Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Devin Nunes Is Playing a Familiar Republican Game Today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When a big story breaks while I'm at lunch, it can be a real pain in the ass. Instead of following it in real time, I have to rush around later trying to piece together what's happened. On the other hand, sometimes this is a blessing, because by the time I get to the story it's clearer what the real issue is. I think today is an example of the latter.</p> <p>For starters, here's a nutshell summary of what happened. Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, took the stage a few hours ago to declare himself "alarmed." He believes that some of Donald Trump's transition team might have been "incidentally" recorded during surveillance of foreign nationals. He won't say who. Nor will he say who the foreign nationals were, other than "not Russian." And as soon as he was done with his press conference, he trotted off to the White House to brief President Trump.</p> <p>There are several problems here. First, Nunes didn't share any of this with Democrats on the committee. Second, incidental collection is both routine and inevitable in foreign surveillance. Congress has had ample opportunity to rein it in if they wanted to, and they never have. Third, if this was part of a criminal investigation, Nunes may have jeopardized it by going public. Fourth, the chair of the Intelligence Committee isn't supposed to be briefing the president on the status of an investigation <em>into the president's activities</em>.</p> <p>This is plenty to embarrass the great state of California, from which Nunes hails. But for what it's worth, I don't think any of this is the biggest issue. <a href="" target="_blank">This one is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>He claims to have gotten the information personally from an unspecified source, and had not yet met with FBI Director James Comey to review the raw intelligence intercepts he was provided. Why would he go public without first consulting spies to see if what he had was actually worth sharing with the public?</p> </blockquote> <p>Oh. This is one of those deals where the Republican chair of a committee gets some information; releases a tiny snippet that makes Republicans look good; and then eventually is forced to release the entire transcript, which turns out to be nothing at all like the snippet. We've seen this gong show a dozen times in the past few years.</p> <p>My advice: ignore everything Nunes said. He's obviously carrying water for Trump, hoping to drive headlines that vaguely suggest the Obama administration really was listening in on Trump's phone calls. I gather that he's succeeded on that score. For now, though, there's no telling what this raw intel really says. Eventually the intelligence community will provide analysis, and committee Democrats will get to see the transcripts too. Then we'll have a fighting chance of knowing whether it's important or not. In the meantime, everything Nunes said is literally worthless. He's not "probably right" or "probably wrong." He's nothing.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:58:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 328591 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's been raining around these parts. Well, not <em>raining,</em> really. More like sprinkling a bit now and again. Lightly sprinkling. Nevertheless, Hilbert's disgust with this intolerable situation practically oozes out of him, doesn't it?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_hilbert_umbrella.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:29:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 328571 at Is Another Nominee For Labor Secretary About to Spontaneously Combust? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I really don't know if this is a justified line of attack, but hoo boy, this is a headline you <a href="" target="_blank">really don't want to see about a cabinet nominee:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wapo_acosta_deal_sex_minors.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 65px;"></p> <p>Labor Secretary is turning out to be a little like being the drummer for Spinal Tap. The previous one not only had to withdraw under a hail of criticism, <a href="" target="_blank">but he even lost his old job in the process.</a> Now we've got a guy accused of going soft on child rapists. Maybe it's time for Donald Trump to take this whole vetting thing a little more seriously.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:37:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 328562 at James Mattis Is Caught Between a Rock, a Hard Place, and a Wrecking Ball <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>Politico</em> reports that there's been some grumbling on Capitol Hill about <a href="" target="_blank">Defense Secretary James Mattis:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republican lawmakers and senior congressional aides said in recent interviews they&rsquo;re running out of patience with Mattis' staffing decisions, which have <strong>disappointed Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee hoping to see their ideological allies elevated to senior levels in the Defense Department.</strong></p> <p>....The defense secretary has also rankled Republicans with his <strong>efforts to hire veterans of Democratic administrations,</strong> pushing unsuccessfully to bring on Mich&egrave;le Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, as his deputy.</p> <p>....<strong>Defense Department veterans say the White House has put Mattis in a nearly impossible position given that a large swath of the Republican foreign-policy establishment was openly critical of Trump during the campaign.</strong> Some say that has left Mattis with little choice but to turn to Democrats and to those without a political background to fill senior posts.</p> </blockquote> <p>Mich&egrave;le Flournoy! Mattis can't possibly have been naive enough to think that would fly, can he? She's practically an icon of the failed, weak-kneed, won't-say-radical-Islamic-terrorism Democratic national security establishment. Plus she has one of those chi-chi French accents in her name!