Kevin Drum

So How Did My Experiment Turn Out?

| Sat May 23, 2015 1:42 PM EDT

On Monday I announced that this was Experiment Week. Today is Saturday, and Science™ has spoken.

It turns out that I'm kinda sorta OK for about four or five hours in the morning. As long as I rest every hour or so, I can indeed write a couple of light blog posts, take a walk around the block, and shower and shave. That's the good news.

However, the deadline for my second walk of the day is about 2 pm. On Monday I walked at 5 pm, and when I was done I felt like I'd just run a marathon. It took me all evening to recover. On Tuesday I walked at 4 pm. This time it felt like I'd run a mile, and I recovered in about an hour. Basically, I've learned that my body wants to crash at about 2 pm every day. Maybe I doze for a couple of hours, maybe I actually sleep a bit, but either way I'm good for nothing. By 5 pm I'm back up, but all my chemo side effects have started to get worse. The neuropathy is worse, the nausea is worse, and the fatigue is worse. This continues until bedtime, getting steadily worse the entire time.

So that's that. I have the energy for light activity from about 7 am to 2 pm. Then I collapse, and when I get up I spend the next five or six hours enduring crappy side effects of the chemo. Oh, and this includes a terrible taste in my mouth that never goes away. Ugh.

But it could be worse! In fact, it's been worse before. Still, it's frustrating that recovery seems to come so slowly. I don't know if I'll be spending another week like this or another couple of months. All I can do is wait and see.

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Ireland Is Latest Country to Approve Gay Marriage

| Sat May 23, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

I don't have anything profound to say about this, but it's just a nice piece of good news. And I could use some good news these days:

Irish voters have resoundingly backed amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday after the world’s first national vote on the issue.

As the official ballot counting continued, the only question appeared to be how large the “yes” margin of victory from Friday’s vote would be. Analysts said the “yes” support was likely to exceed 60 percent nationally when official results are announced later Saturday.

Congratulations to Ireland. This is both a human and humane gesture in a world that could use more of them.

For the First Time Ever, Social Conservatives No Longer Outnumber Social Liberals in America

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:40 PM EDT

Via Ed Kilgore, here's an interesting chart from the good folks at Gallup:

What's interesting about this is that the change is due almost entirely to Democrats and Democratic leaners. Since 1999, that group has gone from 35 percent socially liberal to 53 percent, and from 20 percent socially conservative to 14 percent conservative.

Republicans and Republican leaners, by contrast, have barely budged. In the 2015 polling there's a slight dip in conservative ID and a slight spike in moderate ID, but it's probably just noise. Generally speaking, the lines are pretty flat over the past couple of decades.

So why have Democrats changed so much? Perhaps it's the impact of Millennials. Perhaps it's the impact of gay marriage, which Democrats have been far more willing to accept than Republicans. Maybe MSNBC and liberal blogs have had a bigger impact than I would have guessed. I'm not sure. But the increase has been steady enough that it can't be blamed on any specific event, like the Bush presidency or the financial crisis.

In any case, this really is a milestone. For a long time, one of the rocks of political analysis in America has been the simple fact that conservatives outnumber liberals. That's been true since at least the 60s, and probably for the entire postwar period—and it's been a perpetual millstone around Democratic necks. They couldn't win national elections just by getting the liberal vote and a little bit of the center-right vote. They had to get a lot of the center-right vote.

But it now looks like that era is coming to an end. With social issues increasingly defining politics, a social liberal is, for all practical purposes, just a plain old liberal—and the trend of increasing liberal ID is already underway. It's still got a ways to go, but the liberal-conservative gap is definitely closing. This probably goes a long way toward explaining why Hillary Clinton and other Democrats seem much more willing to move left than in the past. It's because they no longer think they have to capture a huge chunk of the moderate vote to win. They still need some moderates in their camp, but they no longer need to capture two-thirds or more of them. Like Republicans, they can make do with half or even a bit less.

UPDATE: The headline initially just said "liberal" and "conservative" without mentioning that it was about social liberals and conservatives. Too much shorthand. Sorry about that. I've changed the headline and a few words of the text to make everything clear.

Friday Cat Blogging Counterpoint: I Don't Care About Your Cute Cat

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:34 PM EDT
Hang in there, non-cat-lovers!

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some remarkable writers, thinkers, and Friends of Kevin to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today, in the spirit of open debate, we interrupt our regularly scheduled cat blogging for a counterpoint by writer, editor, podcaster, speaker, chartisan, newsletterer, and former MoJoer Ann Friedman.

