Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2010/04 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Friday Cat Blogging - 27 February 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/friday-cat-blogging-27-february-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My biopsy is scheduled for this morning, so once again you get early cat blogging. Hopper got center stage last week, so this week it's Hilbert's turn.</p> <p>Speaking of Hopper, though, a few days ago she demonstrated the wonders of the internet to me. That wasn't her intent, of course. Her intent was to chew through the charging cord of one of my landline phone extensions. This effectively turned the phone into a paperweight&mdash;and not even a very good one. But then I looked on the back of the charger and there was a model number etched into the plastic. So I typed it into Google. Despite the fact that this phone is more than a decade old, I was able to order two used replacements for $4 each within five minutes. Truly we live in a miraculous age.</p> <p>But I still wish Hopper would stop chewing on every dangling cord in the house. Steps need to be taken, but I'm not quite sure yet what they'll be.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_02_27.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:15:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 271081 at http://www.motherjones.com Marco Rubio Has a Peculiar Idea of How to Defeat ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/marco-rubio-has-peculiar-idea-how-defeat-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen points me to Marco Rubio today. Here is Rubio explaining how his ISIS strategy would be <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/rubio-blasts-isis-strategy-he-supports" target="_blank">different from President Obama's:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States,&rdquo; Rubio said. &ldquo;Put together a coalition of armed regional governments to confront [ISIS] on the ground with U.S. special forces support, logistical support, intelligence support and the most devastating air support possible,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;and you will wipe ISIS out.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. As Benen points out, this sounds awfully similar to what Obama is already doing. Local forces? Check. Coalition of regional governments? Check. Logistical support? Check. Air support? Check.</p> <p>But there is one difference. Rubio thinks we need a Sunni military force on the ground to defeat ISIS. The Iraqi army, of course, is mostly Shiite. So apparently Rubio thinks we should ditch the Iraqi military and put together a coalition of ground forces from neighboring countries. But this would be....who? Yemen is out. Syria is out. That leaves Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Does Rubio think these countries are willing to put together a ground force to invade Iraq? Does he think the Iraqi government would allow it?</p> <p>It is a mystery. What exactly does Marco Rubio think?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:18:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 271126 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Shoot Selves in Foot, Schedule Second Shooting for March http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republicans-shoot-selves-foot-schedule-second-shooting-march <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_homeland_security.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Here's the latest bit of drama in the <a href="http://thehill.com/housenews/house/234067-house-will-vote-friday-to-prevent-homeland-security-shutdown" target="_blank">DHS funding fight:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks</strong> in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.</p> <p>....Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it&rsquo;ll be a very strong vote,&rdquo; House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is, literally, the worst possible outcome for Republicans. It means they'll spend the next three weeks embroiled in this inane battle instead of working to advance their own agenda. It means the tea party ultras will have three more weeks to whip up even more outrage. It means John Boehner will have to fight his own caucus yet again on this same subject in March.</p> <p>In the meantime, Democrats are probably cackling with glee. This has got to be one of most dimwitted legislative own goals of all time.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:59:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 271111 at http://www.motherjones.com Why Did the Pentagon Announce Its Battle Plan for Mosul Months Ahead of Time? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/why-did-pentagon-announce-its-battle-plan-mosul-months-ahead-time <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Last week, in a briefing to reporters, the Pentagon announced that it planned an offensive against Mosul in late spring. But why? Normally you don't telegraph military plans months in advance.</p> <p>Joshua Rovner and Caitlin Talmadge suggest two related reasons. First, the U.S. might have decided that Iraqi security is so shoddy that surprise was never in the cards. "Given the notoriously poor operational security of the Iraqi Army," they say, "the chances of keeping secret any Iraqi-led campaign were poor anyway."</p> <p>Beyond that, they speculate that the Pentagon hoped to accomplish something by <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/27/the-u-s-just-leaked-its-war-plan-in-iraq-why/" target="_blank">sending a message:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The United States may be speaking more to its coalition partners and Iraqi counterparts than to the Islamic State....<strong>The United States might be trying to signal its own trustworthiness as a partner,</strong> stiffen the backs of unmotivated Iraqi forces, create a fait accompli with regards to campaign planning, or some combination of the above. In short, it may be aiming its communications at targets other than the Islamic State.</p> <p>One can also sense a sort of &ldquo;heads we win, tails you lose&rdquo; logic to the U.S. public messages about Mosul. <strong>If the Islamic State forces uncharacteristically flee without a fight, they will face humiliation and a setback to their claims of control in Iraq.</strong> That&rsquo;s a win, at least operationally, for Washington and Baghdad. <strong>Conversely, if the Islamic State decides to stand its ground and starts trying to flow reinforcements to Mosul in preparation for the defense of the city, that could be a good thing operationally, too.</strong> These forces will be highly vulnerable to the stepped-up coalition air attacks, which are already seriously threatening the militants&rsquo; lifeline between Raqqa and Mosul. Sending reinforcements to Mosul will also draw Islamic State resources away from Syria, where the coalition&rsquo;s ability to fight is much more constrained, and into Iraq, where that ability is more robust.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Maybe. After all, we announced the "shock and awe" campaign for weeks prior to the start of the Iraq War in 2003. The hope, presumably, was to scare the Iraqis so badly that they essentially gave up and fled before the battle even started. It didn't really work, but no one complained about it at the time.</p> <p>There will be no shock and awe this time, though. Just a lot of grubby, house-to-house fighting led by Iraqi Shiite forces that are probably not very motivated to sacrifice their lives in order to return Mosul to Sunni control. Will it work? I can't say I'm optimistic. But I've been wrong before. Maybe I am again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:46:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 271096 at http://www.motherjones.com "Republican Stalwart" Chosen to Lead CBO http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/republican-stalwart-chosen-lead-cbo <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The current director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf, is pretty widely respected on both left and right, and even a lot of Republicans were hoping he'd be reappointed to a new term by the incoming Congress. But despite his sterling credentials, Elmendorf is insufficiently dedicated to the conservative id&eacute;e fixe of dynamic scoring, which insists that tax <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_keith_hall.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">cuts will supercharge the economy and thus cost much less than you'd think. So today the CBO <a href="http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/27/gop-dismisses-cbo-director-douglas-elmendorf-picks/" target="_blank">got a new director:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>GOP dismisses CBO director, picks Republican stalwart as chief scorekeeper</strong></p> <p>Republicans Friday announced they will not keep current chief congressional scorekeeper Douglas Elmendorf and will replace him with Keith Hall, an economist with a long record of service in Washington and deep ties to Republicans.</p> <p>....The CBO celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this week, where past directors from both parties praised Mr. Elmendorf for his even-handed approach to the job. But Republicans had wanted to push the CBO to go further in the way it evaluates tax cuts by using so-called &ldquo;dynamic scoring&rdquo; to take into account the potential economic benefit feedback loop that could stem from Americans paying less to the federal government after a tax cut.