Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2015/02 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Dreaming about Debates http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/dreaming-about-debates <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ed Kilgore <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_08/lunch_buffet_867056922.php" target="_blank">tells us about his night:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ugh, dreamed about the Voters First Presidential Forum a good part of the night. 'Twas even more boring the third time around.</p> </blockquote> <p>Oh lordy. I wonder if I dream about stuff like this? Probably. So even though it would frustrate Freud, I think it's all for the best that I never remember my dreams.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 04 Aug 2015 21:33:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 281281 at http://www.motherjones.com Today's Cliffhanger: Will Rick Perry Make It To the Main Debate Stage? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/todays-cliffhanger-will-rick-perry-make-it-main-debate-stage <!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_fox_debate_projection.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Vox's Andrew Prokop takes a look at the polls released today and gives us his projection of who's going to make the cut for the main stage in <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9094247/republican-debate-2016-qualifiers" target="_blank">Thursday's Fox News Republican debate:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Fox has said it will average the last five national polls before 5 pm today, and <em>New York</em> magazine's Gabriel Sherman has reported that the network will use only live interview polls. If that's the case, polls by NBC/WSJ, Monmouth, CBS News, Bloomberg Politics, and Fox News itself will be averaged....The candidates excluded from the primetime debate appear to be Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Jim Gilmore.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's kind of too bad about Perry. He's been saying the occasional interesting thing lately, and while he's unlikely to win, he seems more likely to me than Carson or Huckabee or Cruz.</p> <p>My guess is that no one has any problem with the other six who didn't make it. Their support is minuscule and they don't seem even remotely likely to improve much. But Perry? His formal qualifications are good&mdash;12 years as governor, ran once before in 2012&mdash;and you never know about all that Texas money sloshing around. And there's really no downside. His famous "oops" from last time around was the most memorable moment of the debate cycle. If he does something as dumb this time, at least we'd get some good entertainment value out of it.</p> <p>Anyway, we'll get the official word on all this from Fox in a couple of hours. I know you're all waiting on the edges of your seats. As for me, it's lunchtime in California. So I'm going to go get some lunch.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Yep, this is how it turned out. Official Fox News announcement <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/08/04/fox-news-announces-candidate-line-up-for-prime-time-debate/" target="_blank">here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 04 Aug 2015 19:04:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 281261 at http://www.motherjones.com If You Don't Get Donald Trump's Appeal, You Really Need to Catch Up on Your "Celebrity Apprentice" Viewing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/if-you-dont-get-donald-trumps-appeal-you-really-need-catch-your-celebrity-apprent <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>What's the source of Donald Trump's appeal?<sup>1</sup> Responding to one of David Brooks' periodic psychoanalysis sessions of the American voting public, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/08/04/morning-plum-large-majority-of-republicans-trusts-donald-trump-on-illegal-immigration/" target="_blank">Greg Sargent makes a wacky counterproposal:</a> "What if a key source of his appeal is that a lot of Republican voters agree with what he&rsquo;s saying about the issues?"</p> <p>That's a thought. Trump's position on the issues is pretty much the same as all the other GOP candidates, except more, and "more" seems to be what a lot of Republicans want these days. You can never have too much "more" in today's tea-party dominated Republican Party, and Trump has more "more" than anyone.</p> <p>But I want to toss out another suggestion. To a lot of us, Trump is a celebrity real estate developer who likes to get into petty feuds with fellow celebrities. That doesn't seem very presidential. But that's the old Trump. The modern Trump still gets into petty feuds with fellow celebrities, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trump_boardroom.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">but he's also the star of <em>Celebrity Apprentice</em>, and that's how a lot of people view him these days.</p> <p>You've seen the show, right? You're not one of those vegan weenie lefties who lives in a bubble of art museums and Audubon meetings, unwilling to sully yourself with popular TV, are you? The kind who looks down on regular folks?</p> <p>Oh hell, sure you are. So here's how the show works. A bunch of C-list celebrities compete in teams each week at tasks given to them by Trump. At the end of the show, Trump grills the losing team in the "boardroom," eventually picking a single scapegoat for their failure and firing them. As the show ends, the humiliated team member shuffles disconsolately down the elevator to a waiting car, where they are driven away, never to be seen again. This is the price of failure in Trumpworld.</p> <p>Now, picture in your mind how Trump looks. He is running things. He sets the tasks. The competitors all call him "Mr. Trump" and treat him obsequiously. He gives orders and famous<sup>2</sup> people accept them without quibble. At the end of the show, he asks tough questions and demands accountability. He is smooth and unruffled while the team members are tense and tongue-tied. Finally, having given everything the five minutes of due diligence it needs, he takes charge and fires someone. And on the season finale, he picks a big winner and in the process raises lots of money for charity.</p> <p>Do you see how precisely this squares with so many people's view of the presidency? The president is the guy running things. He tells people what to do. He commands respect simply by virtue of his personality and rock-solid principles. When things go wrong, he doesn't waste time. He gets to the bottom of the problem in minutes using little more than common sense, and then fires the person responsible. And in the end, it's all for a good cause. <em>That's</em> a president.</p> <p>Obviously this is all a fake. The show is deliberately set up to make Trump look authoritative and decisive. But a lot of people just don't see it that way. It's a <em>reality</em> show! It's showing us the real Donald Trump. And boy does he look presidential. Not in the real sense, of course, where you have to deal with Congress and the courts and recalcitrant foreign leaders and all that. But in the Hollywood sense? You bet.</p> <p>So keep this in mind, you liberal latte sippers and Beltway media elites. For the past seven years (11 years if you count the original <em>Apprentice</em> show), about 10 million people<sup>3</sup> have been watching Donald Trump act presidential week after week. He's not a buffoon. He's commanding, he's confident, he's respected, he demands accountability, and he openly celebrates accomplishment and money&mdash;but then makes sure all the money goes to charity at the end. What's not to like?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Actually, according to the latest polls, he appeals to about <a href="http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/2016-national-gop-primary" target="_blank">24 percent</a> of <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx" target="_blank">23 percent</a> of the electorate, which works out to a little less than 6 percent support. If you keep that in mind, Trumpmania starts to seem both a little less impressive and a little less scary. Still, let's ignore that and just work with the premise of trying to figure out Trump's appeal. Otherwise I don't have a blog post to write.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Well, sort of famous, anyway. More famous than most cabinet members, certainly.</p> <p><sup>3</sup>Though that's dropped in the past couple of seasons. Maybe Trump decided he needed to run for president before the show finally suffered the ultimate disgrace of being canceled.