I don't like cats. And it's even worse than you think: I don't like dogs, either. In fact, I have virtually no interest in animals at all—even eating them. I am really happy that you are comforted by the presence of your dog. I am thrilled that you and your cat "rescued each other." But, no, I do not want to cuddle with or even see photos of your pet. And please don't bother sending me that video of baby red pandas cuddling each other or a lion reuniting with its long-lost human pal.

I feel nothing.

On this point, especially among my feminist peers on the internet, I am in the minority. In honor of the man who pioneered Friday cat blogging, I'm going to reckon with the fact that I am just not very interested in furry creatures. The last time I wrote about this was seven years ago, in ancient internet times when I was a blogger for Feministing and dared to do some "Friday anti-catblogging." The commenters weren't having it. "I honestly think that there is a valuable conversation to be had about the correlation of cat-hating with misogyny," one wrote.

Friday Cat Blogging - 22 May 2015

| Fri May 22, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

One of the reasons we got a pair of sibling cats last year is because I've always wanted a couple of cats who would sleep together in an adorable little kitty pile. And that's worked out pretty well. Is there anything cuter than Hilbert and Hopper snoozing together in the picture below? I don't think so. I really don't.

Don't Panic: Health Insurance Rates Aren't About to Rise by 50 Percent

| Fri May 22, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

Here's the latest Fox News bait from the Wall Street Journal:

Major insurers in some states are proposing hefty rate boosts for plans sold under the federal health law, setting the stage for an intense debate this summer over the law’s impact.

In New Mexico, market leader Health Care Service Corp. is asking for an average jump of 51.6% in premiums for 2016. The biggest insurer in Tennessee, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has requested an average 36.3% increase. In Maryland, market leader CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield wants to raise rates 30.4% across its products. Moda Health, the largest insurer on the Oregon health exchange, seeks an average boost of around 25%.

All of them cite high medical costs incurred by people newly enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.

Well, of course they do. It's a handy excuse, so why not use it?

In any case, we've all seen this movie before. Republicans will latch onto it as evidence of how Obamacare is destroying American health care and it will enjoy a nice little run for them. Then, a few months from now, the real rate increases—the ones approved by state and federal authorities—will begin to trickle out. They'll mostly be in single digits, with a few in the low teens. The average for the entire country will end up being something like 4-8 percent.

So don't panic. Sure, it's possible that the Obamacare shit has finally hit the fan, but probably not. Check back in October before you worry too much about stories like this.

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Republicans Hate Obamacare Even If They Like Their Own Obamacare Plans

| Thu May 21, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

A new Kaiser poll gives us an in-depth look at what people think about health insurance plans purchased through an Obamacare exchange. Some of the results are unsurprising: people like plans with low deductibles; most say it was easy to shop for a plan; and most were pretty satisfied with the plans they purchased. But unless I'm badly misreading something, there's one result that's pretty gobsmacking. First off, here's a chart showing basic satisfaction levels with Obamacare plans:

That's pretty good. Positive responses increased a bit from 72 percent to 74 percent. That compares very favorably with satisfaction levels toward employer plans. But now take a look at this chart that breaks down Obamacare favorability attitudes by party:

This is crazy. This isn't a general survey of all Americans. It's a survey specifically of people who don't have group coverage. Most of them (probably more than two-thirds) have actually purchased Obamacare plans and therefore have personal experience with them, but favorability is nonetheless still driven mostly by party ID. You can buy an ACA plan on the marketplace, get a subsidy, and be happy with your plan—but if you're a Republican you still overwhelmingly hate Obamacare by 74-25 percent.

Folks, that is hardcore.

CNN Plans to Feature Peanut Gallery Debate as Warmup for Main Event

| Thu May 21, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

CNN will be hosting the second Republican debate, and they've come up with a....unique way of dealing with the fact that there are just too damn many candidates. To handle the crowd, they're going to have two separate debates:

"The first 10 candidates — ranked from highest to lowest in polling order from an average of all qualifying polls released between July 16 and September 10 who satisfy the criteria requirements ... will be invited to participate in 'Segment B' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate," the network states in its candidate criteria. "Candidates who satisfy the criteria and achieve an average of at least 1 percent in three national polls, but are not ranked in the top 10 of polling order will be invited to participate in 'Segment A' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate."

Did you get that? All the yokels—Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, etc.—will go on first. They'll be sort of the warm-up act. Then they'll get shuffled off the stage and the big guns will have prime time all to themselves. This is pretty humiliating for the also-rans, but presumably if they play by the rules they'll have a chance to move up, just like in English Premier League soccer. Perhaps Rick Perry will stumble and get relegated to the minor leagues for the next debate, while Jindal will knock everyone's socks off and get promoted to the show. I don't know if I'd quite call this "fun," but it would certainly make for some interesting office pools.

