Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/07/politics-healthcare%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/category/lo-ultimo-en-musica%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/tag/pareja/%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/tag/padres/%3Bwww.aollatinoblog.com/2008/03/14/salsa-para-enchilada http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Obamacare Rates In California Will Rise Only 4% in 2016 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/obamacare-rates-california-will-rise-only-4-2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Obamacare's moment of truth is coming. By now we've heard all the scare stories about a few health insurers in a few states requesting gigantic rate hikes for next year. But over the next few weeks, states are going to start publishing the <em>actual</em> average rate increases that consumers will see in 2016. <a href="http://www.coveredca.com/PDFs/7-27-CoveredCA-2016PlanRates-prelim.pdf" target="_blank">California released its report today.</a> It's still marked preliminary, but you can expect that the final numbers will be very close to these:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_california_obamacare_rate_increase_2015.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>I've highlighted two numbers. First, the overall average rate increase is 4.0 percent. That's way lower than you've seen in the scary headlines. And this is for a state that makes up more than a tenth of the country all by itself.</p> <p>Second, the price of the second-lowest-price silver plan has gone up 1.8 percent. This is the figure used to calculate subsidy levels, so it's an important one. In fact, here's an interesting consequence of that number: because subsidies will be going up roughly 1.8 percent, and the cost of the <em>lowest</em>-price silver plan is going up only 1.5 percent, the net cost (including subsidies) of buying the cheapest silver plan is actually going down. As you can see in the bottom row, if you shop for the lowest-priced plan, your premiums are likely to <em>decrease</em> about 4.5 percent.</p> <p>I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News.</p> <p>Now, California isn't necessarily a bellwether for all the other states. Because it's the biggest state in the union, it has lots of competition that helps drive down prices. A big population also means less variability from year to year. Also: California's program is pretty well run, and the California insurance market is fairly tightly regulated. All this adds up to a good deal for consumers.</p> <p>In any case, the headline number here is a very reasonable 4 percent increase in overall premiums, and a 4.5 percent <em>decrease</em> for consumers shopping for the cheapest plans. These are real statewide numbers, not cherry-picked bits and pieces designed to encourage hysteria. Once again, it looks like Obamacare is working pretty well.</p> <p>This all comes via Andrew Sprung, who has much more detail <a href="http://xpostfactoid.blogspot.com/2015/07/some-sidelights-on-covered-californias.html" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:28:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 280761 at http://www.motherjones.com Sorry Donald, Most Republicans Don't Actually Care That Much About Illegal Immigration http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/07/27/morning-plum-big-majority-of-gop-voters-favors-mass-deportation-poll-finds/?hpid=z2" target="_blank">Greg Sargent</a> has an item today noting that by a 63-34 percent margin in a <a href="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/07/26/72715cnnorc.pdf" target="_blank">new CNN poll,</a> Republicans believe the main focus of immigration policy should be stopping the flow of immigration and deporting the ones who are already here. No big surprise there. But when I clicked over to the poll itself I found a couple of things related to immigration that were kind of interesting.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_unauthorized_immigrant_population_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">First, CNN asked "Just your best guess, do you think the number of immigrants coming to the United States illegally has increased or decreased in the last few years?" Among Republicans, 83 percent thought it had increased. Granted, asking about the "last few years" is a little ambiguous, but if you assume at a minimum that it means less than a decade, then 83 percent of Republicans are woefully misinformed. As you can see from the <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/22/unauthorized-immigrant-population-stable-for-half-a-decade/" target="_blank">Pew data</a> on the right, the illegal immigrant population dropped considerably in 2008 and 2009 and has been basically flat ever since.</p> <p>(By the way, among Democrats 61 percent think immigration has increased. That's a little better, but still not exactly a proud moment in voter awareness. It isn't just Fox News that's keeping us all misinformed.)</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cnn_poll_important_issues_2015_07_27_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The second interesting question was one that asked about which issues were most important. This kind of thing always has to be taken with a grain of salt, but even so it's a little surprising how little Republicans actually care about immigration. For all the attention it's gotten from Donald Trump, only 9 percent said it was their most important issue, the lowest showing of any of the issues CNN asked about. The economy and terrorism/foreign policy were far and away the biggest worries among Republicans. Also surprisingly, health care didn't register very high either. The tea party may be yelling endlessly about the need to repeal the worst law since the Fugitive Slave Act, but among all Republicans, only a few rate it as a critical issue.</p> <p>So....immigration and Obamacare probably aren't going to be gigantic issues this year among Republicans&mdash;or in the general election. As usual, the economy will be #1, and #2 will probably be terrorism and foreign policy in general.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:32:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 280701 at http://www.motherjones.com Added Sugar Is Your Enemy, Not Aspartame http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/added-sugar-your-enemy-not-aspartame <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Why does anyone still choose sugared sodas over artificially-sweetened sodas? One reason is taste. If you don't like the taste of aspartame or saccharin, then that's that. Another reason might be a rare medical condition that makes you allergic (or worse) to certain artificial sweeteners.</p> <p>But that probably accounts for only a small fraction of the people who continue to drink sugared sodas. The rest are most likely convinced that artificial sweeteners are bad for you. But they're wrong. It's <em>sugar</em> that's bad for you. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/upshot/the-evidence-supports-artificial-sweeteners-over-sugar.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=mini-moth&amp;region=top-stories-below&amp;WT.nav=top-stories-below&amp;abt=0002&amp;abg=1" target="_blank">Aaron Carroll brings the research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the oldest artificial sweeteners is saccharin. Starting in the 1980s, Congress mandated that any product containing it be accompanied by the following: &ldquo;Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.&rdquo;....There was a problem, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_diet_coke.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">though. This link has never been confirmed in humans....<strong>Based on these newer studies, saccharin was removed from the carcinogen list in 2000.</strong> But by that time, opinions were set. It did little to make anyone feel safe.</p> <p>....Aspartame was introduced in the United States around the time that saccharin began taking a beating....But in 1996, a study was published in <em>The Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology</em> titled &ldquo;Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link to Aspartame?&rdquo; Most people ignored the question mark....There were any number of problems with this logic....Because aspartame was approved in 1981, blaming it for a rise in tumors in the 1970s seems impossible. Finally, much more comprehensive studies couldn&rsquo;t find links....<strong>A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe.</strong></p> <p>....But what about sugar?....Epidemiologic studies have found that even after controlling for other factors, <strong>one&rsquo;s intake of added sugars is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes,</strong> with a 1.1 percent increase in prevalence for each can of sugar-sweetened soda. A study following people for an average of more than 14 years published last year in <em>JAMA Internal Medicine</em> found that <strong>those in the highest quintile of added sugar consumption had more than twice the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease</strong> than those in the lowest quintile, even after controlling for many other factors.</p> </blockquote> <p>Anyway, that's what science says. Unfortunately, science also says that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney" target="_blank">presenting facts to people almost never changes their minds.</a> In fact, it can do just the opposite as people respond defensively to the notion that they've been wrong for a long time. So I suppose no one reading this is actually going to switch to diet sodas. Instead they'll cherry-pick studies that support their previous point of view. Or claim that all the studies exonerating artificial sweeteners are funded by big business and not to be trusted. Or perhaps make an outr&eacute; claim about how aspartame interacts with gluten and animal fat to produce....something or other.</p> <p>That's life, I guess. However, I suggest that you swamp Professor Carroll's inbox with all these insights instead of bothering me with them. He's the expert after all. Or, just switch to water. Then you won't have to worry about it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 16:51:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 280691 at http://www.motherjones.com Wait? The Robots Aren't Coming After All? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/wait-robots-arent-coming-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias laments that, contrary to scare stories in the media, robots <em>aren't</em> taking away our jobs. In fact, productivity has dropped steadily over the past few decades. That wouldn't be true if automation were taking away work while producing more goods and services.</p> <p>True enough. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/27/9038829/automation-myth" target="_blank">But what about the future?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Of course, all this <em>might</em> change. The power of Moore's Law &mdash; which states that the power of computer chips doubles roughly every two years &mdash; is such that the next five years' worth of digital progress will involve bigger leaps in raw processor power than the previous five years. It's at least <em>possible</em> that we really will have a massive leap <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_atlas_robot.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">forward in productivity someday soon that starts substantially reducing the amount of human labor needed to drive the economy forward.</p> <p>But robots are never going to take <em>all</em> the jobs.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have one question: Why not?</p> <p>There are a couple of possible answers to that question. The first is that we'll never manage to invent true AI, which will prevent robots from ever being able to perform a wide range of tasks that humans perform easily. The second is that we <em>will</em> invent AI, but....something something something. I don't really understand the second answer. I'll grant that humans might continue to be CEOs and legislators and a few other things just to make sure that we're still ultimately in charge of the world ourselves. And who knows? We might even decide that we prefer human art even if we can't tell the difference, the same way an original Rembrandt is worth a lot more than even a perfect copy.</p> <p>But that would still mean robots taking over 99 percent of the jobs. If you don't believe AI is coming anytime soon, then I understand why you think this will never happen. But if you <em>do</em> accept that AI is coming in the medium-term future, then why won't robots take essentially all the jobs? What exactly is it that they won't be able to do?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 15:58:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 280681 at http://www.motherjones.com China's Stock Market Back In Trouble http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/chinas-stock-market-back-trouble <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_shanghai_stock_market_2015_07_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Thanks to government support, the Shanghai stock index has rallied for the past few weeks after a month of losses. Today it plummeted again, apparently due to the government withdrawing its support. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/asian-stocks-fall-pressured-by-weak-earnings-overseas-1437961185" target="_blank">From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Authorities may want to &ldquo;test whether the market has recovered its resilience,&rdquo; said Fu Xuejun, a strategist at Huarong Securities. &ldquo;The government wants to use state funds to stabilize the market, not to prop it back to 5000 points overnight.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Well, I guess that test didn't work. According to the <em>Journal</em>, Monday's drop came as a big surprise. "I am positive that we will see state support emerging again in the next two days," said Jacky Zhang. Maybe so. But if the fundamentals aren't there, even the Chinese version of government support can't keep things propped up forever. It's only a matter of time until we see the market plummeting again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jul 2015 15:07:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 280671 at http://www.motherjones.com Donald Trump Explained in Four Words http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/donald-trump-explained-four-words <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_donald_trump.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">If you want to understand Donald Trump&mdash;and I wouldn't blame you if you don't&mdash;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-goes-on-the-attack-again-with-scott-walker-as-the-latest-target/2015/07/25/c6727b44-3315-11e5-8f36-18d1d501920d_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">this paragraph from the <em>Post</em> should do it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>&ldquo;Finally, I can attack!&rdquo;</strong> Trump said at a packed rally at Oskaloosa High School. &ldquo;Wisconsin&rsquo;s doing terribly. It&rsquo;s in turmoil. The roads are a disaster because they don&rsquo;t have any money to rebuild them. They&rsquo;re borrowing money like crazy. They projected a $1 billion surplus, and it turns out to be a deficit of $2.2 billion. The schools are a disaster. The hospitals and education was a disaster. And he was totally in favor of Common Core!&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>In a private email, Walker supporter Gregory Slayton wrote, "As you've seen Gov Walker is now well ahead of everyone not named DumbDumb (aka Trump) in the national polls." <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/07/24/top-scott-walker-fundraiser-calls-donald-trump-dumbdumb/" target="_blank">The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> made the email public,</a> and that was that. Finally, Trump could attack.</p> <p>This is what he lives for. But only if he can pretend that the other guy started it. John McCain called his supporters crazies. Lindsey Graham called Trump a jackass. And now a Walker fundraiser called him DumbDumb. Finally! It must have been killing Trump to hold back on Walker until he had the appropriate casus belli.</p> <p>That's Trump. He lives for the fight. And despite being worth $10 billion (or whatever) he always manages to feel like he's the aggrieved party. If this reminds you of any particular bloc of voters, now you know why he's doing so well in the polls.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 26 Jul 2015 16:02:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 280651 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This has come up in comments a few times recently, so here's a quick update.</p> <p>Short answer: I'm fine.</p> <p>Slightly longer answer: As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I didn't respond to the stem cell transplant, so we're trying a new chemo med. The good news is that I don't seem to be suffering any side effects so far. But it often takes more than a month for these things to show up, so we're not out of the woods yet. As for whether it's working, it will be several more months before we know.