Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en James Comey Wasn't a Partisan Hack. He Was Worse. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>By coincidence, right after my Comey post <a href="" target="_blank">yesterday morning</a> the <em>New York Times</em> published a <a href="" target="_blank">long tick-tock about how and why Comey did what he did.</a> It doesn't address the question of whether Comey tipped the election, it just provides an insider account of what was going through Comey's head as he made decisions during campaign season.</p> <p>It makes for depressing reading. The reporters conclude pretty strongly that Comey wasn't motivated by any conscious partisan motives. But even if that's true, there were pretty clearly partisan and personal influences at work. Apologies in advance for the length of this post, but putting all six of the following excerpts together in a single narrative is the only way to show what really happened. The story begins two years ago when the FBI opened its probe into Hillary Clinton's emails:</p> <blockquote> <p>On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named &ldquo;Midyear,&rdquo; into Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s handling of classified information....Everyone agreed that Mr. Comey should not reveal details about the Clinton investigation. But [attorney general Loretta Lynch] told him to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a &ldquo;matter.&rdquo;</p> <p>....<strong>It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known.</strong> And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.</p> </blockquote> <p>This seems to have been the starting point. Even when Justice Department officials were making straightforward, "by-the-book" decisions, Comey was paranoid that they were acting to protect a Democrat&mdash;something that obviously might invite Republican attack if he went along. This belief continued to grow, and led to much of what happened later, when the investigation was wrapping up:</p> <blockquote> <p>Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention. The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative <strong>who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.</strong></p> <p>Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch&rsquo;s thinking.</p> <p>Normally, when the F.B.I. recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and nobody says anything....The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. <strong>If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This email wasn't related to Lynch or her office in any way. It was just gossip from a third party. But instead of ignoring it, Comey worried that it might leak and hurt his own reputation. This also motivated his decision, when the investigation was over, to hold an unusual press conference which damaged Clinton seriously even though he cleared her of wrongdoing:</p> <blockquote> <p>Standing in front of two American flags and two royal-blue F.B.I. flags, he read from a script....&ldquo;Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton&rsquo;s position&rdquo; should have known better, Mr. Comey said. He called her &ldquo;extremely careless.&rdquo; <strong>The criticism was so blistering that it sounded as if he were recommending criminal charges.</strong> Only in the final two minutes did Mr. Comey say that &ldquo;no charges are appropriate in this case.&rdquo;</p> <p>....By scolding Mrs. Clinton, <strong>Mr. Comey was speaking not only to voters but to his own agents.</strong> While they agreed that Mrs. Clinton should not face charges, many viewed her conduct as inexcusable. Mr. Comey&rsquo;s remarks made clear that the F.B.I. did not approve.</p> <p>Former agents and others close to Mr. Comey acknowledge that his reproach was also <strong>intended to insulate the F.B.I. from Republican criticism that it was too lenient toward a Democrat.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Again, Comey had failed to play it straight. Even though the decision to exonerate Clinton "was not even a close call," as he later said, he tore into Clinton in order to protect himself from criticism&mdash;both from Republicans and from his own agents. This is especially damning given the subsequent evidence that <a href="" target="_blank">Comey's criticism of Clinton</a> was <a href="" target="_blank">wildly overstated.</a> The same dynamic played out in reverse a couple of months later over the FBI investigation into Donald Trump and Russian interference in the election:</p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Comey and other senior administration officials met twice in the White House Situation Room in early October to again discuss a public statement about Russian meddling....<strong>At their second meeting, Mr. Comey argued that it would look too political for the F.B.I. to comment so close to the election,</strong> according to several people in attendance. Officials in the room felt whiplashed. Two months earlier, Mr. Comey had been willing to put his name on a newspaper article; <strong>now he was refusing to sign on to an official assessment of the intelligence community.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And it played out yet again in September, when agents discovered some Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. Michael Steinbach, a former FBI agent who worked closely with Comey, explained what went through Comey's mind:</p> <blockquote> <p>Agents felt they had two options: Tell Congress about the search, which everyone acknowledged would create a political furor, or keep it quiet, <strong>which followed policy and tradition but carried its own risk, especially if the F.B.I. found new evidence in the emails.</strong></p> <p>....Conservative news outlets had already branded Mr. Comey a Clinton toady. That same week, the cover of <em>National Review</em> featured a story on &ldquo;James Comey&rsquo;s Dereliction,&rdquo; and a cartoon of a hapless Mr. Comey shrugging as Mrs. Clinton smashed her laptop with a sledgehammer.</p> <p>Congressional Republicans were preparing for years of hearings during a Clinton presidency. <strong>If Mr. Comey became the subject of those hearings, F.B.I. officials feared, it would hobble the agency and harm its reputation.</strong> &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think the organization would have survived that,&rdquo; Mr. Steinbach said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Once again, the primary concern was protecting Comey and the FBI. Republicans had made it clear that their retribution against anyone who helped Clinton would be relentless, and that clearly had an impact on Comey. Steinbach's suggestion that Republican vengeance would have destroyed the FBI is clearly nuts, but Comey was taking no chances. He didn't want the grief.</p> <p>Even after it was all over, Comey's partisan influences continued to work on him:</p> <blockquote> <p>Officials and others close to him also acknowledge that Mr. Comey has been changed by the tumultuous year.</p> <p>Early on Saturday, March 4, the president accused Mr. Obama on Twitter of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan. <strong>Mr. Comey believed the government should forcefully denounce that claim.</strong> But this time he took a different approach. He asked the Justice Department to correct the record. <strong>When officials there refused, Mr. Comey followed orders and said nothing publicly.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Daniel Richman, a longtime friend of Comey&rsquo;s, said this represented "a consistent pattern of someone trying to act with independence and integrity, but within established channels."