Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/11 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Health Note Placeholder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/health-note-placeholder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So where was I all day Thursday? It's getting a little late and I'm tired, but I promise to regale you with the whole story sometime Friday. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but in the end things probably turned out OK. More in the morning.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 06 Mar 2015 05:36:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 271461 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/health-note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I suppose the lack of content makes it obvious, but today has been a very bad day. I haven't been able to sleep more than a few hours for the past few days, despite plenty of sleep meds. I'm completely exhausted, and not just because of the lack of sleep. That's just making things worse. I can walk about 50 feet before I need to rest. My big accomplishment of the day was to turn on the TV around noon.</p> <p>I assume this is all just part of the chemo withdrawal symptoms, but I don't really know. Tomorrow I have an appointment with an oncology nurse, so perhaps I'll learn more then.</p> <p>If there's a silver lining to this, I suppose it's the possibility that this is the bottom of the post-chemo symptoms, and now I'll start getting better. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 05 Mar 2015 01:32:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 271401 at http://www.motherjones.com Tea Party Loses Big in Today's Vote on Clean DHS Funding Bill http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/tea-party-loses-big-todays-vote-clean-dhs-funding-bill <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It looks like the conventional wisdom <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/03/03/house-to-vote-on-new-bill-to-fully-fund-homeland-security/?hpid=z1" target="_blank">was correct:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The House will vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. The measure will not target President Obama's executive actions on immigration, giving Democrats what they have long demanded and potentially enraging conservatives bent on fighting the president on immigration.</p> <p>&hellip;The decision marks a big win for Democrats, who have long demanded that Congress pass a "clean" bill to fund DHS free of any immigration riders. For weeks, Boehner and his top deputies have refused to take up such a bill, as conservatives have demanded using the DHS debate to take on Obama's directives, which include action to prevent the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.</p> </blockquote> <p>I thought the most likely course was a brief DHS shutdown (a week or two) just to save face, followed by a pretty clean funding bill. But I was too pessimistic. Apparently the House leadership wasn't willing to take the PR hit that would inevitably involve.</p> <p>I wonder if Republicans could have gotten a better deal if the tea party faction had been less bullheaded? Last week's debacle, where they torpedoed even a three-week funding extension, surely demonstrated to Boehner that he had no choice but to ignore the tea partiers entirely. They simply were never going to support anything except a full repeal of Obama's immigration actions, and that was never a remotely realistic option. The subsequent one-week extension passed only thanks to Democratic votes, and that made it clear that working with Democrats was Boehner's only real choice. And that in turn meant a clean funding bill.</p> <p>But what if the tea partiers had signaled some willingness to compromise? Could they have passed a bill that repealed some small part of Obama's program&mdash;and that could have passed the Senate? Maybe. Instead they got nothing. I guess maybe they'd rather stick to their guns than accomplish something small but useful. That sends a signal to their base, but unfortunately for them, it also sends a signal to Boehner. And increasingly, that signal is that he has no choice but to stop paying attention to their demands. There's nothing in it for Boehner, is there?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Tue, 03 Mar 2015 20:00:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 271286 at http://www.motherjones.com Summers: Yes, the Robots Are Coming to Take Our Jobs http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/summers-yes-robots-are-coming-take-our-jobs <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jim Tankersley called up Larry Summers to ask him to clarify his views on whether automation is hurting middle-class job <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_larry_summers.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">prospects. Despite reports that he no longer supports this view, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/03/robots-are-hurting-middle-class-workers-and-education-wont-solve-the-problem-larry-summers-says/" target="_blank">apparently he does:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Tankersley:</strong> How do you think about the effects of technology and automation on workers today, particularly those in the middle class?</p> <p><strong>Summers:</strong> No one should speak with certainty about these matters, because there are challenges in the statistics, and there are conflicts in the data. But it seems to me that there is a wave of what certainly appears to be labor-substitutive innovation. And that probably, we are only in the early innings of such a wave.</p> </blockquote> <p>I think this is precisely right. I suspect that:</p> <ul><li>Automation began having an effect on jobs around the year 2000.</li> <li>The effect is very small so far.</li> <li>So small, in fact, that it probably can't be measured reliably. There's too much noise from other sources.</li> <li>And I might be wrong about this.</li> </ul><p>In any case, this is at least the right argument to be having. There's been a sort of straw-man argument making the rounds recently that automation has had a big impact on jobs since 2010 and is responsible for the weak recovery from the Great Recession. I suppose there are some people who believe this, but I really don't think it's the consensus view of people (<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank">like me</a>) who believe that automation is a small problem today that's going to grow in the future. My guess is that when economists look back a couple of decades from now, they're going to to date the automation revolution from about the year 2000&mdash;but that since its effects are exponential, we barely noticed it for the first decade. We'll notice it more this decade; a lot more in the 2020s; and by the 2030s it will be inarguably the biggest economic challenge we face.</p> <p>Summers also gets it right on the value of education. He believes it's important, but he doesn't think it will do anything to address skyrocketing income inequality:</p> <blockquote> <p>It is not likely, in my view, that any feasible program of improving education will have a large impact on inequality in any relevant horizon.</p> <p>First, almost two-thirds of the labor force in 2030 is already out of school today. Second, most of the inequality we observe is within education group&nbsp;&mdash; within high school graduates or within college graduates, rather than between high school graduates and college graduates. Third, inequality within college graduates is actually somewhat greater than inequality within high school graduates. <strong>Fourth, changing patterns of education is unlikely to have much to do with a rising share of the top 1 percent, which is probably the most important inequality phenomenon.</strong> So I am all for improving education. But to suggest that improving education is the solution to inequality is, I think, an evasion.