It’s not all relative

Paul Waldman with an important reminder on the latest iteration of the Republican Senate health care bill:

Senate Republicans are releasing the latest version of their health-care plan today, and there’s a temptation to focus solely on what’s changed from the previous iteration. The changes are important, and we have to understand them. But what we shouldn’t do is allow a relative judgment (maybe it’s better in this way but worse in that way) to distract us from the big picture, because what’s still in the bill from before is even more important than what has changed.

The big picture is that this bill is an absolute nightmare that would cause a spectacular amount of human suffering — and yes, even deaths — if it were to pass. It would mean fewer people with coverage, more people having trouble affording coverage, less protection and less security.

Let’s go through the major provisions in the bill…

  • The bill would utterly eviscerate Medicaid, which is relied on by tens of millions of poor, elderly and disabled Americans. It would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the program. It would also transform the program into a block grant, for the first time allowing states to kick enrollees off their coverage and cut back benefits.
  • The bill allows insurers to sell bare-bones plans that go by the name “insurance” but cover very little, as long as they also offer a plan that meets the “essential health benefits” requirement of the ACA. This in effect sets up two pools, one containing young and healthy people, and one containing people who are older or who have more serious health needs. The insurance industry, along with many analysts, predict that this could produce a death spiral of skyrocketing costs for those with preexisting conditions…

If your Republican senator votes for this plan, he or she is supporting gutting Medicaid, taking away health coverage from at least 20 million Americans and potentially the end of real protections for those with preexisting conditions, higher deductibles, less help for those with modest incomes, potentially the return of lifetime limits on coverage (outlawed by the ACA), which turn a health-care challenge into a financial calamity, and an attack on women’s health choices.

In short, this bill is an abomination. No one should be able to get away with saying, “Well, it’s a little better than it was before.” All that does is obscure how spectacularly cruel it is. [emphasis mine]

Of course, that’s what many “moderate” Republicans will surely say.  At this point, the really big question is just how many.

Why politics is not a job for amateurs

Really excellent post from Julia Azari in Mischiefs of Faction:

Imagining a political outsider coming in and curing what ails politics is fun and romantic, and it’s not new. On its face, this idea seems very democratic — what could be closer to the ideals of democracy than casting the bastards out and infusing political leadership with new blood, with people who know life outside of the profession of politics? Like many things, this is intuitive but incorrect. Political amateurism presents a threat to democracy.

Democracy is hard. It’s not as simple as picking an election date and site and counting up the votes. It also requires thinking about how different perspectives and stakeholders will be integrated into a system, what to do with the losers of a particular process, and how to balance individual freedom with community concerns. The practice of democracy requires dealing with the reality that disagreement is bound to crop up anytime you get more than one human being in a discussion…

Movements like WTF embrace the pernicious myth of populism that beneath elite squabbles there exists widespread unity of principles. It is true that most people want broadly similar things: peace, safety, prosperity. But there’s a lot of disagreement about how to achieve those things. Productive approaches to politics acknowledge this — denying it won’t make it go away.

Some nice commentary from Alex Theodoridis when he shared this on FB:

This is an important argument from Julia Azari. There was a time when political scientists lamented the fact that reforms to the nominating process had opened the door to candidates like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter (both governors of sizable states) who lacked Washington experience. John F. Kennedy was once seen as inexperienced when he ran for president (he had been in Congress for 13 years). Obama (with < 1 full U.S. Senate term under his belt) took inexperience to a new level, and Trump (with zero government or military experience and whose resume basically consists of expanding the family business and grooming himself into a reality television star) has made Obama look like a seasoned pro. I’ve long thought the growing willingness (even eagerness) to embrace candidates without experience was a very troubling development. Experience has always been part liability. In gaining it, you build up a record to attack, make enemies, say things that can be used against you, etc. So, if voters impose no electoral penalty for lack of experience, they set the stage for a neophytocracy.

