Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en DC Circuit Court Kills Federal Subsidies for Obamacare. Next Stop Is Probably the Supreme Court. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Well, the DC circuit court has ruled 2-1 that <a href=";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">Obamacare subsidies apply only to exchanges set up by states,</a> not to exchanges set up by the federal government. This is because one section of the law says that taxpayers can receive tax credits only if they enroll in a plan "through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA]." The court ruled that a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_prettyman_courthouse.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">state is a state, and as far as that goes, it's reasonable enough. Even if this was merely a drafting error, it's pretty clear that the federal government isn't a state.</p> <p>The problem is that there's more to it than that. The court is also required to ensure that its interpretation of a single clause doesn't make a hash out of the entire statutory construction of a law. The majority opinion makes heavy weather of this for a simple reason: virtually everything in the language of the law assumes that subsidies are available to everyone. Why, for example, would federal exchanges have to report detailed subsidy information if no one even gets subsidies on federal exchanges in the first place? The court blithely waves this off, suggesting that it's merely to allow the IRS to enforce the individual mandate. But that's pretty strained. Enforcing the mandate requires only a single piece of information: whether a taxpayer is insured. It doesn't require detailed information about eligibility for subsidies and the amount of the subsidies each taxpayer gets. The fact that all these details are required certainly suggests that Congress assumed everyone was getting subsidies.</p> <p>The court, following the arguments of the plaintiffs, also makes a brave effort to figure out <em>why</em> Congress might have done something so transparently ridiculous as limiting subsidies to state exchanges. Their conclusion is that Congress deliberately withheld subsidies from federal exchanges as an incentive for states to set up exchanges of their own. On this point, Judge Harry Edwards was scathing in his dissent:</p> <blockquote> <p>Perhaps because they appreciate that no legitimate method of statutory interpretation ascribes to Congress the aim of tearing down the very thing it attempted to construct, Appellants in this litigation have invented a narrative to explain why Congress would want health insurance markets to fail in States that did not elect to create their own Exchanges. Congress, they assert, made the subsidies conditional in order to <em>incentivize</em> the States to create their own exchanges. This argument is disingenuous, and it is wrong. <strong>Not only is there no evidence that anyone in <em>Congress</em> thought &sect; 36B operated as a condition, there is also no evidence that <em>any State</em> thought of it as such. And no wonder: The statutory provision presumes the existence of subsidies and was drafted to establish a formula for the payment of tax credits, not to impose a significant and substantial condition on the States.</strong></p> <p>It makes little sense to think that Congress would have imposed so substantial a condition in such an oblique and circuitous manner....The simple truth is that Appellants&rsquo; incentive story is a fiction, <strong>a <em>post hoc</em> narrative concocted to provide a colorable explanation for the otherwise risible notion that Congress would have wanted insurance markets to collapse in States that elected not to create their own Exchanges.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>There's no evidence that Congress ever thought it needed to provide incentives for states to set up their own exchanges. Certainly they could have made that clear if that had been their intention. As Edwards says, this claim is simply made up of whole cloth. In fact, he says acerbically, the entire suit is little more than a "not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ":</p> <blockquote> <p>The majority opinion evinces a painstaking effort&nbsp;&mdash; covering many pages&nbsp;&mdash; attempting to show that there is no ambiguity in the ACA. The result, I think, is to prove just the opposite. <strong>Implausible results would follow if &ldquo;established by the State&rdquo; is construed to exclude Exchanges established by HHS on behalf of a State.</strong> This is why the majority opinion strains fruitlessly to show plain meaning when there is none to be found.</p> <p>....This court owes deference to the agencies&rsquo; interpretations of the ACA. Unfortunately, by imposing the Appellants&rsquo; myopic construction on the administering agencies without any regard for the overall statutory scheme, the majority opinion effectively ignores the basic tenets of statutory construction, as well as the principles of <em>Chevron</em> deference. <strong>Because the proposed judgment of the majority defies the will of Congress and the permissible interpretations of the agencies to whom Congress has delegated the authority to interpret and enforce the terms of the ACA, I dissent.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Will the Supreme Court agree? Given the obviously political motivations of most Supreme Court justices these days, I think that's hard to predict. A lot will depend on John Roberts. Having already betrayed his fellow conservatives by voting to uphold Obamacare, will he side with the government in order to show that he meant what he said and doesn't want to invite an endless series of desperate attempts to kill the law? Or has he had second thoughts, and will therefore welcome this as a chance to essentially reverse himself? I can't read his mind, so I don't know. We'll find out soon enough.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> This ruling will, I assume, be stayed during appeal, so it has no immediate impact. The next step is for the Obama administration to either ask for an emergency en banc review from the entire DC circuit court, or to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Either way, it will end up at the Supreme Court sooner or later.