Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2011/08 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Millennials and Comic Books: Chill Out, Haters http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/millennials-and-comic-books-chill-out-haters <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Saul DeGrew surveys the various complaints people have about the Millennial generation. <a href="http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2014/12/27/the-kids-arent-having-kids-why-does-choice-scare-us" target="_blank">Here's one:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Another part of the Millennial complaint brigade is complaining about how they are still into videogames, comic books, and other activities from their childhood....I admit that I find this aspect of the Millennials staying Kids debate to be a bit troublesome <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_adventure_379.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">but that is probably my own snobbery and cultural elitism coming in more than anything else. I don&rsquo;t quite understand how explosion and bang wow movies are still big among a good chunk of the over-30 set.</p> </blockquote> <p>Forget videogames: that's a huge industry that spans all generations these days. Their popularity says nothing about arrested adulthood. But I was curious: just how many Millennials are still reading comic books? Not just "interested" in comics or willing to see the latest X-Men movie. DeGrew may not like "bang wow" movies, but they've been a pretty standard part of Hollywood's product mix forever, and the current fad for superhero bang wow movies doesn't say much of anything about Millennial culture in particular.</p> <p>So: how many actual readers <em>of comic books</em> are there among Millennials? I don't know, but here's a guess:</p> <ol><li>Diamond Comic Distributors sold about <a href="http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html" target="_blank">84 million comics in 2013.</a> Diamond is damn near a monopoly, but it's not a total monopoly, and that number is only for the top 300 titles anyway. So let's round up to 100 million.</li> <li>That's about 8 million per month. Some comic fans buy two or three titles a month, others buy 20 or 30. A horseback guess suggests that the average fan buys 5-10 per month.</li> <li>That's maybe 1.5 million regular fans, give or take. If we figure that two-thirds are Millennials, that's a million readers.</li> <li><a href="http://www.census.gov/popest/data/national/asrh/2013/index.html" target="_blank">The total size of the Millennial generation is 70 million.</a> But let's be generous and assume that no one cares if teenagers and college kids are still reading comics. Counting only those over 22, the adult Millennial population is about 48 million.</li> <li>So that means about 2 percent of adult Millennials are regular comic book readers. (If you just browse through your roomie's stash sporadically without actually buying comics, you don't count.)</li> </ol><p>I dunno. I'd say that 2 percent really isn't much. Sure, superheroes pervade popular culture in a way they haven't before, though they've always been popular. Adults watched Superman on TV in the 50s, Batman on TV in 60s, and Superman again on the big screen in the 80s. But the rise of superhero movies in the 90s and aughts has as much to do with the evolution of special effects as with superheroes themselves. Older productions couldn't help but look cheesy. Modern movies actually make superheroes look believable. Science fiction movies have benefited in the same way.</p> <p>In any case, superheroes may be a cultural phenomenon of the moment&mdash;just ask anyone who tries to brave the San Diego Comic-Con these days&mdash;but even if you accept the argument that reading comics is ipso facto a marker of delayed adulthood<sup>1</sup>, the actual number of Millennials who do this is pretty small. So chill out on the comics, Millennial haters.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>I don't. I'm just saying that even if you do, there aren't really a huge number of Millennial-aged comic fans anyway.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Books Sun, 28 Dec 2014 18:44:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 267341 at http://www.motherjones.com Cuomo and Christie Veto Port Authority Reform Bill. But Is It Permanent? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/cuomo-and-christie-veto-port-authority-reform-bill-it-permanent <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm as distant from the politics of New York and New Jersey as it's possible to get, but I'm puzzled about today's news that the governors of both states have vetoed legislation that would have reformed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-veto-port-authority-reforms-bill-sources-article-1.2058301" target="_blank">Here's a typical piece from the <em>New York Daily News</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Rather than sign the bill supporters say would have opened the bi-state agency to much needed transparency and accountability, the two governors crossed party lines to announce they would push a reform package <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_george_washington_bridge.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">recommended Saturday by a panel they had created earlier this year.</p> <p>....The bill's Assembly sponsor James Brennan (D-Brooklyn) and other critics argued <strong>there was no justification for the veto of legislation passed unanimously by the legislatures in both states.</strong></p> <p>Some, like former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who in 2009 sponsored a public authorities reform bill that did not cover the Port Authority, suggested Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, were more interested in protecting their own power than actually reforming the agency. "It's shameful," Brodsky said. "They ripped the heart out of real reform in order to maintain their control and power."</p> <p>....New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said the vetoes were a slap in the face to commuters who "rightly expected more from the governors after the revelations at the Port Authority over the last year."...Cuomo and Christie say the reforms they are recommending embrace "the spirit and intent" of the legislation....But critics suggest the recommendations were meant as a smokescreen to distract from the vetoes. "Power trumped good government," Brodsky said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait a second. The bills were passed unanimously in both legislatures. It should be a snap to override the vetoes, right? And yet, none of the stories I read so much as mentioned the possibility. The best I could find was the <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4498e2db8c8e4518a596628036c58f61/governors-veto-bill-reform-port-authority" target="_blank">last sentence of an AP dispatch:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg said the decision was a "cop-out," and Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he's disappointed the bill didn't become law.....Both Weinberg and Wisniewski predicted that overturning a veto would be difficult.</p> </blockquote> <p>Can someone fill me in on the inner workings of New York and New Jersey politics? Do legislators' loyalties to their governors really carry that much weight? I mean, everyone knew Cuomo and Christie were opposed to the bill from the start. So if the legislatures passed it unanimously to begin with, why can't they now muster a two-thirds vote to override? What am I missing here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Sun, 28 Dec 2014 15:57:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 267336 at http://www.motherjones.com How About If We All Get Back to Protecting and Serving? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/how-about-if-all-get-back-protecting-and-serving <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My neighboring city of Costa Mesa may be thousands of miles from New York and much, much smaller (population: 112,000), but they have something in common: police unions that don't seem to know <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_costa_mesa_police_patch.jpg" style="margin: 29px 0px 15px 30px;">when to quit. <a href="http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-me-1225-scott-impola-arraignment-20141224,0,2374283.story" target="_blank">Check this out:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An Orange County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered a private investigator to stay away from two Costa Mesa councilmen he allegedly helped surveil in the run-up to local 2012 elections.