Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2013/04/cap-and-trade-europe-working-just-finehttp%3A/www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/04/cap-and-trade-europe-working-just-fine http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Barack Obama Loathes Congress as Much as You Do http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/barack-obama-loathes-congress-much-you-do <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Ezra Klein responds to a <em>New York Times</em> article about President Obama's <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/20/6045891/why-congressional-democrats-don-t-like-obama" target="_blank">chilly relationship with his fellow Democrats:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Obama <em>does</em> see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. <strong>The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking congressional Democrats is he sees it as a <em>useless</em> chore.</strong></p> <p>The <em>Times</em> article...never names a bill that didn't pass or a nominee who wasn't confirmed because Obama's doesn't spend more time on the golf course with members of Congress. The closest it comes is...not very close. "In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office."</p> <p>This is ridiculous. There are no issues erupting at home or abroad where the problem is that House or Senate Democrats won't vote with the president. There's no legislation of importance to President Obama's legacy that would pass if only House Democrats had spent more time at the White House. I've listened to a lot of Democratic members of Congress complain about Obama's poor relationships on the Hill. Each time, my follow-up question is the same: "what would have passed if Obama had better relationships on the Hill?" Each time, the answer is the same: a shake of the head, and then, "nothing."</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd probably give a little more credit to schmoozing than this. But only a very little. At the margins, there are probably times when having a good relationship with a committee chair will speed up action or provide a valuable extra vote or two on a bill or a nominee. And he has the perfect vehicle for doing this regularly since he loves to play golf. But for the most part Klein is right. There's very little evidence that congressional schmoozing has more than a tiny effect on things. Members of Congress vote the way they want or need to vote, and if they respond to anyone, it's to party leaders, interest groups, and fellow ideologues. In days gone by, presidents could coerce votes by working to withhold money from a district, or by agreeing to name a crony as the local postmaster, but those days are long gone. There's really very little leverage that presidents have over members of Congress these days, regardless of party.</p> <p>Obama is an odd duck. It's not just that he doesn't schmooze. As near as I can tell, he has a barely concealed contempt for Congress. He doesn't really enjoy playing the political game, and not just because it's gotten so rancid in recent years. Even if Republicans were acting like a normal political party these days, I still don't think he'd enjoy it much. And yet, he spent years campaigning for the top political job in the United States. It's a little bit of a mystery, frankly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Obama Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:56:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 258746 at http://www.motherjones.com What's in a Word: Trophy vs. Ribbon Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/whats-word-trophy-vs-ribbon-edition <!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://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/57-percent-of-americans-say-only-kids-wh" target="_blank">A recent poll from <em>Reason</em> magazine</a> investigates the burning question of whether kids on sports teams should all get participation trophies, or whether it should only be the winners. Overall, 57 percent think only the winners should get trophies, but <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_trophies_for_all.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the detailed breakdown is kind of interesting. It turns out that society's winners generally think that only winners should get trophies. Society's also-rans tend to think everyone should be recognized.</p> <p>I wonder how much of this has to do with the word <em>trophy</em>? For many decades, after all, the US military has awarded ribbons to anyone who participates in surface combat. This is a very egalitarian award. You don't need to have done anything special. You don't need to have won. You just need to have to participated. Nobody complains about this, but then again, it's just a ribbon that shows you've been part of an actual combat. It's not a trophy or even a medal.</p> <p>So would people react the same way to giving every kid a participation ribbon? I'll bet not. No one would object. But many of them <em>do</em> object to trophies. It's funny how a cheap bit of gold-colored plastic stirs the passions so much, isn't it?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I have no personal experience with either surface combat or kids sports. Those who do should feel free to school me in comments if I'm wrong about any of this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Military Sports Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:20:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 258736 at http://www.motherjones.com Don't Like the War in Iraq? Blame Congress. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/dont-war-iraq-blame-congress <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_isis_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">President Obama has no plans to ask Congress for authority under the War Powers Act to take military action in Iraq. But he's hardly the only one to blame here. An even bigger problem is that Congress <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/us/politics/in-washington-little-appetite-for-a-vote-on-iraq.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=a-lede-package-region&amp;region=lede-package&amp;WT.nav=lede-package&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">doesn't really want him to ask in the first place:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;This is not about an imperial presidency, it&rsquo;s about a Congress that&rsquo;s reluctant to cast tough votes on U.S. military action,&rdquo; said [Senator Tim] Kaine....&ldquo;We should not be putting American men and women&rsquo;s lives at risk if we are not willing to do the political work to reach a consensus that it&rsquo;s necessary,&rdquo; Mr. Kaine said in an interview.</p> <p>....Senior administration officials note that congressional leaders, who met with Mr. Obama about Iraq in June, have explicitly told them Mr. Obama need not come to Congress to authorize military action.</p> <p>Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader whose weekly conference calls with Democrats during the congressional break have been dominated by discussions of Iraq, said that Mr. Obama had wide latitude to act without Congress and suggested that Republicans eager to criticize the president would not be as eager to vote.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll see where the Republicans will be who have been calling for this, that and the other thing, if they had to vote on Iraq,&rdquo; Ms. Pelosi said in San Francisco last week....Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who helped draft the resolution to authorize strikes against Syria, has not called for a similar measure for the current operation in Iraq. He said he wanted administration officials to testify at a hearing when Congress returned about their strategy for the airstrikes and what authorities they intended to use in executing them.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's an election year, after all, and this would be politically difficult for everyone. Democrats probably aren't excited about re-engaging in Iraq, but they'd be reluctant to oppose a president of their own party. Republicans would love to oppose Obama, but if they did they wouldn't be able to complain any more about what a wuss he is. Better for everyone to let sleeping dogs lie. That way they can kibitz from the sidelines and then, when it's all over, pretend that they supported a better policy all along.