In the United States, women make up only 16.9 percent of our national legislature (i.e., Congress). That places us 91st in the world. In a new report, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox conclude that there are seven big reasons why women continue to lag so far behind men in the political world:

  1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
  2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
  3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
  4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
  5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
  6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office—from anyone.
  7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.

The authors don't rank these items, and I'd guess that No. 2 is probably less important than most of the other items. It's interesting nonetheless, as much for what it says about the media as it does for the population at large—though it's too bad the authors don't tell us how women's perceptions of sexist treatment compared to men's perceptions. (A partisan breakdown would have been interesting too.) All they say is that "women were statistically more likely than men (at p < .05) to contend that Clinton and Palin experienced sexist treatment and/or gender bias."

In any case, the report, which is based on a survey of "lawyers, business leaders, educators, and political activists, all of whom are well-situated to pursue a political candidacy," is interesting throughout. It's worth a read.

Austin Frakt writes today about a new journal article describing the vast strides we've made in treating heart disease over the past 50 years:

Improvement in care for patients with cardiovascular disease is one of the great medical success stories of the 20th century, complementing great strides in public health. We owe this triumph of medicine to the interdisciplinary efforts at enhancement to the technology of care (from devices to drugs to surgical technique), evidence from clinical trials, and dissemination of best practice and lifestyle improvements via education programs.

And don't forget money! All this interdisciplinary wonderfulness is, needless to say, one of the reasons that healthcare costs so much more today than it did in the 50s. Back then, the article says, patients with acute myocardial infarction "were placed in beds located throughout the hospital and far enough away from nurses’ stations that their rest would not be disturbed. Patients were commonly found dead in their beds, presumably from a fatal tachyarrhythmia."

Not any longer, and because of that survival rates are far higher than they used to be. Ditto for infant mortality, which this post reminded me of. A couple of years ago I posted a copy of the hospital bill for my delivery in 1958, which came to about $1,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. But as my mother reminded me, that's because the hospital didn't do much of anything back then. When she arrived, they put her in a room that had....a bed, a bedside table, and a telephone. That's it. In the delivery room, there was....a bed and a doctor. No epidurals, no beeping machines, no phalanx of specialists, and no real-time monitoring of every vital sign known to man.

Today an ordinary, uncomplicated delivery costs upwards of $10,000. Is that worth it? Well, as the chart above shows, infant mortality in the United States has dropped from 26 per thousand to about 6 per thousand over the past 50 years. There are multiple reasons for this, but all that technology is one of them. We spend a lot of unnecessary money in our healthcare system, and we tend to (rightly) focus a lot of attention on that. But we also spend a lot of pretty valuable money. That fact that newborns and heart attack patients are both a lot less likely to die these days is pretty good evidence of that.

Did Bain Capital under Mitt Romney earn its money fairly, or did they play some of the predatory private equity games that Dean Baker outlined yesterday, loading up on debt, shifting assets around, and defaulting on pension benefits? Probably some of both. Reuters reports that in the case of Kansas City's Worldwide Grinding Systems steel mill, there were a lot of the financial games going on:

[In October 1993] Bain and its partners decided to buy the mill for $75 million. Bain put up about $8 million to gain majority control of the company, renamed GS Technologies Inc....Bain got its money back quickly. The new company issued $125 million in bonds and paid Bain a $36.1 million dividend in 1994.

Pretty sweet. Over the next few months, Bain piled on more and more debt, totalling $378 million by 1995. But they managed the plant poorly and couldn't compete with cheap Asian imports:

GS Industries declared bankruptcy on February 7, 2001, and said it would shut down the Kansas City plant, eliminating 750 jobs. In a press release, the company said the bankruptcy was triggered in part by "the critical need to restructure the company's liabilities."

Workers soon found out what that meant. In April, GS said it was shedding the guarantees it had promised its workers in the event of a plant closure....The U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, which insures company retirement plans, determined in 2002 that GS had underfunded its pension by $44 million. The federal agency, funded by corporate levies, stepped in to cover the basic pension payments, but not the supplement the union had negotiated as a hedge against the plant's closure.

