The Kaiser Family Foundation has a new report out suggesting that Obamacare premiums are going to skyrocket next year. Maybe so. But before everyone gets into another Trump-inspired tizzy about this, please note the highlighted section of the Kaiser table below:

Insurers always ask for more than they get. In the 13 states that Kaiser examines, insurers have asked for rate increases averaging 11 percent. And who knows? Maybe they'll get it. More than likely, though, they won't. This is an opening bid, and the final contract won't be set for several more months.

So, as usual, take this with a grain of salt. The truth is that Obamacare premiums started out lower than most analysts predicted, because (a) insurers turned out to be really interested in lowballing their prices in order to gain market share, and (b) they didn't have much data to base their rates on. As the market shakes out, real-world data will become more available and market shares will start to settle down. It's possible that this will drive a couple of years of semi-large-ish premium increases, but that's about it. And maybe not even that much.

So don't panic. We don't know yet if premiums are really going up 11 percent. But even if they are, it shouldn't be a huge surprise. The real test will be how the original Obamacare projections compare to real-life premiums in, say, 2019. My guess is that they'll be fairly close. More here from Charles Gaba, who basically says we just don't know yet what will happen in 2017.

Phones Sure Are Gigantic These Days

A while back Dave Roberts was on Twitter complaining that he wanted a new cell phone, but they were all too damn big. I naively suggested a Moto X. I've got one and it's reasonably sized.

But it turns out that it was reasonably sized—back when I got it. Since then it's been super-sized. So too bad for Dave.

I forgot about all this until yesterday, when I ambled into my local T-Mobile store for an entirely different reason, but ended up looking at phones. The battery on mine is getting iffy, and as near as I can tell there's no way to fix this except to toss the phone in the trash and buy a new one.1 But every single phone in the store was way bigger than my puny 4.7" model. Aside from the iPhones, there was literally not a single phone anywhere close to the size of mine.

Is this really where the market is? There's not even a small niche of users who want a fairly premium phone in a smallish form factor? No women with small hands who want a phone that's more comfortable to hold? No men who don't want a gargantuan phone in their pocket all the time? There's no market for this at all?

Weird. And what's weirder is that it's mostly the height of the phones that's changed. The width of a phone with a 5" screen isn't all that different from mine, but they're mostly a good inch taller. Why? Are there any phone engineers or product managers out there who can educate us about this?

1No, I'm not really willing to do this.

James Pethokoukis comments on an Economist cover story making the case that teacher quality is important:

Among the many studies cited: a University of Melbourne review of more than 65,000 papers on the effects of various classroom interventions. It concludes that what matters most is teacher expertise: “All of the 20 most powerful ways to improve school-time learning identified by the study depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.”

Another paper found that students taught by teachers in the top 10% for effectiveness learn 1.5 years’ worth of material in an academic year, three times as much as those taught by teachers in the bottom 10%....The big question, then, is to what extent good teaching can be taught. Are high-quality teachers born that way or can they be made?

I've been hearing about this approximately forever. And I don't really doubt it. Some teachers are better than others. Duh. The most effective 10 percent of teachers help their students more than the other 90 percent. Duh. It would be great if we could train all teachers to be as good as the top 10 percent. Duh. We ought to fire the really bad teachers. Duh.

Here's what I don't get: Why is it that this frenzy about "quality" is mostly reserved for teachers? Isn't it true of literally every profession? Some prison guards are better than others. The most effective 10 percent of accountants will do your taxes better than the other 90 percent. It would be great if we could train all police officers to be as good as the top 10 percent. The Senate would be a better place if we could fire Jeff Sessions and train all the rest to be as good as Ron Wyden.

I'm all for training teachers to be as good as possible. But the existence of a bell curve of quality is pretty much inevitable everywhere. So why are politicians and academics so obsessed with teachers? Why not a national campaign called "A Nation at Risk" declaring that policing is in crisis and we won't rest until we've fired all the bad ones and put in place a comprehensive quality testing regime that rates every single police officer in the country?