</p> <p>It's cowardly, but that's politics. In any case, it's certainly hard to blame Obama for overreach when the branch of Congress that passed the War Powers Act in the first place has all but begged him to ignore it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama Wed, 20 Aug 2014 01:21:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 258726 at http://www.motherjones.com Don't Believe the Crocodile Tears Over High Corporate Tax Rates http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/dont-believe-crocodile-tears-over-high-corporate-tax-rates <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The US corporate tax code is inefficient, distortive, and staggeringly complex. Almost no one defends it on those grounds. But US multinational corporations, who have recently been engaged in a wave of tax inversions, have a different complaint: our tax rates are just flatly too high. They make American corporations uncompetitive compared to their foreign peers, and that's why they're being forced to relocate their headquarters to other countries with lower tax rates.</p> <p>Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, says this is nonsense. Firms that are entirely (or almost entirely) domestic do indeed pay high corporate taxes. But multinationals don't. Thanks to the "feast of tax planning opportunities laid out before them on the groaning board of corporate tax expenditures," they mostly pay effective tax rates that aren't much different from French or German companies. They are, in fact, perfectly competitive.</p> <p>So why the <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Papers.cfm?abstract_id=2476453" target="_blank">recent binge of tax inversions?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The short answer is that the current mania for inversions is driven by <strong>U.S. firms&rsquo; increasingly desperate need to do something with their $1 trillion in offshore cash,</strong> and by a desire to reduce U.S. domestic tax burdens on U.S. domestic operating earnings.</p> <p>The year 2004 is a good place to start, because that year&rsquo;s corporate offshore cash tax amnesty (section 965) had a perfectly predictable knock-on effect, which was to convince corporate America that the one-time never to be repeated tax amnesty would inevitably be followed by additional tax amnesties, if only multinationals would opportune their legislators enough. <strong>The 2004 law thus created a massive incentive to accumulate as much permanently reinvested earnings in the form of cash as possible.</strong></p> <p>....The convergence of these two phenomena led to an explosion in stateless income strategies and in the total stockpile of U.S. multinationals&rsquo; permanently reinvested earnings. <strong>But U.S. multinationals are now hoist by their own petard. The best of the stateless income planners are now drowning in low-taxed overseas cash</strong>....It is less than a secret that firms in this position really have no intention at all of &ldquo;permanently&rdquo; reinvesting the cash overseas, but instead are counting the days until the money can be used to goose share prices through stock buy backs and dividends.</p> <p>....The obvious solution from the perspective of the multinationals would have been a second, and then a third and fourth, one-time only repatriation holiday, but there are still hard feelings in Congress surrounding the differences between the representations made to legislators relating to how the cash from the first holiday would be used, and what in fact happened.</p> </blockquote> <p>Indeed. Back in 2004, multinational corporations swore that if Congress granted them a tax amnesty to repatriate their foreign income into the United States, it would unleash a tsunami of new investment. Needless to say, that never happened. Corporate investment had never been credit-constrained in the first place. Instead, all that lovely cash was used mostly to goose stock prices via buy-backs and increased dividends. It's no wonder that Congress is unwilling to repeat that fiasco.</p> <p>Kleinbard's paper is an interesting one, with a couple of fascinating case studies demolishing the self-serving ways that corporate CEOs try to blame the tax code for things that have nothing to do with it. <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/tax-burden-in-u-s-not-as-heavy-as-it-looks-study-finds/" target="_blank">Andrew Ross Sorkin has more here.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Economy Regulatory Affairs Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:46:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258651 at http://www.motherjones.com Rick Perry Indictment Highlights the Hack Gap Once Again http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/rick-perry-indictment-highlights-hack-gap-once-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Simon Maloy finds five pundits arguing that last week's indictment of Rick Perry was <a href="http://www.salon.com/2014/08/19/the_rights_bombshell_deceit_why_the_lefts_defense_of_perry_reveals_so_much/" target="_blank">flimsy and obviously politically motivated:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Who are these five pundits downplaying the case against Texas&rsquo; Republican governor? In order: <em>New York</em> magazine&rsquo;s Jonathan Chait, MSNBC host Ari Melber, political scientist and <em>American Prospect</em> contributor Scott Lemieux, the Center for American Progress&rsquo; Ian Millhiser, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mind_gap.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">and the <em>New Republic&rsquo;s</em> Alec MacGillis. Five guys who work/write for big-name liberal publications or organizations. <strong>This, friends, is the Hack Gap in action.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Ah yes, the hack gap. Where would we be without it? For the most part, it doesn't show up on the policy side, where liberals and conservatives both feature a range of thinkers who bicker internally over lots of things. It mostly shows up on the process side. Is the legal reasoning on subject X sound? Is it appropriate to attack candidate Y in a particular way? Is program Z working well or poorly? How unanimously should we pretend that a mediocre speech/poll/debate performance is really a world-historical victory for our guy?</p> <p>Both sides have hacks who are willing to take their party's side on these things no matter how ridiculous their arguments are. But Republicans sure have a lot more of them. We've seen this most recently with Obamacare. Obviously liberals have been more positive in their assessments of how it's doing, but they've also been perfectly willing to acknowledge its problems, ranging from the website rollout debacle to the problems of narrow networks to the reality of rate shock for at least some buyers. Conservatives, conversely, have been all but unanimous in their insistence that every single aspect of the program is a flat-out failure. Even as Obamacare's initial problems were fixed and it became clear that, in fact, the program was working reasonably well, conservatives never changed their tune. They barely even acknowledged the good news, and when they did it was only to set up lengthy explanations of why it could be safely ignored. To this day, virtually no conservative pundits have made any concessions to reality. Obamacare is a failure on every possible front, and that's that.</p> <p>Liberals just don't have quite this level of hackish discipline. Even on a subject as near and dear to the Democratic heart as Social Security, you could find some liberals who supported a version of privatization back when George Bush was hawking the idea in 2005. It's pretty hard to imagine any conservatives doing the opposite.</p> <p>Is this changing? Are liberals starting to close the gap? Possibly. The liberal narrative on events in Ferguson has stayed pretty firm even as bits and pieces of contradictory evidence have surfaced along the way. The fact that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store; that he wasn't running away when he was shot; and that a lighter policing touch didn't stop the looting and violence&mdash;none of those things have changed the liberal storyline much. And maybe they shouldn't, since they don't really affect the deeper issues. A cop still pumped six rounds into an unarmed teenager; the militarized response to the subsequent protests remains disgraceful; and the obvious fear of Ferguson's black community toward its white police force is palpable. Maybe it's best to keep the focus there, where it belongs.