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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Christie on Trump

Endorsing Trump Chris Christie said

Christie argued that Trump has the executive experience necessary to be president. "This is only guy on the stage, other than Gov. Kasich, who made executive decisions, made executive decisions throughout his life," Christie said. "Who put together budget and makes sure money is spent efficiently and effectively in order to create profit, and would make sure the country moving forward would get on that kind of track. This guy knows how to do that better than anybody on that stage."
Now I always considered profit and bankruptcy diametric opposites as in profit>loss>bankruptcy, but, given New Jersey's current credit rating, I guess I understand the sense of sympathy. Trump & Christie the insolvency caucus (but why hasn't Jindahl joined ?)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Still Grinding Old Axes After All These Years

I have been arguing with Political Animals about Welfare Reform for years. It started when Ed Kilgore wrote

TANF costs and caseloads were intended to go down in no small part because the other safety net programs, along with the extremely important earned income tax credit (EITC) were intended to pick up the slack. And that’s why the GOP proposals are so devastating: they knock the very props from beneath the effort to “make work pay” that was more important than state generosity in TANF rules or funding in making welfare reform work as well as it has.

The problem is that the extremely important increase in the EITC was enacted in 1993 and had nothing to do with the 1996 welfare reform bill. There was no need to accept the time limits, block granting, elimination of food stamps for legal immigrants or elimination of food stamps for adults without children in order to obtain the EITC increase. the EITC increase was current policy when the welfare reform bills reached Bill Clinton's desk.

A former deputy assistant secretary of the treasury who shall remain nameless remarked "oh how embarrassing."

Ed Kilgore has corrected his error more recently writing

"the EITC that had already been greatly increased long before the third welfare bill hit his desk. "

(Clinton vetoed the first and second welfare reform bills to hit his desk).

But now Bryce Covert reports

"The Clinton campaign responded to Sanders’ attack on Wednesday, pointing out that welfare reform came as a package of measures and highlighted the inclusion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families"

The claim by the (un-named) source is totally false nonsense. The 1996 welfare reform did not come as a package of measures including the 1993 increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit. They were not part of the same package at all. The 1993 bill was passed with zero Republican votes. The 1996 bill was written by a Congress with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

The claim that the two reforms were a package is totally 100% false. I guess some campaign staffer who was a child in 1993 might be honestly confused, but Hillary Clinton knows the claim is false and should correct her spokesperson.

Final note: I don't regret voting for Clinton (by e-mail) in the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic primary.

Welfare Reform Againnnnn

I often bore myself. I have been arguing with political animals about the 1996 welfare reform bill for years now.

It started with Ed Kilgore (now at New York Magazine)

Then original political animal Kevin Drum discussed it at and I threw a political cow

Now Nancy LeTourneau wrote "Let’s Talk About Welfare Reform"

She writes a lot of interesting and reasonable things (it is probably best to just click the link). She also copied Kevin Drum's graph *and* his crazy claim that a 50% increase is small. I will just steal the graph and link to Drum.

I commented

This will be my usual comment. I have written often on the topic in this comment box (because Ed Kilgore wrote something about welfare reform). The green curve Drum highlighted in the graph you posted suggests massive damage due to the 1996 bill -- the percentage of households with children living with less than $2 per capita per day has increased by 50% (=0.5 percentage points) since 1996. This is a huge increase indicating a huge number of additional people suffering third world poverty (when as is correct SNAP is included).

The curve looks roughly horizontal because the number was and is so much lower than the other numbers (say excluding food stamps/SNAP) that a huge proportional change looks tiny.

Similarly, if you had put the percentage of people murdered in a given year it would look perfectly flat (also in 2001). The graph shows that, correctly assessed, the welfare reform bill was no huge deal if and only if you consider 9/11 no biggie.

A 50% increase in poverty so severe we consider it horrible in the third world is not a minor change.

I object to somethign LeTourneau wrote "Understanding all of that, we can then talk about what an effective anti-poverty agenda would actually look like. Rather than assume that it means going back to the old AFDC model, it would include two things:" To assume that critics of the 1996 bill propose exactly repealing it and ask if that the perfect policy is to set up a straw man. You decide to ascribe one exact proposal to us (without citing anyone) and contrast it with open ended proposals. Also arguing agings "assuming" is always and invariably setting up a straw man. I don't think such rhetoric is effective and I think it lowers the level of debate.