</p> <p>All that aside, I feel pretty good these days. Not totally back to normal, but 80-90 percent of the way there. I still have a bit of mild stomach nausea periodically, and my neuropathy shows no signs of going away, but my energy level is pretty good and I'm eating enough for two people. At the moment, my only real problem is that I'm tired from not getting enough sleep. But that's nothing to worry about. I've been taking sleep meds for the past six months, and wanted to wait until I was feeling better to get off them. That time has come, so I'm tapering off under my doctor's instructions. It's actually going better than I expected, but there's still a price to pay. Until my body gets back into the habit of falling asleep and staying asleep on its own, I'm going to be a little short on shuteye. With any luck, this will only last a few more weeks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 26 Jul 2015 00:54:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 280646 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Is Weird, Summer 2015 Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/republicans-weird-summer-2015-edition <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mike_lee.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">No, this isn't about Donald Trump. It's about Sen. Mike Lee of Utah&mdash;who plans to offer yet another amendment to repeal Obamacare, but this time with a special super-duper secret sauce added to the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/07/24/mike-lee-goes-for-nuclear-option-to-repeal-obamacare/?hpid=z5" target="_blank">upcoming highway funding bill:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Lee said he will try to re-offer the Obamacare repeal as <strong>a special amendment that is directly related to highway funding.</strong> Under Senate rules, amendments that are directly related, or germane, to the underlying legislation can pass with just 51 votes.</p> <p><strong>Lee knows that the chair of the Senate is likely to reject his logic that Obamacare repeal is germane to highway funding,</strong> so he plans to use the nuclear option. That means he will formally object to the ruling of the chair, which requires a 51-vote simple majority &mdash; then he plans to move on to the coveted simple majority vote.</p> <p>....If his plan works, Lee gets to tell his supporters that he&rsquo;s responsible for a major vote to kill the health care law he reviles. The House voted to repeal the law in February, so the two chambers could then theoretically conference the bills &mdash; leaving it up to Obama to veto a bill to kill his own signature policy achievement.</p> </blockquote> <p>So the plan is simple: have Republicans declare ex cathedra that repeal of Obamacare is germane to highway funding, and then pass Lee's amendment with 51 votes. It's brilliant! All that's missing are the sharks with lasers attached to their heads!</p> <p>Aside from being mind-numbingly stupid<sup>1</sup>, it also won't work. Democrats will just filibuster the entire highway bill, or else they'll vote for it and then Obama will veto the entire mess. Result: Obamacare stays in place but our highways continue to crumble into dust. Nice work, Senator! It's good to see that the Republican Party remains committed to the sober, responsible kind of leadership that makes our great nation the envy of the world.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>It's times like this that I regret the recent banishment of "retarded" from polite conversation. Because I think we all know that it's the word that really fits here.<sup>2</sup></p> <p><sup>2</sup>Though I suppose there's no reason to insult the developmentally disabled by comparing them to Mike Lee.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 25 Jul 2015 16:29:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 280641 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 24 July 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/friday-cat-blogging-24-july-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hopper and Hilbert like to (a) play-wrestle with each other, and (b) jump up on the fireplace mantel. Here they are doing both. Hopper has lately been taking control of these affairs, finally realizing that she's the real alpha cat in the household even if her brother is bigger. As she's finally figured out, being alpha is more about will and energy than about size, and she's got both. Nonetheless, you can see in this picture about how seriously she takes it.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2015_07_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 18:45:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 280566 at http://www.motherjones.com Cigna-Anthem Merger Might Not Be a Bad Deal for Consumers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/cigna-anthem-merger-might-not-be-bad-deal-consumers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>There used to be five big health insurance companies in the US. If the proposed Anthem-Cigna merger goes through, we'll be down to three. Is this a good thing? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/24/big-health-care-deals-are-creating-insurance-goliaths-is-that-good-for-consumers/" target="_blank">Wonkblog's Carolyn Johnson reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The effect on premiums are hard to predict, but are likely to be bad.</strong></p> <p>The question of how the mergers will affect card-carrying members is more complicated than it might seem. In general, consolidation in an industry leads to less competition and higher prices. Indeed, the few studies that have been <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cigna_anthem.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">done suggest that fewer insurers in the marketplace will mean higher prices.</p> <p>...."The premise of the merger for both of these transactions is that they can achieve cost savings and economies of scale, and they of course maintain that will lead to their ability to price even more competitively," said Richard Zall, chair of the health care department at Proskauer, a law firm. "It will take some time to see: 1) can they implement the mergers and achieve those savings and 2) is there still sufficient competition in the various markets that it won&rsquo;t lead to price increases?"</p> </blockquote> <p>Actually, it's not this simple. There are several things that make it hard to predict how this will shake out:</p> <ol><li>Health insurers do compete with each other, but even more they compete with providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, etc.). If there are multiple small insurers in, say, Kansas, then hospitals there have a lot of pricing power. If an insurer refuses to do business with a particular hospital, that puts them at a big disadvantage compared to their competitors and limits their leverage to negotiate lower prices. But if there are only one or two big insurers, it's the hospitals that are at a disadvantage since they can't afford to be out of their networks. In this case, insurers have much more leverage to negotiate lower prices.</li> <li>Unlike, say, diet colas, which are available everywhere, even big health insurers tend to be somewhat regional. This means there are some areas where there's literally only one insurer available. This obviously could put consumers at a disadvantage.</li> <li>However, Obamacare mandates a minimum "medical loss ratio" of 80 percent. Even if there's only one insurer in a county, they have to spend at least 80 percent of their premium dollars on actual health care. That number goes up to 85 percent for large group plans. So there's a hard limit on how much insurers can charge no matter who controls the market.</li> <li>Generally speaking, we liberals would prefer a system in which there was only <em>one</em> insurer: the federal government. There are various reasons for this, but one of them is that a single nationwide insurer would have enormous pricing power. This is sort of the ultimate version of item #1. Medical costs are overwhelmingly set by providers, not by insurers, and the more leverage insurers have, the lower prices are for consumers.</li> </ol><p>In other words, while I'd normally be opposed to such severe consolidation in an industry, it's a little trickier in this case. There are plenty of horror stories about health insurers, but when it comes to pricing, a smaller number of bigger insurers is probably a good trend. In the health care industry, the thing to be worried about is consolidation on the provider side. <em>That</em> would be bad for medical costs.