</p> </blockquote> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" height="251" src="/files/robots_a_630_0.jpg" width="265"></a> <div class="caption"><strong>Also read Kevin's #longread all about this stuff: </strong><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/05/robots-artificial-intelligence-jobs-automation" target="_blank"><strong>Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us? </strong></a></div> </div> <p>This is the key fact. Rising inequality is almost all due to the immense rise in the incomes of the top 1 percent. But no one argues that the top 1 percent are better educated than, say, the top 10 percent. As Summers says, if we improve our educational outcomes, that will have a broad positive effect on the economy. But it very plainly won't have any effect on the dynamics that have shoveled so much of our economic gains to the very wealthy.</p> <p>The rest is worth a read (it's a fairly short interview). Summers isn't saying anything that lots of other people haven't said before, but he's an influential guy. The fact that he's saying it too means this is well on its way to becoming conventional wisdom.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Tech Tue, 03 Mar 2015 17:58:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 271266 at http://www.motherjones.com There's Really No Plan B on Iran, Is There? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/theres-really-no-plan-b-iran-there <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday was one of my bad days, but one consequence of that was that I zoned out in front of the TV for long stretches. That allowed me to hear an endless procession of talking heads spend time talking about what we should do about Iran.</p> <p>The striking thing was not that there was lots of criticism from conservatives about President Obama's negotiating strategy. The striking thing was the complete lack of any real alternative from these folks. I listened to interviewer after interviewer ask various people what they'd do instead, and the answers were all the weakest of weak tea. A few mentioned tighter sanctions, but without much conviction since (a) sanctions are already pretty tight and (b) even the hawks seem to understand that mere sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran's nuclear program anyway. Beyond that there was nothing.</p> <p>That is, with the refreshing (?) exception of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sounded a bit like Jack Nicholson in <em>A Few Good Men</em> after being badgered a bit by Wolf Blitzer. <em>Military action? You're damn right I want to see military action.</em> Or words to that effect, anyway. But of course, this sentiment was behind the scenes everywhere, even if most of the hawkish talking heads didn't quite say it so forthrightly. I noticed that even President Obama, in his interview with Reuters, specifically mentioned "military action," rather than the usual euphemism of "all cards are on the table."</p> <p>In my vague, laymanish way, this sure makes me wonder just how seriously military action really is on the table. I mean, I realize there are no really great options here, but a major war against Iran sure seems like a helluva bad idea&mdash;so bad that even the hawks ought to be thinking twice about this. That's especially true since I've heard no one who thinks it would permanently disable Iran's nuclear program anyway. It would just cause them to redouble their efforts and to do a better job of hiding it.</p> <p>I'm not saying anything new here. It only struck me a little harder than usual after watching so many interviews about Iran in the space of just a few hours (and I wasn't even watching Fox at all). There's really no Plan B here, and even the hawks are mostly reluctant to explicitly say that we should just up and launch a massive air assault on Iran. It's a weird, almost ghostly controversy we're having.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Tue, 03 Mar 2015 16:08:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 271246 at http://www.motherjones.com Tikrit is an Early Test of Iraq vs. ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/tikrit-early-test-iraq-vs-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_tikrit_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/world/middleeast/iraq-tikrit-isis.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Well, here we go:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Iraqi military, alongside thousands of Shiite militia fighters, began a large-scale offensive on Monday to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State....<strong>Monday&rsquo;s attack, which officials said involved more than 30,000 fighters supported by Iraqi helicopters and jets,</strong> was the boldest effort yet to recapture Tikrit and, Iraqi officials said, the largest Iraqi offensive anywhere in the country since the Islamic State took control of Mosul, Iraq&rsquo;s second-largest city, in June. It was unclear if airstrikes from the American-led coalition, which has been bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq since August, were involved in the early stages of the offensive on Monday.</p> <p><strong>From a military perspective, capturing Tikrit is seen as an important precursor to an operation to retake Mosul,</strong> which lies farther north. Success in Tikrit could push up the timetable for a Mosul campaign, while failure would most likely mean more delays.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a test of whether the American training of Iraqi troops has made much difference. If it has, this latest attempt to take Tikrit might succeed. If not, it will probably fail like all the other attempts.</p> <p>It's worth noting that 30,000 troops to take Tikrit is about the equivalent of 200,000 troops to take a city the size of Mosul. So even if the Iraqi offensive is successful, it's still not clear what it means going forward. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Mon, 02 Mar 2015 16:09:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 271196 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Secret Scheming Places of Tea Party Congressmen Revealed! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/03/quote-day-secret-scheming-places-tea-party-congressmen-revealed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-congress-gop-20150301-story.html" target="_blank">From Republican Rep. Devin Nunes,</a> on the tactics of tea partiers who are holding up the DHS funding bill over their increasingly pointless insistence that it include a provision repealing President Obama's immigration program:</p> <blockquote> <p>While conservative leaders are trying to move the ball up the field, these other members sit in <strong>exotic places like basements of Mexican restaurants and upper levels of House office buildings,</strong> seemingly unaware that they can't advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.</p> </blockquote> <p>Um, OK. Not exactly <em>House of Cards</em>, but OK.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Sun, 01 Mar 2015 18:43:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 271176 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Is Making Shit Up, Just Like His Hero Ronald Reagan http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/scott-walker-just-ronald-reagan-they-both-made-shit <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/02/28/scott-walker-calls-reagans-bust-of-air-traffic-controller-strike-most-significant-foreign-policy-decision/?tid=hpModule_ba0d4c2a-86a2-11e2-9d71-f0feafdd1394" target="_blank">This morning</a>, once again trying to show that fighting against Wisconsin labor unions is pretty much the same as fighting ISIS or communism, Scott Walker repeated his contention that Ronald Reagan's early move to fire striking air traffic controllers was more than <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_reagan_patco.