Today Brings Yet More Obamacare Non-Failure

I've written frequently about the fact that the rapid growth in US health care costs has slowed down in recent years. Here's the latest version of the slowdown, courtesy of the Urban Institute:

The raw data for this chart comes the national health expenditures forecast issued annually by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. As you can see, their latest forecast for the year 2019 is about $500 billion less than it was in 2010. The cumulative forecast for 2014-19 is now $2.6 trillion less than it was in 2010.

It's hard to say how much, if any, of this decrease is due to Obamacare. My own guess is that the cost-saving parts of Obamacare haven't had time to really kick in yet, which means the recent slowdown in health care costs is most likely just an extension of the slowdown that's been percolating behind our backs for more than three decades.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to say about Obamacare here. CMS did forecasts both before and after Obamacare passed, and they predicted that Obamacare would increase spending. Lots of conservatives predicted the same thing. But it didn't happen. Here's the chart for private health care spending:

The figures are even more dramatic for Medicare and Medicaid spending. The jury may still be out on Obamacare's long-term effect on controlling health care costs, but one thing is sure: all the hysteria about Obamacare causing costs to skyrocket was entirely unfounded.

Peter Eavis says that Brexit is likely to lose and Britain will remain part of the EU:

Asking people to predict a result of an election has, over time, provided more accurate forecasts than asking people their voting intentions, according to a study by Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist and an Upshot contributor, and David Rothschild, of the Microsoft Research and Statistics Center.

When Survation asked, “Regardless of how you plan to vote, what do you think the result will be?” just shy of 40 percent of people said the “remain” camp would win. Only 26 percent said that “leave” would prevail.

The betting markets agree:

The betting odds for the EU referendum changed direction over the weekend and now firmly favour a Remain vote with just three days to go....Ladbrokes has given just a 27% chance of a Vote Leave while William Hill has it as 28.5%. Ladbrokes added that 95% of betting on was a Remain vote on Monday.

My sense—though I'd prefer actual data if anyone has collected it—is that secession votes usually follow a pattern: the leavers get an upward bump a few weeks before voting day, but stayers get a bump in the few days before voting day. A fair number of people flirt with the idea of leaving, but then get scared at the last minute and decide to vote for the status quo instead. Basically, in any secession referendum, I figure that Leave needs to be polling at 55 percent or higher to have a realistic chance of winning.

As of today, the polls are still tied, so my guess is that Brexit will fail on Thursday. If I'm right that about 5 percent of the leavers will get cold feet and change their minds, the final tally will be something like 53-47 percent in favor of remaining in the EU. We'll find out in a couple of days.

Illegal Immigrant Tries to Kill Donald Trump!

An illegal immigrant who is apparently mentally ill tried to grab a policeman's gun yesterday so that he could shoot Donald Trump. I gather that it was a fairly half-hearted effort, but still: "Illegal Immigrant Tries to Kill Trump"! Where are the headlines? Jim Geraghty comments:

The recent chaos on the Trump campaign, as big a story as it is, shouldn’t cause this event to disappear from the public’s attention. It illuminates the disconcerting fact that once legal temporary immigrants enter the country, the authorities have no real way to keep track of them. And a lot of them take advantage of that fact....We need border security. But even if you completely sealed the southern border, America would still have a significant number of illegal immigrants walking its streets.

Quite so. But forget the media. We all know they're in thrall to political correctness and won't print anything that might cast Mexican immigrants in an unfavorable light. But what about Trump? His Twitter feed is empty. Why isn't he shouting about this from the rooftops? I mean, it totally vindicates his point about building a wall and—

Wait. What? I should read the whole story. Fine. Here's the BBC:

A British man arrested while trying to grab a policeman's gun at a Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas has been described in his home town as "a strange one"....Surrey Police said it was "providing family liaison support on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office"....The BBC understands he lived with his mother Lynne in Dorking, Surrey until about 18 months ago.

Surrey police? Dorking? A British man? What's that all about?

Ah, I get it. Michael Sandford is white. And he's from Britain. A wall wouldn't keep him out. And anyway, Trump's base doesn't hate residents of Dorking who overstay their visas. He's not the right kind of illegal immigrant. So we'll all ignore him.

