Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/A%20Long%20Time%20Ago/01/crackpots-messengers http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Merry Christmas! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/merry-christmas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all still miss the late, much beloved Inkblot, but I figured this year it's time to celebrate the new cats in our family. So we have an all-new Christmas ornament. I did my best to retain all the charm of the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/12/merry-christmas" target="_blank">old ornament,</a> but this one features the new, much beloved Hopper. Merry Christmas, all.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hopper_christmas_ornament.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 150px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 25 Dec 2014 12:35:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 267286 at http://www.motherjones.com Christmas Movies Are Now Just As Horrible As Everything Else Related to Christmas http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/christmas-movies-now-just-horrible-everything-else-related-christmas <!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_theater_christmas.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Well, this answers a question for me. Dan Drezner describes the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/24/the-war-on-jewish-christmas-must-be-stopped/" target="_blank">standard Jewish ritual for Christmas day:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Chinese food and a movie. Perfectly pleasant rituals, made special by the fact that <em>the Gentiles are all at home or at church</em>....</p> <p>No longer.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t know when it became a thing for Christian families to also go see a movie on the day commemorating the birth of Jesus, <strong>but personal experience tells me this is a relatively recent phenomenon&nbsp;&mdash; i.e., the past 15 years or so.</strong> All I know is that what used to be a pleasant movie-going experience is now extremely crowded.</p> </blockquote> <p>Several years ago I naively decided that it might be nice to see a movie on Christmas. I figured the crowds would be really light and we could just slip right in. Needless to say, I was disabused of this notion quickly, and headed for home just as fast as my car would take me. At the time, I wondered what was going on. Had things changed? Was I just unaware that Christmas had always been a big movie day? Or what?</p> <p>I guess it's the former. There really was a golden era when Christmas movies were uncrowded, but it disappeared before I even knew it existed. Sic transit etc.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 Dec 2014 20:02:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 267281 at http://www.motherjones.com The Hotel Industry Is Apparently Hellbent on Screwing Its Guests http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hotel-industry-apparently-hellbent-screwing-its-guests <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The sheer venality and barefaced contempt for its customers that's so often displayed by corporate America never ceases to amaze me. <a href="http://recode.net/2014/12/22/google-wireless-industry-not-down-with-marriotts-wi-fi-blocking-plan/" target="_blank">I had no idea this was going on:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Microsoft and Google don&rsquo;t agree on much, but they&rsquo;ve presented a united front against the hotel industry, which is trying to convince government regulators to give them the option of blocking guests from using personal Wi-Fi hotspots</strong>....In October, Marriott settled an FCC complaint about the practice for $600,000 but argued that it hadn&rsquo;t broken the law and was using technology to protect guests from &ldquo;rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber attacks and identity theft.&rdquo;</p> <p>....<strong>Opponents of the proposal basically argued in filings late Monday that the hotel industry is just trying to keep guests and exhibitors dependent on pricy hotel wireless networks.</strong> They suggested hotels have other options for protecting Wi-Fi networks than jamming personal hotspots.</p> </blockquote> <p>Years ago hotels lost the ability to charge outrageous prices for phone calls, so now they're engaged in a desperate rear-guard attempt to keep charging outrageous prices for Wi-Fi. Here's a suggestion instead: provide decent rooms at reasonable prices, and offer your guests additional services at reasonable prices too. Ho ho ho.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> I wonder what the range of these jamming devices is? If Marriott or Hilton ends up jamming a Wi-Fi hotspot that someone is using on a public sidewalk outside one of their hotels, are they liable for damages?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:50:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 267276 at http://www.motherjones.com How Much Would You Pay For $4,905 In Pension Benefits? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/how-much-would-you-pay-4905-pension-benefits <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Adam Ozimek points us to some recent research suggesting that people <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2014/12/24/another-reason-to-dislike-public-sector-pensions/" target="_blank">don't actually value pensions very highly:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The study utilizes a change in policy in Illinois that allowed teachers to purchase more pension benefits in exchange for a one-time fee. This allowed the determination of how much teachers are willing to pay for marginal pension benefits. The authors found that on average, teachers valued each $1 in marginal pension benefits at $0.20.</p> <p>This is useful information for two reasons. <strong>First, it suggests states may be able to save money and make teachers better off by buying back pension obligations in exchange for current lump sum payments.</strong> Second, it suggests that for districts looking to cut costs, decreases in benefits do not need to be offset with equal dollar value increases in current pay in order to maintain labor supply.</p> </blockquote> <p>(Yes, that's 20 cents for one dollar of <em>present value</em>. Specifically, the study finds that on average, teachers are willing to pay only $1,000 for benefits that the pension fund has to pay $4,905 to purchase.)</p> <p>But does this mean that Illinois teachers would snap up a $1,000 lump sum today in return for a <em>decrease</em> of $4,905 in future pension benefits? Not so fast, pardner. A combination of status quo bias, loss aversion, and <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_loss_aversion_napkin_1.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the endowment effect suggests that things wouldn't be so easy.</p> <p>Status quo bias is just what it sounds like: we all tend to succumb to a sort of emotional inertia that favors whatever benefits we happen to be getting at the moment. Loss aversion is the well known effect that people work harder to avoid the loss of $X than to secure the gain of $X. And the endowment effect causes people to ascribe greater value than normal to things they own, solely because they happen to own them. Put all these things together, and it's highly unlikely that Illinois teachers would be willing to sell off a dollar of benefits <em>they currently get</em> in return for 20 cents today. In fact, it's quite possible they'd only sell it off for more than a dollar.</p> <p>Of course, this applies only to workers who are already vested in a pension system. For brand new workers, given a choice of salary today vs. pension tomorrow, it's quite possible they'd undervalue the pension. In fact, I'd say it's almost inevitable, since most of us do exactly that. Nonetheless, I'm skeptical that this research tells us much about either the size of this effect or whether it would be good public policy to even offer the option. The circumstances are just too different.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:03:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 267266 at http://www.motherjones.com The Wonkosphere's Top Evergreen Stories, Explained http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/wonkospheres-top-evergreen-stories-explained <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The news business has always had evergreen stories. When <em>Time</em> magazine asks "Why Did Jesus Have To Die?" on its cover, it's following in its own footsteps along with hundreds of others. If it's Easter, we have stories about Jesus.