This New Yorker cartoon nails it:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

Belated Trump Jr and the Russians post

Sorry, between reading too obsessively about this and trying to get some research done, not posts.  Some of the better stuff I’ve read:

1) If nothing else, DJTJ is stunningly incompetent:

If Trump Jr. had wanted to get the materials being offered but cover himself, he would’ve emailed back to say he was appalled at the suggestion, but then used a more secure means of communication to contact Rob Goldstone, who was offering the files, and set up a meeting.

Trump Jr. didn’t do that. He just conducted business over email. Easily hackable, subpoena-able email, during a campaign that centered on his father’s opponent’s poor email management skills.

The incompetence extends from the initial crime to the subsequent cover-up. Trump Jr. kept telling easily debunkable lies, and then changing his story when these lies were exposed. First, he said he’d never met with Russians when he was “representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

Then, when this meeting came to light, he told the New York Times that, oh, actually, he did meet with Russians, to discuss “a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government.”

Then when the New York Times found that the meeting was about getting information on Clinton, Trump Jr. admitted that this was true, but failed to mention that he had been promised information as part of a Russian government effort.

And then, to preempt yet another Times scoop, he posted all his highly incriminating emails about the meeting on Twitter.

None of this actually made him look less involved or guilty. It just served to erode his credibility and confirm that he had something to hide all along.

Trump Jr. appears to have not taken even basic steps to defend himself and his administration as the scandal unfolded.

2) Clearly a judgment call for whether he actually broke federal law.  I think there’s a pretty good case for why he did.  Here’s Hasen.  A round-up of legal experts from Vox.

The statute in question is 52 USC 30121, 36 USC 510 — the law governing foreign contributions to US campaigns. There are two key passages that apply here. This is the first:

 A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

The crucial phrase here is “other thing of value,” legal experts tell me. It means that the law extends beyond just cash donations. Foreigners are also banned from providing other kinds of contributions that would be the functional equivalent of a campaign donation, just provided in the form of services rather than goods. Like, say, damaging information the Russian government collected about Hillary Clinton.

“To the extent you’re using the resources of a foreign country to run your campaign — that’s an illegal campaign contribution,” Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation who now specializes in data crime, says.

Here’s the second important passage of the statute: “No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].”

The key word from Trump Jr., according to University of California Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen, is “solicit,” which has a very specific meaning in this context. To quote the relevant statute:

A solicitation is an oral or written communication that, construed as reasonably understood in the context in which it is made, contains a clear message asking, requesting, or recommending that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.

 Trump Jr. was clearly soliciting information that he knew was coming from a foreign source. Given that political campaigns regularly pay thousands of dollars to opposition researchers to dig up dirt, it seems like damaging information on Clinton would constitute something “of value” to the Trump campaign.

The solicitation bit is why it doesn’t matter if Trump Jr. actually got useful information. The part that’s illegal, according to the experts I spoke to, is trying to acquire dirt on Clinton from a foreign source, not successfully acquiring it. And his statement more or less admits that he did, in fact, solicit this information. [emphasis mine]

3) Dahlia Lithwick’s survey of legal experts likewise finds plenty of case for being criminally responsible (and one notable dissent).   And here’s another lawyer making the case for not breaking any laws.

4)  Regardless of whether crimes were broken or not, the case for attempted “collusion” is sure as hell clear.  TPM summarizes Krauthammer:

He said the Trump team’s defense of there being no evidence of collusion with the Russians to influence the 2016 election was one that he supported for six months, until news broke that Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to find out information that the Russian government wanted to give the family as a sign of support for the Trump campaign.

 “There was nothing to show that the Trump administration was aware of or supporting the Russians interfering in our election and this just showed up today in black and white, released by Don Jr. himself,” he said. “This is not released in the anti-Trump media. So you see it in black and white. This is not to say that collusion is a crime. It never was. But it is to say that the denial of collusion is very weak right now because it looks as if, I don’t know if there’s any other explanation, Don Jr. was receptive to receiving the information.”

Krauthammer said that Trump Jr. claiming he didn’t get any useful information out of the meeting with a Russian lawyer is “not a very good defense.”

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up, but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here,’” he said. “Look this is incompetence, they got swindled.”

