A Win for Public Health: Smoking Rate at a New Low

Jonathan Cohn: “New survey data, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday morning, suggests that just 15.2 percent of American adults are now using cigarettes on a regular basis. That smoking rate is nearly 2 percentage points lower than what the same survey reported for calendar year 2014. ”

“This year’s reduction is part of a long-term trend that dates back at least 50 years, to when the surgeon general published a landmark report identifying smoking as a health hazard. Since that time, officials and public health advocates have been waging the policy equivalent of a full-court press against smoking.”

“Of course, some portion of the people who no longer smoke cigarettes have probably switched to using electronic cigarettes, the health effects of which remain the subject of intense debate even among scholars and anti-smoking activists.”


It’s Time to Take Coal Off Life Support

Bloomberg Editorial Board: “Coal-fired electricity is becoming ever less profitable. That’s the good news — or it should be, since it gives power companies greater incentive to embrace cleaner and cheaper sources of energy.”

“The declining profitability of coal is an opportunity to save consumers money and reduce reliance on a dirty power source. Coal-fired power plants spew more than atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide.”

“The transition away from coal won’t happen all at once. Renewable energy cannot yet supply the steady volume of power that coal has long been able to provide. Even refitting a plant to burn natural gas rather than coal takes time and money.”

“But make no mistake: As an energy source, coal is in decline. By acquiescing to requests to delay this inevitability, regulators aren’t helping energy companies, their customers or the environment.”

Do Trump and Sanders Defy Conventional Wisdom on ‘Big Money?’

Robert Litan in the Wall Street Journal: “In one sense, the Citizens United ruling has helped Mr. Trump and Sen. Sanders to set themselves apart from the crowd by emphasizing their lack of support from big donors.”

“Mr. Trump criticizes his rivals–Jeb Bush in particular–for taking contributions from big donors and says that his wealth immunizes him to pleas from special interests. As Mr. Trump continues saying things that in past campaigns might have ruled him out as a viable candidate, his rhetoric keeps drawing free media coverage. If he keeps this up, and eventually wins the Republican nomination–an outcome that looks less and less implausible–he might not need to use public funds, for which he would qualify as a major-party nominee, for advertising.”

“The Bernie Sanders boomlet also defies the conventional wisdom that big money talks when it comes to presidential races. An Iowa poll out Saturday showed  Sen. Sanders gaining on Hillary Clinton. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Sanders can point to the big donors supporting Mrs. Clinton and say that he will not be beholden to them.”

Conservative Trump is Not Conservative About the Budget

Albert Hunt contends that the biggest budget-buster would be “the self-styled arch-conservative, Donald Trump.”

“The front-running Republican makes lavish promises to boost spending on immigration, the military, veterans and other causes while cutting taxes for the middle class and resisting proposals for offsetting savings.”

“The most detailed Trump plank is on immigration, including plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to erect a 1,900-mile wall along the Mexican border. Jeb Bush has said those would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Some analysts say that’s a conservative estimate.”

“Trump has also vowed to build up the U.S. military, charging that enemies know America ‘is getting weaker.’ That’s big-ticket budgeting … The money apparently won’t come from trimming entitlements. ‘I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,’ Trump insists.”

“Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on Chinese and other imports, suggesting that would provide cash and improve American competitiveness. More likely it would raise the cost of products to American consumers without those accompanying benefits.”


The Problem With the GOP’s Interstate Obamacare Alternative

Margot Sanger-Katz: “The idea of developing a more national market for health insurance has become a major part of Republican health reform orthodoxy … Aside from repealing Obamacare, allowing insurers to sell their products across state lines appears to be the most popular health reform idea among the G.O.P. candidates.”

“The trouble with the idea is that varying or numerous state regulations aren’t the main reason insurance markets tend to be uncompetitive. Selling insurance in a new region or state takes more than just getting a license and including all the locally required benefits. It also involves setting up favorable contracts with doctors and hospitals so that your customers will be able to access health care. Establishing those networks of health care providers can be hard for new market entrants.”

“’The barriers to entry are not truly regulatory, they are financial and they are network,’ said Sabrina Corlette, the director of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.”

“Critics of the across-state-lines plan worry about negative consequences of letting insurers shop for the state regulator of their choice … Insurers may end up congregating in whatever state offers the most lenient regulations. That could mean that customers who get sick could be harmed because there are few comprehensive policies available, or because consumer protections are weak when things go wrong.”

