Video of the day

So, I was checking in on Radley Balko’s blog to follow up on the crazy Swat team shoots the Marine story (had a great class discussion about that today) and I came across this video of a totally different SWAT team raid.  Basic point being, if the SWAT team comes after you, better hope your dogs aren’t at home, or they’re going to shoot them.  We’re not talking Pit Bull guard dogs, you get the feeling these guys would have shot a chihuahua .

Here’s Balko’s very strong commentary, which is hard to disagree with:

We have another video of a raid by the Columbia Police Department. The action starts at 5:30. There’s more violence. More perfunctory dog killing. (I didn’t hear a single menacing growl, and the dogs were shot while retreating.) There’s more careless tossing of flash grenades. (They threw five  three, then, bizarrely, two more to prove that the previous three grenades had done no damage.) This raid, once again, was for marijuana….

This isn’t like watching video of a car accident or a natural disaster. This doesn’t have to happen. You’re watching something your government does to your fellow citizens about 150 times per day in this country. If this very literal “drug war” insanity is going to continue to be waged in our name, we ought to make goddamned sure everyone knows exactly what it entails. And this is what it entails. Cops dressed like soldiers breaking into private homes, tossing concussion grenades, training their guns on nonviolent citizens, and slaughtering dogs as a matter of procedure.

Hospitals and the ACA

One of the really frustrating things about the Republican claim that we need Ryan’s “vouchercare” is that Democrats are actually going to cause the end of Medicare by letting it go bankrupt through rising costs.   Vouchercare would, in all likelihood, lead to higher overall health care expenditures, whereas Democrats enacted a little-known piece of legislation entitled The Affordable Care Act (yes, that’s sarcasm) that has a number of methods to make Medicare more efficient and bring down the rates of health care inflation.  Among the very useful ideas in the ACA is holding hospitals accountable for the quality of their treatment.  Right now, if a patient acquires an infection at the hospital due to poor medical management practices, that is actually in the hospital’s financial interest, as they earn lots more money caring for the hospital-acquired infection in addition to the original reason for the visit.  Talk about perverse incentives.   Fortunately, Medicare reforms are designed to address this problem (from the Times):

For the first time in its history, Medicare will soon track spending on millions of individual beneficiaries, rewardhospitals that hold down costs and penalize those whose patients prove most expensive.

The administration plans to establish “Medicare spending per beneficiary” as a new measure of hospital performance, just like the mortality rate for heart attack patients and the infection rate for surgery patients.

Hospitals could be held accountable not only for the cost of the care they provide, but also for the cost of services performed by doctors and other health care providers in the 90 days after a Medicare patient leaves the hospital.

The major point of the linked article, though, is that Hopsitals don’t actually like this.  Yglesias sums up this fact much better than I could:

Naturally, as Robert Pear reports, incumbent hospital administrators hate this idea and feel that the government ought to reimburse them for as much treatment as they can sell to patients, regardless of whether or not it makes anyone healthier.

Again, the ACA Medicare reforms certainly aren’t perfect, but they definitely are a good start and this program is a prime example.  If Hospitals are upset because they’ll be making less profit from sick patients regardless of their overall performance, that’s not such a bad thing.

Lies, damn lies, and Medicare Part D

So, I’ve read on several occasions how Republicans point to Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit) coming in below cost projections as strong evidence for their claims that shifting more costs onto medical consumers (i.e., Ryan’s voucher plan for Medicare, etc.) will will actually drive down medical costs.  If you follow health care policy, you know that this cost shifting leading to lower overall spending is an entirely specious argument, but I was wondering just what the story is with Part D.  CBPP once again has done yeoman’s work in completely rebuffing this Republican distortion.  Short version: all prescription drug spending has come way down in recent years so it’s not at all surprising that Medicare Part D has, too.  A number of hugely popular drugs have gone generic without equally popular new drugs in the pipeline.  The consumer-driven spending has nothing to do with the cost-savings in part D.  The details:

The sharp decline in growth in spending for prescription drugs throughout the U.S. health care system.   In the late 1990s and early 2000s, prescription drug spending grew rapidly, reflecting the availability of new “blockbuster” drugs, rising prices for existing drugs, and greater utilization by beneficiaries. [3]  Drug spending growth began to moderate unexpectedly and then slowed more significantly around the time the Medicare prescription drug benefit took effect in 2006.  But this was not caused by enactment of the drug legislation, as is evidenced by the fact that growth in spending on pharmaceuticals slowed throughout the health care system. ..

