Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/03 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Friday Cat Blogging - 6 March 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/friday-cat-blogging-6-march-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Today's catblogging is special. As usual, the lighting in our living room is pretty bad, but nonetheless, this is your first glimpse of the commenter known as Inkblot's Aunt&mdash;aka my sister Karen. She's been wonderful about helping us out as Marian and I both recover from our various medical problems, and on Wednesday she came over and stayed with me all evening when I was feeling especially bad. You can see her reward in the photo: Hilbert finally decided she was part of the family and plonked down in her arms for a nice hour-long snooze.</p> <p>By the way, when I head off to stage 2 of my chemotherapy, Karen will be catsitting for several weeks. This means she'll be responsible for using her iPad to capture catblogging photos each week. Depending on how I feel during stage 2, I'll post them as I get them. In any case, be nice to her in comments. Sometime in the next month or two, catblogging will depend on her.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_03_06_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 65px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 Mar 2015 19:40:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 271491 at http://www.motherjones.com A Zombie From the 90s Makes the Case For Demanding Strong Encryption http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/zombie-90s-makes-case-demanding-strong-encryption <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Companies like Apple and Google have announced recently that they will start providing their customers with encryption that even Apple and Google don't have the keys for. This means that even if law enforcement officers get a subpoena for data held by the companies, it won't do any good. They couldn't turn over decrypted data even if they wanted to.</p> <p>This has led to calls from the FBI and elsewhere to provide "backdoors" of some kind for use by law enforcement. This would be a kind of master key available only under court order. But security experts argue that this makes encryption fundamentally <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_encryption_key.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">useless. If you deliberately build in a weakness, you simply can never guarantee that it won't be exploited by hackers. Encryption is either secure or it's not, full stop.</p> <p>Over at The Switch, Craig Timberg provides an interesting recent example of this. Back in the 90s, we were fighting this same fight, and one temporary result was the government's mandate that only a weak form of encryption could be exported outside the U.S. This mandate didn't last long, but it lasted long enough to get incorporated into quite a few products. Still, that was 20 years ago. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2015/03/03/freak-flaw-undermines-security-for-apple-and-google-users-researchers-discover/" target="_blank">What harm could it be doing today?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The weaker encryption got baked into widely used software that proliferated around the world and back into the United States, apparently unnoticed until this year.</p> <p><strong>Researchers discovered in recent weeks that they could force browsers to use the old export-grade encryption then crack it over the course of just a few hours.</strong> Once cracked, hackers could steal passwords and other personal information and potentially launch a broader attack on the Web sites themselves by taking over elements on a page, such as a Facebook &ldquo;Like&rdquo; button.</p> <p>....The existence of the problem with export-grade encryption amazed the researchers, who have dubbed the flaw &ldquo;FREAK&rdquo; for Factoring attack on RSA-EXPORT Keys....Nadia Heninger, a University of Pennsylvania cryptographer, said, &ldquo;This is basically a zombie from the &lsquo;90s&hellip; I don&rsquo;t think anybody really realized anybody was still supporting these export suites.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>For vulnerable sites, Heninger found that she could crack the export-grade encryption key in about seven hours,</strong> using computers on Amazon Web services....More than one third of encrypted Web sites&nbsp;&mdash; including those bearing the &ldquo;lock&rdquo; icon that signifies a connection secured by SSL technology&nbsp;&mdash; proved vulnerable to attack in recent tests conducted by University of Michigan researchers J. Alex Halderman and Zakir Durumeric. The list includes news organizations, retailers and financial services sites such as americanexpress.com. <strong>Of the 14 million Web sites worldwide that offer encryption, more than 5 million remained vulnerable as of Tuesday morning, Halderman said.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This is an object lesson in deliberately building vulnerabilities into encryption technology. Maybe you think you've done it perfectly. Maybe you think nobody but the proper authorities can ever exploit the vulnerability. But the chances are good that you're wrong. In the case of FREAK, we were wrong for nearly 20 years before we figured out what was going on. There's no telling how long we might be wrong if we deliberately do this again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Tech Fri, 06 Mar 2015 18:19:26 +0000 Kevin Drum 271506 at http://www.motherjones.com Yet Another Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/yet-another-health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I promised another health update last night, so here it is. I know that some of you are interested in this, while others find it tedious, so I'll put it all below the fold. Here's the nickel summary: There's a good chance I'm going to continue feeling lousy for a couple of weeks or so, but I should start to improve after that.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/kevin-drum/2015/03/yet-another-health-update"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 Mar 2015 16:40:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 271486 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Are Already Prepping for Possible Government Shutdown in the Fall http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/republicans-are-already-prepping-possible-government-shutdown-fall <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Supreme Court will rule later this year on the question of whether Obamacare subsidies should be repealed in states that don't run their own insurance exchanges. That would gut a major portion of the law, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/07/us/as-supreme-court-weighs-health-law-gop-plans-to-replace-it.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">Jonathan Weisman reports today</a> that because of this, "the search for a replacement by Republican lawmakers is finally gaining momentum."</p> <p>I'm not quite sure how he could write that with a straight face, since I think we all know just how serious Republicans are about passing health care reform of their own. In any case, I think the real news comes a few paragraphs down:</p> <blockquote> <p>Aides to senior House Republicans said Thursday that committee chairmen were meeting now to decide whether a budget plan &mdash; due out the week of March 16 &mdash; will include parliamentary language, known as reconciliation instructions, that would allow much of a Republican health care plan to pass the filibuster-prone Senate with a simple majority.