Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2012/12/rss/blogs_and_articles/feed http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en For a Week, Walter Palmer Is the Worst Human Being Ever in History http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/week-walter-palmer-worst-human-being-ever-history <!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_lion.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Max Fisher argues that the social media jihad against Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/30/9074865/cecil-lion-palmer-mob-justice" target="_blank">is wildly out of control:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Web users uncovered Palmer's personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The practice has since shut down. Users also went after professional websites that host his profile, leading the sites to remove his information. On Twitter and on his practice's public Facebook page, people made threats of physical violence.</p> <p>....Maybe you loved Cecil the lion, and believe that Palmer deserves all of this suffering. Maybe you believe that his family and employees also deserve to have their livelihoods threatened. But even if you believe that this particular mob made the correct decision in both identifying the targets and meting out punishments, the way its members reached these decisions &mdash; arbitrarily, based on what they thought would feel good to punish &mdash; should worry you.</p> </blockquote> <p>Social media is, famously, decentralized. With a few exceptions, this means that every individual blast at Palmer is just that: one person getting something off their chest. The problem is that there's no governor on a decentralized attack like this, no one leading the charge. That means it can easily spiral into a lynch mob regardless of whether anyone meant it to in the first place.</p> <p>But mob justice, Fisher says perceptively, "is not primarily about punishing the crime or the criminal, but rather about indulging the outrage of the mob and its thirst for vengeance. Sometimes that leads the mob to target people who perhaps legitimately deserve punishment, but typically it does not. And there is no reason to expect it to. That's not what mobs are about." That's right. Too often, mob justice is flatly misdirected, and even when it's not, it's frequently far out of proportion to the offense.</p> <p>Before the internet, for example, if a university student said something stupid, it would cause a few days of distress among a smallish group of people. Lesson learned. Young people say dumb things all the time. Today, <a href="http://gawker.com/5527355/meet-stephanie-grace-the-harvard-law-student-who-started-a-racist-email-war" target="_blank">if the student is unlucky,</a> it becomes a social media virus. Within a few days the entire world knows about it and the student is a pariah. This is far out of proportion to the offense. And it's even worse, as Fisher says, when the outrage is misdirected completely, as in the case of Sunil Tripathi's family, which was terrorized for weeks after the Boston bombing by a mob convinced he had been a part of the plot&mdash;which supposedly explained why he had gone missing. But it turned out that his absence was actually explained by something else: he had committed suicide.</p> <p>Maybe Walter Palmer deserves what he's gotten, maybe he doesn't. But I doubt the internet mob actually cares. It's just a spectacle, and when they get bored they'll train their sights on whatever the next shiny object is. Maybe it's somebody or something that deserves the spotlight. Maybe it's not. Who cares, right? I mean, have you seen the asshole in that video?</p> <p>In the end, I suppose this is yet another plea to tone down the volume on outrage culture, which has lately defined the internet more than either porn or cat videos. It's what I used to jokingly call the "death penalty for parking tickets" problem. Unfortunately, it's not so much of a joke anymore, because it turns out that Andy Warhol was wrong. Everybody doesn't get 15 minutes of fame these days. Instead, each week some randomly chosen schmo gets an onslaught of withering, life-destroying shame&mdash;whether they deserve it or not. It's not really an improvement.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 21:11:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 280971 at http://www.motherjones.com Will the Tea Party Shoot Itself in the Foot Yet Again? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/will-tea-party-shoot-itself-foot-yet-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Paul Waldman notes today that although Jeb Bush is substantively pretty conservative, his tone on the campaign trail has remained resolutely moderate and affable. Waldman explains how this leads to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/07/30/maybe-jeb-bush-doesnt-have-to-pander-to-the-right-wing-after-all/" target="_blank">Bush winning the nomination:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If you&rsquo;re Bush, your path to victory looks like this: Trump soaks up all the attention for a while, but eventually gets bored (and hasn&rsquo;t bothered to mount an actual campaign that can deliver votes), and either fades or just packs it in. <strong>Meanwhile, the conservative vote is split. Once the voting starts, the failing candidates will begin to fall away one by one. But by the time most of them are gone and their supporters have coalesced around a single candidate like Scott Walker, it&rsquo;s too late</strong> &mdash; Jeb has built his lead and is piling up delegates, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_tea_party_patriots.