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 04 Aug 2015 18:16:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 281241 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Not Just You. Blockbuster Movies Really Have Gotten Incomprehensible Lately. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/its-not-just-you-blockbuster-movies-really-have-gotten-incomprehensible-lately <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Phil Hoad of the <em>Guardian</em> laments the rise of impenetrable plots in action movies, and suggests that it's a recent phenomenon. I disagree: I think it's been going on for years. Perhaps it's just <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_avengers_ultron.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">finally gotten so ridiculous that no one can make excuses for it anymore.</p> <p>The question is: why? Interestingly, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jul/30/hollywood-blockbusters-lost-plot-avengers-terminator" target="_blank">Hoad says screenwriters aren't at fault:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The past decade has seen, in the struggle for prime spots on the movie-going calendar, the rise of release dates locked in years in advance. In order to hit those targets, production schedules have little room for deviation; finished scripts often lag behind the key special-effects sequences, which are devised early so mockups around which actors can be directed are ready when shooting starts. <strong>Screenwriters, says [Drew] Pearce, are often left to link the showpieces as best as they can.</strong></p> <p>&ldquo;Because of that, you get these kind of labyrinthine machinations to desperately weave in character motivation, geography and the practical aspects of getting from one scene to another.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;People are so in the white-hot crucible of terror of making the movie,&rdquo; he continues, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for them to take a step back and look at the story at a macro level.&rdquo; This often results in a storyline that&rsquo;s hectoring but lacking in any emotional through-line; the kind of rickety plot-slalom that in the case of the interminable Transformers films, batters the viewer into a state of &ldquo;weird, robot-based PTSD&rdquo;.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, Pearce is himself a screenwriter, so perhaps it's only natural that he faults other parts of the filmmaking process. Still, this has the ring of truth to me. If your goal is to have as many big FX scenes as possible, and the screenwriter's job is to somehow weave each of them together in less than 200 words, that's a recipe for impenetrability. Especially when some of the bridge sequences probably end up on the cutting room floor during editing.</p> <p>I guess the more interesting question is whether the target audience cares. <em>I</em> care, but Hollywood doesn't make blockbuster films for me. As we're told over and over and over, they're made for young males aged 16-25. If these folks don't care <em>why</em> things are happening on the screen, then there's not much point in wasting time on frippery like character development and narrative coherence, is there?</p> <p>In any case, I'm glad someone has written about this. Back when I still went to movies, I really started to wonder if something was wrong with me. I'd watch these action films and then walk out of the theater wondering what the hell just happened. Do movies simply move too fast for my 55-year-old brain to keep up with? Am I like some member of a lost Amazonian tribe seeing a photograph for the first time?</p> <p>That's still possible. But Hoad gives me hope. Maybe the real answer is that blockbusters <em>really don't</em> make much sense anymore, and don't even try. Pity.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:34:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 281236 at http://www.motherjones.com GOP Plans to Kick Disability Can Down the Road http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/gop-plans-kick-disability-can-down-road <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Social Security disability fund is running out of money, so Congress has to do something. But what? A simple reallocation of money from the main retirement trust fund is the usual solution, but Republicans are dead set against it this <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_disability_rejected.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">time. Unfortunately, they can't figure out what to do instead. <a href="http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/inside-the-gop-s-plans-to-stop-a-social-security-meltdown-20150803" target="_blank">Dylan Scott:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Lawmakers are planning to package some disability reforms together, <strong>but whatever bill Congress comes up with won't do enough quickly enough to fix the program's finances and stop the cut.</strong> So they'll have to move some money around to avert a crisis. According to lawmakers, aides, and other sources, one of the options being seriously considered is what's known as interfund borrowing: The much-bigger retirement fund would loan money to the disability program.</p> <p><strong>And because the disability fund would have to pay the money back, it would set the stage for another debate about Social Security in the near future.</strong> A loan would give Congress the ability to effectively set a date for when Social Security's disability program would need to be addressed again, which is part of the appeal to Republicans, and many in Washington think that would lead to a broader conversation.</p> <p>So a loan would prevent the cut and serve a future political purpose. But that's also why the tactic is likely to be met with resistance from many Democrats and outside lobbying groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>I guess I'm a little surprised by this, but maybe I shouldn't be. The obvious purpose of this is to pass a quick patch so the issue doesn't have to be addressed in mid-2016, right in the middle of a presidential campaign. Just give the disability fund another 12 months of money and then the whole thing can be shoved into 2017.</p> <p>For some reason, I thought Republicans would welcome a showdown over the disability program during campaign season. The fact that they don't suggests they know that cutting disability benefits is a political loser. Better to do it when the spotlight isn't shining quite so brightly. Plus there might be a Republican in the White House by 2017. Maybe that's part of their thinking too.</p> <p>Or maybe this is just like the Highway Trust Fund or the doc fix or a dozen other programs that Republicans can never figure out how to handle thanks to their theological insistence that spending more money sometimes requires higher taxes. When you take that off the table, even small budget shortfalls turn into nightmare crises. This is yet another one.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:32:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 281231 at http://www.motherjones.com Abortion Is Not Murder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/abortion-not-murder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ramesh Ponnuru comments on Planned Parenthood's <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/421967/utilitarian-defense-planned-parenthood-ramesh-ponnuru" target="_blank">sale of fetal tissue from the abortions it performs:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A recent Sarah Silverman tweet distilled one argument many liberals are making about the Planned Parenthood videos into a few characters: <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_planned_parenthood_logo.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">&rdquo;Abortion is still legal in the great U.S of A. It would be insane not to use fetal tissue 4 science &amp; education in such cases. #StandwithPP.&rdquo;</p> <p>The death penalty is also still legal in our great country. Should we employ methods of execution so as to yield the highest number of usable organs?....</p> </blockquote> <p>Whenever I write about abortion, I usually get a bunch of tweets or emails asking if I even understand the conservative position. Answer: of course I do. Most conservatives say that abortion is murder. Given that premise, their opposition to funding abortion, legalizing abortion, using some day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.</p> <p>So I'm going to ask the mirror image question here: does Ponnuru understand the liberal position on abortion? Most of us don't think of fetuses as persons, which means abortion doesn't involve killing a human being in any meaningful sense. Given that premise, our support of funding abortion, legalizing abortion, promoting day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.