Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Friday Cat Blogging - 23 January 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I wrote this morning's short post and then spent the rest of the morning napping. This is ridiculous, and I don't know what's going on. I'm a thousand percent better than I was Tuesday and Wednesday, but still dog tired. One possibility is that this is due to a change in my chemo schedule. Instead of getting all three meds on Friday, I got two of them on Friday and then the third as a standalone on Monday. The next day I was wiped out. Anyway, I <em>hope</em> that's the reason, since this was a one-time thing. I'll ask about it today, though I have little hope of getting any satisfactory answers.</p> <p>In any case, it's finally Friday, so how about some catblogging? This week features a brand new addition to the extended family of Drum cats. My friend Professor Marc sends along this photo of Ivan Davidoff, his new Siberian. His report: "Seems to like being around people, but is not a cuddle-kitty. He likes being petted, will frequently come see if I&rsquo;m still in the home office if I&rsquo;m working there, sometimes jumps onto the desk to be next to me, but is not a lap cat. Maybe that will come as he gets more comfortable. Has woken us up in the middle of the night to get affection, but is not pushy about it." He is certainly a handsome critter, no?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ivan_davidoff_2015_01_23.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:17:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 268751 at John Boehner Faces a Revolt of the Moderates <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Having awakened from my slumber, I see that John Boehner has a whole new problem on his hands. Apparently the rump moderate wing of the Republican Party is <a href="" target="_blank">starting to feel itchy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Female lawmakers pushed the party to drop Thursday's planned vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forcing leaders to abruptly switch course and pass a different antiabortion bill.</p> <p>Last week, a surprisingly large group of 26 House Republicans refused to support an amendment that called for ending deportation deferrals of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Those dissenters came within one vote of tanking the measure aimed at so-called Dreamers.</p> </blockquote> <p>This comes from <em>LA Times</em> reporter Lisa Mascaro, who tells us these folks "bristle" at being called moderates. They prefer to be called pragmatists. Tomayto, tomahto, says me, though it's telling that "moderate" is still a dirty word in GOP land. It's also telling that all this fuss is over bills that everyone agrees are nothing more than the usual symbolic flotsam and jetsam that Republicans pass every year with no actual hope of any of them becoming law. This year, though, they're having trouble even doing that.</p> <p>Why? Is it because the bills are slightly less symbolic than in the past? There is, after all, just a bare chance that some of them could get through the Senate if sponsors line up a few Democrats to join in. They'd still get vetoed, but they'd nonetheless be a little less symbolic in the public's mind. Or is it simply the fact that as Republican ranks grow, the party's victories increasingly come in more moderate districts? As Democrats lose ground in moderate districts and become more solidly liberal, perhaps it's inevitable that Republicans will become more like the Democrats of old.</p> <p>In any case, John Boehner has his work cut out for him. He's got tea partiers on one side, moderates on the other, and a president who has been very effectively throwing sand in the gears of Republican priorities ever since November. Boehner's leadership skills, always a bit on the iffy side, are going to be sorely tested this year.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress The Right Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:16:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 268731 at Yet More Housekeeping <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have returned to the land of the living. The last 36 hours have been pretty hellish, but the good news is that I think I know what happened, and it's not likely to happen again. I hope.</p> <p>That said, I'm still pretty tired. We'll see how the rest of the day goes.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:36:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 268646 at Housekeeping Update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>No blogging today. Sorry. Lots of stuff going on with my body right now. But I should recover eventually.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:43:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 268566 at Obama's Small Ball Is Making Republicans Itch <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jordan Weissmann describes the modest nature of <a href="" target="_blank">President Obama's new tax proposals:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Combined, Obama&rsquo;s hikes would raise $320 billion over a decade, or $32 billion per year. That&rsquo;s just a smidge more than 1 percent of last year&rsquo;s federal tax revenue&mdash;more than a rounding error, but not much more. <strong>Obama isn&rsquo;t looking to soak the rich at this point so much as lightly spritz them.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Quite so. But I'm sure we'll hear endless cries of class warfare anyway, especially over the proposal to end the step-up rule, which would effectively increase the estate tax on rich people. Can't have that.</p> <p>This actually fits with everything Obama has been doing lately: neither his legislative proposals nor his executive actions have been world shaking. It's all small-ball stuff, designed as much to make a point as it is to actually make a difference. If you put them all together, Obama's actions are a way of showing that (a) Democrats are reasonable folks, (b) they're on <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_approval_january_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the side of the middle class, and (c) Republicans continue to be the party of plutocrats, adamantly opposed to even modest proposals that would tax the rich ever so slightly more.