Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Friday Cat Blogging - 6 May 2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday was a tough day: my computer went nuts and wouldn't let me get any work done. The symptoms were bizarre: I couldn't open any menus. They'd just flash on the screen and disappear. I couldn't open apps. I couldn't close apps. I could highlight text, but I couldn't copy or paste it. I couldn't even open the Start menu to reboot the machine. What the hell is going on with Windows 10?</p> <p>Perhaps you can already figure out how this story ends? It turns out that Windows is fine. I'm sorry for doubting you, Microsoft. The bug turned out to be neither software nor firmware, but catware. Hilbert had his paw hanging out of the pod and was pressing the Escape key. When I removed his paw, everything worked fine again.</p> <p>Really, the things we cat <strike>owners</strike> staffers put up with is astounding.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2016_05_06.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 19:05:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 303501 at Quote of the Day: Debt? What Debt? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Donald Trump,</a> on his plans to run up the deficit in order to rebuild infrastructure:</p> <blockquote> <p>I&rsquo;ve borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts. I&rsquo;ve done very well with debt....Now we&rsquo;re in a different situation with the country, <strong>but I would borrow knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.</strong> And if the economy was good it was good, so therefore, you can&rsquo;t lose.</p> </blockquote> <p>There you have it. If Trump crashes the economy, he'll just default on our sovereign debt. Easy peasy. Why is everyone so worried?</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> This is a pretty good example of the Trump Dilemma&trade;. Do you ignore this kind of desperate plea for attention? Or do you write a long, earnest piece about just why it's a very bad idea indeed? You can hardly ignore it since it's now coming from the Republican Party's presidential nominee. But giving it oxygen just gives Trump the free media he was angling for in the first place. In this case, I'm semi-ignoring it. Josh Marshall takes the opposite tack <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> Decisions, decisions.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 18:40:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 303496 at Here's How the White House Shapes Foreign Affairs Coverage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In the <em>New York Times Magazine</em> this week, David Samuels has a long profile of Ben Rhodes, the chief messaging guru for foreign affairs in the White House. Generally speaking, Rhodes seems like my kind of guy, but what's most interesting <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_rhodes_obama.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">about the profile isn't really Rhodes himself, but his take on modern journalism. <a href="" target="_blank">For example:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is hard for many to absorb the true magnitude of the change in the news business &mdash; 40 percent of newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs over the past decade....Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. &ldquo;All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Now they don&rsquo;t. They call us to explain to them what&rsquo;s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. <strong>The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That&rsquo;s a sea change. They literally know nothing.</strong>&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Or this on how to spin the news:</p> <blockquote> <p>Ned Price, Rhodes&rsquo;s assistant, gave me a primer on how it&rsquo;s done. The easiest way for the White House to shape the news, he explained, is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps. &ldquo;But then there are sort of these force multipliers,&rdquo; he said, adding, &ldquo;We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people....And I&rsquo;ll give them some color,&rdquo; Price continued, <strong>&ldquo;and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they&rsquo;ll be putting this message out on their own.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>....In a world where experienced reporters competed for scoops and where carrying water for the White House was a cause for shame, no matter which party was in power, it was much harder to sustain a &ldquo;narrative&rdquo; over any serious period of time. Now the most effectively weaponized 140-character idea or quote will almost always carry the day, <strong>and it is very difficult for even good reporters to necessarily know where the spin is coming from or why.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Or this:</p> <blockquote> <p>[Rhodes] developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign-policy establishment, including editors and reporters at <em>The New York Times</em>, <em>The Washington Post</em>, <em>The New Yorker</em> and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour. If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes&rsquo;s time in the White House. <strong>He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.</strong></p> <p>....Barack Obama is not a standard-issue liberal Democrat. <strong>He openly shares Rhodes&rsquo;s contempt for the groupthink of the American foreign-policy establishment and its hangers-on in the press.</strong> Yet one problem with the new script that Obama and Rhodes have written is that the Blob may have finally caught on.</p> </blockquote> <p>The Blob "catching on" means that a lot of members of the foreign policy establishment have decided that maybe they don't like Obama so much after all. He's just too unwilling to send in the military when there's a problem somewhere. At least, that seems like their big complaint to me.</p> <p>Anyway, the whole thing is worth a read&mdash;not so much for what it says about Rhodes or Obama, but for what it says about the news business circa 2016. In a way, nothing has changed: presidents always try to shape the news, and they use whatever tools are at hand in their particular era. But in another way, everything has changed. It's not just the tools that have changed this time, it's the entire press corps.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 16:43:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 303476 at Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in April <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The American economy <a href="" target="_blank">added 160,000 new jobs last month,</a> 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a sluggish 70,000 jobs. The number of workers in the labor force declined, but the number of unemployed also declined, which means the headline unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.0 percent. Public sector employment decreased by 11,000 jobs.