On average, about 93 percent of Medicare Part B beneficiaries were expected to enroll in the Medicare drug benefit (or receive employer-sponsored retiree drug coverage subsidized by Medicare) during its first eight years. [7]  CBO now estimates, however, that only about 77 percent of Part B beneficiaries enrolled in Part D… That means roughly 6.5 million fewer beneficiaries were enrolled in Medicare Part D last year than originally projected, causing costs to be substantially lower than CBO originally assumed.

Moreover, there is evidence that, far from reducing costs, the use of private plans to deliver the Medicare drug benefit has increased costs.   [Followed up by lots of good evidence based on Medicaid vs. Medicare comparisons.  Click through if you are curious.]

Thus, I return to one of the fundamental questions about Congressional Republicans in modern political discourse: lying or stupid?  Seriously– this analysis is not in the least bit complicated.  Do Paul Ryan et al., simply not understand that the savings in Part D largely reflect lower costs throughout the prescription drug section or do they simply not care.  Neither answer is flattering.

Where the Onion meets the Republican Congress

From the Times’ Green blog:

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, needs to hit the science books, forestry experts suggest.

They reached that conclusion after hearing Mr. Rohrabacher declare during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday that clear-cutting the world’s rain forests might eliminate the production of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

On the witness stand was Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s climate change envoy, who was questioned on whether the nation’s climate policy should focus on reducing the more than 80 percent of carbon emissions produced by the natural world in the form of decaying plant matter.

“Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” the congressman asked Mr. Stern, according to Politico.

“Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?” he continued.

Forestry experts were dumbfounded by Mr. Rohrabacher’s line of questioning, noting that the world’s forests currently absorb far more carbon dioxide than they emit — capturing roughly one-third of all man-made emissions and helping mitigate climate change.

Just, wow.  And to think, these guys get to make policy now.

Caught by the Boob Cam

Oh my this is funny (and I found it from Roger Ebert’s facebook feed no less). Of course, since my wife reads this blog I should mention that I would never have looked.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

All for non-existent marijuana

This story by terrific libertarian criminal justice blogger Radley Balko is really good and really distressing.  Short version: cops bust into house of Marine searching for marijuana; Marine presumably doesn’t know they are cops and grabs his assault weapon (honestly, it defies credibility to think that he would have done so had the assault team identified themselves as law enforcement given that the man was home with his wife and young child).  Cops see Marine with gun and shoot him dead with 60 bullets while his wife and child hide in close.  Cops do everything they can do cover-up they’re obviously abusive an inappropriate actions.  It’s a damning, damning indictment of the excesses of the war on drugs.  And a good Marine with no criminal record (or marijuana trafficking involvement) is dead. Whole thing is well worth a read.

Doctors as pit crews

When Ezra Klein tells me I need to read something by Atul Gawande, I do.  When Ezra Klein and me tell you that you should read something by Atul Gawande, you should (he’s a practicing physician and a New Yorker staff writer who writes great articles for the magazine as well as a couple very thoughtful books I’ve read).  This is his commencement speech to Harvard Medical school this year.  Basic theme: doctors need to stop thinking like cowboys are start thinking like members of pit crews (lots of cooperation, communication, and clearly defined roles).

Gays in America: perception vs. reality

So, this is really interesting data from Gallup (where I’m not just going to whine about the pointlessness of what they are asking).  They asked respondents what percent of Americans they think are gay.  All I can say is: wow– people are clueless on this:

Just your best guess, what percent of Americans today would you say are gay or lesbian? 2002 and 2011 Trend

This is really ridiculous.  How could anyone possiblly believe 1/4 of all Americans are gay?  That’s a lot of people in the closet.  Some more numbers:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian. More specifically, over half of Americans (52%) estimate that at least one in five Americans are gay or lesbian, including 35% who estimate that more than one in four are. Thirty percent put the figure at less than 15%.

