Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2014/08/restaurant-biz http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Will Democrats Keep Control of the Senate This Year? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/will-democrats-keep-control-senate-year <!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_senate_forecast_pec_28_august_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium thinks that Democrats currently have a 72 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate this year. Most other forecasting outfits think Republicans have a 60-70 percent chance of winning control. <a href="http://election.princeton.edu/2014/08/28/senate-democrats-are-outperforming-expectations/" target="_blank">Why the difference?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In most cases, added assumptions (i.e. special sauce) have led the media organizations to different win probabilities&nbsp;&mdash; which I currently believe are wrong....The major media organizations (NYT, WaPo, 538)...all use prior conditions like incumbency, candidate experience, funding, and the generic Congressional ballot to influence their win probabilities&nbsp;&mdash; and opinion polls.</p> <p>....Longtime readers of PEC will not be surprised to know that I think the media organizations are making a mistake. It is nearly Labor Day. By now, we have tons of polling data. Even the stalest poll is a more direct measurement of opinion than an indirect fundamentals-based measure. I demonstrated this point in 2012, when I used polls only to forecast the Presidency and all close Senate races. That year I made no errors in Senate seats, including Montana (Jon Tester) and North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), which FiveThirtyEight got wrong.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd sure <em>like</em> to believe this. PEC is my go-to political polling site, after all. But it sure doesn't <em>feel</em> like Democrats are in the driver's seat right now, does it? All of my political instincts scream that Wang's forecast is wrong.</p> <p>That's probably because I'm a pessimist by nature. But you either believe in poll aggregation or you don't. I do, and PEC has performed well in every election for the past decade. So just as I wouldn't "deskew" bad poll results I didn't like, I guess I won't try to second guess good poll results that don't seem quite right. If Wang thinks Democrats are currently favored to keep control of the Senate, then so do I.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:09:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 259376 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: "We Don't Have a Strategy Yet." http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/quote-day-we-dont-have-strategy-yet <!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_obama_tan_suit_2.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcriptpresident-obamas-aug-28-remarks-on-ukraine-and-syria/2014/08/28/416f1336-2eec-11e4-bb9b-997ae96fad33_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">From President Obama,</a> asked if he needs congressional approval to go into Syria:</p> <blockquote> <p>I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's not going to go over well, is it? Three years after the Syrian civil war started and (at least) half a year after ISIS became a serious threat in Iraq, you'd think the president might be willing to essay a few broad thoughts about how we should respond.</p> <p>Don't get me wrong. I think I understand what Obama is doing here. He's basically trying to avoid saying that we <em>do</em> have a strategy, and the strategy is to do the absolute minimum possible in service of a few very limited objectives. And generally speaking, I happen to agree that this is probably the least worst option available to us. Still, there's no question that it's not very inspiring. You'd think the brain trust in the White House would have given a little more thought to how this could be presented in a tolerably coherent and decisive way.</p> <p>In the meantime, "We don't have a strategy yet" is about to become the latest 24/7 cable news loop. Sigh.</p> <p>Oh, and the tan suit too. It's quite the topic of conversation in the Twittersphere.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Military Obama Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:31:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 259366 at http://www.motherjones.com In the Restaurant Biz, It Pays To Be a Man http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/restaurant-biz-it-pays-be-man <!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.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/08/28/chart-the-troubling-gender-pay-gap-in-the-american-restaurant-industry/" target="_blank">Via Wonkblog,</a> here's a chart showing the pay gap between men and women in the restaurant industry. It comes from a <a href="http://www.epi.org/publication/restaurant-workers/" target="_blank">recently released EPI report,</a> and as you can see, not only are men better paid in virtually every category, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_restaurant_pay.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">but the premium goes up for the highest paying jobs. Bussers and cashiers are paid nearly the same regardless of gender. But when you move up to cooks, bartenders, and managers, the premium ranges from 10-20 percent.</p> <p>This data isn't conclusive. There are other reasons besides gender for pay gaps, and the EPI report lists several of them. Whites make more than blacks. High school grads make more than dropouts. Older workers make more than younger ones. You'd need to control for all this and more to get a more accurate picture of the gender gap.</p> <p>But in a way, that misses the point. There are lots of reasons for the gender gap in pay. Some is just plain discrimination. Some is because women take off more time to raise children. Some is because women are encouraged to take different kinds of jobs. But all of these are symptoms of the same thing. In a myriad of ways, women still don't get a fair shake.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Sex and Gender Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:22:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 259336 at http://www.motherjones.com Mitch McConnell Doesn't Get to Decide if Republicans Will Threaten Another Government Shutdown http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/mitch-mcconnell-doesnt-get-decide-if-republicans-will-threaten-another-government <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Are congressional Republicans threatening once again to shut down the government this year unless they get their way on a bunch of pet demands? Over at TNR, <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119241/marco-rubio-mitch-mcconnell-arent-threatening-government-shutdown" target="_blank">Danny Vinik doesn't think so:</a> "There is no excuse for the news media to inflate the quotes of Republican politicians to make it seem that they are threatening to shut down the government again," he says. <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119247/republican-government-shutdown-over-immigration-real-threat" target="_blank">But Brian Beutler thinks Vinik is being too literal.