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8 Weird Things You Can Buy for the Republican or Democrat In Your Life This Holiday Season

| Fri Dec. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EST

With five shopping days left until Christmas—and four for Hanukkah, slacker—you might be feeling pressure to come through with some great gifts for friends and family. Not to worry: the Republican and Democratic parties are here to help! From decorative lapel-wear to straight-talkin' tees, the parties' respective online stores are offering a festive array of gift selections this holiday season. Here are some real winners, sure to please the partisan in your life. In no particular order:

1. Limited Edition American Eagle Brooch

National Republican Congressional Committee

From the National Republican Congressional Committee comes this "exquisite piece." For the low price of $72—or $200 for three!—you can show off your American pride while helping "preserve our Conservative House Majority."
 

2. ACTION Mugs

Organizing for Action

Take an executive action and order these mugs. Delicious-looking hot cocoa, shortbread cookies, and cozy blanket do not appear to be included.
 

3. George W. Bush Quote Mousepad

National Republican Congressional Committee

For that someone who could use a bit of W. wisdom with each click they make. At $15, it's a steal from the NRCC—and it could appreciate in value with any additional Bush presidencies.
 

4. I Am Organizing For Action, Long-Sleeve-T Edition

Democrats.org

There's no better way to communicate that you're organizing for action than this handsome, olive long-sleeve tee that says, "I am organizing for action." For $20, it's a solid choice for that community organizer you know with a flair for subtlety.
 

5. George H.W. Bush Autograph Socks

Republican National Committee

From the color combo to the presidential signature, these socks are just beautiful. They were supposedly designed for H.W. himself—widely known to be a sock man—and for $41 (get it?!), this is the ideal gift for the boat-shoe-wearing College Republican in your life.
 

6. Very Blue Shirt

Democrats.org

Great gift! Unless you have trouble distinguishing between identical shades of blue, or if you have issues with the Democrats' logo rebrand. But it's $30, and the DNC says it can "withstand sports," so it's still an OK buy. It'll really complement that sweet arm tat.
 

7. Anti-Tea Party Travel Mug

Democrats.org

There's nothing quite like a good travel mug with a strong opinion. At $30, this is a certified "great gift." The mug has even pissed off the Daily Caller—a priceless value-add.
 

8. "Official" Cheney GOP Cowboy Hat

Republican National Committee

The clear winner this holiday season: this limited-edition hat from the RNC, engraved with Dick's signature, and lined with a gold Republican Party seal. For a cool $72, you can "help elect our next Republican president" while channeling America's favorite Republican vice president. It'll be sure to add that stylish touch to your enhanced cattle-rustlin' techniques.

Disclaimer: Obviously, you should not buy any of these things. Nobody wants to talk politics at Christmas. Don't make Mom get into this.

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One Little Survey Question Explains All of Politics

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 10:59 PM EST

Jonathan Bernstein points to a new Kaiser survey that examines opposition to the individual mandate in Obamacare. Here's what they found:

It remains among the least popular aspects of the law — with just a 35 percent approval rating. But when people are told that the mandate doesn’t affect most Americans because they already have coverage through an employer, support jumps to 62 percent.

It only takes a modest bit of reading between the lines to figure out what's really going on here: when people find out that the mandate doesn't apply to them personally, lots of them are suddenly OK with it. In case politics has always mystified you, that's it in a nutshell. Now you know.

Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue to Overturn Legal Weed in Colorado

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 8:23 PM EST
Nebraska is mad that Colorado pot is crossing its border

The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma petitioned the US Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn pot legalization in Colorado, arguing that its legal weed has been spilling across their borders and fueling crime.

"The state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system," the suit alleges. "Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff states' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

The Department of Justice pledged last year not to interfere with pot legalization in Colorado and Washington, but only if the states met a list of conditions, including preventing legally purchased marijuana from being diverted to states where it's illegal. Nebraska and Oklahoma are now arguing that the Supreme Court should compel the DOJ to act.

Evidence has been mounting that Colorado can't contain all of its weed. In June, USA Today highlighted the flow of its marijuana into small towns across Nebraska. Since 2011, the paper reported, felony drug arrests in Chappell, Nebraska, a town just seven miles north of the Colorado border, have jumped 400 percent.

But marijuana reformers argue that governments can't contain illegally purchased weed either, and that a few growing pains on the path to a more sensible drug policy are inevitable. "These guys are on the wrong side of history," Mason Tvert, communications director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "They will be remembered similarly to how we think of state officials who fought to maintain alcohol prohibition years after other states ended it."

Nebraska attorney general Jon Brunning has actually become too eager to support the alcohol industry, Tvert adds. Between 2008 and 2012, beer, wine, and alcohol interests donated $86,000 to Brunning. In 2012, he advocated for a lower tax rate for sweetened malt beverages such as hard lemonade. "It appears he is fighting to protect their turf," Tvert says. "He should explain why he thinks Colorado adults should not be able to use marijuana instead."
 

