Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2014/07/vladimir http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en For Lower Back Pain, You Can Skip the Tylenol http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/lower-back-pain-you-can-skip-tylenol <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's the latest from the <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/acetaminophen-no-better-than-placebo-for-back-pain/?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">frontiers of medical research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>About two-thirds of adults have lower back pain at some point in their lives, and most are told to take acetaminophen, sold under brand names like Tylenol, Anacin and Panadol. Medical guidelines around the world recommend acetaminophen as a first-line treatment.</p> <p>But there has never been much research to support the recommendation, and now a large, rigorous trial has found that acetaminophen works no better than a placebo.</p> </blockquote> <p>The good folks at Johnson &amp; Johnson will no doubt disagree with extreme prejudice, but I'm not surprised. I suppose different people respond differently, but I've basically never responded other than minimally to Tylenol. It might dull a bit of headache pain slightly, but that's about it. However, there's more:</p> <blockquote> <p>Dr. Williams said that acetaminophen had been shown to be effective for <strong>headache, toothache and pain after surgery</strong>, but the mechanism of back pain is different and poorly understood. Doctors should not initially recommend acetaminophen to patients with acute low back pain, he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hey! That's right. I had some mild toothache recently thanks to a filling that involved a fair amount of work beneath the gum line. It acted up whenever I chewed food on that side of my mouth, and I found that Tylenol made it go away within 20 minutes. I was pretty amazed, since Tylenol had never really worked for anything else. But it was great for toothache.</p> <p>Anyway, everyone is different, and Tylenol might work for you better than it does for me. It might even work for back pain. It doesn't <em>on average</em>, but that doesn't mean it's ineffective for everybody. In the meantime, maybe the medical research profession could hurry up a bit on that business of understanding what lower back pain is all about, OK? It so happens that I could use some answers on that score.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:24:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256866 at http://www.motherjones.com The Great Third-Pound Burger Ripoff http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/great-third-pound-burger-ripoff <!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_math_phobia.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">This is from a <em>New York Times Magazine</em> piece about <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">America's innumeracy problem:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&amp;W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald&rsquo;s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&amp;W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&amp;W&rsquo;s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&amp;W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. <strong>Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.</strong></p> <p>Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. <strong>The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed.</strong> Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald&rsquo;s. The &ldquo;4&rdquo; in &ldquo;&frac14;,&rdquo; larger than the &ldquo;3&rdquo; in &ldquo;&acirc;&#133;&#147;,&rdquo; led them astray.</p> </blockquote> <p>Are Americans <em>really</em> innumerate compared to other countries? Perhaps: Author Elizabeth Green says that American adults did pretty poorly in a 2012 international test of numeracy. The rest of her piece is all about how we could teach math better if we really put our minds to it, but unfortunately, after inventing all the best methods for teaching math we gave up, leaving it to the Japanese to perfect them. I don't know whether or not this is a fair summary of the current state of play in math ed.</p> <p>Still, the A&amp;W anecdote was too good to check, and too good not to pass along. If it's not true, it should be.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Elizabeth Green tweets that her source for this anecdote is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Threshold-Resistance-Extraordinary-Career-Luxury-ebook/dp/B000RO9VM2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1406161812&amp;sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>Threshold Resistance</em></a> by Alfred Taubman, who owned A&amp;W in the 80s. Here's the relevant passage, after Taubman has called in Yankelovich, Skelly and White to figure out what was wrong with their burger:</p> <blockquote> <p>Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half of the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. "Why," they asked, "should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald's? You're overcharging us." Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you go.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:19:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 256846 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Oil Is Getting Harder and Harder to Find http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/chart-day-oil-getting-harder-and-harder-find <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Oil expert James Hamilton has an interesting summary of the current world oil market up today, and it's worth a read. His bottom line, however, is that <a href="http://econbrowser.com/archives/2014/07/the-changing-face-of-world-oil-markets" target="_blank">$100-per-barrel oil is here to stay:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The run-up of oil prices over the last decade resulted from strong growth of demand from emerging economies confronting limited physical potential to increase production from conventional sources. Certainly a change in those fundamentals could shift the equation dramatically. If China were to face a financial crisis, or if peace and stability were suddenly to break out in the Middle East and North Africa, a sharp drop in oil prices would be expected. But even if such events were to occur, the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_oil_production_capex.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">emerging economies would surely subsequently resume their growth, in which case any gains in production from Libya or Iraq would only buy a few more years.</p> </blockquote> <p>The chart on the right shows the situation dramatically. In just the past ten years, capital spending by major oil companies on exploration and extraction has <em>tripled</em>. And the result? Those same companies are producing <em>less</em> oil than they were in 2004. There's still new oil out there, but it's increasingly both expensive to get and expensive to refine.</p> <p>(And all the hype to the contrary, the fracking revolution hasn't changed that. There's oil in those formations in Texas and North Dakota, but the wells only produce for a few years each and production costs are sky high compared to conventional oil.)