Here are a few miscellaneous things from my afternoon trawl of the news:

Thing the first:

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is in talks with President Donald Trump’s administration about taking an ambassadorship position, according to sources close to the governor. No offer has been extended yet, according to The Star’s sources, but the governor has discussed the possibility of taking a position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture, a position that would move the Midwestern governor to Rome.

The ambassador for what? There are two takeaways from this: (a) Trump really doesn't want Brownback in his administration, and (b) Brownback really wants to get out of Kansas. His tenure as governor has been a nonstop trainwreck, highlighted by his huge tax cuts for the rich that have tanked the state's economy. There's really no way to fix things without raising taxes, so Brownback just wants to hightail it out of the governor's mansion and leave the problem to somebody else. And hey, Rome is a nice place for an exile.

Thing the second:

Check out this picture of Trump holding a conference in the Oval Office:

Trump is apparently so insecure that he holds every conference from behind his desk, even when it involves seven people. Who does that? In all the pictures I've seen before of presidents, they're out from behind the desk sitting on a chair or a sofa on equal terms with everyone else. But Trump seems to need the desk to remind himself that he's in charge.

Thing the third:

This is just a bit of a ramble that's on my mind. I've been trying to figure out how to respond to the Republican health care plan, but nothing seems quite right. I've written plenty about the details, and so have others, but none of this really gets the true story across.

Here's the thing: anyone with even a cursory knowledge of health care knows that the Republican plan isn't serious. Paul Ryan knows it. Mitch McConnell knows it. Mike Pence knows it. Mick Mulvaney knows it. Everyone knows it. It's just a cynical joke. It will cover virtually no one, and will quite possibly destroy the individual insurance market in the process. Its only purpose is to repeal about $600 billion in taxes on the rich.

This is not really controversial or even very partisan. The plan just doesn't do much of anything for anybody except the rich. But we're all expected to stroke our chins and pretend that it's a serious proposal that should be seriously analyzed. There's something badly wrong about this. Why do we all have to do this?

Friday is jobs day, when the BLS announces how many new jobs were created in February. One of two things will happen:

  • The number will be mediocre, in which case Trump will say we're still living with Obama's job-killing regulations, but don't worry, he's going to take care of that soon. MAGA!
  • The number will be high, in which case Trump will say that in his first month he's already gotten the economy moving again and there's more to come. MAGA!

No matter what happens, Trump is a winner.

UPDATE: Text and headline changed to account for the fact that apparently today isn't Thursday. Sigh.

Over at 538, David Wasserman has an interesting piece about the growing partisan divide in America. In particular, there are hardly any purple counties left:

Of the nation’s 3,113 counties (or county equivalents), just 303 were decided by single-digit margins — less than 10 percent. In contrast, 1,096 counties fit that description in 1992, even though that election featured a wider national spread. During the same period, the number of extreme landslide counties — those decided by margins exceeding 50 percentage points — exploded from 93 to 1,196, or over a third of the nation’s counties.

But things are actually even more interesting than Wasserman suggests. He illustrates the growing partisan trend with a set of maps from 1992 to 2016, which show the increasing number of landslide counties. But it turns out there's very little change from election to election. In fact, there are only two elections since 1992 which produced a big change:

In years when a Republican is elected, the nation becomes far more polarized. Or, if you prefer, in years when the nation becomes far more polarized, a Republican wins the election. Discuss.

My apologies. I said earlier this morning that Donald Trump's only comment about the Republican health care bill had been a single ambiguous tweet. But it turns out he also said this:

This will be a plan where you can choose your doctor, and this will be a plan where you can choose your plan. And you know what the plan is. This is the plan. It’s a complicated process, but actually it’s very simple, it’s called good health care.

OK then.

Christopher Ingraham asks, "Is the money we're spending on health care keeping us alive?" It's this chart that gives him pause:

This is a dramatic chart, for sure. But I'm not sure it highlights the right issue. The US spends a lot more on health care than other countries, but that's not because we provide better or worse health care. We just pay more for the same stuff. We pay doctors more and we pay nurses more. We pay more for drugs, more for hospital stays, and more for tests. This is a consequence of a mostly private health care system that doesn't control costs very well, but it says nothing about the quality of care.