POSTSCRIPT: On another note, Geraghty, like many conservatives, complains that we have "no real way to keep track" of visitors who overstay their visas. That's true. But what exactly do they expect? GPS tracking collars? It's not as if someone who's illegally overstaying their visa is going to voluntarily check in at their nearest consulate. And even if we did track them somehow, what good would it do? I'm puzzled by this whole thing.

Donald Trump Is Broke

Today's big news is the overall implosion of the Donald Trump campaign. He's repeatedly melted down on the stump over the past month. He's trailing Hillary Clinton by a mile in the latest polls. He fired his campaign manager this morning. His ego apparently doesn't allow him to beg other people for money, so he's barely done any fundraising at all. The fight to stop him at the Republican convention now has the support of nearly 400 delegates. With the election only 20 weeks away, he still has virtually no staff. He's being hammered by negative advertising on TV and isn't doing anything to fight back. (So far he's run exactly zero ads.)

Except for the personal meltdown stuff, all of this is basically a money problem. Trump doesn't have any. In fact, pretty much everything you need to know about Trump's campaign—and his underlying  business acumen, though that's a story for another time—is captured in FEC form 3P. As you can see, it shows that Trump ended the month of May with $1.28 million on hand. That's disastrous. It's unbelievable. It's less than a tenth of what he should have. It's less than a well-run congressional campaign should have. It's $40 million less than Hillary Clinton's campaign has. It's Donald Trump in a nutshell.

So will he just finance the campaign out of his own wallet? Not a chance. Bluster aside, he doesn't have the ready cash to do it. And he wouldn't even if he could. After all, this is the guy who eagerly transferred the five-figure salary of his longtime bodyguard to his campaign at the first opportunity. Do you really think he's ready to blow $500 million on a nearly certain losing cause?

tronc Unveils Its Content Monetization Engine

A couple of months ago, the company that owns the LA Times drew mockery for its plans to introduce a "content monetization engine" that would "create more revenue...than you've ever seen."

Then, a few weeks ago, they drew yet more mockery by renaming themselves tronc, for Tribune Online Content. Seriously. tronc. All lower case. I thought we'd gotten over that kind of nonsense in the 70s.

Today they officially began trading as TRNC on NASDAQ—and employees began receiving videos describing how all this content monetization will work. Monday's blast features Malcolm CasSelle, tronc's Chief Technology Officer, and Anne Vasquez, tronc's Chief Digital Officer, who team up to toss around a whole mess of trendy buzzwords. tronc is all about "having a tech startup culture meet a legacy corporate culture." They tell us that an "optimization group" will feed content "into a funnel and optimize it." There will be "machine learning" and "artificial intelligence." Stories will be "more visual."  But what does all this mean? About three-quarters of the way in, we finally find out. It's all about video:

VASQUEZ: Right now we're averaging about 16 percent of our article pages have the type of video player that we can monetize. By 2017 we need to get to 50 percent of our article pages have a Brightcove video player attached to it.

CASSELLE: The CPM that we can earn with a video, or visualized content, is significantly higher than a page without it. And that's the reason why we have to raise these numbers. It will significantly increase our annual revenue per user, which is a key metric for us to grow as a company.

I have too many friends who work for the Times to give this quite the snark it deserves. And besides, who knows? Maybe print really is dead. Maybe video is the future. And not just any video, but video being played on a Brightcove player that can be suitably monetized.

I hope there's more to tronc than just this. Using artificial intelligence to slap monetizable viral videos onto every piece of journalism tronc produces is surely a wonderful thing, but it's not exactly a vision of the future likely to inspire the troops. It sounds more as if reporters are now going to get daily summaries telling them how many of their pieces have Brightcove video attached, with stern talking-tos for everyone who fails to make their 50 percent quota. Exciting!

On Friday, Donald Trump offered up this comment on the Orlando shooting: "It's too bad that some of the young people that were killed over the weekend didn't have guns attached to their hip....Had people been able to fire back it would have been a much different outcome."

Presumably Trump figured that this was the "strong" pro-gun position, only to discover that even the NRA thinks it's not a great idea to mix firearms and alcohol. So today he Trumpsplained that he was "obviously" referring only to "additional guards or employees."

This is, obviously, a lie, as even the lightest perusal of his original remarks proves. Nonetheless, the term of art for this is that he "walked back" his comment. If that sounds familiar, it's because Trump has practically made a career of walking back his endless buffoonery. The screen cap below of a Google News search for "Trump walks back" displays it in all its glory.

I totally ripped off this idea from Andrew Sprung, but it really requires its full length to do it justice. As Andrew says, "Perhaps some of these proposals didn't evince quite the level of deliberation we could wish for?"

What really gets me is why Trump's supporters continue to believe a word he says. He's gonna build a wall? Sure. He'll never walk that back. Honest.

From Pema Levy:

In 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback launched a "real live experiment" in conservative governance. He slashed income taxes for top earners and eliminated them for more than 330,000 small businesses, promising the cuts would be "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy." Instead, the result has been disastrous. By the end of 2015, the state had lost nearly $3 billion in revenue and was behind most other states in job growth. And when the courts challenged the constitutionality of the bare-bones budgets, Brownback and his allies launched an all-out war on the state's judges.

Click the link to read all about the farcical war that Brownback waged on his state's judicial system. But if you'd like some cold, hard numbers to go with your story, Menzie Chinn is your man. Here, for example, is economic growth in Kansas before and after Brownback took office:

Ouch. From 2005 to 2011, Kansas was growing faster than the US economy. This continued for about a year after Brownback took office, at which point economic growth declined and then flatlined. But hey—maybe things are just tough in the Midwest? Not really, it turns out. Here's how Kansas compares to her neighboring states since 2011:

Chin has also done a forecast of how well Kansas should have done based on historical trends, and the picture is just as un-pretty as these. Basically, (a) Kansas was doing OK, (b) Brownback rolled in and decided to make Kansas a test bed for conservative economics, and (c) Kansas promptly went to hell.

This, of course, has caused conservatives to think long and hard about their contention that cutting taxes on the rich and slashing bloated budgets will supercharge the economy. Haha. Just kidding. What they've actually done is either (a) ignore Kansas or (b) spend lots of time trying to dig up reasons that Kansas is a special case and would have done even worse if Brownback hadn't stepped in. These reasons tend to be pretty ridiculous, but so far they've been good enough to keep the rubes in line. And that's what matters, right?

One Side In the Ad-Blocker Wars Is Doomed

MoJo editor Clara Jeffrey points me to this today:

Ad blocking has become a hot-button media issue as consumers push back on perceived ad overload and tracking mechanisms across the internet. Research firm Ovum estimates that publishers lost $24 billion in revenue globally last year due to ad blocking.

Hmmm. $24 billion. I wonder how research firm Ovum came up with that number? Let's hop over and—oh, hold on. Just wait a few years and we're headed toward Armageddon:

Players in the digital publishing industry can’t stop talking about ad blocking. And they shouldn’t — according to Ovum’s new Ad-Blocking Forecast, the phenomenon will result in a 26% loss in Internet advertising revenues in 2020, which equates to $78.2bn globally. However, if publishers act now, that percentage could be as little as 6%, or $16.9bn. The question is: How can publishers make that much of a difference?

Yikes! I've put this forecast into handy chart form since numbers always look more official when you do that. But I still don't know how Ovum came up with these figures, since I'm not a client and don't have access to their reports. Which is fair enough. Nonetheless, I'm intrigued by this:

To take back control, publishers need to show consumers why advertising is needed and that it can be a positive addition to content.

....Publishers also need to work with advertisers to improve the consumer experience. The quality of the adverts is a major issue for many consumers. There are not enough examples of web-delivered adverts that enhance the experience for the reader....Forcing adverts on consumers through ad reinsertion or by blocking users of ad blockers from accessing content will have a negative long-term effect....Ovum predicts that the ad blockers — with input from a network of unpaid developers — will win the battle and ad blockers will remain more advanced than the anti-ad blockers in the long term.

Not only will websites that try to force the issue risk annoying consumers further but these websites also risk driving readers toward their competitors who don’t require ad blockers to be switched off or who provide an alternate means of paying for content.

