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August 01, 2014 8:21 AM Kentucky Shows Why We Fought For the ACA

By Harold Pollack

Via the indispensible Sarah Kliff at Vox, this pre-post map of Kentucky health insurance coverage puts a lump in my throat. This is what we fought for ACA, and what we will eventually achieve when low-income red states eventually embrace the Medicaid expansion.

I’ll never be involved in another presidential campaign as I was with the Obama campaign and the fight for health reform between 2007 and 2012. I knocked on hundreds of doors, made I-don’t-know-how-many-phone-calls in the hope of achieving near-universal coverage. Maps like this make me so glad that I participated in that fight. That map reflects hundreds of thousands of lives changed, in a single small state that went against President Obama, big time, in both 2008 and 2012.

More from Sarah Kliff here.

August 01, 2014 8:08 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: The Three Musketeers

By Johann Koehler

Be prepared to buckle your swash and save the day in this week’s big-budget movie recommendation, as we’re going back to the 17th century in Richard Lester’s take on The Three Musketeers (1973).

The plot is well-trodden ground: the feisty and ambitious D’Artagnan (played by Michael York), son of a dispossessed nobleman, dreams of joining the ranks of the famed musketeers, the King’s personal guard. He travels to Paris, oafishly making enemies along the way with the powerful Cardinal Richelieu’s henchman de Rochefort (played by Christopher Lee), and three dissolutes named Porthos, Aramis, and Athos (played by Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain, and Oliver Reed, respectively). Resolving himself to the restoration of his honor, D’Artagnan challenges the last three to a duel and bides his time with de Rochefort.

It turns out that Athos, Aramis, and Porthos are themselves musketeers, and could use D’Artagnan’s help repelling the Cardinal’s men. Meanwhile, the Cardinal (played by Charlton Heston) is busy hatching a dastardly plot to expose the Queen of France’s infidelity to the King with the Duke of Buckingham. D’Artagnan endeavors to foil the power-hungry Cardinal’s plan, although we suspect he does so more to impress his fellow musketeers and his new paramour Constance, the Queen’s maid played by Raquel Welch, than as a matter of fealty to the King.

The premise of the plot takes some time to set up, and for good reason. As far as adaptations of books go, this one is pretty faithful to the original. Dumas’ book, it should be noted, is not spare on plot details; as was common for serialized novels at the time, galloping plotlines held readers’ attention more effectively than did profound character development, which resulted in a sizeable book with an excess of intricate details of exposition. That meant that Lester was left with an abundance of material far beyond what could be fit into a single feature length film - so the producers from the Salkind family split the reel into two, and released the sequel (The Four Musketeers) a few months later. When Welch expressed consternation that her work was creating un-remunerated profit, other actors joined her in a legal suit, the product of which is the ‘Salkind Clause’ requiring up-front declarations of how many movies are to be made from filmed footage.*

The production is a little difficult to place: at times, it feels like a fanciful and carefree family film; at other times, it is pretty desperate, raw stuff. For example, Lester has an eye for slapstick, as is evident in the many thigh-slaps, coquettish Benny Hill female caricatures, and maladroit stumbles and trips over the furniture. But there’s also a real sense of toil and struggle in Musketeers, given that it’s an early work of gangbanger fiction. Nothing quite shows how empty the lifestyle really is of people living in squalor as the effortless transition from the most detached luxuries of King Louis’ palace to the slop of Constance’s home; nothing quite captures the meaninglessness of honor violence as the sweaty, tortured, and quite frankly sad duels between the musketeers and the Cardinal’s guards; and nothing is quite so pathetic as the pretense to nobility among over-dressed henchmen stealing meals from the starving owners of a local inn.

