Kevin Drum

Does Donald Trump Have ADHD?

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 6:32 PM EDT

Ah, what the hell. The second half of Sean Hannity's interview with Donald Trump is up, and it's....hard to describe. But the ADHD is on full display. Here is Hannity asking him about his tax plan. After being taken aback that Trump doesn't favor a flat tax, Hannity wants to know how high Trump would set the top rate:

TRUMP: I actually believe that people, as they make more and more money, can pay a higher percentage, OK?

HANNITY: How high?....What's the cap?

TRUMP: We will set the cap. I want to have a cap so we have a lot of business, a lot more activity. I want to get rid of all this deficit.  We'll make it — we're losing $600 billion, $700 billion! We're going to be losing. And by the way, when ObamaCare kicks in, we're going to be losing a $1.3 trillion, $1.4 trillion a year. We can't do that. We're going to be a Greece on steroids!

Here's what I want to do. I want to simplify the tax cut. I want to cut taxes. But I want to simplify the tax code. I want to make it great for the middle class. The middle class is being killed.

I want to put H&R Block — it's an ambition of mine to put H&R Block out of business. When a person has a simple tax return, they have a job, and they can't even figure out when they look at this complicated form — they can't figure out what to pay.

And you know what? I have guys that are friends of mine, they make a fortune. They're hedge fund guys. They move around — paper. Look, at least I build things. I put people to — these guys move around paper. And half the time, it's luck more than talent, OK?

They pay peanuts, OK? I want to make it so the middle class — I want to lower taxes, but I want to make it so the middle class benefits.

And there you have it: Donald Trump talking policy. Hannity has a simple question: what should be the highest tax rate? 23 percent? 28 percent? 35 percent? Trump just bulldozes by and starts free associating about the deficit and the middle class and simplified returns and hedge fund guys and—something else. I'm not sure who the "They pay peanuts" comment is aimed at. Hedge fund managers? By the time he's done flitting around, even Hannity, one of our nation's foremost blowhards, just gives up and moves on to something else.

I'm not just cherry picking, either. The entire interview is like this. The conversation about Iran is, if anything, even more surreal. Hannity actually tried asking about the nuclear deal multiple times instead of just giving up, and as near as I can tell Trump knows only two things about the agreement: (a) Iran will get $150 billion1 and (b) something about 24 days for inspections. That's it.

I know I said this already, but I'm honestly not sure Trump is deliberately evading questions. Maybe he is. It's certainly the case that he hasn't bothered to learn even the first thing about either tax policy or the Iran deal. At the same time, he genuinely sounds like an ADHD kid whose mind is in such chaos that he simply can't string together more than two coherent sentences at a time. And yet, as he keeps reminding us, he is really rich. Can someone with the attention span of a kitten on crack get that rich?

1Just for the record, the net value of the impounded money that Iran would get access to is somewhere between $30 and $150 billion. Nobody really knows the exact figure.

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Obamacare: Still Working, Still a Pretty Good Bargain

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

This week the CDC confirmed what we already knew: the rate of uninsurance has dropped dramatically since Obamacare started up. It's gone from about 20 percent in 2013 to 13 percent in the first quarter of this year (chart at top right). This matches the Gallup data that we get quarterly, which shows a drop from about 18 percent to 12 percent (chart at bottom right). Note that the Gallup numbers are about 2 points lower across the board because Gallup surveys everyone over 18, including seniors on Medicare, who are 100 percent covered. The CDC counts only adults aged 18-64.

Either way, this comes to about 16 million adults who now have health insurance who were previously uncovered. And the number would be even higher if so many red states weren't refusing to expand Medicaid.

And the cost of all this? About $70 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's roughly $4,000 per person. Not a bad deal.

Labor Shortage? Have You Tried Paying More?

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 2:32 PM EDT

The Washington Post informs us today of yet another looming labor shortage:

There's a growing problem that chefs and restaurateurs are talking about more these days.