</p> <p>Is it working? Well, <a href="" target="_blank">as Greg Sargent points out,</a> most of Obama's proposals seem to be pretty popular, and his poll numbers have jumped up over the past month or so. Maybe this is just because everyone is happy about lower gasoline prices, but I'd guess that's only a part of it. Obama's steady stream of actions make him look good, and relentless opposition makes Republicans look bad. Seems like it's working to me.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:22:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 268471 at Eric Holder Ends Horrible Civil Asset Forfeiture Program <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I was getting better over the weekend, then yesterday I relapsed back into coughing fits. And today is a holiday anyway, so probably blogging will be light. But I hate to let this development from last Friday <a href="" target="_blank">continue to go unremarked:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday announced sweeping changes to a federal civil asset forfeiture program that local law enforcement agencies have been able to use to seize property.</p> <p>....Under new rules announced Friday, federal agencies will no longer be able to accept or "adopt" assets seized by local and state law enforcement agencies &mdash; unless the property includes firearms, ammunitions, explosives, child pornography or other materials concerning public safety. Holder described the new policy as the "first step in a comprehensive review."</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a big deal. Civil asset forfeiture allows police departments to seize property&mdash;usually money and cars&mdash;from people they merely suspect of a crime. No conviction is necessary, and victims have no recourse unless they have the means to sue to recover their property. All by itself this has been a scandal for a long time, but the federal program Holder eliminated has been the biggest scandal of all. It's bad enough that civil asset forfeiture even exists as a legal doctrine, but it's beyond comprehension that the feds would actively encourage abuse of forfeiture laws by creating a program that allows police departments to keep most of the money they seize. This is practically an invitation to steal money from innocent people.</p> <p>So good for Holder for ending this program. If cops are going to be allowed to seize property from people they merely suspect of crimes&mdash;or, in some cases, pretend to suspect of crimes, wink wink nudge nudge&mdash;they sure as hell shouldn't be allowed to keep the stuff and sell it in order to buy themselves a bunch of shiny new toys. The possibilities for abuse are obvious and have been well documented. We're well shut of this horrible program.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:10:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 268436 at Did Market Monetarist Predictions Trounce Everyone Else During the Great Recession? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via James Pethokoukis,</a> Scott Sumner claims that Market Monetarists got things right during the aftermath of the Great Recession <a href="" target="_blank">when others didn't:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It must be a major embarrassment to the profession that us lowly MMs turned out to be more correct during the crisis than any other major group (New Keynesians, New Classical, RBC-types, etc.) and indeed more accurate than other groups on the fringes (old Keynesians, old monetarists, Austrians, MMTers, etc.):</p> <p>1. It&rsquo;s now obvious that Fed, ECB, and BOJ policy was far too tight in late 2008 and early 2009, but MMs were just about the only people saying so at the time.</p> <p>2. We correctly pointed out that fiscal austerity in 2013 would not slow growth in the US because of monetary offset, whereas in a poll of 50 elite economists by the University of Chicago, all but one gave answers implying it would slow growth.</p> <p>3. We pointed out that massive QE would not lead to high inflation, while many other economists on the right said it would.</p> <p>4. We correctly predicted that the BOJ and Swiss National Bank could depreciate their currency at the zero bound, while many on the left said monetary policy was pushing on a string at the zero bound.</p> <p>5. We pointed out that the ECB&rsquo;s tightening of policy in 2011 was a huge mistake, which now almost everyone recognizes.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm a little puzzled by this. Unless I'm misremembering badly, prominent lefty economists like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have been saying most of these things all along. And while I'm not really quite sure if these guys think of themselves as New Keynesians or Neo-Paleo Keynesians or modified Old Keynesians or what, they're basically Keynesians.</p> <p>The only one of Sumner's five points where there's disagreement, I think, is #2, and I'd argue that this is a very difficult point to prove one way or the other. My own read of the evidence is that the modest austerity of 2013 might very well have had a modest effect on growth, but frankly, a single year of data is all but impossible to draw any firm conclusions from. However, it's certainly true that there were no huge changes in the trend growth rate.</p> <p>As for the others, the Keynesian types argued strongly that (a) conventional Taylor Rule calculations called for much looser Fed policy in 2008-09, (b) QE would not lead to inflation in the face of a huge demand shortfall and continued deleveraging, (c) monetary policy in countries with their own currency still had traction, but fiscal policy had a<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe> powerful role too at the ZLB, and (d) the ECB's tight monetary policy in 2011 was nothing short of a cataclysmic disaster.</p> <p>I'm sympathetic to the market monetarist advocacy of NGDP level targeting, but then again, so are folks like Krugman and DeLong. So in a way, it's sometimes unclear to me exactly how far they diverge in practice, even if they subscribe to different theoretical fundamentals. My own tentativeness about NGDPLT is mostly practical: it's not clear to me that central banks can even target inflation as powerfully as many people think, let alone NGDP levels. Part of the reason is that I simply have less faith in the expectations channel than many NGDPLT advocates. It seems like something that will work fine until markets test it to find out if the Fed <em>really</em> has the independent power to set NGDP levels anywhere it wants even in the face of investor panic, and then suddenly it won't work anymore and the Fed's aura of invincibility will be broken. And that will be that. But that may simply reflect a lack of understanding my part. Or perhaps just a lack of faith.