</a> It's true that no one is explicitly using the word <em>shutdown</em>, but no one ever does. Still, he says, "the threat is clear."</p> <p>I'm with Beutler, but not because of any particular parsing of recent Republican threats. It's because of this:</p> <blockquote> <p>The truth is practically irrelevant to the question of whether [recent saber rattling] presages a government shutdown fight. Just as it doesn&rsquo;t really matter whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell actually has a government shutdown in mind when he promises to strong-arm Obama next year, or whether he intends to cave.</p> <p>In either case he&rsquo;s threatening to use the appropriations process as leverage to extract concessions. That's a government shutdown fight. <strong>And no matter how he plays it, he will unleash forces he and other GOP leaders have proven incapable of restraining. They can&rsquo;t control the plot.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. It's just not clear that McConnell has any real leverage over Ted Cruz or that John Boehner has any leverage over Michele Bachmann. Once they implicitly endorse the rider game, they cede control to the wingnuts. And the wingnuts <em>want</em> to shut down the government. Fasten your seatbelts.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress The Right Thu, 28 Aug 2014 16:15:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 259331 at http://www.motherjones.com Stock Buybacks Are a Symptom, Not a Disease http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/stock-buybacks-are-symptom-not-disease <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Paul Roberts writes in the <em>LA Times</em> today about <a href="http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-roberts-corporate-responsibility-20140828-story.html" target="_blank">stock buybacks:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Here's a depressing statistic: Last year, U.S. companies spent a whopping $598 billion &mdash; not to develop new technologies, open new markets or to hire new workers but to buy up their own shares. By removing shares from circulation, companies made remaining shares pricier, thus creating the impression of a healthier business without the risks of actual business activity.</p> </blockquote> <p>I agree: that statistic <em>is</em> depressing. In fact, back in the days of my foolish youth, when I dabbled a bit in stock picking, one of my rules was never to invest in a company that had done a share buyback. I figured it was a sign of tired management. If they couldn't think of anything better to do with their money than that, what kind of future did they have? Moving on:</p> <blockquote> <p>Share buybacks aren't illegal, and, to be fair, they make sense when companies truly don't have something better to reinvest their profits in. <strong>But U.S. companies do have something better: They could be reinvesting in the U.S. economy in ways that spur growth and generate jobs.</strong> The fact that they're not explains a lot about the weakness of the job market and the sliding prospects of the American middle class.</p> <p>....Without a more socially engaged corporate culture, the U.S. economy will continue to lose the capacity to generate long-term prosperity, compete globally or solve complicated economic challenges, such as climate change. We need to restore a broader sense of the corporation as a social citizen &mdash; no less focused on profit but far more cognizant <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_austerity_state_local_federal_spending_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">of the fact that, in an interconnected economic world, there is no such thing as narrow self-interest.</p> </blockquote> <p>I agree with some of what Roberts says about American corporations increasingly being obsessed with short-term stock gains rather than long-term growth. It's also true that stock buybacks are partly driven by CEO pay packages that are pegged to share price. Those have been standard complaints for decades. But it's misleading to suggest that US companies could be spurring the economy if only they'd invest more of their profits in growth. That gets it backwards. Companies will invest if they think they'll get a good return on that investment, and that decision depends on the likely trajectory of the macroeconomy. If it looks like economic growth will be strong, they'll invest more money in new plants and better equipment. If not, they won't.</p> <p>The macroeconomy doesn't depend on either companies or individuals acting altruistically. You can't pass a law banning stock buybacks and expect that companies will invest in plant expansion and worker training instead. They'll only do it if those investments look likely to pay off. Conversely, forcing them to make investments that will lose money does nothing for the economy except light lots of money on fire.</p> <p>You want companies to invest in the future? The first step is supporting economic policies that will grow the economy. If we were willing to do that, corporate investment would follow. If we don't, all the laws in the world won't keep the tide from coming in.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 15:42:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 259316 at http://www.motherjones.com Economy Doing Ever So Slightly Better Than We Thought http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/economy-doing-ever-so-slightly-better-we-thought <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The economy is doing ever so <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/gdp-expanded-at-4-2-rate-in-second-quarter-1409229416?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection" target="_blank">slightly better than we thought:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The agency had previously estimated the second quarter's growth rate at 4%, relying on incomplete data for international trade, inventories and other sectors.</p> </blockquote> <p>Nobody should mistake this for anything meaningful. Obviously it's better for GDP to be revised up than down, but this particular change is so small that it's not really noticeable. GDP growth for the first half of the year now clocks in at about 2.1 percent instead of 1.9 percent, but that's pretty anemic either way.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:58:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 259311 at http://www.motherjones.com Have We Reached Peak Kevin? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/have-we-reached-peak-kevin <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the <em>Guardian</em> today, Paula Cocozza writes about her effort to hunt down the origin of the phrase "peak X." She turned to linguist Mark Liberman, who runs the Language Log <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_matterhorn.