of the moment. Like Trump, he specializes in mood affiliation politics: nice, easy, common-sense solutions to all our problems, without bothering to explain how any of this stuff can actually work. Unlike Trump, he has a very calm demeanor. So if you like your third-grade comfort food politics with a side of bombast, Trump is your guy. But if you like it smooth and affable, Carson is. Take your pick.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:31:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 283226 at http://www.motherjones.com Iran Deal Now Assured of Passage http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/iran-deal-now-assured-passage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Iran nuclear agreement picked up its 34th supporter in the Senate this morning, assuring that even if Congress rejects the deal (which it probably will), it won't be able to override President Barack Obama's veto of the rejection.</p> <p>In the end, this probably didn't matter much, since Nancy Pelosi says the House already had enough votes to sustain a veto, but it never hurts to be sure. Next up: If Obama can round up 41 votes, the Senate won't even be able to reject the deal in the first place and no veto will be necessary. I think that's a long shot, since now, with passage secured, it leaves wavering senators free to vote against it in the knowledge that their vote won't matter. We'll see.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> And the 34th and deciding senator is&hellip;drum roll, please&hellip;Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring next year.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Obama Top Stories Wed, 02 Sep 2015 14:20:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 283211 at http://www.motherjones.com I Have No Headline Worthy of Donald Trump's Latest http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/i-have-no-headline-worthy-donald-trumps-latest <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I hesitate to drop the P-bomb, but <a href="https://twitter.com/paul_w_hoffman/status/638888254469574656" target="_blank">this bit of word salad from Donald Trump</a> is eerily Palinesque. How is it possible that <em>Spy</em> magazine is no longer around to explain this to the world?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_argle_bargle.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 02 Sep 2015 01:53:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 283191 at http://www.motherjones.com In the Contest for Worst Automobile-Driving Species, the Winner is Homo Sapiens http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/contest-worst-automobile-driving-species-winner-homo-sapiens <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A reader tells me this story seems <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/technology/personaltech/google-says-its-not-the-driverless-cars-fault-its-other-drivers.html" target="_blank">right up my alley:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Google, a leader in efforts to create driverless cars, has run into an odd safety conundrum: humans.</p> <p>Last month, as one of Google&rsquo;s self-driving cars approached a crosswalk, it did what it was supposed to do when it slowed to allow a pedestrian to cross, prompting its &ldquo;safety driver&rdquo; to apply the brakes. The pedestrian <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_car_in_pool.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 28px 0px 15px 30px;">was fine, but not so much Google&rsquo;s car, which was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan.</p> <p>....<strong>Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google&rsquo;s Self-Driving Car Project, said that one thing he had learned from the project was that human drivers needed to be &ldquo;less idiotic.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>That's the spirit! And when Skynet takes over, humans will finally cease to be such a nuisance. Driverless car nirvana will be at hand.</p> <p>Ahem. In reality, of course, this whole story is sort of silly. <em>Of course</em> the biggest problem with driverless cars is humans. What else would it be? Plop a few thousand driverless cars into an empty city and they'd get along swimmingly. No one is unaware of this, least of all Google.</p> <p>But I suppose from Google's perspective, stories like this are useful as ways to calm fears about driverless cars. And there <em>is</em> a good point to be made about that: driverless cars don't have to be perfect to be useful. They just have to be at least as good as humans. So while the fact that humans are generally idiotic drivers might be a short-term annoyance, in the long run it's a huge bonus for Google. They don't have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, just the local high school JV team.</p> <p>This, by the way, is why I'm so generally bullish on artificial intelligence. It's not because I have such a high opinion of computers, but because I have such a low opinion of humans. We really are just overclocked chimpanzees who have convinced ourselves that our weird jumble of largely Pavlovian behaviors&mdash;punctuated by regrettably rare dollops of intelligence&mdash;is deeply ineffable and therefore resistant to true understanding. Why do we believe this? Primarily for the amusingly oxymoronic reason that we aren't smart enough to understand our own brains. The silicon crowd should be able to do better before long.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> By the way, I'm a lovely driver. It's all you other folks who are causing so many problems.