Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2011/07 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Friday Cat Blogging - 30 January 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/friday-cat-blogging-30-january-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My fatigue level is off the charts today. I have no idea what's causing this. But there are always plenty of catblogging pictures available, and you can hardly go wrong with Hilbert in a bag, can you? Enjoy.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_01_30.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:40:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 269376 at http://www.motherjones.com Housekeeping Note http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/housekeeping-note-0 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>My chemotherapy, which until now has had fairly predictable side effects, seems to have entered a less predictable phase. This means that my fatigue level changes from day to day, and with it my blogging output. So some days you'll see a bunch of posts, and other days you'll see one or two. It doesn't really mean anything is wrong. It just means I'm having a predictably unpredictable bad day.</p> <p>In addition, today I have several appointments, and Marian is undergoing major surgery. Nothing life-threatening, so no worries on that score. But a very big deal nonetheless.</p> <p>In other words, there's not likely to be any blogging today. Tomorrow, who knows? As they say, tomorrow is another day.</p> <p><strong>4 PM UPDATE:</strong> According to the surgeons, Marian's surgery was entirely successful. She's still waking up from the anesthesia and has several weeks of recovery ahead of her, but everything went fine.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 29 Jan 2015 14:00:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 269271 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's What's at the Heart of the Crisis in Greece http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/heres-whats-heart-crisis-greece <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>If you're in the market for some interesting commentary on Greece, there have been a couple of good ones recently. The first comes from Paul Krugman, who, among other things, makes a point that often gets missed: Greece is already running a primary surplus. That is, they've cut spending enough over the past few years <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Greece_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">that their budget would be balanced if it weren't for interest payments on their gigantic debt. What's more, their primary surplus is <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/thinking-about-the-new-greek-crisis/" target="_blank">slated to rise to 4.5 percent in the future:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If Greece were to adhere totally to the previous terms, over the next five years it would make resource transfers of about 20 percent of one year&rsquo;s GDP. From the point of view of the creditors, that&rsquo;s a trivial sum. From the point of the Greeks, however, it&rsquo;s crucial; the difference between a primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP and, say, 1.5 percent of GDP for the Greek economy and the welfare of its citizens is huge. The only reason for the creditors to play hardball would be to make Greece an example, to discourage other debtors from trying to negotiate relief.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, the EU is demanding that Greece not just balance its budget, but run a large surplus that it will mostly send to large countries for whom it's a trivial sum. For Greece, though, it's a <em>huge</em> sum, the difference between years of penury and a return to growth. This is at the heart of the conflict between Greece and the EU.</p> <p>The second commentary comes from Daniel Davies, who makes the point that Greece's gigantic debt doesn't really matter <em>as debt</em>. Everyone knows Greece will never be able to pay it back. But if everyone knows this, why are Germany and the rest of the EU <a href="http://crookedtimber.org/2015/01/25/greek-games-and-scenarios/" target="_blank">so hellbent on refusing to write it off?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Don&rsquo;t think of the Greek debt burden, either in cash &euro; terms or as a ratio to GDP, as an economic quantity. It basically isn&rsquo;t an economically meaningful number any more. <strong>The purpose of its existence is as a political quantity; it&rsquo;s part of the means by which control is exercised over the Greek budget by the Eurosystem.</strong> The regular rituals of renegotiation of the bailout package, financing of debt maturity peaks and so on, are the way in which the solvent Euroland nations exercise the kind of political control that they feel they need to have if they are going to be fiscally responsible for the bills.</p> <p>....It is, therefore, totally inimical to the Eurosystem to hold out any hope of the kind of debt writedown that Syriza wants, as opposed to some smaller, cosmetic face value reduction or maturity extension. <strong>The entire reason why Syriza wants to get a major up-front reduction in the debt number is to create political space to execute the rest of their program.</strong> The debt issue and the political issue are the same issue. Syriza understands this, and so does the Eurosystem.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, Greece doesn't want to run a large budget surplus. They want to increase government spending in order to dig their way out of their massive economic depression. The rest of the EU wants no such thing. They're afraid that if they let Greece off the hook, then (a) everyone else will want to be let off the hook, and (b) Greece will go right back to its free-spending ways and soon require another bailout. If the price of that is years of pain and unemployment, so be it.</p> <p>There's more at both links, and both are worth reading.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Thu, 29 Jan 2015 05:40:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 269266 at http://www.motherjones.com Why are Scam PACs So Much More Common on the Right Than the Left? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/why-are-scam-pacs-so-much-more-common-right-left <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>Politico's</em> Ken Vogel reports on a phenomenon that's gotten a fair amount of attention on <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/super-pac-scams-114581.html?hp=b3_r1" target="_blank">both the right and the left:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them....A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million &mdash; 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses.</p> <p>....[Democrats] have mostly avoided the problem, though they also benefit from the lack of tea party-style insurgency on their side. That could change if the 2016 Democratic presidential primary inflames deep ideological divisions within the party. But on the right, this industry appears only to be growing, according to conservatives who track it closely.</p> </blockquote> <p>And this problem isn't limited just to consultants who set up PACs to line their own pockets. Media Matters reports that right-wing outlets routinely tout&mdash;or rent their email lists to people touting&mdash;all manner of conspiracy theories <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_allen_west_pac.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">and out-and-out frauds. <a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/01/26/the-conservative-movement-is-infected-with-scam/202272" target="_blank">Here's an excerpt from Media Matters' list:</a></p> <ul><li>Mike Huckabee sold out his fans to a quack doctor, conspiracy theorists, and financial fraudsters.</li> <li>Subscribers to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich's email list have received supposed insider information about cancer "cures," the Illuminati, "Obama's 'Secret Mistress,'" a "weird" Social Security "trick," and Fort Knox being "empty."</li> <li>Five conservative outlets promoted a quack doc touting dubious Alzheimer's disease cures.</li> <li>Fox analyst Charles Payne was paid to push now worthless stocks.</li> <li>Newsmax super PAC boondoggle.</li> <li>Right-wing media helped "scam PACs" raise money from their readers.</li> </ul><p><a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/01/28/reagans-secret-cancer-cure-and-other-scams-from/202285" target="_blank">More here.