Trump Isn’t the Only Candidate Talking Policy Nonsense

Paul Krugman: “Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?”

“But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.”

“The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.”

What if We Faced Another Financial Crisis?

Clive Crook in Bloomberg: Investors are “asking whether 2008 might come round again. … On the face of it, the policy options for responding to another slump are fewer than last time. Governments have run big budget deficits to support demand, so there’s less so-called fiscal space for a new round of stimulus, or so the thinking goes. Interest rates are still at zero, and even the advocates of quantitative easing recognize that it ran into diminishing returns.”

Crook posits a “powerful remedy — one so politically toxic that it wasn’t used even in response to the crash of 2008. It goes by various names: helicopter money, overt monetary financing, quantitative easing for the people.”

The central bank “could drop cash from helicopters. More prosaically, it could mail checks to taxpayers. Equivalently, the government could cut taxes or build some bridges and cover the cost with bonds placed with the central bank. Each of these interventions, in effect, marries fiscal policy — meaning direct command over economic resources — to monetary policy.”

“When deflation is the problem, the prospect of inflation is the cure. Helicopter money would be a potent remedy for the sickness in question.”

Strict Gun Laws Won’t Stop Violence But It Can’t Hurt

Jonathan Cohn and Nick Wing: “Would stricter gun laws have saved the lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward? Probably not. Would stricter gun laws have saved the lives of many other people? Probably.”

“That’s a fair reading of the latest research — and something to remember now that Wednesday’s killing of the two television journalists, during a live interview, has politicians and pundits talking about gun violence again.”

“No other developed country has a gun homicide or gun violence rate even approaching that level … And while America’s high rate of gun violence undoubtedly reflects many factors, researchers like David Hemenway … have found a clear, strong relationship between gun ownership and gun-related deaths. In places where more people have guns, more people get killed by them.”

“Demonstrating that gun laws might cut down on gun deaths is even more difficult than establishing a link between firearms ownership and the extent of violence. But here, too, academics have recently produced important scholarship that bolsters the case for more regulation. ”

“The shootings that feature large numbers of casualties or spectacular circumstances … become national stories and galvanize the public. The vast majority of killings, which usually take place in the home and are twice as likely to be acts of suicide than murder, barely register. Yet it’s on these routine killings, which happen by the dozens every week, that stronger gun legislation is most likely to have an effect.”

What the ‘Berni Coefficient’ Tells Us About Support for Sanders

Nate Cohn uses the Gini coefficient (a measure of distribution), which he terms the “Berni coefficient,” to measure the turnout for Bernie Sanders. Despite Sanders’ big crowds, that fact is “as convincing as saying the Connecticut economy is booming because the houses in Greenwich are so big and pretty.”

A Berni coefficient of “one would mean that all Sanders’s volunteers were in one congressional district; zero would mean every district had the same amount. By this measure, the Sanders coalition is even more unequal than the wealth in the United States. The Sanders coefficient clocks in at 0.483. It basically resembles the state of Connecticut, the second-most unequal state in the country (New York is No. 1).”

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“The public opinion polls show the problem. While Mr. Sanders is in striking distance of Hillary Rodham Clinton in Oregon and Wisconsin — and a second New Hampshire poll shows him leading — there are vast swaths of the country where Mr. Sanders has little support at all. He’s down by 68 points in Alabama, 78 to 10.”

Sanders “needs to compete outside his strongholds. Whether he’s doing so — not whether he has great crowds — is the real measure of his success, just as the real measure of the economy is the success of the average worker, not the opulence of the 1 percent.”

‘Overwhelming Majority’ in Favor of EPA Clean Power Plan

Think Progress: “Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan by a margin of nearly two to one, a new poll from the League of Conservation Voters found.”

“Despite the rhetoric from some Republican governors, 70 percent of Americans want their states to develop plans to meet the EPA’s guidelines.”

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“According to the poll, conducted for the League of Conservation Voters by Hart Research, supporters of the plan outnumber opponents pretty much across the board.”

“’A majority of voters in every region of the country support it, as do a majority of voters in every age, education, and income category,’ the researchers found. And while there is majority support among both Democrats and Independents, Republicans are not far behind: 56 percent of ‘non-conservative’ Republicans are generally in favor of the Clean Power Plan, and 58 percent of all Republicans want their state to comply with the EPA rule — even if they don’t support it.”