Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's an interesting new tidbit on the Jared Kushner front. The <em>New York Times</em> account of Kushnergate says that the reason Kushner wanted to set up backchannel comms to Russia was so that Michael Flynn could hold private conversations about Syria. The <em>Times</em> didn't characterize their sources for this information, but it turns out it was people providing Kushner's side of the story. So why didn't this detail make it into the <em>Washington Post</em> story?</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">We talked to these "people" too. We would not publish their account unless we could signal they were speaking for Kushner. They refused. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Scott Wilson (@PostScottWilson) <a href="">May 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>So these sources said Kushner was setting up a channel to talk about Syria, which sounds fairly benign. But they refused to allow themselves to be quoted even as "sources close Kushner" or somesuch. So the <em>Post</em> passed.</p> <p>Obviously this makes a difference. If the Syria story is Kushner's alibi, it means a lot less than it would if it came from some relatively neutral source who happened to know what was going on. Discount it accordingly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 27 May 2017 23:17:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 333976 at The Kushner Backchannel Story Is Hard to Make Sense Of <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last night <a href="" target="_blank">the <em>Washington Post</em></a> and <a href="" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a> both reported that Jared Kushner buttonholed the Russian ambassador last December about setting up a secret communications backchannel with Moscow. This was during the transition period, six or seven weeks before Trump was inaugurated. The stories differ in the details they provide:</p> <ul><li>The <em>Times</em> reports that the purpose of the backchannel was for Michael Flynn to discuss Syria, but doesn't report how the backchannel would work.</li> <li>The <em>Post</em> reports that Kushner proposed using secure facilities in the Russian embassy, but doesn't report what Kushner wanted to talk about.</li> </ul><p>The White House has not denied this story. It has simply refused to comment.</p> <p>What do we make of this? Even after pondering it for several hours, I'm not sure what to think. I assume the <em>Post</em> has good sources for its report that Kushner wanted to use Russian embassy facilities, which suggests he was looking for a channel that was safe from monitoring&mdash;and leaking&mdash;by American intel agencies. In fact, the <em>Post</em> directly asserts this. But if the <em>Times</em> is right about Syria, that doesn't make sense. There have been a lot of leaks recently, but not last December. And certainly there was no reason to suspect that any intel agency would leak conversations about Syria.</p> <p>So maybe they really wanted to talk about something else. But what? It would need to be something that was (a) highly sensitive, and (b) dodgy enough that some do-gooder in the intel community might feel like it needed to be leaked. There's been plenty of speculation about what that could be, but nothing grounded in reporting.</p> <p>Also unknown: did Trump know about this? Or were Kushner and Flynn freelancing?</p> <p>Also: what was the rush? In a few weeks Trump would have access to all the secure comms he wanted. Why was it so urgent to have galactic-class secure comms right away?</p> <p>And: who wrote the anonymous letter that first tipped off the <em>Post</em> in mid-December?</p> <p>The whole thing will remain something of a mystery until we know more about it. However the <em>Post</em> reports that the Russian ambassador was taken aback by Kushner's naivete in thinking that Russia might agree to expose its embassy facilities to an American. Subsequent commenters have used stronger terms than <em>naivete</em>.</p> <p>Also, everyone agrees that Kushner's multiple meetings with various Russians were withheld from his security clearance application. That's not good.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 27 May 2017 17:57:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 333971 at Yet More Quotes of the Day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">On Donald Trump:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Trump reportedly complained to world leaders about roadblocks he has faced setting up golf courses in the European Union....&ldquo;Every time we talk about a country, he remembered the things he had done. <strong>Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two and a half years to get a license and that did not give him a very good image of the European Union,</strong>&rdquo; a source told <em>Le Soir</em>.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">On Jared Kushner:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Harleen Kahlon was an experienced digital media maven when she was hired by Kushner in 2010 to boost the paper&rsquo;s digital outreach....At the end of the year, when she went to collect her performance bonus at his real estate office for meeting agreed upon metrics on page views and audience growth, <strong>Kushner told her that they couldn&rsquo;t pay, citing financial concerns, and asked her to &ldquo;take one for the team.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>....Just before the election, Kahlon described her former boss on Facebook thusly: &ldquo;We&rsquo;re talking about a guy who <strong>isn&rsquo;t particularly bright or hard-working,</strong> doesn&rsquo;t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don&rsquo;t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it&rsquo;s in your nature to &lsquo;shun the spotlight&rsquo;), <strong>and who is basically a shithead.</strong>&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">On Trump again:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After the "family photo" group shot, the other leaders convivially walked down the narrow Sicilian streets to their luncheon. Trump hung back and, minutes later, <strong>opted instead to ride in a golf cart.