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT 2:</strong> White House press secretary Josh Earnest has <a href="" target="_blank">confirmed</a> that the administration will ask for an en banc review. Since the full court now has a liberal majority, they presumably hope they'll get a more favorable ruling before heading to the Supreme Court.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Regulatory Affairs Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:35:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 256706 at For Republicans, It's All Going According to Plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Steve Benen draws a contrast today between an activist president who's at least trying to get things done, and a dysfunctional Congress than <a href="" target="_blank">can't even make the attempt:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Remember the VA crisis? Lawmakers quickly approved a reform bill, which now appears likely to fail because of House Republicans&rsquo; reluctance to compromise. Remember the plan to address the border crisis? The plan was for Congress to act before taking August off, but that now appears unlikely, too.</p> <p>The effort to extend unemployment benefits is dead. So is raising the minimum wage. So is ENDA. No one even talks about gun background checks anymore. The Highway Trust Fund will probably benefit from a stopgap measure, but even this hardly represents real governing.</p> </blockquote> <p>Unfortunately, I think Republicans would call this a big win. Getting things done doesn't really do them any good at the ballot box. Making the government appear impotent and incompetent does. So that's the path they've chosen.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:07:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256701 at Obama Planning to Retire to Rancho Mirage? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Let the speculation begin!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama and his wife, Michelle, could be the owners of a home in Rancho Mirage listed at $4.25 million before the month is out. The First Family is believed to be in escrow on a contemporary home in a gated community <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_rancho_mirage.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">where entertainers Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby once maintained estates.</p> <p>The White House said rumors regarding a home in Rancho Mirage are not true.</p> <p>....The 8,232-square-foot compound in question sits adjacent to a bighorn sheep preserve on a 3.29-acre hilltop with panoramic views. The custom-built main house, constructed in 1993 and designed for entertaining, includes a gym, four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms. A 2,000-square-foot casita has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Over-the-top exterior features include a pool with a 20-foot waterfall, a rock lagoon, two spas, a misting system and a putting green with a sand trap.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have to say that the Obamas don't really strike me as Rancho Mirage kind of people, but who knows? Maybe I've misjudged them.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Tue, 22 Jul 2014 01:01:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 256676 at Wage Stagnation Is No Illusion <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bloomberg has a long article today wondering whether wage stagnation is <a href="" target="_blank">mainly due to demographic shifts:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>25- to 34-year-olds will make up 22.5 percent of the workforce by 2022, compared with 21.6 percent in 2012....Meanwhile, the share of 45- to 54-year-olds in their best earning years will drop by 3.3 percentage points in the decade ending 2022.</p> <p>....Hollowing out the middle-aged working population could cut median earnings because such employees bring home the biggest paychecks. The median 45- to 54-year-old household earns $66,400 a year, compared with $51,400 for 25- to 34-year-old households.</p> </blockquote> <p>Well, sure. Compared to 30 years ago, the theory goes, we have more young workers bringing down the average and fewer prime age workers raising the average. As a result, the average is declining. But all that means is that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_median_wage_age_25-34_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">baby boomers are aging out of the workforce, not that wages are necessarily in bad shape.</p> <p>That makes sense. At least, it <em>would</em> make sense if it were true. The thing is, in an article more than a thousand words long, we never learn that we can look at this directly. The chart on the right shows the median wages of just 25-34 year olds, and as you can see, they've been declining for more than a decade. This has nothing to do with demographics because it's measuring wages for the same age group the entire time.</p> <p>Now, these figures don't include health insurance, and they only go through 2012. So they aren't of much help if, say, the Fed is trying to gauge the tightness of the labor market in the second quarter of 2014. Nonetheless, they certainly show a long-term trend of wage stagnation that plainly has nothing to do with demographics. This makes it vanishingly unlikely that wage stagnation over the past six months is merely due to demographic shifts.</p> <p>It's a nice fairy tale to pretend that wage stagnation might just be an artifact of boomers retiring, but easily available data quite clearly shows otherwise. It's real.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:00:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 256661 at Do We Need More Business Folks In Congress? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Ed Kilgore</a> points to a new Gallup poll that asks what kind of people <a href="" target="_blank">you'd like to see in Congress:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gallup__governed_better.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>So is this a vote for more business experience? Or even&mdash;shudder&mdash;a retroactive yearning for Mitt Romney? Like Kilgore, I'm skeptical. At a guess, people who answered the question about business experience were implicitly contrasting it with lawyers or career politicians, and that's a rigged deck. Of course business leaders will come out ahead compared to those two despised professions.