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 18:08:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 280556 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary Clinton Takes Aim at Capital Gains Taxes for the Rich http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/hillary-clinton-takes-aim-capital-gains-taxes-rich <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports that Hillary Clinton's tax plan is <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/clinton-to-propose-rise-in-capital-gains-taxes-on-short-term-investments-1437747732" target="_blank">starting to take shape:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Hillary Clinton will propose a sharp increase in the capital-gains tax rate for the highest earners for investments held only a few years, a campaign official said Friday. Under the Clinton plan, investments held between one and two years would be taxed at the normal income-tax rate of 39.6%, nearly double the existing 20% capital gains rate.</p> <p>....The rate for top-bracket taxpayers would be set on a sliding scale, with the lowest rate applied to investments held the longest. To qualify for the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_capital_gains_distribution_tpc.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">existing 20% rate, one would have to hold an investment for at least six years.</p> </blockquote> <p>This change would apply only to high-income taxpayers and only to short-term investments. Lower-income workers would continue to get a break on capital gains taxes compared to the rate they pay on ordinary income. This is mostly for show, however: low-income workers barely have any capital gains income in the first place. The chart on the right <a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/key-elements/capital-gains/lower-rate.cfm" target="_blank">from the Tax Policy Center</a> shows the breakdown. Anyone making less than a six-figure income pays virtually no capital gains taxes, so changing their rates serves no purpose. It's only at the high end of the income spectrum that the preferential capital gains rate matters.</p> <p>Hillary's proposal will enrage conservatives, who are convinced that capital gains rates are the magic key to prosperity. Since there's <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/08/great-capital-gains-charade" target="_blank">virtually no evidence linking capital gains rates to economic growth, </a>the cynical among you might think that what really motivates their tireless advocacy of low rates is that it benefits the rich enormously. But that's only for the cynical among you.</p> <p>In any case, folks who make more than a million dollars a year are going to be pretty exercised about this, even though Hillary's proposal allows them to keep a modestly preferential rate for investments held longer than two years and the current super-preferential rate for investments held for six years or more. Still, details aside, the rich account for virtually all the capital gains taxes paid, and raising that rate in any way would hurt them considerably. These are also the folks who are donating vast sums to the Republican candidates, so you can be sure they'll be insisting that their favored candidate goes after this proposal hammer and tongs. But Hillary is right. There's little evidence that higher capital gains rates do much harm, and a fair number of reasons to actively prefer a higher rate. Jared Bernstein has more <a href="http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/pushing-back-on-quarterly-capitalism-and-incentivizing-more-investment/" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:43:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 280501 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's How to Stop Covering Donald Trump: Stop Covering Donald Trump http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/heres-how-stop-covering-donald-trump-stop-covering-donald-trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Message to everyone: You don't <em>have</em> to cover Donald Trump's every move. Honest. If you're going to whine and complain about how he's sucking all the oxygen out of the race, then <em>stop covering him unless he does something genuinely newsworthy</em>. Which actually isn't all that often.</p> <p>For God's sake, how hard can this be? If clickbait is all that matters to you, fine. But don't pretend you're being journalists if that's all that's driving you.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:00:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 280496 at http://www.motherjones.com Hillary vs. the Press, Round One Million: The Times Screws Up a Scoop http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/hillary-vs-press-round-one-million-times-screws-scoop <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hillary Clinton's email travails are a genuine problem for her. At best, relying solely on her own server to handle email while she was Secretary of State shows bad judgment, and at worst it might have violated government rules. There's <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hillary_clinton_email.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">not much question this is going to dog her going into next year's election.</p> <p>That said, Jonathan Allen points out that the press is <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/24/9031511/clinton-rules-scoop-email" target="_blank">back to its old bad habits as well:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Clinton rules are in full effect again. This case would fall under the umbrella of No. 3: The media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith until there's hard evidence otherwise. The <em>New York Times</em>, which got the scoop, rewrote its original story and is taking a beating from political observers and other media outlets for it. The first version said the inspectors general want a criminal investigation into Clinton's actions specifically, while the revised copy says they want the Justice Department to open a probe, more broadly, into whether the email was mishandled. It may turn out that Clinton is responsible for mishandling sensitive material, but the inspectors general didn't ask for an investigation into her, as the first version of the <em>Times</em> story said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here are the <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/07/24/1405261/-New-York-Times-dramatically-rewrites-a-new-Hillary-Clinton-email-story-after-midnight" target="_blank">two versions of the <em>Times</em> lede:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into <strong>whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled</strong> sensitive government information....</p> <p>&nbsp;Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into <strong>whether sensitive government information was mishandled</strong>....</p> </blockquote> <p>The second one is correct. <strong>[See update below.]</strong> The request is a very generic one, asking whether the State Department misclassified some documents, and criticizing it for "its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations." Aside from the fact that the buck stops at the top, there's nothing here that's specifically about Clinton. And yet, the <em>Times</em> writers originally made their lede all about Hillary, almost as if on autopilot.</p> <p>The feud between Hillary and the press is sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys: it's now so old, and so deeply ingrained, that it's almost impossible to tell who's more at fault. The press learned to deeply mistrust the Clintons during the 90s, sometimes with cause, and the Clintons learned to deeply mistrust the press at the same time, also sometimes with cause. The result is that Hillary does everything she can to shield herself from the press, and the press assumes that everything she does has some kind of sinister motive. Meanwhile, Republicans sit back and fan the flames, just as you'd expect them to.</p> <p>It's gonna be a grim 2016 campaign if this keeps up.