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure Hall has taken a public stand of the virtues of dynamic scoring, but it's probably safe to assume that he's more sympathetic to it than Elmendorf was. Should make for a fun few years.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:18:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 271091 at http://www.motherjones.com Killing Obamacare Halfway Is Worse For Republicans Than They Think http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/killing-obamacare-halfway-worse-republicans-they-think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Stuart Butler is probably the country's single most influential right-wing health care wonk. He opposed Obamacare and has long pushed a different, more conservative vision of national health care policy. But Joshua Green writes today that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_tyranny.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">even Butler is worried about what will happen if the Supreme Court abolishes Obamacare subsidies in the 34 states that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/the-return-of-the-death-of-obamacare-i6m1baro" target="_blank">don't run their own exchanges:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Butler&rsquo;s worry is grounded in an understanding that voters with skyrocketing premiums may not blame Obama, as Republicans assume.</strong> They&rsquo;ll expect the party hellbent on destroying the law to have a solution&mdash;and react badly if none is forthcoming. Because 16 states operate their own exchanges and therefore won&rsquo;t be affected by the court&rsquo;s ruling, Butler believes the ACA will stagger on and eventually recover, since <strong>voters won&rsquo;t abide a system wherein some states have affordable, federally subsidized health-care coverage and others do not</strong>....&ldquo;People who believe the ACA instantly goes away are deluding themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;By not doing anything to develop a Republican vision of how to move forward, they could end up with the very nightmare they&rsquo;re trying to avoid.&rdquo;</p> <p>....On the business front, the effects would be no less significant....Entire segments of the health system redesigned their business models to take advantage of the ACA&rsquo;s incentives. Hospitals, for instance, were given a trade-off: They stopped receiving government payments to offset the cost of treating the uninsured, cuts that amount to $269 billion over a decade. In return, they were promised millions of new patients insured through federal subsidies. <strong>&ldquo;All the major hospital systems and big insurers like Kaiser and Geisinger spent a ton of money adapting to the ACA,&rdquo; says Butler. If subsidies vanish, &ldquo;suddenly the market is misaligned. If you&rsquo;ve hired all these new doctors and health-care workers to cover all these new people walking in the door, and they don&rsquo;t come, what do you do? You lay them off.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I agree that a system in which residents of some states get subsidies and others don't is untenable. I don't know quite how the politics would play out, but the states with subsidies won't give them up, and the states without subsidies are likely to face a revolt from residents who suddenly see a benefit taken away. Something will have to give.</p> <p>The effect on the medical industry is less clear. Yes, hospitals and insurers spent a lot of money adapting to Obamacare. If it goes away, they'll have to lay off some of their staff. But how much? Obamacare has reduced the ranks of the uninsured by about 4 percentage points, and roughly half of that is in states that don't run their own exchanges. So the number of insured would probably fall (very roughly) from about 87 percent to 85 percent. That might be bad news for some small regional outfits, who will see a bigger drop locally than that, but nationally it's not a death sentence.</p> <p>Still, Butler has a good point. The fallout from the Supreme Court halfway killing Obamacare would likely be more serious than conservatives believe. They don't want to think about this because they've been committed for so long to the mantra of simply repealing Obamacare, full stop. But even their own base, which has been told relentlessly that Obamacare represents the end of the America they love, might start to demand a fix once it becomes clear just what they're missing&mdash;and what all those blue states with their own exchanges are getting.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:39:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 271076 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Blows It Again: Asked About ISIS, All He Has Is Bluster http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/scott-walker-blows-it-again-asked-about-isis-all-he-has-bluster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_scott_walker_cpac_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over at <em>National Review</em>, conservative blogger Jim Geraghty joins the crowd of pundits who are unimpressed with <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/414512/scott-walkers-awful-answer-isis-jim-geraghty" target="_blank">Scott Walker's recent answers to fairly easy questions:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received a lot of completely undeserved grief from the national news media in the past weeks. But he may have made a genuine unforced error in one of his remarks today. Asked about ISIS, Walker responded, <strong>&ldquo;If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn&rsquo;t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's put aside the question of whether Walker deserves any grief for his weasely comments about evolution and President Obama's love of country. Fair or not, those actually seem like the kinds of questions presidential candidates get asked all the time. If Walker wants to be taken seriously, he should have better responses then he did.</p> <p>But hey&mdash;maybe those really were gotcha questions and Walker should get a pass for answering them badly. ISIS, by contrast, certainly isn't. It's one of the preeminent policy challenges we face, and if you're aiming for the Oval Office you'd better have something substantive to say about it. As Geraghty suggests, generic tough-guy posturing does nothing except show that you're out of your depth.</p> <p>At a broader level, the problem is that although Walker's anti-union victories are a legitimate part of his appeal and a legitimate part of his campaign story, he's become something of a one-note Johnny about it. His supposed bravery in standing up to union leaders and peaceful middle-class protestors has become his answer to everything. This is going to get old pretty quickly for everyone but a small band of die-hard fans.</p> <p>Needless to say, it's early days, and Walker's stumbles over the past couple of weeks are unlikely to hurt him much. In fact, it's better to get this stuff out of the way now. It will give Walker an improved sense of what to expect when the campaign really heats up and his answers matter a lot more than they do now.</p> <p>That said, <em>every</em> candidate for president&mdash;Democrat and Republican&mdash;should be expected to have a pretty good answer to the ISIS question. No empty posturing. No generic bashing of Obama's policies. No cute evasions. That stuff is all fine as red meat for the campaign trail or as part of a stemwinder at CPAC, but it's not a substitute for explaining what you'd <em>actually do</em> if you were president. Ground troops? More drones? Getting our allies to contribute more? Whatever it is, let's hear it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 271056 at http://www.motherjones.com The FCC Did a Lot More Than Just Approve Net Neutrality Today http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/fcc-did-lot-more-just-approve-net-neutrality-today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The FCC <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/technology/net-neutrality-fcc-vote-internet-utility.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">voted today</a> in favor of strong net neutrality rules, but this is something that's been expected for weeks&mdash;and something I've written about before at length. So instead of commenting on that yet again, I want to highlight something else that <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/fcc-votes-to-allow-municipal-broadband-overruling-two-states-laws-1424969156" target="_blank">might be nearly as important:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Federal Communications Commission will allow some cities and towns to set up and expand municipal Internet services, </strong>overruling state laws that had been put in place to block such efforts.</p> <p>The commission granted petitions by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to overturn laws that restricted the ability of communities in those states to offer broadband service. In all about 20 states have passed such laws. The vote was 3-2 and along party lines. The decisions don&rsquo;t affect the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_google_fiber.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">other states, but they do set a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in the future.