• Trump Goes to Mexico and Everyone Is Bored

    I’m back from lunch and it’s time to catch up on Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico. How did it go?

    Apparently the answer is “meh.” After all his big talk about Mexico paying for his wall, Trump didn’t bring it up once he got face to face with Enrique Peña Nieto. I gather he didn’t bring up much of anything else either. Even Twitter seemed bored by the whole thing.

    On the bright side, Trump didn’t say anything too barbarous, which is being hailed by Republicans as Trump acting “presidential.” The soft bigotry of low expectations comes to the rescue once again.

  • Here’s Why Most Non-Whites Can’t Stand Republicans

    Over at The Corner, Roger Clegg highly recommends a piece in Forbes about a new SEC proposal that would require public companies “to include in their proxy statements more meaningful board diversity disclosures on their board members and nominees.” This rule would not mandate any diversity goals. It would merely require a disclosure of current board diversity and any future diversity plans, if any. Here’s the Forbes piece:

    In May, 1996, Sister Doris Gormley wrote a letter to T.J. Rodgers, the founder and then-CEO of Cypress Semiconductor. She argued that Cypress ought to diversify its board by adding some women.

    Replying to her, Rodgers wrote, “Choosing a Board of Directors based on race and gender is a lousy way to run a company. Cypress will never do it. Furthermore, we will never be pressured into it, because bowing to well-meaning, special-interest groups is an immoral way to run a company, given all the people it would hurt. We simply cannot allow arbitrary rules to be forced on us by organizations that lack business expertise.”

    To people who actually run business enterprises, getting sound advice from the board is important. It can help them avoid costly mistakes. But that requires deep knowledge of the specific business field. Companies have every incentive to find such people, which has nothing at all to do with the happenstance of their ancestry or sex.

    If Republicans are wondering why blacks, women, Hispanics, Asians, and pretty much every non-white-male group in America seems to hate them, this is why. If you want to oppose diversity mandates, that’s one thing. There are ways to do it. But to blithely claim that the whole idea is nonsense because no board of directors in America would ever choose a board member for any reason other than pure merit? This is just willful blindness. Every black, female, Hispanic, and Asian person in the country has been a victim of this faux meritocracy argument and knows perfectly well that it’s rubbish.

    All that is bad enough. But then to get high-fived for it by National Review and the Wall Street Journal and Fox News? It rubs non-white faces in the fact that conservatives not only don’t want to make any real efforts to break up the white men’s club, but that they’ll go out of their way to deny that it even exists. So they vote for Democrats. At least the Dems don’t flatly insult them with obvious baloney.

    For reference, compare this to Lauren Rivera’s conclusions after sitting in on post-interview discussions of candidates for a professional services firm (via Leniece Brissett at Vox). Here’s a summary in the Harvard Business Review:

    Black and Hispanic men were often seen as lacking polish and moved to the reject pile, even when they were strong in other areas, whereas white men who lacked polish were deemed coachable and kept in the running. A similar pattern emerged among men who appeared shy, nervous, or understated: Nonwhites were rejected for being unassertive, but in whites, modesty was seen as a virtue. Among candidates who made minor mistakes in math, women were rejected for not having the right skills, and men were given a pass—interviewers assumed they were having an “off” day.

    Different kinds of people, it turns out, were evaluated very differently:

    I don’t doubt that most corporate board members think they consider nothing but pure merit. But they plainly don’t. The CEO wants board members who will support him. Another board member wants to repay a favor. Another recommends someone who sits on another board with him. The others want people who will “fit in.” And in between all that, yes, there will be a few chosen for their particular expertise.

    If Republicans care even a tiny bit about ever appealing to non-whites, the very least they need to do is acknowledge that non-whites face particular problems and biases that are often subtle, often unconscious, and haven’t disappeared yet. Even if they never support doing anything about it, they have to at least acknowledge this. If today’s anti-diversity harangues are any indication, they’re nowhere near that yet.

  • Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

    Here’s a funny thing. Conservatives have spent the past five years pointing to a long litany of alleged problems with Obamacare and gleefully predicting that each of them would lead to its downfall. They never did, either because the problems weren’t even problems, or because they were pretty small beer and didn’t really have any effect. Nonetheless, every month or two brought yet another harbinger of doom for Obamacare.

    So you’d think they’d be over the moon at the moment, now that Obamacare really does appear to be facing a serious problem. Even liberals are worried about large insurers like Aetna and United Healthcare abandoning the exchanges, leaving some regions with only a single monopoly insurer. But conservatives aren’t really saying much about this. It’s kind of odd.

    Maybe it’s because they’re all too freaked out by Donald Trump. I don’t know. Still, there are some who are noticing the problem and predicting the eventual demise of Obamacare. Here’s Megan McArdle:

    Unfortunately, while basically everyone in the country thought that the U.S. health care system was as messed up as a party-school group house on graduation day, most people actually liked whatever coverage they had. That created a political bind: No reform could pass if it seemed to shrink any of [the existing] major markets in any significant way. Expanding everything would cost a boatload of money and make taxpayers freak out, so the architects of Obamacare finessed this problem with a combination of:

    • Opaque rules.
    • Disingenuously optimistic promises such as, “If you like your plan you can keep it.”
    • Weak versions of unpopular measures needed to make the law work, such as paltry penalties for failing to buy health insurance.
    • Not touching the wildly inefficient profusion of programs.

    All that stuff is what has left Obamacare where it is. The dishonesty was exposed. The weak versions of European measures failed to encourage the behavior changes needed to make the system work. And the fact that every other program was left in existence, largely untouched, created new ways for patients and consumers to game the rules to get maximum reimbursements for minimum expenditure.

    None of these are actually operational problems with Obamacare except for the third one. But here’s the thing: last year was the first time people actually got hit in the face with the prospect of a penalty for not having insurance. And McArdle is right: it was too small to motivate people to change their behavior—especially all those young healthy folks that insurers want. $325 for a single adult just wasn’t enough.

    But this year the penalty was $695. Next year, it will be either $695 (plus a bit for inflation) or 2.5 percent of your income. For someone making, say, $30,000, that’s $750.

    Is that enough? Hard to say. If your income is low, it’s more than the cost of insurance, so you might as well just get the insurance. If your income is a little higher, then it’s true that you can save money by just paying the penalty. But the net cost of insurance is probably only about $1,000 more than the penalty. Once this starts to sink in, a lot of young folks are probably going to conclude that for a hundred bucks a month they might as well sign up.

    It will be a few years before we know for sure. In the meantime, it’s clear that insurers screwed up pretty badly in their initial estimates of how much it would cost to insure the typical Obamacare pool. They shoulda listened to the CBO. Still, here’s the thing I don’t get: the obvious response to insurers losing money is twofold. First, some insurers will abandon the market. Second, the surviving insurers will probably raise their prices. This is how competitive markets work. It’s messy and inconvenient, but in the end it all settles down.

    The only thing that would prevent this is some kind of death spiral, as rising prices cause even more healthy people to stop buying insurance and instead just pay the penalty. This isn’t impossible. But prices won’t rise at all for low-income buyers, and are capped at 9.5 percent of income for most others. So there’s a limit to just how far this can go, even in theory.

    Maybe I’m letting partisan views blind me to the scope of this problem. But I think this is a problem that Obamacare will survive. Prices will go up over the next couple of years. My guess is a rise of around 20-25 percent or so. As the penalties sink in, more young people will sign up. The most efficient insurers will remain in the market and become profitable. And yes, there will probably be individual counties here and there that have only one insurer, or even no insurers in a handful of cases.

    In other words, it won’t be health care nirvana. But it will work. The end is still not nigh.

  • California Considers a “Brock Turner” Bill. Should Progressives Support It?

    The California legislature has passed a bill that would increase the penalties for raping an unconscious victim. Eric Levitz applauds the motivation for the bill, but takes issue with the overall message it sends. You should really read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

    If we accept the premise of California’s law — that combating rape culture requires imposing longer prison terms on rapists — then progressives will be forced to choose between their commitments to achieving gender equality and ending mass incarceration.