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:32:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 283171 at http://www.motherjones.com Sorry, I Don't Know Why Murder Rates Are Up In a Bunch of Big Cities http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/sorry-i-dont-know-why-murder-rates-are-bunch-big-cities <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've gotten enough requests to comment on this piece from the <em>New York Times</em> that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/01/us/murder-rates-rising-sharply-in-many-us-cities.html" target="_blank">I guess I'd better do so:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines,</strong> and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year &mdash; after 86 homicides in all of 2014.</p> <p>More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.</p> <p>Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing. Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.</p> </blockquote> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_crime_baseline_lead.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The reason I haven't said anything about this until now is that I had nothing to say. I have no more idea what's driving this increase than anyone else.</p> <p>But what about lead? Here's the problem: gasoline lead explains one thing and one thing only. And that thing is the huge violent crime wave of 1960-1990 followed by the equally huge drop of 1990-2010. But that's over. What we're left with now is the baseline level of violent crime, which obviously wouldn't be zero even if there were no lead in the environment at all. And the causes of this baseline level of violent crime are all the usual suspects: poverty, race, drugs, policing, guns, demographics, and so forth. A more detailed explanation is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/lead-and-crime-baselines-vs-crime-waves" target="_blank">here.</a> At this point, lead is a very small contributor to the crime level.</p> <p>It's also worth pointing out that crime figures, and murder figures in particular, are extremely noisy. Lead explains long-term shifts. It doesn't explain short-term spikes or (in most cases) differences from one city to another. The current increase in murder rates could be due to lots of things, or it could just be the usual noise in the numbers. Maybe they'll go right back down next year.</p> <p>But I don't know. The only thing I do know is that lead is playing no particular role in this, either good or bad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 19:09:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 283166 at http://www.motherjones.com Let Us Now Praise Passionate Politics http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/let-us-now-praise-passionate-politics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>German Lopez notes the reaction in some quarters to the <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/9/1/9239643/black-lives-matter-fox-news" target="_blank">recent shooting of a Texas deputy sheriff:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Despite any solid leads and facts about the motives in the shooting of 10-year deputy veteran Darren Goforth, some conservative media outlets and local law enforcement officials have already settled on the <em>real</em> culprit: Black Lives Matter.</p> <p>....Fox News's Elisabeth Hasselbeck later wondered aloud on air why Black Lives Matter isn't considered a "hate group." Bill O'Reilly was more blunt, concluding the movement was indeed a "hate group."</p> <p>....It's not just Fox News &mdash; other reports painted narratives that put Black Lives Matter and police as inherently in conflict. A CNN report, for instance, described Black Lives Matter's advocacy as "anti-police rhetoric." What does it say about American society that advocating for black lives and ending racial disparities in the criminal justice system <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_speakers_corner_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">would qualify not as pro-equality but as anti-police?</p> </blockquote> <p>It's hardly a surprise to hear stuff like this. Nor is it limited to conservatives. Liberals frequently fault anti-abortion rhetoric when someone kills an abortion clinic worker or anti-government rhetoric when someone shoots up an IRS office.</p> <p>That won't stop, but it should. People and groups have to be free to condemn abortion or police misconduct or anything else&mdash;sometimes soberly, sometimes not. And it's inevitable that this will occasionally inspire a maniac somewhere to resort to violence. There's really no way around this. It's obviously something for any decent person to keep in mind, but it doesn't make passionate politics culpable for the ills of the world. We can't allow the limits of our political spirit to be routinely dictated by the worst imaginable consequences.</p> <p>This is no apology for obviously incendiary speech. If you get on your soapbox and tell your followers to kill the pigs or murder the child murderers, then you bear a share of blame for what happens next. That's both common sense and legal reality.</p> <p>But we also need common sense toward speech that's less immediately incendiary but still fiery or angry&mdash;or both. After all, this is where change, liberal and conservative alike, comes from. It's sadly inevitable that in a country of 300 million, even the minuscule fraction who turn that fear into a killing rampage amounts to a lot of people. But it's neither a good reason to rein in our political vigor nor a good reason to blame passionate engagement in politics for every related tragedy. That way lies atrophy and rot.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 18:22:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 283156 at http://www.motherjones.com Science Marches On: We Now Have a Yard Sale That Runs Backward In Time http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/science-marches-we-now-have-yard-sale-runs-backward-time <!