Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2013/06 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Unsportsmanlike Conduct in the NBA Follows an Inverted U-Shaped Curve http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/unsportsmanlike-conduct-nba-follows-inverted-u-shaped-curve <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Over at 538, Benjamin Morris asks <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/just-how-bad-were-the-bad-boys/" target="_blank">"Just How Bad Were the Bad Boys?"</a> The bad boys in question are the Detroit Pistons basketball team of the late 80s, who had a reputation for being unusually aggressive on the court. Did they deserve their reputation? To test this, Morris looks at how many technical fouls they racked up, a good measure of unsportsmanlike conduct. In fact, he takes a look at the total number of technical fouls for the entire league, and finds that the number rose steadily until 1995 and then started a long-term decline.</p> <p>I promise this is just for fun, but I've overlaid another line against Morris's chart. Not a perfect fit, granted, but not too far off, either. I'm sure a few of you can guess what it is, can't you?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_bad_boys_lead_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 90px;"></p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Science Sports Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:56:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 249916 at http://www.motherjones.com Medical Inflation Is Up, But It's Probably Just a Blip http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/medical-inflation-its-probably-just-blip <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Sarah Kliff reports that health care spending <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/4/15/5612900/health-spending-growth-fast" target="_blank">ticked upward at the end of 2013:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A four-year slowdown in health spending growth could be coming to an end....Federal data suggests that health care spending is now growing just as quickly as it was prior to the recession.</p> <p>....The Altarum Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich. tracks health spending growth by month. It saw an uptick in late 2013 that has continued into preliminary numbers for 2014. Separate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which tracks the growth or consumer spending by quarter, shows something similar: health spending grew by 5.6 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the fastest growth recorded since 2004.</p> </blockquote> <p>Inflation in the final quarter of 2013 ran a little over 1 percent, which means health care spending rose 4.5 percent faster than the overall inflation rate. That's a lot. But it's also <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_cost_growth_small.jpg" style="margin: 20px 5px 15px 30px;">only one quarter, and it's hardly unexpected. Take a look at the chart on the right, which shows how much per capita health care spending has increased over and above the inflation rate for the past 40 years. There are two key takeaways:</p> <ul> <li>Medical inflation has been on a striking long-term downward path since the early 80s.</li> <li>There's a ton of noise in the data, with every decline followed by a subsequent upward correction.</li> </ul> <p>The HMO revolution of the 90s sent medical inflation plummeting. Then a correction. Then another big drop. And another upward correction. Then another drop. If that's followed by an upward correction for a few years, it would hardly be a surprise.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the long-term trend is pretty clear, and it shows up no matter how you slice the data. For many years, medical inflation was running as much as 4-6 percent higher than overall inflation. Today that number is 1-2 percent, and the variability seems to be getting smaller. What's more, that 1-2 percent number matches the long-term trend during the entire postwar period (see chart below). There's good reason to think that it might be the natural rate of medical inflation, with the 80s and early 90s as an outlier. That's where I'd put my money, anyway.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_real_medical_inflation_long_view.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 10px;"></p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Health Care Wed, 16 Apr 2014 01:25:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 249911 at http://www.motherjones.com Donald Rumsfeld Will Never Overpay His Taxes http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/donald-rumsfeld-will-never-overpay-his-taxes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Via Steve Benen, I see that Donald Rumsfeld sends the IRS a letter every year when he files his taxes. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rumsfeld-and-sad-commentary-governance" target="_blank">Here it is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I have sent in our federal income tax and our gift tax returns for 2013. As in prior years, it is important for you to know that I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and our tax payments are accurate. I say that despite the fact that I am a college graduate and I try hard to make sure our tax returns are accurate.</p> <p>The tax code is so complex and the forms are so complicated, that I know I cannot have any confidence that I know what is being requested and therefore I cannot and do not know, as I suspect a great many Americans cannot know, whether or not their tax returns are accurate. As in past years, I have spent more money that I wanted to....</p> </blockquote> <p>Etc. Two things here:</p> <ul> <li>As a longtime feeder at the public trough, Rumsfeld is surely aware that the IRS isn't responsible for the complexity of the tax code. Congress is. He needs to write an annual letter to his representative in Congress instead. As a resident of Washington DC, of course, he doesn't really have one, but that's a whole different story. However, I'm sure Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton would be delighted to receive his letter anyway.</li> <li>The big reason taxes are complicated is because people do complicated things with their money&mdash;often with the express aim of lowering their taxes. Nobody is forced to do this. If you want, you can just add up all your income and pay the statutory rate without worrying about deductions and loopholes and capital gains rates and so forth. That will make your taxes easy. But if you're the kind of person who has enough money to hire expensive accountants to manage your carefully tailored investments, then you have enough money to pay those accountants to do your taxes too.</li> </ul> <p>In any case, none of this really matters. No matter how much Rumsfeld pays in taxes, it will never be enough to make up for the damage he's done to this country over his lifetime. He should stop whining. He owes us.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:52:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 249901 at http://www.motherjones.com Google Ponders Using Its Search Algorithms to Encourage Encryption http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/google-ponders-using-its-search-algorithms-encourage-encryption <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/04/14/google-may-push-sites-to-use-encryption/?