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a step in the direction of creating more competition for broadband internet, which I think is at least as important as net neutrality regulations. So hooray for this ruling, which is a step in the right direction. And while we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that the FCC's net neutrality decision could end up stimulating more broadband competition too. Why? Because net neutrality depends on regulating broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, and this means that companies like Google, which are trying to set up their own high-speed networks, will be able to do it more cheaply. <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/12/31/google-strikes-an-upbeat-note-with-fcc-on-title-ii/" target="_blank">This is from a couple of months ago:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a letter Tuesday to the FCC, Google&rsquo;s director of communications law Austin Schlick highlighted a potential positive for the company if Title II kicks in. <strong>As a regulated telecom service, Google Fiber would get access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities.</strong> The FCC should make sure this happens because it would promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband internet service, Schlick argued.</p> <p>Cable and telecom companies, like Comcast and AT&amp;T have long had the right to access utility poles and other important infrastructure, such as ducts, conduits and rights of way, he noted. Google Fiber, which competes against these companies, has not had this right and the service has had trouble getting access to some poles as it builds out its fiber-optic network to homes.</p> <p>....Hooking up homes using poles is about a tenth of the price of digging trenches across streets and sidewalks, according to Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman in the 1990s. <strong>&ldquo;Pole access is fundamental and Google will never be able to make the case for Google Fiber without pole access,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If Title II gives Google pole access, then it might really rock the world with broadband access.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>If Google gains pole access, and cities and towns are free to set up their own high-speed networks, then local cable companies will finally start getting real competition in the high-speed internet market. Net neutrality is a big win for consumers, but real competition might be an even bigger win. This is far from a done deal, but things are starting to head in the right direction.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tech Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:04:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 271031 at http://www.motherjones.com Loretta Lynch Now Likely to Win Confirmation as Attorney General http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/loretta-lynch-now-likely-win-confirmation-attorney-general <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>It looks like Loretta Lynch is likely to be <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/26/loretta-lynch-nomination-attorney-general-approved-hsbc" target="_blank">approved as our next Attorney General:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Eight Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee, including chairman Chuck Grassley, opposed Lynch&rsquo;s confirmation after what Democrats criticised as a record-long delay in appointing the first African American woman to the top law enforcement job in the US.</p> <p><strong>But Lynch was backed by three moderate Republicans to pass through a committee vote on Thursday, 12-8.</strong> She is now likely, over the coming days, to scrape through a vote in the full Senate to succeed current attorney general Eric Holder, who announced his resignation last September.</p> </blockquote> <p>The three "moderate" Republicans who voted to confirm Lynch were&nbsp;Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. Flake is probably a legitimate moderate, but it's an odd world where Hatch and Graham are on that list too. In today's GOP, though, they really are moderates. That tells you most of what you need to know about the state of national politics these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Crime and Justice Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:19:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271006 at http://www.motherjones.com Immigration Fight Is a Loser Because Republican Hearts Aren't Really Into It http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/immigration-fight-loser-because-republican-hearts-arent-really-it <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Our story so far: Last year President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Conservatives went ballistic and threatened to refuse to pass a budget&mdash;thus shutting down the government&mdash;unless the budget defunded the immigration plan. They eventually gave in on that, but only because they were promised a second bite at the apple. The resulting compromise funded every department except the Department of Homeland Security, which <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Immigration_Sign.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was given only short-term funding. That now has to be reauthorized, and this time around conservatives are threatening to refuse to pass a DHS budget&mdash;thus shutting down the department&mdash;unless it defunds the immigration plan.</p> <p>But Democrats have been unified in refusing to approve a budget that defunds the immigration plan, and now Republicans are stuck. Shutting down DHS would be a PR disaster, and they haven't really managed to get the public riled up about Obama's immigration plan. Why not? Dave Weigel reports that the problem is simple. <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-26/immigration-foes-have-numbers-but-no-strategy?wpmm=1&amp;wpisrc=nl_wonk" target="_blank">Their hearts aren't really in it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"Republicans have not done a particularly effective job of communicating what they want here," said Ira Mehlman, FAIR's national media director. <strong>"They let the president get out there first and explain his position with public events. I don&rsquo;t understand why they haven&rsquo;t turned the tables on the president and capitalized. It is baffling."</strong></p> <p>And it's less than conservatives did in a comparable standoff, the summer 2013 fight over whether or not to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Initially, Republican leaders in the House had wanted to split the defunding from the must-pass appropriations bill. They were denied the votes for that from the GOP conference. At the same time, the conservative Heritage Action was hosting town halls around the country, putting pressure on Republicans to kill the ACA. Some members of the Senate, most famously Texas Senator Ted Cruz, joined them.</p> <p><strong>There have been no comparable Heritage Action rallies in the weekends or recesses of 2015.</strong> "This fight was set up by leadership when they opted for the cromnibus strategy," explained Heritage Action president Michael Needham in an email, "and it is a fight nearly every Republican promised their constituents both on the campaign trail and then again in December. In other words, it has been set up for months on the ground they chose."</p> <p>Heritage Action will key-vote the DHS bill, knuckle-rapping the Republicans who don't go all the way to de-fund the executive orders.<strong> But it has not organized opposition to a "clean bill." Neither, really, has [Ted] Cruz. He spent very little of last week's recess talking about the coming DHS fight.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So what happens next? Perhaps Republicans allow DHS to be shut down for a symbolic few days and then allow a vote on a clean funding bill that will pass the House with a few Republican votes and a lot of Democratic votes. Because basically most of them don't really care.</p> <p>As well they shouldn't. The truth is that they shot themselves in the foot from the very start by going ballistic over Obama's actions. The thing is, Obama didn't really do all that much. Before he acted, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported. Afterward, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported&mdash;but would be given temporary documentation that officially protected them from the deportation that wasn't going to happen anyway. Conservatives could have just grumbled and let it go, but instead they gave Obama a huge win by making it seem as if his actions were a major victory in the immigration wars. It's been a boon for both Obama and the Democratic Party, and huge headache for the Republican Party.</p> <p>It's too late now to back away from the relentless claims that Obama has acted like a lawless, Constitution-shredding tyrant over immigration, but Republicans have to figure out something. The public might or might not approve of how Obama implemented his reforms, but they're fine with the reforms themselves. Aside from a few tea party dead enders, there's just no widespread outrage to tap into.