Kevin Drum

Clinton Beats Sanders, 50-50

| Tue Feb. 2, 2016 11:34 AM EST

I'm not much of a horse-race guy, but it sure seems like the horse race is now key to the future of the Democratic primaries. The problem for Bernie Sanders is that he has an obvious structural disadvantage—superdelegates are almost 100 percent Clinton supporters—as well as a problem in the states following New Hampshire. So he needs to follow up his good showing in Iowa with electrifying results in New Hampshire.

But he can't. He started opening up a big lead in New Hampshire at the beginning of January, and the polls now have him 20 points ahead. To generate any serious shock waves he'd have to win by 30 or 40 points, and that's just not in the cards. Obviously anything can happen, but at this point it looks like Sanders wins in New Hampshire; it's entirely expected and ho hum; and Clinton then marches implacably on to the nomination. It's hard for me to see a likely scenario in which anything different happens.

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Boring Mortgages Are Too Boring For Wall Street—Again

| Tue Feb. 2, 2016 10:56 AM EST

Liar loans are back!

These mortgages, which are given to borrowers that can’t fully document their income, helped fuel a tidal wave of defaults during the housing crisis and subsequently fell out of favor.

Now, big money managers including Neuberger Berman, Pacific Investment Management Co. and an affiliate of Blackstone Group LP are lobbying lenders to make more of these “Alt-A” loans....Many of these loans come with interest rates as high as 8%, compared with an average of about 3.8% for a typical 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

....There has also been a rebranding effort: Most lenders prefer to call these products “nonqualified mortgages” due to the stigma attached to the Alt-A category. By backing these loans, money managers said they would reach an underserved corner of the housing market: Borrowers who have good credit but might be self-employed or report income sporadically.

Naturally, everything is different this time around. Everyone is being careful. It's just a small piece of the market. Borrowers have to produce some documentation. So don't worry: things are going to be fine. Wall Street knows what it's doing. No need to concern your pretty little heads about this.

Ted! Ted! Ted!

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 11:45 PM EST

Here are tonight's big messages as we all fondly say "Goodbye, Iowa":

  • Ted Cruz: I will have the shortest name of any president in history.
  • Marco Rubio: Benghazi!
  • Donald Trump: Finishing in the top ten is a great victory.
  • Jeb Bush: I have a short name too. And hey, I beat Carly.
  • Republican Party: We count votes a lot more efficiently than those loser Democrats.
  • Hillary Clinton: A win is a win. Let's get out of here.
  • Bernie Sanders: Hmmm. Maybe we're not that tired of Hillary's emails after all.
  • Democratic Party: We may be slow, but we make up for it with a stereotypically cumbersome and complex voting process.

Iowa is historically so unpredictive of anything that I honestly didn't have a lot of interest in tonight's results. I was mainly curious about how Donald Trump would somehow spin his second place finish as a victory. The answer, it turned out, was to drone on about how "they" told him to skip Iowa because he wouldn't even break the top ten. I assume this is the same "they" who repeatedly told Marco Rubio that he was too much of a schmuck to win. Whoever "they" are, they've been busy.

And now on to New Hampshire, a state inexplicably in love with Donald Trump. What's that all about, anyway?

UPDATE: The photo above is from season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The name of the episode is "Goodbye, Iowa."

It Turns Out That Millennials Like Hillary Clinton Just Fine

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 3:37 PM EST

It's the first election day of the cycle, so I might as well go with the flow. Langer Research recently asked millennials how they'd feel if various candidates won the presidency. Here were the choices:

  • like declaring a national holiday
  • like there's a light at the end of the tunnel
  • like shrugging
  • like going back to bed
  • like fleeing the country

And here are the results:

Needless to say, Donald Trump elicited the most extreme reaction. More interesting, I think, is that even among millennials there's really no enthusiasm gap between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This has decidedly not been the conventional wisdom, and most poll results seem to confirm that Sanders has more support among the young. But this one, which explicitly measures enthusiasm, shows no difference. Apparently young liberals are just as excited about a Clinton presidency as a Sanders one.

The Political Generation Gap Has Become a Generation Chasm

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 2:37 PM EST

This is nothing new, but I continue to find it sort of fascinating. Here's Pew's breakdown of the voting generation gap over the past 40 years:

At the turn of the century, there was no partisan difference in the votes of young and old. But in recent elections, there has been a huge generation gap at the polls. Today 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat in their core social, economic and political views, while 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican, up from 64% and 70% respectively in 1994.