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a move that experts say could make it harder to spy on Web users, <strong>Google is considering giving a boost in its search-engine results to websites that use encryption,</strong> the engineer in charge of fighting spam in search results hinted at a recent conference.</p> <p>The executive, Matt Cutts, is well known in the search world as the liaison between Google&rsquo;s search team and website designers who track every tweak to its search algorithms....Google uses its search algorithm to encourage and discourage practices among web developers. Sites known to have malicious software are penalized in rankings as are those that load very slowly, for instance. In total, the company has over 200 &ldquo;signals&rdquo; that help it determine search rankings, most of which it doesn&rsquo;t discuss publicly.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't want to make too big a deal out of this, but I'm a little nervous about the power Google is demonstrating here. Google has a <a href="http://searchengineland.com/bing-ends-2013-with-all-time-high-in-us-market-share-but-google-also-up-comscore-181876" target="_blank">two-thirds share of the search market,</a> which makes it an effective monopoly in this space, and they're none too transparent about just how they exploit this dominance. Encrypting web sites is probably a good thing to encourage, but it's hardly necessary for every site. Nor is it clear just what Google would decide counts as proper encryption. Do some encryption standards and suppliers stand or fall based on whether Google's algorithm recognizes them?</p> <p>I haven't given this a ton of thought, so just take this as a bit of noodling. To the extent that Google's algorithms are genuinely aimed at producing the most useful results for people, it's hard to fault them. When they start to go beyond that, though, things get a little gray. What comes next after this? It's worth some thought.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Tech Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:14:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 249821 at http://www.motherjones.com Fox News Is About to Get a New Pet Rock http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/fox-news-about-get-new-pet-rock <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Oh man, a whole new set of conspiracy theories <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/us/politics/census-survey-revisions-mask-health-law-effects.html?hp&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">is about to take flight:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama&rsquo;s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.</p> <p>....An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a &ldquo;total revision to health insurance questions&rdquo; and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_conspiracy_theory.jpg" style="margin: 20px 5px 15px 30px;">how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,&rdquo; said Brett J. O&rsquo;Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.</strong> With the new questions, &ldquo;it is likely that the Census Bureau will decide that there is a break in series for the health insurance estimates,&rdquo; says another agency document describing the changes. This &ldquo;break in trend&rdquo; will complicate efforts to trace the impact of the Affordable Care Act, it said.</p> </blockquote> <p>I admit that this sure seems like a bad time to suddenly decide we need a new methodology for counting the uninsured, even if it has been in the works for a while. But it doesn't matter if it's almost certainly bureaucratic inertia at work here, not political skullduggery. The Fox News set is going to have a field day with this. <em>The feds are unskewing their own numbers! Probably on direct orders from the White House!</em> I expect Darrell Issa to commence hearings next week.</p> <p>Yeesh. Can't we just delay these changes for a year or two? Even if the old numbers were inaccurate, it would still be nice to keep a stable baseline for comparison through 2015 or so.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Obama The Right Tue, 15 Apr 2014 16:32:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 249816 at http://www.motherjones.com Is the Crisis in Ukraine About to Wind Down? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/crisis-ukraine-about-wind-down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>I've been watching the unfolding events in Ukraine with the usual rising mix of apprehension and horror, but I haven't blogged about it much since I don't have anything to add in the way of insight or analysis. <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2014/04/vladimir_putin_may_not_invade_ukraine_can_russia_s_president_succeed_without.html" target="_blank">So instead I'll turn the mike over to Fred Kaplan, who does:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Contrary to appearances, the crisis in Ukraine might be on the verge of resolution. The potentially crucial move came today when interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said that he would be open to changing the country&rsquo;s political system from a republic, with power centered in the capital Kiev, to a federation with considerable autonomy for the regional districts.</p> <p>That has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin&rsquo;s key demands....If Putin can win this demand&mdash;and the political, economic, and cultural inroads it would provide&mdash;an invasion would be not just be unnecessary, it&rsquo;d be loony. War is politics by other means, and a revamping of Ukraine&rsquo;s power structure would accomplish Putin&rsquo;s political aims by less costly means.</p> <p>....Sending [NATO] fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic states, mobilizing warships to the Black Sea, ratcheting up sanctions with threats of more to come&mdash;all this sends a signal that the West won&rsquo;t stand by. In fact, Putin has done more to rivet the NATO nations&rsquo; attention, and perhaps get them to boost their defense budgets, than anything in the past decade.</p> <p>But Obama and the other Western leaders also know they&rsquo;re not going to go to war over Ukraine. Putin knows this, too. At the same time, if he&rsquo;s at all rational (and this is the worrying thing&mdash;it&rsquo;s not clear that he is), Putin would calculate that escalation is not a winning strategy for him. He could invade the eastern slices of Ukraine, especially around Donetsk, but he couldn&rsquo;t go much further. The move would rile the rest of Ukraine to take shelter under the EU&rsquo;s (and maybe NATO&rsquo;s) wing, and it would rouse the Western nations to rearm to an extent unseen in 20 years (and to a level that the Russian economy could not match).</p> </blockquote> <p>I keep thinking that even from a nationalistic Russian point of view, the cost of invading and holding eastern Ukraine is simply too large. The game isn't worth the candle. And yet....who knows? Rationality is sometimes in short supply. I'd still bet against a Russian invasion, especially if Putin can get much of what he wants without it, but it would be a pretty iffy bet.</p> <p>In any case, I wonder how long this "federation" will last? If Putin is smart, he can bide his time and just wait. A federated Ukraine could organically turn into eastern and western Ukraine with a bit of patience and without firing a shot. In the end, that would probably suit Russia's interests better than outright annexation.