</p> <p>So instead of spending their first few months in control of Congress doing something, Republicans are fighting dumb battles that Obama has suckered them into. The faster they get out from under that rock, the better off they'll be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:06:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271001 at http://www.motherjones.com Supreme Court Opens a Crack in Fight Against Occupational Licensing Restrictions http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/supreme-court-opens-crack-fight-against-occupational-licensing-restrictions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is not a topic that I've spent a lot of time on, but for several years there's been an interesting coalition of liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives who are opposed to the relentless increase of licensing regulations in occupations like hair dressing and interior decoration. Their complaint is that these requirements are mostly just attempts by the industries themselves to increase barriers to entry and thus increase the prices they can charge.</p> <p>For example, why should you have to pay a dentist for a tooth-whitening procedure? That doesn't require years of schooling and it could be done perfectly well by a technician with less training and a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teeth_whitening.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">lower price tag. <a href="http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/02/25/257762/supreme-court-says-open-wide-to.html" target="_blank">Yesterday the Supreme Court kinda sorta agreed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Supreme Court on Wednesday effectively rejected North Carolina&rsquo;s tight control over the lucrative teeth-whitening business.</p> <p>In a divided decision that polishes up the court&rsquo;s free market credentials, six justices agreed the Federal Trade Commission can charge the dentist-dominated North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners with &ldquo;anticompetitive and unfair&rdquo; actions....The court&rsquo;s 6-3 decision did not, by itself, explicitly strike down the North Carolina teeth-whitening regulations that restrict the work to dentists. <strong>The decision does, though, reject the North Carolina board&rsquo;s argument that it enjoyed immunity from the Federal Trade Commission filing charges.</strong></p> <p>....North Carolina dentists began teeth-whitening services in the 1990s. By 2003, non-dentist providers began offering the same service in spas and salons. They charged less, prompting dentists to complain to the state board, which subsequently issued cease-and-desist orders to the non-dentists.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a small step, but potentially an important crack in the door. All it says is that the FTC can file antitrust charges if it wants to, which obviously depends a lot on who happens to be appointing FTC commissioners at any given moment. It's also limited to industry licensing boards that aren't "actively supervised" by the state. In the North Carolina case, "the board is funded by industry fees rather than taxpayer dollars, and six of the eight members are dentists selected by industry representatives." That was enough for the Supreme Court to decide that state supervision was basically a sham.</p> <p>So it's a narrow ruling. But it has some potential to lead to a loosening of occupational licensing restrictions in the future. It's worth keeping an eye on.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I just read my morning paper over breakfast (yes, I'm a dinosaur), and David Savage has a piece about this in the <em>LA Times</em> that explains the issues pretty well. It's better than the McClatchy piece above. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-supreme-court-teeth-20150225-story.html" target="_blank">Click here to read it.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:13:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270991 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Inflation Continues to Fall Short of Weimar Germany Levels http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/chart-day-inflation-continues-fall-short-weimar-germany-levels <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The BLS released its <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cpi.pdf" target="_blank">January inflation report</a> today, and guess what? Hyperinflation continues to be kept at bay. In fact, the CPI didn't just stay at a low level in January, it was actually negative. Compared to a month ago, prices dropped 0.7 percent. Compared to a year ago, prices dropped 0.1 percent (blue line in chart below):</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_january_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 8px;"></p> <p>This will cause Paul Krugman to dance another victory jig, but the number the Fed really cares about is core inflation, which excludes food and energy (red line in the chart). This is because food and energy tend to be volatile, which makes them unreliable guides to the long-term trajectory of inflation. The core rate is a better predictor of that. But the news is good here too: Core inflation remained low and stable, increasing only 1.6 percent compared to a year ago.</p> <p>According to the BLS, gasoline was "overwhelmingly" the cause of the sharp decline in the overall CPI, and it's unlikely that this will continue. Gasoline prices have probably fallen about as much as they can, and over the next year will remain stable or perhaps rise a bit. But there's no telling for sure because energy prices are volatile. That's the whole point of focusing on core inflation.</p> <p>In any case, as you can see, core inflation has remained below the Fed's 2 percent target for quite a while. Two years, in fact. This is why Krugman and many others are urging the Fed to hold off on raising interest rates. The labor market still has some slack, and there's simply no sign of inflation on the horizon&mdash;and when there is, there will be plenty of time to act. After all, if the Fed can tolerate two years of inflation below their target, they can tolerate a year or two of inflation above their target. What's more, there's no risk here. The Fed knows perfectly well how to get inflation down if and when it gets above target for a sustained period.</p> <p>In other news, <a href="http://www.bls.gov/news.release/realer.nr0.htm" target="_blank">wages are up a bit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees rose 1.3 percent from December to January, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from a 0.3 percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.9 percent decrease in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's nice, but note that it's mainly an artifact of negative inflation. If you think of core inflation as the better measure of long-term price levels, wages are up only slightly. That's better than nothing, of course, but still nowhere near a sign of dangerous tightness in the labor market.</p> <p>Bottom line: Inflation continues to be well controlled. There's no need to give up on loose monetary policy yet. Let's wait until the labor market looks like it's really picking up again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:51:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 270981 at http://www.motherjones.com I Want to Hear the Republican Plan For Fighting ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/i-want-hear-republican-plan-fighting-isis <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The drumbeat for President Obama to "do something" to fight ISIS is growing louder every day among prospective Republican presidential candidates. It's all a bit weird, since Obama rather plainly <em>is</em> doing something, as interviewers repeatedly point out whenever the subject comes up. But no matter. It's a good sound bite, and in any case, whatever <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fallujah_bridge.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Obama is doing, Republicans insist they want to do <em>more.</em> Today, Paul Waldman points out that all these presidential wannabes are just reflecting <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/02/25/a-battle-to-watch-which-2016-gop-candidate-is-most-gung-ho-for-war/" target="_blank">what the Republican base wants to hear:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Four months ago, 57 percent of Republicans thought we should use ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria; that number has now gone up to 67 percent. <strong>Among the conservative Republicans who will dominate the primary contests, it&rsquo;s even higher, at 71 percent.</strong> When Pew asked respondents to choose between &ldquo;using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world&rdquo; and &ldquo;relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,&rdquo; last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't suppose that most voters have really thought this through in much detail, but I wonder just how far they really want to go. The ISIS stronghold of Mosul, for example, is about five times the size of Fallujah, and probably has about 3-4 times as many ISIS defenders as Fallujah had Sunni insurgents back in 2004. And Fallujah was a huge battle. It took more than a year to retake the city; required something like 15,000 coalition troops in all; and resulted in more than a hundred coalition deaths.</p> <p>At a first guess, a full-scale assault on Mosul would likely require at least 2-3 times as many troops and result in several hundred American deaths. And Mosul is only a fraction of the territory ISIS controls. It's a big fraction, but still a fraction.