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January 19, 2015 11:19 PM This Weird-Looking Medicaid Expansion Map Would Sadden Dr. King on His Holiday

By Harold Pollack

(This column is cross-posted at the Huffington Post.)

I wonder what Dr. King would think about the current health reform debate. OK I don’t really wonder. Here, for example, are his comments, apparently made here in Chicago:

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.

Martin Luther King supported health care as a human right. He also knew how far we had to go as a nation in making that right a reality.

King was the energizing force behind the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I suspect he would be ashamed but unsurprised to see his home region so resistant to the basic expansion of health insurance coverage to Americans with incomes below the poverty line. To some extent, the extent of southern resistance is obscured by maps such as the one below, that display which states have rejected the Medicaid expansio­­­n around the country:

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 3.13.50 PM

Many of the shaded states such as Wyoming and Montana are huge but sparsely populated. Others such as Wisconsin have small populations left uncovered for other reasons.

Harvard post-doctoral researcher Laura Yasaitis is an expert at drawing different kinds of maps. At my request, she made me a map in which the size of every state was proportional to the number of people who landed in the “Medicaid gap.” (She couldn’t quite do that, since states such as California and New York would simply vanish. We drew each of these states as if they had shut out 2,000 state residents instead of zero. She also taught me how to make Cartograms. SO you may see more such items in this space.)

When we did all that, here’s what the US map would like if it were scaled by the number of affected people in each state (see below):

mcaid_cartogram2

 

Yeah, it looks a bit different, doesn’t it? Nearly 90% of U.S. adults who fell in the Medicaid coverage gap live in the south.

These states have chosen to shut their poorest residents out of Medicaid. They have chosen to do so despite 100% federal subsidies (tapering down to the scandalously low level of…90%) for such expanded coverage. Two border states have rejected this hard-line approach. Arkansas reached a challenging compromise with the federal government. So did Kentucky. These states displayed the nation’s largest declines in their proportion of uninsured residents.

Meanwhile, the biggest southern states with large, poor, non-white populations have conspicuously demurred—despite ample evidence that the Obama administration is willing to make significant compromises with conservative governors and Republican legislatures across the nation to make this work.

Why have southern states have taken such a hard line that punishes so many people? I suspect the best explanation is complicated. Political party, the region’s historic legacy of racial inequality, the limited political influence of poor people–not least the word Obama in ObamaCare–all surely play a role. Whatever the explanation, millions of the nation’s poorest people are locked out of basic health coverage.

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, I am confident that he would be supporting causes such as North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement, which is working to expand Medicaid. I wish they had more company.Governor Romney has recently announced that poverty reduction would be a major theme of his potential 2016 presidential run. He didn’t earn much credibility on this subject last time around. If Romney is looking for his own “Sista Souljah moment” to confront his party’s excessively conservative base, he might start by urging Republican colleagues across the south to address this disgraceful situation.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 19, 2015 11:16 PM Campus Date Rape and Due Process

By Mark Kleiman

A previous post here defended having university authorities investigate accusations of on-campus date rape and impose university discipline, whether or not the complainant chooses to pursue criminal charges, and imposing discipline on something short of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

That still seems right to me. But Nancy Gertner’s careful analysis of Harvard’s new policy shows clearly that complaints about procedural unfairness toward the accused in such cases are sometimes very well founded. The accused has one week to respond, no right to call witnesses or cross-examine, and only a limited right to legal representation, while the accuser has unlimited time and assistance, and the university officials in charge of enforcing rules against gender discrimination act as investigator, judge, and jury, whose findings of fact are unreviewable. Can you say “kangaroo court”?

Gertner also shows that Oberlin’s policy does the same job much better.

Putting the adjudication of such charges, and the review of the performance of the campus officials who manage the process, in the hands of on-campus  Title IX compliance officers and Title IX administrators at the Department of Education is a recipe for disaster.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 19, 2015 10:49 AM Why the Hate for James Taylor?

By Martin Longman

I once spent a couple of interesting nights with James Taylor’s daughter (with Carly Simon) who was friends with an old girlfriend of mine. That’s my only connection to their family, although I did get some scoops on the whole family dynamic, at least as it existed in the late 1980’s. Even at this late date, I don’t feel like breaking that confidence and spilling any dirt. Mainly, I just find it fascinating that the right hates James Taylor with the heat of a thousand suns.

Kevin Williamson is particularly abusive, although I agree that Taylor took all the sugar out of “How Sweet It Is.”

The spectacle of the Obama administration’s dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to “share a big hug with Paris” as James Taylor — who still exists - crooned “You’ve Got a Friend” is the perfect objective correlative for American decline: The pathetic self-regard of John Kerry and James Taylor’s Baby Boomers meets the cynical, self-serving, going-through-the-motions style of Barack Obama’s Generation X as disenchanted Millennials in parental basements across the fruited plains no doubt injured their thumbs typing “WTF?” It is the substitution of celebrity for power, of sentiment for analysis, of sloppy gesture for clear-headed commitment.