Actual numbers I’ve heard are usually <5%.  Here’s Gallup’s take:

Demographer Gary Gates last month released a review of population-based surveys on the topic, estimating that 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, with bisexuals making up a slight majority of that figure. Gates also disputes the well-circulated statistic that “10% of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual.”

Perhaps the public is even more clueless about homosexuality than they are about foreign aid spending.  Though, I would love a follow up along the lines of “really, you honestly believe 1 in 4 Americans is gay?”  Obviously homosexuality has become more accepted in the past decade and there’s a lot more gays in the media, but this is some really serious mis-perception of something most of us actually experience in our daily lives by knowing a mixture of overwhelmingly straight, and a few gay, people.

I was about to write, “what this data does not have, and I’d love to see, is how these estimates correlate with other political attitudes,” but I wrote too soon.  Scroll down and there it is.  Amazingly, there’s very little correlation.  Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage have similar estimates, as do liberals and conservatives.  Interestingly, more education and more income are fairly strongly correlated with lower (i.e., more accurate, but still way overblown) estimates.

Chart of the Day

There probably ought to be a blog that is dedicated to debunking the nonsense and distortion that the Republican party is spewing out on such a regular basis.  At least when it comes to economic issues, we’ve got the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities to perpetually rise to the challenge.  If only journalists took this stuff more seriously instead of treating it as “he said, she said” at best.  Anyway, one of the technically accurate but hugely misleading tropes of late has been the whole, “most Americans don’t pay federal income taxes” business.  CBPP eviscerates this argument and shows how incredibly misleading it is.  Chait summarizes.  First, the chart:

So, these tax freeloaders?  Well, most of them are working and paying our not inconsiderable payroll taxes and the rest are disabled, unemployed, students, etc.  But that’s the least of it.  More:

  • The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the “Making Work Pay” tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect. Together, these developments removed millions of Americans from the federal income tax rolls. Both of these temporary tax measures have since expired. In a more typical year, 35 percent to 40 percent of households owe no federal income tax. In 2007, the figure was 37.9 percent.
  • The 51 percent figure covers only the federal income tax and ignores the substantial amounts of other federal taxes — especially the payroll tax — that many of these households pay . As a result, it greatly overstates the share of households that do not pay any federal taxes. Data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center show only about 14 percent of households paid neither federal income tax nor payroll tax in 2009, despite the high unemployment and temporary tax cuts that marked that year.
  • Even these figures understate low-income households’ total tax burden, because these households also pay substantial state and local taxes. Data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy show that the poorest fifth of households paid a stunning 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2010.
  • When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account,the bottom fifth of households paid 16.3 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average, in 2010. The second-poorest fifth paid 20.7 percent.

Looks a lot different when you look at it that way.  Not that the Republican party or Fox news wants you to know.  I seem to recall Ann Coulter once writing a book along the lines of How to Argue with a Liberal.  The obvious answer?  Lie.

[p.s. to Damon: looks like you and your Blackberry are the only ones having the issue with the long quote and there’s nothing funny in the HTML code.  Sorry!]

Wasted human capital

I started reading this Times column via a link from a friend’s FB page and started thinking, “hey, this is really good.”  I scanned to the top and thought, “doh, I should’ve realized I’m reading Dave Leonhardt.  Anyway, it is a really thought provoking look–largely based on an interview with Amherst College president, Anthony Marx– at how elite colleges are increasingly the domain of the richest Americans:

When we [Leonhardt and Marx] spoke recently, he mentioned a Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges. As entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution. Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students.

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

That’s not the worst of it, though.  Obviously, fewer poor kids have the background and skills to succeed at top colleges.  The problem is, that even among those who do, they are largely shut out:

The truth is that many of the most capable low- and middle-income students attendcommunity colleges or less selective four-year colleges close to their home. Doing so makes them less likely to graduate from college at all, research has shown. Incredibly, only 44 percent of low-income high school seniors with high standardized test scores enroll in a four-year college, according to a Century Foundation report — compared with about 50 percent of high-income seniors who have average test scores.

