Last week I took someone to task for placing too much weight on Gallup’s reports of Latino voters supposedly disproportionate turn away from Barack Obama. One week more, and…it’s disappearing even more. In the Gallup weekly reports, Obama trickled down to 40% approval overall after three weeks at 41%, but his approval among Hispanic citizens is up for the third week in a row and now stands at 54%, 14 points higher than his overall rating. That’s consistent with where he was back in September (that is, it’s down, but not down more than the overall dip).
It’s certainly possible that there’s something going on here, but it’s also possible, and perhaps a bit more likely, that the earlier dip never actually happened. It was just a bit of random variation.
I wanted to post on this not to beat up on the same thing, but because there’s one additional point I didn’t mention which is actually pretty important. Gallup publishes, in their weekly reports, a colossal 41 different splits. Look: flip a single coin 1000 times, and if heads comes up 600 times, something is probably going on. But what you’re doing here is walking into a coin flipping factory, with some flipped 1000 times, and some 100 times, and some only 10 times, and yeah, if all you are doing are looking for oddball results then you’re going to find what you’re looking for.
And so, like clockwork, we have another reporter tweeting out that “Obama’s approval has dropped the sharpest among Eastern wealthy post-grads.” Give it a rest, folks: just don’t trust these blips in the crosstabs. There’s no way of knowing whether they’re real or not.
If you showed up at Walmart between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving, you could have ordered a Furby Boom! for $29, less than half the list price. It’s a sweetheart deal for people who apparently are on bad terms with their in-laws, hate the Pilgrims, and prefer Furbies to apple pie.
Yes, sad to say, there are such people in the world. Presumably, however, they are a small group with an unusual set of needs and desires, which is exactly why the sale makes economic sense—for both the retailer and the buyer.
Walmart introduced the one-hour sales for several items on Black Friday last year, and, “due to an overwhelmingly positive response from customers,” the retailer held them even earlier this year, on Thanksgiving itself. Other retailers are also holding sales at highly specific times on Thursday, such as the sales at Toys R Us between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. or Kmart’s discounts on toys and televisions between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Friday morning.
The retailers have provoked the fiery wrath of the Internet, where nearly 1 million Facebook users have shared a “Boycott BlackThursday” pledge as of this writing. “A holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need,” writes Matt Walsh at The Huffington Post. (Forbes’ Laura Heller, documenting the gradual expansion of Black Friday into Thanksgiving, thinks everyone should just relax and enjoy the consumerism.)
However much you care about Thanksgiving, these deals give retailers a clear opportunity to identify those customers who care more about prices.
As my colleague Lydia DePillis explained, the list price for many retail goods is a steep mark-up, so stores still turn a profit when they occasionally lower their prices. Retailers try to get as many people through the doors as possible by offering bargain-basement prices, but—so as not to forego profits unnecessarily—they’ll only offer those deals to those customers who really, really want them. Who want those deals so bad that to get them, they’ll leave a place setting empty at the dinner table on Thanksgiving.
The rest of the time, stores will offer somewhat higher prices. They’ll even artificially inflate them, as DePillis explains. She calls the entire scheme “an elaborate con”—and surely, many holiday shoppers feel that way.
On the other hand, and in all seriousness, you just might be a poor, single parent with a child who really wants a Furby Boom! that you can’t afford, in which Walmart’s one-hour sale seems like less of a fraud and more of a gift.
As Arnold Kling argued a few years ago, on the occasion of the first Black Friday after the financial crisis, price discrimination—what economists call this kind of practice—sounds bad but actually be a good thing. Since manufacturers get more money from consumers who pay more, more Furbies are available, while those who can pay the least aren’t excluded.
Perhaps spending time with one’s family on Thanksgiving has a sanctity that economics simply can’t account for. Even so, sales on Thanksgiving are now likely a permanent fixture of our post-industrial society. That’s the cruel and inexorable logic of capitalism.