</p> <p>But I guess I feel a little sorry for Mattis. On the one hand you have Democrats. On the other hand, you have Republican foreign policy pros who almost unanimously disparaged Donald Trump during the campaign. On the third hand you have Republican hacks. Congress hates the first, Trump hates the second, and Mattis won't tolerate the third. Who's left for the poor guy?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:17:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 328552 at AHCA Is the Legislative Broccoli That No One Wants to Eat <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hardline conservatives in the House aren't happy with AHCA, the Republican health care bill. It's just Obamacare with a fresh coat of paint. And they have a point:</p> <ul><li>When they say that AHCA tax credits are the same thing as ACA tax subsidies, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's community rating with a 5:1 age band is the same thing as ACA's community rating with a 3:1 age band, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's continuous coverage provision is the same thing as ACA's individual mandate, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions is the same as ACA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they're right.</li> <li>When they say AHCA's reliance on Medicaid for the very poorest is the same as ACA's reliance on Medicaid for the very poorest, they're right.</li> </ul><p>But moderates aren't too happy either. And they also have a point:</p> <ul><li>When they say that AHCA tax credits are far stingier than ACA tax subsidies, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's community rating with a 5:1 age band punishes old people compared to ACA's community rating with a 3:1 age band, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's continuous coverage provision is a pretty clunky way of implementing ACA's individual mandate, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions is less rigorous than ACA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they're right.</li> <li>When they say that AHCA slashes Medicaid support for the very poorest compared to ACA's Medicaid expansion, they're right.</li> </ul><p>You can see the problem. Hardline conservatives object to Obamacare in principle, but AHCA mostly adopts the same principles. Moderates don't care so much about how it gets done, but they object to voting for a bill that's likely to produce big electoral blowback when people figure out just how crappy it really is compared to Obamacare. There's really nothing here for anyone to like.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>Paul Ryan has tried to tap dance around this, but Andrew Prokop is the latest person to mention that <a href="" target="_blank">Donald Trump isn't even bothering:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When Trump talks health care in public statements and in accounts of his private meetings, he keeps making the following four pretty simple points:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>Obamacare is a disaster that&rsquo;s falling apart.</li> <li>If Republicans don&rsquo;t pass the bill, they&rsquo;ll do badly in the next election.</li> <li>Republicans have to pass the bill so they can move on to tax cuts.</li> <li>He &mdash; President Trump &mdash; and the Republican Party need this &ldquo;win.&rdquo;</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>There is no case for the American Health Care Act itself there. It&rsquo;s all either political or a rote condemnation of Obamacare.</p> </blockquote> <p>I give Trump points for having the right approach here. There's almost nothing about AHCA that would earn it passage based on the merits. There's just too much disagreement. Except about one thing: sticking it to liberals and Obamacare. Appealing to that kind of tribalism is literally the only thing that has a chance of producing enough emotional energy to overcome conservative fear of selling out and moderate fear of voter blowback.</p> <p>It's likely to work, though it's encouraging that AHCA is (probably) going to pass only barely in the House. That was supposed to be the easy part. But if it's a nailbiter in the House, what chance does it have in the Senate? Probably not much, though appeals to tribalism, vindication, and party loyalty are, once again, the only plausible path to victory.</p> <p>Mitch McConnell, savvy old warhorse that he is, knows this perfectly well, and that's why he wants to speed AHCA through the Senate in record time. It's either going to pass or it's not, and either way, time is not on his side. The longer AHCA festers, the more outrage and opposition it will generate. The justification for doing health care before tax reform is already gone, so if it's not going to pass, best to find out quickly and move on to the real business at hand.<sup>2</sup></p> <p><sup>1</sup>Except for AHCA's big tax cuts for the rich, of course. Both moderates and conservatives agree about that.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Tax <strike>cuts for the rich</strike> reform, of course.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:40:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 328522 at This New York Daily News Cover About Trump Is Amazing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The New York Daily News has often hit Trump hard on their front page.</p> <p>A sample:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Hey, <a href="">@realDonaldTrump</a> -- here's our Wednesday front page. <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) <a href="">June 17, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Today's <a href="">@NYDailyNews</a> cover accompanied by an emotional guest column about <a href="">@realDonaldTrump</a> <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) <a href="">December 9, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Tomorrow's front page<br> THIS ISN'T A JOKE ANYMORE: The News says, Trump must end his campaign <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) <a href="">August 10, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">.