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Kevin Drum

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Smart, fearless journalism
Updated: 12 hours 1 min ago

Lunchtime Photo

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 15:30

This is a California bluebell, which I’ve shown you before. But I especially like this picture, with the background so far away that the flowers pop out really vividly. It almost looks artificial, but it’s not! No Photoshop tricks on this one.

April 5, 2019 — Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park, Orange County, California
Categories: Politics

We Need New Stimulus Now

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 14:59

More insanity:

Senior Trump administration officials have begun signaling their willingness to approve a narrow extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits helping tens of millions of jobless Americans hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

….One potential compromise discussed by Republican lawmakers would involve cutting the unemployment benefit from $600 per week to between $200 and $400 per week and making up at least part of the difference by sending another round of $1,200 stimulus payments, these people said.

….White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the administration is opposed to the $600-per-week increase but would not rule out the administration agreeing to a more limited expansion of the benefit. Maintaining unemployment insurance benefits at current levels “does not incentivize returning to work,” Deere said in an email. “UI reform is a priority for this White House in any phase four package and we are in ongoing discussions with the Hill.”

It’s not that the disincentive to work is hogwash. It really is true that the $600 UI bonus is big enough that it makes total UI benefits bigger than normal pay for a lot of low-income workers. But this only matters when people are using this as a reason not to work. Right now, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, mortality is rising, and states are shutting down again. That’s why people aren’t going back to work.

In any case, I’d be willing to compromise on a $400 bonus plus a new round of stimulus checks. The UI bonus is more tightly focused on people out of work, but the stimulus checks go out to everyone, which makes up for some of the folks genuinely in need but who don’t qualify for UI. It’s not a bad combination.

The important thing, though, is to get moving on this. We already know that states need time to get their UI machinery going, and Treasury needs time to print stimulus checks. It’s stupid to make millions of people wait and wonder about if they can pay next month’s rent while Congress dithers. Do it now.

Categories: Politics

5 Million Americans Lost Their Health Insurance *During a Pandemic*

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 12:31

According to Families USA, about 5.4 million non-elderly Americans (i.e., those without Medicare) have lost their health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic:

It goes without saying that this is insane. More than 5 million working-age people have lost their health insurance during a pandemic. The bulk of the newly uninsured are in the South, in states that refused to expand Medicaid after Obamacare was passed. The rest lost their employer health care when they were furloughed and couldn’t afford to replace it. And of course, the states where lack of insurance is the worst are the same states where COVID-19 is rising the fastest:

If there’s anything that could convince the American public that our current hodgepodge of health insurance is broken, this ought to be it. I’ll just repeat the bottom line in case anyone missed it:

More than 5 million working-age people have lost their health insurance during a pandemic.

Insanity. We need universal health care. We need it now.

Categories: Politics

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 13 Update

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 10:46

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 13. Europe and Canada are fine. Argentina might be plateauing, but probably not. Mexico is hard to make sense of. And the United States is continuing its post-reopen rebound.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

Categories: Politics

Are 20 Million People at Risk of Eviction by October?

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 18:20

I’ve seen quite a few pieces lately about the dire condition of renters and homeowners as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. For example:

The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a coalition of economic researchers and legal experts, estimates that 19 million to 23 million Americans are at risk for eviction by the end of September.

Or:

Today, upwards of 20 million U.S. renters are poised to be evicted between now and September, according to Emily Benfer, the chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction.

How bad are things, really? That’s difficult to say because there are so many different ways of measuring housing insecurity. However, near the beginning of the year the Census Bureau put together a survey specifically designed to find out how people were being affected by the pandemic. One of the questions was about the ability to make rent or mortgage payments:

It’s frustrating that the survey doesn’t start until April 23, which means we don’t know the level of housing insecurity prior to the pandemic. That said, my interpretation of this data is that as the stimulus checks and UI bonuses finally made their way to families, they became less concerned about missing rent payments. Then, in June, as they spent down the one-time stimulus and started to worry about the end of the UI bonus, housing insecurity rose.