Good cooks are getting harder to come by. Not the head kitchen honchos, depicted in Food Network reality shows, who fine-tune menus, and orchestrate the dinner rush, but the men and women who are fresh out of culinary school and eager to earn their chops. The shortage of able kitchen hands is affecting chefs in Chicago....It's an issue in New York as well....And it extends to restaurants out West, where a similar pinch is being felt. Seattle is coping with the same dilemma. San Francisco, too.

....One of the clearest obstacles to hiring a good cook, let alone someone willing to work the kitchen these days, is that living in this country's biggest cities is increasingly unaffordable. In New York, for instance, where an average cook can expect to make somewhere between $10 and $12 per hour....

Let's just stop right there. We've seen this movie before. What's really happening, apparently, is that there's a shortage of skilled people willing to work lousy hours and face long commutes in return for $10 to $12 per hour.

Offer them, say, $15 per hour, and who knows? Maybe there are plenty of good entry-level cooks available. This would raise your total cost of running the restaurant by, oh, 2 percent or so,1 but it's not like restaurants are competing with China. They're competing with other restaurants nearby that have the same problem. If the price of a good cook is going up, it's going to affect everyone.

I tire of reading stories like this. Tell me what happens when employers offer more money. If they still can't find qualified workers, then maybe there's a real problem. If they haven't even tried it, then maybe the problem isn't quite as dire as they're making it out to be.

1Back-of-envelope guess based on kitchen labor cost of 15 percent and entry-level cooks making up maybe a third of that. If 5 percent of your cost base gets a 30-40 percent raise, that's about a 2 percent total increase.

Iran Deal: As Good as We Could Have Gotten Unless We Were Willing to Threaten Immediate War

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 1:10 PM EDT

One of the big criticisms of President Obama's nuclear deal is that he could have done better. In this case, Donald Trump really does speak for the entire GOP when he says that Obama's team were all terrible negotiators who were too desperate for a deal and got suckered by shrewd Iranian horsetraders.

Is this true? Could we have gotten a substantially better deal if we had tightened the screws more? Gary Samore is the former president of United Against Nuclear Iran—"former" because he stepped down after he examined the deal and decided it was pretty good after all. Samore has decades of experience with Iran's nuclear program and is well respected in the arms control community. So does he think we could have gotten a better deal?

Max Fisher: Could we have gotten a better deal?

Gary Samore: It's very hard for me to answer that question. Unless you're actually sitting in the room, doing the back-and-forth, it's very, very difficult to say with any confidence that we could get a substantially better deal. When I say substantially better, I'm talking about much more dismantlement of Iran's enrichment program, unlimited duration or a longer duration, and more robust challenge inspections [of undeclared facilities].

I'm not talking about — I mean, the difference between 6,000 centrifuges and 5,000 centrifuges is trivial. Yes, you could probably get slightly different terms. We could have allowed them to keep a larger amount of low-enriched uranium, in exchange for having fewer centrifuges. There are all of these trade-offs embedded in the deal. But I don't consider these kinds of details significantly better.

Max Fisher: It sounds like what you're talking about, in terms of any different deal we could've gotten, is more about pushing around the numbers than getting a deal that looks fundamentally different.

Gary Samore: With the leverage that we have — which is economic sanctions and political pressure — I don't think we can achieve a dismantlement of their program, unlimited duration, "anytime, anywhere" inspections. I just don't think those are possible under current circumstances. Their economic situation would have to be much more dire, or we would have to be willing to use a military ultimatum to get those kinds of concessions from Iran.

Bottom line: Samore started out skeptical, but when he saw the actual text of the deal he was surprised at how good it was. Most importantly, he doubts that a substantially better deal would have been possible unless we had issued a military ultimatum.

So there's something here for everyone. For people like me, it's nice to hear that an expert came around when he took the time to look seriously at the deal's terms. But Samore also concedes that we might have done better if we had credibly threatened to bomb Iran—which is precisely what a lot of conservatives think we should have done.

This is, perhaps, the fundamental dividing line. If you think we should have set a date certain for the missiles to fly unless we got what we wanted, then the deal was a lousy one. We could have done better. If you think—as I do—that this is insane, then the deal looks pretty good. Opinions about the final agreement have less to do with the precise terms of the deal than it does with your willingness to threaten immediate war to get what you want.

