Kevin Drum

Can We Please Ditch the Splaining Meme?

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 10:26 AM PDT

Hey there. Is there any chance that we could deep six the splaining meme? You know, mansplaining, straightsplaining, whitesplaining, and all their myriad offshoots. I get that it's a useful term, but it's gotten out of hand. Obviously we should all be careful when we talk about things outside our personal experience, and nobody gets a pass when they say something stupid. Still, we should all be allowed to talk about sensitive subjects as best we can without instantly being shot down as unfit to even hold an opinion.

The splaining meme is quickly becoming the go-to ad hominem of the 2010s, basically just a snarky version of STFU that combines pseudosophisticated mockery and derision without any substance to back it up. Maybe it's time to give it a rest and engage instead with a little less smugness and narcissism.

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Here's a Second Look at Obamacare and the Uninsured

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 9:49 AM PDT

Here's a quick follow-up on my guess earlier this week that Obamacare will reduce the ranks of the uninsured by about 10 million when we finally close out 2014. The Urban Institute has released its latest survey results and concludes that Obamacare insured about 5.4 million people through early March. This is a comparison with Fall 2013, so it doesn't include the sub-26ers who have been covered by their parents' policies since 2010. It also doesn't include the March signup surge. If you add those in, we're probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 million right now, which I think is consistent with a guess of 10 million by the end of the year.

There's still a lot of guesswork in these numbers, but this is about the best we have right now. It's less than the 13 million the CBO projected, but it's a pretty healthy number nonetheless.

UPDATE: It turns out that the CBO uses pro-rated years. If you sign up for coverage on April 1, you count as three-quarters of a year. If you sign up on July 1, you count as half a year. I didn't know that, and it changes my guess. By normal human terms, I think about 10 million of the previously uninsured will have Obamacare coverage by the end of 2014. By CBO terms, that might come to 9 million or so.

Yep, Most of Paul Ryan's Budget Cuts Come Out of Programs for the Poor

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 7:56 AM PDT

A few days ago I guessed that 80+ percent of the cuts in Paul Ryan's latest budget blueprint came from programs for the poor. Today, CBPP dives a little deeper and puts the number at 69 percent. The cuts come in five categories: health care; food assistance; college grants; other mandatory programs such as SSI, school lunches, and EITC; and miscellaneous discretionary cuts. However, CBPP warns that its 69 percent number is very likely conservative:

In cases where the Ryan budget cuts funding in a budget category but doesn’t distribute that cut among specific programs — such as its cuts in non-defense discretionary programs and its unspecified cuts in mandatory programs — we assume that all programs in that category, including programs not designed to assist low-income households, will be cut by the same percentage.

That's definitely a risky assumption. In real life, two-thirds of those cuts would almost certainly end up coming out of programs for the poor. We'll never know for sure because Ryan never has the guts to specify where his cuts would go, but I'm willing to bet that if Republicans were forced to provide line items for all of Ryan's broad categories, we'd end up back at 80 percent of the cuts hitting those with low incomes.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in March

| Fri Apr. 4, 2014 7:27 AM PDT

The American economy added 192,000 new jobs in March, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 102,000. The headline unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent.

This is basically good news. The labor force participation rate increased because 500,000 people entered the labor force, and the raw number of unemployed stayed about the same. The fact that people are returning to the labor force is pretty positive, as is the fact that jobs numbers for January and February were revised upward a bit. Jared Bernstein points out that wage growth has been fairly strong over the past year, which also counts as good news as long as the Fed doesn't use this as an excuse to start tightening monetary policy.

Overall, the economy is still puttering along, perhaps now back in second gear. It's nothing to crow about, but it's better than we've been doing for the past couple of months.

Housekeeping Note

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 8:17 AM PDT

I'll be off this morning, maybe back this afternoon. Depends on how I feel. Tomorrow for sure, I hope.

The Wall Street Journal Needs to Find Some New Clip Art

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 7:19 PM PDT

Wait a second. Did the Wall Street Journal editorial page really use the Daily Kos logo to illustrate an op-ed by billionaire arch-conservative Charles Koch? Sure, it's an out-of-date logo, but even so, do they not have any idea that this piece of clip art has long been associated with the Great Orange Satan? Color me amused.