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">just an attack on organized labor. It was also a critical foreign policy decision. Here's what he <a href="http://crooksandliars.com/cltv/2015/01/walker-firing-air-traffic-controllers" target="_blank">originally said last month on <em>Morning Joe</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the most powerful foreign policy decisions that I think was made in our lifetime was one that Ronald Reagan made early in his presidency when he fired the air traffic controllers....What it did, it showed our allies around the world that we were serious and more importantly that this man to our adversaries was serious.</p> <p><strong>Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case.</strong> The Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think [President Barack Obama] has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/jan/28/scott-walker/scott-walker-records-show-soviets-treated-ronald-r/" target="_blank">PolitiFact decided to check up on this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.</p> <p>[Joseph] McCartin...."I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them."....Svetlana Savranskaya...."There is absolutely no evidence of this."....James Graham Wilson....Not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow&rsquo;s internal response to the controller firings....Reagan's own ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, told us: "It's utter nonsense. There is no evidence of that whatever."</p> </blockquote> <p>PolitiFact's conclusion: "For a statement that is false and ridiculous, our rating is Pants on Fire." But Walker shouldn't feel too bad. After all, Reagan was also famous for making up facts and evidence that didn't exist, so Walker is just taking after his hero. What's more, Reagan's fantasies never hurt him much. Maybe they won't hurt Walker either.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections International Labor Sat, 28 Feb 2015 16:06:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 271166 at http://www.motherjones.com Kagan: Netanyahu Speech Is a Blunder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/kagan-netanyahu-speech-blunder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Even the ever-hawkish Robert Kagan thinks Republicans blew it by inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/at-what-price-netanyahu/2015/02/27/96f9efae-be81-11e4-b274-e5209a3bc9a9_story.html?hpid=z2" target="_blank">address a joint session of Congress:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Looking back on it from years hence, will the spectacle of an Israeli prime minister coming to Washington to do battle with an American president wear well or poorly?</p> <p>....Is anyone thinking about the future? From now on, whenever the opposition party happens to control Congress &mdash; a common enough occurrence &mdash; it may call in a foreign leader to speak to a joint meeting of Congress against a president and his policies. Think of how this might have played out in the past. A Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s might, for instance, have called the Nobel Prize-winning Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to denounce President Ronald Reagan&rsquo;s policies in Central America. A Democratic-controlled Congress in 2003 might have called French President Jacques Chirac to oppose President George W. Bush&rsquo;s impending war in Iraq.</p> <p>Does that sound implausible? Yes, it was implausible &mdash; until now.</p> </blockquote> <p>But President Obama has been poking sticks in Republican eyes ever since November, and Republicans desperately needed to poke back to maintain credibility with their base. Since passing useful legislation was apparently not in the cards, this was all they could come up with. What a debacle.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress International Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:09:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271161 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 27 February 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/friday-cat-blogging-27-february-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My biopsy is scheduled for this morning, so once again you get early cat blogging. Hopper got center stage last week, so this week it's Hilbert's turn.</p> <p>Speaking of Hopper, though, a few days ago she demonstrated the wonders of the internet to me. That wasn't her intent, of course. Her intent was to chew through the charging cord of one of my landline phone extensions. This effectively turned the phone into a paperweight&mdash;and not even a very good one. But then I looked on the back of the charger and there was a model number etched into the plastic. So I typed it into Google. Despite the fact that this phone is more than a decade old, I was able to order two used replacements for $4 each within five minutes. Truly we live in a miraculous age.</p> <p>But I still wish Hopper would stop chewing on every dangling cord in the house. Steps need to be taken, but I'm not quite sure yet what they'll be.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_02_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 271081 at http://www.motherjones.com Marco Rubio Has a Peculiar Idea of How to Defeat ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/marco-rubio-has-peculiar-idea-how-defeat-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen points me to Marco Rubio today. Here is Rubio explaining how his ISIS strategy would be <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rubio-blasts-isis-strategy-he-supports" target="_blank">different from President Obama's:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States,&rdquo; Rubio said. &ldquo;Put together a coalition of armed regional governments to confront [ISIS] on the ground with U.S. special forces support, logistical support, intelligence support and the most devastating air support possible,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;and you will wipe ISIS out.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. As Benen points out, this sounds awfully similar to what Obama is already doing. Local forces? Check. Coalition of regional governments? Check. Logistical support? Check. Air support? Check.</p> <p>But there is one difference. Rubio thinks we need a Sunni military force on the ground to defeat ISIS. The Iraqi army, of course, is mostly Shiite. So apparently Rubio thinks we should ditch the Iraqi military and put together a coalition of ground forces from neighboring countries. But this would be....who? Yemen is out. Syria is out. That leaves Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Does Rubio think these countries are willing to put together a ground force to invade Iraq? Does he think the Iraqi government would allow it?</p> <p>It is a mystery. What exactly does Marco Rubio think?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:18:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 271126 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Shoot Selves in Foot, Schedule Second Shooting for March http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republicans-shoot-selves-foot-schedule-second-shooting-march <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_homeland_security.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Here's the latest bit of drama in the <a href="http://thehill.com/housenews/house/234067-house-will-vote-friday-to-prevent-homeland-security-shutdown" target="_blank">DHS funding fight:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks</strong> in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.</p> <p>....Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it&rsquo;ll be a very strong vote,&rdquo; House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is, literally, the worst possible outcome for Republicans. It means they'll spend the next three weeks embroiled in this inane battle instead of working to advance their own agenda. It means the tea party ultras will have three more weeks to whip up even more outrage. It means John Boehner will have to fight his own caucus yet again on this same subject in March.