</p> <p>In a hypertechnical sense, the peak oil optimists were right: New technology has been able to keep global oil production growing longer than the pessimists thought. But, it turns out, not by much. Global oil production is growing very slowly; the cost of new oil is skyrocketing; the quality of new oil is mostly lousy; and we continue to bump up right against the edge of global demand, which means that even a small disruption in supply can send the world into an economic tailspin. So details aside, the pessimists continue to be right in practice even if they didn't predict the exact date we'd hit peak oil. It's long past time to get dead serious about finding renewable replacements on a very large scale.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Energy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:46:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256826 at http://www.motherjones.com Lots of Americans Think Obamacare Has Benefited Nobody http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/lots-americans-think-obamacare-has-benefited-nobody <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Greg Sargent points us to an interesting new <a href="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/07/22/rel7c.pdf" target="_blank">CNN poll</a> about Obamacare. It asks the usual question about favoring or opposing the law, with the usual results. The basic question shows that Obamacare is unpopular by 40-59 percent, but when you add in the folks who "oppose" it only because they wish it were more liberal, it flips to 57-38 percent. In other words, if you confine yourself to garden variety conservative opposition to Obamacare, there's not nearly as much as most polls suggest.</p> <p>But then there's another question: Has Obamacare helped you or your family personally? About 18 percent say yes. How about other families? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/07/23/morning-plum-republicans-certain-obamcare-hasnt-helped-anyone-in-america/" target="_blank">Do you think Obamacare has helped <em>anyone at all</em>?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>And guess what: A huge majority of Republicans and conservatives don&rsquo;t think the law has helped anybody in this country.</p> <p>Among all Americans, the poll finds that 18 percent say the law has made them and their families better off....Meanwhile, 44 percent say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anybody &mdash; a lot, but still a minority.</p> <p>Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anyone. (Only <em>one percent</em> of Republicans say the law has helped them!) By contrast, 57 percent of moderates say the law has helped them or others. Independents are evenly divided.</p> <p>Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare <em>can&rsquo;t</em> be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm a little more dismayed by the news that even a large number of moderates and independents don't think Obamacare has helped anyone. In a way, that's more disturbing than the dumb&mdash;but predictable&mdash;knee-jerk Republican view that automatically produces a "no" whenever the question relates to something positive about Obamacare.</p> <p>I guess the lesson is that liberals still haven't done a very good job of promoting the benefits of Obamacare. Maybe that's an impossible task since, after all, it's not as if you can expect the media to run endless identical stories about local folks who finally got health insurance. Still, it's a funny thing. If you passed a law that gave cars to 10 million poor Americans, pretty much everyone would agree that <em>some people</em> benefited from the program. But if you pass a law that gives health insurance to 10 million poor Americans, lots of people think it's just a gigantic illusion that's helped no one. What's more, the number of people who believe this has <em>increased</em> since last year's rollout.</p> <p>Why? Certainly not because they think health insurance is worthless. Just try taking away theirs and you'll find out exactly how non-worthless they consider it. Is it because they don't think Obamacare policies are "real" health insurance? Or that all these people had health insurance before and the whole thing is just a scam? Or what? It's a peculiar view that deserves a follow-up.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:00:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 256816 at http://www.motherjones.com Nobody Knows What Makes a Good CEO http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/nobody-knows-what-makes-good-ceo <!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_ceo_pay_performance.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Bloomberg has done a bit of charting of CEO pay vs. performance, and their results are on the right. Bottom line: there's essentially no link whatsoever between how well CEOs perform and <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-22/for-ceos-correlation-between-pay-and-stock-performance-is-pretty-random" target="_blank">how well they're paid:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An analysis of compensation data publicly released by Equilar shows little correlation between CEO pay and company performance. Equilar ranked the salaries of 200 highly paid CEOs. When compared to metrics such as revenue, profitability, and stock return, <strong>the scattering of data looks pretty random, as though performance doesn&rsquo;t matter. </strong>The comparison makes it look as if there is zero relationship between pay and performance.</p> </blockquote> <p>There are plenty of conclusions you can draw from this, but one of the key ones is that it demonstrates that corporate boards are almost completely unable to predict how well CEO candidates will do on the job. They insist endlessly that they're looking for only the very top candidates&mdash;with pay packages to match&mdash;and I don't doubt that they sincerely think this is what they're doing. In fact, though, they don't have a clue who will do better. They could be hiring much cheaper leaders and would probably get about the same performance.</p> <p>One reason that CEO pay has skyrocketed is that boards compete with each other for candidates who seem to be the best, but don't realize that it's all a chimera. They have no idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:51:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 256811 at http://www.motherjones.com Will Republicans Finally Find a Tax Cut They Hate? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/will-republicans-finally-find-tax-cut-they-hate <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Charles Gaba makes an interesting point about today's <em>Halbig</em> decision: if upheld, <a href="http://acasignups.net/14/07/22/gop-shoves-massive-tax-hike-down-middle-class-voters-throats" target="_blank">it would amount to a tax increase.</a> Everyone who buys insurance through a federal exchange would lose the tax credits they're currently entitled to, and losing tax credits is the same as a tax increase. This in turn means that if <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_grover_norquist.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Democrats introduce a bill to fix the language in Obamacare to keep the tax credits in place, it will basically be a tax cut.</p> <p>This leaves Republicans in a tough spot, doesn't it? Taken as a whole, Obamacare represents a tax increase, which makes it easy for Republicans to oppose it. But if the <em>Halbig</em> challenge is upheld, all the major Obamacare taxes are unaffected. They stay in force no matter what. The <em>only</em> thing that's affected is the tax credits. Thus, an amendment to reinstate the credits is a net tax cut by the rules that Grover Norquist laid out long ago. And no Republican is allowed to vote against a net tax cut.