Kevin Drum

A Very Special Friday Cat Blogging - 26 September 2014

| Fri Sep. 26, 2014 2:35 PM EDT

So. Marian and I paid a visit to our local shelter on Monday. We figured on adopting an adult cat. Maybe a calico, if one was available. So naturally we walked out with two kittens, one gray and white and the other black and white. They're brother and sister, 10 months old. For the moment, their code names are Miss Flopsy (on the left) and Mr. Mopsy (on the right). Soon they'll get permanent names, but we haven't decided yet what they'll be. Vickie and Bertie? Luke and Leia? Frankie and Ellie?

In any case, life is more exciting around here these days. There is much chasing and pouncing. So far they've both fallen off just about everything that's possible to fall off. My bookcases are a shambles. And eight hours of sleep at night is not really on the agenda.

But I know you all want to reward me for this act of catblogging heroism, don't you? And you can! If you haven't done it already, how about contributing a few bucks to the MoJo investigative fund? Please think of the kittens, won't you?

It only takes a minute to make your tax-deductible contribution, and you can give using your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Flopsy and Mopsy thank you!

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Chart of the Day: The Death of Print

| Fri Sep. 26, 2014 1:29 PM EDT

Here's a BLS chart that shows how much we spend on reading-related materials. But what does it mean? It's true that young folks spend less on reading material than anyone else, but that's mostly because of their complete non-interest in dead-tree magazines and newspapers. Also, presumably, because young folks spend less on everything than prosperous older folks.

But if you add up the books + e-readers category, young folks are spending nearly as much as anyone else. It's just not clear what they're reading. E-books? Longform articles? Blogs? TMZ? Hard to say. Then again, it's not clear what the older folks are reading either. It may be on paper, but it's probably not Shakespeare for the most part.

In any case, this shows fairly dramatically that print is dying. As we all know by now, young folks mostly prefer digital. And so do plenty of non-young folks like me. I occasionally have to read a print book, but I'm annoyed whenever it happens.

Republicans Already Planning Big Fight Over Nominee They Don't Even Know Yet

| Fri Sep. 26, 2014 10:32 AM EDT

Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation yesterday. The tea party show horses are already in full war cry mode:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) issued a political call to arms for conservatives, saying that outgoing senators should not vote on the nominee during the post-election lame-duck session. “Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced,” Cruz said in a statement.

This is pretty plainly part of Cruz's ongoing effort to be king of the tea party wing of the GOP, since it obviously makes no sense otherwise. Unless Cruz is suggesting that they should be banned completely, then of course business should be conducted during lame duck sessions. What else is Congress supposed to do during those few weeks?

In any case, since Congress has no intention of doing anything worthwhile for the next two years, this means they'll have plenty of free time for dumb fights that allow them to one-up each other for the tea party vote. The rules of the contest are simple: the dumber and more outrageous your rhetorical firebombs aimed at President Obama, the better you do. It's sort of like a video game for cretins. I'm sure it's going to be a barrel of fun.

South Carolina Cop Unloads on Unarmed Driver Reaching for His License

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 9:01 PM EDT

This video of a traffic stop in South Carolina earlier this month was published yesterday, and it's been making the rounds today. You really need to watch it to get a sense for just how appalling it is, but in a nutshell, here's what happened. At about the 00:35 mark, a police officer stops a black guy at a gas station for a seat belt violation. Guy gets out of his car. Cop asks for his license. Guy reaches into his car to get it, and the cop instantly starts screaming at him and unloads several shots at point blank range.

Luckily, this cop was apparently a lousy shot, and the motorist is recuperating. But the most heartrending part of the whole thing is how apologetic the motorist was after getting shot for no reason. "I just got my license," he pleads. "I've got my license right here." Then: "What did I do, sir? Why did you shoot me?"

"You dove headfirst back into your car," the cop says. "I'm sorry," he apologizes abjectly. "I'm sorry."

Thank God this police car had a dash camera. If not for that, probably no one would have believed the motorist's story. As it is, Julian Sanchez says this video might finally be having a real effect on people:

Seeing an unexpected number of comments on conservative boards to the effect of: "Holy shit, I'm white and this would never happen to me."....My anecdotal gestalt impression is this SC shooting is actually a Road to Damascus moment for a nontrivial number of conservatives.

We can hope so. If neither Ferguson nor the Ohio Walmart shooting did it, maybe this finally will.

The Wild West Days of Pharmaceutical Sales Are Coming To an End

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

Pharmaceutical sales reps used to spend all their time inviting doctors to Hawaii for "conferences" and giving out lots of free samples. But the times, they are a changing:

Kendall French used to pitch drugs to doctors who could prescribe them.

