Blogs

Obama Announces Policy Change, Hill Dems Complain. Film At 11.

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 11:03 AM EDT

Here's a Twitter conversation between me and Ezra Klein on Saturday:

Klein: What I’m hearing from Hill Dems is that they’re happy the immigration order is delayed, but angry at how poorly the issue has been handled

Drum: Of course they are. That's the eternal complaint when they can't think of anything substantive to gripe about.

Klein: I think that's too pat a response: sometimes issues are poorly handled.

Drum: Sure. But lately, Ds complain about *every* issue being badly handled. (Or having "bad optics.")

Klein provides more detail here, and Andrew Sullivan rounds up the liberal reaction here. But is there really any serious political malpractice going on? There is to this extent: the White House apparently didn't read the tea leaves properly earlier this summer when it announced that Obama would take executive action on immigration after it became clear that Republicans in the House were unwilling to act. Following that, though, Obama's only choice was either to stick to his guns or announce a delay. The former would have irked congressional Democrats, so he chose to announce a delay.

It's hard for me to see anything poorly handled here. The truth is that anytime a president changes course, a bit of awkwardness is baked into the cake. It's inevitable, and if you can't accept that you shouldn't urge a change of course. What's more, I don't see anything in Obama's actions that made this any better or worse than usual. It was pretty routine, and will be forgotten by all but political junkies within days. Democrats are probably doing themselves more damage with another round of their all-too-routine whinging than Obama did by announcing the delay in the first place.

That does leave one question, though: Did Obama consult sufficiently with congressional Dems before he initially announced that he planned to take executive action on immigration? Frankly, the political implications of that announcement were so obvious that it beggars the imagination to suppose that he didn't. Everyone in the world immediately knew that (a) it would help drive Latino turnout and (b) it might pose problems for Democrats running close races in red states. Obama's political team might not be Olympic caliber, but there's no way they failed to talk to "Hill Dems" about immigration back in June, is there? I'd be very interested in reading a neutrally-reported deep dive about this.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 September 2014

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 2:25 PM EDT

I have sad news today. Domino's thyroid finally got the better of her, and she's been a pretty sick kitty for the past month or two. About six weeks ago she gave up on dry food, so we switched to wet food. That helped, but she gradually ate less and less of it. A couple of weeks ago she stopped eating entirely no matter what we tried. She'd lap up microscopic amounts of gravy or tuna juice a couple of times a day, but that was it. She just wouldn't eat anymore.

By last week she was very thin, and her energy level was pretty low. She slept most of the time in her favorite hidey-hole, and came out only a few times a day for five or ten minutes at a time. By the start of this week she'd gotten a bit unsteady on her feet, and it was obvious the end was near. I talked to our vet earlier this week, and yesterday we took Domino in and had her put to sleep. I hated doing it, but I'm certain it was the right thing to do. She didn't show it, but she must have been in a fair amount of pain, which was only going to get worse over time.

To the very end, she was sweet and sociable, which made it even harder. She lost her meow several weeks ago, but she never lost her purr or her love of tummy rubs. She was a good cat. She'll be missed.

Obamacare Now Benefiting From an Amazing Life Spiral

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 1:37 PM EDT

Courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation, here's a cheerier chart for this morning. It shows the projected premium increases under Obamacare, and it's really pretty amazing. After years of double-digit increases, next year will bring an average decrease in premiums of 0.8 percent.

That's genuinely stunning. It's possible, of course, that the precise number might change as more states report on next year's premiums, but the trend in the chart is pretty clear: a few small states show sizeable rate increases, but large states (or, more accurately, large cities) all show fairly small changes. It's not surprising that small states are the ones that tend to show higher variation, but they're also the ones that don't affect the overall averages very much. So it seems likely that once all the states have reported in, the overall change in premium levels will be very close to zero.

