Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Coming Soon: Quantum Computing on Your Desktop PC? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_qubit_silicon.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Today has been pretty dull in the world of political news, so let's continue trawling other parts of the global knowledge ecosystem for interesting tidbits. <a href="" target="_blank">This one looks potentially important:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>For decades, researchers have been trying to build a computer that harnesses the enormous potential of quantum mechanics. Now engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have overcome the final hurdle, <strong>by creating a quantum logic gate in silicon&nbsp;&mdash; the same material that today's computer chips are made from.</strong></p> <p><strong>The newly developed device allows two quantum bits&nbsp;&mdash; or qubits&nbsp;&mdash; to communicate and perform calculations together,</strong> which is a crucial requirement for quantum computers. Even better, the researchers have also worked out how to scale the technology up to millions of qubits, which means they now have the ability to build the world's first quantum processor chip and, eventually, the first silicon-based quantum computer.</p> </blockquote> <p>Quantum computing is sort of like fusion power: constantly right around the corner, but never quite there. The fundamental problem is that qubits suffer from decoherence unless they're kept completely isolated from their surrounding environment, which is pretty tough since they also need to communicate with other qubits in order to be useful. Researchers have gotten a lot better at controlling qubits in recent years, but as the UNSW paper points out, <a href="" target="_blank">this has required the use of fairly exotic materials:</a> "single photons, trapped ions, superconducting circuits, single defects or atoms in diamond or silicon, and semiconductor quantum dots."</p> <p>By contrast, a two-qubit logic gate that can be implemented in silicon using standard lithographic techniques is a whole different matter. If this turns out to be for real, chips containing thousands or millions of qubits are finally within practical reach.</p> <p>This would be very cool, though only for a certain subset of problems amenable to massive parallel processing. This is inherent in the difference between standard computers and quantum computers. A standard computer with, say, 50 bits, can be in any one of 2<sup>50</sup> states <em>at a single time</em>. That's about a quadrillion states. This state changes with every beat of the computer's internal clock, and eventually you get an answer to whatever problem you've programmed the computer to solve. By contrast, a quantum computer with 2<sup>50</sup> qubits can be in a quadrillion states <em>simultaneously</em> thanks to an aspect of quantum weirdness called superposition. Once you set up the program, you just collapse the quantum state and the answer is spit out instantly.</p> <p>This is not the kind of thing you'd use to write an iPhone app. But it could be used to break some public-key encryption systems. It might also be useful for things like modeling protein folding, which is fundamentally a quantum problem that requires a tremendous amount of computing time using traditional computers. There's also potential for exponentially faster database queries.</p> <p>And one other thing: it's possible that large-scale quantum computing could lead to breakthroughs in emulating human thought processes and speeding up the creation of artificial intelligence. Maybe.</p> <p>Anyway, it's fascinating stuff, and it seems as if useful quantum computing may be finally getting within reach. If it does, it would blow away Moore's law for certain kinds of problems&mdash;possibly many more than we think once we get the hang of writing a whole different kind of code. In a few years, maybe we'll even get customer support voice recognition systems to work properly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 06 Oct 2015 04:44:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 286191 at Do You Spend an Hour Waiting For Your Doctor? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_doctor_waiting_time.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="" target="_blank">A new study has been making the rounds today.</a> Over at JAMA, a team of researchers used one survey to calculate average time spent in face-to-face time with a doctor and another survey to calculate total average "clinic time" (wait time plus doctor time). If you subtract doctor time from clinic time, you get average wait time. That's shown in the chart on the right.</p> <p>But something isn't right here. The takeaway is that minorities tend to have longer wait times than whites, which wouldn't surprise me at all. (They also have longer travel times.) But even whites have an average wait time of one hour. That's nowhere near this white boy's experience for any of the doctors/medical systems I've ever been part of. What's more, other studies suggest that average wait time is around 20 minutes or so, which seems more likely.</p> <p>So....I'm not sure what's going on here. Something about this study doesn't seem right, and I don't know if it's in the methodology or in the interpretation everyone is putting on it. In any case, if you read about this study, I'd take it with a grain of salt for the moment.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 06 Oct 2015 02:51:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 286186 at The World Has Gone Crazy Over Ad Blocking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ad_blocking_headlines.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">It's pretty amazing. Ad blockers have been around forever. I've been using AdBlock Plus for nearly a decade and nobody ever cared. It was just a quiet little thing that a few power users knew about.</p> <p>But as soon as Apple decided to allow ad blocking on the iPhone, suddenly the world went nuts. News headlines exploded. Half the sites I visit now check for ad blockers and hit me with guilt-inducing messages about how I'm bankrupting them if I decline to read their latest Flash creations and bouncing gif animations. Hell, I just got one of these messages on For a while, the <em>Washington Post</em> randomly declined to let me read their articles <em>at all</em> unless I removed my ad blocker.</p> <p>I've got one question and one comment about this. The comment is this: Screw you, Apple. Everything was fine until you decided to barge in. The question is this: Is publisher panic over loss of ad revenue rational? Genuine question. I understand that mobile is where all the ad dollars are, and I understand that Apple accounts for a sizeable chunk of the mobile market. But is ad blocking ever likely to become a mass phenomenon, or will it continue to be used only by power users? I suppose there's no way to know. In any case, the recent hysteria over ad blocking sure does show the incredible PR power of Apple. If you take something that's been around forever&mdash;4G LTE, large screens, ad blocking&mdash;and slap it on an iPhone, everyone goes nuts. It's Apple's world and the rest of us are just pawns in the games they play.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 06 Oct 2015 01:37:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 286176 at California Legalizes Assisted Suicide For Terminal Patients <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>After months of maintaining a stony silence about California's right-to-die bill, <a href="" target="_blank">Gov. Jerry Brown signed it today:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_brown_assisted_suicide.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 50px;"></p> <p>The Golden Rule isn't always the best guide to public policy, but in this case I think it is. California has an obligation to make sure assisted suicide isn't abused, either by doctors rubber stamping requests or by friends or relatives pressuring sick patients to end their lives. Beyond that, though, deciding when and how to die is about as personal a decision as someone can make. It's not that assisted suicide doesn't affect other people&mdash;it does&mdash;but as a matter of <em>public</em> policy it's best for the state to remain resolutely neutral. This is something that should be left up to the patient, her doctor, and whichever of her friends, family, and clergy she decides to involve.