Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

When All You Have Is A Hammer…

[ 160 ] November 17, 2014 |

Joel Kotkin has an analysis of the midterms. You will be not surprised that it involves an imaginary progressive “war” on the suburbs, since for Kotkin everything is. You may have missed any such “war” during the midterm campaigns. But Kotkin is here to read between the lines for you:

As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don’t address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party’s true believers.

When someone argues that stagnating wages and “underperforming schools” are inherently suburban issues irrelevant to urban dwellers, it’s a long-overdue hint that an article is not going to be worth your time.

…Kilgore has more.

This Seems Overdetermined

[ 52 ] November 17, 2014 |


I’m not sure why NoLabelsAmericansElectUnity’08 needs to parody itself; we’d be happy to do it for them:

Joe Lieberman, a former senator from Connecticut, has agreed to serve as the co-chairman for No Labels, a loosely codified set of vaguely defined sentiments organized to convince affluent donors to part with money. Lieberman takes over from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who up until last week was the man doing this thing, until he decided not to do it anymore.

In an announcement, Jon Huntsman, the other No Labels co-chair, former Utah governor and Dadaist candidate for president in 2012, said: “Joe was a proven leader and an undisputed problem solver in virtually every area of public policy when serving in the U.S. Senate … His vision of a new culture in Washington, D.C. — where the politics of point-scoring is replaced by the politics of problem solving — is a great fit with our organizational goals, and I look forward to collaborating with him as we develop our National Strategic Agenda.”

That Huntsman calls Lieberman an “undisputed problem solver” who is averse to the “politics of point scoring” indicates that today is the first day Huntsman met Lieberman.

“Joe will play a key role in attracting presidential hopefuls to our growing club of problem solvers,” Huntsman said.

No Labels’ club of “problem solvers” is interesting in that no club member is required to solve a problem. As Yahoo News’ Meredith Shiner reported in July, “The ‘Problem Solver Seals’ granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship.”

At least Erskine Bowles remains available for the next Politico Primary!

Non-Denial Denial of the Day

[ 92 ] November 16, 2014 |

Shorter Bill Cosby’s legal representatives: “This is just a he said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said case. We will create the impression that we are denying the charges without actually doing so.”

Thank You John Roberts! Arkansas Edition

[ 58 ] November 16, 2014 |

Those would prefer that hundreds of thousands go uninsured rather than any rentier skim some profits are about to get their wish. My guess is that the people upon whom the contradictions are about to be heightened will be less thrilled with this outcome:

The issue, or one of the big ones, was Obamacare. Outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Beebe compromised with the state’s Republicans on the controversial health care law when it passed and devised a unique plan, called the “private option,” one that many had hoped to replicate in other reluctant red states. Instead of expanding Medicaid, the federal program that insures the poor, the state would foot the bill for its low-income residents to enter the private insurance market.

It has so far insured more than 200,000 people who had never been insured before, but it has to be renewed next year. Hutchinson, the incoming governor, has said he needs time to decide what his position is on the plan. Perhaps more significant is that Republicans won all four races for the state senate, increasing their lead in that chamber by two, and they’ve all come out against renewal. And unlike the rest of the country, turnout there was actually up this midterm election, to 47.6 percent, which means the newly elected officials can more safely claim a mandate than states where the turnout was much lower. A nay vote on the private option in the state legislature could force the new governor’s hand even if he does decide he backs the existing program.


What does it mean for the people of the state? Arkansas has continually ranked as one of the least healthy states in the country, and has had one of the worst health care systems. Arkansans can expect to die at a younger age than their counterparts in wealthy, healthy states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Yet, Arkansas had been marginally healthier than the states surrounding it. All of the poor states in the mid-South show up at the bottom of all the good lists and the top of all the bad ones, but my little state had always done at least a little bit better than Mississippi, Alabama, and sometimes Louisiana.