</p> <p>Still, a bit of honest acknowledgment that the story has taken a few confusing turns wouldn't hurt. Just as having a few liberal voices defending Rick Perry doesn't hurt. Keep it honest, folks.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> And what do <em>I</em> think of the Perry indictment? I'm not sure. When I first saw the headlines on Friday I was shocked, but then I read the stories and realized this was all about something Perry had done very publicly. That seemed like a bit of a yawner, and it was getting late, so I just skipped commenting on it. By Monday, it hardly seemed worth rehashing, especially since I didn't have a very good sense of the law involved.</p> <p>So....I still don't know. The special prosecutor who brought the indictment seems like a fairly straight shooter, so there might be something there. Overall, though, I guess it mostly seems like a pretty political use of prosecutorial power.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice The Right Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:02:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 258646 at http://www.motherjones.com It Looks Like Obamacare Is Here to Stay http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/it-looks-obamacare-here-stay <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Republicans may say that Obamacare is still the white-hot issue it's always been, and among their tea party base that might still be true. But if money talks, it turns out that Republicans no longer really believe Obamacare is a winning issue anywhere else. Bloomberg ran the numbers in a few battleground Senate races and discovered that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-19/obamacare-losing-punch-as-campaign-weapon-in-ad-battles.html" target="_blank">GOP candidates are starting to turn to other issues:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party&rsquo;s favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.</p> <p>The shift&nbsp;&mdash; also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana&nbsp;&mdash; shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.</p> <p>....In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media&rsquo;s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/08/19/morning-plum-obamacare-disappearing-as-major-issue/" target="_blank">As Greg Sargent points out,</a> this doesn't mean Democrats are any more likely to hold the Senate this year. But it does suggest that as time goes by and Obamacare appears to be working fairly well without causing the collapse of the Republic, even the GOP faithful are starting to accept it. More and more, it looks like Obamacare is here to stay.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Tue, 19 Aug 2014 14:46:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 258641 at http://www.motherjones.com Medicare Advantage Might Not Be a Boondoggle Anymore http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/medicare-advantage-might-not-be-boondoggle-anymore <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I've written periodically in this space about the problems with Medicare Advantage. In a nutshell, it costs a lot more but provides very little in the way of additional services. It's really not much of a poster child for the benefits of program choice.</p> <p>But wait! Apparently a big part of the problem with MA was the fact that people were allowed to switch in and out of their plans on a monthly basis. If they got sick, they could quickly switch into MA if that was a better deal for them. This obviously raised the cost of MA as sick people switched in to avoid the copays and other limitations of traditional Medicare.</p> <p>However, that changed in the mid-2000s, when beneficiaries were required to choose a plan and stick with it for a full year. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/upshot/medicare-advantage-is-more-expensive-but-it-may-be-worth-it.html?abt=0002&amp;abg=0" target="_blank">Austin Frakt provides the details of a new study:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>By 2006-2007, health differences between beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage and those in traditional Medicare had narrowed....Also, in contrast to studies in the 1990s, more recent work finds that Medicare Advantage is superior to traditional Medicare on a variety of quality measures. For example, according to a paper in <em>Health Affairs</em> by John Ayanian and colleagues, women enrolled in a Medicare Advantage H.M.O. are more likely to receive mammography screenings; those with diabetes are more likely to receive blood sugar testing and retinal exams; and those with diabetes or cardiovascular disease are more likely to receive cholesterol testing.</p> <p>That <em>Health Affairs</em> paper also found that H.M.O. enrollees are more likely to receive flu and pneumonia vaccinations and about as likely to rate their personal doctor and specialists highly.</p> </blockquote> <p>So now things are a little murkier. MA still costs more than traditional Medicare, but only by 5-6 percent. And recent evidence suggests that MA beneficiaries might be getting enough additional benefit to justify that much extra money. It's still not clear that MA is worthwhile, but it appears now to be at least worth further study.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Mon, 18 Aug 2014 18:20:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 258591 at http://www.motherjones.com Most Songs are Three Minutes Long Because That's How Most of Us Like Them http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/most-songs-are-three-minutes-long-because-thats-how-most-us-them <!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_rock_around_clock.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Kelsey McKinney asks today why popular songs are almost all 3-5 minutes long. The historical basis for this is obvious: 45 rpm singles hold about three minutes of music, so modern pop music was born in an era when technology limited songs to about three minutes or so. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/18/6003271/why-are-songs-3-minutes-long" target="_blank">But what about more recently?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It makes sense to assume that since the basis of the three-minute song was the 78 and then 45 rpm single, then songs would become longer as technology evolved....But the length of songs had its biggest jump, according to this data, between the '60s and '80s, and very little has changed from the '90s to 2008, a time period when the technology of music changed drastically.</p> <p>"What drives what is heard on the radio is an artist's desire to have their music hit the mainstream, and a record label's desire to profit from that," Steve Jones, vice president at the Canadian radio firm Newcap, told NPR....Jones is right. <strong>The length of a song on an album doesn't matter for anyone except for the artist and fans,</strong> but a song that hopes to make money and be played on the radio simply has to be a certain length. Either that, or radio stations will edit the song down to the standard, making it three to four minutes, just like the 45.</p> </blockquote> <p>But this begs the question. <em>Why</em> do radio stations insist on three minutes? They don't run ads after literally every song, so it's not because advertisers demand it. The obvious answer is that this is, in fact, what most fans want.</p> <p>The core explanation, I think, is that most popular music simply doesn't have the complexity to sustain itself beyond a few minutes. Both the lyrics and the melodies tend to be fairly simple, and after a few minutes they've exhausted their potential. Compare this to classical music and you see it more clearly. Most classical music is considerably more complex than your average pop song, but even so a single movement of a sonata or a symphony usually clocks in at no more than ten minutes or so. Opera arias&mdash;which developed in a pre-technological age and with much more patient audiences&mdash;are closer in length to modern pop songs, typically lasting 3-7 minutes.