</p> <p>I'm curious what Norquist has to say about this. Not because I think he'd agree that Republicans have to vote to restore the tax credits. He wouldn't. He's a smart guy, and he'd invent some kind of loophole for everyone to shimmy through. Mainly, I just want to know <em>what</em> loophole he'd come up with. I'm always impressed with the kind of sophistries guys like him are able to spin. It's usually very educational.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court The Right Wed, 23 Jul 2014 01:38:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 256791 at http://www.motherjones.com Seven Hours of Sleep Is Just About Optimal http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/seven-hours-sleep-just-about-optimal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>How much sleep does a normal, healthy adult need? <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/sleep-experts-close-in-on-the-optimal-nights-sleep-1405984970?mod=trending_now_1" target="_blank">The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep&mdash;not eight, as was long believed&mdash;when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.</p> <p>Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night's sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep&mdash;not just too little of it&mdash;is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's sort of interesting. In the past, I would have had no idea how to guess at this. I always slept exactly the same every night, so I always felt about the same every morning. Over the past couple of years, however, my sleeping habits have become far more erratic, spanning anywhere from six to eight hours fairly randomly. And sure enough, I've vaguely come to the conclusion that six hours makes me feel tired throughout the day, and so does eight hours. Seven hours really does seem to be pretty close to the sweet spot.</p> <p>Unfortunately, I don't seem to have much control over this. I wake up whenever I wake up, and that's that. Today I got up at 6, tried to get back to sleep, and finally gave up. There was nothing to be done about it. And right about now I'm paying the price for that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Science Wed, 23 Jul 2014 00:11:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256786 at http://www.motherjones.com What Happens If Obama Loses the Halbig Case? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/what-happens-if-obama-loses-halbig-case <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So let's suppose the <em>Halbig</em> case goes up to the Supreme Court and they rule for the plaintiffs: in a stroke, everyone enrolled in Obamacare through a federal exchange is no longer eligible for subsidies. What happens then? Is Obamacare doomed?</p> <p>Not at all. What happens is that people in blue states like California and New York, which operate their own exchanges, continue getting their federal subsidies. People in red states, which punted the job to the feds, will suddenly have their subsidies yanked away. Half the country will have access to a generous entitlement and the other half won't.</p> <p>How many people will this affect? The earliest we'll get a Supreme Court ruling on this is mid-2015, and mid-2016 is more likely. At a guess, maybe 12 million people will have exchange coverage by 2015 and about 20 million by 2016. Let's split the difference and call it 15 million. About 80 percent of them qualify for subsidies, which brings the number to about 12 million. Roughly half of them are in states that would be affected by <em>Halbig</em>.</p> <p>So that means about 6 million people who are currently getting subsidies would suddenly have them yanked away. It's even possible they'd have to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obamacare_site_new.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">pay back any tax credits they'd received previously.</p> <p>So what's the political reaction? The key point here is that people respond much more strongly to <em>losing</em> things than they do to <em>not getting them in the first place</em>. For example, there are lots of poor people in red states who currently aren't receiving Medicaid benefits thanks to their states' refusal to participate in Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. This hasn't caused a revolt because nothing was taken away. They just never got Medicaid in the first place.</p> <p>The subsidies would be a different story. You'd have roughly 6 million people who would suddenly lose a benefit that they've come to value highly. This would cause a huge backlash. It's hard to say if this would be enough to move Congress to action, but I think this is nonetheless the basic lay of the land. Obamacare wouldn't be destroyed, it would merely be taken away from a lot of people who are currently benefiting from it. They'd fight to get it back, and that changes the political calculus.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Top Stories Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:54:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 256756 at http://www.motherjones.com The (Possibly) Frightening Implications of the Halbig Case http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/possibly-frightening-implications-halbig-case <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In the <em>Halbig</em> case that struck down subsidies on federal Obamacare exchanges earlier today, one of the key issues was deference to agency interpretation of the law. Longstanding precedent holds that courts should generally defer to agency interpretations as long as they're plausible. They don't have to be perfect. They don't even have to be the best possible interpretations. They merely have to make sense.</p> <p>The DC circuit court decided that there really wasn't any serious ambiguity in the law, and therefore no deference was due to the IRS's interpretation that state and federal exchanges were meant to be treated the same. The dissent was scathing about this, since the record pretty clearly showed tons of ambiguity. So if and when this case makes it up to the Supreme Court, what's going to happen? A lawyer buddy of mine is pessimistic:</p> <blockquote> <p>Sadly, I think the Supreme Court will eagerly uphold the challenge because it gets to an issue that conservatives have generally despised: deference to administrative agencies' interpretation of statutes.</p> <p>It's long been a fundamental principle in administrative law that an agency's interpretation of a federal statute that they are charged with enforcing is entitled to judicial deference, unless such deference is unreasonable. Conservatives would prefer that courts not defer to the government because #biggovernment. Thus, they want to weaken the deference standard and <em>Halbig</em> gives them basically a two-fer. Or a three-fer since the agency interpreting the statute is the IRS: Take out Obamacare, knock back the deference standard, and punch the IRS. This invariably will help advance the conservatives' legal goals because with a lower deference standard, their eccentric theories (such as on tax issues) have a better chance of surviving.</p> <p>In normal times, the deference standard would likely be left intact because weakening it raises serious issues with government enforcement across all agencies, and courts are loath to send the country into a tailspin. But those days are apparently long past. Truly frightening times.</p> </blockquote> <p>So what's next? <a href="http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/07/22/breaking-fourth-circuit-panel-unanimously-upholds-obamacare-subsidies-for-all-eligible-purchasers/" target="_blank">In breaking news,</a> the Fourth Circuit court has just upheld the federal subsidies in Obamacare, ruling squarely on deference grounds&mdash;and disagreeing completely with the DC circuit opinion, which held that the legislative language in Obamacare was clear and plain. In fact, said the Fourth Circuit, the statute <em>is</em> ambiguous, and therefore the court owes deference to the IRS interpretation. This is good news for Obamacare, especially if today's DC circuit decision by a three-judge panel is overturned by the full court, thus giving the government two appellate court wins. If that happens, it's even possible that the Supreme Court would decline to hear an appeal and simply leave the lower court opinions in place.</p> <p>But I'd say an eventual Supreme Court date still seems likely. There's no telling if my friend's read of the politico-legal climate among the Supreme Court's conservative majority is correct, but I thought it was worth sharing.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Supreme Court Tue, 22 Jul 2014 17:07:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 256726 at http://www.motherjones.com Europe Agrees to Levy Moderate New Sanctions Against Russia http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/europe-agrees-levy-moderate-new-sanctions-against-russia <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Europe has agreed to further sanctions against Russia <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28415248" target="_blank">in response to the shootdown of MH17:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The EU will widen its sanctions against Russia to include more individuals and consider targeting the defence sector, the Dutch foreign minister says. Frans Timmermans said "unanimous" and "forceful" decisions had been taken on enhanced sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.</p> <p>....A new sanctions list naming individuals and organisations will be drawn up by EU ambassadors by Thursday, Mr Timmermans told reporters after meeting his EU colleagues in Brussels. He said there was also agreement that the European Commission would look at further measures to be taken against Russia in the fields of defence, concerning "dual-use goods in the field of energy", and in financial services.</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Telegraph</em> reports that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10974050/Malaysia-Airlines-plane-crashes-on-Ukraine-Russia-border-live.html" target="_blank">not everyone is impressed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>[The sanctions] are not likely to satisfy not the United States and more hawkish members of the EU, including Poland and the Baltic states, who lobbied for tough sanctions against the Russian economy. In their conclusions, the ministers said they would only ask the 28-nation bloc's executive arm to prepare for more forceful economic sanctions&nbsp;&mdash; including targeting the arms, energy and financial sectors.</p> </blockquote> <p>No surprises here. Most European leaders are willing to do more, but not too much more. They simply have too much invested in their economic ties with Russia to take more drastic steps.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:38:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256716 at http://www.motherjones.com DC Circuit Court Kills Federal Subsidies for Obamacare. Next Stop Is Probably the Supreme Court. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/dc-circuit-court-kills-federal-subsidies-obamacare-next-stop-probably-supreme-cou <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Well, the DC circuit court has ruled 2-1 that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/us/court-rules-against-obamacare-exchange-subsidies.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LedeSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Obamacare subsidies apply only to exchanges set up by states,</a> not to exchanges set up by the federal government. This is because one section of the law says that taxpayers can receive tax credits only if they enroll in a plan "through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA]." The court ruled that a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_prettyman_courthouse.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">state is a state, and as far as that goes, it's reasonable enough. Even if this was merely a drafting error, it's pretty clear that the federal government isn't a state.</p> <p>The problem is that there's more to it than that. The court is also required to ensure that its interpretation of a single clause doesn't make a hash out of the entire statutory construction of a law. The majority opinion makes heavy weather of this for a simple reason: virtually everything in the language of the law assumes that subsidies are available to everyone. Why, for example, would federal exchanges have to report detailed subsidy information if no one even gets subsidies on federal exchanges in the first place? The court blithely waves this off, suggesting that it's merely to allow the IRS to enforce the individual mandate. But that's pretty strained. Enforcing the mandate requires only a single piece of information: whether a taxpayer is insured. It doesn't require detailed information about eligibility for subsidies and the amount of the subsidies each taxpayer gets. The fact that all these details are required certainly suggests that Congress assumed everyone was getting subsidies.</p> <p>The court, following the arguments of the plaintiffs, also makes a brave effort to figure out <em>why</em> Congress might have done something so transparently ridiculous as limiting subsidies to state exchanges. Their conclusion is that Congress deliberately withheld subsidies from federal exchanges as an incentive for states to set up exchanges of their own. On this point, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/documents/1225631-halbig-dccircuit-20140722" target="_blank">Judge Harry Edwards was scathing in his dissent:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Perhaps because they appreciate that no legitimate method of statutory interpretation ascribes to Congress the aim of tearing down the very thing it attempted to construct, Appellants in this litigation have invented a narrative to explain why Congress would want health insurance markets to fail in States that did not elect to create their own Exchanges. Congress, they assert, made the subsidies conditional in order to <em>incentivize</em> the States to create their own exchanges. This argument is disingenuous, and it is wrong. <strong>Not only is there no evidence that anyone in <em>Congress</em> thought &sect; 36B operated as a condition, there is also no evidence that <em>any State</em> thought of it as such. And no wonder: The statutory provision presumes the existence of subsidies and was drafted to establish a formula for the payment of tax credits, not to impose a significant and substantial condition on the States.</strong></p> <p>It makes little sense to think that Congress would have imposed so substantial a condition in such an oblique and circuitous manner....The simple truth is that Appellants&rsquo; incentive story is a fiction, <strong>a <em>post hoc</em> narrative concocted to provide a colorable explanation for the otherwise risible notion that Congress would have wanted insurance markets to collapse in States that elected not to create their own Exchanges.