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">blog, but he says <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/aug/27/have-we-reached-peak-peak-rise-ubiquitous-phrase" target="_blank">it's a hard idiom to track:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>There is some good news, though. Liberman remembers the first time he noticed the phrase. It was in 2008, when the US writer John Cole blogged that "we may have hit and passed Peak Wingnut", a derogatory term for rightwingers.</p> <p>Cole's post is nearly six years old, but can he recall what inspired the phrase? "I came up with 'peak wingnut' because I was shocked," Cole says. "The Republicans seemed to get crazier and crazier. The source of it is [US blogger] Kevin Drum. At the <em>Washington Monthly</em>, one of the things he was always talking about was peak oil."</p> <p>This comes as news to Drum, who now writes for the web magazine <em>Mother Jones</em>. He was not the only person writing about peak oil, of course, but he was the one Cole read. "I'm very proud of that," he says. "I had no idea that I had been so influential."</p> </blockquote> <p>So now I have three items for my future obituary: creator of Friday catblogging, popularizer of the lead-crime theory, and just possibly the kinda sorta inspiration for the Peak X meme. Not bad!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Energy Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:28:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 259256 at http://www.motherjones.com New Discovery Cuts Brainwashing Time in Half http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/scientists-make-momentous-advance-brainwashing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The frontiers of science <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/scientists-experiment-with-reworking-memory-in-mice-1409158818?mod=WSJ_hp_RightTopStories" target="_blank">continue to expand:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In experiments on mice, scientists rewired the circuits of the brain and <strong>changed the animals' bad memories into good ones.</strong> The rewriting of the memory wasn't done with drugs but by using light to control the activity of brain cells. While science is a long way from achieving a similar feat in people, it adds to a body of research that is starting to uncover the physiological basis of memory.</p> </blockquote> <p>Yes, I know what you're wondering. And the answer is yes:</p> <blockquote> <p>The researchers said they were able to do the opposite as well&mdash;<strong>change a pleasurable memory in mice into one associated with fear.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So I guess that wraps up both <em>Brave New World</em> and <em>1984</em> all in one nice, neat package. What could go wrong?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Science Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:43:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 259236 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Let's Just Drop a Few Bombs and See What Happens http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/quote-day-lets-just-drop-few-bombs-and-see-what-happens <!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.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/27/bill-kristol-bomb-isis_n_5721582.html?&amp;ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000021" target="_blank">From Bill Kristol,</a> during an appearance on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's show, bringing his megawatt analytic powers to bear on the problem of ISIS in Iraq:</p> <blockquote> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Bill_Kristol.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">What&rsquo;s the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don&rsquo;t think there&rsquo;s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that are going to be bad there.</p> </blockquote> <p>You can't make this stuff up. We liberals often accuse folks like Kristol of mindlessly advocating military action all the time, no matter what. But we're exaggerating, aren't we? Nobody literally wants to unleash an air campaign just to see what happens. Nobody just casually ignores the possible drawbacks. That's ridiculous! Why do we insist on juvenile caricatures like this?</p> <p>I don't know. Why do we?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Wed, 27 Aug 2014 16:45:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 259231 at http://www.motherjones.com White Privilege? What White Privilege? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/white-privilege-what-white-privilege <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's the latest from the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-charles-belk-beverly-hills-police-apologzie-20140826-story.html" target="_blank">annals of criminal justice in America:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Beverly Hills police officials said Tuesday that it was "extremely unfortunate" that officers handcuffed and detained an African American film producer who was in the city to attend a pre-Emmy party.</p> <p>Producer Charles Belk "matched the clothing and physical characteristics" of a suspected bank robber when he was pulled over by officers on Friday evening....&ldquo;Hey, I was &lsquo;tall,&rsquo; &lsquo;bald,&rsquo; a &lsquo;male&rsquo; and &lsquo;black,&rsquo; so I fit the description.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Come on, Charles! Buck up. Mistakes can happen. I'm sure the Beverly Hills PD would have treated a white guy who fit the description of a bank robber exactly the same way. In fact, I'll bet this happens <a href="http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/8/27/6074253/bill-oreilly-white-privilege" target="_blank">all the time to Bill O'Reilly.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Race and Ethnicity Wed, 27 Aug 2014 15:54:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 259226 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: The Federal Deficit Is In Pretty Good Shape These Days http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/chart-day-federal-deficit-pretty-good-shape-these-days <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>You already know this&mdash;don't you?&mdash;but just to refresh your memories, here's the <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/publication/45653" target="_blank">latest projection</a> of the federal deficit from the Congressional Budget Office. As you can see, <em>for the entire next decade</em> CBO figures that the deficit will be running at a very manageable 3 percent of GDP, right in line with historical averages. Be sure to show this to all your friends who are consumed with deficit hysteria. There's really not much reason to panic about this.</p> <p>Now, CBO's forecast doesn't take into account future booms or busts in the economy, since they can't predict those. And as the chart makes crystal clear, <em>that's</em> what causes big changes in the deficit. It's the economy, stupid, not runaway spending. When times are good, the deficit shrinks. When times are bad, it gets worse. If you really want to avoid big deficits in the future, stop obsessing about cutting spending on the poor, and instead spend some time obsessing about economic policies that will help grow the economy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cbo_deficit_august_2014.