</p> <p>Which makes it too bad that Gallup screwed up this question. Instead of throwing out a kitchen sink of qualities (occupation, religion, ideology, etc.) they should have asked specifically about a list of occupations. Do you think the country would be better governed if our legislatures had more:</p> <ul><li>Business folks</li> <li>Teachers</li> <li>Lawyers</li> <li>Doctors</li> <li>Retired people</li> <li>Military leaders</li> <li>Scientists</li> <li>Etc.</li> </ul><p><em>That</em> would be kind of an interesting poll. Personally, I'd vote for more kindergarten teachers. I suspect that's a pretty appropriate background for serving a few years in Congress.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:08:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256646 at If the Left Wants Scapegoats, Just Look in the Mirror <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_walk_water.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Thomas Frank is convinced that Barack Obama single-handedly prevented America from becoming the lefty paradise it was on course for <a href="" target="_blank">after the financial meltdown of 2008:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was &ldquo;the only thing between you and the pitchforks,&rdquo; and in retrospect <strong>these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office</strong>. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.</p> <p>....In point of fact, <strong>there were plenty of things Obama&rsquo;s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all</strong>&mdash;for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration&rsquo;s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster&rsquo;s grasp&mdash;heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)</p> </blockquote> <p>I see this kind of thing all the time on the right. <em>If only we had a candidate who refused to sell out conservative values! A candidate who could truly make the American public understand! Then we'd win in a landslide!</em></p> <p>It's easy to recognize this as delusional. Tea party types are always convinced that America is thirsting for true conservatism, and all that's needed is a latter-day Ronald Reagan to be its salesman. Needless to say, this misses the point that Americans aren't all reactionaries. In fact, as the embarrassing clown shows of the past two GOP primaries have shown, even most Republicans aren't reactionaries. There's been no shortage of honest-to-God right wingers to choose from, but they can't even win the nomination, let alone a general election.</p> <p>(Of course you never know. Maybe 2016 is the year!)</p> <p>But if it's so easy to see this conservative delusion for what it is, why isn't it equally easy to recognize the same brand of liberal delusion? Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.</p> <p>Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because&mdash;duh&mdash;<em>the hated neoliberal system worked</em>. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets.</p> <p>As for Obama, could he have done more? I suppose he probably could have, but it's a close call. Even with his earnest efforts at bipartisanship at the beginning of his presidency, he only barely passed <em>any</em> stimulus at all. If instead he'd issued thundering populist manifestos, even Susan Collins would have turned against him and the stimulus bill would have been not too small, but completely dead. Ditto for virtually everything else Obama managed to pass by one or two votes during his first 18 months. If that had happened, the economy would have done even worse, and if you somehow think this means the public would have become more sympathetic to the party in the White House, then your knowledge of American politics is at about the kindergarten level. Democrats would have lost even more seats in 2010 than they did.</p> <p>Look: Obama made some mistakes. He should have done more about housing. He shouldn't have pivoted to deficit-mongering so quickly. Maybe he could have kept a public option in Obamacare if he'd fought harder for it. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But probably not. Like it or not, America was not poised for a huge liberal wave in 2008. It just wasn't. It was poised for a fairly routine cycle of throwing out the old bums and electing new bums, who would, as usual, be given a very short and very limited honeymoon. Democrats actually accomplished a fair amount during that honeymoon, but no, they didn't turn American into a lefty paradise. That was never in the cards.</p> <p>All of us who do what Thomas Frank does&mdash;what I do&mdash;have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.</p> <p>But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Top Stories Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:31:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 256601 at High School Kids Brave the Anti-Vax Jihadists <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's a heartwarming story for you. Prompted by the decline in vaccination rates among children in San Diego, a group of students at Carlsbad High School decided to make a short documentary about "the science of disease and the risks <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_see_no_evil.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">facing a society that is under-vaccinated." You can probably guess <a href="" target="_blank">what happened next:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Complaints began to arise when a local newspaper reported that the students were tackling "the issue of immunizations." A blogger who saw the article contended that the movie, still a work in progress, was sure to be "propaganda." <strong>That led to a flurry of frightening phone calls and Internet comments directed at CHSTV, [advisor Lisa] Posard said.</strong></p> <p>Posard said she hadn't realized that vaccines were such a controversial subject. She and CHSTV teacher Douglas Green wanted to shut down production, she added. But the students, angered by what they saw as bullying, insisted on completing the film.</p> <p>The final version of "Invisible Threat," completed in spring 2013 but shown only to select audiences, took a strong pro-vaccine position.</p> <p>Critics, who said they hadn't been allowed to see the movie, leaped back into action about a year later, when the film was set to be screened on Capitol Hill.