</p> <p>The wonky blog world has its own odd set of evergreens. These are stories that might have been interesting the first time I read them, but which I'm now heartily sick of. So even though I'm a day late for this to be part of the Festivus airing of grievances, here are a few examples:</p> <ul><li>Does Daylight Savings Time really reduce energy consumption?</li> <li>An economist explains why Christmas gift giving is inefficient.</li> <li>The Declaration of Independence wasn't really signed on July 4th.</li> <li>Christmas and those crazy Asians: KFC in Japan and Spam in South Korea explained.</li> <li>Scientists are adding a second to the year today. Here's why.</li> <li>The Dow is a lousy proxy for the actual state of the stock market.</li> <li>Etc.</li> </ul><p>Of course, if this year happens to be the first time you see any of these evergreens, they're fresh and new to you. It's only the fact that I've seen them so many times that makes them so tired to me. So feel free to ignore my griping on this subject. In fact, feel free to mock me for it if you like.</p> <p>Anyway, I was reminded of this by the inevitable spate of bloggish stories last week about why Christmas is inefficient, and then reminded again by not <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/24/7442485/KFC-Japan-christmas" target="_blank">one,</a> not <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/ts/kfc-christmas-in-japan-colonel-sanders-history-12-23-2014" target="_blank">two,</a> but <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_12/do_you_have_your_xmas_chicken053447.php" target="_blank">three</a> bloggy pieces about KFC in Japan that I happened to see within five minutes of each other this morning. (Bad luck, that!) And it got me thinking: ordinary old-school evergreens all seem pretty understandable. But these wonkish blog evergreens seem....a bit odd. So I'm curious: what is it that makes a subject a bloggy evergreen? What do these kinds of stories have in common?</p> <p>Once I figure it out, I plan to write a blog post about it every year. Sort of like the one <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/11/after-year-triumphant-return-my-annual-black-friday-post" target="_blank">I write every year about the origins of Black Friday.</a> Are you sick of that one yet?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Wed, 24 Dec 2014 16:01:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 267261 at http://www.motherjones.com Hollywood Backstabbing Over "The Interview" Now in Full Swing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hollywood-backstabbing-over-interview-now-full-swing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all heard yesterday that Sony Pictures made a last-minute decision to release <em>The Interview</em> on Christmas after all, thanks to pleas from a couple hundred independent theaters that agreed to defy Kim Jong-un and show it. So the honor of Western civilization is saved and everyone is happy. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-sony-releases-interview-theaters-20141224-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">Right?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The film's limited release drives a further wedge between Sony and the nation's largest theater owners, who blame the studio for yanking away a potential hit. It was supposed to open on 3,000 screens before Sony and theater chains shelved the movie.</p> <p>Theater owners are also upset that Sony is negotiating to release the movie simultaneously on a video-on-demand platform....<strong>"They could have <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_the_interview.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">a full theatrical release. Instead they have a token,"</strong> said one theater executive who asked not to be identified because it could harm his relationship with the studio.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. What? I thought this whole fiasco had been driven in the first place by the refusal of big theater chains to show the movie amid fears of terrorist retaliation. So what are they all griping about?</p> <blockquote> <p>The disagreement over a digital release played into larger tensions between Sony and theater owners after hackers last week threatened physical harm on moviegoers who saw "The Interview."....Worried about a potential threat, Sony said it canceled the movie after large chains backed away from the film.</p> <p><strong>But theater owners have been pointing the finger at the studio for originally giving them the OK to not run the film amid the threats. Then Sony blamed the nation's four big theater chains for forcing the studio to cancel the original release</strong>....Representatives of Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike declined to comment on the matter.</p> </blockquote> <p>OK, I guess I'm officially confused. Did Sony cancel the Christmas release date of <em>The Interview</em> because malls and theater chains were desperate to back out of showing it? Or did malls and theater chains back out because Sony had implicitly urged them to do so when it gave the chains permission to break their contractual commitments to show the movie? Or are both sides now just furiously trying to shift blame after being called out for cowardice by everyone from George Clooney to President Obama?</p> <p>The latter, I suppose. In any case, now I know what I want for Christmas: A country that doesn't spin into a damn tizzy over every little thing. From Ebola to ISIS to the Sony hack, you'd think we were all at risk of losing our lives to outside forces every time we step off our front porches. In the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers, can we all please R-E-L-A-X?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV International Wed, 24 Dec 2014 15:14:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 267256 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: "That Could Have Been Any One of Us" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/quote-day-any-one-of-us <!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.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-usa-police-nypd-race-insight-idUSKBN0K11EV20141223" target="_blank">From Michelle Conlin of Reuters,</a> who interviewed 25 active-duty and retired black NYPD police officers, nearly all of whom said they themselves had been treated harshly by fellow cops when they were out of uniform:</p> <blockquote> <p>At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nypd_patch.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable.</p> <p>Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, <strong>&ldquo;That could have been any one of us.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>It shouldn't be too hard to hold two thoughts in our minds at once. Thought #1: Police officers have an intrinsically tough and violent job. Split-second decisions about the use of force come with the territory. Ditto for decisions about who to stop and who to keep an eye on. This makes individual mistakes inevitable, but as a group, police officers deserve our support and respect regardless.</p> <p>Thought #2: That support shouldn't be blind. Conlin reports that in her group of 25 black police officers, 24 said they had received rough treatment from other cops. "The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them."</p> <p>Respect for the police is one of the foundation stones of a decent and orderly society. But police work is one of several professions that are inherently coercive and invest their members with tremendous amounts of sometimes unaccountable power over the rest of us. It's equally a foundation stone of a decent and <em>free</em> society to maintain vigilant oversight of professions like this, and to deal vigorously with the kinds of systemic problems that the routine exercise of power and authority makes unavoidable. Belief in the latter does not exclude belief in the former.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Wed, 24 Dec 2014 01:42:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 267251 at http://www.motherjones.com Smile! You're on Cop Cam! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/smile-youre-cop-cam <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Seattle police have made the decision to adopt body cameras, but this means they need to find an automated way to blur out things like faces and license plate numbers before the footage becomes public. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/23/7440963/police-recording-privacy" target="_blank">Dara Lind comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>But as police departments move cop cams into the field, the an important question becomes whether there are things that shouldn't be recorded to protect civilians' privacy. And if so, who controls the footage?....As reported in <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/12/22/seattle_police_hackathon_worked_on_redacting_body_cam_video_streams.html?wpsrc=fol_tw" target="_blank"><em>Slate</em>,</a> the programmers that participated in the hackathon focused on ways to automatically redact police footage so that, for example, civilians' faces and license plate numbers were blurred.</p> <p>The fundamental appeal of automatic redaction for a city government is pretty clear. If you can write an automated program that takes care of any privacy concerns, <strong>you can release body-camera footage to the public en masse.</strong> Without an automated solution, the city would have to rely on the police department to edit the footage &mdash; which opens the door to manipulation.</p> </blockquote> <p>En masse? I wonder where this leads? If I get pulled over for speeding in Seattle, the encounter will be saved on video. Does that get released to anyone who wants to see it? Does every encounter with a police officer become public? How long will police departments be required to save video records? What kind of indexing requirements will be imposed? Will they all be accessible as public records via Freedom of Information requests?</p> <p>These are good questions to ponder. Body cameras for police forces are a good idea, but there are downsides as well as upsides.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum China Tue, 23 Dec 2014 19:51:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 267231 at http://www.motherjones.com Everyone Wants the Cuba Embargo to End http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/everyone-wants-cuba-embargo-end <!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.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/12/23/National-Politics/Polling/release_380.xml" target="_blank">According to the latest <em>Washington Post</em>/ABC poll,</a> 64 percent of the American public supports establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. And even greater numbers want to get rid of the trade embargo:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poll_cuba_embargo_december_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Those are remarkable numbers. <em>Everyone</em> supports an end to the embargo by wide margins, even Republicans. I checked all the other crosstabs, and it turns out that ending the embargo is supported by all parties, all ideologies, all sexes, all ages, all races, all education levels, all incomes, and all regions.</p> <p>The only subgroup that opposes it&mdash;barely&mdash;is conservative Republicans, who make up <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/section-9-trends-in-party-affiliation/" target="_blank">about 17 percent</a> of the population. So naturally that means the embargo will stay in place. It no longer really matters what the other 83 percent of us think.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 23 Dec 2014 18:44:56 +0000 Kevin Drum 267221 at http://www.motherjones.com Let Us Now Praise Obama's Economic Policies http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/recovery-growth-obama-economic-policies <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Steve Benen evaluates recent economic news by the standards of <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/meeting-the-tim-pawlenty-standard" target="_blank">Republican promises from two years ago:</a></p> <ul><li><strong>The Romney Standard:</strong> Mitt Romney said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans elect him, he&rsquo;d get the unemployment rate down to 6% by 2016. Obama won anyway and the unemployment rate dropped below 6% two years faster.</li> <li><strong>The Gingrich Standard:</strong> Newt Gingrich said during the 2012 campaign that if Americans re-elected the president, gas prices would reach $10 per gallon, while Gingrich would push gas down to $2.50 a gallon. As of this morning, the national average at the pump is a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_economic_record_2009_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">little under $2.38.</li> <li><strong>The Pawlenty Standard:</strong> Tim Pawlenty said trillions of dollars in tax breaks would boost economic growth to 5% GDP. Obama actually raised taxes on the wealthy and GDP growth reached 5% anyway.</li> </ul><p>Is this fair? Meh. Maybe, maybe not. But there's not likely to be a whole lot of news to blog about today, so why not poke holes in some Republican balloons instead? As Benen says, "By the party&rsquo;s own standards, Obama is succeeding beautifully. They established the GOP benchmarks and now the Democratic president is the one meeting, and in some cases exceeding, the Republicans&rsquo; goals."</p> <p>The downside of all this is that in the past Democrats haven't promoted their own economic policies plainly enough to get credit now that the economy has finally turned around. Republicans, by contrast, simply cut taxes and then loudly and relentlessly repeat their promise that the economy will improve. Eventually it does, of course. Maybe not a lot, and maybe not for long, but economies always improve eventually. If Kansas ever manages a quarter or two of decent growth, for example, you can be sure that Gov. Sam Brownback will be crowing about it for the rest of his political career.</p> <p>To some extent, of course, Democrats were stymied in their economic policy, which gave them less to brag about back in 2009. And five years is a long time to wait for a recovery. Still, Dems <em>did</em> pass a stimulus; enact a payroll tax holiday; extend unemployment benefits; pass Obamacare; reform Wall Street; raise taxes on the rich; and pass several jobs bills. It's true that this laundry list doesn't quite have the simple oomph of "Tax cuts will bring the economy roaring back to life!" But it <em>is</em> an economic program, and eventually it got us to where we are today: a pretty good recovery, and one that looks like it might be sustainable since it's not built on the sandy foundations of tax cuts and deficits. Democrats should be louder about demanding more credit for all of this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Obama Top Stories Tue, 23 Dec 2014 17:38:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 267201 at http://www.motherjones.com Happy Holidays! Economic Growth Finally Starting to Look Robust. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/happy-holidays-economic-growth-finally-starting-robust <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Hey, take a look at this. <a href="http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm" target="_blank">Yet another revision is in,</a> and the Commerce Department now estimates that third-quarter GDP grew at a sizzling 5.0 percent rate, following a nearly-as-good 4.6 percent rate in the second quarter. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_2014_q3_revised.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 25px;">Part of this is still a make-up for poor growth in the first quarter, but it's good news nonetheless. The economy really does seem to have <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-third-quarter-gdp-revised-up-to-5-0-growth-1419341481?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories" target="_blank">found a new gear this year:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Tuesday&rsquo;s report showed stronger-than-expected spending by U.S. consumers, particularly on services like health care. Fixed nonresidential investment also was revised up, signaling more spending by businesses on new buildings and research and development.</p> <p>&ldquo;There is a positive feedback loop going on at the moment,&rdquo; Mike Jakeman, global analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in a note. &ldquo;Job creation is running at the strongest rate for 15 years. More people in work means more income, which means more private spending, which means more business investment, which means more hiring.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Corporate profits are also up, and the stock market is at new highs every day. Wage growth still needs to get stronger, but it showed signs of life last quarter. All things considered, five years after the Great Recession technically ended, we're finally doing pretty well.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Tue, 23 Dec 2014 15:32:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 267196 at http://www.motherjones.com Putin Ally Says Putin Needs to Make Peace With West http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/putin-ally-says-putin-needs-make-peace-west <!