Finally, on the comparison, I think (really guess based on near total ignorance) the recent evidence suggests that just giving cash is more efficient than giving advice via social workers. I'd consider "housing first" and the homeless and long term inter-generational effects of food stamps. The amount of money involved (say the amount to eliminate the 1.5% rate of extreme severe third world poverty) is tiny compared to the US budget.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


First I don't just think that Democrats should think about which presidential candidate has a better chance of winning -- I think Democrats should think only about which presidential candidate has a better chance of winning. Clinton and Sanders are very different. A Clinton administration and a Sanders administration will be very similar to each other and to Obama post 2010. In contrast a Trump, Cruz or Rubio administration would be a catastrophe.

All we need is a president with five fingers who can veto bills.

This reasoning caused me to vote (by e-mail) for Clinton, but I am not confident that I made the right choice. I can make the argument that Sanders is more electable. I can also argue that a Sanders nomination would be better for down ticket Democrats.

I wouldn't base it on general election polls which show Sanders performing slightly better than Clinton. I think these polls tell us nothing about what a GOP negative campaign would do to Sanders. But I sometimes think that the one key variable is youth turnout -- when young people vote Democrats win, when young people don't vote Republicans win. Young Democrats prefer Sanders. I am confident that a larger fraction of young Democrats will actually vote if Sanders is the nominee. Youth turnout is more important that campaign cash for Democratic candidates for the house, senate and state legislatures.

I am not convinced by this argument, I voted for Clinton. But it makes some sense.

Once Berned Twice Shy

A majority of young Democrats support Bernie Sanders. A majority of not so young Democrats support Hillary Clinton. The generation gap is not surprising at all. People tend to move right as they age. Older people note that we have learned to compromise and deal with reality. Younger people note that we have become cynical and lost the audacity of hope. But the question is why is the generation gap more marked now than it was in the 80s and 90s. I'm old enough to remember a *real* generation gap. I remember 1972 (I even remember 1968). One explanation of the Sanders phenomenon is that people under 30 don't remember the USSR and associate the word "socialism" with Sweden not Stalin. I think another explanation is that young people don't remember 1972. I'm a late boomer (1960) and have long been very irritated that the leaders of the Democratic party are older than me people who can't get over the mistake of supporting McGovern in the 1972 primaries. Now I know how they feel. I am sure that Sanders if vulnerable to a negative campaign accusing him of being a socialist (which would have the additional advantage of being true). I don't trust the early general election polls at all.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beating a Dead Fish In a Barrel

I believe that if Osama bin Laden had been killed, Al Qaeda as an organization would not have grown to the point where it could have conducted 9/11," Rubio said. "And my argument was, no, the responsibility of 9/11 falls on the fact that Al Qaeda was allowed to grow and prosper and the decision was not made to take out the leader when the chance existed to do so."

Marco Rubio 2016

"I want you to kill Bin Laden"

Bill Clinton 1998 (quoted by Richard Clarke in "Against all Enemies"

About 75[24][3] Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired by the U.S. into the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at four Afghan training camps:

Al Farouq training camp[25]

Muawai camp run by the Pakistani Harkat-ul-Mujahideen to train militants to fight Indian troops in Kashmir[26][27]

Zhawar Kili al-Badr, which was directed by bin Laden, and known to be a meeting place for leaders.[28][29]

The attack was made partly in an attempt to assassinate bin Laden and other leaders.[30] After the attack, the CIA heard that bin Laden had been at Zhawar Kili al-Badr but had left some hours before the missiles hit


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Donald Trump GOP nominee

I have tried to avoid making predictions since 2004 when I predicted that Kerry would be elected, but now, as a result of the overwhelming evidence reported below, I can't honestly claim to doubt that Donald Trump with be the 2016 GOP nominee

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Does Ed Kilgore Have to Repudiate Ed Kilgore

I can't resist grinding old axes. I assert that Ed Kilgore really really should formally and explicitly repudiate something he wrote and publicly apologize to Jason DeParle.

The absurd argument that this discussion has any current relevance (which I don't make) is based on this relatively recent post from last May "Does HRC Need to Repudiate Welfare Reform?"

Kilgore answers that she doesn't, and I absolutely agree. I would go further and argue that Clinton must not repudiate welfare reform, since that repudiation might cause the election of a Republican. I think she must refrain from all criticism of the 1996 welfare reform bill. One important reason (among many others) is that by avoiding the topic during the campaign she increases the chance that she will be able to undo some of the damage.

Kilgore is (explicitly) discussing politics not policy -- the optimal presidential campaign not the optimal welfare policy.

But he is not willing to just leave it at that. He argues that welfare reform would have worked better if it were not for George Bush here

"Of course the ability to get people intro entry level jobs and into some sort of upward mobility depended heavily on what happened to the EITC, Medicaid, SNAP and many other elements of “making work pay” during a less than supportive Bush administration!"

So what happened to EITC, Medicaid, and SNAP under Bush ? Well there was a large increase in the child tax credit, which is very similar to the EITC. Medicaid and SNAP were not changed. The claim that problems with welfare reform are Bush's fault is completely unsupported by any evidence, because there is no evidence to support it. It is a red herring.