</p> <p>So this is what I want to hear from Republican critics of Obama's ISIS strategy. I agree with them that training Iraqi troops and relying on them to fight ISIS isn't all that promising. But the alternative is likely to be something like 30-50,000 troops committed to a battle that will result in hundreds of American casualties. Are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz willing to own up to that? If they are, then good for them and we'll let the American public decide who's got the better strategy. But if they're not, then it's all just a con job for the rubes. The GOP candidates are screaming for "more," but not willing to acknowledge what "more" really means.</p> <p>Let's hear it, folks. When you say "more," what do you really have in mind? Candidates for president shouldn't be allowed to get away with nothing more than vague grumbles and hazy bellicosity any longer. Let's hear the plan.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:12:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270956 at http://www.motherjones.com Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is not of interest to most of you, but I do get emails and queries fairly frequently, so I figure I ought to share once in a while. The big picture summary is that nothing serious is wrong; a biopsy is scheduled for Friday; and I've been officially enrolled in the second stage of chemo treatment (the stem cell transplant). For those who want to know more, additional detail and miscellaneous griping is below the fold.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/kevin-drum/2015/02/health-update"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Kevin Drum Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:28:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 270941 at http://www.motherjones.com Eat What You Want, But Eat Fresh http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/eat-what-you-want-eat-fresh <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>This is interesting. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/test-0" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> I wrote a post suggesting that we should all try to eat more fresh food and less processed food, but that otherwise it didn't matter much what kind of diet you followed. (Within reason, of course.) This was based solely on my intermittent reading <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_processed_foods.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">of food research over the years, not on a specific rigorous study. Today, however, fellow MoJoer Tom Philpott tells me that there is indeed a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/02/has-big-food-passed-its-sell-date" target="_blank">rigorous study that backs this up:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Over the past decade, there has been a bounty of research on the ill effects of highly processed food. And when Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller surveyed the scientific dietary literature for a paper in 2013, they found that a "diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."</p> <p><strong>Interestingly, Katz and Meller found that as long as you stick to the "minimally processed" bit, it doesn't much matter which diet you follow: low-fat, vegetarian, and Mediterranean have all shown good results. Even the meat-centered "paleo" approach does okay. </strong>The authors conclude the "aggregation of evidence" supports meat eating, as long as the "animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods&mdash;the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by diet as we are." That's likely because cows fed on grass deliver meat and milk with a healthier fat profile than their industrially raised peers.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, Tom is optimistic that processed food is losing its allure as Americans migrate more and more to fresh foods. I can't say that I share this optimism, but I hope he's right. There's nothing wrong with a potato chip or a can of soup here and there (everything in moderation!), but a steady diet of processed food really is something worth avoiding.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Health Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:46:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 270926 at http://www.motherjones.com SIM Card Manufacturer Says Its Encryption Keys Are Safe From NSA Hacking http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/sim-card-manufacturer-says-its-encryption-keys-are-safe-nsa-hacking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sim_card.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm passing this along without comment since I don't have anything substantive to add. I just wanted to keep everyone up to date on the <em>Intercept</em> story about the NSA <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/gemalto-says-hack-didnt-result-in-massive-theft-of-sim-card-keys-1424851298?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection" target="_blank">stealing cell phone encryption data stored on SIM chips:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Security-chip maker Gemalto NV said Wednesday that American and British intelligence services could be responsible for a &ldquo;particularly sophisticated intrusion&rdquo; of its networks several years ago, but denied that the alleged hack could have widely compromised encryption it builds into chips used in billions of cellphones world-wide.</p> <p>....Company executives also asserted that the interceptions wouldn&rsquo;t have compromised the security of its newer SIM cards for 3G and 4G cellular networks, only older 2G networks. The reason: Gemalto says the new technology no longer require it to send telecom companies the keys to decrypt individuals&rsquo; communications&mdash;so they couldn&rsquo;t have been intercepted.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. On the one hand, many of the Snowden documents are indeed fairly old, dating back to 2010 or 2011. So they could be out of date. On the other hand, the NSA didn't necessarily have to "intercept" anything here. A sufficiently sophisticated hack could presumably have given them direct access to the Gemalto database that contains the encryption keys. And needless to say, Gemalto has a vested interest in assuring everyone that their current products are safe.</p> <p>So....who knows what really happened here. We'll likely hear more about it as Gemalto's internal investigation continues.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:19:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 270921 at http://www.motherjones.com DHS Funding Fight Is Going Down to the Wire http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/dhs-funding-fight-going-down-wire <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We're getting down to the wire in the funding fight over the Department of Homeland Security: DHS will shut down this weekend if funding isn't approved by Friday. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell wants to simply hold two separate votes: one to fund DHS and another to repeal President Obama's recent immigration actions. But tea partiers in the House are adamantly opposed to that: they want to keep the two things together in one bill, which they hope will force Democrats to cave in and kill the immigration plan. In reality, it will only produce deadlock in the Senate and a shutdown of DHS that Republicans will be blamed for. So what's John Boehner to do? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/02/25/morning-plum-poor-john-boehner-is-helpless-in-face-of-conservative-rage/" target="_blank">Greg Sargent comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We&rsquo;ve seen this particular thriller a number of times already. Here&rsquo;s how it always goes: We are told there&rsquo;s no way Boehner would ever dare move must-pass legislation with a lot of Democrats. He&rsquo;s stuck! Then pressure builds and builds, and Boehner does end up passing something with a lot of Democrats. Last I checked, he&rsquo;s still Speaker.</p> <p>....<strong>The fact that Boehner has the mere option of passing clean funding with the help of a lot of Democrats is rarely even mentioned. </strong>You can read article after article about this whole showdown and not be informed of that basic fact. Thus, the actual reason we&rsquo;re stuck in this crisis &mdash; Boehner is delaying the moment where he does pass something with Dems for as long as possible &mdash; goes oddly unmentioned. Yet recent history suggests that Boehner himself knows this is how it will end, and that all of this drama won&rsquo;t change the outcome.</p> </blockquote> <p>Probably so. After all, the only thing that changed in the last election was control of the Senate, and Senate Republicans are willing to compromise. The House is probably going to have to go down that road eventually too.</p> <p>But my guess is that they're going to shut down DHS for a while first. Boehner has made it pretty clear that he feels like he needs to demonstrate his conservative bona fides at the beginning of this new session of Congress, and that means holding out as long as he can. It's a waste of time, and it's going to hurt Republican efforts to work on other legislation, but that's life. Symbols are important, and Boehner needs to show whose side he's on. There's a good chance this will last a couple of weeks before it gets resolved.