There’s one group of Americans who have a special reason to celebrate Thanksgiving: the million who now have medical insurance for the first time, thanks to Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.
I’ll justify the number after the jump. For now: welcome to civilization.
I know, I know: ACA doesn’t create a fully universal system, it’s complicated and kludgy compared to single payer, the federal website was launched as leaky as a sieve and is being repaired as it goes, it’s uncertain whether ACA will rein in healthcare costs, there are over 30 million more uninsured to go, yadda yadda. We’ll be talking about these problems many times. For now, Americans should celebrate a milestone.
I am not a skeptic of psychic phenomenon on principle. We have solid scientific evidence that the human brain is capable of extraordinarily mysterious feats (e.g., synesthesia) and presumably we will discover more such oddities as neuroscience advances. At the same time, I am convinced that the most common basis for what appears subjectively to be ESP or precognition is illusory; a trick the mind plays on us.
For example, at breakfast last week, I found myself thinking about a former colleague that I hadn’t seen in years. “What he’s up to these days?” I wondered. A few hours later I opened my email and received the sad news from a mutual friend that this same former colleague had just died!
I could eat out on this tale for weeks: Though I was a continent away, “something” told me that my colleague had shrugged off this mortal coil. Do I have psychic powers? Are there other tragedies I can sense from a great distance?
If I looked at the two events in the abstract, the case for my psychic abilities seems promising. But when I examine the facts with a more gelid eye — particularly in light of the mind’s tendency to draw connections and to remember the unusual and forget the ordinary — the case falls apart.
I have many times in my life received the news that someone I know at least slightly has gone for a Burton. On how many of those occasions have I been thinking of the deceased just before I got the sad news? Until now, never. What did I do with this fact? I forgot it, because it was ordinary (Can you tell me what you had for dinner on the day the President didn’t get shot?). I will always recall the day the lightning struck, not the far more numerous days when it didn’t.
Here’s another edit that my memory made for me: Until I made myself review events, I forgot all the other people I was thinking about at breakfast. As I flipped back through the newspaper I read over my tomatoes and eggs, I saw the stories and realized that I also thought that morning about Price Charles, my great aunt, Erwin Rommel, the All Blacks rugby squad and Nigel Farage. How many of them promptly joined the choir invisible? None of them (not even Farage, sadly enough). Did I make a mental note at the the time to remember the people of whom I thought who did not immediately die? Of course not. It’s too commonplace to warrant the mental space.
What else did my mind edit for me? The reason why I was thinking of my old colleague in the first place. In the newspaper was a story about the physicist Stephen Hawking. This made me recall the time I was having lunch in Washington D.C. when Hawking and his entourage came in. My lunch companion that day was my now deceased colleague. This may mean that the newspaper’s editors have psychic powers, but pretty well ruins the case for mine.
Before I forced myself to review all the facts, my mind had edited all the dull bits out, leaving only two facts: I was thinking of someone who I hadn’t thought of in a long time and learned of his death only hours later. There is no real connection between those two facts, but the mind is an amazing connector of facts. Indeed, its ability to draw associations is central to the human ability to learn. But it can also, as in this case, fool us into seeing causal links between coincidental events.
One aspect of last week’s Senate showdown still puzzles me: why did the Senate Republicans filibuster judges when they knew that their behavior could lead to the Democrats exercising the “nuclear option”? In hindsight, that is, the GOP blockade against Obama’s executive and judicial nominees seems a bad fight: now they will lose their ability to obstruct nominees and the Democrats will confirm their nominees anyway. It would have been better to concede ex ante, right?
Jonathan Bernstein provides a compelling answer. While it is possible this was a case of miscalculation (who knew the Dems actually meant it?) or thought they would score political points by forcing the Democrats to take the extreme step of changing the rules of the game, it is more likely that the Democrats’ reform solve a collective action problem the Republicans could not solve.