</p> <p>The evidence does indeed show consistent behavior, but of a different kind. At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack. It was the perfect intersection of a Republican Party that had developed a reputation for conducting relentlessly vicious smear campaigns and a Republican FBI director who didn't have the fortitude to stand up to it. Comey may genuinely believe that his decisions along the way were nonpartisan, but the evidence pretty strongly suggests otherwise.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 23 Apr 2017 10:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 331101 at Let's Talk About Bubbles and James Comey <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have frequently made the case that Donald Trump is president because of FBI director James Comey. On October 28, Comey wrote a letter to Congress telling them that the FBI was investigating a new cache of Clinton emails that it found on the laptop of Huma Abedin's estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. That was the turning point. Clinton's electoral fortunes went downhill from there and never recovered.</p> <p>As shocking as this may sound, not everyone agrees with me. A new book, <em>Shattered</em>, makes the case that Clinton was an epically bad candidate and her campaign was epically badly run. <em>That's</em> why she lost. Yesterday, Shadi Hamid took aim at me for my continued Comey obsession in the face of the story told in <em>Shattered</em>:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Sad to watch smart, liberal writers, like <a href="">@kdrum</a>, refuse to engage in introspection, instead blaming HRC's loss on Comey, Russia, squirrels</p> &mdash; Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) <a href="">April 21, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">I'm citing <a href="">@kdrum</a> b/c I loved his blog. But then he descended into self-parody. His position&mdash;no hyperbole&mdash;is that it's all b/c of Comey <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) <a href="">April 21, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Let's talk. There's a reason I blame Comey, and it's not because I live in a bubble. It's because a massive amount of evidence points that way. Today I want to put the whole case in one l-o-o-o-o-ng post so everyone understands why I think Comey was the deciding factor in the election. If you still disagree, that's fine, but this is the evidence you need to argue with.</p> <p><em><strong>NOTE:</strong> I want to make clear that I'm talking solely about Hillary Clinton and the presidency here. Democrats have been badly pummeled at the state level over the past six years, and that obviously has nothing to do with Comey. It's something that Democrats need to do some soul searching about. </em></p> <p>Ready? Let's start with some throat-clearing.</p> <p>First: Keep in mind that Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during a period when (a) the economy was OK but not great and (b) Barack Obama's popularity was OK but not great. Models based on fundamentals therefore rated the election as <a href="" target="_blank">something of a tossup.</a> Clinton was not running as a sure winner.</p> <p>Second: For the sake of argument, let's assume that Hillary Clinton was an epically bad, unpopular candidate who ran a terrible campaign. She foolishly used a private email server while she was Secretary of State. She gave millions of dollars in speeches after leaving the State Department. She was a boring speaker with a mushy agenda. She was a hawkish Wall Street shill who failed to appeal to millennials. She lost the support of the white working class. Her campaign was a cespool of ego, power-mongering, and bad strategy. Let's just assume all that.</p> <p>If this is true, it was true for the entire year. Maybe longer. And yet, despite this epic horribleness, Clinton had a solid, steady lead over Trump the entire time. The only exception was a brief dip in July when Comey held his first presser to call Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Whatever else you can say about Hillary Clinton, everyone knew about her speeches and her emails and her centrism and everything else all along. And yet, the public still preferred her by a steady 3-7 percentage points over Trump for the entire year.</p> <p>Third: Every campaign has problems. If you win, they get swept under the rug. If you lose, bitter staffers bend the ears of anyone who will listen about the campaign's unprecedented dysfunction and poor strategy. This is all normal. Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns had all the usual problems, and in a close election you can blame any of them for a loss. But two things set the Comey letter apart. First, it had a big effect right at the end of the race. Second, it was decidedly <em>not</em> a normal thing. It came out of the blue for no good reason from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. There is nothing Clinton could have done about it.</p> <p>With that out of the way, let's take a look at the final two months of the campaign. All of the poll estimates look pretty similar, but I'm going to use <a href="" target="_blank">Sam Wang's EV estimator</a> because it gives a pretty sharp day-to-day look at the race. Wang's final estimate was wrong, of course, like pretty much everyone else's, but don't worry about that. What we're interested in is the ups and downs. What Wang's estimate tells us is that, with the brief exception of the July Comey presser, the race was amazingly stable. From January through August, he has Clinton at 330-340 electoral votes. Let's pick up the story in September:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wang_2016_race_september_november_0.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>At the beginning of September, Clinton slumps after her "deplorables" comment and her stumble at the 9/11 memorial. After Trump's shockingly bad performance at the first debate she starts to regain ground, and continues to gain ground when the <em>Access Hollywood</em> tape is released. By the end of October she's back to where she started, with a big lead over Trump. THIS IS IMPORTANT: despite everything &mdash; weak fundamentals, the "deplorables" comment, her personal unpopularity, her mushy centrism, her allegedly terrible campaign &mdash; by the end of October she's well ahead of Trump, just as she had been all year.</p> <p>On October 25, HHS announces that Obamacare premiums will go up substantially in the following year. This doesn't appear to have any effect. Then, on October 28, Comey releases his letter. Clinton's support plummets immediately, and there's no time for it to recover. On November 8, Trump is elected president.</p> <p>But <em>how much</em> did Comey's letter cost Clinton? Let's review the voluminous evidence:</p> <ul><li>Nate Silver estimates the Comey letter <a href="" target="_blank">cost Clinton about 3 points.</a></li> <li>A panel survey from the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics suggests the Comey letter produced a <a href="" target="_blank">net swing of 4 points toward Trump.</a></li> <li>Sam Wang estimates the Comey letter <a href="" target="_blank">cost Clinton 4 points,</a> though she may have made back some of that in the final days.</li> <li>Engagement Labs tracks "what people are talking about." Immediately after the Comey letter, they registered a <a href="" target="_blank">17-point drop in favorable sentiment</a> toward Clinton.</li> <li>Google searches for "Hillary's email" <a href="" target="_blank">spiked 300 percent</a> after Comey's letter.</li> <li>The tone of news coverage <a href="" target="_blank">flipped enormously against Clinton</a> after the Comey letter.