Kevin Drum

Paul Ryan's Vision of a Dickensian Hellhole Is Up For a Vote Next Year

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 7:00 PM EDT

Jon Chait points out today that it doesn't really matter very much whether Hillary Clinton moves a little leftward, a little center-ward, or frankly, in any other direction during the upcoming presidential campaign. Oh, it might help her get elected, but once in office Republicans aren't going to pass any of her proposals, no matter what they happen to be. Nonetheless:

The presidential election carries hugely important stakes, not just in policy realms where the president wields significant influence on her own, like foreign policy and judicial appointments, but also on domestic policy. It’s just that the stakes have nothing to do with Clinton’s proposals. What’s at stake is the Paul Ryan budget.

....Jeb Bush has already endorsed the Ryan budget. Marco Rubio has voted for it and said, “by and large, it's exactly the direction we should be headed.” The other candidates have positioned themselves to their right....The overall thrust is perfectly clear: deep cuts in marginal tax rates along with large reductions in means-tested spending, and a deregulation of the energy and financial industries. Its enactment would amount to the most dramatic rollback of government since the New Deal.

....News coverage has oddly failed to frame this question as the center of the election. Journalists like personal drama, and they prefer to place the candidates and their individual ideas in the center of the portrait.

In fairness, the general election is a long way off. It's pretty understandable that campaign reporters are currently spending most of their time on primary jockeying and not on the details of policy proposals—especially since most of the candidates haven't yet done more than outline their domestic agendas anyway.

That said, no one took this very seriously in 2012, even though the Ryan budget was at stake then too. I'll toss out three reasons I suspect the same thing will happen this time too:

  1. The eventual Republican candidate will insist that the Ryan budget is "a great roadmap" and "the direction our administration will move in," or some such waffle. But he will refuse to flatly endorse the document itself ("As the Constitution requires, details will be negotiated as part of the congressional budgeting process blah blah blah"), and this refusal will be taken at face value.
  2. As I've mentioned enough times to be a bore about it, Republicans generally get a pass from the press corps when they advocate some militantly right-wing position. It's taken as little more than an applause line they "have" to deliver to appease the base, not something they'll actually do once they're in office.
  3. And in the case of the Ryan budget, the truth is that when Republicans are out of power they do always say that the budget is a looming apocalypse and needs to be slashed—but when they're in power it usually turns out they like spending money too. Sure, they always have a period of remorse and backbiting after they've been turfed out of office, swearing that next time they'll slash the budget for sure. But they never do. They just run big deficits. So it's hardly surprising that seasoned campaign reporters take this stuff with a grain of salt when they hear it.

So are Republicans serious about it this time? Beats me. I don't really want to risk finding out, but I honestly have no idea.

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Corporations Want to Follow Your Every Move, Whether You Like It Or Not

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 1:39 PM EDT

Last year the Commerce Department put together a group to make recommendations for regulating facial recognition technology. The group included nine privacy advocates, but Dan Froomkin reports that it didn't go well:

At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement — and identifying them by name — using facial recognition technology,” the privacy advocates wrote in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise.”

....After a dozen meetings, the most recent of which was last week, all nine privacy advocates who have participated in the entire process concluded that they were totally outgunned. “This should be a wake-up call to Americans: Industry lobbyists are choking off Washington’s ability to protect consumer privacy,” Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, said in a statement.

People simply do not expect companies they’ve never heard of to secretly track them using this powerful technology. Despite all of this, industry associations have pushed for a world where companies can use facial recognition on you whenever they want — no matter what you say. This position is well outside the mainstream.”

I had no idea that anyone was even considering the regulation of facial recognition software, so this is news to me. It's yet another indication that in the future we will have virtually no privacy left at all. Either that or we'll all start walking around in tinfoil-shielded space suits whenever we leave our tinfoil-wallpapered houses.

Jeb Bush Doesn't Want to Repeal Obamacare. Maybe.

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 12:04 PM EDT

This is interesting from Sarah Kliff:

Jeb Bush laid out his top policies Monday in a speech announcing his run for the 2016 Republican nomination. But he left out one big Republican priority: repealing Obamacare....[This] reflects the changing politics of Obamacare. As Obamacare becomes more and more entrenched, it builds a constituency. As more people sign up for Obamacare, it becomes increasingly difficult to take away both practically and politically. So Republicans, who once ran and won calling for its end, are beginning to abandon the line.

