2012 - %3, November

The Bill and Hillary Show

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 2:46 PM PST

You know who should have a radio talk show? Bill Clinton. Or, better yet, Bill and Hillary. They could trade off weeks so they both have time for whatever other good works they want to engage in. I'll bet they could attract a bigger audience than Rush. And who wouldn't want to be a guest on their show? They'd attract an all-star roster without even trying.

Given their popularity and ability to explain things in language that ordinary people can relate to, this could be a bigger contribution to selling the liberal project than anything currently in existence. They should do it.

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Yet More Shameless Attacks on Susan Rice

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 2:25 PM PST

Here's a shocker. Susan Rice, in a meeting with John McCain and the rest of the Senate's Benghazi brigade today, acknowledged that her initial description of the attacks had been mistaken. This netted her....exactly nothing:

Ms. Rice’s acknowledgment, in a meeting on Capitol Hill with three Republican senators who had sharply criticized her earlier statements in a series of televsion interviews after the attack, seemed to do little to quell their anger. The senators emerged from the meeting voicing even deeper reservations about Ms. Rice’s role in the messy aftermath of the Benghazi attack, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said to reporters. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before” — a sentiment echoed by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

These people are just shameless. By this point, they know perfectly well that Rice never said anything deliberately misleading. On September 15 she passed along the unclassified assessment of the intelligence community as of September 15, and that's it. But they just can't stand to admit that they were wrong. It's like watching a bunch of preening teenagers facing off in the schoolyard. It's all just a big game to them.

Servicewomen Sue Dept. of Defense Over Ban on Combat Roles

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 2:07 PM PST

Four female service members are suing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the military's exclusion policy for women in combat roles. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Women’s Action Network, the women argue that the policy has created a "brass ceiling" that prevents them advancing as far as their male colleagues.

They also note that the policy does not fit the modern military, where women are often sent out into combat and performing the same jobs as male colleagues, without the ability to formally advance. "The modern battlefield means there are no frontlines or safe zones," said Capt. Zoe Bedell, 27, who serves in the US Marine Corps Reserves. "The combat exclusion rule does not recognize that reality." Bedell, who served in Afghanistan, said that women in her unit patrolled with men and carried the same equipment as men, even if they were formally barred from serving in combat units. She said she left active duty for the reserves because the combat exclusion policy "limits my future in the Marine Corps."

Current Dept. of Defense policy prohibits women from being assigned to units below the brigade level that engage in direct ground combat. In February 2011, the DoD announced a rule change that opened 14,000 more jobs to women in the military, but another 238,000 positions are still off-limits. That change "falls short," said Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney with ACLU's Women's Rights Project. "It just does a disservice to women who have put their lives on the line to say we're going to make some changes around the edges."

Also joining in the suit are Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, 36, of the California Air National Guard; First Lt. Colleen Farrell, 26, of the U.S. Marine Corps; and Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, 28, of the U.S. Army Reserves.

This suit is separate from a previous case filed in May on behalf of two Army reservists who said that the rule limited their ability to advance. The ACLU's Migdal said that their suit is intended to "demand that DOD bring policy in line with the rest of society, and with the realities of the modern military."

Why It Sucks to Be a Woman in the Video Game Industry

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 1:11 PM PST

Update: The folks at Kotaku rounded up the best of #1reasontobe, notes from women in gaming on why they put up with this crap. "Because writers from other mediums treat me like I’ve come from Narnia," says award-winning video game writer Rhianna Pratchett, "full of wisdom and insight about a strange new land." Go check it out.

Thousands of women working in the video game industry are coming forward with stories of vicious sexism they've faced on the job. The Twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy sprang up overnight seemingly in response to Luke Crane, a fantasy role-playing gamer, who asked, "Why are there so few lady game creators?"

It's a good question: While women make up 47 percent of the gaming audience, a 2005 study (the most recent comprehensive survey) revealed that more than 88 percent of the industry's employees are male. Female game devs—and their male supporters—have some theories. To wit:

There are stories of being mistaken for a "real" developer's girlfriend at conferences, getting passed over by mentors in favor of male colleagues with less talent, and the tedium of working on female game characters who exist to wear sexy outfits and sleep with the badass male hero. Romana Ramzan claimed she was told that a networking event during the Game Developers Conference would be "a good place for a woman to pick up a husband."

Chart of the Day: The GOP's Generation Gap Problem

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 12:51 PM PST

Jon Chait points to a Pew study today that doesn't really say anything new, but definitely says something worth repeating: the Republican Party may have problems with blacks and Hispanics, but their biggest problem is probably with the young. During the Bush era, the combination of the Iraq War and the resurgence of the Christian right turned off younger voters in increasing numbers, and these young voters began voting in increasing numbers for Democrats. The chart below tells the story:

In fact, things are probably even worse than this. The Pew study reminds me of a great chart that the New York Times produced back in 2006 showing the effect that presidents have on brand loyalty to their party. Basically, a popular president gains the votes of 20-year-olds, and those voters retain much of their loyalty to the president's party for the rest of their lives. The opposite happens with an unpopular president. So Democrats spent eight years with a president that 20-somethings liked (Clinton), then Republicans suffered through eight years with a president they hated (Bush), and now Democrats have eight years of a president that 20-somethings like again (Obama). That's 24 years worth of 20-year-olds who are likely to retain a fairly strong loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Obviously this could change. This is a tendency, not an iron law. But as these 20-somethings age, they're going to vote at higher rates and they're going to become more influential. And the likelihood is that most of them are going to stay Democrats. It's hard to overstate how big a headache this is for the GOP. These are voters who, generally speaking, don't hate gay people, don't hate abortion, and aren't scared by a nonwhite future. This is a problem because, as Charles Murray put it, Republicans are viewed today as "the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists." Murray seems to think this is unfair, but I don't see why. Until and unless this changes, this huge cohort of voters is likely to remain largely in the Democratic camp.