</p> <p>....The false-imprisonment charge relates to the filing of a police report that caused Councilman Jim Righeimer to be detained briefly when an officer responded to his home to perform a sobriety test, according to prosecutors....[Scott Impola 's firm] was retained by the Costa Mesa Police Assn. to surveil and research local councilmen who were trying to cut pension costs and reduce jobs at City Hall, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.</p> <p>As part of their work, Impola and private investigator Chris Lanzillo allegedly put a GPS tracker on Councilman Steve Mensinger's car and later called in a false DUI report on Righeimer as he was leaving Skosh Monahan's, a restaurant owned by fellow Councilman Gary Monahan.</p> <p><strong>....Prosecutors say they have no evidence that the police union knew of any illegal activity beforehand.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well, yeah. No evidence. <a href="http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-me-1217-lanzillo-affidavit-20141216,0,2954959,full.story" target="_blank">But there <em>is</em> this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Costa Mesa police officers mocked members of the City Council and suggested ways to catch them in compromising positions in the run-up to the 2012 municipal election, according to emails contained in court documents reviewed Monday by the <em>Daily Pilot</em>.</p> <p>.... In one message, the association's then-treasurer, Mitch Johnson, suggested telling the union's lawyer about two of the councilmen's upcoming city-sponsored trip to Las Vegas...."I'm sure they will be dealing with other 'developer' friends, maybe a Brown Act [violation] or two, and I think [Steve Mensinger is] a doper and has moral issues," Johnson wrote in an email from a private account. "I could totally see him sniffing coke [off] a prostitute. <strong>Just a thought.</strong>"</p> </blockquote> <p>Yes. "Just a thought." I have a feeling that maybe the GPS and DUI revelations didn't come as a big shock or anything when the union was confronted with them. There's also this:</p> <blockquote> <p>The association's president at the time, Jason Chamness, told the grand jury that he asked the law firm to dig up dirt on certain City Council members because he believed they were corrupt. Shortly after the DUI report involving Righeimer, the union fired the law firm, although the affidavit notes the union continued to pay a retainer until as recently as January 2013.</p> <p><strong>During his testimony, Chamness also said he deleted emails from his private account, which he used to contact the law firm about union business.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And why did the police union hire these two goons? Because the city councilmen in question were trying to cut pension costs and reduce jobs at City Hall. How dare they?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 28 Dec 2014 00:39:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 267331 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Hooray For Nerdy Details! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/quote-day-hooray-nerdy-details <!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.vox.com/2014/12/27/7423229/ben-goldacre" target="_blank">From Ben Goldacre,</a> author of <em>I Think You'll Find it's a Bit More Complicated Than That,</em> a physician and author who debunks health fads and can be thought of as sort of an anti-Dr. Oz:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think the public want nerdy details more than many in the media realize.</p> </blockquote> <p>Preach it brother! Interviewer Julia Belluz asked Goldacre if he'd seen any progress over the past decade, and I found his answer pretty interesting:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think the really big change has been the Internet. What was really frustrating when I first started writing [in the <em>Guardian</em> in 2003] was you would see mainstream media journalists and dodgy doctors and scientists speaking with great authority and hopelessly distorting research in a way that was dangerous and scaremongering. <strong>There was no way to talk back.</strong></p> <p>When I started writing the column I felt like I was talking back on behalf of this enormous crowd of disenfranchised nerds and nerdy doctors. Now with blogs, Twitter, and comments under articles, what you can see is everybody can talk back. On top of that, not only can people more easily find a platform to put things right when they&rsquo;re wrong and also explain how they&rsquo;re wrong and how to understand science better, but also anybody who is interested in something, who is sufficiently motivated and clueful, can go out and find out about it online. That&rsquo;s an amazing thing. It wasn&rsquo;t the case ten to 15 years ago. <strong>People now are now much more empowered to fight back against stupid stuff, and to read about interesting stuff.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Given that Dr. Oz and his ilk seem to be at least as popular as ever, I guess I'm not quite as optimistic as Goldacre. The problem is that the internet does help people who are "sufficiently motivated and clueful," but that's never been a big part of the population. And sadly, the internet is probably as bad or worse than Dr. Oz for all the people who don't know how to do even basic searches and don't have either the background or the savvy to distinguish between good advice and hogwash. Regular readers will recognize this as a version of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/internet-major-driver-growth-cognitive-inequality" target="_blank">my theory</a> that "the internet is now a major driver of the growth of cognitive inequality." Or in simpler terms, "the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter."</p> <p>In fairness, the rest of the interview suggests that Goldacre is pretty well aware that the impact of his writing is fairly limited ("I don&rsquo;t think you can reason people out of positions they didn&rsquo;t reason themselves into"), and he shows a nuanced appreciation of exactly when his writing might influence a conversation here and there. The whole thing is a good read.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Science Sat, 27 Dec 2014 19:22:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 267321 at http://www.motherjones.com Boxing Day Cat Blogging - 26 December 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/boxing-day-cat-blogging-26-december-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Traditionally, Boxing Day is when the upper classes present the help with Christmas boxes full of money or gifts. As you might guess, this tradition has been corrupted a bit on its way to California. Here, it's the day that the <em>help</em> presents the <em>upper classes</em> with a box. Empty is preferred, actually. This one is big enough for two cats, but Hopper isn't interested in lounging inside the box. She leaves that to Hilbert. She prefers to sit on the outside and gnaw on the box instead. Her motto: If it's cellulose-based, it's meant to be ripped to shreds.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2014_12_26_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 26 Dec 2014 20:00:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 267316 at http://www.motherjones.com Does America Need More Startups? Fine. How Do We Get Them? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/does-america-need-more-startups-fine-how-do-we-get-them <!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.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142498/robert-litan/start-up-slowdown" target="_blank">Over at <em>Foreign Affairs</em>,</a> Robert Litan has a piece lamenting the decline in entrepreneurship in America. I'm not entirely persuaded that this is a major problem&mdash;a fair amount of it is just the result of big national retailers replacing local diners and small shops, which are <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_litan_startups.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">hardly big engines of economic growth&mdash;but I'm still willing to accept that some of it is probably real and deserves attention. The problem is what to do about it. James Pethokoukis, addressing skeptics like me, <a href="http://www.aei.org/publication/america-needs-startups-heres-ignite-explosion-us-entrepreneurship/" target="_blank">summarizes Litan's suggestions:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Of course one can quibble with these numbers and what they mean....But here is the thing: Pretty much all the policy steps you might take to respond to this startup wind-down &mdash; and the decline in innovation and good jobs it implies &mdash; are pretty smart ideas in their own right. Among Litan&rsquo;s suggestions:</p> <blockquote> <ol><li>Attract more immigrant entrepreneurs and keep more foreign students who earn graduate degrees in the STEM fields.