Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en White-Collar Coup in Brazil Becomes Ever More Coup-Like <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_romero_juca.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I haven't had much to say about the recent impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Roussef, but today comes evidence that certainly makes it look ever more like a white-collar coup designed to keep a whole lot of people out of jail. When Roussef was impeached, vice president Michel Temer took over, and now Temer's right-hand man&mdash;planning minister Romero Juca&mdash;has gotten the plotters in some very hot water. For reasons that are a little fuzzy, Sergio Machado, a former oil executive, recorded a conversation <a href="" target="_blank">he had in March with Juca:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The recordings were allegedly made secretly by Machado who, like Juca, is the target of an investigation into massive embezzlement centred on state oil company Petrobras.</p> <p>In the conversations, <strong>Juca is heard calling for a "national pact" that he appears to suggest would stop the investigation,</strong> known as Operation Car Wash, in which dozens of top-ranking politicians from a variety of parties, as well as business executives, have been charged or already convicted for involvement in the Petrobras scheme.</p> <p>In comments immediately taken up by Rousseff and her supporters as evidence for her claim that the impeachment process is a coup in disguise, Juca said: "We need to change the government to stop this bleeding."</p> <p><strong>"I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it,"</strong> he said. He also said that he has been clearing his plans with justices on the Supreme Court, which oversees impeachment proceedings.</p> </blockquote> <p>Juca says his comments are being taken out of context, which is what I'd probably say too if I were in his shoes. However, since the entire transcript of the conversation has been leaked to the newspaper <em>Folha de Sao Paulo</em>, that doesn't seem like a defense likely to hold water.</p> <p>So why did Machado record this conversation? He's the former head of Transpetro, Brazil's largest oil and gas transport company, and is under investigation over his alleged involvement in the Petrobras scandal. <a href="" target="_blank">From the BBC:</a> "The newspaper alleges he recorded the conversations with a view to negotiating a plea bargain, wanting to exchange information implicating other suspects for a lower sentence."</p> <p>No honor among thieves, I guess.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 May 2016 15:30:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 304726 at Trumpapalooza for May 23, 2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A while back I asked how to handle the fire hose of Donald Trump news, and one suggestion was to ignore it during the day and then put all of it into a single end-of-the-day roundup. I'm not sure this is a viable long-term solution, but let's give it a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trumpapalooza.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">try. Here's the Trumpapalooza for May 23, 2016:</p> <p><u><strong>Global Warming</strong></u></p> <p>Publicly, Trump has made it clear that he thinks global warming is a hoax. But when it comes to building a sea wall to protect one of his golf courses, <a href="" target="_blank">it turns out he's a true believer:</a> "If the predictions of an increase in sea level rise as a result of global warming prove correct," his company says in a letter, "it could reasonably be expected that the rate of sea level rise might become twice of that presently occurring....As a result, we would expect the rate of dune recession to increase."</p> <p><u><strong>Wall Street</strong></u></p> <p>Trump apparently isn't quite as plugged into the world of the rich and powerful <a href=";_r=1" target="_blank">as he thinks:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If there were any prevailing doubts of his stature on Wall Street, Mr. Trump said the chief executive at Deutsche Bank could easily allay it. &ldquo;Why don&rsquo;t you call the head of Deutsche Bank? Her name is Rosemary Vrablic,&rdquo; he said in the recent interview. &ldquo;She is the boss.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ms. Vrablic is a private wealth manager at Deutsche Bank in New York. <strong>She is not the company&rsquo;s chief executive;</strong> John Cryan holds that role. Both declined to comment on Mr. Trump.</p> </blockquote> <p><u><strong>Energy Policy</strong></u></p> <p>Trump recently met with Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, <a href="" target="_blank">and had a question for him:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>During the meeting, Murray said Trump had asked him about numerous facets of U.S. energy policy. At one point, Murray said he would suggest lifting obstacles to opening liquefied natural gas, or LNG, export facilities to reduce the supply glut of natural gas in the country.</p> <p>He said that Trump was agreeable with the idea, but then had a question. <strong>"What's LNG?"</strong> Murray said Trump asked.</p> </blockquote> <p><u><strong>Rape</strong></u></p> <p>Josh Marshall says that if Trump is going to dredge up groundless old rape accusations against Bill Clinton, it's time to ask him some questions about <a href="" target="_blank">his own past sexual conduct:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Trump's former wife Ivana said Trump raped her in a sworn deposition. Given how central a role rape accusations have played in Trump's campaign&nbsp;&mdash; against Mexicans, political opponents, etc. it is clearly a highly germane question, as frankly it would be for any presidential candidate.</p> <p>The details surrounding the alleged rape are bizarrely novelistic even by Trumpian standards. <strong>According to Ivana, Trump was driven to freakish rage by a failed anti-baldness surgery&nbsp;&mdash; a so-called 'scalp reduction'.</strong> But the actions are very clear cut. According to her deposition, Trump flew into a rage, attacked her, held her down and began pulling hair out of her head to mimic his pain and then forcibly penetrated her....This was a pretty concrete and specific [accusation]. And the author of the book that first surfaced the deposition said he'd found numerous friends of Ivana's who she had confided the incident to at the time.</p> </blockquote> <p><u><strong>Vince Foster</strong></u></p> <p>The right-wing fever swamp has long believed that Vince Foster, a deputy White House counsel in the Clinton administration, didn't commit suicide on July 20, 1993. Rather, Hillary Clinton had him murdered and then ordered his body dragged to Fort Marcy Park, where he was found the next day. Even by conservative standards this is both fantastical and repulsive (Foster was a good friend of Hillary's). Naturally, <a href="" target="_blank">that didn't stop Trump:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When asked in an interview last week about the Foster case, Trump dealt with it as he has with many edgy topics &mdash; raising doubts about the official version of events even as he says he does not plan to talk about it on the campaign trail. <strong>He called theories of possible foul play &ldquo;very serious&rdquo; and the circumstances of Foster&rsquo;s death &ldquo;very fishy.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>&ldquo;He had intimate knowledge of what was going on,&rdquo; Trump said, speaking of Foster&rsquo;s relationship with the Clintons at the time. &ldquo;He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.&rdquo; He added, &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t bring [Foster&rsquo;s death] up because I don&rsquo;t know enough to really discuss it. I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don&rsquo;t do that because I don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s fair.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>There was also some polling news, but who cares about polls in May?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 May 2016 03:29:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 304711 at Conservatives Win Pyrrhic Victory in Facebook War <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Facebook has caved in to conservative demands that it revamp its Trending Topics feed. Brian Fung describes <a href="" target="_blank">how the algorithm works:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>To be considered for a place in the Trending Topics portion of the site, a topic must generally be mentioned 80 times per hour or more. Facebook takes steps to exclude repeated events that don&rsquo;t constitute news, such as the hashtag &ldquo;lunch,&rdquo; <strong>which usually produces more activity during lunchtime,</strong> the company said in its letter.