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.racked.com/2015/8/31/9201599/127-sale-worlds-longest-yard-sale" target="_blank">A sentence to ponder:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The world's longest yard sale runs for nearly 700 miles along a mostly vertical line connecting Alabama and Michigan, from the first Thursday in August through the first Sunday.</p> </blockquote> <p>But what if the first Sunday comes before the first Thursday? Do they cancel the sale that year? Does it run backward through time? I demand answers.</p> <p>(Via Tyler Cowen.)</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 16:50:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 283141 at http://www.motherjones.com September Is Here! Time for Republicans to Get ... Um ... Something About Donald Trump. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/september-here-time-republicans-getumsomething-about-donald-trump <!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_gop_field_rcp_2015_09_01.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">It's September! Hooray! The kids are back in school and Donald Trump's reign over the silly season will soon be coming to an end. Finally, we can start to get serious about choosing our next presi&mdash;</p> <p>Wait. WTF? Trumpmentum's sagging fortunes have turned around? He's now even further in the lead? Well crap.</p> <p>The Republican field really needs to get its act together. They can't go on being afraid of him because he's "tapping into something real," or whatever the latest excuse is. It's time for some nuclear-level attack ads. The problem, I assume, is that everybody in the race wants someone <em>else</em> to waste their money attacking Trump, so they're all left in a weird kind of prisoner's dilemma where no one is willing to go first. They better figure out soon that this is a losing strategy.</p> <p>Oh well. The higher they go, the farther they fall. Amirite?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 16:23:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 283136 at http://www.motherjones.com The Average Family Pays a Federal Income Tax Rate of 5% http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/average-family-pays-federal-income-tax-rate-5 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ross Douthat writes today about the split on taxes between the Republican donor class and <a href="http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/trump-taxes-and-the-g-o-p/" target="_blank">the average Republican voter:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The donorist vision, in my experience, has its own distinctives: It&rsquo;s less interested in the specifics of the Laffer curve or any other economic theory, and more inclined to take a vaguely Randian view of high taxes as an unjust punishment for success....</p> <p>Then the average Republican voter has a different perspective still....This prototypical Republican voter, who might be pulling in $45,000 working a trade or $95,000 running a small business (or vice versa), isn&rsquo;t necessarily being <em>soaked</em> by the federal income tax, but he or she remains an anti-tax voter because even small tax fluctuations year to year feel like an immediate threats to the ability to save, to plan, to expand or preserve a business, to buy a home and put money away for college and think about retirement and generally preserve their peace of mind.</p> </blockquote> <p>Douthat's post was inspired by Donald Trump's heresies on taxes, but I wouldn't read too much into that. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/conservative-tax-borg-has-finally-absorbed-donald-trump" target="_blank">As I noted yesterday,</a> it looks to me as if Trump is slowly but steadily moving in the direction of Republican orthodoxy with only a few minor populist concessions.</p> <p>But I was happy to see Douthat acknowledge that the average Republican voter is not exactly being soaked by taxes. As it happens, that's putting it mildly. The median family in America earns about $65,000. That family, on average, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_average_fed_income_tax_rate.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">pays a federal income tax rate of <a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=226" target="_blank">about 5 percent.</a></p> <p>In other words, for the average voter this isn't about money. Even the hardest core tea partiers can't possibly be outraged at the prospect of paying 5 percent of their income to Uncle Sam. The plain truth is that middle-class tax cuts are becoming all but impossible these days: the average family no longer pays enough in taxes to even notice a small change up or down. And the trend over the past few decades has been nothing but down anyway.</p> <p>And yet, taxes continue to be a potent message. Why? It's not because of payroll taxes. Numerous polls have shown that most voters consider these fair because they pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits down the road. Nor do state income taxes change the overall picture much.</p> <p>Republicans have been in this quandary for a while. Cutting taxes is pretty much all they've got on the economic front, but there's not a whole lot left to cut for the average Joe. And yet, the anti-tax message really does continue to resonate. Why? I'd suggest two things.</p> <p>First, most people are bad at math. They may be paying about 5 percent of their income in federal taxes, but if you ask them, they'd probably guess it's more like 20 or 30 percent. Republicans have long complained that weekly withholding makes taxes invisible, and they have a point. But right now, that works in their favor.</p> <p>Second, a lot of people are afraid that Democrats will <em>raise</em> their taxes. This prospect carries more punch than the prospect of a cut from Republicans.