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:31:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 270916 at http://www.motherjones.com Everything You've Been Told About Healthy Eating Is Wrong, Except This http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/test-0 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>For several years now I've been following the controversy over whether the dietary guidelines that have developed over the the past 70 years might be all wrong. And I've become tentatively convinced that, in fact, they are wrong. For most people&mdash;not all!&mdash;salt isn't a big killer; cholesterol isn't harmful; and red meat and saturated fat are perfectly OK. Healthy, even. Sugar, on the other hand, really needs to be watched.</p> <p>Before I go on, a great big caveat: I'm not even an educated amateur on this subject. I've read a fair amount about it, but I've never dived into it systematically. And the plain truth is that firm proof is hard to come by when it comes to diet. It's really, really hard to conduct the kinds of experiments that would give us concrete proof that one diet is better than another, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_food.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">and the studies that <em>have</em> been done almost all have defects of some kind.</p> <p>In other words, what follows are some thoughts I've gathered over the years, not a crusade to convince you I'm right. And it's strictly about what's healthy to eat, not what's good for the planet. Take it for what it's worth.</p> <p>Salt is perhaps the most personal subject to me. My father had a stroke when I was a teenager, and his doctor told him he needed to watch his salt intake. Ever since then, I've watched mine too. As it happens, this wasn't a big sacrifice: I don't eat a lot of prepared foods, which are usually loaded with salt, and I've never felt the need to heavily salt my food.</p> <p>Nevertheless, last year my doctor told me she was worried about my sodium level. I misunderstood at first, and figured that I needed to make additional efforts to cut back. But no. My serum sodium level was <em>too low</em>. What's more, it turns out that most Americans consume a safe amount of sodium. The usual recommendation is to keep sodium intake below 2400 mg per day, but the bulk of the evidence suggests that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/upshot/dash-of-salt-does-no-harm-extremes-are-the-enemy.html" target="_blank">twice this much is perfectly safe for people who don't suffer from hypertension.</a> (And even the recommendations for people <em>with</em> hypertension might be more restrictive than they need to be.)</p> <p>Then there's cholesterol. I guess I don't have to say much about that: the evidence is now so overwhelming that even the U.S. government's top nutrition panel announced a couple of weeks ago that dietary cholesterol was <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/10/feds-poised-to-withdraw-longstanding-warnings-about-dietary-cholesterol/" target="_blank">no longer a "nutrient of concern"</a> in its latest guidelines. Go ahead and have an egg or three.</p> <p>Finally, there's saturated fat. The same nutrition panel that decided cholesterol is OK didn't ease up its recommendations on saturated fat. But I'm increasingly skeptical of this too. Interestingly, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/upshot/behind-new-dietary-guidelines-better-science.html" target="_blank">Aaron Carroll is skeptical too:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As the guidelines have recommended cutting down on meat, especially red meat, this meant that many people began to increase their consumption of carbohydrates.</p> <p>Decades later, it&rsquo;s not hard to find evidence that this might have been a bad move. Many now believe that excessive carbohydrate consumption may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. <strong>A Cochrane Review of all randomized controlled trials of reduced or modified dietary fat interventions found that replacing fat with carbohydrates does not protect even against cardiovascular problems, let alone death.</strong></p> <p>Interestingly, the new dietary recommendations may acknowledge this as well, dropping the recommendation to limit overall fat consumption in favor of a more refined recommendation to limit only saturated fat. Even that recommendation is hotly contested by some, though.</p> <p>....It is frustrating enough when we over-read the results of epidemiologic studies and make the mistake of believing that correlation is the same as causation. <strong>It&rsquo;s maddening, however, when we ignore the results of randomized controlled trials, which can prove causation, to continue down the wrong path.</strong> In reviewing the literature, it&rsquo;s hard to come away with a sense that anyone knows for sure what diet should be recommended to all Americans.</p> </blockquote> <p>Randomized trials are the gold standard of dietary studies, but as I said above, they're really, really hard to conduct properly. You have to find a stable population of people. You have to pick half of them randomly and get them to change their diets. You have to trust them to actually do it. You have to follow them for years, not months. Virtually no trial can ever truly meet this standard.</p> <p>Nonetheless, as Carroll says, the randomized trials we <em>do</em> have suggest that red meat and saturated fat have little effect on cardiovascular health&mdash;and might actually have a <em>positive</em> effect on cancer outcomes.</p> <p>At the same time, increased consumption of sugars and carbohydrates might be actively bad for us. At the very least they contribute to obesity and diabetes, and there's some evidence that they aren't so great for your heart either.</p> <p>So where does this leave us? As Carroll says, the literature as a whole suggests that we simply don't know. We've been convinced of a lot of things for a long time, and it's turned out that a lot of what we believed was never really backed by solid evidence in the first place. So now the dietary ship is turning. Slowly, but it's turning.</p> <p>For myself, I guess I continue to believe that the key is moderation. Try to eat more fresh food and fewer packaged meals. That said, there's nothing wrong with salt or saturated fat or cholesterol or sugar. None of them need to be cut down to minuscule levels. You don't need to limit yourself to two grams of salt or eliminate red meat from your diet. You can eat eggs and butter and steak if you want to. You should watch your sugar and carb intake, but only because so many of us consume truly huge quantities of both. In the end, all of these things are OK. They simply need to be consumed in moderation.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>Can I prove that? Nope. But it's what I believe these days.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Needless to say, none of this applies to people with specific conditions that require dietary restrictions. Listen to your doctor!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Tue, 24 Feb 2015 20:59:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 270871 at http://www.motherjones.com Red Barns and White Barns: Why Rural Crime Skyrocketed in the Late 1800s http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/red-barns-and-white-barns-why-rural-crime-skyrocketed-late-1800s <!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 anecdote about lead and crime from a <a href="http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/Lucifer_Curves_2-22-15.pdf" target="_blank">recent paper by Rick Nevin.</a> It shouldn't be taken as proof of anything, but it's certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.</p> <p>Here's the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased <em>rural</em> homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_national_road.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red?</p> <blockquote> <p>Professional painters in the 1800s prepared house paint by mixing linseed oil with white lead paste. About 90% of Americans lived in rural areas in the mid-1800s, and subsistence farmers could make linseed (flaxseed) oil, but few had access to white lead, so they mixed linseed oil with red rust to kill fungi that trapped moisture and increased wood decay. <strong>Red barns are still a tradition in most USA farming regions but white barns are the norm along the path of the old National Road. Why?</strong></p> <p>....The reason the red barn tradition never took root along that path is likely because the National Road made freight, including white lead, accessible to nearby farmers. USA lead output was a relatively stable 1000 to 2000 tons per year from 1801-1825, but lead output was 15,000 to 30,000 tons per year from the mid-1830s through the mid-1860s after the completion of the National Road.</p> <p>....<strong>The first American patent for &ldquo;ready-mixed&rdquo; paint was filed in 1867; railroads built almost 120,000 track miles from 1850 to 1900; and Sears Roebuck and other mail-order catalogs combined volume buying, railroad transport, and rural free parcel post delivery to provide economical rural access to a wide variety of products in the 1890s.</strong></p> <p>The murder arrest rate in large cities was more than seven times the national homicide rate from 1900-1904 because lead paint in the 1870s was available in large cities but unavailable in most rural areas. <strong>The early-1900s convergence in rural and urban murder rates was presaged by a late-1800s convergence in rural and urban lead paint exposure.