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm glad to see that Facebook is on top of this. However, I suspect that conservatives are going to be disappointed in the results. Facebook has agreed to stop using external news sites to help it decide which topics are truly trending, and this is likely to have two effects: It will make the Trending Topics feed (a) stupider and (b) more liberal. After all, if you rely entirely on Facebook users, you're relying on an audience that skews young and college educated. How likely is it that this will favor stories about Agenda 21 and Benghazi?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 May 2016 01:47:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 304706 at Bernie Sanders Officially Admits He Lost <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bernie Sanders <a href="" target="_blank">gets tossed a bone today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Top Bernie Sanders supporters Dr. Cornel West and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) will be among those on the Democratic Party's important Platform Drafting Committee after the Vermont senator won a key concession as he looks to leave his mark on the party's platform. The roster of the drafting committee, released by the Democratic National Committee on Monday, <strong>reflects the party's agreement that Sanders would have five supporters on the committee, compared to six for Hillary Clinton.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>First off: If Bernie has officially agreed to accept five out of 11 members on the Platform Committee, isn't that a tacit admission that he's already lost the nomination?</p> <p>But also: Does anyone care about the platform? Seriously. I know it's a big fight every four years, but does either party platform ever have any effect at all on the election?</p> <p>And as long as we're talking about Bernie, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels write today that his supporters <a href=";_r=0" target="_blank">don't actually support his lefty politics:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a survey conducted for the American National Election Studies in late January, supporters of Mr. Sanders...were less likely than Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s supporters to favor concrete policies that Mr. Sanders has offered...<strong>including a higher minimum wage, increasing government spending on health care and an expansion of government services financed by higher taxes.</strong></p> <p>....Mr. Sanders has drawn enthusiastic support from young people, a common pattern for outsider candidates. But here, too...the generational difference in ideology seems not to have translated into more liberal positions on concrete policy issues &mdash; even on the specific issues championed by Mr. Sanders. For example, <strong>young Democrats were less likely than older Democrats to support increased government funding of health care, substantially less likely to favor a higher minimum wage and less likely to support expanding government services.</strong> Their distinctive liberalism is mostly a matter of adopting campaign labels, not policy preferences.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's interesting, if not especially surprising. We're all basically tribalists at our cores. Except for you and me, of course.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 May 2016 00:03:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 304701 at Quote of the Day: The Conservative Fight to Become First Gnat <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From conservative Jim Geraghty</a> on the ongoing spat between right-wingers about who's selling out to whom in the great Facebook War of 2016:</p> <blockquote> <p>I&rsquo;m pretty darn sure that throwing around accusations of gutlessness and useful idiocy are far more about deciding who should be deemed First Gnat than they are about actually changing behavior in Silicon Valley.</p> </blockquote> <p>The ostensible subject of this war is whether Facebook is deliberately suppressing conservative stories in its Trending Topics feed. A bunch of conservatives met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about this, and when it was all over Glenn Beck praised Zuckerberg for listening while Tucker Carlson insisted that Beck was a Zuckerberg toady. It went downhill from there.</p> <p>But here's what gets me. Unless I've missed something, this entire squabble is based on the claims of one (1) anonymous former member of the team responsible for Trending Topics. That's it. Am I wrong about this? Has there been any other serious evidence one way or the other about Facebook's alleged bias? Are conservatives really rending their garments over something so thin?</p> <p>Of course, we liberals are going through the same thing on a larger scale in the current war between Hillarybots and Berniebros (or whatever we call them these days). But at least that's tediously normal, since it happens every time Democrats are competing for the White House. I recommend that conservatives go back to fighting over Donald Trump. At least that matters.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 May 2016 21:30:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 304691 at Universal Health Care Is Probably No More Popular Now Than It's Ever Been <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Harold Pollack says that Bernie Sanders has <a href="" target="_blank">started a political revolution:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Not enough of one to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but enough to put the dream of single-payer health care back on the national political agenda in a way few would have expected five years ago....Just this week, <a href=";g_medium=newsfeed&amp;g_campaign=tiles" target="_blank">Gallup released a poll</a> indicating that "58% of U.S. adults favor the idea of replacing [the Affordable Care Act] with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans." <em>Politico Magazine</em> reports that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sanders_medicare_for_all.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Sanders&rsquo;s health plan "is the most popular of the three remaining candidates."</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd be thrilled about this if it were true, but I have my doubts. The problem is that Americans have a long history of supporting things in the abstract but not so much when they become concrete partisan proposals. Take Obamacare. In 2013, a <a href="" target="_blank">CNBC poll</a> showed 37 percent unfavorability toward the "Affordable Care Act," but 46 percent toward "Obamacare." In 2014, a <a href="" target="_blank">Morning Consult poll</a> showed 71 percent support for offering Medicaid to all adults under the poverty line, but only 62 percent support for expanding Medicaid "as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act." A <a href="" target="_blank">Marist poll</a> in Kentucky showed 57 percent disapproval of Obamacare but only 22 percent disapproval of kynect&mdash;Kentucky's version of Obamacare. And of course, we have <a href="" target="_blank">years of polling</a> showing that lots of people like nearly all the individual elements of Obamacare, but then turn around and insist that they hate Obamacare itself.</p> <p>As for universal health care, a <a href="" target="_blank">Harris poll</a> last September found 63 percent approval. A <a href="" target="_blank">Kaiser poll</a> in December found 58 percent support for Medicare-for-all. <a href="" target="_blank">Gallup polls</a> going back 15 years show higher support for government guarantees of health care during the Bush years than they do now.</p> <p>So color me skeptical that Bernie Sanders has really had much effect on the health care debate. Gallup's poll last week didn't so much as breathe the word "taxes," and if it did, support for the universal health care option would sink like a stone. Americans have long had mixed feeling about universal health care, and those feelings are deeply tied up in partisan attitudes and willingness to pay. Unfortunately, Sanders doesn't seem to have moved the needle on this at all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 May 2016 19:08:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 304666 at Please. Enough With the Schmooziness Theory of Presidential Power. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I was pretty gobsmacked last night watching Norah O'Donnell's interview with Obama chum Valerie Jarrett. O'Donnell has been covering politics for a long time, but she nonetheless badgered Jarrett for <em>nine consecutive questions</em> about <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jarrett_odonnell.