    ….The primary reason for America’s exceptional incarceration rate is that its voters are more comfortable with condemning their fellow citizens to cages for long periods of time than are those in other democracies….The most harmful thing about California’s bill may be the way it encourages this culture of incarceration.

    If one focuses narrowly on the law’s immediate effects, a reasonable case can be made for its virtues: A three-year minimum sentence for raping an unconscious person is not wildly out of step with global standards….And, anyway, California’s bill contains a provision allowing judges to exercise discretion in “unusual cases where the interests of justice would best be served if the person is granted probation.”

    On the other hand, it is unlikely that many judges would take on the political liability of exercising such discretion. And the specter of a minimum three-year jail sentence has the potential to intimidate innocent defendants into plea agreements — a phenomena that is more likely to disadvantage the most-vulnerable members of our society, who can least afford to mount a compelling defense.

    ….Nonetheless, the problem with California’s law lies less in its immediate, legal implications than in its cultural and political ones. To end mass incarceration, progressives will need to persuade their fellow citizens that we can reduce penalties for violent crime without reducing our concern for its victims….In calling for Judge Persky’s repeal, the movement fostered social and political stigma against the exercise of judicial leniency. People who look like Brock Turner will not be the ones most affected by such stigmas.

    ….If there were strong evidence that longer prison sentences make a critical difference in deterring violent crime, then California’s law might still be worthwhile. But there isn’t. According to the 2014 findings of the National Research Council, applying a mandatory minimum to a given offense does not reduce its prevalence.

    Progressives have recently taken the position that America operates a prison-industrial complex that vastly oversentences its millions of victims. This cruel and unfair system needs to be dialed way back—unless the crime in question happens to be one that progressives are especially concerned about. In those cases, we should show no mercy.

    There’s nothing logically contradictory about this. It’s possible that we do vastly oversentence for most crimes but undersentence a few particular crimes. Nonetheless, this is something more people should stop to ponder. Do we believe that locking up criminals for long periods of time is an effective deterrent, or don’t we? Do we believe in mandatory minimums, or don’t we? If we don’t, why are certain crimes an exception?

  • Is Donald Trump Walking Into a Mexican Trap?

    Josh Marshall offers up a common reaction toward Donald Trump’s meeting with Mexico’s president later today:

    President Nieto definitely does not want Donald Trump to become President. He probably assumes he won’t become president, simply by reading the polls….Toadying to Trump would be extremely bad politics; standing up to him, good politics. Put those factors together and Peña Nieto has massive and overlapping reasons to want to embarrass Trump.

    This is all true. It basically seems like the usual sort of half-assed publicity stunt we’ve come to expect from Trump. But consider this: it’s possible that both sides in this meeting would benefit from a “disaster.” As Marshall says, Peña Nieto has every reason to play the tough guy and earn Trump’s wrath. Everyone in Mexico hates Trump, so standing up to him, or even embarrassing him, would be a political win.

    But the same might be true of Trump. His base would certainly go wild at the prospect of Trump having a beef with the president of Mexico. The last thing they want is a cordial get together that suggests some kind of future rapprochement. And if Trump plays it right, a meeting that could be spun as an insult to America might even help him with swing voters.

    Then again, maybe Trump desperately wants Peña Nieto’s respect, and wants this meeting to demonstrate that he’s not just a bomb thrower who can’t be trusted with international relations.

    Really, who knows? But it will definitely win a news cycle for him.

  • Trump to Meet With President of Mexico on Wednesday

    File this one under “Huh?”:

    Seriously? It’s not that I think Trump would ever make up something like this, but….

    Well, OK then. This should go well, don’t you think? Sort of like this:

    DJT: So you’ll pay for the wall, right?
    EPN: No.
    DJT: How about just the half that faces Mexico?
    EPN: No.
    DJT: You’re a tough cookie. OK, then, I’ll get Deutsche Bank to finance the wall, and Mexico will join the loan syndication. You’ll make out like banditos. I mean bandits.
    EPN: No.
    DJT: Hmmm. What if I throw in a free stay at the Trump National golf club?
    EPN: No.
    DJT: I’ve met my match. You’re the toughest negotiator I’ve ever faced off with. I’ve always said I admired the Mexican people. Let’s go have a taco bowl.