</p> <p>In any case, even though Donald Trump is coming around to Republican orthodoxy on taxes, I do think he's highlighting a real dilemma for Republicans. Raising taxes on hedge fund managers is no big deal. They can be thrown under the bus if necessary. But the other half of Trump's message is about reducing taxes on average middle-class families. That may still be a potent message, but even now it's not as potent as it was 30 years ago. And going forward, Democrats are eventually going to figure out a way to make it clear that federal income taxes really aren't very onerous anymore.<sup>1</sup> When that happens, it's bye bye tax cuts for the rich&mdash;because the only way you can sell tax cuts for the rich is to hide them behind tax cuts for the middle class. For simple mathematical reasons, that particular con is coming to an end.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Of course, they haven't figured this out yet, so maybe I'm being too optimistic.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 15:47:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 283126 at http://www.motherjones.com Lone Gay Marriage Holdout Acting "Under the Authority of God" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/09/lone-gay-marriage-holdout-acting-under-authority-god <!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.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/us/same-sex-marriage-kentucky-kim-davis.html" target="_blank">Sigh.</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A county clerk in Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds denied licenses to gay couples on Tuesday, just hours after the Supreme Court refused to support her position.</p> <p>In a raucous scene in the little town of Morehead, two-same-sex couples walked into the Rowan County Courthouse, trailed by television <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_kim_davis.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">cameras and chanting protesters on both sides of the issue, only to be told by the county clerk, Kim Davis, that she was denying them marriage licenses &ldquo;under the authority of God.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>The optimist in me says that if the biggest backlash to the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision is one clerk in a tiny town in Kentucky, then we've gotten off pretty easy. And really, the more I think about it, that really does seem like the main takeaway from this.</p> <p>But it's obvious that the endgame here is for Kim Davis to be fired, or tossed in jail for contempt. The Supreme Court itself has ordered her to issue licenses, so she has no further legal recourse. Only recourse to God.</p> <p>I'm now curious to see what the Republican field will make of this. On the one hand, most of them are treating the primary contest as a zero-sum race to see who can move furthest to the right. On the other hand, do they really want to get on the wrong side of gay marriage <em>and</em> immigration? On the third hand, there's the whole rule of law thing. And on the fourth hand, Donald Trump is not an anti-gay warrior. He's the guy everyone is responding to, so maybe that means this will stay low key.</p> <p>The Huckabees and Carsons of the world will surely support Davis. The rest of the field....probably not. That's my guess. Then again, if video of Davis being hauled off to the county pen ends up on a 24/7 loop on Fox News, who knows? Defying the will of a small group of pissed off base voters is not something the Republican field is exactly famous for.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/09/01/a-kentucky-clerk-is-turning-away-gay-couples-but-shes-a-real-rarity/" target="_blank">Greg Sargent confirms my sense</a> that holdouts like Davis are very rare. "In the seven southern states where the backlash might have been expected to be fiercest, only one &mdash; Alabama &mdash; still has multiple counties that are holding out. One other &mdash; Kentucky &mdash; has only two remaining counties holding out." The national campaign director for Freedom to Marry says that, all things considered, "things are going exceedingly smoothly."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 14:38:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 283121 at http://www.motherjones.com 54% of Republicans Think Obama Is a Muslim http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/54-republicans-think-obama-muslim <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>You know, I thought this nonsense had stopped. I don't know <em>why</em> I thought it had stopped&mdash;out of sight, out of mind?&mdash;but apparently it hasn't. Crikey.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ppp_obama_muslim_2015_08_31.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 110px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 01 Sep 2015 01:34:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 283106 at http://www.motherjones.com Sovereign Citizens Leapfrog Islamic Extremists as America's Top Terrorist Threat http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/sovereign-citizens-leapfrog-islamic-extremists-americas-top-terrorist-threat <!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_greatest_terrorist_threats.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Who do actual law enforcement officers see as the biggest terrorist threats in America? Surprise! <a href="https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_UnderstandingLawEnforcementIntelligenceProcesses_July2014.pdf" target="_blank">It's not Islamic radicals:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Approximately 39 percent of respondents agreed and 28 percent strongly agreed that Islamic extremists were a serious terrorist threat. In comparison, <strong>52 percent of respondents agreed and 34 percent strongly agreed that sovereign citizens were a serious terrorist threat.