</p> <p>In the meantime, Democrats are probably cackling with glee. This has got to be one of the most dimwitted legislative own goals of all time.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:59:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 271111 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Did the Pentagon Announce Its Battle Plan for Mosul Months Ahead of Time? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/why-did-pentagon-announce-its-battle-plan-mosul-months-ahead-time <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Last week, in a briefing to reporters, the Pentagon announced that it planned an offensive against Mosul in late spring. But why? Normally you don't telegraph military plans months in advance.</p> <p>Joshua Rovner and Caitlin Talmadge suggest two related reasons. First, the U.S. might have decided that Iraqi security is so shoddy that surprise was never in the cards. "Given the notoriously poor operational security of the Iraqi Army," they say, "the chances of keeping secret any Iraqi-led campaign were poor anyway."</p> <p>Beyond that, they speculate that the Pentagon hoped to accomplish something by <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/27/the-u-s-just-leaked-its-war-plan-in-iraq-why/" target="_blank">sending a message:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The United States may be speaking more to its coalition partners and Iraqi counterparts than to the Islamic State....<strong>The United States might be trying to signal its own trustworthiness as a partner,</strong> stiffen the backs of unmotivated Iraqi forces, create a fait accompli with regards to campaign planning, or some combination of the above. In short, it may be aiming its communications at targets other than the Islamic State.</p> <p>One can also sense a sort of &ldquo;heads we win, tails you lose&rdquo; logic to the U.S. public messages about Mosul. <strong>If the Islamic State forces uncharacteristically flee without a fight, they will face humiliation and a setback to their claims of control in Iraq.</strong> That&rsquo;s a win, at least operationally, for Washington and Baghdad. <strong>Conversely, if the Islamic State decides to stand its ground and starts trying to flow reinforcements to Mosul in preparation for the defense of the city, that could be a good thing operationally, too.</strong> These forces will be highly vulnerable to the stepped-up coalition air attacks, which are already seriously threatening the militants&rsquo; lifeline between Raqqa and Mosul. Sending reinforcements to Mosul will also draw Islamic State resources away from Syria, where the coalition&rsquo;s ability to fight is much more constrained, and into Iraq, where that ability is more robust.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Maybe. After all, we announced the "shock and awe" campaign for weeks prior to the start of the Iraq War in 2003. The hope, presumably, was to scare the Iraqis so badly that they'd essentially give up and flee before the battle even started. It didn't really work, but no one complained about it at the time.</p> <p>There will be no shock and awe this time, though. Just a lot of grubby, house-to-house fighting led by Iraqi Shiite forces that are probably not very motivated to sacrifice their lives in order to return Mosul to Sunni control. Will it work? I can't say I'm optimistic. But I've been wrong before. Maybe I am again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:46:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 271096 at http://www.motherjones.com "Republican Stalwart" Chosen to Lead CBO http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republican-stalwart-chosen-lead-cbo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The current director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf, is pretty widely respected on both left and right, and even a lot of Republicans were hoping he'd be reappointed to a new term by the incoming Congress. But despite his sterling credentials, Elmendorf is insufficiently dedicated to the conservative id&eacute;e fixe of dynamic scoring, which insists that tax <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_keith_hall.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">cuts will supercharge the economy and thus cost much less than you'd think. So today the CBO <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/27/gop-dismisses-cbo-director-douglas-elmendorf-picks/" target="_blank">got a new director:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>GOP dismisses CBO director, picks Republican stalwart as chief scorekeeper</strong></p> <p>Republicans Friday announced they will not keep current chief congressional scorekeeper Douglas Elmendorf and will replace him with Keith Hall, an economist with a long record of service in Washington and deep ties to Republicans.</p> <p>....The CBO celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this week, where past directors from both parties praised Mr. Elmendorf for his even-handed approach to the job. But Republicans had wanted to push the CBO to go further in the way it evaluates tax cuts by using so-called &ldquo;dynamic scoring&rdquo; to take into account the potential economic benefit feedback loop that could stem from Americans paying less to the federal government after a tax cut.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure Hall has taken a public stand on the virtues of dynamic scoring, but it's probably safe to assume that he's more sympathetic to it than Elmendorf was. Should make for a fun few years.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:18:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 271091 at http://www.motherjones.com Killing Obamacare Halfway Is Worse For Republicans Than They Think http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/killing-obamacare-halfway-worse-republicans-they-think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Stuart Butler is probably the country's single most influential right-wing health care wonk. He opposed Obamacare and has long pushed a different, more conservative vision of national health care policy. But Joshua Green writes today that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_tyranny.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">even Butler is worried about what will happen if the Supreme Court abolishes Obamacare subsidies in the 34 states that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/the-return-of-the-death-of-obamacare-i6m1baro" target="_blank">don't run their own exchanges:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Butler&rsquo;s worry is grounded in an understanding that voters with skyrocketing premiums may not blame Obama, as Republicans assume.</strong> They&rsquo;ll expect the party hellbent on destroying the law to have a solution&mdash;and react badly if none is forthcoming. Because 16 states operate their own exchanges and therefore won&rsquo;t be affected by the court&rsquo;s ruling, Butler believes the ACA will stagger on and eventually recover, since <strong>voters won&rsquo;t abide a system wherein some states have affordable, federally subsidized health-care coverage and others do not</strong>....&ldquo;People who believe the ACA instantly goes away are deluding themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;By not doing anything to develop a Republican vision of how to move forward, they could end up with the very nightmare they&rsquo;re trying to avoid.&rdquo;</p> <p>....On the business front, the effects would be no less significant....Entire segments of the health system redesigned their business models to take advantage of the ACA&rsquo;s incentives. Hospitals, for instance, were given a trade-off: They stopped receiving government payments to offset the cost of treating the uninsured, cuts that amount to $269 billion over a decade. In return, they were promised millions of new patients insured through federal subsidies. <strong>&ldquo;All the major hospital systems and big insurers like Kaiser and Geisinger spent a ton of money adapting to the ACA,&rdquo; says Butler. If subsidies vanish, &ldquo;suddenly the market is misaligned. If you&rsquo;ve hired all these new doctors and health-care workers to cover all these new people walking in the door, and they don&rsquo;t come, what do you do? You lay them off.