</a> So here's my question: why is this so much more common on the right than on the left? It would be nice to chalk it up to the superior intelligence of liberal audiences and call it a day, but that won't wash. There's just no evidence that liberals, in general, are either smarter or less susceptible to scams than conservatives.</p> <p>One possibility is that a lot of this stuff is aimed at the elderly, and conservatives tend to skew older than liberals. And while that's probably part of the answer, it's hardly satisfying. There are plenty of elderly liberals, after all&mdash;certainly enough to make them worth targeting with the same kind of fraudulent appeals that infest the right.</p> <p>Another possibility is that it's basically a supply-side phenomenon. Maybe liberal outlets simply tend to be less ruthless, less willing to set up scam fundraising organizations than conservative outlets. In fact, that actually does seem to be the case. But again: why? Contrary to Vogel's lead, this kind of thing has been a problem on the right for a long time. It definitely got worse when the tea party movement created a whole new pool of potential patsies, but it didn't start in 2009. It's been around for a while.</p> <p>So then: why is this problem so much bigger on the right than on the left? I won't be happy with answers that simply assume liberals are innately better people. Even if they are, they aren't <em>that</em> much better. It's got to be something institutional, or something inherent in the nature of American conservatism. But what?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:01:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 269241 at http://www.motherjones.com Murder In Los Angeles Is Way Down Among Teenagers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/murder-los-angeles-way-down-among-teenagers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>LA Times</em> reports that murder is becoming <a href="http://homicide.latimes.com/post/homicide-victim-ages/" target="_blank">less common among teenagers:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;You're not seeing youngsters like you have in the past,&rdquo; said Det. Todd Anderson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. &ldquo;You used to see a lot more kids who were 16, 17, 18, 19. While it does still <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_la_times_age_homicide_victims_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">happen, it seems like they are getting a little bit older.&rdquo;</p> <p>In 2000, the average homicide victim was 30 years old and in 2014, the average victim was 34 years old, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. The shift comes as the total number of homicides falls.</p> </blockquote> <p>Why?</p> <blockquote> <p>George Tita, a criminologist at UC Irvine who studies homicide, said the increase in age is consistent with the changing nature of gang violence and the sharp decrease in killings throughout the county.</p> <p>Others say that the trauma of losing brothers, cousins and fathers to street violence may make gang life less appealing to younger people. &ldquo;It's the little brother looking at what happened to the big brother and saying, &lsquo;I don't want to go that way,'&rdquo; said Elliott Currie, another UC Irvine criminologist. &ldquo;It's something I think we criminologists don't talk about enough.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>That may be part of the answer. But you'll be unsurprised that there might be another, more plausible, reason: lead. Back in the 90s, the teenage and 20-something generations had grown up in the 70s and early 80s. This was an era of high lead emissions, and this lead poisoning affected their brains, causing them to become more violence-prone when they grew up.</p> <p>Today's teenagers, however, were born in the late 90s and early aughts. This was the era when leaded gasoline had finally been completely banned, so they grew up in a low-lead environment. As a result, they're less violence prone than their older siblings and less likely to find refuge in gangs.</p> <p>As always, lead is not the whole story. There have been other changes over the past couple of decades, and those changes may well have had an impact on both gangs and on crime more generally. But lead clearly has a generational impact. Younger kids are now less violent than in the past, while older folks haven't changed much. They've gotten older, which has always been associated with a drop in violent crime, but their basic temperament is still scarred by a childhood filled with lead emissions from automobiles.</p> <p>In any case, the age of a homicide victim is highly correlated with the age of the killer, and the chart above, excerpted from the <em>Times</em> story, shows homicide victimization age in 2000 and 2014. The huge bulge between age 15-30 is nearly gone, which is just what you'd expect if lead played an important role in violent crime. There may be less mystery here than the experts think.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Science Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:52:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 269116 at http://www.motherjones.com Greek Investors Apparently Surprised By Stuff No One Should Be Surprised About http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/greek-investors-apparently-surprised-stuff-no-one-should-be-surprised-about <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The latest news from Greece <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/world/europe/alexis-tsipras-greece-debt.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">is a bit peculiar:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his new cabinet on Wednesday that he would move swiftly to negotiate debt relief, but would not engage in a confrontation with creditors that would jeopardize a more just solution for the country....Later, the new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, appeared to harden the tone, saying that Greece&rsquo;s bailout deals were &ldquo;a toxic mistake&rdquo; and that the new government was determined to change the logic of how the crisis had been tackled.</p> <p>While many Greeks were hopeful that Mr. Tsipras would follow through with even a fraction of his populist promises, <strong>investors were more rattled.</strong> The Athens Stock Exchange, which already had billions of euros in value wiped out during Greece&rsquo;s election campaign, fell around 7.5 percent in midday trading on Wednesday after slumping around 11 percent on Tuesday. Shares in financial companies in Greece plummeted more than 17 percent on Wednesday.</p> </blockquote> <p>I wonder what has the stock market so spooked? After all, Tsipras is just doing what he's said he was going to do all along. Everyone expected him to take <em>at least</em> this hard a line on Greek debt, if not harder. So why the sudden panic? Shouldn't this have been priced in long ago? What's new here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:50:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 269091 at http://www.motherjones.com ISIS Fighters Lose Kobani In Win For Obama's Iraq Strategy http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/isis-fighters-lose-kobani-win-obamas-iraq-strategy <!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_kobani_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-kurd-syria-islamic-state-20150126-story.html" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Kurdish fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani appeared poised Monday to deal a decisive defeat to Islamic State militants after months of street clashes and U.S. aerial bombardment, signaling a major setback for the extremist group.</p> <p>....<strong>The apparent breakthrough shows how U.S. air power, combined with a determined allied force on the ground, can successfully confront Islamic State.</strong> The military watched with surprise as Islamic State continued sending hundreds of fighters, vehicles and weapons to Kobani, which was of no critical strategic importance to the overall fight but had become something of a public relations fight.</p> <p>"Essentially, they said, 'This is where we are going to make a stand' and flooded the region with fighters," said Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command, in charge of air operations in the battle against the Islamic State.</p> </blockquote> <p>My expert in all things Kurdish emailed me this comment today: "This is a big deal, and it proves the viability of Obama's strategy of working with proxies in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS. My prediction is we won't hear much boasting about it from Obama though. These aren't the politically chosen proxies."