<a href="">@SarahPalinUSA</a>: <a href="">@RealDonaldTrump</a> will make America great again. <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) <a href="">January 20, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Which brings us to <a href="" target="_blank">today's funny one:</a></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Tomorrow's front:<br><br> DR. EVIL <a href=""></a><br> -Trump plots to buy votes for health care plan<br> -2 beeel-yun dollar scheme screws NYC <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) <a href="">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Mixed Media Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:26:25 +0000 Mother Jones New York Bureau 328517 at It's Time to Meet Rex Tillerson <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Erin McPike was the only journalist allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia. Dan Drezner points out <a href="" target="_blank">this snippet from the profile of Tillerson that she filed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson &ldquo;about the world&rdquo; given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of Exxon Mobil.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, Trump had never met Tillerson before and knew nothing about him. Then, at the end of a single short conversation, he immediately offered him the job. I guess that shows how important Trump considers the Secretary of State. He had already interviewed a bunch of other people, he was tired of the whole thing, and people were on his case for not filling his cabinet. So he chatted with this Tillerson guy who had been sent his way and figured, sure, what the hell. He'll do.</p> <p>McPike also passes along this tidbit:</p> <blockquote> <p>Tillerson is spending his early days in Foggy Bottom &ldquo;whiteboarding,&rdquo; a businessy term for mapping out and remapping out org charts, strategies, and plans. And that&rsquo;s one area where he believes he can make an impact.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe I'm a little hypersensitive about this, but it sets off my alarms. I've always thought that big reorgs were the last refuge of weak business leaders who couldn't think of anything else to do but wanted to look like they were doing CEO-ish things. But even if I'm being too harsh about this, doing it as your first course of action before you even settle in and learn anything about the organization you're heading is <em>definitely</em> dumb. Nor is this the only evidence we have that Tillerson was not a great business leader:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_exxon_stock_2008_2016.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Nine years is a long time to go without any improvement in your stock price.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:05:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 328492 at A Hundredth of a Percent <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Poor Donald. The other kids are always picking on him:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Hmm.<br> "If it's off by one-hundredth of a percent, I end up getting Pinocchios." --Trump <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Michelle Ye Hee Lee (@myhlee) <a href="">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>This is from the guy who repeatedly said the real unemployment rate was 42 percent.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 14:11:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 328487 at Trump Wants to Turn the Skies Black With Coal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump is gonna <a href="" target="_blank">bring back the coal:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Trump is poised in the coming days to announce his plans to dismantle the centerpiece of President Barack Obama&rsquo;s climate change legacy....In an announcement that could come as soon as Thursday or as late as next month, according to people familiar with the White House&rsquo;s planning, Mr. Trump will order [EPA chief Scott Pruitt] to withdraw and rewrite a set of Obama-era regulations known as the Clean Power Plan, according to a draft document obtained by <em>The New York Times</em>.</p> <p>....At a campaign-style rally on Monday in the coal-mining state of Kentucky, Mr. Trump told a cheering audience that he is preparing an executive action that would &ldquo;save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>This is part of Trump's plan to repeal all of Obama's "stupid" climate change policies. "We&rsquo;re not spending money on that anymore," Trump's budget director told reporters. No more funding for climate change science; no more worrying about carbon emissions; no more auto mileage standards; and lots and lots of beautiful, black coal.</p> <p>Except for one thing:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lazard_cost_energy.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>This is from <a href="" target="_blank">Lazard's most recent energy analysis.</a> Coal just isn't competitive anymore. Oh, existing plants will keep going for a while, and maybe Trump's executive orders&mdash;if they ever go into effect&mdash;will keep them in operation longer than otherwise. But there's nothing on the horizon that's likely to reduce the cost of coal, whereas wind and solar continue to drop every year. Gas is also likely to stay cheap for a long time thanks to fracking.</p> <p>None of this is a secret. Everyone knows that Trump isn't going to save any coal jobs, but the coal miners like to hear him say that he will. Based on previous reporting, I gather that even they know it's mostly blather, but they still appreciate it. They give Trump an A for effort.