</li> <li>A trio of researchers who looked at the evidence concluded that Comey's letter was decisive, probably <a href="" target="_blank">costing Clinton 3-4 points in the popular vote.</a></li> <li>Trump's own analysts <a href="" target="_blank">think the Comey letter was decisive.</a></li> <li>The Clinton campaign agrees that <a href="" target="_blank">the Comey letter was decisive,</a> and adds that Comey's second letter hurt her too.<sup>1</sup></li> </ul><p>I'm not sure how much clearer the evidence could be. Basically, Hillary Clinton was doing fine until October 28. Then the Comey letter cost her 2-4 percent of the popular vote. Without Comey she would have won comfortably&nbsp;&mdash; possibly by a landslide &mdash; even though the fundamentals predicted a close race.</p> <p>That's it. That's the evidence. If you disagree that Comey was decisive, you need to account for two things. First, if the problem was something intrinsic to Clinton or her campaign, why was she so far ahead of Trump for the entire race? Second, if Comey wasn't at fault, what plausibly accounts for Clinton's huge and sudden change in fortune starting precisely on October 28?</p> <p>One way or another, it appears that all the things that were under Hillary Clinton's control were handled fairly well. They produced a steady lead throughout the campaign. The Comey letter exists on an entirely different plane. It was an unprecedented breach of protocol from the FBI; it was completely out of Clinton's control; and it had a tremendous impact. <em>That's</em> why I blame James Comey for Donald Trump's victory.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>The second letter was the one that cleared her. However, <a href="" target="_blank">merely by keeping the subject in the news,</a> it hurt Clinton.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 22 Apr 2017 19:19:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 331096 at Friday Cat Blogging - 21 April 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hopper is not asleep in this photo. She was smooching her cheek on an outdoor table and momentarily closed her eyes in a fit of pure feline bliss. We should all consider ourselves lucky if just once in our lives we feel the happiness Hopper is feeling in this moment.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2017_04_21.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 19:00:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 331071 at Famous Berkeley Economist Says We're Not In a Housing Bubble <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Are we in a second housing bubble, as <a href="" target="_blank">I suggested</a> in a chart I posted a couple of days ago? <a href="" target="_blank">Brad DeLong has an optimistic take:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>There were three good reasons in the mid-2000s to believe that housing prices should jump substantially....How much were these worth? Not enough to boost housing prices to their 2005 values. But plausibly enough to boost housing prices to their values today. IMHO, the best way to view the graph is as a positive "displacement" boom caused by true fundamentals, a bubble upward overshoot, a crash downward undershoot, and now (we hope) equilibrium.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe! Check back in a couple of years and I'll tell you who's right.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:35:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 331086 at Trump and the Hostage Takers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This happened on April 3rd:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">It was an honor to welcome President Al Sisi of Egypt to the <a href="">@WhiteHouse</a> as we renew the historic partnership between the U.S. and Egypt. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">April 3, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>This happened <a href="" target="_blank">two weeks later:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After three years in detention, the Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi was cleared of child abuse and human trafficking charges in Cairo on Sunday, abruptly ending a high-profile case that had become an international symbol of Egypt&rsquo;s harsh crackdown on aid groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>Coincidence? I think not. Trump made a deal: he'd praise al-Sisi and host him in the White House in return for the release of a prisoner. This is what happens when foreign governments know that the president is a weak leader who can be humiliated without consequence.</p> <p>Do I believe this? Nah&mdash;though I imagine that al-Sisi did in fact make this happen as a gesture of goodwill. But where are all the right-wingers who insisted for eight years that stuff like this was clear evidence of Obama caving in to hostage-takers? I assume you all feel the same way about Trump. Don't you?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:25:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 331081 at A New Study Confirms What You've Long Suspected: Facebook Is Making People Crazy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Matt Yglesias says Mark Zuckerberg could do the world a favor by deep-sixing Facebook:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">It makes people unhappy and it's destabilizing politics around the world. He should shut it down. He won't starve.</p> &mdash; Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) <a href="">April 21, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>He bases his call to action on <a href="" target="_blank">research like this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; <strong>most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.</strong> We found consistently that both liking others&rsquo; content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.</p> </blockquote> <p>This particular study is prospective and longitudinal: it begins with a group of people and follows them for a couple of years. The benefit of this is that you get more than a mere association. If all you had was a set of data showing that (a) Facebook use is (b) correlated with poor mental health, you'd have no way of knowing if A causes B or B causes A.</p> <p>This longitudinal data still doesn't answer the question conclusively. It could be that as people become depressed, they spend more time on Facebook. In fact, maybe without Facebook they would have gotten even more depressed. Who knows? You'd almost literally need to track day-by-day mental health and Facebook use to find out.</p> <p>But I'm totally willing to believe that Facebook is evil even without hard evidence. The casually brutal insults almost certainly outweigh the praise for a lot of people. It instills a sense of always needing to keep up with things every minute of the day. It interferes with real-life relationships. It takes time away from more concentrated activities that are probably more rewarding in the long run.</p> <p>This doesn't apply to all Facebook users. In fact, I'd guess that it applies to only 10-15 percent of them. But that's enough.</p> <p>It doesn't matter, of course. Mark Zuckerberg surely disagrees, and anyway, he couldn't shut down Facebook even if he wanted to. He may nominally control the company, but shareholders still have rights. Preventing the CEO from blowing up the company because he's feeling guilty about something is certainly one of them.</p> <p>On the other hand, perhaps we could at least set an age limit for Facebook. If you aren't allowed to drink before age 21, surely you shouldn't be allowed to use social media either. I'd bet the latter is more dangerous than the former.