I'd like to make fun of this, but it's actually decent advice. The current hysteria over ad blockers reminds me of the hysteria over TiVo when it first arrived in 1999—which itself was just an updated version of the hysteria over VCRs back in the 80s. If people can record shows, they'll skip the ads! We're doomed!

But no. TV ad revenue has been surprisingly stable since 1999 despite a decline in viewership. The big problem, it turns out, isn't the ad skippers, it's the number of people watching TV in the first place. I suspect the same is true of online journalism. Ad blockers aren't the problem, readership is. Provide a well-targeted audience and advertisers will pay for it. The folks who skip the ads probably weren't very good sales prospects anyway.

In any case, it doesn't matter: Ovum is almost certainly correct that ad-blockers will win the war against ad-blocker-blockers, which means that online sites are waging a losing battle that does nothing but piss off their customers. So cut down on the quantity of ads and target them better instead. That may or may not work, but it's likely to work a lot better than continuing to fight the ad-blocker wars.

Stop Staring at Your Backup Camera!

Jacob Bogage tells us that backup cameras in cars aren't really helping that much:

Backup cameras have been around longer than other car safety tech, so the federal government has years of data on their effect. Between 2008 and 2011 — the most recent years for which data was made available by NHTSA — backup cameras more than doubled from 32% to 68% of all new cars sold. But injuries fell less than 8%, from about 13,000 down to 12,000. The improvement in safety has been very gradual from year to year.

The fatality rate has improved somewhat, dropping 31% over the same period. But the sample size is small — deaths from cars moving in reverse are relatively rare. NHTSA's research shows deaths declined from 274 to 189 between 2008 and 2011, and the number was volatile year to year.

My current car is the first I've driven that has a backup camera, and this story doesn't surprise me. As near as I can tell, using a backup camera requires you to change your driving habits, and it took me a while to figure that out. The most basic problem is that backup cameras—like most video screens—beg for your attention, and if you give in to that temptation you might very well be driving less safely than without a camera. The problems are pretty obvious:

  • If your attention is focused on the camera, you aren't checking the traffic in front of you. But when you back out of a parking spot, for example, cross traffic is coming at you in both directions.
  • Backup cameras have an extreme wide-angle view, which is obviously useful. However, it also makes any object more than a few yards away look tiny. Even cars can be easy to miss sometimes, and smaller objects like children, dogs, and so forth can be all but invisible.
  • Despite their wide angle, sometimes cars don't enter the camera's sightlines until they're quite close.
  • Most backup cameras just aren't very good. Their imaging starts out mediocre just by virtue of using tiny lenses and sensors. And it only gets worse from there. Their imaging is poor at night. Their imaging is poor when the camera faces the sun. Their imaging is poor in bad weather. Their imaging is poor when the background is busy. Their imaging is poor when the lens gets dirty.

So how should you drive with a backup camera? Ironically, you need to change your driving habits back to what they were before you got a backup camera. That is, you should treat it as simply another window. Don't obsess over it. Crane your neck and check all your windows and your rearview mirror and your backup camera. In other words, drive just like you used to except with one additional window. Too many people treat backup cameras as a substitute for all their other windows, instead of an addition to them.

Donald Trump "Parts Ways" With Campaign Manager

The Washington Post describes some of Donald Trump's recent problems:

Trump has been under heavy fire in recent weeks for a string of damaging controversies, from his clumsy response to the mass shooting in Orlando, to his highly personal attacks against a federal judge overseeing two lawsuits against him, to his campaign's failure to disperse pledged donations meant for veterans' charities.

That has given serious pause to allies and donors who worry that Trump is unable and unwilling to curb brash persona and bombastic style — which he will need to appeal to independent voters in a tough general election bid against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

So what is Trump going to do about this?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has parted ways with his embattled campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, amid ongoing scrutiny over several missteps as the real estate mogul has sought to pivot to the general election.

Atta boy, Donald! When you screw up, fire someone. None of this can be your fault, after all. Or, who knows—maybe Lewandowski can recognize a sinking ship when he sees one and decided that this was a good time to jump. Either way, it looks like Paul Manafort is now officially the evil genius calling the shots for the Trump campaign.