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:57:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 268426 at Half of All Public School Kids in Poverty? Be Careful. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>What's up with the copy desk at the <em>Washington Post</em>? Here's a new story <a href="" target="_blank">about our public schools:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty</strong></p> <p>By Lyndsey Layton</p> <p>For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students <strong>come from low-income families</strong>, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.</p> <p>The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year <strong>were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches</strong>. The lunch program is a <strong>rough proxy for poverty</strong>, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation&rsquo;s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.</p> </blockquote> <p>The headline is wrong, even though Layton gets the facts pretty much right: 51 percent of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which are available only to low-income families. That's an important story. But participation in the federal lunch program is, as she notes, only a rough proxy for poverty: you qualify if you have a family income less than 185 percent of the poverty line. <a href="" target="_blank">For a family of four this comes to about $44,000, </a>which certainly qualifies as working class or lower middle class, but not poverty stricken.</p> <p>But it's more complicated than that! The 51 percent number is attention grabbing because it's a majority, but perhaps the more important number is that <a href="" target="_blank">44 percent qualify for <em>free</em> lunches.</a> For a family of four, that's $31,000, just barely over the poverty line. If you got rid of the word "majority," it would <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_child_poverty.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">be safe to use the phrase "near poverty." And frankly, I wouldn't be bothered much if you just called it poverty, even if that's not quite the official federal government definition.</p> <p>But wait! It's even more complicated than that&mdash;and this part is important. On the one hand, lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don't participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don't want to eat in the cafeteria. So there's always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible. On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, <a href="" target="_blank">more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible,</a> and the number is growing quickly. For example, <a href="" target="_blank">every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.</a> Overall, then, although the official numbers have long undercounted some kids, CEP means they now increasingly overcount others. Put this together, and participation in the school lunch program becomes an even rougher proxy for poverty than it used to be&mdash;and any recent "explosion" in the student lunch numbers needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt. This is especially true since overall child poverty <a href="" target="_blank">hasn't really changed much over the past three decades,</a> and if you use measures that include safety net programs it's actually <a href="" target="_blank">gone down modestly since the end of the Reagan era.</a></p> <p>This is, perhaps, a bit too much nitpicking. Unfortunately, we're forced to use school lunch data as a proxy for poverty among school kids because we don't really have anything better. What's more, child poverty increased during the Great Recession and God knows that I'm all in favor of calling attention to it. In a country of our wealth it's a national scandal by any measure, and a massive problem that infects practically every aspect of education policy.</p> <p>Still, it's a subject that can't easily be reduced to a single school lunch number. Both headlines and copy should do their best to treat the subject accurately.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Sat, 17 Jan 2015 17:55:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 268421 at Friday Cat Blogging - 16 January 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Looky here: it's Hilbert plus the entire Drum clan. On the far left, that's me and my sister circa 1963 (my brother is there too, but Hilbert is hiding him.) Aren't we cute? In the middle are my parents, and on the right are Marian's folks. And I'm sure no one needs any help recognizing the youthful, bright-eyed newlyweds in the center.</p> <p>In other cat news, my sister draws our attention to the fact that cats can save lives too. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's the report from Russia:</a> "An abandoned newborn baby was saved from freezing to death by the unlikeliest of hero&nbsp;&mdash; a stray cat. The tabby named Marsha climbed into the box the infant had been dumped in and kept the child warm for several hours as the mercury plunged below zero." Hooray for cats!</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_01_16.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:56:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 268381 at This Year's Flu Vaccine Was 23 Percent Effective <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>LA Times</em> passes along the news that this year's flu vaccine gives you a <a href="" target="_blank">23 percent lower chance of contracting the flu:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That 23% figure is a measure known as &ldquo;vaccine effectiveness,&rdquo; and it&rsquo;s certainly on the low end of the spectrum. In the decade since experts began calculating a &ldquo;VE&rdquo; for flu vaccines, it has ranged from a low of 10% to a high of 60%.</p> <p>....But the vaccine didn&rsquo;t help everyone equally. Kids benefited the most&nbsp;&mdash; the VE for those between the ages of 6 months and 17 years was 26%. Among adults, the VE was 12% for people ages 18 to 49 and 14% for people 50 and older. The figures for adults were too small to be statistically significant.</p> </blockquote> <p>Just my luck. This year was the first time I ever got a flu shot, and all I got out of it was a 14 percent lower chance of getting the flu. And my arm was sore for days afterward! Hmmph.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:41:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 268376 at No, Congress Never Intended to Limit Obamacare Subsidies to State Exchanges <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in <em>King v. Burwell</em>, in which conservatives will argue that the text of Obamacare limits federal subsidies only to people who buy insurance from state-run exchanges, not from the federal exchange. Roughly speaking, there are two prongs of the conservative argument:</p> <ol><li>The law contains text that explicitly limits subsidies to state-run exchanges. Democrats may not have intended this, but they screwed up in the rush to get the bill passed. That's too bad for them, but the law is the law.</li> <li>Democrats actually <em>did</em> intend to limit subsidies to state-run exchanges. This <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_supreme_court_cameras.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was meant as an incentive for states to run their own exchanges rather than punting the job to the feds.</li> </ol><p>The argument over #1 revolves around textual interpretation of the statute as a whole, as well as previous Supreme Court precedent that provides federal agencies with broad latitude in how they implement regulations. The argument over #2 relies on trying to find evidence that limiting subsidies really was a topic of discussion at some point during the debate over the bill. That's been tough: virtually no one who covered the debate (including me) remembers so much as a hint of anything like this popping up. The subsidies were always meant to be universal.</p> <p>But the recollections of journalists aren't really very germane to a Supreme Court case. The real-time analyses of the Congressional Budget Office, however, might be. This is an agency <em>of Congress</em>, after all, that responds to questions and requests from all members, both Democrats and Republicans. So did CBO ever model any of its cost or budget projections based on the idea that subsidies might not be available in certain states? Today <a href="" target="_blank">Sarah Kliff</a> points us to Theda Skocpol, who took a look at every single CBO analysis of Obamacare done in 2009 and early 2010. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's what she found:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>CBO mostly dealt with overall budgetary issues of spending, costs, and deficits&nbsp;&mdash; or looked at the specific impact of health reform proposals on Medicare beneficiaries, health care providers, and citizens at various income levels. <strong><em>The record shows that no one from either party asked CBO to analyze or project subsidies available to people in some states but not others.</em></strong> In a June 2009 analysis of a draft proposal from Democrats in the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee, CBO treated subsidies as phased in. But even that proposal, which did not survive in further deliberations, stipulated that subsidies would be available in all states from 2014&nbsp;&mdash; and CBO calculated costs accordingly.</p> <p>After the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, members of Congress, especially Republican critics, continued to raise issues. <strong>In its responses, CBO continued to model exchange subsidies as available nationwide.</strong> No one in either party objected or asked for alternative estimations assuming partial subsidies at any point in the 111th Congress.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's unclear whether this is something the Supreme Court will find germane, but it's certainly closer to being germane than the recollections of a bunch of reporters.</p> <p>It's also possible, of course, that the court will focus solely on argument #1 and never even get to questions about the intent of Congress. Nonetheless, this is an interesting review of the CBO record. The conservative case that Democrats actively intended subsidies to be limited to state exchanges has always been remarkably flimsy. Skocpol's review exposes it as all but nonexistent.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 16 Jan 2015 18:37:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 268371 at Will 2014 Finally Be the Year That Puts the Climate Denialists' 1998 Chestnut to Rest? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>With 2014 now in the books, it's a good time to refresh our memories about the great conservative global warming hoax. Here's a look at the usual conservative presentation showing that the planet hasn't warmed even a teensy little bit over the past decade. Their go-to chart, which goes from 1998 through 2012, looks like this:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1998_2012.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 280px;"></p> <p>No warming! But how can that be? Well, if you cherry pick your start and end dates, you can show just about anything. Here's the same chart extended by a <em>mere two years</em> on either side. It goes from 1996 through 2014:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1996_2014.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 275px;"></p> <p>Warming! How about that? It's amazing how you can lie with numbers if you put your mind to to it. And here's the full chart since 1900:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1900_2014.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 50px;"></p> <p>This is apropos because <a href="" target="_blank">NASA announced today that we set a record last year:</a> "The year 2014 ranks as Earth's warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists."</p> <p>The year 1998 was an outlier, an unusually warm year. If you choose this as your starting point, the next decade will look pretty uneventful. You can do the same thing with lots of other decade-long periods. For example, 1969-85 looks pretty flat, and so does 1981-94. This is typical of noisy data. Planetary warming isn't a smooth upward curve every year. It spikes up and down, and that allows people to play games with the data over short periods. Add to that the fact that warming really does appear to pause a bit now and again, and it's easy for charlatans to fool the rubes with misleading charts.</p> <p>But in the end, physics and chemistry will do their thing regardless. Earth is warming up, as any honest look at the data makes clear. And 2014 is now yet another record-setting year. We'll see if that's enough to embarrass the Fox News set into giving up on the old 1998 chestnut.