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">has all the money in the world, and can vanquish that last opponent on his way to the convention in Cleveland.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, a repeat of 2012, when all the hard-core conservatives split the tea party vote ten ways while Mitt Romney quietly vacuumed up the entire moderate vote. By the time Rick Santorum was the last tea partier standing, it was too late. Romney coasted to victory.</p> <p>This is the great conundrum of the tea-party wing of the Republican Party. What they <em>should</em> do is coalesce immediately around Scott Walker. He's the most plausible winner among the tea partiers, and if the race was basically between him and Bush from the start, there's a pretty good chance he could win. On the other hand, if he has to fight off a dozen challengers for months on end, it'll just be a rerun of 2012. He'll get a share of the tea party vote, but it won't be nearly enough to fend off Bush, who will have his own share of the tea partiers plus the vast majority of the moderate wing of the GOP, which is disgusted that their party has been taken over by loons. There are still quite a few of those folks around.</p> <p>I guess this is where a smoke-filled room would come in handy. This is a classic collective action problem, but without party bosses who can step in and take charge, there's really no answer to it. The tea-party candidates keep thinking that they can run and win because there are so many tea partiers among the Republican primary electorate. Unfortunately, there are too many of them who think so. The end result is that they tear each other to shreds and end up with John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. And then they whine and complain about how "the party" has betrayed the conservative cause yet again.</p> <p>This isn't inevitable, of course. It's possible that Walker or one of the other mean-boy candidates will break out and become the de facto tea party standard bearer. It's just not as likely as it should be. It's a shame the tea partiers can't get their act together, isn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 17:21:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 280951 at http://www.motherjones.com ISIS Is Losing the War, But That Doesn't Mean We're Winning It http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/isis-losing-war-doesnt-mean-were-winning-it <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Zack Beauchamp says that ISIS is losing the war. His evidence is the map on the right. ISIS may have taken over Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_isis_losses_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 27px 0px 15px 30px;">in Syria, but overall they've lost about 9 percent of the territory <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/30/9069705/isis-map-10-percent" target="_blank">they controlled at the beginning of the year:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This points to one of ISIS's most fundamental problems: It has too many enemies....ISIS's fighters might be skilled, but they can't fight everyone at once.</p> </blockquote> <p>True enough. What may be more interesting, though, is <em>who</em> they lost that territory to. Here are the numbers for territorial gains:</p> <ul><li>+11% &mdash; Syrian rebels</li> <li>+10% &mdash; Kurdish forces</li> <li>+4.5% &mdash; Iraqi government</li> </ul><p>In other words, Iraqi forces were responsible for less than a fifth of the total gains from ISIS. Add to that their humiliating loss in Ramadi, about an hour's drive from Baghdad, and there's still not much evidence that the Iraqi government has a clue about how to fight ISIS. It remains unclear how and when that will change.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:05:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 280946 at http://www.motherjones.com Today's Trivia Quiz http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/todays-trivia-quiz <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Quick trivia question: When was the last time one of the two major parties nominated a candidate for president who was neither a politician nor a former general?</p> <p>The prize for the winner is that they get to relax about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Such smart commenters! The answer is Wendell Wilkie, 75 years ago. He lost, of course.</p> <p>So who was the last person to <em>win</em> the presidency with no previous political or military experience? Answer: no one. The closest call is probably Herbert Hoover, whose only political experience before 1928 was eight years as the appointed Secretary of Commerce. And look what happened to him.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:18:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 280941 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: The Economy Continues to Plod Along http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/chart-day-economy-continues-plod-along <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>GDP was up in the second quarter, but our economy is still not exactly a house afire. Preliminary results indicate an increase of 2.3 percent:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_q2_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 8px;"></p> <p>The BEA explains where <a href="http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm" target="_blank">last quarter's growth came from:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The acceleration in real GDP growth in the second quarter reflected an upturn in exports, an acceleration in PCE, a deceleration in imports, and an upturn in state and local government spending that were partly offset by downturns in private inventory investment, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in federal government spending and a deceleration in residential fixed investment....