</p> <p>Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 2.9 percent compared to last month, which is only slightly higher than the rate of inflation. However, weekly hours worked were up, which means weekly earnings increased at a healthy annual rate of 6.7 percent.</p> <p>Bottom line: not horrible but nothing to write home about. The economy is growing, but overall we seem to remain mired in a great stagnation.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_net_jobs_april_2016.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 16:12:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 303471 at Pivoting to the Center for the General Election Is Easy! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's a truism of American politics that candidates run to the left or right during primaries but then "pivot" toward the center for the general election. And the quality of the pivot is a topic of endless discussion. It has to be done smoothly and delicately. Voters won't put up with a brazen flip-flop.</p> <p>Or will they? Here is the <em>Washington Post</em> on <a href="" target="_blank">Donald Trump's pivot:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The New York real estate tycoon, who frequently boasted throughout the primary that he was financing his campaign, is setting up a national fundraising operation and taking a hands-off posture toward super PACs.</p> <p>He is expressing openness to raising the minimum wage, a move he previously opposed, saying on CNN this week, &ldquo;I mean, you have to have something that you can live on.&rdquo;</p> <p>And Trump is backing away from a tax plan he rolled out last fall that would give major cuts to the rich. &ldquo;I am not necessarily a huge fan of that,&rdquo; he told CNBC. &ldquo;I am so much more into the middle class, who have just been absolutely forgotten in our country.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Trump has been rewriting the rules for the past year, so maybe this rule is going by the wayside as well. It will be especially easy for Trump since (a) he doesn't have an ideological fan base that cares much about his positions, and (b) the press will just shrug and say it's Trump being Trump. Can you imagine what would happen if Hillary Clinton tried to pull a stunt like this?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 15:49:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 303466 at Americans Aren't Really Very Angry — Except Toward Uncle Sam <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Are voters really angry this year? <a href="" target="_blank">The Associated Press says no:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>All that talk of an angry America?</p> <p>An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that most Americans are happy with their friends and family, feel good about their finances and are more or less content at work. <strong>It&rsquo;s government, particularly the federal government, that&rsquo;s making them see red.</strong></p> <img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ap_anger.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 75px;"></blockquote> <p>Hmmm. People are generally pretty happy with their finances and their personal lives, but they're really pissed off at the federal government. We've seen this dynamic before. Here's a long-term look at <a href="" target="_blank">polling data from the <em>Washington Post</em>:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_anger_federal_government.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 25px;"></p> <p>Anger toward the federal government has been on a steady upward trend ever since 2003 (though voters in 2016 are less angry than they were in 2014). And this trend is notably unaffected by economic conditions. Anger didn't spike during the 2000 dotcom bust and it didn't spike during the 2008 crash. So what's going on? The obvious culprits are:</p> <ul><li>Fox News and the rest of the conservative outrage machine</li> <li>The Iraq war, which explains why anger started to rise in 2003</li> <li>The tea party, which explains the spike in 2010</li> <li>The election of Barack Obama, which would explain a spike beginning around 2008 (there's no data between 2004-2010)</li> </ul><p>Take your pick. Maybe it's a combination of things. But the bottom line seems fairly simple: there's voluminous data suggesting that, in general, Americans are fairly happy with their personal finances and fairly happy with their lives in general. As happy as they've ever been, anyway. But they're pretty pissed off at the federal government. If there's anything interesting to be said about voter anger, this is the puzzle to focus on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 15:18:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 303456 at Driverless Taxis By 2017? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest on the <a href="" target="_blank">driverless car front:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. within a year will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads, a move central to the companies&rsquo; joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is all in addition to a whole bunch of companies claiming they'll have <a href="" target="_blank">fully autonomous vehicles commercially available by 2020.</a> If this really happens, it's impressive as hell. I'm a longtime optimist on artificial intelligence, but even I figured it would take until 2025 for truly driverless cars to become a reality. Will I have to pull in my my prediction of 2040 for full-on strong AI too? Maybe. The next few decades are going to be very interesting indeed.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 May 2016 02:21:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 303436 at "Captain America: Civil War" Is a Big Dumb Movie You Will Enjoy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When last we saw our friends from Marvel, they were doing&hellip;something. What was the last film? <em>Ant-Man</em>? I don't really remember much about <em>Ant-Man</em>, except that Paul Rudd fought the drug-addled congressman from the first season of <em>House of Cards.</em></p> <p>When last we <em>memorably</em> saw our friends from Marvel, they were&hellip;fighting James Spader&hellip;in a fictional European country. Tony Stark wanted to help people so he built a robot (James Spader) to protect people. But then the robot decided to kill people, <em>like they do</em>, and blah blah blah, eventually the Avengers beat James Spader but not without a lot of people in this fictional European country dying.</p> <p>So here we are now in a bold new world, post-James Spader rampage.</p> <p><em>Captain America: Civil War.</em></p> <p>Thor and the Hulk and some other pals seem to be off somewhere, but the rest of the team is up to their old tricks. In the beginning of C<em>aptain America: Civil War</em>, the eponymous main superhero leads what could be called "The Avengers: The New Class," including Wanda Maximoff (the Olsen sister who has witch powers), The Vision (aka Paul Bettany's sex robot), and Captain America's buddy Falcon (Anthony Mackie), as they head to Africa to kill some Hydra member of no particular importance. One thing leads to another, and civilians die.</p> <p>Dammit! Not again, Avengers!