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Fri, 16 Jan 2015 17:09:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 268356 at Chart of the Day: Thanks to Obamacare, Medical Debt Is Down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">A new survey from the Commonwealth Fund</a> brings us good news and bad news. The good news is that, thanks to Obamacare, the number of people with serious medical debt issues has dropped from 41 percent to 35 percent. Hooray!</p> <p>And the bad news? This barely gets us back to where we were a decade ago. We still have a long way to go.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_commonwealth_medical_debt.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:22:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 268316 at Housekeeping Update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I continue to be death warmed over, the result of a cold that won't go away acting in some kind of diabolical concert with all the usual chemotherapy crap. I may blog a bit later, or I may not. Hard to tell right now. But I'll get better eventually.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 15 Jan 2015 16:24:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 268276 at Mitt Romney Is Going to Run for President Again? WTF? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm sort of slowly catching up on things I missed over the past couple of days, and most of it at least makes sense. Wall Street panicked over a single bad economic report. Check. Boko Haram massacred another village in Nigeria. Check. Tea partiers still control the Republican agenda in Congress. Check. Mitt Romney is going to run for president again. Ch&mdash;</p> <p>Wait. Mitt Romney is going to run for president again? Seriously? That's insane, isn't it? Can anyone aside from Romney's overpaid team of advisors and consultants actually make a good case that he can win?</p> <p>I'm still a little woozy, so I'm not up to the job of trying to figure this out. But there's just no way. Parties don't rally around losers, and Romney is now a two-time loser. Ann Romney may still be nursing a planet-sized grudge about the way Mitt was treated in 2012, but that buys no votes. Besides, he'll be treated the same way this time around. Once a plutocrat, always a plutocrat. Maybe that's fair, maybe it's not, but nobody ever said life was fair.</p> <p>So I guess I'm caught up. Except for this one thing. What the hell is Romney thinking?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mitt Romney 2016 Elections Wed, 14 Jan 2015 22:34:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 268256 at Yep, Gasoline Lead Explains the Crime Decline in Canada Too <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Erik Eckholm of the <em>New York Times</em> writes that violent crime has plunged dramatically over the past two decades. <a href=";wpisrc=nl_wonk&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">But the reasons remain elusive:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>There are some areas of consensus. The closing of open-air drug markets....revolution in urban policing....increases in drug and gun sentences....Various experts have also linked the fall in violence to the aging of the population, low inflation rates <strong>and even the decline in early-childhood lead exposure.</strong> But in the end, <strong>none of these factors fully explain a drop that occurred, in tandem, in much of the world.</strong></p> <p>&ldquo;Canada, with practically none of the policy changes we point to here, had a comparable decline in crime over the same period,&rdquo; said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor and an expert in criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley. He described the quest for an explanation as &ldquo;criminological astrology.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm happy to see lead at least get a shout out. Unless I've missed something, this might actually be the first time the <em>New York Times</em> has ever mentioned childhood lead <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_canada_lead_crime.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">exposure as a possible explanation for the decline in violent crime. Progress!</p> <p>But while Eckholm is right to say that none of the other factors he mentions can explain a decline in violent crime that happened all over the world, he's wrong to include lead in that list. It's the one explanation that <em>does</em> have the potential to explain a worldwide drop in crime levels. In particular, the chart on the right shows the use of gasoline lead in Canada, which peaked in the mid-70s and then began dropping as catalytic converters became more common. Leaded gasoline was banned for good in 1990, and is now virtually gone with a few minor exceptions for specialized vehicles.</p> <p>So what happened? As Zimring says, Canada saw a substantial decrease in violent crime that started about 20 years after lead emissions began to drop, which is exactly what you'd expect. I calculated the numbers for Canada's biggest cities back when I was researching <a href="" target="_blank">my lead-crime piece,</a> and crime was down from its peak values everywhere: 31 percent in Montreal, 36 percent in Edmonton, 40 percent in Toronto and Vancouver, and 53 percent in Ottawa. CompStat and broken windows and American drug laws can't explain that.</p> <p>"Criminological astrology" is a good phrase to describe the relentless effort of US criminologists to explain a worldwide phenomenon using only parochial US data. But there <em>is</em> one explanation that really does work pretty well everywhere: the reduction in gasoline lead, which happened all over the world, but happened at different times in different places. And everywhere it happened, crime started to decline about 20 years later. No explanation is ever perfect, but this one comes closer than most.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Science Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:13:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 268216 at Housekeeping Note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm fighting off a nasty cold, and later today I have an extended doctor's appointment up in Los Angeles. So no blogging today. With any luck, I'll be back tomorrow.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:44:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 268131 at Two Promising Factlets About American Schools <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teachers_sat_scores.