An increase of four percentage points may seem small, but it represents about 10 million people. If housing insecurity rises to 30 percent by September, that would represent about 20 million people. So it’s fair to say that something like 20 million people might be at risk of eviction by September. It all depends on what Congress does. They have two choices:

  • Twiddle their thumbs and let people be evicted.
  • Extend the UI bonus and do it now. This would most likely keep housing insecurity from rising at all.

Which do you think they’ll do?

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 15:30

This is yet another view of Slot Canyon X from my Arizona trip earlier this year. I wonder how they’ve weathered the COVID-19 shutdowns?

January 27, 2020 — Navajo Nation, Highway 98, Arizona
Categories: Politics

How Bad Is Facebook’s Civil Rights Record?

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 14:17

Facebook recently released a civil rights audit that’s been two years in the making. Kara Swisher describes it:

Facebook actually got an F, too, this week in an independent report that the company had commissioned about itself. The report decried Facebook’s decisions about how to protect its users from discriminatory content, including in ads….Sadly, the 89-page report was not much of a surprise to most critics of the company, which has been slow-walking its responsibility over hate speech and a range of other toxic waste on its platform since, well, always.

This is a columnist expressing an opinion, but it’s pretty typical of the news stories that covered the audit. That got me curious, so I read the report. You would never guess from reading the almost universally negative coverage of the audit that it spends three pages at the very beginning outlining all the things that Facebook has done well:

  1. Reaching a historic civil rights settlement in March 2019
  2. Expanding their voter suppression policies
  3. Creating a robust census interference policy
  4. Taking steps to build greater civil rights awareness and accountability
  5. Improved Appeals and Penalties process
  6. More frequent consultations with civil rights leaders
  7. Changing various content moderation practices
  8. Taking meaningful steps to create a more diverse and inclusive senior leadership team and culture
  9. Investing in diverse businesses and vendors
  10. Investing in a dedicated team to focus on studying responsible Artificial Intelligence methodologies
  11. Implementing significant changes to privacy policies and systems

You can read the report for more details, but these weren’t half-hearted endorsements. The auditors genuinely believed they represented significant progress. They were followed by a few items that Facebook could do better on, most of which were things Facebook was already doing, but needed to do better.

Overall, then, it seemed like the audit was at least moderately positive. So why the intensely negative press? Because of this:

Facebook’s decisions in May of 2020 to let stand on three posts by President Trump, have caused considerable alarm for the Auditors and the civil rights community. One post allowed the propagation of hate/violent speech and two facilitated voter suppression….While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been and the resulting decisions were devastating. Our fear was (and continues to be) that these decisions establish terrible precedent for others to emulate.

The Auditors were not alone. The company’s decisions elicited uproar from civil rights leaders, elected officials and former and current staff of the company, forcing urgent dialogues within Facebook. Some civil rights groups are so frustrated that Facebook permitted these Trump posts (among other important issues such as removing hate speech), that they have organized in an effort to enlist advertisers to boycott Facebook. Worse, some civil rights groups have, at this writing, threatened to walk away from future meetings with Facebook.

Facebook has taken the position that posts from the president of the United States are, by definition, something that citizens have a strong interest in seeing without mediation. After all, if we’re going to vote for someone, we need to know what they think. Facebook has taken a similar stance on posts by other politicians.

The civil rights community, by contrast, takes the position that any post containing bad information about voting should be deleted, no matter who put it up. The president should be treated the same as anyone else.

Does it really make sense that a generally positive report should be treated instead as a huge indictment over this one disagreement? Especially since this disagreement strikes me as a very close call.¹ Why would three posts from Donald Trump, all by themselves, cause civil rights groups to threaten a boycott of future meetings with Facebook? Especially when their criticisms seem to have borne a fair amount of fruit so far?

And why would the news media play along with this? No fair reading of the audit would call it anything other than broadly, but not exclusively, positive. I’m no fan of Facebook generally, but in this case it sure seems like they deserve better press than they got. What am I missing?

For more on Facebook and Trump, Ali Breland has you covered here. For more on Facebook’s Oversight Board in general, Ali and Rebecca Leber have the story here.