I think that bolded line in an incredibly damning statement about our society and our visions of an upwardly mobile meritocracy.  The reports authors put it best:

“The extent of wasted human capital,” wrote the report’s authors, Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, “is phenomenal.”

In my experience at Duke, the diversity we had was that the Black and Hispanic students from upper/middle class homes in addition to the majority white students from upper/middle class homes.  I’m sure there was the rare student from the genuinely poor background, but I didn’t know about it.  Marx also makes a really useful point about test scores:

This comparison understates the problem, too, because SAT scores are hardly a pure measure of merit. Well-off students often receive SAT coaching and take the test more than once, Mr. Marx notes, and top colleges reward them for doing both. Colleges also reward students for overseas travel and elaborate community service projects. “Colleges don’t recognize, in the same way, if you work at the neighborhood 7-Eleven to support your family,” he adds.

Obviously, poor, but bright and motivated kids can get an excellent education at a non-elite university, but this still speaks to something we as a society are doing wrong and the false vision of American society as a genuine meritocracy.

Is 39 too young to be an Appeals Court Judge?

According to Republicans the answer is: only if you are a Democrat.  Interesting article in Slate about how Republicans have been consciously choosing young judges for years as an intentional political strategy, whereas Democrats have been slow to catch on.  Of course, when Democrats nominate a young judicial nominee, e.g., Godwin Liu, he is apparently too young and inexperienced.  Here’s some of the telling details:

Aside from Liu, none of President Obama’s nominees to the federal appellate courts are under 40. Only two are under 45. On average, Obama’s nominees are more than 54 years old, which is four years older than the nominees under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. But the averages tell only part of the story. Consider these statistics: Of the 50 youngest appellate judges nominated since the Reagan administration, 41 were tapped by Republicans. Of the 30 youngest judges, 28 are Republican nominees; and the 18 youngest are all Republican nominees. By contrast, if you take the 50 oldest judges nominated since Reagan, nearly half of them were nominated by Democrats. For decades now, and as a matter of strategy, Republicans have been nominating younger judges. The real question is why Democrats have been doing just the opposite.

What Democrats seem to have missed is that judicial age matters. The list of the 50 youngest appellate judges appointed since the Reagan presidency—all nominated under the age of 45—reads like a Who’s Who of most accomplished federal judges of our time: … By this point in his first term, President Bush had nominated at least a half dozen judges who were 42 years old or younger. But President Obama has nominated just one: Goodwin Liu.

That fact was not lost on Liu’s opponents. Republican senators immediately pointed to Liu’s youth and lack of experience as a disqualifying factor, even though they had previously defended similarly inexperienced Republican nominees…

Youth became a disqualifying factor in Goodwin Liu’s case precisely because it made him such a strong candidate for eventual elevation to the high court. “The bigger concern is that he’ll wind up on the Supreme Court,” Curt Levey of the conservative Committee for Justice told the Associated Press. And in the National Review Online, Ed Whelan explicitly noted Liu’s age, denounced his inexperience, and suggested that Liu was a “plotting his path to a Ninth Circuit seat as a stepping-stone to his goal of a Supreme Court nomination.”

Obviously, Democrats have not been blocking the young Republican nominees.  Just one more example of partisan asymmetry.  I thought for a few minutes if Liu really is old enough to be an Appeals Court Judge, as he is just a bit older than me.  I decided that by the age of 40, if you really have the abilities, you are probably good enough for anything.  Sure, experience is great, but I’m not sure in 5 more years that would necessarily help Liu better interpret federal and Constitutional law.


As you know, I would so love it if Sarah Palin indeed runs for president. The Slate Palin-o-meter just took a big jump with her announced bus tour through early primary states.

Simple truth– I find politics more fun and interesting when Palin’s involved. Plus, I think she’s a disaster as the face of the Republican party. And, lastly, and not insignifcantly, it would make my Fall offering of Gender & Politics so much more fun.

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