</p> <p><strong>Focus Autism and AutismOne organizations complained about the movie's Rotary Club backing and about the involvement of Dr. Paul Offit, a University of Pennsylvania pediatrician and immunization proponent.</strong> They argued that "Invisible Threat" was "scripted with industry talking points" and that the movie seemed to be the work of adults operating under false pretenses, not students.</p> </blockquote> <p>Thanks to the McCarthyite cretins in the murderous vaccinations-cause-autism movement, to this day the documentary has barely been seen outside the confines of the school. It will finally get posted on the Web on August 1st. Maybe it will save some lives.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Science Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:41:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 256596 at More Pointless Bluster on Foreign Policy, Please <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Via <em>Politico,</em> Here's the latest on <a href="" target="_blank">American attitudes toward foreign policy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative....More than three-quarters of likely voters say they support plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016....Forty-four percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq&rsquo;s civil war....Likely voters prefer less involvement in Syria&rsquo;s civil war over more involvement, 42 percent to 15 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>Based on this, can you figure out which party is more trusted on foreign policy? You guessed it: Republicans, by a margin of 39-32 percent.</p> <p>Bottom line (for about the thousandth time): Americans prefer the <em>actual</em> foreign policy of Democrats, but they prefer the <em>rhetorical</em> foreign policy of Republicans. They want lots of bluster and chest thumping, but without much in the way of serious action. In other words, pretty much what Reagan did.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:51:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 256576 at Friday Cat Blogging - 18 July 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In an awesome display of athleticism, Domino hopped into the laundry hamper this week. I was shocked. I didn't think she could do it. But I guess when you're motivated by the sweet, sweet prospect of snoozing among the delicate aromas of worn human clothing, you can accomplish anything. As for what she's looking at in this picture, I have no idea. Probably something in the cat dimension.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_07_18.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:55:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 256521 at Iran's Oil Exports Have Fallen By Half Since Sanctions Were Imposed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If you're curious about the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, OPEC's newly-released 2014 statistical bulletin provides a pretty concrete look. As the tables below show, in just the past two years Iran's oil exports have fallen by nearly half and the rial has lost a third of its value. If you want to know why Iran is negotiating over its nuclear program, that's the story in a nutshell.</p> <p>The whole report is <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> Plenty of interesting little tidbits there for inquiring minds.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_opec_iran_sanctions.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 75px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 256516 at Blueberries, Gold, Inflation, and Professor Krugman <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So Paul Krugman writes a column about all the folks who have been hysterically predicting runaway inflation for the past few years, and what does he get? <a href="" target="_blank">This:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_krugman_inflation_comments.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 150px;"></p> <p>I know it's just a coincidence. The other 500 comments are quite likely perfectly sane. Nonetheless, this is what we're up against.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> In case you're curious, food prices have actually risen 11 percent over the past five years. In other words, about 2.2 percent per year.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:18:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 256501 at No More Saturday Shipments for Netflix <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Netflix Inc. has quietly stopped shipping DVDs from its distribution centers on Saturdays, a cost-cutting move that signals the company is easing out of the DVD subscription service and keeping its focus on online streaming. The change comes as Netflix is shedding hundreds of thousands of its DVD customers every quarter, yet gaining as many for its online streaming business continues to grow.</p> </blockquote> <p>And so it begins. A few years from now, I assume Netflix will be out of the physical disc business entirely, which means it will be impossible to watch anything more than a few years old. We'll still have Redbox for recent releases as well as streaming services that offer whatever they happen to offer. But if you wake up one morning and decide you want to watch <em>The Naked City</em>? Well, you're probably out of luck.</p> <p>I suppose that eventually every studio's back catalogs will be universally available via one streaming service or another. Unfortunately, "eventually" seems to be a helluva long time in Hollywood. What will we do in the meantime?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:45:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 256491 at Ted Cruz Is Playing a Long Game on Immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Ted Cruz threw a bomb into the immigration crisis yesterday by demanding that any emergency bill to address the tide of minors surging across the border had to include a provision repealing President Obama's so-called mini-DREAM executive action. Formally known as DACA, it <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_anti_immigration.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">directs prosecutors not to spend any time trying to deport individuals who arrived in the US as children.