Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2013/01 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Housekeeping Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/housekeeping-note <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>No blogging today, I'm afraid. I've been having lower back problems for several months, and on Friday night it got a lot worse. Saturday morning I couldn't get out of bed, and had to be transported to the ER. It turns out that I had a compression fracture of one of my lumbar bones. I've been in the hospital ever since.</p> <p>I can walk again, but I'm pretty much bedbound for a while. Beyond that, further tests will tell us what's going on here. Without either oversharing or being coy, there's a chance this could turn out to be pretty serious. We'll know more by the end of the week. In the meantime, blogging will obviously be pretty limited.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:00:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 262851 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 17 October 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/friday-cat-blogging-17-october-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I don't know about you, but I could stand to have catblogging a little earlier than usual this week. What you see here is one of the many cat TVs now installed in our home. This is the dining room TV. There are also cat TVs in the kitchen and the study. The kitchen TV apparently has most of its good shows at night, and it's not clear what those shows are about. But they are extremely entrancing.</p> <p>The dining room TV, by contrast, is sort of our workhorse cat TV. They both love it all day long. Needless to say, this is something new for both Hopper and Hilbert, since they spent the first ten months of their lives in a shelter, where cat TV mostly just starred other cats. Who knew there were so many other channels to choose from?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2014_10_17.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 17 Oct 2014 18:15:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 262796 at http://www.motherjones.com What World Leader Has Done the Most Damage to the Global Economy? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/what-world-leader-has-done-most-damage-economy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Who's worse: <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/amity-shlaes-wrong-and-proud-on-economy.html" target="_blank">Amity Shlaes</a> or <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/world/europe/bloc-in-europe-starts-to-balk-over-austerity-.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpHeadline&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">Angela Merkel</a>? You have to give the nod to Merkel, of course. Unlike Shlaes, who is limited to cheering on horrifically bad ideas that would immiserate millions, Merkel has the power to actually <em>implement</em> horrifically bad ideas that immiserate millions. And she has. So Merkel it is.</p> <p>Now, if instead the question were how Merkel compares to, say, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, then it would be a tougher choice. I think Merkel would still win, though. When it comes to bullheaded insistence on terrible economic policy, she's hard to top.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:57:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 262786 at http://www.motherjones.com WHO Admits That It Failed Utterly In Its Response to Ebola http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/who-admits-it-failed-utterly-its-response-ebola <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>Guardian</em> has a fairly chilling story today about an internal report from the World Health Organization that basically concludes WHO <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/17/world-health-organisation-botched-ebola-outbreak" target="_blank">completely botched its response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are &ldquo;politically motivated appointments&rdquo; made by the WHO regional <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ebola.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency&rsquo;s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.</p> <p>....At a meeting of WHO&rsquo;s network of outbreak experts in June, Dr Bruce Aylward, who is normally in charge of polio eradication, alerted Chan to the serious concerns being raised about WHO&rsquo;s leadership in west Africa. He wrote an email that some of the agency&rsquo;s partners including national health agencies and charities believed the agency was &ldquo;compromising rather than aiding&rdquo; the response to Ebola and that &ldquo;none of the news about WHO&rsquo;s performance is good.&rdquo;</p> <p>Five days later, Chan received a six-page letter from the agency&rsquo;s network of experts, spelling out what they saw as severe shortcomings in WHO&rsquo;s response to the deadly virus.</p> </blockquote> <p>Click the link for more details. A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with someone about why everyone was freaking out about Ebola, and I mentioned that distrust of government experts was part of the reason. And that's hardly unreasonable. The CDC has now admitted that its response was slow and inept in many respects, and WHO was apparently just flatly incompetent. So when CDC experts tell us, for example, that stopping flights from west Africa would be counterproductive, is it any wonder that lots of people don't believe them? The truth is that I'm not sure I believe them either. After all, what have they done over the past couple of weeks to earn my trust?</p> <p>Maybe this is unfair. And I'm hardly here to defend the media's insane, panic-promoting coverage of Ebola. Still, you can't publicly screw up over and over and then act bewildered when the public no longer trusts anything you say.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:39:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 262771 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Inflation Is Down, Down, Down http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/chart-day-inflation-down-down-down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Sometimes it's worth posting the same chart over and over in order to elbow it firmly into the public consciousness. So here's the inflation chart again. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/17/its-official-inflation-is-dead/" target="_blank">This version comes via Matt O'Brien,</a> and it covers four of the biggest economies in the world. The message is simple: inflation is down everywhere. There are blips from month to month, but ignore them. The big picture couldn't be clearer.</p> <p>Bottom line: Nobody knows what will happen in the long term, but for now we simply shouldn't be worrying about inflation. We should be worrying about growth and unemployment. Inflation just isn't a problem.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_global_inflation_october_2014.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:33:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 262761 at http://www.motherjones.com Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Kids http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/talk-talk-talk-your-kids <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've long been sort of interested in the ongoing research that shows the importance of building vocabulary in children. This is famously summarized as the "30 million word gap," thanks to findings that high-income children have heard 30 million more words than low-income children by age 3. But apparently new research is modifying these findings somewhat. It turns out that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/us/quality-of-words-not-quantity-is-crucial-to-language-skills-study-finds.