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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 9, 2014

Tue Sep. 9, 2014 9:52 AM EDT

A US Navy sailor plots the ship's movement on a position chart in Japan. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Raul Moreno Jr.)

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Video: What We Saw Before Being Kicked Out of the SWAT Convention

| Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

This weekend, my colleague Prashanth Kamalakanthan and I attended Urban Shield, a first-responder convention sponsored by more than 100 corporations and the Department of Homeland Security. The five-day confab included a trade show where vendors display everything from armored trucks to sniper rifles to 3-D printable drones. (We documented a few of the more remarkable offerings here.) It also involved the largest SWAT training exercise in the world. Some 35 SWAT teams competed in a 48-hour exercise involving 31 scenarios that included ambushing vehicles, indoor shootouts, maritime interdiction, train assaults, and a mock eviction of a right-wing Sovereign Citizens group. The teams came from cities across the San Francisco Bay Area, Singapore, and South Korea and included a University of California SWAT team, a team of US Marines, and a SWAT team of prison guards.

But on Sunday, at a competition site near the Bay Bridge, our coverage was cut short. A police officer confiscated our press badges, politely explaining that his captain had called and given him the order. The captain, he said, told him we had been filming in an unauthorized location, though he could not tell us where that location was. (We'd been advised earlier that it was okay to film so long as we did not go on the bridge itself.) After several phone calls from both me and my editors, no one could tell us exactly what we had done wrong, but Sergeant J.D. Nelson, the public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department (which hosts the Department of Homeland Security-funded event) made it clear that we could not have our passes back.

We'll have a more in-depth report, and a lot more images and videos, in a few days.

3 Ways the Baltimore Ravens Completely Screwed Up the Ray Rice Mess

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 4:17 PM EDT

This afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens released running back Ray Rice in response to a video released by TMZ showing Rice knocking his then-fiancée (and current wife) Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator in February. Rice has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the NFL suspended him for two games—earlier today, it suspended him indefinitely—but some had given the star running back the benefit of the doubt after he claimed he was simply defending himself. (Indeed, both Rice and Palmer were charged with assault following the incident.)

This new footage, though, clearly shows that wasn't the case, and as outrage mounted today, the Ravens had little choice but to take decisive action against Rice. But we should hardly be praising the team. If anything, the Ravens have been defending Rice and victim-blaming from the very beginning. For example:

1. In May, the Ravens decided it'd be a good idea to sit Rice and Palmer in front of the media and have them publicly address the Atlantic City incident. The result was a complete PR disaster. Rice began by apologizing not to Palmer, but to senior Ravens management and coach John Harbaugh. Rice also chose his words poorly, defining failure as "not getting knocked down, but not getting back up."

2. Even more tone-deaf than the press conference itself was how the Ravens presented it. The team had a staffer live-tweeting the spectacle, and the team's official account sent out this unbelievable tweet, straight out of Victim-Blaming 101:

 

The tweet was deleted today.

3. After Rice's two-game suspension was handed down in late July, people were outraged that occasional pot smokers got harsher punishments from the NFL. The Ravens PR machine thought it was the perfect time to start rehabilitating Rice's image, releasing a glowing dispatch from his first major public appearance after the punishment. The article, posted on the team's website, says Rice got a "standing ovation" from fans who "showed him a lot of love," even though he had been under "national scrutiny." After noting that he showed his "usual fun-loving side," the piece observed with remarkable subtlety that "Rice jerseys sprinkled the crowd, worn by both males and females."

The NFL has earned much-deserved flak for toughening its domestic-violence penalties only when the national criticism ramped up. Today's move by the Ravens should be seen in a similar light: Cutting Rice was the right decision, but it's clear the organization has never taken his offenses all that seriously. It took an even-worse leaked video to make the Ravens finally act.

Every Single Thing You Need to Know About Gerrymandering and Republicans

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 4:01 PM EDT

For some reason—boredom? coincidence? hot weather peevishness?—a bunch of bloggers today have been arguing about whether Republican control of the House is due to gerrymandering. I don't get this. Gerrymandering is what it is. The best studies I've seen suggest that it accounts for 6-8 additional Republican seats. The rest of the Republican advantage is due to the incumbency effect; self-sorting; natural Democratic clumping in urban areas; and a few other minor things.

So: Is gerrymandering responsible for Republican control of the House? No. Is it partially responsible? Yes. What's so hard about this?

A Brief Note on Texas Hospitality

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 1:44 PM EDT

Jay Nordlinger had an unusual experience with a taxi wrangler at the Dallas airport yesterday:

The man put my suitcase in a taxi’s trunk. I handed him a tip. He said, “No, no, we’re not allowed to take that.”