</p> <p>The text of the bill is <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a> Brown did the right thing today by signing it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 05 Oct 2015 20:20:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 286161 at House Dems Fight Back on Benghazi <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton aide Cheryl Mills testified before the Benghazi committee. Apparently several Republican members of the committee talked to reporters about this. <a href="" target="_blank">Here is <em>Politico</em> on September 3:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Raising alarms on the right,</strong> Mills, Clinton&rsquo;s former chief of staff at the State Department, also told the House Select Committee on Benghazi that she reviewed and made suggestions for changes to the government's official, final report on what happened in Benghazi, according to a separate, GOP source familiar with what she said.</p> <p><strong>The source said it &ldquo;call[s] into question the &lsquo;independence&rsquo;&rdquo; of the report's conclusions</strong>....The report was supposed to be independent from state officials that may be involved, and the GOP argues top officials should not have had input, long questioning how independent the findings were.</p> </blockquote> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_elijah_cummings.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Today, in the wake of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's boasting about how the Benghazi committee had been a great tool to bring down Hillary, Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, <a href="" target="_blank">lobbed a shot across the bow of the Republican chairman:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republicans began leaking inaccurate information about Ms. Mills&rsquo; interview within minutes after your public declaration that it should be treated as classified....During her interview, Ms. Mills corroborated both Ambassador Pickering&rsquo;s testimony and the Inspector General&rsquo;s findings:</p> <blockquote> <p>Q: Did you ever, in that process, attempt to exert influence over the direction of the ARB&rsquo;s investigation?</p> <p>A: No.</p> <p>Q: Did you ever try to&mdash;did Secretary Clinton ever try to exert influence over the direction of their investigation?</p> <p>A: No.</p> </blockquote> <p>Ms. Mills also explained that the Secretary&rsquo;s objective in selecting members of the ARB was, &ldquo;could they be people who could give hard medicine if that was what was needed. And I felt like, in the end, that team was a team that would speak whatever were their truths or observations to the Department so that we could learn whatever lessons we needed to learn.&rdquo;</p> <p>....We believe it is time to begin releasing the transcripts of interviews conducted by the Select Committee in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks....Please notify us within five days if you believe any information in the full transcript should be withheld from the American people.</p> </blockquote> <p>No response yet from committee chairman Trey Gowdy, who has insisted all along that the Benghazi investigation is purely an enlightened search for the truth with no trace of partisan overtones. But I'm all in favor of holding all of the committee's hearings in public with occasional exceptions for genuinely classified testimony. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 05 Oct 2015 18:14:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 286126 at Can Donald Trump Sink the TPP? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_cpac.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">A last-minute deal has <a href="" target="_blank">finally been reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership,</a> and concerns abound. Paul Ryan is concerned about dairy products. Sander Levin is concerned about cars. In Louisiana they're concerned about sugar. The whole deal is oozing with parochial local concerns.</p> <p>So will it pass? A couple of months ago, I would have said yes, and I guess I still do. But I'm a little less sure thanks to the Donald Trump effect. He's opposed to the deal&mdash;there's no telling why, really&mdash;and he's shown a genius in the past for picking out specific details about various issues and then flogging them to death. So I wonder: what's he going to pick out about the TPP? It might be something ordinary, like currency manipulation provisions, or a general attack on President Obama's lousy negotiating skills. Equally likely, though, he'll somehow find something in the treaty that no one else is really paying attention to, and then twist it into a populist attack that really resonates with the public. If he does that successfully, it's just possible that he could derail the deal.</p> <p>I'm not sure what odds I'd put on that. But not zero. So far, Trump has mostly been a loudmouth who hasn't fundamentally changed the political landscape. But there's a chance he could do it here. He's worth watching.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 05 Oct 2015 14:29:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 286091 at Arming the Opposition: A Compendium of Failure <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A couple of days ago I linked to <a href="" target="_blank">a Phil Carter piece</a> about why arm-and-train missions in underdeveloped countries tended to fail. Today the <em>New York Times</em> has a longish roundup of our failures, and even I was a little surprised by the <a href="" target="_blank">sheer number of countries we've bungled:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The setbacks have been most pronounced in three countries....Pentagon-trained army and police in <strong>Iraq&rsquo;s</strong> Anbar Province....several thousand American-backed government forces and militiamen in <strong>Afghanistan&rsquo;s</strong> Kunduz <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_opposition_soldiers.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;"> <strong>Syria</strong>, a $500 million Defense Department program to train local rebels to fight the Islamic State has produced only a handful of soldiers.</p> <p>In northwest Africa, the United States has spent more than $600 million....<strong>Morocco to Chad</strong>. American officials once heralded <strong>Mali&rsquo;s</strong> military as an exemplary partner. But in 2012, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in <strong>Libya</strong> to rout the military, including units trained by United States Special Forces....In <strong>Yemen</strong>, American-trained troops and counterterrorism forces largely disbanded when Houthi rebels overran the capital last year.</p> <p>Bright spot....oust the Shabab, Al Qaeda&rsquo;s affiliate in <strong>Somalia</strong>....The American government has invested nearly $1 billion....But even with the gains, the Shabab have been able to carry out bombings in Mogadishu, the capital, and in neighboring countries, including massacres at a university and a shopping mall in Kenya in the past two years.</p> </blockquote> <p>Karl&nbsp;Eikenberry, a former military commander and then US ambassador in Afghanistan, sums it up pretty well: "Our track record at building security forces over the past 15 years is miserable." Maybe it's time we faced up to this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 05 Oct 2015 13:20:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 286076 at Ask Dr. Science: Campaign Trail Edition <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Presidential candidates have been asking a lot of questions lately. Science can help answer them, but this year scientists are in notably short supply on the campaign trail. Asked about the age of the earth, Marco Rubio famously told <em>GQ</em>, "I'm not a scientist, man." Likewise, Mitch McConnell is not a scientist, Rick Scott is not a scientist, John Boehner is not a scientist, Joni Ernst is not a scientist, Bobby Jindal is not a scientist, and Hillary Clinton is not a scientist&mdash;just a grandmother with two eyes and a brain. Luckily, I can help. Here are answers to some of the most pressing questions asked by major party candidates recently.</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Bernie Sanders: "Why are we the only major country that doesn&rsquo;t guarantee health care for all?"</strong></p> <p>In 1986 James Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in public choice theory, which can shed some light on this. In layman's terms, public choice theory says you should follow the money. So let's follow it. Universal health care is expensive. This means higher taxes, which rich people don't like. Conservative parties cater to the rich, so they generally oppose expansions in health care coverage. In the US, the rich are the richest of all, and the Republican Party therefore caters to them more enthusiastically than anywhere else in the world. As a result, they're more rabidly opposed to national health care than any other conservative party in a major country.