</p> <p>I've been one of the skeptics of Obama's strategy, and I'll remain so until the Iraqi military demonstrates the same fighting ability as the Kurdish peshmerga. Kobani, after all, is more a symbolic victory than anything else, and ISIS continues to control large swathes of Iraq. Nonetheless, at a minimum this shows that ISIS is hardly unbeatable, something that Iraqi forces probably needed to see.</p> <p>Bottom line: this is a proof of concept. When we can do the same thing in Mosul with Iraqi forces in the lead, then I'll be a real believer.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:33:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 268951 at http://www.motherjones.com Scott Walker Is the Winner in 2016's First Republican Campaign Cattle Call http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/scott-walker-winner-2016s-first-republican-campaign-cattle-call <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Rep. Steve King (R&ndash;Tea Partyville) held his big annual Republican confab in Iowa this weekend, and most of the 2016 wannabe candidates for president were there. But I know you're all busy people who don't care about the details. You<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/tmra5Xp_T10" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe>just want to know who won. <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2015_01/steve_kings_cattle_call053885.php" target="_blank">Take it away, Ed Kilgore:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The consensus winner (first announced by <em>National Review's</em> John Fund, but echoed by many others) was Scott Walker, who did exactly what he needed to do: show he could twist and shout with the best of them despite his "boring" image, <strong>and make an electability argument based on the fruits of confrontation rather than compromise.</strong> This latter dimension of his appeal should not be underestimated: at a time when MSM types and (more subtly) Jeb Bush and Chris Christie continue to suggest Republicans must become less feral to reach beyond their base, here's Walker saying he won three elections in four years in a blue state by going medieval on unions, abortionists and Big Government. So Walker's passed his first test in the challenge of proving he's not Tim Pawlenty, and that's a big deal given his excellent positioning in the field.</p> </blockquote> <p>Kilgore's "Tim Pawlenty" comment is a reference to Midwestern boringness, which has generally been seen as Walker's chief shortcoming. You can judge for yourself if you watch his 20-minute speech in Iowa, but I'd say he still has some work to do on this score. He wasn't terrible, but he never sounded to me like he really struck a connection with the crowd. He knew the words but not the tune&mdash;and even his words were a little too stilted and lifeless. Anytime you deliver an applause line and nothing happens, your words still need some work. And anytime you deliver an applause line, fail to wait for applause, then interrupt yourself to tell the crowd "you can clap for that, that's all right"&mdash;well, your delivery needs some work too.</p> <p>I'm on record saying that I think Walker is the strongest candidate in the Republican field. He's got the right views, he's got a winning record, he's got the confrontational style tea partiers love, and he doesn't come across as a kook. But yes, he needs to work on the whole charisma thing. If he gets serious about that, I still like his chances in the 2016 primaries.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:05:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 268901 at http://www.motherjones.com Does the Internet Really Make Dumb People Dumber? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/does-internet-really-make-dumb-people-dumber <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I don't normally get to hear what Bill Gates thinks of one of my ideas, but today's the exception. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/1/26/7877357/bill-gates-interview" target="_blank">Because Ezra Klein asked him:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Ezra Klein:</strong> ....Kevin Drum, who writes for <em>Mother Jones</em>, has a line I've always thought was interesting, which is that the internet makes dumb people dumber, and smart people smarter. Do you worry about the possibility that the vast resources the internet gives the motivated, including online education, will give rise o a big increase in, for lack of a better <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_internet_dumb_smart.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">tterm, cognitive or knowledge inequality that leads to further rises in global inequality?</p> <p><strong>Bill Gates:</strong> Well, you always have the challenge that when you create a tool to make activity X easier, like the internet makes it easier to find out facts or to learn new things, that there are some outliers who use that thing extremely well. It's way easier to be polymathic today than it was in the past because your access to materials and your ability if you ever get stuck to find people that you can engage with is so strong.</p> <p>But to say that there's actually some negative side, that there actually will be people that are dumber, I disagree with that. I mean, I'm as upset as anyone at the wrong stuff about vaccination that's out there on the internet that actually confuses some small number of people. There's a communications challenge to get past.</p> <p>But look at IQ test capability over time. Or even take a TV show today and how complex it is &mdash; that's responding to the marketplace. You take <em>Breaking Bad</em> versus, I don't know, <em>Leave it to Beaver</em>, or <em>Combat!</em>, or <em>The Wild, Wild West</em>. You know, yeah, take <em>Combat!</em> because that was sort of pushing the edge of should kids be allowed to watch it.</p> <p>The interest and complexity really does say that, broadly, these tools have meant that market-driven people are turning out more complex things. Now, you can say, "Why hasn't that mapped to more sophistication in politics or something like that?" That's very complicated. But I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet.</p> <p>I'm sure that was said when the printing press came along and people saw romance novels and thought people would stay indoors and read all the time. But I just don't see there being a big negative to the empowerment.</p> </blockquote> <p>Unsurprisingly, Gates agrees that the internet can make smart people smarter. By analogy, the printing press also made smart people smarter because it gave them cheap, easy access to far more information. Since they were capable of processing the information, they were effectively smarter than they used to be.</p> <p>It's equally unsurprisingly that he disagrees about the internet making dumb people dumber. It's a pretty anti-tech opinion, after all, and that's not the business Bill Gates is in. But I think his answer actually belies his disagreement, since he immediately acknowledges an example of precisely this phenomenon: the anti-vax movement, something that happens to be close to his heart. Unfortunately, to call this merely a "communications challenge" discounts the problem. Sure, it's a communications challenge, <em>but that's the whole point</em>. The internet is all about communication, and it does two things in this case. First, it empower the anti-vax nutballs, giving them a far more powerful medium for spreading their nonsense. On the flip side, it makes a lot more people vulnerable to bad information. If you lack the context to evaluate arguments about vaccination, the internet is much more likely to make you dumber about vaccinating your kids than any previous medium in history.</p> <p>The rest of Gates' argument doesn't really hold water either. Sure, IQ scores have been rising. But they've been rising for a long time. This long predates the internet and has nothing to do with it. As for TV shows, he picked the wrong example. It's true that <em>Breaking Bad</em> is far more sophisticated than <em>Leave it to Beaver</em>, but <em>Breaking Bad</em> was always a niche show, averaging 1-2 million viewers for nearly its entire run. Instead, you should compare <em>Leave it to Beaver</em> with, say, <em>The Big Bang Theory</em>, which gets 10-20 million viewers per episode. Is <em>Big Bang</em> the more sophisticated show? Maybe. But if so, it's not by much.