Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/06/power-coal%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/category/lo-ultimo-en-musica%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/category/moda%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/2008/03/26/salma-hayek-wont-baptize-her-baby http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Boehner Planning to Pick Up His Ball and Go Home http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/boehner-planning-pick-his-ball-and-go-home <!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/images/Blog_US_Capitol_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Is it just me, or is this trick <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/house-gop-lawmakers-look-for-way-around-highway-funding-impasse-1438091252" target="_blank">getting a little old?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Boehner said the three-month [highway] bill could come up for a House vote on Wednesday. <strong>If the bill passes, the House would adjourn for an August recess Wednesday,</strong> a day earlier than previously planned, a House GOP aide said. That would leave the Senate to accept one of the two House highway bills or to immediately cut off federal reimbursements to states for transportation projects. The Senate will have a hard time completing its highway bill before Thursday.</p> </blockquote> <p>I need some scholarly help here. Has it been common in the past for one house to pass a bill and then immediately adjourn, leaving the other house with the option of either passing their bill or shutting down a chunk of government? Or is this something new that modern Republicans have discovered? Historians of Congress, please chime in.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 18:55:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 280791 at http://www.motherjones.com Unlike Dad, Rand Paul Is More Interested in Winning Than in His Principles http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/unlike-dad-rand-paul-more-interested-winning-his-principles <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Harry Enten tells us that Rand Paul <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/whats-wrong-with-rand-pauls-campaign/" target="_blank">isn't doing too well:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Something is awry at the Rand Paul campaign. The main super PAC supporting his presidential bid raised just $3.1 million in the first half of 2015....On Sunday, a new NBC News/Marist poll showed support for the Kentucky Republican declining to just 4 percent in New Hampshire (compared with 14 percent in February).</p> <p>....The more worrying problem for Paul is his favorability numbers: They&rsquo;re also dropping....Over the first five weeks of 2015, Paul&rsquo;s favorable rating averaged 62 percent among Republicans. Just 14 percent had an unfavorable view of him. Over the five most recent weeks, though, Paul&rsquo;s favorable rating has averaged 52 percent, with an unfavorable rating of 27 percent. His net favorability rating (favorable <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_rand_paul_stare.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">minus unfavorable) has dropped by nearly half, from +48 percentage points to +25 percentage points.</p> </blockquote> <p>Enten's question: "What&rsquo;s Wrong With Rand Paul&rsquo;s Campaign?" I think we all know the answer.</p> <p>Rand's father, Ron Paul, always attracted a fair amount of money and a fair amount of steady support. Not huge amounts, but respectable. The reason was that he was never seriously running for president. He just liked having a stage for his ideas, and since he wasn't trying to win, he could stay as true to his libertarian beliefs as he wanted. He had no need to waffle.</p> <p>But son Rand has bigger plans. He <em>is</em> seriously running for president, and that means he has to pay attention to the aspects of his political views that just aren't going to play well with important blocs of Republican voters. From the start he was never quite as pure a libertarian as dad, but now he's discovering that he can't even be as pure a libertarian as <em>he's</em> been in the past. So he waffles. He changes his views. He spends time looking at polls. He worries about saying things that will piss off the white evangelicals, or the elderly, or the pragmatic business set. The result is that the folks who admired him for his principled libertarianism are dropping him, while the rest of the Republican Party has yet to warm up to him. After all, he is the guy who said the ongoing chaos in Iraq was the fault of the Republican president who started the Iraq War, not Barack Obama. He's also the guy who wanted to eliminate aid to Israel. And he's the guy who wanted to gut Medicare for everyone&mdash;even the folks currently receiving it.</p> <p>He's kinda sorta changed his mind on all these things, but that makes him look like a sellout to the libertarian crowd and a opportunistic panderer to the tea party crowd. Is it any wonder his poll numbers have tanked?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:26:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 280781 at http://www.motherjones.com Fox's Poll Cutoff for the Republican Debate Works Better Than Rachel Maddow Suggested Last Night http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/foxs-poll-cutoff-republican-debate-works-better-rachel-maddow-suggested-last-nigh <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Last night Rachel Maddow invited Lee Miringoff, polling director for the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, to discuss the way Fox News is using polls to cut the Republican debate field down to ten candidates. Basically, both Maddow and Miringoff agreed that the whole thing was ridiculous because so many of the candidates on the right-hand tail were so close to each other. Is it really fair for a guy who polls at 3.2 percent to be on stage while a guy with 2.7 percent is kicked to the corner? After all, the margin of error is 3 percentage points. There might not really be any difference between the two.</p> <p>For some reason, Miringoff didn't push back on this. But he should have. There are two key bits of arithmetic they left out:</p> <ul><li>A typical poll has a 3 percent margin of error. But Fox News is averaging five polls. I don't know precisely what the margin of error is in this case, but it's probably somewhere around 1.5 percent.</li> <li>The margin of error goes down as you go farther out on the tails. If you have two candidates polling 51-49, you can use the standard margin of error. But for candidates polling at 2 or 3 percent? It's roughly half the midpoint margin of error.</li> </ul><p>Put these two together, and the true margin of error for all the also-rans is something like 0.7 percentage points. This doesn't entirely negate Maddow's point, since the difference between 10th and 11th place might still be less than that. But it does mean the results are a lot less random than she suggested. Assuming Fox does its poll averaging correctly, there's actually a pretty good chance that the top ten really are the top ten.</p> <p>That said, I wouldn't do the debate this way either. I'd rank all the candidates using the polling average, and then have one debate with all the even-numbered candidates and a second debate with all the odd-numbered candidates. Make it a 3-hour show with 90 minutes given to each group. What's so hard about that?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 15:14:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 280776 at http://www.motherjones.com Congress Just Can't Help But Fall In Love With a Nuclear Physicist http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/congress-just-cant-help-fall-love-nuclear-physicist <!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_ernest_moniz.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Maybe you could call this the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/07/28/ernest-moniz-is-blinding-lawmakers-with-science-on-iran/" target="_blank">revenge of the nerds?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>He&rsquo;s blinding them with science.</p> <p>Or intellectually charming them anyway. That&rsquo;s how Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz seems to be winning fans in the difficult fight to sell the Iran deal on Capitol Hill....Moniz, a nuclear physicist with mad-scientist hair, has already been credited as the administration&rsquo;s secret weapon in the lengthy negotiations to secure an Iran deal that will prevent the rogue country from securing a nuclear weapon.