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.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d8bf5266-89cb-11e4-9dbf-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3MhEzCBTe" target="_blank">Things that make you go hmmm:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Russia faces a &ldquo;full-blown economic crisis&rdquo; next year that will trigger a series of defaults and the loss of its investment-grade credit rating, a respected former finance minister has warned. Real incomes will fall by 2-5 per cent next year, the first decrease in real terms since 2000, <strong>said Alexei Kudrin, a longtime ally of President Vladimir Putin</strong> and widely tipped to succeed Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.</p> <p>....In unusually blunt comments for an establishment figure, he also called on Mr Putin to do what was necessary to improve relations with the west: <strong>&ldquo;As for what the president and government must do now: the most important factor is the normalisation of Russia&rsquo;s relations with its business partners, above all in Europe, the US and other countries.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This gets to be a little like old-school Kremlinology, but I wonder what it means when a longtime Putin ally publicly suggests that Russia needs to mend relations with the West, and do it pronto? Is this really an independent act of truth-telling? Or some kind of semi-sanctioned trial balloon designed to start shifting domestic public opinion? I suppose it's most likely the former, <a href="http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/241211.html" target="_blank">especially considering this little tidbit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Last March, the Russian leadership considered the possible consequences of sanctions against Russia in connection with the crisis in Ukraine, Civil Initiatives Committee Chairman Alexei Kudrin said...."I provided my assessment of the consequences. The president and prime minister listened to them. I simply paraphrased them and then submitted them in written form to the president's aide," he said.</p> <p>His report included three possible scenarios for developments in connection with the enactment of sanctions against Russia, Kudrin said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm again. This is basically noted without comment, since I don't really quite know what to make of it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Tue, 23 Dec 2014 06:01:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 267191 at http://www.motherjones.com Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/brother-can-you-spare-dime <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm going to keep things simple this year: <em>Mother Jones</em> is great! You already know that if you subscribe to the magazine (which you should) or if you read this blog. But no single source of funding can support what we do, so we rely on multiple sources. And you guessed it: one of them is reader donations.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Mother_Jones.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">So if you want to support our great journalism....</p> <p>Or you just want to support this blog....</p> <p>Or, hell, if you just want to say thank you to MoJo for providing me with much-needed health insurance this year....</p> <p>Then how about making a year-end contribution? Small amounts are fine. Large amounts are even better! You can use PayPal or a credit card. Every little bit helps. So thanks for another year of reading my rants and raves, and thanks in advance for whatever donation you can afford. Here are the details:</p> <p><a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=7Z4CDRU&amp;extra_don=1" target="_blank">Click here</a> to pay via credit card.</p> <p><a href="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&amp;hosted_button_id=4RAFV8LDM992L" target="_blank">Click here</a> to pay via PayPal.</p> <p><a href="http://mother-jones.myshopify.com/products/1" target="_blank">Click here</a> if you want to get someone a gift subscription.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 22 Dec 2014 20:18:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 267161 at http://www.motherjones.com Someone Needs to Invent a Great Non-Opioid Painkiller http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/someone-needs-invent-great-non-opioid-painkiller <!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_opium_poppy.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Austin Frakt writes about the stunningly widespread <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/upshot/painkiller-abuse-a-cyclical-challenge.html?partner=rss&amp;emc=rss" target="_blank">use and abuse of narcotic painkillers in the US:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Opioids now cause more deaths than any other drug, more than 16,000 in 2010. That year, the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen became the most prescribed medication in the United States. Patients here consumed 99 percent of the world&rsquo;s hydrocodone, the opioid in Vicodin. They also consumed 80 percent of the world&rsquo;s oxycodone, present in Percocet and OxyContin, and 65 percent of the world&rsquo;s hydromorphone, the key ingredient in Dilaudid, in 2010. (Some opioids are also used to treat coughs, but that use doesn&rsquo;t seem to be a major factor in the current wave of problems.)</p> </blockquote> <p>When I got out of the hospital a couple of months ago, I was in considerable pain. The answer was morphine. For about two weeks, I took a couple of low-dose morphine tablets each day. Then the pain eased and I stopped.</p> <p>I resisted the morphine at first, and my doctor had to argue me into using it regularly. "You broke a bone in your back," she told me. "Your pain is legitimate. We have a lot of experience treating pain with morphine, and you'll be all right."</p> <p>I finally listened, and the morphine did indeed work as advertised. But it somehow got me thinking. Morphine? That's the best we can do? This stuff was invented 200 years ago. And while there are newer painkillers around, they're all opioids of one kind or another with all the usual horrible side effects<sup>1</sup>. How is it that in over a century of research, we still know so little about pain that we haven't been able to create a powerful, non-opioid painkiller?</p> <p>I'm not really going anywhere with this. I'm just curious. Are there any good books, or even long magazine articles, about this? Why is that even after gazillions of dollars of effort, we're still relying on variants of the opium poppy for serious pain relief? It's the 21st century. How come we can't do better?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Addiction, nausea, wooziness, constipation, etc.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:39:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 267146 at http://www.motherjones.com There Is No Higher Ed Bubble. Yet. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/there-no-higher-ed-bubble-yet <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Is there a higher-education bubble? Will technology produce cheaper, better alternatives in the near future? Are kids and parents finally figuring out that if Bill Gates can drop out of Harvard and become the richest man in the world, maybe an Ivy League degree isn't <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_higher_ed_bubble.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">actually worth 50 grand a year? Dan Drezner thinks the whole idea is ridiculous, and he's willing to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/22/id-like-to-take-this-opportunity-to-triple-dog-dare-peter-thiel/" target="_blank">put his money where his mouth is:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If, in fact, there really is a higher ed bubble, it should pop before 2020. And if it does pop, then tuition prices for college should plummet as demand slackens. After all, that&rsquo;s how a bubble works &mdash; when it deflates, the price of the asset should plummet in value, like housing in 2008. So who wants to bet me that an average of the 2020 tuition rates at Stanford University, Williams College, Texas A&amp;M and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell will be lower than today?</p> <p>I&rsquo;m open to changing the particular schools, but those four are a nice distribution of private and public schools, elite and not-quite-as-elite colleges, with some geographic spread. Surely, true believers in a higher ed bubble would expect tuition rates at those schools to fall.</p> <p>I really don&rsquo;t think that will be the case. <strong>So anyone who believes in a higher ed bubble should be happy to take the other side of that bet.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Not me. I'd be willing to bet that eventually artificial intelligence will basically wipe out the demand for higher education completely. But "eventually" means something like 30 years minimum, probably more like 40 or 50. Maybe even more if AI continues to be as intractable as some people think it will be.</p> <p>In the meantime, Drezner is right: the vast, vast majority of college students don't want to strike out on their own and try to become millionaire entrepreneurs. They just want ordinary jobs. And that's a good thing, since if everyone wanted to run their own companies, entrepreneurs wouldn't be able to find anyone to do all the non-CEO scutwork for their brilliant new social media startups.</p> <p>So if something like 98 percent of college grads are aiming for traditional jobs in which they work for somebody else, guess what? All those somebody elses&mdash;which probably includes most of the people who think there's a higher-ed bubble&mdash;are going to want to hire college grads. They sure don't want to hire a bunch of losers who were too dim to drop out and become millionaires <em>and</em> couldn't even manage the gumption to accrue 120 units at State U, do they?</p> <p>Look: the rising cost of higher education has multiple causes, but it's mostly driven by two simple things. At public schools, it's driven by declining state funding, which transfers an increasing share of the cost of higher ed onto students. Unfortunately, I see no reason to think this trend won't continue. At private schools, it's driven by the perception of how much a private degree is worth&mdash;and right now, all the evidence suggests that even with fairly astronomical tuitions at elite and semi-elite universities, the lifetime value of a degree is still worth more than students pay for it. Universities understand this, and since these days they mostly think of themselves not as public trusts, but as businesses who simply charge whatever the traffic will bear, they know they still have plenty of headroom to increase tuition. So this trend is likely to continue as well.</p> <p>If I had to guess, I'd say that there's a class of 2nd or 3rd tier liberal arts colleges that might be in trouble. They have high tuitions, but the value of their degree isn't really superior to that of a state university. They might be in trouble, and if Drezner added one of these places to his list it might make his bet more interesting.</p> <p>But he'd still win. He might lose by 2040, but he's safe as long as he sticks to 2020.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Mon, 22 Dec 2014 15:51:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 267136 at http://www.motherjones.com When Will China Finally Get Tired of Propping Up North Korea? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/when-will-china-finally-get-tired-propping-north-korea <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The United States might not have much leverage over North Korea, but China does. Virtually all of North Korea's external trade is with China, and Chinese support is pretty much all that keeps North Korea from collapsing. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_China_North_Korea_Border.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">This means that when the United States wants to pressure Pyongyang, it has limited options as long as Chinese support of the regime remains strong. But how long will that support last? Over the weekend, Jane Perlez of the <em>New York Times</em> reported that it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/world/asia/chinese-annoyance-with-north-korea-bubbles-to-the-surface.html" target="_blank">might finally be faltering:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When a retired Chinese general with impeccable Communist Party credentials recently wrote a scathing account of North Korea as a recalcitrant ally headed for collapse and unworthy of support, he exposed a roiling debate in China about how to deal with the country&rsquo;s young leader, Kim Jong-un.</p> <p>....The parlous state of the relationship between North Korea and China was on display again Wednesday when Pyongyang commemorated the third anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, and failed to invite a senior Chinese official.</p> <p>The last time a Chinese leader visited North Korea was in July 2013 when Vice President Li Yuanchao tried to patch up relations, and pressed North Korea, after its third nuclear test in February 2013, to slow down its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Li failed in that quest....After the vice president&rsquo;s visit, relations plummeted further, entering the icebox last December when China&rsquo;s main conduit within the North Korean government, Jang Song-thaek, a senior official and the uncle of Kim Jong-un, was executed in a purge. In July, President Xi Jinping snubbed North Korea, visiting South Korea instead. Mr. Xi has yet to visit North Korea, and is said to have been infuriated by a third nuclear test by North Korea in February 2013, soon after Kim Jong-un came to power.</p> </blockquote> <p>So does this mean that China might help us out in our current dispute with North Korea over the Sony hack? Probably not&mdash;or not much, anyway. North Korea's very weakness is also its greatest strength: if it collapses, two things would probably happen. First, there would be a flood of refugees trying to cross the border into China. Second, the Korean peninsula would likely become unified and China would find itself with a US ally right smack on its border. Given the current state of Sino-American relations, that's simply not something China is willing to risk.</p> <p>Not yet, anyway. But who knows? There are worse things in the world than a refugee crisis, and relations with the US have the potential to warm up in the future. One of these days North Korea may simply become too large a liability for China to protect. If that ever happens, North Korea's lifespan can probably be measured in years or months.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum China Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:53:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 267131 at http://www.motherjones.com No, There Really Isn't Much We Can Do To Retaliate Against North Korea http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/no-there-really-isnt-much-we-can-do-retaliate-against-north-korea <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A couple of days ago I wrote a post suggesting that there might not really be much we can do to retaliate against North Korea, who the FBI blames for the Sony hack. So I was curious to read <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-reply-to-kims-cyberterrorism-1419033248?mod=hp_opinion" target="_blank">"A Reply to Kim&rsquo;s Cyberterrorism,"</a> a <em>Wall Street Journal</em> editorial telling us what options we had. I figured that if anyone could make the best case for action, it was the <em>Journal</em>.</p> <p>Unfortunately, they mostly just persuaded me that there really is very little we can do. After clearing their throats with a couple of suggestions that even they admit are mostly just symbolic, they get to the meat of things:</p> <blockquote> <p>Earlier this year [Rep. Ed Royce] introduced the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, which gives Treasury the power it needs to sanction banks facilitating North Korea&rsquo;s finances. It passed the House easily in July but has since been locked up in Harry Reid&rsquo;s Senate at the behest of the Obama Administration. Mr. Royce tells us he plans to reintroduce the bill as a first order of business in the new Congress. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has introduced similar legislation in the Senate; a bill could be on Mr. Obama&rsquo;s desk by the second week in January.</p> </blockquote> <p>So....that's it. And even this is weaker tea than the <em>Journal</em> suggests. For starters, the bill has a serious structural problem because it puts severe limits on the president's power, which is why Obama hasn't supported it in the past. It's a bad idea in foreign relations for Congress to mandate sanctions that can then be lifted <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/102146454" target="_blank"><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_north_korea_trade_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;"></a>only by Congress. This makes it almost impossible for presidents to negotiate future agreements because they have no carrots to offer in return for good behavior.