</p> <p>This is inconvenient for Republicans because DACA is pretty popular and they'd probably prefer to ignore it. So why did Cruz do this? Greg Sargent thinks there's a <a href="" target="_blank">long game at stake:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I strongly suspect much GOP rhetoric over the crisis is designed to achieve <strong>maximum constraint on Obama&rsquo;s sense of what&rsquo;s politically possible on unilaterally easing deportations.</strong> Case in point: Ted Cruz&rsquo;s declaration that any GOP response to the crisis must defund Obama&rsquo;s deferred-deportation program. Cruz has a history of revealing underlying political calculations with unvarnished clarity. He justified the government shutdown to stop Obamacare by arguing that once the law kicked in, people would like it and it would never be repealed.</p> <p>Something similar may be happening on deportations. As Frank Sharry argues, Obama action on deportations could &ldquo;permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s unclear how ambitious Obama will be. But given Cruz&rsquo;s fevered view of #ObummerTyranny, he probably expects Obama to go big, and he may agree so doing would lock in Latinos for Dems. Hence the move to preclude it.</p> <p>....However, there&rsquo;s a risk for Republicans. If they punt on their current response, it could persuade Obama he can position himself as the only problem solver in the room on immigration, giving him more space to act unilaterally. Of course, to reap these benefits, Obama will have to be seen as managing the current crisis effectively. And he has not accomplished this &mdash; politically or substantively.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'll confess that I usually don't give politicians credit for thinking much beyond the ends of their noses. Even gaming things out one move ahead is beyond most of them. But Cruz is a smart guy, and going after DACA is probably a twofer for him: it's politically useful in the short term, marking him as the most aggressive conservative in the Senate; and it might constrain Obama in the future.</p> <p>But as Sargent says, this cuts both ways. If Obama decides that Republicans, once again, are simply unwilling to deal in any way, then he's left with very little reason to moderate his actions. Compromise only makes enemies among Hispanic voters, after all, and it's worth it only if Republicans will give him something in return. If they won't, he might as well take the boldest action he can to help his party, and then dare Republicans to do something about it. That may well be how this plays out.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:06:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 256486 at Vladimir Putin's Games Finally Blew Up In His Face Today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Josh Marshall practically reads my mind with <a href="" target="_blank">this post:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Were it not for the hundreds killed, it would also be comical the ridiculous series of events Vladimir Putin's reckless behavior led up to this morning. For months Putin has been playing with fire, making trouble and having it work mainly to his advantage....But the whole thing blew up in his face today in a way, and with repercussions I don't think&nbsp;&mdash; even with all wall to wall coverage&nbsp;&mdash; we can quite grasp.</p> <p>Find extremists and hot-heads of the lowest common denominator variety, seed them with weaponry only a few militaries in the world possess&nbsp;&mdash; and, well, just see what happens. What could go wrong?</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the whole thing. It's almost precisely what I've been thinking all day long. I'd only add one thing: It was sickening listening to Putin's bleating prevarications and denials after the plane was shot down. Really, truly revolting. If anything could expose him, once and for all, as the petty schoolyard bully that he is, this was it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Fri, 18 Jul 2014 04:11:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 256471 at Housing Weakness Yet Another Indicator of a Sluggish Recovery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_housing_starts_june_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Housing is the biggest single sector of the consumer economy, and pent-up demand for housing is usually the primary engine that pulls a country out of recession. But as Neil Irwin reports, <a href="" target="_blank">we're just not seeing much of a rebound in housing:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Another disappointing reading on the housing market was released Thursday morning. The number of housing units that builders started work on fell 9.3 percent in June, to an 893,000 annual rate. The number of housing permits issued by local governments, a forward-looking measure that government statisticians consider less prone to measurement error, fell 4.2 percent. Forecasters had expected both numbers to rise.</p> <p>....What makes the June results curious &mdash; and particularly disappointing &mdash; is that some of the excuses heard for weak housing numbers don&rsquo;t hold water any more. The unusually bad winter weather that slowed construction in January and February is now long past....And mortgage rates spiked in the second half of 2013, perhaps leading builders to exercise a greater note of caution as they weighed new projects. But rates have fallen more or less steadily through the first half of 2014.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, as you can see from the chart, there's a lot of volatility in housing starts. So don't take the June decline too seriously. Nonetheless, after starting to rise in 2011, starts have been nearly flat for two years now. If housing is going to save the economy, it's sure taking its sweet time. More than likely, though, it's just not going to happen. It sure looks like we have many years of a weak, sluggish recovery ahead of us.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:01:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 256416 at Commercial Jet Goes Down Over Ukraine <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From CNN:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday. The jet is a Boeing 777, according to Interfax.