</p> <p>....Moniz can certainly lapse into the technical talk with aplomb &mdash; and when he gets to talking about the half-lives of isotopes and the detection technologies that will be deployed to survey Iran&rsquo;s suspected nuclear activities, he can leave his audience in the dust.</p> <p>But in the two years since Moniz became Energy Secretary, lawmakers have far more often noted and applauded the former professor&rsquo;s natural ability to translate complex scientific concepts into digestible terms.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's funny, in a way. Plenty of highly-qualified scientists have testified before Congress, and mostly they get treated as if they were balky university freshmen. But nuclear physics! That still has cachet. Start talking about the half-lives of isotopes and legislators swoon with admiration.</p> <p>Except for dumbest among them, of course, who can't tell the difference between an MIT-trained physics PhD and Dr. Phil. That, of course, would be Wisconsin's favorite son, Ron Johnson. He just wanted to talk about the danger of electromagnetic pulses. Nice work, Senator.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 14:23:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 280771 at http://www.motherjones.com Obamacare Rates In California Will Rise Only 4% in 2016 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/obamacare-rates-california-will-rise-only-4-2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Obamacare's moment of truth is coming. By now we've heard all the scare stories about a few health insurers in a few states requesting gigantic rate hikes for next year. But over the next few weeks, states are going to start publishing the <em>actual</em> average rate increases that consumers will see in 2016. <a href="http://www.coveredca.com/PDFs/7-27-CoveredCA-2016PlanRates-prelim.pdf" target="_blank">California released its report today.</a> It's still marked preliminary, but you can expect that the final numbers will be very close to these:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_california_obamacare_rate_increase_2015.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>I've highlighted two numbers. First, the overall average rate increase is 4.0 percent. That's way lower than you've seen in the scary headlines. And this is for a state that makes up more than a tenth of the country all by itself.</p> <p>Second, the price of the second-lowest-price silver plan has gone up 1.8 percent. This is the figure used to calculate subsidy levels, so it's an important one. In fact, here's an interesting consequence of that number: because subsidies will be going up roughly 1.8 percent, and the cost of the <em>lowest</em>-price silver plan is going up only 1.5 percent, the net cost (including subsidies) of buying the cheapest silver plan is actually going down. As you can see in the bottom row, if you shop for the lowest-priced plan, your premiums are likely to <em>decrease</em> about 4.5 percent.</p> <p>I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News.</p> <p>Now, California isn't necessarily a bellwether for all the other states. Because it's the biggest state in the union, it has lots of competition that helps drive down prices. A big population also means less variability from year to year. Also: California's program is pretty well run, and the California insurance market is fairly tightly regulated. All this adds up to a good deal for consumers.</p> <p>In any case, the headline number here is a very reasonable 4 percent increase in overall premiums, and a 4.5 percent <em>decrease</em> for consumers shopping for the cheapest plans. These are real statewide numbers, not cherry-picked bits and pieces designed to encourage hysteria. Once again, it looks like Obamacare is working pretty well.</p> <p>This all comes via Andrew Sprung, who has much more detail <a href="http://xpostfactoid.blogspot.com/2015/07/some-sidelights-on-covered-californias.html" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:28:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 280761 at http://www.motherjones.com Sorry Donald, Most Republicans Don't Actually Care That Much About Illegal Immigration http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/07/27/morning-plum-big-majority-of-gop-voters-favors-mass-deportation-poll-finds/?hpid=z2" target="_blank">Greg Sargent</a> has an item today noting that by a 63-34 percent margin in a <a href="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/07/26/72715cnnorc.pdf" target="_blank">new CNN poll,</a> Republicans believe the main focus of immigration policy should be stopping the flow of illegal immigration and deporting the illegal immigrants who are already here. No big surprise there. But when I clicked over to the poll itself I found a couple of things related to immigration that were kind of interesting.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_unauthorized_immigrant_population_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">First, CNN asked "Just your best guess, do you think the number of immigrants coming to the United States illegally has increased or decreased in the last few years?" Among Republicans, 83 percent thought it had increased. Granted, asking about the "last few years" is a little ambiguous, but if you assume at a minimum that it means less than a decade, then 83 percent of Republicans are woefully misinformed. As you can see from the <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/22/unauthorized-immigrant-population-stable-for-half-a-decade/" target="_blank">Pew data</a> on the right, the illegal immigrant population dropped considerably in 2008 and 2009 and has been basically flat ever since.</p> <p>(By the way, among Democrats 61 percent think immigration has increased. That's a little better, but still not exactly a proud moment in voter awareness. It isn't just Fox News that's keeping us all misinformed.)</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cnn_poll_important_issues_2015_07_27_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The second interesting question was one that asked about which issues were most important. This kind of thing always has to be taken with a grain of salt, but even so it's a little surprising how little Republicans actually care about immigration. For all the attention it's gotten from Donald Trump, only 9 percent said it was their most important issue, the lowest showing of any of the issues CNN asked about. The economy and terrorism/foreign policy were far and away the biggest worries among Republicans. Also surprisingly, health care didn't register very high either. The tea party may be yelling endlessly about the need to repeal the worst law since the Fugitive Slave Act, but among all Republicans, only a few rate it as a critical issue.</p> <p>So....immigration and Obamacare probably aren't going to be gigantic issues this year among Republicans&mdash;or in the general election. As usual, the economy will be #1, and #2 will probably be terrorism and foreign policy in general.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:32:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 280701 at http://www.motherjones.com Added Sugar Is Your Enemy, Not Aspartame http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/added-sugar-your-enemy-not-aspartame <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Why does anyone still choose sugared sodas over artificially-sweetened sodas? One reason is taste. If you don't like the taste of aspartame or saccharin, then that's that. Another reason might be a rare medical condition that makes you allergic (or worse) to certain artificial sweeteners.</p> <p>But that probably accounts for only a small fraction of the people who continue to drink sugared sodas. The rest are most likely convinced that artificial sweeteners are bad for you. But they're wrong. It's <em>sugar</em> that's bad for you. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/upshot/the-evidence-supports-artificial-sweeteners-over-sugar.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=mini-moth&amp;region=top-stories-below&amp;WT.nav=top-stories-below&amp;abt=0002&amp;abg=1" target="_blank">Aaron Carroll brings the research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the oldest artificial sweeteners is saccharin. Starting in the 1980s, Congress mandated that any product containing it be accompanied by the following: &ldquo;Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.