</p> <p>Back in the early part of last year, there was a mini-upwelling of comments from liberals suggesting that Trump might actually be better from a progressive point of view than more conventional conservatives like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. That was never true, and climate change is an example of why. Cruz or Rubio would have both tried to get rid of Obama's Clean Power Plan, but I don't think they would have literally tried to defund every bit of research into climate change or just flatly deny that carbon even mattered. They're too conventional. But with Trump there's always the danger that a combination of his signature ignorance and his rabid vengefulness will motivate him to go nuts. That's what's happening here. On the bright side, maybe his well-known incompetence will also keep him from being effective. But then again, maybe not.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 05:30:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 328481 at The Composite Trump: Some Notes Toward Understanding Our President's Level of Sanity <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bob Somerby has been oddly disparaging about people who say that Donald Trump is a liar. <a href="" target="_blank">Today he explains why:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Is Donald J. Trump a liar? <strong>Or could an accurate diagnosis perhaps be more troubling than that?...Is it possible that Donald J. Trump truly is some version of unhinged/crazy?</strong>...When Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott told Richard Nixon he had to resign, Nixon succumbed to reality. What would Trump do in a situation like that?</p> <p>A mere "liar" would know it was time to go. Do you feel sure that Donald J. Trump would react like that?</p> <p>We don't feel sure of that at all.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's roll the tape. Trump is vain. He's peculiarly unwilling to learn anything new. He feels endlessly persecuted. His attention span can be measured in minutes. He's paranoid over the slightest sign of disloyalty. He is vengeful. He demands constant attention. He makes up preposterous fictions to sustain his worldview and shield his ego from the slings and arrows of reality. He desperately wants to be liked by everyone. He's domineering. His personal relationships are almost entirely transactional. He never laughs. He can't stand people poking fun at him. He's often unable to control his emotional outbursts. And he likes his steaks really well done.</p> <p>Does that mean he's unhinged? I dunno. No single one of these things is debilitating, but what happens when you put them all together? Back when I was a kid there was a super-villain called the Composite Superman. He had the powers of, like, 30 different superheroes, and apparently that was enough to drive him mad:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_composite_superman.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Maybe this is Trump. Being, say, vain and domineering would make him a bit of an asshole, but nothing more. But put all of his bizarre personality traits together, stir in the pressure of being president, and that might be enough to qualify him as detached from consensus reality. Who knows?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:39:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 328471 at GOP Health Care Bill Is Worse Than Just Repealing Obamacare Completely <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at <em>The Upshot</em>, Margot Sanger-Katz catches something that any of us might have noticed if we'd had keen enough eyes. The CBO famously projected that the Republican health care bill would result in <a href="" target="_blank">24 million people losing health insurance:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>But one piece of context has gone little noticed: <strong>The Republican bill would actually result in more people being uninsured than if Obamacare were simply repealed.</strong> Getting rid of the major coverage provisions and regulations of Obamacare would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance, according to another recent C.B.O. report. In other words, 1 million more Americans would have health insurance with a clean repeal than with the Republican replacement plan, according to C.B.O. estimates.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here's what the CBO said in its <a href="" target="_blank">January report.</a> If only the individual mandate, the subsidies, and the Medicaid expansion are repealed, 32 million people will lose insurance by 2026. If, in addition, community rating, minimum coverage requirements, and the preexisting conditions ban are repealed&mdash;in other words, if essentially all of Obamacare is repealed and nothing put in its place&mdash;23 million people will lose insurance by 2026.</p> <p>As it happens, the current Republican bill is similar to Option 1, which means the GOP is making progress. Under their old bill 32 million people would be kicked off the insurance rolls, while the new bill only kicks off 24 million. However, they could do even better by just repealing everything, full stop.</p> <p>Their problem, of course, is that they can't do that. Democrats can filibuster all the additional stuff in Option 2. Nevertheless, Sanger-Katz is right: it's pretty remarkable that the Republican bill actually does more damage than repealing Obamacare and simply doing nothing at all. Not just any political party can pull off something like that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:58:27 +0000 Kevin Drum 328461 at A Senator Just Asked Trump's Supreme Court Nominee A Question That Is Going To Make The Internet Explode <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jeff Flake's son is about to be the most popular person on reddit.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Flake asks Gorsuch question from his teenage son: Would he rather "fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?" Gorsuch is stumped.</p> &mdash; Dan Nowicki (@dannowicki) <a href="">March 21, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses? This is a famous internet question. Hard to answer! Who knows! Large duck would be quite hard to fight! But also 100 mini horses would not be a walk in the park either. In reality, man is a delicate thing. Our flesh is soft. If it weren't for our opposable thumbs we'd have been eaten by venus flytraps long ago. What I'm saying is, no matter which answer you choose, you're going to lose that fight, my friend. Real question is how do you want to die? Both sound bad! Being eaten by a horse-sized duck seems awful, but being attacked and devoured by little duck-sized velociraptors horses? Well, that doesn't seem like the way I want to go out.