Jeb has been fuzzy on Obamacare for a while, to the point where it's been hard to know where he actually stands. It's clear enough that he doesn't like Obamacare—it's a "monstrosity" and the "greatest job suppressor of the recovery"—but he never goes much beyond this kind of pro forma denunciation. So it's not surprising that he didn't give it a lot of attention in his announcement speech.

Still, it's something to watch. Will he be gung ho for repeal once he's on a debate stage with all the other candidates? Or will he stay soft and get pilloried? And if he does, how will this affect him with Republican voters?

Have any of the other ten GOP candidates who have announced so far gone soft on Obamacare repeal? This should be a research project for someone other than me. Inquiring minds want to know.

Public: Congress Should Restore Obamacare Subsidies If Supreme Court Kills Them

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 10:47 AM EDT

So how does the general public feel about the possibility of the Supreme Court cutting off Obamacare subsidies for half the country in King v. Burwell? Kaiser asked them:

Nearly two-thirds think Congress should pass a law that makes everyone in all states eligible for subsidies. Unsurprisingly, this sentiment is strongest among Democrats and weakest among Republicans. In a related question, among those living in states that use the federal exchange—that is, the mainly red states that would lose subsidies if King v. Burwell succeeds—less than a third think their state should just shrug and refuse to create a state exchange that would reinstate the subsidies.

Now, Greg Sargent points out that a huge majority of respondents haven't even heard of King v. Burwell or know what it means. So take this with a grain of salt. On the other hand, if King succeeds and subsidies suddenly disappear, I suspect everyone in the country will suddenly know exactly what it means. Sargent is pessimistic about where this will lead:

Let’s face it, once any post-King battle gets going, there will be plenty of opportunities for Republicans to roll out the old Obamacare Fog Machine once again. Republicans could pass something that temporarily extends subsidies but also repeals the individual mandate, and once Obama vetoes it, blame him for killing their effort to help all those millions of people. More generally, they can blame Obamacare itself for kicking all those millions off of Obamacare, and then argue that this is another way the law continues to victimize Americans, an argument they are already experimenting with rather creatively.

These narratives are of course tortured and incoherent, and Democrats may be able to break through the clutter by pointing out that the problem could be fixed very easily if Republicans wanted to join Dems in doing so....But it’s still possible Republicans could either not care about the damage they will sustain or mitigate it sufficiently. Once the both-sides-to-blame punditry kicks in alongside the GOP Obamacare Fog Machine, for many people this could just come across as a far-away Washington argument, with little clarity around why the parties can’t agree on a way to restore health coverage for millions — why can’t the two parties get along??? — and why they lost it in the first place.

Yeah, the public response to this could go either way. We already know that Republicans will respond loudly and with one voice. But how about Democrats? If King goes against them, will Democrats unite behind a simple narrative and be willing to loudly defend Obamacare with the same passion that Republicans oppose it? That's what it will take. We'll see if they have it in them.

Watch Me School Jeb In How To Play the Punctuation Game

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 8:52 PM EDT

I see that Jeb Bush is now Jeb! So I wonder what I should be? I don't really see myself as an exclamation point kind of guy, so that's out. Maybe Kevin? is the ticket. But would that make me seem curious and questioning, or tentative and questionable?

Hmmm. Kevin@ is no good. It just seems like half an email address. Kevin# looks like a hashtag written by a confused oldster. Kevin% would remind a tiny number of people of an old BASIC variable. Kevin& just begs the question: Kevin & what? Kevin* would make people start looking around for the footnote. Kevin/ doesn't even make sense.

But Kevin> has potential, doesn't it? Forward looking! To the point! Greater than all the rest of you! Plus it sort of looks like an HTML tag, which gives it a faux Silicon Valley techie vibe. And best of all? It's not an exclamation point! Jeb is going to be sorry he didn't think of this first.

POSTSCRIPT: Seriously, is it something in the water, or what? Jeb and Hillary both have hideous logos. Who's making design decisions in campaign-land these days?

Louisiana Ran Out of Money. You Won't Believe What They Did Next.

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 5:54 PM EDT

Bobby Jindal has become such an increasingly pathetic figure that I find it hard to work up the nastiness to even mock him in a blog post these days. But Jordan Weissmann links today to a piece in the Baton Rouge Advocate that's truly mind bending. Jindal desperately needs to raise revenue this year because he's left Louisiana in a huge budget hole thanks to his true-believer tax-cutting mania. But Grover Norquist won't allow him to raise revenues. What to do? Here's the Advocate explaining the Jindal/Norquist-approved SAVE program:

It would assess a fee of about $1,500 per higher education student and raise about $350 million total, but only on paper. Students wouldn’t have to pay anything because an offsetting tax credit for the $1,500. Nor would universities receive any new money.