</p> <p>To us lefties, the death penalty involves killing a human being. Abortion doesn't. So it's perfectly reasonable to have different views about how the remains are treated in each case.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> There are, of course, nuances in these positions regarding abortion on both sides. We're all familiar enough with them that it seems unnecessary to repeat them here. That said, at its most basic, liberals don't generally consider aborting a fetus to involve killing a human being. Obviously the rest of our views follow from that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 03 Aug 2015 19:49:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 281171 at http://www.motherjones.com Malaysia Announces Biggest "Donor Contribution" In History http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/malaysia-announces-biggest-donor-contribution-history <!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.wsj.com/articles/malaysia-agency-says-money-in-razaks-personal-account-isnt-from-1mdb-1438615126" target="_blank">From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Malaysia&rsquo;s anticorruption agency said Monday that 2.6 billion ringgit (about $700 million) was deposited into Prime Minister Najib Razak&rsquo;s personal account and that the money was from a &ldquo;donor contribution,&rdquo; not from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, a state investment fund also known as 1MDB.</p> </blockquote> <p>$700 million! That makes Sheldon Adelson look like a piker. I think American donors need to pick up their game.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:42:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 281146 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama's New Power Plant Regulations Are Modest, But Still a Big Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/obamas-new-power-plant-regulations-are-modest-still-big-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>President Obama is unveiling his plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants today, and it's generally being hailed as the most important environmental regulation of his presidency. Tim McDonnell has the details <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/07/obama-epa-clean-power-plan" target="_blank">here.</a> Rebecca Leber outlines the probable legal attack on Obama's plan <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122444/last-defining-court-battle-obamas-presidency" target="_blank">here.</a></p> <p>But Michael Grunwald isn't buying the hype. He's not impressed with Obama's plan to <a href="http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2015/08/why-obamas-epic-climate-plan-isnt-such-a-big-deal-000183" target="_blank">reduce power plant emissions 32 percent by 2030:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That&rsquo;s nice, but by the end of this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the power sector&rsquo;s emissions will already be down 15.4 percent from 2005 levels &mdash; about half the anticipated reductions in just a decade, and <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_power_plant_carbon_emission_reductions_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">before the plan goes into effect. <strong>In other words, even under the strengthened plan, the rate of decarbonization is expected to slow over the next 15 years.</strong> What, did you think the strongest action ever taken to combat climate change would actually accelerate the nation&rsquo;s efforts to combat climate change?</p> <p>....<strong>If you&rsquo;re really ranking them, the Clean Power Plan is at best the fourth-strongest action that Obama has taken to combat climate change,</strong> behind his much-maligned 2009 stimulus package, which poured $90 billion into clean energy and jump-started a green revolution; his dramatic increases in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which should reduce our oil consumption by 2 million barrels per day; and his crackdown on mercury and other air pollutants, which has helped inspire utilities to retire 200 coal-fired power plants in just five years.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a little unfair in two ways. First, the 15 percent reduction of the past decade was the low-hanging fruit. The initial cuts are always the easiest. The next 15 percent will be harder, and mandating that it happen at about the same rate is more stringent than it sounds.</p> <p>Second, the decrease over the last decade happened mostly because gas-fired plants became cheaper than coal thanks to the boom in natural gas fracking. That's a one-time deal, and there's no guarantee that something similar will drive further decreases. Having a mandate in place forces it to happen regardless of future events in the energy market.</p> <p>That said, Grunwald has a point in a technical sense: the reductions mandated in the EPA plan are good but not great, and the mandates for renewable energy are pretty unambitious. Obama could have done better.</p> <p>Or could he? That's a never-ending source of disagreement. Should Obama have gotten a bigger stimulus? Should he have insisted on a public option in Obamacare? Could he have put in place stronger financial regulations than he got in Dodd-Frank? Could he have negotiated a stronger treaty with Iran?</p> <p>The answers are: maybe, maybe, maybe, and maybe. We'll never know the absolute maximum that Obama could have gotten in these situations. The same is true for the EPA regs. Congress and the courts&mdash;and the public&mdash;will have something to say about them, and it's not clear if Obama could have safely gone further than he did. We'll never know.</p> <p>In the meantime, Grunwald is right to say that the new mandates aren't really all that tough. At the same time, the fact that we have any power plant mandates at all really is a big deal. Just setting the precedent that the federal government should regulate carbon emissions from power plants is a critical first step, and if it survives court challenges and congressional temper tantrums it will likely lead to further cutbacks in the future. And <em>that's</em> a big deal.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 03 Aug 2015 16:51:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 281131 at http://www.motherjones.com Jeb Bush Takes on Lazy Bum Members of Congress http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/jeb-bush-takes-lazy-bum-members-congress <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jeb_congress_pay.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/jeb-bush-targets-lawmakers-who-skip-work" target="_blank">Steve Benen</a> points us to Jeb Bush's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBE3P2yD7so" target="_blank">latest YouTube video:</a> a cheap 15-second spot calling out members of Congress for being lazy bums and suggesting that the laziest ones deserve to have their pay docked. "Bush's proposed solution is quite foolish," Benen says, but is it? If Jeb were serious, then yes, it would be pretty dumb. But I'm sure he knows perfectly well that presidents aren't allowed to cut congressional pay any more than Congress can cut the president's pay. This is pretty clear from the oddness of his phrasing&mdash;is he talking about Congress or about individual members of Congress or what?&mdash;which means he's not really proposing anything at all.</p> <p>So what's the point? Once again, affinity marketing. Lots of people think Congress is doing a lousy job, and Jeb wants them to know that he agrees. But is it <em>good</em> affinity marketing? Well, the YouTube spot went up two weeks ago, and so far has gotten 767 views. That's about as well as my cat videos perform. So this is probably just a routine attempt to throw some mud on the wall and see if it sticks. If it does, great. It becomes a campaign message. If not, move on. After all, you don't think Jeb actually cares about this, do you?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 03 Aug 2015 16:01:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 281126 at http://www.motherjones.com One Pollster Has Stopped Polling the Republican Primary. Will Others Follow? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/one-pollster-has-stopped-polling-republican-primary-will-others-follow <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've been wondering for a while who the first pollster would be to stop polling the Republican primary. <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article29787529.html" target="_blank">Today I got my answer:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As candidates jostle to make the cut for the first GOP presidential debate this week, the McClatchy-Marist Poll has temporarily suspended polling on primary voter choices out of concern that public polls are being misused to decide who will be in and who will be excluded.