• Health Update

    My M-protein number came back this afternoon, and it’s dropping quite nicely:

    This is not quite a personal low, but at the rate it’s declining I might get there next month. Maybe. In any case, the Darzalex + Dex + Pomalyst triplet is working very well, and my doctor seems to be very keen on the idea of triplets.

    The downside, of course, is that between the Dex and the Pom I’m pretty fatigued nearly all the time, my breathing is a little bit shallow, my taste buds are shot, and I occasionally have stomach problems. On the bright side, I’m alive and kicking and I may very well see Donald Trump impeached. What more could I ask for?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    I visited the Long Beach aquarium this weekend but didn’t do very well on the picture-taking front. I guess I’ll consider it a practice run for a future visit.

    However, I did get one or two good shots, including this one of some kids having a ball at the sea lion tank.

    October 5, 2019 — Long Beach, California
  • The Case For Donald Trump

    Last night I saw a TV ad blasting Democrats for trying to impeach Donald Trump. It made three points:

    • Hunter Biden made a bunch of money in Ukraine.
    • Joe Biden got Ukraine’s prosecutor fired.
    • The prosecutor claims he was fired because he was putting so much pressure on Hunter Biden.

    This is simple, straightforward, and true. Needless to say, the ad leaves out quite a bit. Like the fact that the prosecutor in question was brazenly corrupt. And that everyone from the IMF to the EU wanted him gone before they’d commit any more aid money to Ukraine. And his claims about why he was fired are laughable.

    Nonetheless, those three bullet points are narrowly true. This is why it’s going to be hard to persuade Trump supporters to turn on Trump. We can’t fight this ad by saying it’s a lie. We can only fight it by adding more detail, and that’s a tough thing to do. Three bullet points are about all that even an honest but low-information voter has time for.

    But we can flood the zone. It’s probably our only hope.

  • Addiction and Mental Illness Are Rampant Among the Homeless

    The LA Times reports today that the public perception of homelessness in Los Angeles is more accurate than the official happy talk:

    The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority…said only 29% of the homeless population had either a mental illness or substance abuse disorder….The Times, however, found that about 67% had either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. Individually, substance abuse affects 46% of those living on the streets — more than three times the rate previously reported — and mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, affects 51% of those living on the streets, according to the analysis.

    But wait. Even the LAT analysis might be too optimistic. A study from the California Policy Lab at UCLA comes up with even higher numbers for the US homeless population:

    These numbers, it turns out, aren’t really disputed. So why does it matter? Partly because the right policy response depends on a realistic assessment of the problem. If most of the homeless are just down on their luck and need a temporary place to stay, that calls for a particular kind of housing response. But if the vast majority are mentally ill or struggling with addiction, that calls for an entirely different response.

    But that’s not all. I’ve made this point before and gotten raked over the coals for it, but if you want to solve the homeless problem you have to understand the public resistance to building local homeless shelters. Is it because most of us are self-centered assholes who refuse to help the poor if it means even the slightest inconvenience to our otherwise comfortable lives? If that’s the case, the right response might be education or guilt or just plain political bulldozing.

    If the Times analysis and the UCLA report are correct, however, maybe local resistance is actually based on understandable concerns, not just free floating racism and assholery. Maybe families with children have good reason to be anxious about having addicts and the mentally ill wandering around their neighborhood. Maybe you would be too.

    Social problems are hard to solve already, and they’re even harder to solve if we tell ourselves fairy tales and then insist that anyone who sees things differently is a horrible human being. That gets us nowhere, especially if it turns out that these folks have a more realistic view of the problem than we do and are therefore going to become even more stubborn if we try to tell them they’re wrong about things they can see with their own two eyes. Just a thought.

  • Taxes Are Down For the Rich Yet Again

    David Leonhardt presents us with a chart today based on data from a new book by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. It shows the effective total tax rate for all income levels in the United States. This includes all state, federal, and local taxes:

    The effect of the latest Republican tax cut shows up in the 2018 line: the very richest Americans now pay a total effective tax rate of 23 percent. The poor and the middle classes, by contrast, pay about 25 percent. As you can see, the tax rate for the rich has been dropping steadily for half a century.

    The federal income tax code, of course, remains progressive. But it’s no longer progressive enough to make up for payroll taxes and local sales taxes, which have always been regressive. As a result, conservatives have finally reached their dream of a flat tax by stealth. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?

  • Health Note: Blood Pressure Edition

    I’m at the infusion clinic this morning waiting for my monthly dose of high-tech cancer fighters. As usual, they took my blood pressure before we started. It was 142/83. Too high! So, again as usual, they took it again. Two minutes later, in exactly the same position with exactly the same machine, it registered 115/78.

    Once again, I’m left wondering just what’s going on. Did my blood pressure really change that much over the course of 120 seconds? Does the machine have a really wide range of accuracy? Or what?

  • Does Rural America Know What’s Good For Them?

    Bill Barksdale/Design Pics via ZUMA

    Monica Potts has gotten some attention for a piece she wrote over the weekend about her hometown of Clinton, Arkansas. As its hook, her story revolves around the fate of the local library.