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">So how are our schools doing? Here are two factlets that crossed my radar yesterday.</p> <p>First: <a href="" target="_blank">Neerav Kingsland says</a> that SAT scores of new teachers are rising and that most of them are staying in teaching for at least five years. He comments: "If I was going to bet on whether American education will improve, flatline, or get worse&nbsp;&mdash; I would look very hard at the academic performance of teachers entering the profession, as well as how long these better qualified teachers stayed in the classroom. The aforementioned data makes me more bullish on American education."</p> <p>Second: Adam Ozimek says we're selling charter schools short when we say that on average they do about as well as public schools. That's true, <a href="" target="_blank">but there's more to it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I would like to propose a better conventional wisdom: &ldquo;some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students&rdquo;. If the same evidence existed for some policy other than charter schools, I believe this would be the conventional wisdom.</p> <p>....The charter sectors&rsquo; ability to do better for poor students and black students is important given that they disproportionately serve them....53% of charter students are in poverty compared 48% for public schools. Charters also serve more minority students than public schools: charters are 29% black, while public schools are 16%. So not only do they serve more poor students and black students, but for this group they relatively consistently outperform public schools.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's been a while since I took a dive into the data on charter schools, so I'm passing this along without comment. But it sounds right. I continue to believe that as long as they're properly regulated, charter schools show substantial promise.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Mon, 12 Jan 2015 16:29:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 268036 at Quote of the Day: American Health Care Is the Best in the World, Baby! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Douglas Coupland,</a> after contracting bronchitis from a chilly hotel room in Atlanta:</p> <blockquote> <p>Finally, I dragged myself to a local medical clinic, and this is when things got really American.</p> </blockquote> <p>By "really American," he means that he ended up being part of a scam that involved deliberately not treating him in order to get him hooked on oxycodone. No worries, though. The socialist Canadian health system eventually saved him.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Mon, 12 Jan 2015 02:35:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 268021 at 1958: The Year That Writing About Gay Rights Became Legal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm familiar with the usual highlights of the gay rights movement, but not much more. So I found today's article by David Savage about the 1958 Supreme Court case <em>ONE vs. Olesen</em> pretty interesting. Lower courts had ruled the Los Angeles magazine ONE obscene and therefore illegal to ship by mail, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_one_homosexual_marriage.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">but a young lawyer named Eric Julber persuaded the editors to <a href="" target="_blank">appeal to the Supreme Court:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>By coincidence, the Supreme Court was struggling at the same time with the question of obscenity in a case involving Samuel Roth, a New York book dealer, who was appealing his conviction for selling sexually explicit books...."All ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance &mdash; unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion &mdash; have the full protection of the guaranties" of the 1st Amendment, said Justice William J. Brennan in <em>Roth vs. United States</em>, handed down on June 24, 1957. "Sex and obscenity are not synonymous," he added.</p> <p>With that ruling fresh in their minds, several Supreme Court law clerks read Julber's petition &mdash; as well as the magazine itself &mdash; and advised the justices it was not obscene. "This was an easy one for the liberal justices. It was a speech case," recalled Norman Dorsen, who was then a law clerk to conservative Justice John Marshall Harlan and would go on to lead the national ACLU from 1976 to 1991. But even the conservatives were not in favor of censorship practiced by the Post Office.</p> <p>"The conservatives on the court then &mdash; Felix Frankfurter, Potter Stewart and Harlan &mdash; were not like the real conservatives we have now. They were more tolerant," he said. Brennan, the author of the <em>Roth</em> opinion, looked at all the petitions on his own. He would have seen the magazine and its supposedly obscene articles. After taking several votes, the justices decided on a simple, one-line ruling issued on Jan. 13, 1958, reversing the 9th Circuit decision.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is obviously a bit of local color for us Southern Californians, but also an interesting tidbit in the history of gay rights for those of you who, like me, had never heard of it before. Worth a read.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Gay Rights Supreme Court Sun, 11 Jan 2015 17:03:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 268006 at Non-Chart of the Day: Where's the Austerity? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Tyler Cowen passes along the following chart, a modified version of one Matt Yglesias used to show the trend of total government expenditures (federal + state + local) and declare <a href="" target="_blank">"2014 is the year American austerity came to an end":</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_total_govt_expenditures.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 50px;"></p> <p>This comes from Angus, <a href="" target="_blank">who comments incredulously:</a> "From this graph I concluded one of two things must be true depending on one's definition of austerity. Either austerity means nominal cuts and we never had any of it, or austerity means cuts relative to trend and we are still savagely in its grasp."</p> <p>Oh come on. There's an obvious third option. Let's take a look at this chart done right:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_total_govt_expenditures_per_capita_inflation.