We’re responding to barbarism from the seventh century with soft rock from the 1970s.

I don’t know. This seems somewhat overheated to me. I mean, way before John Kerry brought James Taylor along as a good will emissary, Taylor had announced six concert dates in France in 2015. I think he has a fan base there. Maybe a lot of people in France and Europe like him a little better than most American right-wing political pundits? Maybe a lot of people were excited to see James Taylor. It could be, you know. France has some idiosyncratic tastes, including most famously their affection for comedian/actor Jerry Lewis.

But, the thing is, the right has to politicize every single thing. So, first they bitched that we hadn’t sent a higher representative to France than the head of our criminal justice system, Eric Holder. And then they complained that the Secretary of State didn’t bring heavy-metal band Slayer instead of a soft rock legend from the 1970’s.

In any case, if the wingers hate Taylor this much, he must be doing something right.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

January 17, 2015 11:17 AM Legal Cannabis in Vermont? RAND Lays Out the Options

By Mark Kleiman

Last year, the Vermont legislature asked the Vermont governor for a report on the options for legalizing cannabis. The governor’s office hired RAND to do the research. That report is now public. (I’m listed as the third author for alphabetical reasons, though I doubt I did as much as 2% of the enormous amount of work that went into it.)

The Vermont process holds out great promise, because the normal legislative process – ugly as it can be – has the possibility of producing a result much more nuanced and more carefully considered from multiple viewpoints than the initiative process, under which propositions are drawn up by advocates with the advice of pollsters, no one ever holds a hearing, and any idea that can’t be explained in a 30-second TV spot has to be dropped. The key point of the RAND report is that there are legalization options other than full commercialization.  Niraj Chokshi of the Washington Post “GovBeat” blog provides an excellent summary. 

The key design question – this is my view rather than the one expressed in the report, which is scrupulously neutral – is how to make cannabis legally available for use by adults and wipe out the illicit market while at the same time minimizing the growth in use by minors and in the number of people with diagnosable cannabis use disorders (currently about 4 million people nationwide, about 10% of past-year users, 20% of past-month users). There are many ways to skin that cat, but I doubt that commercialization is the best approach.

But however you come out in the end, the major contribution of the report is to break through the simple prohibit/legalize dichotomy and display the wide range of options we have to choose from.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 17, 2015 11:14 AM Mitt Romney Says the Thing That Is

By Mark Kleiman

I notice that progressive bloggers and Tweeters are pointing and laughing at poor little Mitt Romney for his sudden outburst of populism. But it seems to me that, as pleasant as laughter is, what’s really called for is a smile of grim satisfaction. He has told the truth - albeit probably insincerely - and there’s every reason to hope that he and his party will come to regret it.

It is among the core Blue-Team beliefs that the current level of income inequality is unjust, inefficient, and socially destructive, and that public policy should attempt to reduce the degree of inequality.

The Red team - up until today - has believed, or at least said, that market-driven inequality reflects natural differences in economic contribution and is therefore just, while taking from “producers” and “job creators” and giving to the “47%” is unjust, and that the great inequality of outcome maintains incentives and thus contributes to efficiency. They love to criticize redistributive policies as “class warfare” and emphasize the importance of making the pie bigger rather than carving it up more equally, along with (formal) equality of opportunity rather than equality of result.

So when Mitt Romney describes rising levels of disparity - the rich getting richer while the number of poor people increases - as “income inequality getting worse,” he is making a major rhetorical concession to the good-guy side.

Of course he doesn’t really believe it, but hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Once the GOP concedes the claim that, from where we stand now, more equality would be an improvement, I don’t think it’s hard for the Democrats to win the argument about whose policies would do better at moving money from the rich to the middle class and the poor.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 17, 2015 11:11 AM Being Smart Has Nothing to Do With It

By Martin Longman

Think Progress reports on a little brouhaha going on within the House Republican caucus.

The GOP-controlled House will vote on a proposed 20-week abortion ban next Thursday — the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion throughout the United States. The legislation has passed the House for the past two years and was expected to have broad support in the 114th Congress, particularly as Republicans have set their sights on later abortions as an area where they believe they can advance their agenda.

However, the National Journal reports that a group of GOP women led by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) have started pushing back against the legislation, expressing concerns during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Ellmers reportedly said she is worried that voting on the 20-week ban will alienate young female voters, urging her colleagues “to be smart about how we’re moving forward.”

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems kind of unprincipled to worry about alienating voters when you’re trying to take some kind of moral stand. Perhaps a better argument against this bill is that it is horrible policy and will be tremendously unpopular with young female voters for precisely that reason. I mean, any casual observer of Congress already knows that the typical House Republican simply doesn’t give a damn about alienating voters. If they care about getting reelected at all, they expect to do it by mobilizing their true believers.