</p> <p>....&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a problem when it&rsquo;s shaping who gets to sit at the table,&rdquo; said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute....&ldquo;It&rsquo;s making candidates change their behavior. Kasich is trying to get a big bounce. Rand Paul has a video with a chain saw. Lindsay Graham is hitting cell phones with golf clubs,&rdquo; Miringoff said. <strong>&ldquo;Now the public polls are affecting the process they&rsquo;re supposed to be measuring.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Miringoff is also concerned that candidates may be excluded from the debate due to differences between 10th and 11th place that are so close they're within the margin of error. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/foxs-poll-cutoff-republican-debate-works-better-rachel-maddow-suggested-last-nigh" target="_blank">I think those concerns are overblown,</a> but that doesn't mean they aren't real. There's clearly a certain amount of arbitrariness at work here.</p> <p>I doubt that very many outfits will pull out of primary polling. But a few more might, and of course that also affects which candidates will make the cut. In the end, then, McClatchy might be kidding itself here. There's just no way for news organizations that make editorial and placement judgments to avoid affecting the events they report on. It might be best to accept that and deal with it openly instead of pretending they can make it go away.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 03 Aug 2015 04:28:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 281111 at http://www.motherjones.com As Federal Aid Goes Up, College Costs Rise Enough to Gobble It All Up http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/federal-aid-goes-college-costs-rise-enough-gobble-it-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Josh Mitchell of the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> writes today about the <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/federal-aids-role-in-driving-up-tuitions-gains-credence-1438538582" target="_blank">spiraling cost of college:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The federal government has boosted aid to families in recent decades to make college more affordable. A new study from the New York Federal Reserve faults these policies for enabling college institutions to aggressively raise tuitions.</p> <p>....Conservatives have long held that generous federal-aid policies inflate higher-education costs, a viewpoint famously articulated by <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_higher_ed_costs.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;">then-Education Secretary William Bennett in a 1987 column that came to be dubbed the Bennett Hypothesis.</p> </blockquote> <p>Regular readers know that I have <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/01/cost-college-probably-going-keep-going" target="_blank">at least a bit of sympathy for this view.</a>&nbsp; But Mitchell doesn't really explain how the data supports this hypothesis. So I'll give it a try. As you can see on the right, federal aid increased very modestly from 2000 to 2009. Then it went up sharply starting around 2010. If this aid were truly helping make college more affordable, out-of-pocket expenses for students (i.e., actual cash outlays net of loans and grants) would start to flatten out or even go down.</p> <p>But that hasn't happened. You can lay a straightedge on the red line in the bottom chart. Basically, families received no net benefit from increased federal aid. Actual cash outlays rose at exactly the same rate as they had been rising before.</p> <p>My guess is that this will continue until universities get to the point at which students and families simply don't value higher education enough to pay any more. That's the gating item, not aid programs. When out-of-pocket expenses finally equal the value that students put on a college degree, prices will stabilize.<sup>1</sup> That's my guess, anyway.</p> <p>The <em>Journal</em> article has more on this, and the Fed study is <a href="http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/staff_reports/sr733.pdf" target="_blank">here</a> if you want to read more about the methodology&mdash;much more sophisticated than mine&mdash;that the authors used to come to a similar conclusion.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Actually, it's when the perceived value of a college degree equals current cash outlays plus whatever burden students associate with future loan paybacks. However, the latter is pretty tricky to quantify since it varies widely depending on the university, the student's major, and their subjective discount rate.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 02 Aug 2015 21:46:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 281106 at http://www.motherjones.com Tell Us What You Really Think About Donald Trump http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/tell-us-what-you-really-think-about-donald-trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've sort of promised myself not to write about Donald Trump, but (a) it's a weekend, and (b) David&nbsp;Fahrenthold has a pretty entertaining piece about Trump in the <em>Washington Post</em> today. Here's a brief excerpt of some of the reactions Fahrenthold got to a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-trump-platform-because-i-said-so/2015/08/01/4684802c-36f7-11e5-9739-170df8af8eb9_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">variety of Trump's blatherings:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Mark Krikorian</strong>, a foe of illegal immigration, on Trump's immigration ideas: &ldquo;Trump is like your Uncle George at Thanksgiving dinner, saying he knows how to solve all the problems. It&rsquo;s not that he&rsquo;s always wrong. It&rsquo;s just that he&rsquo;s an auto mechanic, not a policy guy.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>David Goldwyn</strong>, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, on Trump's plan to fight ISIS by simply bombing them and then taking all their oil: &ldquo;That is sheer lunacy on so many counts, it&rsquo;s hard to start.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_donald_trump.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Some anonymous sources</strong> on the same idea: &ldquo;Oil-industry experts expressed skepticism about this plan. Skepticism, in fact, may not be a strong-enough word.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Michael Tanner</strong> of Cato, on Trump's endless vision of new building projects combined with his insistence on lowering taxes: &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t spend more and collect less. That&rsquo;s kind of basic math. You can argue about how the math adds up in the other people&rsquo;s plans. But there&rsquo;s math <em>there</em>. This, there&rsquo;s just no math.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Gary Hufbauer</strong> of the Peterson Institute on Trump's plan to jack up tariffs on countries he doesn't like: &ldquo;If you thought this had a ghost of a chance &mdash; which it doesn&rsquo;t &mdash; you would sell all your stocks,&rdquo; because of the damage that a trade war would do to the U.S. economy.</p> </blockquote> <p>You know, when Mark Krikorian is critical of your anti-immigration ideas; Michael Tanner is skeptical of your tax-cutting ideas; and oil companies want no part of your oil-stealing ideas, you just know there's something wrong.</p> <p>Anyway, Fahrenthold's piece is worth a weekend click. And you might as well do it while you can. We won't have Trump to kick around forever.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 01 Aug 2015 23:23:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 281101 at http://www.motherjones.com Our Anti-ISIS Program in Syria Is a Bad Joke http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/08/our-anti-isis-program-syria-bad-joke <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So how are we doing in our efforts to train moderate Syrian allies to help us in the fight against ISIS? <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/31/world/middleeast/us-trained-islamic-state-opponents-reported-kidnapped-in-syria.html" target="_blank">Here's the <em>New York Times</em> two days ago:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A Pentagon program to train moderate Syrian insurgents to fight the Islamic State has been vexed by problems of recruitment, screening, dismissals and desertions <strong>that have left only a tiny band of fighters ready to do battle.