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">quality may be more important than quantity:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>A study presented on Thursday at a White House conference on &ldquo;bridging the word gap&rdquo; found that among 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words &mdash; the use of shared symbols (&ldquo;Look, a dog!&rdquo;); rituals (&ldquo;Want a bottle after your bath?&rdquo;); and conversational fluency (&ldquo;Yes, that is a bus!&rdquo;) &mdash; were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard.</p> <p>....In a related finding, published in April, researchers who observed 11- and 14-month-old children in their homes found that the prevalence of one-on-one interactions and frequent use of parentese &mdash; the slow, high-pitched voice commonly used for talking to babies &mdash; were reliable predictors of language ability at age 2. The total number of words had no correlation with future ability.</p> </blockquote> <p>In practice, talking more usually leads to talking better, so there's probably a little less here than meets the eye. Still, it's interesting stuff. Regardless of parental education level, it turns out that simply interacting with your newborn more frequently and more conversationally makes a big difference. So forget the baby Mozart, all you new parents. Instead, just chatter away with your kids. It's cheaper and it works better.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Fri, 17 Oct 2014 05:01:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 262736 at http://www.motherjones.com Flooding the Zone on Ebola http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/flooding-zone-ebola <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>For the record, I want to note that the top <em>five</em> stories currently featured on the <em>Washington Post</em> home page are about Ebola. If you count related pieces, it's the top nine. That is all.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wapo_ebola.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 90px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Media Fri, 17 Oct 2014 02:02:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 262731 at http://www.motherjones.com Iraq Is Cutting Off Electricity From Regions Held By ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/iraq-cutting-electricity-regions-held-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's a fascinating little factlet: Areas of northern Iraq controlled by ISIS have suffered "massive reductions" in electricity use. A small part of this is probably due to reduced demand thanks to the economic damage ISIS has wreaked. But Andrew Shaver says <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/10/16/turning-the-lights-off-on-the-islamic-state/" target="_blank">that's not the primary explanation:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The observed reductions have resulted from changes in supply. Fighting between Iraqi military and Islamic State forces has resulted in some downed transmission lines, although this factor alone cannot explain the massive reductions. And there is little evidence that the Islamic State seeks to keep to the lights off in the areas it now controls.</p> <p>....<strong>A distinct possibility is that the Iraqi central government has cut off power to areas of the country under Islamic State control.</strong> Iraq&rsquo;s Kurdistan regional government has done so. Under this scenario, Baghdad may be calculating that by restricting the supply of electricity, affected Iraqis will direct blame for the lost electricity on the occupying militants. If they do, the government may benefit as local Iraqis report on the Islamic State&rsquo;s activities, passively resist the organization and so on.</p> <p>Whatever the cause of the massive reductions, <strong>the longer the lights remain out, the more accustomed citizens in heavily Shiite areas like Basrah are likely to become to their newfound electricity levels.</strong> It may be worth considering how these communities will react if and when their electricity levels are reduced to once again provide for Iraq&rsquo;s Sunni communities, some of which supported ISIS as the organization first pushed into Iraq.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't actually have anything to add to this. I just thought it was interesting and worth highlighting. Obviously it's far from the first time that a blockade of some kind has been used in war, but it's an intriguing example. I wonder if it's historically had much success?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Thu, 16 Oct 2014 18:20:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 262691 at http://www.motherjones.com We Require Affirmative Consent For Most Things. Why Not Sex? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/we-require-affirmative-consent-most-things-why-not-sex <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ezra Klein has taken a lot of heat for <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/10/13/6966847/yes-means-yes-is-a-terrible-bill-and-i-completely-support-it" target="_blank">his defense</a> of California's new "Yes Means Yes" law, which puts in place an "affirmative consent standard" on university campuses to decide whether a sexual assault has taken place. In other words, the mere lack of a clear "no" is no longer a defense against sexual assault charges. Instead, you have to make sure that your partner has given you a clear "yes."</p> <p>Klein defends himself <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/10/16/6982559/yes-means-yes-ezra-klein-people-wrong" target="_blank">here</a> in exhausting detail. Most of it you've probably heard before, but perhaps the most interesting part is this: "More than anything, what changed my mind on Yes Means Yes was this article by Amanda Taub, and some subsequent conversations with women in my life." <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/10/10/6952227/rape-culture-is-a-tax-on-women-CA-yes-means-yes-dierks-katz" target="_blank">Here's Taub:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When our society treats consent as "everything other than sustained, active, uninterrupted resistance," <strong>that misclassifies a whole range of behavior as sexually inviting.</strong> That, in turn, pressures women to avoid such behavior in order to protect themselves from assault.</p> <p>As a result, certain opportunities are left unavailable to women, while still others are subject to expensive safety precautions, such as not traveling for professional networking unless you can afford your own hotel room. <strong>It amounts, essentially, to a tax that is levied exclusively on women. And it sucks.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And here's Klein:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Every woman I spoke to talked about this tax in the same way: as utterly constant, completely unrelenting.</strong> It's so pervasive that it often goes unmentioned, like gravity. But it colors everything. What you wear. Who you have lunch with. When you can hug a friend. Whether you can invite someone back to your house. How you speak in meetings. Whether you can ask male colleagues out for a drink to talk about work. How long you can chat with someone at a party. Whether you can go on a date without having a friend who knows to be ready for a call in case things go wrong. Whether you can accept seemingly professional invitations from older men in your field. Whether you can say yes when someone wants to pick up the tab for drinks. For men, this is like ultraviolet light: it's everywhere, but we can't see it.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have some hesitations about this new law, but it's hardly the apocalypse that some of its detractors have made it out to be. It doesn't change the standard of proof required in sexual assault cases and it doesn't change the nature of the proceedings that govern these cases. These may both be problematic, as some critics think, but they're separate issues. "Yes Means Yes" changes only the standard of consent, and does so in a pretty clear and unambiguous way.