I would like to add to this account using the model from my book on filibustering (obligatory link here). My theory started with the idea that politicians care about both the outcomes they achieve and the rewards and sanctions of external actors for their actions. For example: Ted Cruz’s September “filibuster” had zero effect on policy outcomes but the attention he garnered was well worth the effort. I simplify the filibustering game to four steps:
Everyone “knows” that two glasses of red wine a day are good for your health. But, as Will Rogers said, it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you: it’s what you know that ain’t so. A paper by Hans Olav Fekjær and commentaries by Jurgen Rehm and Sven Andréasson, all in the latest issue of Addiction, review the evidence.
Yes, moderate drinkers have better health, on many dimensions, than non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. That’s the problem: too many dimensions, with too little biological mechanism. The logical thought is that people who drink in moderation probably have, on average, better health habits in other respects than those who don’t drink at all, since by definition they’ve avoided taking their alcohol use to excess while the abstainers either haven’t run that risk or have found that they can’t drink just a little. It’s also the case that, in Western cultures, drinking is normal while non-drinking is somewhat deviant. The fact that in India, where drinking isn’t a social norm, drinking isn’t associated with better cardiovascular health seems to me to seriously weaken the case for a causal connection in other societies.
Why the “Moderate drinking is good for what ails ya” theory has found such ready acceptance, while a comparable finding about moderate cannabis use and academic performance was ignored, is left as an exercise for the reader.
After years of fighting to make Plan B available without a prescription to girls of any age, the discouraging announcement that Norlevo, a European drug identical to Plan B, loses effectiveness in women who weigh more than 165 pounds and is completely ineffective for women who weigh more than 176 pounds, casts a dark shadow on what was previously celebrated as a victory for women’s health and empowerment. The racial and economic disparities of those who can benefit from Plan B turn out to be much starker than previously understood.
Manufacturers of the European drug announced that they will be updating their packaging information to reflect the weight limits, but it’s unclear yet whether the U.S. will make similar changes to the American version.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards, called the government’s decision to drop the appeal “a huge breakthrough for access to birth control and a historic moment for women’s health and equity.”
Yet this turns out to be a far greater “breakthrough” for some women than for others.
People knew Plan B was hard for poor people to access before this announcement. It’s expensive! One package typically costs between $30 to $65, which can be hard to raise on very short notice. In an economy where nearly 2/3 of the 3.6 million minimum wage workers are women, the affordability of Plan B is already a difficult if not impossible expense.
And, as one might expect, American women often come in over this new weight range. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average weight of American women during the years of 2007-2010 was 166.2 pounds. The average weight of non-Hispanic black women aged 20-39 was 186 pounds, and among Mexican-American women, 78 percent were overweight or obese.
To sum up: Plan B is an ineffective and often unaffordable emergency contraceptive for many American women, particularly minorities.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2006, black women had the highest unintended pregnancy rate of any racial or ethnic groups. At 91 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, it was more than double that of non-Hispanic white women.
Plan B is not an abortion pill, like RU-486, which must be administered in a doctor’s office. Instead, it prevents the fertilization of an egg—which is why it must be used within about 120 hours of intercourse. The drug has been available by prescription since 1999, and contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the hormone progestin. Levonorgestrel has been used in birth control pills for more than 35 years; Plan B contains a higher dose and is taken as two separate doses 12 hours apart.
But drug makers say they’re unsure if increasing levonorgestrel levels further would boost its effectiveness for women over 165 pounds. A spokeswoman for the European drug said, “A dose increase of levonorgestrel is not proven to be a solution for this problem.”
The spokeswoman recommended women with higher weight consider intrauterine devices (IUDs) as an alternative. Yet IUDs are even more expensive, costing anywhere from $500-$1000.
As the abortion fight wages on around the country, with more and more states and cities looking for ways to limit access to abortions or ban them entirely, the fact that a safe and legal abortion alternative is ineffective for many women is rotten news.
