Category Archives: Everyone

2016 Was Not a Tight Race

Mother Jones

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I suppose this is hopeless, but I want to try one more time on the Comey thing. The most common response to the suggestion that James Comey’s letter was the turning point in the 2016 campaign is this:

In a race this close, lots of things could have tipped the result. The Comey letter is just one of many.

But this isn’t true. Take a look at 538’s polling numbers in the final two weeks of the campaign:

On the day before Comey sent his letter, Hillary Clinton had a 6-point lead. There is no ordinary campaign event that plausibly could have turned that into a loss. Not dumb ad buys. Not bad internal polling. Not bad speeches by the candidate. Nothing. It’s just too big a lead.

The Comey letter was a bolt from the blue and it cost Clinton three percentage points. This is the only thing that made the race close to begin with. Once Clinton’s lead had been cut by three points, then an extra point of support for Trump in the last couple of days—which 538 and others missed—was just enough for Trump to eke out a 2-point popular vote loss and a miracle Electoral College victory.

That wouldn’t have mattered without the Comey letter. None of those little things that everyone keeps pointing to would have produced a Trump win. It’s true that in a tight race lots of things can make the difference between winning and losing, but it wasn’t a tight race. Not until James Comey sent out that letter, anyway.

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2016 Was Not a Tight Race

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Will the Government Shut Down This Week?

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office will see the federal government shut down if Congress can’t come to a budget agreement by the end of the week. Congress needs to pass a funding bill by the end of the day Friday, or else federal programs will no longer be able to spend money on Saturday, Trump’s 100th day in the White House.

Both Republicans and Democrats are largely content to maintain current funding levels by passing a continuing resolution rather than hashing out an entirely new budget. (The budget Trump introduced earlier this year calls for massive cuts across nearly every part of the federal government except the military.) But there are a few policy differences that could muck things up and send federal employees packing next week. And Republicans can’t count on getting enough votes from their own caucus to pass a spending bill, since Senate Democrats can filibuster any measure they find objectionable.

Here are the issues that could prevent a deal:

The wall

Trump might have promised throughout the campaign that Mexico was going to pay for a border wall, but everyone in Washington knows that if Trump is actually going to begin construction on the wall, he’ll need Congress to appropriate the funds. So far, that’s a nonstarter among Democrats.

Last week this looked like it could be the disagreement that would break the government. But on Tuesday, Republicans handed Democrats a funding plan offer that doesn’t include the wall.

Still, Trump could insist on getting at least a partial victory on the wall. On Tuesday morning, he took to his favorite medium to reiterate his plans:

Obamacare

Despite Trump’s goal of seeing the Affordable Care Act repealed during the first 100 days of his presidency, Republicans haven’t settled on a repeal bill that can clear the House, let alone the Senate. But as Mother Jones explained last week, Trump has a backup option that he could pull out if he truly wants to send the ACA marketplaces into a death spiral. The White House doesn’t need congressional approval to end funding for a provision of the law that forces insurance companies to offer lower deductibles, copayments, and other out-of-pocket expenses to low-income families. Cutting off those funds would cause premiums to spike and more insurers to leave the marketplaces.

Earlier this month, Trump threatened to do just that in order to get Democrats to help Republicans repeal Obamacare. Trump’s famed negotiating skills backfired this time, and some Democrats now say they’re willing to block the spending bill and shut down the government if these funds aren’t included (though the message hasn’t exactly been unified among Democratic leaders). Unfortunately for Trump, it sounds as if House Republicans might agree with the Democrats. “I don’t think anybody wants to disrupt the markets more than they already are,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs a House subcommittee on health care, told the New York Times earlier this month, saying he supports the funds.

Defense spending

It’s the least likely of these three issues to prompt a shutdown, but Democrats and Republicans are still hashing out the details of defense spending levels. Trump asked for a ton of extra money—a $54 billion increase—for the Pentagon budget. Democrats are fine with a more modest defense spending hike, but only if it’s paired with extra spending for domestic programs, as has been the case in the past few budget deals. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that his party wants to maintain that same ratio for the current deal.

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Will the Government Shut Down This Week?

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It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

Mother Jones

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Since 1982, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has organized an annual remembrance ceremony in which Holocaust survivors, members of Congress, and community leaders gather to memorialize the millions of people murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust. For the last 24 years, the president has delivered the keynote address without controversy. But this year was different.

Before Trump took office, his campaign came under fire for overt and coded anti-Semitism and since becoming commander in chief, his administration has continued to face criticism for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement on International Holocaust Day and for not doing enough in response to anti-Semitic acts. There were calls to rescind Trump’s invitation and some on the museum’s board of trustees felt conflicted about whether to even attend.

“I’ve struggled with whether or not I should even go, or to stay away in protest,” board member Andrew J. Weinstein told the New York Times. He said he ultimately would attend despite his “deep concerns about the president and the people he’s surrounded himself with.”

But during the remembrance ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Trump called Holocaust deniers accomplices to the “horrible evil” and vowed to “confront anti-Semitism.” He then personally addressed the Holocaust survivors in attendance and explained its trauma to them at length.

