Politics at its worst

Okay, maybe it does get worse than what’s going on with attempts to repeal the medical device tax, but it does highlight a lot of what is so wrong with our politics.  Nice NYT Editorial on the matter.

First, there’s the matter that the whole point of this tax is to actually pay for the ACA and make it budget neutral:

In seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act piece by piece, congressional Republicans have placed a high priority on repealing a tax on medical devices that would raise some $29 billion over the next 10 years to help ensure that health reform will not increase the deficit…

The health reform law imposes a modest 2.3 percent tax on sales of medical devices, to be paid by the manufacturers or importers. It applies to such products as X-ray machines, M.R.I. scanners, pacemakers and artificial hip and knee joints but not to eyeglasses, contact lenses and hearing aids. The $29 billion to be raised from the device industry is less than the amounts to be raised from insurers and drug companies, all of which will benefit from increased business under the act and should pay their fair shares of the cost. If the lost revenues from a repeal of the device tax are offset by reduced spending on other health care programs, as they might well be, many patients could suffer medical or financial harm.

Okay, it’s a tax of any kind, so no matter how sensible, Republicans are against, but Democrats?  Even the populist Elizabeth Warren?  How could that be.  Well…

Repealing the tax is a terrible idea that has been given a veneer of respectability by support from liberal Democrats in states with large concentrations of device manufacturers. They include Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota and Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, among others.

These are solidly liberal Senators.  But when it is companies in their state, we see what happens.  Of course, Congress is designed to put the interests of single states and districts ahead of the national interest.  And, how much will the companies suffer.  Well, they’ll tell you quite a bit:

Trade groups say the tax has already caused a big loss of jobs, has reduced spending on research and will lead to a total loss of 195,000 jobs among manufacturers and suppliers and in the general economy over the next five years. They also say the tax will stifle innovation, drive up health care costs and provide an incentive for manufacturers to locate facilities overseas.

Damn that’s a lot of doom and gloom for 2.3%.  Why do people ever take this kind of stuff seriously?  Someone needs to do a study of how fabulously wrong most doom and gloom predictions from trade groups turns out to be.  Seems that they never say, “there will be a modest reduction in profits that we’d rather not see, but this is no fundamental threat to our industry.”  As for the actual harm, independent analysts suggest:

Independent analysts believe the industry’s dire forecasts are malarkey. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the tax would have “relatively modest” effects on jobs, research and company profits and a “negligible” effect on the price of health care. Some jobs would be lost, but they account for a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the industry’s work force. The C.R.S. said the tax should not affect decisions on where to locate production facilities because domestically produced devices and imported devices are subject to the same tax.

It’s not the end of the ACA if this tax is repealed, but it’s sure a bad precedent and would definitely represent so much of what is wrong with politics winning out.


Photo of the day

Love this Telegraph gallery of a frozen lighthouse in Michigan:

Ice engulfs a red lighthouse as a fierce winter storm grips South Haven, Michigan

After each coating the water quickly freezes to ice and the pier is transformed into a slippery, white wonderland

Picture: Mike Kline/Barcroft Media

Map of the day

Love this world map of countries resized according to their population via Vox (click here for the big version).  It’s actually kind of interesting how many countries don’t actually change size all that much.  Other than the obvious gigantism of India, the most eye-catching part to me is the amazing shrinking of Canada and Russia.


Why don’t women run

As mentioned before, the reason there’s not more women in political office is not that women lose elections when they run (they win and lose at the same rates as men) it’s just that women don’t run enough.  There’s all sorts of reasons, but in significant part, similarly-situated women lack the same ambition for higher office as men.  We also know that women are more likely to wait until their children are older to run, which puts them behind similarly-aged men, but some research suggests that’s not really an issue, as John Sides writes:

But studies of political ambition have often struggled to show that responsibilities at home affect women’s decisions about whether to run. For example, some research finds little correlation between household or child-care responsibilities and political ambition in their surveys of men and women in occupations, such as the law, that regularly feed into political careers.

But some new research finds some good evidence on how family responsibilities may very well matter:

Now, a forthcoming paper by Yale doctoral student Rachel Silbermann provides some interesting evidence of how women’s family responsibilities might matter. Silbermann uncovered a striking correlation: The farther away a state legislative district is from the state capital, the less likely it is that there will be at least one female candidate in that district or a woman serving as state legislator. Notably, these districts are no less likely to have women serving in local office, suggesting that these more remote districts aren’t simply lacking women who are interested in running for office, period.

It always seemed to me that here in NC, the women legislators were disproportionately from the Triangle– no accident!  Silberman also conducted an interesting survey experiment–the results would be a lot more compelling of based on professional adults rather than college students, but still telling:

Silbermann also conducted a simple experiment among a national sample as well as a sample of Yale undergraduates. The students were asked to choose between serving in Congress or the state legislature.  One group was told to imagine that the state capital was “five hours from home.”  Another was told that the state capital was only “15 minutes from home.”

Both men and women were more likely to choose the state legislature over Congress when the state capital was only 15 minutes away, compared to five hours away. But women were much more sensitive to location. Men were 14 points more likely to choose the state legislature when it was close by. Women were 28 points more likely.

Taken together, this evidence doesn’t definitely show that family responsibilities are causing women not to run for office.  But such responsibilities — or , in the case of college students, the anticipation of these responsibilities — could quite plausibly explain why women may forsake a long commute to the legislature. And, as Silberman notes, her finding may capture only some of the impact of family responsibilities, because travel is but “one component of what makes political careers incompatible with family responsibilities.”