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I agree that a system in which residents of some states get subsidies and others don't is untenable. I don't know quite how the politics would play out, but the states with subsidies won't give them up, and the states without subsidies are likely to face a revolt from residents who suddenly see a benefit taken away. Something will have to give.</p> <p>The effect on the medical industry is less clear. Yes, hospitals and insurers spent a lot of money adapting to Obamacare. If it goes away, they'll have to lay off some of their staff. But how much? Obamacare has reduced the ranks of the uninsured by about 4 percentage points, and roughly half of that is in states that don't run their own exchanges. So the number of insured would probably fall (very roughly) from about 87 percent to 85 percent. That might be bad news for some small regional outfits, who will see a bigger drop locally than that, but nationally it's not a death sentence.</p> <p>Still, Butler has a good point. The fallout from the Supreme Court halfway killing Obamacare would likely be more serious than conservatives believe. They don't want to think about this because they've been committed for so long to the mantra of simply repealing Obamacare, full stop. But even their own base, which has been told relentlessly that Obamacare represents the end of the America they love, might start to demand a fix once it becomes clear just what they're missing&mdash;and what all those blue states with their own exchanges are getting.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:39:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 271076 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Blows It Again: Asked About ISIS, All He Has Is Bluster http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/scott-walker-blows-it-again-asked-about-isis-all-he-has-bluster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_scott_walker_cpac_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over at <em>National Review</em>, conservative blogger Jim Geraghty joins the crowd of pundits who are unimpressed with <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/414512/scott-walkers-awful-answer-isis-jim-geraghty" target="_blank">Scott Walker's recent answers to fairly easy questions:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received a lot of completely undeserved grief from the national news media in the past weeks. But he may have made a genuine unforced error in one of his remarks today. Asked about ISIS, Walker responded, <strong>&ldquo;If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn&rsquo;t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's put aside the question of whether Walker deserves any grief for his weasely comments about evolution and President Obama's love of country. Fair or not, those actually seem like the kinds of questions presidential candidates get asked all the time. If Walker wants to be taken seriously, he should have better responses than he did.</p> <p>But hey&mdash;maybe those really were gotcha questions and Walker should get a pass for answering them badly. ISIS, by contrast, certainly isn't. It's one of the preeminent policy challenges we face, and if you're aiming for the Oval Office you'd better have something substantive to say about it. As Geraghty suggests, generic tough-guy posturing does nothing except show that you're out of your depth.</p> <p>At a broader level, the problem is that although Walker's anti-union victories are a legitimate part of his appeal and a legitimate part of his campaign story, he's become something of a one-note Johnny about it. His supposed bravery in standing up to union leaders and peaceful middle-class protestors has become his answer to everything. This is going to get old pretty quickly for everyone but a small band of die-hard fans.</p> <p>Needless to say, it's early days, and Walker's stumbles over the past couple of weeks are unlikely to hurt him much. In fact, it's better to get this stuff out of the way now. It will give Walker an improved sense of what to expect when the campaign really heats up and his answers matter a lot more than they do now.</p> <p>That said, <em>every</em> candidate for president&mdash;Democrat and Republican&mdash;should be expected to have a pretty good answer to the ISIS question. No empty posturing. No generic bashing of Obama's policies. No cute evasions. That stuff is all fine as red meat for the campaign trail or as part of a stemwinder at CPAC, but it's not a substitute for explaining what you'd <em>actually do</em> if you were president. Ground troops? More drones? Getting our allies to contribute more? Whatever it is, let's hear it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 271056 at http://www.motherjones.com The FCC Did a Lot More Than Just Approve Net Neutrality Today http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/fcc-did-lot-more-just-approve-net-neutrality-today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The FCC <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-vote-internet-utility.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">voted today</a> in favor of strong net neutrality rules, but this is something that's been expected for weeks&mdash;and something I've written about before at length. So instead of commenting on that yet again, I want to highlight something else that <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-votes-to-allow-municipal-broadband-overruling-two-states-laws-1424969156" target="_blank">might be nearly as important:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Federal Communications Commission will allow some cities and towns to set up and expand municipal Internet services, </strong>overruling state laws that had been put in place to block such efforts.</p> <p>The commission granted petitions by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to overturn laws that restricted the ability of communities in those states to offer broadband service. In all about 20 states have passed such laws. The vote was 3-2 and along party lines. The decisions don&rsquo;t affect the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_google_fiber.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">other states, but they do set a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in the future.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a step in the direction of creating more competition for broadband internet, which I think is at least as important as net neutrality regulations. So hooray for this ruling, which is a step in the right direction. And while we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that the FCC's net neutrality decision could end up stimulating more broadband competition too. Why? Because net neutrality depends on regulating broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, and this means that companies like Google, which are trying to set up their own high-speed networks, will be able to do it more cheaply. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/12/31/google-strikes-an-upbeat-note-with-fcc-on-title-ii/" target="_blank">This is from a couple of months ago:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a letter Tuesday to the FCC, Google&rsquo;s director of communications law Austin Schlick highlighted a potential positive for the company if Title II kicks in. <strong>As a regulated telecom service, Google Fiber would get access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities.</strong> The FCC should make sure this happens because it would promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband internet service, Schlick argued.