</p> <p>Anyway, I don't know the answer. Stupid question. Stupid internet. <a href="" target="_blank">But it is a famous question</a>! <a href="" target="_blank">Obama said he'd fight the horse-sized duck</a>.</p> <p>Sen. Flake asked Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch the question on behalf of his son (who must be <em>dying</em> right now).</p> <p>Watch:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Meantime, at the Gorsuch hearing&hellip;<br><br> Sen. Flake Q: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?<a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) <a href="">March 21, 2017</a></blockquote></body></html> Contributor Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:12:48 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 328456 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This little girl looks...worried? Dismayed? Unsure? Maybe all those things. She had just been playing with her little sister and sort of "helped" her into a nearby fountain. Dad was nearby and didn't seem especially concerned about the whole thing, but she doesn't know that yet as she surveys the damage. She is not yet sure what the future holds for her.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_girl_uh_oh.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:38:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 328431 at Well, This Was the World's Easiest Chart to Make <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>CBPP has calculated how much tax money you'll save if Obamacare is repealed. <a href="" target="_blank">Behold:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cbpp_tax_savings_obamacare_repeal_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>You know what really gets me? Even among the millionaires, repeal will only net them about $50,000. That's like finding spare change in the sofa cushions for this crowd. Is clawing back a few nickels and dimes really worth immiserating 20 million people?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 18:55:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 328421 at Ruth Bader Ginsburg Really Is the Most Notorious Supreme Court Justice <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Bruce Bartlett</a> points me to a C-SPAN survey that, among other things, asks people if they can name any Supreme Court justices. <a href="" target="_blank">Here are the results:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cspan_survey_supreme_court_justices.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>That thin orange line that's zero across the entire bottom of the chart is the number of people who named Stephen Breyer. Poor guy. However, it's still possible that he was the first choice of at least a few people. The survey size was 1,032 people, so anything less than five would get rounded down to zero. Breyer might very well have been named by three or four people.</p> <p>Anyway, the two big takeaways are (a) the older you are, the more likely you are to know at least one justice, and (b) Ruth Bader Ginsburg kicks ass. Even the chief justice isn't better known than her. Good job, RBG.</p> <p>Of course, they'd all have better Q scores if they followed the advice of 76 percent of the public and allowed arguments to be televised.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 18:34:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 328416 at I Am Trendier Than the Kardashian Sisters <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I am doing something that really annoys some people: posting occasional videos that always seem to end up on YouTube's trending list. Check out <a href="" target="_blank">yesterday's</a> barroom brawl over a female duck:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_youtube_trending.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>I'm ahead of the Kardashians! And with a mere 888 views, compared to their 311,000. And I'm only slightly behind the giant pizza cone, which has over a million views.</p> <p>Just out of curiosity, does anyone know why this happens? I gather that a lot of people work very hard for a spot on this coveted list, whereas I just upload run-of-the-mill cat and duck videos and do nothing to promote them. Do I get extra credit for all the folks who watch the video on the blog? Or does YouTube just have very discerning taste?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:38:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 328396 at Defending Trump Is Killing Conservatism <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump's tweets are, at various times, ridiculous, offensive, and obviously untrue. Sometimes all three. <a href="" target="_blank">David French doesn't like what this is doing to conservatives:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The tweets, however, are exposing something else in many of Trump&rsquo;s friends and supporters &mdash; <strong>an extremely high tolerance for dishonesty and an oft-enthusiastic willingness to defend sheer nonsense</strong>....I&rsquo;ve watched Christian friends laugh hysterically at Trump&rsquo;s tweets, positively <em>delighted</em> that they cause fits of rage on the other side. I&rsquo;ve watched them excuse falsehoods from reflexively-defensive White House aides, claiming &ldquo;it&rsquo;s just their job&rdquo; to defend the president. Since when is it any person&rsquo;s job to help their boss spew falsehoods into the public domain?</p> <p>....GOP gratitude for beating Hillary Clinton cannot and must not extend into acceptance (or even endorsement) of presidential dishonesty and impulsiveness. Trump isn&rsquo;t just doing damage to himself. <strong>As he lures a movement into excusing his falsehoods, he does damage to the very culture and morality of his base.</strong> The truth still matters, even when fighting Democrats you despise.