</p> <p>The plane reportedly went down <strong>near the border between Russia and Ukraine.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Oh crap. Ukrainian officials are apparently claiming that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:48:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 256386 at The Republican Foreign Policy Split Is Mostly a Myth <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Honest question here. I've been wondering about this for a while, but it crystallized last night after reading <a href="" target="_blank">this Ross Douthat post</a> about conservative foreign policy. My question is: Is there really a big foreign policy split in the Republican Party?</p> <p>I hear about this a lot. Liberals love to write about it, for obvious reasons, but it's not just liberals. Conservatives talk about it too. But where's the evidence for the split? The answer is: Rand Paul. It almost always revolves around Rand Paul vs. Someone. Rick Perry. John McCain. Bill Kristol. Whatever. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_republican_split.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">And since Rand Paul is a rising star with a Sarah Palinesque intuition for political theater, he's gotten a lot of attention for his contention that Republicans should adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.</p> <p>The problem is that there's little reason to believe that Paul has had any more influence on mainstream Republican thought than his father did. The conservative coalition has <em>always</em> included both paleocons and libertarians who are skeptical of activist foreign policy, but their numbers have always been too small to carry any weight&mdash;and I don't see much evidence that this has changed. It's true that recent poll numbers suggest a declining appetite for foreign wars, but among conservatives those numbers are very, very soft. They change at even the slightest hint of aggression from Al Qaeda or Hamas or Vladimir Putin.</p> <p>More to the point, I've seen no evidence of change within the mainstream of the party. Aside from Paul, who are the non-interventionists? Where exactly is the fight? I don't mean to suggest that everyone in the Republican Party is a full-blown unreconstructed neocon. There's a continuum of opinion, just as there's always been. But as near as I can tell they're nearly all about as generally hawkish as they've ever been&mdash;and just as eager as ever to tar Democrats as a gang of feckless appeasers and UN lovers.</p> <p>So: Is this intra-party fight real? Once you remove the Rand Paul PR machine from the equation, is there anything left? Or is it mostly an invention of bored Beltway reporters trying to drum up some conflict?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Military The Right Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:15:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 256381 at More Kids Die in Hot Cars Than I Would Have Guessed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_child_car_heat_deaths.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over at Vox, <a href="" target="_blank">today's headline reads:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>How many kids die in hot cars? Not as many as you think.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's accompanied by the chart on the right, which shows exactly how many children die after being locked in hot cars. And it's....actually higher than I would have guessed.</p> <p>Why? I think it's a function of media cynicism. In the same way that the press overhypes child abductions, leading to insane suburban fears and the passage of _____'s Law all over the country, I figure that the press is so eager to highlight grisly stuff like this that it ends up being national news every single time it happens. If that's true, it would suggest that maybe three or four kids die in overheated cars each year. But no! My cynicism is (slightly) misplaced. In fact, only a small percentage of these deaths make the front page.</p> <p>Now, granted, this is still less than one death per year in each state, which means it's not exactly a spiraling epidemic. Still, if you'd asked me, I think I would have guessed the number was around five or ten. I also would have guessed that all the media attention would have led to a decrease in these deaths, but the chart doesn't suggest that either. Apparently, scaring the hell out of people doesn't really cause them to be any more careful.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:42:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 256376 at Student Loan Relief in Sight, Maybe <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hooray! A new bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate to address the student loan crisis. It wouldn't actually reduce the amount that grads have to pay (you didn't expect <em>that</em>, did you), but it does make repayment easier by taking a program that already exists as an option and making it the default repayment plan. <a href="" target="_blank">Jordan Weissmann reviews the details:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It looks pretty solid overall. All federal loan borrowers would be enrolled in an income-based program where they paid 10 percent of their earnings each month, with a $10,000 annual exemption. Meanwhile, the government would collect the money directly from workers&rsquo; paychecks, just like tax withholding. One potentially controversial part: It would forgive up to $57,500 worth of loans after 20 years, but anything above that amount wouldn&rsquo;t be forgiven for 30 years. (The current Pay as You Earn repayment program forgives all debts after two decades.) But borrowers who don&rsquo;t like the income-based option could opt out and set their own payment timetable.</p> </blockquote> <p>And now for the bad news. The bill is sponsored by Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Marco Rubio. And as Weissmann puts it in a family-friendly rewrite of Jon Chait, "Rubio doesn&rsquo;t have a sterling track record of selling his own party on bipartisan policy proposals." No, he doesn't, does he? But who knows. Maybe after ripping his political guts out over immigration reform, Republicans will throw him a bone by supporting this bill. It's not like it really costs any money to speak of, after all.