5) Or, as Chait puts it, “The ‘Did Trump’s Campaign Collude’ Debate Is Over. The Only Question Now Is How Much.”

This is a very simple test of the common English understanding of the term “collusion.” Your campaign is told that Russia wants to help you win the election. (“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”) If you refuse to take the meeting, or perhaps take it only to angrily tell your interlocutor you want no part of the project, then it isn’t collusion. If you take the meeting on the proposed terms, you are colluding. If somehow the information on offer turned out to have no value, and the contacts went no farther, then the meeting was ineffectual collusion. But Donald Trump Jr.’s response clearly indicates that he accepted the meeting in order to collude. (“If it’s what you say I love it.”)

This is the scope of the unresolved question now. How much collusion happened?


6) Just to be clear, Trump Jr (and very likely his father) have lied and lied and lied and lied about this.

7) David Graham on “what is if it’s all true?”

Yet with Donald Trump Jr.’s release of self-incriminating emails on Tuesday, the nation learned that the wildest of fantasies was all too real: Granted the chance to take what he believed to be damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian government official, provided because the Kremlin wished to aid his father, Trump Jr. eagerly seized the opportunity. “If it’s what you say I love it,” he wrote to an intermediary. Not only that, but he brought along his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The disclosure of the emails raises a host of questions: Did anyone tell Donald Trump, and if so, when? (The White House and Trump’s attorneys both say he did not attend and was not aware.) Did lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya actually hand over any incriminating information at the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower? (Both she and Trump Jr. say she did not.) Why release documents that, according to some analysts, already implicate Trump Jr. in a federal crime? And why do it now? …

If Trump really knew nothing about the June 9 meeting, one wonders what it was that he was so eager to suppress in his calls to the intel chiefs and his firing of James Comey. And as the collusion scenario that once seemed so implausible is verified by an email trail, which of the other allegations are true, too?

8) My favorite part of this Benjamin Wittes post is his emphasis on the stuff we already knew before the latest revelations:

The problem with dwelling too much on the covert forms of collaboration, which we have come to call “collusion,” is that doing so risks letting Trump at least a little bit off the hook for what is not meaningfully disputed: that the president publicly, knowingly, and repeatedly (if only tacitly) collaborated with a foreign power’s intelligence effort to interfere in the presidential election of the country he now leads. Focusing on covert collusion risks putting the lines of propriety, acceptable candidate behavior, and even (let’s be frank) patriotism in such a place where openly encouraging foreign dictators to hack your domestic opponent’s emails falls on the tolerable side. It risks accepting that all is okay with the Trump-Russia relationship unless some secret or illegal additional element actually involves illicit contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives. Yet it’s hard to imagine how any scandal of illegality could eclipse the scandal of legality which requires no investigation and has lain bare before our eyes for months. [emphasis mine]

But it is this very distinction, in which Trump’s own defenders are so heavily invested, that now appears poised to crumble. Over the past two weeks, two major stories have developed suggesting that there may, after all, have been covert contacts, meetings, and agreements between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

How colleges are the ruin of America

Sometimes, at a very select few, over-zealous students with insufficient respect for the values of free speech, protest speakers.  Oh, yeah, and lots of liberals work there.

So, just set aside the fact that American higher education is the envy of the world and is hugely important for producing a knowledgeable, skilled, productive workforce, clearly on the balance, colleges are bad for Amerrrica– right?

Well, sadly, that’s what a majority of Republicans now seem to believe.  Ugh.  Nice write-up in Insidehighered based on a recent Pew survey:

The partisan stratification is apparent even within the GOP. Nearly two-thirds of conservative Republicans (65 percent) said colleges have a negative impact, compared to 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans.

Viewers of right-leaning news media might not be surprised by Pew’s findings. Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.

For example, Breitbart on Monday riffed on a report from The New York Times about a 35 percent enrollment decline at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the two years since racially charged protests occurred at the flagship university.