&rdquo;....There was a problem, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_diet_coke.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">though. This link has never been confirmed in humans....<strong>Based on these newer studies, saccharin was removed from the carcinogen list in 2000.</strong> But by that time, opinions were set. It did little to make anyone feel safe.</p> <p>....Aspartame was introduced in the United States around the time that saccharin began taking a beating....But in 1996, a study was published in <em>The Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology</em> titled &ldquo;Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link to Aspartame?&rdquo; Most people ignored the question mark....There were any number of problems with this logic....Because aspartame was approved in 1981, blaming it for a rise in tumors in the 1970s seems impossible. Finally, much more comprehensive studies couldn&rsquo;t find links....<strong>A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe.</strong></p> <p>....But what about sugar?....Epidemiologic studies have found that even after controlling for other factors, <strong>one&rsquo;s intake of added sugars is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes,</strong> with a 1.1 percent increase in prevalence for each can of sugar-sweetened soda. A study following people for an average of more than 14 years published last year in <em>JAMA Internal Medicine</em> found that <strong>those in the highest quintile of added sugar consumption had more than twice the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease</strong> than those in the lowest quintile, even after controlling for many other factors.</p> </blockquote> <p>Anyway, that's what science says. Unfortunately, science also says that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney" target="_blank">presenting facts to people almost never changes their minds.</a> In fact, it can do just the opposite as people respond defensively to the notion that they've been wrong for a long time. So I suppose no one reading this is actually going to switch to diet sodas. Instead they'll cherry-pick studies that support their previous point of view. Or claim that all the studies exonerating artificial sweeteners are funded by big business and not to be trusted. Or perhaps make an outr&eacute; claim about how aspartame interacts with gluten and animal fat to produce....something or other.</p> <p>That's life, I guess. However, I suggest that you swamp Professor Carroll's inbox with all these insights instead of bothering me with them. He's the expert after all. Or, just switch to water. Then you won't have to worry about it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 16:51:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 280691 at http://www.motherjones.com Wait? The Robots Aren't Coming After All? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/wait-robots-arent-coming-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias laments that, contrary to scare stories in the media, robots <em>aren't</em> taking away our jobs. In fact, productivity has dropped steadily over the past few decades. That wouldn't be true if automation were taking away work while producing more goods and services.</p> <p>True enough. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/27/9038829/automation-myth" target="_blank">But what about the future?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Of course, all this <em>might</em> change. The power of Moore's Law &mdash; which states that the power of computer chips doubles roughly every two years &mdash; is such that the next five years' worth of digital progress will involve bigger leaps in raw processor power than the previous five years. It's at least <em>possible</em> that we really will have a massive leap <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_atlas_robot.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">forward in productivity someday soon that starts substantially reducing the amount of human labor needed to drive the economy forward.</p> <p>But robots are never going to take <em>all</em> the jobs.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have one question: Why not?</p> <p>There are a couple of possible answers to that question. The first is that we'll never manage to invent true AI, which will prevent robots from ever being able to perform a wide range of tasks that humans perform easily. The second is that we <em>will</em> invent AI, but....something something something. I don't really understand the second answer. I'll grant that humans might continue to be CEOs and legislators and a few other things just to make sure that we're still ultimately in charge of the world ourselves. And who knows? We might even decide that we prefer human art even if we can't tell the difference, the same way an original Rembrandt is worth a lot more than even a perfect copy.</p> <p>But that would still mean robots taking over 99 percent of the jobs. If you don't believe AI is coming anytime soon, then I understand why you think this will never happen. But if you <em>do</em> accept that AI is coming in the medium-term future, then why won't robots take essentially all the jobs? What exactly is it that they won't be able to do?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 15:58:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 280681 at http://www.motherjones.com China's Stock Market Back In Trouble http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/chinas-stock-market-back-trouble <!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_shanghai_stock_market_2015_07_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Thanks to government support, the Shanghai stock index has rallied for the past few weeks after a month of losses. Today it plummeted again, apparently due to the government withdrawing its support. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/asian-stocks-fall-pressured-by-weak-earnings-overseas-1437961185" target="_blank">From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Authorities may want to &ldquo;test whether the market has recovered its resilience,&rdquo; said Fu Xuejun, a strategist at Huarong Securities. &ldquo;The government wants to use state funds to stabilize the market, not to prop it back to 5000 points overnight.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Well, I guess that test didn't work. According to the <em>Journal</em>, Monday's drop came as a big surprise. "I am positive that we will see state support emerging again in the next two days," said Jacky Zhang. Maybe so. But if the fundamentals aren't there, even the Chinese version of government support can't keep things propped up forever. It's only a matter of time until we see the market plummeting again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 15:07:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 280671 at http://www.motherjones.com Donald Trump Explained in Four Words http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/donald-trump-explained-four-words <!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_donald_trump.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">If you want to understand Donald Trump&mdash;and I wouldn't blame you if you don't&mdash;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-goes-on-the-attack-again-with-scott-walker-as-the-latest-target/2015/07/25/c6727b44-3315-11e5-8f36-18d1d501920d_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">this paragraph from the <em>Post</em> should do it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>&ldquo;Finally, I can attack!&rdquo;</strong> Trump said at a packed rally at Oskaloosa High School. &ldquo;Wisconsin&rsquo;s doing terribly. It&rsquo;s in turmoil. The roads are a disaster because they don&rsquo;t have any money to rebuild them. They&rsquo;re borrowing money like crazy. They projected a $1 billion surplus, and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion. The schools are a disaster. The hospitals and education was a disaster. And he was totally in favor of Common Core!&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>In a private email, Walker supporter Gregory Slayton wrote, "As you've seen Gov Walker is now well ahead of everyone not named DumbDumb (aka Trump) in the national polls." <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/07/24/top-scott-walker-fundraiser-calls-donald-trump-dumbdumb/" target="_blank">The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> made the email public,</a> and that was that. Finally, Trump could attack.