Why? Because it had a government that cared about its people. Now I’m afraid that’s going by the wayside. Which means the state has now pulled what I like to call a Full Huckabee. Once, Arkansans believed compassion and good citizenship had roles in government. Now, their state politics, like Huckabee’s career, have been taken over by concerns over money, power, and special interests. And as usual, it’s at the expense of its neediest citizens.

Not a dime’s worth of difference!

Anyway, I’m sure that now that they’re about to lose this particular subsidy the private health insurance industry in Arkansas will spontaneously combust and they’ll have single payer in no time.

Tallahassee’s Double Standard

[ 6 ] November 16, 2014 |

You will be shocked to know that football players continue to be exempt from significant punishment for crimes ordinary people get charged for.

BREAKING! Person Good At Running Econometric Models Says Silly Things About Politics!

[ 83 ] November 15, 2014 |

Before dealing with the latest reported comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the United States, Prime Minister, and Grand Poobah Jonathan Gruber a reminder about his actual role in crafting the ACA:

Mr. Gruber was not, as many claim, the architect of the health-care law. He is an MIT economist who, as a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, modeled the impact of various subsidy levels and rules. He did not make policy, nor did he work for the White House, HHS, or any congressional committee. Earlier, he advised the Massachusetts legislature when it created the health-care reforms that were a model for the ACA.

He did some informal consultation with the White House when putting together exactly the kind of proposal anyone following the Democratic primaries knew he would, and had grad students run some models to test various outcomes.  Again, this is not a trivial role, but assertions that he was the “architect” of the ACA or “wrote” it are demonstrably false.  In addition, in this context it apparently has to be emphasized that he was being paid for his expertise as a health care economist; he wasn’t being paid to tell Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid how to pass legislation.

At any rate, Gruber’s attempts to portray himself as some kind of Machiavellian super-genius are getting ever more annoying:

In a 2011 conversation about the Affordable Care Act, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the law more commonly known as Obamacare, talked about how the bill would get rid of all tax credits for employer-based health insurance through “mislabeling” what the tax is and who it would hit.


“It turns out politically it’s really hard to get rid of,” Gruber said. “And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

Ah, more proof that economist’s disease — where expertise in one subject area convinces someone that they are experts in everything — isn’t confined to the right.  First of all, how on earth is it “mislabeling” to call a tax on insurance plans a “tax on insurance plans?” It’s like saying that it’s lying to call a tax on imported goods a “tariff” because consumers bear some of the cost. Gruber seems to think that it’s dishonest to use merely accurate ways of describing your policy proposals, as if it’s the job of people proposing something to portray the proposals in the worst light possible.  I don’t know if Gruber noticed, but plenty of people on the other side of the aisle were busy making things up about the ACA to attack it; I don’t think that Democrats were obliged to do the same.

And, second, as with his previous own-goals the argument is not merely wrong but self-refuting even if you grant the false premise. Precisely because the public is ill-informed on policy details it doesn’t matter to mass public opinion what you call the tax on insurance plans.  Informed stakeholders, meanwhile, knew exactly what the tax did and didn’t like it. Gruber’s comments could not be more wrong on every level.  As a political analyst, he’s a hell of a health care economist.

Part of me feels bad for piling on; I don’t doubt that he was well-intentioned and it can’t be pleasant to be the right-wing villain du jour.  But Gruber has, at the very least, not discouraged the exaggerations of his role in creating the ACA, and he’s made a truckload of money from his reputation.  When you take on this kind of role, you really do have be responsible in your public comments, and Gruber has failed spectacularly in his self-appointed role again and again, saying things that are politically damaging (potentially OK) and wrong (very much not OK.)

I’m Convinced!

[ 89 ] November 14, 2014 |

Vote suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky makes an excellent, if inadvertent, case for the confirmation of Loretta Lynch.

The Cosby Silence

[ 164 ] November 14, 2014 |

Excellent questions from one of his many accusers:

While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions: Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t unique. The entertainment world is rife with famous men who use their power to victimize and then silence young women who look up to them. Even when their victims speak out, the industry and the public turn blind eyes; these men’s celebrity, careers, and public adulation continue to thrive. Even now, Cosby has a new comedy special coming out on Netflix and NBC is set to give him a new sitcom.