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Low energy. Sad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 27 May 2017 16:51:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 333966 at Quote of the Day #2: Tax Plans <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> provides an example of the criticism leveled at <a href="" target="_blank">Donald Trump's press operation:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director.</p> <p>&ldquo;The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,&rdquo; one Trump former campaign official said.</p> </blockquote> <p>First off, who else is going to roll out a tax plan? The Secretary of Defense?</p> <p>Second, the left isn't automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. We're going to say that if it actually <em>is</em> tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. But the confusion here is easy to understand since Republican plans are always tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. That makes it hard to parse responses from the left, I suppose.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 23:08:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 333946 at Quote of the Day: Pink Donut Boxes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Peter Yen of Santa Ana Packaging,</a> a manufacturer of donut boxes:</p> <blockquote> <p>Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.</p> </blockquote> <p>I did not know that! But it turns out that pink donut and pastry boxes are unique to Southern California.<sup>1</sup> Why? Long story short, a Cambodian refugee from the Khmer Rouge became the donut king of Orange County during the 80s before he gambled away his fortune in the 90s. When he was starting out he asked his supplier for a cheaper donut box, and the pink box was born. Click the link for the longer story.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Are they really? Or have they since spread to the rest of the country? Let us know in comments.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 21:18:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 333931 at Friday Cat Blogging - 26 May 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Someone in comments the other day was <strike>kvetching about the fact</strike> observing that I tend to crop my photos pretty tightly, and that's true. I like sharp, tightly-cropped pictures. Still, variety is the spice of life, and my fondness for close-ups means that you rarely get to see Hilbert or Hopper in action. I use the word "action" advisedly, since that mostly just means walking around. But even that's something, so today you get an exciting action shot of Hilbert.</p> <p>Even with the fancy new camera, this is surprisingly hard to do. Cats in motion are frequently blurry or out of focus, and the follow-focus feature of the Lumix is pretty hit-or-miss. All that said, here it is. Photographic proof that Hilbert doesn't just sit around 24 hours a day.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2017_05_26.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 19:05:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333911 at Trump: Overseas Trip Has Saved "Millions of Jobs" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump claims that his world trip this week has saved millions of jobs. <a href=";utm_term=.e22bd24e4136" target="_blank">Millions!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A White House official said Trump was not talking just about the Saudi deals but &ldquo;benefits to trade from the entire trip from Saudi Arabia to the G7.&rdquo; He noted that &ldquo;any improvement on trade would save many jobs. Stopping even one bad trade deal can save millions. Changing the infrastructure of global trade to tilt it back toward the U.S. would save and create millions.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Barack Obama made 52 overseas trips during his presidency, and employment climbed 12 million during the same period. That's about 200,000 jobs per trip. Trump says he's responsible for millions just in one trip. That's pretty remarkable, no? But Trump is a remarkable man.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 18:52:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 333916 at Did Michael Flynn Lobby for the Turkish Government? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Last year, Michael Flynn received half a million dollars as part of a contract with the Inovo Group, headed by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkey-US Business Council. Was this legit? Or is Inovo just a front for the Turkish government? <a href="" target="_blank">David Corn investigates:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The paperwork Flynn filed with the government is confusing. Some of the records note that his company, the Flynn Intel Group, <strong>was hired to compile opposition research on Fethullah Gulen,</strong> a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government claims helped orchestrate an unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer....It was through his contract with Inovo that Flynn ended up in a <strong>September 19 meeting set up by Alptekin at the Essex House hotel in New York City with Turkish government officials, where reportedly the participants considered kidnapping Gulen.</strong> (A Flynn spokesman insisted Flynn had not discussed any illegal actions, and Alptekin has denied there was any talk of abducting Gulen at this gathering.)</p> </blockquote> <p>OK. But there's also this:</p> <blockquote> <p>An attachment to the filing, citing an American law firm representing Alptekin, says that "Inovo represented a private sector company in Israel that sought to export natural gas to Turkey".... In March, Alptekin told one reporter that he had hired Flynn <strong>"principally to produce geopolitical analysis on Turkey and the region" for a "regional energy company that is considering an investment in Turkey."