At least under the Affordable Care Act, women do have more options than they did several years ago. Birth control and preventive services like mammograms are now covered (barring more legal challenges); insurance premiums are now equal across genders.
But unplanned pregnancy is still a problem—even birth control isn’t 100% effective.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 campaign aims to reduce unintended pregnancy by 10%, from 49% of pregnancies to 44% of pregnancies, over the next 10 years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about half of the 6.7 million pregnancies in the United States each year (3.2 million) are unintended.
An emergency contraceptive that disproportionately benefits wealthier and skinnier Americans cannot be the only (relatively) affordable option. If we truly want to help reduce unplanned pregnancy and improve all women’s health and equality, then we need a plan C.
So the question here isn’t so much about the change in power now as it is in the change in power over time. That change doesn’t clearly favor Democrats or Republicans. Rather, it favors majorities over minorities. And a corrective on that front has been overdue for decades. The only thing worse than a Senate where the majority has the power to govern is one where it doesn’t.
I’m going to keep banging this one in, because it’s terribly important. Removing the filibuster doesn’t favor “majorities.” It favors one particular majority. Not a policy majority. The party majority.
Remember, nominations that the majority party in the Senate opposes won’t necessarily make it to the Senate floor in the first place, even if they would actually win if they came to a vote. Indeed, one can imagine a House-like Senate refusing to bring nominees up for a vote unless a majority of the majority party favors it.
“Majorities”? There’s a majority right now for ENDA in the House, most observers believe. There’s almost certainly a majority for a Senate-like immigration bill. I suppose it’s even possible that there’s a majority in the House for some very mild gun legislation. But in a body in which the majority party runs things, those other majorities aren’t getting votes.
The thing is that there are multiple majorities on multiple issues at any one time in any legislative chamber. What parties do is structure things so that certain majorities are allowed to express themselves — and others are suppressed (meaning that in those cases, the minority wins). That’s fine; in fact, it’s better than fine, since legislatures probably couldn’t function very well without that kind of structure. But there’s no reason to assume that the party majority is the only majority that matters, or that it’s always inherently better (and more democratic) to allow the party to determine which majorities count.
And that’s without getting into the more complex question of whether majorities should always win in a democracy. I’m strongly convinced they shouldn’t (a classic example is when an indifferent majority is opposed by an intense minority). But put that aside. Again: reforms which favor party leadership simply do not favor chamber majorities in all cases, at any rate. They favor the majority party.
Strict majority party rule is, to be sure, better than strict minority party rule. Or, even worse, the incredibly bizarre situation in which a minority of the minority party intimidates the bulk of that party into doing whatever they say, and then abuses chamber rules to dictate to the majority party some policy which in fact only a slim majority support. So, yes, given the situation, Harry Reid and the Democrats had no choice but to act, and the result is in fact better than what they were faced with. To say that it necessarily empowers majorities, however, is another question altogether.
The federal government runs a program aimed at aiding areas especially hard-hit by drug dealing. Each High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA, pronounced “high-da”) gets some money and a coordinator who attempts to build links among enforcement agencies. The usual Congressional logic has greatly expanded the original list of five targets; there are now twenty-eight, including Milwaukee and Oregon.
Each operation has a geographic name: there’s a New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and a Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The unit located in Denver is the wait for it
Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or Rocky Mountain HIDTA.
Gordon Moore’s Law, famously, predicted the rate of increase in transistors and associated computing speed. I don’t know if his law holds true, but I do know that he made a enormous sum of money, so I decided to formulate a law of my own so that I also could sit back and let the bucks pour in. My law predicts Captive Audience Rage (CAR), a phenomenon that is familiar to anyone who has for example sat in a movie theater while another patron loudly discusses his highly important business leadership role as the proprietor of the third largest plumbing supply store in Kenosha, Wisconsin, or, has sat for two hours on a bus seated next to a 16 year old girl conducting serial conversations with 10 of her closest, most personal BFFs regarding her recent romantic reversal.