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>There's no evidence that Congress ever thought it needed to provide incentives for states to set up their own exchanges. Certainly they could have made that clear if that had been their intention. As Edwards says, this claim is simply made up of whole cloth. In fact, he says acerbically, the entire suit is little more than a "not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ":</p> <blockquote> <p>The majority opinion evinces a painstaking effort&nbsp;&mdash; covering many pages&nbsp;&mdash; attempting to show that there is no ambiguity in the ACA. The result, I think, is to prove just the opposite. <strong>Implausible results would follow if &ldquo;established by the State&rdquo; is construed to exclude Exchanges established by HHS on behalf of a State.</strong> This is why the majority opinion strains fruitlessly to show plain meaning when there is none to be found.</p> <p>....This court owes deference to the agencies&rsquo; interpretations of the ACA. Unfortunately, by imposing the Appellants&rsquo; myopic construction on the administering agencies without any regard for the overall statutory scheme, the majority opinion effectively ignores the basic tenets of statutory construction, as well as the principles of <em>Chevron</em> deference. <strong>Because the proposed judgment of the majority defies the will of Congress and the permissible interpretations of the agencies to whom Congress has delegated the authority to interpret and enforce the terms of the ACA, I dissent.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Will the Supreme Court agree? Given the obviously political motivations of most Supreme Court justices these days, I think that's hard to predict. A lot will depend on John Roberts. Having already betrayed his fellow conservatives by voting to uphold Obamacare, will he side with the government in order to show that he meant what he said and doesn't want to invite an endless series of desperate attempts to kill the law? Or has he had second thoughts, and will therefore welcome this as a chance to essentially reverse himself? I can't read his mind, so I don't know. We'll find out soon enough.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> This ruling will, I assume, be stayed during appeal, so it has no immediate impact. The next step is for the Obama administration to either ask for an emergency en banc review from the entire DC circuit court, or to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Either way, it will end up at the Supreme Court sooner or later.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT 2:</strong> White House press secretary Josh Earnest has <a href="https://twitter.com/aterkel/status/491604394165534722" target="_blank">confirmed</a> that the administration will ask for an en banc review. Since the full court now has a liberal majority, they presumably hope they'll get a more favorable ruling before heading to the Supreme Court.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Regulatory Affairs Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:35:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 256706 at http://www.motherjones.com For Republicans, It's All Going According to Plan http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/republicans-its-all-going-according-plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen draws a contrast today between an activist president who's at least trying to get things done, and a dysfunctional Congress than <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/day-the-life" target="_blank">can't even make the attempt:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Remember the VA crisis? Lawmakers quickly approved a reform bill, which now appears likely to fail because of House Republicans&rsquo; reluctance to compromise. Remember the plan to address the border crisis? The plan was for Congress to act before taking August off, but that now appears unlikely, too.</p> <p>The effort to extend unemployment benefits is dead. So is raising the minimum wage. So is ENDA. No one even talks about gun background checks anymore. The Highway Trust Fund will probably benefit from a stopgap measure, but even this hardly represents real governing.</p> </blockquote> <p>Unfortunately, I think Republicans would call this a big win. Getting things done doesn't really do them any good at the ballot box. Making the government appear impotent and incompetent does. So that's the path they've chosen.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:07:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256701 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama Planning to Retire to Rancho Mirage? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/obama-planning-retire-rancho-mirage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/hot-property/la-fi-hotprop-barack-obama-20140721-story.html" target="_blank">Let the speculation begin!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama and his wife, Michelle, could be the owners of a home in Rancho Mirage listed at $4.25 million before the month is out. The First Family is believed to be in escrow on a contemporary home in a gated community <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_rancho_mirage.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">where entertainers Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby once maintained estates.</p> <p>The White House said rumors regarding a home in Rancho Mirage are not true.</p> <p>....The 8,232-square-foot compound in question sits adjacent to a bighorn sheep preserve on a 3.29-acre hilltop with panoramic views. The custom-built main house, constructed in 1993 and designed for entertaining, includes a gym, four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms. A 2,000-square-foot casita has three bedrooms and three bathrooms. Over-the-top exterior features include a pool with a 20-foot waterfall, a rock lagoon, two spas, a misting system and a putting green with a sand trap.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have to say that the Obamas don't really strike me as Rancho Mirage kind of people, but who knows? Maybe I've misjudged them.</p> <p><em>Photo by <a href="http://clarkdugger.com/" target="_blank">Clark Dugger Photography</a></em></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Tue, 22 Jul 2014 01:01:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 256676 at http://www.motherjones.com Wage Stagnation Is No Illusion http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/wage-stagnation-no-illusion <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Bloomberg has a long article today wondering whether wage stagnation is <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-21/yellen-wage-gauges-blurred-by-boomer-millennial-workforce-shift.html" target="_blank">mainly due to demographic shifts:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>25- to 34-year-olds will make up 22.5 percent of the workforce by 2022, compared with 21.6 percent in 2012....Meanwhile, the share of 45- to 54-year-olds in their best earning years will drop by 3.3 percentage points in the decade ending 2022.</p> <p>....Hollowing out the middle-aged working population could cut median earnings because such employees bring home the biggest paychecks. The median 45- to 54-year-old household earns $66,400 a year, compared with $51,400 for 25- to 34-year-old households.</p> </blockquote> <p>Well, sure. Compared to 30 years ago, the theory goes, we have more young workers bringing down the average and fewer prime age workers raising the average. As a result, the average is declining. But all that means is that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_median_wage_age_25-34_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">baby boomers are aging out of the workforce, not that wages are necessarily in bad shape.