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Is it Time to Replace the Cult of Finland With the Cult of New Jersey?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

Vikram Bath takes on the cult of Finland today. What's that? You didn't realize Finland had a cult? Well, it does in the education community, where Finland's consistently high scores on the international PISA test make it the go-to destination for education writers looking for agreeable junkets they can turn into long-form thumbsuckers about how American schools are doing everything wrong.

But Bath points out that Finland isn't actually the world's top performer on the PISA test. Shanghai does better. So does Hong Kong. Now, maybe those are cherry-picked examples that owe their success to government authorities who game the tests, and therefore deserve to be ignored. But Japan does better too. And South Korea. And Taiwan. So why have they fallen out of vogue lately in the popular press? Why do we hear endless tributes to Finland instead? Bath suggests the reason we like Finland is fairly obvious:

“Be like Shanghai” is for the Wall Street Journal crowd. Shanghai is rote memorization and beating your kids and no bathroom breaks and pretending you aren’t numbed by classical music. Finland is culture and castles and liking classical music because you’d be a better person and maybe windmills.

Fine. Asian countries are culturally different. Maybe it makes sense to look instead at countries that are more similar to America. The problem is, Finland isn't really much like America either. It's ethnically pretty homogeneous and has extremely low rates of poverty. Obviously tackling poverty would be great, but facts are facts: we're not likely to reduce our poverty rate to 3 percent anytime soon. So does that mean we're stuck with no place to aspire to at all?

No. There is still a much, much better non-Asian model. It’s Massachusetts.

14% of children in Massachusetts live in relative poverty. That’s still below the US average, but much more American-like than Finland.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has already figured out how to deal with all the existing regulations imposed by the US government.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has figured out how to cooperate productively with US teachers unions.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has demonstrated how to get results from US-trained teachers rather than masters holders from Finnish research schools, of which the world only has so many.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has experienced success teaching real American students who go home every day to be subjected to American parenting styles.

I'd add a fairly large caveat to this: When you disaggregate scores, Massachusetts still does well, but not spectacularly well. Judging from the latest NAEP scores for eighth graders, Massachusetts does a great job with its white students, a good job with its black students, and a fairly mediocre job with its Hispanic students. Overall, they perform pretty well, but part of that is due to the fact that Massachusetts has a very high proportion of white students and apparently does a superb job of teaching them.

Nevertheless, Bath's point is well taken. But you might want to choose a different state: New Jersey, which has a high composite score not because it's mostly white (it's about 60 percent white), but because it does an outstanding job of teaching kids of all colors. Judging by NAEP scores, it ranks among the top four states in both math and reading for whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Of course, New Jersey's poverty rate is pretty low, and we know that poverty is a prime cause of poor educational outcomes. This helps account for New Jersey's high scores, and also acts as an object lesson in not fetishizing particular countries, states, or programs. This stuff is complicated, and there's no point in just substituting one simplistic analysis for another. That said, I'd say Bath is worth listening to. We should take good ideas from wherever we can find them, but there's not much reason to go haring around the world looking for educational lodestars to emulate. We have 51 laboratories of democracy right here at home, all of which are more culturally similar to each other than any foreign country is. And some of them do pretty well, already working within the framework of American culture, American laws, American ethnic makeup, and American parents. Why not study them instead?

How Democrats Plan to Address the Midterm Blues

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 10:36 AM PDT

How big is the midterm penalty for Democrats? Eric McGhee tells us in handy chart form. Given President Obama's current approval rating, his model says Democrats would have a 75 percent chance of holding the Senate if this were a presidential election year. But in a midterm, Dems have only a 10 percent chance:

Ed Kilgore writes about this a lot, and warns Democrats not to get too mired in fruitless efforts to attack the "enthusiasm gap." After all, the kind of people affected by enthusiasm are the kind of people who are likely to vote anyway. A loud populist message might thrill them, but it won't do much to affect turnout among minorities and the young, who typically have more tenuous connections to politics. Instead, Democrats should focus on old-fashioned efforts to get out the vote. Or, more accurately, brand new rocket science efforts to get out the vote:

There’s plenty of evidence that turnout can be more reliably affected by direct efforts to identify favorable concentrations of voters and simply get them to the polls, with or without a great deal of “messaging” or for that matter enthusiasm (no one takes your temperature before you cast a ballot). Such get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are the meat-and-potatoes of American politics, even if they invariably get little attention from horse-race pundits. Neighborhood-intensive “knock-and-drag” GOTV campaigns used to be a Democratic speciality thanks to the superior concentration of Democratic (especially minority) voters, though geographical polarization has created more and more equally ripe Republican areas.