</li> <li>Make it easier to attract investment capital through crowdfunding platforms.</li> <li>Constantly evaluate regulations to see if they raise entry barriers to new firms or give an edge to incumbents.</li> <li>Don&rsquo;t let future changes to Obamacare create a disincentive for workers to leave their firms.</li> <li>Reform k-12 education to better teach technological literacy &mdash; but also don&rsquo;t skip humanities and the arts.</li> </ol></blockquote> </blockquote> <p>Well....OK. But how far would this get us? #1 is something we already do better than anyone in the world. I suppose we could improve even further, and I'd be in favor of immigration legislation that does just that. Still, I guess I'm dubious that lack of smart immigrants is really a huge headwind in the US. Ditto for #2. Is lack of access to venture capital really a serious problem in this country? #3 is fine. I don't know for sure just how hard it really is to start a business in America, but the World Bank <a href="http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings" target="_blank">ranks us 46th in the world,</a> and I imagine we could do better. #4 is odd: Litan himself says the news here is "mostly good." Obamacare makes it <em>easier</em> to change your job or start up a new business, and that's inherent in its very nature. It will stay that way unless it's completely repealed. Finally, #5 suggests that we do a better job teaching science, humanities, and the arts. Since that's pretty much everything K-12 education does, this is just a way of saying we should keep trying to improve primary education. I don't think anyone argues with that.</p> <p>I don't mean to come off too cynical here. There are two good ideas here that we could plausibly do something about: Being friendlier to highly-educated immigrants and making it easier to start a business. (A third idea&mdash;improving our schools&mdash;is also good, but it's basically like endorsing motherhood and apple pie.) And a good idea is a good idea. But if entrepreneurship really is in decline in America&mdash;and if it's truly a far-reaching problem&mdash;I'd be interested in hearing more about root causes and what we might be able to do about them. It seems like it will take a lot more than this list to seriously address it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 26 Dec 2014 19:31:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 267311 at http://www.motherjones.com In Police-Civilian Encounters, Your Eyes May Be Your Worst Enemy http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/police-civilian-encounters-your-eyes-may-be-your-worst-enemy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Dan Kahan flags a <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/xge/143/6/2196/" target="_blank">recent bit of research</a> about cognitive biases as a "run-away winner" in the contest for coolest study of the year. That might be a stretch, but it <em>is</em> pretty interesting.</p> <p>Basically, it's about whether police&nbsp;bodycams will help resolve disputes about what really happened in encounters between cops and civilians. There are reasons to think their effectiveness will be limited because even with video evidence, we tend to interpret ambiguous events to fit our preconceived biases. This is similar to the way sports fans interpret instant replays of penalties in ways that favor their home team, and it goes under the generic name of "motivated reasoning."</p> <p>So far, so boring. But conventional wisdom and common sense tells us that the way motivated reasoning works is simple: we view the events, and <em>then</em> we interpret them in light of our biases. That turns out not to be the case. The researchers performed a couple of studies based on video clips, one a citizen-police encounter and the other a brawl between two private citizens who wore different colored-shirts. In each case, the test subjects sympathized with one actor vs the other (police officer or suspect in <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_police_bodycam.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">study 1, green-shirt or blue-shirt in study 2). And it turns that motivated reasoning happens way earlier and is <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/12/25/what-bodycams-can-and-cant-be-expected-to-do-plus-coolest-st.html" target="_blank">even more unconscious than we thought:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The super cool part of the study was that the researchers used an <em>eye-tracking</em> instrument to assess the predicted influence of motivated reasoning on the perceptions of the subjects. Collected without the subjects&rsquo; awareness, <strong>the eye-tracking data showed that subjects fixed their attention disproportionately on the actor they were motivated to see as the wrongdoer</strong>&mdash;e.g., the police officer in the case of subjects predisposed to distrust the police in study 1, or the citizen identified as an &ldquo;out-group&rdquo; member in study 2.</p> <p>Wow!</p> <p>Before reading this study, I would have assumed the effect of cultural cognition was generated in the process of recollection....But GBST's findings suggest the dynamic that generates opposing perceptions in these cases commences much earlier, <em>before</em> the subjects even take in the visual images.</p> <p>The identity-protective impressions people form originate in a kind of biased sampling: <strong>by training their attention on the actor who they have the greatest stake in identifying as the wrongdoer, people are&mdash;without giving it a conscious thought, of course&mdash;prospecting in that portion of the visual landscape most likely to contain veins of data that fit their preconceptions.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Kahan suggests that this study "comes at the cost of intensified despair over the prospects for resolving societal conflicts over the appropriateness of the use of violent force by the police." Perhaps so. Certainly facts and evidence have a poor track record of changing minds, especially when it comes to emotionally charged events that affect our essential worldview. Still, I suspect that if bodycams become widespread, they'll change minds slowly but steadily. In the same way that years of exposure to TV and movies have turned us into more sophisticated consumers of narrative video, years of regular exposure to bodycam footage may turn us into more sophisticated viewers of police-civilian encounters. We'll probably know sometime around 2030 or so.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Science Fri, 26 Dec 2014 17:14:37 +0000 Kevin Drum 267306 at http://www.motherjones.com Jeb Bush Has an Obamacare Problem http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/jeb-bush-has-obamacare-problem <!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.politico.com/story/2014/12/reports-jeb-bush-leaving-health-care-company-113813.html" target="_blank">From <em>Politico</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Jeb Bush is stepping down from the board of a health care company that has reportedly profited from Obamacare, a move that comes as the Republican explores a run for the presidency.</p> <p>According to various media reports, Tenet backed President Barack Obama&rsquo;s health reform act and has seen its revenues rise from it. <strong>Bush&rsquo;s involvement with Tenet could give ammunition to conservatives in <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jeb_bush_george_small.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the GOP who view him as too moderate &mdash; particularly those who despise the Affordable Care Act.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I can't help but get a chuckle out of this. In normal times, Bush would have left Tenet because it's a big, soulless corporation that's paid fines for Medicare fraud and been criticized for dodgy tax practices at the same time it was beefing up executive pay. A man of the people who aspires to the Oval Office can't afford to be associated with this kind of dirty money.</p> <p>But no. At least if <em>Politico</em> is to be believed, this isn't really an issue in the GOP primary. What <em>is</em> an issue is that Tenet might have profited from Obamacare, which in turn means that Jeb may have profited from Obamacare. Even if it's a double bank shot, <em>that's</em> dirty money in tea party land.