</p> <p>Cable and telecom companies, like Comcast and AT&amp;T have long had the right to access utility poles and other important infrastructure, such as ducts, conduits and rights of way, he noted. Google Fiber, which competes against these companies, has not had this right and the service has had trouble getting access to some poles as it builds out its fiber-optic network to homes.</p> <p>....Hooking up homes using poles is about a tenth of the price of digging trenches across streets and sidewalks, according to Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman in the 1990s. <strong>&ldquo;Pole access is fundamental and Google will never be able to make the case for Google Fiber without pole access,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If Title II gives Google pole access, then it might really rock the world with broadband access.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>If Google gains pole access, and cities and towns are free to set up their own high-speed networks, then local cable companies will finally start getting real competition in the high-speed internet market. Net neutrality is a big win for consumers, but real competition might be an even bigger win. This is far from a done deal, but things are starting to head in the right direction.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tech Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:04:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 271031 at http://www.motherjones.com Loretta Lynch Now Likely to Win Confirmation as Attorney General http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/loretta-lynch-now-likely-win-confirmation-attorney-general <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It looks like Loretta Lynch is likely to be <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/26/loretta-lynch-nomination-attorney-general-approved-hsbc" target="_blank">approved as our next Attorney General:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Eight Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee, including chairman Chuck Grassley, opposed Lynch&rsquo;s confirmation after what Democrats criticised as a record-long delay in appointing the first African American woman to the top law enforcement job in the US.</p> <p><strong>But Lynch was backed by three moderate Republicans to pass through a committee vote on Thursday, 12-8.</strong> She is now likely, over the coming days, to scrape through a vote in the full Senate to succeed current attorney general Eric Holder, who announced his resignation last September.</p> </blockquote> <p>The three "moderate" Republicans who voted to confirm Lynch were&nbsp;Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. Flake is probably a legitimate moderate, but it's an odd world where Hatch and Graham are on that list too. In today's GOP, though, they really are moderates. That tells you most of what you need to know about the state of national politics these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Crime and Justice Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:19:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271006 at http://www.motherjones.com Immigration Fight Is a Loser Because Republican Hearts Aren't Really Into It http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/immigration-fight-loser-because-republican-hearts-arent-really-it <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Our story so far: Last year President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Conservatives went ballistic and threatened to refuse to pass a budget&mdash;thus shutting down the government&mdash;unless the budget defunded the immigration plan. They eventually gave in on that, but only because they were promised a second bite at the apple. The resulting compromise funded every department except the Department of Homeland Security, which <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Immigration_Sign.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was given only short-term funding. That now has to be reauthorized, and this time around conservatives are threatening to refuse to pass a DHS budget&mdash;thus shutting down the department&mdash;unless it defunds the immigration plan.</p> <p>But Democrats have been unified in refusing to approve a budget that defunds the immigration plan, and now Republicans are stuck. Shutting down DHS would be a PR disaster, and they haven't really managed to get the public riled up about Obama's immigration plan. Why not? Dave Weigel reports that the problem is simple. <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/immigration-foes-have-numbers-but-no-strategy?wpmm=1&amp;wpisrc=nl_wonk" target="_blank">Their hearts aren't really in it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"Republicans have not done a particularly effective job of communicating what they want here," said Ira Mehlman, FAIR's national media director. <strong>"They let the president get out there first and explain his position with public events. I don&rsquo;t understand why they haven&rsquo;t turned the tables on the president and capitalized. It is baffling."</strong></p> <p>And it's less than conservatives did in a comparable standoff, the summer 2013 fight over whether or not to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Initially, Republican leaders in the House had wanted to split the defunding from the must-pass appropriations bill. They were denied the votes for that from the GOP conference. At the same time, the conservative Heritage Action was hosting town halls around the country, putting pressure on Republicans to kill the ACA. Some members of the Senate, most famously Texas Senator Ted Cruz, joined them.</p> <p><strong>There have been no comparable Heritage Action rallies in the weekends or recesses of 2015.</strong> "This fight was set up by leadership when they opted for the cromnibus strategy," explained Heritage Action president Michael Needham in an email, "and it is a fight nearly every Republican promised their constituents both on the campaign trail and then again in December. In other words, it has been set up for months on the ground they chose."</p> <p>Heritage Action will key-vote the DHS bill, knuckle-rapping the Republicans who don't go all the way to de-fund the executive orders.<strong> But it has not organized opposition to a "clean bill." Neither, really, has [Ted] Cruz. He spent very little of last week's recess talking about the coming DHS fight.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So what happens next? Perhaps Republicans allow DHS to be shut down for a symbolic few days and then allow a vote on a clean funding bill that will pass the House with a few Republican votes and a lot of Democratic votes. Because basically most of them don't really care.</p> <p>As well they shouldn't. The truth is that they shot themselves in the foot from the very start by going ballistic over Obama's actions. The thing is, Obama didn't really do all that much. Before he acted, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported. Afterward, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported&mdash;but would be given temporary documentation that officially protected them from the deportation that wasn't going to happen anyway. Conservatives could have just grumbled and let it go, but instead they gave Obama a huge win by making it seem as if his actions were a major victory in the immigration wars. It's been a boon for both Obama and the Democratic Party, and huge headache for the Republican Party.</p> <p>It's too late now to back away from the relentless claims that Obama has acted like a lawless, Constitution-shredding tyrant over immigration, but Republicans have to figure out something. The public might or might not approve of how Obama implemented his reforms, but they're fine with the reforms themselves. Aside from a few tea party dead enders, there's just no widespread outrage to tap into.