</strong></p> <p>....There was significant concern about the resurgence of the radical far right [following the election of President Obama], but it appears as though law enforcement is, at present, less concerned about these groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's odd. The authors of this report apparently don't consider the sovereign citizens part of the radical right. But their roots are in the Posse Comitatus movement, and they identify strongly with both the white supremacist Christian Identity movement and the anti-tax movement. That's always sounded like the right-wing on steroids to me.</p> <p>I'm not trying to foist responsibility for these crazies on the Republican Party, any more than I'd say Democrats are responsible for animal rights extremists. Still, their complaints seem like preposterous caricatures of right-wing thought, in the same way that animal rights extremism bears a distant but recognizable ancestry to lefty principles.</p> <p>In any case, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/8/31/9208015/terrorism-chart-ranked" target="_blank">this comes via Zack Beauchamp,</a> who explains the sovereign citizens movement in more detail for the uninitiated.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 31 Aug 2015 22:39:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 283096 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Not the Economy, Stupid. The Spanish Language Is the Ur-Motive of Anti-Immigration Sentiment. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/spanish-language-ur-motive-anti-immigration-sentiment <!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_english_language.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Ed Kilgore on the conservative hostility <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_08/libsplaining057370.php" target="_blank">toward illegal immigration:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This very weekend I was reading an advance copy of an upcoming book that includes the results of some intensive focus group work with what might be called the "angry wing" of the GOP base. <strong>The author notes that one thing that simply <em>enrages</em> grass-roots conservatives is the use of non-English languages by immigrants.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. You can read all about it <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2006_05/008735.php" target="_blank">from one of Kilgore's predecessors,</a> who wrote about it during our last big try at immigration reform in 2006. It's based on an <a href="http://inthesetimes.com/article/2608" target="_blank">excellent piece by Chris Hayes,</a> written before he sold out to the bright lights and big paychecks of cable television.</p> <p>I agree that language is probably the key original driver of anti-immigrant sentiment, though it's long since inspired further animus based around crime, gangs, social services, and other culture-related issues. The odd thing is that this is one of the few areas where I think the anti-immigrationists have a bit of a point. It's not a very <em>big</em> point, since (a) Spanish occupies no <em>official</em> role in the United States, and (b) Latin American immigrants all end up speaking English by the second and third generations anyway. Hell, the third-generation Latino who speaks lousy Spanish is practically a cliche.</p> <p>That said, I've long believed that having multiple official languages makes it very hard to sustain a united polity. The Swiss manage, but the whole reason they're famous for it is because it's so unusual. Even the Belgians and Canadians have trouble with it, and they're pretty tolerant people.</p> <p>Would a congressional declaration that English is the official language of the United States do anything to calm anti-immigrant fervor? At this point, probably not. But if it were written narrowly and carefully, I'd probably support it. I figure that if God considered a single common language such a boon that it threatened his dominion, it must be pretty powerful stuff.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 31 Aug 2015 19:17:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 283076 at http://www.motherjones.com The Conservative Tax Borg Has Finally Absorbed Donald Trump http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/conservative-tax-borg-has-finally-absorbed-donald-trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>New York Times</em> reports that Republican leaders are alarmed at <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/01/us/politics/republicans-wary-of-donald-trumps-populist-tone-on-taxes.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">one particular aspect of Donald Trump's popularity:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on American companies that put their factories in other countries. He has threatened to increase taxes on the compensation of hedge fund managers. And he has vowed to change laws that allow American companies to benefit from cheaper tax rates by using mergers to base their operations outside the United States.</p> <p>Alarmed that those ideas might catch on with some of Mr. Trump&rsquo;s Republican rivals &mdash; as his immigration policies have &mdash; the Club for Growth, an anti-tax think tank, is pulling together a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_tired.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">team of economists to scrutinize his proposals and calculate the economic impact if he is elected.</p> </blockquote> <p>First things first: Trump and the Club for Growth have been feuding ever since Trump entered the race. The Club says it's because Trump had previously supported universal health care and a one-time tax on individuals worth more than $10 million. Trump says it's because the Club tried to shake him down for a $1 million donation and he refused to give it to them. The truth is&mdash;oh, who cares what the truth is? It's just another Trump feud.