</p> <p>This is what he lives for. But only if he can pretend that the other guy started it. John McCain called his supporters crazies. Lindsey Graham called Trump a jackass. And now a Walker fundraiser called him DumbDumb. Finally! It must have been killing Trump to hold back on Walker until he had the appropriate casus belli.</p> <p>That's Trump. He lives for the fight. And despite being worth $10 billion (or whatever) he always manages to feel like he's the aggrieved party. If this reminds you of any particular bloc of voters, now you know why he's doing so well in the polls.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 26 Jul 2015 16:02:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 280651 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This has come up in comments a few times recently, so here's a quick update.</p> <p>Short answer: I'm fine.</p> <p>Slightly longer answer: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I didn't respond to the stem cell transplant, so we're trying a new chemo med. The good news is that I don't seem to be suffering any side effects so far. But it often takes more than a month for these things to show up, so we're not out of the woods yet. As for whether it's working, it will be several more months before we know.</p> <p>All that aside, I feel pretty good these days. Not totally back to normal, but 80-90 percent of the way there. I still have a bit of mild stomach nausea periodically, and my neuropathy shows no signs of going away, but my energy level is pretty good and I'm eating enough for two people. At the moment, my only real problem is that I'm tired from not getting enough sleep. But that's nothing to worry about. I've been taking sleep meds for the past six months, and wanted to wait until I was feeling better to get off them. That time has come, so I'm tapering off under my doctor's instructions. It's actually going better than I expected, but there's still a price to pay. Until my body gets back into the habit of falling asleep and staying asleep on its own, I'm going to be a little short on shuteye. With any luck, this will only last a few more weeks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 26 Jul 2015 00:54:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 280646 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Is Weird, Summer 2015 Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/republicans-weird-summer-2015-edition <!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_mike_lee.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">No, this isn't about Donald Trump. It's about Sen. Mike Lee of Utah&mdash;who plans to offer yet another amendment to repeal Obamacare, but this time with a special super-duper secret sauce added to the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/07/24/mike-lee-goes-for-nuclear-option-to-repeal-obamacare/?hpid=z5" target="_blank">upcoming highway funding bill:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Lee said he will try to re-offer the Obamacare repeal as <strong>a special amendment that is directly related to highway funding.</strong> Under Senate rules, amendments that are directly related, or germane, to the underlying legislation can pass with just 51 votes.</p> <p><strong>Lee knows that the chair of the Senate is likely to reject his logic that Obamacare repeal is germane to highway funding,</strong> so he plans to use the nuclear option. That means he will formally object to the ruling of the chair, which requires a 51-vote simple majority &mdash; then he plans to move on to the coveted simple majority vote.</p> <p>....If his plan works, Lee gets to tell his supporters that he&rsquo;s responsible for a major vote to kill the health care law he reviles. The House voted to repeal the law in February, so the two chambers could then theoretically conference the bills &mdash; leaving it up to Obama to veto a bill to kill his own signature policy achievement.</p> </blockquote> <p>So the plan is simple: have Republicans declare ex cathedra that repeal of Obamacare is germane to highway funding, and then pass Lee's amendment with 51 votes. It's brilliant! All that's missing are the sharks with lasers attached to their heads!</p> <p>Aside from being mind-numbingly stupid<sup>1</sup>, it also won't work. Democrats will just filibuster the entire highway bill, or else they'll vote for it and then Obama will veto the entire mess. Result: Obamacare stays in place but our highways continue to crumble into dust. Nice work, Senator! It's good to see that the Republican Party remains committed to the sober, responsible kind of leadership that makes our great nation the envy of the world.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>It's times like this that I regret the recent banishment of "retarded" from polite conversation. Because I think we all know that it's the word that really fits here.<sup>2</sup></p> <p><sup>2</sup>Though I suppose there's no reason to insult the developmentally disabled by comparing them to Mike Lee.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 25 Jul 2015 16:29:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 280641 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 24 July 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/friday-cat-blogging-24-july-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hopper and Hilbert like to (a) play-wrestle with each other, and (b) jump up on the fireplace mantel. Here they are doing both. Hopper has lately been taking control of these affairs, finally realizing that she's the real alpha cat in the household even if her brother is bigger. As she's finally figured out, being alpha is more about will and energy than about size, and she's got both. Nonetheless, you can see in this picture about how seriously she takes it.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2015_07_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 18:45:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 280566 at http://www.motherjones.com Cigna-Anthem Merger Might Not Be a Bad Deal for Consumers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/cigna-anthem-merger-might-not-be-bad-deal-consumers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>There used to be five big health insurance companies in the US. If the proposed Anthem-Cigna merger goes through, we'll be down to three. Is this a good thing? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/24/big-health-care-deals-are-creating-insurance-goliaths-is-that-good-for-consumers/" target="_blank">Wonkblog's Carolyn Johnson reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The effect on premiums are hard to predict, but are likely to be bad.</strong></p> <p>The question of how the mergers will affect card-carrying members is more complicated than it might seem. In general, consolidation in an industry leads to less competition and higher prices. Indeed, the few studies that have been <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cigna_anthem.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">done suggest that fewer insurers in the marketplace will mean higher prices.</p> <p>...."The premise of the merger for both of these transactions is that they can achieve cost savings and economies of scale, and they of course maintain that will lead to their ability to price even more competitively," said Richard Zall, chair of the health care department at Proskauer, a law firm. "It will take some time to see: 1) can they implement the mergers and achieve those savings and 2) is there still sufficient competition in the various markets that it won&rsquo;t lead to price increases?"</p> </blockquote> <p>Actually, it's not this simple. There are several things that make it hard to predict how this will shake out:</p> <ol><li>Health insurers do compete with each other, but even more they compete with providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, etc.). If there are multiple small insurers in, say, Kansas, then hospitals there have a lot of pricing power. If an insurer refuses to do business with a particular hospital, that puts them at a big disadvantage compared to their competitors and limits their leverage to negotiate lower prices. But if there are only one or two big insurers, it's the hospitals that are at a disadvantage since they can't afford to be out of their networks. In this case, insurers have much more leverage to negotiate lower prices.