Can Republicans Get Millennials to Hate Hillary Clinton?

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

The LA Times reports today on what millennials know about Hillary Clinton. Answer: they know her as a senator and secretary of state, but have no recollection of the Clinton scandals of the 90s:

The youngest eligible voters of 2016 were toddlers when America’s most prominent political power couple left the White House, and what Americans know about Clinton is increasingly defined by what stage of her career she was in when they first tuned in.

....For some who lived through the battles of Clinton’s first years on the national stage, the culture wars and personal controversies of the 1990s are integral to understanding who she is....Young people, though, are more likely to know of then-White House intern Lewinsky as a vague childhood memory and pop-culture fixture — refracted through Beyonce lyrics, "Saturday Night Live" skits and Lewinsky’s Vanity Fair cover last year — rather than a trust-shattering national scandal that originated in the Oval Office.

This strikes me as both a challenge and an opportunity for Republicans. The challenge, obviously, is that young voters have a pretty positive view of Hillary, unburdened by blue dresses and impeachment proceedings. But there's also an opportunity.

For people my age, all the stuff from the 90s was litigated long ago and our minds made up. Either we think it was all calculated hogwash and continue to support Hillary, or we think it was all God's own truth and consider her a lying, scheming hustler. Nothing is likely to change our minds at this point. But younger voters? It's entirely possible that if you run ads about Whitewater or Travelgate or whatnot, it would come as something of a surprise. And it might change some minds.

We'll probably find out before too much longer. With hundreds of millions of dollars of super PAC money sloshing around out there, someone is bound to give it a try and see if it has any effect. I'm sure we're all looking forward to this, aren't we?

Trump Talks Policy!

| Thu Aug. 13, 2015 10:56 AM EDT

A "friend" of mine forced me to read the transcript of Sean Hannity's interview with Donald Trump earlier this week, and it was fascinating in a train wreck kind of way. After a few minutes, Hannity said it was time to get serious and talk policy. Trump says great, let's do it. So Hannity then tries manfully to get Trump to explain how Mexico is going to pay for a wall on the border. No dice:

HANNITY: You talked about Mexico. How quickly could you build the wall? How do you make them pay for the wall, as you said?

TRUMP: So easy. Will a politician be able to do it? Absolutely not....

HANNITY: Is it a tariff?

TRUMP: In China — listen to this. In China, the great China wall — I mean, you want to talk about a wall, that's a serious wall, OK....

HANNITY: Sure.

TRUMP: So let's say you're talking about 1,000 miles versus 13,000. And then they say you can't do it. It's peanuts. It's peanuts....

HANNITY: So through a tariff?

TRUMP: We're not paying for it. Of course.

HANNITY: You want to do business, you're going to help us with this.

TRUMP: Do you know how easy that is? They'll probably just give us the money....And I'm saying, that's like 100 percent. That's not like 98 percent. Sean, it's 100 percent they're going to pay. And if they don't pay, we'll charge them a little tariff. It'll be paid.

Trump gets five chances to explain his plan, and all we get is endless bluster. It's easy! Hell, the Great Wall of China cost more! We're not paying for it! The closest Trump comes to an answer—after prompting from Hannity—is some kind of tariff on Mexican goods, which of course is illegal under NAFTA. Trump would have to abrogate the treaty and get Congress to agree. In other words, maybe just a wee bit harder than he thinks.

(Oh, and Mexico's president says the entire idea is a fantasy. "Of course it's false," a spokesman told Bloomberg News. "It reflects an enormous ignorance for what Mexico represents, and also the irresponsibility of the candidate who's saying it.")

The whole interview with Hannity is like this. The fascinating part is Trump's ADHD. He just flatly can't stay on topic, and I don't think it's fake. He constantly veers off into side topics: how far ahead he is in the polls; how everyone says he won the debate; how good a student he was at Wharton; how he'd send Carl Icahn to China; etc.