I'm serious about this. Every profession has a top ten percent and a bottom 3 percent. Every profession would be better if more of its members were as good as the top 10 percent while the bottom 3 percent were systematically fired. This is, frankly, so obvious, that it barely even deserves to be called an observation, let alone an insight. And yet, we all ooh and ah when these banalities are applied to teachers. What's the deal with this?

Donald Trump's Fantasies of the Third Reich

As I continue reading the reaction to Donald Trump's big Muslim hatefest last night, I keep coming back to Andrew Sprung. He does the best job I've seen of describing Trump in a nutshell:

The manifest depravity of this speech, which raised demonization of Muslims to something approaching Nazi levels, does highlight something basic about the choice before us that's perhaps hiding in plain sight.

The speech rendered all the more obvious truths about Trump that have long been obvious: 1. He is obviously promising to abrogate the Constitution in fundamental ways. 2. He will say anything that he senses will inflame his followers and throw the media into a frenzy. 3. His solipsism is so extreme that there is no boundary line in his mind between what works for him and what is true. 4. He's such a transparently self-aggrandizing fraud that anyone, regardless of education or political engagement, should be able to see through him in two minutes.

His proposals to proscribe a religion adhered to by a fifth of humanity, round up  and deport 11 million people, muzzle the press, and commit war crimes are not subtle. You don't need a business degree to see that Trump University and the Trump Network (a vitamin-selling scheme involving a urine test) — were fraudulent to their core.

A few days ago I wrote a post semi-jokingly suggesting that the word fascist should be removed from the English language. I didn't say it at the time, but in the back of my mind was this: people who throw around the term are often just cowards who are unwilling to come right out and call their target a Nazi. That's understandable: Mussolini may have been a bad sort, but he didn't send 6 million Jews to their deaths. For obvious reasons, you want to be careful comparing people to Hitler.

But we've now crossed that bridge with Trump. He's not just a fascist. Nor a fan of McCarthyism. He's not a bully or a fraud or a demagogue. He's all those things, but he's crossed the line into something much more. It's not as if Trump is getting ready to set up an American version of Auschwitz or something, but his speech last night sure did sound eerily like something Hitler could have delivered circa 1933. And his statements since have been even more overtly Third Reichish, conjuring up cabals of treacherous elites who "know what's going on" but refuse to do anything to save America from the dangers surrounding her.

Trump may be a toy Hitler, more swagger and bombast than genuine danger. But movements like his have a dynamic all their own, and they can spiral out of control fast given the right circumstances and the right person. The right circumstances are impossible to forecast, but obviously they're hardly out of the question sometime over the next few months. And Trump, whose first instinct is to double down when he's criticized, is all too likely to become the right person. Yesterday's speech wasn't Trump's first step in the direction of industrialized racism, it was about his third or fourth. He needs to be thoroughly crushed before he takes the seventh or eighth.

Never Cut the Truth

I'm going to put my old friend, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris, on the spot. The current issue of the magazine features a piece by Harold Pollack about the problem of over-aggressive police response to people with intellectual disabilities who are causing a public disturbance. Pollack himself is more than normally attuned to these issues because his brother-in-law has fragile X syndrome. Here's the conclusion of his piece:

Vincent didn’t pose safety issues in the three years he lived with us; he is blessed with a sweet disposition, and is wonderfully gentle with Veronica and our two young daughters. Still, the possibility of behavioral crisis remains in the back of our minds, in the queue of anxieties and worries. As does our concern about whether it would ever be safe or wise to summon law enforcement help.

Veronica and I were sitting at breakfast one morning. She was reading a Tribune story about a mentally ill young man who was shot and killed by police called to the family home. Veronica looked up and calmly stated: “I don’t care what Vincent is doing. Never call the police.” We have no particular reason to believe we’ll need to make that call. I just wish we had greater confidence in what would happen if we ever did.

That was the conclusion, anyway. The last paragraph got cut. This is going to sound harsher than I mean it to, but that was a very bad call, and it sort of pisses me off. It basically forced Pollack to lie, and editors shouldn't do that. Very plainly, Veronica Pollack is more than just uneasy about calling the police if Vincent is ever in trouble. She's flatly decided not to, and was willing to say so publicly. That's important, and not just because it most likely represents a widespread view, which makes it relevant from a policy point of view. It's important because it's the truth. We should never turn that down when it's handed to us on a silver platter.

Byron York notes "a new tone in straight-news general election reporting on Trump." Sounds exciting! Let's check out the New York Times first:

Mr. Trump carefully read his remarks from a teleprompter and offered more detail than his stump speeches generally contain, but his speech was still rife with the sort of misstatements and exaggerations that have typified his campaign.

He repeatedly stretched the facts, for example, in describing the United States as overrun by dangerous migrants. He claimed the country has an “immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country,” brushing aside the entire customs and immigration enforcement infrastructure. And he asserted that there was a “tremendous flow” of Syrian refugees, when just 2,805 of them were admitted into the country from October to May, fewer than one-third of the 10,000 Syrians President Obama said the United States would accept this fiscal year. Mr. Trump described the gunman in the Orlando shooting as “an Afghan,” though he was born an American citizen in New York City to parents who had emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States over three decades ago.

And now the Washington Post:

In a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration, Trump was antagonistic and pugnacious, in stark contrast with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who also spoke Monday about combating terrorism....Trump’s address contained a number of inaccuracies and overstatements. Among other things, he wrongly claimed that Clinton wanted to abolish the Second Amendment; said the United States is “not screening” refugees, who undergo a rigorous vetting program that can take two years or more; and said the New York-born shooter was born “an Afghan, of Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States.”

I'm sorry to report that the LA Times didn't follow suit. They should. I know it's not much in the face of Trump's tsunami of lying, but the job of the press is to tell the truth. They should do it, regardless of whether it makes much difference or not.

Why don't we see more terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando? They're cheap, effective, and all but impossible to defend against. Megan McArdle has asked experts about this:

To summarize their collective responses: You have to think of a terror attack as having multiple audiences. First, there are the people you are trying to terrorize. Second, there are the people you are trying to recruit to carry out more terror attacks. And third, there are the people you want to give you money to finance your attacks. The first group can be terrorized by any number of means. But the second and third groups are most drawn to attacks that are grand in scale and paramilitary in tactics, and they are most impressed by attacks on high technology, such as airplanes, and famous buildings, such as the World Trade Center. Thus, terrorists do less overall damage than they could, because they spend a lot of energy attacking well-known targets that are fairly hardened.

I'd add another constraint. Most mass shootings and car bombings require something that's in short supply: people willing to die for their cause (or, in a few cases, spend the rest of their lives in prison for their cause). Even among the most extreme reaches of jihadism, there are fewer folks willing to commit suicide than you might think, and you can't afford to waste them on small attacks. You need to use them on big stuff.

I've always thought this was the gating item. It's absolutely true that in America, at least, it's trivially easy to buy the means of mass slaughter—a gun with a large magazine and a fast firing rate—and learn how to use it. It's also easy to find soft targets: night clubs, PTA meetings, church services, weddings, etc. If you could recruit a small army of terrorists truly willing to train for these jobs (which generally requires a certain minimum of self discipline) and then carry them out in the face of almost certain death (which generally requires a certain minimum of reckless volatility), the potential damage would be huge.

We'll be in real trouble if we ever get to the point where that small army exists—which is why it's important to make sure we never get there. This is not something the military can do: they can't make people less angry, and they can't kill every angry person. Nor is it something the FBI can do. They can try to track angry people and intercede before they kill anyone, but they'll never be able to ID more than a fraction of them.