<strong>Real personal consumption expenditures increased 2.9 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 1.8 percent in the first.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Really, the chart tells the whole story. As you can see, 2.3 percent growth is about....average since the recession ended. Not great, not horrible. Every time we manage to get into third gear for a little while, we hit a bump and end up back in second. It's now been eight years since the economy imploded, and we're still just muddling along. It's not clear what it will take to improve things.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:51:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 280936 at http://www.motherjones.com Opposition to Iran Nuclear Deal Just Keeps Getting Weirder and Weirder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/opposition-iran-nuclear-deal-just-keeps-getting-weirder-and-weirder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The congressional hearings into the Iran nuclear deal continue apace. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/who-wins-the-war-between-us-and-iran" target="_blank">Steve Benen</a> points us today to this lovely exchange between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:</p> <blockquote> <p><iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nrc0vxejqas" style="margin: -5px 0px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe><strong>Graham:</strong> Does the Supreme Leader's religious views compel him over time to destroy Israel and attack America?</p> <p><strong>Carter:</strong> I don't know. I don't know the man. I only &mdash;</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> Well let me tell you, I do. I know the man. I know what he wants. And if you don't know that, this is not a good deal.</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?</p> <p><strong>Carter:</strong> No. The United States.</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> We. Win.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it: (a) the Ayatollah unquestionably wants to destroy Israel and attack America, and (b) there is no doubt America would win this war. This sounds like mighty poor strategic thinking on the Ayatollah's part to me, since presumably he knows as much as Lindsey Graham about the relative military strength of Iran and the United States. But I guess his pesky religious views compel him to commit national suicide anyway.</p> <p>Now, you might be skeptical that Graham knows the Ayatollah as well as he thinks he does, or knows his religious views in any depth either. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, his apparent view of things still doesn't make sense. If the Ayatollah is as committed to war as Graham thinks, why would he bother with this deal in the first place? According to conservatives (I'm not sure what the CIA thinks these days), Iran is currently less than a year from being able to build a nuclear bomb. So why not just build a few and start the war? It can't be because the sanctions matter. If war is inevitable thanks to the Ayatollah's religious views, but America is going to win the war by reducing Iran to a glassy plain, who cares about a few more years of sanctions? Most Iranians are going to be dead a few hours after the war starts anyway.</p> <p>So....it's all still mysterious. Conservatives don't like the deal Obama negotiated. Fine. But we can't go back to the status quo. If we pull out of the deal, economic sanctions will decay pretty quickly and Iran will have lots of additional money <em>and</em> be a year away from building a bomb. The only other alternative is war. Graham is more open about this than most conservatives, but even he realizes he has to be cagey about it. He can't quite come out and just say that we should go to war with Iran before they build a bomb. So instead he tosses in an oddly pointless question about who would win a war between Iran and America. Why? Some kind of dog whistle, I guess. Those with ears to hear understand what it means: Graham wants to see cruise missiles flying. The rest of us are left scratching our chins.</p> <p>It all just gets weirder and weirder. The deal on the table, imperfect as it might be, doesn't restrict American freedom of action at all. Plus it has a pretty stringent inspection regime and would prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least ten years&mdash;probably longer. That's better than what we have now, so why not go ahead and sign the deal and then use the next ten years to figure out what to do next? What's the downside?</p> <p>I can't really think of one except that it makes a shooting war less likely over the next decade. I call that a feature. I guess Graham and his crowd call it a bug.