The formula underlying my law is simple: CAR = LOTOBFTLTOPCPC - POHWAITS.
The chart below has the variable definitions. Don’t be intimidated by the math. The central insight of the law is that LOTOBFTLTOPCPC is always going up whereas POHWAITS, alas, is a constant. As a result, any increase in LOTOBFTLTOPCPC invariably results in a commensurate rise in the area under curve: CAR. We can thus project that if cell phones are allowed on planes, CAR will continue on its ever expanding course.
According to the agreement, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. To make good on that pledge, Iran would dismantle links between networks of centrifuges.
All of Iran’s stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, a short hop to weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes.
No new centrifuges, neither old models nor newer more efficient ones, could be installed. Centrifuges that have been installed but which are not currently operating could not be started up.
I’m curious about whether there’s a single Republican officeholder with the guts, smarts, and patriotism to say out loud that this is good for the country.
It is hard to fix a problem without a correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, the dominant economic theories in today’s budget debates fail at this essential task. They therefore prescribe the wrong solutions.
Protracted budget deficits are not the only thing inhibiting America’s economic growth. A long history of over-consumption and low savings has produced an investment deficit that has depleted the nation’s capital stock and left it ill-prepared for the future. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates for example, that the U.S. needs to invest $3.6 trillion in public infrastructure alone by 2020. Government spending needs to be carefully supervised, but it should be obvious that investment produces a positive return whereas consumption does not. For example, a 1 percent increase in the stock of scientific research increases productivity by 0.23 percent.
The country also suffers from a competitiveness deficit as it becomes increasingly attractive for investors and companies to send their money and production activities overseas. During the last decade, the annual trade deficit has averaged almost $600 billion.
By the end of 2011, Mitt Romney had the overwhelming share of campaign money and endorsements on his side in his bid to become the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. To a large extent, the party had decided on that nomination long before anyone set foot in a polling station. Contrast that, however, with the Democrats’ presidential contest in 2008. Yes, Hillary Clinton had a lot of money and endorsements on her side before the Iowa Caucus, but so did Barack Obama, and many endorsers helped pivot that race in Obama’s favor only after the initial primaries and caucuses had been held. Why were these cases different?
Wayne Steger helps shed some light on this phenomenon in his new paper “The Parties Decide Among Candidates,” which he presented at the State of the Parties conference in Akron earlier this month. As Steger explains,
Whether the political parties unify before or during the caucuses and primaries depends in part on: 1) the relative cohesion of the political party coalitions and 2) the candidates who enter and remain in the race. Nominations involve the interaction of party elites and activists who seek satisfaction of their preferences and priorities, and opportunistic politicians seeking to advance their own ambitions with appeals to constituencies that can form a winning coalition within the party.
That is, if a party is highly factionalized, it may have a difficult time unifying in advance of the primaries and caucuses. Relatedly, a party may have a harder time coalescing if there are more high quality candidates involved in the race. As Steger notes, the decisions by Governors Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie not to run in 2012 made it a lot easier for party elites to rally behind Romney. (These two features are not unrelated, of course. Quality candidates may be more likely to enter if a party is more divided, and a unified party may have the effect of forcing quality candidates out of the race, which is arguably what happened to Daniels and Christie.)
Oh, another interesting observation that Steger made in his presentation is that the Republican presidential front-runner three years before the election (think Bush in 2000 or Romney in 2012) tends to run, while the Democratic presidential front-runner tends not to (think Cuomo in 1992 or Gore in 2004). If history is a good guide here, that would suggest Hillary bows out for 2016.
At last, Harry Reid has concluded that the Senate cannot function with an effective 60-vote threshold for confirming nominees, when the his Republican colleagues are using their minority power to undo basic Constitutional processes. Instead of whomping up the usual insincere objections to individual nominees, the Senate GOP has decided that this President will not be allowed to fill any of the vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. So he’s going nuclear, and he thinks he has the votes. (The record suggests that Reid is pretty good at counting.)
