Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/google-reader-bleg http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en The US Has No Clean Battle Lines in the Middle East http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/us-has-no-clean-battle-lines-middle-east <!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.nationalreview.com/corner/416115/top-nbc-foreign-correspondent-us-strategy-middle-east-leaving-region-confused-andrew" target="_blank">From The Corner:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The United States is sending mixed signals to its allies in the Middle East by simultaneously giving support to the Saudi-led Sunni coalition fighting in Yemen and negotiating with Shiite Iran on its nuclear program, according to NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.</p> <p>Engel pinpoints an apparent contradiction: <strong>Even as the U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia and other nations in &ldquo;confronting the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen&rdquo; by providing intelligence and other support, it continues to negotiate with Tehran on its nuclear program, and to collaborate with Iranian forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.</strong></p> <p>As a result, Engel says, &ldquo;the Saudis, and the larger Sunni Muslim world, doesn&rsquo;t [sic] feel the U.S. can really be trusted.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Gee, no kidding. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni ally of the US that hates Iran. Iraq is a Shiite ally who's cozy with Iran. The US itself is hostile toward Iran, but shares a common enemy in ISIS. Syria is a total mess with no clear good guys. And, yes, a good nuclear deal with Iran would be a bonus for the safety of the entire region.</p> <p>That's it. That's the way the world is. The United States is not allied solely with Shiite or Sunni regimes and hasn't been since at least 9/11. It's confusing. It's messy. And maybe President Obama hasn't handled it as skillfully as he could have. But who could have done any better? There just aren't any clean battle lines here, and the sooner everyone faces up to that, the better off we'll be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Sun, 29 Mar 2015 15:11:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 272556 at http://www.motherjones.com Peculiar Eyesight Question http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/peculiar-eyesight-question <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'll be asking my optometrist about this shortly, but just for fun I thought I'd throw it out to the hive mind to see if anyone knows what's going on.</p> <p>Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that my distance vision is a little fuzzy. Time for new glasses, you say, and you're probably right. But here's the odd thing. I keep all my old glasses, and last night I tried them all on just to see if an <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_red_blue_led_clocks.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">older prescription worked better than my current glasses. What I discovered was a little strange.</p> <p>Right under my TV I happen to have two LED clocks. One uses red LEDs and the other uses blue LEDs. With my current glasses, the blue LEDs are sharp and the red LEDs are fuzzy. But when I put on glasses that are a few years old, it changes. The red LEDs are sharp and the blue LEDs are fuzzy. The difference is quite noticeable, not a subtle thing at all.</p> <p>Anyone know what this is all about?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Sat, 28 Mar 2015 16:14:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 272551 at http://www.motherjones.com Should We Welcome Saudi Arabia to the Fight in the Middle East? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/should-we-welcome-saudi-arabia-fight-middle-east <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I have occasionally griped in this space about the fact that putative Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia and Jordan basically view the American military as a sort of mercenary force to fight their own tribal battles. Sure, they provide us with basing rights, and sometimes money, but they want us to do all the fighting, and they complain bitterly about American naivet&eacute; when we don't fight every war they think we should fight.</p> <p>Recently this has changed a bit, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan launching independent air attacks against various neighbors, and Saudi Arabia even making noises about launching ground attacks in Yemen. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/be-happy-they-are-acting" target="_blank">Josh Marshall makes some useful points:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It is always dangerous when power and accountability are unchained from each other. In recent decades, we've had a system in which our clients look to us for protection, ask for military action of various sorts&nbsp;&mdash; but <em>privately</em>. <strong>And then we act, but always in the process whipping up anti-American sentiment, mixed with extremist religious enthusiasms, which our allies often, paradoxically, stoke or accommodate to secure their own holds on power.</strong> This is, to put it mildly, an unstable and politically toxic state of affairs. This does not even get into the costs to the US in blood and treasure.</p> <p>There are pluses to the old or existing system. We control everything. Wars don't start until we start them. But the downsides are obvious, as well. <strong>And nowhere has this been more clear than with the Saudis. The Saudis sell us oil; and they buy our weapons. We start wars to protect them, the reaction to which curdles in the confines of their domestic repression and breaks out in terrorist attacks against us.</strong> I don't mean to suggest that we are purely victims here. We're not. But it's a pernicious arrangement.