</p> <p>Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the House Budget Committee chairman, said that reconciliation language would be kept broad enough to allow Republican leaders to use it later in the year however they see fit, whether that is passing health care legislation over a Senate filibuster or focusing on taxes or other matters.</p> </blockquote> <p>If this is true, it means that Republicans are prepping for yet another government shutdown over Obamacare. Any budget that tried to essentially repeal Obamacare in favor of a Republican "replacement" would obviously be met with a swift veto, and that would lead inevitably to the usual dreary standoff that we've seen so often over the past few years.</p> <p>Of course, this will all be moot if the Supreme Court upholds Obamacare in the way common sense dictates. Still, it's something of a sign of things to come. Shutdown politics is pretty clearly still alive and well in the GOP ranks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 06 Mar 2015 16:01:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 271481 at http://www.motherjones.com The Hack Gap Lives! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/hack-gap-lives <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've been following the news a little vaguely over the past few days, but I noticed an interesting confirmation of the hack gap in the treatment of Hillary Clinton's email affair. Perhaps you noticed too? There was, obviously, a difference in the way liberals and conservatives treated <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hillary_clinton_email.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the news that Hillary had used a private email address for all her correspondence while she was Secretary of State. But it was a matter of degree, not attitude.</p> <p>On the liberal side, I saw a lots of people seriously questioning what had happened. And not just <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/hillary-clinton-state-department-emails" target="_blank">here in the pages of MoJo.</a> I saw it on MSNBC. I saw it in newspaper columns. I saw it in blog posts. Lots of liberals treated this as a legitimate issue and suggested that Hillary had some serious questions to answer. This didn't just come from a few iconoclasts, either. It came from all over the place, and was generally viewed, at the least, as an example of questionable judgment, if not proof that Hillary is the antichrist we've always known she was.</p> <p>I know the counterfactual game can get a little tiresome sometimes, but still: it's hard to imagine the same thing happening if a heavy Republican frontrunner had done something like this. The hack gap lives.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Hillary Clinton Fri, 06 Mar 2015 15:33:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 271476 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in February http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/chart-day-net-new-jobs-february <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The American economy <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm" target="_blank">added 295,000 new jobs last month,</a> 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at 205,000 jobs, which is quite a bit better than January and represents a nice confirmation that the labor market has picked up over the past four months. Virtually all of the growth was in the private sector.</p> <p>The headline unemployment rate went down to 5.5 percent, but this was due to a combination of more people getting jobs and more people dropping out of the labor force and no longer being counted in the unemployment numbers. So this is a fairly mixed report. Unsurprisingly, since it doesn't represent a huge growth in the actual number of people employed, wages remained sluggish. Average hourly earning went up three cents, or 0.12 percent. Moody's Mark Zandi tried to put a positive spin on this: <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/07/business/economy/jobs-report-unemployment-february.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">he told the <em>New York Times</em></a> that "current wage growth data appeared gloomier than the underlying reality, in part because of demographic factors. As well-paid baby boomers enter retirement, to be replaced by younger workers starting out at lower salaries, he said, the overall wage pattern has tilted slightly lower. Also, people who have been out of work for long stretches are starting to come back into the labor force and accepting lower wages."</p> <p>So....not bad. But not quite as good as the top line number suggests. We're still motoring along, but we're still in second gear. We still haven't really seen a sharp shift upward.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_net_new_jobs_january_2015_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 06 Mar 2015 15:16:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 271471 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Note Placeholder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/health-note-placeholder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So where was I all day Thursday? It's getting a little late and I'm tired, but I promise to regale you with the whole story sometime Friday. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but in the end things probably turned out OK. More in the morning.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 Mar 2015 05:36:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 271461 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/health-note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I suppose the lack of content makes it obvious, but today has been a very bad day. I haven't been able to sleep more than a few hours for the past few days, despite plenty of sleep meds. I'm completely exhausted, and not just because of the lack of sleep. That's just making things worse. I can walk about 50 feet before I need to rest. My big accomplishment of the day was to turn on the TV around noon.</p> <p>I assume this is all just part of the chemo withdrawal symptoms, but I don't really know. Tomorrow I have an appointment with an oncology nurse, so perhaps I'll learn more then.</p> <p>If there's a silver lining to this, I suppose it's the possibility that this is the bottom of the post-chemo symptoms, and now I'll start getting better. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 Mar 2015 01:32:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 271401 at http://www.motherjones.com Tea Party Loses Big in Today's Vote on Clean DHS Funding Bill http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/tea-party-loses-big-todays-vote-clean-dhs-funding-bill <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It looks like the conventional wisdom <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/03/03/house-to-vote-on-new-bill-to-fully-fund-homeland-security/?hpid=z1" target="_blank">was correct:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The House will vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. The measure will not target President Obama's executive actions on immigration, giving Democrats what they have long demanded and potentially enraging conservatives bent on fighting the president on immigration.