Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en On TV, Trump's Inauguration Was the Worst in 40 Years <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I guess we've moved on from crowd size at Trump's inauguration to <a href="" target="_blank">TV audience size.</a> Interestingly, Trump has apparently decided not to lie about this, but only to mislead. Just for the record, then, here's the share of the population that tuned in to first-term inaugurations for the past 40 years:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inauguration_tv_audience_table_1977_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 100px;"></p> <p>Ratings <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> January population <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 Jan 2017 18:07:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 323741 at What Does It Take for the Press to Call a Lie a Lie? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Watching the inauguration yesterday, I saw the smallish crowds just like everyone else. My immediate thought was: <em>Oh God, this means tomorrow will be a 24/7 offensive from the White House about how this was the biggest inaugural crowd ever in history.</em> The boy king will demand no less.</p> <p>Sure enough, that's what we got. Trump went out to visit the CIA today and informed everyone that the inauguration crowd was <a href="" target="_blank">at least a million, maybe a million and a half.</a> Then he sent out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to deliver an unprecedented screed, yelling at the assembled reporters about how dishonest they were and then spewing out a <a href="" target="_blank">whole array of fabricated numbers</a> to back up his boss's lies. When he was done, he turned on his heels and left without taking any questions.</p> <p>I'm not interested in pointless discussions of whether Trump does this stuff to distract us (in this case, from the massive number of people at the women's marches around the country). I suppose that's part of it. But it's obvious from decades of watching Trump that he simply can't abide any criticism, either express or implied. Everything he does has to be the biggest and best. He's incapable of not lashing out when anyone suggests otherwise.</p> <p>That's obvious enough to be banal at this point. What I'm more interested in is when the media is going to get over its faintheartedness and start calling this stuff what it is: lies. On MSNBC, Jim Sciutto reminded us that Trump frequently says things that "defy the facts." CNN wrote about Spicer's "misstatements of fact." The <em>New York Times</em> said Trump's crowd numbers were "false." Other newspapers said the same thing in different ways.</p> <p>But even by the strictest definition, Trump and Spicer were lying. Trump made up his numbers out of thin air, knowing perfectly well they were based on nothing. Spicer delivered a whole bunch of numbers that were obviously either invented or just plain fake&mdash;and did it in an angry tone that was clearly meant to intimidate everyone in the room.</p> <p>All of this stuff was not just "false," it was knowingly false. Everyone knows this. So let's cut out the delicate language and the earnest panel discussions about whether Spicer might have a point about one thing or another. He was lying. Trump was lying. Can't we be adults and just say so?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 22 Jan 2017 04:11:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 323726 at Friday Cat Blogging - 20 January 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>That's it for the day. I plan to spend the rest of the weekend in deep contemplation. I hope I've left you with enough cats to get through the day.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_8.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:30:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 323651 at Inauguration Watch: Trump About to Begin Making America Great Again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Trump's speech has so far had deliberate echoes of Lincoln (we are gathered here) and FDR (forgotten men and women). Now he's channeling Bill Clinton (their pain is our pain). Now Carter (I will never let you down). Now Reagan (we will shine for everyone to follow). Now himself (we will make America great again). Plus he included a very nice shout out to Sam Peckinpah (American carnage).</p> <p>It's time to climb a tree and pretend none of this is happening.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_01_20_6.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:19:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 323641 at Inauguration Watch: Donald Trump Is Now President of the United States <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump is officially president of the United States. It is now time to commence hiding under blankets.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_5.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:02:27 +0000 Kevin Drum 323636 at Inauguration Watch: Mike Pence Is Now Vice President <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Mike Pence is now officially vice president of the United States. This totally deserves another cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_4.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:56:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 323631 at Inauguration Watch: Four Years of Trump Won't Be Any Worse Than the Civil War <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Chuck Schumer says we're celebrating the peaceful transfer of power today. Then more blather. Now he's rather obviously implying that four years of Donald Trump probably won't be any worse than the four years of the Civil War. We survived that, so hey, we'll get through Trump too.</p> <p>I think that deserves another cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_01_20_2.