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure Trump really had to work very hard to bring out these traits among conservatives. Drudge and Limbaugh and Fox News and now <em>Breitbart</em> have been mining this same vein for decades. But we can leave that argument for another time.</p> <p>None of us has a lock on truth, but we should at least try to value the truth as best we can discern it. I would be very happy to see liberals and conservatives alike make at least some modest movements toward that goal. But I'm not holding my breath.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:04:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 328386 at The US Stock Market Looks Pretty Average If You Compare it to the Rest of the World <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports that although US stocks are doing well, <a href="" target="_blank">world stocks are doing even better:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Several major stock indexes that exclude U.S. stocks are on pace to best the S&amp;P 500 for the first time since 2012, according to Morningstar. It&rsquo;s a trend that&rsquo;s playing out in both developed and emerging markets....The Vanguard Total World Stock Index Fund, which owns global stocks, including the U.S., is up 7.5% and is so far on pace to top the S&amp;P 500 by the widest margin since 2009.</p> </blockquote> <p>Sure enough, the S&amp;P 500 (in blue) is doing worse than three different Vanguard ETFs that track non-US stocks:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sp_500_world_2017_03_21.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>A word of warning, though: I had to cherry pick the starting date pretty carefully to get this view. Starting dates that differ by even a few days produce a much tighter cluster. And most of the S&amp;P's performance woes are due solely to a lackluster March.</p> <p>Still, the Vanguard All-World ETF (in green) has been consistently better all along by a fair margin over the S&amp;P 500. Generally speaking, it's fair to say there's nothing special about the American stock market surge over the past few months. It's just riding along with the rest of the world.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:16:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 328381 at If You're on Medicaid, Pray You Don't Live in Dallas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Republicans like to say they want to "reform" Medicaid because it's so terrible for poor people. "More and more doctors just don&rsquo;t take Medicaid," Paul Ryan claimed when he unveiled his health care bill. <a href="" target="_blank">Jordan Weissmann isn't buying it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is true that many doctors do not accept new Medicaid patients, in large part because the program pays physicians relatively little for their services. But new data suggests Ryan is dead wrong when he says this is a growing problem. If anything, it appears that more doctors have started to see Medicaid enrollees in the years since the program expanded under the Affordable Care Act....According to the doctor job placement company Merritt Hawkins, 53 percent of physicians in 15 large cities said they were accepting Medicaid patients in 2017. That's up from 45.7 percent in 2014, when the Medicaid expansion began, and down slightly from 2009, when it was 55 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is all true, but it's worth taking a look at the whole picture. Here's the Merritt Hawkins data <a href="" target="_blank">since 2004 for Medicaid and since 2014 for Medicare:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_doctors_accept_medicaid_medicare.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Among specialties, the number of doctors taking new Medicaid patients has stayed about the same since 2004. However, in family medicine, it's gone down by about ten points. And in both cases, the numbers hover around 55 percent, far lower than Medicare's 80 percent.</p> <p>It's also worth taking a look at the enormous differences from city to city:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_doctors_accept_medicaid_15_cities_1.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>This chart is for big cities. Average acceptance rates are slightly higher in mid-size cities, and the distribution between cities is a little narrower. Overall, Medicaid is a little better off in mid-size cities and towns than it is in big urban areas.</p> <p>Generally speaking, Weissmann is right that doctor acceptance of Medicaid doesn't appear to be a worsening problem. He's also right about Republican crocodile tears: if they want to improve acceptance rates, they need to pay doctors more, not cut funding for Medicaid under the guise of reform. And he's right that Medicaid isn't too different from cheap private plans that significantly restrict doctor choice.</p> <p>At the same time, Medicaid definitely has its problems. Only about half of doctors accept it, and what's worse, this varies dramatically between cities. If you live in Minneapolis or Philadelphia, you're probably OK. But if you live in New York or anywhere in the South, good luck finding a doctor who's nearby and doesn't have huge wait times.</p> <p>We accept this as a nation because, hey, it's just welfare for poor people and they should be grateful for what we give them. And for the most part, they are: people on Medicaid generally give it good marks because it's simple, free, and way better than not having any coverage at all. But the way we treat it is still pretty shameful. The day can't come soon enough when Medicaid, Medicare, and private coverage are finally all merged into a single national system and everyone is guaranteed decent care.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 04:40:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 328376 at Paul Ryan Is In Quite the Pickle <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Apparently the House leadership is going to introduce an amendment to its health care bill tonight. According to <em>Politico</em>, here are its major provisions:</p> <ul><li>Adds $75 billion to reduce premiums for old people. But in an awesome display of legislative farce, the amendment doesn't actually set up the tax credits. It just tells the Senate to do it. So House Republicans have to vote for a pig in a poke.