Some investments don't work out. That's the free market for you. But does it seem right that Bain and its millionaire investors made a pot of money even though GS went bust and its workers lost a big chunk of their pensions? Maybe it does to Mitt Romney, but I imagine the rest of the country may feel a bit differently about it.

Another year, another NIE. And the intelligence community hasn't changed its mind about the war in Afghanistan:

The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.

....The detailed document, known as an NIE, runs more than 100 pages and represents the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies. Similar in tone to an NIE prepared a year ago, it challenges the Pentagon's claim to have achieved lasting security gains in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials who have read or been briefed on its contents.

There has — literally — never been a year in which the American intelligence community has believed that we're making serious progress in Afghanistan. And every year, the military has disagreed.

So far, the intelligence community has been right every time. Anyone care to take a guess about whether they're right this time too?

Is Mitt Romney really the Gordon Gekko of presidential candidates thanks to his years of running Bain Capital? Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry sure seem to think so, accusing him of making his millions by wreaking wholesale devastation on innocent companies and hardworking laborers. This is, as you might expect, just a wee bit over the top. Still, before we dismiss the comparison entirely, Dean Baker lists a few of the Gekko-like behaviors that real-life private equity firms sometimes engage in:

It is standard practice for private equity to load firms with debt. This means that taxable profits are turned into tax-deductible interest payments. The difference can be a gain to Bain and other private equity firms, but it is coming at the expense of taxpayers.

In the same vein, private equity companies often engage in complex asset shifting. This can leave a heavily indebted firm with few valuable assets. If it eventually goes bankrupt, the creditors collect little money because the private equity company has transferred the assets with value into an independent company. This can also mean big profits for Bain and other private equity companies, but this is not a gain to the economy.

Another frequent game of private equity companies is to dump pension obligations on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The reduction in liabilities can mean big profits for Bain and other private equity companies, but does not provide any benefit to the economy.

This, then, is the assignment for some enterprising reporter. Did Bain Capital do this kind of thing during Romney's stint there? Or did they really and truly just work hard to try and turn failing companies around by applying state-of-the-art management techniques? I expect answers from our nation's press corps soon, just as soon as they finish spitballing over whether John Bolton's endorsement of Mitt will finally bring the paranoid wingnut vote solidly into his camp.

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the cost growth of Medicare compared to the cost growth of private healthcare, along with a bit of speculation for the reason that private healthcare costs have grown faster. The post was a bit rushed, and I'll probably try to expand on it in the future. For now, though, I just want to present a couple of pieces of raw data comparing Medicare costs to private healthcare costs. First, here are the basic BLS figures on overall growth trends, with 1992 indexed to 100:

This tells us that overall costs of private healthcare have grown faster than Medicare, but it doesn't tell us why. It might be demographic, it might be because private insurers cover more procedures, or it might be due to cost growth of specific procedures. The latter is the one I'm most interested in at the moment, so here's a bit of data from a paper by James Robinson earlier this year:

We now know two things:

  • The overall cost of private healthcare has risen faster than Medicare over the past couple of decades.
  • The current price of specific procedures is higher for private insurers than for Medicare.

But here's what we don't know:

  • Has the price of specific procedures gone up faster for private insurers than for Medicare?

Unfortunately, it appears that time series data on specific procedures isn't available, so we don't really know whether private insurers have put as much pressure on providers to keep prices down as Medicare has. It's a good guess that they haven't, but you can't tell for sure from this data. What's worse, even if we assume they haven't done a good job of controlling costs, it's still pretty difficult to say why. These numbers are averages, and they vary by region, by level of competitiveness, by the possibilities for cost shifting, and so forth. More on this later.