</p> <p>That makes sense. At least, it <em>would</em> make sense if it were true. The thing is, in an article more than a thousand words long, we never learn that we can look at this directly. The chart on the right shows the median wages of just 25-34 year olds, and as you can see, they've been declining for more than a decade. This has nothing to do with demographics because it's measuring wages for the same age group the entire time.</p> <p>Now, these figures don't include health insurance, and they only go through 2012. So they aren't of much help if, say, the Fed is trying to gauge the tightness of the labor market in the second quarter of 2014. Nonetheless, they certainly show a long-term trend of wage stagnation that plainly has nothing to do with demographics. This makes it vanishingly unlikely that wage stagnation over the past six months is merely due to demographic shifts.</p> <p>It's a nice fairy tale to pretend that wage stagnation might just be an artifact of boomers retiring, but easily available data quite clearly shows otherwise. It's real.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:00:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 256661 at http://www.motherjones.com Do We Need More Business Folks In Congress? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/do-we-need-more-business-folks-congress <!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.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_07/we_want_more_of_everything051303.php" target="_blank">Ed Kilgore</a> points to a new Gallup poll that asks what kind of people <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/174002/americans-say-business-background-best-governing.aspx" target="_blank">you'd like to see in Congress:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gallup__governed_better.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>So is this a vote for more business experience? Or even&mdash;shudder&mdash;a retroactive yearning for Mitt Romney? Like Kilgore, I'm skeptical. At a guess, people who answered the question about business experience were implicitly contrasting it with lawyers or career politicians, and that's a rigged deck. Of course business leaders will come out ahead compared to those two despised professions.</p> <p>Which makes it too bad that Gallup screwed up this question. Instead of throwing out a kitchen sink of qualities (occupation, religion, ideology, etc.) they should have asked specifically about a list of occupations. Do you think the country would be better governed if our legislatures had more:</p> <ul><li>Business folks</li> <li>Teachers</li> <li>Lawyers</li> <li>Doctors</li> <li>Retired people</li> <li>Military leaders</li> <li>Scientists</li> <li>Etc.</li> </ul><p><em>That</em> would be kind of an interesting poll. Personally, I'd vote for more kindergarten teachers. I suspect that's a pretty appropriate background for serving a few years in Congress.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:08:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 256646 at http://www.motherjones.com If the Left Wants Scapegoats, Just Look in the Mirror http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/if-left-wants-scapegoats-just-look-mirror <!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_obama_walk_water.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Thomas Frank is convinced that Barack Obama single-handedly prevented America from becoming the lefty paradise it was on course for <a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/07/20/right_wing_obstruction_could_have_been_fought_an_ineffective_and_gutless_presidencys_legacy_is_failure/" target="_blank">after the financial meltdown of 2008:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was &ldquo;the only thing between you and the pitchforks,&rdquo; and in retrospect <strong>these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office</strong>. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.</p> <p>....In point of fact, <strong>there were plenty of things Obama&rsquo;s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all</strong>&mdash;for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration&rsquo;s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster&rsquo;s grasp&mdash;heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)</p> </blockquote> <p>I see this kind of thing all the time on the right. <em>If only we had a candidate who refused to sell out conservative values! A candidate who could truly make the American public understand! Then we'd win in a landslide!</em></p> <p>It's easy to recognize this as delusional. Tea party types are always convinced that America is thirsting for true conservatism, and all that's needed is a latter-day Ronald Reagan to be its salesman. Needless to say, this misses the point that Americans aren't all reactionaries. In fact, as the embarrassing clown shows of the past two GOP primaries have shown, even most Republicans aren't reactionaries. There's been no shortage of honest-to-God right wingers to choose from, but they can't even win the nomination, let alone a general election.</p> <p>(Of course you never know. Maybe 2016 is the year!)</p> <p>But if it's so easy to see this conservative delusion for what it is, why isn't it equally easy to recognize the same brand of liberal delusion? Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.</p> <p>Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because&mdash;duh&mdash;<em>the hated neoliberal system worked</em>. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets.</p> <p>As for Obama, could he have done more? I suppose he probably could have, but it's a close call. Even with his earnest efforts at bipartisanship at the beginning of his presidency, he only barely passed <em>any</em> stimulus at all. If instead he'd issued thundering populist manifestos, even Susan Collins would have turned against him and the stimulus bill would have been not too small, but completely dead. Ditto for virtually everything else Obama managed to pass by one or two votes during his first 18 months. If that had happened, the economy would have done even worse, and if you somehow think this means the public would have become more sympathetic to the party in the White House, then your knowledge of American politics is at about the kindergarten level. Democrats would have lost even more seats in 2010 than they did.</p> <p>Look: Obama made some mistakes. He should have done more about housing. He shouldn't have pivoted to deficit-mongering so quickly. Maybe he could have kept a public option in Obamacare if he'd fought harder for it. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But probably not. Like it or not, America was not poised for a huge liberal wave in 2008. It just wasn't. It was poised for a fairly routine cycle of throwing out the old bums and electing new bums, who would, as usual, be given a very short and very limited honeymoon. Democrats actually accomplished a fair amount during that honeymoon, but no, they didn't turn American into a lefty paradise. That was never in the cards.</p> <p>All of us who do what Thomas Frank does&mdash;what I do&mdash;have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.</p> <p>But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Top Stories Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:31:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 256601 at http://www.motherjones.com High School Kids Brave the Anti-Vax Jihadists http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/high-school-kids-brave-anti-vax-jihadists <!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 heartwarming story for you. Prompted by the decline in vaccination rates among children in San Diego, a group of students at Carlsbad High School decided to make a short documentary about "the science of disease and the risks <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_see_no_evil.