</li> <li>Repeals Obamacare taxes a year earlier.</li> <li>Increases Medicaid reimbursements for the elderly and disabled.</li> <li>Deletes a provision that allows people to transfer unused tax credits into a Health Savings Account. Apparently some activists were afraid this might indirectly allow tax credits to be used for abortions.</li> <li>Allows states to establish work requirements for Medicaid.</li> <li>Allows states to take Medicaid as a block grant, presumably so they have more flexibility to use Medicaid money any way they want and more authority to tighten requirements for the poor.</li> </ul><p>In summary, we have:</p> <ul><li>Two provisions that help the old.</li> <li>Two provisions that screw the poor.</li> <li>Three provisions that increase the deficit.</li> <li>And one provision that somehow caught the attention of anti-abortion paranoids.</li> </ul><p>If that isn't a Republican amendment, I don't know what is. Sadly, it also spends more money, which is enough for many members of the tea-party wing to oppose it. So we're back to Paul Ryan's usual conundrum: Half of Republicans are worried about his bill being disastrously stingy, and want to spend more money to guarantee higher benefits. The other half are worried that the bill continues to spend any money at all, and want to cut its already meager benefits further in order to reduce spending even more.</p> <p>How do you reconcile this? By telling everyone, "This is your one chance to repeal Obamacare." I guess that might do it, though it's hard to say for sure. The vote is coming on Thursday, and plenty of people think Ryan doesn't have the numbers to pass it. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 21 Mar 2017 01:44:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 328366 at A Question For Neil Gorsuch—And Every Other Conservative <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Neil Gorsuch is unlikely to give away anything concrete in his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, so Ramesh Ponnuru has a list of philosophical concerns for him to address. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's question #1:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Supreme Court in its early decades rarely set aside federal laws. It first did so in 1803, and went another 54 years before doing it again. So at least one of the following three things would seem to be true. Either the federal government now enacts a lot more unconstitutional laws; or the justices gained a better understanding of their jobs as the Founding receded into history; <strong>or the Court has seized more and more power from the other branches.</strong> Which explanation makes the most sense?</p> </blockquote> <p>I assume that the "correct" answer is the third one, though Ponnuru doesn't give away his own opinion. But this is a very salient question. In 2012, conservatives urged the Supreme Court to set aside Obamacare even though:</p> <ul><li>Everybody agreed that health care was a large and indispensable part of interstate commerce. Everybody also agreed that the Constitution grants supreme and extremely broad authority over interstate commerce to the federal government.</li> <li>Obamacare was unquestionably the kind of political issue that's assigned to Congress and the executive by the Constitution.</li> <li>It was passed properly and signed into law after lengthy deliberation and careful consideration.</li> <li>A string of precedent more than 60 years old suggested Obamacare's provisions were well within Congress's commerce and taxing powers.</li> <li>It required people to take certain actions and it levied a penalty for not not following the law, something Congress has done many times before without incident.</li> </ul><p>The counterargument was literally invented out of whole cloth for the sole purpose of being applied to Obamacare: namely that Congress can penalize <em>actions</em>, but not <em>inactions</em>. Antonin Scalia made this famous as the "broccoli test." In two centuries, no one had argued this before. The Supreme Court had never breathed so much as a word about this distinction.</p> <p>But conservatives were eager for the Supreme Court to take this hairsplitting argument and apply it not to a small and modest law as a future warning for lawmakers, but to perhaps the most consequential law enacted in the past half century. No member of Congress could possibly have imagined that this distinction between action and inaction would matter, since liberals and conservatives alike had proposed health care mandates before and no one had suggested it might be a problem.</p> <p>So I agree with Ponnuru. I would very much like to hear what Gorsuch thinks about how freely the Supreme Court should set aside federal law. Should bigger laws require bigger reasons? Should it matter whether the Supreme Court has provided any guidance before? Should it matter how new and creative the argument is for overturning a law? Should Congress be given more deference in some areas than others? Which ones? Should it matter how big the consequence is of violating a law? These all sound like very interesting questions to me.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Mar 2017 23:08:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 328346 at Lunchtime Video <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Somebody asked for more ducks, so here they are. But I have two questions.</p> <p>First, what are these ducks fighting over? It can't be a crumb of bread somebody threw to them. Maybe a fish? Do ducks eat fish? Or are they just ganging up on some poor duck who violated duck protocol? There's definitely a duck at the beginning who's getting pretty abused, but there seems to be more going on than just that.</p> <p>Second, is this as good as resolution gets on YouTube? It seems like I've seen better. But this is HD video shot in MPEG 4, and I think I have all the settings correct. Is there anything more I can do?