    It’ll be great. Just Donald and and Peña Nieto in a quiet, private meeting. We’ll finally find out what happens when someone who’s not a moron negotiates for the United States.

  • Yet More Hillary Email News: “Breathtaking… Reprehensible… Outrageous” Blah Blah Blah

    Once again, Andrew McCarthy is about ready to implode:

    It has now come to light that Hillary Clinton attempted to destroy about 30 emails related to the 2012 Benghazi massacre….clearly trying to shield them from discovery by defense lawyers in the prosecution of the lone terrorist the Obama administration has thus far charged….The depth of Mrs. Clinton’s misconduct [] is breathtaking….ought to be impeached….Nearly as reprehensible….Just as astounding….This is a political case, and the most politicized administration in history has just essentially asked a judge to play ball….Does anybody care how outrageous this is?

    Goodness. What is this all about? McCarthy is right that this isn’t getting much media attention, but it’s not quite being ignored. Let’s hear from someone still in possession of their faculties:

    Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton may have sent or received as many as 30 previously undisclosed emails while secretary of state about the 2012 Benghazi attack, government lawyers said Tuesday….It is not yet known how many of those documents may be duplicates of 343 emails already made public by the State Department or contain stray references to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya that killed ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others, government attorneys said. The emails were recovered by the FBI in its year-long investigation of Clinton’s private email setup as secretary from 2009 to 2013.

    We already know the FBI recovered about 15,000 emails from Hillary Clinton’s email server, so this is hardly a bombshell. So far, though, we know nothing about those emails. Are they duplicates of emails that have already been disclosed? Are they personal emails? Are they just stray bits and bytes on a hard drive that hadn’t been defragged recently? We have no idea. The only thing we do know is that FBI director James Comey explicitly said that he didn’t think Clinton or her lawyers intentionally deleted any emails in order to conceal them. In fact, the recovery of the emails, he said, was “not surprising.” That seems like a rather nonchalant attitude if there was really anything scandalous in these exchanges, wouldn’t you say?

    As usual, then, I think I’ll just wait and see how this all turns out. My guess: it’s the usual nothingburger, exactly the way virtually every other bit of Benghazi-related hysteria has become once we learn all the facts. For now, it’s not worth the gray cells it would take to worry about. We’ll know soon enough if I’m wrong.

  • Come On, Let’s Give the Conservative Media Cocoon Some Credit

    Conservative media is starting to come under attack from conservatives. Yesterday Rush Limbaugh responded to a listener who was mad at him for not warning that Donald Trump was unreliable on the subject of immigration. In particular, he was mad about Trump’s waffling on whether he would deport all 11 million illegal immigrants:

    Rush Limbaugh: Yeah, well I guess the difference is—well not the difference, I guess the thing is, this is gonna enrage you. You know, I could choose a path here to try to mollify you, but I never took him seriously on this!….

    Rick: This is why Trump is going to get annihilated. Because nobody called him out early on about his absurd policies.

    Rush Limbaugh: Yes they did! For crying out loud, 15 candidates called him out….

    Rick: Except unfortunately the number one place where Republican primary voters get their news.

    Rush Limbaugh: Oh no, it’s on me and we’re out of time––

    Rick: Which is Fox.

    So Limbaugh never took Trump seriously on one of his key immigration policies, but never bothered to tell his listeners this. And Fox News played the fool too. David French has more on that:

    It’s hard to overstate the power of Fox News for those seeking a career in the conservative movement. I’ve seen the most accomplished of lawyers suddenly become “somebody” only after they regularly appear on Fox….The result is clear: Conservatives gain fame, power, and influence mainly by talking to each other.

    ….Fox News went on the air in October 1996. Since that time, the GOP has won the popular vote for president exactly once: in 2004, by a whopping 2.4 percent. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, as appears likely, the GOP will have lost the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections since Fox broke the liberal media monopoly.