Fear not, though. Musketeers won’t leave you worried about your conscience. It succeeds at what it was intended to do, which is to provide a fun conspiracy romp across France (even though the landscape is actually Spanish), some dazzling swordplay, and 17th century costumes replete with lace, pearls, and feathers. What’s not to like, really? The big name ensemble is certainly up to the task, although highlight performances include those by Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed, both of whom (correctly) bring a touch of psychopathy to their roles. Thank goodness Lester didn’t pursue his original idea to cast the Beatles as the musketeers, following from his earlier films (e.g., see Keith’s review of Hard Days’ Night).

En garde!

* As it happens, the Salkinds were hardly put out by the legal imbroglio; the huge profits garnered from Musketeers would go on to fund Brando’s colossal paycheck in their next film Superman (see review here), but that’s a story for another day.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 31, 2014 11:34 AM Republicans, Stand Up to Impeachment Crazies

By Jonathan Bernstein

Everyone is talking impeachment this week. Some notes.

Forty years ago, the House Judiciary Committee was finishing up its impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. Since then, each second-term president has faced some sort of — at least semi-serious — impeachment talk: Ronald Reagan over Iran-Contra; George W. Bush over torture and executive overreach; Barack Obama over being Barack Obama. Oh, and Bill Clinton …

It isn’t hard to draw the conclusion that the threshold for serious impeachment talk keeps get lower. Iran-Contra was a bigger deal than the Lewinsky scandal. That, in turn, may not have been bigger than the case against Bush in an absolute sense (particularly Bush’s involvement in torture, which many Bush supporters still haven’t denounced). But it’s worth remembering that Clinton’s scandal was backed by a (nominally nonpartisan) independent counsel report dumped on Congress, along with widespread, bipartisan agreement that the president had seriously misbehaved. Impeachment was a wildly inappropriate response, but it’s not as if Congress made up the whole thing. And then we reach the bottom of the barrel with the Obama impeachment talk, which for the most part doesn’t even bother with specific accusations of wrongdoing, let alone evidence or proof or arguments.

It’s worth recalling that in July and August 1974 impeachment was very close to a consensus opinion. The first two articles approved by the Judiciary Committee — abuse of power and obstruction of justice — won the support of two essential swing groups: Southern Democrats, who were Nixon supporters most of the time, and moderate to liberal Republicans, who might have stuck with the president for partisan reasons. At that point, however, in late July, most conservative Republicans stuck with Nixon, though one defected on Article II.

However, the Judiciary Committee’s deliberations and votes took place concurrently with the last great court battle of Watergate, which meant the committee voted without knowing the contents of the “smoking gun” tape that showed Nixon had been lying to the nation and that he was clearly guilty of not only abuse of power but also continuing obstruction of justice. When the contents of the tape were made public, Nixon’s chief defender on the committee abandoned him. Had Nixon not resigned, only a handful of ultraloyalists in either chamber would have voted against impeachment and conviction.1

Democrats were right in 1987 and 2007 to reject the notion of a partisan impeachment effort. It’s good that House Republicans have apparently (and belatedly) decided to do the same now, though their performance has been pretty shoddy to this point. And we still haven’t had strong statements from House leaders directly taking on people from their own side, including members of the House who have flirted or worse with the notion. Instead, House Republicans have apparently decided to pretend that the White House started it last week. Not to mention they are still proceeding with their poorly thought-out lawsuit.

Impeachment is a constitutional mess best reserved only for cases in which no other recourse is available. That was true in 1974. It hasn’t really been true since, and it’s not remotely close the case now. Responsible Republicans should stand up and say so, even if it might cost them a bit with the crazies in their party.

1 And even then, only a small sampling of the White House tapes had been exposed. Seen in context, the “smoking gun” tape was just a hint of the evidence of how thoroughly Nixon had deceived his supporters during the long investigations and impeachment drama.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 31, 2014 9:14 AM Why It Can in Fact Make Sense to Make Big Donations to Harvard

By Keith Humphreys

Philanthropist Ted Stanley has announced a $650 million donation to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Apparently, Mr. Stanley did not accept Matt Yglesias’ argument that such gifts are “ridiculous”. Yglesias sees such donations as inequality maximizing and foolish because not many undergraduates at Harvard and other elite schools are poor.