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> We have answers!</p> <ol><li>It's spring, when a young duck's fancy turns to thoughts of love. Among mallards, this is apparently a bit of mild foreplay. Be glad you're not a female duck.</li> <li>I'm an idiot. The video was in high res, but I had it set to display on my computer at normal res. Once I chose the high-res setting, everything was fine.</li> </ol><p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src=";hd=1" style="margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Mar 2017 19:16:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 328311 at Quote of the Day: Paul Ryan Hears the Old, But Not the Poor <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Paul Ryan says he's heard the pleas of older voters, <a href="" target="_blank">who say that his health care bill will hurt them badly:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;We believe we should have even more assistance &mdash; and that&rsquo;s one of the things we&rsquo;re looking at &mdash; for that person in their 50s and 60s because they experience higher health care costs," the Wisconsin Republican told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."</p> <p>Ryan's comments came in the wake of a Congressional Budget Office analysis showing that older people could pay higher premiums under the GOP bill. Ryan expressed skepticism about the CBO analysis but said his leadership team is looking at more ways to help older people under the new plan.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's funny, isn't it? His health care bill would also decimate the poor, but apparently Ryan hasn't heard their pleas. I wonder why?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:24:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 328296 at Here's an Easy Way to Compare Obamacare and AHCA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Who would get hurt by the Republican health care plan? The short answer is: pretty much everybody. But Andrew Sprung suggests a more precise way of looking at it, which he calls <a href="" target="_blank">Total Subsidized Share of Costs, or TSS.</a></p> <p>It's a pretty simple concept. If, say, the government pays half your health care premium, and your policy covers half your medical expenses, then your TSS is the product of those two things: one quarter. The other three-quarters you have to pay yourself. If (more realistically), Obamacare pays 85 percent of your premium, and the policy covers 80 percent of your costs (i.e., it has an "actuarial value" of 80 percent), then your TSS is 68 percent and you pay the other 32 percent. Since CBO calculated actuarial values for the Republican bill, we can calculate TSS for both Obamacare and AHCA.</p> <p>My purpose on earth is to put other people's numbers into colorful charts, so let's do that. But first, I happen to think that a better measure to look at is not how much is subsidized, but how much the covered person has to pay. So instead of TSS, let's look at the inverse: Total Personal Share of Costs, or TPS.<sup>1</sup> Here's my TPS report for various income levels:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tps_aca_ahca_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>If your income is $34,000 or less, Obamacare is a better deal for everyone. At higher income levels, Obamacare is still better for older people but AHCA is better for young people.</p> <p>Of course, someone earning $40,000 or more is likely to have a job that provides health insurance, and therefore doesn't need either Obamacare or AHCA anyway. For nearly all the people who actually need individual health insurance in the first place, the Republican plan is a disaster. Poor people will all pay at least 60 percent of their health care costs, and older people will pay more than 80 percent.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Astute readers will recognize another reason that I like the acronym TPS.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:20:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 328291 at In Shocker, FBI and NSA Testify That Trump Is Full of Shit <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today's big event is the testimony before Congress of FBI director James Comey and NSA chief Mike Rogers. Everyone seems very excited about this except me. <a href="" target="_blank">Let's listen in:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, <strong>is investigating the Russian government&rsquo;s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,</strong>&rdquo; [Comey] continued, adding that the investigation included looking at whether associates of Mr. Trump were in contact with Russian officials, and colluded with them.</p> <p>....Mr. Comey told the House intelligence committee, <strong>&ldquo;We have no information to support&rdquo; President Trump&rsquo;s assertion on Twitter that President Barack Obama tapped Trump Tower.</strong></p> <p>....The N.S.A. chief, Admiral Rogers, weighed in as well, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Mr. Trump. That refuted another claim made by the White House....He then <strong>explicitly denied having any indication that Mr. Trump was wiretapped by British intelligence at the request of Mr. Obama.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So the FBI <em>is</em> investigating possible ties between Russia and some of Trump's campaign aides, but Obama <em>didn't</em> order any kind of wiretap or surveillance of Trump Tower. We already knew this, right?</p> <p>Now, none of this means there was any Trump-Russia collusion, nor that there was no surveillance of Trump. The first is still under review, and the second could have been ordered as part of a criminal investigation that Obama had nothing to do with. But it does mean, essentially, that Trump's March 4 tweets were just made-up rubbish based on a <em>Breitbart</em> story that someone stuffed into his pile of reading material. Of course, we already knew that too, didn't we?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:01:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 328286 at