Kevin Drum - February 2013

Quote of the Day: Frying the Planet Is Okay As Long As We Protect It From Asteroids

| Sat Feb. 16, 2013 8:56 PM EST

From Andrew Stuttaford, complaining about liberal spending priorities:

We waste a fortune on measures (that will have no impact for decades, if ever) to tamper with the climate. Some of that money would be better spent on asteroid insurance.

I can't really come up with anything witty to say about this. I just wanted to save it for posterity in case someone decides to run a contest at the end of the year or something.

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Has the Mainstream Media Finally Had Enough?

| Sat Feb. 16, 2013 11:54 AM EST

I'm curious. It seems to me that something has happened over the past three months: the nonpartisan media has finally started to internalize the idea that the modern Republican Party has gone off the rails. Their leaders can't control their backbenchers. They throw pointless temper tantrums about everything President Obama proposes. They have no serious ideas of their own aside from wanting to keep taxes low on the rich. They're serially obsessed with a few hobby horses — Fast & Furious! Obamacare! Benghazi! — that no one else cares about. Their fundraising is controlled by scam artists. They're rudderless and consumed with infighting. They're demographically doomed.

Obviously these are all things that we partisan hacks in the blogosphere have been yapping about forever. But the mainstream press, despite endless conservative kvetching to the contrary, has mostly stuck with standard shape-of-the-world-differs reporting.

Recently, though, my sense is that this has shifted a bit. The framing of even straight news reports feels just a little bit jaded, as if veteran reporters just can't bring themselves to pretend one more time that climate change is a hoax, Benghazi is a scandal, and federal spending is spiraling out of control. It's getting harder and harder to pretend that the same old shrieking over the same old issues is really newsworthy.

Question: Am I just imagining this? Or has there really been a small but noticeable shift in the tone of recent reporting?

Friday Valentine Cat Blogging - 15 February 2013

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 3:01 PM EST

It's not too late for some Valentine's Day catblogging, is it? Of course not. Today I have two cats for you. On the top is a picture from one of my childhood books, The Valentine Cat. It features a poor-but-honest shoemaker's apprentice, an evil chimney sweep, and a good-hearted princess. Plus a cat, who the evil chimney sweep lures away and uses to clean chimneys. I'm afraid to ask where the author got the idea of cleaning chimneys by lowering a cat down the flue, but it does serve a plot point by covering up the cat's distinctive heart marking. In the end, as you can guess, everything turns out well for the shoemaker and the princess (and the cat), but not so well for the evil chimney sweep. Let that be a lesson to you.

Right below that, we have our other Valentine Cat, with her own distinctive white mark on her forehead. It's sort of valentine-shaped if you cross your eyes and, um — oh, forget it. It's just not valentine-shaped, is it? Such a pity. But Domino is curled up under a valentine-themed quilt called "Key to my Heart." The hearts are appliquéd on, and it was made in 1991, when Marian and I were engaged. It's machine stitched and hand quilted.

Here's How Billionaires Launder Their Climate-Denial Cash

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 2:38 PM EST

Have you been reading today about Donors Trust, the 800-pound gorilla of climate-denial funders that you've never heard of? Well, Andy Kroll told you all about them right here at MoJo last week:

Over the past decade, it has funded the right's assault on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, economic regulations, and the very premise of activist government. Yet unlike its nearest counterpart on the progressive side, the Tides Foundation, a bogeyman of Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Donors Trust has mostly avoided any real scrutiny. It is the dark-money ATM of the right.

Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group's CEO....Donors Trust keeps its contributors secret. Funders can ask Donor Trust to publicly identify their donations, but very few do, Ball says. The reasons for preferring anonymity are many. Some donors want to avoid attention; others don't want their mailboxes and inboxes filling up with unwanted solicitations for more money.

Click the link for more. Andy has the latest update here. And the Guardian ran a version of the story, including the chart above, here.

Today We Have Bipartisan Support for Raising the Minimum Wage!