</p> <p>Obviously there are exceptions to this. There are plenty of examples of longish pop songs, just as there are examples of classical pieces longer than ten minutes. But generally speaking, you need a fair amount of complexity to sustain these lengths, and that's not what most people want. They want simple and hummable, and that means not too long.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Music Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:10:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 258566 at http://www.motherjones.com White Juries Are Not Kind to Black Defendants http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/white-juries-are-not-kind-black-defendants <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Alex Tabarrok passes along the results of a new study about the racial composition of <a href="http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/08/the-impact-of-jury-race-in-criminal-trials.html" target="_blank">jury pools and the resulting juries:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>What the authors discover is that all white juries are 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white defendants <strong>but the presence of just a single black person in the <em>jury pool</em> equalizes conviction rates by race.</strong> The effect is large and remarkably it occurs even when the black person is not picked for the jury. The latter may not seem possible but the authors develop an elegant model of voir dire that shows how using up a veto on a black member of the pool shifts the characteristics of remaining pool members from which the lawyers must pick; that is, a diverse&nbsp;jury&nbsp;pool can make for a more &ldquo;ideologically&rdquo; balanced jury even when the jury is not racially balanced.</p> </blockquote> <p>There is, of course, no de jure discrimination at work here. The law treats every defendant and every jury member the same. But that still doesn't mean everyone is treated the same. Far from it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Race and Ethnicity Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:57:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 258546 at http://www.motherjones.com We Created a Policing Monster By Mistake http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/we-created-policing-monster-mistake <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Although I've avoided writing about Ferguson for private reasons, I almost wrote a short post yesterday in order to make one specific point. But it turns out to be OK that I didn't, because <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/08/militarized-police-a-less-violent-public.html" target="_blank">Annie Lowrey wrote it for me</a> and did a better job than I would have.</p> <p>The point of her post is simple: Two decades ago violent crime really was out of control, and it seemed reasonable to a lot of people that police needed to respond in a much more forceful way. We can argue forever about whether militarizing our police forces was an appropriate response to higher crime rates, but at least it was an understandable motivation. Later, police militarization got a further boost from 9/11, and again, that was at least an understandable response.</p> <p>But at the same time the trend toward militarization started in the early 90s, the crime wave of the 70s and 80s finally crested and then began to ebb. Likewise, Al Qaeda terrorism never evolved into a serious local problem. We've spent the past two decades militarizing our police forces to respond to problems that never materialized, and now we're stuck with them. We don't need commando teams and SWAT units in every town in America to deal with either terrorism or an epidemic of crime, so they get used for other things instead. And that's how we end up with debacles like Ferguson.</p> <p>Police militarization was a mistake. You can argue that perhaps we didn't know that at the time. No one knew in 1990 that crime was about to begin a dramatic long-term decline, and no one knew in 2001 that domestic terrorism would never become a serious threat. But we know now. There's no longer even a thin excuse for arming our police forces this way.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:28:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 258526 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 15 August 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/friday-cat-blogging-15-august-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday, in a surprising act of cooperation, Domino just sat in the sun while I took her picture from a distance. Usually I can get off maybe one or two shots before she realizes what's going on and heads directly over to the camera. Is it because she loves the camera? Distrusts the camera? Just wants to say hi to me? I don't know, but this time she just let me click away. This one reminds me of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/07/friday-campaign-blogging-would-you-buy-used-car-cat" target="_blank">Inkblot's presidential campaign portrait.</a></p> <p>In other news, <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2722766/Is-worlds-fattest-cat-Two-half-stone-Meatball-strict-diet.html" target="_blank">click here</a> to meet Meatball, possibly the world's biggest cat.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_domino_2014_08_15.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 15 Aug 2014 18:55:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 258486 at http://www.motherjones.com Open War in Ukraine Is a Little Bit Closer Every Day http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/open-war-ukraine-little-bit-closer-every-day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>"Maybe it&rsquo;s just me," <a href="https://twitter.com/blakehounshell/status/500304635752906752" target="_blank">tweets Blake Hounshell,</a> "but open warfare between Ukraine and Russia seems like a BFD."</p> <p>Yes indeed. As it happens, we're not quite at the stage of <em>open</em> warfare yet, but we sure seem to be getting mighty close. Remember that Russian "aid convoy" that everyone was so suspicious of? Well, it turns out to be....pretty suspicious. <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28799627" target="_blank">BBC reporter Steve Rosenberg</a> says that upon inspection, many of the 280 trucks turned out to be "almost empty." Yesterday we received reports of a column of Russian military vehicles crossing the border into Ukraine as the aid convoy idled nearby, and that was confirmed by NATO earlier today. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/ukraine-border-guards-begin-inspecting-russian-aid-convoy/2014/08/15/27bb612a-2469-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">A little later,</a> Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine had destroyed "the majority" of the column.</p> <p>In one sense, this is nothing new. Ukraine has been saying for months that Moscow is backing pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and more recently Ukraine began an aggressive fighting to expel them. Still, this does appear to be an escalation. Between the mysterious aid convoy and the military column that may or may not have been largely destroyed by Ukrainian forces, warfare is indeed becoming a little more open every day.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Fri, 15 Aug 2014 18:34:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 258496 at http://www.motherjones.com Who Should Run Against Hillary? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/who-should-run-against-hillary <!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_sherrod_brown.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Andy Sabl surveys the Democratic field today and concludes that, sure enough, Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive frontrunner. <a href="http://www.samefacts.com/2014/08/elections/2016/the-one-candidate-who-could-still-challenge-clinton-but-probably-wont/" target="_blank">Who could challenge her?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Any Democratic candidate jumping in at this point will have to have <em>already</em> demonstrated party loyalty, actual or likely executive skills, and the ability to win a majority of votes in both a party primary and a general election. Moreover, it would help if that candidate had a record of early and loud opposition to doing &ldquo;stupid [stuff]&rdquo; in the Middle East...It would help if the candidate had vast personal wealth....as well as strong and deep connections to Silicon Valley, the only serious rival to Wall Street (Clinton&rsquo;s base) as a source of campaign cash.