</p> <p>This is why I think we should be heartened to see the Saudis acting on their own account, taking action on their own account for which they must create domestic support and stand behind internationally.</p> </blockquote> <p>There's more, and Marshall is hardly unaware of the risks in widespread military action among countries that barely even count as coherent states. "Still, the old system bred irresponsibility on many levels, including a lack of responsibility and accountability from the existing governments in the region. For all the dangers and unpredictabilities involved with having the Saudis or in other cases the Egyptians stand up and take actions which they believe are critical to their security on their own account is better for everyone involved."</p> <p>Some food for thought this weekend.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Sat, 28 Mar 2015 16:01:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 272546 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 27 March 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/friday-cat-blogging-27-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 I get to spend six hours in a chair getting Cytoxan pumped into my body. So this is it. No more tests or consults. This is the first actual step in the second stage of my chemotherapy. Following this infusion, I will spend a week injecting myself with a drug that (a) stimulates white blood cell production and (b) will apparently make me feel like I have the flu. Next, I spend a week in LA sitting in a chair several hours a day while they extract stem cells from my body. Then a week of rest and then the stem cell transplant itself, which will put me out of commission for a minimum of three weeks.</p> <p>So no blogging today. Next week is iffy. Probably nothing much the week after that either. Then maybe some blogging during my rest week. And then I'll go offline probably completely for a month or so. It all depends on just how quickly I recover from the transplant. We'll see.</p> <p>In the meantime, here are Hopper and Hilbert, hale and hearty as ever. Have a nice weekend, everyone.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2015_03_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:00:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 272456 at http://www.motherjones.com Democrats Should Pass the Doc Fix Bill http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/democrats-should-pass-doc-fix-bill <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A bill to permanently reform the ridiculous annual charade over the Medicare "doc fix" <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/27/us/house-passes-bill-changing-medicare-fee-formula-and-extending-childrens-insurance.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">passed the House today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The House overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the Medicare system on Thursday, in the most significant bipartisan policy legislation to pass through that chamber since the Republicans regained a majority in 2011.</p> <p>The measure, which would establish a new formula for paying doctors and end a problem that has bedeviled the nation&rsquo;s health care system for more than a decade, has already been blessed by President Obama, and awaits a vote in the Senate. The bill would also increase premiums for some higher income beneficiaries and extend a popular health insurance program for children.</p> </blockquote> <p>But of course there's a problem:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Senate Democrats have been resistant to provisions in the bill that preserve restrictions on the use of federal money for abortion services</strong> and extend a children&rsquo;s health program for only two years, but they are expected to eventually work with Senate Republicans to pass the measure.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is similar to the problem with the bipartisan human trafficking bill, which Senate Democrats filibustered last week because of a provision that none of its funds could be used to pay for abortions.</p> <p>I suppose this will get me a lot of flack for being a sellout, but I think Dems should approve both bills. Yes, the abortion provisions are annoying, and go slightly beyond similar language that's been in appropriations bills for decades. But <em>slightly</em> is the operative word here. Like it or not, Republicans long ago won the battle over using federal funds for abortions. Minor affirmations of this policy simply don't amount to much aside from giving Republicans some red meat for their base.</p> <p>This is mostly symbolic, not substantive. Let's pass the bills.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Reproductive Rights Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:07:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 272461 at http://www.motherjones.com More Welfare = More Entrepreneurs? Maybe! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/more-welfare-more-entrepreneurs-maybe <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Walter Frick writes in the <em>Atlantic</em> about recent research which suggests that a strong social safety net increases entrepreneurship. For example, one researcher found that expansion of the food stamp <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_safety_net.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">program led to a <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/welfare-makes-america-more-entrepreneurial/388598/" target="_blank">higher chance that eligible households would start new businesses:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn&rsquo;t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks.</p> </blockquote> <p>The same is true of other programs. For example, the Children&rsquo;s Health Insurance Program:</p> <blockquote> <p>By comparing the rate of entrepreneurship of those who just barely qualified for CHIP to those whose incomes just barely exceeded the cutoff, he was able to estimate the program&rsquo;s impact on new business creation. <strong>The rate of incorporated business ownership for those eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it.