</strong></p> <p>Those fighters &mdash; <strong>54 in all</strong> &mdash; suffered perhaps their most embarrassing setback yet on Thursday. One of their leaders, a Syrian Army defector who recruited them, was abducted in Syria near the Turkish border, along with his deputy who commands the trainees....Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has acknowledged the shortfalls, citing strict screening standards, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_al_nusra.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">which have created a backlog of 7,000 recruits waiting to be vetted. Mr. Carter has insisted the numbers will increase.</p> </blockquote> <p>Okay, I guess 54 is a....start. So how good are they? <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/01/world/middleeast/nusra-front-attacks-us-backed-syrian-rebel-group.html" target="_blank">Here's the <em>New York Times</em> today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>A Syrian insurgent group at the heart of the Pentagon&rsquo;s effort to fight the Islamic State came under intense attack on Friday</strong>....The American-led coalition responded with airstrikes to help the American-aligned unit, known as Division 30, in fighting off the assault....<strong>The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front,</strong> which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. It came a day after the Nusra Front captured two leaders and at least six fighters of Division 30, which supplied the first trainees to graduate from the Pentagon&rsquo;s anti-Islamic State training program.</p> <p>....<strong>&ldquo;This wasn&rsquo;t supposed to happen like this,&rdquo;</strong> said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments....Division 30 said in a statement that five of its fighters were killed in the firefight on Friday, 18 were wounded and 20 were captured by the Nusra Front. It was not clear whether the 20 captives included the six fighters and two commanders captured a day earlier.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's see, that adds up to either 43 or 51 depending on how you count. Starting with 54, then, it looks like Division 30 has either 11 or 3 fighters left, and no commanders. But apparently that's not so bad!</p> <blockquote> <p>A spokesman for the American military, Col. Patrick S. Ryder, wrote in an email statement that &ldquo;we are confident that this attack will not deter Syrians from joining the program to fight for Syria,&rdquo; and added that <strong>the program &ldquo;is making progress.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>....[A senior] defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports, <strong>described what he called &ldquo;silver linings&rdquo; to the attack on Friday:</strong> that the trainees had fought effectively in the battle, and that coalition warplanes responded quickly with airstrikes to support them.</p> </blockquote> <p>The trainees fought effectively? There are no more than a dozen still able to fight. That's not the same definition of "effective" that most of us have. As for the US Air Force responding quickly, that's great. But the quality of the US Air Force has never really been in question.</p> <p>This is starting to make Vietnam look like a well-oiled machine. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 01 Aug 2015 15:44:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 281096 at http://www.motherjones.com The Clinton Rules, Tax Record Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/clinton-rules-round-587 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I was sitting in the living room this afternoon and Hopper jumped into my lap. So I told Marian to turn the TV to CNN and I'd watch the news until Hopper released me. The first thing I saw was John Berman teasing a segment about Hillary Clinton releasing a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_brianna_keilar.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">health statement plus eight years of tax records. In other words, pretty routine stuff for any serious presidential candidate. But when Berman tossed to Brianna Keilar, here's what she said:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>KEILAR:</strong> When you think of a document dump like this, you normally think of, uh, in a way, sort of having something to hide. But the Clinton campaign trying to make the point that they're putting out this information and they're trying to be very transparent.</p> </blockquote> <p>Talk about the Clinton rules! Hillary Clinton releases nearly a decade's worth of tax records, and the first thing that pops into Keilar's mind is that this is probably an effort to <em>hide</em> something. But hey! Let's be fair. The Clinton campaign says it's actually so that people can see her tax records. But they would say that, wouldn't they?</p> <p>Unbelievable. If any other candidate released eight years of tax records, it would be reported as the candidate releasing eight years of tax records. But when Hillary does it, there's very likely something nefarious going on. God help us.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 21:01:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 281086 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 31 July 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/friday-cat-blogging-31-july-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hopper (left) and Hilbert are so entranced by something or other that even my sister wants to know what they're looking at. My guess: a dust mote in the cat dimension.</p> <p>Speaking of my sister, she is promising some guest cat blogging for next week. Will she come through? Tune in next Friday to find out!</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_hilbert_2015_07_31.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 18:50:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 281066 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Republicans, Not Obama, Who Want to Bust the Sequestration Deal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/its-republicans-not-obama-who-want-bust-sequestration-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>LA Times</em> reports today that we might be headed for another government shutdown. Big surprise. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-budget-standoff-20150730-story.html" target="_blank">But these paragraphs are very peculiar:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>President Obama has signaled his intention to bust, once and for all, the severe 2011 spending caps known as sequestration.</strong> He's vowed to reject any GOP-backed appropriation bills that increase government funding for the military without also boosting domestic programs important to Democrats such as Head Start for preschoolers.</p> <p>The Republican-controlled Congress is also digging in. Since taking control in January, GOP leaders had promised to run Congress responsibly and prevent another shutdown like the one in 2013, but their spending proposals are defying the president's veto threat by bolstering defense accounts and leaving social-welfare programs to be slashed.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's true that Obama has proposed doing away with the sequestration caps. But his budgets have routinely been described as DOA by Republican leaders, so his plans have never gotten so much as a hearing. What's happening right now is entirely different. Republicans are claiming they want to keep the sequestration deal, but they don't like the fact that back in 2011 they agreed it would cut domestic and military spending equally. Instead, Republicans now want to <em>increase</em> military spending and <em>decrease</em> domestic spending. They're doing this by putting the additional defense money into an "emergency war-spending account," which technically allows them to get around the sequester caps. Unsurprisingly, Obama's not buying it.</p> <p>So how does this count as <em>Obama</em> planning to "bust" the sequestration caps? I don't get it. It sounds like Obama is willing to stick to the original deal if he has to, but he's quite naturally insisting that this means sticking to the entire deal. It's Republicans who are trying to renege. What am I missing here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 18:21:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 281061 at http://www.motherjones.com California Really Doesn't Need to Worry About Losing Jobs to Texas http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/california-really-doesnt-need-worry-about-losing-jobs-texas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Is California losing jobs to Texas, thanks to California's stringent anti-business regulations vs. Texas's wide-open business-friendly environment? It's a question I have only a modest interest in, since there are lots of reasons for states to gain or lose business. California has nice weather. Texas has cheap housing. Recessions hit different states at different times and with different intensities. Business regulations might be part of the mix, but it's all but impossible to say how much.