....If that’s accurate, then the most important news for Democrats going into November is that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is planning to spend $60 million on data-driven GOTV efforts specially focused on reducing the “midterm falloff” factor. The extraordinary success of Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign in boosting African-American turnout for an off-year election will likely be a model.

Messaging matters. But in midterm elections, shoe leather matters more, even if it's mostly digital shoe leather these days.

How Many of the Uninsured Have Been Helped By Obamacare?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 9:21 AM PDT

So how is Obamacare doing? By the metric of signups, pretty well. Charles Gaba estimates that about 6.5 million people have signed up for Medicaid, and Obama announced yesterday that 7.1 million have signed up for coverage under the exchanges. The Medicaid number will probably continue to rise throughout the year, and the exchange number will likely end up around 7 million once late applicants are counted and non-payers are removed from the rolls. Overall, Obamacare is very much on target to meet the CBO forecast of 14 million signups by the end of 2014.

But Chris Conover points out a genuine soft spot in these numbers: a lot of them were previously insured folks who have simply switched to different coverage (either private or Medicaid). So the question is: How many of the uninsured have been helped by Obamacare? There are two ways of trying to measure this.

The first is raw numbers. The CBO estimated earlier this year that Obamacare would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 13 million, and Conover figures that the actual number is around 7 million or so—about half the target. Without going deep into the weeds, which I'll leave to others, I think he's probably being overly pessimistic. My horseback guess is that the real number will end up around 10 million or so by the time the year is finished (5 million via Medicaid, 3 million via the exchanges, and 2 million via sub-26ers on their parents' plans).

The second way of measuring this is via percentages. The CBO also forecast that the ranks of the uninsured would decline by 5 percentage points, from 21 percent to 16 percent. The actual numbers can be gotten by surveys, and Rand estimates a decline so far of about 4 percentage points (from 20.9 percent to 16.6 percent). Gallup, by contrast, showed a decline of about 1.5 percentage points through February and will show a further decline in March. These two surveys use different methodologies, so we have to be careful with them. Still, if we split the difference and extrapolate to the end of the year, we end up with a figure between 3-4 percent. That's the equivalent of about 10 million.

This is all very rough, and there's inevitably quite a bit of guesswork involved. We just don't have firm numbers or final survey results yet, and what's more, the year isn't over. Still, if I had to guess, I'd guess that we end up around 10 million previously uninsured who will get coverage via Obamacare this year. That's no catastrophe, but it's worse than we'd hoped for. As always, Obamacare remains a work in progress and a good first step. But there's still plenty left to be done.

Yet Another Campaign Finance Domino Falls Today

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 8:25 AM PDT

Four years ago, in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court struck down limits on independent campaign contributions from corporations and unions. Since then, spending by super PACs and shadowy 501c(4) groups has exploded. Today, the Supreme Court continued toward its goal of gutting virtually every existing limit on campaign spending:

[Citizens United] did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on direct contributions to candidates and political parties. Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, addressed that second kind of regulation.

It did not disturb familiar base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. But it said that overall limits of $48,600 every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600.

There are still some limits left. Direct contributions from individuals to specific candidates are still capped, and direct contributions to candidates from corporations are still banned.

The effect of this decision is unclear. Will billionaires start giving enormous sums of soft money to political parties? That would presumably require parties to set up lots of different committees that are putatively for different purposes, which in turn would probably give rise to yet more legal challenges. But if the past is any indication, the bright boys and girls who run these things will figure out a way.

I suppose it might even be a good thing, if you believe that parties have gotten too weak compared to billionaire donors these days. This could give them a way of rebuilding their influence and providing more central control over messaging and candidate selection. But I doubt that. The cringe-inducing spectacle of Republicans trekking to Las Vegas this weekend to kiss Sheldon Adelson's ring in hopes of becoming his fair-haired child and sole recipient of his millions, shows that the horse is truly out of the barn on the role of the super-rich in political campaigns. It's possible that McCutcheon will strengthen party machinery and provide a slight counterweight, but more likely it will simply give billionaires even more control over the electoral process. I guess the best we can hope for is that they continue to be as stupid in their political spending as they've been so far. Unfortunately, as the Koch brothers are showing, my sense is that they're finally getting a little better and a little more disciplined about this stuff. Billionaire politics is here to stay.

This is not a good turn of events for popular democracy.