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 5px 3px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:51:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 259221 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama's Iraq Policy Has Been Pretty Masterly http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/obamas-iraq-policy-has-been <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm not a diehard supporter of Barack Obama's foreign policy. Some of his actions I just plain disagree with: the surge in Afghanistan, the enormous increase in drone use, his almost inhuman patience in putting up with Bibi Netanyahu's nearly open contempt for him. Then there are other actions of his that were arguably justifiable but have worked out less well than he hoped. However, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_national_security.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">they mostly represent very, very tough problems. And foreign policy is hard&mdash;especially now. Almost nobody gets even a small fraction of what they want out of it.</p> <p>That said, the relentless criticism of Obama's approach toward ISIS strikes me as unusually shortsighted. As near as I can tell, he's handled it almost perfectly so far. If we had offered air support to destroy ISIS six months or a year ago, it probably would have made things worse. Iraq flatly wasn't able to provide the ground troops to complement an air campaign, and America would have shared in the inevitable fiasco. We also would have been explicitly bound to Nouri al-Maliki and his policies, which were the very ones responsible for the rise of ISIS in the first place. The outcome of all this would have been the worst of all possible worlds for American interests.</p> <p>Instead, Obama allowed Maliki to fail on his own, and then used the leverage of promised American air assistance to engineer his ouster. Needless to say, this hardly guarantees eventual success against ISIS, but is there really any question that it was a necessary precondition for success? I don't think so. Maliki never would have left unless he was forced out, and it was plain that his brutally sectarian governing style was fueling the insurgency, not halting it. He had to leave.</p> <p>The alternative to Obama's strategy wasn't more aggressive action. That would have been disastrous. Nor would it have made a difference if Obama had left a few troops in Iraq back in 2009. Nor would stronger intervention in Syria have made a difference. It might even have made things worse. The truth is simpler. There's no single reason for the rise of ISIS, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/25/6065529/isis-rise" target="_blank">but there <em>is</em> a single primary reason:</a> Nouri al-Maliki. Obama saw that clearly and kept his eye on what was important, working patiently and cold-bloodedly toward engineering Maliki's departure. It was hardly a perfect plan, and messiness was always inevitable. Nonetheless, it was the best plan available. Because of it, there's now at least a chance of defeating ISIS.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Does "masterly" go too far? Maybe so. But I was trying to attract attention to my main point: the ISIS threat couldn't even be addressed until Iraq's political dysfunction was addressed first. Unlike a lot of people, Obama recognized that and stuck to a toughminded approach that focused on getting rid of Maliki instead of getting distracted by endless calls for a stronger intervention before Maliki was gone. It wasn't easy, but it was the smart thing to do.</p> <p>Can the new government fight ISIS more effectively? There's no way of knowing yet. But at least they've been given a chance.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Obama Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:00:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 259161 at http://www.motherjones.com Is Europe's Central Bank Finally Getting Worried About Deflation? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/europes-central-bank-finally-getting-worried-about-deflation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Brad DeLong notes that Mario Draghi, the head of Europe's central bank, went off text in his speech at Jackson Hole. Here's his summary of <a href="http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2014/08/an-interesting-ad-lib-from-ecb-head-mario-draghis-jackson-hole-speech-morning-comment.html" target="_blank">Draghi's extended ad-lib:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The speech text says:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>The ECB knows that inflation has declined.</li> <li>The decline in inflation has not led to any decline in expectations of inflation.</li> <li>THE ECB will, if necessary, within its mandate, use QE and other policies to keep expectations of inflation from declining.</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>The speech as delivered says:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>The ECB knows that inflation has declined.</li> <li>My usual line is that the decline in inflation is due to temporary factors that will be reversed.</li> <li>That explanation is now long in the tooth: the longer "temporary" lasts the greater the danger.</li> <li>In fact, it is too late to "safeguard the firm anchoring of inflation expectations".</li> <li>Inflationary expectations have already declined.</li> <li>We will use all the tools we have to reverse this.</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>Is this deviation a mere line wobble....Is this deviation an audience effect....Or does it signal a recognition on Draghi's part that the Eurozone is heading for a triple dip, and that if he doesn't assemble a coalition to do much more very quickly to boost aggregate demand we will have to change the name "The Great Recession" to something including the D-word, and he will go down in history as the worst central banker since the 1930s?</p> <p>I would like to know...</p> </blockquote> <p>I suppose we'd all like to know. The Germans better start taking this stuff seriously pretty soon. They can't stick their heads in the sand and live in the past forever.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:21:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 259156 at http://www.motherjones.com Wyoming Is Thinking About Accepting Medicaid Expansion After All http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/wyoming-thinking-about-accepting-medicaid-expansion-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Michael Hiltzik passes along the news that Wyoming's governor is the latest traitor to the cause of denying health care to poor people <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-another-gop-state-may-be-signing-up-for-medicaid-20140825-column.html" target="_blank">no matter what the cost:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The reason for Wyoming's wavering is clear: It's money.</p> <p>The Health Department says Medicaid expansion could save the state $50 million or more if it expands the program, for which the federal government will pay at least 90%. Meanwhile, Wyoming hospitals say they're losing more than $200 million a year in uncompensated care for people without insurance.