</p> <p>Beyond that, keep in mind that this is just an ordinary law. If it were a ballot initiative, I'd be adamantly opposed. But it's not: if it turns out to work badly or produce unintended consequences, it can be repealed or modified. And it's not as if the current situation is some kind of utopia that should be defended at all costs. We'll know soon enough if the law's benefits are worth the costs. In the meantime, it seems like a worthwhile experiment in changing a culture that's pretty seriously broken.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Sex and Gender Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:21:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 262686 at http://www.motherjones.com Let Us Now Praise Placebos http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/let-us-now-praise-placebos <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Placebos are fascinating things. They shouldn't work, but they do. And it's not just pills, either. In certain cases, it turns out, fake knee surgery can relieve pain just as effectively as <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_placebo.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">real knee surgery. <a href="http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/upshot-placebo/" target="_blank">Austin Frakt writes about the placebo effect today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Given the strength and ubiquity of placebo effects, many physicians prescribe them. <strong>In fact, doing so was common practice before World War II,</strong> with supportive publications in the medical literature as late as the mid-1950s. This practice faded away after the rise of placebo-controlled trials that yielded treatments that were shown to be better than placebos, but it has resurfaced in new forms.</p> <p>Today, the widespread use of antibiotics for conditions that don&rsquo;t require them is a form of placebo prescribing, for example. <strong>Acetaminophen for back pain appears to be a placebo as well. These may help patients feel better, but only because they believe they will do so.</strong> The active ingredient adds nothing. To the extent some doctors trick patients in an effort to achieve a placebo effect, most patients don&rsquo;t seem to mind. Nevertheless, deliberately harnessing just the placebo effect by prescribing a treatment that does not have any additional direct physical effect is an ethical gray area.</p> </blockquote> <p>I didn't know that placebo prescriptions were common before World War II. Interesting! I've also lately been trying to figure out whether acetaminophen is actually doing anything for the back pain I'm suffering thanks to an injury a few months ago compounded by some more recent cat-related idiocy that aggravated it. It kinda seems like it might, but I can't really tell. But now I know. If there <em>was</em> an effect, it was a placebo effect.</p> <p>Still, I'm disappointed that the placebo effect wasn't more significant for me. Maybe this is why I've never had a lot of luck with medication in the first place. It's not that it never works, but that most of it doesn't seem to work very well. Perhaps it's because I rarely have much confidence in the stuff, so I only get half the effect. It would probably help if I were more gullible.</p> <p>The only recent exception I can think of is prednisone, which miraculously and instantly cured my breathing problems a few months ago. It only lasted a couple of days, unfortunately, though even after that my breathing was vastly improved, if not back to normal. But it did no good because, placebo or not, my doctors had no clue why it worked and were therefore unwilling to try more of it. Nor did it lead to any subsequent treatments since they had no clue what was going on and essentially decided to pretend the whole thing was just a coincidence. And people wonder why I'm skeptical of the medical profession.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:02:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 262671 at http://www.motherjones.com What's the Point of an Unenforceable Noncompete Agreement? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/whats-point-unenforceable-noncompete-agreement <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all learned recently that sandwich shop Jimmy John's forces its workers to sign a noncompete agreement before they're hired. This has prompted a lengthy round of blogospheric mockery, and rightfully so. But here's the most interesting question about this whole affair: What's the point?</p> <p>Laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking a noncompete agreement can't be required just for the hell of it. It has to protect trade secrets or critical business interests. The former makes them common in the software business, and the latter makes them common in businesses where clients become attached to specific employees (doctors, lawyers, agents) who are <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_noncompete.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">likely to take them with them if they move to a new practice. But none of this seems to apply to a sandwich shop. Clare O'Connor of <em>Forbes</em> <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/10/15/does-jimmy-johns-non-compete-clause-for-sandwich-makers-have-legal-legs/" target="_blank">asked an attorney about this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s never a guarantee, but I can&rsquo;t see any court in the world upholding this,&rdquo; said Sherrie Voyles, a partner at Chicago firm Jacobs, Burns, Orlove &amp; Hernandez. &ldquo;Every state law is different on this issue, but the general idea is that it&rsquo;d only be upheld if it&rsquo;s reasonable. The test would be, is there a near-permanent customer base? No. Customers at Jimmy John&rsquo;s are probably also customers at Subway.&rdquo;</p> <p>Voyles said she can&rsquo;t imagine any Jimmy John&rsquo;s outlet actually enforcing this non-compete clause (indeed, there&rsquo;s no evidence any have tried), but can&rsquo;t see any reason it&rsquo;d hold up in court. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not the kind of interest protected by law,&rdquo; she said.</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> nonetheless reports that litigation over noncompete clauses has risen over the past few years, but this appears to be mostly in places like the software industry, where trade secrets are important. Not so much in the fast food business.</p> <p>So again: what's the point? I've not heard of a single case of Jimmy John's actually taking someone to court over this, and it seems vanishingly unlikely that they would. That seems to leave a couple of options. First, it's just boilerplate language they don't really care about but left in just in case. The second is that they find it useful as a coercive threat. Sure, they'll never bother going to court, but maybe their workers don't know that&mdash;which means they're less likely to move across the street to take a higher-paying job. In other words, it's a handy tool for keeping workers scared and wages low.</p> <p>So it's either stupid or scummy. Take your pick.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Stephen Bainbridge, who actually knows what he's talking about, agrees that a noncompete clause like this is pretty much legally useless. But he quotes Cynthia Estlund explaining <a href="http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2014/10/whats-the-point-of-an-unenforceable-noncompete-agreement.html" target="_blank">why it might have value anyway:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Even a manifestly invalid non-compete may have in terrorem value against an employee without counsel.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>In terrorem?