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:53:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 323626 at Inauguration Watch: Three Trump Aides Under Investigation For Russia Ties <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We're less than an hour away from inaugurating Donald Trump as president, <a href="" target="_blank">and this is what's on the front page of the <em>New York Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.</p> <p>....As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts....Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is unreal. Surely it deserves a cat to take our minds off what's about to happen?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_01_20_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:29:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 323621 at Steven Mnuchin Just Doesn't Understand <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This is adorable:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump&rsquo;s pick for secretary of the Treasury, was asked about tax reform in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, he took things in a surprising direction: He suggested that the IRS needed a larger staff.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;I was particularly surprised, looking at the IRS numbers, that the IRS headcount has gone down quite dramatically, almost 30 percent over the last number of years,&rdquo;</strong> Mnuchin said in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican....&ldquo;Now perhaps the IRS just started with way too many people,&rdquo; Mnuchin added. But he suggested that &ldquo;staffing of the IRS is an important part of fixing the tax gap.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>That's, um, surprising, all right. Yessir, Mr. Mnuchin. Very surprising indeed.</p> <p>For those of you who don't get the joke, this is sort of like Mnuchin testifying in front of a bunch of mafia dons and expressing surprise that they charge such high interest rates in their lending operation. Maybe with lower rates you gentlemen could expand into the suburban market and gain a share of the home equity business? Lotta kitchen remodels out there.</p> <p>Basically, Mnuchin looked at the IRS numbers like a normal person and was surprised to see that they weren't trying to maximize tax collections. He apparently didn't realize that the Republicans he was testifying in front of have been <a href="" target="_blank">very deliberately slashing the IRS budget</a> for years precisely so they <em>can't</em> maximize tax collections. The last thing Republicans want is an IRS that audits rich people more closely.</p> <p>Mnuchin will learn. After all, Donald Trump did. Remember when Trump suggested that women who get abortions should be punished? He had no idea what he was talking about, and just assumed that since Republicans consider abortion bad, the maximal anti-abortion position must be good. He didn't realize that jailing middle-class teenagers is a position unpopular enough to jeopardize GOP reelection prospects, and as a result Republicans have long insisted that even if they manage to make abortion illegal, they will always consider women who get abortions to be "victims" of unscrupulous butchers, not lawbreakers. That's the party line, anyway, and everyone is expected to know it.</p> <p>Before long, I'm sure Mnuchin will learn to listen respectfully to harangues about the gold standard and fiat money and ending the Fed. It's a small price to pay for the opportunity to occupy the position once held by Alexander Hamilton.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 02:52:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 323601 at John Cornyn Promised . . . Absolutely Nothing Today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Sen. John Cornyn, the #2 Republican leader in the Senate, took some questions today about the GOP replacement for Obamacare.&nbsp; <a href="" target="_blank">TPM's Lauren Fox reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When Cornyn was asked if he was concerned about people who've benefited from Medicaid expansion losing coverage, he said it was a shared concern. "We're all concerned, but it ain't going to happen," Cornyn said. "Will you write that down... It ain't gonna happen."</p> <p>Reporters followed up. "You're saying nobody's going to lose coverage?" one asked. "Nobody's going to lose coverage," Cornyn said. <strong>"Obviously, people covered today will continue to be covered. And, the hope is we'll expand access. Right now 30 million people are not covered under Obamacare."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>When you're dealing with Republicans and health care, you have to be mighty careful. Cornyn <em>didn't</em> say that people covered by Medicaid would continue to be covered <em>by Medicaid</em>. He just said they'd be "covered." This could mean anything. It could mean giving the poor a $1,000 refundable tax credit they can use toward buying coverage on the open market, which would be useless. It could mean giving the poor access to tax-favored HSAs and catastrophic coverage, which would also be useless. It could mean keeping them on Medicaid but instituting a 50 percent copay to make sure they have "skin in the game."</p> <p>Reporters need to step up their game. If they're going to ask about stuff like this, they have to demand enough detail for the answer to mean something. Cornyn may <em>sound</em> like he promised something here, but he didn't. And I assure you he chose his words very carefully.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Jan 2017 00:23:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 323596 at Thanks For Everything, President Obama. We're Going to Miss You. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's less than 24 hours until Barack Obama leaves the White House. In eight years, here's my top ten list of what he accomplished:</p> <ol><li>Affordable Care Act</li> <li>Stimulus package</li> <li>Climate actions: Paris agreement, EPA power plant standards, auto mileage standards, etc.