</li> <li>Unlike, say, diet colas, which are available everywhere, even big health insurers tend to be somewhat regional. This means there are some areas where there's literally only one insurer available. This obviously could put consumers at a disadvantage.</li> <li>However, Obamacare mandates a minimum "medical loss ratio" of 80 percent. Even if there's only one insurer in a county, they have to spend at least 80 percent of their premium dollars on actual health care. That number goes up to 85 percent for large group plans. So there's a hard limit on how much insurers can charge no matter who controls the market.</li> <li>Generally speaking, we liberals would prefer a system in which there was only <em>one</em> insurer: the federal government. There are various reasons for this, but one of them is that a single nationwide insurer would have enormous pricing power. This is sort of the ultimate version of item #1. Medical costs are overwhelmingly set by providers, not by insurers, and the more leverage insurers have, the lower prices are for consumers.</li> </ol><p>In other words, while I'd normally be opposed to such severe consolidation in an industry, it's a little trickier in this case. There are plenty of horror stories about health insurers, but when it comes to pricing, a smaller number of bigger insurers is probably a good trend. In the health care industry, the thing to be worried about is consolidation on the provider side. <em>That</em> would be bad for medical costs.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 18:08:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 280556 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary Clinton Takes Aim at Capital Gains Taxes for the Rich http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/hillary-clinton-takes-aim-capital-gains-taxes-rich <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports that Hillary Clinton's tax plan is <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/clinton-to-propose-rise-in-capital-gains-taxes-on-short-term-investments-1437747732" target="_blank">starting to take shape:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Hillary Clinton will propose a sharp increase in the capital-gains tax rate for the highest earners for investments held only a few years, a campaign official said Friday. Under the Clinton plan, investments held between one and two years would be taxed at the normal income-tax rate of 39.6%, nearly double the existing 20% capital gains rate.</p> <p>....The rate for top-bracket taxpayers would be set on a sliding scale, with the lowest rate applied to investments held the longest. To qualify for the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_capital_gains_distribution_tpc.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">existing 20% rate, one would have to hold an investment for at least six years.</p> </blockquote> <p>This change would apply only to high-income taxpayers and only to short-term investments. Lower-income workers would continue to get a break on capital gains taxes compared to the rate they pay on ordinary income. This is mostly for show, however: low-income workers barely have any capital gains income in the first place. The chart on the right <a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/key-elements/capital-gains/lower-rate.cfm" target="_blank">from the Tax Policy Center</a> shows the breakdown. Anyone making less than a six-figure income pays virtually no capital gains taxes, so changing their rates serves no purpose. It's only at the high end of the income spectrum that the preferential capital gains rate matters.</p> <p>Hillary's proposal will enrage conservatives, who are convinced that capital gains rates are the magic key to prosperity. Since there's <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/08/great-capital-gains-charade" target="_blank">virtually no evidence linking capital gains rates to economic growth, </a>the cynical among you might think that what really motivates their tireless advocacy of low rates is that it benefits the rich enormously. But that's only for the cynical among you.</p> <p>In any case, folks who make more than a million dollars a year are going to be pretty exercised about this, even though Hillary's proposal allows them to keep a modestly preferential rate for investments held longer than two years and the current super-preferential rate for investments held for six years or more. Still, details aside, the rich account for virtually all the capital gains taxes paid, and raising that rate in any way would hurt them considerably. These are also the folks who are donating vast sums to the Republican candidates, so you can be sure they'll be insisting that their favored candidate goes after this proposal hammer and tongs. But Hillary is right. There's little evidence that higher capital gains rates do much harm, and a fair number of reasons to actively prefer a higher rate. Jared Bernstein has more <a href="http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/pushing-back-on-quarterly-capitalism-and-incentivizing-more-investment/" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:43:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 280501 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's How to Stop Covering Donald Trump: Stop Covering Donald Trump http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/heres-how-stop-covering-donald-trump-stop-covering-donald-trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Message to everyone: You don't <em>have</em> to cover Donald Trump's every move. Honest. If you're going to whine and complain about how he's sucking all the oxygen out of the race, then <em>stop covering him unless he does something genuinely newsworthy</em>. Which actually isn't all that often.</p> <p>For God's sake, how hard can this be? If clickbait is all that matters to you, fine. But don't pretend you're being journalists if that's all that's driving you.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:00:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 280496 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary vs. the Press, Round One Million: The Times Screws Up a Scoop http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/hillary-vs-press-round-one-million-times-screws-scoop <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hillary Clinton's email travails are a genuine problem for her. At best, relying solely on her own server to handle email while she was Secretary of State shows bad judgment, and at worst it might have violated government rules. There's <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hillary_clinton_email.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">not much question this is going to dog her going into next year's election.</p> <p>That said, Jonathan Allen points out that the press is <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/24/9031511/clinton-rules-scoop-email" target="_blank">back to its old bad habits as well:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Clinton rules are in full effect again. This case would fall under the umbrella of No. 3: The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise. The <em>New York Times</em>, which got the scoop, rewrote its original story and is taking a beating from political observers and other media outlets for it. The first version said the inspectors general want a criminal investigation into Clinton's actions specifically, while the revised copy says they want the Justice Department to open a probe, more broadly, into whether the email was mishandled. It may turn out that Clinton is responsible for mishandling sensitive material, but the inspectors general didn't ask for an investigation into her, as the first version of the <em>Times</em> story said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here are the <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/07/24/1405261/-New-York-Times-dramatically-rewrites-a-new-Hillary-Clinton-email-story-after-midnight" target="_blank">two versions of the <em>Times</em> lede:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into <strong>whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled</strong> sensitive government information....</p> <p>&nbsp;Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into <strong>whether sensitive government information was mishandled</strong>....