</p> <p>In other words, it's because no other country has the Republican Party.</p> <p><strong>Ben Carson: "Gravity, where did it come from?"</strong></p> <p>Well, Ben, when a four-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifold and a Landau&ndash;Lifshitz stress-energy tensor love each other very <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_blackboard.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">much, they produce a geodesic in curved spacetime. And that's the story of gravity.</p> <p><strong>Kevin McCarthy: "Everyone thought Hillary was unbeatable, right?"</strong></p> <p>Let's look at this statistically. According to a CNN poll from last year, 44 percent of respondents thought it "very likely" and 34 percent thought it "somewhat likely" that Hillary would win the Democratic nomination. Let's assign p=.9 to "very" and p=.65 to "somewhat." Then P(Nomination) = .62. The same poll assigned Hillary a conditional probability P(Presidency|Nomination) of .51. Thus, since P(A &cap; B) = P(A) * P(B|A), her perceived chance of winning the presidency was p=.32 and her chance of being beaten was a whopping p=.68. She was light years away from being considered unbeatable.</p> <p>Or, in simpler terms you're more likely to understand, there was never any need to brag about the awesome Hillary-smashing power of the Benghazi committee. You're an idiot.</p> <p><strong>Donald Trump: "Let Russia do it. Let 'em get rid of ISIS. What the hell do we care?"</strong></p> <p>In the neorealist school of international relations, hegemonic stability theory tells us that the world is a better place when a single nation-state, or hegemon, is the dominant player on the global stage. Vladimir Putin is challenging us for this role. If he succeeds, the outcome is either a disastrous multipolar world or an equally disastrous world in which Russia is dominant. Ditto for China. In other words, Russia is killing us! China is killing us! We need to beat them!</p> <p><strong>Marco Rubio: "How can it be that we sent a Republican majority to Congress and yet they&rsquo;re still not able to stop our country from sliding in the wrong direction?&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>The study of political science can provide some insight into this phenomenon. In "Decision Making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, Multicameralism and Multipartyism," George Tsebelis explains the crippling effect of having too many agents who can obstruct legislative agendas. "The potential for policy change," he says, "decreases with (a) the number of veto players, (b) the lack of congruence (dissimilarity of policy positions among veto players) and (c) the cohesion (similarity of policy positions among the constituent units of each veto player) of these players."</p> <p>Taking those one by one, (a) Democrats can filibuster your endless Obamacare temper tantrums, President Obama can veto them, and the Supreme Court can send you packing; (b) the Republican Party has gone nuts; and (c) Democrats are united in stopping you. Did you really not know this?</p> <p><strong>Carly Fiorina: "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck. Do you think this is not happening?"</strong></p> <p>Of course it's happening. In Hugh Everett's relative state formulation of quantum mechanics, the multiverse is composed of a quantum superposition of an infinite number of increasingly divergent, non-communicating parallel universes or quantum worlds. Thus, every possible thing is happening at every possible instant. And stop calling me Chuck.</p> <p><strong>Hillary Clinton: "Another conspiracy theory?"</strong></p> <p>Yes.</p> </blockquote></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 04 Oct 2015 16:55:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 286071 at Here's Why "Arming the Opposition" Usually Doesn't Work <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I routinely mock the tiresomely predictable calls from conservative hawks to "arm the opposition." It never seems to matter who the opposition is. Nor does it matter if we're already arming them. If we are, then we need to send them even better arms. Does this do any good? Can allied forces always <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_syria_opposition.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">benefit from more American arms and training? That gets tactfully left unsaid.</p> <p>Today, Phil Carter, who has firsthand experience with this, writes a longer piece explaining just why the theory of indirect military assistance <a href="" target="_blank">is so wobbly in practice:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The theory briefs well as a way to achieve U.S. goals without great expenditure of U.S. blood and treasure.</strong> Unfortunately, decades of experience (including the current messes in Iraq and Syria) suggest that the theory works only in incredibly narrow situations in which states need just a little assistance. In the most unstable places and in the largest conflagrations, where we tend to feel the greatest urge to do something, the strategy crumbles.</p> <p>It fails first and most basically because it hinges upon an <strong>alignment of interests</strong> that rarely exists between Washington and its proxies.</p> <p>....Second, the security-assistance strategy <strong>gives too much weight to the efficacy of U.S. war-fighting systems and capabilities</strong>....For security assistance to have any chance, it must build on existing institutions, adding something that fits within or atop a partner&rsquo;s forces....But giving night-vision goggles and F-16 aircraft to a third-rate military like the Iraqi army won&rsquo;t produce a first-rate force, let alone instill the will to fight.</p> <p>....The third problem with security assistance is that <strong>it risks further destabilizing already unstable situations</strong> and actually countering U.S. interests. As in Syria, we may train soldiers who end up fighting for the other side or provide equipment that eventually falls into enemy hands.</p> </blockquote> <p>There are some things we should have learned over the past couple of decades, and one of them is this: "train-and-equip" missions usually don't work. Sometimes they do, as in Afghanistan in the 80s. But that's the rare success. In Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan in the aughts, they failed.</p> <p>So why do we hear cries to arm our allies during practically every conflict? Because it turns out there aren't very many good choices in between doing nothing and launching a full-scale ground war. One option is aerial support and bombing. Another option is arming someone else's troops. So if you know the public won't support an invasion with US troops, but you still want to show that you're more hawkish than whoever's in charge now, your only real alternative is to call for one or the other of these things&mdash;or both&mdash;regardless of whether they'll work.</p> <p>And of course, the louder the better. It might not help the war effort any, but it sure will help your next reelection campaign.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 04 Oct 2015 01:54:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 286066 at Gun Control's Biggest Problem: Most People Just Don't Care Very Much <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>David Atkins writes about the problem of <a href="" target="_blank">getting gun control legislation passed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>There is a broadening schism in the activist community between those who focus on nuts-and-bolts electoral and legislative politics, and those who spend their energy on issue-area visibility and engagement....<strong>Election work and party involvement is increasingly seen as the unhip, uncool, morally compromised province of social climbers and "brogressives" not truly committed to the supposedly "real work" of social justice engagement by non-electoral means.</strong></p> <p>....There is certainly great value in persuasion, engagement and visibility model....But gun politics in the United States shows above all the weaknesses and limits of the engagement model. <strong>The vast majority of Americans support commonsense gun laws</strong>....Numerous <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gun_lichtenstein.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">organizations have engaged in countless petitions and demonstrations to shame legislators into action from a variety of perspectives, but it essentially never works.</p> <p>....The reason that the United States cannot seem to do anything about guns is simply that the NRA and the vocal minority of the nation's gun owners mobilize to vote on the issue, while the large majority that favors gun safety laws does not....