</p> <p>In any case, the heart of Gates' response is this: "I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet." I won't pretend that I have ironclad evidence one way or the other, but I wouldn't dismiss the problem so blithely. I'm not trying to make a broad claim that the internet is making us generally stupider or anything like that. But it's a far more powerful medium for spreading conspiracy theories and other assorted crap than anything we've had before. If you lack the background and context to evaluate information about a particular subject, you're highly likely to be misinformed if you do a simple Google search and just start reading whatever comes up first. And that describes an awful lot of people.</p> <p>Obviously this has been a problem for as long humans have been able to communicate. The anti-fluoridation nutballs did just fine with only dead-tree technology. Still, I think the internet makes this a more widespread problem, simply because it's a more widespread medium, and it's one that's especially difficult to navigate wisely. Hopefully that will change in the future, but for now it is what it is. It doesn't <em>have</em> to make dumb people dumber, but in practice, I think it very often does.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:55:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 268871 at http://www.motherjones.com ANWR Proposal Shows That Obama's Power to Set the Agenda Is Alive and Well http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/anwr-proposal-shows-obamas-power-set-agenda-alive-and-well <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's the latest salvo in President Obama's <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-obama-arctic-alaska-oil-drilling-wilderness-20150125-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">flurry of executive activity following the 2014 election:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama proposed designating 1.4 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness, drawing cheers from environmentalists but setting off a bitter new battle Sunday with the Republican-controlled Congress over oil and gas drilling in pristine areas of northern Alaska.</p> <p>The plan would permanently bar drilling and other forms of development in the 19.8-million-acre refuge&rsquo;s coastal plain, a narrow strip between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean where caribou give birth. The area, estimated to hold 10.3 billion barrels of oil, is <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_anwr_caribou.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">home to more than 200 species, including polar bears, wolverines, musk oxen and thousands of migratory birds.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, technically this is meaningless. ANWR has been a battleground for years, as much symbolic as anything else. The amount of oil it could produce isn't really huge, but then again, the environmental damage that a pipeline would produce probably isn't that huge either.<sup>1</sup> In any case, the Interior Department already bans drilling in ANWR, and there's no way that a Republican Congress is going to pass a bill to make a drilling ban permanent. So what's the point of Obama's proposal?</p> <p>It's simple: once again he's using the agenda-setting power of the presidency. Basically, he's making ANWR something that everyone now has to take a stand on. Talking heads will fulminate on one side or the other, and Republicans will respond by introducing legislation to open up ANWR to drilling. This isn't something they were planning to spend time on, but now they probably will. Their base will demand it, as will the Republican caucus in the House and Senate. Nothing will come of it, of course, but it will eat up time that might otherwise have been spent on something else.</p> <p>And that's why Obama is doing this. It also lays down a marker and lets everyone know that Democrats are the party of natural beauty while Republicans are the party of Big Oil. It can't hurt to make that clear. Still, that's not the main goal here. The main goal is to toss some sand in the gears of Republican plans for the 115th Congress. Obama is proving once again that even with the opposition in control of Congress, he still has the power to decide what people are going to talk about.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Please address all hate mail regarding this assertion to my editors. Thanks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Energy Obama Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:59:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 268826 at http://www.motherjones.com It's Time for Greece to Decide If It's Leaving the Euro http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/its-time-greece-decide-if-its-leaving-euro <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>As expected, the Syriza party won power in Sunday's election in Greece. Their platform is pretty simple: the austerity forced on Greece after the 2008 financial collapse is no longer tolerable. The Greek economy is in shambles, growth is negative, and unemployment is above 25 percent. Europe needs to forgive its loans to Greece and allow the Greek economy to grow again. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/27/world/europe/alexis-tsipiras-greece-coalition.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Here is Europe's response so far:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;The Greeks have the right to elect whoever they want; we have the right to no longer finance Greek debt,&rdquo; Hans-Peter Friedrich, a senior member of [Angela] Merkel&rsquo;s conservative bloc, told the daily newspaper <em>Bild</em> on Monday. &ldquo;The Greeks must now pay the consequences and cannot saddle German taxpayers with them.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words: Screw you. The loans need to be repaid no matter the cost. This has been the German position for some time<sup>1</sup>, and the German position is the de facto European position. So we have a standoff.</p> <p>It's unclear what will happen next. There will be negotiations, of course, but the truth is that Syriza doesn't have much leverage. They can threaten to unilaterally default and leave the eurozone, but that's about it. A few years ago, that would have meant something because everyone was afraid that if Greece defaulted, perhaps Spain and Italy and Portugal and others would follow suit. This could well have destroyed the euro. Today things are exactly the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_greece_germany.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">opposite. Nobody is really afraid that other countries would follow Greece in leaving the euro, but they <em>are</em> afraid that if they make serious concessions then other countries will want their debt forgiven too. And that's simply not on the German agenda.</p> <p>So is Syriza serious? Will they really default if they don't get what they want? Leaving the euro would be no easy task and would cause immense economic pain. The only question is whether the pain would be worth it in the long run. It might be, but it's hardly an easy call, and it would take real guts for Syriza to call Germany's bluff and leave the euro. The practical problems alone&mdash;how fast can you create new physical currency and coins to replace euros?&mdash;are nearly insurmountable. The economic problems of capital flight and being shut out of the international loan market would be colossal. Greeks would take an instant hit to their standard of living, perhaps as large as 50 percent.</p> <p>But it still might be worth it. The Greeks may calculate that in the medium term, exiting the euro and adopting a devalued currency would allow their economy to become competitive and finally start growing again. Without that, they could be looking at a decade or more of pain and stagnation.</p> <p>So there's the question: which road would leave Greece better off in 2025? Years more of stagnation followed by a slow, painful recovery? Or a huge hit now followed&mdash;maybe&mdash;by a robust recovery? It's not an easy question.</p> <p>And of course, there's also the purely emotional aspect of all this. The Germans are tired of the whining Greeks. The Greeks are tired of living under the German jackboot. It may simply be time for a divorce, consequences be damned. The next few months will be a time of high tension for Europe.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Ironically, this was the position of the allies toward German reparation debt following World War I, and we all know how that turned out. But no one is afraid of Greece starting a new world war, so no one cares about the irony.