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 17:55:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 331076 at Donald Trump Is Worried About His First Hundred Days <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I love this tweet:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, &amp; it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">April 21, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Trump, of course, has accomplished virtually nothing so far. He's issued a few executive orders that are mostly small beer, and signed a few bills that rescinded some of Obama's executive orders. That's it. His health care bill was a fiasco. He hasn't gotten funding for his wall. His immigration order crashed and burned. He has no tax plan. He has no plan to destroy ISIS.</p> <p>But there's a silver lining here. As always, today's tweet should be read as an alert aimed at his base. He's telling them that in a few days they'll see a lot of stories saying he's accomplished nothing. In fact, less than nothing, since the government might well be headed for a shutdown by the end of next week. But it's all lies! Clearly he's concerned about this.</p> <p>That <em>should</em> give Democrats an opening. Try to strike a budget deal before next week's deadline. Agree to support some money for Trump's wall in return for making Obamacare's CSR appropriation automatic.<sup>1</sup> This would be good for Trump in two ways. First, he gets to say that he's started building the wall. Second, Obamacare doesn't collapse on his watch, and agreeing to the CSR appropriation doesn't do anything to stop him from trying to repeal and replace Obamacare later. It just ensures that it will work in the meantime.</p> <p>In return, Democrats don't really get anything. Agreeing to funding for the wall is unpopular with their base, and CSR funding is something that only a few wonks care about. Keeping the CSR money flowing would help insurance companies and it would help actual people, but politically it does nothing much for Democrats.</p> <p>It's kind of funny, isn't it? I assume Trump is unwilling to make this deal. I don't know why, since it seems almost entirely favorable to him. But he won't do it. Maybe Democrats wouldn't do it either. Is the art of the deal really that dead in Congress these days?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>CSR stands for Cost Sharing and Reduction. It's money paid to insurance companies to reduce deductibles and copays for low-income families. It's been the subject of a long-running court fight, and insurers are justifiably worried about whether they're going to receive the money they've been promised.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_100_days_nope.gif" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 60px;" width="500"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 16:06:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 331066 at Gerrymandering Is Headed Back to the Supreme Court <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>New York Times</em> reports that gerrymandering is <a href="" target="_blank">headed to the Supreme Court again:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election &mdash; so artfully, in fact, that <strong>Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote.</strong> In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.</p> <p>....In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and &ldquo;manipulation of the electorate.&rdquo; But they have never struck one down....One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court&rsquo;s deliberations....<strong>&ldquo;The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,&rdquo;</strong> he wrote then.</p> <p>At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence &ldquo;is the most important line&rdquo; in the court&rsquo;s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. <strong>&ldquo;He&rsquo;s going to look at what&rsquo;s going on in North Carolina as the complete absence of that. I think that helps the plaintiffs in any of these cases.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Today's gerrymandering is not your grandfather's gerrymandering. It's a practice that's been around for a long time, but back when it depended on humans it was necessarily limited. There were a few legislative geniuses who could wreak real havoc, and anyone could gerrymander well enough to gain a seat or two. But computers have changed the game fundamentally. Every legislature is now a supergenius at gerrymandering, which is why estimates of the number of congressional seats attributable to gerrymandering have been going up for years.</p> <p>There's a point, I think, where the Supreme Court has to recognize that quantitative changes over time have finally produced a qualitative change. Modern gerrymandering is just too good. The silver lining here is that if computers can revolutionize gerrymandering, they also hold out hope of revolutionizing the detection of gerrymandering. You can no longer say that there's no possible standard for ruling that a particular district map is unconstitutional. In fact, there are several plausible candidates. Hopefully the court will finally recognize this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:42:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 331051 at Trump's Tax Cut Plan Will... Pay... For... Itself! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Back during <a href="" target="_blank">Steve Mnuchin's confirmation hearings</a> for Treasury Secretary, he said he was surprised that IRS staffing had gone down. This just reduces the number of audits they can perform, and therefore the amount of tax revenue they collect from high earners. Just think about it. If you increased hiring, it would pay for itself!</p> <p>It was tr&egrave;s adorbs. But Mnuchin is a quick learner, and he never brought <em>that</em> subject up again. Instead, he's now talking about a much more acceptable kind of plan that pays for itself. The subject, of course, <a href="" target="_blank">is tax cuts:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme&nbsp;&mdash; close to $2 trillion over 10 years&nbsp;&mdash; that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.</p> <p><strong>&ldquo;The plan will pay for itself with growth,&rdquo;</strong> Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.</p> </blockquote> <p>The Congressional Budget Office will have a very different take on this, and their take is the only one that matters. So why does Mnuchin even bother with this tired old charade? Maybe so that Donald Trump can yell and scream about how the CBO is rigged when they say that his tax plan is a deficit buster? Maybe to give congressional Republicans an excuse to fire Keith Hall and install a new CBO director who will give them whatever numbers they want?</p> <p>Who knows? Maybe it's just reflex. While we wait to find out, however, here's a chart showing income tax receipts following the five most recent big changes to tax rates. You can decide for yourself if tax cuts pay for themselves or if tax increases tank the economy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tax_cuts_1981_2016_3.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 05:37:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 331046 at A Review of Reviews of "The Handmaid's Tale" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Below are excerpts from a baker's dozen reviews of Hulu's new adaptation of <em>The Handmaid's Tale</em>. Can you figure out what they all have in common?</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>New York Times:</strong></a> The television adaptation arrives with a newfound and unexpected resonance in Trump&rsquo;s America....