Thank goodness Mr. Stanley did not accept Yglesias’ argument, which is based on an overly narrow view of what universities like Harvard and MIT do. Research is critical to their mission, and the caliber of scientists and infrastructure they have positions them unusually well to make breakthroughs, including in the treatment of dreaded diseases.

Mr. Stanley wants to advance treatments for serious mental illnesses, in part because his own son experienced bipolar disorder. These devastating diseases are among the leading causes of disability not just in the U.S. but worldwide. The Broad Institute has some of the best genetic and genomic researchers in the world on its staff, and they have already made progress on unraveling the genetic basis of schizophrenia.

From a rigidly egalitarian viewpoint, perhaps what Mr. Stanley should have done is cut up the gift into 10,000 pieces and given small grants to every single schizophrenia researcher in the country, or perhaps directed the gift entirely to universities that currently lack the resources to do genetic research so that they could build capacity over time. But neither of those approaches would be as likely to generate better treatments for serious mental illness as what Stanley actually did: Supported world-class people with world-class facilities to work on the problem.

In addition to being wise, Stanley’s gift is socially just. If we could more effectively treat or even prevent disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the lives of countless families would be dramatically improved, particularly lower-income families who often lack the resources to care for their loved ones who have serious mental illnesses. Ironically enough, that enormous trans-income-level benefit is much more likely to come about from a gift to a wealthy university than to a resource-starved one.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 30, 2014 7:27 PM Progressives Need to See the Bigger Picture on Iran

By John Bradshaw

Progressives who gathered in Detroit two weeks ago for the Netroots convention were not very focused on national security issues, but when those issues did come up there was one loud and clear theme: No more wars in the Middle East. This anti-war sentiment has long been an animating force for progressives and is now understandably heightened by a war weariness shared by a large percentage of the American public. But progressives can contribute more to the national security debate than just a strong voice in opposition to reflexive military solutions. There is a need for a positive progressive vision that supports alternatives to military solutions and finds an appropriate and sustainable role for American national security policy. On one current issue, the effort to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, apprehension about being sucked into another futile Middle Eastern war has motivated many on the left, but there has been less focus on the possible longer terms benefits of a diplomatic agreement in getting U.S. policy in the region on a better track.

Talks between Iran and the P5 + 1 nations have made considerable progress since an interim agreement was signed in November 2013. Tough issues remain to be resolved so negotiations have been extended beyond an initial July 20 deadline and now have November 24 as a target date for reaching an agreement. A good deal that prevents Iran from being able to construct nuclear weapons but allows a civilian nuclear power program under strict inspections is within reach. In return for submitting to intrusive inspections and agreeing to limits on enrichment, Iran would get relief from international and U.S. sanctions. If a deal can be reached and can be effectively implemented, what are the possible positive consequences for U.S. policy in the region?

For decades, the U.S. has been trapped by perceptions of its role in the region that limit flexibility. The implacable hostility toward Iran, complex relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the alliance with Israel have prevented the U.S. from being seen as an honest broker. Simply signing a deal with Iran, of course, will not ensure the U.S. a freer hand in the Middle East. But if the Iranians comply with the provisions of the agreement and the U.S. implements sanctions relief on its end, Iran would be on a path toward gaining status as a normal nuclear state under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Iran’s nuclear program has long been an obstacle to any move toward improved relations. Putting Iran on track to nuclear normalization can demonstrate the effectiveness of diplomacy to the region and eventual sanctions relief can begin re-integrating Iran into the world economy. A good deal, adhered to by Iran, could “unstick” diplomacy in the region open doors to more constructive possibilities on a number of issues. Progress on the nuclear issue could form a foundation on which the US could build to address Iran’s role in Syria and Iraq, in funding terrorist groups in the Middle East, in Afghan drug trafficking, and other regional issues.