There's more at the link. Approval ratings of presidents are now based almost entirely on party affiliation. Liberals and conservatives get their news from entirely different places. And they just flatly disapprove of each other more than ever.

And it apparently all started with George Bush. Even during the Clinton wars of the 90s, the gaps weren't that big. Only after Bush was elected—and the Republican Party became thoroughly Rove-ized—did all these trends really pick up steam. Thanks Karl!

Health Update—So Far Filed Under "Huh?"

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 1:19 PM EST

So what was the dexamethasone thing about last night? Here's the story.

During my first round of chemotherapy I took a three-med cocktail. One of the meds was dexamethasone, a corticosteroid. It helps the other drugs work better, and also seems to program cancerous myeloma cells to die on their own, which is a handy attribute. But one of the side effects is sleep disruption. For the first few weeks, it had no effect. But then it started disrupting my sleep on the day I took it. Then for a couple of days. Then all the time. Then even more. It was a pain in the ass, but for the most part kept under control with sleeping meds that varied over time.

Now I'm on a second round of chemo, and it's not working as well as we'd like. So a couple of weeks ago we added dex to the mix. It was half the dose I was taking last year, so I was hopeful the sleep disruption would take a long time to show up and would be milder than before. No such luck. Perhaps the first round created a heightened sensitivity to it? In any case, on the very first day I was up until 2 am. Hmmph. But maybe that was just a placebo effect I had talked myself into.

Again, no such luck. It's a weekly dose, and I took the second one on Saturday morning. I didn't sleep at all that night. Nor was I tired at all. In fact, kind of buzzed. I stayed awake all day Sunday, too. But last night I fell asleep normally and slept for nearly nine hours.

So how will this play out going forward? No telling. I'm in terra incognita. If it stays like this, it's not really a big deal. I'll just have a sleepless but otherwise pleasant night once a week. If it gets worse, though, I'll have lots of sleepless nights and start to feel like crap. We'll see! I'd just as soon not get back on the sleep meds, so hopefully it doesn't get worse. Unfortunately, I suspect that's a forlorn hope.

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Here Are Your Final Iowa Poll Results Until 2020

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 12:55 PM EST

It's neck and neck in Iowa! Who will have the best ground game? What will the weather be like? Who will scoop up Martin O'Malley's votes in the absurdly convoluted Democratic caucuses?

You'll find out tonight. In the meantime, here are the final Pollster aggregates. I've turned off smoothing this time in order to provide the most current possible results.

Happiness Tip of the Day: Ditch the Commute

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 12:01 PM EST

From Alex Tabarrok on homebuying:

One final point: behavioral economics tells us that we quickly get used to big houses but we never get used to commuting. So when you have a choice, go for the smaller house closer to work.

A thousand times yes. Obviously not everyone has this choice, and it's not practical to move every time you get a new job. But yes, if you have the option, try to keep your commute under 20 minutes.

Want something more quantifiable? Here are two of "The Rules" from Joel Garreau's Edge City, a dated but wonderful book about the building of suburbia:

The maximum desirable commute, throughout human history, regardless of transportation technology: 45 minutes.

Cevero's law of the value of time wasted in traffic jams: People view the time they waste in a traffic jam as equal, in dollar value, to half their hourly wage. For example, if you make $50,000 per year, that's $25 per hour. That means you'll pay $3.12 each way per day to cut 15 minutes off your commute. That's about $125 per month, which scales to about $30,000 in the price of a house.

That sounds low to me—in Southern California that's a rounding error in the price of a home—but it's at least a good starting point. If you can buy a house 15 minutes closer to work for $30,000 more, grab it. If it's $50,000 more, behavioral economics says you should ignore your financial angst and grab it anyway. If it's $100,000 more, you might need to think things through a little harder. Or, as Tabarrok suggests, settle for a small house near work at the same price as the bigger house in the burbs. You probably won't regret it.

Anyway, from personal experience I can tell you that short commutes are great. And the greatest commute of all? A walk down the stairs each morning. That's hard to beat.

