Kevin Drum - July 2013

Tired of 3-D Movies? Blame China.

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 12:49 PM EDT

This is from the "things I did not know" file:

China has become the second-biggest movie market behind the U.S., with sales of $2.7 billion last year....The government allows in only 34 foreign films per year for national distribution. At least 14 of them have to be made in 3-D or for the big-screen Imax format.

Really? A minimum of 14 foreign movies have to be in 3-D or Imax? How about that. And while we're on the subject, the same story passes along this tidbit:

"2012" movie was a hit in China with a plot that was gold for patriotic Chinese audiences: As the Earth's core overheats, world leaders build an ark in the mountains of central China to house people and animals that can repopulate the planet. Scenes from the nearly three-hour movie feature a U.S. military officer saying that only the Chinese could build an ark of such a scale so quickly.

It was seen in China as a refreshing change for audiences after decades of unflattering portrayals of the communist nation in Hollywood movies.

Hmmm. It's true that a US military officer says this. But as I recall, the reason that only China could build the arks is because it has an autocratic government that can brutally depopulate entire villages without enduring any pesky questions from legislators or the media. Does anyone know if this particular bit of exposition survived in the Chinese version of the film? Or did it end up on the cutting room floor?

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Yeah, Marco Rubio Is Toast (for Now, Anyway)

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

Josh Marshall and Ed Kilgore are arguing about whether Marco Rubio is toast. Can I play?

Here's my guess: he's toast for 2016, but might make a comeback later. He's pretty young, after all. The specific question that Josh and Ed are tossing around, though, is this: how can we say that Rubio is doomed just because he's pissed off the base over immigration reform? After all, the last two Republican nominees had big base problems too.

I think the answer here is fairly simple, and it's something that gets lost a lot: the tea party makes up only about half—or maybe slightly less than half—of the Republican base. In the past two GOP primaries, what's basically happened is that there was a huge clown show between a bunch of candidates all sprinting rightward in order to win the tea party vote, and only one or two candidates seriously going after the more moderate vote. John McCain and Mitt Romney were by far the strongest candidates among moderates, and that's how they won. They got the bulk of the non-tea party vote all to themselves, added in a bit of tea party support here and there, and that was enough. All the other candidates were tearing each other apart for the tea party vote, and in the end that meant none of them could build a commanding lead.

Rubio's problem is that, immigration aside, he's very clearly a creature of the tea party. If he runs, he's going to be one of the guys competing like a pit bull for the 40 percent of the base they represent. But with immigration working against him, he has no chance of coming out on top. In a nutshell, he's dead to the tea partiers and he's too rabidly right-wing to make a play for the center. For now, he's got nothing.

That could all change in the future, and frankly I think he'd be smart to regroup and think about 2020 or 2024. But this is why Rubio is toast for now. Immigration was his ticket to a share of the moderate vote, and that's now looking like a bad bet.

The Bellowing, Belligerent, But Completely Ineffectual History of Ted Cruz

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 11:24 AM EDT

I suppose I could save everyone some time and just tell you to be sure to read Dave Weigel every day, but his clinical dissection of Republican firebrand Ted Cruz is really worth a minute of your time. After running down Cruz's almost flawless lack of success during his first six months as a senator, he concludes:

That's the story of Ted Cruz's strategic acumen in the Senate. The paradox is that the theatrics that completely backfire in D.C. are embraced by activists in the bright world outside.

Cruz has built a quick reputation as the loudest mouth in a body famed for its loudmouths, and it's led to nothing but disaster and defeat for the Republican Party. But the tea partiers love him all the more for it. If he ever actually made a difference, they'd probably abandon him instantly as a sellout.

Chart of the Day: Maybe Soccer Really Does Explain the World

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 10:49 AM EDT

I have no idea whether this study is really legit, but it's too fascinating not to mention. Andrew Bertoli, a Ph.D. student in political science at Berkeley, has taken a look at nationalist aggression from 1958 through 2001, using this measure:

Similar to past studies [] I measure aggression using the number of militarized interstate disputes (MIDs) that a state initiates. These disputes are instances where states explicitly threaten, display, or use force against other countries []. This measure is commonly used in security studies, since wars happen too infrequently to be a useful measure in most statistical tests.

His conclusion? Countries that barely qualify for the World Cup are more aggressive than countries that barely miss qualification. Something about qualifying for the World Cup apparently raises a country's testosterone level and makes them more belligerent. This may or may not hold up under rigorous scrutiny, but it certainly ought to be true, don't you think?

Via the Monkey Cage.

The Economist Phones It In On the Falling Crime Rate

| Fri Jul. 19, 2013 10:26 AM EDT

Obviously I'm a fan of lead as the primary explanation for the sharp rise in crime in the 60s and 70s followed by a sharp fall in the 90s and aughts. But you don't have to buy this hypothesis hook, line, and sinker to be embarrassed by the Economist's current cover story on the fall in crime. It's just the usual endless succession of sociological explanations, all of which are supported by thin evidence—or even directly contradicted by the evidence—with only a single throwaway sentence about unleaded gasoline. Honestly, this article could have been written a decade ago with hardly a word needing to be changed. The laziness just oozes from the whole thing. Sheesh.