And then there's the Hannity/Trump math. In Texas, there have been 642,000 crimes by illegal immigrants since 2008. Obamacare premiums are up more than 40 percent this year. Unemployment is at 40 percent. The whole 5.4 percent thing is just a government lie.

I don't even really have a comment on this stuff. On a lot of subjects—his replacement for Obamacare, for example—it's obvious he's just making up his policy on the spot. Um, health accounts! And, um, no more state lines! And catastrophic insurance, sure! And preexisting conditions! You bet. And then....an ADHD segue into Obama playing golf, and Hannity finally gives up and switches topics.

I understand that the second part of the interview is even better. If I'm bored enough, I'll take a look at it when the transcript goes up. Like I said, kind of fascinating if you're the sort of person who likes to gawk at car wrecks on the side of the road.

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Voters Are Angry, Voters Are Fed Up, Voters Are Blah Blah Blah

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 11:29 PM EDT

Oh please:

The surging candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are fueled by people’s anger with the status quo and desire for authenticity in political leaders.

We hear this every four years. Voters are always angry. They always prize straight talk. They are endlessly entranced by outsiders. And it's always a surprising new phenomenon.

Can we just stop it? This isn't new. It's an evergreen. But political reporters always believe it, and every four years at least a few of them take a tour of "real" America and find exactly what they set out to find. People are fed up! And yet, every four years a fairly ordinary mainstream politician is eventually sent to the White House anyway. Go figure.

POSTSCRIPT: Someone with access to Nexis should do a stroll through the archives. I'll bet you can easily find at least one example of this in a major newspaper during the early stages of every election cycle for at least the past 40 years.

Achtung! Don't Help Your Kids With Their Math Homework.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 10:54 PM EDT

Pacific Standard reports today on a recent study about learning math, but I think they bury the lede. "New research finds that when parents with math anxieties try to help their kids, their efforts could backfire," says the headline. But here's the text:

Remarkably, the more that math-anxious parents helped their kids with their homework, the worse the kids did on end-of-year math tests, an effect that in the worst cases cut students' progress in math nearly in half. Meanwhile, among low-anxiety parents, the team found that parents helping their children with math homework had little to no effect on the kids' test scores. That effect remained even after controlling for parents' education levels, teachers' math anxiety and ability, and other factors, such as a school's socioeconomic status—a good indication that parents were passing their arithmetic-specific anxieties on to their kids.

In other words, forget about whether you have math anxieties or not. Don't help your kids with their math homework, full stop. At worst, you'll screw them up. At best, you'll do nothing. Use the time for something more constructive, like cutting your fingernails or watching Judge Judy.

Anyway, while we're on the subject, here's a math story from my childhood that backs up the results of this study. I guess this would have been around first or second grade. I must have asked my father some question or another, and the upshot was that he told me about negative numbers and how one arrived at them. Some time later, I was filling out an arithmetic workbook at school, and one of the problems was something like "What is 2 - 3?" I wrote in -1, probably feeling kind of smug, and got marked down. I protested to no effect. I was supposed to say that there was no answer because you can't subtract a bigger number from a smaller one. Thanks a lot, dad!

Is this story true? I don't know. I swear I remember it, but it sounds kind of unlikely, doesn't it? Maybe it's just a trick of memory? Could be, but it's an odd thing to invent out of whole cloth. In any case, my father is no longer around to protest his innocence, so we'll never know for sure.

Three Studies Confirm: Obamacare Isn't a Job Killer

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 5:13 PM EDT

Among the many (many, many) catastrophes predicted by opponents of Obamacare was that a lot of workers would find their hours reduced against their wishes. Why? Because Obamacare requires firms to provide health insurance only to employees who work 30 hours or more. So lots of companies would do their best to reduce worker hours to 29 or less in order to avoid having to pay for health coverage.