&ldquo;We were hoping to be relevant, but we weren&rsquo;t hoping it would be this relevant.&rdquo;</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>io9:</strong></a> It&rsquo;s incredibly difficult to watch <em>The Handmaid&rsquo;s Tale</em> and not be affected, to feel like we&rsquo;re so much closer to it being reality than when it was first written.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Washington Post:</strong></a> The phrase &ldquo;now more than ever&rdquo; has become a tiresome cliche in the past few months, but so what: &ldquo;The Handmaid&rsquo;s Tale&rdquo; is here and it demands our attention, now more than ever.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Hollywood Reporter:</strong></a> Hulu's <em>The Handmaid's Tale </em>may be the most unintentionally timely show of the year.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Entertainment Weekly:</strong></a> Their performances &mdash; and the show&rsquo;s consistent sense of textural, lived-in realism &mdash; anchor the drama in something beyond speculative sci-fi, making the story feel less like a quasi-fictional fable than an entirely possible preview of what&rsquo;s to come.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Wall Street Journal:</strong></a> You can&rsquo;t quite call it a bad dream come true, not yet. But given what might be termed &ldquo;recent events,&rdquo; it&rsquo;s certainly cautionary, and more than urgent.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>The Economist:</strong></a> As the Trump administration continues to cut funding and roll back family-planning services, it is easy to hear echoes of its rhetoric on the screen.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Vogue:</strong></a> Could the timing be any more apt?</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>TV Guide:</strong></a> The show and its source material feel more timely and relevant than ever....With women's rights again on the chopping block under a Trump administration, and a common refrain from critics on the left to resist normalizing Trump, it's difficult if not impossible not to draw parallels between the show and real-life events.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Deadline Hollywood:</strong></a> If ever a television series could border on being too relevant, Hulu&rsquo;s gripping, chilling and brutal adaptation of <em>The Handmaid&rsquo;s Tale</em>, which launches with its first three episodes on April 26, would be the one.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Huffington Post:</strong></a> Whether the show sets out to directly compare its dystopian themes with today&rsquo;s political climate, for some readers &acirc;&#128;&#149; and for the story&rsquo;s author &acirc;&#128;&#149; the similarities are ripe for picking.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Vanity Fair:</strong></a> All dystopias are meant as cautionary tales. But at this particular moment in time&mdash;one marked by a powerful but misguided nostalgia, and religious zealotry, and an increasing sense that paranoia is justified, with the powers that be seemingly determined to chip away at the rights of women&mdash;<em>The Handmaid&rsquo;s Tale</em> feels especially current, cutting, and vital.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Harper's Bazaar:</strong></a> You won't see a more timely or essential onscreen story this year than Hulu's extraordinary rendering of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel <em>The Handmaid's Tale,</em> reimagined as a fundamentalist nightmare for the Mike Pence era....Like all the best dystopias, Gilead is not a truly fictional world, and <em>The Handmaid's Tale</em> is not a dark fantasy. It's a warning.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 21 Apr 2017 01:23:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 331036 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is dark, gritty Jeffrey Road, part of my dark, gritty reboot of <em>The OC</em> starring a grown-up Ryan Atwood as an upper-middle-class finance manager who's moved to Irvine. Feeling mildly resentful about his association's rule against non-white window coverings, Ryan's troubled childhood increasingly haunts him until he finally cracks and begins a suburban campaign of mayhem and retribution. In the first episode, he sneaks into neighboring houses at night, replacing the kitchen curtains in each one with a tasteful paisley pattern&mdash;and a clue to where he'll strike next. The police are confounded, but one detective&mdash;a crusty maverick who sometimes walks to work even though he lives a full half mile from the station&mdash;is determined to stop the Paisley Prankster at all costs. But can he do it without becoming the very person he's dedicated his life to tracking down: a serial violator of HOA rules and regulations?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_jeffrey_large.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:30:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 330926 at Quote of the Day: What Is That Island In the Pacific? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Attorney General Jeff Sessions,</a> still unhappy that President Trump's immigration order has been stayed by the courts:</p> <blockquote> <p>I really am amazed that <strong>a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific</strong> can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.</p> </blockquote> <p>An "island in the Pacific"? Seriously? That island is Hawaii. It's a state. It has federal judges, just like all the other states. That includes judges in Washington, Virginia, New York, and California, who stayed Trump's original order, and judges in Wisconsin and Maryland, who stayed Trump's revised order in whole or part. Nor is it "amazing" that a judge can stay an executive order. That's what judges do if circumstances warrant. That's how our country works. The attorney general should respect this, even when he disagrees with a court's decision.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:08:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 331001 at Another Republican Health Care Bill? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Congress is in recess, but Robert Costa reports that Republicans are still hard at work on yet another health care bill:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">A top WH official tells Post that Trump aides &amp; Hill GOP will circulate some revised legislative language tonight to House Rs on h. care...</p> &mdash; Robert Costa (@costareports) <a href="">April 20, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">A conference call, "all hands," will follow Sat, the official says, with a "target date for vote Wednesday," though that's subject to change</p> &mdash; Robert Costa (@costareports) <a href="">April 20, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>So the plan is to gavel the House back into session on Tuesday and then vote on the bill on Wednesday. Really?</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">I am sensing HEAVY SKEPTICISM from senior House Republicans about a vote next week. And I'm putting that mildly.</p> &mdash; Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) <a href="">April 20, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>I can well imagine. The Republican leadership is stuck: the only way to pass a health care bill is to do it fast, before there's a CBO score and a million phone calls and an outbreak of fighting between moderates and HFC ultras. But there's a limit to how far they can push even the folks who sympathize with them. I mean, negotiate in secret, drop the text, and then give everyone 24 hours to read it before holding a vote? That's a mockery of your own caucus, let alone everyone else.