Stuff you should read

1) Drum on the super-high relative medicals costs in the US (nothing new here, but a nice summary).

2) Dylan Matthews on the fact that making prisons harsher probably actually leads to more crime via more recidivism:

It turns out there’s a pretty extensive literature on the effects of harsh prison conditions. One finding that is growing more and more accepted is that harsh sentences, if anything, increase recidivism (or, the propensity of prisoners to reoffend once released). The economists Keith Chen and Jesse Shapiro exploited (pdf) the fact that the federal prison system assigns prisoners to different security levels based on a numeric score indicating  how much supervision that inmate needs. There are then cutoffs for assignment to each security level. Those scoring above a certain cutoff get medium security, those below it get low security, and so forth. Chen and Shapiro compared prisoners with scores just above and just below cutoffs to see how being assigned to a higher security level affected recidivism.

Their finding? Those at the border who end up placed in a higher security prison reoffend at a significantly higher rate than those at the border place in lower-security prisons. For those right at the border, the increase is about 10 to 15 percent, but if you take a broader view, it could reach as high as 42 percent. That’s a serious increase in crime that, if Chen and Shapiro are right, is easily preventable by putting prisoners in less-harsh conditions.

3) Will Saletan on Romney as an abortion weathervane:

The problem for pro-choicers isn’t that Romney is an extremist. The problem is that his pivot to the right tells you which way the wind is blowing. If you’re pro-choice, and you don’t vote on this issue, you’re the reason the wind is blowing the other way. You have failed to make politicians suffer for pursuing anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive policies. You have created Mitt Romney. And there will be more Romneys, year after year, until you punish them at the polls…

You don’t have to change anyone’s mind about abortion. You just have to get people who are already pro-choice to vote on the issue. If you look back at presidential exit polls from 1988 to 2000 (see page 29 of this compilation from the American Enterprise Institute), you’ll see a clear pattern. As the percentage of people who voted based on abortion goes up—7 to 9 to 12 to 14 to 33—the pro-life advantage goes down: 32 to 26 to 19 to 17 to 9. Ultimately, in the 1990 off-year election, the pro-life advantage became a pro-choice advantage. And when the advantage shifts, politicians follow.

When historians look back at this period, they’ll be amazed that we dawdled on climate change and nearly defaulted on our debt. But they’ll be equally amazed that the Republican Party, with impunity, waged an all-out war on Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to contraception and women’s health care. The GOP’s extremism on reproductive issues is the result of 20 years of not paying a price for it. And the insanity will continue until you make it stop.

4) Drum with a nice Q&A about what Obamacare’s Medicare cuts are really all about.

5) Ron Brownstein on the demographic math for the presidential election:

For President Obama, the winning formula can be reduced to 80/40. In 2008, Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority voters, including not only African-Americans but also Hispanics, Asians, and others. If Obama matches that performance this year, he can squeak out a national majority with support from about 40 percent of whites—so long as minorities at least match the 26 percent of the vote they cast last time.

Obama’s strategic equation defines Mitt Romney’s formula: 61/74. Romney’s camp is focused intently on capturing at least 61 percent of white voters. That would provide him a slim national majority—so long as whites constitute at least 74 percent of the vote, as they did last time, and Obama doesn’t improve on his 80 percent showing with minorities…

On its face, the math is tougher for Romney. If he reaches 61 percent among whites, he would equal the best performance ever for a Republican presidential challenger with that group of voters: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1988 each won between 56 percent and 61 percent of white voters, according to polls at the time.

If white voters maintain their 2008 share of the vote, that in itself would represent a significant shift. Whites have declined as a portion of the electorate in every presidential election since 1992, according to exit polls.


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