Now, Rep. Renee Ellmers may want her colleagues to be smart about how they move forward, but either you support the 20-week ban or you don’t.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

January 16, 2015 9:51 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: Pygmalion

By Keith Humphreys

pygmalion-1938-05-g

It’s a fun bit of trivia that George Bernard Shaw is the only person to have won a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Academy Award. He secured the latter for a truly brilliant adaptation of his own stage play: 1938′s Pygmalion.

The plot: Eliza Doolittle is a poor Covent Garden flower girl (Wendy Hiller) with a lower-class accent thicker than a London fog. She is taken on as an experimental subject by imperious, brilliant and eccentric language expert Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard), who intends to pass off this “squashed cabbage leaf” and “incarnate insult to the English language” as a fine, upper class lady. Higgins doesn’t do this out of kindness, but because he wants to show off his abilities as a language and etiquette coach and along the way to win a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland, in an appropriately warm portrayal of upper-class decency). The result is abject hilarity underlain by Shaw’s caustic observations on social class hierarchies. There is also, infamously, a strange romance which resolves in a fashion that is still much debated.

There is so much to praise in this movie! Shaw’s peerless source material is only the beginning of the joy for audiences. Co-Directors Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith give a clinic in how to open up a play with the possibilities of film. Howard is also an antic marvel on screen, consistently watchable and funny without making Higgins more sympathetic than he should be.

But as good as Howard is, and he’s very good, the then-unknown Wendy Hiller is a revelation. She had garnered raves for her Eliza on stage and it’s easy to see why. She wrings all the laughs out of the part but also portrays heart-touching vulnerability and fiery spirit. She later won an acting Oscar for Separate Tables but this is her performance of a lifetime and ranks with the best 20th century turns by a British film actress.

This is also a good-looking film, especially if you treat yourself to the restored Criterion Collection version. Cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. had a fine eye for London life from its poshest to grimiest bits, and he was aided by a soon-to-be famous film editor named David Lean.

Pygmalion is near-perfect cinematic entertainment that remains tremendously appealing today. And though it doesn’t sound or look as good as The Criterion Collection version, you can watch a not bad copy of this public domain film for free at The Internet Archive.

SPOLIER ALERT: Stop reading here if you haven’t seen the film.

Above I wrote “near-perfect” to acknowledge the problematic ending of the movie. It’s an intriguing exercise to analyze this film from a feminist perspective, especially in light of Shaw’s original these-boots-were-made-for-walking conclusion being thwarted by the audience’s desire for a romantic ending. Other than Colonel Pickering, the leading men in this film treat Eliza deplorably. Her father is content to sell her cheaply into sexual slavery and Higgins browbeats her relentlessly while refusing to show her the affection she clearly craves. Eliza’s lovestruck suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill is kinder, but is also a wazzock and unworthy life companion.

How then can a modern audience stomach Eliza romantically capitulating to Higgins in the end? The audience at the time clearly saw this as a happy ending, much as they did a similar ending in a massively popular, similar film of the same period (The Seventh Veil – which is also worth a look on its own merits). I made my own peace with Pygmalion by interpreting the ending not as happy, but as realistic. Young, impressionable women do sometimes fall for older, wealthier, narcissistic men who are not good for them. In any event, the ending of the film need not be the ending of the story of these characters in our own minds, so I feel free to believe that Eliza will eventually be strong enough to throw off the oppressive life that the domineering Higgins intends for her, and you are too.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 15, 2015 11:33 AM Who Regrets Slavery? Not Steve Scalise

By Martin Longman

I know that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) doesn’t have “a racist bone in his body,” but it’s hard to reconcile that with his actions. The third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership didn’t just attend a neo-Nazi conference in 2002, he also led opposition to a 1996 resolution in the state House that expressed mere “regret” for the institution of slavery.

To get some perspective on this, the reason that the resolution was an expression of “regret” rather than a straight-up apology is because David Vitter negotiated watered-down language in exchange for his support.

Another familiar face was in the committee meeting as well: Republican David Vitter. The U.S. senator and 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial candidate was also a state representative serving on the panel.

Vitter echoed Scalise in the meeting, arguing that an apology for slavery implied an “admission of guilt,” according to the minutes. The future U.S. senator said “an expression of regret” was more appropriate.

[Then-state Rep. Yvonne] Dorsey eventually agreed to Vitter’s suggestion, and the resolution was unanimously amended to include the “regret” language.

But this wasn’t enough for Scalise. He made an effort to “defer” the bill in committee [it failed 11-2] and then he vocally yelled ‘no’ as the bill was passed on the House floor in an uncontroversial voice vote.