<strong>Gun control will pass precisely when legislators become more afraid of the votes of gun control supporters than they are of gun control opponents.</strong> That will only happen when interested organizations invest in field work&mdash;that much maligned, unsexy work of precinct walking and phonebanking&mdash;to mobilize voters on that issue, and when liberal organizations work to unseat Democrats who do the bidding of the NRA and replace them with ones who vote to protect the people.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure Atkins has this right. The problem is in the second bolded sentence: "The vast majority of Americans support commonsense gun laws." There's some truth to this, but there's also a big pitfall here, and it's one that liberals are especially vulnerable to. I routinely read lefties who quote polls to show that the country agrees with us on pretty much everything. Voters support teachers, they support the environment, they support financial reform, they support gun control.</p> <p>But this is a bad misreading of what polls can tell us. There are (at least) two related problems here:</p> <ul><li>Most polls don't tell us how deeply people feel. Sure, lots of American think that universal background checks are a good idea, but they don't really care that much. <a href="" target="_blank">In a recent Gallup poll of most important problems,</a> gun control ranked 22nd, with only 2 percent rating it their most important issue. Needless to say, though, gun owners are opposed to background checks, and they care a lot.</li> <li>Most polls don't tell us about the tradeoffs people are willing to make. In the abstract, sure, maybe a majority of Americans think we should make it harder to buy guns. But if there's a real-world price to pay how willing are they to pay it? A few months ago, <a href="" target="_blank">a Pew poll</a> that pitted gun control against gun rights found that gun rights won by 52-46 percent.</li> </ul><p>There are lots of polls, and some of them probably show a greater intensity among those who support gun control. A lot depends on question wording. But that's sort of my point: If you get substantially different responses because of small changes in question wording or depending on which precise issues you ask about (background checks vs. assault weapons, gun locks vs. large-capacity magazines) that's a sign of low intensity.</p> <p>Atkins is certainly right that Democratic legislators won't act on gun control until voters are mobilized, but that puts the cart before the horse. You can't mobilize voters on an issue they don't really care much about in the first place. In this case, I think the folks who prioritize issue-area visibility and engagement probably have the better of the argument. Until voters who favor gun control feel as strongly as those who oppose it, all the field work in the world won't do any good.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 03 Oct 2015 16:02:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 286061 at Friday Cat Blogging - 2 October 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's Hopper playing hide-and-seek with the camera. In the background, Hilbert lounges about obliviously, probably waiting for dinner to be served.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2015_10_02_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 19:01:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 285991 at Two Questions About Hillary Clinton's Email Server <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Lots of people have asked lots of questions about Hillary Clinton and her email server. That's fair enough. But I've got a couple of questions for the people with all the questions. There might be simple answers to these, but they've been bugging me for a while and I still don't really understand them. Here they are:</p> <ul><li>One of the most persistent suspicions is that Hillary set up a private server in order to evade FOIA requests. But this has never made any sense to me. What could possibly have led either Hillary or her staff to believe this? There's simply nothing in either the statute or in the way it's been applied in practice to suggest that official communications are beyond the reach of FOIA just because they're in private hands.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li>On a related note, what was going on in the State Department's FOIA office? They received several FOIA requests that required them to search Hillary's email, and responded by saying there was no record of anything relevant to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_foia_backlog.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the request. But the very first time they did this, they must have realized that Hillary's email archive wasn't just sparse, but nonexistent. Did they ask Hillary's office about this? If not, why not? If they did, what were they told? This should be relatively easy to answer since I assume these folks can be subpoenaed and asked about it.</li> </ul><p>Generally speaking, the reason I've been skeptical about this whole affair is that the nefarious interpretations have never made much sense to me. What Hillary did was almost certainly dumb&mdash;as she's admitted herself&mdash;and it's possible that she even violated some regulations. But those are relatively minor things. Emailgate is only a big issue if there was some kind of serious intent to defraud, and that hardly seems possible:</p> <ul><li>Hillary's private server didn't protect her from FOIA requests and she surely knew this.</li> <li>By all indications, she was very careful about her email use and never wrote anything she might regret if it became public.</li> <li>And it hardly seems likely that she thought she could delete embarrassing emails before turning them over. There's simply too much risk that the missing emails would show up in someone else's account, and that really would be disastrous. Her husband might be the type to take idiotic risks like that, but she isn't.</li> </ul><p>School me, peeps. I fully acknowledge that maybe I'm just not getting something here. What's the worst case scenario that's actually plausible?</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> Note that I'm asking here solely about FOIA as it applies to the Hillary Clinton email server affair. On a broader level, FOIA plainly has plenty of problems, both in terms of response time and willingness to cooperate with the spirit of the statute.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 17:44:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 285971 at Here's What Ben Carson Means When He Talks About Political Correctness <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Here is Ben Carson on Wednesday:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Carson noted that many people believe a situation like what took place in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's could never happen in America. "I beg to differ," Carson said. "If you go back and look at the history of the world, tyranny and despotism and how it starts, it has a lot to do with control of thought and control of speech."</p> <p>At a press conference after the speech, reporters asked Carson who he thinks is like Adolf Hitler in the U.S. <strong>"I'm not going to go into that that. I think that example is pretty clear," he responded, without elaborating.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Carson hastened to add that he <em>wasn't</em> referring to Barack Obama. No siree. Someone else. But not Obama. Wink wink nudge nudge.</p> <p>In any case, this provides a good opportunity to highlight Carson's views on political correctness. When Donald Trump talks about it, he's using it in the usual throwaway sense we're all familiar with. He wants to be able to talk about <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_thought_police.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">immigrants being rapists or women being shrill and ugly without everyone getting on his case. Others have in mind trigger warnings and other campus fads. But when Ben Carson talks about it, he means much, much more. It is the core of his worldview, so it's worth understanding what he means by it. <a href="" target="_blank">Here is Amy Davidson:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In his most recent book, &ldquo;One America,&rdquo; he writes that <strong>agents working against this country&rsquo;s greatness include the political-correctness police, who use &ldquo;faux hypersensitivity&rdquo; to take power away from the majority of Americans</strong>....Political correctness, Carson says, is used to keep conservatives from invoking slavery or Nazism, both of which he cites freely. (&ldquo;Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery&rdquo;; &ldquo;We live in a Gestapo age.