For too long, our inability to deal with Iran has contextualized our engagement with partners in the Gulf, feeding the narrative that the United States is taking sides in a new cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that needlessly exacerbates Sunni-Shia tensions. By engaging both Iran and Saudi Arabia, the United States can rebuild its reputation as a constructive player in the region.

A responsible, verifiable deal with Iran would strengthen the legitimacy of the P5+1 nations as diplomatic players and would enhance the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in enforcing nuclear agreements. In the longer term, as former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian recently wrote, a deal could be a stepping stone to greater non-proliferation goals, including a “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East.” If Iran no longer has active nuclear weapons ambitions they could become serious partners in ensuring that the Saudis or others in region are also not pursuing such a capability.

Above all, what should resonate with progressives the new diplomatic possibilities in a post-Iran deal Middle East might allow the U.S. to extricate itself from long years of military entanglement in the region and enable a broader focus on other global challenges. For example, an agreement with Iran could help jumpstart the Obama administration’s stalled “re-balancing” toward Asia. A success with diplomacy in Iran could create an image of the U.S. as an honest broker and enhance our ability to resolve volatile issues in the South China Sea.

For progressives, a deal with Iran can be more than simply a path to eliminating the direct threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. It can be a first step toward a more constructive approach in the whole region that allows the U.S. to be perceived more as a diplomatic and economic partner than a military superpower leaving destruction, broken countries, and hostility in its wake. Progressive voices should be heard in the media and in Congress promoting an agreement with Iran not just to prevent war but to open up new possibilities for positive diplomatic engagement in a region that has long jammed American policy in rigid and frustrating approaches.

July 30, 2014 4:06 PM Free Lunch Here

By James Wimberley

Yet another blue-ribbon report on the high costs of delaying action on climate disruption, this one from the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers. It won’t change closed minds. I suppose the drip-drip effect may bring round a few waverers, or shift some real journalists away from false balance.

What it should do is prompt a rethink on strategy among the reality-based.

A money graf from page 14 (italics added):

Recent research shows, however, that even if a delay in international mitigation efforts occurs, unilateral or fragmented action reduces the costs of delay: although immediate coordinated international action is the least costly approach, unilateral action is less costly than doing nothing.

Read this together with recent findings that the absolute GDP costs (footnote) of strong mitigation are very low or nil. In the wooden prose of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, WG 3, Summary for Policymakers, page 15:

Under these assumptions [all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price, and all key technologies are available] mitigation scenarios that reach atmospheric concentrations of about 450 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 entail losses in global consumption - not including benefits of reduced climate change as well as co-benefits and adverse side-effects of mitigation – of 1% to 4% (median: 1.7%) in 2030, 2% to 6% (median: 3.4%) in 2050, and 3% to 11% (median: 4.8%) in 2100 relative to consumption in baseline scenarios that grows anywhere from 300 % to more than 900% over the century. These numbers correspond to an annualized reduction of consumption growth by 0.04 to 0.14 (median: 0.06) percentage points over the century relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.

0.06% a year is well within the error of any model forecasts. Over 50 years, it’s noise. The takeaway is: to a first approximation, mitigation costs nothing. (footnote 2).

There is no free rider problem. It does not make sense for the US or the EU to wait for China. Just get started. The same argument applies for China: don’t wait for the USA. It even applies to Costa Rica (which is already showing them an example).

This calls for a rethink of the assumptions that have governed the long and hitherto fruitless struggle for a comprehensive international agreement, replacing and strengthening the partial Kyoto Protocol of 1997. These were:

  1.  Coordinated action is the cheapest and most effective mitigation strategy. (True).
  2. A uniform global cap-and-trade scheme or equivalent carbon tax is the most efficient and least dirigiste way of achieving any given carbon reduction target. (Fair enough, with the large exception of technology development – footnote 3.)
  3. It is essential to get everybody to sign up to the agreement setting out targets and mechanisms, otherwise countries that stay out will enjoy a free ride at the expense of those that do. (False.)