</p> <p>Of course, Jeb also has some of the more conventional <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/features/2014-12-11/jeb-bush-has-a-mitt-romney-problem" target="_blank">plutocratic image problems:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Soon after his tenure as governor ended, <strong>Bush became an adviser to Lehman Brothers and, later, Barclays</strong>....In May 2013, Bush set up Britton Hill Holdings and dove into the private equity business....Bush&rsquo;s first fund invested in Inflection Energy....<strong>His next one, BH Logistics, raised $26 million this spring from investors including China&rsquo;s HNA Group</strong>....Bush&rsquo;s newest fund, [U.K.-based] BH Global &shy;Aviation, is his largest and most complicated. <strong>It deepens his financial ties to China and Hainan</strong>....&ldquo;In many deals, the U.K. &shy;effectively serves the same function as the Cayman Islands or Bermuda,&rdquo; Needham says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a tax haven, except it&rsquo;s the U.K.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Plus there's the fact that Jeb stayed on as an advisor to Barclays for years after it was fined for illegally trading with various blacklisted countries, notably including Cuba and Iran. If being on the board of a company that profited from Obamacare is a problem, surely this is at least equally bad. The attack ads write themselves, don't they?</p> <p>Anyway, apparently Jeb is <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-jeb-bush-money-20141225-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">now in cleanup mode:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;These are all growth investments that the governor has worked on,&rdquo; said Bush&rsquo;s spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell....Campbell said the 61-year-old former governor is &ldquo;reviewing all his engagements and his business commitments&rdquo; now that he&rsquo;s begun to focus on a potential race. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a natural next step,&rdquo; she said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Indeed it is. On the other hand, Mitt Romney severed most of his ties with Bain Capital a full decade before he ran for president, and just look at how much good that did him. Jeb probably isn't out of the woods yet.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Bush Fri, 26 Dec 2014 15:52:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 267301 at http://www.motherjones.com The NSA Is Surprisingly Open-Minded About Analysts Spying on Their Spouses http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/nsa-surprisingly-open-minded-analysts-spying-their-spouses <!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.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-24/spy-agency-to-release-reports-documenting-surveillance-errors.html" target="_blank">Via Bloomberg,</a> we learn that the NSA chose Christmas Eve to release its latest set of reports on violations of surveillance rules by its analysts. Nice work, NSA! For the most part, the reports don't appear to contain anything especially new, but I was struck by <a href="https://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/IOB/FY2012_1Q_IOB_Report.pdf" target="_blank">this particular violation:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The OIG's Office of Investigation initiated an investigation of an allegation than an NSA analyst had conducted an unauthorized intelligence activity. In an interview conducted by the NSA/CSS Office of Security and Counterintelligence, the analyst reported that, <strong>during the past two or three years, she had searched her spouse's personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting</strong>....Although the investigation is ongoing, <strong>the analyst has been advised to cease her activities.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Wait a second. She was caught using NSA surveillance facilities to spy on her husband and was merely told to cease her activities? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to, say, fire her instantly and bar her from possessing any kind of security clearance ever again in her life? What am I missing here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Fri, 26 Dec 2014 14:35:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 267291 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: War on Christmas Continues to Take a Drubbing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/chart-day-war-christmas-continues-take-drubbing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>With the Christmas season now officially closed, I figured everyone would appreciate a final update on how our troops performed this year in the War on Christmas&trade;. And since my Wikipedia entry insists that this blog is known for "original statistical and graphical analysis," that's what you're going to get.</p> <p>So then: the chart below is a Google Ngram showing the popularity of <em>Merry Christmas</em> vs. <em>Happy Holidays</em>. I'm sorry to report that contrary to suggestions from certain quarters, <em>Happy Holidays</em> has been taking a terrific and sustained beating ever since the mid-70s. I took the liberty of extending the trendline based on an extensive personal sampling of popular music and TV shows, and I'm afraid the results were devastating: 2014 was yet another year of <em>Happy Holidays</em> getting its ass kicked. In 1975 we were behind by 2 x 10<sup>-5</sup> percentage points. Today we're behind by 5 x 10<sup>-5</sup> percentage points, and falling farther behind every year.</p> <p>I know this might be discouraging news to some of you, but buck up, urban liberals! <em>Happy Holidays</em> is still doing better than the Lakers, the Bears, and the Knicks. Just wait 'til next year.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ngram_merry_christmas_happy_holidays.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 2px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Fri, 26 Dec 2014 01:38:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 267296 at http://www.motherjones.com Merry Christmas! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/merry-christmas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all still miss the late, much beloved Inkblot, but I figured this year it's time to celebrate the new cats in our family. So we have an all-new Christmas ornament. I did my best to retain all the charm of the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/12/merry-christmas" target="_blank">old ornament,</a> but this one features the new, much beloved Hopper. Merry Christmas, all.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_christmas_ornament.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 170px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 Dec 2014 12:35:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 267286 at http://www.motherjones.com Christmas Movies Are Now Just As Horrible As Everything Else Related to Christmas http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/christmas-movies-now-just-horrible-everything-else-related-christmas <!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_theater_christmas.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Well, this answers a question for me. Dan Drezner describes the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/24/the-war-on-jewish-christmas-must-be-stopped/" target="_blank">standard Jewish ritual for Christmas day:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Chinese food and a movie. Perfectly pleasant rituals, made special by the fact that <em>the Gentiles are all at home or at church</em>....</p> <p>No longer.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t know when it became a thing for Christian families to also go see a movie on the day commemorating the birth of Jesus, <strong>but personal experience tells me this is a relatively recent phenomenon&nbsp;&mdash; i.e., the past 15 years or so.</strong> All I know is that what used to be a pleasant movie-going experience is now extremely crowded.</p> </blockquote> <p>Several years ago I naively decided that it might be nice to see a movie on Christmas. I figured the crowds would be really light and we could just slip right in. Needless to say, I was disabused of this notion quickly, and headed for home just as fast as my car would take me. At the time, I wondered what was going on. Had things changed? Was I just unaware that Christmas had always been a big movie day? Or what?</p> <p>I guess it's the former. There really was a golden era when Christmas movies were uncrowded, but it disappeared before I even knew it existed. Sic transit etc.