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 15 Apr 2014 16:03:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 249806 at http://www.motherjones.com Cliven Bundy Exposes the Cravenness of the Modern Right http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/cliven-bundy-exposes-cravenness-modern-right <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Like a lot of people, Ed Kilgore is distressed at the outpouring of support on the right for <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_04/tax_day_and_patriotism049898.php" target="_blank">Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Call it "individualism" or "libertarianism" or whatever you want, but those who declare themselves a Republic of One and raise their own flags are in a very literal sense being unpatriotic.</p> <p>That's why I'm alarmed by the support in many conservative precincts for the Nevada scofflaws who have been exploiting public lands for private purposes and refuse to pay for the privilege because they choose not to "recognize" the authority of the United States. Totally aside from the double standards involved in expecting kid-glove treatment of one set of lawbreakers as opposed to poorer and perhaps darker criminal suspects, fans of the Bundys are encouraging those who claim a right to wage armed revolutionary war towards their obligations as Americans. It makes me <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_bundy_nevada.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">really crazy when such people are described as "superpatriots." Nothing could be more contrary to the truth.</p> </blockquote> <p>The details of the Bundy case have gotten a lot of attention at conservative sites, but the details really don't matter. Bundy has a baroque claim that the United States has no legal right to grazing land in Nevada; for over a decade, every court has summarily disagreed. It's federal land whether Bundy likes it or not, and Bundy has refused for years to pay standard grazing fees&mdash;so a couple of weeks ago the feds finally decided to enforce the latest court order allowing them to confiscate Bundy's cattle if he didn't leave. The rest is just fluff, a bunch of paranoid conspiracy theorizing that led to last week's armed standoff between federal agents and the <a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/04/10/right-wing-media-are-throwing-gas-on-a-ranchers/198841" target="_blank">vigilante army created by movement conservatives.</a></p> <p>The fact that so many on the right are valorizing Bundy&mdash;or, at minimum, tiptoeing around his obvious nutbaggery&mdash;is a testament to the enduring power of Waco and Ruby Ridge among conservatives. The rest of us may barely remember them, but they're totemic events on the right, fueling Glenn-Beckian fantasies of black helicopters and jackbooted federal thugs for more than two decades now. Mainstream conservatives have pandered to this stuff for years because it was convenient, and that's brought them to where they are today: too scared to stand up to the vigilantes they created and speak the simple truth. They complain endlessly about President Obama's "lawlessness," but <em>this</em> is lawlessness. It's appalling that so many of them aren't merely afraid to plainly say so, but actively seem to be egging it on.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Guns Regulatory Affairs Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:12:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 249801 at http://www.motherjones.com Blood Moon! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/blood-moon <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>It turns out that timing is everything with the blood moon. We had a thin little haze of clouds passing across the sky here in Irvine, so I couldn't get a very sharp image, but at 11:24 pm, the moon was still disappointingly moon-colored. By 12:03 am, however, it was satisfyingly florid. Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_blood_moon_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_blood_moon_2.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 249781 at http://www.motherjones.com Big Government Run Amok Decides to Back Down http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/big-government-run-amok-decides-back-down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/social-security-stops-trying-to-collect-on-old-taxpayer-debts/2014/04/14/9355c58e-c40f-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">The <em>Washington Post</em> gets results!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers&rsquo; debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.</p> <p>....&ldquo;I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,&rdquo; Social Security&rsquo;s acting commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it. If your mother&mdash;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/file-one-under-big-government-run-amok" target="_blank">maybe, possibly</a>&mdash;got overpaid 40 years ago when you were a five-year-old child, the Social Security Administration will no longer seize your tax refund check in order to recover her alleged debt. Progress!</p> <p>Anyway, Eric Posner says the <a href="http://ericposner.com/can-the-government-recover-from-children-on-account-of-social-security-overpayments-to-their-parents/" target="_blank">government's legal position here was untenable all along.</a> That's good to know.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Mon, 14 Apr 2014 22:46:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 249776 at http://www.motherjones.com Today Brings Good News/Bad News on Obamacare http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/today-brings-good-newsbad-news-obamacare <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>The CBO released a <a href="http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45231-ACA_Estimates.pdf" target="_blank">small bit of good news/bad news about Obamacare today.</a> The good news: they now estimate that the 10-year cost of the program will be $104 billion less than they previously thought&mdash;which, in turn, was less than they had projected in <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cbo_obamacare_cost.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">2010. This is primarily because exchange premiums have come in lower than CBO originally estimated, which means that federal subsidies will be lower.</p> <p>The bad news: the lower cost of premiums is primarily because the quality of the plans coming from insurers is lower than CBO originally estimated: "The plans being offered through exchanges in 2014 appear to have, in general, lower payment rates for providers, narrower networks of providers, and tighter management of their subscribers&rsquo; use of health care than employment-based plans do. Those features allow insurers that offer plans through the exchanges to charge lower premiums (although they also make plans somewhat less attractive to potential enrollees)."</p> <p>CBO didn't update its projection of Obamacare revenues, but if those don't change, it means that Obamacare will reduce the deficit even more than we thought.</p> <p>But here's an interesting thing: CBO continues to project that Obamacare will lead to no short-term change in employer-based insurance. But the latest Rand poll suggests that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/heres-some-stunning-and-unexpected-good-news-about-obamacare" target="_blank">employer insurance has <em>increased</em> by about 7 million</a> since Obamacare enrollment started up last year. If that number turns out to be real, I wonder how that will affect CBO's budget estimates? It all depends on how this feeds into their models, but it seems like it would be a positive thing one way or the other.