The first debate, which is hosted by Fox, will feature none of this nonsense. The top ten candidates will be invited to the debate, and that's that. If you're outside the top ten, you can watch the debate on your big-screen TV at home. Or, if Fox is feeling generous, perhaps the sad sacks polling at the 1% level will be allowed to while away their time in the spin room, where they can try to buttonhole reporters and explain why they really should have been up on the stage. Maybe the saddest story will win a prize.

By About 2020, We'll Probably Finally Know Whether a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Good Idea

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

So my near neighbor of Los Angeles is poised to raise the minimum wage to $15. How should we think of that?

Personally, I'm thrilled. Not because I think it's a slam-dunk good idea, but because along with Seattle and San Francisco it will give us a great set of natural experiments to figure out what happens when you raise the minimum wage a lot. We can argue all we want; we can extrapolate from other countries; and we can create complex Greek-letter models to predict the effects—but we can't know until someone actually does it.

So what do I think will happen? Several things:

In the tradeable sector, such as clothing piece work and agriculture, the results are very likely to be devastating. Luckily, LA doesn't have much agriculture left, but it does have a lot of apparel manufacture. That could evaporate completely (worst case) or perhaps migrate just across the borders into Ventura, San Bernardino, and other nearby counties. Heavier manufacturing will likely be unaffected since most workers already make more than $15.

In the food sector, people still need to eat, and they need to eat in Los Angeles. So there will probably be little damage there from outside competition. However, the higher minimum wage will almost certainly increase the incentive for fast food places to try to automate further and cut back on jobs. How many jobs this will affect is entirely speculative at this point.

Other service industries, including everything from nail salons to education to health care will probably not be affected much. They pretty much have to stay in place in order to serve their local clientele, so they'll just raise wages and pass the higher prices on to customers.

Likewise, retail, real estate, the arts, and professional services probably won't be affected too much. Retail has no place to go (though they might be able to automate some jobs away) while the others mostly pay more than $15 already. The hotel industry, by contrast, could easily become less competitive for convention business and end up shedding jobs.

On the bright side, of course, a large number of low-income workers will see their wages rise. On the less bright side, the experience of Puerto Rico suggests that (a) employment losses could be as high as 9 percent, and (b) lots of low-wage workers will flee to other places.

So if I had to guess, I'd say that Los Angeles will see (a) less poverty for low-wage workers who keep their jobs, and (b) higher prices for middle-class consumers, who will end up paying for the minimum wage hike. Since the poor spend more than the middle-class, this could be a net stimulus for the LA economy. On the downside, we're also pretty likely to see significant job losses. In other words, I agree with Adam Ozimek that we should not treat this as terra incognita just because it's never been done before:

It’s true that the farther we go out of the historical sample, the more uncertain we are about the magnitude of the impact. But I think minimum wage advocates are taking the wrong message from this. After all, a $100 minimum wage would also be out of sample and subject to the same “we have no clue” and “can’t be on solid ground” statements from Dube and Neumark. But this uncertainty is all in the direction of more job losses. When you enter unprecedented minimum wage hike territory your uncertainty goes up, but so undeniably does your risk of job losses. The idea that a minimum wage hike being of an unprecedented magnitude creates neutral uncertainty is like someone drinking more beer than they ever have just being uncertain about what it will do to their driving ability.

So we'll see. My own guess is that $15 is too high. I would have supported something in the $10-12 range for a city as large and basically prosperous as Los Angeles. But $15? There's just too much uncertainty in a number that big, and the uncertainty almost all points in the direction of significant job losses.

But I could be wrong! We now have three cities that are jumping into the deep end of the minimum wage debate, and that will eventually tell us more than all the speculation in the world combined. Fasten your seat belts.

Rand Paul's Latest Fundraiser Now Underway

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

I see from the intertubes that Sen. Rand Paul has begun another talking filibuster. This time it's to protest any legislation that extends the NSA's ability to access metadata from phone calls, even if the data is held by the phone companies and available only by court order. Paul's filibuster will annoy a lot of people, but in the end I think I agree, for once, with John McCain: "He'll get his headline and then we'll move on."

That's pretty much the lay of the land. Paul will chew up some floor time, which might end up eating into Memorial Day weekend for the Senate, but since virtually no one agrees with his position, it's simply not going to accomplish anything. I'm even a little skeptical about the headlines. Frankly, once you've done the Jimmy Stewart bit once, its entertainment value starts to plummet.

On the other hand, Paul seems to be mostly treating this as another great fundraising opportunity, and it might very well be. But that's probably all it will be.