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 Dec 2014 20:02:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 267281 at http://www.motherjones.com The Hotel Industry Is Apparently Hellbent on Screwing Its Guests http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hotel-industry-apparently-hellbent-screwing-its-guests <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The sheer venality and barefaced contempt for its customers that's so often displayed by corporate America never ceases to amaze me. <a href="http://recode.net/2014/12/22/google-wireless-industry-not-down-with-marriotts-wi-fi-blocking-plan/" target="_blank">I had no idea this was going on:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Microsoft and Google don&rsquo;t agree on much, but they&rsquo;ve presented a united front against the hotel industry, which is trying to convince government regulators to give them the option of blocking guests from using personal Wi-Fi hotspots</strong>....In October, Marriott settled an FCC complaint about the practice for $600,000 but argued that it hadn&rsquo;t broken the law and was using technology to protect guests from &ldquo;rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber attacks and identity theft.&rdquo;</p> <p>....<strong>Opponents of the proposal basically argued in filings late Monday that the hotel industry is just trying to keep guests and exhibitors dependent on pricy hotel wireless networks.</strong> They suggested hotels have other options for protecting Wi-Fi networks than jamming personal hotspots.</p> </blockquote> <p>Years ago hotels lost the ability to charge outrageous prices for phone calls, so now they're engaged in a desperate rear-guard attempt to keep charging outrageous prices for Wi-Fi. Here's a suggestion instead: provide decent rooms at reasonable prices, and offer your guests additional services at reasonable prices too. Ho ho ho.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> I wonder what the range of these jamming devices is? If Marriott or Hilton ends up jamming a Wi-Fi hotspot that someone is using on a public sidewalk outside one of their hotels, are they liable for damages?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:50:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 267276 at http://www.motherjones.com How Much Would You Pay For $4,905 In Pension Benefits? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/how-much-would-you-pay-4905-pension-benefits <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Adam Ozimek points us to some recent research suggesting that people <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2014/12/24/another-reason-to-dislike-public-sector-pensions/" target="_blank">don't actually value pensions very highly:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The study utilizes a change in policy in Illinois that allowed teachers to purchase more pension benefits in exchange for a one-time fee. This allowed the determination of how much teachers are willing to pay for marginal pension benefits. The authors found that on average, teachers valued each $1 in marginal pension benefits at $0.20.</p> <p>This is useful information for two reasons. <strong>First, it suggests states may be able to save money and make teachers better off by buying back pension obligations in exchange for current lump sum payments.</strong> Second, it suggests that for districts looking to cut costs, decreases in benefits do not need to be offset with equal dollar value increases in current pay in order to maintain labor supply.</p> </blockquote> <p>(Yes, that's 20 cents for one dollar of <em>present value</em>. Specifically, the study finds that on average, teachers are willing to pay only $1,000 for benefits that the pension fund has to pay $4,905 to purchase.)</p> <p>But does this mean that Illinois teachers would snap up a $1,000 lump sum today in return for a <em>decrease</em> of $4,905 in future pension benefits? Not so fast, pardner. A combination of status quo bias, loss aversion, and <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_loss_aversion_napkin_1.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the endowment effect suggests that things wouldn't be so easy.</p> <p>Status quo bias is just what it sounds like: we all tend to succumb to a sort of emotional inertia that favors whatever benefits we happen to be getting at the moment. Loss aversion is the well known effect that people work harder to avoid the loss of $X than to secure the gain of $X. And the endowment effect causes people to ascribe greater value than normal to things they own, solely because they happen to own them. Put all these things together, and it's highly unlikely that Illinois teachers would be willing to sell off a dollar of benefits <em>they currently get</em> in return for 20 cents today. In fact, it's quite possible they'd only sell it off for more than a dollar.</p> <p>Of course, this applies only to workers who are already vested in a pension system. For brand new workers, given a choice of salary today vs. pension tomorrow, it's quite possible they'd undervalue the pension. In fact, I'd say it's almost inevitable, since most of us do exactly that. Nonetheless, I'm skeptical that this research tells us much about either the size of this effect or whether it would be good public policy to even offer the option. The circumstances are just too different.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:03:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 267266 at http://www.motherjones.com The Wonkosphere's Top Evergreen Stories, Explained http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/wonkospheres-top-evergreen-stories-explained <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The news business has always had evergreen stories. When <em>Time</em> magazine asks "Why Did Jesus Have To Die?" on its cover, it's following in its own footsteps along with hundreds of others. If it's Easter, we have stories about Jesus.</p> <p>The wonky blog world has its own odd set of evergreens. These are stories that might have been interesting the first time I read them, but which I'm now heartily sick of. So even though I'm a day late for this to be part of the Festivus airing of grievances, here are a few examples:</p> <ul><li>Does Daylight Savings Time really reduce energy consumption?</li> <li>An economist explains why Christmas gift giving is inefficient.</li> <li>The Declaration of Independence wasn't really signed on July 4th.</li> <li>Christmas and those crazy Asians: KFC in Japan and Spam in South Korea explained.</li> <li>Scientists are adding a second to the year today. Here's why.</li> <li>The Dow is a lousy proxy for the actual state of the stock market.</li> <li>Etc.</li> </ul><p>Of course, if this year happens to be the first time you see any of these evergreens, they're fresh and new to you. It's only the fact that I've seen them so many times that makes them so tired to me. So feel free to ignore my griping on this subject. In fact, feel free to mock me for it if you like.</p> <p>Anyway, I was reminded of this by the inevitable spate of bloggish stories last week about why Christmas is inefficient, and then reminded again by not <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/24/7442485/KFC-Japan-christmas" target="_blank">one,</a> not <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/ts/kfc-christmas-in-japan-colonel-sanders-history-12-23-2014" target="_blank">two,</a> but <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_12/do_you_have_your_xmas_chicken053447.php" target="_blank">three</a> bloggy pieces about KFC in Japan that I happened to see within five minutes of each other this morning. (Bad luck, that!) And it got me thinking: ordinary old-school evergreens all seem pretty understandable. But these wonkish blog evergreens seem....a bit odd. So I'm curious: what is it that makes a subject a bloggy evergreen? What do these kinds of stories have in common?</p> <p>Once I figure it out, I plan to write a blog post about it every year. Sort of like the one <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/11/after-year-triumphant-return-my-annual-black-friday-post" target="_blank">I write every year about the origins of Black Friday.</a> Are you sick of that one yet?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Wed, 24 Dec 2014 16:01:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 267261 at http://www.motherjones.com Hollywood Backstabbing Over "The Interview" Now in Full Swing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hollywood-backstabbing-over-interview-now-full-swing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all heard yesterday that Sony Pictures made a last-minute decision to release <em>The Interview</em> on Christmas after all, thanks to pleas from a couple hundred independent theaters that agreed to defy Kim Jong-un and show it. So the honor of Western civilization is saved and everyone is happy. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-sony-releases-interview-theaters-20141224-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">Right?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The film's limited release drives a further wedge between Sony and the nation's largest theater owners, who blame the studio for yanking away a potential hit. It was supposed to open on 3,000 screens before Sony and theater chains shelved the movie.</p> <p>Theater owners are also upset that Sony is negotiating to release the movie simultaneously on a video-on-demand platform....<strong>"They could have <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_the_interview.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">a full theatrical release. Instead they have a token,"</strong> said one theater executive who asked not to be identified because it could harm his relationship with the studio.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. What? I thought this whole fiasco had been driven in the first place by the refusal of big theater chains to show the movie amid fears of terrorist retaliation. So what are they all griping about?</p> <blockquote> <p>The disagreement over a digital release played into larger tensions between Sony and theater owners after hackers last week threatened physical harm on moviegoers who saw "The Interview."....Worried about a potential threat, Sony said it canceled the movie after large chains backed away from the film.</p> <p><strong>But theater owners have been pointing the finger at the studio for originally giving them the OK to not run the film amid the threats. Then Sony blamed the nation's four big theater chains for forcing the studio to cancel the original release</strong>....Representatives of Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike declined to comment on the matter.</p> </blockquote> <p>OK, I guess I'm officially confused. Did Sony cancel the Christmas release date of <em>The Interview</em> because malls and theater chains were desperate to back out of showing it? Or did malls and theater chains back out because Sony had implicitly urged them to do so when it gave the chains permission to break their contractual commitments to show the movie? Or are both sides now just furiously trying to shift blame after being called out for cowardice by everyone from George Clooney to President Obama?</p> <p>The latter, I suppose. In any case, now I know what I want for Christmas: A country that doesn't spin into a damn tizzy over every little thing. From Ebola to ISIS to the Sony hack, you'd think we were all at risk of losing our lives to outside forces every time we step off our front porches. In the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers, can we all please R-E-L-A-X?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV International Wed, 24 Dec 2014 15:14:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 267256 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: "That Could Have Been Any One of Us" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/quote-day-any-one-of-us <!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.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-usa-police-nypd-race-insight-idUSKBN0K11EV20141223" target="_blank">From Michelle Conlin of Reuters,</a> who interviewed 25 active-duty and retired black NYPD police officers, nearly all of whom said they themselves had been treated harshly by fellow cops when they were out of uniform:</p> <blockquote> <p>At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nypd_patch.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable.</p> <p>Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, <strong>&ldquo;That could have been any one of us.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>It shouldn't be too hard to hold two thoughts in our minds at once. Thought #1: Police officers have an intrinsically tough and violent job. Split-second decisions about the use of force come with the territory. Ditto for decisions about who to stop and who to keep an eye on. This makes individual mistakes inevitable, but as a group, police officers deserve our support and respect regardless.</p> <p>Thought #2: That support shouldn't be blind. Conlin reports that in her group of 25 black police officers, 24 said they had received rough treatment from other cops. "The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them."</p> <p>Respect for the police is one of the foundation stones of a decent and orderly society. But police work is one of several professions that are inherently coercive and invest their members with tremendous amounts of sometimes unaccountable power over the rest of us. It's equally a foundation stone of a decent and <em>free</em> society to maintain vigilant oversight of professions like this, and to deal vigorously with the kinds of systemic problems that the routine exercise of power and authority makes unavoidable. Belief in the latter does not exclude belief in the former.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Wed, 24 Dec 2014 01:42:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 267251 at http://www.motherjones.com Smile! You're on Cop Cam! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/smile-youre-cop-cam <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Seattle police have made the decision to adopt body cameras, but this means they need to find an automated way to blur out things like faces and license plate numbers before the footage becomes public. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/23/7440963/police-recording-privacy" target="_blank">Dara Lind comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>But as police departments move cop cams into the field, the an important question becomes whether there are things that shouldn't be recorded to protect civilians' privacy. And if so, who controls the footage?....As reported in <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/12/22/seattle_police_hackathon_worked_on_redacting_body_cam_video_streams.html?wpsrc=fol_tw" target="_blank"><em>Slate</em>,</a> the programmers that participated in the hackathon focused on ways to automatically redact police footage so that, for example, civilians' faces and license plate numbers were blurred.</p> <p>The fundamental appeal of automatic redaction for a city government is pretty clear. If you can write an automated program that takes care of any privacy concerns, <strong>you can release body-camera footage to the public en masse.</strong> Without an automated solution, the city would have to rely on the police department to edit the footage &mdash; which opens the door to manipulation.</p> </blockquote> <p>En masse? I wonder where this leads? If I get pulled over for speeding in Seattle, the encounter will be saved on video. Does that get released to anyone who wants to see it? Does every encounter with a police officer become public? How long will police departments be required to save video records? What kind of indexing requirements will be imposed? Will they all be accessible as public records via Freedom of Information requests?</p> <p>These are good questions to ponder. Body cameras for police forces are a good idea, but there are downsides as well as upsides.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum China Tue, 23 Dec 2014 19:51:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 267231 at http://www.motherjones.com Everyone Wants the Cuba Embargo to End http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/everyone-wants-cuba-embargo-end <!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/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/12/23/National-Politics/Polling/release_380.xml" target="_blank">According to the latest <em>Washington Post</em>/ABC poll,</a> 64 percent of the American public supports establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. And even greater numbers want to get rid of the trade embargo:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poll_cuba_embargo_december_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Those are remarkable numbers. <em>Everyone</em> supports an end to the embargo by wide margins, even Republicans. I checked all the other crosstabs, and it turns out that ending the embargo is supported by all parties, all ideologies, all sexes, all ages, all races, all education levels, all incomes, and all regions.</p> <p>The only subgroup that opposes it&mdash;barely&mdash;is conservative Republicans, who make up <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/section-9-trends-in-party-affiliation/" target="_blank">about 17 percent</a> of the population. So naturally that means the embargo will stay in place. It no longer really matters what the other 83 percent of us think.