</p> <p>So instead of spending their first few months in control of Congress doing something, Republicans are fighting dumb battles that Obama has suckered them into. The faster they get out from under that rock, the better off they'll be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:06:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271001 at http://www.motherjones.com Supreme Court Opens a Crack in Fight Against Occupational Licensing Restrictions http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/supreme-court-opens-crack-fight-against-occupational-licensing-restrictions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is not a topic that I've spent a lot of time on, but for several years there's been an interesting coalition of liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives who are opposed to the relentless increase of licensing regulations in occupations like hair dressing and interior decoration. Their complaint is that these requirements are mostly just attempts by the industries themselves to increase barriers to entry and thus increase the prices they can charge.</p> <p>For example, why should you have to pay a dentist for a tooth-whitening procedure? That doesn't require years of schooling and it could be done perfectly well by a technician with less training and a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teeth_whitening.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">lower price tag. <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/02/25/257762/supreme-court-says-open-wide-to.html" target="_blank">Yesterday the Supreme Court kinda sorta agreed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Supreme Court on Wednesday effectively rejected North Carolina&rsquo;s tight control over the lucrative teeth-whitening business.</p> <p>In a divided decision that polishes up the court&rsquo;s free market credentials, six justices agreed the Federal Trade Commission can charge the dentist-dominated North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners with &ldquo;anticompetitive and unfair&rdquo; actions....The court&rsquo;s 6-3 decision did not, by itself, explicitly strike down the North Carolina teeth-whitening regulations that restrict the work to dentists. <strong>The decision does, though, reject the North Carolina board&rsquo;s argument that it enjoyed immunity from the Federal Trade Commission filing charges.</strong></p> <p>....North Carolina dentists began teeth-whitening services in the 1990s. By 2003, non-dentist providers began offering the same service in spas and salons. They charged less, prompting dentists to complain to the state board, which subsequently issued cease-and-desist orders to the non-dentists.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a small step, but potentially an important crack in the door. All it says is that the FTC can file antitrust charges if it wants to, which obviously depends a lot on who happens to be appointing FTC commissioners at any given moment. It's also limited to industry licensing boards that aren't "actively supervised" by the state. In the North Carolina case, "the board is funded by industry fees rather than taxpayer dollars, and six of the eight members are dentists selected by industry representatives." That was enough for the Supreme Court to decide that state supervision was basically a sham.</p> <p>So it's a narrow ruling. But it has some potential to lead to a loosening of occupational licensing restrictions in the future. It's worth keeping an eye on.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I just read my morning paper over breakfast (yes, I'm a dinosaur), and David Savage has a piece about this in the <em>LA Times</em> that explains the issues pretty well. It's better than the McClatchy piece above. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-supreme-court-teeth-20150225-story.html" target="_blank">Click here to read it.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:13:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270991 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Inflation Continues to Fall Short of Weimar Germany Levels http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/chart-day-inflation-continues-fall-short-weimar-germany-levels <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The BLS released its <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cpi.pdf" target="_blank">January inflation report</a> today, and guess what? Hyperinflation continues to be kept at bay. In fact, the CPI didn't just stay at a low level in January, it was actually negative. Compared to a month ago, prices dropped 0.7 percent. Compared to a year ago, prices dropped 0.1 percent (blue line in chart below):</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_january_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 8px;"></p> <p>This will cause Paul Krugman to dance another victory jig, but the number the Fed really cares about is core inflation, which excludes food and energy (red line in the chart). This is because food and energy tend to be volatile, which makes them unreliable guides to the long-term trajectory of inflation. The core rate is a better predictor of that. But the news is good here too: Core inflation remained low and stable, increasing only 1.6 percent compared to a year ago.</p> <p>According to the BLS, gasoline was "overwhelmingly" the cause of the sharp decline in the overall CPI, and it's unlikely that this will continue. Gasoline prices have probably fallen about as much as they can, and over the next year will remain stable or perhaps rise a bit. But there's no telling for sure because energy prices are volatile. That's the whole point of focusing on core inflation.</p> <p>In any case, as you can see, core inflation has remained below the Fed's 2 percent target for quite a while. Two years, in fact. This is why Krugman and many others are urging the Fed to hold off on raising interest rates. The labor market still has some slack, and there's simply no sign of inflation on the horizon&mdash;and when there is, there will be plenty of time to act. After all, if the Fed can tolerate two years of inflation below their target, they can tolerate a year or two of inflation above their target. What's more, there's no risk here. The Fed knows perfectly well how to get inflation down if and when it gets above target for a sustained period.</p> <p>In other news, <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/realer.nr0.htm" target="_blank">wages are up a bit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees rose 1.3 percent from December to January, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from a 0.3 percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.9 percent decrease in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's nice, but note that it's mainly an artifact of negative inflation. If you think of core inflation as the better measure of long-term price levels, wages are up only slightly. That's better than nothing, of course, but still nowhere near a sign of dangerous tightness in the labor market.</p> <p>Bottom line: Inflation continues to be well controlled. There's no need to give up on loose monetary policy yet. Let's wait until the labor market looks like it's really picking up again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:51:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 270981 at http://www.motherjones.com I Want to Hear the Republican Plan For Fighting ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/i-want-hear-republican-plan-fighting-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The drumbeat for President Obama to "do something" to fight ISIS is growing louder every day among prospective Republican presidential candidates. It's all a bit weird, since Obama rather plainly <em>is</em> doing something, as interviewers repeatedly point out whenever the subject comes up. But no matter. It's a good sound bite, and in any case, whatever <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fallujah_bridge.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Obama is doing, Republicans insist they want to do <em>more.