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:02:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 249751 at http://www.motherjones.com How to Lose Money and Come Out OK Anyway http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/how-lose-money-and-come-out-ok-anyway <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>TIAA-CREF is buying Nuveen Investments for $6.25 billion from Madison Dearborn, a private equity shop that bought Nuveen in 2007. Nuveen has performed poorly since then, but insiders say that the TIAA-CREF deal ensures that the Madison Dearborn will at least break even on its investment. Felix Salmon is gobsmacked <a href="http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2014/04/14/private-equity-math-nuveen-edition/" target="_blank">after running through the numbers:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>So here&rsquo;s my back-of-the-envelope math: you buy a company for $2.7 billion in cash, plus debt which you refinance a few times. While you&rsquo;re running the company, it loses a total of $2.4 billion. And then you sell the company for $1.75 billion in cash. Total going out the door: $5.1 billion. Total coming in, at exit: $1.75 billion. Net loss: some $3.35 billion, give or take.</p> <p>All of which raises some big questions about the WSJ&rsquo;s claim that Madison Dearborn &ldquo;will have at least broken even on its Nuveen investment&rdquo;. If that claim is even close to being true, then at the very least we can&rsquo;t take Nuveen&rsquo;s public filings at face value at all....This is worth remembering, when private-equity types (think Mitt Romney) claim that their interests are aligned with the interests of the companies they buy. That certainly doesn&rsquo;t seem to have been the case here. Nuveen is being sold with about $1.5 billion more debt than it started with, and with cumulative losses under Madison Dearborn&rsquo;s ownership of some $2.4 billion. That&rsquo;s not a great legacy for TIAA-CREF to inherit. <strong>If Madison Dearborn really is breaking even on this deal, that only goes to show the enormous disconnect between the economics of private equity companies &mdash; the wealthy rentiers of society &mdash; versus the economics of the real-world companies they buy and sell.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Of course, one possibility is that Madison Dearborn is just putting a brave face on things and reporters are taking it at face value. More likely, though, there are tax games of some kind that allowed Madison Dearborn to strip a ton of value out of Nuveen over the past seven years. I suppose they're also benefiting from low interest rates, which means that Nuveen's refinanced debt is less onerous now than it was in 2007.</p> <p>In any case Salmon's point is well taken. If you can break even after running a company as disastrously as Madison Dearborn has, there's something pretty badly rotten about the entire world of high finance. But then, you knew that already, didn't you?</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Mon, 14 Apr 2014 15:37:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 249716 at http://www.motherjones.com An Economist Answers Some of My Questions About "Capital in the 21st Century" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/economist-answers-some-my-questions-about-capital-21st-century <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_capital_2st_century_english.jpg" style="margin: 8px 25px 15px 35px;"><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/some-follow-notes-thomas-pikettys-capital-21st-century" target="_blank">On Thursday</a> I posted a couple of very rudimentary comments regarding Thomas Piketty's blockbuster new book, <em>Capital in the 21st Century</em>. I had questions about Piketty's estimates of <em>r</em> (return on capital) and <em>g</em> (economic growth) in the past and&mdash;much more importantly&mdash;how they were likely to play out in the future. But all I had were amateur musings because I am, after all, only an amateur.</p> <p>However, yesterday <a href="http://equitablegrowth.org/2014/04/12/notes-finger-exercises-thomas-pikettys-capital-twenty-first-century-honest-broker-week-april-12-2014/" target="_blank">Brad DeLong tackled some of the questions I asked</a> in a far more rigorous and disciplined way, teasing out a lot of unstated implications along the way&mdash;including the importance of various measures of <em>r</em> and how they relate to the probability of increasing future wealth concentration in the real world. It's a long post, and complex in places, but highly recommended. If you're willing to work your way through it, DeLong provides a framework for thinking about Piketty's model that helps you start to make sense of both the book and its conclusions.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> I've gotten a couple of questions about why I seem unduly skeptical, or even harsh, about Piketty's book. It's obviously a landmark work, I don't really mean to be unfair. But it's a book with innovative and untested ideas that has obvious appeal to anyone left of center, and I think this is precisely the time to avoid unquestioning hosannas. Affinity bias makes us all sympathetic to Piketty's arguments, and that's why we should instead question it carefully and thoroughly.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Books Economy Sun, 13 Apr 2014 16:40:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 249691 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Finally Time For a New Phone http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/its-finally-time-new-phone <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>So I went out today to my local T-Mobile store to check out the new HTC One, and as far as I'm concerned they ruined it. It's now a gigantic slab, thanks to the 5-inch screen mania that's mowed down everything in its path over the past year. They should have kept the old size, even if it meant the screen might be a mere 4.8 or 4.9 inches.</p> <p>So it's now off my radar, and I'm pretty much thinking I'll go ahead and get a Google Nexus 5 instead. Ironically, it also has a 5-inch screen, but it's nonetheless about the same size as the old HTC One. It's nowhere near as good looking, but it seems to be pretty functional and pretty reasonably priced. Anyone have any reason to warn me away from it?</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Sun, 13 Apr 2014 03:52:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 249686 at http://www.motherjones.com Heartbleed is a Sucking Chest Wound in the NSA's Reputation http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/heartbleed-sucking-chest-wound-nsas-reputation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_heartbleed.jpg" style="margin: 8px 20px 15px 30px;">On Friday, Bloomberg's Michael Riley reported that the NSA was aware of the Heartbleed bug <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-11/nsa-said-to-have-used-heartbleed-bug-exposing-consumers.html" target="_blank">from nearly the day it was introduced:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The U.S. National Security Agency knew for at least two years about a flaw in the way that many websites send sensitive information, now dubbed the Heartbleed bug, and regularly used it to gather critical intelligence, two people familiar with the matter said....Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations&rsquo; intelligence arms and criminal hackers.</p> </blockquote> <p>Henry Farrell explains just how bad this is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/11/the-nsa-may-have-exploited-heartbleed-thats-a-very-very-big-deal/" target="_blank">here.</a> But later in the day, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/04/11/the-nsa-denies-it-knew-of-the-heartbleed-bug/" target="_blank">the NSA denied everything:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private-sector cybersecurity report," NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines told The Post. "Reports that say otherwise are wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence echoed that statement Friday, saying neither the NSA nor any other part of the U.S. government knew about Heartbleed before April 2014....The denials are unusually forceful for an agency that has historically deployed evasive language when referring to its intelligence programs.</p> </blockquote> <p>You know, I'm honestly not sure which would be worse. That the NSA knew about this massive bug that threatened havoc for millions of Americans and did nothing about it for two years. Or that the NSA's vaunted&mdash;and lavishly funded&mdash;cybersecurity team was completely in the dark about a gaping and highly-exploitable hole in the operational security of the internet for two years. It's frankly hard to see any way the NSA comes out of this episode looking good.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:01:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 249676 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 11 April 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/friday-cat-blogging-11-april-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Here she is, the Queen of Sheba, keeping a watchful eye on her domain and her loyal subjects. Soon she will take a well-deserved nap.</p> <p>But before <em>you</em> take a nap, how about donating a few bucks to our investigative reporting fundraiser? Our goal is to raise $100,000 over the next three weeks. As you all know, we're a reader-supported nonprofit, so those dollars aren't going to come from big corporations or super-rich political donors. They'll be small contributions from regular people who read <em>Mother Jones</em>. If you value our reporting&mdash;or hell, even if you only value our catblogging&mdash;please donate $5 to the Mother Jones Investigative Fund. If you can afford it, make it $10. We'll put it to good use. Here's how to make a contribution:</p> <ul> <li>Credit card donations: <a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=7Z44DRU&amp;extra_don=1" target="_blank">Click here</a> </li> <li>PayPal donations: <a href="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&amp;hosted_button_id=DA2WBARE3WZDG" target="_blank">Click here</a> </li> </ul> <p>Thanks!</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_04_11.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 11 Apr 2014 18:50:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 249661 at http://www.motherjones.com Who Started the Culture Wars, Anyway? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/who-started-culture-wars-anyway <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>A couple of days ago Paul Waldman wrote about <em>Persecuted</em>, a new movie that features a Christian evangelist who gets framed for murder by an evil senator and then spends the rest of the film running from government agents. It all sounds pretty silly, and it's come in for plenty of mockery on the left. But after watching the trailer, I have to say that it didn't sound much sillier than plenty of other movies and TV shows I've seen. In Hollywood, evil businessmen have done a lot worse than this to environmental activists and the CIA has done a lot worse to national security whistleblowers.</p> <p>So fine. Why not make a silly movie about a persecuted evangelist instead of a persecuted journalist trying to expose the CIA? It's not my cup of paranoid thriller tea, but all of us enjoy being paranoid about different things. And I was <iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/z4FslottUKo" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe>happy to see that, unlike many lefties, Waldman concedes that <a href="http://prospect.org/article/thrown-lions" target="_blank">right-wing Christian paranoia isn't completely ridiculous:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>But liberals should acknowledge that for more fundamentalist Christians, there's a genuine feeling that underlies their fears. In many ways, the contemporary world really has turned against them. Society has decided that their beliefs about family&mdash;in which sex before marriage is shameful and wicked, and women are subordinate to their husbands&mdash;are antiquated and worthy of ridicule. Their contempt for gay people went from universal to acceptable to controversial to deplorable in a relatively short amount of time. If you are actually convinced that, in the words of possible future senator and current congressman Paul Broun, "I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old," then modern geology is an outright assault on your most fundamental beliefs. And so is biology and physics and many other branches of science.</p> </blockquote> <p>And it's not just changing culture. Over the last half century, various branches of government have also taken plenty of proactive steps to marginalize religion. Prayer in public school has been banned. Creches can no longer be set up in front of city hall. Parochial schools are forbidden from receiving public funds. The Ten Commandments can't be displayed in courtrooms. Catholic hospitals are required to cover contraceptives for their employees. Gay marriage is legal in more than a dozen states and the number is growing rapidly.</p> <p>Needless to say, I consider these and plenty of other actions to be proper public policy. I support them all. But they're real things. Conservative Christians who feel under attack may be partly the victims of cynical politicians and media moguls, and a lot of their pity-party attempts at victimization really are ridiculous. But their fears <em>do</em> have a basis in reality. To a large extent, it's the left that started the culture wars, and we should hardly be surprised that it provoked a strong response. In fact, it's a sign that we're doing something right.</p> <p>As far as I'm concerned, the culture wars are one of the left's greatest achievements. Our culture <em>needed</em> changing, and we should take the credit for it. Too often, though, we pretend that it's entirely a manufactured outrage of the right, kept alive solely by wild fantasies and fever swamp paranoia. That doesn't just sell the right short, it sells the left short too. It's our fight. We started it, and we should be proud of it.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Fri, 11 Apr 2014 18:16:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 249656 at http://www.motherjones.com Obamacare and the Hack Gap: A Case Study http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/obamacare-and-hack-gap-case-study <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>"Watch the right search desperately for bad news on Obamacare," <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-bad-news-20140409,0,2630689.column#axzz2yaipHZQh" target="_blank">says the headline</a> to Michael Hiltzik's piece a couple of days ago about the right, um, desperately searching for bad news on Obamacare. And it's true. Obamacare is a great example of the famous hack gap.