Mystery Chart of the Day: What's Up With All the Skinny Economists?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 5:22 PM EST

The chart on the right is excerpted from the Wall Street Journal. It shows which occupations have the lowest obesity rates, and most of it makes sense. There are folks who do a lot of physical labor (janitors, maids, cooks, etc.). There are health professionals who are probably hyper-aware of the risks of obesity. There are athletes and actors who have to stay in shape as part of their jobs.

And then, at the very bottom, there are economists, scientists, and psychologists. What's up with that? Why would these folks be unusually slender? I can't even come up with a plausible hypothesis, aside from the possibility that these professions attract rabid obsessives who are so devoted to their jobs that they don't care about food. Aside from that, I got nothing. Put your best guess in comments.

Rick Perry Is One Lucky Dude

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 2:00 PM EST

From James Pethokoukis:

The energy sector gives, and the energy sector takes. The stunning drop in oil prices looks like bad news for the “Texas Miracle.” (Texas is responsible for 40% of all US oil production — vs. 25% five years ago — and all of the net US job growth since 2007.) This from JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli: “As we weigh the evidence, we think Texas will, at the least, have a rough 2015 ahead, and is at risk of slipping into a regional recession.”

Man, Rick Perry is one lucky guy, isn't he? It's true that the "Texas Miracle" may not be quite the miracle Perry would like us to believe. As the chart below shows in a nutshell, the Texas unemployment rate has fared only slightly better than the average of all its surrounding states.

Still, Texas has certainly had strong absolute job growth. However, this is mostly due to (a) population growth; (b) the shale oil boom; and (c) surprisingly strict mortgage loan regulations combined with loose land use rules, which allowed Texas to escape the worst of the housing bubble. Perry didn't actually have much to do with any of this, but he gets to brag about it anyway. And now that oil is collapsing and might bring the miracle to a sudden end, Perry is leaving office and can avoid all blame for what happens next.

One lucky guy indeed.

Yeah, Democrats Are Pretty Pro-Corporate Too

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 12:39 PM EST

A couple of days ago I poured cold water on the idea that tea partiers might join up with the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party to form some kind of populist anti-corporate coalition. "Every once in a while they'll get themselves exercised over some trivial issue of 'crony capitalism' like reauthorizing the Export-Import bank," I said, but the truth is that the tea partiers have no real devotion to anti-corporatism. They just want to cut taxes and slash welfare.

Over at National Review, Veronique de Rugy tries to make the case that ExIm is more important than I'm giving it credit for, but I'm not buying it. Sorry. It's just a shiny object of the moment that's both small and costs virtually nothing. On the other hand, I'm entirely willing to buy de Rugy's suggestion that Democrats aren't especially anti-corporate either:

Please. They talk the talk, but when it’s time to vote, they rarely walk the walk. In the end, not unlike a number of Republicans, Democrats rarely miss an opportunity to support big businesses. They support the Department of Energy’s 1705 loans, which mostly go to wealthy energy companies, and they never fail to join Republicans in saving other corporate energy subsidies; they support the reauthorization of OPIC, which mostly benefits large corporations; they support farm subsidies, which mostly benefit large agro-businesses at the expenses of small farms; they support Obamacare, which among other things amounts to a huge giveaway to the insurance industry; they support auto and bank bailouts; and for all their complaints about Wall Street, they managed to write a law, Dodd-Frank, that in some ways protects the big financial institutions that they claim to despise.

I'd quibble with some of this. Obamacare is indeed good for the insurance industry, but it's not that good. And anyway, this is mostly due to the fact that the structure of American health care is historically dependent on private insurance, and it's just not possible to completely overhaul that overnight. In this case, Democrats caved in to special interests as much because they had to as because they wanted to.

Still, it's true that most Democrats are pretty cozy with corporate America. There's a smallish anti-corporate wing of the party, but it rarely has much influence because (a) it's usually outnumbered in the Democratic caucus and (b) there's essentially no anti-corporate wing of the Republican Party to team up with. Being pro-corporate is one of the few bipartisan issues left in Congress. There are lots of fights over small stuff, but it's mostly just window dressing that hides widespread agreement over the big stuff.

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Is Vladimir Putin Ready to Make a Deal?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 11:53 AM EST

In his yearly press conference, Vladimir Putin appeared to be trying to cool down the rhetoric over Ukraine:

Mr. Putin recognized the efforts of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine in ending the conflict in the southeast of that country, but he suggested that others in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, may be trying to prolong the conflict....“We hear a lot of militant statements; I believe President Poroshenko is seeking a settlement, but there is a need for practical action,” Mr. Putin added. “There is a need to observe the Minsk agreements” calling for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of forces.

Russia has toned down its talk on the Ukraine crisis in the past month, and some of its most incendiary language, like “junta” and “Novorossiya,” a blanket term used for the separatist territories, is no longer used on state-run television news. Mr. Putin also notably omitted those terms, which he had used in other public appearances, on Thursday.

So does this mean Putin is adopting a more conciliatory attitude toward the West? You be the judge:

In general, he blamed “external factors, first and foremost” for creating Russia’s situation — accusing the West of intentionally trying to weaken Russia. “No matter what we do they are always against us,” Putin said, one of a series of observations directed at how he said the West has been treating Russia.