Instead, I would draw your attention to this chart:

The difference in life expectancy between the top and bottom is ten years for women and a stunning 15 years for men. Nor do you need to look at the very top to match European life expectancies. A merely average American has a life expectancy of 82 years, right in line with other advanced countries.

So here's the question: I assume that every country shows a decline in life expectancy as you get poorer. But do other countries show the astonishing decline we have in the US? I can't find an authoritative analysis of this, but I scanned through some reports from different countries and it looks to me like the income difference in most places is half to two-thirds of the US difference.

This is where I suspect our health care system goes awry: in quality of care to the poor. Compared to other advanced countries, it's terrible, and that shows up in the life expectancy numbers for the poor.

This is testable with the right statistics. In particular, I'd be interested in seeing the chart at the top not for overall life expectancy, but for life expectancy of those with median incomes. Does any such thing exist?

The American Medical Association has decided to speak up after all. They are not happy with the Republican health care plan:

While we agree that there are problems with the ACA that must be addressed, we cannot support the AHCA as drafted because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations.

....It is important that the amount of credits available to individuals be sufficient to enable one to afford quality coverage. We believe that credits should be inversely related to an individual’s income....We are concerned [] with the proposed rollback of the Medicaid expansion under the ACA....The AMA cannot support provisions that repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund or that eliminate the ability of patients to receive their care from qualified providers of their choice.

....We encourage you to ensure that low and moderate income Americans will be able to secure affordable and adequate coverage and that Medicaid, CHIP, and other safety net programs are maintained and adequately funded. And critically, we urge you to do all that is possible to ensure that those who are currently covered do not become uninsured.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the show?

In a separate commentary, under the headline "Physicians reject House ACA replacement bill," the AMA's president says this: "The ratings and analytics firm S&P Global Ratings has already estimated that as many as 10 million Americans could lose coverage if this bill becomes law....That just won’t do."

Among the big industry players, only the insurance companies continue to remain quiet about the Republican plan. However, with everyone else opposed to it, they might finally decide to speak up. They're the ones for whom RepubliCare is an existential threat, after all.

But while we're on the subject, has anyone noticed that there's one other player who doesn't support the Republican bill? So far, President Trump's sole comment about it has been this: "Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation." By Trump standards, that's practically a denunciation. Elsewhere in the administration, Tom Price apparently hasn't read the bill and Sean Spicer's big pitch was the fact that it has fewer words than Obamacare. This is a decidedly restrained approach. It appears that Trump doesn't want to be too closely identified with this dumpster fire of a bill. He may not be very smart, but he has an animal cunning that's probably warning him to keep his distance.

Engagement Labs is a company that tracks "what people are talking about." Brad Fay, one of their executives, tells us that during the presidential campaign people were talking very negatively about everyone. They were more negative about Donald Trump, but they were plenty negative about Hillary Clinton too. However, the gap between the candidates changed from time to time based on external events:

Most decisively, there was a sudden change in the net sentiment results that followed immediately after FBI Director James Comey released his Oct. 28 letter to Congress about a renewed investigation of Clinton emails. Immediately afterwards, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump. At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth "standings." The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.

Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words:

In late October, Clinton leads Trump by 24 points in the Engagement Labs survey. Two days after the Comey letter is released, Trump is ahead by 4 points. Trump kept that lead until Election Day.

Once again: Clinton did nothing particularly wrong in her campaign. She didn't ignore working-class whites. She wasn't too cautious on policy. She didn't overestimate the impact of educated voters. She wasn't complacent. What happened was simple: 12 days before the election, the FBI director released a letter saying he had found a brand-new trove of emails and implying that this might finally be the smoking gun about her private email server. That's it.

We'll never know for sure if James Comey did this because he's terminally stupid and didn't realize what impact it would have, or if he did it knowing full well what impact it would have. But he did it. And that's why Donald Trump is president.

Donald Trump on Monday:

I know, I know, it's just a Trump tweet. Who cares? Well, I was curious about how this went down, so I clicked on the press statement:

President Trump made a promise to bring back jobs to America. The spirit of optimism sweeping the country is already boosting job growth, and it is only the beginning.