</p> <p>The state Legislature has rejected the expansion, but Republican Gov. Matt Mead has been saying it's time to pack up. He's entering negotiations <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicaid_expansion.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">with the feds for a way to expand Medicaid next year, covering as many as 17,600 low-income residents.</p> </blockquote> <p>I imagine that before very much longer, most of the other Midwest holdouts will go ahead and accept Medicaid expansion too. That will leave only the hard-core holdouts of the Old South, where the poor are apparently especially undeserving. I guess there must be some kind of difference between poor people in the Midwest and poor people in the South. I wonder <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_African-American_population" target="_blank">what it could be?</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:54:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 259146 at http://www.motherjones.com Ukraine Claims it Has Captured Russian Soldiers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/ukraine-claims-it-has-captured-russian-soldiers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ukraine claims that it now has proof that Russian soldiers have been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/world/europe/ukraine.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LedeSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">involved in fighting on Ukrainian soil:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ukraine released video footage on Tuesday of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers, raising tensions as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for talks later in the day with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Petro O. Poroshenko.</p> <p>....The release of the videos and the high-level talks came a day after Ukraine accused Russia of sending an armored column across the border, prompting Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the United States ambassador to Ukraine, to express alarm on Twitter. &ldquo;The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway. #escalation,&rdquo; he wrote.</p> <p>....&ldquo;Everything was a lie. There were no drills here,&rdquo; one of the captured Russians, who identified himself as Sergey A. Smirnov, told a Ukrainian interrogator. He said he and other Russians from an airborne unit in Kostroma, in central Russia, had been sent on what was described initially as a military training exercise but later turned into a mission into Ukraine. After having their cellphones and identity documents taken away, they were sent into Ukraine on vehicles stripped of all markings, Mr. Smirnov said.</p> </blockquote> <p>This kind of thing represents a cusp of some kind. If it's true, Putin has to decide pretty quickly whether to gamble everything on an outright invasion, or whether to back off. If it turns out to be a Ukrainian invention, Putin has to decide whether to use it as a casus belli. These are dangerous times.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Apparently Russia has <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/26/russia-admits-soldiers-in-ukraine" target="_blank">admitted the soldiers are theirs:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Sources in Moscow have admitted that a number of men captured inside Ukraine were indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake...."The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.</p> </blockquote> <p>Uh huh. I suppose Putin will now claim that detaining the soldiers is an act of war unless they're immediately released.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Tue, 26 Aug 2014 14:18:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 259141 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's the Latest Right-Wing IRS Fantasy http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/heres-latest-right-wing-irs-fantasy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's a great example of the conservative media bubble at work. I was browsing The Corner a few minutes ago and came across a post telling me that the government has, rather astonishingly, acknowledged that it has <em>another</em> backup of Lois Lerner's missing emails. Judicial Watch, which has been trying to get hold of these emails, sent out a press release <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/386277/there-are-no-missing-lois-lerner-e-mails-justice-department-concedes-andrew-c-mccarthy" target="_blank">trumpeting its discovery:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner&rsquo;s emails, <strong>indeed all government <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_backup_tapes.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">computer records,</strong> are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe....This is a jaw-dropping revelation. The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner&rsquo;s missing emails....<strong>The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be&nbsp;&mdash; but dishonestly withheld this information.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well. That's fascinating. But I wondered what was really up. I went to Google News but all I found were links to conservative news sites. The Judicial Watch story was plastered over all of them: Forbes, The Blaze, NRO, Breitbart, Fox, Townhall, the Washington Examiner, the Free Beacon, and the New York Observer. But none of the usual mainstream news sources seemed to have anything about this.</p> <p>Except for <em>The Hill</em>. Hooray! <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/finance/215940-conservative-group-lerner-emails-arent-missing" target="_blank">So I clicked:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[An] administration official said Justice Department lawyers had dropped no bombshells last week, and that Judicial Watch was mischaracterizing what the government had said.</p> <p>The official said that Justice lawyers were only referring to tapes backing up IRS emails that were routinely recycled twice a year before 2013, when the investigation into the Tea Party controversy began....The administration official said that the inspector general is examining whether any data can be recovered from the previously recycled back-up tapes and suggested that could be the cause of the confusion between the government and Judicial Watch.</p> </blockquote> <p>Roger that. What he's saying is that backup tapes are routinely recycled and written over, but it's possible that some of the tapes weren't <em>entirely</em> written over. There's a chance that old emails might still be at the tail end of some of the tapes and could be recovered. And who knows: maybe some of them were Lerner's. This is, as you can imagine, (a) the longest of long shots, and (b) a pretty difficult forensic recovery job even if some parts of the backup tapes contain old messages. It's certainly not a jaw-dropping revelation.</p> <p>But in right-wing fantasyland, it's no doubt already become conventional wisdom that the feds have some kind of massive government-wide backup system that contains every email ever written by any federal employee. The Obama administration has just been hiding it.