</li> <li>Dodd-Frank financial reform</li> <li>Iran nuclear treaty</li> <li>Killed Osama bin Laden</li> <li>Allowed gays to serve openly in the military</li> <li>New START treaty</li> <li>Delivered 74 consecutive months of job growth</li> <li>Declined to get seriously involved in Syria</li> </ol><p>I'm keenly aware of all the criticisms you can make of this list: the stimulus wasn't big enough; Dodd-Frank didn't go far enough; Obamacare doesn't have a public option; cap-and-trade failed; the surveillance state became permanent; there was no help for underwater homeowners; there are still troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; and so forth. These are all legit. Nonetheless, if you compare this list to other presidents of the past century, there aren't more than three or four who can match it. Here in the real world, that's pretty good.</p> <p>On foreign affairs, Obama got better as he spent more time in office. In 2009 he approved a huge surge of troops into a hopeless fight in Afghanistan. In 2011, he resisted intervening in Libya but eventually agreed to a middling-size offensive. Finally, by 2013, he had learned his lesson and simply refused to allow more than a modest bit of engagement in Syria. And thank God for that. If we had committed seriously to Syria, we'd be fighting a massive two-front war there to this day. Anybody who thinks otherwise is just not paying attention.</p> <p>In the end, Obama wasn't a transformative president. But that's a high bar: in my book, FDR and Reagan are the only presidents of the past century who qualify. Still, Obama turned the battleship a few degrees more than most presidents, and we're all better off for it. He also brought a certain amount of grace and civility to the White House, as well as a genuine willingness to work across the aisle. In the event, that turned out to be futile, because Republicans had already decided to oppose everything he did sight unseen. But he did try.</p> <p>I don't know how much of his legacy will survive. A fair amount, I think, since repealing things like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the Iran treaty are harder than they look. But some of it will fade or evaporate in the Trump era. And Obama was never able to make any headway against the anger that festers in the hearts of so many Americans toward the poor, the non-white, the non-male, the non-straight, and the non-Christian. Now this anger will guide our next four years. I miss him already, the best president of my lifetime.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 20:22:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 323571 at Report: Trump Team Wants to Slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Everything Else Except Defense <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest news on squeezing our bloated government <a href="" target="_blank">down to size:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending. Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday&rsquo;s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, <em>The Hill</em> has learned....Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump&rsquo;s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is terrifying, of course, but it's also puzzling. $10.5 trillion over ten years? That's a trillion dollars a year. If you eliminated the domestic discretionary budget entirely, you'd only save half a trillion bucks. So how do they do it?</p> <p>Well, we're told that the proposed budget cuts "hew closely" to a recent <a href="" target="_blank">Heritage Foundation report,</a> so I went and took a look. The answer, of course, is that the only way to cut that kind of money is to take a meat axe to everything, including Social Security and Medicare. Here's a chart:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_heritage_budget_cuts.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Let's break this down. How does Heritage manage these whopping cuts? According to a modest little footnote in the appendix on page 165, here's the answer:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Medicaid:</strong> No details. There will be a spending cap, and all mandatory spending will somehow be cut to fit.</p> <p><strong>Medicare:</strong> Increase eligibility age, add a "temporary" premium for Part A, increase premiums for Parts B and D, phase out subsidies for seniors with "significant" income, "reform" cost-sharing arrangements, transition to <strike>vouchers</strike> premium support starting in 2021.</p> <p><strong>Domestic Discretionary:</strong> Magic spending cap.</p> <p><strong>Social Security:</strong> Increase retirement age, index retirement age so it keeps going up, reduce benefits by adopting chained CPI for inflation adjustments, and "transition the payment to a flat, anti-poverty benefit focused on individuals who need it most," whatever that means.</p> </blockquote> <p>In fairness, there's a bit more detail on the domestic discretionary side. Actually, a mountain of detail: over the course of 140 pages, Heritage recommends cuts to over a hundred programs. These include catfish programs, the Ex-Im bank, climate programs, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. etc. Cutting all this stuff might be harder than they expect, since some senator somewhere probably thinks very highly of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program, but I guess they can try. In any case, about 80 percent of the savings come from a small number of programs:</p> <ul><li>Energy subsidies: $28 billion</li> <li>Land and Water Conservation Fund: $20 billion</li> <li>Various HHS/HUD jobs program: $10 billion</li> <li>Davis-Bacon: $9 billion</li> <li>Federal Transit Administration: $4 billion</li> <li>Nine climate programs: $4 billion</li> <li>Military health care: $4 billion</li> </ul><p>So there you have it. Slash a bunch of hippy-dippy stuff (clean energy, water conservation, transit, climate); some employment stuff (jobs programs, Davis-Bacon); and military health care spending. Then take a meat axe to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else, and you're done! Piece of cake.