</em> Lawyers actually use this phrase? I guess it gets the point across, doesn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Corporations Economy Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:06:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 262661 at http://www.motherjones.com Rick Scott Takes Late Lead In Southeast Division of Jackass Competition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/rick-scott-takes-late-lead-southeast-division-jackass-competition <!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_red_fan.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/10/florida-gubernatorial-debate-delayed-due-to-fan.html" target="_blank">WTF?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In one of the weirdest, and most Floridian moments in debate history, Wednesday night's gubernatorial debate was delayed because Republican Governor Rick Scott refused to take the stage with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist and his small electric fan....Rather than waiting for the governor to emerge, the debate started with just Crist onstage. "We have been told that Governor Scott will not be participating in this debate," said the moderator. The crowd booed as he explained the fan situation, and the camera cut to a shot of the offending cooling device.</p> <p>"That's the ultimate pleading the fifth I have ever heard in my life," quipped Crist, annoying the moderators, who seemed intent on debating fan rules and regulations. After a few more awkward minutes, Scott emerged, and the debate proceeded, with only one more electronics dispute. When asked why he brought the fan, Christ answered, "Why not? Is there anything wrong with being comfortable? I don't think there is."</p> </blockquote> <p>There are plenty of Republicans who I find more extreme, or more moronic, or more panderific than Rick Scott. But for sheer pigheaded dickishness, he's a hard act to beat. Jeebus.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Thu, 16 Oct 2014 05:24:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 262641 at http://www.motherjones.com Is Clean, Green Fusion Power In Our Near Future? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/clean-green-fusion-power-our-near-future <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Fusion is the energy source of the future&mdash;and it always will be. That used to be a Unix joke, but in various forms Unix has actually become pretty widespread these days. It runs the server that hosts the web page you're reading; it's the underlying guts of Apple's Mac operating system; and Linux is&mdash;well, not really "popular" by any fair definition of the word, but no longer just a fringe OS either.</p> <p>So maybe fusion is <a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lockheed-claims-breakthrough-on-fusion-energy/" target="_blank">about to break through too:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, <strong>and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready in a decade.</strong></p> <p>Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.</p> <p>....Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet....Lockheed said it had shown it could complete a design, build and test it in as little as a year, which should produce an operational reactor in 10 years, McGuire said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Over at Climate Progress, Jeff Spross is <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/10/15/3580379/fusion-power-lockheed-martin-cfr/" target="_blank">containing his enthusiasm:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>At this point, keeping the world under 2&deg;C of global warming will require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak in 2020 and fall rapidly after that....So by Lockheed Martin&rsquo;s own timeline, their first operational CFR won&rsquo;t come online until after the peak deadline. To play any meaningful role in decarbonization &mdash; either here in America or abroad &mdash; they&rsquo;d have to go from one operational CFR to mass production on a gargantuan scale effectively overnight. More traditional forms of nuclear power face versions of the same problem.</p> <p>A WW2-style government mobilization might be able to pull off such a feat in the United States. But if the political will was there for such a move, the practical question is why wait for nuclear? Wind and solar are mature technologies in the here and now &mdash; as is energy efficiency, which could supply up to 40 percent of the effort to stay below 2&deg;C all by itself.</p> </blockquote> <p>Jeez. I get where Spross is coming from, but come on. If Lockheed Martin can actually pull this off, it would mean huge amounts of baseload power using existing grid technology. It would mean cheap power from centralized sites. It would mean not having to replace every building in the world with high-efficiency designs. It would mean not having to install wind farms on millions of acres of land. It would mean not having to spend all our political efforts on forcing people to make do with less energy.</p> <p>More generally, it would mean gobs of green power at no political cost. That's huge.</p> <p>The big question is whether Lockheed Martin can actually pull this off. Lots of people before them have thought they were on the right track, after all. But if they can, it's a game changer. Given the obvious difficulties of selling a green agenda to the world&mdash;and the extreme unlikelihood of making that 2020 deadline with existing technologies&mdash;I'll be rooting for Lockheed Martin to pull this off. Cynicism can be overdone.</p> <p><em><strong>Editors' note:</strong> Over on the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/10/lockheed-martin-nuclear-fusion-skeptical" target="_blank">Blue Marble blog</a> Climate Desk Producer James West spoke with a thermonuclear plasma physicist who doubts the significance of this breakthrough and called Lockheed's announcement "poppycock." So there's that. </em></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Energy Wed, 15 Oct 2014 22:50:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 262631 at http://www.motherjones.com Lots of People May Misunderstand Thomas Piketty, But That Doesn't Mean They're Wrong http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/lots-people-may-misunderstand-thomas-piketty-doesnt-mean-theyre-wrong <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Thomas Piketty is having another moment in the blogosphere. As you may remember, he's famous for the equation <em>r &gt; g</em>, which states that the rate of return on investments is historically higher than economic growth. This means that rich people with lots of investments get richer faster than the rest of us wage slaves, and this in turn produces growing levels of income inequality.</p> <p>Is Piketty right? In one of its quarterly polls of economists, the University of Chicago's Institute on Global Management asked if <em>r &gt; g</em> has been the most powerful force pushing towards greater income inequality since the 1970s. Pretty much everyone said no. Take that, Piketty!</p> <p>But wait. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/10/15/6982747/piketty-igm" target="_blank">As Matt Yglesias says,</a> this isn't evidence that Piketty is wrong. Quite the contrary: it's evidence that hardly anyone has actually read his book. You see, Piketty doesn't say that <em>r &gt; g</em> has been a big driver of income inequality in recent years. He says only that he thinks it will be a big driver <em>in the future.</em></p> <p>This is good clean fun as a gotcha. But liberals should understand that it also exposes one of the biggest weaknesses of Piketty's argument: <em>r &gt; g</em> has been true for centuries, but the rich have not gotten steadily richer over that time. Wealth concentration has stayed roughly the same.&nbsp;Piketty argues that this is likely to change starting around 2050 or so, but this is an inherently iffy forecast since it's several decades in the future. What's worse, he bases it <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/04/some-follow-notes-thomas-pikettys-capital-21st-century" target="_blank">mostly on a projection that economic growth (g) is shortly going to suffer an <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_piketty_r_vs_g_highlight.