One way or another, the only real answer to this dilemma is to reduce the number of young men who become so angry they're willing to die for a cause. So what's the best way of doing that? Every national politician should have an answer to that question. Immigration bans and air strikes may sound appealing, and they might even work in the short term, but they're just fingers in the dike. In the end, reducing the supply of angry young men is the only real solution.

What's your best idea for accomplishing that?

Why I Hate Video, Part 548

The end of the written word is nigh:

Facebook is predicting the end of the written word on its platform. In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

Well, the demise of the written word may be happening sooner rather than later around here, thanks to a "scheduled" power outage from our friends at Southern California Edison. Last time this happened, power was back up in less than an hour. This time, who knows? They claim power will be out all day. That's far longer than the battery life of either my phone or my tablet, so the written word is likely to die here in just a few hours.

In the meantime, I'll take issue with the bolded part of Mendelsohn's comment. Video has many benefits, but information density generally isn't one of them. In fact, it's the very reason I loathe video. I can read the transcript of a one-hour speech in about five or ten minutes and easily pick out precisely what's interesting and what's not. With video, I have to slog through the full hour. Generally speaking, my habit is to never click a link that goes to video. It's just such a waste of time.

Of course, my needs are far different than most people's. I read/view stuff on the web in order to gather actual information that I can comment on. Most people couldn't care less about that. They just want momentary entertainment, and video overtook print for that many decades ago.

Which is fine. But please, call it what it is. Don't pretend to be doing the world a service by promoting a medium that helps us all "digest much more information." That's obvious claptrap.

The FCC has been trying for years to put in place rules that would ensure net neutrality. After some setbacks in court, they changed tack last year, reclassifying broadband internet service as a public utility. This legally allowed them to implement the rules necessary for net neutrality.

Naturally, broadband suppliers like Verizon and AT&T cried foul. They'd prefer to be left alone to do whatever they want. Today, though, the FCC won:

High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users....The court’s ruling was a slam-dunk for the F.C.C. The panel of three judges who heard the case late last year agreed that wireless broadband services were also common carrier utility services subject to anti-blocking and discrimination rules, a decision protested by wireless carriers including AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Roughly speaking, there are three ways we could attack the problem of net neutrality. In order of preference, they are:

  1. Encourage more broadband competition.
  2. Pass legislation.
  3. Let the FCC do the job.

Option #1 is hard. Local cable companies are almost always monopolies, and there's not much hope of seeing that change on a broad scale. Option #2 is very feasible, but Republicans simply have no desire to regulate the cable industry in any way. They talk about compromise a lot, but they never follow through and they probably never will. So that leaves Option #3. It's the worst of the bunch, but it's better than nothing. So three cheers for the DC Circuit Court. Now we just have to wait and see if the Supreme Court backs them up.

I don't generally go ballistic over every headline or Twitter summary that doesn't accurately represent the underlying story, but WTF AP?

The Twitter summary makes it sounds like both candidates were about equally fact challenged, but if you click through you'll find six (6) cases of Trump lying in various degrees, and two (2) cases of Hillary—well, of Hillary not lying. One passage is simply Hillary saying what she thinks policy should be, with AP's "fact check" consisting of telling us that this isn't what current policy is. The other is a little complicated, but it appears that Hillary may have overstated the results of a study.

So that's that. Trump pretty much lied his way through his speech, while Hillary was slightly too far over her skis about the results of one study. And that produces the Twitter summary above.

Sometime soon we're bound to get another round of "Gee, why don't people see through Donald Trump???" Well, this is one of the reasons. If you read only the Twitter summary of this AP story—and lots of people do—you'll come away with the impression that both candidates are basically cut from the same cloth. You'd never know that one makes only small and occasional exaggerations on policy issues while the other is a blowhard demagogue who flatly doesn't care about the truth one way or the other. No wonder so many people just shrug when you tell them that Trump lies practically every time he opens his mouth. Doesn't Hillary do the same thing?