</p> <p>Don't get me wrong. We lefties generally try to portray Obamacare as a success. You won't find Diogenes on either side. But I read lots of lefties who write about health care, and they've generally been willing to acknowledge Obamacare's problems. The federal website rollout was a disaster. The insurance pools so far seem to have fewer of the young and healthy than we'd hoped. Narrow networks are a significant problem, especially <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_mind_gap.jpg" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">in some states. We don't know yet how many Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured&mdash;and in any case, the number appears to be less than CBO projected earlier this year. Etc.</p> <p>But unless I'm reading the wrong conservatives, you simply see nothing of this sort on the right. Their coverage of Obamacare is simply an endless search for increasingly strained ways to deny that anything even slightly positive has happened. The Obama administration is lying about its numbers. If they're not lying, the figures are meaningless anyway until they've been unskewed. Premiums are skyrocketing. People are being tossed off their plans and thrown in the street. The budget projections are a joke. Cancer patients are dying for lack of doctors to see them. Hours are being cut back and part-time workers are being fired. Fewer people have coverage now than before Obamacare started up.</p> <p>I could go on. And on. And on. This is the hack gap in all its glory. There's simply no willingness on the right to acknowledge any success at all. And even when they're forced to concede that maybe there are a few people benefiting from Obamacare, it's just an opportunity to rail about Democrats handing out bennies to inner-city moochers like a modern-day Boss Tweed. Welcome to America, ladies and gentlemen.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care The Right Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:45:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 249636 at http://www.motherjones.com Senate Torture Report Starts to Leak http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/senate-torture-report-starts-leak <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>In an entirely unsurprising development, it appears that the Senate report on CIA torture is starting to get leaked. Today, McClatchy reports the complete list of findings from the report, <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/10/224085/cias-use-of-harsh-interrogation.html?sp=/99/100/&amp;ihp=1" target="_blank">including these:</a></p> <ul> <li>The CIA&rsquo;s use of enhanced interrogation techniques did not effectively assist the agency in acquiring intelligence or in gaining cooperation from detainees.</li> <li>The CIA inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques to justify their use.</li> <li>The CIA&rsquo;s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.</li> <li>The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making. The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program. The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA&rsquo;s Office of Inspector General.</li> <li>The CIA manipulated the media by coordinating the release of classified information, which inaccurately portrayed the effectiveness of the agency&rsquo;s enhanced interrogation techniques.</li> </ul> <p>The whole story is <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/10/224085/cias-use-of-harsh-interrogation.html?sp=/99/100/&amp;ihp=1" target="_blank">here,</a> along with the complete list of findings. I expect more like this in the future unless the CIA stops slow rolling its declassification process and allows the report to be substantially released.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Human Rights Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:01:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 249626 at http://www.motherjones.com File This One Under Big Government Run Amok http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/file-one-under-big-government-run-amok <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>What a weird story this is. A few years ago, someone tacked an amendment onto a farm bill that lifted the 10-year statute of limitations on collection of old debts to the government. So now the Social Security Administration is intercepting tax refunds in order to collect on ancient overpayments.</p> <p>But that's not the weird part. The weird part is that in some cases, they're seizing money from the <em>children</em> of dead beneficiaries who were overpaid as long ago as the 60s and 70s. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/social-security-treasury-target-hundreds-of-thousands-of-taxpayers-for-parents-old-debts/2014/04/10/74ac8eae-bf4d-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">According to the <em>Washington Post</em>,</a> "Social <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ssa_logo.jpg" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children&rsquo;s money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred."</p> <p>But wait. Even <em>that's</em> not the weirdest part of the story. This is:</p> <blockquote> <p>A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice&rsquo;s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government &mdash; a very old debt.</p> <p>When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.</p> <p>....Social Security officials told Grice that six people &mdash; Grice, her four siblings and her father&rsquo;s first wife, whom she never knew &mdash; had received benefits under her father&rsquo;s account. <strong>The government doesn&rsquo;t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>WTF? They just go after the eldest child first and work their way down? All because their mother was (allegedly) overpaid, which means a bunch of teenage kids benefited three decades ago? That's got to be the most cockamamie thing I've ever heard of.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Fri, 11 Apr 2014 03:23:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 249616 at http://www.motherjones.com Two French Unions Ban Work Email After 6 pm http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/two-french-unions-ban-work-email-after-6-pm <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Huh. A couple of white-collar unions in France have <a href="http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/no-afterwork-emails-orders-french-labour-deal/story-fnb64oi6-1226878661655#" target="_blank">signed a new labor agreement:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The legally binding deal, signed by employers' federations and unions representing almost one million workers in the digital and consultancy sectors, stipulates that employees should be left alone when they are out of the office.</p> <p>Staff will be ordered to switch off their professional phones and avoid looking at work-related emails or documents on their tablets and computers. Businesses will be required to ensure that workers are under no pressure to check their messages.</p> </blockquote> <p>The ban takes effect at 6 pm each night. Remarkable.