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Digging up dirt on Gulen doesn't sound like something a private consulting group would be interested in. It sounds like something the Turkish government would be interested in. This is all the more mysterious because we don't know who was funding Flynn's work:</p> <blockquote> <p>In an interview with a Dutch newspaper in April, Alptekin said the funds for the Flynn project came from a loan from his wife and payments from Ratio Oil Exploration, an Israeli natural gas company.</p> </blockquote> <p>It seems unlikely that an Israeli oil company would have much interest in Michael Flynn's assessment of the potential market in Turkey for Israeli natural gas&mdash;especially since the oil company in question flatly denies that it has any connection with Alptekin at all. And it seems even more unlikely that Alptekin's wife would have any interest in this.</p> <p>So was Flynn actually acting as an agent of the Turkish government, with the money being thinly laundered through Alptekin? Or was it, as both Flynn and Alptekin claim, really all about Alptekin's belief that Flynn had keen insights to offer regarding geopolitical analysis of Turkey and the region? We report, you decide.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 18:27:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 333906 at American Health Care Is Expensive. It Will Take Years to Change That. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">A couple of days ago</a> I tossed off a late-night post pointing out that health care is expensive, so it's hardly surprising that estimates of California's proposed single-payer plan have clocked in at a net additional cost of around $200 billion. That was pretty much my only point, but this post caused quite a...stir...on Twitter from the usual suspects, who were outraged that I hadn't assumed single-payer would radically slash medical costs. Today, Jon Walker provides <a href="" target="_blank">a more measured version of the argument:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is critical to address this weird claim from Drum because the idea that single-payer would cut health care costs isn&rsquo;t some optimistic liberal talking point. <strong>It is a near universal assumption</strong> and the main reason achieving single-payer has politically been so difficult. It is the heart of the whole debate.</p> <p>Again, this is not a liberal idea. The Lewin Group, a health care consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group, has repeatedly concluded that single-payer would cut health care costs. <strong>For example, they analyzed a single-player plan for Minnesota and <a href="" target="_blank">concluded,</a> &ldquo;that the single-payer plan would achieve universal coverage while reducing total health spending for Minnesota by about $4.1 billion, or 8.8 percent.&rdquo;</strong> It reached the same basic conclusion looking at a national single-payer plan in years past.</p> </blockquote> <p>As it happens, I've found Lewin Group estimates in the past to be a little optimistic, but set that aside. I put the ballpark additional cost of national single-payer health care at $1.5 trillion, but if someone wants to assume it would be $1.36 trillion instead, that's fine. That's still in the ballpark. More important, though, is this chart, which accompanies that Lewin report on Minnesota:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lewin_single_payer_minnesota.gif" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>This is basically right. As I mentioned in the original post, "If we're lucky, a good single-payer system would slow the growth of health care costs over the long term, but it's vanishingly unlikely to actually cut current costs." And that's pretty much what Lewin shows. The initial cost saving is small, but the cost containment measures inherent in a government-funded plan push the cost curve down over time. Their estimate is that within a decade Minnesota's proposed plan would have been a third less expensive than business-as-usual. This is roughly what I'd expect for a national single-payer plan too.</p> <p>Is it technically possible to cut initial spending more? Sure. We could nationalize the whole medical industry, cut nurse and doctor pay by a third across the board, and create a mandatory formulary for drugs at a tenth of the price we currently pay. When the revolution comes, maybe that will happen&mdash;and doctors and pharma executives will be grateful we didn't just take them out and shoot them. In the meantime, I'm more interested in real-world movements toward single payer. Obamacare was a good start. Adding a public option would be another step. Medicare for all might be next. And something better than Medicare would be the final step. That will be hard enough even if we don't make mortal enemies out of every single player in the health care market.</p> <p>In broad terms, if we adopted national single-payer health care today it would cost us something like an additional $1.5 trillion in taxes. That's reality, and as a good social democrat I'm fine with that. In theory, after all, my taxes might go up 30 percent, but <em>Mother Jones</em> will also increase my salary 30 percent because they no longer have to provide me with health insurance. Roughly speaking, this would be a good deal for half the country, which pays very little in income taxes; a wash for another third; and a loss for the top 10 percent, whose taxes would go up more than the cost of the health insurance they currently receive. If we decide to tax corporations instead of individuals, the incidence of the tax would pass through to individuals in a pretty similar way.</p> <p>So that's that. I don't believe in Santa Claus, and I don't believe that we can pass a bill that slashes health care costs to European levels. <a href="" target="_blank">They've had decades of cost containment</a> that got them to where they are. We, unfortunately, haven't, so we have to start with our current cost structure. One way or another, that's what we have to deal with.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_health_care_spending_real_per_capita_1970_2002_0.