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">unprecedented fall.</a> This makes his forecast even iffier. Piketty may be right, but projecting growth rates for the second half of the century isn't something he has any particular expertise in. His guess is no better than anyone else's.</p> <p>Beyond that, there are also serious suggestions that&nbsp;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/05/thomas-piketty-says-r-g-it-really" target="_blank">Piketty has improperly measured <em>r</em>.</a> What this all means is that (a) Piketty's measure of <em>r</em> is questionable because he seems to have conflated gross and net returns and (b) his measure of <em>g</em> is questionable because it's so far in the future. Other than that, <em>r &gt; g</em> is great.</p> <p>Making fun of misreadings of Piketty's book may be good sport, but those misreadings unwittingly raise serious questions. A proper reading suggests that&mdash;for now, anyway&mdash;<em>r &gt; g</em> as a driver of income inequality should continue to be taken with a grain of salt.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:32:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 262606 at http://www.motherjones.com No, There's Still No Evidence There Was an Active WMD Program in Iraq http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/no-theres-still-no-evidence-there-was-active-wmd-program-iraq <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>C.J. Chivers of the <em>New York Times</em> has a long piece today about <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/14/world/middleeast/us-casualties-of-iraq-chemical-weapons.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=Banner&amp;module=span-ab-top-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">chemical weapons found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.</a> A few dead-enders are now gleefully claiming that Bush was right after all. Iraq <em>did</em> have WMD!</p> <p>This is ridiculous enough that&mdash;so far, at least&mdash;the savvier wing of the conservative movement is staying mum about the whole thing. There are three main reasons for this. First, most of these weapons were rotting remnants of artillery shells used during the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s and stored at <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_muthanna.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 25px;">Iraq's Muthanna State Establishment as well as other nearby sites.&nbsp;Murtaza Hussain of the <em>Intercept</em> <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/15/despite-attempts-revise-history-bush-still-wrong-iraqi-wmds/" target="_blank">explains what this means:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The U.S. was aware of the existence of such weapons at the Al Muthanna site as far back as 1991. Why? Because Al Muthanna was the site where the UN ordered Saddam Hussein to dispose of his declared chemical munitions in the first place. Those weapons that could not safely be destroyed were sealed and left to decay on their own, which they did. The site was neither &ldquo;active&rdquo; nor &ldquo;clandestine&rdquo;&nbsp;&mdash; it was a declared munitions dump being used to hold the corroded weapons which Western powers themselves had in most cases helped Saddam procure.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, these shells weren't evidence of an active WMD program, which had been George Bush's justification for the war. They were simply old munitions that everyone knew about already and that were being left to degrade on their own.</p> <p>Second, the Bush administration kept its discoveries secret. If any of this were truly evidence for an active WMD program, surely Bush and Dick Cheney would have been the first to trumpet the news. The fact that they didn't is pretty plain evidence that there was nothing here to back up their prewar contentions of an Iraqi WMD program.</p> <p>Third, there's the specific reason these discoveries were kept secret. Chivers tells the story:</p> <blockquote> <p>Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong....Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, <strong>the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Far from being a smoking gun of Saddam Hussein's continuing quest for illegal WMDs, these discoveries were evidence that Western powers in the 80s were perfectly happy to supply illegal WMDs to an ally as long as they were destined for use against Iran. This was not something Bush was eager to acknowledge.</p> <p>Iraq had no active WMD program, and it was an embarrassment to the Bush administration that all they could find were old, rotting chemical weapons originally manufactured by the West. So they kept it a secret, even from troops in the field and military doctors. But lies beget lies, and American troops are the ones who paid the price. According to Chivers, "The government&rsquo;s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war&rsquo;s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds."</p> <p>Today, the consequences of our lies continue to haunt us as the rotting carcasses of these weapons are apparently falling into the hands of ISIS. Unfortunately, no mere summary can do justice to this entire shameful episode. Read Chivers' entire piece to get the whole story.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Bush Iraq Wed, 15 Oct 2014 17:35:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 262566 at http://www.motherjones.com Please Rescue Us. Now Go Away. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/please-rescue-us-now-go-away <!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/2014_10/hating_on_the_feds_until052481.php" target="_blank">brings the snark:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I realize the remarks of politicians should not be imputed to the entire populations they govern or represent. But still, it's hard to avoid noting that Texas&mdash;the very sovereign State of Texas, I should clarify, where the federal government is generally not welcome&mdash;was at a loss in dealing with a single Ebola case until the feds stepped in.</p> </blockquote> <p>Sure, this is just a cheap gotcha. But sometimes there's a real lesson even in the simplest gibe, and Kilgore offers it: "It would be helpful to see some after-the-fact reflection on why the resources of a central government are sometimes necessary to avoid catastrophe."</p> <p>That won't happen, of course. Instead, conservatives are already using this as an excuse to trash the federal government for not coming to their rescue sooner. This will undoubtedly be only a brief preface to yet another round of across-the-board budget cutting because everyone knows there's far too much waste and fat in the system. The irony of it all will, I'm sure, go entirely unnoticed.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Health Care Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:47:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 262526 at http://www.motherjones.com Tom Cotton Is Upset That Democrats Ended a Free Money Stream for Banks http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/tom-cotton-upset-democrats-ended-free-money-stream-banks <!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://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/cotton-pryor-debate-student-loans" target="_blank">The latest from the campaign trail:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republican Tom Cotton said during an Arkansas U.S. Senate debate on Tuesday that "Obamacare nationalized the student loan industry." The first-term congressman added, "That's right, Obamacare grabbed money to pay for its own programs and took that choice away from you."