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:17:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 268816 at http://www.motherjones.com Has Netanyahu Finally Gone Too Far With His Contempt for Obama? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/when-will-benjamin-netanyahu-finally-go-too-far <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I keep wondering if it's ever possible for Benjamin Netanyahu to go too far. He's treated President Obama with truly astonishing levels of contempt and disdain for nearly his entire tenure, and he's done it in the apparent belief that his political support in the US is so strong and so bipartisan that he'll never be held to account for it. And so far he hasn't been.</p> <p>But what about his latest stunt? The fact that John Boehner invited him to address Congress is hardly surprising. Boehner needed to poke Obama in the eye to demonstrate his conservative bona fides, and this was a perfect opportunity since he knew Netanyahu would deliver plenty of trash talk about Obama's Iran policy. But the fact that <em>Netanyahu</em> kept the invitation a secret from the administration and failed to even notify them he was planning a visit&mdash;well, that's a whole different story. As former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk put it, "Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign....Unfortunately, the US relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours."</p> <p>And it turns out that even two Fox News hosts agree. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/1/24/7884311/netanyahu-boehner-fox-news" target="_blank">Max Fisher relays the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Two prominent Fox News hosts, Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith, harshly criticized Boehner and Netanyahu on Friday for secretly arranging a Netanyahu speech to Congress that is transparently aimed at undermining President Obama, and set up without the White House's knowledge.</p> <p>...."I agree 100 percent," Wallace said when Smith read a quote from Indyk criticizing the Boehner-Netanyahu maneuver. Wallace went on:</p> <blockquote> <p>And to make you get a sense of really how, forgive me, wicked, this whole thing is, the Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States for two hours on Tuesday, Ron Dermer. The ambassador, never mentioned the fact that Netanyahu was in negotiations and finally agreed to come to Washington, not to see the president, but to go to Capitol Hill, speak to a joint session of congress and criticize the president's policy. I have to say I'm shocked.</p> </blockquote> <p>Smith said, "it seems like [Netanyahu's government] think[s] we don't pay attention and that we're just a bunch of complete morons, the United States citizens, as if we wouldn't pick up on what's happening here."</p> </blockquote> <p>Shep Smith goes off the Fox reservation all the time, so perhaps his comments aren't too much of a surprise. But although Wallace is no Sean Hannity, he's fairly reliably conservative and even he was shocked.</p> <p>So has Netanyahu finally gone over the line? So far I haven't heard much criticism from sitting US politicians, so I'd have to say not. Not yet, anyway. But it sure seems like the day is going to come. No matter how close an ally Israel is, there's only so much contempt their leaders can show for a sitting American president and his policies. Eventually the American public is going to lose patience, even the folks who aren't huge Obama fans themselves.</p> <p>It hasn't happened yet. Maybe it never will. But it sure seems as if Benjamin Netanyahu is hellbent on pushing the line until he finally rings a bell he can't unring. The only question now is whether he stays in office long enough to make that final, fatal mistake.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Foreign Policy Obama Top Stories Sun, 25 Jan 2015 23:15:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 268786 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 23 January 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/friday-cat-blogging-23-january-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I wrote this morning's short post and then spent the rest of the morning napping. This is ridiculous, and I don't know what's going on. I'm a thousand percent better than I was Tuesday and Wednesday, but still dog tired. One possibility is that this is due to a change in my chemo schedule. Instead of getting all three meds on Friday, I got two of them on Friday and then the third as a standalone on Monday. The next day I was wiped out. Anyway, I <em>hope</em> that's the reason, since this was a one-time thing. I'll ask about it today, though I have little hope of getting any satisfactory answers.</p> <p>In any case, it's finally Friday, so how about some catblogging? This week features a brand new addition to the extended family of Drum cats. My friend Professor Marc sends along this photo of Ivan Davidoff, his new Siberian. His report: "Seems to like being around people, but is not a cuddle-kitty. He likes being petted, will frequently come see if I&rsquo;m still in the home office if I&rsquo;m working there, sometimes jumps onto the desk to be next to me, but is not a lap cat. Maybe that will come as he gets more comfortable. Has woken us up in the middle of the night to get affection, but is not pushy about it." He is certainly a handsome critter, no?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ivan_davidoff_2015_01_23.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:17:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 268751 at http://www.motherjones.com John Boehner Faces a Revolt of the Moderates http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/john-boehner-faces-revolt-moderates <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Having awakened from my slumber, I see that John Boehner has a whole new problem on his hands. Apparently the rump moderate wing of the Republican Party is <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-gop-abortion-20150123-story.html" target="_blank">starting to feel itchy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Female lawmakers pushed the party to drop Thursday's planned vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forcing leaders to abruptly switch course and pass a different antiabortion bill.</p> <p>Last week, a surprisingly large group of 26 House Republicans refused to support an amendment that called for ending deportation deferrals of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Those dissenters came within one vote of tanking the measure aimed at so-called Dreamers.</p> </blockquote> <p>This comes from <em>LA Times</em> reporter Lisa Mascaro, who tells us these folks "bristle" at being called moderates. They prefer to be called pragmatists. Tomayto, tomahto, says me, though it's telling that "moderate" is still a dirty word in GOP land. It's also telling that all this fuss is over bills that everyone agrees are nothing more than the usual symbolic flotsam and jetsam that Republicans pass every year with no actual hope of any of them becoming law. This year, though, they're having trouble even doing that.</p> <p>Why? Is it because the bills are slightly less symbolic than in the past? There is, after all, just a bare chance that some of them could get through the Senate if sponsors line up a few Democrats to join in. They'd still get vetoed, but they'd nonetheless be a little less symbolic in the public's mind. Or is it simply the fact that as Republican ranks grow, the party's victories increasingly come in more moderate districts? As Democrats lose ground in moderate districts and become more solidly liberal, perhaps it's inevitable that Republicans will become more like the Democrats of old.</p> <p>In any case, John Boehner has his work cut out for him. He's got tea partiers on one side, moderates on the other, and a president who has been very effectively throwing sand in the gears of Republican priorities ever since November. Boehner's leadership skills, always a bit on the iffy side, are going to be sorely tested this year.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress The Right Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:16:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 268731 at http://www.motherjones.com Yet More Housekeeping http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/yet-more-housekeeping <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I have returned to the land of the living. The last 36 hours have been pretty hellish, but the good news is that I think I know what happened, and it's not likely to happen again. I hope.