</p> <p>&hellip;The decision marks a big win for Democrats, who have long demanded that Congress pass a "clean" bill to fund DHS free of any immigration riders. For weeks, Boehner and his top deputies have refused to take up such a bill, as conservatives have demanded using the DHS debate to take on Obama's directives, which include action to prevent the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.</p> </blockquote> <p>I thought the most likely course was a brief DHS shutdown (a week or two) just to save face, followed by a pretty clean funding bill. But I was too pessimistic. Apparently the House leadership wasn't willing to take the PR hit that would inevitably involve.</p> <p>I wonder if Republicans could have gotten a better deal if the tea party faction had been less bullheaded? Last week's debacle, where they torpedoed even a three-week funding extension, surely demonstrated to Boehner that he had no choice but to ignore the tea partiers entirely. They simply were never going to support anything except a full repeal of Obama's immigration actions, and that was never a remotely realistic option. The subsequent one-week extension passed only thanks to Democratic votes, and that made it clear that working with Democrats was Boehner's only real choice. And that in turn meant a clean funding bill.</p> <p>But what if the tea partiers had signaled some willingness to compromise? Could they have passed a bill that repealed some small part of Obama's program&mdash;and that could have passed the Senate? Maybe. Instead they got nothing. I guess maybe they'd rather stick to their guns than accomplish something small but useful. That sends a signal to their base, but unfortunately for them, it also sends a signal to Boehner. And increasingly, that signal is that he has no choice but to stop paying attention to their demands. There's nothing in it for Boehner, is there?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Tue, 03 Mar 2015 20:00:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 271286 at http://www.motherjones.com Summers: Yes, the Robots Are Coming to Take Our Jobs http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/summers-yes-robots-are-coming-take-our-jobs <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jim Tankersley called up Larry Summers to ask him to clarify his views on whether automation is hurting middle-class job <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_larry_summers.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">prospects. Despite reports that he no longer supports this view, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/03/robots-are-hurting-middle-class-workers-and-education-wont-solve-the-problem-larry-summers-says/" target="_blank">apparently he does:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Tankersley:</strong> How do you think about the effects of technology and automation on workers today, particularly those in the middle class?</p> <p><strong>Summers:</strong> No one should speak with certainty about these matters, because there are challenges in the statistics, and there are conflicts in the data. But it seems to me that there is a wave of what certainly appears to be labor-substitutive innovation. And that probably, we are only in the early innings of such a wave.</p> </blockquote> <p>I think this is precisely right. I suspect that:</p> <ul><li>Automation began having an effect on jobs around the year 2000.</li> <li>The effect is very small so far.</li> <li>So small, in fact, that it probably can't be measured reliably. There's too much noise from other sources.</li> <li>And I might be wrong about this.</li> </ul><p>In any case, this is at least the right argument to be having. There's been a sort of straw-man argument making the rounds recently that automation has had a big impact on jobs since 2010 and is responsible for the weak recovery from the Great Recession. I suppose there are some people who believe this, but I really don't think it's the consensus view of people (<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank">like me</a>) who believe that automation is a small problem today that's going to grow in the future. My guess is that when economists look back a couple of decades from now, they're going to to date the automation revolution from about the year 2000&mdash;but that since its effects are exponential, we barely noticed it for the first decade. We'll notice it more this decade; a lot more in the 2020s; and by the 2030s it will be inarguably the biggest economic challenge we face.</p> <p>Summers also gets it right on the value of education. He believes it's important, but he doesn't think it will do anything to address skyrocketing income inequality:</p> <blockquote> <p>It is not likely, in my view, that any feasible program of improving education will have a large impact on inequality in any relevant horizon.</p> <p>First, almost two-thirds of the labor force in 2030 is already out of school today. Second, most of the inequality we observe is within education group&nbsp;&mdash; within high school graduates or within college graduates, rather than between high school graduates and college graduates. Third, inequality within college graduates is actually somewhat greater than inequality within high school graduates. <strong>Fourth, changing patterns of education is unlikely to have much to do with a rising share of the top 1 percent, which is probably the most important inequality phenomenon.</strong> So I am all for improving education. But to suggest that improving education is the solution to inequality is, I think, an evasion.</p> </blockquote> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" height="251" src="/files/robots_a_630_0.jpg" width="265"></a> <div class="caption"><strong>Also read Kevin's #longread all about this stuff: </strong><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank"><strong>Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us? </strong></a></div> </div> <p>This is the key fact. Rising inequality is almost all due to the immense rise in the incomes of the top 1 percent. But no one argues that the top 1 percent are better educated than, say, the top 10 percent. As Summers says, if we improve our educational outcomes, that will have a broad positive effect on the economy. But it very plainly won't have any effect on the dynamics that have shoveled so much of our economic gains to the very wealthy.</p> <p>The rest is worth a read (it's a fairly short interview). Summers isn't saying anything that lots of other people haven't said before, but he's an influential guy. The fact that he's saying it too means this is well on its way to becoming conventional wisdom.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Tech Tue, 03 Mar 2015 17:58:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 271266 at http://www.motherjones.com There's Really No Plan B on Iran, Is There? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/theres-really-no-plan-b-iran-there <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday was one of my bad days, but one consequence of that was that I zoned out in front of the TV for long stretches. That allowed me to hear an endless procession of talking heads spend time talking about what we should do about Iran.</p> <p>The striking thing was not that there was lots of criticism from conservatives about President Obama's negotiating strategy. The striking thing was the complete lack of any real alternative from these folks. I listened to interviewer after interviewer ask various people what they'd do instead, and the answers were all the weakest of weak tea. A few mentioned tighter sanctions, but without much conviction since (a) sanctions are already pretty tight and (b) even the hawks seem to understand that mere sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear program anyway. Beyond that there was nothing.