There is a new 544 page biography of Cosby out that apparently ignores the extensive allegations of sexual assault entirely. The first, laudatory New York Times review of the book did not consider this worthy of mention at all; Dwight Garner’s more reserved review confines his objections on this score to a sentence. The cycle of silence or near-silence goes on and on.

This also can help us to understand why Jian Gomeshi thought he could just bluff and bully his way through the allegations against him. The horrible truth is that what’s surprising is not that he got away with it for so long, but that he suffered any professional consequences at all.

John Doar

[ 14 ] November 14, 2014 |


I’d have to say that someone who was one of the top two people in the Civil Rights Division from 1960-7 (among countless other accomplishments being on the front lines of the integration of Ole Miss and prosecuting the lynchers of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) and was chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment process lived a life of exceptional accomplishment on the side of the angels.

a great interview with Doar here.

ACA Trooferism: Team Pessimism

[ 99 ] November 13, 2014 |

I regret to say that Rick Hasen, Hank Greely, and Linda Greenhouse all in some measure share my dark view of what the Supreme Court granting cert in King means.

There is simply no way to describe what the court did last Friday as a neutral act. Now that the justices have blown their own cover, I notice the hint of a slightly defensive tone creeping into the commentary of some of those who have been cheering the prospect of rendering the Affordable Care Act unworkable: that as a statutory case, without major constitutional implications, any problems for ordinary Americans that result from a ruling against the government can be fixed by Congress (where House Republicans have voted 50 times to repeal the entire law) or by the states themselves (36 of which failed to set up their own exchanges, thus requiring the federal government to step in as provided by the law).


So this case is rich in almost every possible dimension. Its arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender.

Should the Roberts Court use this case to go even further down the road paved by Bush v. Gore and Shelby County, my suggestion is that Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan all file separate dissents quoting the relevant language of the Sebelius dissent. Or, perhaps, in addition to separate arguments a joint dissent consisting of nothing but the quotes…

The Unbearable Stupidity of #GruberGate

[ 54 ] November 13, 2014 |

As we’ve previously discussed, conservatives have taken time from their busy schedule of constructing asinine legal theories to strip health insurance from millions of people to spend time parsing the obscure comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the United States, and longtime don of the Gambino crime family Jonathan Gruber.

I could probably just note that Ron Fournier has boarded this train of derp and drop the mic, but couple of additional points. First of all, Timothy Jost’s comments on the first round of Gruber silliness remain relevant:

The greatest mystery of the media coverage of this litigation is why anyone should care what Jon Gruber might have said two years after the ACA was adopted while completely ignoring what the members of Congress who wrote the legislation have said they meant. Jon Gruber did not write the bill; he did not vote on it. He recognized before his 2012 misstatements that federal exchanges could in fact grant premium tax credits. But, for goodness sake, why should responsible journalists care? Gruber’s misstatements certainly have no more legal relevance than those of any other private citizen.

Gruber’s role in the passage of the ACA has been vastly exaggerated. He was a consultant, providing some expertise to help Congress and the White House do what they wanted to do. And — I stress that I’m not saying this to be critical of Gruber — it’s not as if his core ideas were some unique insight. As ridiculous as the comparison to the Heritage proposal and the ACA is, the mandate is the one thing they have in common. With European style health care reform off the table, and an employer-mandate model poisoned by the Clinton debacle, the ACA was going to take the same fundamental form had Jonathan Gruber never been born. And the specific details of the ACA had much more to do with the idiosyncrasies of marginal Senate votes like Nelson and Lieberman than Gruber.