</p> <p>Which is exactly what you'd expect from them, isn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice The Right Tue, 26 Aug 2014 05:16:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 259126 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Congressmen and Crackpots http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/quote-day-congressmen-and-crackpots <!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://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/08/ryans-6-favorite-books-list-has-huge-omission.html" target="_blank">From Jon Chait,</a> responding to Paul Ryan's list of favorite books about economics and democracy&mdash;which notably fails to include his former favorite book, Ayn Rand's <em>Atlas Shrugged</em>:</p> <blockquote> <p>It seems the lesson Ryan has drawn from the harmful publicity surrounding his Rand fixation is not that he shouldn&rsquo;t associate himself publicly with crackpot <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_single_theory_professor.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">authors but merely that he should find different crackpot authors.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here is Chait's description of Jude Wanniski's most famous book, which earns a place on Ryan's list.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>The Way the World Works</em> is a novel argument that the entire history of the world can be explained by changes of tax rates. The fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Nazis &mdash; Wanniski attempts to explain it all as a result of taxes. It is a work of genuine derangement on the same intellectual level as the sorts of unpublishable hand-scrawled diatribes that I used to scan through when I sorted the mail as a magazine intern.</p> </blockquote> <p>But...but...but&mdash;look! Michael Moore!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:07:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 259116 at http://www.motherjones.com Yes, Republicans Really Are Unprecedented in Their Obstructionism http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/yes-republicans-really-are-unprecedented-their-obstructionism <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When we talk about Republican obstruction of judicial nominees in the Senate, the usual way is to look at filibusters and cloture votes. But that can sometimes be misleading, since cloture votes can happen for a variety of reasons. Or we can look at the raw number of seats filled. But that can be misleading too, since this can depend on how aggressive the president is about nominating new judges in the first place. A better way may be to simply look at how long nominees are delayed. That's easier to measure, and long delays mostly happen for only one reason: because the minority party is blocking floor votes.</p> <p>Via Jonathan Bernstein, <a href="https://twitter.com/Mansfield2016/status/503916980915937280/photo/1" target="_blank">the chart on the right comes from @Mansfield2016.</a> It shows pretty clearly what's happened to judicial nominees over the past couple of decades. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nominations_pending.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Under George HW Bush, nominees that made it to the Senate floor were voted on almost immediately. The majority Democrats waited only a few days to schedule a vote.</p> <p>That jumped suddenly when Bill Clinton became president and Republicans started delaying his nominees. Things settled down and delays plateaued during George W Bush's administration.</p> <p>And then came Barack Obama. Once more delays spiked. Even after the rules were changed, delays have stayed high, averaging about 80 days. This is far higher than it was under Bush or Clinton. <a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-08-25/catch-of-the-day-redefining-obstruction" target="_blank">Bernstein comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I believe that Senate rules requiring super-majority cloture for judicial nominations are an excellent idea, provided the minority observes the Senate norm of using filibusters rarely. Unfortunately, Republicans simply haven&rsquo;t abided by longstanding Senate norms. After Obama's election, <strong>they suddenly insisted that every nomination required 60 votes&nbsp;&mdash; an unprecedented hurdle.</strong> They blockaded multiple nominations to the DC Circuit Court. They have, before and after filibuster reform, used Senate rules to delay even nominations that they have intended ultimately to support. Since reform, they have imposed the maximum delay on every single judicial nominee.</p> <p>Ideally, I'd like to see a compromise that restores the minority's ability to block selected judicial nominees. <strong>But right now, the more pressing concern is that if Republicans win a Senate majority in November, they may simply shut down all nominations for two full years.</strong> That would be absolutely outrageous. Yet it seems entirely plausible.</p> </blockquote> <p>That final comment is what makes these numbers even more outrageous. It's fairly normal for a minority party to start delaying nominees in the final year or two of an administration. Obviously they're hoping to win the presidency soon and they want to leave as many seats open as possible for their guy to fill. This tends to inflate the average numbers for an administration.</p> <p>But that hasn't happened yet for Obama. His numbers <em>for his first five years</em> are far, far higher than Bush's even though Bush's are inflated by delays during his final year in office. It's just another example of the fact that, no, both parties aren't equally at fault for the current level of government dysfunction. Republicans greeted Obama's inauguration with an active plan of maximal obstruction of everything he did, regardless of what it was or how necessary it might be in the face of an epic economic collapse. No other party in recent history has done that. It's a new thing under the sun.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Mon, 25 Aug 2014 17:48:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 259096 at http://www.motherjones.com This Time Is Different http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/time-different <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I was chatting with a friend about the relentless, one-sided hawkishness on display yesterday on the morning chat shows, and he responded:</p> <blockquote> <p>The recurring "stay tuned for" loop are clips of McCain ("We never should have left"), Graham ("ISIS no longer JV"), Ryan ("What's the president's plan for eradicating ISIS?"). Over and over again. <strong>Nowhere are clips of people urging caution or restraint.</strong> War is great news, is action, is drama. Whether consciously or not, the media simply drives inevitably to pushing for a clash.