</p> </blockquote> <p>So who could this be? Sabl is obviously describing Al Gore, and admits there's zero evidence that Gore has any intention of running. "But if he did, and if he ran as the anti-war and populist&mdash;yet impeccably mainstream&mdash;candidate that Hillary clearly is not and has no desire to be, things would suddenly get interesting."</p> <p>I guess so. But that raises a question: Who would you <em>like</em> to see challenge Hillary? I'm not asking who you think is <em>likely</em> to run, just which plausible candidate you'd most like to see in the race.</p> <p>I suppose my choice would be Sherrod Brown. He's a serious guy who's been in Washington for a long time. He opposed the Iraq War; he's got good populist anti-Wall Street credentials; and he's a solid labor supporter. He's a pretty good talker, and never comes across as threateningly radical. As far as I know, he doesn't have any skeletons in his closet serious enough to disqualify him. (Aside from the fact that he says he has no interest in running, of course.)</p> <p>Who's your choice? Plausible candidates only. Not Noam Chomsky or Dennis Kucinich. It's surprisingly hard, isn't it? The Democratic bench is actually pretty thin these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Hillary Clinton Fri, 15 Aug 2014 17:14:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 258481 at http://www.motherjones.com Europe Agrees to Arm the Kurds http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/europe-agrees-arm-kurds <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>What are the odds that Iraqi Kurdistan will ever be able to secede and form its own sovereign state? That depends in large part on whether the United States and other countries support Kurdish independence, which so far they haven't. Today, however, the EU officially encouraged its members to "respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently military material."</p> <p>Is that a step toward accepting Kurdish independence? Maybe, but only a smidge. The EU statement also said that arms shipments should be done only "with the consent of the Iraqi national authorities." <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/live/2014/aug/15/iraq-crisis-britain-ready-to-arm-kurds-as-eu-meets-live-updates" target="_blank">And the <em>Guardian</em> reports that,</a> "At the same time the EU reiterated its firm commitment to Iraq&rsquo;s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity."</p> <p>If the new Iraqi government works out, this probably leads nowhere. But if the new government is no more competent or inclusive than Maliki's, this could end up being a tacit first step toward Kurdish secession. Wait and see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:00:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 258461 at http://www.motherjones.com A California Hospital Charged $10,000 for a Cholesterol Test http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/california-hospital-charged-10000-cholesterol-test <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>By now, I assume we all know that hospitals charge widely varying rates for similar procedures. But it's often hard to pinpoint exactly what's going on. Sometimes it's due to the amount of regional competition. Sometimes the procedures in question vary in ways that simple coding schemes don't pick up. Some doctors are better than others. And of course, hospitals inflate their list prices by different amounts.</p> <p>All that said, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/08/15/a-10000-blood-test-yes-really/?hpid=z4" target="_blank">be prepared for your jaw to drop:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Researchers studied charges for a variety of tests at 160 to 180 California hospitals in 2011 and found a huge variation in prices. The average charge for a basic metabolic panel, which measures sodium, potassium and glucose levels, among other indicators, was $214. <strong>But hospitals charged from $35 to $7,303,</strong> depending on the facility. None of the hospitals were identified.</p> <p>The biggest range involved charges for a lipid panel, a test that measures cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid), in the blood. The average charge was $220, <strong>but costs ranged from a minimum of $10 to a maximum of $10,169.</strong> Yes, more than $10,000 for a blood test that doctors typically order for older adults, to check their cholesterol levels.</p> </blockquote> <p>A lipid panel! This is as standardized a procedure as you could ask for. It's fast, highly automated, identical between hospitals, and has no association with the quality of the doctor who ordered the test. You still might see the usual 2:1 or 3:1 difference in prices, but 1000:1?</p> <p>So what accounts for this? The researchers have no idea. No insurance company will pay $10,000 for a lipid panel, of course, so the only point of pricing it this high is to exploit the occasional poor sap with no health insurance who happens to need his cholesterol checked. Welcome to health care in America. Best in the world, baby.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:34:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 258456 at http://www.motherjones.com White House Tightens Up Arms Shipments to Israel http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/white-house-tightens-arms-shipments-israel <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Obama administration has tightened up the process for <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-sway-over-israel-on-gaza-at-a-low-1407979365?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories" target="_blank">providing arms to Israel:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that <strong>the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.</strong></p> <p>Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu &mdash;and that both sides know it.</p> <p>....U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal.</p> <p>....While Israeli officials have privately told their U.S. counterparts the poor state of relations isn't in Israel's interest long term, they also said they believed Mr. Netanyahu wasn't too worried about the tensions. The reason is that he can rely on the firmness of Israeli support in Congress, even if he doesn't have the White House's full approval for his policies. <strong>The prime minister thinks he can simply wait out the current administration, they say.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well, I'd say the prime minister is probably right. It's not as if Obama has actually done much of substance to put pressure on Israel despite endless provocations from Netanyahu, but it's a very good bet that the next president will do even less. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite, and she's made it crystal clear that her support for Netanyahu is complete and total. On the Republican side, it doesn't really matter who the nominee is. As long as it's not Rand Paul, Netanyahu can expect unquestioning fealty.</p> <p>And in the meantime, he can count on the US Congress not really caring that he publicly treats the US president like an errant child. I keep wondering if one day he'll go too far even for Congress, but I've mostly given up. As near as I can tell, there's almost literally nothing he could do that would cause so much as a grumble.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:24:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 258386 at http://www.motherjones.com How Software Turns Low-Wage Work Into Constant Chaos http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/how-software-turns-low-wage-work-constant-chaos <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm glad to see Jodi Kantor of the <em>New York Times</em> write about the way low-wage workers are abused via scheduling software that turns their lives into an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/starbucks-workers-scheduling-hours.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">endless series of daily emergencies:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ms. Navarro&rsquo;s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy....&ldquo;You&rsquo;re waiting on your job to control your life,&rdquo; she said, with the scheduling software used by her employer dictating everything from &ldquo;how much sleep Gavin will get to what groceries I&rsquo;ll be able to buy this month.&rdquo;</p> <p>Last month, she was scheduled to work until 11 p.m. on Friday, July 4; report again just hours later, at 4 a.m. on Saturday; and start again at 5 a.m. on Sunday. She braced herself to ask her aunt, Karina <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_kronos.jpg" style="margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">Rivera, to watch Gavin, hoping she would not explode in annoyance, or worse, refuse.</p> <p>....Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when....Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s like magic,&rdquo; said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't know what the answer to this is, but it's yet another way that the lives of low-income workers have become more and more stressful over time. There's just no such thing as regular hours anymore, and for parents of small children this turns their lives into nonstop chaos. Read the whole thing to get a taste of what this means. Working a low-wage job at a national chain isn't what it used to be even a couple of decades ago.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Starbucks has responded in an email from Cliff Burrows, the group president in charge of United States stores, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/15/us/starbucks-to-revise-work-scheduling-policies.html?smid=tw-share" target="_blank">to its workers:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Burrows told them the company would revise its software to allow more human input from managers into scheduling. It would banish the practice, much loathed by workers, of asking them to &ldquo;clopen&rdquo; &mdash; close the store late at night and return just a few hours later to reopen. He said all work hours must be posted at least one week in advance, a policy that has been only loosely followed in the past. And the company would try to move workers with more than an hour&rsquo;s commute to more convenient locations, he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Good for Starbucks. This doesn't address every scheduling issue their workers face, but it's a good start. It would be nice if others big chains followed their example.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Tech Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:30:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 258376 at http://www.motherjones.com Everyone Is Now Officially Banned From Whining About Presidential Vacations. Forever. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/everyone-now-officially-banned-whining-about-presidential-vacations-forever <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yes, yes, yes: sign me up as a charter member of the movement to <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_08/can_we_have_bipartisan_agreeme051653.php" target="_blank">STFU about presidential vacations.</a> Both sides do it. Bush got hit with criticism from Democrats. Obama gets it from Republicans. Clinton got it. Reagan got it. Fine. We're all guilty. Now let's just stop.</p> <p>No more golf mockery. No more charts showing how many days Bush took off compared to Obama. No more whining about how this week&mdash;yes, <em>this very week!</em>&mdash;is the worst week ever in history for a vacation because the world is in crisis. You know why? Because there's <em>always</em> a crisis somewhere in the world.</p> <p>So that's it. Don't argue about it. Just stop. Right now. It is officially the stupidest thing in the world.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 14 Aug 2014 14:59:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 258366 at http://www.motherjones.com Take Two: What's Behind the Religious Conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/take-two-whats-behind-religious-conflicts-syria-lebanon-and-iraq <!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.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/syria" target="_blank">Earlier today</a> I recommended a Fareed Zakaria video about the roots of the current civil wars in Syria and Iraq. Sam Barkin, a professor at UMass Boston, emails to say that Zakaria's history is faulty:</p> <blockquote> <p>While reading your post of about an hour ago on arming the Syrian rebels, I clicked on the embedded video of Fareed Zakaria's five-minute historical primer. He makes what seems to be a compelling case about the historical complexities of Syria. There's just one problem. His history is wrong. Really quite wrong, in a way that makes me worry about his analysis.</p> <p>He claims that three contemporary countries in the Levant&mdash;Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon&mdash;were intentionally set up by the European colonial countries with minority-rule governments, explicitly for divide-and-rule purposes. In Iraq, it's true, the monarchy was Sunni (it also wasn't Iraqi, but that's a different story). The British did deal with the local elites, as they tended to do in their protectorates, and the local elites were by and large Sunni, but that was a pre-existing condition.</p> <p>However, in the two French-protectorate countries, Syria and Lebanon, the French at no point tried to empower minorities at the expense of ethnic/religious majorities. In Syria, which is roughly three-quarters Sunni, almost all of the heads of state and government until 1970 (it may in fact be all of them, I didn't have the patience to check) were Sunni. The central role of the Shiite Alawites in the security service did not begin until after Assad senior consolidated power after the 1970 coup. And I can assure you that the French were not fans either of Assad or of the Ba'ath party more generally. Lebanon, meanwhile, was designed by the French specifically to be Christian majority (in fact, the French redrew the map of Lebanon in 1920 to ensure such a majority). The Christians probably remained a majority in Lebanon into the 1960s.</p> <p>So telling the story of Syria (either current Syria or Greater Syria) as one of a history of sectarianism and minority rule is simply historically factually wrong. And it leaves me wondering if Zakaria really doesn't know the history, or if he's taking some serious historical liberties in order to make his point.</p> </blockquote> <p>In a nutshell, Barkin is saying that only in Iraq can you argue that a minority-rule government was originally installed by a colonial power. In Lebanon it was a case of demographic changes turning a Christian majority into a minority, and in Syria the minority Alawites took power long after the French had withdrawn. Zakaria is right that in all three cases, conflicts between religious minorities and majorities are still central to what's going on today, but the historical backdrop is more complicated than he allows.</p> <p>I thought this was worth passing along. Anyone else care to weigh in?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Iraq Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:49:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 258301 at http://www.motherjones.com The Paperless Office Has Beaten Out the Paperless Bathroom After All http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/paperless-office-has-beaten-out-paperless-bathroom-after-all <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Back when I was in the document imaging business, we joked that the paperless office would become a reality about the same time as the paperless bathroom. In other words, even those of us in the biz didn't really believe in the hype of the paperless office.</p> <p>I haven't paid much attention to any of this for well over a decade, but today John Quiggin comes forward to tell me that, in fact, the paperless office is <a href="http://crookedtimber.org/2014/08/13/origami/" target="_blank">finally starting to come true:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Paper consumption peaked in the late 1990s and has fallen sharply since 2005....The annual rate of decline (-0.9 per cent) is unimpressive in itself, but striking when compared to the growth rate of 5.7 per cent observed from 1985 to 1999, at a time when talk of the paperless office was particularly prevalent. <strong>Compared to the &lsquo;Business as Usual&rsquo; extrapolation of the previous growth rate, office paper consumption has declined by around 40 per cent.