</p> <p>That is, with the refreshing (?) exception of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sounded a bit like Jack Nicholson in <em>A Few Good Men</em> after being badgered a bit by Wolf Blitzer. <em>Military action? You're damn right I want to see military action.</em> Or words to that effect, anyway. But of course, this sentiment was behind the scenes everywhere, even if most of the hawkish talking heads didn't quite say it so forthrightly. I noticed that even President Obama, in his interview with Reuters, specifically mentioned "military action," rather than the usual euphemism of "all cards are on the table."</p> <p>In my vague, laymanish way, this sure makes me wonder just how seriously military action really is on the table. I mean, I realize there are no really great options here, but a major war against Iran sure seems like a helluva bad idea&mdash;so bad that even the hawks ought to be thinking twice about this. That's especially true since I've heard no one who thinks it would permanently disable Iran's nuclear program anyway. It would just cause them to redouble their efforts and to do a better job of hiding it.</p> <p>I'm not saying anything new here. It only struck me a little harder than usual after watching so many interviews about Iran in the space of just a few hours (and I wasn't even watching Fox at all). There's really no Plan B here, and even the hawks are mostly reluctant to explicitly say that we should just up and launch a massive air assault on Iran. It's a weird, almost ghostly controversy we're having.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Tue, 03 Mar 2015 16:08:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 271246 at http://www.motherjones.com Tikrit is an Early Test of Iraq vs. ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/tikrit-early-test-iraq-vs-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tikrit_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/world/middleeast/iraq-tikrit-isis.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Well, here we go:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Iraqi military, alongside thousands of Shiite militia fighters, began a large-scale offensive on Monday to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State....<strong>Monday&rsquo;s attack, which officials said involved more than 30,000 fighters supported by Iraqi helicopters and jets,</strong> was the boldest effort yet to recapture Tikrit and, Iraqi officials said, the largest Iraqi offensive anywhere in the country since the Islamic State took control of Mosul, Iraq&rsquo;s second-largest city, in June. It was unclear if airstrikes from the American-led coalition, which has been bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq since August, were involved in the early stages of the offensive on Monday.</p> <p><strong>From a military perspective, capturing Tikrit is seen as an important precursor to an operation to retake Mosul,</strong> which lies farther north. Success in Tikrit could push up the timetable for a Mosul campaign, while failure would most likely mean more delays.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a test of whether the American training of Iraqi troops has made much difference. If it has, this latest attempt to take Tikrit might succeed. If not, it will probably fail like all the other attempts.</p> <p>It's worth noting that 30,000 troops to take Tikrit is about the equivalent of 200,000 troops to take a city the size of Mosul. So even if the Iraqi offensive is successful, it's still not clear what it means going forward. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Mon, 02 Mar 2015 16:09:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 271196 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Secret Scheming Places of Tea Party Congressmen Revealed! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/quote-day-secret-scheming-places-tea-party-congressmen-revealed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-congress-gop-20150301-story.html" target="_blank">From Republican Rep. Devin Nunes,</a> on the tactics of tea partiers who are holding up the DHS funding bill over their increasingly pointless insistence that it include a provision repealing President Obama's immigration program:</p> <blockquote> <p>While conservative leaders are trying to move the ball up the field, these other members sit in <strong>exotic places like basements of Mexican restaurants and upper levels of House office buildings,</strong> seemingly unaware that they can't advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.</p> </blockquote> <p>Um, OK. Not exactly <em>House of Cards</em>, but OK.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Sun, 01 Mar 2015 18:43:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 271176 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Is Making Shit Up, Just Like His Hero Ronald Reagan http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/scott-walker-just-ronald-reagan-they-both-made-shit <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/02/28/scott-walker-calls-reagans-bust-of-air-traffic-controller-strike-most-significant-foreign-policy-decision/?tid=hpModule_ba0d4c2a-86a2-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394" target="_blank">This morning</a>, once again trying to show that fighting against Wisconsin labor unions is pretty much the same as fighting ISIS or communism, Scott Walker repeated his contention that Ronald Reagan's early move to fire striking air traffic controllers was more than <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_reagan_patco.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">just an attack on organized labor. It was also a critical foreign policy decision. Here's what he <a href="http://crooksandliars.com/cltv/2015/01/walker-firing-air-traffic-controllers" target="_blank">originally said last month on <em>Morning Joe</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the most powerful foreign policy decisions that I think was made in our lifetime was one that Ronald Reagan made early in his presidency when he fired the air traffic controllers....What it did, it showed our allies around the world that we were serious and more importantly that this man to our adversaries was serious.</p> <p><strong>Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case.</strong> The Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think [President Barack Obama] has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/jan/28/scott-walker/scott-walker-records-show-soviets-treated-ronald-r/" target="_blank">PolitiFact decided to check up on this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.</p> <p>[Joseph] McCartin...."I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them."....Svetlana Savranskaya...."There is absolutely no evidence of this."....James Graham Wilson....Not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow&rsquo;s internal response to the controller firings....Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, told us: "It's utter nonsense. There is no evidence of that whatever."</p> </blockquote> <p>PolitiFact's conclusion: "For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire." But Walker shouldn't feel too bad. After all, Reagan was also famous for making up facts and evidence that didn't exist, so Walker is just taking after his hero. What's more, Reagan's fantasies never hurt him much. Maybe they won't hurt Walker either.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections International Labor Sat, 28 Feb 2015 16:06:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 271166 at http://www.motherjones.com Kagan: Netanyahu Speech Is a Blunder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/kagan-netanyahu-speech-blunder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Even the ever-hawkish Robert Kagan thinks Republicans blew it by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/at-what-price-netanyahu/2015/02/27/96f9efae-be81-11e4-b274-e5209a3bc9a9_story.html?hpid=z2" target="_blank">address a joint session of Congress:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Looking back on it from years hence, will the spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president wear well or poorly?</p> <p>....Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress &mdash; a common enough occurrence &mdash; it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan&rsquo;s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush&rsquo;s impending war in Iraq.</p> <p>Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible &mdash; until now.</p> </blockquote> <p>But President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress International Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:09:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271161 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 27 February 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/friday-cat-blogging-27-february-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My biopsy is scheduled for this morning, so once again you get early cat blogging. Hopper got center stage last week, so this week it's Hilbert's turn.</p> <p>Speaking of Hopper, though, a few days ago she demonstrated the wonders of the internet to me. That wasn't her intent, of course. Her intent was to chew through the charging cord of one of my landline phone extensions. This effectively turned the phone into a paperweight&mdash;and not even a very good one. But then I looked on the back of the charger and there was a model number etched into the plastic. So I typed it into Google. Despite the fact that this phone is more than a decade old, I was able to order two used replacements for $4 each within five minutes. Truly we live in a miraculous age.</p> <p>But I still wish Hopper would stop chewing on every dangling cord in the house. Steps need to be taken, but I'm not quite sure yet what they'll be.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_02_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 271081 at http://www.motherjones.com Marco Rubio Has a Peculiar Idea of How to Defeat ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/marco-rubio-has-peculiar-idea-how-defeat-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen points me to Marco Rubio today. Here is Rubio explaining how his ISIS strategy would be <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rubio-blasts-isis-strategy-he-supports" target="_blank">different from President Obama's:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States,&rdquo; Rubio said. &ldquo;Put together a coalition of armed regional governments to confront [ISIS] on the ground with U.S. special forces support, logistical support, intelligence support and the most devastating air support possible,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;and you will wipe ISIS out.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. As Benen points out, this sounds awfully similar to what Obama is already doing. Local forces? Check. Coalition of regional governments? Check. Logistical support? Check. Air support? Check.</p> <p>But there is one difference. Rubio thinks we need a Sunni military force on the ground to defeat ISIS. The Iraqi army, of course, is mostly Shiite. So apparently Rubio thinks we should ditch the Iraqi military and put together a coalition of ground forces from neighboring countries. But this would be....who? Yemen is out. Syria is out. That leaves Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Does Rubio think these countries are willing to put together a ground force to invade Iraq? Does he think the Iraqi government would allow it?</p> <p>It is a mystery. What exactly does Marco Rubio think?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:18:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 271126 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Shoot Selves in Foot, Schedule Second Shooting for March http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republicans-shoot-selves-foot-schedule-second-shooting-march <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_homeland_security.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Here's the latest bit of drama in the <a href="http://thehill.com/housenews/house/234067-house-will-vote-friday-to-prevent-homeland-security-shutdown" target="_blank">DHS funding fight:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks</strong> in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.</p> <p>....Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it&rsquo;ll be a very strong vote,&rdquo; House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is, literally, the worst possible outcome for Republicans. It means they'll spend the next three weeks embroiled in this inane battle instead of working to advance their own agenda. It means the tea party ultras will have three more weeks to whip up even more outrage. It means John Boehner will have to fight his own caucus yet again on this same subject in March.</p> <p>In the meantime, Democrats are probably cackling with glee. This has got to be one of the most dimwitted legislative own goals of all time.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:59:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 271111 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Did the Pentagon Announce Its Battle Plan for Mosul Months Ahead of Time? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/why-did-pentagon-announce-its-battle-plan-mosul-months-ahead-time <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Last week, in a briefing to reporters, the Pentagon announced that it planned an offensive against Mosul in late spring. But why? Normally you don't telegraph military plans months in advance.</p> <p>Joshua Rovner and Caitlin Talmadge suggest two related reasons. First, the U.S. might have decided that Iraqi security is so shoddy that surprise was never in the cards. "Given the notoriously poor operational security of the Iraqi Army," they say, "the chances of keeping secret any Iraqi-led campaign were poor anyway."</p> <p>Beyond that, they speculate that the Pentagon hoped to accomplish something by <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/27/the-u-s-just-leaked-its-war-plan-in-iraq-why/" target="_blank">sending a message:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The United States may be speaking more to its coalition partners and Iraqi counterparts than to the Islamic State....<strong>The United States might be trying to signal its own trustworthiness as a partner,</strong> stiffen the backs of unmotivated Iraqi forces, create a fait accompli with regards to campaign planning, or some combination of the above. In short, it may be aiming its communications at targets other than the Islamic State.