Yuval Levin over at The Corner;

I know we’re all supposed to think that the primaries are poised to turn out a weak Republican nominee and that President Obama will swoop in this fall and carry the day with some brilliant pincer move that simultaneously dubs the Republican too extreme, too moderate, too boring, and too weird…

I'm not picking on Levin here, but every once in a while I read something like this and I wonder who they're talking about. Is there anyone on Planet Earth who thinks that Obama is just going to waltz to victory in November? Who exactly are these pundits who have apparently been banging the drum about Obama's November cakewalk? Nobody I read, that's for sure. As near as I can tell, it's nearly unanimous conventional wisdom that this is going to be a very close race despite the fact that the Republican field is weak. Hell, Intrade has only intermittently put Obama's chances over 60 percent for the past year, and he's barely been better than an even bet for the past six months.

At the same time, I also happen to think that Levin is being a wee bit too pessimistic when he hauls out a few bits of polling and economic data that, he says, "suggests there is no self-evident path to re-election for the president." I think Obama's record is a little more popular than he thinks, that Republican obstructionism is a fatter target than he admits, and that Mitt Romney has some glaring weaknesses that Team Obama is going to rip into mercilessly. So Obama is hardly a dead duck. But he's not a shoo-in either, and I really don't think anyone over the past year or so has ever suggested he is.

From the Washington Post today:

An Iranian scientist involved in purchasing equipment for the Islamic Republic’s main uranium-enrichment facility was assassinated Wednesday when a magnetic bomb attached to his car exploded in morning rush-hour traffic, Iranian media reported.

....The killing bore strong resemblance to two 2010 attacks on nuclear scientists and came on the same day as a ceremony for the third anniversary of the killing of another professor, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, who also died in an explosion.

As far as I know, there's no firm evidence that the United States is responsible for this. Maybe Israel has planned and carried out all these attacks. Maybe there's some other explanation. 

But it's hardly farfetched to think that the U.S. is involved, one way or another. And if we are, it means we're in the business of deliberately targeting Iranian civilians for death, with the goal of frightening their scientists and thus slowing down Iran's nuclear program. There is, needless to say, a word that describes the act of killing civilians as a way of spreading fear and alarm. We all know what it is, don't we?

I can't think of anything super insightful to say about this, but the Pew Economic Mobility Project has a new fact sheet out that includes the chart below. In the early 70s, most women who got divorces suffered a large income drop while very few divorced men did. Today, the numbers are about equal. Likewise, the number of divorced women whose income increases substantially following a divorce has nearly doubled. The basic reason for this is pretty obvious, and the data itself isn't new, but it's still kind of interesting to see the raw numbers.

Ezra Klein on Jon Huntsman's third-place showing in last night's primary:

Huntsman's weak finish led many to suggest that the GOP was no place for moderates. But the truth is that Huntsman's campaign didn't prove that, or anything like it. For all Huntsman's signaling and hinting, his policy platform is no more moderate than Romney's. In fact, it might be less moderate.

Ezra goes on to explain that on a policy level, Huntsman is actually one of the most conservative guys in the race. And he's right. It's endlessly annoying to hear pundits refer to him as a moderate kind of guy without, seemingly, knowing anything about his actual political views.

And yet, it's not entirely baseless. Policy isn't the only thing that matters, after all, and I'd argue that Huntsman quite likely is moderate in two important ways. The first is the one that lots of people have already pointed out: he doesn't spend all his time making apocalyptic statements about Barack Obama being the anti-Christ and Democrats leading the United States into penury and decline. He says he believes in evolution and global warming rather than claiming these are vast conspiracies of the scientific community. This kind of thing matters.

But there's something else that matters even more, and that's the second way in which Huntsman is genuinely moderate. This is, granted, supposition on my part, but I suspect that Huntsman is more willing to compromise than most of the other candidates. He might want to cut the capital gains rate to zero, but if he could strike a deal with Democrats for a useful bit of tax reform that didn't include a cap gains cut, I think he'd probably do it. He's not beholden to the tea party base for anything, he's not committed to a worldview in which compromise is treason, and as president he'd be free to horse-trade and negotiate in normal presidential fashion. I'm not so sure that, say, Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich would want to, and I'm not sure that Mitt Romney would feel able to. This is a big deal.

Of course, he's not going to win this year, so none of this matters immediately. But we might see him again in 2016.