</p> <p>But now I care even less. Lyman Stone ran some numbers and confirmed that, in fact, California has been losing jobs and Texas has been gaining jobs over the past couple of decades. But by itself that isn't very interesting. The real question is, how many jobs? <a href="https://medium.com/migration-issues/companies-migrate-too-e10b71462a57" target="_blank">Here is Stone's chart:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_net_job_migration_california_texas.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Stone comments: "Net migration isn&rsquo;t 1% or 2%. <strong>It&rsquo;s plus or minus 0.05% in most cases.</strong> Even as a share of total change in employment, migration is massively overwhelmed by employment changes due to local startups and closures, and local expansions and contractions. The truth is, net employment changes due to firm migration are within the rounding error of total employment. Over time they may matter, but overall they&rsquo;re pretty miniscule."</p> <p>What's more, these numbers are for migration to and from every state in the union. They're far smaller if you look solely at California-Texas migration.</p> <p>Bottom line: An almost invisible number of workers are migrating from California to Texas each year due to firm relocation, probably less than .02 percent. The share of that due to burdensome business regulation is even less, probably no more than .01 percent. That's so small it belongs in the "Other" category of any employment analysis. No matter how you look at it, this is just not a big deal.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> In a Twitter conversation, Stone makes it clear that this is solely a look at job migration tied to firm relocation. The idea is to test the theory that Texas is "poaching" companies from California thanks to its anti-business climate, and it seems pretty clear that this just isn't happening in numbers large enough to be noticeable.</p> <p>There are lots of other things to say about this, including the number of new startup firms in each state, where existing firms choose to expand, and so forth. Those would be interesting things to look at, but for another day. This is strictly a look at the supposed poaching phenomenon.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:54:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 281046 at http://www.motherjones.com The New York Times Needs to do a Better Job of Explaining Its Epic Hillary Clinton Screw-Up http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/new-york-times-needs-do-better-job-explaining-its-epic-hillary-clinton-screw <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>As you probably know, the <em>New York Times</em> screwed up epically last week by publishing a story claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system. In the end, virtually everything about the story turned out to be wrong. Clinton was not a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nyt_hillary_criminal_referral.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them. When the dust settled, it appeared that the whole thing was little more than a squabble between State and CIA over whether certain emails that State is releasing to the public should or shouldn't be classified. In other words, just your garden-variety bureaucratic dispute. Hardly worth a blurb on A17, let alone a screaming headline on the front page.</p> <p>The Clinton campaign has now officially asked the <em>Times</em> to account for how it could have bollixed this story so badly. <a href="https://www.hillaryclinton.com/p/briefing/updates/2015/07/30/letter-to-nyt/" target="_blank">Here are the most interesting paragraphs:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><em>Times'</em> editors have attempted to explain these errors by claiming the fault for the misreporting resided with a Justice Department official whom other news outlets cited as confirming the <em>Times'</em> report after the fact. This suggestion does not add up. <strong>It is our understanding that this Justice Department official was not the original source of the <em>Times'</em> tip.</strong> Moreover, notwithstanding the official's inaccurate characterization of the referral as criminal in nature, this official does not appear to have told the <em>Times</em> that Mrs. Clinton was the target of that referral, as the paper falsely reported in its original story.</p> <p><strong>This raises the question of what other sources the <em>Times</em> may have relied on for its initial report.</strong> It clearly was not either of the referring officials&nbsp;&mdash; that is, the Inspectors General of either the State Department or intelligence agencies&nbsp;&mdash; since the <em>Times'</em> sources apparently lacked firsthand knowledge of the referral documents. It also seems unlikely the source could have been anyone affiliated with those offices, as it defies logic that anyone so closely involved could have so severely garbled the description of the referral.</p> </blockquote> <p>Yes indeedy. Who was the person who first tipped off the <em>Times</em> reporters? And does that source still deserve anonymity? Clinton's letter seems to be pretty clearly implying that it might have been Trey Gowdy or someone on his staff, who are currently running the Benghazi investigation that's recently morphed into a Hillary Clinton witch hunt. Apparently they knew about this DOJ referral a day before the <em>Times</em> story ran, so maybe they're the ones who passed along the garbled version.</p> <p>The Clinton campaign can't say that, of course, since they have no proof. Neither do I. But it sure seems to be the plain implication of their response. Pretty clearly, someone who didn't have direct access to the referral&mdash;but knew of its existence&mdash;was the original source, and it's a pretty good guess that this source was someone unfriendly to Clinton. In other words, someone whose word shouldn't have been accepted without the most stringent due diligence.</p> <p>But when you get oppo research, it's a pretty good bet that others are getting it too. So you have to publish quickly if you want to be first. But that's not all: you also have to be pretty willing to accept dirt on Hillary Clinton at face value and you have to care more about being first than being right. The authors of the story, Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, really ought to address these issues in public at a press conference. After all, the press loves press conferences, right?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:27:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 281016 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Has Maine Turned Into Crackpot Central? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/why-has-maine-turned-crackpot-central <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday, Steve Benen got me up to date on the latest lunacy from Maine Gov. Paul LePage. A few weeks ago, LePage decided to ignore a bunch of bills he didn't like, figuring he would "pocket veto" them <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_paul_lepage.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">by simply withholding his signature. Unfortunately, he didn't understand how the Maine constitution works, which means that all the bills became law. So now he says he just won't enforce any of them. Uh huh.</p> <p>Next, a private school hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, a man LePage especially loathes, so he told the school to either fire Eves or else they'd lose their state money. Unless Maine law is truly extraordinary, this is so blatantly illegal that only someone completely out of control would even try it. Unsurprisingly, Eves is suing LePage, <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/just-when-things-couldnt-get-worse-paul-lepage" target="_blank">and this is LePage's defense:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Tea Party governor hasn&rsquo;t actually denied the allegations, and neither have LePage&rsquo;s allies. The Maine Republican did argue this morning, however, that when he threatened the school it was comparable to LePage intervening in a domestic-violence dispute.