&rdquo;)</p> <p>He wonders if Obama will cause the elections to be cancelled: &ldquo;He&rsquo;s sitting there saying, &lsquo;These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.&rsquo; &rdquo; Trump, the businessman, tells Americans how the financial system is rigged against them. <strong>Carson, the brain surgeon, tells them how they are being denied knowledge.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This explains why, at the New Hampshire event, he's talking about "control of thought and control of speech" for seemingly no reason. In fact, Carson believes that liberals are deliberately making it impossible for conservatives to talk about the truly important issues that are destroying America. Keeping everyone cowed and silent is the first step to tyranny, which is why he thinks incipient Hitlerism is something to be taken seriously. Here he is explaining this view last year, <a href="" target="_blank">before he was running for president:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Political correctness is antithetical to our founding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. <strong>Its most powerful tool is intimidation. If it is not vigorously opposed, its proponents win by default, because the victims adopt a &ldquo;go along to get along&rdquo; attitude.</strong> Major allies in the imposition of PC are members of the media, some of whom thrive on controversy and others who are true ideologues.</p> <p>....The American people must learn to identify and ignore political correctness if we are to escape the bitter ideological grenades that are destroying our unity and strength. <strong>Political correctness is impotent if we the people are fearless.</strong> Let us emphasize intelligent discussion of issues and leave the smear campaigns to those with no constructive ideas.</p> </blockquote> <p>Carson talks incessantly about political correctness, and he's been doing it for a long time. It is, he believes, the method by which the populace is kept too intimidated to object when liberal policies lead to moral decay and the eventual downfall of the country. You will hear him talk all the time about not being afraid to speak up, and when he does it's more than just a normal political stemwinder urging people to get involved and vote. He believes that political correctness today is the equivalent of brownshirt terrorism in 1933, and he believes that this is what brought Hitler to power in Germany. Whenever you hear Carson talk about either "political correctness" or "mind control," this is what it means to him.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 16:25:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 285941 at Vatican: Pope Francis Barely Knew Who Kim Davis Was When He Met Her <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I don't really care all that much about whether Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, but my sister is fascinated by the whole story. So this is for her. Earlier today, the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Davis was basically part of an hour-long press-the-flesh session and <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">Francis barely even knew who she was:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,&rdquo; Father Lombardi said.</p> <p>He added: &ldquo;<strong>Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits</strong> and are due to the pope&rsquo;s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the pope at the Nunciature was with one of his <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_benedict_xvi_smoke.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">former students and his family.&rdquo;</p> <p>....At the Vatican on Friday, a spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, said the invitation had been extended by the office of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigan&ograve;, the nuncio, or envoy, in Washington, not from Rome....Father Rosica said of the controversy: &ldquo;I would simply say: Her case is a very complex case. It&rsquo;s got all kinds of intricacies. <strong>Was there an opportunity to brief the pope on this beforehand? I don&rsquo;t think so. A list is given &mdash; these are the people you are going to meet.</strong>&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>As usual with the Catholic Church, previous popes continue to have long arms even after they die or retire. It turns out that the papal nuncio, a culturally conservative guy who's loyal to the former Benedict XVI, decided to invite Davis. The current pope apparently had no idea this would happen and may not have even known who she was. Basically, Davis was ushered in for her 60 seconds with the pope, who blessed her, gave her a rosary, and then moved along to the next person in line. It would be wise not to read too much into this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:11:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 285931 at Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in September <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The American economy <a href="" target="_blank">added 142,000 new jobs last month,</a> 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a lackluster 52,000 jobs. The July and August numbers were revised downward by 59,000 jobs. The headline unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.1 percent, partly because the number of unemployed workers was down, but partly because half a million people dropped out of the labor force. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were flat, though weekly earnings were down at an annualized rate of 3.6 percent.</p> <p>This is a pretty weak report. It's not a disaster, but it suggests just how fragile the economy remains. A stronger dollar and weakness in China are likely taking a toll. We keep waiting for liftoff, but it never seems to come. We continue to dog paddle along.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_net_new_jobs_september_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 5px 5px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 14:51:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 285926 at Here's Why I Doubt That Hillary Clinton Used a Private Email Server to Evade FOIA Requests <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Thanks to the endless release of her emails, we've learned something about Hillary Clinton that hasn't gotten much attention: As near as I can tell, she's sort of a technology idiot. She asked her aides for information that she could have Googled in less time than it took to ask. She needed help figuring out how to use an iPad. She didn't know her own office phone number. She used a BlackBerry. She had trouble operating a fax machine. She was unclear about needing a WiFi connection to access the internet.</p> <p>In other words, when Fox News reporter Ed Henry asked whether Clinton's email server had been wiped, and she answered, "What, like with a cloth or something?"&mdash;well, that might not have been the sarcastic response we all thought it was. She might truly have had no idea what he meant.</p> <p>As for setting up a private server with just a single account in order to evade FOIA requests, it looks as though she's genuinely not tech savvy enough to have cooked up something like that. She probably really did just think it sounded convenient, and nobody<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe> stepped in to disabuse her of this notion.</p> <p>So what <em>was</em> the deal with FOIA? I don't know, and I suspect we'll never know. But I'll say this: there were obviously people at State who knew that Hillary used a private server for email. The folks who respond to FOIA requests are responsible for figuring out where documents might be, and in this case it was just a matter of asking. Apparently they didn't, which is hardly Hillary's fault. The alternative is that they did ask, and Hillary's staff flat-out lied to them and said that she never used email. You can decide for yourself which sounds more plausible.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> After writing this, I decided to do some Googling myself to check a few things. And it turns out that I'm not, in fact, the first to notice Hillary's technology foibles. Just a few weeks ago, Seth Meyers did a whole late-night bit about this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 02 Oct 2015 01:49:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 285911 at The World Economic Forum Delivers a Report Card on the US Economy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So how's the ol' US of A doing under the free-market-hating presidency of the socialist Barack Obama? Probably badly, I'll bet. Let's see what the World Economic Forum has to say. <a href="" target="_blank">Their latest set of competitiveness rankings came out today,</a> and among countries with populations over 10 million, the US was....