Tag Archives: still

That’s It For Today

Mother Jones

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This is my last post for the day. Starting in a few minutes we’ll be replacing the guts of our website with something newer and better than what we have now, and no one at MoJo is allowed to edit the site until we’re done. That will be Tuesday morning according to our tech boffins.

I fully expect everything to go flawlessly during this conversion, because that’s how things usually go with computers. Right? Still, there’s an outside chance of something going wrong, which might mean I don’t show up for blogging duty on Tuesday. If that happens, don’t panic. Leave that to us professionals. We’ll get it all sorted.

In the meantime, I have important robot research to do and even more important vacation planning to do. See you Tuesday.

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That’s It For Today

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Trump Planning to Hold Tax Plan Theater on Wednesday

Mother Jones

Here’s all you need to know about President Trump’s tax plan:

Mr. Trump’s aides have been working on a detailed tax proposal, but that isn’t ready yet. The announcement on Wednesday is expected to focus instead on broader principles….Mr. Trump’s statement last week that he would announce details of his plan later this week caught his team off guard, said people familiar with the matter.

In other words, it’s all theater. On Wednesday we’ll get a vague description of “broader principles” that will include gigantic cuts in the top rates for both individuals and corporations, along with just enough eye candy for the middle class that Trump can pretend it’s a tax cut for everyone. It will basically be a campaign document with a few extra tidbits so that Trump can claim to have released his “tax plan” during his first hundred days.

The benefit of staying vague, by the way, is that it’s impossible to score his plan until every detail is filled in. Still, I expect the usual suspects at the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center will try. So where do you think they’ll end up? My guess is that it will cost $4 trillion, of which 95 percent will go to the top 10 percent. Enter your guess in comments. The winner gets the most precious thing I have to offer: a tweet that announces their victorious prediction.

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Trump Planning to Hold Tax Plan Theater on Wednesday

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Urban vs. Rural Recovery From the Great Recession: Another Look

Mother Jones

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Thomas Edsall writes that as we recovered from the Great Recession, big cities did pretty well but rural areas didn’t. “The fact that people living outside big cities were battered so acutely by the recession goes a long way toward explaining President Trump’s victory in the last election,” he says, which he illustrates with this chart:

I don’t think there’s much question that Edsall is right in general, but this particular chart seemed off somehow. It combines both population growth and employment rate in a confusing way, and it covers the whole country, so it doesn’t account for the way different states responded to the recession. I pondered for a while what I’d rather see, and decided to examine the unemployment rate in California counties. California has a good mix of big cities and rural counties, including a lot of farming counties that voted heavily for Trump, and every county benefited from identical state policies since they’re all in the same state. Here’s the chart, which compares unemployment at the peak of the last expansion to today:

There are four points I can make about this:

If you draw an overall trend line (light gray line), it turns out that that unemployment declined a bit more in smaller counties than in larger counties.
The big cities (purple) all fall into a very small cluster, showing declines between about -1 percent and 0. The smaller counties (orange) are scattered all over the place, from -3 percent all the way up to +4 percent.
The average drop in unemployment is roughly the same in both big cities and the rest of the state. Big cities (-0.39 percent) did marginally better than everyone else (-0.25 percent).
The main farming counties have done poorly. Their unemployment rate has increased by +1.0 percent.

This is just one state, and I’m not trying to pretend that this data offers anything conclusive. What’s more, Edsall has some other facts and figures to back up his point. Still, I’ll toss out two guesses:

Big cities may have recovered better than rural areas, but only modestly. The difference isn’t huge, and by itself doesn’t really explain why Trump won.
The large effect Edsall sees may be due to differing state responses to the recession. I suspect that rural red states shot themselves in the foot by adopting conservative policies (cut taxes, slash spending) that hurt their recovery. This may have been an especially big factor in the 2008-09 recession, since the federal government did less than usual to cushion the blow.

I don’t know if anyone with real econometric chops has tested my second guess. If I find anything, I’ll follow up.

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Urban vs. Rural Recovery From the Great Recession: Another Look

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

Mother Jones

It tuns out that one of features of my new camera is the ability to control it remotely with my cell phone. If you have even a gram of nerd blood in you, this should make you insanely jealous.1 It’s the coolest thing ever.

And yet, as cool as it is, it still left me twiddling my neurons trying to figure out what I could do with it. One possibility was situations where I need to minimize camera shake. Put the camera on a tripod and then snap the shutter remotely without actually touching anything. But that would be just another example of using a thousand dollars worth of technology to do what a ten-dollar cable release can do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Then Marian suggested I could set up the camera by our hummingbird feeder and wait for hummingbirds to fly in. So I did. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Then I went into the living room and watched Roger Federer play Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells. Every time a bird showed up on my camera, I held down the remote shutter button and shot off a few dozen pictures.

Which did me precious little good. Damn, those little buggers are fast. Even with the shutter speed allegedly set at 1/2000th of a second, the pictures were blurry. Also out of focus most of the time, which was a combination of my fault and the camera’s fault. Still, live and learn. Here are the two best shots I got:

The top one is a male Anna’s hummingbird. The bottom one is, I suppose, a female Anna’s hummingbird. The bird folks can enlighten us in comments.