</p> <p>Then again, passing the bill would represent getting something done, and Republicans these days seem to be convinced that getting <em>anything</em> done makes government look efficient and responsive and therefore redounds to the credit of Democrats. And we can't have that, can we?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Education Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:52:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 256356 at Obama Levies New Sanctions Against Russia. Europe Ponders Whether to Follow Suit. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We now have a response to Russia's <a href="" target="_blank">latest military provocations in eastern Ukraine:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama is ratcheting up pressure on Russia with new sanctions aimed at large banks and defense firms in what administration officials say is the most significant crackdown on Russian individuals and businesses since the crisis in Ukraine began.</p> <p>....The new penalties come in coordination with <strong>European leaders now meeting in Brussels to contemplate their own sanctions against Russia.</strong> Those efforts are expected to center on obstructing loans to Russian interests from European development banks.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'll be curious to see what the Europeans decide to do. For all the opportunistic griping from Republicans about Obama being too soft on Putin and inviting a new Cold War blah blah blah, it's always been European leaders who have been the obstacle to harsher sanctions against Russia. And since Russia does very little business with the US but does lots of business with Europe, American sanctions just don't matter that much unless the Europeans join in. Obama's hands are tied.</p> <p>Of course, the very fact that Europe does lots of business with Russia means that sanctions hurt them a lot more than they hurt us. It's easy for Americans to be blustery and hawkish, safe in the knowledge that Russian retaliation can't really hurt us much. It's a lot less easy for Europeans.</p> <p>That said, the fact is that Obama has been trying to take the lead on this for months. European leaders now need to decide if they're willing to join in. The ball's in their court.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Wed, 16 Jul 2014 22:48:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 256336 at The Goal of "6 Californias" Remains a Mystery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Now that billionaire eccentric Tim Draper has gotten enough signatures to qualify his "Six Californias" initiative for the ballot in 2016, I can no longer imperiously demand that the media <a href="" target="_blank">stop paying attention to him.</a> If this is going to be a ballot measure then it's obviously a legitimate news story.</p> <p>So a friend emailed this morning to ask what Draper's deal is. Beats me. Officially, his motivation is a belief that California is simply too big to govern. As plausible as this is, it's hardly a sufficient explanation. So what is it that's <em>really</em> eating him? Well, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_six_californias.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 40px;">Draper is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, so a few months ago <em>Time</em> asked him about <a href="" target="_blank">that particular sixth of California:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>How would you like to see things done differently in Silicon Valley, if it had its own government?</strong></p> <p>The issues of Silicon Valley are things like when Napster came out. No one knew how the law should be handled. It was a new technology. And no one quite knew whether it had some violation of copyright or not ... And the people who were making those decisions were very distant, and not familiar with what Napster was. Now we have Bitcoin. We have very uncertain laws around Bitcoin. I believe if there were a government closer to Silicon Valley, it would be more in touch with those technologies and the need for making appropriate laws around them. Silicon Valley is seeing great frustration. They see how creative and efficient and exciting life can be in a place where innovation thrives, and then they see a government that is a little lost.</p> </blockquote> <p>This makes no sense, since both copyright law and monetary policy are set in Washington DC, not Sacramento. But let's accept that Draper was just burbling a bit here, and not hold him to specifics. What's his beef? Basically, he appears to be retailing a strain of techno-libertarian utopianism or something. Information wants to be free! Technology will save us all! Just get government out of the way!</p> <p>Or something. I don't know, really. The whole thing is crazy, and it's yet another example of how easy it is for billionaires to get publicity. Paying a signature-gathering firm to get something on the ballot in California is pretty trivial if you have a lot of money, and it automatically gets you a ton of exposure. So now Draper has that. But what's the end game? Even if his initiative passes, he knows perfectly well it's going nowhere since Congress will never approve it. So either (a) he's just a crackpot or (b) he has some clever reason for doing this that's going to make him even richer. It's a mystery.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 16 Jul 2014 18:42:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 256301 at Government Failures On the Rise? Take It With a Grain of Salt. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Paul Light has gotten a lot of attention for his <a href="" target="_blank">recent study showing that "government failures" are on the rise.</a> I've seen several criticisms of his study, but it seems to me that basic methodology is really the main problem with it. First off, his dataset is a list of "41 important past government failures (between 2001 &ndash; 2014) from a search of news stories listed in the Pew Research Center&rsquo;s News Interest Index." Is that really a good way of determining the frequency of government failures? A list of headlines might be a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_government_failures.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">good way of determining public interest, but it hardly seems like even a remotely good proxy for cataloging government failure in general.