However, the SAVE fund would create a tax credit for the $350 million that Jindal could use to offset $350 million of the new revenue that legislators are proposing to raise.

I'm not sure that's entirely clear, but I think I understand what's going on. Let's break it down:

  1. SAVE raises $350 million in revenue to help close the budget hole.
  2. It also creates a tax credit that—in theory—offsets the new revenue with a $350 million tax cut. So far this is kosher because there's no net tax increase.
  3. However, SAVE also creates $350 million in new student fees.
  4. Then the tax credit is used—in actual practice—to offset the student fees so students don't have to pay any more than they did before.
  5. The net result is $350 million in new revenue that's not offset.

WTF? All these years Grover Norquist has been terrorizing Washington with his no-new-taxes pledge, but it turns out that this is all it takes to wiggle your way around it? If we'd known this we sure could have avoided an awful lot of stubborn confrontation on Capitol Hill over the past couple of decades. I can think of a hundred ways we can use this dodge in the future.

You know, I live in California and we've engaged in a whole lot of budget smoke and mirrors over the years. So I hardly need smelling salts when I hear about state governments pushing the envelope during budget season. But this truly boggles the mind when it comes to sheer dumbness. Maybe next they'll just start minting their own Louisiana bucks and paying for stuff that way.

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Actually, It Turns Out That November Is the Cruelest Month

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 3:09 PM EDT

I've been wondering why my health collapsed so badly when I turned 55, and now Science™ has provided the answer. It's because I was born in October, which lags only November for being the net riskiest birth month. Here's the Washington Post:

Mary Regina Boland, Nicholas Tatonetti and other researchers at the Columbia University Department of Medicine examined records for an incredible 1.75 million patients born between 1900 and 2000 who had been treated at Columbia University Medical Center. Using statistical analysis, they combed through 1,688 different diseases and found 55 that had a correlation with birth month, including ADHD, reproductive performance, asthma, eye sight and ear infections.

The researchers emphasize that other environmental factors, like diet, medical care and exercise, are more likely to influence whether you get a disease. And since these numbers are culled from New York City, they may not be applicable to babies born in other places.

Culled only from New York City, huh? And it was just a massive data mining operation looking for correlations at the 95 percent level? This suggests you'd get 84 correlations just by chance. They got 55.

So....maybe not so impressive. Then again, this is all addressed in the paper, and it's far too complicated for me to understand. I mean, what the hell is a "multiplicity correction using FDR (α_0.05, n_1688 conditions)"? Beats me. But everything in this paper is "FDR adjusted." So maybe that means the correlations are legit. Perhaps someone who knows what this means can weigh in in comments.

In any case, if we believe this, it explains why my sister, brother, and mother are all healthy, while I'm a basket case. I was born in the wrong month. But on the plus side, I apparently have a lower than normal risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure. Good to know.

POSTSCRIPT: Everyone gets that I'm just having fun here, right? Honestly, I haven't the slightest idea of whether this stuff holds water. Still, everyone loves simple charts that put them and their friends in buckets, right?

Hillary Clinton Does Not Like the Daily Mail

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 1:22 PM EDT

From the LA Times:

Clinton campaign gets into another scuffle with the press corps

Hillary Rodham Clinton's long-frosty relationship with the media hit another icy patch in New Hampshire on Monday when campaign officials told major news organizations that certain reporters were not welcome at the candidate’s events.

....The campaign early on asked the press corps to establish and run a pool system in which a small group of reporters would cover such events and file reports that all reporters could share. The pool duty rotates among a group of roughly 14 news organizations that have committed to send a reporter when their turn comes.

Monday, that turn fell to the Daily Mail. The campaign did not approve. Campaign aides told the paper's reporter, David Martosko, that he would not be allowed into the day's pooled events....To many reporters, the campaign was crossing a line....The pool arrangement is designed to keep campaign officials out of the business of deciding which reporters can represent the media at what events.

The HRC campaign says the problem is that the Mail is a foreign news outlet, but it's hard to take that excuse at face value since they've had no problem with allowing other foreign news organizations in the pool. They also apparently gave no warning that Martosko wouldn't be allowed his turn. (Martosko's version is here.) So what's going on?