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 1:31 PM EST

Over at NRO, Kevin Williamson says that he likes the idea of indexing the minimum wage to inflation and being done with it for good, but Democrats are simply too treacherous to negotiate with:

The problem is that in the current political climate, a deal is never a deal. Republicans might agree to a small increase in the minimum wage in return for indexing it to CPI and then leaving it alone — if not forever, then at least for some meaningful period of time. Once the long-term rule is established, markets can adjust, and investments can be made. In theory, that would be a pretty good deal, but there is nothing to stop Democrats from advocating further increases to the indexed minimum wage every time they feel the need to trot out a little class-warfare artillery, which is about once a week, apparently.

Well, I guess there's never any guarantee that some Democrat or another won't "trot out" a proposal to increase the minimum wage whenever the mood hits them, but will "Democrats" do this? Let's take a look at an analogous situation. For the first three decades of its existence, Social Security benefits were increased sporadically, whenever Congress had a collective mind to do so. Then, in 1975, benefits were indexed to inflation.

So what happened after that? Have Democrats been pressing for benefit hikes every week or so? I'm not an expert on the legislative history of Social Security over the past 38 years, but I'm pretty sure the answer is no. In 1983, Dems agreed to a small benefit cut as part of the Greenspan Commission deal. In 1993, Bill Clinton effectively cut benefits again by approving a measure that raised taxes on Social Security payouts for higher income beneficiaries. In 2012, Barack Obama expressed a willingness to cut benefits yet again by changing the way CPI is calculated.

But higher benefits? That's never really been on the table. What has been on the table, of course, are relentless efforts from Republicans to slash benefits in various ways, which Democrats have almost uniformly opposed. If Republicans do the same for a minimum wage indexed to inflation, they can probably expect the same.

But my guess is that an increase to nine bucks, along with indexing the minimum wage to CPI, would satisfy most Democrats for quite a while. It wouldn't satisfy all lefties, but that's a rather different thing. It's congressional Democrats who have to stick to the deal, and there's really no good reason to think they wouldn't.

When it Comes to Chuck Hagel, It's Not Business, It's Personal

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 12:39 PM EST

I haven't seen a lot of acknowledgment of this in the blogosphere, so it's probably worth passing along this piece about Chuck Hagel in today's LA Times:

The persistent opposition by Senate Republicans to Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense secretary isn't just about his national security views. It's also deeply personal.

President Obama's choice of the former Republican senator, whose nomination received another setback Thursday, looked, on the surface, like a gesture of bipartisanship. But to many of his former colleagues, it's anything but.

Hagel was seen as a tacit supporter of Obama in 2008 rather than Republican nominee John McCain — one of the senators key to his chances of confirmation. Just last year, Hagel endorsed the Democratic candidate for Senate in his home state of Nebraska against Deb Fischer, who went on to win and is now a vote against him.

In Washington's highly polarized environment, the Hagel nomination has become an object lesson in the dangers of crossing the partisan divide. Hagel "was anti his own party and people. People don't forget that," McCain said in a Fox News interview. "You can disagree, but if you're disagreeable, people don't forget that."

"In the name of bipartisanship, the president selected a nominee who really stuck a finger in the eyes of a number of Republicans," said William Galston, a Brookings Institution scholar and former aide to President Clinton. "If you're seen as a turncoat or an apostate or a traitor, then that's bound to have an effect on the mood of the proceedings."

I bow to no one in my belief that Republicans have gone off the rails in their opposition to Hagel. I don't buy for a second the argument that, hey, maybe Republicans have some legitimate questions about Hagel's role in drone warfare. There might be legitimate questions about his role, but the actual Senate hearings have made crystal clear that among Republican ranks, they couldn't care less about that. They love drones. They've asked no substantive questions about that at all. It's all Israel, Benghazi, Israel, Iran, Israel, "Friends of Hamas," and Israel.