</strong></p> <p>....Of course, the &ldquo;paperless office&rdquo; myth wasn&rsquo;t just a prediction that digital communications would replace paper one day. It was a sales pitch for a top-down redesign of work processes, which, for the reasons given by Sellen and Harper, was never going to work.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's interesting, though not too surprising. It takes a long time for habits to change, and sometimes you just have to wait for old generations to retire and allow new ones to take their place. I imagine that 20- and 30-somethings are way more comfortable with a purely digital information flow than folks in their 40s and 50s, and that's probably responsible for much of the decline in office paper use since 2005.</p> <p>As an aside, I should add that top-down redesign of work processes sometimes gets a bad rap that it doesn't deserve. For casual work processes it doesn't work that well, and the hype of the 90s really was overdone. But there are also lots of clerical production processes that are highly rule-bound and can be redesigned just fine. Insurance claims agents these days almost never see a piece of paper, for example. It's all scanned and indexed so that everything&mdash;both paper and digital documents&mdash;can be viewed on screen instantly.</p> <p>And I wouldn't be surprised if even casual work processes become far more digital in the fairly near future, especially as software gets better, cloud storage becomes commonplace, and high-speed connectivity becomes all but universal. If you can look up movie times on your phone, you can keep track of schedules and due dates on your phone too. That sounds like something of a pain to me, but I'm 55. I'll bet if I were 25 it would sound a whole lot more attractive than being forced to work with messy bundles of paper that can't be searched and have to be carried around everywhere to be useful.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:12:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 258281 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Honda Is Keeping Car Thievery Alive http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/quote-day-honda-keeping-car-thievery-alive <!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_honda.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 25px 30px;"><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/12/upshot/heres-why-stealing-cars-went-out-of-fashion.html?rref=upshot" target="_blank">From Josh Barro:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the factors that keeps car theft going in the United States is the reliability of old Hondas.</p> </blockquote> <p>Think about the advertising possibilities! Hondas are built so tough that thieves want them no matter how old they are. If you're wondering what this is all about, Barro is explaining why car thefts in New York City have declined by 96 percent over the past couple of decades. In a nutshell, the answer lies in high-tech ignitions:</p> <blockquote> <p>The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car.</p> <p>Criminals generally have not been able to circumvent the technology or make counterfeit keys....Instead, criminals have stuck to stealing older cars. You can see this in the pattern of thefts of America&rsquo;s most stolen car, the Honda Accord. About 54,000 Accords were stolen in 2013, 84 percent of them from model years 1997 or earlier, according to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.</p> </blockquote> <p>This has created a virtuous circle. Only old cars are vulnerable, and they aren't worth much. That makes it less lucrative to run illegal chop shops, which makes it harder for thieves to sell their cars. This in turn allows police forces to concentrate more resources on the small number of thefts (and chop shops) remaining.</p> <p>In any case, it turns out that Hondas remain the most stolen cars in America because they're still worth something even if they were built before 1997. Looked at a certain way, that's a badge of pride. In another decade, though, even Hondas from the Seinfeld era won't be worth stealing. And that will put car thieves almost entirely out of business.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Wed, 13 Aug 2014 17:23:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 258261 at http://www.motherjones.com Arming the Syrian Rebels Wouldn't Have Stopped ISIS http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/syria <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Did the United States make a huge mistake by not aggressively supporting and arming the Free Syrian Army back in 2011-12? Did this decision produce a power vacuum that prompted the rise of ISIS in Iraq? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/08/11/would-arming-syrias-rebels-have-stopped-the-islamic-state/" target="_blank">Marc Lynch says no to the first question:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The academic literature is not encouraging. In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve....Worse, as the University of Maryland&rsquo;s David Cunningham has shown, <strong>Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is </strong><em>least</em> effective.</p> <p>....Syria&rsquo;s combination of a weak, fragmented collage of rebel organizations with a divided, competitive array of external sponsors was therefore the worst profile possible for effective external support....An effective strategy of arming the Syrian rebels would never have been easy, <strong>but to have any chance at all it would have required a unified approach by the rebels&rsquo; external backers, and a unified rebel organization to receive the aid.</strong> That would have meant staunching financial flows from its Gulf partners, or at least directing them in a coordinated fashion. Otherwise, U.S. aid to the FSA would be just another bucket of water in an ocean of cash and guns pouring into the conflict.</p> </blockquote> <p>And he says almost certainly no to the second question as well:</p> <blockquote> <p>The idea that more U.S. support for the FSA would have prevented the emergence of the Islamic State isn&rsquo;t even remotely plausible. The open battlefield and nature of the struggle ensured that jihadists would find Syria&rsquo;s war appealing. The Islamic State recovered steam inside of Iraq as part of a broad Sunni insurgency driven by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki&rsquo;s bloody, ham-fisted crackdowns in Hawija and Fallujah, and more broadly because of the disaffection of key Sunni actors over Maliki&rsquo;s sectarian authoritarianism. <strong>It is difficult to see how this would have been affected in the slightest by a U.S.-backed FSA</strong> (or, for that matter, by a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq, but that&rsquo;s another debate for another day). There is certainly no reason to believe that the Islamic State and other extremist groups would have stayed away from such an ideal zone for jihad simply because Western-backed groups had additional guns and money.</p> <p>Had the plan to arm Syria&rsquo;s rebels been adopted back in 2012, the most likely scenario is that the war would still be raging and look much as it does today, except that the United States would be far more intimately and deeply involved.</p> </blockquote> <p>Supporters of more aggressive military action have an easy job: all they have to do is point out what a mess the Middle East is today. And they're right: it's a mess. The obvious&mdash;and all too human&mdash;conclusion to draw is that things would be better if only we'd done something different three years ago. And the obvious different thing is more military support for the Syrian rebels.</p> <p>But this is a cognitive error. Most likely, if we had done something different three years ago, the entire region would still be a mess&mdash;possibly a much worse mess&mdash;and we'd be right in the middle of it, kicking ourselves for getting involved in yet another quagmire and wondering if things would have gone better if <iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="252" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/67864718?title=0&amp;byline=0" style="margin: 20px 0px 5px 30px;" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="400"></iframe> only we'd done something different three years ago. Except this time the "something different" would be going back in time and staying out of things.