Bogus right-wing outlets also often target higher education. A fictitious story about California college students cutting off their genitals to protest Trump’s Mexican border wall plan recently made the rounds on purported news sites and social media.

In addition, Republican politicians in recent years have pushed back on the four-year degree, saying that not all jobs require the credential. Some also question the value of four-year degrees and criticize increasing college tuition levels.

Whatever the cause, a wide range of Republican voters are buying in to skepticism about higher education…

“Is the precipitous drop in conservative regard for postsecondary education reflecting a decline in confidence in higher education attainment as a sure path to socioeconomic mobility, or is this more about perceptions of ‘liberal bias’ in higher education among conservatives?” she said via email. “Are these attitudes more an expression of backlash against rising cost of college and student debt load, and the accompanying belief that colleges are businesses that care more about their bottom line than students (as we’ve found in our research), or is this about the rise of an emboldened anti-intellectualism in the wake of the last presidential election?”

More data would be nice, but I’m going to pretty confidently hazard this is about symbolism and cultural signifiers rather than dissatisfaction with college affordability and as a pathway for social mobility.  Especially, given the sharp shift, “emboldened anti-intellectualism” sounds about right.

And here’s an excellent tweetstorm on the matter from a Princeton professor:



Heritage = hate

I’m sure you’ve heard the “it’s not hate, it’s heritage” line about flying the Confederate Flag.  Of course, the heritage is one of hate and white supremacy.  I really enjoyed reading about this new research from Logan Strother, Spencer Piston, and Thomas Ogorzalek,  showing that those who most support the Confederate flag, actually know least about Confederate history/heritage:

In an effort to answer this question of regional pride or racial prejudice with data—rather than the heated rhetoric that typifies the debate—we analyzed two surveys of white Southerners: one of residents of Georgia, the other of residents of South Carolina. Our study is the first to rigorously compare the relative influence of racial prejudice and purportedly non-racist Southern pride on support for the Confederate battle emblem. We contend that if some whites support the flag because it represents a legacy in which they feel pride, then we should expect those people also to be knowledgeable about Confederate Civil War history. That is, for pride in Confederate heritage to be meaningful, a person would first have to know something about that history. On the other hand, if racial prejudice is the key reason that whites support Confederate symbols, then we should see that racially prejudiced attitudes are more widely held among white supporters of the Confederate flag than among its white opponents… [emphases mine]

Figure 2 shows the key findings. The more questions about Southern Civil War history that a participant answered correctly, the less likely it was that the person favors the Confederate flag. Indeed, people who failed to answer any question correctly (i.e. could not name a single Civil War battle, nor identify William Tecumseh Sherman) were more than twice as likely to favor the Confederate flag than were people who got all of the questions correct. Importantly, we found that this relationship holds even after statistically controlling for a number of factors, such as education, age, and political ideology. In sum, we find little support for the “heritage” argument in our survey of white Georgians.

And the key figure is here:

Figure 2. Knowledge of Confederate history and support for the Confederate flag among white Georgians

Of course, I’m sure you are no more surprised than I am.  Still, it is nice to see the biases one has (i.e., confederate flag lovers are basically racist) confirmed by solid social science.

The ultimate health care lie by the numbers

If there’s one thing that’s annoying about health care (okay, there’s a lot of things) it is how the Republicans have been lying so brazenly it’s about how the ACA was passed in a secretive process.  You only had to be alive in 2009-10 to realize that’s not true in the least.  Yet, they keep pretending otherwise.  The NYT runs the numbers and compares to the Republican process, which, of course, has been extraordinarily secretive:

And, as long as we’re on the subject of lies, no, the ACA exchanges are not in a hopeless death spiral.  That’s a pretty big lie.  Paul Waldman:

They have to start by acknowledging that despite their cries that the ACA is in a death spiral, that it’s a disaster and that its implosion is imminent, things on the individual market in fact are not as bad as you might think. Here’s a report out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation on how the markets are doing so far this year:

Early results from 2017 suggest the individual market is stabilizing and insurers in this market are regaining profitability. Insurer financial results show no sign of a market collapse. First quarter premium and claims data from 2017 support the notion that 2017 premium increases were necessary as a one-time market correction to adjust for a sicker-than-expected risk pool. Although individual market enrollees appear on average to be sicker than the market pre-ACA, data on hospitalizations in this market suggest that the risk pool is stable on average and not getting progressively sicker as of early 2017. Some insurers have exited the market in recent years, but others have been successful and expanded their footprints, as would be expected in a competitive marketplace.