¹This doesn’t really matter, but I tentatively think Facebook made the right decision. I don’t especially want them to be the arbitrator of what I’m allowed to see from the president and what I’m not.

Categories: Politics

White House Phase 4 Rescue Plan: Save the Rich

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 11:56

With two weeks left until the Phase 3 coronavirus rescue package ends, the White House is still dithering over Phase 4:

Return to work bonuses? As COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing? That’s insane. But perhaps not quite as insane as a capital gains holiday, which would—

Do what? Literally nothing except help rich people. Do Republicans just pick this stuff out of a hat every time there’s some opportunity, regardless of what problem they happen to be facing? What else could explain this?

Out of this whole list, the only thing that would directly help the 17 million unemployed is the $600 bonus UI payments, so naturally that’s the one thing Trump wants to cut back. Naturally.

Categories: Politics

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 12 Update

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 10:42

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 12. It looks like Wave 1.5 is well underway.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

Categories: Politics

White House Goes on the Attack Against Anthony Fauci

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 12:28

Whatever happened to Anthony Fauci? We don’t see much of him anymore. It turns out that President Trump got tired of Fauci’s pessimism about COVID-19 and has mostly sidelined him. In fact, it’s worse than that. When a Washington Post reporter asked about Fauci, the White House dumped their oppo file on him:

A White House official released a statement saying that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things” and included a lengthy list of the scientist’s comments from early in the outbreak. Those included his early doubt that people with no symptoms could play a significant role in spreading the virus — a notion based on earlier outbreaks that the novel coronavirus would turn on its head. They also point to public reassurances Fauci made in late February, around the time of the first U.S. case of community transmission, that “at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.”

And there’s this:

Trump is also galled by Fauci’s approval ratings. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed that 67 percent of voters trusted Fauci for information on the coronavirus, compared with 26 percent who trusted Trump.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your president.

Categories: Politics

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 11 Update

Sun, 07/12/2020 - 10:55

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 11. This is going to be a bad month.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

Categories: Politics

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 10 Update

Sat, 07/11/2020 - 10:41

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 10. We are now on our fourth day of rising mortality in the US and it’s now looking like a genuine upturn. The lag time between the rise in cases and the rise in deaths appears to be four weeks this time around, as you can see in this Washington Post chart:

If this chart is any indication, four weeks of rising cases means we’re now in for four weeks of rising deaths. And if the rise in deaths matches the rise in cases, our mortality rate won’t plateau until we hit about three times our current death rate.

On the other hand, it’s still true that COVID-19 is now targeting younger people, who are less likely to die from it, and that our hospitals have gotten better at treating it. So even if deaths rise for the next few weeks, they may never get as high as 3x our current rate. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

Categories: Politics

Why Did Trump Commute Roger Stone’s Sentence Instead of Pardoning Him?

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 22:17

President Trump has come through for his crooked pal Roger Stone:

President Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime confidant Roger Stone on Friday, using the extensive powers of the presidency to protect a felon and political ally while also lashing out against a years-long probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

….While the 643-word statement recited a litany of Trump supporters’ complaints about Stone’s “unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial” — including several complaints about the media — the commutation leaves Stone’s conviction standing. Unlike a pardon, which would have absolved the GOP operative of any wrongdoing, the White House action only lifted Stone’s punishment, a 40-month prison sentence set to begin Tuesday.

That’s kind of a drag for Stone. Why the second-class treatment of a commutation instead of a pardon? Wasn’t Stone important enough for a pardon?

But wait. Someone who gets a pardon can no longer invoke the Fifth Amendment as a justification for refusing to testify in court. If Stone were called in some other case, he’d be required to spill any beans he had. But if I understand the law correctly, a commutation is more limited. The conviction stands, and the possibility of putting yourself in further jeopardy remains. Thus your Fifth Amendment rights stand.

So if you wanted to help out a buddy, but you also wanted to make sure he couldn’t be forced to provide dangerous testimony in the future, commutation sure seems like the best bet, doesn’t it?