Anyway, I’ll have to try this again. It’s certainly a way of getting some good nature shots without sitting on my hump for hours on end in a muddy patch of dirt. Then again, since the WiFi range for the camera is about ten feet or so, maybe it just means I get a little better selection of where to sit on my hump for hours on end. I’ll have to think of some way to try this with the cats.

1Unless you already have a camera that can do this.

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

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Every Night There’s Going To Be Another Bombshell About The Trump Presidency

Mother Jones

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Late Wednesday night, the Wall Street Journal published a big story alleging that, according to “current and former intelligence officials,” US spies have been withholding sensitive intelligence from President Trump.

In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.

A White House official said: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”

The officials emphasized that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted. Still, the misgivings that have emerged among intelligence officials point to the fissures spreading between the White House and the U.S. spy agencies.

This follows a previous report this week in the New York Observer which conveyed similar murmurs from within the intelligence community.

It’s worth keeping in mind that what Kevin Drum said about that earlier report is still true:

“Inside” reporting about the intelligence community is notoriously unreliable, so take this with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. But just the fact that stuff like this is getting a respectful public hearing is damning all by itself. For any other recent president, a report like this would be dismissed as nonsense without a second thought. But for Trump, it seems plausible enough to take seriously. Stay tuned.

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Every Night There’s Going To Be Another Bombshell About The Trump Presidency

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IUD Sales Set to Soar After Trump Win

Mother Jones

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After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, gun shops did a land office business selling firearms to folks who were convinced that Obama was going to take their guns away. Now the shoe is on the other foot:

Since Donald Trump became president-elect, many women in California say they’ve started looking into long-acting, reversible birth control methods, in case access to contraception or abortions is rolled back. Trump has not said he wants to restrict birth control, but he has spoken often of repealing Obamacare, which could have that effect.

Collins said 45 people were ahead of her in line when she called the clinic. “So I was not the only person with that idea,” she said.

Doctors and Planned Parenthood offices across the state report that in the last week an increased number of women have asked about IUDs. The devices are inserted once and some types could even outlast a two-term Trump presidency. Google Trends shows more searches for “IUD” on Nov. 10 than in the previous 90 days.

I suppose there’s no harm in this. Long-acting birth control is generally a good idea, and IUDs are an excellent choice for many women. Still, don’t be like the gun nuts. It’s possible that Trump could take executive action that rolls back birth control to the dark ages of 2013, but that’s about it. And he hasn’t given any indication that he even wants to do that.

Still, IUDs are great! And there’s a chance that a year from now you might have to pay more for them. Might as well get one now, I suppose. Especially if you work for Hobby Lobby.

Excerpt from – 

IUD Sales Set to Soar After Trump Win

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New Poll Shows Trump Losing Big League

Mother Jones

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This is only one poll, and the sample size is small. Still, it’s the well-respected WSJ/NBC poll, and it suggests the possibility of unprecedented doom for the GOP in November:

In the new survey, Mrs. Clinton jumped to an 11-point lead over Mr. Trump among likely voters on a ballot including third-party candidates, up from 6 percentage points in September….The weekend survey found signs of women moving away from Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton’s advantage among women increased to 21 percentage points, from 12 points in the September Journal/NBC Survey. Mr. Trump retained a small, single-point advantage among men.

Eleven points! Among women, Clinton is now 21 points ahead, up nine points since the previous poll. This polling was done over the weekend, after the Pussygate tape was released but before Sunday’s debate.

In other words, it might get even worse. In fact, since the rumor mill suggests that more videos of Trump are coming over the next few weeks, it probably will get worse. Trump seems to think that a press conference with Paula Jones will turn this around, but that’s beyond crazy. Republicans are already jumping ship to save their own skins, and polls like today’s will feed the panic. Soon Trump will have nothing left but the Old Confederacy—a fitting end for a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic creep.

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New Poll Shows Trump Losing Big League

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Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

Mother Jones

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Here’s a funny thing. Conservatives have spent the past five years pointing to a long litany of alleged problems with Obamacare and gleefully predicting that each of them would lead to its downfall. They never did, either because the problems weren’t even problems, or because they were pretty small beer and didn’t really have any effect. Nonetheless, every month or two brought yet another harbinger of doom for Obamacare.

So you’d think they’d be over the moon at the moment, now that Obamacare really does appear to be facing a serious problem. Even liberals are worried about large insurers like Aetna and United Healthcare abandoning the exchanges, leaving some regions with only a single monopoly insurer. But conservatives aren’t really saying much about this. It’s kind of odd.