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s just like one time when I stepped in &hellip; when a man was beating his wife,&rdquo; the governor said. &ldquo;Should have I stepped in? Legally, no. But I did. And I&rsquo;m not embarrassed about doing it.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Um, what? This is Sarah-Palin quality gibberish. And it's hardly the first sign that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/theres-some-serious-weirdness-state-maine" target="_blank">LePage isn't playing with a full deck.</a> (You can find much, much more like this with any old Google search.) So here's what I don't get. It's one thing to elect the guy once. But how did he manage to get reelected last year? It's not because it was a 3-way race. He won 48 percent of the vote and probably would have won even without a third-party spoiler. But by then his lunacy should have been obvious to all. Are Maine residents really that attracted to kooks? Did the Democratic candidate threaten to outlaw lobster rolls? Or what? What the hell is going on up in Maine?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:48:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 281011 at http://www.motherjones.com For a Week, Walter Palmer Is the Worst Human Being Ever in History http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/week-walter-palmer-worst-human-being-ever-history <!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_lion.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Max Fisher argues that the social media jihad against Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/30/9074865/cecil-lion-palmer-mob-justice" target="_blank">is wildly out of control:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Web users uncovered Palmer's personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The practice has since shut down. Users also went after professional websites that host his profile, leading the sites to remove his information. On Twitter and on his practice's public Facebook page, people made threats of physical violence.</p> <p>....Maybe you loved Cecil the lion, and believe that Palmer deserves all of this suffering. Maybe you believe that his family and employees also deserve to have their livelihoods threatened. But even if you believe that this particular mob made the correct decision in both identifying the targets and meting out punishments, the way its members reached these decisions &mdash; arbitrarily, based on what they thought would feel good to punish &mdash; should worry you.</p> </blockquote> <p>Social media is, famously, decentralized. With a few exceptions, this means that every individual blast at Palmer is just that: one person getting something off their chest. The problem is that there's no governor on a decentralized attack like this, no one leading the charge. That means it can easily spiral into a lynch mob regardless of whether anyone meant it to in the first place.</p> <p>But mob justice, Fisher says perceptively, "is not primarily about punishing the crime or the criminal, but rather about indulging the outrage of the mob and its thirst for vengeance. Sometimes that leads the mob to target people who perhaps legitimately deserve punishment, but typically it does not. And there is no reason to expect it to. That's not what mobs are about." That's right. Too often, mob justice is flatly misdirected, and even when it's not, it's frequently far out of proportion to the offense.</p> <p>Before the internet, for example, if a university student said something stupid, it would cause a few days of distress among a smallish group of people. Lesson learned. Young people say dumb things all the time. Today, <a href="http://gawker.com/5527355/meet-stephanie-grace-the-harvard-law-student-who-started-a-racist-email-war" target="_blank">if the student is unlucky,</a> it becomes a social media virus. Within a few days the entire world knows about it and the student is a pariah. This is far out of proportion to the offense. And it's even worse, as Fisher says, when the outrage is misdirected completely, as in the case of Sunil Tripathi's family, which was terrorized for weeks after the Boston bombing by a mob convinced he had been a part of the plot&mdash;which supposedly explained why he had gone missing. But it turned out that his absence was actually explained by something else: he had committed suicide.</p> <p>Maybe Walter Palmer deserves what he's gotten, maybe he doesn't. But I doubt the internet mob actually cares. It's just a spectacle, and when they get bored they'll train their sights on whatever the next shiny object is. Maybe it's somebody or something that deserves the spotlight. Maybe it's not. Who cares, right? I mean, have you seen the asshole in that video?</p> <p>In the end, I suppose this is yet another plea to tone down the volume on outrage culture, which has lately defined the internet more than either porn or cat videos. It's what I used to jokingly call the "death penalty for parking tickets" problem. Unfortunately, it's not so much of a joke anymore, because it turns out that Andy Warhol was wrong. Everybody doesn't get 15 minutes of fame these days. Instead, each week some randomly chosen schmo gets an onslaught of withering, life-destroying shame&mdash;whether they deserve it or not. It's not really an improvement.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 21:11:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 280971 at http://www.motherjones.com Will the Tea Party Shoot Itself in the Foot Yet Again? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/will-tea-party-shoot-itself-foot-yet-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Paul Waldman notes today that although Jeb Bush is substantively pretty conservative, his tone on the campaign trail has remained resolutely moderate and affable. Waldman explains how this leads to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/07/30/maybe-jeb-bush-doesnt-have-to-pander-to-the-right-wing-after-all/" target="_blank">Bush winning the nomination:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If you&rsquo;re Bush, your path to victory looks like this: Trump soaks up all the attention for a while, but eventually gets bored (and hasn&rsquo;t bothered to mount an actual campaign that can deliver votes), and either fades or just packs it in. <strong>Meanwhile, the conservative vote is split. Once the voting starts, the failing candidates will begin to fall away one by one. But by the time most of them are gone and their supporters have coalesced around a single candidate like Scott Walker, it&rsquo;s too late</strong> &mdash; Jeb has built his lead and is piling up delegates, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_tea_party_patriots.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">has all the money in the world, and can vanquish that last opponent on his way to the convention in Cleveland.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, a repeat of 2012, when all the hard-core conservatives split the tea party vote ten ways while Mitt Romney quietly vacuumed up the entire moderate vote. By the time Rick Santorum was the last tea partier standing, it was too late. Romney coasted to victory.</p> <p>This is the great conundrum of the tea-party wing of the Republican Party. What they <em>should</em> do is coalesce immediately around Scott Walker. He's the most plausible winner among the tea partiers, and if the race was basically between him and Bush from the start, there's a pretty good chance he could win. On the other hand, if he has to fight off a dozen challengers for months on end, it'll just be a rerun of 2012. He'll get a share of the tea party vote, but it won't be nearly enough to fend off Bush, who will have his own share of the tea partiers plus the vast majority of the moderate wing of the GOP, which is disgusted that their party has been taken over by loons. There are still quite a few of those folks around.</p> <p>I guess this is where a smoke-filled room would come in handy. This is a classic collective action problem, but without party bosses who can step in and take charge, there's really no answer to it. The tea-party candidates keep thinking that they can run and win because there are so many tea partiers among the Republican primary electorate. Unfortunately, there are too many of them who think so. The end result is that they tear each other to shreds and end up with John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. And then they whine and complain about how "the party" has betrayed the conservative cause yet again.