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 23 Dec 2014 18:44:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 267221 at http://www.motherjones.com Let Us Now Praise Obama's Economic Policies http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/recovery-growth-obama-economic-policies <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen evaluates recent economic news by the standards of <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/meeting-the-tim-pawlenty-standard" target="_blank">Republican promises from two years ago:</a></p> <ul><li><strong>The Romney Standard:</strong> Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans elect him, he&rsquo;d get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Obama won anyway and the unemployment rate dropped below 6% two years faster.</li> <li><strong>The Gingrich Standard:</strong> Newt Gingrich said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans re-elected the president, gas prices would reach $10 per gallon, while Gingrich would push gas down to $2.50 a gallon. As of this morning, the national average at the pump is a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_economic_record_2009_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">little under $2.38.</li> <li><strong>The Pawlenty Standard:</strong> Tim Pawlenty said trillions of dollars in tax breaks would boost economic growth to 5% GDP. Obama actually raised taxes on the wealthy and GDP growth reached 5% anyway.</li> </ul><p>Is this fair? Meh. Maybe, maybe not. But there's not likely to be a whole lot of news to blog about today, so why not poke holes in some Republican balloons instead? As Benen says, "By the party&rsquo;s own standards, Obama is succeeding beautifully. They established the GOP benchmarks and now the Democratic president is the one meeting, and in some cases exceeding, the Republicans&rsquo; goals."</p> <p>The downside of all this is that in the past Democrats haven't promoted their own economic policies plainly enough to get credit now that the economy has finally turned around. Republicans, by contrast, simply cut taxes and then loudly and relentlessly repeat their promise that the economy will improve. Eventually it does, of course. Maybe not a lot, and maybe not for long, but economies always improve eventually. If Kansas ever manages a quarter or two of decent growth, for example, you can be sure that Gov. Sam Brownback will be crowing about it for the rest of his political career.</p> <p>To some extent, of course, Democrats were stymied in their economic policy, which gave them less to brag about back in 2009. And five years is a long time to wait for a recovery. Still, Dems <em>did</em> pass a stimulus; enact a payroll tax holiday; extend unemployment benefits; pass Obamacare; reform Wall Street; raise taxes on the rich; and pass several jobs bills. It's true that this laundry list doesn't quite have the simple oomph of "Tax cuts will bring the economy roaring back to life!" But it <em>is</em> an economic program, and eventually it got us to where we are today: a pretty good recovery, and one that looks like it might be sustainable since it's not built on the sandy foundations of tax cuts and deficits. Democrats should be louder about demanding more credit for all of this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Obama Top Stories Tue, 23 Dec 2014 17:38:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 267201 at http://www.motherjones.com Happy Holidays! Economic Growth Finally Starting to Look Robust. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/happy-holidays-economic-growth-finally-starting-robust <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hey, take a look at this. <a href="http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm" target="_blank">Yet another revision is in,</a> and the Commerce Department now estimates that third-quarter GDP grew at a sizzling 5.0 percent rate, following a nearly-as-good 4.6 percent rate in the second quarter. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_2014_q3_revised.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 25px;">Part of this is still a make-up for poor growth in the first quarter, but it's good news nonetheless. The economy really does seem to have <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-third-quarter-gdp-revised-up-to-5-0-growth-1419341481?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories" target="_blank">found a new gear this year:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s report showed stronger-than-expected spending by U.S. consumers, particularly on services like health care. Fixed nonresidential investment also was revised up, signaling more spending by businesses on new buildings and research and development.</p> <p>&ldquo;There is a positive feedback loop going on at the moment,&rdquo; Mike Jakeman, global analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in a note. &ldquo;Job creation is running at the strongest rate for 15 years. More people in work means more income, which means more private spending, which means more business investment, which means more hiring.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Corporate profits are also up, and the stock market is at new highs every day. Wage growth still needs to get stronger, but it showed signs of life last quarter. All things considered, five years after the Great Recession technically ended, we're finally doing pretty well.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Tue, 23 Dec 2014 15:32:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 267196 at http://www.motherjones.com Putin Ally Says Putin Needs to Make Peace With West http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/putin-ally-says-putin-needs-make-peace-west <!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.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d8bf5266-89cb-11e4-9dbf-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3MhEzCBTe" target="_blank">Things that make you go hmmm:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Russia faces a &ldquo;full-blown economic crisis&rdquo; next year that will trigger a series of defaults and the loss of its investment-grade credit rating, a respected former finance minister has warned. Real incomes will fall by 2-5 per cent next year, the first decrease in real terms since 2000, <strong>said Alexei Kudrin, a longtime ally of President Vladimir Putin</strong> and widely tipped to succeed Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.</p> <p>....In unusually blunt comments for an establishment figure, he also called on Mr Putin to do what was necessary to improve relations with the west: <strong>&ldquo;As for what the president and government must do now: the most important factor is the normalisation of Russia&rsquo;s relations with its business partners, above all in Europe, the US and other countries.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This gets to be a little like old-school Kremlinology, but I wonder what it means when a longtime Putin ally publicly suggests that Russia needs to mend relations with the West, and do it pronto? Is this really an independent act of truth-telling? Or some kind of semi-sanctioned trial balloon designed to start shifting domestic public opinion? I suppose it's most likely the former, <a href="http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/241211.html" target="_blank">especially considering this little tidbit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Last March, the Russian leadership considered the possible consequences of sanctions against Russia in connection with the crisis in Ukraine, Civil Initiatives Committee Chairman Alexei Kudrin said...."I provided my assessment of the consequences. The president and prime minister listened to them. I simply paraphrased them and then submitted them in written form to the president's aide," he said.</p> <p>His report included three possible scenarios for developments in connection with the enactment of sanctions against Russia, Kudrin said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm again. This is basically noted without comment, since I don't really quite know what to make of it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Tue, 23 Dec 2014 06:01:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 267191 at http://www.motherjones.com Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/brother-can-you-spare-dime <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm going to keep things simple this year: <em>Mother Jones</em> is great! You already know that if you subscribe to the magazine (which you should) or if you read this blog. But no single source of funding can support what we do, so we rely on multiple sources. And you guessed it: one of them is reader donations.