    Let me set the scene. Clinton is the seat of Van Buren County, which has a population of 16,000. Van Buren’s average income is way below the national average and its poverty rate is way above. The average private-sector wage is about $12. They are still suffering from the loss of revenue they used to get from shale gas operators, which has slashed the county budget by 20 percent. Back when times were better, the county built a new library in Clinton, but they still owe $2.1 million on it and they aren’t sure where that money will come from. The library made budget cuts, but there was still a real chance that they might have to close up entirely.

    In the midst of all this, the library board proposed increasing the pay of the head librarian by about a third. After all, the candidate for the job had a master’s degree. The residents of Clinton were unimpressed and declined to approve the raise:

    I watched the fight unfold with a sense of sadness, anger and frustration….I didn’t realize it at first, but the fight over the library was rolled up into a bigger one about the library building, and an even bigger fight than that, about the county government, what it should pay for, and how and whether people should be taxed at all. The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here.

    The answer was, for the most part, not very much.

    This is the overall tone of the piece: residents of Clinton dislike government spending even when it benefits them, and they really dislike it when it benefits others—especially nonwhite others. But if they aren’t willing to pay higher taxes and spend more on things like libraries, they’ll never attract smart people and they’ll never prosper. They just don’t know what’s good for them.

    I’m sort of hesitant to ask this, but am I the only liberal who read this piece and was badly put off by the condescension that ran through nearly every paragraph? Putting aside for a moment the larger problems of rural America, we have here a poor county that has lost a big chunk of revenue over the past few years, and in the middle of that the library board wants to raise the salary of the head librarian by a huge amount.

    Can we talk? Does a small rural library really need a librarian with a master’s degree? Should a small rural library really try to pay a salary competitive with a large town or small city? Should anyone be even slightly surprised that the good folks of rural Clinton were not thrilled with the idea of giving their librarian a big raise in the middle of a budget crunch—especially at the same time that they’re already being asked to approve tax hikes to pay off the library building itself? Is it possible that this was a perfectly normal reaction, not a veiled expression of hatred toward immigrants and the poor?

    Lord knows, I’m familiar with all the counterarguments. Rural areas are already subsidized by us big-city elites, taking in more in federal benefits than they pay in federal taxes—and showing damn little gratitude for it. Rural areas tend to be insular and, yes, often fairly racist. Rural areas are never going to be actually liberal, so who cares about them? Rural areas are overrepresented in our national discourse and in our national politics.

    But even if all that is true, is it really surprising that a rural county with an average wage of $12 thinks that a big-city librarian is not the best use of their money? Does this really teach us a lesson about how they lack a sense of community? Or is it just common sense that maybe some of us big-city types don’t quite get?

  • Trump Trades Prisoners for Turkish Invasion of Syria

    Here’s a helluva statement from the White House tonight:

    In return for taking a bunch of prisoners off our hands, the Trump administration apparently plans to abandon our Kurdish allies in northern Syria and give Turkey a free hand there. That’s quite some foreign policy we have in the Middle East these days.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 4 October 2019

    When we bought our house, the side yard was set up as a dog run. We haven’t changed it much, but it’s now a cat rolling area. Both Hopper and Hilbert love to trot over here in the noonday sun and then plonk down and beg for a tummy rub. I’m not really sure why this particular patch of concrete is so popular, since we have plenty of other sunny spots too. But along with the sidewalk in front of the house, this is one of their two favorite rolling places.

  • Dem Focus Should Be on Military Aid, Quid Pro Quo

    Regular reader AM writes today about something I’ve been meaning to mention for a while. I’ll let him go first since he has family and friends in middle America:

    My concern is that Dem messengers of all stripes; chyrons on MSNBC and CNN; and print media sources are now all but uniformally stating things like “No White House dinner for Ukraine until investigation into Bidens.” But the screaming horror of it all was extortion (i.e. no military aid/Javelins for you till you do us a “favor”).

    Now my own anecdotal research with my veteran, right-leaning friends back in real America is that if you don’t prove and emphasize the denial of lethal aid it sounds like something for Emily Post to suss out. I can’t tell you how CRITICAL this component is and I think it applies to a lot more than my Marine, combat vet friends.

    I have a related but similar complaint about the widespread belief on the left that the quid pro quo doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Trump asked Ukraine for help investigating a political opponent. The fact that he offered something in return is neither here nor there.

    Legally, that might be right. Politically, it’s dead wrong, and impeachment is a political process. It’s absolutely critical that Trump is shown to have withheld vital military aid to an ally unless they agreed to help Trump in his reelection campaign. And like AM, I agree it’s the military assistance that’s key. No one really cares about visits to the White House, which are widely viewed as political favors in the first place.

    Obviously the news is coming down on us like a firehose these days, and there are lots of things to report. That’s fine. All of them are worth following up. But underneath it all, we should all be focused 24/7 on one key issue: Donald Trump withheld military aid from an ally unless they would help him smear a political opponent in order to gain a leg up in his reelection campaign.