Late Night Miscellany—Powered by Dexamethasone!

| Mon Feb. 1, 2016 1:13 AM EST

I am currently taking a drug that appears to be supercharging my brain. I even almost got into a Twitter argument today, which is surely the biggest waste of gray matter known to man. But I was full of energy, so off I went. I was also full of energy all last night, and I have to say you guys are all a bunch of slackers. At 3 am there were no new blog posts, no one making clever remarks on Twitter, no new email, no nothing. I was reduced to reading a book. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to make more friends in Australia and Europe to pick up the slack.

So anyway, let's see what's going on right now. First off, here is Donald Trump explaining how politics works:

At a meeting with The Times’s editorial writers, Mr. Trump talked about the art of applause lines. “You know,” he said of his events, “if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!’ and they go nuts.”

The charming thing is that he's willing to admit this on the record to a bunch of reporters. He just doesn't care, and he knows his supporters don't care either. Basically, they're all in on the con and enjoying themselves, so a little peek behind the scenes—"The Making of the Trump Campaign"—just piques their interest rather than disillusioning them. Not that they read the Times in the first place, so it probably doesn't matter much what he says to their editorial board anyway.

And speaking of Trump, here is Thoreau explaining that he loves the guy because he's smashing the Republican Party for us:

Some of you might doubt that Trump is deliberately doing good, and you’re probably right. But, hell, when the Hulk is smashing bad guys, do we really know for sure that he’s acting on his good side rather than just smashing for fun? Still, he’s smashing what we need him to smash. Well, same for Trump. I mean, FFS, he already dashed Scott Walker’s hopes of ever having a political career in Washington. That alone should make him the greatest liberal hero of the 21st century thus far.

What else? Gallup is always good for a laugh. They report this weekend that 50 percent of Americans think they're better off economically today than they were eight years ago. But wait. Here's how it breaks down by party affiliation:

In other words, this poll result is completely meaningless. I think it's safe to say that both Democrats and Republicans have done about equally well over the past eight years, and Gallup even presents some more detailed polling results that pretty much prove this. But when you ask a very general question, even if it's on a specific topic, what people hear is "Do you like President Obama?" And that's the question they're answering. It's all pure affinity mongering, and I'm sure the results would have been the mirror opposite if the question were asked in 2008 instead of 2016.

And as long as we're at the Gallup site, here are the top ten results for economic confidence by state in 2015. I'm showing them to you for two reasons. First, California handily beat Texas. Hah! Second, Washington DC is simply on another planet—with Beltway neighbors Virginia and Maryland also doing pretty well, though in a more earthbound way. Conservatives are constantly griping about the way that folks who feed at the federal trough always manage to do great no matter how poorly the rest of the country is doing, and it seems like they might have a point.

And now I'm off to bed. Whether I'm also off to sleep remains an open question. I'll let you know Monday morning.

At the SAGs, It's All About the Bragging

| Sun Jan. 31, 2016 7:18 PM EST

The folks at the Screen Actors Guild sure do seem pleased with themselves:

[Idris] Elba...summed up the tone of the evening onstage with this play on words: “Welcome to diverse TV.”

The talk of the evening, onstage and behind the scenes, was the show's strong display of inclusiveness....Laura Prepon...“This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity.”...Viola Davis...“They won because the actors have craft, they have a level of excellence that reaches people.”...Uzo Aduba...“It's amazing to see actors have the opportunity to celebrate other actors' work and to feel empowered by the voting process so they can see whatever actor they want reflected up there."

....From the outset, the show made a point of presenting the diversity of its membership and nominees. The ceremony opened with several actors — Rami Malek, Queen Latifah, Jeffrey Tambor, Anna Chlumsky, Kunal Nayyar — talking about what it means to be in their profession.

SAG Awards Committee Chair JoBeth Williams said the actor-focused awards show has “worked very hard to reflect the real world.” Williams noted its roster of presenters and nominees as proof of that.

OK, two things. First, these guys sound a lot less interested in diversity than in bragging about their nobility and getting in some digs at the Oscars. Second, I'd be a lot more impressed by their crowing if they had a better record of honoring black actors. The only reasonable comparison with the Academy Awards is in the solo film acting awards, and the chart on the right tells the story. In the past decade, 9 percent of all Oscar acting nominations have gone to black actors. For SAG, it's a whopping 10 percent. In the past two years, there have been no black actors nominated for Oscars and a grand total of 1 for a SAG. The SAGs are doing better, but they probably shouldn't sprain their arms patting themselves on the back for their performance.