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Actually, even the second one is wrong. It's not a criminal investigation. <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/report-hillary-clinton-criminal-probe-urged-by-inspectors-general-over-email-use-at-state-120571.html#ixzz3gpTJFQXg" target="_blank">From <em>Politico</em>:</a> "In an attempt to clarify reports, a Justice Department official said on Friday, 'The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information. It is not a criminal referral.' "</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:25:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 280486 at http://www.motherjones.com Uber vs. Taxis: Round 2 in the Big Apple http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/uber-vs-taxis-round-2-big-apple <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/uber-vs-taxis-who-does-better-low-income-neighborhoods" target="_blank">On Monday</a> I passed along some news about a study of cost and wait times for Uber vs. taxis in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. In a nutshell, Uber was both cheaper and faster. Now, the same folks who did the LA study have done a quickie follow-up in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nyc_uber_vs_taxi_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">It's based on a very small sample&mdash;so treat it with caution&mdash;but it found that although Uber was no cheaper than New York cabs, the wait time for a car was significantly less. Plus this:</p> <blockquote> <p>Observations in which the taxi company refused to send a driver speak to the unreliability of dispatch taxi service in lower-income and geographically dispersed community districts of New York City. <strong>Of the total number of attempted dispatch taxi rides, the company was unable to send a driver within 30 minutes 38% of the time.</strong> Although it is possible these specific taxi companies did not serve the boroughs of Brooklyn or Queens except when dropping off or picking up a rider from the airport, this lack of clear information contributes to the difficulty riders new to the city generally or merely a particular part of the city face when attempting to travel around the city via car service.</p> </blockquote> <p>The full report is <a href="http://botecanalysis.com/portfolio-post/uber-v-taxi-in-brooklyn-and-queens-twice-as-fast-but-no-cheaper/" target="_blank">here.</a> As with the LA report, it was funded by Uber.</p> <p>It's worth noting&mdash;though it should be obvious&mdash;that nothing in this report addresses various other concerns about Uber: pay and working conditions for drivers, regulatory compliance, privacy issues, etc. It's just data about one specific thing: how Uber compares to cabs on the metrics of price and convenience.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:15:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 280481 at http://www.motherjones.com Surprise! EPA's New Power Plant Rules Aren't Going to Destroy America After All. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/surprise-epas-new-power-plant-rules-arent-going-destroy-america-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there's one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Coal_Train.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">It turns out they <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/californiadream/2012/09/20/what-does-history-say-about-the-costs-and-benefits-of-environmental-policies/" target="_blank">aren't really all that expensive after all.</a> The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?</p> <p>Apologies for the spoiler, but can you guess what's happening now that President Obama's new carbon rules for power plants are about to take effect? Mitch "War on Coal" McConnell has been issuing hysterical warnings about these regulations for years, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-new-epa-regulations-looming-some-states-gain-from-coals-free-fall/2015/07/23/80001208-2c93-11e5-bd33-395c05608059_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">but the <em>Washington Post</em> reports that</a>&mdash;sorry, did you say something? You've already guessed, have you?</p> <blockquote> <p>More striking is what has happened since: Kentucky&rsquo;s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule &mdash; something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort....&ldquo;We can meet it,&rdquo; Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA&rsquo;s mandate.</p> <p>The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency....Despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.</p> <p>Iowa is expected to meet half of its carbon-reduction goal by next year, just with the wind-power projects already planned or in construction. Nevada is on track to meet 100 percent of its goal without additional effort, thanks to several huge &shy;solar-energy farms the state&rsquo;s electricity utilities were already planning to build. From the Great Lakes to the Southwest, electric utilities were projecting huge drops in greenhouse-gas emissions as they switch from burning coal to natural gas &mdash; not because of politics or climate change, but because gas is now cheaper.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s frankly the norm,&rdquo; said Malcolm Woolf, a former Maryland state energy official and now senior vice president for Advanced Energy Economy....&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve yet to find a state that is going to have a real technical challenge meeting this.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Try to contain your surprise.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 24 Jul 2015 04:13:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 280476 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Not Just Social Security Anymore. Jeb Bush Wants to Destroy Medicare Too. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/its-not-just-social-security-anymore-jeb-bush-wants-destroy-medicare-too <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Republicans have been talking for years about "reforming" Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they'll love it so much that, um, Republicans don't dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients. Or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There's a lot of blah blah blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It's only younger workers, who don't pay as much attention and have been brainwashed&mdash;by conservatives&mdash;into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP's reformed<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Ry_fRjLyE68" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe> version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right?</p> <p>But I've never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now. Here's Jeb Bush:</p> <blockquote> <p>A lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and <strong>move to a new system that allows them to have something&mdash;because they&rsquo;re not going to have anything.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Boom! If we don't gut Medicare, <em>they'll have nothing.</em> When they turn 65 they'll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn't it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it's something, after all.</p> <p>Jesus. You'd think we were Greece. Oh wait&mdash;these guys <em>do</em> think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.</p> <p>In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for <a href="http://ssa.gov/oact/TR/2015/II_D_project.html#120073" target="_blank">Social Security</a> and <a href="http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/Downloads/TR2015.pdf#page=26" target="_blank">Medicare.</a> If they're correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That's about 3 percent of GDP more than we're spending now.</p> <p>So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can't afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would&mdash;what? I don't even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?</p> <p>Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That's it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:12:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 280451 at http://www.motherjones.com Picture of the Day: El NiƱo Is Coming, and It's a Big 'Un http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/picture-day-el-nino-coming-and-its-big-un <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here it is: <a href="http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">surface sea temperature anomalies</a> caused by this year's super El Ni&ntilde;o. There are two major hot spots: off the coast of Peru, where water is upwards of 4&deg;C warmer than usual, and off the coast of Seattle, where water is about 3&deg;C warmer than usual. Buckle up, folks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_el_nino_2015.jpg" style="margin: 25px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:07:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 280391 at http://www.motherjones.com Benghazi Committee Now Aiming Its Popguns at Iran Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/benghazi-committee-now-aiming-its-popguns-iran-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Back when Trey Gowdy was appointed to lead the House Select Committee on Benghazi, a friend of mine told me I should withhold judgment for a while. Gowdy might be a true believer conservative, but he wasn't a hack like Darrell Issa. His committee might actually do a fair job.