Putin attributed Western sanctions that have targeted Russia’s defense, oil and gas and banking sectors for about “25 percent” of Russia’s current difficulties.

But Putin stood firm over the actions that brought on the Western backlash, including Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula after pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine began an uprising earlier this year....“Taking Texas from Mexico is fair, but whatever we are doing is not fair?” he said, in comments seemingly directed at the United States.

Putin also suggested that the West was demanding too many concessions from Russia, including further nuclear disarmament. Likening Russia to a bear — a longtime symbol of the country — he chided the West for insisting the Russian bear “just eat honey instead of hunting animals.”

“They are trying to chain the bear. And when they manage to chain the bear, they will take out his fangs and claws,” Putin said. “This is how nuclear deterrence is working at the moment.”

For what it's worth, I'd say Putin is probably right about sanctions being responsible for around 25 percent of Russia's economic problems. As for his guess that those problems will last two years before Russia returns to growth? That might not be far off either, though I suspect growth will be pretty slow for longer than that.

It's hard to render a real judgment about Putin's intentions without being fluent in Russian and watching the press conference in real time, but based on press reports I'd say Putin's anti-Western comments were milder than they could have been. My guess is that events in Ukraine really haven't worked out the way he hoped, and he'd be willing to go ahead and disengage if he could do so without admitting that he's conceding anything. The anti-Western bluster is just part of that. (Though it's also partly genuine: Putin really does believe, with some justification, that the West wants to hem in Russia.)

Oddly, then, I'd take all this as a mildly positive sign. The rhetoric seemed fairly pro forma; Putin obviously knows that sanctions are hurting him; and there were no serious provocations over Ukraine. I'll bet there's a deal to be made with Putin as long as it's done quietly.

The First Person Jeb Bush Followed on Twitter Was Karl Rove

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 11:23 AM EST

Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is running for president. (Maybe.) But just how much does he have in common with his brother, George W.? His Twitter page might offer a clue. The first human Jeb followed on Twitter was none other than his brother's former deputy chief of staff—Fox News analyst Karl Rove. So is the Oracle of Ohio going to be back in the fold come 2016? We can only hold our breath. Or perhaps Jeb just likes Rove's engaging Twitter personality. (Full disclosure: the first person I followed on Twitter was Chuck Grassley.)

Listen to the Real Stephen Colbert Explain How He Maintained His Flawless Character for 9 Years

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 11:03 AM EST

The curtain comes down on The Colbert Report Thursday night after a spectacular nine-year run on Comedy Central. But a big question remains: How on Earth did Colbert stay in character for so long?

"Stephen Colbert," the character, is indisputably a brilliant creation. I watched every week because "Stephen Colbert" attacked right-wing media by embodying its most outlandish traits; the more sincere he was, the more searing and audacious the satire. He was sophisticated and simple at the same time. He gave viewers an amazing gift: temporary relief from the political divide by skewering idiocy at its source. (My colleague Inae Oh has compiled some of his best segments today).

It was a wildly impressive formula, in part for the stamina it required from Stephen Colbert, the comic. As fellow performer Jimmy Fallon told the New York Times this week: "I was one of those who said, 'He'll do it for six months and then he'll move on.'…It's gets old. But not this. He's a genius."

That's what makes the above podcast, Working, With David Plotz, so fascinating: It's Colbert, in his own words, out of character, describing his daily routine of getting into character; a real craftsman. It also reveals the vulnerable human performer within; a real artist.

Broadcaster and media critic Brooke Gladstone said back in April that Colbert "seems to be a modest man, too modest perhaps, to see that by lightly shedding the cap of his creation, he's depriving us all of a national treasure."

Long live Colbert.

Rape Is Way Down Over the Past Two Decades — But So Is All Violent Crime

| Thu Dec. 18, 2014 10:51 AM EST

Keith Humphreys passes along some positive news about rape:

Twenty years ago, the National Crime Victimization Survey was redesigned to do a better job detecting sexual assault....In the space of one generation, the raw number of rapes has dropped by 45% and the population-adjusted rate of rape has dropped 55%.

I started my career working with and advocating for rape victims, and no one needs to convince me that the only acceptable goal for society is to have no rapes at all. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have experienced an astonishingly positive change that should lead us to (1) Figure out how it was achieved so that we can build on it (personally, I credit the feminist movement, but there may be other variables) and (2) Never give up hope that we can push back dramatically against even the most horrific social problems.

I have to call foul on this. The starting point for this statistic is 1992, the absolute peak of the violent crime wave in America that started during the 60s and continued rising for a generation. Since that peak, all violent crime as measured by the NCVS has declined by well over half. The decline in rape is simply part of this overall trend, not a bright spot in an otherwise grim crime picture.

In fact, it's just the opposite: the decline in the reported rape rate has lagged the overall drop in reported violent crime. It's plausible that the feminist movement has something to do with this, since it's encouraged more women to report rapes and pushed the criminal justice system into taking rape more seriously. But the raw decline in rape itself? That's almost certainly due not to feminism, but to the same factors that have been responsible for the stunning decline in all violent crime over the past two decades. My hypothesis about this is pretty well known, so I won't repeat it here. But whatever it is, it's something pretty broad-based.