I know that we’re all supposed to make certain allowances for the way things used to be in the South, and, yes, 1996 was a long time ago. But even by the standards of the mid-1990’s, Steve Scalise was an outlier.

Let’s be clear, too, that this wasn’t an expression of regret for the more recent Jim Crow laws. This was about slavery. And Scalise wasn’t making some pedantic point about how it’s anachronistic to hold our ancestors to the moral standards of the present. He just didn’t think that there was anything to regret.

Dorsey, who now serves in the state Senate and goes by Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, told The Hill this week that she was hurt when Scalise attacked her resolution in the House and Government Affairs Committee.

“I didn’t like what he said and how he said it. It was callous,” said Dorsey-Colomb, who is the descendant of slaves. “I think he wanted nothing to do with it. It was like, ‘How dare you bring this up and ask us to do this?’”

I remind you that Steve Scalise is the House Majority Whip, a position held in the past by folks like Dick Gephardt, Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer. Other relatively recent Republican (minority) whips include Eric Cantor, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney.

Scalise holds a position that is powerful in its own right, but it’s also a position that tends to lead places.

Yet, we’re told that Scalise isn’t actually a racist. We’re not told that he used to be a racist and then had some kind of epiphany like, say, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Basically, we’re just told that Scalise never was a racist despite the obvious fact that he behaved in an obviously racist way over the period of many years while serving in the Louisiana legislature.

As I’ve said before, pretending to be a racist isn’t somehow better than actually being a racist. In some ways, I think it is worse. I don’t like excuses that take the form of “that’s just what I had to do to get elected.”

But that’s the best excuse available to Scalise, and, in that case, he was too convincing as an actor.

If the GOP wants to carry this anvil, they’re welcome to it, but the nation deserves better than this. We have an example to set for the world, right?

This isn’t getting it done.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

January 15, 2015 8:24 AM It’s Official: Leaving UCLA for NYU

By Mark Kleiman

This has been in the works for a while, but now it’s formally out: I’ll be leaving UCLA after 19 years (that’s one Great Year, if you’re keeping lunation score at home) and moving to the Marron Institute on Urban Management at NYU. I’ll be working on crime control and drug policy, with a visiting appointment at the Wagner School, where I’m hoping to teach in the new undergraduate public policy major. The Institute is the brainchild of Paul Romer, based around a simple proposition: while the major worldwide social process of the century 1950-2050 is the migration from villages to cities, no one has a clue about how to run those cities. My job is to figure out the public-safety part of that challenge, and in particular how to massively reduce incarceration while keeping crime trends headed downward.

I’m looking forward to: working with Paul Romer, lliving in Manhattan,  spring, fall, thundershowers, sunsets, broad-leafed trees, bookstores, and being in the right time zone for national news and only a comfortable train ride away from DC, Philadelphia, or Boston.

I’m not looking forward to: summer, winter, and East Coast manners.

I’ll miss: great colleagues and students at UCLA, hiking any day of the year, beaches.

I won’t miss: watching the California budget process destroy the University of California. Pat Brown’s creation of the UC system was one of the greatest public-management triumphs of the 20th Century. (It’s not well known, but in the Shanghai rankings UC holds four of the top 20 slots worldwide.)  There’s a way to prevent the legislature and the governor from pounding UC back into mediocrity – a constitutional amendment ballot initiative requiring the state to spend at least as much on universities as it does on prisons – but after ten years of failing to get anyone at UC to take the idea seriously (even after getting endorsements from LA Police Chief Charlie Beck and SF District Attorney George Gascon) I’m giving up.

The public policy department I’ll be leaving is, in my carefully considered – though of course not unbiased – view, the best, pound-for-pound, in the country. That is, if Kennedy or Goldman or Harris or Sanford or Wagner offered to trade one of their faculty, selected at random, for one of ours, also selected at random, I’d advise UCLA to turn down the offer. There aren’t enough of us – see complaint above – but we’ve managed to mount a first-class MPP program, and in recent years we’ve been able to attract an excellent group of students. It’s agreed that I’ll stay connected to UCLA in some capacity.

In the meantime, the Big Apple beckons. As a way of dealing with a midlife crisis, a new job beats a Miata. And once I have Manhattan apartment with a guest bedroom, I expect to see a lot of my out-of-town friends.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 15, 2015 8:20 AM Religious Terrorism

By Michael O'Hare

Most societies have exerted control of individuals they find dangerous by threatening to make the remaining life of a criminal miserable, or to simply confiscate it. This works well enough (with plenty of opportunity to improve existing practices): people with evil intent mostly think they will be caught and punished, or killed in the process of a violent act, and an expected value calculation comes out in favor of not doing the crime.