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">whether Obama is a failure because he's not friendly enough with congressional Republicans. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's her side of the interview:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Norah O'Donnell: Valerie, this is probably one of the last big fights of the president's term in office. And he can't even get Senate Republicans to give him a hearing. Most Republicans won't even meet with Judge Garland. Does that say something about President Obama's inability to reach across the aisle? To have friends on the other side?</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: But in two terms, seven years, why hasn't the president been able to find a Republican that he can call up and say, "Help me out on this"? Does he have any Republican friends?</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: Isn't that part of the president's job? Is to convince people on the opposite side to do something like this? To get a judge up on the Supreme Court?</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: So since the president doesn't have a personal relationship with Republicans, instead you're gonna go to the American people and put political pressure on them? It's a campaign? It's a political campaign--</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: Isn't politics about schmoozing, though? And isn't politics about friendship?</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: Maybe they don't feel welcome here.</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: But Valerie, it's front page news when the Republicans come here to the White House. That shouldn't be front page news.</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: This has nothing to do with the president's style of leadership, or his ability to reach across the aisle?</p> <p>Norah O'Donnell: It's all the Republicans' fault?</p> </blockquote> <p>I'll give O'Donnell a break only this far: Valerie Jarrett is one of the toughest interviews in Washington. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone as relentlessly on message as Jarrett and as unwilling to provide any actual information. So maybe O'Donnell figured that repeated badgering was the only way to break her down.</p> <p>It didn't work, though, because she was asking about something so patently dumb. As Jarrett said repeatedly, what's going on with Merrick Garland has precisely nothing to do with Obama's schmoozing or lack thereof. Hell, Republicans themselves say the same thing. They have nothing against Garland and nothing new against Obama. They just don't want to allow another liberal onto the Supreme Court. End of story. They make no bones about it.</p> <p>More generally, the idea that Obama's problems with Congress have to do with schmooziness betrays a truly puerile view of politics. It's remarkable that there are reporters out there who are apparently still in thrall to this nonsense.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 23 May 2016 15:02:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 304616 at Sunday Goose Blogging - 22 May 2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As promised, here's our local crop of Canada goose babies. First up, this is one of the goslings that we originally saw a few weeks ago. As you can see, he's going through those traumatic teenage weeks. But I'm sure he'll get over it and grow up to be a majestic, honking adult:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_geese_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p> <p>And here comes the brand new crop of babies:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_geese_2.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p> <p>Aren't they adorable? But I'll tell you something: I'll never complain about photographing the cats again. These little guys are <em>hard</em>. You can't get too close or else the mama geese get upset. So that means using the longest zoom setting on the camera. And these goslings zigzag along relentlessly. Keeping them in focus and in the middle of the viewfinder is tricky business. But I succeeded a few times:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_geese_3_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p> <p>Here's a couple of them taking a (very) short break from the grueling task of eating whatever it is they're eating.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_geese_4.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p> <p>Finally, breakfast is over and it's nap time under the watchful eye of mama.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_geese_5.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 May 2016 17:39:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 304601 at Evil Dex For the Win! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Evil Dex is becoming eviller. Or perhaps more cunning. As you already know if you obsessively follow every word I write, my doctor recently switched me to a lower dose of dexamethasone. I now take only 12 mg once a week, so my sleeping should be less disrupted. Right?</p> <p>Well...not so much. The problem is that the effects of dex accumulate over time, so it becomes hard to predict exactly how it's going to work. In my case, it takes 4-5 hours to kick in and lasts for about 36 hours. But I'm taking a lower dose! So on Friday I decided to try taking it in the morning. On the bad side, that meant it would be at full strength by bedtime. On the good side, it would be worn off completely by Saturday night.</p> <p>So I took the dex in the morning and then took a double dose of sleep meds at bedtime. Remarkably, this had no effect. None. I was up all night and only barely a little drowsy. This accounts for the late night blogging (remember to subtract three hours when you look at the time stamps on my posts). The silver lining to this is that my experiment had extremely clear results, so next week I'll go back to taking the dex at night.</p> <p>So why the headline? You may recall that <a href="" target="_blank">a couple of weeks ago</a> I promised you pictures of our Canada goose babies. That turned out to be harder than I expected. I found them again once, but the pictures I took were pretty so-so. After that, they just weren't around. But yesterday, since I was up at 6 am anyway, I figured I'd go out and see if they were active in the morning. And they were! So later this morning I'll regale you with a photo album of adorable Canada goslings. Never say that this isn't a full-service blog.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 May 2016 14:00:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 304596 at What's So Great About 401(k)s, Anyway? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>After I wrote my <a href="" target="_blank">Thursday post on 401(k) plans,</a> I got a fair amount of pushback. Essentially it boiled down to "What's so good about them compared to old-style pensions? Why not just get rid of them and expand Social Security instead?"</p> <p>The answer to the second question is simple: 401(k)s are meant as supplements to Social Security. If we want to expand Social Security, that's fine. But that's <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_401k_nestegg.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">no reason not have additional options to save privately for retirement.</p> <p>Fine. But why 401(k)s? What <em>is</em> so good about them? The basic answer, of course, is that they're set up to encourage monthly contributions in a hassle-free way and the money you contribute is tax-deferred. Beyond that, though, there are several advantages that a 401(k) plan has over a traditional pension. Here are five:</p> <ul><li>401(k) plans are portable. They begin accumulating immediately (or close to immediately) when you start a new job, and if you leave your job your 401(k) comes with you. This isn't true of old-style pensions.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>If you want, you can withdraw your 401(k) as a lump sum when you retire. This can be handy if you want to use a portion of your retirement savings for a single large purchase, like a house or a motor home.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>If you die early, your kids will inherit your 401(k). They won't get a dime from Social Security or an old-style pension. This may or may not be something you personally care about, but a lot of people do.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>The main drawback of a 401(k) is that it's risky: since you don't know how long you'll live, you can never be sure how much you can safely withdraw each year. But in 2014 the Treasury issued <a href="" target="_blank">guidance</a> that made it easier for 401(k) owners to allocate all or part of their contributions into an annuity fund that pays out steadily upon retirement.