</p> <p>That said, I'm still pretty tired. We'll see how the rest of the day goes.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:36:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 268646 at http://www.motherjones.com Housekeeping Update http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/housekeeping-update-0 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>No blogging today. Sorry. Lots of stuff going on with my body right now. But I should recover eventually.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:43:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 268566 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama's Small Ball Is Making Republicans Itch http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/obamas-small-ball-making-republicans-itch <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jordan Weissmann describes the modest nature of <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/01/20/state_of_the_union_2015_obama_s_new_economic_agenda_is_progressivism_on.html" target="_blank">President Obama's new tax proposals:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Combined, Obama&rsquo;s hikes would raise $320 billion over a decade, or $32 billion per year. That&rsquo;s just a smidge more than 1 percent of last year&rsquo;s federal tax revenue&mdash;more than a rounding error, but not much more. <strong>Obama isn&rsquo;t looking to soak the rich at this point so much as lightly spritz them.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Quite so. But I'm sure we'll hear endless cries of class warfare anyway, especially over the proposal to end the step-up rule, which would effectively increase the estate tax on rich people. Can't have that.</p> <p>This actually fits with everything Obama has been doing lately: neither his legislative proposals nor his executive actions have been world shaking. It's all small-ball stuff, designed as much to make a point as it is to actually make a difference. If you put them all together, Obama's actions are a way of showing that (a) Democrats are reasonable folks, (b) they're on <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_approval_january_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the side of the middle class, and (c) Republicans continue to be the party of plutocrats, adamantly opposed to even modest proposals that would tax the rich ever so slightly more.</p> <p>Is it working? Well, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/01/20/morning-plum-obama-finally-gets-some-good-poll-numbers/" target="_blank">as Greg Sargent points out,</a> most of Obama's proposals seem to be pretty popular, and his poll numbers have jumped up over the past month or so. Maybe this is just because everyone is happy about lower gasoline prices, but I'd guess that's only a part of it. Obama's steady stream of actions make him look good, and relentless opposition makes Republicans look bad. Seems like it's working to me.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:22:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 268471 at http://www.motherjones.com Eric Holder Ends Horrible Civil Asset Forfeiture Program http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/eric-holder-ends-horrible-civil-asset-forfeiture-program <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I was getting better over the weekend, then yesterday I relapsed back into coughing fits. And today is a holiday anyway, so probably blogging will be light. But I hate to let this development from last Friday <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/01/16/us/politics/ap-us-asset-forfeiture-program.html?_r=0" target="_blank">continue to go unremarked:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday announced sweeping changes to a federal civil asset forfeiture program that local law enforcement agencies have been able to use to seize property.</p> <p>....Under new rules announced Friday, federal agencies will no longer be able to accept or "adopt" assets seized by local and state law enforcement agencies &mdash; unless the property includes firearms, ammunitions, explosives, child pornography or other materials concerning public safety. Holder described the new policy as the "first step in a comprehensive review."</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a big deal. Civil asset forfeiture allows police departments to seize property&mdash;usually money and cars&mdash;from people they merely suspect of a crime. No conviction is necessary, and victims have no recourse unless they have the means to sue to recover their property. All by itself this has been a scandal for a long time, but the federal program Holder eliminated has been the biggest scandal of all. It's bad enough that civil asset forfeiture even exists as a legal doctrine, but it's beyond comprehension that the feds would actively encourage abuse of forfeiture laws by creating a program that allows police departments to keep most of the money they seize. This is practically an invitation to steal money from innocent people.</p> <p>So good for Holder for ending this program. If cops are going to be allowed to seize property from people they merely suspect of crimes&mdash;or, in some cases, pretend to suspect of crimes, wink wink nudge nudge&mdash;they sure as hell shouldn't be allowed to keep the stuff and sell it in order to buy themselves a bunch of shiny new toys. The possibilities for abuse are obvious and have been well documented. We're well shut of this horrible program.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:10:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 268436 at http://www.motherjones.com Did Market Monetarist Predictions Trounce Everyone Else During the Great Recession? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/did-market-monetarist-predictions-trounce-everyone-else-during-great-recession <!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.aei.org/publication/just-correct-market-monetarists/" target="_blank">Via James Pethokoukis,</a> Scott Sumner claims that Market Monetarists got things right during the aftermath of the Great Recession <a href="http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2015/01/whats_wrong_wit_17.html" target="_blank">when others didn't:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It must be a major embarrassment to the profession that us lowly MMs turned out to be more correct during the crisis than any other major group (New Keynesians, New Classical, RBC-types, etc.) and indeed more accurate than other groups on the fringes (old Keynesians, old monetarists, Austrians, MMTers, etc.):</p> <p>1. It&rsquo;s now obvious that Fed, ECB, and BOJ policy was far too tight in late 2008 and early 2009, but MMs were just about the only people saying so at the time.</p> <p>2. We correctly pointed out that fiscal austerity in 2013 would not slow growth in the US because of monetary offset, whereas in a poll of 50 elite economists by the University of Chicago, all but one gave answers implying it would slow growth.</p> <p>3. We pointed out that massive QE would not lead to high inflation, while many other economists on the right said it would.</p> <p>4. We correctly predicted that the BOJ and Swiss National Bank could depreciate their currency at the zero bound, while many on the left said monetary policy was pushing on a string at the zero bound.</p> <p>5. We pointed out that the ECB&rsquo;s tightening of policy in 2011 was a huge mistake, which now almost everyone recognizes.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm a little puzzled by this. Unless I'm misremembering badly, prominent lefty economists like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have been saying most of these things all along. And while I'm not really quite sure if these guys think of themselves as New Keynesians or Neo-Paleo Keynesians or modified Old Keynesians or what, they're basically Keynesians.</p> <p>The only one of Sumner's five points where there's disagreement, I think, is #2, and I'd argue that this is a very difficult point to prove one way or the other. My own read of the evidence is that the modest austerity of 2013 might very well have had a modest effect on growth, but frankly, a single year of data is all but impossible to draw any firm conclusions from. However, it's certainly true that there were no huge changes in the trend growth rate.</p> <p>As for the others, the Keynesian types argued strongly that (a) conventional Taylor Rule calculations called for much looser Fed policy in 2008-09, (b) QE would not lead to inflation in the face of a huge demand shortfall and continued deleveraging, (c) monetary policy in countries with their own currency still had traction, but fiscal policy had a<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/6sKAiY8xl88" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe> powerful role too at the ZLB, and (d) the ECB's tight monetary policy in 2011 was nothing short of a cataclysmic disaster.