</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. Does Cotton really think this is a winning issue? I mean, it has the virtue of being kinda sorta semi-true, which is a step up for Cotton, but why would his constituents care? Does Cotton think they're deeply invested in the old system, where their tax dollars would go to big banks, who would then make tidy profits by doling out risk-free student loans that the federal government guaranteed?</p> <p>That never made any sense. It would be like paying banks to distribute Social Security checks. What's the point? The new student loan system saves a lot of money by making the loans directly, and that's something that fiscal conservatives should appreciate. Instead, they've spent the past four years tearing their hair out over the prospect of Wall Street banks being shut out of the free money business. Yeesh.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Elections Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:21:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 262521 at http://www.motherjones.com The Kids These Days Know More Than You Probably Think http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/kids-these-days-know-more-you-probably-think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When I write about American education, the background implication is usually simple: kids these days are dumber than they used to be. Schools are bad; the children are slackers; and the Chinese are going to destroy us. Frankly, I doubt this. It may be true that most 17-year-olds can't locate France on a map, but I'll bet most adults can't either. They just never get tested to find out.</p> <p>The <em>Boston Review</em> ran a fascinating blog post on this theme a few days ago. It seems that one of the pieces of evidence on the side of the doomsayers is the declining vocabularies of our youth. This has been measured regularly since 1974 by the General Social Survey, and it turns out that scores on its multiple-choice Wordsum vocabulary test rose steadily for generations born between 1900 and 1950 but declined after that.</p> <p>It's easy to understand why test scores rose for generations born between 1900 and 1950: schooling became far more widespread during the first half of the 20th century. But why did it decline after that? Is it because kids born after 1950 have gotten successively dumber? Claude Fischer summarizes some new research that takes advantage of Google's Ngram viewer to measure <a href="https://www.bostonreview.net/blog/claude-s-fischer-how-gss-got-it-wrong" target="_blank">how frequently words have been used over the past century:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[The researchers] took the ten test words&mdash;most of which became relatively less common over the century&mdash;and also the words that appeared in the answers respondents were given to choose from....Each of over 20,000 respondents in the cumulative GSS survey, 1974 to 2012, got a score for how common the words were in the years between the respondent&rsquo;s birth and the year he or she turned fifteen.</p> <p>Dorius and colleagues found that, other things being equal, the rise in test scores from the earliest cohorts to the mid-century cohorts is largely explained by the schooling those cohorts got. And importantly, <strong>the decline in test scores from the latter cohorts to the latest ones can be explained by the declining use of certain words, especially &ldquo;advanced&rdquo; ones.</strong> Once both factors are taken into account, there is little difference among generations in vocabulary scores.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, it's not that kids have gotten dumber. It's just that GSS has been using the same words for 40 years, and these words have become less common. The words themselves are kept secret, but apparently they aren't too hard to suss out. In case you're curious, here they <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gss_vocabulary.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">are: space, broaden, emanate, edible, animosity, pact, cloistered, caprice, accustom, and allusion.</p> <p>It turns out that once you adjust for how common these words have been at various points in time, the apparent drop in vocabulary scores vanishes. In fact, vocabulary scores have actually gotten higher, as the chart on the right shows. This is hardly the last word on the subject, which appears to be the topic of a vast literature, but it does go to show how careful you have to be with this kind of stuff. It's safe to say that kids these days <em>are</em> less knowledgeable than their parents about some things. But it's also true that they're <em>more</em> knowledgeable about certain other things. This should probably even out, but it doesn't. It's adults who get to form judgments about which things matter, and they naturally assume that their knowledge is important, while all the stuff the kids know that they don't is trivial and ephemeral.</p> <p>That's comforting to the oldsters, but not necessarily true. Kids probably don't know less than their parents. They just know different things.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:35:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 262476 at http://www.motherjones.com We All Hate Congress. But Why? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/we-all-hate-congress-why <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steven Taylor notes today the well-known fact that 90 percent of House members are easily reelected but Congress as a whole has an approval rating only slightly higher than Ebola. But if people hate Congress so much, how is it that they seem to <a href="http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/noncompetitive-house-elections/" target="_blank">love their own representatives even more?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As I have observed before, it is profoundly problematic that Congress can have an approval rating of 12.9% (RCP average) and have that many noncompetitive House races. While approval ratings capture a lot of issues it is reasonable to posit that a significant part of the frustration with Congress is driven by the fact that many citizens find that their interests are not well represented in that body.</p> </blockquote> <p>Taylor suggests that the main problem is that we have a lousy electoral system: "Single seat districts with plurality winners create poorly representative outcomes." Maybe so. But I'm curious about something. I've seen hundreds of polls that track approval ratings for Congress, and they're all uniformly terrible. But to the best of my recollection, I've never seen a poll that asks people <em>why</em> they disapprove of Congress. So consider this a bleg. Have I missed a good poll on this subject? Has anyone done a good study with lots of crosstabs that really dives into the question of why so many different groups all dislike Congress so much?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:46:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 262426 at http://www.motherjones.com It Doesn't Matter Which Diet You Choose http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/it-doesnt-matter-which-diet-you-choose <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the category of "news you can use," Emily Oster summarizes a new study that compares weight loss on various diets. After cutting through all the muck, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_diet_comparison.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/which-diet-will-help-you-lose-the-most-weight/" target="_blank">we get the chart on the right.</a> The answer, it turns out, is that all of the diets are about equally effective.</p> <p>So which one you choose is mostly a matter of preference. If you think you can stick to a low-carb diet, choose one of those. If you like vegetables, choose a veggie-based plan. If you think you can tolerate low fat, go for one of those. What matters isn't so much the mechanics of the diet, but whether you can stick with it over the long haul.