“You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond description, beyond any description,” he said. “Many of you lost your entire family—everything and everyone you love, gone. You saw mothers and children led to mass slaughter.” Here’s the video of his remarks:

“You saw the starvation and the torture,” he went on. “You saw the organized attempt at the extermination of an entire people—and great people I must add. You survived the ghettos, the concentration camps and the death camps.”

Some Holocaust survivors have spoken out forcefully against Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, noting that the United States turned away Jews seeking refuge during the Holocaust. Others have noted similarities between Trump’s and Adolf Hitler’s nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric as they rose to power. Some victims of the Japanese internment camps in the US have also issued similar warnings, saying Trump’s campaign promises and fear mongering about immigrants and Muslims echo sentiments that led to their imprisonment.

In closing, Trump told those gathered in the Capitol, “Your stories remind us that we must never ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time…Each survivor here is a beacon of light, and it only takes one light to illuminate even the darkest space, just like it takes only one truth to crush 1,000 lies.”

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It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

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Unroll.me Is Latest Victim of Two Minutes Hate

Mother Jones

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Have you heard of Unroll.me? I hadn’t until they suddenly popped up in my Twitter feed because everyone was telling me to uninstall their app and never do business with them again. It turns out that Unroll.me is a company that scans your email and unsubscribes you from all your spam. Useful! And free! So how do they make money? By selling data to folks who will pay them for it.

In particular, it turns out that one of their clients is Uber, which was interested in keeping tabs on its biggest competitor, Lyft. Unroll.me helps by scanning email for Lyft receipts and telling Uber whether Lyft’s business is up or down. This is what caused the commotion.

My initial reaction was: Duh. What did you think Unroll.me was doing to make money? I didn’t bother writing anything about it because I didn’t really care that much, but today co-founder Perri Chase (who’s no longer with the company) comes to the defense of her friend and Unroll.me CEO Jojo Hedaya:

Anonymized and at scale why do people care? Do you really care? Are you really surprised? How exactly is this shocking?

Or maybe you just hate yourselves because you think Uber is gross but you use them anyway and “why are these tech founders such assholes” that they have to ruin your experience where you need to delete your apps? And you love Unroll.me and you feel righteous and you have to delete that now too because you need to take a stand against these plain-as-day-in-the-terms-of-service practices.

….Let’s look at why we are really in this situation. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is out of control and no one can stop him. No one except a board who refuses to hold him accountable for his disgusting behavior. Yeah. As a woman I think he is disgusting. As a founder, the truth is I’m like DAMN. That guy is willing to do whatever it takes and I have a mild amount of envy that I’m not a shittier human willing to go to those lengths to be successful. See, Silicon Valley rewards it. He is setting the example for the future founders who want to “crush it” and be unstoppable. It’s gross. You don’t hate that Unroll.me sells your data. You hate that Unroll.me sells your data to Uber.

I still don’t know how I feel about this. On the one hand, I’m distinctly unthrilled with the fact that that we all give companies access to so much personal information about ourselves—and we do it for a pittance. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that I’m in a tiny minority. Even when people know precisely what’s going on, they mostly shrug and sign up anyway. That’s the world we live in.

Chase’s “plain-as-day-in-the-terms-of-service” defense is pretty disingenuous since she knows perfectly well that nobody reads the terms of service for the apps they use. But even if they did I doubt that Unroll.me would lose more than a few percent of their customers. Most of them probably wouldn’t care if Unroll.me sold their names and email addresses to Uber, let alone a harmless bit of aggregate data.

For what it’s worth, what I’d like to see from companies like Unroll.me is a really clear explanation on their websites of what they do. Maybe just a short, punchy bullet list: Examples of what we will do and examples of what we won’t do. That’s what I’d like. And a pony.

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Unroll.me Is Latest Victim of Two Minutes Hate

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Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

Mother Jones

Someone asked me on Twitter if health care premiums had spiked after Obamacare went into effect. That turns out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer. There’s loads of data on premiums in the employer market, where premium growth has slowed down slightly post-Obamacare, but not much in the individual market, which is where Obamacare has its biggest impact. However, a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution rounded up the best evidence for pre-Obamacare premiums and compared it to premiums in 2014-17, when Obamacare was in effect. Here it is:

Premiums dropped in 2014, and are still lower than the trendline from 2009-13. So no, premiums didn’t spike under Obamacare.

Now, there are lots of caveats here. The pre-Obamacare estimates are tricky to get a firm handle on. What’s more, the Obamacare premiums are for the baseline coverage (second-lowest silver plan), while average pre-Obamacare policies might have been more generous in some ways (for example, deductibles and copays).

However, most of the pre/post differences suggest that Obamacare policies are better than the old ones. The old plans had an actuarial value of only 60 percent, while Obamacare silver plans have an actuarial value of 70 percent. The old plans were also limited to very healthy individuals. Obamacare plans are open to everyone. Finally, Obamacare plans mandate a set of essential benefits and place limits on out-of-pocket costs. These and other things suggest that premiums should have gone up under Obamacare.

But even with all these improvements, premiums still went down, and they haven’t caught up yet. Bottom line: Average premiums in the individual market went down after Obamacare took effect, and they’re still lower than they would have been without Obamacare.

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Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

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