Paul Krugman calls this part of Obamacare's "life spiral." In other words, it's exactly the opposite of the dreaded death spiral that every conservative in the country has been banging the drum about for years. Basically, as good news accumulates, it breeds more good news. As Krugman puts it, success feeds success. And that's true. The news about Obamacare has been almost uniformly positive for months. There are still plenty of small problems here and there—most of which could be solved if Republicans would allow it—and the refusal of so many red states to adopt Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is truly a scandal. Nonetheless, it's clear that Obamacare is basically a success. There's nothing much that's likely to change that now.

This Judge Just Said Everything You Want to Say to the Anti-Gay Marriage Crowd, But Better

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 12:27 PM EDT

On Thursday, federal judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's ruling striking down gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. This marks the 22nd time since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year that a federal court has found bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. On Wednesday, a different federal judge issued an opinion upholding Louisiana's ban, making the total post-DOMA record 22-1.

Posner's opinion is special, though, because, as Gawker notes, it's, well, amazing. And bitchy. And delicious.

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight-forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don't need marriage because same-sex couples can't produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.

Indiana defended its ban by arguing that the state had no reason to extend marriage to gay people because gay people can't have children—that marriage is designed, in part, to force fathers in hetereosexual relationships to raise children they may or may not have wanted.

At oral argument the state‘s lawyer was asked whether "Indiana's law is about successfully raising children," and since "you agree same-sex couples can successfully raise children, why shouldn't the ban be lifted as to them?" The lawyer answered that "the assumption is that with opposite-sex couples there is very little thought given during the sexual act, sometimes, to whether babies may be a consequence." In other words, Indiana's government thinks that straight couples tend to be sexually irresponsible, producing unwanted children by the carload, and so must be pressured (in the form of governmental encouragement of marriage through a combination of sticks and carrots) to marry, but that gay couples, unable as they are to produce children wanted or unwanted, are model parents—model citizens really—so have no need for marriage. Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.

My favorite bit is Posner's response to Indiana's assertion that "homosexuals are politically powerful out of proportion to their numbers."

No evidence is presented by the state to support this contention. It is true that an increasing number of heterosexuals support same-sex marriage; otherwise 11 states would not have changed their laws to permit such marriage (the other 8 states that allow same-sex marriage do so as a result of judicial decisions invalidating the states' bans). No inference of manipulation of the democratic process by homosexuals can be drawn, however, any more than it could be inferred from the enactment of civil rights laws that African-Americans "are politically powerful out of proportion to their numbers." It is to the credit of American voters that they do not support only laws that are in their palpable self-interest. They support laws punishing cruelty to animals, even though not a single animal has a vote.

Go read the whole thing. It's wonderful.

Euro Area Economy Is Even Worse Than Ours

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

Would you like some more dreary economic news? No? Too bad. The latest GDP report for the euro area is in, and GDP was flat compared to Q1 and up only 0.7 percent compared to last year. This comes on top of news from a few days ago that euro-area inflation is down to 0.3 percent, which is dangerously close to deflation territory. The basic GDP chart is below.

Active Shooter Drills Don't Really Prepare People, But They Do Make Them Cry

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 10:58 AM EDT
An active shooter drill at a Florida elementary school.

In the wake of the nation's many recent mass shootings, and in the absence of any meaningful gun control that might stem them, employers and schools have started training their staff to respond should a madman with a gun turn up on their doorsteps. "Active shooter" drills have become the norm in many school districts and downtown office buildings; in many schools, such drills are now mandated by the state. But it turns out that bringing SWAT teams into buildings to simulate an active shooter situation doesn't always make people feel safer. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, such simulations have seriously traumatized and occasionally injured people, sparking a wave of lawsuits.

The Journal tells several amazing stories of people who were injured or utterly freaked out during such drills, which often weren't announced ahead of time. One involves a Colorado nursing home employee whom a man forced at gunpoint into an empty room at work. The "shooter" was actually a local cop and the gun was fake, but the nurse was so scared that even when the "shooter" finally identified himself as a cop after she started crying and begging for her life, she wasn't really sure he was telling the truth. She was so traumatized that she had to quit her job and has since filed a lawsuit against the nursing home.