Interesting!  I know for me one of the reasons I would never want to run for office is toll on family life and I often marvel at the fundamental unfairness of how much easier it is to represent Cary than Asheville.  Clearly, I’m not alone in this, and I guess, to quote my post popular karaoke performance ever, “Man, I feel like a woman.”

Video of the day

Why yes, this is a video of a grown woman opening and playing with a Barbie set where Barbie picks up her dog’s poop.

Now, prepare to have your mind blown…

Videos like this are the top-earning videos on all of Youtube.  Yes, more than Taylor Swift:

An unidentified individual or group responsible for uploading videos that simply show a woman opening Disney toys made an estimated $4.9 million last year, more than any other channel for 2014, according to OpenSlate, a video analytics platform that analyzes ad-supported content on YouTube.

Disney Collector is part of a new, highly lucrative genre of online videos called “unboxing.” Unboxers with seemingly no active sponsorship will decide on a set of consumer items, from electronics to makeup, and didactically discuss a given product’s parts and features. But it’s toys that seem to have taken off — at least two other unboxers, DisneyCarToys and the aforementioned BluCollection ToyCollector currently sit on OpenSlate’s most-viewed list and could crack its top-earner list for 2015.

“A lot more of these toy channels have started showing up in our platform,” Ritchie said. “They’re doing a good job [with] engagement, showing consistent influence, which takes into consideration things like social media and sharing.

Disney Collector’s particular success seems to be owed to her having hit the toy spot earlier than her peers, cementing her status as a superstar among children. Maria Moser, a mother of three who blogs at Change-Diapers.com, said she stumbled upon the videos about a year ago when she and her youngest son, then two, were searching for Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

She said her son just “really likes seeing the different toys opened and played with.”

Why do I know about this particular video?  My four-year old daughter was entranced by the whole thing (I gotta admit, I couldn’t resist watching Taffy pooping) and watches these all the time.  I think she is write now actually while I’m typing this post (mind you, I queued this for later posting).  She’s helping these people earn millions.  Who would have ever guessed little kids couldn’t get enough of watching other people open and play with toys.  Bizarre.

Photo of the day

Love this from Cory Richards’ Instagram feed:

Guns may not kill people, but they sure make it a hell of a lot easier

Of course the whole “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” business is just pure sophistry, but it’s great to see  Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes with a terrific article in Slate summarizing the recent research on guns and deaths.  I’m not 100% persuaded by all their evidence (the piece is pure advocacy and does not address any of the shortcomings of the research), but the balance of the evidence they cite makes it pretty damn clear that more guns –> more people dying.

Tragically, a record number of Americans subscribe to some version of this mythology, with 63 percent (67 percent of men polled and 58 percent of women) believing that guns truly do make them safer. The public’s confidence in firearms, however, is woefully misguided: The evidence overwhelmingly shows that guns leave everybody less safe, including their owners.

A study from October 2013 analyzed data from 27 developed nations to examine the impact of firearm prevalence on the mortality rate. It found an extremely strong direct relationship between the number of firearms and firearm deaths. The paper concludes: “The current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.” This finding is bolstered by several previous studies that have revealed a significant link between gun ownership and firearm-related deaths…

If we examine data from within the United States, the odds aren’t any better for gun owners. The most recent study examining the relationship between firearms and homicide rates on a state level, published last April, found a significant positive relationship between gun ownership and overall homicide levels. Using data from 1981–2010 and the best firearm ownership proxy to date, the study found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership, there was a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate. This was after controlling for factors such as poverty, unemployment, income inequality, alcohol consumption, and nonhomicide violent crime. Further, the firearm ownership rate had no statistically significant impact on nonfirearm homicides, meaning there was no detectable substitution effect. That is, in the absence of guns, would-be criminals are not switching to knives or some other weapons to carry out homicide. [emphases mine] These results are supported by a host of previous studies that illustrate that guns increase the rate of homicides.

The evidence against firearm ownership becomes even stronger when suicides and accidents are included in the analysis—guns make both much more likely and more fatal. There can be nothing closer to a consensus in the gun debate than this point. Indeed, every single case-control study ever conducted in the United States has found that gun ownership is a strong risk factor for suicide, even after adjusting for aggregate-level measures of suicidality such as mental illness, alcoholism, poverty, and so on.

And, there’s plenty more.  They also link to a recent Politico piece of theirs in which they thoroughly dismantle the claims that there are literally hundreds of thousands of defensive gun uses in the US every year.  The claim is made by extrapolation from a survey with a host of unacknowledged problems, here’s a great example of where the extrapolation leads:

These sorts of biases, which are inherent in reporting self-defense incidents, can lead to nonsensical results. In several crime categories, for example, gun owners would have to protect themselves more than 100 percent of the time for Kleck and Getz’s estimates to make sense. For example, guns were allegedly used in self-defense in 845,000 burglaries, according to Kleck and Getz. However, from reliable victimization surveys, we know that there were fewer than 1.3 million burglaries where someone was in the home at the time of the crime, and only 33 percent of these had occupants who weren’t sleeping. From surveys on firearm ownership, we also know that 42 percent of U.S. households owned firearms at the time of the survey. Even if burglars only rob houses of gun owners, and those gun owners use their weapons in self-defense every single time they are awake, the 845,000 statistic cited in Kleck and Gertz’s paper is simply mathematically impossible.

The bad news is that in the current political climate, chances of making real progress are pretty close to zero.  And longer term, given America’s political culture, I fear it’s not all that much higher.  Americans just love their guns.  The fact that we could do nothing after Newtown is pretty telling.  I’m thus pessimistic on the public policy front, but damn if I’m going to just sit idly buy while other pretend there’s not a massive cost in human life to America’s permissive gun laws.

%d bloggers like this: