Kevin Drum

Quote of the Evening: America Currently Suffering Worst Economic Catastrophe in Recorded History

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 11:55 PM EST

I know Trump has said this before, so technically it's hardly new. Still, I mean, it's...it's...oh hell:

I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. Remember that. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 percent and 5 percent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think if we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we'd have these gatherings?

Yeah, Trump "heard" 42 percent recently. You betcha. Trump hears a lot of things, sort of like Joan of Arc. In any case, I assume Trump keeps saying this because it goes over well with his audiences. Why might this be?

  • Trump fans are really bad at arithmetic.
  • Trump fans know an ungodly number of unemployed people in their immediate circle of friends.
  • Trump fans are really eager to believe the government is lying to them.
  • Trump fans don't actually know what unemployment is.
  • Trump fans don't really have a clue what he's saying. It's just mumbo jumbo delivered with authority, and they love it.

I dunno. Could be all of the above, I suppose.

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Well, That Was a Boring Night in New Hampshire

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 11:09 PM EST

This has been a shockingly surprise-free evening. Trump and Sanders were both expected to win by about 20 points, and that's what they did. The next four Republicans were expected to bunch up, and that's what they did. Kasich did a little better and Rubio a little worse than the polls showed, but that's all. As for Chris Christie, he bet the farm on New Hampshire and now the mortgage is due. He's toast.

So is Kasich, by the way. I'm afraid a 16 percent showing in New Hampshire isn't going to be strong enough to do him any good. More and more, it's starting to look like Trump vs. Cruz for all the marbles, with Rubio and Bush still having outside shots as spoilers.

I guess Trump was the big winner tonight. He won big, he's got good numbers in South Carolina, and the race for second place was close enough that probably nobody is going to pull out. As long as Trump is competing with a bunch of rabble, instead of one or two well-funded competitors, he'll probably keep doing pretty well. The only question left is whether the chump faction of the Republican Party is big enough to actually deliver him the nomination. I think I no longer have an opinion about that.

Heavy Drinking Is Primarily a Women's Problem

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 8:25 PM EST

Back in 2005, South Dakota adopted a program called 24/7 Sobriety. It's pretty simple: if you're convicted of drunk driving, you have to take a breath test twice a day while you're on pretrial release or probation. If you fail, you get tossed in jail for a couple of days.

So how has it worked out? According to a new study in Lancet Psychiatry, pretty well. Previous studies had already demonstrated a 12 percent drop in repeat drunk driving, and the new study shows that 24/7 also contributed to a drop of 4.3 percent in all-cause mortality. That's a lot of lives saved. Mark Kleiman has more of the details here.

So far, none of this is a big surprise. But another result of the study is more interesting: the decline in mortality was largest among women even though men make up the vast majority of drunk driving cases. The chart on the right shows the numbers. All-cause mortality barely budged for men but was down 8.3 percent among women. Even more startling, the decline in mortality was mostly due to fewer deaths from circulatory problems and external injuries.

But why? The authors make a few suggestions:

A well publicised programme such as 24/7 Sobriety...might promote a general deterrent effect. Another potential mechanism is a reduction in drinking-related problem behaviours among participants, which might reduce mortality among non-participants (eg, domestic violence).

With respect to circulatory deaths among women, one might consider reduced stress due to partner’s cessation of heavy drinking. There might also be spillovers due to changes in the drinking behaviour of participants’ family and friends. A husband’s drinking affects his wife’s drinking during the transition into married life and early in the marriage, and transitions in drinking behaviour can have spousal effects even later in life.

This is, obviously, speculative. Still, it confirms our intuition that heavy drinking affects friends and family as much or more than it does the heavy drinker himself. Heavy drinkers are far more likely to assault their wives and girlfriends; are more likely to trigger drinking in others; and just generally cause lots of stress and anxiety in those around them. When you cut out the heavy drinking, all of those things are reduced significantly. And the biggest beneficiaries are women.

The Russians Are Doing Surprisingly Well in Syria

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 6:05 PM EST

In the interest of keeping myself honest, I should acknowledge that—so far, at least—the Russian incursion in Syria has apparently gone a lot better than I expected:

Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad....Government forces are now on the offensive, and last week they scored their most significant victory yet....“The operation is considered here to be quite successful,” said Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired lieutenant general and senior vice president of the Russian Center for Policy Studies in Moscow. It could probably continue for one year or longer, he said, “but it will depend on the success on the ground.”

....“Putin can afford to play geo­political chess in the Middle East because it does not cost much,” said Konstantin von Eggert, an independent political analyst based in Moscow. Entering the conflict in Syria has allowed Putin to combat what he sees as a U.S. policy of regime change, show off his military muscle and reassure allies in the region that Moscow is a loyal partner, von Eggert said.

In the past couple of days, thanks to Russian help, Assad has come ever closer to taking control of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city:

Gains by Assad and his allies in the past month have squeezed overland supply lines to Turkey that may represent the last bulwark against defeat for the rebels in northern Syria.

Assad, who was on the verge of defeat in mid-2015 before Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in with military support, has wrested back the initiative. His army last week broke a three-year siege of two villages north of Aleppo. The city is almost encircled, apart from a narrow stretch of contested territory.

The Russian air force has acquitted itself better than I expected, and Assad's forces have taken advantage of Russian air support better than I expected. It's still early days, of course, and there's a lot more to Syria than Aleppo. Russia could still find itself drawn into a long, pointless quagmire down the road. But it hasn't yet.

Over the past decade, Putin has taken on several small-scale military incursions: in Georgia in 2008; in Crimea in 2014; and now in Syria. But small though they may be, they've been executed competently and they've provided the Russian army with invaluable real-world experience. Apparently that's paid off.

Arizona Is Paying a High Price for Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 3:15 PM EST

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting look today at the costs and benefits of immigration across the Southern border. After Arizona cracked down on illegal immigration in 2007, their population of undocumented workers dropped by a whopping 40 percent—and it's stayed down since then:

Arizona is a test case of what happens to an economy when such migrants leave, and it illustrates the economic tensions fueling the immigration debate.

Economists of opposing political views agree the state’s economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states, following a broad crackdown. But they also say the reduced competition for low-skilled jobs was a boon for some native-born construction and agricultural workers who got jobs or raises, and that the departures also saved the state money on education and health care. Whether those gains are worth the economic pain is the crux of the debate.

You should read the whole thing if you want all the details, including the fact that wages increased about 15 percent for a small number of construction workers and farmworkers—though Arizona's unemployment rate more generally has been no better than its neighbors'. Beyond that, though, the Journal provides only a graphic summary that doesn't really summarize much. So I've helpfully annotated it for you. It sure looks to me like Arizona has a very long way to go before the benefits of reducing illegal immigration will come anywhere close to the costs.

The Worst Argument Ever For Not Drafting Women

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 12:41 PM EST

I can't say that I've paid a lot of attention to the question of whether women should be required to register for the draft or allowed to serve on the front lines. There are, I'm sure, some good reasons to oppose allowing women in the infantry, but this sure isn't one of them:

Such a policy inverts natural law and the rules that have grounded our civilization for thousands of years. Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters.

That's a National Review editorial. Not a personal opinion piece or a blog post. It's the official and carefully considered institutional view of the magazine. Did they invite Vladimir Putin to guest edit this issue, or what?

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Torture Is Having Another Star Turn

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 12:09 PM EST

From the "Fascinating Factlets" file:

The FCC, which regulates "indecent material" on broadcast radio and television, does not generally permit the word pussy to be aired between 6 am and 10 pm. That means that though a broadcaster can publish a story containing the word online, it can't do the same on its main network, which has a far broader reach.