</p> <p>I was skeptical, but I didn't really know much about Gowdy except for his captivatingly unkempt hair (since cleaned up a bit, sadly). So I waited. Before long, the committee was leaking snippets of testimony taken out of context, a favored tactic of Issa. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trey_gowdy.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Then it seemed to morph into a full-time attack machine aimed at Hillary Clinton. And now, just to prove that things can always get stranger, Gowdy has inserted himself into the Iran nuclear deal.</p> <p>It turns out that Gowdy wants to interview John Kerry's chief of staff, Jon Finer. No problem. However, the State Department told Gowdy that Finer wouldn't be available next Tuesday because he had to accompany Kerry to a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the Iran deal. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/benghazi-committee-takes-aim-iran-deal" target="_blank">Steve Benen picks up the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Kerry&rsquo;s chief of staff, Jon Finer, has <em>actual work to do</em> and needs to be available to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The State Department made clear to Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), in writing, that it &ldquo;will not be possible&rdquo; for Finer to speak to the Benghazi panel on July 28.</p> <p>So, Gowdy scheduled a meeting and demanded that Finer appear on July 28. If he has a relevant role to play in helping address concerns over the nuclear deal, too bad.</p> <p>When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and GOP leaders created the House Select Committee on Benghazi, critics predicted a ridiculous escapade that would do little to shed light on the deadly terrorism, and would instead become a sad, partisan spectacle.</p> <p>Republicans appear to have gone out of their way to prove the critics right. It didn&rsquo;t have to be this way.</p> </blockquote> <p>The funny thing about this is that for all the damage Republican investigations did to Bill Clinton in the 90s, their encore performance has gone miserably. In the Obama era, committee after committee has bombed. Fast &amp; Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, net neutrality, the IRS, and dozens more: all have petered out with hardly enough to make Obama blush, let alone do him any real damage. The fact is that Obama has run a remarkably clean administration, and Republicans just can't stand it. They just <em>know</em> that the socialist-in-chief is scheming to destroy America if only they can dig up the evidence. So they keep digging maniacally.</p> <p>But the digging goes nowhere, because there's no there, there. I don't think they'll ever admit it, though.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 15:47:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 280346 at http://www.motherjones.com Yet More Magical Unicorn Thinking From Right Wing on Iran Nuclear Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/yet-more-magical-unicorn-thinking-right-wing-iran-nuclear-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've been waiting for a while now for a plausible conservative alternative to President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, and Max Fisher informs me today that Michael Oren has stepped up and done just that <a href="http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/07/what-a-good-iran-deal-would-look-like-120424.html#.Va8tZhNViko" target="_blank">in the pages of <em>Politico</em>.</a> Except for one thing: the increasingly unhinged former ambassador to the US may have a plan, but it's about a million miles from plausible.</p> <p>You should read Fisher's whole post, but I'm going to skip the long preamble and get straight to Oren's proposal. Here it is:</p> <blockquote> <p>Israel would have embraced an agreement that significantly rolled back the number of centrifuges and nuclear facilities in Iran and that linked any sanctions relief to demonstrable changes in its behavior. No more state support of terror, no more threatening America&rsquo;s Middle Eastern allies, no more pledges to destroy the world&rsquo;s only Jewish state and no more mass chants of "Death to America." Israel would have welcomed any arrangement that monitored Iran&rsquo;s ICBMs and other <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_magic_unicorn.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">offensive weaponry. Such a deal, Israeli leaders across the political spectrum agree, was and remains attainable.</p> </blockquote> <p>That would be great, of course. But not exactly plausible. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/23/9016971/iran-deal-michael-oren" target="_blank">Here's Fisher:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>All of these are politically impossible and, in some cases, physically impossible....Try to imagine a US negotiator actually asking for this. "The inspections procedures of uranium mines look good here, and we are satisfied with the limits on centrifuge research and development. But we require a binding commitment that no one in your political system will speak certain combinations of words about Israel anymore." <strong>We might as well demand that Iran give us a unicorn that we can ride all the way to Candy Mountain.</strong></p> <p>....Is it really worth blowing up a historic nuclear deal &mdash; one that will substantially and verifiably limit Iran's nuclear program, with global cooperation &mdash; over the possibility that one of the Iranian ayatollahs might not be legally forbidden from saying the wrong words?</p> <p><strong>These are poison-pill demands, and very lazy ones at that. They are not designed to be implemented, but rather to raise the political bar for any nuclear deal beyond what can be achieved.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And what about sanctions? Surely the other countries that are parties to the deal would quit in disgust if the US demands were as ridiculous as Oren suggests they should be. Indeed they would, but Oren says that if they drop out we should threaten to sanction <em>them</em>. Fisher: "This is indeed a specific proposal. But it is also insane. Oren is arguing that Obama should threaten to blow up the world economy, including America's own economy, just to secure some vague improvements to the Iran deal."</p> <p>Fisher is right: this is nuts. It's basically just an excuse not to ever conclude a deal with Iran, and instead to (a) keep sanctions in place forever and (b) bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Some plan. The first part is impossible, and the second part would do little except to convince Iran to redouble its efforts to build a bomb.</p> <p>But I guess this is what passes for sounding tough in conservative land. God help us.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:59:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 280341 at http://www.motherjones.com No, Smartphones Aren't Responsible for the Drop in Teen Sex http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/no-smartphones-arent-responsible-drop-teen-sex <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at Wonkblog, we learn that American teenagers are having less sex than they used to. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/22/why-american-teenagers-are-having-much-less-sex/" target="_blank">But why?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Crotchety adults may joke: <em>Maybe they&rsquo;re too busy messing with their iPhones.</em></p> <p>That&rsquo;s actually a decent theory, said Dr. Brooke Bokor, an Adolescent Medicine Specialist at the Children's National Health System. More teenagers than ever have smartphones....Many are more comfortable searching in private for credible information about sexual health....They could be better educated about the risks.&rdquo;</p> <p>....Another possible driver of the sexual slowdown is the growing popularity of the HPV vaccine, which is now widely offered to boys and girls as young as 11. The shots, of course, come with an educational conversation. Kids <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teens_reporting_intercourse.