But, more to the point, Gruber was paid for his (genuine) expertise on health care economics, not his expertise on politics. On the latter, he’s just a guy; his comments carry weight only to the extent that they’re true or relevant, and nothing he says is both. Brian Beutler:

First, Gruber’s actually overstating the degree to which the ACA needed to be finessed in order to pass. It’s true that the bill’s authors took steps to maximize its public appeal and minimize its vulnerabilities. Everyone writing significant legislation does this. The question is always how far you go—what lines are you willing to cross?

Congress did, as Gruber says, construct the mandate as a penalty rather than a tax, to make the bill passable. (Since then the Supreme Court has done us all a favor by reminding us this is a distinction without a difference.) Likewise, the bill’s core benefits only began kicking in this year, in large part because the authors wanted to keep the 10 year cost of the bill under $1 trillion to prevent sticker shock. Gruber didn’t mention that part.

But his suggestion that the key cost-sharing tradeoffs weren’t widely discussed just isn’t true. The idea that healthy people as well as sick people needed to participate in the system was central to the moral argument for the mandate, and figured heavily in the substantive debate over how much more insurers should be able to charge the elderly than the young. The risk-rating tussle is illustrative, because it was the rule, rather than the exception to the long legislative tug-of-war over the broader ACA. Conservatives have always said the health care law wasn’t debated, that it was rammed through, nobody read it, etc, etc. But it actually stands out for how much it was debated, and, for the most part, how transparent that debate was. Which in turn explains how difficult it was to pass.

In contrast, nearly everyone who’s attacking Gruber as if he were a White House political employee or a Democratic senator is simultaneously trying to require the Congressional Budget Office to say that tax cuts pay for themselves. The people who brought you the phony arithmetic of the Bush tax cuts and Medicare Part D and the self-financing Iraq war are upset about the ACA, which is genuinely fiscally sound.

By any reasonable standard, ACA respected budgetary constraints much better than most other laws.

This is all correct. I will add one additional point: Gruber’s comments are self-refuting. It is true that most voters don’t pay a great deal of attention to the details of politics, although it is both wrong and offensive to characterize this as “stupidity.” (One of the many things the debate over the ACA showed us is that even extremely intelligent, accomplished, and well-educated people can have a very shaky grasp of basic facts about the political process.) But given widespread voter ignorance, the idea that minor differences in the rhetoric were crucial to the passage of the ACA is self-evidently false. Even if you assume the false premise that shifts in public opinion translate directly into votes by members of Congress, the majority of the public who can’t name which party controls both house of Congress or name a single Supreme Court justice is not going to change its mind about the ACA based on whether the mandate is described in some speeches as a “penalty” or a “tax,” or because a wonk somewhere explains that insurance means that the healthy pay for the sick.

There’s just nothing here. Gruber doesn’t speak for anybody, and to the extent that his assumptions have any possible relevance they aren’t accurate.

UPDATE: Welcome Patterico readers! To help out your host, who apparently saw “Gruber” and decided to comment without reading the post, allow me to highlight this passage from the OP:

Gruber’s role in the passage of the ACA has been vastly exaggerated. He was a consultant, providing some expertise to help Congress and the White House do what they wanted to do.

He was a consultant who discussed “principles” with the White House and ran some models for Congress. He didn’t draft the legislation, he didn’t draft amendments, he didn’t vote for the legislation, he didn’t implement the legislation, he doesn’t speak for the Democratic Party in any way. See? You’re welcome!

Racial Gerrymandering and the Courts

[ 25 ] November 13, 2014 |

I have some thoughts about yesterday’s oral arguments and the increasingly broken Democratic system.  The fact that the Democrats would have to have a 7-point edge in the popular vote to win the House is a serious problem, but the tragedy of vote suppression and dilution is that they’re a very effective self-perpetuating cycle.

Speaking of which, I would like to nominate Felix Frankfurter’s majority opinion in Colegrove v. Green for the inner circle of the specious argument hall of fame.  “We must defer to the democratic legislatures (sic) so that voters disenfranchised by malapportionment can petition their representatives for redress.”

Page 3 of 73412345102030...Last »