So...it's fair game after 10 pm? This means that only night owls got to hear Donald Trump's latest bit of puerile insultmongering. Everyone else got the bleeped version, or perhaps no version at all because who needs the grief from pissed-off viewers? In any case, the key takeaway here isn't that Donald Trump called Ted Cruz a pussy. What else would you expect from Trump? The key takeaway is that he was mocking Cruz for not being gung-ho enough about waterboarding, and it was a huge crowd pleaser. The audience went completely gaga over Trump's fetishization of torture. If he had called for prisoners to be tortured on national TV—"Celebrity Interrogator" hosted by Dick Cheney, maybe—I think they might have expired on the spot from sheer bliss.

Marco Rubio Is Running for Panicker-in-Chief

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 11:34 AM EST
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio takes a sip of water during his Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in 2013. Rubio was widely mocked for awkwardly reaching for a water bottle in the middle of the high-profile speech.

McKay Coppins explains Marco Rubio to the rest of us:

To those who have known him longest, Rubio's flustered performance Saturday night fit perfectly with an all-too-familiar strain of his personality, one that his handlers and image-makers have labored for years to keep out of public view. Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness—and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined.

…More than age, record, or wardrobe, it is Rubio's natural nervousness that makes him seem to so many who know him like he is swimming in his dad's sport coat…From the moment the 2010 primary turned negative, the candidate needed a fainting couch every time an attack was lobbed his way, his aides recalled to me.…When a state senator who was backing the governor referred to Rubio as a "slick package from Miami," he was aghast and ordered his aides to cry foul. Dog whistle! Anti-Cuban! Racist! When opponents accused Rubio of steering state funds toward Florida International University in exchange for a faculty job after he left office, he was indignant. Outrageous! Slander!

"He just lets these little things get to him, and he worries too much," a Miami Republican complained after spending close to an hour sitting next to Rubio on a flight as he fretted over a mildly critical process story about him in the National Journal. "I'm just like, ‘Marco, calm down.'"

Excellent! Rubio sounds like a great primary opponent to me. It should take the Clinton machine about 10 seconds to figure out how to turn him into a puddle of mush on the campaign trail. I think I might start rooting for him to get the nomination after all.

Here Are Your Final New Hampshire Poll Results Until 2020

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 10:34 AM EST

It's our first primary of 2016! To get you in the mood, here are the final Pollster aggregates for the Republican and Democratic races. Trump and Sanders both look like easy winners, so all the action is for second place. If Clinton pulls within 10 points, she'll probably declare victory and skedaddle down to South Carolina as fast as she can. The Republicans have a huge pileup in second place, so it should be quite the spectacle watching them all spin the results tonight.

Here's a Huge and Undercovered Obamacare Success Story

| Tue Feb. 9, 2016 1:47 AM EST

I've mentioned this in passing a couple of times, but it really deserves a short post of its own. We've heard a lot about Obamacare not meeting the original enrollment projections published by the CBO in 2010, but those aren't the only projections that CBO published. They also predicted that Obamacare would lead to the loss of 8 million people from private insurance coverage by 2016.

But that didn't happen. Thanks to Obamacare's individual mandate spurring the purchase of individual coverage and its employer mandate spurring an increase in employer coverage, total private coverage increased by more than 16 million through the middle of 2015. The chart on the right tells the story. After four years of private coverage hovering around 61 percent of the population, it jumped up to 66 percent within the space of a single year.

Was this due to the economic recovery? Probably a bit of it. But the economy has been puttering along at about the same pace ever since 2012. The only thing that changed in the fourth quarter of 2013 was the introduction of Obamacare.

Bottom line: Obamacare may have missed CBO's target for exchange enrollment by 7 million or so, but much of this is because it beat CBO's target for private insurance by 24 million. This is great news all around since we'd always prefer having people insured by their employer rather than buying through the exchange. It's better coverage and it costs the taxpayers less. On any measure you can think of, this is a huge and undercovered success story.