</p> <p>The world will not stand for this. (Sad truth: The only time when the world won't stand for civilian death is when it comes to superhero films.)</p> <p>So leaders of the world get together and pass a treaty to <strike>combat climate change</strike> incorporate the Avengers into some sort of United Nations command structure.</p> <p>Captain America is not thrilled with this idea because Captain America doesn't need some bureaucrat in Brussels to tell him when to right a wrong. (Also, and coincidentally, his best friend&mdash;the Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, being played by Sebastian Stan&mdash;is a fugitive superassassin on the run.) Tony Stark, having been chastened by the events of the second <em>Avengers</em> film&mdash;it was him, after all, who built James Spader and was ultimately responsible for the deaths of all those fictional Europeans&mdash;sides with the pro-regulation (anti-Captain America) team. Voila, <em>tension</em>. Plus, not only does Tony Stark not wear his Iron Man suit very often, he doesn't even tie up the tie on his normal suit all the way. It just sort of sits there, loosened.</p> <p>Then when the powers of the world gather to sign the "Sit on it, Captain America" act, there is&mdash;surprise!&mdash;a terrorist attack. In superhero movies, world leaders are not allowed to gather without there being a terrorist attack. (Every superhero film is the way a young Dick Cheney imagined every prom night would be: Everyone's very attractive and there's a terror attack.) One of the world leaders who perishes is the King of Wakanda. Chadwick Boseman, as the slain king's son vows to avenge his father.</p> <p><em><a href="" target="_blank">Dun dun.</a></em></p> <p>So who did the blowing up? Captain America's buddy the Winter Soldier of course! <em>Or was it?</em> The law enforcement community seems to think so, but Captain America doesn't care what the law enforcement community thinks. He catches up to Sebastian Stan and Sebastian Stan is like "no way did I do that" and Captain America is like "I believe you. You were in <em>Gossip Girl.</em>"</p> <p>Imagine a lot more of this. For a pretty long time. Eventually the stage is set for the titular civil war wherein Tony Stark, War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Panther, Vision, Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Spiderman (Tom Hollander) try to stop the fugitives&mdash;Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)&mdash;from&hellip;trying to prove Sebastian Stan's innocence, I think? It isn't really clear.</p> <p>Throughout this film, people often say to Captain America, "Should we tell Tony Stark about this new and revealing information?" And Captain America says, "That neo-liberal shill wouldn't understand." Everything could be sorted out if they just talked, and there's a perfect place to do so in the second act. But of course, this is a <em>Captain America </em>movie, and Captain America is the star and he gets to be right despite obviously not being right. The film goes to great lengths to make Captain America accidentally correct about a lot of things. The choices Captain America makes when he is making choices are bad choices but the film flips over itself to justify him by sheer luck. In this film, Captain America fails upward.</p> <p>My main problem with this movie: Captain America is sort of just a selfish hypocrite. Also, boring. And he isn't even super. (He is strong, though.) And he could just be shot with a bullet. (There are a bunch of times in this movie when he loses his shield.) His whole team, in fact, save the Olsen twin who is a Witch, could just be shot to death by any old infantry unit.</p> <p>Also, with so many superheroes in this movie, writers clearly had to find reasons to peel them off. Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) just sort of shrugs and walks away after one fight. I have no idea where Vision went after the second act. As far as I can tell, no explanation is made for why he is gone. Falcon, War Machine, Spiderman, Ant-man, and Hawkeye are all given some nonsense dialogue to deliver about why they are crapping out, but Vision just sort of ghosts out. Of course, they have to peel off so we can have Tony Stark fight Captain America.</p> <p>No surprise: They are all being tricked into fighting each other by some shady German character (the dude who played the other race car driver in the 2013 film <em>Rush</em>) with dubious motives, but that's because it doesn't matter. Here's the most surprising thing: It isn't a bad film! It's enjoyable, even. When the Avengers actually fight, it's fun! The movie's themes and those of the infamously brooding <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Sadness</em></a> seem somewhat interchangeable, but at least <em>Captain America: Civil War</em> rolls them out with Marvel's trademark humor.</p> <p>Best of all: Spiderman and Black Panther! I'm looking forward to seeing their movies!</p> <p>In short: If you like fun dumb blockbusters, you will like this fun dumb blockbuster.</p></body></html> Contributor Film and TV Ben's Thoughts Fri, 06 May 2016 01:26:03 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 303431 at Everyone Is Getting Today's Trump Tweet Totally Wrong <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I think everyone is badly misinterpreting this tweet from Donald Trump:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Happy <a href="">#CincoDeMayo</a>! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics! <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">May 5, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> </blockquote> <p>This is not an awkward and embarrassing outreach to Hispanics. It's not aimed at Hispanics at all. It's aimed at white people. This is the kind of thing that Trump's base&mdash;the white working class&mdash;views as a perfectly sincere appreciation of Mexican culture. It says, "Yes, I want a wall, and yes, I want to deport all the illegal immigrants in the country. But that doesn't mean I hate Mexicans." It's basically an affirmation to Trump's voters that they aren't racists.</p> <p>Plus it gets a ton of attention, and it also induces loads of mockery from overeducated PC liberals who don't understand a compliment when they see one. It's really a genius tweet.</p> <p>Does everyone understand now? Trump is playing this game at a higher level than most of his critics.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 23:05:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 303421 at Chart of the Day: Americans Are Pretty Upbeat About the Job Market <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>How do Americans feel about the economy? <a href="" target="_blank">Here is Pew Research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Americans are now more positive about the job opportunities available to them than they have been since the economic meltdown....<strong>Today&rsquo;s more upbeat views rank among some of the best assessments of the job market in Pew Research Center surveys dating back 15 years.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>There's no significant partisan difference in views of the job market. However, older, poorer, and less-educated folks all report less optimism about employment than younger, richer, and better-educated respondents.