Today's Republican Party Update

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 5:11 PM EDT

Dave Weigel:

If you were expecting the Republican-run House of Representatives to hurry on a patch to the Voting Rights Act, what's wrong with you? The Judiciary Committee's Constitution subcommittee met today to talk this over, and the consensus was that the leftover parts of the VRA would work out alright.

Of course that was the consensus. There was never the slightest chance that they'd reinstate preclearance in any way, shape, or form. I confess that I'm mystified that anyone ever thought otherwise. But then again, I'm endlessly mystified that there are so many people who, even now, still don't seem to understand the nature of the modern Republican Party. They would (a) never do anything to the VRA that might benefit Democrats, and (b) they would never do anything which tacitly admits that racism still exists. (Except for anti-white racism, of course. You know, the real kind.) Put those together and the chance of action on the VRA from Republicans was always zero.

And as long as you're over in Weigel-land, you might as well check out the latest non-bombshell from Darrell Issa in the IRS scandal. The whole IRS affair has dwindled away to nothing over the past few weeks as we've learned more about what really happened, and obviously Issa just can't stand that. So he promised fireworks today. Fireworks, I tell you! But guess what?

What's that? You've already guessed? Hmmph. But I suppose that wasn't very hard as Final Jeopardy clues go, was it? Click here if you still want the details.

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The Housing Bubble Is Dead, Long Live the Housing Bubble

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 1:03 PM EDT

Well, maybe not everywhere, but in Southern California the good times are definitely rolling again:

The median home price in Southern California surged a stunning 28% in June compared with a year earlier — outpacing any month during last decade's housing bubble. The gain puts the median at $385,000, up from $300,000 last June.

Some experts warn that prices, driven by short supply, should cool off soon....But others see nothing but higher prices ahead, with supply staying tight and buyers scrambling to close deals before the window of affordability slams shut.

Syd Leibovitch, founder and president of Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills, said he expects prices to double from their bottom last year. "You have a lot of room to run," Leibovitch said. "Because historically, they always double in these cycles, and then they drop back a bit."

Yeah, baby! Prices always double during these cycles. You can take it to the bank.

Or maybe not. Plenty of the folks interviewed by the Times don't think these prices are sustainable. My instinct says they're right, but all it takes is another few months like June and we'll be back in mega-bubble territory, just waiting for it to burst again and wreck the local economy. Good times.

Obamacare Premiums Are Lower Than Expected

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 12:25 PM EDT

When California announced its healthcare premium rates under Obamacare, state officials cheered and detractors detracted. (What about the young men?!?) When New York announced its premiums yesterday, state officials cheered and detractors pointed out that the apparently low premiums were low only compared to New York's previously sky-high premiums. So who's right?

Today, Sarah Kliff draws our attention to a report from the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS. They gathered the average premiums for silver plans in the eleven states that have announced rates so far, and compared it to the forecast from the Congressional Budget Office. Basically, they took CBO's estimate of $15,400 for the second lowest-cost silver family policy in 2016, and did a bit of extrapolation to get a forecast rate of $4,700 for an individual in 2014. That's $392 per month, and due to data limitations, they're comparing this to the lowest-cost silver plans announced so far, not the second lowest-cost. They figure the difference isn't likely to be much. Anyway, it turns out that most of the plans so far are coming in under the CBO estimate:

Kliff comments: "What’s striking, to me at least, is that premiums look relatively similar despite wildly different rhetoric across the country....When California announced its rates, the Democrat-led state celebrated how affordable prices came in. When Ohio released data, it derided how expensive health insurance would be under the federal reforms. In actuality though, Ohioans and Californians will see pretty similar premiums on the new marketplaces. There’s a $16 difference between the two states."

Also, as always, note that these are raw premiums. Anyone with a low income will get subsidies from the government, so the actual price they pay will be even lower. And the prices for bronze plans will be lower yet.

Republicans in Revolt Over Filibuster Compromise

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 11:20 AM EDT

Apparently Senate Republicans are none too happy with Tuesday's filibuster compromise, and Mitch McConnell spent a tense caucus session yesterday pretending that he was just an innocent bystander in the whole thing:

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called “bullshit” loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the “buyer’s remorse” among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background.

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

The U.S. Army Drawdown in Afghanistan Is Being Obstructed by Customs Agents

| Thu Jul. 18, 2013 1:39 AM EDT

From the Washington Post:

An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders....The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.

Wait a second. We invaded Afghanistan. Has there ever been a war in history where an invading army had to pay customs duties when it decided to leave? Surely this is a first?