But many of those doctors now work for hospitals that don't give them final say over what is on the menu of medicines they can pick. So when the GlaxoSmithKline PLC saleswoman began plugging two new lung-disease drugs to a big San Diego hospital system this spring, it was to an administrator who doesn't see patients but helps write the menu, also called a "formulary," of approved medications.

....Ms. French's sales calls are part of a shift that is rewriting the drug-marketing playbook. As hospital systems get bigger, they are putting distance between their doctors and drug sellers, making it harder for pharmaceutical companies to get quick acceptance of newly approved medicines and putting pressure on profits.

Today, 42% of doctors practice as salaried employees of hospital systems, up from 24% in 2004, according to Cegedim Relationship Management, a marketing consultant.

This is yet another example of how the health care market should be viewed as a competition between buyers and sellers. In some cases, this means that a region with a small number of powerful insurers might have lower overall costs because the insurers (buyers) have a lot of bargaining power with doctors and hospitals (sellers). In the case above, it means that hospital consolidation can reduce costs because it gives hospitals (buyers) a lot of leverage with pharmaceutical companies (sellers).

In other words, it's complicated. Hospitals are responsible for some of the most egregious billing practices in the entire health care industry, but at the same time, they can also be responsible for helping to contain costs. This is because powerful hospitals are both sellers (when they're dealing with insurance companies) and buyers (when they're dealing with pharmaceutical companies). Sometimes they're the good guys and sometimes they're the bad guys. It might not be the greatest way of running a health care system, but it's what we've got.

Republicans Still Having a Hard Time Believing In Racism

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

The chart below, from a recent PRRI survey, has gotten a fair amount of attention on the intertubes over the past couple of days:

Adam Serwer thinks the change between 2013 and 2014 is due to backlash from the Ferguson shooting, but I suspect that's only part of the story. The poll was done over the course of four weeks, and only the final week overlapped with the shooting of Michael Brown and its aftermath. Those folks in the final week would have had to change their opinions massively to produce the 5-10 point difference we see in the survey population as a whole.

So there's probably more to it, and that's a good thing. It suggests the shift in opinion might be more durable than one motivated by a single incident.

But I want to play partisan hack today and just focus on the far left bar, which shows that Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to think that blacks don't get a fair shake from the criminal justice system. At first glance, you might figure that's just demographics at work. Republicans are heavily white and old, and those two groups are the ones least likely to think blacks are treated unfairly.

But take another look. The mere fact of being Republican makes you less likely than even whites and seniors to believe blacks don't get fair treatment. Why? Call it the Fox News effect. If you're exposed day after day to Fox and Drudge and Limbaugh, it means you're being overwhelmed with the message that blacks are dangerous, blacks are thuggish, and blacks are forever whining about wanting special treatment. This message is so overwhelming that even after Ferguson, Republicans are far less likely than any other group to acknowledge the simple fact that blacks might occasionally get treated a little roughly by cops and DAs.

That's changed by ten points in the past year, so maybe there's hope. Perhaps Fox and the others have toned down their obsession with racial hot buttons over the past year. Perhaps.

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RED 3: Mitt Romney May Be Retired, But Still Extremely Dangerous

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 11:00 AM EDT

Byron York says that Mitt Romney aspires to be the Harold Stassen of the 21st century:

Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging '16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn't mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

....A significant number of Romney's top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself.

....If Romney did run, one thing the loyalists expect is a change in his top strategists. Recently one veteran Republican operative who was not involved in the Romney campaign said, "All his people want him to run again because they made so much money off it the last time." Now, Romney supporters say that if he mounts another campaign, they would demand that Romney not employ Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, the Republican strategists who played key roles in the 2012 campaign. Who would take their place is an open question.

I know that Romney doesn't want my advice, but here it is anyway: Just pay all these guys a bunch of money to go away and stop dreaming about a chance to light more of your money on fire. It will be cheaper in the long run, and your eventual job description will be the same too.

But as long as we're supposedly taking this seriously, let's put on our analytical hats and ask: could Romney beat Hillary Clinton if they both ran? On the plus side, Hillary's not as good a campaigner as Barack Obama and 2016 is likely to be a Republican-friendly year after eight years of Democratic rule. On the minus side, Romney has already run twice, and the American public isn't usually very kind to second chances in political life, let alone third chances. Plus—and this is the real killer—Romney still has all the problems he had in 2012. In the public eye, he remains the 47 percent guy who seems more like the Romneytron 3000 than a real human being.

Still, snark aside, if you put all this together I guess it means Romney really would have a shot at winning if he ran. We still live in a 50-50 nation, after all, and for the foreseeable future I suspect that pretty much every presidential election is going to be fairly close. And Romney certainly has a decent chance of winning the Republican nomination, since he'd be competing against pretty much the same clown show as last time.

So sure: Run, Mitt! I hear that Eric Cantor is available to be your vice president.