Also Kilgore doesn't discuss the 1996 welfare reform bill and SNAP (then called food stamps). The program was ruthlessly slashed by the 1996 bill. The vast bulk of the forecast reduction in social welfare spending was due to cuts to food stamps and not to the transition from AFDC to TANF. In particular one provision of the bill was that food stamps were not supposed to be provided to adults without children. This means they were supposed to get nothing at all no matter how poor they were (obviously they get neither AFDC nor TANF).

Kilgore mentions SNAP when arguing that the welfare bill was not so bad, because he has forgotten the text of the bill. I note in passing that I lived in Italy, didn't surf the web and didn't subscribe to a US newspaper at the time. I learned everything I know about the 1996 bill by reading The New Republic in 1996.

However, he is making progress. In 2012 he wrote

the biggest problem with the “welfare reform has failed” narrative, and with treating the Ryan budget as a logical extension of welfare reform, is that it ignores one of the main purposes of the 1996 act was to make other elements of the safety net, some work-conditional and others simply much better targeted, more central, even as they were significantly strengthened. As Elaine Kamarck explained at Ten Miles Square back in September of 2011:

[T]he intent of welfare reform was to move as many Americans as possible off the welfare rolls, which, by supporting mothers only if they weren’t working and weren’t married, created lamentable behavioral incentives. The goal was to see them then move into either the work world or the arms of other government programs that offer more targeted forms of assistance. In both respects, the law has been a success. No doubt the safety net needs shoring up. But even in these tough economic times, it is providing much more of a cushion for the kinds of families that once relied on welfare than its critics seem to realize. In today’s WaPo, Ezra Klein takes a different tack in suggesting that welfare reform’s record is an accurate yardstick for how the Ryan budget might work out: since Ryan (and for that matter, in his own proposal, Mitt Romney) wants to turn Medicaid, food stamps and other safety-net programs into state-run block grants, it’s important to look at how states have cut TANF to see how they might handle these other programs.

Ezra’s right about that, but like Paul Ryan, he’s mixing apples and oranges: TANF costs and caseloads were intended to go down in no small part because the other safety net programs, along with the extremely important earned income tax credit (EITC) were intended to pick up the slack.

In 2015 he correctly wrote

is Clinton’s record on “poverty and the safety net” entirely reducible to the 1996 welfare law? Definitely not; you could make a pretty good case that Clinton’s whole strategy was to shift the emphasis from wildly unpopular, inadequate and state-controlled cash assistance to other, federally controlled income support mechanisms, including the EITC that had already been greatly increased long before the third welfare bill hit his desk.

So the 1993 EITC expansion has changed from being one of the "main purposes of the 1996 act" to something which happened long before.

In 2012 Kilgore was writing based on an incorrect recollection of the events. He accused Klein of mixing apples and oranges because he Kilgore and not Klein insisted on mixing apples and oranges and assuming that 1993=1996.

Kilgore should update his 2012 post to note his error. He should also try to revise the argument he made in 2012 to see if it can still stand without the support of the false claim of fact. I think it is very clear that it doesn't and that recognition of the undeniable facts of history makes it impossible for Kilgore to defend his 2012 conclusions. Note the absense of any argument that the 1996 reform was an improvent in the 2015 post which mostly argues that discussing it is bad politics (I agree) and that it is no big deal (I passionately disagree).

I also think that Kilgore owes Exra Klein and Jason DeParle apologies and that he should make those apologies both in person and publicly.

But mostly I think he really has to stop mixing discussion of politics and policy. He can discuss political strategy without discussing the effects of hypothetical policy reforms (especially those which are politically impossible). But he just can't resist. He also has trouble refraining from linking to Elaine Kamarck who has trouble sticking to policy analysis.

I think it has finally become very clear to Kilgore that the 1996 welfare reform bill was bad policy. He clearly stongly believes that it is a topic which Democrats should avoid (so does Bernie Sanders). But he can't resist attempting some argument that, back in 1996, the lefties who disagreed with him weren't entirely right. He can't make a counter argument (he didn't try in 2015) but he can't either force himself to concede (which is painful) or discuss political strategy only without trying to hint that we weren't right about policy back in 1996.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I try to avoid making predictions. I have tried harder since November 2004 when I predicted that John Kerry would be elected. But on Monday, Fabrizio Mattesini pulled a prediction out of me -- I predicted that Marco Rubio would not be the Republican nominee. This was after the debate. This was after the debate. This was after the debate. This was after. But really, it was obvious, at least, that Rubio would do terribly in New Hampshire. The evidence, amounting to proof, is
via vox