</p> <p>But that could be fixed. What can't be fixed is the fact that North Korea learned a lesson from our previous attempt at tightening economic sanctions in 2007, when we cut off the US links of&nbsp;Banco Delta Asia, a Macau-based bank suspected of doing business with North Korea. This in turn panicked other Macau banks into cutting off their relationships with North Korea, which severely restricted the regime's access to dollars. As the <em>Journal</em> notes, this genuinely hurt North Korea, and the Bush administration agreed to resolve the BDA issue during the Six-Party nuclear talks later that year.</p> <p>Unfortunately for us, sanctions like this would hurt North Korea a lot less now than they did back in 2007. <a href="http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2014/09/24/pros_and_cons_to_north_korea_sanctions_110720.html" target="_blank">Stephan Haggard explains:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Post-BDA, and since the ascent of Kim Jong-un in particular, North Korea has also sought to diversify its trade, investment and financial links. <strong>The KPA and its associates have developed relationships with financial entities that are not concerned with access to the U.S. market, both in China and outside it; Russia will be particularly interesting to watch in this regard but there is also the open field of the Middle East</strong>....While this legislation might raise the costs of proliferation activities if implemented, it is unlikely to staunch them completely and could simply forge new networks beyond the law's reach.</p> <p>Another question is whether the sanctions will have the broader strategic effect of moving the North Koreans toward serious negotiation of its nuclear program....<strong>The paradoxical feature of sanctions is that they rarely have the direct effect of forcing the target country to capitulate.</strong> The HR 1771 sanctions will have effect only when coupled with strong statements of a willingness to engage if North Korea showed signs of interest in doing so. The legislation provides plenty of sticks; the administration will have to continue to articulate the prospective carrots in a way that is credible. Strong sanctions legislation makes that difficult to do if the legislation places a series of binding constraints on the president's discretion. <strong>Why negotiate with the U.S. if there is no return from doing so?</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>With changes, Royce's sanctions bill might be an appropriate response to the Sony hack. However, it's unlikely to have a severe effect on North Korea. Even worse, past history shows that <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0405.kaplan.html" target="_blank">a single-minded "get tough" attitude toward the DPRK can backfire badly,</a> as it did on George Bush when his refusal to negotiate with Pyongyang in 2002 led in short order to the ejection of UN inspectors and the construction of plutonium bombs from a stockpile that had previously been kept under lock and key.</p> <p>As the cliche goes, there are no good options here, just bad and less bad. I wouldn't necessarily oppose a modified version of the sanctions bill, but it's unlikely to have a major impact. It might even make things worse. If this is the best we can do, it's pretty much an admission that there's not really much we can do.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress International Sun, 21 Dec 2014 19:59:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 267111 at http://www.motherjones.com Let's Blame Conservatives For All the Killings They're Responsible For http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/lets-blame-conservatives-all-killings-theyre-responsible <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Via Atrios, here is America's-mayor-for-life Rudy Giuliani commenting on the killing of two New York City police officers yesterday <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/12/21/3606040/rudy-giuliani-2-nyc-cops-were-killed-because-obama-told-everyone-to-hate-the-police/" target="_blank">by a deranged gunman:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,&rdquo; Giuliani said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday. &ldquo;The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged. The protests, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_rudy_giuliani.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">even the ones that don&rsquo;t lead to violence, a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion. The police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.&rdquo;</p> <p>....The former mayor also criticized President Barack Obama, Holder, and Al Sharpton for addressing the underlining racial tensions behind the failure to indict the white police officers who killed [Eric Garner on Staten Island] and Mike Brown in Ferguson. &ldquo;They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities. For that, they should be ashamed of themselves,&rdquo; he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Fair enough. But I assume this means we can blame Bill O'Reilly for his 28 episodes of invective against "Tiller the Baby Killer" that eventually ended in the murder of Wichita abortion provider George Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder. We can blame conservative talk radio for fueling the anti-government hysteria that led Timothy McVeigh to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City. We can blame the relentless xenophobia of Fox News for the bombing of an Islamic Center in Joplin or the massacre of Sikh worshippers by a white supremacist in Wisconsin. We can blame the NRA for the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora. We can blame Republicans for stoking the anti-IRS paranoia that prompted Andrew Joseph Stack to crash a private plane into an IRS building in Austin, killing two people. We can blame the Christian Right for the anti-gay paranoia that led the Westboro Baptist Church to picket the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a US Marine killed in Iraq, with signs that carried their signature "God Hates Fags" slogan. We can blame Sean Hannity for his repeated support of Cliven Bundy's "range war" against the BLM, which eventually motivated Jerad and Amanda Miller to kill five people in Las Vegas after participating in the Bundy standoff and declaring, "If they're going to come bring violence to us, well, if that's the language they want to speak, we'll learn it." And, of course, we can blame Rudy Giuliani and the entire conservative movement for their virtually unanimous indifference to the state-sanctioned police killings of black suspects over minor offenses in Ferguson and Staten Island, which apparently motivated the murder of the New York police officers on Saturday.</p> <p>Or wait. Maybe we can't do any of those things. Maybe lots of people support lots of things, and we can't twist that generalized support into blame for maniacs who decide to take up arms for their own demented reasons. Maybe that's a better idea after all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties The Right Sun, 21 Dec 2014 16:41:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 267106 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's How the Sony Hack Is Like 9/11 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/heres-how-sony-hack-911 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I doubt that I'm the first to say this, but has anyone noticed a striking similarity between 9/11 and the Sony hack? Not in terms of scope or malevolence, of course, but in terms of&mdash;what's the best word here? Creativity? Bang for the buck?</p> <p>Here's what I mean. The 9/11 attack wasn't especially sophisticated. In fact, it was famously crude and butt cheap. All it took was a few guys who learned rudimentary piloting skills and then carried some box cutters on board four airplanes<sup>1</sup>. The reason it worked is that it was brilliant. Nobody had ever considered that hijackers could take control of a plane without so much as a single cheap handgun, and even if they could, no one had really figured that they could do anything much worse than fly the plane somewhere and maybe engineer a hostage crisis. But al-Qaeda thought different. They understood that (a) box cutters would be good enough to hold pilots and passengers at bay for an hour or two, and (b) this <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sony_911.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was long enough to fly their airplanes into a pair of iconic skyscrapers, killing thousands in an extraordinarily gruesome way. They took a crude, simplistic weapon and figured out a way to cause damage that was both tangibly enormous and emotionally outsized.