It is assumption 3 that has stymied the process so far. Saudi Arabia and Canada and Bush’s USA (or whoever is competing for the lanterne rouge slot that year) have to be on board, so they get an effective veto. With such a veto, no conceivable universal deal can be an adequate one.

But we don’t need a universal deal and should not try. Instead the aim should be an open-ended coalition or coalitions of the willing, driven forward by the brave and firmly based on the science, not held back by the cynical, cowardly and ignorant. Think of a large city marathon, with élite runners, weekend club ones and sponsored jokers all in the same race.

For an example, one of the coalitions could be to phase out coal: no new coal generators without CCS, sunsetting of existing non-CCS plants by 2030, retraining for miners, etc. There are a lot of countries that don’t use coal today that could sign immediately. The USA and China would join later. But the standard would be down in print.

* * * * * *

Footnote 1
These estimates all use cost in GDP. We should of course use NNP, after depreciation. Talking about the environment, the weaknesses of this as a measure of welfare are no longer marginal. In an NNP estimate, with its corresponding definition of the capital stock and its depreciation, we necessarily assume that apart from a tiny amount of services to ecotourism:

  • Value of polar bears and hundreds of other threatened species: $0
  • Value of Amazon forest: $0
  • Value of Antarctic icecap: $0
  • Value of Himalayan glaciers and snowfields: $0
  • Value of coral reefs: $0
  • Value of anxiety of human populations about climate-driven disasters (hurricanes, floods, droughts): $0 (We are already capturing the costs of the disasters after they happen.)
  • Value of anxiety of human populations about long-term climate change: $0

You don’t have to put a specific money value on these factors, or even think it’s possible to do so, to agree that a GDP/NNP measure substantially underestimates the true welfare costs of climate disruption. So it necessarily greatly overstates the net costs of preventing it. The call isn’t even close.
Return

Footnote 2
Does the low-cost conclusion hold up if action is incomplete? Why not? Where are the strong cross-border interdependencies in efficiency measures, deployment of renewables, etc? There can certainly be mutual learning, and benefits from economies of scale realized elsewhere, but you don’t need a world treaty or bureaucracy for this. Everybody else has benefited from Germany’s solar policy in the last decade. The European coordination imposed by the EU Commission has been at best pointless and at worst harmful in Germany, pressing for the replacement of tested and well-liked FITs by untried “direct marketing” and auctions. Jean Monnet would not have agreed that short-run Pareto efficiency trumps long-run growth.
It’s possible that impacts are non-proportional to CO2 concentrations, so comprehensive action is less costly. By the time we know for sure if the damage curve is non-linear, it will be too late.
Return

Footnote 3
All cost estimates are sensitive to assumptions about technologies. WG3 assume that cost-effective CCS will become available soon, a very big ask. SPM table 2, page 16. Erring on the other side, in pricing renewables they give a median LCOE @ 10% cost of capital of $160 per Mwh for utility solar in favourable regions and $84 per Mwh for onshore wind. Annex 3 to full report, page 7. These are over  twice the going PPA rates in the US Southwest; not distressed prices, but profitable commercial deals. (Wind, solar.) This is one drawback of relying on outdated peer-reviewed scientific literature rather than ordinary news, which for simple prices is just as reliable. General experience with pollution controls and indeed with normal (non-nuclear) technologies is that costs fall faster than initially expected.