</p> <p>First. How about that? But it was probably even better before Obama took over, wasn't it? Let's see. In 2009 we ranked #1 among big countries with a score of 5.59. This year we're #1 with a score of 5.61. That's hard to fathom. But there you have it. Our competitiveness in the global free market seems to have improved a bit during Obama's tenure. I wonder if Fox News will bother reporting this?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wef_competitiveness_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 32px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 19:35:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 285861 at Let Us Now Praise Authentically Stiff Politicians <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_politician_authentic_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Brendan Nyhan thinks we spend too much time yakking about which candidates are "authentic" and which ones aren't. <a href=";emc=rss" target="_blank">For example:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>George W. Bush and Al Gore were both born into powerful political families, but were perceived very differently. Mr. Bush successfully reinvented himself as a down-home Texas ranch owner despite being the son of a president with elite New England roots, while Mr. Gore was widely mocked as a phony who grew up amid wealth and power in Washington, especially when he invoked his childhood work on his family&rsquo;s Tennessee farm. <strong>Again, one simple explanation for the disparate treatment they received is that Mr. Bush was a better political performer.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I would remind everyone that Brad Pitt gets paid millions of dollars for doing a very good job of pretending to be authentically charming. The ability to feign authenticity is called "acting," and it's a lucrative profession if you're good at it.</p> <p>Was Al Gore authentic? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? Sure. Gore is genuinely sort of wonkish and stiff. Hillary is earnest and cautious around people. Romney is careful and detail-oriented. That's authentically who they are. If they studied up and adopted a hail-fellow-well-met persona, everyone would think they were authentic, but they'd just be pretending.</p> <p>If you prefer politicians who are bluff and emotional in public, just say so. If you can't stand being around people who natter on about policy and guard their private lives, say so. But cut out the "authentic" nonsense. That's not what this is about.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 17:49:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 285846 at Should Democrats All Quit the Benghazi Committee? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Following Rep. Kevin McCarthy's candid boasting about how the House Benghazi committee has been a great tool to take down Hillary Clinton&mdash;an admission being furiously rowed back as we speak&mdash;Rep. Adam Smith suggested that <a href="" target="_blank">maybe it was time to call a spade a spade:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The committee is a joke and I think Democrats ought to call it what it is and say we're not going to participate in this anymore. And that's <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_benghazi!_gowdy.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">my initial reaction. I'll listen to my leadership on this and perhaps they will again have greater wisdom, but it just has been an embarrassment.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a possibility that's long intrigued me, but I can't make up my mind if it would be a good decision. On the plus side, letting Republicans meet all by themselves would pretty dramatically make the point that this is little more than a partisan boondoggle. On the minus side, losing access to the committee's materials would prevent Democrats from fighting back whenever Trey Gowdy or his staffers decide to leak a partial transcript to the <em>New York Times</em>.</p> <p>Decisions, decisions. Maybe everyone should resign except for Elijah Cummings, who wouldn't actually attend most hearings but would still retain the minority's access to committee materials.</p> <p>It would be interesting to see what happens if Democrats did this. But I suspect it's the kind of thing that sounds better to a blogger with nothing on the line than it does to the actual Democratic leadership in the House.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 16:16:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 285836 at Let's All Take a Nice Deep Breath Over Russia's Airstrikes in Syria <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>One of Josh Marshall's readers says something this morning that I've been meaning to say but haven't gotten around to. <a href="" target="_blank">It's about the Russian airstrikes in Syria:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>First, the actual deployment is very small. In terms of the airwing, <strong>it is roughly the equivalent of what the non-U.S. coalition members have flying over Iraq and Syria,</strong> keeping in mind that the U.S. is still flying the majority of sorties now. The Russians are armed with non-precision munitions, meaning the likelihood of civilian casualties is high.</p> <p>....Moreover, anyone who has been following Russia's military modernization program closely over the past five years or so knows that the Russian military is <strong>unlikely to be able to sustain this kind of deployment in the long run</strong>....This means that over time, the mission is unlikely to accomplish much more than propping up Assad and preventing his collapse, which appeared imminent and explains the rapidity of the deployment.</p> <p>....When it comes to formulating a U.S. response to this new development, time is the biggest advantage we have. The shine will soon wear off of Putin's move. <strong>It looks bold and confident now, but it is actually a bluff and in part a diversionary one at that</strong>....The U.S. bargaining position will be much stronger when Putin's gambit is revealed to be the empty bluff it is.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd make a broader point. Like clockwork, every time another country hauls out its military&mdash;the Egyptian airstrikes in Libya, Jordan's airstrikes against ISIS&mdash;American conservatives go wild. Why can't Obama commit to that kind of serious action? But also like clockwork, this routinely ignores the fact that (a) the military action they're admiring is pretty small, and (b) Obama is <em>already</em> doing the same thing on a much bigger scale.</p> <p>Yes, yes, I know: we should arm the Syrian opposition. Spare me. That empty shibboleth aside, we're already bombing Syria. We're already bombing ISIS in Iraq. We already have thousands of boots on the ground. We've already put together an international coalition. We're doing ten times what Putin is doing and we've been doing it for over a year. If you have serious criticisms of the tactics we're using, fine. But Vladimir Putin is the Donald Trump of world leaders: he gets swooning admiration from conservatives because he knows how to play the media. I sort of admire the bang for the buck he gets on the world stage from his flamboyant gestures, but that's about it. He's entered the Syrian conflict in a small way, four years after it began, and only because he was in danger of losing his last tenuous toehold in the Middle East. And for that he gets 24/7 coverage on Fox and CNN.</p> <p>Do you know how many military bases the US has in the Middle East? Nearly two dozen. Plus the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Plus a whole bunch of close allies. And we're supposed to be quaking in our boots because Putin hastily upgraded a single aging base in Latakia under pressure from his sole remaining ally? You're kidding, right?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_us_bases_middle_east.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 5px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:28:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 285821 at For Sale: The Ritual Experience of Handling and Interacting With Something Physical <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Hipsters rule the world:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Underneath the staggering 32.5% decline in revenues for CD sales according to RIAA&rsquo;s 2015 mid-year stats, there is one stunning figure: vinyl&rsquo;s revenues have grown 52.1% over the last year.