</em> Today, Paul Waldman points out that all these presidential wannabes are just reflecting <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/02/25/a-battle-to-watch-which-2016-gop-candidate-is-most-gung-ho-for-war/" target="_blank">what the Republican base wants to hear:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Four months ago, 57 percent of Republicans thought we should use ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria; that number has now gone up to 67 percent. <strong>Among the conservative Republicans who will dominate the primary contests, it&rsquo;s even higher, at 71 percent.</strong> When Pew asked respondents to choose between &ldquo;using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world&rdquo; and &ldquo;relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,&rdquo; last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't suppose that most voters have really thought this through in much detail, but I wonder just how far they really want to go. The ISIS stronghold of Mosul, for example, is about five times the size of Fallujah, and probably has about 3-4 times as many ISIS defenders as Fallujah had Sunni insurgents back in 2004. And Fallujah was a huge battle. It took more than a year to retake the city; required something like 15,000 coalition troops in all; and resulted in more than a hundred coalition deaths.</p> <p>At a first guess, a full-scale assault on Mosul would likely require at least 2-3 times as many troops and result in several hundred American deaths. And Mosul is only a fraction of the territory ISIS controls. It's a big fraction, but still a fraction.</p> <p>So this is what I want to hear from Republican critics of Obama's ISIS strategy. I agree with them that training Iraqi troops and relying on them to fight ISIS isn't all that promising. But the alternative is likely to be something like 30-50,000 troops committed to a battle that will result in hundreds of American casualties. Are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz willing to own up to that? If they are, then good for them and we'll let the American public decide who's got the better strategy. But if they're not, then it's all just a con job for the rubes. The GOP candidates are screaming for "more," but not willing to acknowledge what "more" really means.</p> <p>Let's hear it, folks. When you say "more," what do you really have in mind? Candidates for president shouldn't be allowed to get away with nothing more than vague grumbles and hazy bellicosity any longer. Let's hear the plan.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:12:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270956 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is not of interest to most of you, but I do get emails and queries fairly frequently, so I figure I ought to share once in a while. The big picture summary is that nothing serious is wrong; a biopsy is scheduled for Friday; and I've been officially enrolled in the second stage of chemo treatment (the stem cell transplant). For those who want to know more, additional detail and miscellaneous griping is below the fold.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/kevin-drum/2015/02/health-update"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Kevin Drum Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:28:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 270941 at http://www.motherjones.com Eat What You Want, But Eat Fresh http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/eat-what-you-want-eat-fresh <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is interesting. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/test-0" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> I wrote a post suggesting that we should all try to eat more fresh food and less processed food, but that otherwise it didn't matter much what kind of diet you followed. (Within reason, of course.) This was based solely on my intermittent reading <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_processed_foods.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">of food research over the years, not on a specific rigorous study. Today, however, fellow MoJoer Tom Philpott tells me that there is indeed a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/02/has-big-food-passed-its-sell-date" target="_blank">rigorous study that backs this up:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Over the past decade, there has been a bounty of research on the ill effects of highly processed food. And when Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller surveyed the scientific dietary literature for a paper in 2013, they found that a "diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."</p> <p><strong>Interestingly, Katz and Meller found that as long as you stick to the "minimally processed" bit, it doesn't much matter which diet you follow: low-fat, vegetarian, and Mediterranean have all shown good results. Even the meat-centered "paleo" approach does okay. </strong>The authors conclude the "aggregation of evidence" supports meat eating, as long as the "animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods&mdash;the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by diet as we are." That's likely because cows fed on grass deliver meat and milk with a healthier fat profile than their industrially raised peers.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, Tom is optimistic that processed food is losing its allure as Americans migrate more and more to fresh foods. I can't say that I share this optimism, but I hope he's right. There's nothing wrong with a potato chip or a can of soup here and there (everything in moderation!), but a steady diet of processed food really is something worth avoiding.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Health Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:46:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 270926 at http://www.motherjones.com SIM Card Manufacturer Says Its Encryption Keys Are Safe From NSA Hacking http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/sim-card-manufacturer-says-its-encryption-keys-are-safe-nsa-hacking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sim_card.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm passing this along without comment since I don't have anything substantive to add. I just wanted to keep everyone up to date on the <em>Intercept</em> story about the NSA <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/gemalto-says-hack-didnt-result-in-massive-theft-of-sim-card-keys-1424851298?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection" target="_blank">stealing cell phone encryption data stored on SIM chips:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Security-chip maker Gemalto NV said Wednesday that American and British intelligence services could be responsible for a &ldquo;particularly sophisticated intrusion&rdquo; of its networks several years ago, but denied that the alleged hack could have widely compromised encryption it builds into chips used in billions of cellphones world-wide.</p> <p>....Company executives also asserted that the interceptions wouldn&rsquo;t have compromised the security of its newer SIM cards for 3G and 4G cellular networks, only older 2G networks. The reason: Gemalto says the new technology no longer require it to send telecom companies the keys to decrypt individuals&rsquo; communications&mdash;so they couldn&rsquo;t have been intercepted.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. On the one hand, many of the Snowden documents are indeed fairly old, dating back to 2010 or 2011. So they could be out of date. On the other hand, the NSA didn't necessarily have to "intercept" anything here. A sufficiently sophisticated hack could presumably have given them direct access to the Gemalto database that contains the encryption keys. And needless to say, Gemalto has a vested interest in assuring everyone that their current products are safe.</p> <p>So....who knows what really happened here. We'll likely hear more about it as Gemalto's internal investigation continues.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:19:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 270921 at http://www.motherjones.com