</p> <p>I confess that I don't quite get the point of all this anyway. Even if these junior high school antics manage to get a bill passed in the House, it still has to go to the Senate, where it won't sail through in 24 hours. There will be plenty of time for the CBO score and all the rest, not to mention negotiations between the House and Senate. One way or another, this process will take a while. So what's gained by making every Republican in the House take a difficult vote when the outcome will most likely be the same as last time?</p> <p>This whole thing is crazy. I still don't quite understand how gutting health care helps tax reform down the road, but let's assume it does. Who cares? Without the health care bill, Republicans can still pass any tax bill they want with a ten-year expiration. So just do it. Then extend it next year. And the next. Keep doing this every year, and they're guaranteed to have at least ten years of their tax plan <em>after</em> they lose power. Of course, if Democrats ever win total control of Congress and the presidency, they'll change things, but they can do that regardless.</p> <p>It sure seems like Republicans are spending a lot of political capital for not much benefit. In Washington, ten years might as well be forever. They should just shore up Obamacare a little to get it off their plates, pass a ten-year tax bill, and declare victory.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:53:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 330976 at Chart of the Day: Georgia's 6th Congressional District <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jon Ossoff's near win in the special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That's a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the <em>Atlanta Journal-Constitution</em> gives a <a href="" target="_blank">pretty good idea about what really happened:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ajc_georgia_6th.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>This is a district that's been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district <em>and</em> a Trump effect specific to 2016.</p> <p>During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it's not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There's a long-term Democratic tailwind <em>and</em> an incumbency effect specific to 2017.</p> <p>If Ossoff wins the runoff&mdash;or loses a close race&mdash;it's unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I'm not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we'll take another crack at it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 16:16:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 330956 at LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">This is from the <em>LA Times</em> yesterday:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns &mdash; <strong>a policy shift</strong> that marks a significant milestone in the board&rsquo;s attempts to curb shootings by police.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. This is new? This hasn't <em>always</em> been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:</p> <blockquote> <p>As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, <strong>law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust.</strong> Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.</p> <p><strong>The Seattle Police Department</strong> requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. <strong>Santa Monica</strong> police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to &ldquo;slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation&rdquo; to minimize the need to use force.</p> <p>....<strong>The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement,</strong> said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there&rsquo;s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. &ldquo;This is absolutely the right thing to do,&rdquo; he added.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is especially important in Los Angeles:</p> <blockquote> <p>African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. <strong>Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black</strong> &mdash; a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city&rsquo;s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.</p> <p><strong>The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers.</strong> Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. <strong>The L.A. County Sheriff&rsquo;s Department came in second,</strong> with 15 deadly shootings.</p> </blockquote> <p>Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.</p> <p>Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what's stopping this from being universally adopted? What's the downside?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 15:23:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 330951 at Evening Garbage Roundup <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Apropos of my previous post, Natasha Bertrand points out that at the exact same time the Russian RISS think tank recommended a messaging change to focus on voter fraud, Donald Trump suddenly started talking about "rigged elections." I'm sure it was just a coincidence:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Wild &gt; Trump was ramping up rhetoric about rigged elections at the same time Russia decided to "intensify its messaging about voter fraud." <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) <a href="">April 19, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>And there's also this about Jon Ossoff's <a href="" target="_blank">near-victory in Georgia last night:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in an interview Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., <strong>said he didn&rsquo;t know much about Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former House staffer.</strong> Mr. Sanders said he isn&rsquo;t prepared to back Democrats just because of a party label. &ldquo;If you run as a Democrat, you&rsquo;re a Democrat,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Asked if Mr. Ossoff is a progressive, Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, demurred. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know,&rdquo; he said.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I know how touchy this subject is, but come on. Ossoff is obviously no fire breather, but he's been the center of progressive attention for weeks now. Would it kill Sanders to spend a few minutes learning who he is and what he's about&mdash;and whether that's good enough for an endorsement? If Sanders wants to be a party leader&mdash;and he's given every indication that he does&mdash;he needs to pay more attention to this stuff. He can start <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a></p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> There were originally three items in this post. The third one was a tweet about something Mike Huckabee said, but the tweet has since been deleted because it misrepresented Huckabee's comment. I've deleted the reference to it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 04:49:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 330921 at Reuters: Putin-Controlled Think Tank Created Plan to Interfere With US Election <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Reuters reports that Vladimir Putin personally directed RISS, a Russian think tank, to develop plans to <a href="" target="_blank">interfere with the US election:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters&rsquo; faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.