You can get a free-rider problem back through technology: why not wait until the Chinese have got solar system costs down to 50c a watt? Maybe so, but it’s imprudent. First, if a lot of people wait and then all rush in at the same time, there is every chance of a spike or plateau in costs - as happened to both US wind and global solar around 2008, for different reasons. Second, you usually save money by taking it steady, planning things right, and building up expertise and supply chains. Third, early movers dominate the equipment market. Look for (rather than at) Britain’s nonexistent solar manufacturing industry. Fourth, in all developing countries demand for energy and especially electricity is rising rapidly. The demand has to be met now, like a teenager’s for a smartphone, next year’s better model be damned. Since wind and solar are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many places, it pays to invest today, even knowing that the gear will be cheaper next year.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

July 30, 2014 10:16 AM Catch of the Day: Paperwork Republic

By Jonathan Bernstein

A Catch for some excellent reporting goes to the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, who delivered a wonderful example of what two decades of Republican governance, the Gingrich Way, has produced.

A short description:

Step One: Newt Gingrich-era Congress turns a soundbite — unelected bureaucrats are writing all these horrible regulations without Congressional participation! — into a massive make-work mandate to produce meaningless paperwork;

Step Two: Tea Party-era Congress slashes federal staffing, reducing the number of people available to do meaningless paperwork;

Step Three: Government agencies stop bothering with meaningless paperwork. As a result, enactment of some regulations may not be technically correct.

It’s a perfect example of post-policy Republicanism — going back two decades.

In case you’re wondering, this requirement that agencies notify Congress about regulations has nothing to do with scaling back federal power or reducing the government’s role. For that, you need action (a law to eliminate, for example, Coast Guard regulation of offshore fireworks displays, if that’s what you want). All these mandated requirements do is force government bureaucrats to perform additional paperwork, most of which is filed away and never read. Or, lately, not done, not filed away and not read.

If the original idea had merit, it’s pretty clear after 20 years that it hasn’t worked out in practice. Of course, it could easily be repealed or modified. But that would take a Congress that actually cares about the substance of government (though to be fair, Democrats did nothing to clean up the mess when they ran Congress from 2007 to 2011). So, yeah, it probably ain’t gonna happen.

Still: Nice catch!

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 30, 2014 10:11 AM Self-Control Makes for Savvy Saving

By Megan McArdle

A few weeks back, when I wrote about the joys of the 15-year mortgage, I got the same reaction from a lot of people: “Why would you repay a loan when at these low rates, it’s practically free money?”

I hear this about a lot of things. “Why would you buy a car for cash/save up to remodel the kitchen/have an emergency fund instead of a home-equity line of credit? Mathematically, that’s insane!”

I don’t think it’s quite as arithmetically unreasonable as my interlocutors suggest. Once you add risk into the equation, the calculations don’t come out quite so neatly. By refinancing to a 15-year mortgage with a lower rate, we locked in 125 basis points a year, completely risk-free. And when the mortgage is completely paid off, we’ll get another 3.25 percent, 100 percent guaranteed and risk-free. There are no risk-free investments that deliver that kind of return. You can make more money by adding risk — but you can lose more that way, too.

Moreover, math is not the only consideration. As I’ve noted before, personal finance is not primarily about math; the arithmetic part is so easy that even journalists can do it. The hard part is discipline.

From time to time, I write about Dave Ramsey, the personal-finance guru who advises people to get themselves entirely out of debt. A lot of people think that the power of his program is getting rid of all those interest payments. And if you have a huge mountain of 18 percent credit card debt or you’re cycling thousands of dollars’ worth of payday loans, then yeah, the interest rate is your big problem.

But for most people, that’s not the case. For most people who are really struggling with debt, the principal is their problem, not the interest: the $30,000 truck on a $35,000 income, the six-figure student loans, the house in the “stretch” neighborhood that’s eating up 40 to 50 percent of every paycheck. Going debt-free fixes their problem not by saving them all those interest payments, but by making it harder to buy things they can’t afford.

Every purchase is a trade-off; you buy this, thereby giving up the opportunity to buy that instead. Debt makes those trade-offs less painful because people care more about now than later. So you get to have this right now while leaving most of the foregone consumption for later periods. Effectively, you lower the current emotional price of consuming something expensive.