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 50px;"></p> <p>This is real per-capita government expenditures (using 2014 dollars). I used CPI, but it looks the same no matter which inflation measure you prefer (PCE, GDP deflator, % of GDP, whatever).</p> <p>Austerity is all about the trajectory of government spending, and this is what it looks like. You can argue about whether flat spending represents austerity, but a sustained decline counts in anyone's book. The story here is simple: for a little while, in 2009 and 2010, stimulus spending partially offset state and local cuts, but by the end of 2010 the stimulus had run its course. From then on, the drop in government expenditures was steady and significant. It was also unprecedented. If you run this chart back for 50 years you'll never see anything like it. In all previous recessions and their aftermaths, government spending rose.</p> <p>Finally, in 2014, the spending decline stopped. Austerity was over, and now we're even starting to see a small uptick in government spending. At the same time, the economy started to pick up.</p> <p>This is not bulletproof evidence that austerity is bad for the economy, or that government spending helps it. But it's certainly consistent with the hypothesis, and it's really not hard to see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Sun, 11 Jan 2015 00:00:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 268001 at Chart of the Day: Vaccinate Your Kids! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via the <em>LA Times</em> from a few months ago,</a> here's the rise in "personal belief" exemptions from state-mandated vaccinations among kindergartners in California:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_california_vaccination.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 65px;"></p> <p>And here's where it's happening:</p> <blockquote> <p>In Los Angeles County, <strong>the rise in personal belief exemptions is most prominent in wealthy coastal and mountain communities, </strong><em>The Times</em> analysis shows. The more than 150 schools with exemption rates of 8% or higher for at least one vaccine were located in census tracts where the incomes averaged $94,500 &mdash; nearly 60% higher than the county median.</p> <p>....At Santa Cruz Montessori in the small coastal community of Aptos, about 7% of kindergartners in 2007 got belief exemptions. Last fall, that rate was 22.6%. Principal Kathy Rideout said the school has tried different approaches to encourage parents to immunize children. They asked a doctor to talk with fellow parents. They produced handouts emphasizing the importance of immunizations and asked parents seeking belief exemptions to get counseling from a healthcare practitioner. A state law that went into effect this year makes this a requirement. But none of it made much difference, Rideout said.</p> <p>....<strong>"We have schools in California where the percent of children who exercise the personal belief exemption is well above 50%,"</strong> said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health's Center for Infectious Diseases. "That's going to be a challenge for any disease that is vaccine preventable."</p> </blockquote> <p>There are times when it's appropriate to be skeptical of authority. This really isn't one of them. "Big Vaccine" is not an issue in American life. Childhood vaccination is just a matter of public health that no one has any real motivation to lie about. Please don't get sucked into this maelstrom. Get your kids vaccinated.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Sat, 10 Jan 2015 19:02:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 267996 at Defending Free Speech Doesn't Require Solidarity With the Speech Itself <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of days ago, I had in mind a follow-up post about the point that defense of free speech doesn't necessarily demand "solidarity" with the speech itself. This is obvious. If an extremist gay rights lunatic murdered a dozen members of the Westboro Baptist Church, would we all start showily plastering "God Hates Fags" on our websites? The question answers itself. There might a few photos showing WBC members sporting the phrase because there's some news <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_je_suis_charlie.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">value in making it clear what sparked the attacks, but that would be it.</p> <p>Anyway, I didn't do it. The only way to make the point was to choose something deliberately and revoltingly offensive, so I backed off. <a href="" target="_blank">But Glenn Greenwald didn't:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This week&rsquo;s defense of free speech rights was so spirited that it gave rise to a brand new principle: to defend free speech, one not only defends the right to disseminate the speech, but embraces the content of the speech itself. Numerous writers thus demanded: to show &ldquo;solidarity&rdquo; with the murdered cartoonists, one should not merely condemn the attacks and defend the right of the cartoonists to publish, but should publish and even celebrate those cartoons. &ldquo;The best response to <em>Charlie Hebdo</em> attack,&rdquo; announced <em>Slate&rsquo;s</em> editor Jacob Weisberg, &ldquo;is to escalate blasphemous satire.&rdquo;</p> <p>Some of the cartoons published by <em>Charlie Hebdo</em> were not just offensive but bigoted, such as the one mocking the African sex slaves of Boko Haram as welfare queens....But no matter. Their cartoons were noble and should be celebrated &mdash; not just on free speech grounds but for their content. In a column entitled &ldquo;The Blasphemy We Need,&rdquo; The <em>New York Times&rsquo;</em> Ross Douthat argued that &ldquo;the right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order&rdquo; and &ldquo;that kind of blasphemy [that provokes violence] is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it&rsquo;s the kind that clearly serves a free society&rsquo;s greater good.&rdquo; <em>New York Magazine&rsquo;s</em> Jonathan Chait actually proclaimed that &ldquo;one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice.&rdquo;</p> <p>....It is self-evident that if a writer who specialized in overtly anti-black or anti-Semitic screeds had been murdered for their ideas, there would be no widespread calls to republish their trash in &ldquo;solidarity&rdquo; with their free speech rights....When we originally discussed publishing this article to make these points, our intention was to commission two or three cartoonists to create cartoons that mock Judaism and malign sacred figures to Jews the way <em>Charlie Hebdo</em> did to Muslims. But that idea was thwarted by the fact that no mainstream western cartoonist would dare put their name on an anti-Jewish cartoon, even if done for satire purposes, because doing so would instantly and permanently destroy their career, at least. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim commentary (and cartoons) are a dime a dozen in western media outlets.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't agree with everything Greenwald says in his post. In particular, I think he really does downplay the disparity in both the number and virulence of terrorist attacks by radical Islamic groups compared to other groups. Like it or not, that makes a difference. He also would have been well-served by reprinting more than just anti-Semitic cartoons. Nonetheless, he makes his point vigorously, as usual, including a refresher of the evidence that terrorist violence is hardly limited to radical Islamists.</p> <p>I am, I confess, conflicted about this. There is value in solidarity in the face of such a hideous attack. Still, although refusing to publish out of fear is plainly wrong&mdash;this is hardly a controversial point&mdash;letting a terrorist attack provoke an overreaction is a dubious response as well. For this reason, Greenwald's piece is worth reading in full even if, in the end, you think he's wrong. Maybe even especially if you think he's wrong.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Sat, 10 Jan 2015 18:28:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 267991 at Unemployment Is Low, But It Can Still Go a Lot Lower — And It Should <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Justin Wolfers makes a good point today. There's a concept in economics called NAIRU, which rather awkwardly stands for the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment<sup>1</sup>. Basically it means that there's a "natural" rate of unemployment in the economy<sup>2</sup>, and if you go below it then inflation will start to accelerate. When that happens, the Fed raises interest rates to slow down growth before inflation gets out of hand.</p> <p>But what's the actual value of NAIRU? Based on past experience, most economists think it's around 5.5 percent or so&mdash;which happens to be where we are now. And yet, inflation is still very low, and definitely not accelerating. This could be just a temporary phenomenon as we recover from a huge balance-sheet recession, or it could be something more permanent. For two reasons, my guess <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_pce_1984_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">is that it's mostly the latter. First, inflation has been steadily dropping for 30 years in the US, and there's some reason to think that it's the 70s that were a high-inflation anomaly, not the rest of the low-inflation 20th century. Second, there's reason to think that the headline unemployment rate is not measuring quite the same thing as it used to. If you look at long-term unemployment, marginally attached workers, and the decline of the labor force participation ratio&mdash;which has been falling for 15 years now&mdash;it appears that a headline rate of 5.5 percent probably implies more slack in the economy than it used to. <a href=";emc=rss" target="_blank">Here's Wolfers on the natural rate of unemployment:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The problem, though, is that no one really knows what that rate is. Our uncertainty is even greater today than it normally is, because no one knows the extent to which those workers who dropped out of the labor force in response to the financial crisis will return when jobs become plentiful. <strong>By this view, today&rsquo;s most important macroeconomic question is what the natural rate actually is.</strong></p> <p>The latest jobs report helps answer this question. The unemployment rate has fallen to 5.6 percent, and there are still no signs that wage inflation is rising. Indeed, with wage growth running at only 1.7 percent, the economy is telling us that we still have the ability to bring many more of the jobless back into the fold without setting off inflation.</p> <p><strong>It is only when nominal wage growth exceeds the sum of inflation (about 2 percent) and productivity growth (about 1.5 percent) that the Fed needs to be concerned that the labor market is generating cost pressures that might raise inflation.</strong> So the latest wage growth numbers suggest that we are not yet near the natural rate. And that means the Fed should be content to let the recovery continue to generate more new jobs.</p> </blockquote> <p>There's one more thing to add: Even when unemployment falls to around 4 percent, we should remain cautious. We've tolerated an inflation rate that's under the Fed's 2 percent target for the past five years. There's no reason we shouldn't tolerate a catch-up inflation rate that's a little over the Fed's target as we begin to recover. If inflation runs at 3-4 percent for the next five years, it's probably a good thing, not a bad one.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Obviously economists could have used a branding expert to help them with this. On the other hand, if they'd done that we might have ended up with Xarelxo or JobsMax&trade;. In any case, we're stuck with it for now.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>The idea here is that even a thriving economy has a certain amount of natural unemployment as people leave their jobs and move to new ones&mdash;because new sectors pop up, old companies go out of business, etc. That's a good thing and a perfectly natural one in a competitive economy that's producing lots of innovation. Trying to push unemployment lower than the natural rate is basically fruitless.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:25:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 267986 at Friday Cat Blogging - 9 January 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's Hopper in the sewing room, surrounded by sewing paraphernalia. That look in her eye suggests either that her brother was somewhere nearby or that she was just about to gallop across all of Marian's stuff and make a huge mess. Or maybe both. Making a mess is a favorite pastime around here these days.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2015_01_09.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 90px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Jan 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 267941 at