</p> <p>....The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals. It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to <strong>encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama,</strong> the seven officials said.</p> <p>A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, <strong>it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system&rsquo;s legitimacy and damage Clinton&rsquo;s reputation</strong> in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.</p> </blockquote> <p>According to Reuters, there's no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded in this. It was purely a Russian operation. Nor did the RISS plans say anything about the release of hacked emails. "The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin."</p> <p>So we have the RISS plan. We have the <a href="" target="_blank">email hacks,</a> which were <a href="" target="_blank">far more extensive</a> than initially reported. We have the <a href="" target="_blank">RT cable network</a> and the <a href="" target="_blank">Sputnik news agency,</a> which specialized in anti-Clinton stories. We have the <a href="" target="_blank">Russian troll factory</a> in St. Petersburg writing pro-Trump tweets under hundreds of aliases. We have thousands of <a href="" target="_blank">Russian Twitter bots</a> to make sure the tweets went viral. We have <a href="" target="_blank">Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear</a> and dozens of other covert Russian operations. We have <a href="" target="_blank">Guccifer 2.0.</a> We have <a href="" target="_blank"></a> And finally, Russia appears to have <a href="" target="_blank">used Wikileaks</a>&mdash;either wittingly or unwittingly&mdash;for maximum exposure of all its hacks.</p> <p>That's a pretty big operation. Did it work? We'll never know, but given how close the election was, the answer is probably yes.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 20 Apr 2017 02:39:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 330916 at The Dead Pool - 17 April 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Todd Ricketts, President Trump's choice for deputy Commerce Secretary, <a href="" target="_blank">has withdrawn.</a> Can you guess why? Yep: because he's so rich that he can't "untangle" himself from his financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics. Trump himself may not be subject to normal ethics rules, but everyone else is. And let's face it: no one with substantial wealth really wants to go through all this divestment and blind trust folderol just for a deputy position. Especially in the Commerce Department, which ranks pretty low on everyone's list of cabinet agencies.</p> <p>There's an interesting backstory here that you may remember from campaign season. Last February <a href="" target="_blank">Trump tweeted this:</a> "I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $'s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!" He was apparently threatening Todd's mother, who contributed to anti-Trump causes early in the primaries, but Todd was willing to work for Trump anyway. Seems a little odd, no? In any case, I guess he was willing to work for Trump, but not all <em>that</em> willing.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_dead_pool_2017_04_17_1.gif" style="margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:43:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 330906 at March Sets New Global Warming Record <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Via Joe Romm,</a> NOAA reports a new record on the climate change front. Actually, we've set lots of new records recently, but most have been due to last year's strong El Ni&ntilde;o, which sent global temperatures skyrocketing. What about during a normal year with neither an El Ni&ntilde;o nor a La Ni&ntilde;a?</p> <p>Well, the past couple of months have had neither. We have been "ENSO neutral," in the jargon. And boy was it hot. <a href="" target="_blank">According to NOAA,</a> March 2017 marks "the first time a monthly temperature departure from average surpasses 1.0&deg;C (1.8&deg;F) in the absence of an El Ni&ntilde;o episode in the tropical Pacific Ocean."</p> <p>Luckily for all of us, Donald Trump will soon defund NOAA's climate research so we can pretend none of this is happening. I feel better already.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_new_non_enso_warming_record.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 22:52:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 330896 at Lunchtime Photo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I struggled with the choice of photo today. Should I post (a) the best possible photo of our backyard lizard? Or should I post (b) an OK photo that benefits from having a monstrous, Land-of-the-Giants-esque cat nose dominating one corner? Or, for the unsqueamish, (c) a picture of Hilbert picking up the lizard in a remarkable delicate way?</p> <p>Decisions, decisions. I guess I'll go with option A, which really shows off the way this little guy can blend in with the surrounding foliage. He's pretty good at it, but not quite good enough to escape feline attention.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lunchtime_sandy_lizard.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 0px 0px;" width="630"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 19:30:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 330861 at It's Official: Bill O'Reilly Is Out <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">The jig is up for Bill-O:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O&rsquo;Reilly have agreed that Bill O&rsquo;Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,&rdquo; 21st Century Fox said in a statement.</p> <p>....The decision to oust O&rsquo;Reilly was a tricky one for Fox News because he is the network&rsquo;s most popular anchor. But the Murdoch family, which controls Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, faced pressure to act in the face of mounting negative publicity surrounding the sexual harassment claims against O&rsquo;Reilly.</p> </blockquote> <p>And now for our next topic: Who will replace O'Reilly in his time spot? Tucker Carlson? A blonde woman? Stay tuned!</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Meh. It's Tucker Carlson. He's now had the 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm time slots in the five months he's been at Fox News. He took over the 7 pm slot when Greta van Susteren left, the 9 pm slot when Megyn Kelly left, and now the 8 pm slot when O'Reilly was fired. Pretty lucky timing for Tucker.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 18:46:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 330866 at Who Ordered the USS Carl Vinson to Korea? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest on our <a href="" target="_blank">misplaced aircraft carrier:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday <strong>the White House does not bear responsibility</strong> for public statements indicating that a U.S. aircraft carrier was headed for the Korean Peninsula earlier this month when it was, in fact, sailing in the opposite direction.</p> <p>All questions as to why the USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying strike group were photographed traveling south past Indonesia after U.S. officials said the vessels would be deployed in the waters off the Korean Peninsula should be directed to the Pentagon and U.S. Pacific Command, Spicer said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Well duh. <em>Of course</em> the White House bears no responsibility. Just because Donald Trump is the commander-in-chief doesn't mean the buck stops with him.</p> <p>But I still want to know something: <em>Who gave the order for the Carl Vinson to steam toward North Korea?