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Mother_Jones.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">So if you want to support our great journalism....</p> <p>Or you just want to support this blog....</p> <p>Or, hell, if you just want to say thank you to MoJo for providing me with much-needed health insurance this year....</p> <p>Then how about making a year-end contribution? Small amounts are fine. Large amounts are even better! You can use PayPal or a credit card. Every little bit helps. So thanks for another year of reading my rants and raves, and thanks in advance for whatever donation you can afford. Here are the details:</p> <p><a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=7Z4CDRU&amp;extra_don=1" target="_blank">Click here</a> to pay via credit card.</p> <p><a href="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&amp;hosted_button_id=4RAFV8LDM992L" target="_blank">Click here</a> to pay via PayPal.</p> <p><a href="http://mother-jones.myshopify.com/products/1" target="_blank">Click here</a> if you want to get someone a gift subscription.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 22 Dec 2014 20:18:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 267161 at http://www.motherjones.com Someone Needs to Invent a Great Non-Opioid Painkiller http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/someone-needs-invent-great-non-opioid-painkiller <!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_opium_poppy.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Austin Frakt writes about the stunningly widespread <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/upshot/painkiller-abuse-a-cyclical-challenge.html?partner=rss&amp;emc=rss" target="_blank">use and abuse of narcotic painkillers in the US:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Opioids now cause more deaths than any other drug, more than 16,000 in 2010. That year, the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen became the most prescribed medication in the United States. Patients here consumed 99 percent of the world&rsquo;s hydrocodone, the opioid in Vicodin. They also consumed 80 percent of the world&rsquo;s oxycodone, present in Percocet and OxyContin, and 65 percent of the world&rsquo;s hydromorphone, the key ingredient in Dilaudid, in 2010. (Some opioids are also used to treat coughs, but that use doesn&rsquo;t seem to be a major factor in the current wave of problems.)</p> </blockquote> <p>When I got out of the hospital a couple of months ago, I was in considerable pain. The answer was morphine. For about two weeks, I took a couple of low-dose morphine tablets each day. Then the pain eased and I stopped.</p> <p>I resisted the morphine at first, and my doctor had to argue me into using it regularly. "You broke a bone in your back," she told me. "Your pain is legitimate. We have a lot of experience treating pain with morphine, and you'll be all right."</p> <p>I finally listened, and the morphine did indeed work as advertised. But it somehow got me thinking. Morphine? That's the best we can do? This stuff was invented 200 years ago. And while there are newer painkillers around, they're all opioids of one kind or another with all the usual horrible side effects<sup>1</sup>. How is it that in over a century of research, we still know so little about pain that we haven't been able to create a powerful, non-opioid painkiller?</p> <p>I'm not really going anywhere with this. I'm just curious. Are there any good books, or even long magazine articles, about this? Why is that even after gazillions of dollars of effort, we're still relying on variants of the opium poppy for serious pain relief? It's the 21st century. How come we can't do better?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Addiction, nausea, wooziness, constipation, etc.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:39:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 267146 at http://www.motherjones.com There Is No Higher Ed Bubble. Yet. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/there-no-higher-ed-bubble-yet <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Is there a higher-education bubble? Will technology produce cheaper, better alternatives in the near future? Are kids and parents finally figuring out that if Bill Gates can drop out of Harvard and become the richest man in the world, maybe an Ivy League degree isn't <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_higher_ed_bubble.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">actually worth 50 grand a year? Dan Drezner thinks the whole idea is ridiculous, and he's willing to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/22/id-like-to-take-this-opportunity-to-triple-dog-dare-peter-thiel/" target="_blank">put his money where his mouth is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If, in fact, there really is a higher ed bubble, it should pop before 2020. And if it does pop, then tuition prices for college should plummet as demand slackens. After all, that&rsquo;s how a bubble works &mdash; when it deflates, the price of the asset should plummet in value, like housing in 2008. So who wants to bet me that an average of the 2020 tuition rates at Stanford University, Williams College, Texas A&amp;M and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell will be lower than today?</p> <p>I&rsquo;m open to changing the particular schools, but those four are a nice distribution of private and public schools, elite and not-quite-as-elite colleges, with some geographic spread. Surely, true believers in a higher ed bubble would expect tuition rates at those schools to fall.</p> <p>I really don&rsquo;t think that will be the case. <strong>So anyone who believes in a higher ed bubble should be happy to take the other side of that bet.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Not me. I'd be willing to bet that eventually artificial intelligence will basically wipe out the demand for higher education completely. But "eventually" means something like 30 years minimum, probably more like 40 or 50. Maybe even more if AI continues to be as intractable as some people think it will be.</p> <p>In the meantime, Drezner is right: the vast, vast majority of college students don't want to strike out on their own and try to become millionaire entrepreneurs. They just want ordinary jobs. And that's a good thing, since if everyone wanted to run their own companies, entrepreneurs wouldn't be able to find anyone to do all the non-CEO scutwork for their brilliant new social media startups.</p> <p>So if something like 98 percent of college grads are aiming for traditional jobs in which they work for somebody else, guess what? All those somebody elses&mdash;which probably includes most of the people who think there's a higher-ed bubble&mdash;are going to want to hire college grads. They sure don't want to hire a bunch of losers who were too dim to drop out and become millionaires <em>and</em> couldn't even manage the gumption to accrue 120 units at State U, do they?</p> <p>Look: the rising cost of higher education has multiple causes, but it's mostly driven by two simple things. At public schools, it's driven by declining state funding, which transfers an increasing share of the cost of higher ed onto students. Unfortunately, I see no reason to think this trend won't continue. At private schools, it's driven by the perception of how much a private degree is worth&mdash;and right now, all the evidence suggests that even with fairly astronomical tuitions at elite and semi-elite universities, the lifetime value of a degree is still worth more than students pay for it. Universities understand this, and since these days they mostly think of themselves not as public trusts, but as businesses who simply charge whatever the traffic will bear, they know they still have plenty of headroom to increase tuition. So this trend is likely to continue as well.</p> <p>If I had to guess, I'd say that there's a class of 2nd or 3rd tier liberal arts colleges that might be in trouble. They have high tuitions, but the value of their degree isn't really superior to that of a state university. They might be in trouble, and if Drezner added one of these places to his list it might make his bet more interesting.</p> <p>But he'd still win. He might lose by 2040, but he's safe as long as he sticks to 2020.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Mon, 22 Dec 2014 15:51:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 267136 at http://www.motherjones.com