Rick Santorum Takes on Treaty for Disabled Kids

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 10:44 AM PST

According to my Google Alerts, Monday's big Rick Santorum news (such as it is) was his declaration on Piers Morgan's talk show that he is "open" to another presidential run in 2016. We sort of knew that, though, and anyway it's 2012 right now; the speculation can wait. The real story is what he did with the rest of the day. Dana Milbank explains:

Santorum, joined by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), declared his wish that the Senate reject the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities — a human rights treaty negotiated during George W. Bush’s administration and ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The former presidential candidate pronounced his “grave concerns” about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. “This is a direct assault on us,” he declared at a news conference.

The treaty, which is up for ratification in the Senate, has plenty of Republican support (Arizona Sen. John McCain backs it). But it's become a rallying cry on the far-right, where conservative Christian activists fear that it will water down American sovereignty and threaten families. As homeschooling activist Michael Farris put it in August, "My kid wears glasses, now they’re disabled, now the UN gets control over them; my child's got a mild case of ADHD, now you’re under control of the UN treaty."

The United Nations isn't really coming for your kids. As Milbank points out, the treaty exists mainly to nudge other countries a little closer the United States' standards. The irony here is that is Santorum's daughter Bella, who he brought with him to the press conference, is precisely the kind of special-needs child the treaty is designed to protect. But much like his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and its prohibition on denying access to people with expensive preexisting conditions, Santorum's paranoid fears of a Big-Brother takeover only serve to undermine policies that are designed to benefit families like his own.

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Single Mothers Now Off the Hook for 70s Crime Wave

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 10:26 AM PST

Philip Cohen notes today that homicide rates in Washington DC have plummeted over the past couple of decades. The city that used to be the murder capital of the world has seen murder rates fall by three-quarters. At the same time, the rate of single-motherhood has remained steady.

That's surprising, because it was a big part of the story 20 years ago, when D.C. was the murder capital of the country during a national crime wave. I think single mothers—especially those who were raising their kids back in the 1990s—deserve an apology from the conventional-wisdom purveyors of that time.

....Violent crime has fallen through the floor (or at least back to the rates of the 1970s) relative to the bad old days. And this is true not just for homicide but also for rape and other assaults. At the same time, the decline of marriage has continued apace. Looking at two aggregate trends is never enough to tell a whole story of social change, of course. However, if two trends going together doesn't prove a causal relationship, the opposite is not quite as true. If two trends do not go together, the theory that one causes the other has a steeper hill to climb. In the case of family breakdown driving crime rates, I don't think the story will make it anymore.

And I'm open to explanations for why crime has really fallen, even including some minor role for the incarceration craze. But there were a lot of people who were not nearly so circumspect about the soundness of their causal stories when the family-breakdown-crime assumption served their ends. And it would be big of them to own up to it now.

Fascinating! As you can see in the chart above, the violent crime rate (which includes murder, rape, robbery, and assault) has an inverted U shape, so if we're looking for something to explain both the rise and fall of crime, I suppose our first task would be to find something else with an inverted U shape. That wouldn't prove all by itself that this was the cause of the change in crime rates, but it would certainly give us a starting point.

But what could it be? Cohen notes that since the Washington Post is no longer able to blame violent crime on family breakdown, it now attributes declining murder rates to "rising incomes, improved law enforcement technology and community relations, and better trauma care." Maybe so. But just like single motherhood, those are all sociological explanations. I wonder if we should go further afield?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 27, 2012

Tue Nov. 27, 2012 10:26 AM PST

Lance Cpl. Joshua Allen, with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, loads his M249 squad automatic weapon during a live-fire training exercise aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Nov. 25, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tucker S. Wolf.

No, Business Is Not Slowing Down Because of the Fiscal Cliff

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 9:52 AM PST

In his column today, Neil Irwin quotes the CEO of AT&T claiming that "uncertainty" over the fiscal cliff is restraining business growth. This is a common claim, but Irwin correctly points out that "a slowing in business spending took effect long before the term 'fiscal cliff' had even been coined." He's right. But just saying this doesn't make it clear just how dramatic the slowdown has been. As you can see in the chart on the right, business investment growth has been on a clear downward slope for the past three years. This obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with fear of the fiscal cliff.

I'm a cynic, so I suppose you should take my views on the business community with a shaker of salt. Nonetheless, here's what I think we should conclude from this: Fortune 500 CEOs should never be taken seriously on macroeconomic issues. Their job is to dole out high-grade BS in public, and politics and macroeconomics are just grist for their mill. Every word out of their mouths is special pleading, and that's how the business press ought to treat it. I really have no idea why anyone ever takes them seriously on this stuff.

Financial Catastrophe Apparently No Longer a Republican Concern

| Tue Nov. 27, 2012 9:04 AM PST

From House Speaker John Boehner, on President Obama's request to raise the debt ceiling:

There is a price for everything.

I know this seems unexceptional, but really, it's not. It's gobsmacking. Ever since the election, Republicans have been acting as if financial catastrophe is purely a problem for the president. To listen to Boehner, you'd think that avoiding the austerity crisis (nee fiscal cliff) is a partisan goal, not something that Republicans are supposed to care about for its own sake. Likewise, default on the national debt is the president's problem, full stop. If he doesn't want markets to panic, then he needs to cough up some goodies.

What's even more gobsmacking is that nobody in the press seems to find this at all out of the ordinary. The leader of the opposition basically shrugs his shoulders in public and says that if the president doesn't want the national economy to collapse, he'll have to pay a price. The response is another collective shrug. That's Republicans for you, it says.

Remarkable.