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_jobs_available.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 5px 100px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 21:02:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 303411 at Here's Why OxyContin Is So Damn Addictive <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Why has OxyContin become the poster child for opioid abuse? The <em>LA Times</em> has a long investigative piece today which suggests that a big part of the blame should be laid at the feet of Purdue Pharma, the makers of the drug. When OxyContin was launched, it was billed as a painkiller that would last 12 hours&mdash;longer than morphine and other opioids. That 12-hour dosing schedule was critical to its success. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_oxycontin_size.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Without it, Oxy didn't have much benefit. Unfortunately, it turned out that it <a href="" target="_blank">wore off sooner for a lot of people:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Experts said that when there are gaps in the effect of a narcotic like OxyContin, patients can suffer body aches, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal. When the agony is relieved by the next dose, it creates a cycle of pain and euphoria that fosters addiction, they said.</p> <p><strong>OxyContin taken at 12-hour intervals could be &ldquo;the perfect recipe for addiction,&rdquo;</strong> said Theodore J. Cicero, a neuropharmacologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a leading researcher on how opioids affect the brain.</p> <p>Patients in whom the drug doesn&rsquo;t last 12 hours can suffer both a return of their underlying pain and &ldquo;the beginning stages of acute withdrawal,&rdquo; Cicero said. &ldquo;That becomes a very powerful motivator for people to take more drugs.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>But Purdue refused to accept shorter dosing schedules, since that would eliminate its strongest competitive advantage. Instead, they launched a blitz aimed at doctors, telling them to stick with the 12-hour dosing but to prescribe larger amounts. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't, and when it didn't it increased the chances of addiction:</p> <blockquote> <p>In the real world practice of medicine, some doctors turned away from OxyContin entirely. San Francisco public health clinics stopped dispensing the painkiller in 2005, based in part on feedback from patients who said it wore off after eight hours. <strong>The clinics switched to generic morphine, which has a similar duration and costs a lot less.</strong></p> <p>&ldquo;What I had come to see was the lack of evidence that it was any better than morphine,&rdquo; Dr. Mitchell Katz, then head of the San Francisco public health department, said in an interview.</p> </blockquote> <p>The whole piece is worth a read. Purdue has known from the start that 12-hour dosing didn't work for a significant number of patients, but they relentlessly focused their marketing in that direction anyway. Why? Because without it, Oxy wouldn't be a moneymaker. As for the danger this posed, that was mostly suppressed by keeping documents under seal in court cases "in order to protect trade secrets." Welcome to the American pharmaceutical industry.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 19:23:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 303386 at We Thought We Could Not Be Shocked by Donald Trump. Then He Tweeted This. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today is Cinco de Mayo, and here's what presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump tweeted to celebrate the occasion:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Happy <a href="">#CincoDeMayo</a>! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics! <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">May 5, 2016</a></blockquote> <p>Stop tweeting.&nbsp;</p> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> MoJo 2016 Elections Immigration International Thu, 05 May 2016 19:15:56 +0000 Miles E. Johnson 303381 at I Have a Terrific Deal On Mandatory Arbitration Clauses For You <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The CFPB has proposed a <a href="" target="_blank">new rule</a> that would prevent big companies from forcing their customers to accept mandatory arbitration in place of an actual trial in an actual court. <a href="" target="_blank">Iain Murray is unhappy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Like most of the CFPB&rsquo;s rules, this may sound good at first hearing. In fact, it will be a disaster for the average consumer who enters into contracts like credit-card or mobile-phone service agreements....<strong>The inefficiency of the legal system has to be budgeted for, and so without arbitration, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_arbitration.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">fees will go up and some people just won&rsquo;t be offered a service at all.</strong></p> <p>....Those won&rsquo;t be the only ways the consumer will suffer&nbsp;&mdash; those who are currently &ldquo;denied their day in court&rdquo; will as well. Because arbitration services are much cheaper, companies that use them generally pay all the fees for the consumer as well as their own. That&rsquo;s not the case in court, where the consumer bears a considerable cost. If you are lucky enough to get a contract after this rule goes into effect, you&rsquo;d better budget something for your day in court, because you&rsquo;re going to have to lawyer up. Of course, there&rsquo;s always the chance that you&rsquo;ll be asked to participate in a class action lawsuit, which this rule is primarily designed to facilitate.</p> </blockquote> <p>Fair enough. As it turns out, corporations all offered their services quite widely back in the dark ages before arbitration clauses, but it's true that arbitration does indeed have some benefits. Still, we're all free marketeers around here who believe in contracts freely arrived at without undue coercion. Right? So here's what I propose: my bank and my cell phone company should offer me the choice of accepting arbitration or not when I first sign up. If I accept, they offer me a discount. The CFPB's only role will be to ensure that the discount is reasonably in line with the actual cost savings from arbitration. Deal?</p> <p>No? I guess there must be something else going on. I wonder what?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 16:30:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 303366 at Trump Prepares to Tap His "Expansive Personal Rolodex" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This comes as no surprise, but...</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Facing a prospective tab of more than $1 billion to finance a general-election run for the White House, <strong>Donald Trump reversed course Wednesday and said he would actively raise money</strong> to ensure his campaign has the resources to compete with Hillary Clinton&rsquo;s fundraising juggernaut....