Unlike a lot of the gloomy scenarios tossed out by Obamacare opponents, this one wasn't entirely ridiculous. Any employer mandate is going to have a cutoff somewhere, and there really is an incentive for companies to drop as many workers as possible below that cutoff. So it's something that can only be settled by actual research. The question is: was there an increase between 2013 and 2014 of workers just under the 30-hour threshold? Max Ehrenfreund surveys a few recent studies and says the answer is no:

Analysts at ADP studied the payrolls of the firms' clients, about 75,000 U.S. firms and organizations. They expected that as businesses prepared for the mandate to take effect, they would adjust their employees' schedules, limiting them to no more than 30 hours a week. Yet ADP found no overall change in employees' weekly schedules between 2013 and last year.

According to ADP's analysis, shifts in scheduling were trivial in every sector of the economy, even in industries that rely heavily on part-time work, such as leisure and hospitality.

....ADP's findings were confirmed in another study by Aparna Mathur and Sita Nataraj Slavov of George Mason University and Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Their paper, published this month in the journal Applied Economics Letters, uses data from the federal Current Population Survey and finds no statistically significant change in the proportion of part-time workers in the sectors most likely to be affected by Obamacare, such as janitorial and restaurant work.

A third study confirmed these findings, and also found that eligibility for Medicaid didn't discourage people from holding down a job (since they no longer needed a job in order to get health insurance). The study found no difference between states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn't.

Why does it turn out that employers didn't cut their workers' hours? One possibility is that a year isn't long enough for a study like this. Maybe over the next few years, as the cost of the mandate becomes clearer, companies will start getting more aggressive about cutting worker hours.

But I'd offer another possibility: the mandate didn't have a big effect because most companies already do something like this on their own. They offer health insurance as a standard benefit only to full-time workers, and the cutoff for full-time status is usually somewhere between 25 and 35 hours. So when the mandate came along, it just didn't change anything for most employers.

This is why two of the studies looked specifically at things like hospitality and restaurant work. These are sectors where employers (a) already maintain highly variable schedules and (b) mostly didn't offer health insurance at all prior to Obamacare. When the mandate came along, these folks were faced with a sudden additional cost, but one that they could reduce pretty easily reduce by limiting schedules to less than 30 hours. And yet, even there the researchers found no change—or at least, no change large enough to measure.

This is not the final word, but it's the best we have right now. Three research teams, including one not especially sympathetic to Obamacare, have all found the same thing: Obamacare isn't a job killer. Nor is it even a schedule killer. Life goes on normally, except for the fact that millions of people now have health insurance who didn't before.

The Hillary Clinton Email Saga: Still No There There

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:16 PM EDT

Is Hillary Clinton starting to get into serious trouble over the personal email account she maintained as Secretary of State? Hard to say. So far there's no evidence that she did anything wrong, just a beef between State and CIA over whether some of the emails she sent and received were classified properly at the time. That may change, but for now that's all we've got.

So why is this getting so much attention? As Steve Benen points out, Clinton isn't the first Secretary of State to use a personal email account:

Politico published this report in March: "Like Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account during his tenure at the State Department, an aide confirmed in a statement."....MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald added at the time: "....Powell, who served from 2001-2005, apparently did not keep a record of personal emails, unlike Clinton."

As best as I can tell, no one ever cared about the Republican secretary of state using a personal email account. It was, to borrow a phrase, a non-story.

Jeb Bush also used a personal account when he was governor of Florida. And he held onto those emails for seven years before he finally made them public. What's more, it's clear that, like Clinton, he decided which emails to release and which to hold back. "Gov. Bush does not have a plan to release his personal e-mails not related to state business," an aide said in March. That sounds awfully similar to what Clinton has said about her email archive.

I'm not trying to be faux naive here. Nobody cares about Powell because he's not running for president. Nobody cares about Jeb Bush because....actually, I'm not sure why nobody cares about Bush. The governor of Florida doesn't handle classified intel, but if that were the big difference then Powell would be under scrutiny too.

It may turn out at some point that Clinton did something wrong. So far, her only real sin is looking guilty—and I'll confess I don't understand why she's acting that way. All it does is give Republicans ammunition and give the press corps an excuse to treat her the way they used to in the 90s. But as near as I can tell, there's just nothing here, which is why I haven't bothered writing about it. Aside from the obvious political motivations (for Republicans) and personal animus (among the press), is there any reason this is getting such big play? What am I missing?