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 16:32:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 333886 at The Blue-Slip Rule Is On Its Last Legs <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>Washington Post</em> confirms what we've already heard about Senate Republicans <a href=";utm_term=.6070313cc796" target="_blank">doing away with the blue-slip rule:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Leaders are considering a change to the Senate&rsquo;s &ldquo;blue slip&rdquo; practice, which holds that judicial nominations will not proceed unless the nominee&rsquo;s home-state senators signal their consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee....<strong>Removing the blue-slip obstacle would make it much easier for Trump&rsquo;s choices to be confirmed.</strong> Although Trump and Senate Republicans have clashed early in his presidency, they agree on the importance of putting conservatives on the federal bench.</p> <p>....The Senate acted Thursday on Trump&rsquo;s first appeals-court nomination, <strong>elevating U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar</strong> of Kentucky to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.</p> <p>....&ldquo;Eliminating the blue slip is essentially a move to end cooperation between the executive and legislative branch on judicial nominees, allowing nominees to be hand-picked by right-wing groups,&rdquo; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wrote in a memo this week. <strong>She pointed out that the vacancy for which Thapar is nominated exists only because McConnell refused to return a blue slip for Obama&rsquo;s nominee, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes. The seat has been vacant since 2013, and Tabor Hughes never received a hearing, because blue slips were not returned.</strong></p> <p>Christopher Kang, who advised Obama on judicial nominations, said that was the reason 17 of the president&rsquo;s picks did not receive hearings, killing the nominations. But the impact was even greater than that, <strong>because Obama gave up on trying to find nominees in some states, such as Texas, with two Republican senators.</strong> One vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, has been open for five years.</p> </blockquote> <p>Were Republicans snickering in private for six years because Democrats continued to be Boy Scouts during the Obama presidency, <a href="" target="_blank">respecting the blue-slip rule</a> despite blanket Republican opposition of the kind that Republicans now say will prompt them to kill it? Probably. Was it the right thing to do anyway? I guess I'm still unsure. But it sure doesn't look like it.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_blue_slip_vacancies.gif" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>The Brookings table above shows the effect of all this for circuit court vacancies. The absolute numbers aren't huge, but both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama simply gave up nominating judges in states where there were any Republican senators. They would object as a matter of course and their objections would be honored. George Bush, by contrast, continued nominating judges everywhere. Democratic senators sometimes objected, but not always&mdash;and Republicans often ignored their objections anyway when they controlled the Senate.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 15:12:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 333871 at Gianforte Issues Stomach-Turning "Apology" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday Greg Gianforte melted down and assaulted a reporter who tried to ask him a question. Today he issued one of the most repugnant apologies I've ever heard:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">"When you make a mistake you have to own up to it. Last night I made a mistake.. I'm sorry" - Gianforte<br><br> "You're forgiven!" - Woman in crowd</p> &mdash; Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) <a href="">May 26, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Yesterday, when it might have hurt his election chances, Gianforte went the full Trump: he belligerently denied doing anything wrong and issued a craven statement that basically blamed Ben Jacobs for assaulting Gianforte's fist with his nose. His supporters all roared their approval. That Jacobs guy had it coming for having the bad manners to ask a question about some breaking news.</p> <p>Now, when there's no longer any price for apologizing, he apologizes. That's squalid enough. But to pretend that he's manning up is just stomach turning. What a disgusting human being.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 May 2017 06:43:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 333866 at Mr. Ivanka Trump Now Under Investigation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We now know for sure <a href=";tid=a_breakingnews&amp;utm_term=.62ef3b1873fe" target="_blank">who the person "close to Trump" is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump&rsquo;s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.</p> </blockquote> <p>So the Russia investigation now has at least three targets: Manafort, Flynn, and Kushner. That seems like a lot. But maybe it's all just a big coincidence.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 22:44:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 333851 at Paul Romer and the Parataxis of the World Bank <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via Tyler Cowen</a> I learn that "Bankspeak," the jargon of the World Bank, is a big issue. Who knew? Here's an excerpt from a <a href="" target="_blank">2015 report of the Stanford Literary Lab:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The biggest surprise came with the most frequent collocate of all: &ldquo;and&rdquo;. &ldquo;And&rdquo;? The most frequent word in English is &ldquo;the&rdquo;: everybody knows that. So, <strong>what is &ldquo;and&rdquo; doing at the top of the list?