</p> <p>It's human nature to believe that intervention is always better than doing nothing. Liberals tend to believe this in domestic affairs and conservatives tend to believe it in foreign affairs. But it's not always so. The Middle East suffers from fundamental, longstanding fractures that the United States simply can't affect other than at the margins. Think about it this way: What are the odds that shipping arms and supplies to a poorly defined, poorly coordinated, and poorly understood rebel alliance in Syria would make a significant difference in the long-term outcome there when two decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq barely changed anything? Slim and none.</p> <p>Read Lynch's entire piece for more detail on why intervention would almost certainly have been doomed in Syria. And, once again, I recommend the five-minute primer above from Fareed Zakaria about what's at the core of the Syrian civil war and why it's highly unlikely that we should be involved. It's well worth your time.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Wed, 13 Aug 2014 16:42:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 258256 at http://www.motherjones.com A Republican Lawsuit Against Obama Will Mostly Just Piss Off Democrats http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/republican-lawsuit-against-obama-will-mostly-just-piss-democrats <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's an interesting tidbit via Greg Sargent. The <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1273166/mcclatchy-marist-poll-obama-and-congress-august.pdf" target="_blank">latest McClatchy poll</a> asked voters what they think of (a) impeaching Obama and (b) suing Obama. A full 45 percent of Republicans favor impeachment and 57 percent favor suing him. But if John Boehner's lawsuit goes forward, how will that impact voting in November? The answer is not very comforting for Republican strategists:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_lawsuit_voting_enthusiasm.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 8px;"></p> <p>The lawsuit, it turns out, acts to motivate Democrats considerably more than Republicans. If Boehner &amp; Co. were hoping to use this as a way of motivating their base to turn out in November, it looks an awful lot like it backfired.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Wed, 13 Aug 2014 15:22:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 258251 at http://www.motherjones.com How Is Robin Williams Like Hillary Clinton? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/how-robin-williams-hillary-clinton <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Tonight's Maureen Dowd column begins with an anecdote about an interview <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/13/opinion/maureen-dowd-its-the-loyalty-stupid.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=c-column-top-span-region&amp;region=c-column-top-span-region&amp;WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region" target="_blank">she once did with Robin Williams:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As our interview ended, I was telling him about my friend Michael Kelly&rsquo;s idea for a 1-900 number, not one to call Asian beauties or Swedish babes, but where you&rsquo;d have an amorous chat with a repressed Irish woman. Williams delightedly riffed on the caricature, playing the role of an older Irish woman answering the sex line in a brusque brogue, ordering a horny caller to go to the devil with his impure thoughts and disgusting desire.</p> <p>I couldn&rsquo;t wait to play the tape for Kelly, who doubled over in laughter.</p> <p><strong>So when I think of Williams, I think of Kelly. And when I think of Kelly, I think of Hillary,</strong> because Michael was the first American reporter to die in the Iraq invasion, and Hillary Clinton was one of the 29 Democratic senators who voted to authorize that baloney war.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's, um, quite a segue. I wonder if there's anything left in the world that doesn't remind Dowd of Hillary Clinton?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Hillary Clinton Media Wed, 13 Aug 2014 04:39:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 258246 at http://www.motherjones.com Is It Time for Obama to Change Course on Iraqi Kurdistan? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/08/it-time-obama-change-course-iraqi-kurdistan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jonathan Dworkin, who has spent quite a bit of time in Iraqi Kurdistan, thinks the Obama administration is pursuing a <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2014/08/there_is_no_american_strategy051622.php" target="_blank">failed strategy in Iraq:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In Kurdistan examples are everywhere of the failure of American diplomacy. Refugees have been a problem for months, but only in the last few days has our government gotten serious about providing large scale material support to the Kurds....On the economic front the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_iraq_kurdistan.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">State Department has gone out of its way to be unhelpful. The Kurdish government is in a desperate economic situation due to the refugee crisis, the security crisis, and the central government&rsquo;s refusal to share oil revenue.</p> <p>....The Obama team has adopted Maliki&rsquo;s line, in essence arguing that Kurdish oil undermines Iraqi unity. That&rsquo;s an idea that has become increasingly ridiculous with each setback in Baghdad....<strong>But the idea of Kurds breaking away from Iraq was anathema to the Obama team</strong>....The result is ongoing economic strangulation at precisely the moment the Kurds are being attacked by ISIS. Government salaries haven&rsquo;t been paid in months. One physician friend in Sulaimania wrote to me that the doctors are working for free. There have also been acute fuel shortages.</p> <p>Security is the most obvious area where American soft power has failed. For months now the Kurds have been lobbying for a more coordinated approach against ISIS, and they have gotten the cold shoulder over and over. The Obama team was content to arm a disloyal and unreliable Iraqi Army, and they were perplexed when those heavy weapons ended up under ISIS control. But they refused to coordinate significant weapons procurement for the Peshmerga, despite increasingly desperate appeals, until the ISIS rampage forced them to change tack this past week.</p> </blockquote> <p>I think the highlighted sentence is key. From a diplomatic point of view, the United States either supports a unified Iraq controlled by a central government in Baghdad, or it supports a federal Iraq in which Kurdistan is largely independent. For better or worse, the US made the decision long ago to support a unified Iraq, and that's not a decision that can be reversed lightly. Everything else flows from this.</p> <p>Is this incompetent? I don't think that's fair. Countries simply can't change tack on major issues like this when their allies are in trouble. And like it or not, Baghdad is our chosen ally. It may be that there's more we could do to quietly help the Kurds behind the scenes, but it's hard to imagine anything serious changing as long as we officially support the authority of the central government in Baghdad over all of Iraq.</p> <p>In other words, all of the things Jonathan mentions are part of an entirely coherent strategy. Wrong, maybe, but coherent. Rather than commenting on them separately, then, we should be focusing on the bigger picture: Is it finally time for the US to end its opposition to an independent&mdash;or semi-independent&mdash;Kurdistan? Jonathan made the case for that a couple of months ago <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ten-miles-square/2014/06/the_time_for_kurdish_independe050852.php" target="_blank">here,</a> and I can't say that I forcefully disagree with him. Certainly we ought to be giving this a more public airing. "When we're dropping bombs on a place," Jonathan told me via email, "it should force some conversation about the broader strategy." It's hard to argue with that.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Iraq Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:59:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 258226 at http://www.motherjones.com