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">learn earlier about the prevalence of STIs and how they're spread.</p> </blockquote> <p>Alert readers will understand immediately not only why these <em>aren't</em> decent theories, but why they're ridiculous ones. In case you need a hint, it's in the chart on the right.</p> <p>As you can see, the percentage of teens who report ever having intercourse has been dropping since the late 80s, and dropped especially sharply during the 90s. There were no smartphones in the 90s. There was no HPV vaccine in the 90s. No matter how appealing these theories might be at first glance, neither is even remotely credible as an explanation for the decline in teen sexual activity.</p> <p>So what's the answer? How about video games? Or hip hop? Or energy drinks? I have no evidence for any of these, and clean-living adults might be scandalized at the idea that any of them could have tangible benefits, but they're all better theories than smartphones or the HPV vaccine. At least the timing fits decently.</p> <p>These provocations aside, I suppose you're now expecting me to get serious and suggest that the decline in childhood lead exposure is responsible for the drop in teen sex. Maybe! There is, after all, some evidence that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/unleaded-gasoline-and-teen-pregnancy" target="_blank">reduced lead exposure is associated with the drop in teen pregnancy</a> over the past few decades, and it's reasonable to suspect that less teen pregnancy might be the result of less teen sex. But there are at least two problems with this. First, pregnancy rates can go down even if sex doesn't, simply due to more widespread use of birth control. Second, the data on teen sex comes from the CDC, and their <a href="http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/beh4.asp" target="_blank">cohort breakdown</a> doesn't seem to fit the lead theory. In particular, the percentage of ninth graders reporting sexual experience didn't start dropping until 2001, and if lead is responsible you'd expect the youngest cohort to drop earlier than older cohorts. At first glance, then, I'm not sure lead explains what's going on. But it might. I'd just need to see more and better data to be sure.</p> <p>In other words: we don't really know for sure why teen sex is down. What we <em>do</em> know is that on a whole range of measures&mdash;crime rates, pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, cigarette smoking, math and reading proficiency, high school completion&mdash;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/05/teenagers-are-no-longer-scary-delinquents-30-years-ago" target="_blank">teenagers have become better behaved over the past couple of decades.</a> They just aren't as scary as they used to be. That's a little hard to take if you're a social conservative who's convinced that liberal values are destroying America, but it's true nonetheless. And good news too.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 23 Jul 2015 03:55:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 280326 at http://www.motherjones.com Medicare Cost Projections Are Down Stunningly in 2015 Report http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/medicare-cost-projections-are-down-stunningly-2015-report <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>As long as we're on the subject of annual trustees reports, <a href="http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/TrusteesReports.html" target="_blank">the 2015 Medicare report was released today too.</a> And if the Social Security report was slightly good news, the Medicare report is, once again, spectacularly good news. Here's the 75-year spending projection from ten years ago vs. today:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicare_trustees_2015.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Ten years ago, Medicare was a runaway freight train. Spending was projected to increase indefinitely, rising to 13 percent of GDP by 2080. This year, spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.</p> <p>Six percent! That's half what we thought a mere decade ago. If that isn't spectacular, I don't know what is.</p> <p>The 2005 projection was based on past performance, which showed costs rising ceaselessly every year. That turned out to be wrong. This year's projection is also based on past performance, which shows that costs have flattened substantially since 2008. Will it turn out to be wrong too? Come back in 2025 and I'll tell you.</p> <p>In any case, this illustrates the big difference between cost projections for Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is basically just arithmetic. We know how many people are going to retire, we know how long they're going to live, and we know how much we're going to pay them. Do the math and you know how much the program will cost us. It can change a bit over time, as projections of things like GDP growth or immigration rates change, but that happens at the speed of molasses. There are very few surprises with Social Security.</p> <p>Medicare has all that, but it also has one more thing: the actual cost of medical care. And that's little more than an educated guess when you start projecting more than a decade ahead. Will costs skyrocket as expensive new therapies multiply? Or will costs plummet after someone invents self-sustaining nanobots that get injected at birth and keep us healthy forever at virtually no cost? I don't know. No one knows.</p> <p>Beyond that, it's always foolish to assume that costs will rise forever just because they have in the past. Medicare is a political program, and at some point the public will decide that it's not willing to fund it at higher levels. It's not as if it's on autopilot, after all. We live in a democracy, and after lots of yelling and fighting, we'll eventually do something about rising medical costs if we simply don't think the additional spending is worth it.</p> <p>Still, the news for now is pretty good. I happen to think the slowdown in medical costs is real, and will continue for some time (though not at the extremely low rates of the past few years). For more on this, see <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/05/our-amazing-slowdown-healthcare-spending-growth" target="_blank">here</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/06/longer-look-medical-inflation" target="_blank">here</a>, and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/08/medicare-costs-down-down-down" target="_blank">here</a>. Others think it's a temporary blip due to the recession, and big increases will return in a few years. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 21:16:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 280301 at http://www.motherjones.com Disability Insurance Is Going to Be a Big Deal In Next Year's Presidential Campaign http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/disability-insurance-going-be-big-deal-next-years-presidential-campaign <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Another year, <a href="http://ssa.gov/oact/TR/index.html" target="_blank">another report from the Social Security Trustees.</a> Here's the basic chart, which shows the combined Social Security Trust fund becoming insolvent in 2034, one year later than last year's projection. At that point, if nothing is done, benefit checks will be reduced about 25 percent.<img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_oasdi_trust_fund_2015.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 35px;"></p> <p>There's not much change since 2014, as you'd expect since this stuff doesn't change a lot from year to year. The bigger news is that if you pull apart OASI (old age benefits) from DI (disability), it turns out that DI is going to be insolvent next year. Everyone has known this for a while, so it's no big shock. But next year is an election year, which means Congress either needs to come up with a fix this year, while everyone is mesmerized by Donald Trump, or else put it off until next year, when they'll have to do it under the blazing white klieg lights of a presidential campaign.</p> <p>It'll probably be next year, since Social Security traditionally doesn't get fixed until it's literally a few days away from not sending out checks to people. That should make this a great campaign issue between Republicans, who think DI is going broke because too many lazy bums are gaming the system, and Democrats, who mostly think it's going broke because <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/04/yes-disability-payments-are-its-nothing-act-surprised-about" target="_blank">boomers are retiring and the economy is still weak.</a></p> <p>So who wins this argument? Republicans have a story that will appeal to their base audience, but when you finally get to the point where checks to disabled people are being reduced&mdash;or not being sent out at all&mdash;that tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully. Public opinion will likely end up on the side of the disabled, especially since the usual fix (moving a bit of money from OASI to DI) is cheap and painless.</p> <p>But we'll see. In any case, this is a fight that can't be avoided. You can count on it becoming a focal point of next year's campaign.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 18:35:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 280256 at http://www.motherjones.com CFPB Wins $700 Million Deceptive Practices Case Against Citibank, So Ted Cruz Wants to Shut Them Down http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/cfpb-wins-700-million-deceptive-practices-case-against-citibank-so-ted-cruz-wants <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen points out today that Ted Cruz wants to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because it "does little to protect consumers." Ironically, this comes on the same day that the CFPB <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/07/21/citibank_fined_700_million_by_cfpb_for_illegal_credit_card_practices.html" target="_blank">won a case against Citibank</a> for deceptive practices that resulted in a $700 million fine. But <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cfpb_logo.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">irony is not a Republican strong suit, and most of them not only want to eliminate the CFPB, they want to eliminate all of Dodd-Frank while they're at it.</p> <p>This is not a big surprise since (a) Republicans have hated Dodd-Frank all along and virtually all of them voted against it, (b) it's an Obama thing, nuff said, and (c) it forces big banks to treat consumers fairly, and Republicans don't like laws that force big banks&mdash;or any other big business&mdash;to treat consumers fairly. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/gop-vows-free-wall-street-safeguards-accountability" target="_blank">Benen comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If the Dodd/Frank were actually imposing unreasonable burdens on well intentioned financial institutions, the complaints might be worth considering, but the fact remains that Wall Street reform is an under-appreciated success story. The repeal crusade is misguided on political and policy grounds.</p> </blockquote> <p>This actually brings up a point worth repeating: one of the prices we pay for extreme political polarization is the inability to tweak big laws after they're passed. No Democrat would claim that Obamacare is perfect, for example. With a few years of experience under our belts, there are some things we now recognize could have been done better. But it's impossible to tweak the law because Republicans flatly refuse to cooperate. It's repeal or nothing. To their base, tweaking the law would be a tacit admission that Obamacare can be improved, and that's effectively treason to the cause. It's a socialist nightmare and it has to be torn out root and branch, period.</p> <p>The same dynamic is true of Dodd-Frank. You can make a good case, for example, that the Dodd-Frank rules pose an unnecessary burden on small community banks that are obviously no threat to the financial system. But even if Democrats would now be willing to loosen the compliance requirements for banks under a certain size, there's no way to make it happen. It's a tweak to the law, and supporting that tweak merely helps Dodd-Frank stay on the books. Better to keep the law as crappy as possible so that opposition to it stays as strong as possible.</p> <p>We see this play out over and over. Modern legislation is inherently complex and needs to be periodically tweaked to keep it working properly. When you can't do that, it steadily gums up the works and keeps everyone in a seething fury about how incompetent the federal government is.</p> <p>Which is the whole point, of course. Welcome to the modern Republican Party. The more they can make a hash out of government operations, the better off they are.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:25:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 280226 at http://www.motherjones.com The Republican Party Has Only Itself to Blame for Donald Trump http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/republican-party-has-only-itself-blame-donald-trump <!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.mischiefsoffaction.com/2015/07/judge-party-by-whom-it-nominates-not-by.html" target="_blank">Seth Masket</a> argues persuasively that we should judge parties by who they nominate, not by who runs. After all, anyone can run, even a carnival barker cretin like Donald Trump. I basically agree, but I also think Jonathan Bernstein <a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-07-22/the-next-liberal-agenda" target="_blank">makes a good point:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction is correct: Parties define themselves through their nominations, including the part where they reject some candidates. <strong>But it&rsquo;s also true that Republicans have been teaching their voters for at least 40 years to respond to what Donald Trump is selling.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. The party elders may not like Trump, but he's the price they pay for the devil's bargain they made years ago to aggressively go after the angry white guy vote. Eventually the perfect AWG candidate was going to come along, and it was never likely to be pretty when it happened. And it isn't.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 15:07:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 280216 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: We're a Car Crazy Nation Yet Again http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/chart-day-were-car-crazy-nation-yet-again <!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_miles_traveled_may_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2015/07/dot-vehicle-miles-driven-increased-27.html" target="_blank">Bill McBride</a> passes along the news that after a five-year slump, vehicle miles traveled in the US started to rise again in 2012, and in May of this year finally surpassed the previous record. However, this is a 12-month rolling average, so it's a little slow to pick up trends. You can see things more clearly in the chart on the right, which shows seasonally-adjusted monthly miles traveled. In the past 18 months, it's increased from 250 billion miles per month to 260 billion miles per month. That significantly outpaces population growth, which means that over the past year or so we're not only driving more, we're driving more <em>per person</em>.</p> <p><a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/22/9011109/cheap-gasoline-more-driving" target="_blank">Brad Plumer has much more here,</a> but the basics seem simple: the economy has finally started growing and gasoline prices have been low. That's enough to get us all back in our cars.</p> <p>So was it ever the case that American young 'uns fell out of love with the automobile, which partly explained why miles traveled dipped so dramatically during the recession? That's a favored explanation among urban pundits, where Zipcars and Uber are popular and lots of people don't bother owning cars. But I've always doubted it. It really does seem to be true that teenagers simply don't care about learning to drive as much as teenagers of my generation, but for the most part that just means they learn to drive a little later. And if they live in the burbs, they need to drive, same as always. They couldn't afford it while they were living in mom's basement during the recession, but they can now, and that's why car sales are up and miles driven are up.</p> <p>We still love our cars, and now we can afford to use them. That will probably continue to be true until gas goes up to five bucks a gallon again. Here in California we're surprisingly close to that ($4.49/gallon for my last fill-up!), but the rest of you are still enjoying relatively cheap prices. What's more, with fracking moving along smartly, and Iran probably close to dumping another few million barrels of oil on the global market daily once sanctions ease up, prices seem likely to stay fairly low for the foreseeable future. That's unfortunate news for the planet, but good news for consumers.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:30:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 280201 at http://www.motherjones.com