....Darren W. Woods, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil announced the company’s investment program during a keynote speech today to an oil and gas industry conference in Houston, Texas. “Investments of this scale require a pro-growth approach and a stable regulatory environment and we appreciate the President’s commitment to both,” said Woods.

The weasel wording immediately alerted me that this was BS, but just as I was about to fire up Google to check it out, I read further:

The company’s Growing the Gulf program consists of 11 major chemical, refining, lubricant and liquefied natural gas projects at proposed new and existing facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Investments began in 2013 and are expected to continue through at least 2022.

They're not even bothering to make us do any work anymore. They just admit straight up in the White House press release that this all started under President Obama four years ago. I guess they know they'll get called on it if they don't admit this, and they don't really care anyway. All they care about is that their fans see "45,000 jobs" and "construction & manufacturing." They'll believe anything Trump says, and 45,000 sounds like a pretty big number. Mission accomplished.

Just for the record, the country added 20,000 jobs per month in construction alone over the past six years. ExxonMobil is adding about 400 jobs per month. Here's the chart. Trump's starting point is 6.8 million.

Apparently the CBO plans to have an official score of RepubliCare next Monday. That gives Paul Ryan three days to ram it through committee and onto the floor before the world learns just how bad his bill is. Or, maybe five days if he's willing to work weekends. Do you think he can do it? I don't.

While we wait, however, let's take a look at some unofficial estimates. First, here is Edwin Park of CBPP on the Medicaid provisions of the bill:1

I should note that in practical terms, "shifts to states" means "cuts." But who cares, amirite? It's all just a bunch of poor people anyway. They may have to cut back on their iPhones and their T-bone steaks, but that's all.

On the other hand, the cuts would also affect people that Republicans care about. Here are David Cutler and friends over at Vox:

We estimate that the bill would increase costs for the average enrollee by $1,542, for the year, if the bill were in effect today. In 2020, the bill would increase costs for the average enrollee by $2,409.

....The impact of the Republican bill would be particularly severe for older individuals, ages 55 to 64. Their costs would increase by $5,269 if the bill went into effect today and by $6,971 in 2020. Individuals with income below 250 percent of the federal poverty line would see their costs increase by $2,945 today and by $4,061 in 2020.

....Over time, the value of the new tax credits under the Republican bill would erode significantly. That’s because they are indexed to grow with consumer inflation plus 1 percentage point, which is much slower than the rate medical costs are actually growing. Under the ACA, by contrast, tax credits grow in lockstep with premiums for “silver” plans, and costs are capped as a percentage of income.

Yikes! "Older individuals ages 55 to 64." That describes a lot of Republicans. We're certainly not going to ask them to give up their iPhones and T-bone steaks, are we? This is a real problem.

And one more thing. That business about "consumer inflation plus 1 percentage point" sounds really dry and tedious—and it is. But it's also really important. Here's a look at how CPI + 1 compares to medical inflation over the past few decades:

If this standard had been in place for the past three decades, subsidies would have eroded by more than a quarter. What used to be a subsidy of $1,000 would be a subsidy of $720—and you'd have to make up the difference out of your own pocket. It's sneaky and slow, but it makes a big difference over time.

1I note that CBPP's chartmakers have fallen prey to the PowerPoint disease of using apostrophes that point the wrong way. It's very sad. Pretty soon, though, this will be the new standard and we'll all just have to get used to it. Thanks, Bill Gates.

A few days ago I posted a tweet from Catherine Rampell about Donald Trump's proposal to slash the IRS budget, even though that would mean less enforcement and fewer audits, thus costing the government a lot of money. Today Rampell is back with raw data on this, which I've combined into one gloriously ugly chart. But there's a reason to make it so ugly. Can you figure it out?

You're too smart for me, aren't you? Or did my dotted line at 2011 give the game away? As you can see, IRS enforcement—and its audit rate—went up toward the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration. Then Republicans won a landslide victory in the 2010 midterms and took over Congress in 2011.

That was the high point of IRS efficiency. It's been straight downhill ever since. Enforcement is down, corporate audits are down, and audits of the rich are down. And why not? Corporations and the rich bought themselves a shiny new Congress in 2010, so why shouldn't they get their money's worth?