</strong> Two passages from the 1999 Report may help to explain:</p> <blockquote> <ul><li>promote corporate governance and competition policies and reform and privatize state-owned enterprises and labor market/social protection reform</li> <li>There is greater emphasis on quality, responsiveness, and partnerships; on knowledge-sharing and client orientation; and on poverty reduction</li> </ul></blockquote> <p>The first passage&mdash;a grammatico-political monstrosity&mdash;is a small present to our patient readers; the second, more guarded, is also more indicative of the rhetoric in question. Knowledge-sharing has really nothing to do with client orientation; poverty reduction, nothing to do with either. There is no reason they should appear together. But those &ldquo;ands&rdquo; connect them just the same, despite the total absence of logic, and their paratactical crudity becomes almost a justification: <strong>we have so many important things to do, we can&rsquo;t afford to be elegant; we must take care of our clients, yes (we are, remember, a bank); but we also care about knowledge! and partnership! and sharing! and poverty!</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Paratactical? The Stanford folks might want to think about their dedication to clear language too.<sup>1</sup> That aside, here's a lovely scatterplot showing the skyrocketing use of the word <em>and</em> in World Bank reports:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_world_bank_and.gif" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>Hmmm. "Frequency per million words (thousands)"? I'm just spitballing here, but maybe this could be "frequency per thousand words" instead? Once again, the Stanford folks have some work of their own to do on the plain-speaking front.</p> <p>Anyway, this brings us to the meat of our story. Apparently Paul Romer, highly-respected macroeconomist and scourge of lazy thinking, decided to start a campaign to improve World Bank writing. He was well placed to do this since he is, these days, the chief economist of the World Bank. <a href="" target="_blank">Here is the <em>Financial Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Circulating a draft of the upcoming World Development Report, Mr Romer warned against bank staff trying to pile their own pet projects and messages into the report. <strong>The tendency, he argued, had diluted the impact of past reports and led to a proliferation of &ldquo;ands&rdquo;.</strong></p> <p>....&ldquo;A WDR, like a knife, has to be narrow to penetrate deeply,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;To drive home the importance of focus, <strong>I&rsquo;ve told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of &lsquo;and&rsquo; exceeds 2.6%.&rdquo;</strong>...The use of the word &ldquo;and&rdquo; over the years had doubled to almost 7 per cent in World Bank reports, Mr Romer pointed out in a January memo to his staff.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">And Bloomberg:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Romer expressed to those around him that the department should communicate more clearly, dive right into public debates, and align its work with the institution&rsquo;s goals of ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality....Romer asked for shorter emails and insisted presentations get straight to the point, cutting staff off if they talked too long, said another person familiar with the matter. He canceled a regular publication that didn&rsquo;t have a clear purpose, one of the people said.</p> <p>....Romer said the limit on &ldquo;and&rdquo; was a &ldquo;gimmick&rdquo; he used to show he&rsquo;s serious about good writing. <strong>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve worked it down to 3.4 percent. They said, &lsquo;We&rsquo;re getting there&rsquo;.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>It seems to me that Romer is cheating. If you take the lowest and highest numbers from the Stanford report, use of <em>and</em> has gone from about 2.9 percent to 5.5 percent. But using outliers isn't kosher. An eyeball regression suggests that the real increase has been from 3.1 percent to 4.5 percent. That's not great, but not quite so horrible, either. But then again, maybe the report Romer commissioned came up with different numbers. Who knows?</p> <p>In any case, my guess is that the proliferation of <em>and</em> has less to do with "pet projects" and more to do with bureaucratic dynamics. If you leave out knowledge-sharing, the communications staff get upset. If you leave out client orientation, the field workers get upset. If you leave out poverty reduction, the poverty folks get upset. So it's easier just to cut and paste them all in to keep everyone from getting upset. Who needs the grief?</p> <p>The ending of this story is a sad one: the World Bank staff rebelled and Romer no longer manages the research group. "They felt under-appreciated," he said. "It reflected a kind of siege mentality that I can't quite understand." It's possible, of course, that they were on high alert already. After all, shortly before he took over at the World Bank Romer gave a speech in which he <a href="" target="_blank">called modern macroeconomics a "pseudoscience" that was now "post-real."</a> This probably gave him a rough start managing a group of macroeconomists.</p> <p>As for better writing at the World Bank, I wouldn't count on it. The key imperative for anyone in a big bureaucracy is to make sure that (a) you don't offend anyone, and (b) no one can blame you for anything. In a big <em>international</em> bureaucracy, this imperative is even stronger since God only knows who you might accidentally offend if you choose the wrong words. Mushspeak is a natural reaction to this.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>From <em>parataxis</em>, "the placing together of sentences, clauses, or phrases without a conjunctive word or words."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 22:27:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 333841 at Trump: I'll Put a Stop to Germany Selling Cars in the US <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This from <em>Der Spiegel</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>US President Donald Trump complained bitterly about the German trade surplus on his meeting with the EU top in Brussels. "The Germans are evil, very evil," said Trump. This was learned by the SPIEGEL from participants in the meeting. Trump said, <strong>"Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we'll stop that."