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Labor Thu, 10 Apr 2014 20:41:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 249601 at http://www.motherjones.com Some Follow-Up Notes on Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/some-follow-notes-thomas-pikettys-capital-21st-century <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>I'm a little reluctant to dive ever deeper into the weeds of Thomas Piketty's <em>Capital in the 21st Century</em> since I'm woefully unqualified for the task. But I have a couple of follow-up comments that might be worthwhile. These are things I alluded to in <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/my-kinda-sorta-non-review-thomas-pikettys-capital-21st-century" target="_blank">my post on Tuesday</a> but didn't elaborate on.</p> <p><strong>First:</strong> As you know by now, Piketty's primary argument is that, historically, <em>r &gt; g</em>. That is, the return on capital is higher than economic growth, which means that owners of capital see their incomes grow faster than ordinary laborers. Since <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_piketty_r_vs_g_highlight.jpg" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">the rich own most of the capital, this means that the incomes of the rich naturally increase faster than the non-rich unless proactive steps are taken to stop it.</p> <p>That's fine. But take a look at the highlighted region in the chart on the right. The first set of points is for 1950-2012, a period in which <em>r</em> was about 0.5 percentage points <em>less</em> than <em>g</em>. The next set of points is a projection for 2012-2050, a period in which <em>r</em> is roughly 0.5 percentage points <em>greater</em> than <em>g</em>. This is not a big difference, especially considering the inherent noise in the data. Even if it's correct, it means the next 40 years will see only small changes in the relative returns to capital and labor.</p> <p>The real action is in the period 2050-2100, and it's almost entirely dependent on Piketty's projection that <em>g</em> will plummet by two full percentage points. Now, this might be correct. But keep in mind what's going on here. Piketty's main conclusion is (a) based on a projection more than 50 years in the future, which is inherently unreliable, and (b) primarily a guess that economic growth will plummet. So everything boils down to this: will global economic growth plummet during the period 2050-2100? I'd like to suggest that this is a very different question from the one most people are addressing in their reviews of Piketty.</p> <p><strong>Second:</strong> Another thing I mentioned on Tuesday is that if economic growth slows and capital stocks increase, then the return on capital should go down. Piketty acknowledges this&mdash;though not in the chart above&mdash;but contends that <em>r</em> will fall less than <em>g</em>. In technical terms, this all depends on the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor. However, <a href="http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/04/more-matt-rognlie-on-piketty.html" target="_blank">over at Tyler Cowen's blog,</a> Matt Rognlie argues that Piketty is confusing gross and net production functions. If you account for depreciation, then the elasticity is such that <em>r</em> is likely to fall much faster than Piketty thinks as capital stocks increase and economic growth slows down.</p> <p>I want to be clear that I can't assess this independently. But it sounds plausible, and Cowen thinks it sounds plausible too. I'd very much like to hear Piketty or someone else address this.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:47:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 249571 at http://www.motherjones.com Behind the Scenes on Those Enormous Medicare Billing Numbers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/behind-scenes-those-enormous-medicare-billing-numbers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Yesterday's data dump of how much Medicare pays doctors has generated predictable outrage about the vast amounts some of the top doctors bill. Obviously there are a lot of reasons for high billing rates, but Paul Waldman points to an interesting one: the way Medicare reimburses doctors for pharmaceuticals is partly to blame. The #1 Medicare biller on the list, for example, was a Florida ophthalmologist who prescribes Lucentis for macular degeneration instead of the cheaper Avastin. Since Medicare pays doctors a percentage of the cost of the drugs they use, he got $120 for each dose he administered instead of one or two dollars. That adds up fast. (More on Avastin vs. Lucentis <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/12/curing-blindness-cheap-way-vs-very-very-expensive-way" target="_blank">here.</a>)</p> <p>In the <em>LA Times</em> today, a Newport Beach oncologist who's also near the top of the Medicare billing list <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-medicare-doctor-reaction-20140410,0,4894597.story#axzz2yUoZwNa1" target="_blank">offers this defense:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>For his part, Nguyen, 39, said his Medicare payout is misleading because all five physicians at his oncology practice bill under his name, <strong>and much of that money overall is reimbursement for expensive chemotherapy drugs on which he says doctors make little or no money.</strong> Other high-volume doctors voiced similar complaints about the data.</p> </blockquote> <p>Anyway, Waldman wonders <a href="http://prospect.org/article/most-expensive-health-care-world" target="_blank">why we do this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If nothing else, this story should point us to one policy change we could make pretty easily: get rid of that six percent fee and just give doctors a flat fee for writing prescriptions. Make it $5, or $10, or any number that makes sense. There's no reason in the world that the fee should be tied to the price of the drug; all that does is give doctors an incentive to prescribe the most expensive medication they can. That wouldn't solve all of Medicare's problems, but it would be a start. Of course, the pharmaceutical lobby would pull out all the stops trying to keep that six percent fee in place. But that's no reason not to try.</p> </blockquote> <p>The backstory here is that Medicare used to set the reimbursement rate for "physician-administered drugs" based on an average wholesale price set by manufacturers. This price was routinely gamed, so Congress switched to reimbursing doctors based on an average sales price formula that's supposed to reflect the actual price physicians pay for the drugs. Then they tacked on an extra 6 percent in order to compensate for storage, handling and other administrative costs.</p> <p>I don't know if 6 percent is the right number, but the theory here is reasonable. If you have to carry an inventory of expensive drugs, you have to finance that inventory, and the financing cost depends on the value of the inventory. More expensive drugs cost more to finance.</p> <p>However, this <em>does</em> motivate doctors to prescribe more expensive drugs, a practice that pharmaceutical companies are happy to encourage. I don't know how broadly this is an actual problem, but it certainly is in the case of Avastin vs. Lucentis, where the cost differential is upwards of 100x for two drugs that are equally effective. And the problem here is that Medicare is flatly forbidden from approving certain drugs but not others. As long as Lucentis works, Medicare has to pay for it. That's great news for Genentech, but not so great for the taxpayers footing the bill.