</p> <p>I'm sympathetic to the market monetarist advocacy of NGDP level targeting, but then again, so are folks like Krugman and DeLong. So in a way, it's sometimes unclear to me exactly how far they diverge in practice, even if they subscribe to different theoretical fundamentals. My own tentativeness about NGDPLT is mostly practical: it's not clear to me that central banks can even target inflation as powerfully as many people think, let alone NGDP levels. Part of the reason is that I simply have less faith in the expectations channel than many NGDPLT advocates. It seems like something that will work fine until markets test it to find out if the Fed <em>really</em> has the independent power to set NGDP levels anywhere it wants even in the face of investor panic, and then suddenly it won't work anymore and the Fed's aura of invincibility will be broken. And that will be that. But that may simply reflect a lack of understanding my part. Or perhaps just a lack of faith.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:57:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 268426 at http://www.motherjones.com Half of All Public School Kids in Poverty? Be Careful. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/half-all-public-school-kids-poverty-be-careful <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>What's up with the copy desk at the <em>Washington Post</em>? Here's a new story <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/majority-of-us-public-school-students-are-in-poverty/2015/01/15/df7171d0-9ce9-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.html" target="_blank">about our public schools:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty</strong></p> <p>By Lyndsey Layton</p> <p>For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students <strong>come from low-income families</strong>, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.</p> <p>The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year <strong>were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches</strong>. The lunch program is a <strong>rough proxy for poverty</strong>, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation&rsquo;s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.</p> </blockquote> <p>The headline is wrong, even though Layton gets the facts pretty much right: 51 percent of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which are available only to low-income families. That's an important story. But participation in the federal lunch program is, as she notes, only a rough proxy for poverty: you qualify if you have a family income less than 185 percent of the poverty line. <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2014-04788.pdf" target="_blank">For a family of four this comes to about $44,000, </a>which certainly qualifies as working class or lower middle class, but not poverty stricken.</p> <p>But it's more complicated than that! The 51 percent number is attention grabbing because it's a majority, but perhaps the more important number is that <a href="http://www.southerneducation.org/getattachment/4ac62e27-5260-47a5-9d02-14896ec3a531/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now.aspx" target="_blank">44 percent qualify for <em>free</em> lunches.</a> For a family of four, that's $31,000, just barely over the poverty line. If you got rid of the word "majority," it would <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_child_poverty.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">be safe to use the phrase "near poverty." And frankly, I wouldn't be bothered much if you just called it poverty, even if that's not quite the official federal government definition.</p> <p>But wait! It's even more complicated than that&mdash;and this part is important. On the one hand, lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don't participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don't want to eat in the cafeteria. So there's always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible. On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/state-cep-election-data.pdf" target="_blank">more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible,</a> and the number is growing quickly. For example, <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/milwaukee-schools-to-offer-free-meals-to-all-students-b99332678z1-271657681.html" target="_blank">every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.</a> Overall, then, although the official numbers have long undercounted some kids, CEP means they now increasingly overcount others. Put this together, and participation in the school lunch program becomes an even rougher proxy for poverty than it used to be&mdash;and any recent "explosion" in the student lunch numbers needs to be taken with a serious grain of salt. This is especially true since overall child poverty <a href="http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/historical/people.html" target="_blank">hasn't really changed much over the past three decades,</a> and if you use measures that include safety net programs it's actually <a href="https://courseworks.columbia.edu/access/content/group/c5a1ef92-c03c-4d88-0018-ea43dd3cc5db/Working%20Papers%20for%20website/Anchored%20SPM.December7.pdf" target="_blank">gone down modestly since the end of the Reagan era.</a></p> <p>This is, perhaps, a bit too much nitpicking. Unfortunately, we're forced to use school lunch data as a proxy for poverty among school kids because we don't really have anything better. What's more, child poverty increased during the Great Recession and God knows that I'm all in favor of calling attention to it. In a country of our wealth it's a national scandal by any measure, and a massive problem that infects practically every aspect of education policy.</p> <p>Still, it's a subject that can't easily be reduced to a single school lunch number. Both headlines and copy should do their best to treat the subject accurately.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Education Sat, 17 Jan 2015 17:55:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 268421 at http://www.motherjones.com Friday Cat Blogging - 16 January 2015 http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/friday-cat-blogging-16-january-2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Looky here: it's Hilbert plus the entire Drum clan. On the far left, that's me and my sister circa 1963 (my brother is there too, but Hilbert is hiding him.) Aren't we cute? In the middle are my parents, and on the right are Marian's folks. And I'm sure no one needs any help recognizing the youthful, bright-eyed newlyweds in the center.</p> <p>In other cat news, my sister draws our attention to the fact that cats can save lives too. <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2912331/Stray-cat-saves-Russian-baby-abandoned-freezing-hallway-keeping-warm.html" target="_blank">Here's the report from Russia:</a> "An abandoned newborn baby was saved from freezing to death by the unlikeliest of hero&nbsp;&mdash; a stray cat. The tabby named Marsha climbed into the box the infant had been dumped in and kept the child warm for several hours as the mercury plunged below zero." Hooray for cats!</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_2015_01_16.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:56:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 268381 at http://www.motherjones.com This Year's Flu Vaccine Was 23 Percent Effective http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/years-flu-vaccine-was-23-percent-effective <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The <em>LA Times</em> passes along the news that this year's flu vaccine gives you a <a href="http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-flu-vaccine-effectiveness-20150115-story.html" target="_blank">23 percent lower chance of contracting the flu:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That 23% figure is a measure known as &ldquo;vaccine effectiveness,&rdquo; and it&rsquo;s certainly on the low end of the spectrum. In the decade since experts began calculating a &ldquo;VE&rdquo; for flu vaccines, it has ranged from a low of 10% to a high of 60%.</p> <p>....But the vaccine didn&rsquo;t help everyone equally. Kids benefited the most&nbsp;&mdash; the VE for those between the ages of 6 months and 17 years was 26%. Among adults, the VE was 12% for people ages 18 to 49 and 14% for people 50 and older. The figures for adults were too small to be statistically significant.