</p> </blockquote> <p>The second one is correct. <strong>[See update below.]</strong> The request is a very generic one, asking whether the State Department misclassified some documents, and criticizing it for "its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations." Aside from the fact that the buck stops at the top, there's nothing here that's specifically about Clinton. And yet, the <em>Times</em> writers originally made their lede all about Hillary, almost as if on autopilot.</p> <p>The feud between Hillary and the press is sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys: it's now so old, and so deeply ingrained, that it's almost impossible to tell who's more at fault. The press learned to deeply mistrust the Clintons during the 90s, sometimes with cause, and the Clintons learned to deeply mistrust the press at the same time, also sometimes with cause. The result is that Hillary does everything she can to shield herself from the press, and the press assumes that everything she does has some kind of sinister motive. Meanwhile, Republicans sit back and fan the flames, just as you'd expect them to.</p> <p>It's gonna be a grim 2016 campaign if this keeps up.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Actually, even the second one is wrong. It's not a criminal investigation. <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/report-hillary-clinton-criminal-probe-urged-by-inspectors-general-over-email-use-at-state-120571.html#ixzz3gpTJFQXg" target="_blank">From <em>Politico</em>:</a> "In an attempt to clarify reports, a Justice Department official said on Friday, 'The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information. It is not a criminal referral.' "</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:25:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 280486 at http://www.motherjones.com Uber vs. Taxis: Round 2 in the Big Apple http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/uber-vs-taxis-round-2-big-apple <!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.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/uber-vs-taxis-who-does-better-low-income-neighborhoods" target="_blank">On Monday</a> I passed along some news about a study of cost and wait times for Uber vs. taxis in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. In a nutshell, Uber was both cheaper and faster. Now, the same folks who did the LA study have done a quickie follow-up in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nyc_uber_vs_taxi_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">It's based on a very small sample&mdash;so treat it with caution&mdash;but it found that although Uber was no cheaper than New York cabs, the wait time for a car was significantly less. Plus this:</p> <blockquote> <p>Observations in which the taxi company refused to send a driver speak to the unreliability of dispatch taxi service in lower-income and geographically dispersed community districts of New York City. <strong>Of the total number of attempted dispatch taxi rides, the company was unable to send a driver within 30 minutes 38% of the time.</strong> Although it is possible these specific taxi companies did not serve the boroughs of Brooklyn or Queens except when dropping off or picking up a rider from the airport, this lack of clear information contributes to the difficulty riders new to the city generally or merely a particular part of the city face when attempting to travel around the city via car service.</p> </blockquote> <p>The full report is <a href="http://botecanalysis.com/portfolio-post/uber-v-taxi-in-brooklyn-and-queens-twice-as-fast-but-no-cheaper/" target="_blank">here.</a> As with the LA report, it was funded by Uber.</p> <p>It's worth noting&mdash;though it should be obvious&mdash;that nothing in this report addresses various other concerns about Uber: pay and working conditions for drivers, regulatory compliance, privacy issues, etc. It's just data about one specific thing: how Uber compares to cabs on the metrics of price and convenience.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:15:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 280481 at http://www.motherjones.com Surprise! EPA's New Power Plant Rules Aren't Going to Destroy America After All. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/surprise-epas-new-power-plant-rules-arent-going-destroy-america-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there's one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Coal_Train.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">It turns out they <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/californiadream/2012/09/20/what-does-history-say-about-the-costs-and-benefits-of-environmental-policies/" target="_blank">aren't really all that expensive after all.</a> The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?</p> <p>Apologies for the spoiler, but can you guess what's happening now that President Obama's new carbon rules for power plants are about to take effect? Mitch "War on Coal" McConnell has been issuing hysterical warnings about these regulations for years, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-new-epa-regulations-looming-some-states-gain-from-coals-free-fall/2015/07/23/80001208-2c93-11e5-bd33-395c05608059_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">but the <em>Washington Post</em> reports that</a>&mdash;sorry, did you say something? You've already guessed, have you?</p> <blockquote> <p>More striking is what has happened since: Kentucky&rsquo;s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule &mdash; something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort....&ldquo;We can meet it,&rdquo; Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA&rsquo;s mandate.</p> <p>The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency....Despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.</p> <p>Iowa is expected to meet half of its carbon-reduction goal by next year, just with the wind-power projects already planned or in construction. Nevada is on track to meet 100 percent of its goal without additional effort, thanks to several huge &shy;solar-energy farms the state&rsquo;s electricity utilities were already planning to build. From the Great Lakes to the Southwest, electric utilities were projecting huge drops in greenhouse-gas emissions as they switch from burning coal to natural gas &mdash; not because of politics or climate change, but because gas is now cheaper.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s frankly the norm,&rdquo; said Malcolm Woolf, a former Maryland state energy official and now senior vice president for Advanced Energy Economy....&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve yet to find a state that is going to have a real technical challenge meeting this.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Try to contain your surprise.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 04:13:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 280476 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Not Just Social Security Anymore. Jeb Bush Wants to Destroy Medicare Too. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/its-not-just-social-security-anymore-jeb-bush-wants-destroy-medicare-too <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Republicans have been talking for years about "reforming" Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they'll love it so much that, um, Republicans don't dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients. Or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There's a lot of blah blah blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It's only younger workers, who don't pay as much attention and have been brainwashed&mdash;by conservatives&mdash;into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP's reformed<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Ry_fRjLyE68" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe> version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right?</p> <p>But I've never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now. Here's Jeb Bush:</p> <blockquote> <p>A lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and <strong>move to a new system that allows them to have something&mdash;because they&rsquo;re not going to have anything.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Boom! If we don't gut Medicare, <em>they'll have nothing.</em> When they turn 65 they'll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn't it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it's something, after all.