&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll be putting up money, but won&rsquo;t be completely self-funding,&rdquo; the presumptive Republican nominee said in an interview Wednesday....<strong>The campaign will tap his expansive personal Rolodex</strong> and a new base of supporters who aren&rsquo;t on party rolls, two Trump advisers said.</p> <p>The new plan represents a shift for Mr. Trump, who has for months portrayed his Republican opponents as &ldquo;puppets&rdquo; for relying on super PACs and taking contributions from wealthy donors that he said came with strings attached.</p> </blockquote> <p>Needless to say, this about-face will have no effect. Trump has long made it clear that he doesn't really mean anything he says, and his supporters are OK with this. If he attacks you, it's only because he wants to win. He'll take it back once you drop out. If he offends an important constituency on a policy issue, he explains that he was just providing "an answer." Nobody should have taken it seriously. If he's caught in an outright lie, he simply denies ever having made the offending statement&mdash;even if he made it just yesterday and even if it's on tape.</p> <p>This is all fine. His supporters accept that this kind of behavior is not just OK, but positively admirable. After all, once he wins he's going to deploy this kind of combat on their behalf. Right?</p> <p>You betcha.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 15:50:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 303361 at Will the 2016 Campaign Be All About Race? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Greg Sargent says that Donald Trump <a href="" target="_blank">is in for a rough time:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The general election will differ from the primaries in an important sense: <strong>Unlike Republicans, Democrats will not be constrained from brutally unmasking the truly wretched nature of his racial appeals.</strong> Trump&rsquo;s GOP rivals had to treat his xenophobia, bigotry, and demagoguery with kid gloves, because many Republican voters agreed with his vows to ban Muslims and carry out mass deportations. But the broader general electorate does not agree with those things. Indeed, many voters that populate key general election constituencies are likely horrified by them. As a result, Democrats will be able to prosecute Trump mercilessly in ways his GOP rivals simply could not &mdash; with a relentless, non-diluted, non-euphemistic focus on his white nationalism.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm a little less sure about this. Highlighting Trump's racial appeals will help Hillary among liberals, but those are votes she's going to get anyway. The question is whether it will help her among centrist folks who are undecided, and I'm less sure about that. I suppose we'd need some polling data to get a clearer picture of this, but I suspect there are plenty of people in the middle who favor building a wall; are suspicious of Muslim immigrants; and really hate it when support for those things is called racist. Hillary doesn't have to tread as lightly as Trump's Republican opponents, but she might still have to be careful on this score.</p> <p>Luckily, there are plenty of other avenues to attack Trump. Unluckily, there are plenty of avenues for Trump to attack Hillary too. I expect a pretty brutal campaign. Here's the opening salvo:</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="254" src="" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 90px;" width="450"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 15:15:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 303356 at Republicans Have a Tough Six Months Ahead of Them <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Every living Republican president has decided <a href="" target="_blank">not to endorse Donald Trump:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Bush 41, who enthusiastically endorsed every Republican nominee for the last five election cycles, will stay out of the campaign process this time. He does not have plans to endorse presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, spokesman Jim McGrath told <em>The Texas Tribune</em>.</p> <p>....Bush 43, meanwhile, "does not plan to participate in or comment on the presidential campaign," according to his personal aide, Freddy Ford.</p> </blockquote> <p>I agree that Republicans partly brought Trump on themselves. But only partly. They were hoping for an ideological extremist, and before this year it wasn't obvious either to them or to liberal critics that they might instead get a demagogic populist extremist. All of us assumed that eventually Republicans would nominate a hardcore conservative, and we were all taken by surprise when Trump stepped in instead.</p> <p>So the truth is that I feel sorry for them. A lot of conservatives have an agonizing choice to make now: either support Trump or, effectively, support Hillary Clinton, a candidate they loathe. If I had a similar choice&mdash;say, between supporting a liberal Trump or supporting Ted Cruz&mdash;what would I do? I'd like to think I'd bite the bullet and support Cruz. But honestly? I don't know. Serious Republicans have a helluva rough six months ahead of them.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 04:39:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 303341 at Here's How Flint's Lead Disaster Is Likely to Affect Its Children <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I've been saying for a while that (a) the elevated lead levels in Flint were fairly moderate and probably didn't cause a huge amount of damage, and (b) the water is now safe to drink. A reader wants me to put my money where my mouth is:</p> <blockquote> <blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">@kdrum</a> How about backing up your statements with references? Where are the studies? Who are the scientists?</p> &mdash; David Lewis (@climateguy) <a href="">May 5, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></blockquote> </blockquote> <p>OK. The exact data I'd like to have doesn't seem to be available, but I can provide a rough sense of the landscape. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of children in Flint with <em>elevated blood lead levels</em> (above 5 m/d) <a href="" target="_blank">rose from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent.</a> If you <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_flint_lead_levels_1998_2016_3.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">plot this out, it suggests that the <em>average increase in BLL</em> was somewhere between 0.2 m/d and 1 m/d. Increases in BLL are approximately associated with a loss of <a href="" target="_blank">one IQ point per m/d,</a> so this corresponds to an average loss of perhaps half an IQ point. However, most studies are based on children with elevated BLLs throughout their childhood. The elevated blood levels in Flint only lasted for about 18 months, which suggests that even half an IQ point is probably high. It's more like a quarter or a third of an IQ point. That's not even measurable.