Sometimes violence isn’t a crime; the civilized world would have applauded the White Rose for blowing Hitler up if they had succeeded, and certainly (if it ever happens) the armed citizen who puts down the lunatic about to shoot up a school or theater is simply doing the right thing. People give up their lives to do good in this world, like the soldier who throws himself on the grenade to save his buddies.

Some very large amount of hideous behavior never occurs because most people have a working moral sense whether or not it derives from religious teaching, and some faiths assert an eternal post-life time during which acts on earth will be punished or rewarded, so doing wrong is discouraged by some combination of just knowing what wrong is, and a selfish benefit-cost calculation.

When religious teaching promises heavenly reward for savagery on earth, we face a distinctive set of challenges (and what seem to be new levels of savagery, like sending a ten-year-old girl into a market with a bomb). Suicidal murderers are not deterred like bank robbers by the fear that they won’t “get away with it”; oversimplifying only a little, they have been sold the belief that the mayhem they are about is a quick ticket to eternal happiness. If their present life is a dead-end struggle in a segregated banlieue slum, so much the better. There is no practical sanction society can threaten such a person with to get a good benefit-cost calculation, especially if the society trying to protect itself looks like a bunch of ungodly infidels. Neither armed guards hoping to shoot first, nor a room full of heat-packing citizens going about their business, offer more than modest protection against a suicide bomber at the security desk or door, or in a large heavy vehicle with a running start. Tactics directed at the bombers and shooters, that kept gangster crime in last century down to a dull roar, are toothless here.Perhaps we are coming to a time when a particular category of religious doctrine, and merchants thereof, are indigestible to a functioning society, just when the “functioning society” has become something more like “humanity” then “Nation X”. The idea of a country’s “internal affairs” has been shredded by the internet and the 747, and isolation of toxic sources is penetrated by prison gangs and cell phones. The doctrine doesn’t have to be religious, as the direct-action anarchists of the turn of the last century showed, but now it almost exclusively is, and the anarchists were (i) motivated by human welfare on earth, not pie in the sky when we die (ii) a lot more concerned to blow up and shoot political leaders, who can be practically protected, than dozens and hundreds of ordinary citizens.

In addition to the invocation of unprovable, unarguable theology to justify savagery, the current breed of terrorists share another brand of villainy with (for example) kidnappers, by turning our best instincts, like due process of law and respect for life, against us.

Back in the day, there was a status of “outlaw” that malefactors could earn by doing a lot of really bad things and refusing to submit themselves to the courts. An outlaw so designated was denied the protection of the laws and could be legally killed by anyone who got the drop on him. I am not much troubled by the extremely rare criers of fire in crowded theaters, but the lunatic fringe of radical Islam, that breeds suicidal terrorists by a supernatural reward proposition not susceptible of assessment with facts or evidence, is starting to make a concept of freedom of speech that has served western society well for a long time look oversimple. Egging on lost souls to shoot abortion providers, while staying safe and cozy in front of a computer, is a similar category of criminality, but its death toll and even its total toll of human suffering is manageable (could be better, of course) by our usual criminal justice tools and informal social controls.

ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the lot are a different problem. The generals very likely believe for themselves the eternal reward story they peddle, and drone strikes on them have not exactly shut down the machine. It would be better if the civilized world didn’t give them Abu Ghreib, Islamophobic bigots on Fox News and talk radio, Marine le Pen and all the other excuses to view us as deserving extermination, but they are not fighting a war for fair treatment by oppressors. They are fighting a war to reverse thirteen centuries of human development and using every piece of that development they can get their hands on, from gunpowder to electronics to habeas corpus, to do it. They are not a criminal justice problem, nor a military problem, nor a social justice problem; they are something new (at least in the last few centuries), different, and strategically deeply perplexing.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 15, 2015 7:46 AM A Socialist Sets the Budget

By Martin Longman

I’m one of those geeks who actually enjoys looking at (and even trying to predict) who serves on which committees in Congress, so I am actually always abreast of who is on the verge of taking over as the chairman or ranking member of a new committee due to the retirements or electoral defeats of other members. I knew, for example, that Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was well-positioned to take over for Sen. Tom Harkin as the top “Democrat” on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee. So, I was surprised to see that he hadn’t gotten the job. Instead, that position was taken by Senator Patty Murray of Washington.

Now, I knew that Sen. Murray had the seniority to claim HELP if she wanted it, but I presumed that she’d prefer to stay as the ranking member on the Budget Committee. You may remember that Sen. Murray has been a central player (along with Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin) in negotiating through all the government shutdowns and fiscal cliffs and CRomnibuses and so forth. Murray is fourth in the Senate Democratic leadership behind Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Schumer, and she has twice run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She’s also a high-ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, sitting below only Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and president pro tempore emeritus Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Maybe she is tired of dealing with fiscal crises, but she opted not to stay as the Democratic point-woman on budget negotiations now that she and her party are in the minority.

However, her decision opened the door for Bernie Sanders, especially because she was denying Sanders a leadership chair on HELP. So, now, all of a sudden, we have a committed socialist in position to argue budget priorities with the Republican House and Senate for the last two years of Obama’s presidency. Not only that, but Sanders is in pretty good position to be the chairman of the Budget Committee if the Democrats have a good election night in 2016 and elect a Democratic president and win back control of the Senate.

Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews explains plenty about why this matters. We can start with the person Sen. Sanders hired to serve as his chief economist on the committee:

His big move: naming University of Missouri – Kansas City professor Stephanie Kelton as his chief economist. Kelton is not exactly a household name, but to those who follow economic policy debates closely, tapping her is a dramatic sign.

For years, the main disagreement between Democratic and Republican budget negotiators was about how to balance the budget — what to cut, what to tax, how fast to implement it — but not whether to balance it. Even most liberal economists agree that, in the medium-run, it’s better to have less government debt rather than more. Kelton denies that premise. She thinks that, in many cases, government surpluses are actively destructive and balancing the budget is very dangerous. For example, Kelton thinks the Clinton surpluses are nothing to brag about and they actually inflicted economic damage lasting over a decade.

As Matthews goes on to explain, Professor Kelton is a proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), “a heterodox left-leaning movement within economics that rejects New Keynesianism and other mainstream macroeconomic theories.” Perhaps the most radical thing about MMT is its view of the dollar as more of an artifact of value than a determinant.

MMT emphasizes the fact that countries that print their own money can never really “run out of money.” They can just print more. The reason we have taxes, then, is not to pay for stuff, but to keep people using the government’s preferred currency rather than, say, Bitcoin…

…The main takeaway from this is that you really don’t need to balance the budget over any time horizon, and attempts to do so will hurt the economy. That’s what Kelton argues happened after the Clinton surpluses of the late 1990s / early 2000s. Any dollar of government surplus must show up as private debt, she reasons. And the private sectors just can’t run up debt like that indefinitely. “Eventually, something will give,” Kelton once wrote to Business Insider. “And when it does, the private sector will retrench, the economy will contract, and the government’s budget will move back into deficit.”

You may have heard this argument being propounded during the debate over the Trillion-Dollar Coin. Interestingly, Paul Krugman, who isn’t a proponent of MMT, ultimately signed off on the Trillion Dollar Coin idea because it was preferable to economic terrorism. For Krugman, the coin idea could work only in very specific circumstances, basically with interest rates at zero so that bonds and cash were basically equal in value. That’s different, of course, from the idea that the dollar and its value are just arbitrary conventions that people use out of habit. We could, under this view, dispense with taxation altogether and just print whatever money we needed to fund the government at whatever level we’d like. But we don’t do that because we like to maintain the fiction that our currency (and our paychecks) is how things are paid for. The need to pay taxes compels people to use the currency printed by the government.

There’s actually more to this argument than may at first meet the eye, but there’s also more to the argument that there’s value in maintaining that fiction. Maybe there is something absurd about how we generate money in this economy, but it does seem to work. And it isn’t long before absurdity takes over once you abandon the assumption that a dollar created must be paid for in debt (or that what we spend must have some relationship to what we raise in revenue).

In any case, that’s a theoretical argument that I’ll leave to people who are better informed about monetary policy. What’s important here is that the chief economist for the Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee doesn’t think we need to give a damn about the debt.

Matthews thinks this may create rifts in the Democratic caucus and a headache for the Obama administration, but it should be acknowledged that the Democratic leadership allowed this to happen. It must have been, in some sense, what they wanted to happen.

And, regardless, the headache is more likely to come when Sanders is chairman and can craft the budget plan.

So, watch out Hillary!

January 14, 2015 2:45 PM It’s The Frequency, Not The Size: Compromise & Credit Claiming in Congress

By John Patty

As the new Congress starts up and we enter President Obama’s final two years in office, much has been written—-and assuredly will continue to be written—-about how and whether various politicians (from McConnell to Obama) and more generally, either (or both) the GOP or the Democrats should and will claim credit for public policy victories.

Is credit claiming a good thing or a bad thing? Well, as every good parent knows, credit claiming per se is pretty innocuous. The question is whether claiming credit secures a reward. In politics, of course, the traditional reward is a vote or, perhaps, a donation. So, is rewarding credit claiming a good thing or a bad thing? On the “good thing” side, rewarding credit claiming can motivate incumbents to actually, you know, work for their constituents so as to have something to claim credit. On the “bad thing” side, if some claimable things just happen to, ahem, happen anyway, then rewarding credit claiming can actually reduce the amount of effort incumbents exert on behalf of their constituents.[1] All that said, one might ask—-how, and how much, does credit claiming actually work?