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's really beyond belief. Israel invades Lebanon and gets Hezbollah out of the deal. We arm the mujahideen and get the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the deal. We depose Saddam Hussein and play kingmaker with Nouri al-Maliki, and we get ISIS out of the deal. But hey&mdash;this time is different. Really. <em>This time</em> we'll be done once and for all if we just go in and spend a decade wiping the theocratic butchers of ISIS off the map. <em>This time</em> there won't be any blowback. <em>This time</em> we'll fix the Middle East once and for all. <em>This time</em> things can't possibly get any worse. Right?</p> <p>Of course, the hawks always have Munich, don't they? Always Munich. And so we need to fight. We need troops. We need <em>leadership</em>. And no one with political aspirations really wants to argue the point. There's no future in siding with the thugs, is there?</p> <p>Besides, maybe this time really is different.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:42:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 259051 at http://www.motherjones.com Hating On Obamacare Not Really a Great Strategy for GOP Governors http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/hating-obamacare-not-really-great-strategy-gop-governors <!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_medicaid_expansion_reelection.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Does opposing Obamacare hurt you or help you if you're a Republican governor? To find out, Sam Wang took a look at nine Republican governors who were first elected in 2010 and are now running for reelection. The chart on the right tells the story. Governors who have resisted Medicaid expansion&mdash;a key part of Obamacare, and the one that most directly affects individual states&mdash;are generally doing poorly. Those who accepted Medicaid expansion are polling pretty well. However, Wang notes that <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/swing-states-is-obamacare-asset" target="_blank">Obamacare probably isn't entirely responsible for this divide:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Think of the Medicaid expansion as a &ldquo;proxy variable,&rdquo; one that is predictive of stands on many other issues. For example, even as Pennsylvania voters have trended toward the Democrats, Corbett got behind several radical redistricting schemes, cut education funding deeply, and compared gay marriage to incest. In Maine, LePage has called legislators idiots and state workers corrupt, told the N.A.A.C.P. to &ldquo;kiss [his] butt,&rdquo; and held multiple meetings with &ldquo;sovereign citizens&rdquo; who advocate secession. In short, if you&rsquo;re too hard-core or offensive, some of your constituents can get turned off.</p> <p>The Republicans Susana Martinez, of New Mexico, John Kasich, of Ohio, and Rick Snyder, of Michigan, look as strong as they did when they were first elected. All three accepted the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion....This stance by Martinez, Kasich, and Snyder has been predictive of their support of other issues with that have drawn support from both parties. Martinez and Kasich, for example, have pursued education-reform policies that have gained a lot of traction among both Democrats and Republicans. To the extent that governors hold on to their offices in close races, it may be because they have focussed on issues that are important to the voters in their states rather than the core views of their party.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, refusing the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a true-believing wingnut, and that's not such a great place to be right now. Conversely, accepting the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a pragmatic conservative, and those folks have remained relatively popular.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Health Care Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:40:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 259041 at http://www.motherjones.com Bonus Sunday Cat Blogging - 24 August 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/bonus-sunday-cat-blogging-24-august-2014 <!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 several queries about how Mozart is doing, and as you might expect, the answer is that Mozart is delighted with his new home. Last night at dusk he was leaping around in my mother's native habitat garden and chasing all the little things that only cats can see at dusk. Everyone else is doing fine too. So as a bit of bonus catblogging, here's my mother's entire brood. From top to bottom, we have Mozart, Ditto, and Tillamook. Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mozart_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ditto_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tillamook_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 24 Aug 2014 15:53:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 259036 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/friday-cat-blogging-22-august-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's Domino helping Marian with a bit of gardening in the front yard. The days may not be sunny and warm forever, so she's taking advantage of whatever ones are left to her.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_08_22.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 22 Aug 2014 18:55:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 258971 at http://www.motherjones.com Did Obamacare Wreck a Baseball Game? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/did-obamacare-wreck-baseball-game <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A few days ago, a Chicago Cubs game was called in the fifth inning after the grounds crew had so much trouble spreading a tarp that the field got soaked during a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wrigley_field.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">rain delay and play couldn't be continued. The Corner reveals <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/386050/report-obamacare-led-chicago-cubs-tarp-gate-ian-tuttle" target="_blank">what <em>really</em> happened:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Insiders at the ball club report that the real culprit is Obamacare. Because the Affordable Care Act requires offering health benefits to employees who work more than 130 hours per month or 30 hours a week (&ldquo;full time&rdquo;), the Cubs organization reorganized much of its staff during the off-season. Sources that spoke to the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em> claimed that, on Tuesday night, the crew was drastically &ldquo;undermanned.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. What do you think of that, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/its-hard-to-find-good-help-chicago-cubs-edition" target="_blank">Dean Baker?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.</p> </blockquote> <p>Quite so. My guess is that this is just another installment in the long-running effort of American corporations to use Obamacare as a scapegoat for everything under the sun. Usually this has to do with raising copays for their employees or something like that, but the ingenuity of American capitalism knows no bounds. Why not blame a rain delay on Obamacare too?