Maybe it’s because they’re all too freaked out by Donald Trump. I don’t know. Still, there are some who are noticing the problem and predicting the eventual demise of Obamacare. Here’s Megan McArdle:

Unfortunately, while basically everyone in the country thought that the U.S. health care system was as messed up as a party-school group house on graduation day, most people actually liked whatever coverage they had. That created a political bind: No reform could pass if it seemed to shrink any of the existing major markets in any significant way. Expanding everything would cost a boatload of money and make taxpayers freak out, so the architects of Obamacare finessed this problem with a combination of:

Opaque rules.
Disingenuously optimistic promises such as, “If you like your plan you can keep it.”
Weak versions of unpopular measures needed to make the law work, such as paltry penalties for failing to buy health insurance.
Not touching the wildly inefficient profusion of programs.

All that stuff is what has left Obamacare where it is. The dishonesty was exposed. The weak versions of European measures failed to encourage the behavior changes needed to make the system work. And the fact that every other program was left in existence, largely untouched, created new ways for patients and consumers to game the rules to get maximum reimbursements for minimum expenditure.

None of these are actually operational problems with Obamacare except for the third one. But here’s the thing: last year was the first time people actually got hit in the face with the prospect of a penalty for not having insurance. And McArdle is right: it was too small to motivate people to change their behavior—especially all those young healthy folks that insurers want. $325 for a single adult just wasn’t enough.

But this year the penalty was $695. Next year, it will be either $695 (plus a bit for inflation) or 2.5 percent of your income. For someone making, say, $30,000, that’s $750.

Is that enough? Hard to say. If your income is low, it’s more than the cost of insurance, so you might as well just get the insurance. If your income is a little higher, then it’s true that you can save money by just paying the penalty. But the net cost of insurance is probably only about $1,000 more than the penalty. Once this starts to sink in, a lot of young folks are probably going to conclude that for a hundred bucks a month they might as well sign up.

It will be a few years before we know for sure. In the meantime, it’s clear that insurers screwed up pretty badly in their initial estimates of how much it would cost to insure the typical Obamacare pool. They shoulda listened to the CBO. Still, here’s the thing I don’t get: the obvious response to insurers losing money is twofold. First, some insurers will abandon the market. Second, the surviving insurers will probably raise their prices. This is how competitive markets work. It’s messy and inconvenient, but in the end it all settles down.

The only thing that would prevent this is some kind of death spiral, as rising prices cause even more healthy people to stop buying insurance and instead just pay the penalty. This isn’t impossible. But prices won’t rise at all for low-income buyers, and are capped at 9.5 percent of income for most others. So there’s a limit to just how far this can go, even in theory.

Maybe I’m letting partisan views blind me to the scope of this problem. But I think this is a problem that Obamacare will survive. Prices will go up over the next couple of years. My guess is a rise of around 20-25 percent or so. As the penalties sink in, more young people will sign up. The most efficient insurers will remain in the market and become profitable. And yes, there will probably be individual counties here and there that have only one insurer, or even no insurers in a handful of cases.

In other words, it won’t be health care nirvana. But it will work. The end is still not nigh.

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Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

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BREAKING: Donald Trump Avoids Imploding For Two Days!

Mother Jones

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Here’s the front page of the LA Times this morning. I have to say I’m impressed. Donald Trump gets a huge headline in the lead spot for spending—what? Two days? Maybe three? Anyway, two or three days without doing anything egregiously idiotic. It’s like the way we lavish praise on a two-year-old for not throwing his food all over the kitchen.

According to the story itself, Trump gave a good speech! He ran some TV ads! He visited Baton Rouge for 49 seconds! The first was plainly aimed at his white base, not at the African-Americans it was putatively meant for. The second is the bare minimum that any presidential campaign is expected to do. And the third was transparent hucksterism. Still, he managed to avoid imploding the entire time. Good boy, Donald!

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BREAKING: Donald Trump Avoids Imploding For Two Days!

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Donald Trump Has No Jobs Plan At All

Mother Jones

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Will cutting taxes on the rich, combined with reducing regulation on Wall Street and big corporations, create millions of jobs, as Donald Trump claims? As you may recall, we tried that tonic fairly recently during the presidency of George W. Bush. It didn’t really turn out so well:

Jobs started to recover sooner on Obama’s watch than Bush’s, probably thanks to his stimulus package. Bush just cut taxes on the rich and left it at that. Still, maybe you think this chart isn’t fair. We really ought to measure from the trough of the recession. Here you go:

Based on his speech this morning, there’s no real difference between Bush and Trump on economic policy except for Trump’s claim that he’ll get tough on trade. I doubt that, myself, but it hardly matters. Renegotiating a couple of trade treaties just wouldn’t generate very many jobs. Done badly, in fact—a pretty likely scenario in a Trump presidency—it would hurt job growth. Trade wars have a habit of doing that.

Note that I’m not really making a case for the brilliance of Obama’s economic policies here. I’m just pointing out that Trump’s policies are little more than the same tedious stuff we’ve heard from Republicans for years. If he thinks this tired old rehash is going to supercharge the economy, he ought to at least make some kind of case for it.1 It didn’t work for Bush. Why should it work for Trump?

1And don’t even think of pretending that 9/11 ruined the economy under Bush. It had only a minor, short-term effect. If anything, spending on Bush’s wars acted as a stimuls.

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Donald Trump Has No Jobs Plan At All

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