Justin Grimmer, Solomon Messing, and Sean J. Westwood have recently examined this question in this 2012 article in the American Political Science Review (APSR) and this 2014 Princeton University Press book, The Impression of Influence: Legislator Communication, Representation, and Democratic Accountability. Quoting from the abstract of the APSR article, Grimmer, Messing, and Westwood find that:

Constituents are responsive to credit claiming messages—they build more support than other nonpartisan messages. But contrary to expectations from other studies, constituents are more responsive to the total number of messages sent rather than the amount claimed.

This is a particularly interesting finding in the context of the current (divided) Federal government. I have several (confirming, buttressing) ideas about (perhaps) why they find what they find, but here I wanted to briefly consider the question of how this finding speaks to the best strategy that either party could follow over the next two years.

Two simple facts are that good governance requires constant tinkering and patching[2] and tinkering and patching sometimes requires no effort at all. The Grimmer, Messing, and Westwood finding focuses our attention, as do the two above-linked posts, on the fact that it is sometimes really good to focus on getting a lot of victories, rather than focusing on winning “the big one.” That is, Grimmer, et al. find that it is more important to have done a lot of things lately than to to have done one arguably really awesome thing. [3]

So, while it is always complicated to set aside the (arguably venal) motivation to not only win but “make the other side lose,” the GOP and Democrats should, according to Grimmer, et al.’s findings, race to effect good change on as many things—-even, or perhaps especially, the “small stuff”—-as they can, and set aside the grand fights. This means moving toward “work horse” stuff (as discussed by Wallach) and at least for a time putting the weapons down over politicized/polarized issues like Obamacare, immigration reform, and the Keystone XL pipeline.

It is important to remember, Congress is a menagerie both varied and occasionally horrifying, but the apparent polarization and fractiousness of this collection thinly masks the most common of threads: most Members of Congress seek reelection, and in that pursuit, they’ll be seeking to claim credit. The smart ones will be those who have the most, not the biggest, things to claim credit for.

_______________

[1] This is because the range of rewards (e.g., a vote) are typically bounded: once the incumbent has secured your vote, he or she has less incentive to “work for you” than if you could give him or her, say, two (or more) votes.
[2] Of course, necessary and sufficient conditions are distinct: I am not saying that constant tinkering and patching suffices as good governance.
[3] Again, I have some ideas about why this is a good thing (or, in put-you-to-sleep terms, a characteristic of voter behavior in the welfare maximizing equilibrium).

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

January 14, 2015 2:39 PM Police Work and Homicide Rates

By Mark Kleiman

I agree with Radley Balko that – other things equal – less intrusive policing is better.

And of course we can all agree that it’s wonderful that Dallas, like other cities, now has an historically low murder rate.

But it’s also worth noting that – according to the news story Balko’s post links to – “historically low” for Dallas means 9 homicides per 100,000 population. The comparable figure for New York City is 4 per 100,000.

Does that prove that more intrusive policing (or a better social safety net, or higher alcohol taxes, or the availability of real bagels) reduces homicide? Of course not. But critics of NYPD tactics – including the undersigned – also need to acknowledge the truly spectacular drop in crime that coincided with the COMPSTAT era.

Footnote These figures are also unlikely to be cited by the “more guns, less crime” crowd. But it’s worth noting that NYC has not only an unusually low homicide rate, but an unusually low ratio of gun killings to total killings.

New York has notoriously ferocious gun laws, along with aggressive policing which – among its other effects – makes it much more likely that carrying an unlicensed firearm will lead to arrest. One of the striking findings from the crackdown on turnstile-jumping was the relatively high percentage of the arrestees who were illegally armed. But the even more striking finding was how much that percentage decreased after the crackdown started.

Can you say “deterrence”? I thought you could.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

January 14, 2015 2:37 PM Dr. Ben Carson is a Scoundrel

By Martin Longman

I have a lot of negative things to say about Dr. Ben Carson but my understanding is that he was a tremendously talented pediatric neurosurgeon. And when you are separating conjoined twins or performing an hemispherectomy, it seems to me that one of the key requirements for success is an unusual capacity for attention to detail. Yes, it’s important to have better than average hand-eye coordination and a talent for three-dimensional reasoning skills, but you also need to make sure that you’ve prepared for every contingency and understand the details of every task you will have to undertake. Somehow, however, these skills simply haven’t translated from the surgical field into the world of letters.

Dr. Ben Carson apologized Thursday for plagiarizing parts of his book America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great and said he’s working with his editors to “rectify the situation.”

ben-carsonx220

I think Dr. Carson needs to set aside his quest for the things that made this country great and focus on the things that made him a great surgeon. For some, plagiarism is the result of carelessness, but with people like Carson it is the act of a simple scoundrel.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

January 14, 2015 2:02 PM How Dangerous is Police Work?