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>Annuities are getting better, but it's still true that you have to be pretty careful selecting one. Some are bad deals. But there's another way to effectively annuitize your 401(k) without paying a dime: delay your Social Security retirement age. Here's how it works.<br><br> More and more people are retiring at age 62, but this reduces your Social Security payment by about 20 percent compared to retiring at age 65. For example, a $2,000 monthly Social Security payment would be reduced to $1,600 if you retire at 62.<br><br> Instead, use your 401(k) to fund your retirement from 62 to 65. In this example, it would require a final 401(k) balance of about $72,000 or a little less. You'd draw out $2,000 per month and then, at age 65, switch over to your Social Security payout. You've basically guaranteed yourself a lifetime income of $24,000 per year instead of $19,200 without any worries about whether your 401(k) will last forever.</li> </ul><p>Nothing in life is perfect. There are also advantages to old-style defined-benefit pensions, as well as to a simple expansion of Social Security. And 401(k)s require workers to shoulder more responsibility for figuring out how to invest their savings. They also have to shoulder more of the risk of market downturns.</p> <p>Nonetheless, 401(k)s aren't bad. The 2006 Pension Protection Act improved them by allowing employers to sign up workers automatically (they can opt out if they want), and this has significantly increased the number of workers who participate. It's especially raised the number of low-income workers who participate. The PPA also allowed employers to automatically increase the contribution rate over time (again, workers can opt out), which promises to make 401(k)s more substantial retirement vehicles. It also encouraged the use of low-fee lifecycle funds that make riskier investments when you're young and slowly switch to safer investments as you get closer to retirement.</p> <p>All of these things have improved the 401(k) landscape. The economic recovery has too: a lot of the scare stories about 401(k) plans were based on using data through 2011 or 2012, which meant choosing an end date literally in the middle of the worst recession since World War II. That's cherry picking of the worst kind. 401(k) plans were bound to recover within a couple of years, and they did. If you look at data through 2014 or 2015, average 401(k) returns look pretty good. When it comes to retirement funds, you have to look at the long term, not just the best or worst years.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 May 2016 04:42:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 304591 at How to Deal with Cretinous Twitter Mobs: A Bleg <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_twitter_mob.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm going to venture into dangerous territory and just hope that everyone will give this a sympathetic reading. I'm not trying to shift blame or dismiss a real problem.</p> <p>The problem in question is the treatment of women by men on Twitter and other social platforms. In a word (or two), there's a subset of really loathsome assholes out there who harass women mercilessly: comments about looks, about rape, about death threats, etc. etc. The best solution, of course, is to get these men to knock it off, but there's no way that will happen quickly. At best, it will take many years to leach this kind of misogyny out of the internet.</p> <p>In the meantime, the problem is that this treatment causes women genuine pain and stress. I don't get anywhere near this kind of abuse, but I sometimes get a bit of it, and it's no fun. So I have at least a glimmer of what it's like.</p> <p>So here's my question: is there any kind of relatively simple therapy that can train people not to succumb to panic attacks over Twitter mobs attacking them? I'm not talking about ignoring genuine threats, like folks posting addresses and suggesting someone should be raped. Those should go straight to the police. It's all the rest that I'd like to learn to take in stride as nothing more than the meaningless ravings of cretinous sad sacks.</p> <p>So: Is there anything like this? Does anyone know a reliable method for building up a thicker skin? Sort of like the hypnosis of Peter Gibbons in <em>Office Space</em>, except something that actually works. I know we shouldn't have to, but sometimes it's worth it even if it's galling that we need to do it at all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 21 May 2016 13:08:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 304586 at How About a Constitutional Right to Vote? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have a longstanding belief that a liberal democracy is basically in good shape if it guarantees three rights:</p> <ul><li>Freedom of speech/press.</li> <li>The right to a fair and speedy trial.</li> <li>The right to vote.</li> </ul><p>I don't mean to denigrate other important rights. Freedom of religion is important, but plenty of free countries operate just fine with state religions. Freedom of assembly can probably be mandated by law. Warrants for searches are necessary, but again, could probably be mandated by law. A ban on slavery is important, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_vote_button.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">but we already have it, and it's not really a pressing issue in the 21st century anyway. And lots of democracies take wildly different views on the right to bear arms. The bottom line is that all these things <em>can</em> be in the Constitution, but if they're not they probably don't preclude a pretty free society.</p> <p>The first two rights on my list are already enshrined in the Constitution (speech and press freedom in the First Amendment; fair trials in the Fifth through Eighth Amendments). The third, for generally disgraceful reasons, isn't. But for some reason, among the dozens of pet amendments that various interest groups propose even though they're mostly pie in the sky, this one gets almost no attention. Why not?</p> <p>Don't worry too much about the precise wording of a voting rights amendment. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's a proposal from Reclaim Democracy! that originated with Jesse Jackson:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.</p> </blockquote> <p>Reps. Pocan and Ellison have recently proposed <a href="" target="_blank">a shorter version:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe you'd want to add some further protections: change voting day to voting week; mandate early voting; make changes to redistricting rules to better guarantee that all votes count equally. I'm agnostic about this.</p> <p>Needless to say, this would open a can of worms. Basically, anyone who shows up to vote is assumed to have the right to vote unless the government has actively put them on a list of non-voters. Possibly some kind of ID would be required: maybe a Social Security card or a national ID card. Perhaps everyone would be required to enroll for voting on their 18th birthday, and would be given a card that identifies them as a voter. They could do it at the same time they enroll with Selective Service (just as soon as women are added to Selective Service requirements).</p> <p>There would be exceptions. Can prisoners vote? The Supreme Court has already ruled that prisoners have limited access to free speech rights. They obviously have no right to freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms has been curtailed with extreme prejudice. This would almost certainly be the case with voting rights as well, though it could easily be written into the text of an amendment if it was considered important enough to spell out specifically.</p> <p>So why not do it? It seems like a pretty populist idea for a Democratic presidential candidate. How about it, Hillary? She already supports automatic voter registration at age 18, and that's a short jump to a constitutional amendment.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 21 May 2016 10:51:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 304581 at The Great Matt Bruenig-Neera Tanden Kerfuffle Sort of Explained <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I spent the afternoon catching up on the latest in the world of liberal scuffles. Here's the background: Lefty gadfly Matt Bruenig got into a Twitter fight with Joan Walsh yesterday morning over the topic of young people supporting Bernie Sanders. It culminated with this from Bruenig: "I have a daughter too. Your pathetic ageism against young people (remember taunting them as "barely shaven") is sickening to me." About then, CAP president Neera Tanden weighed in with <a href="" target="_blank">a light comment</a> defending Walsh, which prompted this follow-up from Bruenig:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">It's fun when the geriatrics who worked to starve my mother of cash assistance get going. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) <a href="">May 19, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">@neeratanden</a> <a href="">@joanwalsh</a> Scumbag Neera uses welfare when she needs it then takes away from others when they need it. Disgusting.</p> &mdash; Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) <a href="">May 19, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> </blockquote> <p>Tanden is&mdash;and has been for a long time&mdash;a Hillary staffer and ally, so it's not unreasonable to suspect that she <em>might</em> have supported welfare reform in the 90s. But Tanden denies ever having supported it, which is believable on its face since (a) her family used welfare when she was growing up, and (b) she was in law school at the time welfare reform was being debated.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>In any case, Bruenig's tweets were nasty, apparently unfounded, and a bit two-faced (charging Walsh with "ageism" followed by insulting Tanden as "geriatric"). So what happened next? I'll get to that, but perhaps some of you don't know who Neera Tanden is. You should. To the best of my memory, I've never interacted with her and don't really know anything about her, but a bit of googling turned up this:</p> <ul><li>Her birthday is a deeply held secret. However, she was born in 1970 and says she's 45 now, so it must be sometime after May 19.</li> <li>Her brother attended USC and she attended UCLA. Woot! I approve already. We need less Ivy League and more West Coast in high places.</li> <li>She uses the word "actually" a <em>lot</em>. Maybe she picked this up at UCLA.</li> <li>She is the president of CAP, the Center for American Progress. CAP is a high-powered progressive think tank that most people think of as either a very influential mainstream liberal think tank or, if you want to be a little more insidery, as the Clinton family's personal think tank.<sup>2</sup> Being president of CAP is, as Joe Biden might say, a Big Effin <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_neera_tanden_cspan.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Deal. Tanden is the kind of person who gets mentioned frequently as a possible chief-of-staff in a Hillary Clinton White House.</li> <li>Here's the <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="" target="_blank">shortly after she took over CAP:</a> "At 5 feet 2 inches tall, with an infectious laugh and impatience for ineptitude, Tanden brims with a moxie that can shift to sarcasm. Critics and allies alike describe her as an effective molder and messenger of intricate policy, as well as an expert practitioner of in-house politics. Friends say she is remarkably well-rounded: a model wife and mother, ideal company for a glass of wine, a perfect partner for spontaneous office dancing." Yikes!</li> </ul><p>OK, so what happened next? Bruenig works for Demos, a lefty think tank (yeah, they're everywhere), which got wind of his tweets and <a href="" target="_blank">immediately apologized:</a> "Sincerest apologies for @MattBruenig's judgment and demeanor. It's unacceptable and we're on it. While @MattBruenig blogs with Demos, we do not condone personal attacks. We are dealing with this internally. Thank you for understanding. We value the important work you've done and continue to do. @neeratanden @joanwalsh" <a href="" target="_blank">This afternoon Demos fired him:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Today, we are taking a harder look at how our staff, fellows and independent contractors engage on social media&mdash;and unfortunately, we are finding that we have not met our own standards of vigilance to ensure that nobody associated with Demos is crossing an important line. After our tweet apologizing for Matt&rsquo;s personal attacks including the term &ldquo;scumbag,&rdquo; <strong>we received emails from multiple individuals who made it clear that we were not aware of the extent to which Matt has been at the center of controversies surrounding online harassment of people with whom he disagrees.</strong></p> <p>It was evidence of a pattern of behavior that is far out of line with our code of conduct. <strong>After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter.</strong> We part ways on the effectiveness of these kinds of personalized, online fights and so we are parting ways as colleagues today. And just as we did with Matt three years ago when he first joined our blog, Demos will continue to find and amplify the voices of lesser-known progressive policy commentators to make for a more inclusive public sphere.</p> </blockquote> <p>As their statement goes on to say, there's an overlay of Bernie vs. Hillary in all this, and this prompted a flurry of Twitter condemnations of Demos. Glenn Greenwald was fairly typical:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">He fought w/head of most powerful Dem think tank- likely to be Hillary's WH Chief of Staff- so <a href="">@Demos_Org</a> fired him <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) <a href="">May 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">It's about enforcing discipline under the guise of "civility": fired for fighting with a key Clinton ally &amp; aide <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) <a href="">May 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Here's the email we sent hrs ago to <a href="">@Demos_Org</a> they never answered: firing people to curry favor is time-consuming! <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) <a href="">May 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> </blockquote> <p>So which was it? Was Bruenig fired for offending the great and good, or was he fired for being a jerk? It's hard to say, isn't it? Demos says it got a pile of emails that suggested a longtime pattern of "online harassment." But the rest of us haven't seen those emails, so who knows? They also say they had "multiple conversations" with Bruenig, and apparently he declined to just apologize and move on. It also sounds like he declined to rein in his behavior.</p> <p>If you assume that Demos is telling this straight, it's hard to see how they could hold onto him. This is the kind of thing that I'd normally call a non-firing offense, but only if the offender agrees there's a problem and promises to rein it in. The risk of having an employee like this go completely ballistic at some point and write something either libelous or just plain repellent<sup>3</sup> is too great. All of these tweets may have been on Bruenig's private account, but he's still very publicly associated with Demos&mdash;which is explicitly in the influence biz and has to be careful about making lots of random enemies just because one of its employees has a bit of a temper problem.</p> <p>The whole thing is a damn shame. I hope Bruenig lands on his feet somewhere, but I'll bet that any future employer will ask for pretty much the same promise about tone and harassment that Demos did. It's a little hard to imagine any outfit in the think tank trade not caring about this. In the end, I suspect Matt Yglesias has the final word:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">The only life advice that matters: never tweet.</p> &mdash; Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) <a href="">May 21, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> </blockquote> <p><sup>1</sup>It's times like this I wish I still had access to Nexis so I could check this out, but I don't.</p> <p class="loose"><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Nexis problem solved. I searched "Neera Tanden" for the entire decade of the 90s. The first hit is from 1992 in the <em>Los Angeles Times</em>: "<span class="SS_L3"><span class="verdana">UCLA student Ne<span class="hit">era</span><span class="hit"> Tanden</span> was awarded the first Sam Law Leadership Award by the Asian Pacific Alumni of UCLA at a Nov. 17 reception held at Royce Hall on the campus. Tanden, a senior planning to attend law school, was selected for her leadership experience, community and university service."</span></span></p> <p class="loose"><span class="SS_L3"><span class="verdana">The other 11 hits were all the same: she was listed as a contact in press releases for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996. I did a more cursory search from 2000 through the present, and found mostly mentions of health care reform. The closest thing I could find about welfare was from a 2014 interview where Tanden criticized Republican budget cuts: "</span></span>Food stamps have been cut. Proposals to cut nutrition aid would drop children from school lunch programs. Section 8 housing and welfare aren't keeping up with the need. I'm concerned about how the attack on these programs is going to impact people in our country because I know that I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't been available to me."