</p> <p>Jesus. You'd think we were Greece. Oh wait&mdash;these guys <em>do</em> think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.</p> <p>In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for <a href="http://ssa.gov/oact/TR/2015/II_D_project.html#120073" target="_blank">Social Security</a> and <a href="http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/Downloads/TR2015.pdf#page=26" target="_blank">Medicare.</a> If they're correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That's about 3 percent of GDP more than we're spending now.</p> <p>So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can't afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would&mdash;what? I don't even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?</p> <p>Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That's it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:12:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 280451 at http://www.motherjones.com Picture of the Day: El NiƱo Is Coming, and It's a Big 'Un http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/picture-day-el-nino-coming-and-its-big-un <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here it is: <a href="http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">surface sea temperature anomalies</a> caused by this year's super El Ni&ntilde;o. There are two major hot spots: off the coast of Peru, where water is upwards of 4&deg;C warmer than usual, and off the coast of Seattle, where water is about 3&deg;C warmer than usual. Buckle up, folks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_el_nino_2015.jpg" style="margin: 25px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:07:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 280391 at http://www.motherjones.com Benghazi Committee Now Aiming Its Popguns at Iran Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/benghazi-committee-now-aiming-its-popguns-iran-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Back when Trey Gowdy was appointed to lead the House Select Committee on Benghazi, a friend of mine told me I should withhold judgment for a while. Gowdy might be a true believer conservative, but he wasn't a hack like Darrell Issa. His committee might actually do a fair job.</p> <p>I was skeptical, but I didn't really know much about Gowdy except for his captivatingly unkempt hair (since cleaned up a bit, sadly). So I waited. Before long, the committee was leaking snippets of testimony taken out of context, a favored tactic of Issa. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trey_gowdy.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Then it seemed to morph into a full-time attack machine aimed at Hillary Clinton. And now, just to prove that things can always get stranger, Gowdy has inserted himself into the Iran nuclear deal.</p> <p>It turns out that Gowdy wants to interview John Kerry's chief of staff, Jon Finer. No problem. However, the State Department told Gowdy that Finer wouldn't be available next Tuesday because he had to accompany Kerry to a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the Iran deal. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/benghazi-committee-takes-aim-iran-deal" target="_blank">Steve Benen picks up the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Kerry&rsquo;s chief of staff, Jon Finer, has <em>actual work to do</em> and needs to be available to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The State Department made clear to Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), in writing, that it &ldquo;will not be possible&rdquo; for Finer to speak to the Benghazi panel on July 28.</p> <p>So, Gowdy scheduled a meeting and demanded that Finer appear on July 28. If he has a relevant role to play in helping address concerns over the nuclear deal, too bad.</p> <p>When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders created the House Select Committee on Benghazi, critics predicted a ridiculous escapade that would do little to shed light on the deadly terrorism, and would instead become a sad, partisan spectacle.</p> <p>Republicans appear to have gone out of their way to prove the critics right. It didn&rsquo;t have to be this way.</p> </blockquote> <p>The funny thing about this is that for all the damage Republican investigations did to Bill Clinton in the 90s, their encore performance has gone miserably. In the Obama era, committee after committee has bombed. Fast &amp; Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, net neutrality, the IRS, and dozens more: all have petered out with hardly enough to make Obama blush, let alone do him any real damage. The fact is that Obama has run a remarkably clean administration, and Republicans just can't stand it. They just <em>know</em> that the socialist-in-chief is scheming to destroy America if only they can dig up the evidence. So they keep digging maniacally.</p> <p>But the digging goes nowhere, because there's no there, there. I don't think they'll ever admit it, though.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 15:47:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 280346 at http://www.motherjones.com Yet More Magical Unicorn Thinking From Right Wing on Iran Nuclear Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/yet-more-magical-unicorn-thinking-right-wing-iran-nuclear-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've been waiting for a while now for a plausible conservative alternative to President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, and Max Fisher informs me today that Michael Oren has stepped up and done just that <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/07/what-a-good-iran-deal-would-look-like-120424.html#.Va8tZhNViko" target="_blank">in the pages of <em>Politico</em>.</a> Except for one thing: the increasingly unhinged former ambassador to the US may have a plan, but it's about a million miles from plausible.</p> <p>You should read Fisher's whole post, but I'm going to skip the long preamble and get straight to Oren's proposal. Here it is:</p> <blockquote> <p>Israel would have embraced an agreement that significantly rolled back the number of centrifuges and nuclear facilities in Iran and that linked any sanctions relief to demonstrable changes in its behavior. No more state support of terror, no more threatening America&rsquo;s Middle Eastern allies, no more pledges to destroy the world&rsquo;s only Jewish state and no more mass chants of "Death to America." Israel would have welcomed any arrangement that monitored Iran&rsquo;s ICBMs and other <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_magic_unicorn.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">offensive weaponry. Such a deal, Israeli leaders across the political spectrum agree, was and remains attainable.</p> </blockquote> <p>That would be great, of course. But not exactly plausible. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/23/9016971/iran-deal-michael-oren" target="_blank">Here's Fisher:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>All of these are politically impossible and, in some cases, physically impossible....Try to imagine a US negotiator actually asking for this. "The inspections procedures of uranium mines look good here, and we are satisfied with the limits on centrifuge research and development. But we require a binding commitment that no one in your political system will speak certain combinations of words about Israel anymore." <strong>We might as well demand that Iran give us a unicorn that we can ride all the way to Candy Mountain.</strong></p> <p>....Is it really worth blowing up a historic nuclear deal &mdash; one that will substantially and verifiably limit Iran's nuclear program, with global cooperation &mdash; over the possibility that one of the Iranian ayatollahs might not be legally forbidden from saying the wrong words?</p> <p><strong>These are poison-pill demands, and very lazy ones at that. They are not designed to be implemented, but rather to raise the political bar for any nuclear deal beyond what can be achieved.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And what about sanctions? Surely the other countries that are parties to the deal would quit in disgust if the US demands were as ridiculous as Oren suggests they should be. Indeed they would, but Oren says that if they drop out we should threaten to sanction <em>them</em>. Fisher: "This is indeed a specific proposal. But it is also insane. Oren is arguing that Obama should threaten to blow up the world economy, including America's own economy, just to secure some vague improvements to the Iran deal."