    ….Prior to 1996, a politician could truly succeed only by going to the American people through the media outlets they actually watched, which encouraged communication that persuaded those who weren’t true believers….The conservative movement is a victim of Fox’s success….Appearing on Fox can create an alluring but illusory fame, and in seeking it above all else, some of our best minds inadvertently limit their own influence. I don’t resent Fox’s existence, but I lament its effect on our movement. It’s time to leave the cocoon.

    All this is true. And yet, ever since the Limbaugh/Gingrich/Ailes revolution of the 90s, conservatives have been immensely successful at literally every level of government other than the presidency. If their cocoon gets some of the blame for foisting Trump on the American public—and it does—it also gets some of the credit for the GOP’s spectacular success at the state and congressional level:

    The Reagan Revolution didn’t really have much effect on Republican control of Congress and the states. There were ups and downs, but the overall trend was flat. The Limbaugh/Gingrich/Ailes revolution was quite different. Republican control skyrocketed, and stayed high. In 2010 it got even higher. Conservative media deserves some of the credit for that.

    Now, unfortunately for Republicans, the real driver of all this was the conversion of the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. This meant that in order to succeed, the LGA Revolution had to be based largely on appealing to the racial resentments of Southern whites. The three principals were all happy to do this, and it worked a treat. It’s still working, too, everywhere except the presidency, where the growth of the non-white population has simply been too big an obstacle to overcome.

    So give LGA some credit. They saw the brass ring, and they didn’t really care much if they had to sell their souls to get it. But Donald Trump has brought their fundamental problem into sharp focus: How do you harness white racial resentment effectively enough to keep control of Congress and the states, while appearing racially moderate enough to win the presidency? It’s a hell of a pretty pickle, isn’t it?

  • Sign Up Now To Be a Monthly Donor to MoJo

    The bosses are at it again—our latest experiment in how we can pay for MoJo’s journalism went live a few weeks ago.

    You can (and should!) read more in their piece “This Is What’s Missing From Journalism Right Now,” but I have to say, the idea sounds pretty good: sign up new monthly donors to give us much-needed stability in these challenging times to be in the news business, and do it by using facts and logic—instead of blanketing the site with ads and sending a ton of panicky emails.

    Oh yes, I can get on board with that.

    Our goal—by the end of September—is to find 2,000 readers who pitch in $15 a month so we generate $30,000 in new revenue that we can count on each and every month. And they say we’re off to a great start—already signing up 1,275 new monthly donors in the first two weeks of a planned six-week effort.

    There’s a good chance we can get there without being too pushy with those ads and emails, so if you’re reading this and already know why Mother Jones needs your support, I hope you’ll  help us keep the momentum going by starting your tax-deductible monthly gift today (or you can give by PayPal here). But if you’re not quite ready, or if you want to nerd out on the numbers, give Clara and Monika’s piece a read and see if you find it convincing.

    We’ll see where the numbers are after the long holiday weekend, but we might even be able to wrap up this campaign and get out of your way ahead of schedule. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

  • Is Contraception Really Key?

    Sarah Kliff reports today that the teen birthrate has plummeted over the past decade. That’s not news. The interesting question is why the teen birthrate has plummeted, and a new paper in the Journal of Adolescent Health says the reason is better access to contraceptives. That sounds reasonable, but Kliff backs up this idea with the following chart, taken from data in the paper:

    This is a problem. Contraception use dropped slightly between 2009 and 2012. Sexual activity stayed about the same. And yet teen pregnancies declined by an astounding 20 percent over the same period. This does not fit with the notion that contraception is key.

    Plus there’s longer term data. The chart below shows the teen pregnancy rate since 1990. It dropped steadily from 1992 to 2006, despite virtually no change in contraceptive use. I’ve subbed in contraceptive use from the new paper for 2007-12 (dashed line), and it doesn’t really seem to correlate with teen pregnancy rates either:

    So count me skeptical about the contraception theory. Teen pregnancy has been dropping for 25 years, and any explanation needs to account for this. But what could it be?