Unfortunately, you don’t lower the total emotional price. Later, those trade-offs may still have to be made, and because you had imperfect information, they may turn out to be painful indeed — that extra $250 a month on the mortgage may be the price of the travel soccer team your child is dying to join or flying across the country to see a sick relative.

So aside from risk, one major reason to buy on cash rather than credit is to make the sacrifices first, so that by the time you buy, you know exactly what you’re trading off to get the object of your desire — and that those trade-offs are worth it to you.

Not everyone needs to do this, of course; some people are good at handling credit, while some people can’t control themselves. Long before we decided to refinance to a 15-year mortgage, we decided to take out much less mortgage than we could afford in order to give us more breathing room in our budget; if we hadn’t been disciplined enough to do the latter, then we wouldn’t have been in a position to move to a shorter-term loan.

But even if you’re relatively disciplined, you might be surprised to find how much further a little extra discipline can get you. When I wrote about the Ramsey plan for the Atlantic in 2009, I actually tried his all-cash plan, and I was shocked to find out how much money I saved. Our budget wasn’t particularly extravagant before, and I’d allocated cash into the various envelopes based on what we were already spending. But somehow having to spend cash out of an envelope rather than just pulling out the debit card made me much more frugal. I’d been terrified of running out of money, but we finished the month with extra cash in every single category.

That’s the power of making your trade-offs explicit. And that’s why we’re now trying to save up front for things that other people — even thrifty people with sterling middle-class values — would finance.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 29, 2014 4:04 PM Republican Tantrum Damages Government

By Jonathan Bernstein

The good news? Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has dropped his mostly-meaningless holds on State Department nominations.

The bad news? Senate Republicans continue to impose an across-the-board virtual hold on every executive branch nomination.

Having invoked the “nuclear option,” which makes judicial and executive branch nominations subject to a simple majority vote, Senate Democrats now have the votes to force confirmation of any particular nominee as long as they remain united. However, Republican foot-dragging has created a backlog of more than 100 nominees, almost none of whom are controversial, and some of whom have been waiting since January for Senate floor action.

Normally, with an August recess looming, dozens of nominations would be bundled together and confirmed in bulk. After all, as long as there’s no controversy (and almost all of these nominees will be confirmed unanimously once they get a vote), there’s no reason that the Senate couldn’t move quickly on them. But these days, Republicans withhold the unanimous consent needed to expedite nominations, allowing only a handful of nominations to reach the Senate floor each week. Republicans don’t force cloture votes, or even demand time-consuming recorded votes, on every executive branch nomination. But neither will they let them proceed unhindered. Filibustering everything remains standard Republican operating procedure.

I understand that Republicans are upset about the Democrats’ filibuster reform. It has robbed them of leverage over nominations — even if it’s entirely their own fault for having abused that leverage. But Republicans aren’t harming Senate majority leader Harry Reid by blocking nominations. They’re harming the functioning of the U.S. government. (Perhaps it might be nice to have ambassadors appointed in a few important nations?) And they are needlessly, cruelly, messing with people’s lives. On top of all that, they’re eliminating the leverage of individual Senators. As Cruz (maybe) just learned, there’s no point putting an individual hold on a nomination that is already being held up by the entire Republican caucus.

And why? For the sake, as far as I can tell, of a tantrum.

It’s an embarrassment to the Senate and to the Republican Party. It’s well past time for Republicans to get over it and move on.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

July 29, 2014 1:32 PM The “Dear Harold” Advice Card

By Harold Pollack

My friend Dylan Matthews is starting/resuming an advice column. He’s a busy person. I thought I would save him some time by encapsulating the sum total of wise advice on the below index card. I could only fit half of the world’s wise advice on one card. So I suppose Dylan’s column is still needed.

Regular readers will be shocked that it tilts in the direction of #dadtweet advice….

50% of new human knowledge 1900-2014.

50% of new human knowledge 1900-2014. Copyright Harold Pollack

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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