Active shooter drills often feature scary looking shooters with realistic looking guns who shoot plastic bullets or blanks at participants, who are then supposed to attack the shooter or at least throw things at him. But apparently, far from creating an army of first responders, these drills often leave teachers and other participants hysterical. Critics told the Journal that the exercises have left school employees and others more terrified and ill-equipped to deal with a real shooting than they would have been otherwise:

Some experts, however, say recreating the chaos of a mass shooting is no way to prime for emergencies. "There ends up being zero learning going on because everyone is upset that you've scared the crap out of them," said Greg Crane, a former SWAT officer with the North Richland Hills Police Department near Dallas who holds seminars to teach civilians different strategies to deal with mass-shooting scenarios.

Given the obvious potential for trauma in active shooter drills, schools and post offices and other institutions worried about active shooters might just want to tell everyone to hide under their desks until help arrives.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

| Fri Sep. 5, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

The American economy added 142,000 new jobs in March, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at an anemic 52,000. The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 6.1 percent, but that's mostly because of rounding. The real decline was about one-twentieth of a point, from 6.19 percent to 6.14 percent.

What's worse, even that tiny drop was illusory: the number of employed people in August was virtually the same as in July. The drop in the unemployment rate was due entirely to the fact that 268,000 people dropped out of the labor force. The labor force participation rate dropped from 62.9 percent to 62.8 percent, and that's what caused the "drop" in unemployment.

It's not wise to get too depressed over a single month's bad numbers, just as it's not wise to get too excited over a single month's good numbers. Still, it's discouraging to see even the modest gains of the past half year grind to a complete, jarring halt. For all practical purposes, the economy failed to improve even a smidgen last month. For the time being, we're back to treading water.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 5, 2014

Fri Sep. 5, 2014 9:47 AM EDT

US Marines conduct live-fire training.(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

FedEx Still Hasn’t Stopped Sponsoring Washington’s Football Team. This Smart Ad Takes Them to Task.

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 6:15 PM EDT

With the NFL season set to kick off tonight, Native American advocacy groups have ramped up their campaign against the racist name of the Washington football team. Their latest target? One of the [Redacted]'s biggest corporate sponsors, FedEx.

In an ad commissioned by the Native Voice Network called "FedEx Fail," a would-be FedEx customer is turned away when trying to ship a variety of items while wearing several different offensive costumes. But when he returns in [Redacted] gear and a cheap headdress, things change. "You are in luck," the Native American clerk tells the customer. "We at FedEx are Washington Redskins corporate sponsors! We embrace this sort of racism!"

Indian Country Today Media Network, which first posted the video, spoke to the campaign's organizers:

"The point of the campaign is to build awareness that the Washington team name is racist," said Laura Harris, executive director of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). AIO is the main organizer of NVN. "FedEx has a great diversity statement for their employees and corporation," she said. "We think it's hypocritical of them to support an NFL team that uses a racist name when their diversity statement explicitly states they are against racism…Their sponsorship is not appropriate and not in line with their corporate policy."

Notably, when colleague Matt Connolly and I contacted FedEx back in November about the name controversy, here's what a company spokesperson had to say:

We understand that there is a difference of opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, we believe that our sponsorship of FedEx Field continues to be in the best interests of FedEx and its stockholders.

Washington's football team, which plays its home games at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, opens its season Sunday afternoon on the road against the Houston Texans.

Chart of the Day: The Rich Are Getting Richer, The Poor Are....

| Thu Sep. 4, 2014 4:51 PM EDT

The Federal Reserve's 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances is out, and guess what? Over the past 25 years, the rich have seen their wealth skyrocket, from 44.8 percent of the total to 54.4 percent of the total. The middle class and the poor, by contrast, have seen their share of national wealth plummet from 33.2 percent to 24.7 percent.

In other words, the rich are getting richer and the poor are....well, you know. Is it any wonder that the rich don't really want to see a lot of changes to our current economic regime? Why would they?