</p> <p>One can also sense a sort of &ldquo;heads we win, tails you lose&rdquo; logic to the U.S. public messages about Mosul. <strong>If the Islamic State forces uncharacteristically flee without a fight, they will face humiliation and a setback to their claims of control in Iraq.</strong> That&rsquo;s a win, at least operationally, for Washington and Baghdad. <strong>Conversely, if the Islamic State decides to stand its ground and starts trying to flow reinforcements to Mosul in preparation for the defense of the city, that could be a good thing operationally, too.</strong> These forces will be highly vulnerable to the stepped-up coalition air attacks, which are already seriously threatening the militants&rsquo; lifeline between Raqqa and Mosul. Sending reinforcements to Mosul will also draw Islamic State resources away from Syria, where the coalition&rsquo;s ability to fight is much more constrained, and into Iraq, where that ability is more robust.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Maybe. After all, we announced the "shock and awe" campaign for weeks prior to the start of the Iraq War in 2003. The hope, presumably, was to scare the Iraqis so badly that they'd essentially give up and flee before the battle even started. It didn't really work, but no one complained about it at the time.</p> <p>There will be no shock and awe this time, though. Just a lot of grubby, house-to-house fighting led by Iraqi Shiite forces that are probably not very motivated to sacrifice their lives in order to return Mosul to Sunni control. Will it work? I can't say I'm optimistic. But I've been wrong before. Maybe I am again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:46:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 271096 at http://www.motherjones.com "Republican Stalwart" Chosen to Lead CBO http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republican-stalwart-chosen-lead-cbo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The current director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf, is pretty widely respected on both left and right, and even a lot of Republicans were hoping he'd be reappointed to a new term by the incoming Congress. But despite his sterling credentials, Elmendorf is insufficiently dedicated to the conservative id&eacute;e fixe of dynamic scoring, which insists that tax <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_keith_hall.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">cuts will supercharge the economy and thus cost much less than you'd think. So today the CBO <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/27/gop-dismisses-cbo-director-douglas-elmendorf-picks/" target="_blank">got a new director:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>GOP dismisses CBO director, picks Republican stalwart as chief scorekeeper</strong></p> <p>Republicans Friday announced they will not keep current chief congressional scorekeeper Douglas Elmendorf and will replace him with Keith Hall, an economist with a long record of service in Washington and deep ties to Republicans.</p> <p>....The CBO celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this week, where past directors from both parties praised Mr. Elmendorf for his even-handed approach to the job. But Republicans had wanted to push the CBO to go further in the way it evaluates tax cuts by using so-called &ldquo;dynamic scoring&rdquo; to take into account the potential economic benefit feedback loop that could stem from Americans paying less to the federal government after a tax cut.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure Hall has taken a public stand on the virtues of dynamic scoring, but it's probably safe to assume that he's more sympathetic to it than Elmendorf was. Should make for a fun few years.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:18:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 271091 at http://www.motherjones.com Killing Obamacare Halfway Is Worse For Republicans Than They Think http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/killing-obamacare-halfway-worse-republicans-they-think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Stuart Butler is probably the country's single most influential right-wing health care wonk. He opposed Obamacare and has long pushed a different, more conservative vision of national health care policy. But Joshua Green writes today that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_tyranny.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">even Butler is worried about what will happen if the Supreme Court abolishes Obamacare subsidies in the 34 states that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/the-return-of-the-death-of-obamacare-i6m1baro" target="_blank">don't run their own exchanges:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Butler&rsquo;s worry is grounded in an understanding that voters with skyrocketing premiums may not blame Obama, as Republicans assume.</strong> They&rsquo;ll expect the party hellbent on destroying the law to have a solution&mdash;and react badly if none is forthcoming. Because 16 states operate their own exchanges and therefore won&rsquo;t be affected by the court&rsquo;s ruling, Butler believes the ACA will stagger on and eventually recover, since <strong>voters won&rsquo;t abide a system wherein some states have affordable, federally subsidized health-care coverage and others do not</strong>....&ldquo;People who believe the ACA instantly goes away are deluding themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;By not doing anything to develop a Republican vision of how to move forward, they could end up with the very nightmare they&rsquo;re trying to avoid.&rdquo;</p> <p>....On the business front, the effects would be no less significant....Entire segments of the health system redesigned their business models to take advantage of the ACA&rsquo;s incentives. Hospitals, for instance, were given a trade-off: They stopped receiving government payments to offset the cost of treating the uninsured, cuts that amount to $269 billion over a decade. In return, they were promised millions of new patients insured through federal subsidies. <strong>&ldquo;All the major hospital systems and big insurers like Kaiser and Geisinger spent a ton of money adapting to the ACA,&rdquo; says Butler. If subsidies vanish, &ldquo;suddenly the market is misaligned. If you&rsquo;ve hired all these new doctors and health-care workers to cover all these new people walking in the door, and they don&rsquo;t come, what do you do? You lay them off.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I agree that a system in which residents of some states get subsidies and others don't is untenable. I don't know quite how the politics would play out, but the states with subsidies won't give them up, and the states without subsidies are likely to face a revolt from residents who suddenly see a benefit taken away. Something will have to give.</p> <p>The effect on the medical industry is less clear. Yes, hospitals and insurers spent a lot of money adapting to Obamacare. If it goes away, they'll have to lay off some of their staff. But how much? Obamacare has reduced the ranks of the uninsured by about 4 percentage points, and roughly half of that is in states that don't run their own exchanges. So the number of insured would probably fall (very roughly) from about 87 percent to 85 percent. That might be bad news for some small regional outfits, who will see a bigger drop locally than that, but nationally it's not a death sentence.