</p> <p>Now, this is cocktail-napkin stuff, and I'm not an expert. All I'm trying to do is give you a rough idea of the magnitude of the problem. Anyone who has better data and knows how to analyze it more rigorously is welcome to set me straight if I've made a mistake.</p> <p>That said, it's unlikely that I'm off by a lot. What happened in Flint was a horrible tragedy, but it's unlikely to have a major cognitive impact on the city's children. However, this is on average. It <em>could</em> have a major impact on individual children, and this is why parents should have their kids tested for lead exposure. This is doubly true in areas of Flint that are known to have had especially high water lead levels.</p> <p>As for the question about drinking the water today, that's easier to answer: thousands of residential tests confirm that lead levels in Flint's water are <a href="" target="_blank">below the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion.</a> What's more, blood testing confirms that elevated BLLs have returned to their 2013 levels. All of this is strong evidence that Flint water is now safe to use.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 04:06:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 303336 at Conservatives Are Drooling Yet Again Over Hillary's Email Account <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Several years ago a Romanian hacker broke into the email accounts of several high-ranking US officials. One of the email accounts he hacked belonged to Clinton pal Sidney Blumenthal, and it was this hack that eventually led to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_guccifer.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the <a href="" target="_blank">revelation</a> that Hillary Clinton had a private email address.</p> <p>In early April he was extradited from Bucharest, where he had been serving a seven-year prison sentence, and conservatives have been drooling with anticipation ever since. Well, guess what? It turns out the hacker claimed in a jailhouse interview that he had, indeed, downloaded "gigabytes" of Hillary Clinton's email. Imagine that! <a href="" target="_blank">Let's listen in:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"It was like an open orchid on the Internet," Marcel Lehel Lazar, who uses the devilish handle Guccifer, told NBC News in an exclusive interview from a prison in Bucharest. "There were hundreds of folders."</p> <p>....A source with knowledge of the probe into Clinton's email setup told NBC News that with Guccifer in U.S. custody, investigators fully intend to question him about her server.</p> <p><strong>When pressed by NBC News, Lazar, 44, could provide no documentation to back up his claims, nor did he ever release anything on-line supporting his allegations, as he had frequently done with past hacks. The FBI's review of the Clinton server logs showed no sign of hacking, according to a source familiar with the case.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well, I'm sure he's telling the truth, not just making up shit. Naturally Fox News is on the case with a <a href="" target="_blank">more recent jailhouse interview:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Wearing a green jumpsuit, Lazar was relaxed and polite in the monitored secure visitor center, separated by thick security glass. In describing the process, Lazar said he did extensive research on the web and then guessed Blumenthal&rsquo;s security question.&nbsp;Once inside Blumenthal's account, Lazar said he saw dozens of messages from the Clinton email address.</p> <p>Asked if he was curious about the address, <strong>Lazar merely smiled.</strong>&nbsp;Asked if he used the same security question approach to access the Clinton emails, he said no&nbsp;&mdash; then described how he allegedly got inside.</p> <p>&ldquo;For example, when Sidney Blumenthal got an email, I checked the email pattern from Hillary Clinton, from Colin Powell from anyone else to find out the originating IP. &hellip; When they send a letter, the email header is the originating IP usually,&rdquo; Lazar explained.&nbsp;</p> <p>He said, &ldquo;then I scanned with an IP scanner." Lazar emphasized that he used readily available web programs to see if the server was &ldquo;alive&rdquo; and which ports were open. Lazar identified programs like netscan, Netmap, Wireshark and Angry IP, though it was not possible to confirm independently which, if any, he used.</p> <p>In the process of mining data from the Blumenthal account, Lazar said he came across evidence that others were on the Clinton server. <strong>"As far as I remember, yes, there were &hellip; up to 10, like, IPs from other parts of the world,&rdquo;</strong> he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it. Not only did Lazar hack into the Clinton server, but nearly a dozen other hackers did too. And every single one of them, apparently, has said nothing about it until now. Nor have they released any actual hacked emails. And they were all able to do it without leaving behind even the slightest trace.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the resident expert at Fox News called Lazar's story "plausible."</p> <p>Sigh. I'm sure this will lead to yet another whirlwind of emailgate activity. Buckle your seat belts.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 May 2016 00:33:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 303326 at Obama Visits Flint, Tells the Truth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Obama visited Flint today and <a href="" target="_blank">told residents,</a> "It's not too much to expect for all Americans that their water is safe."</p> <blockquote> <p>Obama made the comments during a speech in the city on Wednesday, a few hours after he drank filtered Flint water after a briefing by federal officials on the city's lead-contaminated water. He also requested a glass of filtered water during his speech, saying "I really did need a glass of water. This is not a stunt."</p> <p>The president vouched for the safety of certified filters and encouraged most city residents to start drinking filtered water instead of bottled water. <strong>"If you're using a filter ... then Flint water at this point is drinkable,"</strong> Obama said after taking a brief sip of filtered water, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_flint_monthly.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">adding that the Environmental Protection Agency says using the filter makes the water safe and drinkable.</p> <p>The only exception is pregnant women and children under 6, who should continue to use bottled water "out of an abundance of caution," he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Good for Obama. He told them the truth: Flint water is safe to drink. My own take is that Flint water is safe for children too, but if I were president I suppose I might back off on that a little. A president's words carry a bit more weight than a blogger's. Still, residential testing shows that lead levels in Flint water have been well below 15 ppb since the beginning of the year. Obama is right about the precautions residents should take (flush your pipes, get blood tests for your kids, etc.), but the bottom line is that most Flint residents should feel comfortable drinking, cooking, and bathing with tap water.