Whenever I read stuff like this, I can't figure out what to think. On the one hand, the press is what it is. It's part of the campaign landscape. Even if they act badly, what's the point in deliberately pissing them off, especially in dumb little ways that don't really accomplish anything?

On the other hand, maybe the Clinton folks have decided that the traditional press simply doesn't matter anymore. So the hell with it. She doesn't like the way they treat her, so she's going to screw with them without worrying about it.

I dunno. I really can't make sense out of it.

NOTE: I'm not asking whether the press treats Clinton badly. I think the answer is pretty obvious, but that's not what this post is about. I just want to know what motivates an obvious professional like HRC to keep giving them reasons not to like her.

Will Republicans Repeal Obamacare if They Win Next Year?

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 11:24 AM EDT

Sarah Kliff argues that if Obamacare survives King v. Burwell, then it's here to stay. There are no further legal challenges that could kill it. Political momentum to repeal it is waning. And most important, the number of enrollees is growing:

Obamacare now has a large and growing constituency: an estimated 10.2 million Americans get coverage through the health law's marketplace (and millions more through Obamacare's Medicaid expansion).

....As more and more people sign up for Obamacare — the Congressional Budget Office expects 24 million people to sign up by 2024 — the politics of repealing Obamacare become worse and worse. The constituency that the law has already developed just keeps growing.

This helps explain why Republicans are tripping over themselves to come up with plans to replace Obamacare's insurance subsidies should the Supreme Court rule against them. Those proposals implicitly acknowledge that it would be bad for Republicans to allow millions of Americans' tax subsidies to dry up, even though legislators still staunchly oppose the law.

I've made exactly this argument myself, so you'd think I'd be in total agreement. But if anything, I think I'm more nervous than I was a year or two ago. I keep expecting Republican fury over Obamacare to wane, but it never seems to. It seems to be every bit the white whale it was six years ago, and it promises to be a big applause line in the 2016 presidential campaign yet again.

So how could repeal happen? Easy. Republicans will control the House in 2017, so that's no problem. Maintaining control of the Senate (narrowly) is a distinct possibility. There's also a perfectly reasonable chance of having President Walker in the Oval Office, and we all know he'd be perfectly happy to sign a repeal bill.

But even in a minority, Democrats would filibuster a repeal, wouldn't they? Sure. But so what? Republicans would simply make it part of a budget bill and pass it by reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. Any Senate parliamentarian who isn't a hack would determine that this is a violation of the rules, but all that means is that Republicans need to install a hack as parliamentarian who will do what they want. They've done it before, after all. Problem solved. Obamacare repealed.

Now, granted, Republicans have to win both the Senate and the White House for this to happen. The odds are probably against that, but not by a lot. It's well within the realm of possibility. And that would leave only a very thin reed to stand on: the fact that repealing Obamacare would immiserate millions of people and once again turn health care into a living hell for the poor.

Would that be enough to give Republicans pause? I wish I still believed it would be. But I don't. A harsh streak of just plain meanness has taken over the GOP in recent years, and I haven't seen any sign that it's fading away. Maybe this is merely partisan bitterness on my part. I sure hope so. But as near as I can tell, they'd actively enjoy making the lives of the poor ever more harsh in order to save the rich from paying a few taxes. I sure hope we don't get to find out.

Greece Talks Once Again (Yawn) Coming Down to the Wire

| Mon Jun. 15, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

Once again, talks with Greece are coming down to the last hour:

Last-ditch talks aimed at breaking the impasse between Athens and its international creditors have collapsed in acrimony with European Union officials dismissing Greece’s latest reform package as incomplete in a step that pushes the country closer to leaving the eurozone.

What had been billed as a last attempt to close the gap between Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity government and the bodies keeping debt-stricken Greece afloat was halted late on Sunday after less than an hour of negotiations in Brussels.

You can click the link for more details, but the story is pretty much the same as always. Greece wants to accept modest reforms (a bit higher VAT here and there, some reforms to reduce tax evasion) while the Europeans and the IMF want bigger concessions, including cuts to pensions.

So either Grexit really is close, and we're all going to find just how bad it really is, or else—as usual—everyone is waiting until literally the last second to make the concessions necessary on both sides. Both the chief economist of the IMF and the head of the ECB are urging compromise as I write.

Want to follow this in real time, just like a soccer match? The Guardian has you covered! Just click here. At this particular moment there appears to be a fair amount of table thumping between Greek members of the European Parliament and Mario Draghi. Mostly theater, as near as I can tell.