</p> <p>Still, Butler has a good point. The fallout from the Supreme Court halfway killing Obamacare would likely be more serious than conservatives believe. They don't want to think about this because they've been committed for so long to the mantra of simply repealing Obamacare, full stop. But even their own base, which has been told relentlessly that Obamacare represents the end of the America they love, might start to demand a fix once it becomes clear just what they're missing&mdash;and what all those blue states with their own exchanges are getting.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:39:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 271076 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Blows It Again: Asked About ISIS, All He Has Is Bluster http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/scott-walker-blows-it-again-asked-about-isis-all-he-has-bluster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_scott_walker_cpac_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over at <em>National Review</em>, conservative blogger Jim Geraghty joins the crowd of pundits who are unimpressed with <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/414512/scott-walkers-awful-answer-isis-jim-geraghty" target="_blank">Scott Walker's recent answers to fairly easy questions:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received a lot of completely undeserved grief from the national news media in the past weeks. But he may have made a genuine unforced error in one of his remarks today. Asked about ISIS, Walker responded, <strong>&ldquo;If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn&rsquo;t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's put aside the question of whether Walker deserves any grief for his weasely comments about evolution and President Obama's love of country. Fair or not, those actually seem like the kinds of questions presidential candidates get asked all the time. If Walker wants to be taken seriously, he should have better responses than he did.</p> <p>But hey&mdash;maybe those really were gotcha questions and Walker should get a pass for answering them badly. ISIS, by contrast, certainly isn't. It's one of the preeminent policy challenges we face, and if you're aiming for the Oval Office you'd better have something substantive to say about it. As Geraghty suggests, generic tough-guy posturing does nothing except show that you're out of your depth.</p> <p>At a broader level, the problem is that although Walker's anti-union victories are a legitimate part of his appeal and a legitimate part of his campaign story, he's become something of a one-note Johnny about it. His supposed bravery in standing up to union leaders and peaceful middle-class protestors has become his answer to everything. This is going to get old pretty quickly for everyone but a small band of die-hard fans.</p> <p>Needless to say, it's early days, and Walker's stumbles over the past couple of weeks are unlikely to hurt him much. In fact, it's better to get this stuff out of the way now. It will give Walker an improved sense of what to expect when the campaign really heats up and his answers matter a lot more than they do now.</p> <p>That said, <em>every</em> candidate for president&mdash;Democrat and Republican&mdash;should be expected to have a pretty good answer to the ISIS question. No empty posturing. No generic bashing of Obama's policies. No cute evasions. That stuff is all fine as red meat for the campaign trail or as part of a stemwinder at CPAC, but it's not a substitute for explaining what you'd <em>actually do</em> if you were president. Ground troops? More drones? Getting our allies to contribute more? Whatever it is, let's hear it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 271056 at http://www.motherjones.com The FCC Did a Lot More Than Just Approve Net Neutrality Today http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/fcc-did-lot-more-just-approve-net-neutrality-today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The FCC <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-vote-internet-utility.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">voted today</a> in favor of strong net neutrality rules, but this is something that's been expected for weeks&mdash;and something I've written about before at length. So instead of commenting on that yet again, I want to highlight something else that <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-votes-to-allow-municipal-broadband-overruling-two-states-laws-1424969156" target="_blank">might be nearly as important:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Federal Communications Commission will allow some cities and towns to set up and expand municipal Internet services, </strong>overruling state laws that had been put in place to block such efforts.</p> <p>The commission granted petitions by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to overturn laws that restricted the ability of communities in those states to offer broadband service. In all about 20 states have passed such laws. The vote was 3-2 and along party lines. The decisions don&rsquo;t affect the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_google_fiber.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">other states, but they do set a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in the future.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a step in the direction of creating more competition for broadband internet, which I think is at least as important as net neutrality regulations. So hooray for this ruling, which is a step in the right direction. And while we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that the FCC's net neutrality decision could end up stimulating more broadband competition too. Why? Because net neutrality depends on regulating broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, and this means that companies like Google, which are trying to set up their own high-speed networks, will be able to do it more cheaply. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/12/31/google-strikes-an-upbeat-note-with-fcc-on-title-ii/" target="_blank">This is from a couple of months ago:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a letter Tuesday to the FCC, Google&rsquo;s director of communications law Austin Schlick highlighted a potential positive for the company if Title II kicks in. <strong>As a regulated telecom service, Google Fiber would get access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities.</strong> The FCC should make sure this happens because it would promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband internet service, Schlick argued.</p> <p>Cable and telecom companies, like Comcast and AT&amp;T have long had the right to access utility poles and other important infrastructure, such as ducts, conduits and rights of way, he noted. Google Fiber, which competes against these companies, has not had this right and the service has had trouble getting access to some poles as it builds out its fiber-optic network to homes.</p> <p>....Hooking up homes using poles is about a tenth of the price of digging trenches across streets and sidewalks, according to Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman in the 1990s. <strong>&ldquo;Pole access is fundamental and Google will never be able to make the case for Google Fiber without pole access,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If Title II gives Google pole access, then it might really rock the world with broadband access.