</p> <p>For a more likely cause of penny pinching on the grounds crew, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/why-wrigley-field-is-suddenly-so-empty-1408578101" target="_blank">the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> has you covered.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Sports Fri, 22 Aug 2014 18:20:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 258961 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Welfare Reform and the Great Recession http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/chart-day-welfare-reform-and-great-recession <!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.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&amp;id=3566" target="_blank">CBPP has posted a series of charts</a> showing the effects of welfare reform on the poor over the past couple of decades. In its first few years it seemed like a great success: welfare rolls went down substantially in the late 90s while the number of <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tanf_great_recession_0.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">poor people with jobs went up. But the late 90s were a boom time, and this probably would have happened anyway. Welfare reform may have provided an extra push, but it was a bubbly economy that made the biggest difference.</p> <p>So how would welfare reform fare when it got hit with a real test? Answer: not so well. I added some red recession shading to the CBPP chart on the right, and as you can see, the Great Recession created an extra 1.5 million families with children in poverty. TANF, however, barely responded at all. There was no room in strapped state budgets for <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&amp;id=3566" target="_blank">more TANF funds:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The TANF block grant fundamentally altered both the structure and the allowable uses of federal and state dollars previously spent on AFDC and related programs. Under TANF, the federal government gives states a fixed block grant totaling $16.5 billion each year....<strong>Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997.</strong>&nbsp; State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more. To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995. That &ldquo;maintenance of effort&rdquo; requirement isn&rsquo;t adjusted for inflation, either.</p> </blockquote> <p>Welfare reform isn't a subject I know a lot about. I didn't follow it during the 90s, and I haven't seriously studied it since then. With that caveat understood, I'd say that some of the changes it made strike me as reasonable. However, its single biggest change was to transform welfare from an entitlement to a block grant. What happened next was entirely predictable: the size of the block grant was never changed, which means we basically allowed inflation to erode it over time. It also made it impossible for TANF to respond to cyclical economic booms and busts.</p> <p>Make no mistake: this is why conservatives are so enamored of block grants. It's not because they truly believe that states are better able to manage programs for the poor than the federal government. That's frankly laughable. The reason they like block grants is because they know perfectly well that they'll erode over time. That's how you eventually drown the federal government in a bathtub.</p> <p>If Paul Ryan ever seriously proposes&mdash;and wins Republican support for&mdash;a welfare reform plan that includes block grants which (a) grow with inflation and (b) adjust automatically when recessions hit, I'll pay attention. Until then, they're just a Trojan Horse for slowly but steadily eliminating federal programs that help the poor. After all, those tax cuts for the rich won't fund themselves, will they?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:04:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258926 at http://www.motherjones.com Obamacare May Not Be Popular, But Its Provisions Sure Are http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/obamacare-may-not-be-popular-its-provisions-sure-are <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Brian Beutler on the way health care reform is playing out in the <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119171/pryor-obamacare-ad-mcconnell-shutdown-threat-tell-midterm-story" target="_blank">Arkansas Senate race:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><span class="dropcap">T</span>he most interesting thing about Senator Mark Pryor&rsquo;s decision to tout his support for the Affordable Care Act in a well-financed, statewide television ad isn&rsquo;t that he stands apart from other embattled Democrats this election cycle. It&rsquo;s that Republicans scrambled to spin the story, insisting to reporters that Pryor couldn&rsquo;t possibly be running on Obamacare if he won&rsquo;t refer to the law by name.</p> <p>....Instead, Pryor says, "I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny [sic] coverage based on pre-existing conditions.&rdquo; Maybe he shouldn&rsquo;t have said anything about &ldquo;a law&rdquo; at all, but that&rsquo;s a niggling, semantic critique. That Republicans working to defeat Pryor are asking reporters to squeeze the word &ldquo;Obamacare&rdquo; into this sentence is an admission that they&rsquo;ve lost the policy fight. They criticize Pryor for eschewing the label, because the label&rsquo;s just about the only thing they&rsquo;re comfortable assailing.</p> </blockquote> <p>I suppose this isn't the biggest thing in the world, and as Beutler says, Republicans <em>did</em> manage to talk several reporters into mentioning this. So from their point of view, it's just savvy media strategy. Besides, the truth is that Republicans have always focused on only a few things in their critique of Obamacare. That's because polls have shown for years that most of the <em>provisions</em> of the law are popular even though support for the law itself is pretty shaky. This causes Republicans endless grief, since Democrats get to harass them relentlessly about whether they <em>oppose</em> closing the donut hole; whether they <em>oppose</em> subsidy assistance; whether they <em>oppose</em> guaranteed issue; and so on. Republicans can hem and haw about how they'd keep all this stuff and only get rid of the nasty taxes and mandates, but even the dimmer bulbs in the GOP caucus know perfectly well that this is untrue.</p> <p>In any case, other Democratic politicians have touted their support for specific provisions of Obamacare, so Pryor isn't really doing anything new. He's just being smart. He knows that denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions is extremely unpopular, even among conservative voters, and he'd love to draw his opponent into a debate about exactly that. Tom Cotton has so far refused to take the bait, pretending that he'd somehow keep that provision while repealing everything else. This is a bald-faced lie, of course, but if he sticks to that story like glue he can probably avoid any serious damage from Pryor's attacks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Health Care Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:56:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 258921 at http://www.motherjones.com