</p> <p>Kept alive by hip audiophiles, vinyl&rsquo;s resurgence&mdash;partially thanks to Urban Outfitters&mdash;has been nothing but impressive of late, raking in $226 million in the first half of 2015. That&rsquo;s more than ad-supported streaming services like Spotify, which <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_record_player.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">took in $162.7 million in the first half of 2015. Paid streaming services like Spotify Premium still monetize better than both, taking in $477.9 million in revenue.</p> </blockquote> <p>I guess it's time to haul in my old turntable from the garage. I think I paid about $150 for it 1978, which in today's dollars is, oh, about $73,000 or so. Right? I mean, it's a <em>real</em> record player from the days when we played records because that's what music came on, and an antique like that gives your vinyl an <em>authentic</em> sound. Let's see. How does Ethan Wolff-Mann put it? Oh yes: "Vinyl offers consumers a ritual experience they value, handling and interacting with something physical." And that, my friends, is why my garage is worth a fortune. I shall start accepting bids shortly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 14:42:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 285816 at Bestselling Historian Explains US Foreign Policy: "Obama Is Prone to Submitting to Males Who Act Dominantly in His Presence" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here is Arthur Herman writing in <em>National Review</em> about&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">geopolitical realities in the age of Obama:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If Vladimir Putin is the dominant alpha male in the new international pecking order, <strong>Barack Obama has emerged as his highly submissive partner.</strong></p> <p>There are various reasons why we are being subjected to the humiliating spectacle of an American president, so-called leader of the free world, <strong>rolling over on the mat at Putin&rsquo;s feet.</strong></p> <p>Of course, there have been signs for years that <strong>Obama is prone to submitting to males who act dominantly in his presence.</strong> Who can forget his frozen performance with Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate in 2012....We&rsquo;ve seen it in his interactions with China&rsquo;s president Xi Jinping; his strange bowing and scraping with the Saudi king; and his various meetings with Putin, including the last at the United Nations on Monday where <strong>a tight-lipped Obama could barely bring himself to look at the Russian president while Putin looked cool and confident&mdash;as well as he should.</strong></p> <p>For every aggressive move Putin has made on the international stage, first in Crimea and Ukraine in Europe, and now in Syria, our president&rsquo;s response has been largely verbal protestations followed by resolute inaction. Why should Putin not assume that when he orders the U.S. to stop its own air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and to leave the skies to the Russians, he won&rsquo;t be obeyed?</p> <p><strong>But there&rsquo;s more to Obama&rsquo;s passivity than just pack behavior....</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Seriously, what kind of adult talks like this? Or thinks like this? How can a historian, of all people, explain a moment in history as a serial dominance display between chimpanzees? I'm not even sure what the right word for this is. It's not just childish or puerile, though it's those things too. Disturbed? Compulsive? Unbalanced? I'm not sure. This is a job for William F. Buckley.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 01 Oct 2015 04:53:33 +0000 Kevin Drum 285801 at The Shiny New "Sharing Economy" Is Sure Starting to Seem Awfully Old-Fashioned <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_amazon_flex.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Brian Fung writes today about Amazon's <a href="" target="_blank">new package delivery scheme:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Flex, Amazon's new on-demand delivery service, promises to get your packages to you even sooner by hiring independent drivers to bring them to your house. As a lot of reports have pointed out, Flex is basically <strong>Uber for Amazon packages.</strong></p> <p>But, speaking of Uber, how will Amazon's leap into on-demand logistics affect the rest of the <strong>sharing economy</strong>?</p> <p>....Amazon Flex says it will pay its delivery drivers $18 to $25 per hour. They can elect to drive for two-, four-, or eight-hour shifts. In exchange, they need to supply your own car, a driver's license and an Android phone so that they can install Amazon's driver app....<strong>Compare that to ridesharing</strong> services whose drivers get to maximize their flexibility but whose income is more variable. For some, this trade-off may be worth it.</p> <p>....Amazon Flex is betting that as the economy improves, there will still be people who are willing to work in the <strong>sharing economy</strong> rather than returning to full-time jobs....Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the <strong>sharing economy</strong> will become a $335 billion business by 2025 &mdash; up from $15 billion a year today.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's slow down here. What exactly <em>is</em> the "sharing economy"? Originally it was sort of like renting. <a href=",28804,2059521_2059717_2059710,00.html" target="_blank"><em>Time</em> rhapsodized about it in 2011:</a> "The true innovative spirit of collaborative consumption can be found in start-ups like Brooklyn-based SnapGoods, which helps people rent goods via the Internet. Or Airbnb, which allows people to rent their homes to travelers."</p> <p>Then it morphed into "Uber for ____" companies. Uber, of course, doesn't really allow you to share your car with other people. It's your car and you're the only one who drives it. Rather, Uber provides infrastructure and scale that allows you to become an on-demand taxicab whenever your schedule allows it.</p> <p>Now it's apparently morphed even further. In some sense, Uber allows you to "share" your car with your passengers. That's a stretch, but Flex doesn't even provide that. The only thing you're doing is "sharing" your car with the packages you're delivering. By that standard, all of us are part of the sharing economy, since we "share" our bodies and brains with employers in order to accomplish tasks that our employer gives us.</p> <p>In this case, Amazon is doing nothing more than hiring drivers as independent contractors so that it doesn't have to pay benefits and doesn't have to pay them if there aren't any packages to deliver. (You can pick your own shift, but only if a shift is available.) The only real innovation here is that Flex might<sup>1</sup> allow you to work odd hours here and there, which is convenient if you have other commitments that prevent you from working a normal schedule. Mostly, though, it's just Amazon taking the 21st century mania for scheduling workers on a day-to-day basis and instead scheduling them hour-to-hour.</p> <p>In any case, it now seems as though the "sharing economy" is any job that's somehow related to a scheduling app and provides workers only with odd bits and pieces of work at the employer's whim. In other words, sort of like manual laborers in the Victorian era, but with smartphones and better pay. No wonder PricewaterhouseCoopers thinks it will grow to $335 billion over the next decade. By that standard, I'd be surprised if it didn't break $1 trillion.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>I say "might" because it all depends. Maybe jobs really are first-come-first-serve. Or maybe Amazon will start to favor workers who regularly take as long a shift as Amazon wants them to take. Or perhaps Amazon will start to push offers out to workers, and downrate those who don't accept them frequently enough. Who knows?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:35:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 285786 at Putin Is Wasting Blood and Treasure in Syria. Let Him. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Tom Friedman <a href="" target="_blank">gets it right on Syria:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Today&rsquo;s reigning clich&eacute; is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.</p> </blockquote> <p>Yep. <a href="" target="_blank">Charles Krauthammer,</a> for example, is nonplussed. "What&rsquo;s also unprecedented is the utter passivity of the United States," he said yesterday. "The real story this week is what <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_syria_map_russian_airstrikes_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">happened at the U.N., where Putin essentially stepped in and took over Syria. He&rsquo;s now the leader." And here's another Republican <a href="" target="_blank">on the same theme:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says Russian President Vladimir Putin is escalating his support for the Assad regime in Syria because he thinks the Obama administration won't stop him. <strong>"He sees no pushback, no price to pay,"</strong> said Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. <strong>"What he's doing is raising popularity in his country."