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">facing a society that is under-vaccinated." You can probably guess <a href="http://www.latimes.com/health/la-me-vaccines-movie-20140721-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">what happened next:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Complaints began to arise when a local newspaper reported that the students were tackling "the issue of immunizations." A blogger who saw the article contended that the movie, still a work in progress, was sure to be "propaganda." <strong>That led to a flurry of frightening phone calls and Internet comments directed at CHSTV, [advisor Lisa] Posard said.</strong></p> <p>Posard said she hadn't realized that vaccines were such a controversial subject. She and CHSTV teacher Douglas Green wanted to shut down production, she added. But the students, angered by what they saw as bullying, insisted on completing the film.</p> <p>The final version of "Invisible Threat," completed in spring 2013 but shown only to select audiences, took a strong pro-vaccine position.</p> <p>Critics, who said they hadn't been allowed to see the movie, leaped back into action about a year later, when the film was set to be screened on Capitol Hill.</p> <p><strong>Focus Autism and AutismOne organizations complained about the movie's Rotary Club backing and about the involvement of Dr. Paul Offit, a University of Pennsylvania pediatrician and immunization proponent.</strong> They argued that "Invisible Threat" was "scripted with industry talking points" and that the movie seemed to be the work of adults operating under false pretenses, not students.</p> </blockquote> <p>Thanks to the McCarthyite cretins in the murderous vaccinations-cause-autism movement, to this day the documentary has barely been seen outside the confines of the school. It will finally get posted on the Web on August 1st. Maybe it will save some lives.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Science Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:41:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 256596 at http://www.motherjones.com More Pointless Bluster on Foreign Policy, Please http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/more-pointless-bluster-foreign-policy-please <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Via <em>Politico,</em> Here's the latest on <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/politico-poll-ukraine-middle-east-109155.html" target="_blank">American attitudes toward foreign policy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative....More than three-quarters of likely voters say they support plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016....Forty-four percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq&rsquo;s civil war....Likely voters prefer less involvement in Syria&rsquo;s civil war over more involvement, 42 percent to 15 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>Based on this, can you figure out which party is more trusted on foreign policy? You guessed it: Republicans, by a margin of 39-32 percent.</p> <p>Bottom line (for about the thousandth time): Americans prefer the <em>actual</em> foreign policy of Democrats, but they prefer the <em>rhetorical</em> foreign policy of Republicans. They want lots of bluster and chest thumping, but without much in the way of serious action. In other words, pretty much what Reagan did.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:51:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 256576 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 18 July 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/friday-cat-blogging-18-july-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In an awesome display of athleticism, Domino hopped into the laundry hamper this week. I was shocked. I didn't think she could do it. But I guess when you're motivated by the sweet, sweet prospect of snoozing among the delicate aromas of worn human clothing, you can accomplish anything. As for what she's looking at in this picture, I have no idea. Probably something in the cat dimension.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_07_18.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:55:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 256521 at http://www.motherjones.com Iran's Oil Exports Have Fallen By Half Since Sanctions Were Imposed http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/irans-oil-exports-have-fallen-half-sanctions-were-imposed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>If you're curious about the impact of economic sanctions on Iran, OPEC's newly-released 2014 statistical bulletin provides a pretty concrete look. As the tables below show, in just the past two years Iran's oil exports have fallen by nearly half and the rial has lost a third of its value. If you want to know why Iran is negotiating over its nuclear program, that's the story in a nutshell.</p> <p>The whole report is <a href="http://www.opec.org/opec_web/static_files_project/media/downloads/publications/ASB2014.pdf" target="_blank">here.</a> Plenty of interesting little tidbits there for inquiring minds.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_opec_iran_sanctions.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 75px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 256516 at http://www.motherjones.com Blueberries, Gold, Inflation, and Professor Krugman http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/blueberries-gold-inflation-and-professor-krugman <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So Paul Krugman writes a column about all the folks who have been hysterically predicting runaway inflation for the past few years, and what does he get? <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/opinion/paul-krugman-addicted-to-inflation.html" target="_blank">This:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_krugman_inflation_comments.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 150px;"></p> <p>I know it's just a coincidence. The other 500 comments are quite likely perfectly sane. Nonetheless, this is what we're up against.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> In case you're curious, food prices have actually risen 11 percent over the past five years. In other words, about 2.2 percent per year.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:18:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 256501 at http://www.motherjones.com No More Saturday Shipments for Netflix http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/no-more-saturday-shipments-netflix <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-netflix-saturday-delivery-20140717-story.html" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Netflix Inc. has quietly stopped shipping DVDs from its distribution centers on Saturdays, a cost-cutting move that signals the company is easing out of the DVD subscription service and keeping its focus on online streaming. The change comes as Netflix is shedding hundreds of thousands of its DVD customers every quarter, yet gaining as many for its online streaming business continues to grow.</p> </blockquote> <p>And so it begins. A few years from now, I assume Netflix will be out of the physical disc business entirely, which means it will be impossible to watch anything more than a few years old. We'll still have Redbox for recent releases as well as streaming services that offer whatever they happen to offer. But if you wake up one morning and decide you want to watch <em>The Naked City</em>? Well, you're probably out of luck.