</strong></p> <p>....According to a report from the "S&uuml;ddeutsche Zeitung", the EU side was terrified about the lack of awareness of the Americans about trade policy. <strong>Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Two comments. First of all, this is a remarkably lifelike translation from Google Translate. There were a few hiccups elsewhere, and I doubt that Trump called the Germans "evil." I'm guessing he called them "nasty," which <em>Spiegel</em> translated to "b&ouml;se," which Google then translated back to "evil." Nevertheless, I could read the entire article and figure out what everything meant without any trouble.</p> <p>Second, forgodssake, when are the Trumpies going to learn that they can't do a trade deal with only Germany? It's the whole EU or nothing. Last month we heard <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> that Angela Merkel had to tell Trump a dozen times before he finally got it, but it sounds like he's already forgotten.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> It turns out that Trump said <em>bad</em>, not <em>nasty</em> or <em>evil</em>.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 21:02:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333821 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's a morning glory with a busy little bee inside. Actually, two bees, I guess. Isn't it nice to see everyone doing the job nature has assigned them?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Not a bee! I thought it looked a little small. Apparently it's a hoverfly, or some related critter, mimicking a bee.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_morning_glory_bee.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 19:30:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 333716 at Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Travel Ban <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>An appeals court has <a href="" target="_blank">upheld the injunction on President Trump's travel ban:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Trump's order "speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination," Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in his ruling.</p> <p>The 10-3 ruling relied heavily, as other courts have done, on Trump's statements during his campaign in which he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the United States. The plaintiffs who have challenged the travel order have argued that it is a disguised version of the Muslim ban that he called for during the campaign.</p> </blockquote> <p>Please note that this comes from the centrist 4th circuit, not the radical lefty zealots of the 9th circuit. The vote was 10-3. And the opinion was written by a guy who was appointed by Bill Clinton and re-appointed by George W. Bush.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 18:41:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 333796 at Let's Drop the Hysterics About Trump and NATO's Article 5 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Is Donald Trump committed to NATO? Here's what the press says about that today:</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">New York Times:</a> "President Trump on Thursday once again refused to explicitly endorse NATO&rsquo;s mutual defense pledge, instead lecturing European leaders on what he called their 'chronic underpayments' to the military alliance."</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal:</a> "Mr. Trump&rsquo;s refusal to say he supports NATO&rsquo;s common defense provision, known as Article 5, left European diplomats dismayed."</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">The Washington Post:</a> "Trump refuses to back NATO Article 5." (This is from memory. It was something like that.)</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Washington Post</em> quickly realized it was practicing pack journalism and rewrote their story. It doesn't even mention Article 5 anymore.</p> <p>As well it shouldn't. At today's unveiling of an Article 5 memorial at NATO headquarters, Trump said this about the aftermath of 9/11: "Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments." Later he added: "This twisted mass of metal reminds us not only of what we have lost but also what forever endures: the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve, and the commitments that bind us together as one. We will never forget the lives that were lost, we will never forsake the friends who stood by our side."</p> <p>It's true that Trump didn't explictly say "We stand behind Article 5," but it's hard to read his comments any other way. Within a few minutes Sean Spicer confirmed this:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Spicer says Trump wasn't trying to be cute at NATO, the U.S. is 100% committed to Article 5 - per <a href="">@JenniferJJacobs</a></p> &mdash; Justin Sink (@justinsink) <a href="">May 25, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Everyone needs to calm down. Sure, Trump probably <em>was</em> trying to be cute. Alternatively, the failure to repeat our commitment to Article 5 might have been yet another example of Trump's ham-handed approach to negotiation, trying to create leverage for more defense spending by making everyone in Europe nervous. Or it could be nothing more than Trump's familiar resolve never to back down: If they want him to say he's committed to Article 5, then that's the one thing he <em>won't</em> say. (He also insisted on doubling down on his much-mocked description of terrorists as "losers," for example.) Or maybe Trump is just being a dick. He wants attention, and this is a way to get it.