</p> <p>(If your doctor recommends a particular diet because you suffer from some particular condition, then of course this changes things. And remember, "don't be an idiot" is always an unvoiced component of all diet and health recommendations.)</p> <p>As for me, I'm on the three-quarters diet. I do this about once a decade or so and then spend the succeeding decade gaining back the weight I lost. This is my third go-around. As you might guess, it's a pretty simple diet: eat less food. In particular, I try to eat about three quarters of my usual meals and snacks. I'm finding it much more annoying this time than in the past&mdash;partly because I'm working at home, where temptation is ever present, and partly because my motivation and self-discipline have deteriorated over the years. However, the precipitous collapse of my body over the past six months is providing at least some short-term motivation, and yesterday I learned that my sleep apnea is apparently much worse than it was a decade ago. Maybe weight loss will help with that. I hope so, since I had no luck with a CPAP machine back then, and I kind of doubt I'll have better luck this time around. But we'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Tue, 14 Oct 2014 16:17:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 262406 at http://www.motherjones.com Darrell Issa is Finally Going Off His Nut http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/darrell-issa-finally-going-his-nut <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Darrell Issa's latest jihad is also one of his most peculiar: he's accusing the EPA of working too closely with environmental groups. Seriously. That's it. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/11/us/republicans-to-investigate-environmental-groups-influence-on-carbon-rule.html?_r=1" target="_blank">Here's a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_darrell_issa_hearing.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">report from the <em>New York Times</em></a> about the "cozy" relationship between EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council:</p> <blockquote> <p>Republicans say the most vivid example of a cozy relationship is an email exchange [...] celebrating legal maneuvering that provided Mr. Obama with something both the E.P.A. and the environmental group wanted: a court-ordered deadline for release of a 2012 E.P.A. regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions on future power plants &mdash; a precursor to Mr. Obama&rsquo;s announcement in June. (The environmental group had joined with others to sue the E.P.A. to force the regulation, and the E.P.A. quickly settled.)</p> <p>On Dec. 23, 2010, the day the settlement was announced, Mr. Doniger emailed Ms. McCarthy, &ldquo;Thank you for today&rsquo;s announcement. I know how hard you and your team are working to move us forward and keep us on the rails. This announcement is a major achievement.&rdquo; He added, &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll be with you at every step in the year ahead.&rdquo;</p> <p>Ms. McCarthy responded, &ldquo;Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience. Enjoy the holiday. The success is yours as much as mine.&rdquo;</p> <p>Reacting to the email exchange, Mr. Vitter said in a statement: &ldquo;Who is working for whom? The key example in all of this is the settlement agreement on greenhouse gases when the N.R.D.C. sued the E.P.A., the E.P.A. settled, and the two celebrate the agreement. It doesn&rsquo;t get any more blatantly obvious than that.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Explosive! "Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience." Truly a smoking gun of improper influence. They used first names and everything!</p> <p>Issa must really be getting desperate. I mean, normally I understand the supposed malfeasance in his investigations. I may think his charges are foolish, but at least I get it. But this time? Even in theory, what's supposed to be wrong here? An environmental group expressing pleasure at a court ruling? The EPA administrator sending back a polite note? Everybody knew all along that both sides wanted the same thing, so this is hardly a surprise. And certainly light years from scandalous.</p> <p>Issa must be going off his nut because his investigations keep failing to excite anyone. Or maybe this is just designed to provide some fodder for fundraising emails for the upcoming election. It's hard to figure out what else could be going on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Congress Regulatory Affairs Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:17:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 262401 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Are Far More Critical of American Schools Than Democrats http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/republicans-are-far-more-critical-american-schools-democrats <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at Vox, Libby Nelson interviews Jack Schneider, an education professor at College of the Holy Cross, about why Americans think schools are in decline despite the evidence that they're actually better than they used to be. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/10/13/6967743/public-schools-crisis-jack-schneider" target="_blank">Here's Schneider:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The first reason that people think schools are in decline is because they hear it all the time.</strong> If you hear something often enough, it becomes received wisdom, even if you can't identify the source. That rhetoric is coming from a policy machine where savvy policy leaders have figured out that the way that you get momentum is to scare the hell out of people. So reformers have gotten really good at this sky is falling rhetoric....The rhetoric there is the schools are in crisis, we are competing against nations that are going to somehow destroy us if our test scores aren't high enough, and lo and behold, policymakers have a solution.</p> </blockquote> <p>Schneider points to a couple of pieces of evidence to back up his contention that schools today are better than in the past. The first is NAEP test scores, which have been generally rising, not falling, over the past few decades. The second is the well-known fact that people tend to think their own neighborhood schools are fine but that schools nationally are terrible. <a href="http://pdkpoll.pdkintl.org/" target="_blank">A Gallup/PDK poll confirms this perception gap.</a></p> <p>But here's an interesting thing. Although it's true that this gap in perceptions is widespread, it's far more widespread among Republicans than Democrats. Take a look at the chart on the right, constructed from the poll numbers. When it comes to rating local schools, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gallup_rate_schools_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">there's barely any difference between Democrats and Republicans. Only a small number give their local schools a poor grade. But nationally it's a whole different story. Republicans are <em>far</em> more likely to rate schools as disaster areas nationally.</p> <p>I'm reluctant to draw too many conclusions about this without giving it some serious thought. Still, there's at least one thing we can say. This difference doesn't seem to arise from different personal perceptions of education. Both groups have similar perceptions of their own schools.<sup>1</sup> So why are Republicans so much more likely to think that <em>other</em> schools are terrible? If it doesn't come from personal experience, then the most likely culprit is the media, which suggests that conservative media does far more scaremongering about education than liberal or mainstream media. That's pretty unsettling given the fact that, as near as I can tell, the mainstream media is almost unrelentingly hostile toward education.</p> <p>But the truth is that I don't watch enough Fox or listen to enough Limbaugh to really know how they treat education. Is this where the partisan divide comes from? Or is it from the Christian Right newsletter circuit? Or the home school lobby? Or what?