</p> <p>Perhaps someone should start asking our president-elect if he's on board with this stuff.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:39:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 323556 at Steven Mnuchin Forgot $95 Million In His Financial Disclosure Forms <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump's nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has revised his <a href=";utm_term=.33fe510d4352" target="_blank">financial disclosure form:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>According to the memo, Mnuchin submitted answers Dec. 19 to a standard committee questionnaire seeking information about his financial and business interests. At the time, Mnuchin verified that those responses were accurate and complete.</p> <p>However, Mnuchin had left out <strong>$95 million in real estate</strong> from his initial disclosures, according to the memo....Mnuchin also at first failed to disclose his role as <strong>director of Dune Capital International,</strong> which is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the document shows.</p> <p>....According to the memo, <strong>Mnuchin characterized the missing information as inadvertent mistakes,</strong> and he updated his answers to the committee&rsquo;s questionnaire on Saturday, less than a week before his hearing.</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. Mnuchin's earlier disclosure form revealed a net worth around $400 million, far higher than the earlier consensus estimate of $40 million. I guess when you're worth that much, it's easy to forget that your four homes (in Los Angeles, England, and two in New York) are worth another $95 million. It could happen to anyone.</p> <p>Anyway, the bottom line is that Mnuchin is actually worth about half a billion dollars, which makes a lot more sense for a Goldman Sachs/hedge fund lifer. The previous estimates of his net worth always struck me as surprisingly paltry.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:59:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 323536 at Trump and the Strong Dollar: A One-Day Follow-Up <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> blared the news that Donald Trump's comments on the dollar being too strong had sent the dollar "reeling." I suggested we might want to wait a few days before buying into this, but it turns out I was wrong. We only had to wait one day:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_yesterday_today.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>This follows the usual formula: (a) Trump says something, (b) a related financial index reacts instantly, and (c) by the next day everything is back to normal. I gather that there are folks on Wall Street who are writing algorithms to make money off this dynamic, but it's unclear how long that can last. I mean, how many times can this happen before everyone realizes that Trump's blather doesn't really mean anything?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 04:30:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 323526 at Final Swamp Watch - 17 January 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Despite weeks of effort, Donald Trump was apparently unable to find a Hispanic to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Was this because no Hispanics were willing to join his administration? Or was it because Trump just couldn't build any kind of personal rapport with any of the Hispanics who came to Trump Tower to visit with him? We'll never know.</p> <p>Instead, <a href="" target="_blank">our new Agriculture Secretary will be Sonny Perdue,</a> the man who won election as governor of Georgia in 2003 by promising to let residents vote on a flag referendum that would allow them to return the Confederate battle cross to a central position in the state flag. In the end, the Democratic legislature refused to allow this, and instead compromised on a flag that ditched the rebel cross but included the Confederate Stars and Bars&mdash;something that most people don't really recognize, but which kinda sorta appeased the <strike>racist</strike> Southern heritage faction of the Peach State.</p> <p>I'm sure this appealed to Trump, and Perdue <em>does</em> have some agricultural experience&mdash;that is, assuming you count the fact that he runs a "global trading company that facilitates U.S. commerce focusing on the export of U.S. goods and services...such as blueberries, grains, onions, peanuts, pecans, soybeans, and spinach." He's probably done pretty well for himself in this business, allowing him to join his brother, Sen. David Perdue, in the rich man's club.</p> <p>Anyway, that's it. Until and unless someone pulls out or is rejected by the Senate, Trump has now named his nominees for every cabinet-level position. As you can see, he tangled with the swamp, and the swamp won.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_cabinet_2017_01_17.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 02:21:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 323521 at Health Care Is All About the Benjamins <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Sherri Underwood, a Midwestern woman in her mid-50s, writes that she voted for Donald Trump <a href="" target="_blank">but now regrets it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Most of my decision came down to my poor experience with Obamacare.</strong> In the &rsquo;90s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes fatigue, memory loss, physical aches, and soreness....I eventually was unable to work at all. I lost employer-based health insurance when I left the workforce and had to pay my health care costs out of pocket.</p> <p>When Obamacare first came into effect, I was excited to get what I thought would be financial help with my costly medicine and treatments. <strong>But [my husband&rsquo;s salary] put me in an earning bracket too high to qualify for any financial assistance....I&rsquo;m left with a premium of $893,</strong> so high that I can no longer afford the cost of my medicines and treatments on top of the monthly premiums.</p> <p>....<strong>In the end, I voted for Trump because he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that was the most important issue to my own life.</strong> Looking back, I realize what a mistake it was. I ignored the pundits who repeated over and over again that he would not follow through on his promises, thinking they were spewing hysterics for better ratings. Sitting on my couch, my mouth agape at the words coming out his mouth on the TV before me, I realized just how wrong I was.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is so depressing. Underwood's general problem is that she's decided Trump is not a man who will carry out his promises, so now she doesn't believe he's going to improve Obamacare. Fine. But what Underwood never understood is that even if Trump <em>did</em> carry out his promises, she'd still be worse off. Although Underwood may not have qualified for a subsidy, she did benefit from the fact that Obamacare allows a maximum premium ratio of 3:1 between old people and young people. Trump and other Republicans think this ought to be 5:1. If it were, Underwood's premium would be over $1,000. Obamacare probably saved her something in the neighborhood of $2,000 per year.</p> <p>Plus Obamacare allowed her to get insurance in the first place. Until it took effect, no one would cover her.</p> <p>Lots of people have benefited considerably from Obamacare, but not everyone. Underwood found herself in the worst possible position: old enough to have a high premium but well-off enough that she didn't qualify for assistance. So she was gobsmacked when she discovered just how much health care costs in America. Most people have no real clue about this, but per-capita health care spending in the bloated US system is over $10,000 per year for someone 55 years old. That means insurance premiums are going to be $10,000+ per year too. There's just no getting around this.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_spending_per_capita_oecd_2015.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>If Republicans want to cover people like Underwood, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to reduce deductibles, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to increase subsidies for the middle class, they're going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. This is an iron law, and no amount of blather about state lines or tort reform or anything else changes it more than minutely. But Republicans want to spend less, not more. Even if Trump had been sincere, there was never any chance that Underwood would do better under his plan than under Obamacare.</p> <p>It all comes down to money. Ignore the rest of the chaff. If you think national health care should be better, it means spending more money. Period.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Jan 2017 01:28:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 323511 at Six Agencies Are Investigating Trump-Russia Ties <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>McClatchy has the latest on the investigation into <a href="" target="_blank">ties between Russia and the Trump team:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election....<strong>The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department&rsquo;s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence,</strong> the sources said.</p> <p>....One of the allegations involves whether <strong>a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners</strong> may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said....A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine <strong>who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.</strong></p> <p>....The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump&rsquo;s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.</p> <p>....<strong>The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15</strong> from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. <strong>One of McClatchy&rsquo;s sources confirmed the report.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>That's an awful lot of agencies investigating an awful lot of allegations against an awful lot of people. And as the article says, you can't get a warrant unless you can demonstrate at least some kind of plausible probable cause. That means these folks are working off a lot more than just the famous dossier produced by the ex-MI6 spy.</p> <p>At this point, I flatly don't know what I believe anymore. This is all crazy stuff, but a whole bunch of investigators don't seem to be treating it as crazy. Either way, though, the guy at the center of all this is going to become president of the United States in two days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 20:16:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 323491 at Chart of the Day: Our Planet Continues to Fry <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>There's just not much to say about this. We now have the <a href="" target="_blank">official number for 2016,</a> and it was <a href="" target="_blank">yet another record-setting year</a> for global warming. Here's the latest set of <a href="" target="_blank">Arctic temperatures:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_arctic_temperature_2016_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The green line is where we'd normally be. The red line is where we are: about 15&deg;C higher than usual. Total sea ice extent is now about 3 million square kilometers less than normal.</p> <p>However, 2017 will probably be a little cooler than 2016 thanks to the end of our latest El Ni&ntilde;o, so I'm sure the climate deniers will be back in the saddle a year from now. In the meantime, we continue to fry.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 18:33:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 323461 at Quote of the Day: Lead? What Lead? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, we've now officially gone from this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Clinton proposes goal of ending lead exposure in 5 years</p> &mdash; Ben Adler (@badler) <a href="">April 13, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>To this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Pruitt on lead exposure's dangers in children: "I don't know. I've not looked at the scientific research on that."</p> &mdash; Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) <a href="">January 18, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>If Pruitt had been asked about the effects of zirconium dioxide on Alzheimer's disease or something, then sure. Nobody knows everything, after all. But lead paint has been in the news for something like 50 years now and Flint's water pipes have been in big, bold headlines for the past two. You'd have to work pretty hard not to be aware of what lead does.</p> <p>Still, if you're bound and determined never to regulate anything, no matter how dangerous, then I suppose it pays to aggressively shut your eyes to environmental dangers of all kinds. Welcome to the New Model EPA, folks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:27:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 323456 at Inflation Surges Above 2%, US Is Doomed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, this is it, boys and girls. We're doomed:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_2016_december.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The Consumer Price Index has breached 2 percent for one month, which means hyperinflation is right around the corner. The Fed must act!</p> <p>Never mind that the Fed doesn't care about the CPI and pays attention to the PCE inflation index, which is well below 2 percent. Or that they <em>really</em> pay attention to the core PCE, which is also well below 2 percent. Inflation is always and everywhere ready to devour us.</p> <p>Sarcasm aside, it is a little odd that the CPI and PCE went in opposite directions in November. I'll be curious to see if that continues when we get the December PCE numbers.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:02:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 323451 at Donald Trump Is Already Campaigning For 2020 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I mentioned in passing <a href="" target="_blank">yesterday</a> that Donald Trump's tweets aren't meant for the press or for Congress or for people like you and me. They're meant for his fans. Today brings a pretty good example of this:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back into our.....</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">country and with the massive cost reductions I have negotiated on military purchases and more, I believe the people are seeing "big stuff."</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>This is obviously laughable. Even if you take Trump at face value, he's been responsible for no more than a tiny handful of jobs, and he hasn't negotiated a lower price on anything yet, let alone "massive" cost reductions on military purchases. So why bother tweeting something that makes him look ridiculous?</p> <p>Because he needs his supporters to continue thinking he's a miracle worker. To them, this tweet is a simple progress report. Even if anyone bothers fact checking it, they'll never see it. All they see is Trump keeping them apprised of the tremendous progress he's making in draining the swamp and bending Washington to his will.</p> <p>But surely he can't keep this up for multiple years, can he? At some point, after all, even people who don't pay much attention to the news will eventually realize there's a disconnect between reality and Trump's big talk. Then they'll start to see Trump for the empty hustler he is. Right?</p> <p>This is the $64,000 question. I wish I knew the answer. For now, I'll just say that I'm not sure. A lot of it depends on events, of course, and a lot of it depends on how successful Trump is at blaming other people for everything that goes wrong. Depending on circumstances, it's possible that the true believers will stay on board forever, even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Jan 2017 02:54:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 323421 at Seven Years Is Enough: Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Prison Sentence <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Obama announced today that he is commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who has spent nearly seven years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents when she was stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst in 2010. She will be freed in May. James Joyner is not pleased:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Manning certainly more deserving of sympathy than Snowden. OTOH, WH argument cuts both ways. This is big FU to the military justice system. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; James Joyner (@DrJJoyner) <a href="">January 17, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> <p>This is just not right. Obama has commuted hundreds of sentences, as have previous presidents. By definition, these are acts of mercy that explicitly reduce a sentence imposed by the justice system. His commutation of Manning's sentence is no more a big FU to the military justice system than his other commutations are big FUs to the civilian justice system.</p> <p>What's more, there are several reasons to believe that Manning deserves this show of mercy. She released only low-level documents, not top secret ones. She was clearly in a good deal of mental distress when she did it. And she pleaded guilty to most of the charges and apologized publicly for her actions.</p> <p>The biggest disconnect between those who approve of her commutation and those who don't is undoubtedly a simple difference of opinion about how serious her crimes were. But there's another disconnect that's less obvious because so many of us barely even notice it anymore: the United States is a wild outlier when it comes to the length of prison sentences. Manning was sentenced to <em>35 years in prison</em>. A lot of people will shrug when they read that, but it's insane by any kind of global standard. We hand out 15 and 20-year sentences like candy in America, while the rest of the world considers 5-10 years a severe sentence for anyone short of a serial killer.</p> <p>Chelsea Manning will end up spending seven years in prison. By any non-crazy standard, that's a very long sentence considering the circumstances of Manning's crime. I don't believe she was wrongly convicted&mdash;no government can possibly allow a soldier to expose a massive trove of state secrets without punishment&mdash;but I do believe that seven years is enough. Let it rest.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:26:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 323396 at Obamacare Approval Hasn't Suddenly Spiked in the Past Month <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A new poll from NBC and the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> is getting some attention today for showing <a href="" target="_blank">a big jump in support for Obamacare</a> now that Republicans are talking about getting rid of it. But this poll shows less than it seems. The last time it was taken was March 2015, so all it tells us is that one poll shows an increase in approval sometime over the past two years. For comparison, here's the NBC/WSJ poll overlaid on the monthly Kaiser tracking poll:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obamacare_approval_nbc_kaiser_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The Kaiser poll shows roughly a two-point increase over the past two years, all of it coming in the fall of 2016. Will it show another increase in January? Maybe, but we'll have to wait and see.</p> <p>In the meantime, the NBC/WSJ poll tells us very little. It doesn't show any kind of increase in the past month, just an increase over the past two years. And even that might be an artifact of sampling error in its March 2015 poll. I'm just as eager to see an increase in public approval of Obamacare as anybody, but the NBC/WSJ poll literally tells us nothing about the past month or two. In another few weeks both Gallup and Kaiser should give us some real data to chew on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 19:34:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 323361 at Please Stop Pretending that Donald Trump's Every Utterance Has Magic Powers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday Donald Trump said he thought the dollar was "too strong." Today the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> goes into overdrive to describe the effect of the great man's words:</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Trump Comments Send Dollar Reeling</strong></a></p> </blockquote> <p>Reeling! Is that true? Well, the <em>Journal's</em> own dollar index fell about 1 percent, and sure, that's a fair amount for a single day. But let's take a look at the <em>Journal's</em> index for the entire period since Trump's election:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_trump_election_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Hmmm. The dollar steadily gained strength following Trump's election based on expectations of his economic and trade policy. Then it started sliding around the start of the new year. Its latest 1 percent drop is hardly significant: it's dropped that much in a single day before, and it's still up significantly since Trump's election. And in case you're curious, here's a longer-term view:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wsj_dollar_index_2014_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>So did Trump's words have a galvanizing effect on the world's currency traders? It's possible, but we might want to wait a few days before we say so. There are other things going on in the world too, after all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:52:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 323351 at Social Media Is Best Used for Distraction, Not Argument <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Chinese government is the acknowledged expert at authoritarian use of social media to promote party goals. So how do they do it? <a href="" target="_blank">Alex Tabarrok</a> points today to a new paper that engaged in a ton of ground-level research to come to a conclusion that shouldn't surprise anyone. <a href="" target="_blank">They don't waste their time trying to change minds:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime&rsquo;s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. We infer that <strong>the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject,</strong> as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.</p> </blockquote> <p>As the chart at the top of this post shows, the government's social media army leaps into action at all the appropriate times, but instead of defending the party or the government, they just spend their time distracting attention onto other subjects.</p> <p>I hardly need to mention that this strategy should remind you of someone.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Jan 2017 17:51:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 323331 at