By Blake Fleetwood

After the senseless death and tragic funerals of two young New York City policeman, cops have got to be thinking about assassination. “I want to go home to my wife and kids,” said a cop to the New York Post.” I am concerned about my safety.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press,” NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton said that cops across the country “feel under attack”

They have good reason to worry. Getting killed is a hazard in many occupations, but there is one glaring difference between death risks of law enforcement officers and those of other dangerous occupations: only police officers face the threat of murder as a part of their job. No one is out trying to kill fisherman or loggers or garbage collectors.

A cop on the street endures daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled and violent criminals. They endure life-and-death situations on a daily basis.

However, the misconception that police work is dangerous, propagated by the media and police unions, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy— especially, if police believe that they are going into deadly battle when they head out on patrol. They are likely to be nervous and trigger-happy and might affect their decision-making in a stressful situation.

The fact is: being a policeman is one of the safer jobs you can have, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor.

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal; nine NYC policemen attempted to take their own lives in 2012, alone. Eight succeeded. In 2013, eight NYPD officers attempted suicide, while six succeeded. If police want to protect themselves, a wise move might be to invest in psychiatric counseling, rather than increased firepower.

2013 had the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887 nationwide.

The national figures vary widely from year to year. In 2014, police deaths in the line of duty, including heart attacks, spiked upward from 100 in 2013, to 126 in 2014.

But the trend has been clearly downward in the last 40 years. Police work is getting progressively safer compared with historical averages:

  • From 1970 to 1980 police deaths averaged 231 per year.
  • 1980 to 1989: police deaths averaged 190.7
  • 1990 to 1999: police deaths averaged 161.5
  • 2000 to 2009: police deaths averaged 165
  • 2013 to 2014: police deaths averaged 113.

Statistics are drawn from the police friendly National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund which also show that felony killings of police dropped by 50 percent from 1992 to 2013 from 10,000 to 5,000 annually per 100,000 residents.

Statistics are notably unreliable both from the federal government and from law enforcement friendly sites. The best statistics come from the New York City Police Firearms Discharge Reports.

The Report for 2013 noted the following:

—- In 1971, 12 officers were killed by other persons and police shot and killed 93 subjects.

—- In 2013, no officers were shot and killed and police killed 8 subjects.

To put the risk of policing in perspective: fisherman and loggers are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, a farmer is 2 times more likely to die on the job, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

The 10 Deadliest Jobs: Deaths per 100,000

  1. Logging workers: 128.8
  2. Fishers and related fishing workers: 117
  3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers: 53.4
  4. Roofers: 40.5
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: 37
  6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors: 27.1
  7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers: 23
  8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers: 22.1
  9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers: 21.3
  10. Construction laborers: 17.4

Out of approximately one million police and law enforcement personnel, with 126 deaths per year, the death rate for police is 12.6 per hundred thousand.

The most dangerous job in the U.S. is being president. Eight out of 44 presidents died in office, about 18 percent. Four were assassinated, just over 9 percent.

Most policemen killed on the job die in accidents (mostly auto), not from firearm assault, according to the FBI.

According to FBI figures (which are slightly different than other tabulations), 14 of the 76 police deaths in 2013, nation-wide, were due to auto accidents —- when the officer wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Tragic for sure.

Of the 76 cops who died in the line of duty in 2013, 18 of them were from gunfire. The rest were traffic fatalities or slips and falls.

Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 80.2 percent of the incidents, firearms in 4.3 percent of incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.7 percent of the incidents.

About 40 percent of officers (30) who die in the line of duty are homicides, which would give police a murder rate of 3 per 100,000, compared with the average national murder rate for the general population of 5.6 per 100,000.

The average citizen of Chicago had a murder risk of 18.5 in 2012, more than three times the murder risk of policeman. Police killings are almost always classified as line-of-duty.

In reality, police don’t draw or fire their guns very much.

Many NYC cops never draw their weapons in their whole career. In New York City, only one cop in 755 fired his or her gun at a suspect intentionally in 2012. In 2013, only one of 850 officers fired a weapon at a suspect intentionally.

In 2012, 80.2 percent of officers who were assaulted in the line of duty were attacked with personal weapons (e.g., hands, fists, or feet).

4.3 percent of the officers were assaulted with firearms.

The reason a policeman’s job is getting safer is simple. There has been a dramatic drop in crime in the last two decades. Less crime means safer working conditions for the people who try to stop it.

The act of policing needs to be safer. Use body cameras. Cut down on the number of traffic accidents. Mandate the use of seat belts on duty. Enforce better and more professional training to avoid dangerous situations, and offer better counseling to deal with the stress of the job.

Attacks on police are a great media story, but if the false narrative — that policing is getting more dangerous — continues to spread it will have a significant effect on how police do their jobs —- making them more fearful than they already are, with increasingly deadly results for the general public.

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