</p> <p>Anyway, Trump repudiated his wealth tax idea a long time ago, but he <em>has</em> supported (a) a progressive income tax, (b) closing loopholes for hedge fund managers, (c) tariffs on companies that move factories to Mexico, and (d) corporate inversions. But wait! In his interview with Sarah Palin, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oeju2SG7UMA" target="_blank">Trump inched closer to Republican orthodoxy on taxes:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We have to simplify our tax code. You have hedge fund guys that are paying virtually no tax and they're making a fortune....Now you can go to a fair tax or a flat tax, but the easiest way and the quickest way, at least on a temporary basis, is simplification of the code: get rid of deductions, reduce taxes.</p> </blockquote> <p>OK. So Trump definitely wants to eliminate the carried-interest loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay very little in federal income tax. But he's no longer opposed to a flat tax. It's just that on a "temporary" basis he wants to broaden the base and reduce rates. This is as orthodox as it gets.</p> <p>As for the tariffs on companies that move to Mexico, that's just bluster not to be taken seriously. And reining in corporate inversions is a pretty bipartisan goal. It would presumably be part of a corporate tax overhaul that would end up being revenue neutral.</p> <p>On taxes, then, Trump has all but caved in. The only serious part of his schtick that's no longer garden-variety Republican dogma is his desire to close the carried-interest loophole. And even this is small potatoes: it would raise one or two billion dollars per year, which could easily be offset by a tiny tax cut somewhere else. There's really nothing left for even Grover Norquist to dislike.</p> <p>So no worries! Trump is becoming fully absorbed by the Republican borg on taxes. Aside from the Mexico stuff, which is just campaign trail bombast, there's nothing left that would raise net taxes or offend conservative sensibilities in any way. Whew.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:12:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 283056 at http://www.motherjones.com This Week's Great Showdown: Denali vs. McKinley http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/weeks-great-showdown-denali-vs-mkinley <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So the big news this weekend was President Obama's decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley back to Denali. As near as I can tell, the only people who truly care about this are:</p> <ul><li>Alaskans</li> <li>Ohioans</li> <li>Mountain climbers</li> <li>Trivia buffs</li> </ul><p>Of these, Alaskans are pro-Denali; Ohioans are proudly pro-McKinley; mountain climbers have been calling it Denali for years already; and trivia buffs are almost certainly pro-Denali since they love it whenever something changes that allows them to pedantically correct other people.</p> <p>So far&mdash;to my pleasant surprise, I admit&mdash;there's been very little complaining about how Obama is&mdash;again!&mdash;bending to the forces of political correctness and identity politics by kowtowing to the icy cold branch of the native American community. But the week is young and the easily outraged are probably still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Give them time.</p> <p>For the time being, though, the pro-McKinley side has only the Ohioans, who have been battling Alaskans over this for decades. Ohioans are mighty defenders of William McKinley, proud son of Niles, Ohio. So proud, in fact, that one of their own renamed Denali to Mt. McKinley in 1896 merely because McKinley had just been <em>nominated</em> for president. Alaskans probably had no idea this was even happening, and in any case they weren't yet a state and could do little about it. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_denali_campbell.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">They finally tried to officially reverse this power grab in the 70s, <a href="http://www.adn.com/article/20141221/denali-dilemma-can-dan-sullivan-get-mount-mckinley-renamed" target="_blank">but sneaky Ohioans took advantage of a loophole</a> to prevent the US Board on Geographic Names from acting. That ended yesterday when Obama decided to rename America's highest peak himself.</p> <p>The obvious solution to all this is to rename Ohio's tallest mountain. Unfortunately, Ohio is flat and has no mountains at all. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell_Hill_%28Ohio%29" target="_blank">Its highest point is Campbell Hill,</a> topping out at a pedestrian 1,550 feet. They could rename it McKinley Hill&mdash;unless, of course, that would outrage the descendants of Charles D. Campbell&mdash;but that's quite a comedown from the majesty of Denali, as the pictures on the right show.</p> <p>What to do? Nothing much, I suppose, except for Ohio's congressional delegation to rant and rave about Obama's unilateral power grab etc. That's fine. Hometown pride demands no less. Even at that, though, I have to give props to Rep. Bob Gibbs for <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2015/08/denali-mount-mckinley-alaska-portman" target="_blank">this masterpiece of outrage:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I hope my colleagues will join with me in stopping this constitutional overreach. President Obama has decided to ignore an act of Congress in unilaterally renaming Mt. McKinley in order to promote his job-killing war on energy.</p> </blockquote> <p>Constitutional overreach? Sure, whatever. That's garden variety stuff by now. But how does removing the name of America's 25th president advance Obama's job-killing war on energy? Inquiring minds want to know.</p> <p>As for the political implications, all you need to know is this: Alaska has three electoral votes. Ohio has 18 and is routinely a critical swing state. You may draw your own conclusions from this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 31 Aug 2015 16:51:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 283046 at http://www.motherjones.com