</strong></p> <p>The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households&rsquo; chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent.</p> <p><strong>The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn&rsquo;t fear financial ruin.</strong> (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.)</p> </blockquote> <p>Personally, I'd tentatively file this under the category of news that's a little too good to be true. After all, I'm a liberal. I <em>want</em> to believe this! And I haven't noticed that European rates of entrepreneurship are especially great, despite the fact that their safety net is much stronger than ours.</p> <p>Still, what's true in America might be different from what's true in Europe. Different cultures etc. So it's worth reading the whole piece, which is generally pretty nuanced in its claims. At the very least, though, it certainly suggests that a strong safety net doesn't <em>hurt</em> entrepreneurship.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 26 Mar 2015 18:09:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 272446 at http://www.motherjones.com Eventually, Two Billionaires Will Duke It Out For President Every Four Years http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/eventually-two-billionaires-will-duke-it-out-president-every-four-years <!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_money_elections.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">This is from yesterday, but I really can't pass it up. Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger write in the <em>Washington Post</em> that presidential candidates are no longer much interested in "bundlers" who can raise a paltry million dollars or so for their campaigns. Terry Neese, a successful bundler for George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-2016-campaign-the-lament-of-the-not-quite-rich-enough/2015/03/24/f0a38b18-cdb4-11e4-8a46-b1dc9be5a8ff_story.html" target="_blank">is their poster child:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This year, no potential White House contender has called &mdash; not even Bush&rsquo;s brother, Jeb. As of early Wednesday, the only contacts she had received were e-mails from staffers for two other likely candidates; both went to her spam folder.</p> <p>&ldquo;They are only going to people who are multi-multimillionaires and billionaires and raising big money first,&rdquo; said Neese, who founded a successful employment agency. &ldquo;Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, &lsquo;You know, we just don&rsquo;t count anymore.&rsquo; &rdquo;</p> <p>....In the words of one veteran GOP fundraiser, traditional bundlers have been sent down to the &ldquo;minor leagues,&rdquo; while mega-donors are &ldquo;the major league players.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>The old-school fundraisers have been temporarily displaced in the early money chase because of the rise of super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations.</strong> This year, White House hopefuls are rushing to raise money for the groups before they declare their candidacies and have to keep their distance.</p> </blockquote> <p>So does this matter? Does it matter whether candidates get contributions from a thousand millionaires vs. a hundred billionaires? Are their political views really very different?</p> <p>In a way, I suppose not. Rich is rich. One difference, though, might be in the way specific industries get treated. If you take a ton of money from Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers, you're more likely to oppose internet gambling and specific energy-related regulations than you might be if you were simply taking money from a whole bunch of different gambling and energy millionaires.</p> <p>On a broader note, though, it has the potential to alienate the electorate even more. Things are bad enough already, but when it becomes clear that presidential candidates are practically being bought and sold by a literal handful of the ultra-rich, how hard is to remain uncynical about politics? Pretty hard.</p> <p>In the end, maybe this doesn't matter so much. Big money is big money, and most people are already convinced that big money controls things in Washington DC. Still, as bad as things are, they can always get worse. Eventually, perhaps each successful candidate will be fully funded by a single billionaire willing to take a flyer with pocket money to see if they can get their guy elected. This is not a healthy world we're building.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Money in Politics Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:20:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 272426 at http://www.motherjones.com Middle East War Suddenly Getting a Lot More Warlike http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/middle-east-war-suddenly-getting-lot-more-warlike <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm a little behind on the news right now, but it sure looks like things are getting a whole lot hotter in the Middle East. Here are a few headlines:</p> <blockquote> <p>Saudi Jets Strike Yemen in Bid to Halt Houthis</p> <p>Tikrit airstrikes draw U.S. into battle between militants and Iraqi forces</p> <p>Obama Says He Will Delay Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan</p> <p>Iran-backed rebels loot Yemen files about U.S. spy operations</p> <p>U.S. Role in Middle East Revamped Amid Chaos</p> </blockquote> <p>That last headline comes from the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>, and seems to sum things up pretty well. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/03/26/u-s-role-in-middle-east-revamped-as-chaos-engulfs-yemen/" target="_blank">The story includes this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[Kenneth] Pollack, the former CIA analyst, said the military campaign in Yemen is unlikely to have a positive effect on the country&rsquo;s fractured dynamics.</p> <p>&ldquo;The idea that this is going to produce some kind of a peaceful settlement is ridiculous,&rdquo; Mr. Pollack said. &ldquo;The more likely outcome is it just prolongs the stalemate.&rdquo; <strong>The Persian Gulf countries could consider the use of ground troops to make progress,</strong> which should be a concern for the U.S., he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>What could go wrong?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:17:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 272416 at http://www.motherjones.com Housekeeping Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/housekeeping-note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'll be busy with various tests and doctor appointments all day Wednesday, so no blogging. I should be back on Thursday, health permitting.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 24 Mar 2015 22:27:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 272331 at http://www.motherjones.com Has Israel Given Up On Democrats? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/has-israel-given-democrats <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Israel is doing its best to spy on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. No surprise there. But the Obama administration believes they've <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-spied-on-iran-talks-1427164201" target="_blank">taken things too far:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu&rsquo;s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said....The espionage didn&rsquo;t upset the White House as much as <strong>Israel&rsquo;s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran&rsquo;s nuclear program,</strong> current and former officials said.</p> <p>....&ldquo;People feel personally sold out,&rdquo; a senior administration official said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>The upshot of all this is that support for Israel is rapidly becoming a partisan issue. &ldquo;If you&rsquo;re wondering whether something serious has shifted here, the answer is yes,&rdquo; a senior U.S. official said. &ldquo;These things leave scars.&rdquo; This is not likely to be good for Israel in the long term.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 24 Mar 2015 15:46:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 272266 at http://www.motherjones.com Television Is a Vast Disease-Laden Wasteland http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/television-vast-disease-laden-wasteland <!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/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/23/yes-drug-companies-are-bombarding-your-tv-with-more-ads-than-ever/" target="_blank">Jason Millman writes:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Maybe you've noticed that prescription drug ads are everywhere these days &mdash; more so than usual. You wouldn't be wrong.</p> </blockquote> <p>Oh yes, I've noticed. It's one reason I watch less TV than I might otherwise&mdash;especially shows that are pitched to, um, mature demographics. I feel like I'm simply bombarded with ads about terrible diseases <em>and</em> all the terrible side effects that the advertised drugs might cause. Maybe I'm just having a harder time tuning out this stuff than usual, but I find it immensely depressing to be surrounded by reminders of disease every time I turn on the TV. Anyone else feel the same way?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Health Care Mon, 23 Mar 2015 18:57:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 272226 at http://www.motherjones.com Beware the Hype of New Medical Studies http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/beware-hype-new-medical-studies <!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/images/Blog_TV_Commercial.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Julia Belluz thinks the democratization of medical research <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/3/23/8264355/research-study-hype" target="_blank">may have gone too far:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I often wonder whether there is any value in reporting very early research. Journals now publish their findings, and the public seizes on them, but this wasn't always the case: journals were meant for peer-to-peer discussion, not mass consumption.</p> <p>Working in the current system, we reporters feed on press releases from journals and it's difficult to resist the siren call of flashy findings. We are incentivized to find novel things to write about, just as scientists and research institutions need to attract attention to their work. Patients, of course, want better medicines, better procedures &mdash; and hope.</p> <p><strong>But this cycle is hurting us, and it's obscuring the truths research has to offer.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>The truth, Belluz says, is that virtually all initial studies of promising new therapies fail to pan out. Only 6 percent of new journal articles each year are well-designed and relevant enough to inform patient care. Of these, only a fraction end up in a product that successfully makes it to market.</p> <p>Dr. Oz may be the face of bad medical advice, but the fact is that it's all around us. We're all desperate for cures&mdash;I'd certainly like to see one for multiple myeloma&mdash;but most of them just don't go anywhere. Belluz has more about the siren call of new miracle cures <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/3/23/8264355/research-study-hype" target="_blank">at the link.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Mon, 23 Mar 2015 16:58:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 272206 at http://www.motherjones.com Three Cheers For the California Miracle! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/three-cheers-california-miracle <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Oh dear. Here's some bad news for Ted Cruz on his very first day as an <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-capitol-business-beat-20150323-story.html" target="_blank">official presidential candidate:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>For years, business lobbyists complained about what they derided as "job killer" laws that drive employers out of California. Rival state governors, notably former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, made highly publicized visits to the Golden State in hopes of poaching jobs.</p> <p>But new numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tell a different story. Total jobs created in the 12 months ending Jan. 31 show California leading other states. <strong>California gained 498,000 new jobs, almost 30% more than the Lone Star State's total of 392,900 for the same period.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Them's the breaks. There's no more "Texas Miracle" for either Cruz or Rick Perry. We're in the middle of a California Miracle right now.</p> <p>So how is Sodom on the Pacific pulling this off? Actually, that's pretty easy to answer. California was hit hard by the housing bubble, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/08/yet-another-look-texas" target="_blank">while Texas wasn't.</a> So California's economy took a big hit during the recession and the slow recovery, while Texas did pretty well&mdash;aided and abetted by a rise in oil prices.</p> <p>Now everything has turned around. California is rebounding strongly from the housing crisis while Texas is suffering from the global collapse in oil prices. There is, frankly, nothing very miraculous about either story. It's just the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_texas_unemployment_march_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">business cycle at work in a fairly normal and predictable way.</p> <p>In fact, you may recall that there was never much of a Texas Miracle in the first place. <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_may_2014/features/oops_the_texas_miracle_that_is049289.php?page=all" target="_blank">It was mostly just PR bluster,</a> as the chart on the right shows. The thick green line shows the unemployment rate in Texas compared to its neighboring states, and Texas is right smack in the middle&mdash;and it always has been. It's better than half a dozen nearby states and worse than another half dozen. It is, sad to say, entirely average. That's not something Texans are likely to take kindly to, but numbers don't lie.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Economy Ted Cruz Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:21:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 272196 at http://www.motherjones.com Ted Cruz Throws His Hat In General Direction of Presidential Ring http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/ted-cruz-throws-his-hat-general-direction-presidential-ring <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The big news sweeping my Twitter feed last night was Ted Cruz's rather sudden decision to announce that he's running for president. Usually there's a warmup period of some kind (an "exploratory committee," etc.) but apparently Cruz decided to dispense with all that and simply throw his hat in the ring posthaste. The motivation for his sudden haste is a little mysterious at this point.</p> <p>The other thing sweeping my Twitter feed was the fact that the URL <a href="http://www.tedcruz.com/" target="_blank">tedcruz.com</a> leads to the site on the right. Patrick Caldwell explains this and much more in his brisk overview of potential candidates and their <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ted_cruz_com.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">unfortunate lack of attention to the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/2016-presidential-campaign-website-domain-names" target="_blank">basics of internet campaigning:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Unfortunately for the Texas Republican, long before he ran for Senate in 2012, TedCruz.com had been nabbed by an Arizona attorney who shares his name. Based on a search of the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, the Arizona Cruz's website dates back to at least early 2008, when it was a normal, if slightly Geocities-tinged, business website. "Putting All Your Real Estate Needs In 'CRUZ CONTROL,'" the attorney's tagline said at the time. But sometime within the past year he ditched his law site to instead mock the would-be-president. On a simple black background, in large font, the website screamed: "COMING SOON, Presidential Candidate, I Luv CHRISTIE!!!!!" Attorney Cruz wouldn't say anything to Mother Jones over email except to acknowledge that he has owned the domain for several years. But he deleted the section about loving Christie shortly thereafter. Given the initial message, though, it seems unlikely that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ted_cruz_org.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the Arizona attorney will be easily persuaded to relinquish control of the domain to the senator.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's bad luck, no? Still, at least Cruz has control of <a href="http://www.tedcruz.org/" target="_blank">tedcruz.org.</a> It was obviously thrown together pretty quickly, though at least it's got the basics. But why the slapdash approach? <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/us/politics/ted-cruz-2016-presidential-race.html" target="_blank">According to the <em>New York Times</em> this morning,</a> Cruz was afraid of being upstaged: "By becoming the first candidate to declare himself officially in the race, Republicans briefed on his strategy said, Mr. Cruz hopes to reclaim the affection and attention of those on the party&rsquo;s right wing who have begun eyeing other contenders, particularly Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin."</p> <p>Cruz's official announcement, inevitably, will be done at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's shrine to the Christian Right. I think we can expect many, many more speeches and announcements from Republican wannabes there. But Cruz will be the first! Take that, Bobby Jindal!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Ted Cruz Mon, 23 Mar 2015 14:37:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 272191 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Is Closed Captioning So Bad? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/why-closed-captioning-so-bad <!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://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/03/why-is-subtitling-and-closed-captioning-so-bad.html" target="_blank">Over at Marginal Revolution,</a> commenter Jan A. asks:</p> <blockquote> <p>Why is the (global) state of subtitling and closed captioning so bad?</p> <p>a/ Subtitling and closed captioning are extremely efficient ways of learning new languages, for example for immigrants wanting to learn the language of their new country.</p> <p>b/ Furthermore video is now offered on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, televisions... but very frequently these videos cannot be played with sound on (a phone on public transport, a laptop in public places, televisions in busy places like bars or shops,...).</p> <p>c/ And most importantly of all, it is crucial for the deaf and hard of hearing.</p> <p>So why is it so disappointingly bad? Is it just the price (lots of manual work still, despite assistive speech-to-text technologies)? Or don&rsquo;t producers care?</p> </blockquote> <p>I use closed captioning all the time even though I'm not really hard of hearing. I just have a hard time picking out dialog when there's a lot of ambient noise in the soundtrack&mdash;which is pretty routine these days. So I have a vested interest in higher quality closed captioning. My beef, however, isn't so much with the text itself, which is usually pretty close to the dialog, but with the fact that there are multiple closed captioning standards and sometimes none of them work properly, with the captions either being way out of sync with the dialog or else only partially available. (That is, about one sentence out of three actually gets captioned.)</p> <p>Given the (a) technical simplicity and low bandwidth required for proper closed captions, and (b) the rather large audience of viewers with hearing difficulties, it surprises me that these problems are so common. I don't suppose that captioning problems cost TV stations a ton of viewers, but they surely cost them a few here and there. Why is it so hard to get right?</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> Note that I'm not talking here about real-time captioning, as in live news and sports programming. I understand why it's difficult to do that well.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Tech Sun, 22 Mar 2015 16:24:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 272171 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 20 March 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/friday-cat-blogging-20-march-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Appearances to the contrary, I might be getting better this morning. Cross your fingers, and we'll see how things go tomorrow.</p> <p>Our hummingbird babies are fully mobile! I took some pictures of them this morning, and when I carefully edged in for a slightly closer angle they took off like a shot. This was plainly not their maiden voyage. They're all grown up now. Sniff.</p> <p>In other news, longtime readers will remember that <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2008_06/013864.php" target="_blank">I once blogged</a> about Louis the cathedral cat after a visit to Wells Cathedral in 2008. He was very friendly. However, in one of those inevitable town-gown controversies, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/16/cathedral-cat-under-suspicion-following-dog-attacks-in-wells" target="_blank">Louis is now being accused of attacking dogs in the nearby area.</a> But it might just be a case of mistaken identity: "I&rsquo;ve heard there is another ginger cat around at the moment," said one witness, "and it&rsquo;s quite possible that it&rsquo;s him attacking dogs. We don&rsquo;t know for sure whether or not Louis was involved. Louis had definitely been in the shop just before the incident happened outside, but it could have been a different cat."</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2015_03_20.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 20 Mar 2015 18:12:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 272151 at http://www.motherjones.com Thursday Hummingbird Blogging - 19 March 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/thursday-hummingbird-blogging-19-march-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Sorry for the lack of blogging yet again. In the meantime, here's the latest pic of our baby hummingbirds. They look perilously close to flapping their wings and leaving the nest.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hummingbird_2015_03_19.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 19 Mar 2015 18:15:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 272086 at http://www.motherjones.com My Stake In the 2016 Election Is Way More Personal Than Usual http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/my-stake-2016-election-way-more-personal-than-usual <!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.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_03/yes_2016_will_be_a_highstakes054670.php" target="_blank">Ed Kilgore:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I'm increasingly convinced that by the end of the Republican presidential nominating process the candidates will have pressured each other into a Pact of Steel to revoke all of Obama's executive orders and regulations. <strong>The post-2012 GOP plan to quickly implement the Ryan Budget and an Obamacare repeal in a single reconciliation bill will almost certainly be back in play if Republicans win the White House while holding on to Congress.</strong> Republicans (with even Rand Paul more or less going along) are all but calling for a re-invasion of Iraq plus a deliberate lurch into a war footing with Iran. And now more than ever, the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court would seem to vary almost 180 degrees based on which party will control the next couple of appointments.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is more personal for me than usual. Scary, too. There are no guarantees in life, and there's no guarantee that MoJo will employ me forever. If I lose my job, and Republicans repeal Obamacare, I will be left with a very serious and very expensive medical condition and no insurance to pay for it. And I feel quite certain that Republicans will do nothing to help me out.</p> <p>Obviously lots of other people are in the same position, and have been for a long time. But there's nothing like being in the crosshairs yourself to bring it all home. If Republicans win in 2016, my life is likely to take a very hard, very personal turn for the worse.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Health Care Top Stories Wed, 18 Mar 2015 17:20:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 272021 at http://www.motherjones.com So What's Next For Israel and Palestine? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/so-whats-next-israel-and-palestine <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I thought all along that Benjamin Netanyahu was going to win this week's election in Israel. I never wrote about it, but Mark Kleiman is my witness. My reasoning was simplistic: the polls were pretty close, and Netanyahu is a survivor. In a close race, he'd <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_netanyahu_win_election.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">somehow figure out a way to pull out a win.</p> <p>But yikes! I know Israeli politics is tough stuff, but I sure wasn't prepared for the sheer ugliness of Netanyahu's closing run. His speech before Congress turned out to be just a wan little warmup act. When things got down to the wire he flatly promised to keep the West Bank an occupied territory forever, and followed that up with dire warnings of Arabs "coming out in droves" to the polls. Even by Israeli standards this is sordid stuff.</p> <p>I don't follow Israeli-Palestinian politics closely anymore, having long since given up hope that either side is willing to make the compromises necessary for peace. But even to my unpracticed eye, this election seems to change things. Sure, no one ever believed Netanyahu was truly dedicated to a two-state solution in the first place, but at least it hung out there as a possibility. Now it's gone. This will almost certainly strengthen Hamas and other hardline elements within the Palestinian movement, which in turn will justify ever tighter crackdowns by Israel. Is there any way this doesn't end badly?</p> <p>I just don't see the endgame here for either side. Can someone enlighten me?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Wed, 18 Mar 2015 15:14:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 272006 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Take Game Playing to New Heights With Latest Budget http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/republicans-take-game-playing-new-heights-latest-budget <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I would like to nominate this for <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/18/us/politics/house-republican-budget-overhauls-medicare-and-repeals-the-health-law.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">least surprising headline of the year:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nyt_republican_budget_deep_cuts_welfare.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 150px;"></p> <p>And it gets even better. This is unusually straightforward reporting:</p> <blockquote> <p>House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or &ldquo;achieving sustainability.&rdquo; <strong>They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.</strong></p> <p>What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a &ldquo;cut.&rdquo; The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, <strong>but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I get that budget documents are often as much aspirational as anything else, but surely they should have at least some grounding in reality? Here's the best part:</p> <blockquote> <p>The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, <strong>the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law.</strong> But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place &mdash; <strong>essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>House Republicans sure don't make it easy to take them seriously, do they?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Wed, 18 Mar 2015 14:27:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 272001 at http://www.motherjones.com I Have Great Lungs http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/i-have-great-lungs <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In addition to the whole multiple myeloma thing, regular readers may recall that about a year ago I suddenly developed breathing difficulties. Things have improved since then, but I still have regular spells of shortness of breath. In fact, I'm going through one right now, which is likely contributing to all my other woes.</p> <p>I mention this because today was the last of my pre-stem-cell-transplant workups, which happened to be a lung test. And just as always, I passed with flying colors. It even included a blood draw directly from an artery, which confirmed that my hemoglobin count is outstanding and the oxygen content of the blood in my extremities is normal or even a little above normal. And my lung volume? Better than 100 percent, whatever that means.</p> <p>So the mystery continues. My lungs are getting plenty of air; they're producing plenty of oxygen; my heart is pumping perfectly; and the oxygen content of my blood is just peachy. Almost by definition, it sounds like there can't be anything wrong. Except that there is. Go figure.