</p> <p>The Sony hack is a far smaller thing, but it shows a lot of the same hallmarks. Despite what press reports say, it wasn't really all that sophisticated. It was, to be sure, a step up from box cutters, but it's not like North Korea tried to hack into a nuclear power plant or the Pentagon. They picked a soft target. In fact, based on press reports, it sounds like even in the vast sea of crappy IT security that we call America, Sony Pictures was unusually lax. Hacking into their network was something that probably dozens of groups around the world could have done if they had thought about it. And like al-Qaeda before them, North Korea thought about it. And they realized that a Sony Pictures hack, done right, could have an outsized emotional impact. Like 9/11, it was a brilliant example of using a relatively crude tool to produce a gigantic payoff.</p> <p>So what happens next? The 9/11 attack was huge, but even for its size it provoked a mammoth overreaction that continues to this day. Will the Sony hack do the same? After the dozens of credit card hacks of the past couple of years corporations are finally getting the news that they need to secure their networks better, and the Sony hack might prompt even more companies to finally get serious about IT security. That would be good. On the other hand, it could also provoke an overreaction that ends up locking down corporate infrastructure so tightly that workplaces turn into digital gulags. That would be dumb.</p> <p>So then. Better corporate IT security: good. Massive overreaction: bad. Let's get things right this time.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>It also required recruiting 19 guys willing to die for a cause. This is definitely uncommon. But it doesn't really change the basic nature of how al-Qaeda managed to pull off such a massive attack.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice International Tech Sat, 20 Dec 2014 20:44:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 267096 at http://www.motherjones.com Personal Health Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/personal-health-update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I haven't had any fresh news on the health front lately, so I haven't brought it up on the blog. But I continue to get lots of queries and good wishes, and today I finally have something to report. I'm 8 weeks through my 16-week regimen of chemotherapy, and last week my doctor ordered up sort of a halftime report on how I'm doing. This is an extended set of lab tests, and today she called to tell me the results.</p> <p>Apparently they came out great. Unfortunately, I don't actually remember the names of the protein markers and other things we were looking for, so I have to be a little vague here. Immunoglobulins? Lympho-somethings? In any case, the levels were way, way down, and that's what we were hoping for. This means the chemo is working well so far and the myeloma is hopefully on the run.</p> <p>That's my good news for the day. What's yours?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 20 Dec 2014 01:34:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 267081 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 19 December 2014 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/friday-cat-blogging-19-december-2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I have to run, but before I do here's what passes for an action shot of the dynamic duo. It's about the best I can do these days. As you might guess, they're entranced with something we're waving around just outside the frame. Maybe a pencil? I'm not sure. But with cats, the cheapest cat toys are always the best.</p> <p>(Seriously. Hopper's favorite, by far, is an empty toilet paper tube. She just goes nuts over them.)</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2014_12_19_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:55:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 267051 at http://www.motherjones.com More Good News For Obamacare: Employer Health Coverage Hasn't Crashed http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/more-good-news-obamacare-employer-health-coverage-hasnt-crashed <!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_kaiser_employer_health_insurance_covered_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The share of the population with employer health insurance has been slowly eroding for years. <a href="http://kff.org/health-costs/report/2014-employer-health-benefits-survey/" target="_blank">The chart on the right</a> tells the story: total coverage rates have dropped from 70 percent to 62 percent since 2001. The trend is pretty clear: the number of workers covered by employer insurance has been dropping about half a percentage point per year for more than a decade.</p> <p>So has Obamacare accelerated this trend? There have long been fears that it might: once the exchanges were up and running, employers might decide that it was cheaper to ditch their own insurance and just pay their workers extra to buy coverage on the open market. But a new study released by <em>Health Affairs</em> says <a href="http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2014/12/16/hlthaff.2014.1298.full" target="_blank">that hasn't happened:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We found essentially no change in offer rates throughout the study period. Overall, the rates stayed steady, at around 82 percent. Offer rates in small firms also held steady, at around 61 percent....We found no change in take-up rates overall, or by income or firm size, between June 2013 and September 2014.</p> <p>....<strong>As with offer and take-up rates of employer-sponsored insurance, there were no significant differences in coverage rates for the insurance overall or for any subgroup.</strong> The rates stayed roughly constant at about 71 percent across all workers, about 50 percent among workers in small firms, and about 82 percent among workers in large <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_employer_coverage_before_after_obamacare.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">firms. The rates also remained constant among low- and high-income workers in either small or large firms.</p> </blockquote> <p>Note that the percentages themselves differ between the Kaiser numbers and the study numbers thanks to differences in methodology. And there are, of course, plenty of reasons we might see only small changes in employer coverage. The economy has improved. Inertia might be keeping things in check for a while. Perhaps as Obamacare becomes settled law and its benefits become more widely known, more employers will drop their own coverage.</p> <p>Those are all possibilities. For now, though, it looks as though fears of employers dumping health coverage were unfounded. It's yet more good news for Obamacare.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 19 Dec 2014 18:50:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 267031 at http://www.motherjones.com Are Republicans Really Ready to Embrace Net Neutrality? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/are-republicans-really-ready-embrace-net-neutrality <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Well, this is unexpected. Democrats are generally in favor of net neutrality, the principle that all websites should be treated equally by internet service providers. Companies can't pay extra for faster service and ISPs can't slow down or block sites they don't <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Net_Neutrality_Shirt.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">like. Naturally, since Democrats are in favor of this, Republicans are opposed. <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/12/19/congress-wants-to-legislate-net-neutrality-heres-what-that-might-look-like/" target="_blank">But maybe not all <em>that</em> opposed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republicans in Congress appear likely to introduce legislation next month aimed at preventing Internet providers from speeding up some Web sites over others....<strong>Industry officials said they are discussing details of the proposal with several Republican lawmakers,</strong> whom they declined to name. The officials also said the proposal is being backed by several large telecommunications companies, which they also declined to name.