</p> <p>Still, he was clear enough, and his press secretary was as explicit as he could be afterward. What's more, before the speech his Secretary of State said without qualification, "Of course we support Article 5." Campaign bluster aside, there's really no indication that the Trump administration is any less committed to NATO than previous administrations. Here's the whole speech:</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 18:16:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 333781 at The Intel Community Needs to Fire Someone—Fast <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The US intelligence community has screwed up. Someone (or multiple someones) passed along British intel about the Manchester bombing to US reporters before it had been publicly released. This is bad for at least three reasons:</p> <ul><li>It quite possibly impedes an active investigation.</li> <li>It pisses off British intelligence.</li> <li>It gives Donald Trump a very reasonable excuse to <a href="" target="_blank">demand an investigation</a> into leaking from our intelligence agencies.</li> </ul><p>This is a bit like the reporters who fail to verify their stories properly and end up making mistakes. It might not happen very often, but it gives Trump ammunition for his claims that the media is out to get him with endless fake news. For that reason, reporters in the age of Trump need to be doubly careful about what they write.</p> <p>If the intel community is smart, it will figure out where these leaks came from and fire someone fast. But are they smart?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I'm using "intel community" in a very broad sense here since we don't know where the leak came from. It includes the FBI, which recent reporting has suggested is the most likely culprit.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 17:04:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 333761 at CBO Agrees: Trumpcare Wipes Out Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Earlier this month</a> I passed along a note from Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution. Long story short, he suggested that the Republican health care bill would do more than eliminate community rating only for folks who failed to maintain continuous coverage.<sup>1</sup> He theorized that once a separate set of rates was set up, insurers could open it up to anyone. Since this second rate schedule would be medically underwritten&mdash;i.e., based on health status&mdash;it would be very cheap for young, healthy folks. In the end, healthy consumers would all gravitate to the medically-underwritten rates while unhealthy consumers would be stuck with the higher community-rated prices. Over time, the difference between these rates would grow, which means that anyone with a pre-existing condition would end up paying much higher rates than similar healthy people.</p> <p>This was an interesting suggestion, but since then I haven't heard anyone else support Fiedler's argument. Until today, that is. AHCA allows states to apply for waivers from two provisions of Obamacare. The first is the requirement to provide essential health benefits. The Congressional Budget Office <a href="" target="_blank">describes the other waiver:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A second type of waiver would allow insurers to set premiums on the basis of an individual&rsquo;s health status if the person had not demonstrated continuous coverage; that is, <strong>the waiver would eliminate the requirement for what is termed community rating for premiums charged to such people.</strong> CBO and JCT anticipate that most healthy people...would be able to choose between premiums based on their own expected health care costs (medically underwritten premiums) and premiums based on the average health care costs...(community-rated premiums).</p> <p>....CBO and JCT expect that, as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, <strong>and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law,</strong> if they could purchase it at all....<strong>As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So the CBO expects precisely the result that Fiedler predicted. This is genuinely big news and deserves wider reporting. For all practical purposes, AHCA eliminates the requirement that insurers charge the same rates to everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions. They still can't flatly turn you down, but they can do the next best thing: make insurance so expensive for those with pre-existing conditions that most people can't afford it. That's especially harmful since the subsidies under AHCA are so skimpy.</p> <p>This provision of AHCA has no direct budgetary impact, so it ought to get tossed out by the Senate parliamentarian.<sup>2</sup> We'll have to wait and see how that turns out.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>"Community rating" is the requirement that everyone pays the same price for insurance, even if they have a pre-existing condition.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>AHCA is being passed as a reconciliation bill. These bills are only allowed to address issues that directly affect the federal budget.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 16:13:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 333751 at Obamacare Is Pretty Stable — Unless Republicans Cripple It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The CSR subsidies that President Trump keeps threatening to kill are pretty important:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina seeks 22.9% rate increase on 2018 ACA plans &ndash; would be 8.8% if cost-sharing payments guaranteed</p> &mdash; Anna Mathews (@annawmathews) <a href="">May 25, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Here in California, our insurance commissioner has asked all health insurers for <a href="" target="_blank">two sets of rate hike requests:</a> one that assumes the CSR subsidies continue and one that assumes they don't. We won't get the rate requests for several weeks, but I expect that we'll see the same kind of difference. At a guess, average rate increase requests will be around 6 percent with CSR and 15 percent without.</p> <p>Just to be crystal clear about this: What this means is that if Republicans stop screwing around with CSR, rate hikes nationwide would probably be in the 5-10 percent range, which is fairly normal. It also shows that the market has started to stabilize after last year's big increases. The only reason we're likely to see another year of big increases is because of a deliberate campaign to undermine the Obamacare market by Republicans.