</p> <p>In any case, all my tests are complete, and as far as I know there were no red flags. Next Wednesday I spend the day at City of Hope getting oriented. On Friday I get a nice big bonus round of chemotherapy, after which I spend a week injecting myself with a drug that stimulates white cell production. Then I get a Hickman port installed in my shoulder. Following that, I spend three or four days at City of Hope, where they draw blood through the port, centrifuge it, keep the stem cells, and send the rest back. When they have enough stem cells, they process and freeze them and send me home for a week of rest.</p> <p>Then comes the stem cell transplant itself. I get a gigantic blast of chemotherapy that kills everything in its path&mdash;which includes all the remaining cancerous cells in my bone marrow but also all my non-cancerous plasma stem cells. That would kill me too, so the next day they unfreeze my stem cells and pump them into my body. Then I spend several weeks recuperating.</p> <p>That's the short version. More later. Despite everything, it appears that all systems are go.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 18 Mar 2015 00:13:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 271986 at http://www.motherjones.com "Arming Our Allies" a Fiasco Yet Again in Yemen http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/arming-our-allies-fiasco-yet-again-yemen <!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/world/national-security/pentagon-loses-sight-of-500-million-in-counterterrorism-aid-given-to-yemen/2015/03/17/f4ca25ce-cbf9-11e4-8a46-b1dc9be5a8ff_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">No surprise here:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being <strong>seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.</strong></p> <p>....&ldquo;We have to assume it&rsquo;s completely compromised and gone,&rdquo; said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.</p> </blockquote> <p>"Arming our allies" works sometimes, but just as often it ends up like this. If we'd done this in Syria two years ago, those arms would most likely be in the hands of ISIS or Iranian militias by now.</p> <p>There just aren't very many good middle grounds between staying out of a fight and getting fully engaged in it. Iraq is our latest stab at this middle ground, and so far it's too early to say how it's going. But recent history is not kind to the idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Tue, 17 Mar 2015 18:38:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 271961 at http://www.motherjones.com My Un-Miracle http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/my-un-miracle <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>If a miracle happened on Friday, an un-miracle happened on Sunday. I was fine all day Friday, fine on Saturday, and fine Sunday. Until lunchtime. Then I collapsed again. Ditto on Monday around 10 am. Ditto again today.</p> <p>As usual, no idea what's going on. But I'll blog whenever I have spurts of energy.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 17 Mar 2015 17:16:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 271936 at http://www.motherjones.com My Day http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/my-day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Heart test. Check. EKG. Check. Chest X-ray. Check. Complete spinal X-ray. Check. 20 vials of blood drawn. Check. All that's left is a lung test tomorrow and dropping off a stool sample. Then I get a week off before I visit City of Hope for an orientation and further instructions in preparation for the stem cell transplant in April. Progress!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 16 Mar 2015 17:25:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 271886 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Are Making Obama Popular Again http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/republicans-are-making-obama-popular-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This isn't exactly Oprah levels of adulation or anything, but President Obama's <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/113980/Gallup-Daily-Obama-Job-Approval.aspx" target="_blank">Gallup approval ratings</a> have been rising steadily ever since Republicans won the midterm elections last year. He's been bouncing around positive territory ever since the start of 2015, and today he clocks in at 48-47 percent approval.</p> <p>Is this because the economy is picking up and people are just generally happier? Is it because his executive actions have made a favorable impression on the public? Is it because Republican incompetence makes him look good by comparison? Hard to say, but it certainly suggests that Democrats are pretty happy with him. <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_03/about_that_obama_secondterm_po054633.php" target="_blank">As Ed Kilgore says:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Among Democrats, who are supposedly on the brink of a "struggle for the soul of the party," and ideologically riven between Elizabeth Warren "populists" and Obama/Clinton "centrists," Obama's approval rating stands at 81%. And looking deeper, he's at 86% among self-identified "liberal Democrats," 78% among "moderate Democrats," and yes, 67% among "conservative Democrats," such as they are....This is another example of isolated data being somewhat limited in value, but worth a couple of dozen <em>Politico</em> columns.</p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. And I'll bet that once things get going, Hillary Clinton will poll about the same way.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gallup_obama_approval_2015_03_16.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 6px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Obama Mon, 16 Mar 2015 14:38:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 271866 at http://www.motherjones.com