</p> <p>Fisher is right: this is nuts. It's basically just an excuse not to ever conclude a deal with Iran, and instead to (a) keep sanctions in place forever and (b) bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Some plan. The first part is impossible, and the second part would do little except to convince Iran to redouble its efforts to build a bomb.</p> <p>But I guess this is what passes for sounding tough in conservative land. God help us.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:59:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 280341 at http://www.motherjones.com No, Smartphones Aren't Responsible for the Drop in Teen Sex http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/no-smartphones-arent-responsible-drop-teen-sex <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at Wonkblog, we learn that American teenagers are having less sex than they used to. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/22/why-american-teenagers-are-having-much-less-sex/" target="_blank">But why?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Crotchety adults may joke: <em>Maybe they&rsquo;re too busy messing with their iPhones.</em></p> <p>That&rsquo;s actually a decent theory, said Dr. Brooke Bokor, an Adolescent Medicine Specialist at the Children's National Health System. More teenagers than ever have smartphones....Many are more comfortable searching in private for credible information about sexual health....They could be better educated about the risks.&rdquo;</p> <p>....Another possible driver of the sexual slowdown is the growing popularity of the HPV vaccine, which is now widely offered to boys and girls as young as 11. The shots, of course, come with an educational conversation. Kids <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teens_reporting_intercourse.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">learn earlier about the prevalence of STIs and how they're spread.</p> </blockquote> <p>Alert readers will understand immediately not only why these <em>aren't</em> decent theories, but why they're ridiculous ones. In case you need a hint, it's in the chart on the right.</p> <p>As you can see, the percentage of teens who report ever having intercourse has been dropping since the late 80s, and dropped especially sharply during the 90s. There were no smartphones in the 90s. There was no HPV vaccine in the 90s. No matter how appealing these theories might be at first glance, neither is even remotely credible as an explanation for the decline in teen sexual activity.</p> <p>So what's the answer? How about video games? Or hip hop? Or energy drinks? I have no evidence for any of these, and clean-living adults might be scandalized at the idea that any of them could have tangible benefits, but they're all better theories than smartphones or the HPV vaccine. At least the timing fits decently.</p> <p>These provocations aside, I suppose you're now expecting me to get serious and suggest that the decline in childhood lead exposure is responsible for the drop in teen sex. Maybe! There is, after all, some evidence that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/unleaded-gasoline-and-teen-pregnancy" target="_blank">reduced lead exposure is associated with the drop in teen pregnancy</a> over the past few decades, and it's reasonable to suspect that less teen pregnancy might be the result of less teen sex. But there are at least two problems with this. First, pregnancy rates can go down even if sex doesn't, simply due to more widespread use of birth control. Second, the data on teen sex comes from the CDC, and their <a href="http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/beh4.asp" target="_blank">cohort breakdown</a> doesn't seem to fit the lead theory. In particular, the percentage of ninth graders reporting sexual experience didn't start dropping until 2001, and if lead is responsible you'd expect the youngest cohort to drop earlier than older cohorts. At first glance, then, I'm not sure lead explains what's going on. But it might. I'd just need to see more and better data to be sure.</p> <p>In other words: we don't really know for sure why teen sex is down. What we <em>do</em> know is that on a whole range of measures&mdash;crime rates, pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, cigarette smoking, math and reading proficiency, high school completion&mdash;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/05/teenagers-are-no-longer-scary-delinquents-30-years-ago" target="_blank">teenagers have become better behaved over the past couple of decades.</a> They just aren't as scary as they used to be. That's a little hard to take if you're a social conservative who's convinced that liberal values are destroying America, but it's true nonetheless. And good news too.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 03:55:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 280326 at http://www.motherjones.com Medicare Cost Projections Are Down Stunningly in 2015 Report http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/medicare-cost-projections-are-down-stunningly-2015-report <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>As long as we're on the subject of annual trustees reports, <a href="http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/TrusteesReports.html" target="_blank">the 2015 Medicare report was released today too.</a> And if the Social Security report was slightly good news, the Medicare report is, once again, spectacularly good news. Here's the 75-year spending projection from ten years ago vs. today:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicare_trustees_2015.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.</p> <p>Six percent! That's half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn't spectacular, I don't know what is.</p> <p>The 2005 projection was based on past performance, which showed costs rising ceaselessly every year. That turned out to be wrong. This year's projection is also based on past performance, which shows that costs have flattened substantially since 2008. Will it turn out to be wrong too? Come back in 2025 and I'll tell you.</p> <p>In any case, this illustrates the big difference between cost projections for Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is basically just arithmetic. We know how many people are going to retire, we know how long they're going to live, and we know how much we're going to pay them. Do the math and you know how much the program will cost us. It can change a bit over time, as projections of things like GDP growth or immigration rates change, but that happens at the speed of molasses. There are very few surprises with Social Security.</p> <p>Medicare has all that, but it also has one more thing: the actual cost of medical care. And that's little more than an educated guess when you start projecting more than a decade ahead. Will costs skyrocket as expensive new therapies multiply? Or will costs plummet after someone invents self-sustaining nanobots that get injected at birth and keep us healthy forever at virtually no cost? I don't know. No one knows.</p> <p>Beyond that, it's always foolish to assume that costs will rise forever just because they have in the past. Medicare is a political program, and at some point the public will decide that it's not willing to fund it at higher levels. It's not as if it's on autopilot, after all. We live in a democracy, and after lots of yelling and fighting, we'll eventually do something about rising medical costs if we simply don't think the additional spending is worth it.</p> <p>Still, the news for now is pretty good. I happen to think the slowdown in medical costs is real, and will continue for some time (though not at the extremely low rates of the past few years). For more on this, see <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/05/our-amazing-slowdown-healthcare-spending-growth" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/06/longer-look-medical-inflation" target="_blank">here</a>, and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/08/medicare-costs-down-down-down" target="_blank">here</a>. Others think it's a temporary blip due to the recession, and big increases will return in a few years. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 21:16:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 280301 at http://www.motherjones.com