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>In short, lead paint simply wasn't available in most rural areas before the 1880s except in very narrow corridors with good transportation. You can see this in the prevalence of white barns along the National Road. Then, starting in the 1880s, revolutions in both rail transport and mail order distribution made economical lead paint available almost everywhere&mdash;including rural areas. A couple of decades later, homicide rates had skyrocketed in rural areas and had nearly caught up to urban murder rates.</p> <p>By itself, of course, this would be merely speculative. What makes it more than this is that it adds to the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline" target="_blank">wealth of other evidence that lead exposure in childhood leads to increased violence in adulthood.</a> In the post-World War II era, lead exposure came mainly from automobile exhausts, but in the post-Civil War era it came mainly from the growth in the use of lead paint. And when lead paint became available in rural areas, farmers found it just as useful as everyone else. Given what we now know about the effects of lead, it should come as no surprise that a couple of decades later the murder rate in rural areas went up substantially.</p> <p><a href="http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/Lucifer_Curves_2-22-15.pdf" target="_blank">There's much more in the full paper,</a> including another question: why did murder rates in St. Louis increase 10-fold from 1910 to 1916? Can you guess the answer? I'll bet you can.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Science Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:51:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 270851 at http://www.motherjones.com What the Broadband Industry Really Needs Isn't Net Neutrality. It Needs Competition. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/what-broadband-industry-really-needs-isnt-net-neutrality-it-needs-competition <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Will strong net neutrality rules reduce the incentive for cable companies to invest in high-speed network infrastructure? Maybe, though similar rules certainly haven't had that effect <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus-20150217-column.html" target="_blank">in the cell phone market.</a> Of course, the cell phone market is intensely competitive, and that's probably the real difference between the two. As Tim Lee notes today, Comcast's cable division is immensely profitable&mdash;certainly profitable enough to fund plenty of new high-speed infrastructure. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/2/24/8100405/comcast-huge-profits" target="_blank">But why should they bother?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Comcast's high profits are evidence of high barriers to entry in the broadband industry. Ordinarily, a company that consistently made billions of dollars in profits would attract new competitors seeking to capture a piece of the market.</p> <p>But with a few exceptions &mdash; such as Google's projects in Kansas City and elsewhere &mdash; this hasn't really happened. In most parts of Comcast's service territory, consumers' only alternative for broadband service is the local phone company.</p> <p>Conversely, Comcast doesn't seem interested in trying to steal market share from rivals. Comcast could expand into the service territory of neighboring cable companies or it could spend money building a next-generation fiber optic network the way Verizon and Google have done. Instead, they've chosen to spend more money rewarding shareholders than investing in their networks.</p> </blockquote> <p>Given current political realities, strong net neutrality rules are a good idea. But an even better idea would be to forget about net neutrality and open up local markets to real competition. I think we'd find out pretty quickly that broadband suppliers have plenty of money for infrastructure upgrades if the alternative is a steadily shrinking market share as competitors start eating their lunch.</p> <p>Competition is good. Big companies don't like it, and our approach to antitrust enforcement has unfortunately lost sight of competition as a sufficient raison d'&ecirc;tre. That's too bad. It's the cure for a lot of ills and a way to keep the rest of the regulatory state relatively light. It's well past time for us to rediscover this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Regulatory Affairs Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:20:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 270841 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Here's Who's Defaulting on Student Debt http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/chart-day-heres-whos-defaulting-student-debt <!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_student_debt_default.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/02/default-rates-on-student-debt-increase-with-lower-balances.html" target="_blank">Alex Tabarrok passes along the chart on the right,</a> which shows the default rate on student loans. What it shows is surprising at first glance: the highest default rates are among students with the lowest debt, not the highest.</p> <p>But on second glance, this isn't surprising at all. I'd suggest several good reasons to expect exactly this result:</p> <ul><li>The very lowest debt levels are associated with students who drop out after only a year or so. They have the worst of all worlds: only a high school diploma and a low-paying job, but student debt that's fairly crushing for someone earning a low income.</li> <li>The next tier of debt is likely associated with students at for-profit trade schools. These schools are notorious for high dropout rates and weak job prospects even for graduates.</li> <li>The middle tier of debt levels is probably associated with graduates of community colleges and state universities. Graduates of these schools, in general, get lower-paying jobs than graduates of Harvard or Cal.</li> <li>Conversely, high debt levels are associated with elite universities. Harvard and Cal probably have pretty high proportions of students who earn good incomes after graduation.</li> <li>The highest debt levels are associated with advanced degrees. The $50,000+ debt levels probably belong mostly to doctors, lawyers, PhDs, and so forth, who command the highest pay upon graduation.</li> </ul><p>A commenter suggests yet another reason for high default levels at low levels of debt: it's an artifact of "students" who are already deep in debt and are just looking for a way out: "The word is out if you have bad credit and are desperate for funds just go to a community college where tuition is low and borrow the maximum....Want the defaults to go down&nbsp;&mdash; stop lending to students that have a significant number of remedial courses their 1st and 2nd terms at a college where tuition is already low."</p> <p>If you're likely to complete college, student loans are a good investment. But if you're right on the cusp, you should think twice. There's a good chance you'll just end up dropping out <em>and</em> you'll end up with a pile of student loans to pay back. If you're in that position, think hard about attending a community college and keeping student loans to the minimum you can manage.</p> <p>And try majoring in some field related to health care. Occupations in health care <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/business/economy/health-care-opens-middle-class-path-taken-mainly-by-women.html" target="_blank">appear to have a pretty bright future.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:01:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 270831 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: "I Am Coming After You With Everything I Have" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/quote-day-i-am-coming-after-you-everything-i-have <!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.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/business/media/bill-oreilly-and-fox-news-redouble-defense-of-his-falklands-reporting.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">From Bill O'Reilly,</a> to a reporter who called to ask about a <em>Mother Jones</em> report that he had wildly exaggerated his coverage of the Falklands War:</p> <blockquote> <p>During a phone conversation, he told a reporter for <em>The New York Times</em> that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter&rsquo;s coverage was inappropriate. &ldquo;I am coming after you with everything I have,&rdquo; Mr. O&rsquo;Reilly said. &ldquo;You can take it as a threat.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Charming, as always. And once again, this is the difference between O'Reilly and Brian Williams. O'Reilly and Fox News will never admit any wrongdoing, and will fight back with everything they've got. There will be no six-month suspension for Bill O'Reilly.</p> <p>Will it work? Probably yes. After all, O'Reilly is paid to be a windbag, so the fact that he's exaggerated some stuff on his personal resume seems like it's just part of the package. Still, I admit that this episode is getting a lot more attention than it was when I first commented on it. The fact that the <em>New York Times</em> is covering it on its front page is proof of that. So maybe it's going to hurt O'Reilly more than I thought. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Tue, 24 Feb 2015 05:56:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 270816 at http://www.motherjones.com Once Again: What's the Deal With the Pretense That the Academy Awards Are Supposed to Last 3 Hours? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/once-again-whats-deal-pretense-academy-awards-are-supposed-last-3-hours <!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_oscar.jpg" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 40px;">Kelsey McKinney writes today about why Joan Rivers was left out of the "In Memoriam" segment <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/2/23/8090215/joan-rivers-in-memoriam-oscars" target="_blank">at the Oscars last night:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The sequence, ultimately, only has so much room. Every year dozens of Academy Award nominees die, but there's only room to memorialize about 30 of them in a show that <strong>almost always runs over time already.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Whoa. Hold on. The Academy Awards almost never run over time. They are, quite plainly, expected to last 3&frac12; hours. For one thing, they <em>always</em> last 3&frac12; hours.<sup>1</sup> For another, there's abundant evidence that show directors know exactly how long each bit is going to last. And there's also the evidence of other awards shows, which demonstrates that directors can hit a scheduled end mark within a minute or two. Every time. So they know perfectly well that the Oscar telecast is going to last 3&frac12; hours.</p> <p>But for some reason, the publicly acknowledged length of the show is 3 hours. Why? I've asked this before. It can't be too deep a secret since it's so obviously planned this way and has been for years. But why?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Actually this year they really did run long, a little over 3 hours and 35 minutes. But that's unusual.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Mon, 23 Feb 2015 21:41:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 270801 at http://www.motherjones.com New Retirement Regs Might Pose a Campaign Problem for Republicans http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/new-retirement-regs-might-pose-campaign-problem-republicans <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Congress is now controlled by Republicans, and it's unlikely they're going to pass any of the items on President Obama's agenda. But what about executive actions? Are there any more of those left in Obama's toolkit?</p> <p>Jared Bernstein says yes. Forty years ago, when rules were set regarding retirement programs, most retirement funds were managed by corporations or unions, and it was assumed that the fund managers were financially <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_retirement_nestegg.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">sophisticated. This meant the rules could be fairly light. But that's obviously changed: most pensions these days are IRA and 401(k) accounts that are managed by individuals who often have a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/02/23/the-white-house-proposes-a-new-rule-to-help-preserve-retirement-savings/" target="_blank">hard time telling good advice from bad:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The result was a lot of people without a lot of investment acumen trying to wade through thickets of annuities, bonds, securities, and index funds, often guided by advisors and brokers who they assumed were wholly on their side.</p> <p>Many were &mdash; but research shows that many were, and are &mdash; not always acting in their clients&rsquo; best interest, generating unnecessary fees and charges that erode retirement savings. <strong>The newly proposed rule, which does not require Congressional approval, meaning it could actually come to fruition,</strong> realigns incentives in the interest of individual investors by requiring retirement financial advisers to follow an established standard (a &ldquo;fudiciary standard&rdquo;) to act in their clients&rsquo; interest.</p> <p>....<strong>The new fiduciary standard should block what honest brokers call &ldquo;over-managing:&rdquo; unnecessary rollovers, churning (over-active buying and selling that generates brokers&rsquo; fees at the expense of returns), and the pushing of expensive and risky products like variable annuities.</strong></p> <p>All of which turns out to be extremely costly to retirees....Conflicted advice reduces returns by about 1 percent per year, such that a poorly advised saver might end up with a 5 percent vs. a 6 percent return. They multiply that 1 percent by the $1.7 trillion of IRA assets &ldquo;invested in products that generally provide payments that generate conflicts of interest&rdquo; and conclude that the <strong>&ldquo;the aggregate annual cost of conflicted advice is about $17 billion each year.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>According to Bernstein, a White House study suggests that this difference between 5 and 6 percent returns can amount to five years of retirement savings under plausible assumptions. That's a lot.</p> <p>Needless to say, the financial industry is strongly opposed to this rule change, and I think we can safely assume that this means Fox News will be raising the alarums too. Their argument, apparently, is that if they're prohibited from giving small clients bad advice, it just won't be worth it to bother with small clients at all. Maybe so. But as Bernstein says, if that's really the case then "maybe there&rsquo;s a hitch in your business model."</p> <p>This has the potential to be an interesting campaign issue. Most Democrats, even those with close ties to the financial industry (*cough* Hillary *cough*) should have no trouble supporting this rule change. That's a slam dunk winner with retirees and most of the middle class. Republicans will have a harder time. After all, this represents regulation, and Republicans oppose regulation. They especially oppose financial regulation, as they've proven by their relentless efforts to roll back even the modest Dodd-Frank regulation adopted after the financial crash.</p> <p>So what will they do? Stick to their principles and oppose the new regs? That will sure provide Democrats with an easy sound bite. <em>Jeb Bush opposes a rule that prevents brokers from deliberately giving you bad retirement advice.</em> I don't think I'd like to be the candidate who has to answer for that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Economy Regulatory Affairs Mon, 23 Feb 2015 19:01:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 270791 at http://www.motherjones.com Is It Fair to Keep Peppering Scott Walker With Gotcha Questions? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/02/it-fair-keep-peppering-scott-walker-gotcha-questions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_scott_walker.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Lately Scott Walker has been asked:</p> <ul><li>Whether he agrees with Rudy Giuliani's comment that President Obama doesn't love America.</li> <li>Whether he believes in evolution.</li> <li>Whether he believes that Obama is a Christian.</li> </ul><p>Is this fair? Why is Walker being peppered with gotcha questions like this? Are Democrats getting the same treatment?</p> <p>There are no Democrats running for president yet, so it's hard to say what kind of questions they're going to be asked. But if Hillary Clinton attends a fundraising dinner where, say, Michael Moore suggests that Dick Cheney should be tried as a war criminal, I'm pretty sure Hillary will be asked if she agrees. And asked and asked and asked.</p> <p>As for the other stuff Walker is being asked about&mdash;evolution, climate change, Obama's religion, etc.&mdash;there really is a good reason for getting someone like Walker on the record. He's basically a tea party guy who's trying to appear more mainstream than the other tea party guys, and everyone knows that there are certain issues that are tea party hot buttons. So you have to ask about them to take the measure of the man. Sure, they're gotcha questions, but they have a legitimate purpose: to find out if Walker is a pure tea party creature or not. That's a matter of real public interest.</p> <p>Conservatives are <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-02-21/why-conservatives-are-fed-up-with-the-rudy-giuliani-story" target="_blank">complaining that Walker is facing a double standard.</a> Maybe. We'll find out when Hillary and the rest of the Democratic field start campaigning in earnest. But I'm curious. What kinds of similar questions would be gotchas for Democrats? Drivers licenses for undocumented workers? Support for single-payer healthcare? Those aren't really the same, but I can't come up with anything that is. It needs to be something that's either conspiracy-theorish or else something where the liberal base conflicts with the scientific consensus, and I'm not sure what that is. GMO foods? Heritability of IQ? Whether George Bush stole the 2004 election by tampering with voting machines? I'm stretching here, but that's because nothing really comes to mind.</p> <p>Help me out. What kinds of Scott-Walkerish gotcha questions should reporters be saving up for Hillary?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections The Right Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:56:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 270786 at http://www.motherjones.com