</p> </blockquote> <p>Just my luck. This year was the first time I ever got a flu shot, and all I got out of it was a 14 percent lower chance of getting the flu. And my arm was sore for days afterward! Hmmph.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Fri, 16 Jan 2015 19:41:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 268376 at http://www.motherjones.com No, Congress Never Intended to Limit Obamacare Subsidies to State Exchanges http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/no-congress-never-intended-limit-obamacare-subsidies-state-exchanges <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in <em>King v. Burwell</em>, in which conservatives will argue that the text of Obamacare limits federal subsidies only to people who buy insurance from state-run exchanges, not from the federal exchange. Roughly speaking, there are two prongs of the conservative argument:</p> <ol><li>The law contains text that explicitly limits subsidies to state-run exchanges. Democrats may not have intended this, but they screwed up in the rush to get the bill passed. That's too bad for them, but the law is the law.</li> <li>Democrats actually <em>did</em> intend to limit subsidies to state-run exchanges. This <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_supreme_court_cameras.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was meant as an incentive for states to run their own exchanges rather than punting the job to the feds.</li> </ol><p>The argument over #1 revolves around textual interpretation of the statute as a whole, as well as previous Supreme Court precedent that provides federal agencies with broad latitude in how they implement regulations. The argument over #2 relies on trying to find evidence that limiting subsidies really was a topic of discussion at some point during the debate over the bill. That's been tough: virtually no one who covered the debate (including me) remembers so much as a hint of anything like this popping up. The subsidies were always meant to be universal.</p> <p>But the recollections of journalists aren't really very germane to a Supreme Court case. The real-time analyses of the Congressional Budget Office, however, might be. This is an agency <em>of Congress</em>, after all, that responds to questions and requests from all members, both Democrats and Republicans. So did CBO ever model any of its cost or budget projections based on the idea that subsidies might not be available in certain states? Today <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/1/16/7554097/analysis-cbo-contradicted-the-latest-case-against-obamacare-68" target="_blank">Sarah Kliff</a> points us to Theda Skocpol, who took a look at every single CBO analysis of Obamacare done in 2009 and early 2010. <a href="http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/content/why-congressional-budget-office-reports-are-best-evidence-congressional-intent-about-health-" target="_blank">Here's what she found:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>CBO mostly dealt with overall budgetary issues of spending, costs, and deficits&nbsp;&mdash; or looked at the specific impact of health reform proposals on Medicare beneficiaries, health care providers, and citizens at various income levels. <strong><em>The record shows that no one from either party asked CBO to analyze or project subsidies available to people in some states but not others.</em></strong> In a June 2009 analysis of a draft proposal from Democrats in the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee, CBO treated subsidies as phased in. But even that proposal, which did not survive in further deliberations, stipulated that subsidies would be available in all states from 2014&nbsp;&mdash; and CBO calculated costs accordingly.</p> <p>After the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, members of Congress, especially Republican critics, continued to raise issues. <strong>In its responses, CBO continued to model exchange subsidies as available nationwide.</strong> No one in either party objected or asked for alternative estimations assuming partial subsidies at any point in the 111th Congress.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's unclear whether this is something the Supreme Court will find germane, but it's certainly closer to being germane than the recollections of a bunch of reporters.</p> <p>It's also possible, of course, that the court will focus solely on argument #1 and never even get to questions about the intent of Congress. Nonetheless, this is an interesting review of the CBO record. The conservative case that Democrats actively intended subsidies to be limited to state exchanges has always been remarkably flimsy. Skocpol's review exposes it as all but nonexistent.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 16 Jan 2015 18:37:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 268371 at http://www.motherjones.com Will 2014 Finally Be the Year That Puts the Climate Denialists' 1998 Chestnut to Rest? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/will-2014-finally-be-year-puts-climate-change-denialist-1998-chestnut-rest <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>With 2014 now in the books, it's a good time to refresh our memories about the great conservative global warming hoax. Here's a look at the usual conservative presentation showing that the planet hasn't warmed even a teensy little bit over the past decade. Their go-to chart, which goes from 1998 through 2012, looks like this:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1998_2012.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 280px;"></p> <p>No warming! But how can that be? Well, if you cherry pick your start and end dates, you can show just about anything. Here's the same chart extended by a <em>mere two years</em> on either side. It goes from 1996 through 2014:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1996_2014.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 275px;"></p> <p>Warming! How about that? It's amazing how you can lie with numbers if you put your mind to to it. And here's the full chart since 1900:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_warming_1900_2014.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 50px;"></p> <p>This is apropos because <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record/#.VLlBWHuO5Sq" target="_blank">NASA announced today that we set a record last year:</a> "The year 2014 ranks as Earth's warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists."</p> <p>The year 1998 was an outlier, an unusually warm year. If you choose this as your starting point, the next decade will look pretty uneventful. You can do the same thing with lots of other decade-long periods. For example, 1969-85 looks pretty flat, and so does 1981-94. This is typical of noisy data. Planetary warming isn't a smooth upward curve every year. It spikes up and down, and that allows people to play games with the data over short periods. Add to that the fact that warming really does appear to pause a bit now and again, and it's easy for charlatans to fool the rubes with misleading charts.</p> <p>But in the end, physics and chemistry will do their thing regardless. Earth is warming up, as any honest look at the data makes clear. And 2014 is now yet another record-setting year. We'll see if that's enough to embarrass the Fox News set into giving up on the old 1998 chestnut.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Fri, 16 Jan 2015 17:09:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 268356 at http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Thanks to Obamacare, Medical Debt Is Down http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/chart-day-thanks-obamacare-medical-debt-down <!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.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/jan/biennial-health-insurance-survey" target="_blank">A new survey from the Commonwealth Fund</a> brings us good news and bad news. The good news is that, thanks to Obamacare, the number of people with serious medical debt issues has dropped from 41 percent to 35 percent. Hooray!</p> <p>And the bad news? This barely gets us back to where we were a decade ago. We still have a long way to go.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_commonwealth_medical_debt.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 60px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:22:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 268316 at http://www.motherjones.com