</p> <p>One important piece of the proposed legislation would establish a new way for the FCC to regulate broadband providers by creating a separate provision of the Communications Act known as "Title X," the people said. Title X would enshrine elements of the tough net neutrality principles called for by President Obama last month. For example, it would give FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler the authority to prevent broadband companies from blocking or slowing traffic to Web sites, or charging content companies such as Netflix for faster access to their subscribers &mdash; a tactic known as "paid prioritization."</p> <p>....<strong>"Consensus on this issue is really not that far apart,"</strong> said an industry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing. "There's common understanding that rules are needed to protect consumers."</p> </blockquote> <p>Huh. I wonder if this is for real? The reported price for supporting this legislation is relatively small: the FCC would be prohibited from regulating the internet as a common carrier under Title II, something that even net neutrality supporters agree is problematic. The problem is that although Title II would indeed enshrine net neutrality, it comes with a ton of baggage that was designed for telephone networks and doesn't really translate well to the internet. This would require a lot of "regulatory forbearance" from the FCC, which is almost certain to end up being pretty messy. A new net-centric Title X, if it truly implements net neutrality, would be a much better solution. It would also be immune to court challenges.</p> <p>One possibility for such a law would be a modified version of net neutrality. My sense has always been that the real goal of net neutrality supporters is to make sure that internet providers don't provide fast lanes for companies willing to pay more, and don't slow down or block companies they dislike (perhaps because the companies provide services they compete with). At the same time, everyone acknowledges that video requires a lot of bandwidth, and internet providers legitimately need incentives to build out their networks to handle the growing data demands of video. So why not have content-neutral rules that set tariffs based on the type of service provided? Video providers might have to pay more than, say, Joe's Cafe, but all video providers would pay the same rate based on how much traffic they dump on the net. That rate would be subject to regulatory approval to prevent abuse.</p> <p>I dunno. Maybe that's too complicated. Maybe it's too hard to figure out traffic levels in a consistent way, and too hard to figure out how much video makes you a video provider. Maybe rules like this are too easy to game. In the end, it could be that the best bet is to simply agree on strong net neutrality, and then let ISPs charge their customers for bandwidth. If you watch a ton of Netflix, you're going to pay more. If you just check email once a day, you'll get a cheap plan.</p> <p>In any case, it's interesting that President Obama's announcement of support for strong net neutrality has really had an effect. It apparently motivated the FCC to get more serious about Title II regulation, and this in turn has motivated the industry to concede the net neutrality fight as long as they can win congressional approval of a more reasonable set of rules. The devil is in the details, of course, and I have no doubt that industry lobbyists will do their best to craft rules favorable to themselves. Luckily, there's a limit to how far they can go since it will almost certainly require Democratic support to pass a bill.</p> <p>Anyway, this is all just rumors and reports of rumors at this point. Stay tuned to see if it actually pans out.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Regulatory Affairs Tech Fri, 19 Dec 2014 17:32:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 267026 at http://www.motherjones.com We Should Respond to North Korea. But What If We Can't? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/we-should-respond-north-korea-what-if-we-cant <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Over at the all-new <em>New Republic</em>,&nbsp;Yishai Schwartz sounds the usual old-school <em>New Republic</em> war drums toward North Korea. "The only way to prevent future attacks," <a href="http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120604/sony-interview-hack-demands-us-cyberattack-response" target="_blank">he says,</a> "is for foreign governments to know that attacks against U.S. targets&mdash;cyber or kinetic&mdash;will bring fierce, yet proportionally appropriate, responses." And time is already running out. We should be doing this now now now.</p> <p>Right. So what's the deal, Obama? Why all the dithering in the face of this attack? Are you just&mdash;oh wait. Maybe there's more to this. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-struggles-for-response-to-sony-hack-1418950806?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories" target="_blank">Here's the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Responding presents its own set of challenges, with options that people familiar with the discussions say are either implausible or ineffective. North Korea's only connections to the Internet run through China, and some former officials say the U.S. should urge Beijing to get its neighbor to cut it out&hellip;But the U.S. already is in a standoff with China over accusations of bilateral hacking, making any aid in this crisis unlikely, the intelligence official said.</p> <p>Engaging in a counter-hack could also backfire, U.S. cyberpolicy experts said, in part because the U.S. is able to spy on North Korea by maintaining a foothold on some of its computer systems. A retaliatory cyberstrike could wind up damaging Washington's ability to spy on Pyongyang, a former intelligence official said. Another former U.S. official said policy makers remain squeamish about deploying cyberweapons against foreign targets.</p> <p>&hellip;North Korea is already an isolated nation, so there isn't much more economic pressure the U.S. can bring to bear on them either, these people said. Even publicly naming them as the suspected culprit presents diplomatic challenges, potentially causing problems for Japan, where Sony is based.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd like to do something to stomp on North Korea too. Hell, 20 million North Koreans would be better off if we just invaded the damn place and put them all under NATO military rule. It's one of the few places on Earth you can say that about. However, I'm sensible enough to realize that things aren't that easy, and there's not much point in demanding "action" just because the situation is so hellish and frustrating.</p> <p>Ditto in this case. A US response would certainly be appropriate. And honestly, it's not as if there's really anyone taking the other side of that argument. But given the nature of the DPRK, a meaningful response would also be really hard. America just doesn't have a whole lot of leverage against a place like that. What's more, if we do respond, it's at least even odds that it will be done in some way that will never be made public.</p> <p>So let's cool our jets. Armchair posturing might make us feel better, but this isn't a partisan chew toy, and it's not a matter of the current administration being insufficiently hawkish. It's a matter of figuring out if there's even a <em>way</em> to respond effectively. Like it or not, it might turn out that there isn't.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military Top Stories Fri, 19 Dec 2014 16:01:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 267011 at http://www.motherjones.com One Little Survey Question Explains All of Politics http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/one-little-survey-question-explains-all-politics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jonathan Bernstein points to a new Kaiser survey that examines opposition to the individual mandate in Obamacare. <a href="http://kaiserhealthnews.org/news/public-easily-swayed-on-attitudes-about-health-law-poll-finds/" target="_blank">Here's what they found:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It remains among the least popular aspects of the law&nbsp;&mdash; with just a 35 percent approval rating. But when people are told that the mandate doesn&rsquo;t affect most Americans because they already have coverage through an employer, support jumps to 62 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>It only takes a modest bit of reading between the lines to figure out what's really going on here: when people find out that the mandate doesn't apply to them personally, lots of them are suddenly OK with it. In case politics has always mystified you, that's it in a nutshell. Now you know.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 19 Dec 2014 03:59:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 267001 at http://www.motherjones.com