I’m on record as saying that a mid-session change in the filibuster rule made by simple majority vote is a breach of the Senate rules. So be it. Extraordinary abuses demand extraordinary remedies. A asymmetric political process, where one side respects convention and the other systematically abuses whatever power it has, is not sustainable.
Greg Sargent is reporting that Harry Reid is going to move towards a showdown on judicial filibusters sometime in the next week, perhaps in the next couple of days.
He has a leadership aid saying Democrats have “no choice,” which is pretty much what I’ve been saying as this thing has been developing.
Think of this as a bargaining game, with the goal of (most of the majority) Democrats to get a situation where filibusters are used, rarely, against nominees who are thought by the minority as far out of the mainstream. They don’t want an outcome with no filibusters, because they want to preserve their position when they are in the minority; but they also don’t want more frequent filibusters.* As Republicans push farther and farther from the Democratic ideal point, total elimination of the filibuster becomes a more and more appealing second-best end point.
Blockading three DC Appeals Court seats is, I’ve thought from the beginning, far beyond that line. Thus “no choice.”
Remember, we still don’t know exactly why the Republicans are where they are. They may want Democrats to eliminate the filibuster; in that case, that’s what we’ll get. On the other hand, it could merely be a breakdown in the tag-team voting they’ve used since the summer confrontation to get cloture on nominations, with different sets of at least five (previously six) Republicans voting yes. If that’s the case, then it may just mean that the dozen or so tag teamers will get together and figure out who has to cast the three additional votes needed on these judicial nominees.
If however, Republicans mistakenly thought that they could roll the Democrats on this but don’t want majority-imposed reform (which, after all, would leave them unable to stop any future nominees), then they’ll need to back down, and the question becomes how far. Perhaps they could get a deal in which they only blockade one seat. More likely, they would have to give up the blockade and agree to allow final votes on at least two of the current nominees and a replacement for the other (assuming they want to take their chances with another selection).
(Tweeter Mansfield 2016 reminds us that Democrats want new additional judicial seats, and suggests that could be part of a deal. That’s a deal that I think Democrats should be happy to take, but one which Senate Republican dealmakers, unfortunately, can’t deliver on because it would require House Republicans to go along. It’s worth remember, however, that part of the reason that the DC Circuit’s caseload is comparatively low is that Congress has failed for many years now to add seats elsewhere on the federal bench).
As long as I’m here, I should mention two arguments I’ve made in the past that are relevant to this showdown. One is that I don’t think the Democrats will push ahead with a bare majority of 50 plus Joe Biden; I think they won’t do it without at least 52. I do think they’ll have the votes (as Jennifer Bendery’s reporting confirms) — in fact, I suspect they’ll have 54 of 55, everyone but Levin. But some of the less enthusiastic may only be along for part of the ride; indeed, it’s even possible that some of them might just be bluffing, and that Harry Reid knows he can’t count on them. That’s possible, but I don’t believe it’s true at this point.
The other one is that I really don’t give much weight to minority-party threats that they’ll shut the Senate down after majority-imposed reform. I expect maybe a few display of outrage, but that they’ll fizzle out rapidly.
At any rate, it sure looks like we’ll know more very soon.
*It’s actually more complicated. They may be indifferent about judicial filibusters, but want to preserve other filibusters — and believe that majority-imposed reform on one would lead eventually to elimination of all filibusters. But that doesn’t really change the situation described here.
It’s a big-government-dependent tool to fight climate change that was championed by Jimmy Carter, is now dominated by the French, and has never managed to compete in the marketplace. So why, exactly, do Republicans love nuclear power so much? By T. A. FrankMay/June 2010
Barack Obama’s biggest second-term challenge isn’t guns or immigration. It’s saving his biggest first-term achievements, like the Dodd-Frank law, from being dismembered by lobbyists and conservative jurists in the shadowy, Byzantine “rule-making” process. By Haley Sweetland EdwardsMarch/ April 2013