</p> <p class="loose">If Tanden ever so much as mentioned welfare reform, she sure didn't do it publicly.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Dammit, is there a synonym for <em>think tank</em>?</p> <p><sup>3</sup>More repellent, anyway. You know what I mean.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 21 May 2016 03:39:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 304576 at Donald Trump, Still a Skinflint? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>David&nbsp;Fahrenthold reports today that Donald Trump's $6 million fundraiser for veterans actually raised only $4.5 million. I don't have a big problem with that. Sometimes people make pledges and then back out of them. That's life in the fundraising biz, where a 75 percent fulfillment rate<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="240" src=";end=24" style="margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;" width="430"></iframe> probably isn't unheard of. But Fahrenthold managed to identify two of the donors who backed out. One was a shopping mall magnate. <a href="" target="_blank">The other was...</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The other donor had made a much bigger promise: Trump, with his vow to give $1 million. In the past few days, <em>The Post</em> has interviewed 22 veterans charities that received donations as a result of Trump&rsquo;s fundraiser. None of them have reported receiving personal donations from Trump.</p> <p>Did Trump make good on his promise to give from his personal funds? &ldquo;The money is fully spent. Mr. Trump&rsquo;s money is fully spent,&rdquo; Lewandowski said.</p> <p>Who did Trump give to, and in what amounts? &ldquo;He&rsquo;s not going to share that information,&rdquo; Lewandowski said.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is just weird. Is it really possible that Trump reneged on his promise to donate $1 million? That would be completely nuts. It would be like me promising to toss in twenty bucks for an office party gift and then backing out, even though I knew there was a good chance I'd be caught. What kind of pathological skinflint would do that?</p> <p>And yet, if he <em>has</em> donated $1 million, what possible reason is there for not telling us where it went? That's crazy too, since it inevitably leads to stories just like this one. Even Trump's most rabid fans would probably hold it against him if it turns out he lied about making a donation to veterans.</p> <p>Aside from everything else, Trump is one seriously weird dude.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 20:48:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 304561 at Friday Cat Blogging - 20 May 2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This morning I have the most tedious possible doctor's appointment: one that I don't need. A high blood-pressure reading during a visit last week provoked Kaiser Permanente's computer into a flurry of activity, starting with an email, building up through web and phone messages, and finally peaking with a call from my doctor telling me to come in so we can chat about my blood pressure meds. Sigh. I knew I was going to pay a price when I skipped a second reading that day. The thing is, I see doctors a lot these days, which means I get my blood pressure tested a lot, and it see-saws up and down with no rhyme or reason. I barely pay attention anymore since I check it myself at home pretty routinely. (Yes, on a meter that's been calibrated by KP.) So I already know my blood pressure is fine, but now I have to go through all the tedium of trying to convince my doctor of that.</p> <p>Anyway, the good news is that this means catblogging is a little early today. As you can see, Hilbert and Hopper have their eyes glued to the native wildlife, which they will never have a chance to chase around. They probably wish they lived a mouser's life, like <a href="" target="_blank">Palmerston</a> the foreign office cat. Or perhaps <a href="" target="_blank">Kevin,</a> the permanently surprised cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2016_05_20.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 65px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 18:00:26 +0000 Kevin Drum 304496 at A Surprising Number of People Are Willing to Take Refugees Into Their Homes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's a fascinating bit of raw data <a href="" target="_blank">from Amnesty International:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poll_accept_refugees.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 5px;"></p> <p>I tend to discount polls asking vague question about "accepting" refugees, but this one included the option of saying that you'd take refugees into your home. That's about as concrete as being hit in the head by a brick, but the answers are still remarkably positive. In Great Britain, which has a reputation for being pretty unfriendly toward immigrants in general, nearly a third say they'd make room for refugees in their homes. In Greece, which is ground zero for the refugee crisis, 20 percent nonetheless say they'd take them in. And in Germany, which has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees&mdash;not without problems&mdash;the number is still a pretty impressive 10 percent.</p> <p>Now, there are lots of details left out here. How long would people accept refugees? A few days is a lot different from a few months. Refugees from where? How much would families expect to be paid? Are they serious, or just trying to sound humanitarian to a poll taker?</p> <p>I don't know. But in America, something like 30 million people say they'd be willing to take in refugees. Donald Trump notwithstanding&mdash;that's the 22 percent who would refuse them entry to the country completely&mdash;that's a lot. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this, but I am.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 17:26:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 304531 at Old CW: Sanders the Homewrecker. New CW: Sanders the Peacemaker. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_feel_bern.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Lately, the news has all been about how recalcitrant Bernie Sanders is. It's not just that he's continuing to campaign even though he no longer has a chance to win, but that he and his team are campaigning pretty negatively. "It is clear that millions of Americans have growing doubts about the Clinton campaign," he said in a statement yesterday, and his supporters continue to paint Hillary as corrupt, scheming, and a pawn of Wall Street. The chaos in Nevada over the weekend sent this dynamic into hyperdrive, leading to this instantly infamous headline in the <em>New York Times</em> <a href="" target="_blank">a couple of days ago:</a> "Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch."</p> <p>But now comes Sahil Kapur to tell us that behind the scenes, Bernie knows it's over and <a href=";utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=newsletter&amp;utm_campaign=" target="_blank">he's letting key Democrats know it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As tensions were escalating between Bernie Sanders and Democratic Party leaders over the chaos caused by his supporters at a Nevada convention, Dick Durbin got an unexpected call from the Vermont senator. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, came away from the conversation on Wednesday convinced that Sanders, who has all but lost the presidential nomination battle to Hillary Clinton, <strong>understands the need for party unity and will do his part to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.</strong></p> <p>"We talked about the demonstrations and such," Durbin said Thursday in an interview. "I am convinced, as Bernie has said repeatedly, he is going to be on the team to defeat Donald Trump. I don't have any question in my mind."</p> <p>....<strong>Sanders has reached out to multiple Senate colleagues in an attempt to assuage them.</strong> Among them is Senator Barbara Boxer of California, whose keynote speech at the Nevada state Democratic convention last weekend was disrupted by rowdy Sanders supporters in a situation she described as frightening and out of control. Boxer said she conveyed her concerns to Sanders in "a really nice talk" with him Tuesday. "I told him how bad it was in Nevada. He said he was distressed about it, and he expressed chagrin about it. I told him 'Bernie, you need to get a hold of it,' and he said he would.''</p> <p><strong>"He said, 'I can't believe my people would do this,'"</strong> said Boxer, who is stepping down from the Senate in January. "He got the point."