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 29 Jul 2015 21:25:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 280911 at http://www.motherjones.com Millennials Living In Their Parents' Home Is Finally Starting to Taper Off http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/millennials-living-their-parents-home-finally-starting-taper <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Pew has a new report out showing that even five years after the recession ended, more young adults are living with their parents than before the recession. This is despite the fact that unemployment among 20-somethings has dropped dramatically. <a href="http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/07/29/more-millennials-living-with-family-despite-improved-job-market/" target="_blank">What's more, this trend is pretty widespread:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The decline in independent living since the recovery began is apparent among both better-educated young adults and their less-educated counterparts....This suggests that trends in young adult living arrangements are not being driven by labor market fortunes, as college-educated young adults have experienced a stronger labor market recovery than less-educated young adults.</p> <p>Trends in living arrangements also show no significant gender differences during the recovery. However, in 2015, 63% of Millennial men lived independently of family, compared with 72% of Millennial women. But a similar gender difference <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_young_adults_living_parents.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">existed during the Great Recession, and both young men and young women are less likely to live independently today than they were five years ago.</p> </blockquote> <p>But the news might not be quite as bleak as Pew suggests. Take a look at the arrows in the chart on the right. The upward trend in living at home continued to rise through 2013, but it finally began to drop a couple of years ago. That's not surprising since it's pretty likely that there's a certain amount of hysteresis in this phenomenon; that is, a lag between the economy improving and kids moving into their own places. This might be because wages remained low for several years after the technical end of the recession. It might be because higher debt levels took a while to pay down. It might be that it simply took a few years for recession-induced fear to end. Why move out if you're not sure the economy is really on a long-term roll?</p> <p>There's not much question that 20-somethings of this generation have it worse than my generation, which in turn had it worse than the previous generation. That means the recession hit them especially hard. But if these trends are right, it looks like optimism about work and income is finally starting to slowly improve. It's not great news, but it's good news.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:47:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 280881 at http://www.motherjones.com There's a New Planned Parenthood Video, But There's Just Nothing There http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/theres-new-planned-parenthood-video-theres-just-nothing-there <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Another day, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xw2xi9mhmuo" target="_blank">another video hit job on Planned Parenthood.</a> Apparently the strategy here is to release new videos every three or four days and hope that mere repetition is enough to convince people that something&mdash;<em>something</em>&mdash;must <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hand_drawing_hand.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">be wrong here. Over at <em>National Review</em>, <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/planned-parenthood-video-baby-hands-ian-tuttle" target="_blank">Ian Tuttle is disturbed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>At the 10:22 mark of the Center for Medical Progress&rsquo;s latest video, released today, there is a picture of a hand. By the curve of the thumb and the articulation of the fingers, one can see that it is a right hand. It was formerly the right hand of an 11.6-week-old fetus; it is now part of the various organic odds and ends being sifted through on a plate in the pathology lab of a Planned Parenthood clinic.</p> <p>....I keep calling it a hand. Maybe I shouldn&rsquo;t....But I see a hand &mdash; five fingers and lines across the joints, like you learn to sketch in art class. I see a hand in form no different from my own. Or no different from Horowitz&rsquo;s hands, or Edison&rsquo;s, or Michelangelo&rsquo;s.</p> <p>The most famous image Michelangelo painted was of hands: God&rsquo;s hand extended to Adam&rsquo;s....The sculptor Auguste Rodin spent much of his life fashioning hands....Rodin prefigured Heidegger&rsquo;s observation: &ldquo;My hand . . . is not a piece of me. I myself am entirely in each gesture of the hand, every single time.&rdquo;....Galen of Pergamon, the great Greek physician, in his treatise <em>On the Use of the Various Parts of the Body</em>, noted that to man alone had the Creator chosen to give the hand, the only instrument &ldquo;applicable to every art and occasion&rdquo;:</p> <p>....The gods, the arts, survival, history &mdash; all that we are has required, literally, many hands. In the hand, the whole man, and in the man, the whole cosmos.</p> <p>Now, in a pie dish, for sale.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's very poetic, but like the video itself, tells us nothing. Yes, Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue to medical research facilities. They charge enough to cover their costs, nothing more. Among the tissue they donate are hands. And this is not a sinister "black market," as the video claims: It's done in the open with the permission of the mother, and the tissue is transferred only to qualified researchers.</p> <p>The idea behind the video, of course, is that it's supposed to automatically trigger disgust in us. And it does. After all, most of us felt a little disgusted when we dissected frogs in 9th grade biology. It's just part of human nature, and the Planned Parenthood haters are smart to take advantage of it.</p> <p>But you know what? I'm an organ donor. I'm not sure my organs are actually safe for harvesting anymore, but if they are, then my body will be chopped up and used for its best and highest purpose when I'm dead. Some organs will be used for transplants, I hope. Some will be given to research laboratories. Some may end up as the raw materials for other stuff. If I were alive and watching, I'd probably feel pretty queasy. And yet, no one really blinks an eye at the routine job of harvesting organs and tissue from dead people who have given their permission.</p> <p>This is no different. It's every bit as altruistic and admirable as harvesting useful tissue from adults. Period.</p> <p>So far, the worst anyone has come up with from these videos is that some of the Planned Parenthood folks caught on tape used a "tone" that was unfortunate. Give me a break. This is the way any doctor talks among other health care professionals. They're experienced enough to talk plainly about their work in private, and they make jokes about it like any normal person. It's simply wrong to pretend that this is anything ominous.</p> <p>And that hand on the pie dish? Who knows? It might save someone's life someday.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> And I'll repeat what I said before. If you think abortion is murder, then of course you object to the use of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses. If you don't, then you think it's fine. There's nothing new going on here. It's just a slightly different twist on the same fight between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that's been going on for decades</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:57:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 280856 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Care Spending Growth Will Rise a Bit Over the Next Decade, But Only a Bit http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/health-care-spending-growth-will-rise-bit-over-next-decade-only-bit <!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_health_spending_growth.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">By coincidence, a new article in <em>Health Affairs</em> confirms an offhand guess I made a few days ago. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/medicare-cost-projections-are-down-stunningly-2015-report" target="_blank">I wrote,</a> "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)." <a href="http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2015/07/15/hlthaff.2015.0600" target="_blank">The <em>Health Affair</em>s researchers write:</a> "Recent historically low growth rates in the use of medical goods and services, as well as medical prices, are expected to gradually increase. However, in part because of the impact of continued cost-sharing increases that are anticipated among health plans, the acceleration of these growth rates is expected to be modest."</p> <p>As the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> notes, this is is similar to what <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-health-spending-growth-jumped-to-5-5-in-2014-1438114020" target="_blank">Medicare actuaries have been saying for a while:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The actuaries again Tuesday pointed to the stronger economy and aging population as the main factors in shaping Medicare&rsquo;s future spending.</p> <p>Prescription-drug spending, long a target of warnings from the insurance industry, drew particular attention from the actuaries, who pointed to a big rise in spending growth there as costly new specialty drugs such as Sovaldi, for hepatitis C, came on the market in 2014. Spending growth on pharmaceutical products jumped by 12.6% in 2014, up from 2.5% in 2013....In all, health care will comprise about a fifth of the U.S. economy by 2024, <strong>and the growth rate will exceed the expected average growth in gross domestic product by 1.1 percentage points.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So: good news or bad news? The bad news is that health care spending keeps increasing steadily. It's currently about 17 percent of GDP and will increase to about 20 percent of GDP over the next decade. The good news is that this is slow growth: only about 1.1 percent higher than overall economic growth. Any other time in the past 30 years we would have killed for a growth rate that low.</p> <p>There's probably no way to avoid health care costs growing at least a little faster than the rest of the economy. We keep making advances, and our revealed preferences are pretty clear on at least one point: we value health care highly and are willing to pay more for it even at the expense of other items. That probably won't be true forever, but it's true for now.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 29 Jul 2015 15:02:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 280846 at http://www.motherjones.com 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