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>If Google gains pole access, and cities and towns are free to set up their own high-speed networks, then local cable companies will finally start getting real competition in the high-speed internet market. Net neutrality is a big win for consumers, but real competition might be an even bigger win. This is far from a done deal, but things are starting to head in the right direction.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tech Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:04:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 271031 at http://www.motherjones.com Loretta Lynch Now Likely to Win Confirmation as Attorney General http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/loretta-lynch-now-likely-win-confirmation-attorney-general <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It looks like Loretta Lynch is likely to be <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/26/loretta-lynch-nomination-attorney-general-approved-hsbc" target="_blank">approved as our next Attorney General:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Eight Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee, including chairman Chuck Grassley, opposed Lynch&rsquo;s confirmation after what Democrats criticised as a record-long delay in appointing the first African American woman to the top law enforcement job in the US.</p> <p><strong>But Lynch was backed by three moderate Republicans to pass through a committee vote on Thursday, 12-8.</strong> She is now likely, over the coming days, to scrape through a vote in the full Senate to succeed current attorney general Eric Holder, who announced his resignation last September.</p> </blockquote> <p>The three "moderate" Republicans who voted to confirm Lynch were&nbsp;Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. Flake is probably a legitimate moderate, but it's an odd world where Hatch and Graham are on that list too. In today's GOP, though, they really are moderates. That tells you most of what you need to know about the state of national politics these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Crime and Justice Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:19:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271006 at http://www.motherjones.com Immigration Fight Is a Loser Because Republican Hearts Aren't Really Into It http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/immigration-fight-loser-because-republican-hearts-arent-really-it <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Our story so far: Last year President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Conservatives went ballistic and threatened to refuse to pass a budget&mdash;thus shutting down the government&mdash;unless the budget defunded the immigration plan. They eventually gave in on that, but only because they were promised a second bite at the apple. The resulting compromise funded every department except the Department of Homeland Security, which <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Immigration_Sign.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was given only short-term funding. That now has to be reauthorized, and this time around conservatives are threatening to refuse to pass a DHS budget&mdash;thus shutting down the department&mdash;unless it defunds the immigration plan.</p> <p>But Democrats have been unified in refusing to approve a budget that defunds the immigration plan, and now Republicans are stuck. Shutting down DHS would be a PR disaster, and they haven't really managed to get the public riled up about Obama's immigration plan. Why not? Dave Weigel reports that the problem is simple. <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/immigration-foes-have-numbers-but-no-strategy?wpmm=1&amp;wpisrc=nl_wonk" target="_blank">Their hearts aren't really in it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"Republicans have not done a particularly effective job of communicating what they want here," said Ira Mehlman, FAIR's national media director. <strong>"They let the president get out there first and explain his position with public events. I don&rsquo;t understand why they haven&rsquo;t turned the tables on the president and capitalized. It is baffling."</strong></p> <p>And it's less than conservatives did in a comparable standoff, the summer 2013 fight over whether or not to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Initially, Republican leaders in the House had wanted to split the defunding from the must-pass appropriations bill. They were denied the votes for that from the GOP conference. At the same time, the conservative Heritage Action was hosting town halls around the country, putting pressure on Republicans to kill the ACA. Some members of the Senate, most famously Texas Senator Ted Cruz, joined them.</p> <p><strong>There have been no comparable Heritage Action rallies in the weekends or recesses of 2015.</strong> "This fight was set up by leadership when they opted for the cromnibus strategy," explained Heritage Action president Michael Needham in an email, "and it is a fight nearly every Republican promised their constituents both on the campaign trail and then again in December. In other words, it has been set up for months on the ground they chose."</p> <p>Heritage Action will key-vote the DHS bill, knuckle-rapping the Republicans who don't go all the way to de-fund the executive orders.<strong> But it has not organized opposition to a "clean bill." Neither, really, has [Ted] Cruz. He spent very little of last week's recess talking about the coming DHS fight.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So what happens next? Perhaps Republicans allow DHS to be shut down for a symbolic few days and then allow a vote on a clean funding bill that will pass the House with a few Republican votes and a lot of Democratic votes. Because basically most of them don't really care.</p> <p>As well they shouldn't. The truth is that they shot themselves in the foot from the very start by going ballistic over Obama's actions. The thing is, Obama didn't really do all that much. Before he acted, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported. Afterward, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported&mdash;but would be given temporary documentation that officially protected them from the deportation that wasn't going to happen anyway. Conservatives could have just grumbled and let it go, but instead they gave Obama a huge win by making it seem as if his actions were a major victory in the immigration wars. It's been a boon for both Obama and the Democratic Party, and huge headache for the Republican Party.</p> <p>It's too late now to back away from the relentless claims that Obama has acted like a lawless, Constitution-shredding tyrant over immigration, but Republicans have to figure out something. The public might or might not approve of how Obama implemented his reforms, but they're fine with the reforms themselves. Aside from a few tea party dead enders, there's just no widespread outrage to tap into.</p> <p>So instead of spending their first few months in control of Congress doing something, Republicans are fighting dumb battles that Obama has suckered them into. The faster they get out from under that rock, the better off they'll be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:06:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271001 at http://www.motherjones.com