</p> </blockquote> <p>There's some evidence that Bernie is, in fact, toning down the attacks on Hillary lately, though his supporters and staffers will probably be harder sells. But Bernie has never had very tight managerial control over his people anyway. The nickel summary is simple: tempers are running high; Bernie knows it; and everyone just needs to give things a little time to run their course.</p> <p>That's the latest, anyway&mdash;though the conventional wisdom could shift again by next week. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 16:04:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 304521 at Finally, Some Actual Bad News About Obamacare <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As you know, the overall news about Obamacare is almost uniformly positive. Uninsurance rates are down, costs are under control, subsidies are working, etc. But that doesn't mean everything is perfect. Kaiser's latest survey, for example, highlights <a href="" target="_blank">growing dissatisfaction with Obamacare coverage:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_kaiser_obamacare_satisfaction_2016.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 5px;"></p> <p>The number of people who are dissatisfied has gone up from 20 percent in 2014 to 31 percent this year. The main complaint is about premiums and deductibles. As it happens, premiums haven't actually increased all that much, but deductibles have, which means that even modest premium increases strike people as unfair.</p> <p>As usual, I'd be cautious about drawing any conclusions from this. It's only a year or two of data, and the Obamacare market is still shaking out. Still, it's genuinely unfavorable news&mdash;except for conservatives, who finally have something bad they can point to without actually lying about it.</p> <p>For more details, <a href="" target="_blank">see Andrew Sprung.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 15:17:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 304511 at Elizabeth Warren: 401(k) Plans Are Good, But They Can Be Better <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Elizabeth Warren gave a speech today</a> that was focused on what sorts of workplace protections we should adopt in response to the rise of "1099 workers" (freelancers) and on-demand "gig economy" workers (Uber drivers). Before I get to that, though, a quick note: it's not clear to me that there's actually <em>been</em> much of a rise in gig workers, as you can see in the chart on the right. The percentage of <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_full_time_percentage_all_workers.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">full-time workers normally decreases during recessions and increases during recoveries, which is exactly what's happening right now. We're still about a percentage point away from our pre-recession average, but we'll probably make that up within a couple of years.</p> <p>Still, we might not get there. What's more, whether the number of part-timers is increasing or not, they deserve access to standard employment benefits. Warren names a few, and suggests that both health care and retirement benefits should be portable: they need to belong to employees, not to employers, and should stick with them regardless of who they're working for. I was especially interested in her remarks on retirement benefits:</p> <blockquote> <p>One change would make a big difference: a high-quality retirement plan for independent contractors, self-employed workers, and other workers who have no access to retirement benefits to supplement their Social Security.</p> <p>This plan should use best-in-class practices when it comes to asset allocation, governance structure, and fee transparency. It should be operated solely in the interest of workers and retirees, and they should have a voice in how the plan is run. <strong>Instead of an employer-sponsored 401(k), this plan could be run by a union or other organization that could contract investment management to the private sector&mdash;just as companies like General Motors contract with providers like Fidelity to offer 401(k)s in the employment setting.</strong> And, because of the amazing advances in online investment platforms and electronic payroll systems, individuals could set up automatic contributions. It&rsquo;s time for all workers to have access to the same low-cost, well-protected retirement products that some employers and unions provide today.</p> </blockquote> <p>Defined-contribution programs like 401(k)s tend to get demonized by liberals, but they shouldn't be. As Warren says, if you want a pension plan to supplement Social Security, it needs to be portable. Old-style pensions tended to lock people into jobs because they took a long time to vest and the vesting was backloaded. If you switched jobs every five or ten years, they likely provided you with a pretty paltry retirement income. By contrast, 401(k)s start building as soon as you start contributing, and continue building regardless of how often you change jobs. And while it's true that the Great Recession wasn't kind to 401(k) plans, they've mostly recovered since their losses in 2009-10.</p> <p>Still, they're far from perfect. One problem, as Warren notes, is that employees don't always have good options about how to invest their 401(k) contributions&mdash;though that's slowly getting better thanks to changes in the law passed a decade ago. Another problem is that too few people sign up for their 401(k) plans, and that's improving too thanks to the legalization of "nudge" style opt-out plans. This has especially benefited low-income workers, who need retirement help the most.</p> <p>But we can still do better. We can set up better programs for freelancers, and we can mandate the best-in-class investment practices that Warren mentions: automatic increases in contribution amounts as workers age, as well as low-fee lifecycle funds that become less risky as retirement approaches. This should be done universally, not just for freelancers. These are modest proposals, but they'd go a long way toward making modern pension plans truly safe, reliable, and universal.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 May 2016 01:39:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 304491 at Weekly Flint Water Report: May 7-12 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 220 samples. The average for the past week was 14.46.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_flint_lead_water_2016_05_12.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 18:32:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 304451 at Will Donald Trump Spell the End of "Constitutional Conservatism"? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jonathan Chait takes aim today at a common conservative story about the <a href="" target="_blank">rise of the tea party during the Obama era:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That story is that President Obama&rsquo;s domestic agenda violated the Constitution &mdash; perhaps not the actual written text of the Constitution, because then the Republican-appointed majority of the Supreme Court could have stopped him, but certainly the broader spirit of the Constitution, which is about preventing liberals from passing big laws conservatives hate. They were animated by the spirit of what they called &ldquo;Constitutional conservatism.&rdquo; <strong>This was a new movement</strong> that connected abstract beliefs about limited government with the vision of the Founders. Writers like Charles Krauthammer lauded &ldquo;a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_washington_constitution.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders' intent.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure if Chait himself is calling this movement new or if he's attributing this belief to conservatives themselves. The latter, I assume. Either way, though, it bugs me enough to comment on it. Here's the thing: there's precisely nothing new about this. It happens&mdash;literally&mdash;every time a Democrat is president. I wrote about this six years ago, <a href="" target="_blank">shortly after the birth of the tea party:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League. When JFK won the presidency in the '60s, the John Birch Society flourished. When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the '90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it's the tea party's turn.</p> <p>There are, of course, differences between each of these movements....But these differences are superficial. The similarities are far more telling, and the place they start is a shared preoccupation with the Constitution. The Liberty Leaguers, as Rudolph wrote, spoke of it with "worshipful intensity." The John Birch Society&mdash;which is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today&mdash;says of itself, "From its earliest days the John Birch Society has emphasized the importance of the Constitution for securing our freedom." And as <a href="" target="_blank">Stephanie Mencimer reported</a> in our May/June issue, study groups dedicated to the Constitution have mushroomed among tea partiers.</p> <p>....Ever since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.</p> </blockquote> <p>Among the GOP base, as Chait points out, conservative devotion to a distinctive reading of the Constitution is little more than a convenient, pseudo-intellectual justification for the stuff they really care about: cutting "big government" programs that spend tax dollars on people they don't like. Among GOP elites, it serves the same purpose&mdash;though they try to be more careful about letting this slip.</p> <p>In any case, it's nothing new. According to conservatives, every liberal program for at least the past century has been an assault on the Constitution. The only new thing Donald Trump has brought to this has been to shuck off the Constitution stuff and just appeal straight to the core of what actually animates the conservative base. And the conservative base loves it. Why shouldn't they? The Constitution was never more than a handy shibboleth to them anyway.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 17:55:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 304441 at New Report Suggests the TPP Is Barely Worth Worrying About <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tpp_benefit.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">As required by law, the US International Trade Commission has <a href="" target="_blank">completed its analysis of the Trans Pacific Partnership.</a> They used a dynamic computable general equilibrium model for their analysis, which concluded that the economic impact of the TPP would be...pretty close to zero. The chart on the right is my feeble attempt to add some color to this, and you can see that no part of the economy is affected by so much as 1 percent. Or half a percent. It's more in the neighborhood of a quarter of a percent three decades from now.</p> <p>Generally speaking, I'd say this means you should mostly ignore the economic aspects of TPP. The benefits will be minuscule and the damages will be minuscule. The error bars on a 30-year forecast are just too big to say anything more. Instead, you should focus on other aspects of the agreement. How will it affect poor countries in Asia? Is it a useful bulwark against the growing influence of China? What do you think of extending US patent and trademark rules throughout the world? All of those things are real. The economic impact is basically a crapshoot.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 15:50:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 304436 at Bernie's Core Support Comes From Young Voters <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I guess I stopped paying attention or something, but I didn't realize there was ever any real debate about the core of Bernie Sanders' support. However, Jeff Stein reports that recently lots of people have decided he's being powered by votes <a href="" target="_blank">from the white working class:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This trope has become the conventional wisdom in the media, with the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>, the <em>Nation</em>, <em>The Huffington Post</em>, and a host of other outlets (including me at Vox) <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_bernie_young.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">stating as fact that downscale whites have formed a crucial piece of Sanders's base.</p> </blockquote> <p>Stein digs a little deeper and comes up with this:</p> <blockquote> <p>If Sanders's "white working-class" voters aren't just college students, you'd also expect him to be doing better among downscale middle-aged white voters than rich ones. But this turned out not to be true: <strong>Low-income white people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s did not break for Sanders.</strong></p> <p>...."<strong>My main concern is that the image of Bernie-supporting older poor people who've lost their factory jobs to trade is not supported,</strong>" Grossmann says. "I'm least supportive of the idea that there's a population of white, older workers who lost their jobs and are now supporting Sanders. There's very little evidence of that."</p> <p>Similarly, Abramowitz ran a multivariate analysis to help figure out this question. Abramowitz looked at a large survey data set and asked: What forms of identity actually predict support for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? "<strong>It was age, and beyond that nothing mattered.</strong> Maybe ideology mattered a little bit," he said. Income was not a factor.</p> </blockquote> <p>If you ask ten social scientists for a definition of "working class," you'll get eleven different answers. Still, by any definition Sanders just doesn't seem to be winning it. The white working class is voting for him in normal numbers and the non-white working class is supporting Hillary Clinton.</p> <p>Having missed this peculiar turn of the conventional wisdom, I can now continue believing what the data has always suggested: Bernie's main core of support is young voters, especially young white voters. Income doesn't matter all that much, and neither does education. Young people of all stripes like him, and young people of all stripes really don't like Hillary. Among white voters, the Democratic primary is basically a generational war, and that's it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 14:58:26 +0000 Kevin Drum 304416 at Running for President Can Be a Profitable Investment <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>Washington Post</em> has a long piece tonight about Donald Trump's latest FEC filing, which shows that business has boomed during his presidential campaign. It's a little hard to make sense of, but apparently Trump claims that revenue from his various businesses rose from $362 million to $557 million. However, about $150 million of that came from one-off sales, so it's unclear how much his campaign has really boosted things.</p> <p>You can decide for yourself how seriously to take this, but here's the <a href="" target="_blank">most important part of the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>While Trump&rsquo;s campaign issued a statement referring to the form as a tally of his personal &ldquo;income,&rdquo; <strong>it is actually a list of his companies&rsquo; gross revenue</strong> &mdash; a figure that does not factor in the costs of paying employees and running the companies. In addition, the FEC form does not account for debt interest payments, a potentially significant expenditure for Trump, who lists five loans of over $50 million each.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, this is all pretty meaningless, since we have no idea how well run Trump's company is. Generally speaking, though, a large corporation is doing well if it records pretax earnings of around 10 percent. For a company like Trump's, maybe the average is more like 15-20 percent. Then again, it could be lower if his debt service is high. Who knows?</p> <p>That said, a rough guess puts Trump's income last year somewhere in the range of $40-$100 million. Not bad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 06:32:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 304406 at The Great Trump Peace Tour Is Beginning <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Bloomberg:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Donald Trump is looking to break down the political wall between him and a segment of Hispanic voters: Latino evangelicals who tend to vote Republican. Trump aides have told the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will submit videotaped remarks to be played at their annual conference this weekend in California.</p> <p>....&ldquo;It would be the first time that I&rsquo;m aware of that he&rsquo;s addressing, even though it&rsquo;s a videotaped message, a Latino organization,&rdquo; said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s encouraging, honestly."</p> </blockquote> <p>Encouraging! Maybe so&mdash;for Trump, anyway. One of the things he seems to have learned in his career is that it's usually not too hard to kiss and make up. You can treat people as harshly as you want, but once the fight is over all you have to do is announce publicly that these are really great guys and you have nothing but respect for them. It's life as a football game.</p> <p>Will it work in a presidential campaign? Can Trump make up with women, blacks, gays, Hispanics, and the disabled? It's possible. People have short memories, and they're suckers for praise. If he's smart enough to rein in the insults and shower conservative-leaning groups with praise, there's no telling how far he can go.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 May 2016 01:55:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 304396 at