</p> <p>In any case, there's more interesting stuff at the link, and Neerav Kingsland has a response <a href="http://relinquishment.org/2014/10/13/are-us-public-schools-better-than-they-have-ever-been-if-so-what-should-we-do/" target="_blank">here,</a> including the basic NAEP data that shows steadily positive trends in American education since 1971.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Or so it seems. One other possibility is that far more Republicans than Democrats send their kids to private schools. They rate these schools highly when Gallup asks, but rate other schools poorly because those are the schools they pulled their kids out of. A more detailed dive into the poll numbers might shed some light on this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education The Right Mon, 13 Oct 2014 18:23:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 262336 at http://www.motherjones.com Election Rule #34: Process Gaffes Matter. Policy Gaffes Don't. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/election-rule-34-process-gaffes-matter-policy-gaffes-dont <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Last year, it was conventional wisdom that Republicans had a very good shot at gaining control of the Senate in this year's midterm election. But then GOP candidates started to falter a bit in Kansas, South Dakota, and other swing states. <a href="http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/Meme_Myself_And_I" target="_blank">Charles Pierce comments on how this has played out with Joni Ernst in Iowa and Cory Gardner in Colorado:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The meme looked a little weak and faltering. It was time to make it strong again. And then we saw one of those remarkable moments in which the keepers of Our National Dialogue moved to shore up their own endangered credibility, thereby reviving the meme. Instead of being a demonstration that Joni Ernst's entire previous political career was built on fringe bushwah, her ability to "distance" herself from these positions was presented as a demonstration of how politically deft she is. Out in Colorado, Cory Gardner, who has spent every second of his time in politics as a proud anti-choice loon, is now ahead of incumbent Mark Udall at least in part because of the credit Gardner has accrued for shrewdly "softening" his long history of extremism. That this might be naked opportunism seems lost in the narrative somewhere. <strong>I don't think it's entirely out of line to believe that a lot of people in my business need the Senate to change hands in November to vindicate how smart they were in February.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe. Or it might just be the usual preoccupation that political reporters have with process over substance. For example, <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/ernst-theres-no-sense-congressional-vote-isis" target="_blank">Steve Benen notes today</a> that Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes recently dodged "a straightforward question about whom she voted for in the 2012 presidential election" and got hammered for it. But in Iowa, when Ernst refused to say if she wants to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency or what she'd do for those who&rsquo;d lose health care coverage if Obamacare is repealed, the reaction was mostly crickets.</p> <p>The difference is that Grimes was clumsy over her handling of a process issue: her support for a president of her own party. Reporters feel free to go after that. Ernst, by contrast, was crafty over her handling of policy issues: in this case, environmental policy and health care policy. Likewise, Gardner is being crafty about his handling of abortion and contraceptive policy. That sort of craftiness generally invites little censure because political reporters don't want to be seen taking sides on an issue of policy&mdash;or even rendering judgment about whether a candidate's policy positions have changed. In fact, being crafty on policy is often viewed as actively praiseworthy because it shows how politically savvy a candidate is.</p> <p>There are exceptions to this rule if a candidate says something truly loony. But the bar is pretty high for that. Generally speaking, policy views are out of bounds for political reporters, regardless of whether they've changed or whether they're transparently absurd. Ernst knows that. Grimes apparently didn't.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Mon, 13 Oct 2014 17:19:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 262311 at http://www.motherjones.com There's No Ebola Vaccine Yet Because We Cut the NIH Budget Ten Years Ago http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/theres-no-ebola-vaccine-yet-because-we-cut-nih-budget-ten-years-ago <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>As we all know, the federal budget is bloated and wasteful. It needs to be cut across the board. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/12/ebola-vaccine_n_5974148.html" target="_blank">Right?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has "slowed down" research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.</p> <p>"NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It's not like we suddenly woke up and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'" Collins told <em>The Huffington Post</em> on <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_public_health_budget.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Friday. <strong>"Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready."</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Collins obviously has some skin in this game, but he's probably right. What's more, even without a vaccine we'd probably be better prepared to react to the Ebola outbreak if we hadn't spent the past decade steadily slashing funding for public health emergencies. <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/2014/10/06/ebola-in-the-u-s-politics-and-public-health-dont-mix/" target="_blank">The chart on the right,</a> from <em>Scientific American</em>, tells the story.</p> <p>There are consequences for budget cuts. Right now we're living through one of them.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Science Ebola Mon, 13 Oct 2014 15:48:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 262291 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 10 October 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/10/friday-cat-blogging-10-october-2014 <!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_hopper_blurry_2014_10_10.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Catblogging has become harder recently. There's no shortage of cuteness, obviously, but getting good pictures of the cuteness is tricky. The problem is simple: 55-year-old human reflexes combined with cheap-camera shutter lag are simply no match for 10-month-old kitten reflexes. This produces lots of pictures like the one on the right. You'll just have to take my word for it, but that's Hopper carrying around one of her stuffed mice. I've muted all the chirping sounds from my camera, which reliably caused them to turn their heads just as the autofocus finally whirred to its proper setting, but even so I have hundreds of photos like this one.</p> <p>Still, they slow down once in a while, so catblogging isn't completely lost. On the left, Hopper is behind the drapes trying to chase down an errant bug. On the right, Hilbert is majestically surveying his space.</p> <p><img align="left" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_2014_10_10.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 5px 4px 5px 0px;"><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2014_10_10.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 5px 0px 5px 4px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 10 Oct 2014 19:05:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 262201 at http://www.motherjones.com