</p> <p>This isn't inevitable, of course. It's possible that Walker or one of the other mean-boy candidates will break out and become the de facto tea party standard bearer. It's just not as likely as it should be. It's a shame the tea partiers can't get their act together, isn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 17:21:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 280951 at http://www.motherjones.com ISIS Is Losing the War, But That Doesn't Mean We're Winning It http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/isis-losing-war-doesnt-mean-were-winning-it <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Zack Beauchamp says that ISIS is losing the war. His evidence is the map on the right. ISIS may have taken over Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_isis_losses_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 27px 0px 15px 30px;">in Syria, but overall they've lost about 9 percent of the territory <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/7/30/9069705/isis-map-10-percent" target="_blank">they controlled at the beginning of the year:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>This points to one of ISIS's most fundamental problems: It has too many enemies....ISIS's fighters might be skilled, but they can't fight everyone at once.</p> </blockquote> <p>True enough. What may be more interesting, though, is <em>who</em> they lost that territory to. Here are the numbers for territorial gains:</p> <ul><li>+11% &mdash; Syrian rebels</li> <li>+10% &mdash; Kurdish forces</li> <li>+4.5% &mdash; Iraqi government</li> </ul><p>In other words, Iraqi forces were responsible for less than a fifth of the total gains from ISIS. Add to that their humiliating loss in Ramadi, about an hour's drive from Baghdad, and there's still not much evidence that the Iraqi government has a clue about how to fight ISIS. It remains unclear how and when that will change.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:05:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 280946 at http://www.motherjones.com Today's Trivia Quiz http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/todays-trivia-quiz <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Quick trivia question: When was the last time one of the two major parties nominated a candidate for president who was neither a politician nor a former general?</p> <p>The prize for the winner is that they get to relax about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Such smart commenters! The answer is Wendell Wilkie, 75 years ago. He lost, of course.</p> <p>So who was the last person to <em>win</em> the presidency with no previous political or military experience? Answer: no one. The closest call is probably Herbert Hoover, whose only political experience before 1928 was eight years as the appointed Secretary of Commerce. And look what happened to him.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:18:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 280941 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: The Economy Continues to Plod Along http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/chart-day-economy-continues-plod-along <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>GDP was up in the second quarter, but our economy is still not exactly a house afire. Preliminary results indicate an increase of 2.3 percent:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_q2_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 8px;"></p> <p>The BEA explains where <a href="http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm" target="_blank">last quarter's growth came from:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The acceleration in real GDP growth in the second quarter reflected an upturn in exports, an acceleration in PCE, a deceleration in imports, and an upturn in state and local government spending that were partly offset by downturns in private inventory investment, in nonresidential fixed investment, and in federal government spending and a deceleration in residential fixed investment....<strong>Real personal consumption expenditures increased 2.9 percent in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 1.8 percent in the first.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Really, the chart tells the whole story. As you can see, 2.3 percent growth is about....average since the recession ended. Not great, not horrible. Every time we manage to get into third gear for a little while, we hit a bump and end up back in second. It's now been eight years since the economy imploded, and we're still just muddling along. It's not clear what it will take to improve things.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:51:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 280936 at http://www.motherjones.com Opposition to Iran Nuclear Deal Just Keeps Getting Weirder and Weirder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/07/opposition-iran-nuclear-deal-just-keeps-getting-weirder-and-weirder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The congressional hearings into the Iran nuclear deal continue apace. <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/who-wins-the-war-between-us-and-iran" target="_blank">Steve Benen</a> points us today to this lovely exchange between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:</p> <blockquote> <p><iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/nrc0vxejqas" style="margin: -5px 0px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe><strong>Graham:</strong> Does the Supreme Leader's religious views compel him over time to destroy Israel and attack America?</p> <p><strong>Carter:</strong> I don't know. I don't know the man. I only &mdash;</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> Well let me tell you, I do. I know the man. I know what he wants. And if you don't know that, this is not a good deal.</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?</p> <p><strong>Carter:</strong> No. The United States.</p> <p><strong>Graham:</strong> We. Win.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it: (a) the Ayatollah unquestionably wants to destroy Israel and attack America, and (b) there is no doubt America would win this war. This sounds like mighty poor strategic thinking on the Ayatollah's part to me, since presumably he knows as much as Lindsey Graham about the relative military strength of Iran and the United States. But I guess his pesky religious views compel him to commit national suicide anyway.</p> <p>Now, you might be skeptical that Graham knows the Ayatollah as well as he thinks he does, or knows his religious views in any depth either. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, his apparent view of things still doesn't make sense. If the Ayatollah is as committed to war as Graham thinks, why would he bother with this deal in the first place? According to conservatives (I'm not sure what the CIA thinks these days), Iran is currently less than a year from being able to build a nuclear bomb. So why not just build a few and start the war? It can't be because the sanctions matter. If war is inevitable thanks to the Ayatollah's religious views, but America is going to win the war by reducing Iran to a glassy plain, who cares about a few more years of sanctions? Most Iranians are going to be dead a few hours after the war starts anyway.</p> <p>So....it's all still mysterious. Conservatives don't like the deal Obama negotiated. Fine. But we can't go back to the status quo. If we pull out of the deal, economic sanctions will decay pretty quickly and Iran will have lots of additional money <em>and</em> be a year away from building a bomb. The only other alternative is war. Graham is more open about this than most conservatives, but even he realizes he has to be cagey about it. He can't quite come out and just say that we should go to war with Iran before they build a bomb. So instead he tosses in an oddly pointless question about who would win a war between Iran and America. Why? Some kind of dog whistle, I guess. Those with ears to hear understand what it means: Graham wants to see cruise missiles flying. The rest of us are left scratching our chins.</p> <p>It all just gets weirder and weirder. The deal on the table, imperfect as it might be, doesn't restrict American freedom of action at all. Plus it has a pretty stringent inspection regime and would prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least ten years&mdash;probably longer. That's better than what we have now, so why not go ahead and sign the deal and then use the next ten years to figure out what to do next? What's the downside?</p> <p>I can't really think of one except that it makes a shooting war less likely over the next decade. I call that a feature. I guess Graham and his crowd call it a bug.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 29 Jul 2015 21:25:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 280911 at http://www.motherjones.com