</p> <p>For example, 2007 appears to be an epically bad year for government failure. But among the failures are "wounded soldiers," "food safety recalls," and "consumer product recalls." Those all seem a bit amorphous to count as distinct failures.</p> <p>This methodology also mushes up timeframes. Fast &amp; Furious is counted as a government failure in 2011, but that's just the year it made headlines. The operation itself ran from 2006-11. Likewise, the "postal service financing crisis" is hardly unique to 2011. It's been ongoing for years.</p> <p>Some of the items don't even appear to be proper government failures. Was the Gulf oil spill in 2010 a <em>government</em> failure? Or the Southwest airline groundings? In both cases, you can argue&mdash;as Light does&mdash;that they exposed lax government oversight. But this basically puts you in the position of arguing that any failure in a regulated industry is a government failure. I'm not sure I buy that.</p> <p>Finally, on the flip side, there are the things that don't show up. The government shutdown in 2013? The fiscal cliff? The debt ceiling standoffs? The collapse of the Copenhagen conference? Allowing Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora? The scandalous demotion of Pluto to non-planet status?</p> <p>Maybe I'm just picking nits here. But given the weakness of the core methodology; the small number of incidents; the problems of categorization; and the overall vagueness of what "failure" means, I'm just not sure this study tells us much. I'd take it with a big shaker of salt for the moment. It seems more like clickbait than a serious analysis of how well or poorly government has done over the past decade.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:40:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 256291 at Why Can't We Teach Shakespeare Better? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_shakespeare_folio.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">After writing about a common misconception regarding a particular scene in <em>Julius Caesar</em>, <a href="" target="_blank">Mark Kleiman offers a footnote:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Like many Boomers, I had to read <em>Julius Caesar</em> in the 10th grade; not really one of the Bard&rsquo;s better efforts, but full of quotable passages and reasonably easy to follow. (<em>As You Like It</em>, by contrast, if read rather than watched, makes absolutely no sense to a sixteen-year-old; I was fortunate enough to see a performance a year or so later, but I suspect that some of my classmates never discovered that Shakespeare wrote great musicals.)</p> <p>Brutus&rsquo;s speech would have been a perfect scene to use as an example of dramatic irony. But I doubt my teacher had any idea what the passage was about, and the lit-crit we read as &ldquo;secondary sources&rdquo; disdained anything as straightforward as explaining what the play was supposed to mean or how the poet used dramatic techniques to express that meaning.</p> </blockquote> <p>This was my experience too, but in college. I remember enrolling in a Shakespeare class and looking forward to it. In my case, I actually had a fairly good high school English teacher, but still, Shakespeare is tough for high schoolers. This would be my chance to really learn and appreciate what Shakespeare was doing.</p> <p>Alas, no. I got an A in the class, but learned barely anything. It was a huge disappointment. To this day, I don't understand why Shakespeare seems to be so difficult to teach. Was I just unlucky?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Wed, 16 Jul 2014 15:11:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 256281 at Darrell Issa Is Unclear on the Concept of "Consultation" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Dana Milbank writes today about the unprecedented<sup>1</sup> use of "unilateral" subpoenas issued by Darrell Issa as part of his endless series of Benghazi/IRS/Fast&amp;Furious/Solyndra/etc. investigations. After reviewing the facts and figures that demonstrate just how reckless and partisan Issa is, he got <a href="" target="_blank">this priceless response:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Issa&rsquo;s deputy staff director, Frederick Hill, said Democrats as well as Republicans have used unilateral subpoenas. Hill also said that Issa, unlike his immediate predecessor Towns, consults with the minority before each subpoena.</p> </blockquote> <p>Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to reenact for you Issa's "consultation" with the minority:</p> <blockquote> <p>ISSA: Hey Elijah, I want to issue a subpoena to Lois Lerner's dentist as part of the IRS investigation. I think she might have gotten a reduced-price root canal in return for making sure he didn't get audited. You OK with that?</p> <p>ELIJAH CUMMINGS: What? That's crazy. Of course I'm not OK with that.</p> <p>ISSA: OK, great. I'm glad we had this chat. I'll issue the subpoena tomorrow.</p> </blockquote> <p>Next up: Issa's office demands to know why an American Water Dog isn't good enough for the Obama family.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Well, unprecedented except for the literally insane number of subpoenas issued by demented conspiracy theorist Dan Burton during the Clinton witch hunts of the 90s.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Wed, 16 Jul 2014 05:06:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 256241 at Quote of the Day: Stone Tablets Will Defeat the NSA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Patrick Sensburg,</a> head of the Bundestag's parliamentary inquiry into NSA activity in Germany, on whether they are "considering typewriters" for the committee's work:</p> <blockquote> <p>As a matter of fact, we have&nbsp;&mdash; and not electronic models either.</p> </blockquote> <p>Well. I grew up with a house full of Adler typewriters, all of them fine products of German engineering. I think later on they became fine products of not-so-German engineering, but I'm sure it's still possible to find some of the old-school models. They should work a treat for creating documents that are safe from prying eyes, since we all know that spies were never able to steal documents prior to the digital era.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Tue, 15 Jul 2014 18:28:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 256201 at