</em> Was it Trump? What order did he give? Was that order carried out? Or was it someone else's decision entirely?</p> <p>This is, admittedly, something of a gotcha question, but it's also a real question. The chain of command starts with Trump, and we all have a stake in how well it's working. This particular mistake&mdash;if mistake it was&mdash;was fairly harmless. That might not always be the case.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 18:19:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 330856 at Are We Really in a Housing Bubble? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Are we in yet another housing bubble? The Case-Shiller chart I posted <a href="" target="_blank">yesterday</a> suggests we probably are: housing prices may not be at their previous 2006 peak, but they're nonetheless far higher than their historical average.</p> <p>But wait. What about interest rates? Low interest rates mean lower monthly payments even if purchase prices are relatively high, and that's what really matters since that's what people actually pay. This is all true enough, but it raises a question: how low <em>are</em> mortgage rates? That is, <em>real</em> mortgage rates, which are adjusted for inflation. This low:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_real_mortgage_rates_1972_2016.gif" style="border: 1px solid #cccccc; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>Historically, the average real 30-year fixed mortgage rate is a hair above 4 percent. Right now it's at 3.5 percent. In other words, mortgage rates aren't really all that low. This suggest that historically high home prices also mean historically high mortgage payments.</p> <p>But there are other ways of looking at this. For example, <a href="" target="_blank">total mortgage debt as a percent of GDP</a> has retreated to 2002 levels and isn't rising. <a href="" target="_blank">Mortgage debt service as a percent of household income</a> is low and declining. Both of these are good signs.</p> <p>On the other hand, these are aggregate numbers that include everyone with a mortgage. It would be better if we could see them just for new buyers, but I don't know where to find that. And if you look at the <a href="" target="_blank">price-to-rent ratio,</a> which is usually a good harbinger of housing bubbles, it's been rising since 2012 and is now at 2004 levels. That's not so good, and if we get to 2005 levels we should start being scared.</p> <p>As usual, there are a lot of ways of looking at this, which is why different people will give you firm but very different opinions about home prices. Personally, I think the evidence suggests we're in another bubble. But I might be wrong.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:23:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 330846 at Silicon Valley Has a Cold-Pressed Juicing Scandal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Behold the Juicero. It is sleek, internet-connected, built like a tank, uses custom bags of chopped produce, applies four tons of pressure, and makes the world's trendiest cold-pressed juice:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_juicero.jpg" style="border: 1px solid #000000; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;" width="630"></p> <p>But wait. <em>Bloomberg</em> reports that there's a dark side to the Juicero. <a href="" target="_blank">Well, another dark side, anyway:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After the product hit the market, <strong>some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.</strong> Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter&rsquo;s grip....In Bloomberg&rsquo;s squeeze tests, hands did the job quicker, but the device was slightly more thorough. <strong>Reporters were able to wring 7.5 ounces of juice in a minute and a half. The machine yielded 8 ounces in about two minutes.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Tell me more about these reporters. Men? Women? Weakling nerds? Folks who hit the gym a lot? How much juice could <em>I</em> get from a Juicero bag? In any case, investors are upset:</p> <blockquote> <p>After the product&rsquo;s introduction last year, at least two Juicero investors were taken aback after finding the packs could be squeezed by hand. They also said the machine was much bigger than what Evans had proposed. One of the investors said they were frustrated with how the company didn&rsquo;t deliver on the original pitch and that <strong>their venture firm wouldn&rsquo;t have met with Evans if he were hawking bags of juice that didn&rsquo;t require high-priced hardware.</strong> Juicero didn&rsquo;t broadly disclose to investors or employees that packs can be hand squeezed, said four people with knowledge of the matter.</p> </blockquote> <p>Oh come on. Juicero was recently forced to cut the price of its press from $699 to $399, so it probably isn't even much of a moneymaker. The bags, on the other hand, are highway robbery at $5-7 each. At a guess, the gross margin on the press is around 50 percent at best, but the gross margin on the juice bags is probably 90 percent or more. If Juicero can sell the bags without the juicer&mdash;and maybe tout hand squeezing as a good workout regimen while they're at it&mdash;they probably clear a thousand dollars per year. Maybe more. The press doesn't add much to that, even if it <em>is</em> 802.11b/g/n compatible and notifies you when your juice packs are about to expire.</p> <p>The hardware is only necessary for two reasons. First, people are lazy and don't want to squeeze their own bags. Second, it makes everything high tech and cool. Regardless, differential pricing is a proven moneymaker, and now Juicero can sell its bags to cheapskates. There's always been more money in the blades than the shaver.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 16:37:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 330841 at Gabe Sherman: Bill O'Reilly Is Out at Fox News <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Gabriel Sherman, who has made a career out of reporting about Fox News, <a href="" target="_blank">says serial lech Bill O'Reilly is out:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Murdochs have decided Bill O'Reilly's 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end.</strong> According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O'Reilly's departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.</p> <p>&hellip;Sources briefed on the discussions say O'Reilly's exit negotiations are moving quickly. Right now, a key issue on the table is whether he would be allowed to say good-bye to his audience, perhaps the most loyal in all of cable <strong>(O'Reilly's ratings have ticked up during the sexual-harassment allegations).</strong> Fox executives are leaning against allowing him to have a sign-off, sources say. The other main issue on the table is money. O'Reilly recently signed a new multi-year contract worth more than $20 million per year. When Roger Ailes left Fox News last summer, the Murdochs paid out $40 million, the remainder of his contract.</p> </blockquote> <p>O'Reilly's audience apparently <em>likes</em> the fact that he hits on women constantly in crude and demeaning ways. I guess this doesn't surprise me. Or does it? I'm not sure. But one thing is for sure: O'Reilly's audience really, really hates the idea of caving into the liberal social justice warriors.</p> <p>So: no Roger Ailes, no Megyn Kelly, no Greta van Susteren, no Gretchen Carlson, no Bill O'Reilly. It's just not the same at Fox anymore. At least they still have Sean Hannity.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 19 Apr 2017 15:41:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 330831 at