Bill Clinton Is Right: Storyline Reporting Has Poisoned the Political Press

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

Today brings a remarkable column from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. It's about the Clinton family's adversarial relationship with the press:

Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

“If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. "And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, every thing that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”

That's an interesting comment from Bill Clinton. Is it true? Well, check this out from the start of Cillizza's column:

Amy Chozick is the reporter tasked with covering the Clintons — and the runup to the now-almost-inevitable Hillary Clinton presidential bid — for the New York Times. Sounds like a plum gig, right? Until, that is, a press aide for the Clinton Global Initiative follows you into the bathroom.

Chozick describes a "friendly 20-something press aide who the Clinton Global Initiative tasked with escorting me to the restroom," adding: "She waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is held each year."

Yes, this may be an extreme example. And, yes, the press strictures at the Clinton Global Initiative are the stuff of legend. But, the episode also reflects the dark and, frankly, paranoid view the Clintons have toward the national media. Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

Here's what makes this fascinating. If you click the link and read Chozick's piece, you'll learn that every reporter at the CGI is "cloistered in a basement at the Sheraton" and that an escort is required wherever they go, "lest one of us with our yellow press badges wind up somewhere where attendants with an esteemed blue badge are milling around." It's entirely fair to argue that this is absurdly restrictive. It's not fair to imply that this is special treatment that Chozick got because she's the beat reporter covering the Clintons. Every other reporter at the event got the same treatment.

But that's what Cillizza did. In other words, he had already settled on a storyline, so he shoehorned the Chozick anecdote into his column to support that storyline. Which was exactly Clinton's complaint in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually have any doubt that the Clintons do, in fact, have a pretty tortured relationship with the press. After the way the press treated them in the 90s, it would be remarkable if they didn't. It might even be "dark and paranoid." That wouldn't surprise me too much either.

Nonetheless, I wish Cillizza would at least try to analyze his own tribe's behavior with the same care that he analyzes the Clintons'. In any fair reading, the press has legitimate grievances about its treatment by the Clintons, but the Clintons have some legitimate grievances about the obsessive shiny-toy-feeding-frenzy nature of modern political press coverage too. Unfortunately, all Cillizza manages to say about the hostile atmosphere of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign is that reporters weren't "entirely innocent in the whole thing."

Nobody should take this as a defense of the Clintons. High-profile politicians have always gotten klieg-light treatment, and they have to be able to handle it. At the same time, there ought to be at least a few mainstream reporters who also recognize some of the pathologies on their own side—those specific to the Clintons as well as those that affect presidential candidates of all stripes. How about an honest appraisal—complete with biting anecdotes—of how the political press has evolved over the past few decades and how storyline reporting has poisoned practically everything they do?

The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 9:59 PM EDT

It's not easy finding new and interesting ways to illustrate the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. But here are a couple of related ones. The first is from "Survival of the Richest" in the current issue of Mother Jones, and it shows how much of our total national income growth gets hoovered up by the top 1 percent during economic recoveries. The super-rich got 45 percent of total income growth during the dotcom years; 65 percent during the housing bubble years; and a stunning 95 percent during the current recovery. It's good to be rich.

But there's more! The next chart, via Ryan Cooper, shows this trend even more explicitly. It comes from Pavlina Tcherneva, an economics professor at Bard College, and it also shows the distribution of national income growth during economic expansions. The difference is that it shows the share of the top 10 percent, and it shows it for every single expansion since World War II.

It's a pretty stunning chart. The precise numbers (from Piketty and Saez) can always be argued with, but the basic trend is hard to deny. After the end of each recession, the well-off have pocketed an ever greater share of the income growth from the subsequent expansion. Unsurprisingly, there's an especially big bump after 1975, but this is basically a secular trend that's been showing a steady rise toward nosebleed territory for more than half a century. Welcome to the 21st century.

Pat Roberts Is Apparently Too Dumb to Realize He Called Obama a Nazi

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 4:42 PM EDT

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said this on the campaign trail a couple of days ago:

There's a palpable fear among Kansans all across this state that the America that we love and cherish and honor will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids....We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism.

What do you think? Should we treat this charitably and assume Roberts is too dim to realize that national socialism is Nazism? I guess so. According to a piece today from WaPo's Philip Rucker, Roberts explains that (a) President Obama is leading the country in the direction of a "European socialistic state," and (b) "You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize." So there you have it.

Aside from the fact that Obama hasn't tried to nationalize so much as a coal mine, which suggests Roberts doesn't know what that word means either, I'm pretty sure no one in history has put those two terms together and called it "national socialism" unless they're explicitly talking about the Third Reich. But there's a first time for everything. So congratulations, Senator Roberts! I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you managed to violate Godwin's law through stupidity, not malice. Not everyone can claim that.