At the same time, I've read a few too many people claiming that the real craziness here is that Republicans are objecting to a fellow Republican! But they're not. Hagel is an apostate, which makes him even worse than a Democrat. As near as I can tell, most Rs feel about Hagel roughly the same way Dems feel about Joe Lieberman.

So yeah, this is personal. It's crazy and off the rails, but it's also personal.

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Fear is Getting a Bad Rap These Days

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 11:55 AM EST

Today in MoJo, Chris Mooney passes along some of the latest research about how personality traits affect political affiliations:

In the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies which vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes--and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. "It's not that conservative people are more fearful, it's that fearful people are more conservative," as she puts it.

Just for the sake of discussion, let's stipulate that this is true. We still have a wee bit of a messaging problem here: No conservative will ever, ever, ever accept any of this research as long as it insists that conservatives are just a bunch of wailing fraidy cats. And I don't blame them.

There has got to a more neutral, less pejorative way of describing this. I'm not sure what it is, though, because it needs to be technically accurate too. I could throw out a bunch of suggestions, but I wouldn't have a good sense if they really fit the evidence well.

Still, this is a widespread trait and it's one that's obviously useful to society. Being cautious is often appropriate. In-group loyalty—the root cause of xenophobia—is valuable in any group based on social ties. Wariness of others can save your life or keep you from being cheated. Skepticism toward change is often called for. Etc.

I don't know if any of these words are appropriate substitutes for "fear." But one way or another, the brain scientists and social scientists who study this stuff need to figure something out. Right now, this research too often boils down to fear bad, openness good, and that's not only wrong and simplistic, it's wildly counterproductive. If liberals were routinely described as, say, gullible and naive, we wouldn't like it much either.

So that's my question of the day. What should we say instead?

Why Russians Are in Love With Dashboard Cameras

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 11:07 AM EST

As you all know by now, a meteor streaked across the Siberian sky last night, injuring hundreds of people. Not by hitting anyone, mind you, but because its sonic boom shattered windows. As you also probably know, there's lots and lots of video of the meteor. Is that because Russians are especially vigilant about watching the sky? No. It's because Russian drivers are really into dashboard cameras. And why is that?

The dashboard camera craze has really taken off in the past couple of years, but for the dullest of reasons: Insurance.

According to Radio Free Europe, the craze began as the cost of cameras dipped and citizens began fighting back against corrupt traffic cops. They quickly also proved their use in proving fault in an accident and capturing viral videos.

Animal New York also notes that the cameras are excellent in catching other drivers involved in hit-and-run accidents. As with everything else, though, what started as a personal safety fad began to produce local celebrities. There are now television shows and entire websites dedicated to capturing the best — and even reviewing — dashboard cam videos from across the country.

So there you have it.

No, Republicans Will Not Support Expanded Pre-K

| Fri Feb. 15, 2013 1:33 AM EST

David Brooks writes today that he's a fan of President Obama's initiative to expand pre-K education. Here's his final paragraph:

President Obama has taken on a big challenge in a realistic and ambitious way. If Republicans really believe in opportunity and local control, they will get on board.

Needless to say, Brooks knows perfectly well that Republicans will never get on board with this. It costs money, it doesn't benefit the rich, and it's something Obama wants. That's three strikes, and that's all she wrote.

But Brooks keeps plugging away, appealing vainly to the obviously extinct better angels of their nature. I wonder what it's like being stuck doing that twice a week for life?

I Think Voldemort Has Put a Curse on SOTU Responses

| Thu Feb. 14, 2013 8:27 PM EST

Last week I wrote that everyone fails when it comes to delivering a reply to the State of the Union address. "I would run, not walk, if party leaders asked me to give the SOTU response," I said. "My kid has a piano recital that night. It's my anniversary. Anything. I think you'd have to be nuts to agree to do this."

Nonetheless, it never occurred to me that Marco Rubio would take a big swig of water right in the middle of his response. That's a failure mode that I never anticipated. Still, the rule remains unbroken: don't give a SOTU response. Period. It's only slightly less dangerous than agreeing to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts.