Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/21/6/modest-tax-proposal http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Obama's Iraq Policy Has Been Pretty Masterly http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/obamas-iraq-policy-has-been <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm not a diehard supporter of Barack Obama's foreign policy. Some of his actions I just plain disagree with: the surge in Afghanistan, the enormous increase in drone use, his almost inhuman patience in putting up with Bibi Netanyahu's nearly open contempt for him. Then there are other actions of his that were arguably justifiable but have worked out less well than he hoped. However, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_national_security.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">they mostly represent very, very tough problems. And foreign policy is hard&mdash;especially now. Almost nobody gets even a small fraction of what they want out of it.</p> <p>That said, the relentless criticism of Obama's approach toward ISIS strikes me as unusually shortsighted. As near as I can tell, he's handled it almost perfectly so far. If we had offered air support to destroy ISIS six months or a year ago, it probably would have made things worse. Iraq flatly wasn't able to provide the ground troops to complement an air campaign, and America would have shared in the inevitable fiasco. We also would have been explicitly bound to Nouri al-Maliki and his policies, which were the very ones responsible for the rise of ISIS in the first place. The outcome of all this would have been the worst of all possible worlds for American interests.</p> <p>Instead, Obama allowed Maliki to fail on his own, and then used the leverage of promised American air assistance to engineer his ouster. Needless to say, this hardly guarantees eventual success against ISIS, but is there really any question that it was a necessary precondition for success? I don't think so. Maliki never would have left unless he was forced out, and it was plain that his brutally sectarian governing style was fueling the insurgency, not halting it. He had to leave.</p> <p>The alternative to Obama's strategy wasn't more aggressive action. That would have been disastrous. Nor would it have made a difference if Obama had left a few troops in Iraq back in 2009. Nor would stronger intervention in Syria have made a difference. It might even have made things worse. The truth is simpler. There's no single reason for the rise of ISIS, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/25/6065529/isis-rise" target="_blank">but there <em>is</em> a single primary reason:</a> Nouri al-Maliki. Obama saw that clearly and kept his eye on what was important, working patiently and cold-bloodedly toward engineering Maliki's departure. It was hardly a perfect plan, and messiness was always inevitable. Nonetheless, it was the best plan available. Because of it, there's now at least a chance of defeating ISIS.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Does "masterly" go too far? Maybe so. But I was trying to attract attention to my main point: the ISIS threat couldn't even be addressed until Iraq's political dysfunction was addressed first. Unlike a lot of people, Obama recognized that and stuck to a toughminded approach that focused on getting rid of Maliki instead of getting distracted by endless calls for a stronger intervention before Maliki was gone. It wasn't easy, but it was the smart thing to do.</p> <p>Can the new government fight ISIS more effectively? There's no way of knowing yet. But at least they've been given a chance.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Obama Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:00:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 259161 at http://www.motherjones.com Is Europe's Central Bank Finally Getting Worried About Deflation? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/europes-central-bank-finally-getting-worried-about-deflation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Brad DeLong notes that Mario Draghi, the head of Europe's central bank, went off text in his speech at Jackson Hole. Here's his summary of <a href="http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2014/08/an-interesting-ad-lib-from-ecb-head-mario-draghis-jackson-hole-speech-morning-comment.html" target="_blank">Draghi's extended ad-lib:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The speech text says:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>The ECB knows that inflation has declined.</li> <li>The decline in inflation has not led to any decline in expectations of inflation.</li> <li>THE ECB will, if necessary, within its mandate, use QE and other policies to keep expectations of inflation from declining.</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>The speech as delivered says:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>The ECB knows that inflation has declined.</li> <li>My usual line is that the decline in inflation is due to temporary factors that will be reversed.</li> <li>That explanation is now long in the tooth: the longer "temporary" lasts the greater the danger.</li> <li>In fact, it is too late to "safeguard the firm anchoring of inflation expectations".</li> <li>Inflationary expectations have already declined.</li> <li>We will use all the tools we have to reverse this.</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>Is this deviation a mere line wobble....Is this deviation an audience effect....Or does it signal a recognition on Draghi's part that the Eurozone is heading for a triple dip, and that if he doesn't assemble a coalition to do much more very quickly to boost aggregate demand we will have to change the name "The Great Recession" to something including the D-word, and he will go down in history as the worst central banker since the 1930s?</p> <p>I would like to know...</p> </blockquote> <p>I suppose we'd all like to know. The Germans better start taking this stuff seriously pretty soon. They can't stick their heads in the sand and live in the past forever.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:21:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 259156 at http://www.motherjones.com Wyoming Is Thinking About Accepting Medicaid Expansion After All http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/wyoming-thinking-about-accepting-medicaid-expansion-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Michael Hiltzik passes along the news that Wyoming's governor is the latest traitor to the cause of denying health care to poor people <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-another-gop-state-may-be-signing-up-for-medicaid-20140825-column.html" target="_blank">no matter what the cost:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The reason for Wyoming's wavering is clear: It's money.</p> <p>The Health Department says Medicaid expansion could save the state $50 million or more if it expands the program, for which the federal government will pay at least 90%. Meanwhile, Wyoming hospitals say they're losing more than $200 million a year in uncompensated care for people without insurance.</p> <p>The state Legislature has rejected the expansion, but Republican Gov. Matt Mead has been saying it's time to pack up. He's entering negotiations <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicaid_expansion.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">with the feds for a way to expand Medicaid next year, covering as many as 17,600 low-income residents.</p> </blockquote> <p>I imagine that before very much longer, most of the other Midwest holdouts will go ahead and accept Medicaid expansion too. That will leave only the hard-core holdouts of the Old South, where the poor are apparently especially undeserving. I guess there must be some kind of difference between poor people in the Midwest and poor people in the South. I wonder <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_African-American_population" target="_blank">what it could be?</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:54:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 259146 at http://www.motherjones.com Ukraine Claims it Has Captured Russian Soldiers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/ukraine-claims-it-has-captured-russian-soldiers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ukraine claims that it now has proof that Russian soldiers have been <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/world/europe/ukraine.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LedeSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">involved in fighting on Ukrainian soil:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ukraine released video footage on Tuesday of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers, raising tensions as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for talks later in the day with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Petro O. Poroshenko.</p> <p>....The release of the videos and the high-level talks came a day after Ukraine accused Russia of sending an armored column across the border, prompting Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the United States ambassador to Ukraine, to express alarm on Twitter. &ldquo;The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway. #escalation,&rdquo; he wrote.</p> <p>....&ldquo;Everything was a lie. There were no drills here,&rdquo; one of the captured Russians, who identified himself as Sergey A. Smirnov, told a Ukrainian interrogator. He said he and other Russians from an airborne unit in Kostroma, in central Russia, had been sent on what was described initially as a military training exercise but later turned into a mission into Ukraine. After having their cellphones and identity documents taken away, they were sent into Ukraine on vehicles stripped of all markings, Mr. Smirnov said.</p> </blockquote> <p>This kind of thing represents a cusp of some kind. If it's true, Putin has to decide pretty quickly whether to gamble everything on an outright invasion, or whether to back off. If it turns out to be a Ukrainian invention, Putin has to decide whether to use it as a casus belli. These are dangerous times.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Apparently Russia has <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/26/russia-admits-soldiers-in-ukraine" target="_blank">admitted the soldiers are theirs:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Sources in Moscow have admitted that a number of men captured inside Ukraine were indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake...."The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.</p> </blockquote> <p>Uh huh. I suppose Putin will now claim that detaining the soldiers is an act of war unless they're immediately released.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Tue, 26 Aug 2014 14:18:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 259141 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's the Latest Right-Wing IRS Fantasy http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/heres-latest-right-wing-irs-fantasy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's a great example of the conservative media bubble at work. I was browsing The Corner a few minutes ago and came across a post telling me that the government has, rather astonishingly, acknowledged that it has <em>another</em> backup of Lois Lerner's missing emails. Judicial Watch, which has been trying to get hold of these emails, sent out a press release <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/386277/there-are-no-missing-lois-lerner-e-mails-justice-department-concedes-andrew-c-mccarthy" target="_blank">trumpeting its discovery:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner&rsquo;s emails, <strong>indeed all government <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_backup_tapes.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">computer records,</strong> are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe....This is a jaw-dropping revelation. The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner&rsquo;s missing emails....<strong>The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be&nbsp;&mdash; but dishonestly withheld this information.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well. That's fascinating. But I wondered what was really up. I went to Google News but all I found were links to conservative news sites. The Judicial Watch story was plastered over all of them: Forbes, The Blaze, NRO, Breitbart, Fox, Townhall, the Washington Examiner, the Free Beacon, and the New York Observer. But none of the usual mainstream news sources seemed to have anything about this.</p> <p>Except for <em>The Hill</em>. Hooray! <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/finance/215940-conservative-group-lerner-emails-arent-missing" target="_blank">So I clicked:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[An] administration official said Justice Department lawyers had dropped no bombshells last week, and that Judicial Watch was mischaracterizing what the government had said.</p> <p>The official said that Justice lawyers were only referring to tapes backing up IRS emails that were routinely recycled twice a year before 2013, when the investigation into the Tea Party controversy began....The administration official said that the inspector general is examining whether any data can be recovered from the previously recycled back-up tapes and suggested that could be the cause of the confusion between the government and Judicial Watch.</p> </blockquote> <p>Roger that. What he's saying is that backup tapes are routinely recycled and written over, but it's possible that some of the tapes weren't <em>entirely</em> written over. There's a chance that old emails might still be at the tail end of some of the tapes and could be recovered. And who knows: maybe some of them were Lerner's. This is, as you can imagine, (a) the longest of long shots, and (b) a pretty difficult forensic recovery job even if some parts of the backup tapes contain old messages. It's certainly not a jaw-dropping revelation.</p> <p>But in right-wing fantasyland, it's no doubt already become conventional wisdom that the feds have some kind of massive government-wide backup system that contains every email ever written by any federal employee. The Obama administration has just been hiding it.</p> <p>Which is exactly what you'd expect from them, isn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice The Right Tue, 26 Aug 2014 05:16:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 259126 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Congressmen and Crackpots http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/quote-day-congressmen-and-crackpots <!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://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/08/ryans-6-favorite-books-list-has-huge-omission.html" target="_blank">From Jon Chait,</a> responding to Paul Ryan's list of favorite books about economics and democracy&mdash;which notably fails to include his former favorite book, Ayn Rand's <em>Atlas Shrugged</em>:</p> <blockquote> <p>It seems the lesson Ryan has drawn from the harmful publicity surrounding his Rand fixation is not that he shouldn&rsquo;t associate himself publicly with crackpot <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_single_theory_professor.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">authors but merely that he should find different crackpot authors.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here is Chait's description of Jude Wanniski's most famous book, which earns a place on Ryan's list.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>The Way the World Works</em> is a novel argument that the entire history of the world can be explained by changes of tax rates. The fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Nazis &mdash; Wanniski attempts to explain it all as a result of taxes. It is a work of genuine derangement on the same intellectual level as the sorts of unpublishable hand-scrawled diatribes that I used to scan through when I sorted the mail as a magazine intern.</p> </blockquote> <p>But...but...but&mdash;look! Michael Moore!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:07:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 259116 at http://www.motherjones.com Yes, Republicans Really Are Unprecedented in Their Obstructionism http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/yes-republicans-really-are-unprecedented-their-obstructionism <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When we talk about Republican obstruction of judicial nominees in the Senate, the usual way is to look at filibusters and cloture votes. But that can sometimes be misleading, since cloture votes can happen for a variety of reasons. Or we can look at the raw number of seats filled. But that can be misleading too, since this can depend on how aggressive the president is about nominating new judges in the first place. A better way may be to simply look at how long nominees are delayed. That's easier to measure, and long delays mostly happen for only one reason: because the minority party is blocking floor votes.</p> <p>Via Jonathan Bernstein, <a href="https://twitter.com/Mansfield2016/status/503916980915937280/photo/1" target="_blank">the chart on the right comes from @Mansfield2016.</a> It shows pretty clearly what's happened to judicial nominees over the past couple of decades. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nominations_pending.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Under George HW Bush, nominees that made it to the Senate floor were voted on almost immediately. The majority Democrats waited only a few days to schedule a vote.</p> <p>That jumped suddenly when Bill Clinton became president and Republicans started delaying his nominees. Things settled down and delays plateaued during George W Bush's administration.</p> <p>And then came Barack Obama. Once more delays spiked. Even after the rules were changed, delays have stayed high, averaging about 80 days. This is far higher than it was under Bush or Clinton. <a href="http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-08-25/catch-of-the-day-redefining-obstruction" target="_blank">Bernstein comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I believe that Senate rules requiring super-majority cloture for judicial nominations are an excellent idea, provided the minority observes the Senate norm of using filibusters rarely. Unfortunately, Republicans simply haven&rsquo;t abided by longstanding Senate norms. After Obama's election, <strong>they suddenly insisted that every nomination required 60 votes&nbsp;&mdash; an unprecedented hurdle.</strong> They blockaded multiple nominations to the DC Circuit Court. They have, before and after filibuster reform, used Senate rules to delay even nominations that they have intended ultimately to support. Since reform, they have imposed the maximum delay on every single judicial nominee.</p> <p>Ideally, I'd like to see a compromise that restores the minority's ability to block selected judicial nominees. <strong>But right now, the more pressing concern is that if Republicans win a Senate majority in November, they may simply shut down all nominations for two full years.</strong> That would be absolutely outrageous. Yet it seems entirely plausible.</p> </blockquote> <p>That final comment is what makes these numbers even more outrageous. It's fairly normal for a minority party to start delaying nominees in the final year or two of an administration. Obviously they're hoping to win the presidency soon and they want to leave as many seats open as possible for their guy to fill. This tends to inflate the average numbers for an administration.</p> <p>But that hasn't happened yet for Obama. His numbers <em>for his first five years</em> are far, far higher than Bush's even though Bush's are inflated by delays during his final year in office. It's just another example of the fact that, no, both parties aren't equally at fault for the current level of government dysfunction. Republicans greeted Obama's inauguration with an active plan of maximal obstruction of everything he did, regardless of what it was or how necessary it might be in the face of an epic economic collapse. No other party in recent history has done that. It's a new thing under the sun.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Mon, 25 Aug 2014 17:48:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 259096 at http://www.motherjones.com This Time Is Different http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/time-different <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I was chatting with a friend about the relentless, one-sided hawkishness on display yesterday on the morning chat shows, and he responded:</p> <blockquote> <p>The recurring "stay tuned for" loop are clips of McCain ("We never should have left"), Graham ("ISIS no longer JV"), Ryan ("What's the president's plan for eradicating ISIS?"). Over and over again. <strong>Nowhere are clips of people urging caution or restraint.</strong> War is great news, is action, is drama. Whether consciously or not, the media simply drives inevitably to pushing for a clash.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's really beyond belief. Israel invades Lebanon and gets Hezbollah out of the deal. We arm the mujahideen and get the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the deal. We depose Saddam Hussein and play kingmaker with Nouri al-Maliki, and we get ISIS out of the deal. But hey&mdash;this time is different. Really. <em>This time</em> we'll be done once and for all if we just go in and spend a decade wiping the theocratic butchers of ISIS off the map. <em>This time</em> there won't be any blowback. <em>This time</em> we'll fix the Middle East once and for all. <em>This time</em> things can't possibly get any worse. Right?</p> <p>Of course, the hawks always have Munich, don't they? Always Munich. And so we need to fight. We need troops. We need <em>leadership</em>. And no one with political aspirations really wants to argue the point. There's no future in siding with the thugs, is there?</p> <p>Besides, maybe this time really is different.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:42:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 259051 at http://www.motherjones.com Hating On Obamacare Not Really a Great Strategy for GOP Governors http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/hating-obamacare-not-really-great-strategy-gop-governors <!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_medicaid_expansion_reelection.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Does opposing Obamacare hurt you or help you if you're a Republican governor? To find out, Sam Wang took a look at nine Republican governors who were first elected in 2010 and are now running for reelection. The chart on the right tells the story. Governors who have resisted Medicaid expansion&mdash;a key part of Obamacare, and the one that most directly affects individual states&mdash;are generally doing poorly. Those who accepted Medicaid expansion are polling pretty well. However, Wang notes that <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/swing-states-is-obamacare-asset" target="_blank">Obamacare probably isn't entirely responsible for this divide:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Think of the Medicaid expansion as a &ldquo;proxy variable,&rdquo; one that is predictive of stands on many other issues. For example, even as Pennsylvania voters have trended toward the Democrats, Corbett got behind several radical redistricting schemes, cut education funding deeply, and compared gay marriage to incest. In Maine, LePage has called legislators idiots and state workers corrupt, told the N.A.A.C.P. to &ldquo;kiss [his] butt,&rdquo; and held multiple meetings with &ldquo;sovereign citizens&rdquo; who advocate secession. In short, if you&rsquo;re too hard-core or offensive, some of your constituents can get turned off.</p> <p>The Republicans Susana Martinez, of New Mexico, John Kasich, of Ohio, and Rick Snyder, of Michigan, look as strong as they did when they were first elected. All three accepted the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion....This stance by Martinez, Kasich, and Snyder has been predictive of their support of other issues with that have drawn support from both parties. Martinez and Kasich, for example, have pursued education-reform policies that have gained a lot of traction among both Democrats and Republicans. To the extent that governors hold on to their offices in close races, it may be because they have focussed on issues that are important to the voters in their states rather than the core views of their party.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, refusing the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a true-believing wingnut, and that's not such a great place to be right now. Conversely, accepting the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a pragmatic conservative, and those folks have remained relatively popular.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Health Care Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:40:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 259041 at http://www.motherjones.com Bonus Sunday Cat Blogging - 24 August 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/bonus-sunday-cat-blogging-24-august-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've gotten several queries about how Mozart is doing, and as you might expect, the answer is that Mozart is delighted with his new home. Last night at dusk he was leaping around in my mother's native habitat garden and chasing all the little things that only cats can see at dusk. Everyone else is doing fine too. So as a bit of bonus catblogging, here's my mother's entire brood. From top to bottom, we have Mozart, Ditto, and Tillamook. Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mozart_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ditto_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tillamook_2014_08_24.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 24 Aug 2014 15:53:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 259036 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/friday-cat-blogging-22-august-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's Domino helping Marian with a bit of gardening in the front yard. The days may not be sunny and warm forever, so she's taking advantage of whatever ones are left to her.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_08_22.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 22 Aug 2014 18:55:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 258971 at http://www.motherjones.com Did Obamacare Wreck a Baseball Game? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/did-obamacare-wreck-baseball-game <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A few days ago, a Chicago Cubs game was called in the fifth inning after the grounds crew had so much trouble spreading a tarp that the field got soaked during a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wrigley_field.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">rain delay and play couldn't be continued. The Corner reveals <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/386050/report-obamacare-led-chicago-cubs-tarp-gate-ian-tuttle" target="_blank">what <em>really</em> happened:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Insiders at the ball club report that the real culprit is Obamacare. Because the Affordable Care Act requires offering health benefits to employees who work more than 130 hours per month or 30 hours a week (&ldquo;full time&rdquo;), the Cubs organization reorganized much of its staff during the off-season. Sources that spoke to the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em> claimed that, on Tuesday night, the crew was drastically &ldquo;undermanned.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. What do you think of that, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/its-hard-to-find-good-help-chicago-cubs-edition" target="_blank">Dean Baker?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.</p> </blockquote> <p>Quite so. My guess is that this is just another installment in the long-running effort of American corporations to use Obamacare as a scapegoat for everything under the sun. Usually this has to do with raising copays for their employees or something like that, but the ingenuity of American capitalism knows no bounds. Why not blame a rain delay on Obamacare too?</p> <p>For a more likely cause of penny pinching on the grounds crew, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/why-wrigley-field-is-suddenly-so-empty-1408578101" target="_blank">the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> has you covered.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Sports Fri, 22 Aug 2014 18:20:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 258961 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Welfare Reform and the Great Recession http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/chart-day-welfare-reform-and-great-recession <!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.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&amp;id=3566" target="_blank">CBPP has posted a series of charts</a> showing the effects of welfare reform on the poor over the past couple of decades. In its first few years it seemed like a great success: welfare rolls went down substantially in the late 90s while the number of <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tanf_great_recession_0.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">poor people with jobs went up. But the late 90s were a boom time, and this probably would have happened anyway. Welfare reform may have provided an extra push, but it was a bubbly economy that made the biggest difference.</p> <p>So how would welfare reform fare when it got hit with a real test? Answer: not so well. I added some red recession shading to the CBPP chart on the right, and as you can see, the Great Recession created an extra 1.5 million families with children in poverty. TANF, however, barely responded at all. There was no room in strapped state budgets for <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&amp;id=3566" target="_blank">more TANF funds:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The TANF block grant fundamentally altered both the structure and the allowable uses of federal and state dollars previously spent on AFDC and related programs. Under TANF, the federal government gives states a fixed block grant totaling $16.5 billion each year....<strong>Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997.</strong>&nbsp; State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more. To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995. That &ldquo;maintenance of effort&rdquo; requirement isn&rsquo;t adjusted for inflation, either.</p> </blockquote> <p>Welfare reform isn't a subject I know a lot about. I didn't follow it during the 90s, and I haven't seriously studied it since then. With that caveat understood, I'd say that some of the changes it made strike me as reasonable. However, its single biggest change was to transform welfare from an entitlement to a block grant. What happened next was entirely predictable: the size of the block grant was never changed, which means we basically allowed inflation to erode it over time. It also made it impossible for TANF to respond to cyclical economic booms and busts.</p> <p>Make no mistake: this is why conservatives are so enamored of block grants. It's not because they truly believe that states are better able to manage programs for the poor than the federal government. That's frankly laughable. The reason they like block grants is because they know perfectly well that they'll erode over time. That's how you eventually drown the federal government in a bathtub.</p> <p>If Paul Ryan ever seriously proposes&mdash;and wins Republican support for&mdash;a welfare reform plan that includes block grants which (a) grow with inflation and (b) adjust automatically when recessions hit, I'll pay attention. Until then, they're just a Trojan Horse for slowly but steadily eliminating federal programs that help the poor. After all, those tax cuts for the rich won't fund themselves, will they?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:04:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258926 at http://www.motherjones.com Obamacare May Not Be Popular, But Its Provisions Sure Are http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/obamacare-may-not-be-popular-its-provisions-sure-are <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Brian Beutler on the way health care reform is playing out in the <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119171/pryor-obamacare-ad-mcconnell-shutdown-threat-tell-midterm-story" target="_blank">Arkansas Senate race:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><span class="dropcap">T</span>he most interesting thing about Senator Mark Pryor&rsquo;s decision to tout his support for the Affordable Care Act in a well-financed, statewide television ad isn&rsquo;t that he stands apart from other embattled Democrats this election cycle. It&rsquo;s that Republicans scrambled to spin the story, insisting to reporters that Pryor couldn&rsquo;t possibly be running on Obamacare if he won&rsquo;t refer to the law by name.</p> <p>....Instead, Pryor says, "I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny [sic] coverage based on pre-existing conditions.&rdquo; Maybe he shouldn&rsquo;t have said anything about &ldquo;a law&rdquo; at all, but that&rsquo;s a niggling, semantic critique. That Republicans working to defeat Pryor are asking reporters to squeeze the word &ldquo;Obamacare&rdquo; into this sentence is an admission that they&rsquo;ve lost the policy fight. They criticize Pryor for eschewing the label, because the label&rsquo;s just about the only thing they&rsquo;re comfortable assailing.</p> </blockquote> <p>I suppose this isn't the biggest thing in the world, and as Beutler says, Republicans <em>did</em> manage to talk several reporters into mentioning this. So from their point of view, it's just savvy media strategy. Besides, the truth is that Republicans have always focused on only a few things in their critique of Obamacare. That's because polls have shown for years that most of the <em>provisions</em> of the law are popular even though support for the law itself is pretty shaky. This causes Republicans endless grief, since Democrats get to harass them relentlessly about whether they <em>oppose</em> closing the donut hole; whether they <em>oppose</em> subsidy assistance; whether they <em>oppose</em> guaranteed issue; and so on. Republicans can hem and haw about how they'd keep all this stuff and only get rid of the nasty taxes and mandates, but even the dimmer bulbs in the GOP caucus know perfectly well that this is untrue.</p> <p>In any case, other Democratic politicians have touted their support for specific provisions of Obamacare, so Pryor isn't really doing anything new. He's just being smart. He knows that denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions is extremely unpopular, even among conservative voters, and he'd love to draw his opponent into a debate about exactly that. Tom Cotton has so far refused to take the bait, pretending that he'd somehow keep that provision while repealing everything else. This is a bald-faced lie, of course, but if he sticks to that story like glue he can probably avoid any serious damage from Pryor's attacks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Health Care Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:56:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 258921 at http://www.motherjones.com The Intersection of Social Liberalism and Social Media is Brutal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/intersection-social-liberalism-and-social-media-brutal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I think it's safe to say that Freddie deBoer is considerably to my left. But even he finds much of contemporary social liberalism <a href="http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/08/21/where-online-social-liberalism-lost-the-script/" target="_blank">dispiriting and self-righteous:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can&rsquo;t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing.</p> <p>....<strong>I&rsquo;m far from alone in feeling that it&rsquo;s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks</strong>....If you are a young person who is still malleable and subject to having your mind changed, and you decide to engage with socially liberal politics online, what are you going to learn immediately? Everything that you like is problematic. Every musician you like is misogynist. Every movie you like is secretly racist. Every cherished public figure has some deeply disqualifying characteristics. All of your victories are the product of privilege. Everyone you know and love who does not yet speak with the specialized vocabulary of today&rsquo;s social justice movement is a bad, bad person. <strong>That is no way to build a broader coalition, which we desperately need if we&rsquo;re going to win.</strong></p> <p>....People have to be free to make mistakes, even ones that we find offensive. If we turn away from everyone that says or believes something dumb, we will find ourselves lecturing to an empty room. Surely there are ways to preserve righteous anger while being more circumspect about who is targeted by that anger. And I strongly believe that we can, and must, remind the world that social justice is about being happy, being equal, and being free.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, I suspect that this is a more acute problem on university campuses than in the rest of the world, so it hits deBoer and his students harder than it does many of the rest of us. But I think deBoer is right when he says that social media has largely sanded away the differences. If you make a mistake these days, you won't just get a disapproving stare or maybe an email or two about it. You'll get an endless stream of hate from Twitter and Facebook. And while it's easy to point out that a few hundred angry tweets aren't really all that many compared to the millions of people on Twitter, it can feel devastating if you're on the business end of this kind of avalanche. You're not thinking in terms of percentages or small fringes, you're just reading what seems like a relentless flood of scorn and malice. And it can be overwhelming, especially if you're not accustomed to it.</p> <p>Some of this is simply the price of speaking in public. The problem is that in the past there were lots of different publics. Some were small, maybe no more than family or friends. Some were a bit larger: people you worked with, or went to school with. There were local publics, statewide publics, and national publics. The bigger the public you addressed, the more vitriol you could expect to get in return. The vitriol still wasn't fun, but it was, in some sense, a trade made with your eyes open.</p> <p>No longer. If you write a blog post or a tweet, and the wrong person just happens to highlight it, your public is suddenly gigantic whether you meant it to be or not. Then the avalanche comes. And, as deBoer says, the avalanche is dominated by the loudest, angriest, least tolerant fringes of the language and conduct police.</p> <p>I suspect this wouldn't be so bad if there were an equal and opposite reaction to the avalanche. If the hundreds of angry tweets were balanced by hundreds of more thoughtful tweets, it wouldn't be so overwhelming. But what thoughtful person wants to get involved in this kind of thing? No one. That's almost the definition of being thoughtful, after all. So the vitriol pours in, and it's soul-crushing.</p> <p>And with that, I'm sort of petering out. I feel like I should have a sharper point to make about all this, but I don't really. I don't know what the answer is, or even whether there is an answer. Maybe if I get a few hundred hate-tweets in response, I'll think of something.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Tech Thu, 21 Aug 2014 19:14:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 258876 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: The Horrible Toll of the Recession on the Poor http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/chart-day-horrible-toll-recession-poor <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When we talk about rising income inequality, we usually talk about the skyrocketing pay of the top 1 percent. And that's quite proper, since that's the main driver of increasing inequality.</p> <p>But <a href="http://www.census.gov/people/wealth/files/Wealth%20distribution%202000%20to%202011.pdf" target="_blank">new census data</a> shows that when it comes to net worth&mdash;which is basically total wealth&mdash;the biggest change has been at the bottom. Even after taking some lumps immediately after the recession, the well-off had recovered and even made some gains by 2011. But the poor have been devastated. Their median net worth has always been pretty close to zero, but by 2011 it had plummeted to $-6,029. <em>On average</em>, poor families were in the hole to the tune of $6,000, an astronomical and completely debilitating number to someone with barely poverty-level earnings.</p> <p>In other words, when it comes to wealth, the rich really are getting richer, and the poor really are getting poorer. A lot poorer.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_census_net_worth_2011.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 20px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 21 Aug 2014 16:24:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258846 at http://www.motherjones.com Russian Sanctions Mostly Hitting Russian Consumers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/russian-sanctions-mostly-hitting-russian-consumers <!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_putin_microphones.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The BBC reports on how those Russian sanctions against Western food have <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28855966" target="_blank">put the squeeze on European and American suppliers:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Moscow officials say frozen fish prices in the capital's major supermarkets have risen by 6%, milk by 5.3% and an average cheese costs 4.4% more than it did before the 7 August ban took effect. Russia has banned imports of those basic foods, as well as meat and many other products, from Western countries, Australia and Japan. It is retaliation for the West's sanctions on Russia over the revolt by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.</p> <p>And it is not just Moscow. On the island of Sakhalin, in Russia's far east, officials say the price of chicken thighs has soared 60%. Before the sanctions these were among the cheapest and most popular meat products in Russia.</p> </blockquote> <p>Oops. Sorry about that. It's actually Russian consumers who are paying the price. And for now, that seems to be OK:</p> <blockquote> <p>Polls show that the vast majority of Russians approve of the sanctions against Western food. They have been told by government officials and state-controlled TV that the embargo will not affect prices, and that it will actually allow Russia's own agriculture to flourish. And that message is being believed.</p> </blockquote> <p>At a guess, Russian consumers aren't very different from American consumers. Nationalistic pride will work for a while, as people accept higher prices as the cost of victory against whoever they're fighting at the moment. But that won't last any longer in Russia than it does in America. Give it a few months and public opinion is likely to turn decidedly surly. Who really cares about those damn Ukrainians anyway? They're just a bunch of malcontents and always have been, amirite?</p> <p>This is why Vladimir Putin needs a quick victory. The fact that he's not getting it will eventually prompt him to either (a) quietly give up, or (b) go all in. Unfortunately, there's really no telling which it will be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Thu, 21 Aug 2014 15:52:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 258841 at http://www.motherjones.com In Ferguson, Cops Hand Out 3 Warrants Per Household Every Year http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/ferguson-cops-hand-out-three-warrants-household-every-year <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Alex Tabarrok comments on the <a href="http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/08/ferguson-and-the-debtors-prison.html" target="_blank">rather remarkable caseload of Ferguson's municipal court:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>You don&rsquo;t get <strong>$321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants <em>per household</em></strong> from an about-average crime rate. You get&nbsp;numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant &ldquo;low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay.&rdquo;</p> <p>If you have money, for example, you can easily get a speeding ticket converted to a non-moving violation. But if you don&rsquo;t have money it&rsquo;s often the start of a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of....If you are arrested and jailed you will probably lose your job and perhaps also your apartment&mdash;all because of a speeding ticket.</p> </blockquote> <p>We've all seen a number of stories like this recently, and it prompts a question: why are police departments allowed to fund themselves with ticket revenue in the first place? Or red light camera revenue. Or civil asset forfeiture revenue. Or any other kind of revenue that provides them with an incentive to be as hardass as possible. Am I missing something when I think that this makes no sense at all?</p> <p>This is sort of a genuine question. I know these policies are common, but where did they come from? Are they deliberate, created by politicians who like the idea of giving their local cops an incentive to get tough? Were they mostly the idea of police departments themselves, who figured the revenue from fines would provide a net boost in their annual funding? Or did they just accrete over time, popping up whenever there was a budget crisis and then never going away?</p> <p>Does anyone know?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Thu, 21 Aug 2014 15:13:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 258836 at http://www.motherjones.com Housekeeping Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/housekeeping-note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>That's it for the day. I'm off to the hospital for yet another test that will undoubtedly show nothing wrong with me. But you don't know until you look, do you? See you tomorrow.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:28:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 258781 at http://www.motherjones.com Do Liberals Rely Too Much on Guilt? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/do-liberals-rely-too-heavily-guilt <!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.balloon-juice.com/2014/08/20/i-hate-you-for-making-me-feel-like-an-jerkhole/" target="_blank">Tim F. makes an observation:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Spend some time following internet conversations about your liberal cause of the day (global warming, racial injustice, etc) and eventually someone will get to the nut of why the issue pisses many people off: they think activists want them to feel guilty and they don&rsquo;t want to feel guilty. That&rsquo;s pretty much it. A huge part of our failure to do anything about the climate disaster or racist asshole cops comes from people protecting their delicate ego.</p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. But I'd take this a little more seriously, because it's probably something that genuinely hurts lefty causes. It's human nature to get defensive when you feel guilty, and it's hard to recruit defensive folks to your cause. If this were only an occasional problem, that would be one thing. But let's be honest: We really do rely on guilt a lot. You should feel guilty about using plastic bags. About liking college football. About driving an SUV. About eating factory-farmed beef. About using the wrong word to refer to a transgender person. About sending your kids to a private school. And on and on and on.</p> <p>We all contribute to this, even when we don't mean to. And maybe guilt is inevitable when you're trying to change people's behavior. But it adds up, and over time lefties can get to seem a little unbearable. You have to be so damn careful around us!</p> <p>I don't really have any useful advice about this. Maybe there's nothing much to be done about it. But egos, delicate or otherwise, are just a part of the human condition. We ignore them at our peril.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 20 Aug 2014 18:05:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 258771 at http://www.motherjones.com Let Us Now Psychoanalyze Famous Men (And Their Photographs) http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/let-us-now-psychoanalyze-famous-men-and-their-photographs <!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_obama_holder_ferguson.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Bob Somerby calls my attention to the following bit of psychobabble from Peter Baker and Matt Apuzzo of the <em>New York Times</em>. The subject is a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/us/holder-and-obama-differ-in-approach-to-underlying-issues-of-missouri-unrest.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">photo released by the White House:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward,</strong> both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.</p> <p><strong>Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph,</strong> contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.</p> </blockquote> <p>Seriously? Take a look at other photographs of Obama when he's conferring with someone. Take a look at other photographs of <em>any</em> powerful person when they're conferring with an underling. The boss is the one who's free to lounge back and relax. The underling is the one who has to lean forward and make his case. This is standard body language. Obama uses it so often that in just the August "Photo of the Day" gallery alone, I count it in three out of four photos where Obama is conferring with other people.</p> <p>Look, I've been there. You want to say something interesting. You need a hook. But come on. If you want to make the case that racial issues are more immediate for Holder than for Obama, go ahead. But don't pretend that a bog ordinary White House photograph tells you anything. That's just embarrassing. Before long you'll be hiring body language "experts" and handwriting "analysts" to help you with your leads. Here be dragons.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Obama Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:12:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 258751 at http://www.motherjones.com Barack Obama Loathes Congress as Much as You Do http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/barack-obama-loathes-congress-much-you-do <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ezra Klein responds to a <em>New York Times</em> article about President Obama's <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/20/6045891/why-congressional-democrats-don-t-like-obama" target="_blank">chilly relationship with his fellow Democrats:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Obama <em>does</em> see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. <strong>The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking congressional Democrats is he sees it as a <em>useless</em> chore.</strong></p> <p>The <em>Times</em> article...never names a bill that didn't pass or a nominee who wasn't confirmed because Obama's doesn't spend more time on the golf course with members of Congress. The closest it comes is...not very close. "In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office."</p> <p>This is ridiculous. There are no issues erupting at home or abroad where the problem is that House or Senate Democrats won't vote with the president. There's no legislation of importance to President Obama's legacy that would pass if only House Democrats had spent more time at the White House. I've listened to a lot of Democratic members of Congress complain about Obama's poor relationships on the Hill. Each time, my follow-up question is the same: "what would have passed if Obama had better relationships on the Hill?" Each time, the answer is the same: a shake of the head, and then, "nothing."</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd probably give a little more credit to schmoozing than this. But only a very little. At the margins, there are probably times when having a good relationship with a committee chair will speed up action or provide a valuable extra vote or two on a bill or a nominee. And Obama has the perfect vehicle for doing this regularly since he loves to play golf. But for the most part Klein is right. There's very little evidence that congressional schmoozing has more than a tiny effect on things. Members of Congress vote the way they want or need to vote, and if they respond to anyone, it's to party leaders, interest groups, and fellow ideologues. In days gone by, presidents could coerce votes by working to withhold money from a district, or by agreeing to name a crony as the local postmaster, but those days are long gone. There's really very little leverage that presidents have over members of Congress these days, regardless of party.</p> <p>Obama is an odd duck. It's not just that he doesn't schmooze. As near as I can tell, he has a barely concealed contempt for Congress. He doesn't really enjoy playing the political game, and not just because it's gotten so rancid in recent years. Even if Republicans were acting like a normal political party these days, I still don't think he'd enjoy it much. And yet, he spent years campaigning for the top political job in the United States. It's a little bit of a mystery, frankly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Obama Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:56:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 258746 at http://www.motherjones.com What's in a Word: Trophy vs. Ribbon Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/whats-word-trophy-vs-ribbon-edition <!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://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/57-percent-of-americans-say-only-kids-wh" target="_blank">A recent poll from <em>Reason</em> magazine</a> investigates the burning question of whether kids on sports teams should all get participation trophies, or whether it should only be the winners. Overall, 57 percent think only the winners should get trophies, but <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trophies_for_all.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the detailed breakdown is kind of interesting. It turns out that society's winners generally think that only winners should get trophies. Society's also-rans tend to think everyone should be recognized.</p> <p>I wonder how much of this has to do with the word <em>trophy</em>? For many decades, after all, the US military has awarded ribbons to anyone who participates in surface combat. This is a very egalitarian award. You don't need to have done anything special. You don't need to have won. You just need to have participated. Nobody complains about this, but then again, it's just a ribbon that shows you've been part of an actual combat action. It's not a trophy or even a medal.</p> <p>So would people react the same way to giving every kid a participation ribbon? I'll bet not. No one would object. But many of them <em>do</em> object to trophies. It's funny how a cheap bit of gold-colored plastic stirs the passions so much, isn't it?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I have no personal experience with either surface combat or kids' sports. Those who do should feel free to school me in comments if I'm wrong about any of this.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE 2:</strong> Several commenters have pointed out that, in fact, participation trophies are mostly limited to very young age groups, like five-year-olds. This makes a kind of sense, since at that age winning and losing is mostly just a matter of chance anyway. Among older kids, though, the whole "participation trophy" thing is just a myth.</p> <p>Is that true?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Military Sports Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:20:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 258736 at http://www.motherjones.com Don't Like the War in Iraq? Blame Congress. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/dont-war-iraq-blame-congress <!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_isis_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">President Obama has no plans to ask Congress for authority under the War Powers Act to take military action in Iraq. But he's hardly the only one to blame here. An even bigger problem is that Congress <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/us/politics/in-washington-little-appetite-for-a-vote-on-iraq.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=a-lede-package-region&amp;region=lede-package&amp;WT.nav=lede-package&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">doesn't really want him to ask in the first place:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;This is not about an imperial presidency, it&rsquo;s about a Congress that&rsquo;s reluctant to cast tough votes on U.S. military action,&rdquo; said [Senator Tim] Kaine....&ldquo;We should not be putting American men and women&rsquo;s lives at risk if we are not willing to do the political work to reach a consensus that it&rsquo;s necessary,&rdquo; Mr. Kaine said in an interview.</p> <p>....Senior administration officials note that congressional leaders, who met with Mr. Obama about Iraq in June, have explicitly told them Mr. Obama need not come to Congress to authorize military action.</p> <p>Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader whose weekly conference calls with Democrats during the congressional break have been dominated by discussions of Iraq, said that Mr. Obama had wide latitude to act without Congress and suggested that Republicans eager to criticize the president would not be as eager to vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll see where the Republicans will be who have been calling for this, that and the other thing, if they had to vote on Iraq,&rdquo; Ms. Pelosi said in San Francisco last week....Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who helped draft the resolution to authorize strikes against Syria, has not called for a similar measure for the current operation in Iraq. He said he wanted administration officials to testify at a hearing when Congress returned about their strategy for the airstrikes and what authorities they intended to use in executing them.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's an election year, after all, and this would be politically difficult for everyone. Democrats probably aren't excited about re-engaging in Iraq, but they'd be reluctant to oppose a president of their own party. Republicans would love to oppose Obama, but if they did they wouldn't be able to complain any more about what a wuss he is. Better for everyone to let sleeping dogs lie. That way they can kibitz from the sidelines and then, when it's all over, pretend that they supported a better policy all along.</p> <p>It's cowardly, but that's politics. In any case, it's certainly hard to blame Obama for overreach when the branch of Congress that passed the War Powers Act in the first place has all but begged him to ignore it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama Wed, 20 Aug 2014 01:21:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 258726 at http://www.motherjones.com Don't Believe the Crocodile Tears Over High Corporate Tax Rates http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/dont-believe-crocodile-tears-over-high-corporate-tax-rates <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The US corporate tax code is inefficient, distortive, and staggeringly complex. Almost no one defends it on those grounds. But US multinational corporations, who have recently been engaged in a wave of tax inversions, have a different complaint: our tax rates are just flatly too high. They make American corporations uncompetitive compared to their foreign peers, and that's why they're being forced to relocate their headquarters to other countries with lower tax rates.</p> <p>Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, says this is nonsense. Firms that are entirely (or almost entirely) domestic do indeed pay high corporate taxes. But multinationals don't. Thanks to the "feast of tax planning opportunities laid out before them on the groaning board of corporate tax expenditures," they mostly pay effective tax rates that aren't much different from French or German companies. They are, in fact, perfectly competitive.</p> <p>So why the <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Papers.cfm?abstract_id=2476453" target="_blank">recent binge of tax inversions?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The short answer is that the current mania for inversions is driven by <strong>U.S. firms&rsquo; increasingly desperate need to do something with their $1 trillion in offshore cash,</strong> and by a desire to reduce U.S. domestic tax burdens on U.S. domestic operating earnings.</p> <p>The year 2004 is a good place to start, because that year&rsquo;s corporate offshore cash tax amnesty (section 965) had a perfectly predictable knock-on effect, which was to convince corporate America that the one-time never to be repeated tax amnesty would inevitably be followed by additional tax amnesties, if only multinationals would opportune their legislators enough. <strong>The 2004 law thus created a massive incentive to accumulate as much permanently reinvested earnings in the form of cash as possible.</strong></p> <p>....The convergence of these two phenomena led to an explosion in stateless income strategies and in the total stockpile of U.S. multinationals&rsquo; permanently reinvested earnings. <strong>But U.S. multinationals are now hoist by their own petard. The best of the stateless income planners are now drowning in low-taxed overseas cash</strong>....It is less than a secret that firms in this position really have no intention at all of &ldquo;permanently&rdquo; reinvesting the cash overseas, but instead are counting the days until the money can be used to goose share prices through stock buy backs and dividends.</p> <p>....The obvious solution from the perspective of the multinationals would have been a second, and then a third and fourth, one-time only repatriation holiday, but there are still hard feelings in Congress surrounding the differences between the representations made to legislators relating to how the cash from the first holiday would be used, and what in fact happened.</p> </blockquote> <p>Indeed. Back in 2004, multinational corporations swore that if Congress granted them a tax amnesty to repatriate their foreign income into the United States, it would unleash a tsunami of new investment. Needless to say, that never happened. Corporate investment had never been credit-constrained in the first place. Instead, all that lovely cash was used mostly to goose stock prices via buy-backs and increased dividends. It's no wonder that Congress is unwilling to repeat that fiasco.</p> <p>Kleinbard's paper is an interesting one, with a couple of fascinating case studies demolishing the self-serving ways that corporate CEOs try to blame the tax code for things that have nothing to do with it. <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/tax-burden-in-u-s-not-as-heavy-as-it-looks-study-finds/" target="_blank">Andrew Ross Sorkin has more here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Economy Regulatory Affairs Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:46:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258651 at http://www.motherjones.com