I have been a fair number of places over the years — and I bet I could count refusals of a tip on one hand....There is something I tell people who think they don’t like Texas: Just go there. That’ll cure you. Texas is distinctively hospitable, and the food, girls, etc., cannot be surpassed (though they can be matched).

For what it's worth, "hospitable" is not the same thing as "airport authorities don't allow employees to accept tips." The former is a trait of people who are just being nice. The latter is something that CEOs force on their low-paid employees. There's a difference.

If Scotland Secedes, They Better Secede From the Pound Too

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 12:41 PM EDT

Scotland will be voting next week on whether to secede from Great Britain, and Paul Krugman is aghast:

Everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous. In economics jargon, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of an optimum currency area. And an independent Scotland using Britain’s pound would be in even worse shape than euro countries, which at least have some say in how the European Central Bank is run.

I find it mind-boggling that Scotland would consider going down this path after all that has happened in the last few years. If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled.

I don't get this either. I understand why the pro-independence forces favor continued use of the pound: it's one less scary thing for the pro-union forces to use in their campaign. People are used to the pound, and it's obviously a stable, well-accepted currency. Conversely, a new Scottish currency would be a big unknown, and give people one more reason to vote against independence.

It's quite likely, of course, that the whole thing is a charade. The pro-independence forces probably feel like they need to support continued use of the pound for now, just to take it off the table as a campaign issue. But if independence succeeds, there's a good chance that Scotland will adopt its own currency within a few years for all the reasons Krugman brings up. Being stuck in a currency union is so obviously dangerous that it will probably be abandoned once things shake down in an independent Scotland and the new government has time to focus on it.

As for Scottish independence itself, I don't have much of an opinion. I do have a generic opinion that secession usually sounds better than it actually is in practice. Every province or state or city or neighborhood always thinks they have deep and justified grievances against whatever polity they belong to, and often they're right. That's the nature of large agglomerations of human beings. But often those grievances are, in truth, fairly skin deep—usually some version of "cultural identity," the last refuge of the person with no actual arguments to make—and secession merely resolves some of them while creating whole new ones. I think it rarely accomplishes much.

My super-rough rule of thumb is this: I support secession of (a) territories that speak a different language, (b) territories that are physically distant, and (c) territories that have genuinely suffered at the hands of a brutal regime. Jokes aside on items (a) and (c), none of these really apply to Scotland, so I'd put myself down as moderately opposed to independence. But if it does happen, I sure hope currency union really does turn out to be a charade. If you're going to have your own country, then you should have your own money and your own monetary policy. If we've learned nothing else over the past half decade, surely we've at least learned that.

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Watch John Oliver Explain the Insanity of Our Student Debt Crisis

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 12:21 PM EDT

The price of attending college in America continues to spiral out of control. In 2012, the average cost of attending a 4-year undergraduate institution in the US hit a record $23,872, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For comparison, 35% of American workers made less than $22,500 in 2012.

On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, liberal piñata-destroyer John Oliver took on this insanity with a typically entertaining and blood boiling segment. “Essentially, student debt is like HPV. If you go to college, you're almost certainly going to get it, and if you do, it will follow you for the rest of your life.”

Watch:

For more, here are 9 charts about the student debt crisis that will drive you crazy.

 

Multivitamins: Almost Worthless, But Maybe Not Quite

| Mon Sep. 8, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

From Emily Oster:

Many medical studies show positive health effects from higher vitamin levels. The only problem? These studies often can’t tease out the effect of the vitamins from the effect of other factors, such as generally healthy living. Studies that attempt to do this typically show no impact from vitamin use — or only a very tiny one on a small subset of people. The truth is that for most people, vitamin supplementation is simply a waste of time.

Every once in a while I vaguely decide that maybe I'd feel better if I took vitamins. So I buy a bottle of multivitamins and take them for a while. What usually happens next is that I come across yet another in the long parade of news pieces and blog posts reminding me that vitamin supplements are useless. And then I stop again.

I am, needless to say, not talking about specific vitamin supplements recommended by my doctor for a specific condition. I'm talking about the routine use of vitamin supplements. And Oster is right: study after study shows that they're all but worthless.

And yet! There's also this from a study released a couple of years ago:

Men who took a daily multivitamin had a statistically significant lower rate of cancer than those who took the placebo (17.0 versus 18.3 events per 1000 person-years). Although mortality was lower as well, it wasn’t statistically significant (4.9 versus 5.6 events per 1000 person-year).

This was an extremely large study, well done, with amazing follow-up. You can’t dismiss it easily.

That's Aaron Carroll, not generally someone who succumbs to faddish nonsense. The study in question isn't perfect, but as he says, it's pretty good. And it suggests that, in fact, multivitamins help reduce the incidence of cancer in men, especially those with a baseline history of cancer. And they're cheap. So if you happen to be male, maybe multivitamins are worth it after all.

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.

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.