</p> <p>I suppose that eventually every studio's back catalogs will be universally available via one streaming service or another. Unfortunately, "eventually" seems to be a helluva long time in Hollywood. What will we do in the meantime?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:45:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 256491 at http://www.motherjones.com Ted Cruz Is Playing a Long Game on Immigration http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/ted-cruz-playing-long-game-immigration <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ted Cruz threw a bomb into the immigration crisis yesterday by demanding that any emergency bill to address the tide of minors surging across the border had to include a provision repealing President Obama's so-called mini-DREAM executive action. Formally known as DACA, it <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_anti_immigration.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">directs prosecutors not to spend any time trying to deport individuals who arrived in the US as children.</p> <p>This is inconvenient for Republicans because DACA is pretty popular and they'd probably prefer to ignore it. So why did Cruz do this? Greg Sargent thinks there's a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/07/18/morning-plum-how-republicans-are-trying-to-hamstring-obama-on-immigration/" target="_blank">long game at stake:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I strongly suspect much GOP rhetoric over the crisis is designed to achieve <strong>maximum constraint on Obama&rsquo;s sense of what&rsquo;s politically possible on unilaterally easing deportations.</strong> Case in point: Ted Cruz&rsquo;s declaration that any GOP response to the crisis must defund Obama&rsquo;s deferred-deportation program. Cruz has a history of revealing underlying political calculations with unvarnished clarity. He justified the government shutdown to stop Obamacare by arguing that once the law kicked in, people would like it and it would never be repealed.</p> <p>Something similar may be happening on deportations. As Frank Sharry argues, Obama action on deportations could &ldquo;permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s unclear how ambitious Obama will be. But given Cruz&rsquo;s fevered view of #ObummerTyranny, he probably expects Obama to go big, and he may agree so doing would lock in Latinos for Dems. Hence the move to preclude it.</p> <p>....However, there&rsquo;s a risk for Republicans. If they punt on their current response, it could persuade Obama he can position himself as the only problem solver in the room on immigration, giving him more space to act unilaterally. Of course, to reap these benefits, Obama will have to be seen as managing the current crisis effectively. And he has not accomplished this &mdash; politically or substantively.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'll confess that I usually don't give politicians credit for thinking much beyond the ends of their noses. Even gaming things out one move ahead is beyond most of them. But Cruz is a smart guy, and going after DACA is probably a twofer for him: it's politically useful in the short term, marking him as the most aggressive conservative in the Senate; and it might constrain Obama in the future.</p> <p>But as Sargent says, this cuts both ways. If Obama decides that Republicans, once again, are simply unwilling to deal in any way, then he's left with very little reason to moderate his actions. Compromise only makes enemies among Hispanic voters, after all, and it's worth it only if Republicans will give him something in return. If they won't, he might as well take the boldest action he can to help his party, and then dare Republicans to do something about it. That may well be how this plays out.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:06:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 256486 at http://www.motherjones.com Vladimir Putin's Games Finally Blew Up In His Face Today http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/vladimir-putins-games-finally-blew-his-face-today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Josh Marshall practically reads my mind with <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/game-changer--5" target="_blank">this post:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Were it not for the hundreds killed, it would also be comical the ridiculous series of events Vladimir Putin's reckless behavior led up to this morning. For months Putin has been playing with fire, making trouble and having it work mainly to his advantage....But the whole thing blew up in his face today in a way, and with repercussions I don't think&nbsp;&mdash; even with all wall to wall coverage&nbsp;&mdash; we can quite grasp.</p> <p>Find extremists and hot-heads of the lowest common denominator variety, seed them with weaponry only a few militaries in the world possess&nbsp;&mdash; and, well, just see what happens. What could go wrong?</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the whole thing. It's almost precisely what I've been thinking all day long. I'd only add one thing: It was sickening listening to Putin's bleating prevarications and denials after the plane was shot down. Really, truly revolting. If anything could expose him, once and for all, as the petty schoolyard bully that he is, this was it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Fri, 18 Jul 2014 04:11:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 256471 at http://www.motherjones.com Housing Weakness Yet Another Indicator of a Sluggish Recovery http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/07/housing-weakness-yet-another-indicator-sluggish-recovery <!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_housing_starts_june_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Housing is the biggest single sector of the consumer economy, and pent-up demand for housing is usually the primary engine that pulls a country out of recession. But as Neil Irwin reports, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/upshot/housing-starts-fell-in-june-heres-why-thats-bad-news.html?rref=upshot" target="_blank">we're just not seeing much of a rebound in housing:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Another disappointing reading on the housing market was released Thursday morning. The number of housing units that builders started work on fell 9.3 percent in June, to an 893,000 annual rate. The number of housing permits issued by local governments, a forward-looking measure that government statisticians consider less prone to measurement error, fell 4.2 percent. Forecasters had expected both numbers to rise.</p> <p>....What makes the June results curious &mdash; and particularly disappointing &mdash; is that some of the excuses heard for weak housing numbers don&rsquo;t hold water any more. The unusually bad winter weather that slowed construction in January and February is now long past....And mortgage rates spiked in the second half of 2013, perhaps leading builders to exercise a greater note of caution as they weighed new projects. But rates have fallen more or less steadily through the first half of 2014.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, as you can see from the chart, there's a lot of volatility in housing starts. So don't take the June decline too seriously. Nonetheless, after starting to rise in 2011, starts have been nearly flat for two years now. If housing is going to save the economy, it's sure taking its sweet time. More than likely, though, it's just not going to happen. It sure looks like we have many years of a weak, sluggish recovery ahead of us.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 17 Jul 2014 19:01:51 +0000 Kevin Drum 256416 at http://www.motherjones.com