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 15:02:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 333731 at Greg Gianforte Is Surprisingly Sensitive About the CBO's Score of AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Greg Gianforte is running for the House seat in Montana left open when Ryan Zinke was named Secretary of the Interior. It turns out he really, really doesn't like being asked what he thinks of the CBO's score of the Republican health care bill:</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>For more on this bizarre incident, <a href="" target="_blank">read Tim Murphy's story</a>.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 00:27:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 333711 at Chart of the Day: Here's How Many People Lose Insurance Under AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This really needs no explanation:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ahca_vs_obamacare_uninsured_2.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 May 2017 00:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 333706 at Meet New AHCA, Same as Old AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The long awaited <a href="" target="_blank">CBO score of the new Republican health care bill</a> is out! You're excited, aren't you? Without further ado, here's the CBO's key chart showing how much better new AHCA is than old AHCA:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_old_ahca_new_ahca_1.gif" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>As you can see, under old AHCA the number of poor with no insurance rose from 15-20 percent under Obamacare to 30-40 percent under AHCA. But under <em>new</em> AHCA, it's more like 29-39 percent. Hot diggity! Here are a few other numbers:</p> <ul><li>Old AHCA reduced the deficit by $150 billion (over ten years). New AHCA reduces the deficit by $119 billion.</li> <li>Old AHCA took away insurance from 24 million people (by 2026). New AHCA takes it away from 23 million.</li> <li>Old AHCA cut Medicaid by $839 billion (over ten years). New AHCA cuts Medicaid by $834 billion.</li> <li>Under old AHCA, a low-income 64-year-old paid an annual premium of $14,600. Under new AHCA, the premium is $16,100. On the bright side, states that take advantage of new AHCA's permission to gut essential benefits can get that all the way down to $13,600. This compares to $1,700 under Obamacare.</li> </ul><p>Those are some mighty big changes, aren't they? You can certainly understand why the (former) head of the Republican "moderate" caucus worked so hard to revive AHCA and make these adjustments. It's like a whole new bill.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 22:23:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 333691 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is my neighborhood a little after sunrise. Marian loves this picture and insisted that I put it up. I took it several weeks ago, and I can't remember quite why I was up and about at such an ungodly hour.</p> <p>You can't see our house, however. As I recall, the houses on the water cost about a third more than the houses that backed up to the main street, so we bought a house that backed up to the main street. This used to be something of a pain, because the dog people walked their dogs early in the morning right outside our bedroom window, and their dogs would all bark at each other when they passed by. For some reason that stopped a few years ago. Perhaps there was some big community meeting where the dog people and the late risers had it out once and for all. If so, I was blissfully unaware of the whole thing. Whatever the reason, it's pretty quiet these days except when the crows start squawking. I don't know what has them so upset lately, but they've sure been making a racket for the past couple of weeks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_lakeside_morning_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 19:30:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 333491 at Housing Prices Are Booming in Southern California <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em> today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The median home price in Los Angeles County <strong>has reached the all-time high set in 2007,</strong> a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012.</p> <p>....<strong>Orange County surpassed its pre-bust high last year,</strong> and in April set a new record of $675,000. <strong>San Diego County also exceeded its pre-bust peak for the first time last month,</strong> as the median price &mdash; the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less &mdash; climbed 7.4% to $525,000.</p> </blockquote> <p>Inflation has risen 20 percent since 2007, so this means home prices in Southern California haven't really set a record. They're still 20 percent away from that. Here's how CoreLogic scores the current housing market compared to its bubble peak:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_corelogic_housing_2006_2017.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>So things look OK. Loan delinquencies are low, credit scores have remained high, and national housing prices are high but not stratospheric.</p> <p>And yet...Southern California, Arizona, and Florida are all overvalued. That's three out of the four states that led the bubble in 2006. Even Texas, which avoided the last bubble, is looking high. And anecdotally, homes are selling pretty fast around here.</p> <p>This is the kind of thing that makes me think we might be back into a recession by 2018. The expansion is nine years old, unemployment is about as low as it can get, housing prices are increasing at a good clip, auto sales are anemic, and corporate profits are rising steeply. On the other side of the ledger, economic growth and wage growth are pretty modest, and there are no signs of an oil price spike around the corner.</p> <p>I dunno. Things just feel a little fragile right now. But maybe I'm off base.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 May 2017 19:22:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 333601 at