</strong></p> <p>....The Foreign Relations chairman also criticized the Obama administration for missing opportunities in Syria, citing the decision to pull back from its redline after the regime used chemical weapons.</p> <p>"We have missed opportunities," he said...."That could have really changed the momentum at a time when we really did have a moderate opposition. "By us not taking that action, it took the wind out of their sails," he said. <strong>"That was the biggest moment of opportunity ... and that was mishandled."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This has become almost pathological. Every time Putin does something, Republicans start wailing about how he's taking charge, showing what a real leader does while Obama meekly sits back and does nothing. They assume that military action always shows strength, while avoiding military action always shows weakness. That's just crazy. Let's take a quick survey of the real situation here:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Syria is the last ally Russia has left in the Middle East.</strong> Putin didn't suddenly increase his military support of&nbsp;Assad as a show of brilliant grand strategy. He did it because he was in danger of losing his very last client state in the Middle East. This is a desperate gamble to hold on to at least a few shreds of influence there.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Fred Kaplan:</a> "In the past decade, Russia has lost erstwhile footholds in Libya and Iraq, failed in its attempt to regain Egypt as an ally....and would have lost Syria as well except for its supply of arms and advisers to Assad....Syria is just one of two countries outside the former Soviet Union where Russia has a military base....His annexation of Crimea has proved a financial drain. His incursion into eastern Ukraine (where many ethnic Russians would welcome re-absorption into the Motherland) has stalled after a thin slice was taken at the cost of 3,000 soldiers. His plan for a Eurasian Economic Union, to counter the influence of the west&rsquo;s European Union, has failed to materialize. His energy deal with China, designed to counter the west&rsquo;s sanctions against Russian companies, has collapsed.</p> <p><strong>Intervention is unpopular with Russians.</strong> Corker is dead wrong about Putin doing this to curry favor with the public. On the contrary, they don't care about Syria and are reluctant to lose any lives helping Assad. Putin is assisting Assad despite the domestic difficulties it will create for him, not because he expects the Russian masses to rally to the flag.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Amanda Taub:</a> "A recent poll by Moscow's Levada Center shows that only a small minority of Russians support giving Bashar al-Assad direct military support. Only 39 percent of respondents said they supported Russia's policy toward the Assad regime. When asked what Russia should do for Assad, 69 percent opposed direct military intervention. A tiny 14 percent of respondents said that Russia should send troops or other direct military support to Syria."</p> <p><strong>Putin is targeting anti-Assad rebels, not ISIS.</strong> For public consumption, Putin claims that he's helping the US in its counterterrorism operations against ISIS. This is obvious baloney, since Russian jets aren't operating in areas where ISIS is strong. They're operating in areas where anti-Assad rebels are strong.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Andrew Rettman:</a> "Philip Breedlove, Nato's top military commander, believes the Latakia build-up has nothing to do with counter-terrorism....'As we see the very capable air defence [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we're a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,' he said.</p> <p>'These very sophisticated air defence capabilities are not about [IS], they're about something else ... high on Mr. Putin's list in Syria is preserving the regime against those that are putting pressure on the regime.'"</p> <p><strong>The benefits of getting further entangled in Syria are....what?</strong> Russia may be concerned about Syria becoming a breeding ground for terrorists who then make their way up to Russia. But that's about it. Putin isn't going to win Syria's civil war, and Assad will become a bottomless pit of demands for more military support. Aside from winning the admiration of American conservatives, it's hard to see Putin getting anything of real worth out of this.</p> <p>The same is true of the United States. There has never been a cohesive "moderate opposition" that would have ousted Assad if only we had supported them earlier. Republicans keep repeating this myth, but when they had a chance to support strikes on Syria in 2013, they didn't do it. That shows about how much they really believe this. Nor has there ever been a chance that the United States could topple Assad short of committing tens of thousands of ground troops, something that nobody support. "Arming the opposition" is the last refuge of hawkish dead-enders: something that sounds tough but rarely has much effect. You mostly hear it from people who don't have the courage to recommend ground troops but are desperate to sound like they're backing serious action.</p> </blockquote> <p>The United States doesn't have the power to fix the Middle East. We can nudge here and there, but that's about all. As Friedman says, Obama may have caused some of his own problems by talking a bigger game than he's willing to play, but he's still right not to play. If Vladimir Putin is so afraid of losing his last foothold in the Middle East that he's willing to make a reckless and expensive gamble in the Syrian quagmire, let him. It's an act of peevishness and fear, not of brilliant geopolitical gamesmanship. For ourselves, the better part of wisdom is to stay out. Modest action would be useless, and our national interest simply isn't strong enough to justify a major intervention. Like it or not, war is not always the answer.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 30 Sep 2015 19:51:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 285771 at Watch and Be Amazed as the Internet Becomes a Parody of Itself <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_peeple.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">It's about time we had a rigorous, quantitative way of telling our friends what we really think of them. Meet Peeple, <a href="" target="_blank">coming soon to a smartphone near you:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can&rsquo;t opt out &mdash; once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it&rsquo;s there unless you violate the site&rsquo;s terms of service. And you can&rsquo;t delete bad, inaccurate or biased reviews &mdash; that would defeat the whole purpose.</p> </blockquote> <p>Sounds like a libel suit waiting to happen, doesn't it? Exciting! In any case, here's the deal: When Peeple launches, I want every one of you to download the app and rate me with one star. Zero stars if possible. For a brief moment, I want to be the worst person in the world. This will be my 15 minutes of fame.</p> <p>Unfortunately, I know my readers. You probably think this sounds like a hoot, but you're too lazy to actually do it, aren't you? I guess I don't blame you. I am too.</p> <p>Oh well. But one more thing before I end this post. According to Caitlin Dewey, "You can already rate restaurants, hotels, movies, college classes, government agencies and bowel movements online." Bowel movements? Well fine. I would give today's four stars. No, wait. Five stars. It was pretty excellent.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> There's already an app-enabled camera for your front door called Peeple, a poorly-reviewed Tyler Perry movie called <em>Peeples</em>, a kids' toy called Creeple Peeple, and a "urine-induced art" package called Peeple (you put the peeple in urinals, and they slowly lose their clothes as you pee on them). These guys couldn't think of a more unique name for their ridiculous app?</p> <p><strong>ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT:</strong> I sure hope we're allowed to change our ratings in this app. When some little rat bastard of a "friend" refuses to let me borrow his lawnmower, I want an easy way to punish him.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 30 Sep 2015 17:25:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 285716 at