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 21:33:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 303296 at Readers: Please Help Give Me Some Direction For the Next Six Months <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The biggest problem with Donald Trump is that he's a charlatan and a demagogue who could do immense damage to the United States. But this is my blog, which means everything is about me me me. And <em>my</em> biggest problem with Trump is trying to figure out just how much to mock the guy. Given the amount of crap that spills out of his mouth daily, I could do nothing but mock Trump and easily keep this blog churning along for the next six months.</p> <p>For example, a few weeks ago Trump was asked if women who get abortions should be punished. "The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment," he said. "Yes, there has to be some form." Today, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_oh_well.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 24px 0px 15px 30px;">Jonah Goldberg passes along <a href="" target="_blank">Trump's follow-up on Morning Joe:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>WILLIE GEIST: What about what you told Chris Matthews a few weeks ago, which is that women who get abortions should be punished? Do you still believe that to be true?</p> <p>&nbsp;TRUMP: No, he was asking me a theoretical, or just a question in theory, and I talked about it only from that standpoint. Of course not. <strong>And that was done, he said, you know, I guess it was theoretically, but he was asking a rhetorical question, and I gave an answer.</strong> And by the way, people thought from an academic standpoint, and, asked rhetorically, people said that answer was <strong>an unbelievable academic answer!</strong> But of course not, and I said that afterwards.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's so Palinesque it makes me nostalgic for the 2008 election. But is it ridiculous enough to deserve a place on the blog? Or is it just garden variety Trump?</p> <p>Also: I'm going to spend a lot of time over the next few months agreeing with people like Jonah Goldberg, which is not something I'm used to. Ditto for conservatives agreeing with me, which they're not used to either. This is going to be a weird campaign season.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> The great part about Trump's answer is that, basically, he said, "Hey, the guy asked me a question, so I gave an answer. What are you gonna do?" This is his excuse. It doesn't mean he actually <em>meant</em> what he said. And apparently his supporters are fine with this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 18:38:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 303261 at How Badly Off Is the Middle Class? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I've coincidentally run into a couple of things this week that have sparked a question. The first is from Atrios, who describes in caustic terms <a href="" target="_blank">how the well-off political class views the world:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I think they see the world as a combination of the way their peers see it (and they're mostly rich!), some 30 year old vision of Middle Class America, and The Poors. <strong>They don't get that middle class America are increasingly becoming like the poors.</strong> Maybe a bit more money, maybe a bit better lifestyle, but living paycheck to paycheck with student debt and one financial (medical, etc..) event away from nothing.</p> </blockquote> <p>So is this true? Is the American middle class getting worse off with time? By coincidence, <a href="" target="_blank">a new paper by John Komlos</a> tries to answer this question. First, he takes a look at income, and comes to the usual conclusion: the richer you are, the more your income has grown over the past few decades (with an odd exception for the very poorest, who have done better than the middle class). But then he goes further: "Income growth is of interest primarily to the extent it is welfare enhancing," he says, and then produces some estimates of welfare growth since 1979. This involves a bunch of Greek letters, including <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_welfare_1979_2011.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">one that can't be estimated at all, but let's ignore all that and just assume that Komlos did his sums properly. His basic result is on the right (I've edited and annotated it to make his estimates a little clearer).</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, overall welfare doesn't differ much from income: the richer you are, the faster your welfare has increased. Overall, the rich have done spectacularly well, while the middle-class has endured decades of sluggish growth.</p> <p><em>But</em> &mdash; there's a big difference between "should be better" and "gotten worse." There's no question that middle-class income growth has suffered since the Reagan era. That said, middle-class welfare has nonetheless grown, not declined. Using my rough central estimate of Komlos's numbers (the red line), the welfare of middle-class families has increased about 0.3 percent per year, meaning that middle-class families today are about 10 percent better off than they were in 1979.</p> <p>I can't stress enough that <em>this is grim news</em>. That number should be way higher. Still, if you want to make the argument that middle-class families today are in deeper absolute financial stress than they used to be ("increasingly becoming like the poors") you need to provide some evidence. I can't find it. I've looked all over, and everything I can find suggests that middle-class families are about as financially secure as they've always been&mdash;both in current income and future retirement income. That is, some are doing OK, some are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and some are in deep trouble. Just like always.</p> <p>Are there any good measures of personal financial stress that cover the past few decades and show an increasing problem? I've read loads of anecdotal pieces, but all they show is that some families have a lot of financial problems. What I want to know is whether <em>more</em> families are having lots of financial problems.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 17:26:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 303251 at Republicans Now Have to Face Up to Merrick Garland <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Everybody thinks Donald Trump will lose the general election in November. If that's true, what should Republicans do about the Supreme Court?</p> <ol><li>Go ahead and confirm Merrick Garland. He's about as good as they're likely to get from a Democrat.</li> <li>Continue their holdout and let Hillary Clinton nominate someone even more liberal next year.</li> </ol><p>Decisions, decisions. But it's a live question. Garland is now officially a pretty serious dilemma for Republicans.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 15:43:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 303241 at Chart of the Day: Cheap Pot! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's now been three years since Washington State legalized the sale of marijuana. So what happened? Answer: it got cheaper. The price of pot has fallen from $25 per gram to about $9 per gram, and it's still dropping. <a href="" target="_blank">Keith Humphreys comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Falling pot prices create winners and losers. Because state taxes are based on a percentage of the sales price, declining prices mean each sale puts less money in the public purse. On the other hand, bargain-basement prices undercut the black market, bringing the public reduced law enforcement costs, both in terms of tax dollars spent on jail and the damage done to individuals who are arrested.</p> <p>For consumers who enjoy pot occasionally while suffering no adverse effects from it, low prices will be a welcome but minor benefit....On the downside, young people tend to be price-sensitive consumers, and their use of inexpensive pot may rise over time, as might that of problematic marijuana users.</p> </blockquote> <p>Are falling prices in Washington due to legalization? That seems like a reasonable guess. On the other hand, if the folks at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> have things right, $9 per gram is roughly the market rate everywhere west of the Rockies. So there might be something else going on. Maybe legalization in Washington and Colorado have affected the entire regional market. Or maybe there's been a bumper crop of pot in Mendocino County. It's a little hard to say without more data.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_washington_marijuana_price.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 5px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 15:07:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 303231 at How Smart Is Donald Trump? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump is now officially the presumptive Republican nominee for president. But what kind of chance does he have of winning in November?</p> <p>I'd guess "pretty slim," but it depends on a couple of things. First, does anything horrible happen between now and the election&mdash;say, a terrorist attack, a financial crash, or Hillary Clinton being indicted for her email woes? Any of those <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_intelligent.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">could sweep him into office, but since they're entirely unpredictable there's not much point in worrying about them.</p> <p>Second, just how smart is Trump? Here's what worries me: in retrospect, we can see that Trump played the rest of the GOP field like a Stradivarius. He somehow managed to get his strongest competitors, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, out of the running early. He didn't waste much energy on obvious losers like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Then he zeroed in on Marco Rubio. In the end, he was left only with Ted Cruz, possibly the most disliked man on the planet.</p> <p>Was this deliberate? The entire Republican Party would have rallied around Rubio if he'd been the last man standing, and that could very well have turned things around. But Cruz was never much of a threat to Trump. He's got a smarmy personality that doesn't appeal to the public, and a contemptuous disposition that has made virtually every Republican politician on Capitol Hill into a sworn enemy. Even faced with a Trump freight train bearing down on them, they couldn't bring themselves to circle the wagons and work for a Cruz victory.</p> <p>So: Did Trump actively try to make sure that Cruz would be his final opponent? Is he that smart and that proficient at executing a long-term strategy? Or did he just get lucky? The answer to that question might determine what happens in November.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 04 May 2016 04:43:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 303206 at Fighting Cancer Has Gotten a Lot More Expensive Since 2000 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_price_anticancer_drugs_2000_2014.png" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Cancer drugs are expensive. No surprise there. But Carolyn Johnson reports on a study showing that they've become <a href="" target="_blank">spectacularly more expensive over time:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The [study] examined 32 cancer medications given in pill form and found that their initial launch list prices have steadily increased over the years &mdash; even after adjusting for inflation. The average monthly amount insurers and patients paid for a new cancer drug was <strong>less than $2,000 in the year 2000 but soared to $11,325 in 2014.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Shazam! That makes the rise of university tuition seem like peanuts. Still, at least prices should go down as time goes by and competing medications come to market. Right? No siree:</p> <blockquote> <p>A study published Monday in <em>Health Affairs</em> examined what happened to the prices of two dozen cancer drugs after launch and found that pharmaceutical companies on average <strong>increased prices 5 percent above inflation</strong> each year. That inflation <strong>dwarfed ameliorating effects from competing drugs being introduced,</strong> which resulted in an average discount of about 2 percent. And the biggest hikes &mdash; of about 10 percent &mdash; coincided with the drugs receiving approval for other conditions. In other words, when a drug became useful to a larger number of patients, the price shot up.</p> <p>The findings highlight the often mind-boggling ways that drug prices behave. Launch prices for cancer drugs have soared over time; after launch, those prices also increase steadily, despite competition from other treatments and even as the drugs are used by more patients.</p> </blockquote> <p>Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of ways this makes sense. First, pharma companies might well price new cancer drugs moderately in order to get them on formularies and build up market share. Then, once they've been approved and doctors start to get familiar with them, they raise the price a bit each year. No one's going to remove a drug from their approved formulary just because of a measly little 5 percent price increase, after all.</p> <p>Second, cancer drugs can legitimately become more valuable over time. It's one thing to have the original clinical studies, but the true efficacy of a new drug is still a bit iffy until oncologists start prescribing it in large quantities and get personal experience with it. Once that happens&mdash;assuming the results are good&mdash;demand for the drug goes up and the market will bear a higher price. When doctors find a drug that produces good results with acceptable side effects, they quite reasonably get attached to it.</p> <p>That said, I'm guessing that the main driver of these price increases is <em>because they can</em>. Without these drugs, you die. That makes it pretty tough for an insurance company to say no regardless of what the price is.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 03 May 2016 23:06:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 303191 at