In other words, insurers are making profits in the individual market, which means that they’ll keep offering plans and won’t have to raise premiums as much as some have feared.

But what about all those places where there’s only one insurer, or even where the last insurer has pulled out? Funny thing about that: It turns out, as Brian Dew and Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research found when they examined the data, that it’s almost entirely a phenomenon of Republican states. In states controlled by Democrats — which accepted the expansion of Medicaid and worked to make their exchanges function properly — the individual market is quite healthy. It’s only in those places where the state governments have been trying to sabotage the ACA from the beginning that they have screwed over their own constituents and left them with few insurance options.

Waldman follows with a plea for Republicans to actually do the right thing and work with Democrats to fix the marketplaces in the ways they need fixing and, you know, help people.  Not holding my breath for that.

It’s all about race

Political scientists Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel went right to work on the latest ANES data of the 2016 election and posted their analysis in a May article in the Nation.  I meant to link it then, but, safe to say the issue of race in American politics isn’t exactly going anywhere.  Anyway, here’s a few key charts:


And, of course, it’s not actually about economic anxiety at all:


 In our models, racial attitudes towards blacks and immigration are the key factors associated with support for Trump. The way that these variables impact Trump support can be seen in the charts below. Both racial resentment and black influence animosity are significant predictors of Trump support among white respondents, independent of partisanship, ideology, education levels, and the other factors included in the model. The results indicate a probability of Trump support higher than 60 percent for an otherwise typical white voter who scores at the highest levels on either anti-black racial resentment or anti-black influence animosity. This compares to less than 30 percent chance for a typical white voter with below average scores on either of the two measures anti-black attitudes. There is approximately a 10 percent probability of a Trump vote for an otherwise typical white voter at the lowest levels of racial resentment.

racial animus

 The one-two punch of Obama’s presidency and Trump’s candidacy sent a clear signal to voters what the parties stood for: diversity on one side, resentment on the other. Trump built upon a decades-long campaign to erase support for the safety net by racializing government programs but extended it further by openly demonizing people of color. Graphs from political scientist Thomas Wood show this relationship clearly: voters are increasingly sorted along the lines of racial resentment. At the same time, the role of income has been twisted: “While the wealthy are usually most likely to vote for the Republican, they didn’t this time; and while the poor are usually less likely to vote for the Republican, they were unusually supportive of Trump.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Edsall had a lengthy post last month that covered a lot of the same ground, with a focus on how racial resentment is part of a broader international context of globalist vs. nationalist leading to partisan realignments:

By now it has become quite clear that conservative parties in Europe and the United States have been gaining strength from white voters who have been mobilized around issues related to nationalism — resistance to open borders and to third-world immigration. In the United States, this development has been exacerbated by ongoing conservative recruitment on issues of race that has reinforced opposition to immigration. On the liberal side, the Democratic Party and the center-left European parties have been allied in favor of globalization, if we define globalization as receptivity to open borders, the expansion of local and nationalistic perspectives and support for a less rigid social order and for liberal cultural, immigration and trade policies. In recent decades, these parties, both in Europe and in the United States have begun to include and reflect the views of large numbers of well-educated elites — relatively affluent knowledge or creative class workers — in alliance with predominantly nonwhite minority constituencies of the less well-off…

What we are seeing now is the replacement of class-based politics, a trend apparent in the United States and Europe. This gives us a more racialized and xenophobic politics, on one hand, and a politics capitalizing on increasing levels of education and open-mindedness in the electorate on the other. If the building of a viable left coalition is possible, it is likely to require some thoughtful and humane co-optation in the form of deference to our limits and boundaries.


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