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 10 Apr 2014 15:53:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 249531 at http://www.motherjones.com Second Look: Greece May Be Recovering, But Only Barely http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/second-look-greece-may-be-recovering-only-barely <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/greece-finally-starting-recover" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> I linked to a Hugo Dixon column arguing that Greece is, improbably, starting to recover. Ryan Cooper points to Greece's stubbornly high unemployment rate and <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/259700/speedreads-no-greece-is-still-a-sucking-chest-wound-in-europe" target="_blank">begs to differ:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>With unemployment still over 27 percent, I'd say let's hold off on talk of a recovery.</p> <p>Indeed, I rather fear this could be the worst of all worlds. Moving off the Euro would have been awful, but at least held the prospect of returning to growth and full employment within a couple years (from a much lower base). By contrast, the bank Natixis recently estimated that, given very generous assumptions, it will take Spain (which is in similarly dire straits) 25 years to return to 2007-era employment. A nation can do a great deal of catch-up growth in that time.</p> <p>Realistically, I'd guess this means that Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, etc., will <em>never</em> recover fully, and instead we're witnessing the birth of a crummy, tattered Franco-German empire with a permanently depressed periphery.</p> </blockquote> <p>Fair enough. I think it's worth pointing toward signs of progress, but it's certainly true that the eurozone's can-kicking response to its financial crisis has had the effect of enormously protracting the misery of the mostly southern debtor countries. Recovery may be starting, but even if it is, it's going to be a very, very long time before Greece is actually in anything approaching decent shape.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_greece_unemployment.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:16:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 249516 at http://www.motherjones.com Update: What Do Critics Mean Who Say Obamacare "Isn't Liberal Enough"? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/update-what-do-critics-mean-who-say-obamacare-isnt-liberal-enough <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>I periodically drone on about the laziness of polls that ask a simple approve/disapprove question about Obamacare. The problem is that a lot of people say they disapprove because Obamacare isn't liberal enough. These are folks don't necessarily disapprove of the concept of national healthcare in general or Obamacare in particular, and shouldn't really be counted among right-wing opponents of the law.</p> <p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/03/opposition-obamacare-appears-be-shrinking-problems-get-resolved" target="_blank">A couple of weeks ago,</a> a Kaiser poll gave us a slightly deeper glimpse into all this. They asked the disapprovers <em>why</em> they disapproved, and it was clear that some of them had lefty criticisms of the law, not conservative criticisms. But the evidence was still a bit fuzzy.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_huffpo_poll_obamacare.jpg" style="margin: 8px 20px 15px 30px; border: 1px solid black; border-image: none;">Today, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/obamacare-not-liberal-enough_n_5106981.html" target="_blank">Mark Blumenthal goes further.</a> In a recent HuffPo poll, about 9 percent of the respondents said they opposed Obamacare because it wasn't liberal enough. Then, in a follow-up question, they were asked, "In your own words, what do you mean when you say the health care law is not liberal enough?"</p> <p>The results are on the right. There's still some ambiguity here, but I'd classify several of the responses as likely left-wing criticisms. Adding up the percentages, I get 6 + 4 + 15 + 4 + 4 + 3 = 36 percent. That's a little less than half of those who had a response.</p> <p>So, very roughly speaking, in future polls I'd guess that about half of the "not liberal enough" folks are basically supporters of Obamacare but want the law to go further. It might even be more than that, but it remains hard to parse the motivations behind all of these responses with precision. Is "too complex" a liberal or conservative criticism? How about "lack of choice"? Hard to say.</p> <p>In any case, this adds some context to the whole debate about Obamacare critics who say it's "not liberal enough." It's also an object lesson against assuming too much ideological coherence from survey respondents. A larger survey with a bigger sample size and a little more structure to the questions would be welcome.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 09 Apr 2014 18:38:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 249446 at http://www.motherjones.com Can Anyone Win the 2016 Republican Nomination? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/can-anyone-win-2016-republican-nomination <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jeb_bush_george.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Ben Smith pours cold water on the idea of <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/why-jeb-bush-is-a-terrible-candidate" target="_blank">Jeb Bush running for president:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The notion that Jeb Bush is going to be the Republican presidential nominee is a fantasy nourished by the people who used to run the Republican Party. Bush has been out of a game that changed radically during the 12 years(!) since he last ran for office. He missed the transformation of his brother from Republican savior to squish; the rise of the tea party; the molding of his peer Mitt Romney into a movement conservative; and the ascendancy of a new generation of politicians &mdash; Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, among them &mdash; who have been fully shaped by and trained in that new dynamic. Those men occasionally, carefully, respectfully break with the movement. Scorning today&rsquo;s Republican Party is, by contrast, the core of Jeb&rsquo;s political identity.</p> </blockquote> <p>There's more, and Smith makes a good case without even bothering to mention Bush fatigue.</p> <p>But I have to say that I'm mystified right now. In 2012, from the very start, I thought Mitt Romney would win the nomination. Basically, the whole contest boiled down to Mitt and the Seven Dwarves, and eventually I figured Mitt would stomp each dwarf and then, battered and bruised, win the nomination.</p> <p>But this time around, it's just dwarves. Like Smith, I have a hard time seeing Jeb Bush making a serious run. Chris Christie still seems terminally damaged by Bridgegate, though I suppose that's still up in the air depending on what future investigations reveal. Beyond that, I guess Scott Walker is still a possibility&mdash;though, in the immortal words of Ann Widdecombe, it's always seemed as if there's a bit of the night about him. And Paul Ryan, of course, though it sure doesn't seem like he's seriously interested in running.</p> <p>Beyond that, it's just the usual clown show of nutballs and C-list wannabes. You can make a great case for why <em>none</em> of them can possibly win. And yet, someone has to win. It's a mystery.</p> </body></html> Kevin Drum Elections The Right Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:41:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 249426 at http://www.motherjones.com