Categories: Politics

Friday Cat Blogging – 10 July 2020

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 15:00

For the past few years, photojournalists have been fond of taking pictures with a large, out-of-focus element in the foreground. For example, here, here, and here. Hopper doesn’t want to be left out, so I took this picture of her outlined by the handle of a water pitcher.

Categories: Politics

Why Aren’t We Extending the $600 Unemployment Benefit?

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 14:16

Today is July 10th. In 21 days the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits ends.

COVID-19 cases are already skyrocketing, deaths are starting to rise, and states are beginning to close up again. Without the expanded UI, millions of Americans will soon be penniless and back in food lines.

That’s three weeks away. Why are we waiting on this? Why do we keep doing things at the last second, which allows states no time to respond? Extend the benefits now. It would be nice to toss in some aid to states and cities at the same time, but the bare minimum we need to do is extend the UI benefits.

What’s the holdup?

Categories: Politics

Donald Trump Says a Lot of Stuff

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:33

Can Donald Trump ban TikTok? Can Donald Trump withhold funding from schools that don’t open up in the fall? Can Donald Trump take away the tax-exempt status of universities if he doesn’t like what they say?

No, no, and no. Trump likes to pretend that he can, because it makes him look tough, but that’s all. So let’s stop pretending that these are genuinely open questions that require deep dive explainers. OK?

Categories: Politics

The COVID-19 Recession Is All on Trump

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:16

A couple of months ago, I remember arguing that it would be fairly easy to restart the economy once we had defeated COVID-19. My reasoning was pretty simple: unlike a normal recession, which breeds a tremendous amount of uncertainty, an artificial recession can be brought to a clean end. Once COVID-19 is gone, businesses can be certain that the economy will recover immediately, especially since government aid programs ensured that consumers had plenty of money saved up to begin buying stuff again.

Now, I’ll fess up to being a little too cavalier about this. It was probably always going to be harder than I thought. But one thing I never took into consideration—because it seemed ridiculous—was the notion that we would just give up on COVID-19 and therefore cause precisely the kind of uncertainty you get with a normal recession. I mean, that’s just crazy, right? No one would do that.

But in the era of Trump, that’s exactly what we did. So not only do we have a deep recession, but nobody knows when it will end. And even if it looks like it’s about to end, nobody can be sure that it’s really ending. If anything, Trump has created an economic doom loop with even more uncertainty than any recession we’ve ever had. And I guess the public is finally catching on to that:

Categories: Politics

Notre Dame Will Remain Notre Dame

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 11:54

Good news!

Notre Dame Cathedral will be restored exactly as it was before the 2019 fire that destroyed much of the historic landmark, the French government announced Thursday evening.

….The concern for President Emmanuel Macron was “not to delay the construction site nor to complicate the issue” with a contemporary gesture, according to an Élysée official. But the plans will include an apparent concession to those who preferred a more modern design. The statement said there will be a contemporary dimension in the “redevelopment of the surroundings of the cathedral, in close collaboration with the city of Paris.”

Well, it’s good news if you think Notre Dame should be restored to its former look, rather than getting a contemporary upgrade. Which is exactly what I think.

As for the “contemporary dimension” to the surroundings, I’m all for that too even though I have no idea what it means. I just figure that if you’re going to muck around with something, better to muck around with the supporting cast than the star itself.

Categories: Politics

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: July 9 Update

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 10:24

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through July 9. The “holiday spike” in the US is starting to look a lot more like a permanent turnaround in the mortality rate. Still too early to say for sure, though.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is here.

Categories: Politics

Raw Data: The High School Wage Premium for Women

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 16:37

Earlier today I showed you the high school wage premium for men, so how about seeing it for women too? The median income for women with a high school diploma is about $21,000 these days. Women who completed only grades 9-12 without graduating have a median income of about $14,000. In other words, they earn 67 cents for every dollar that high school grads earn. As with men, this penalty for being able to read and write at only a 9-10th grade level has been steady for the past three decades:

Categories: Politics

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