Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en No, Ronald Reagan Was Not Just a More Amiable Version of Barry Goldwater <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jacob Weisberg is critical of Rick Perlstein's <a href=";qid=1410893757&amp;sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>The Invisible Bridge</em>,</a> the third volume in his history of movement conservatism from 1958 to 1980. The first two books covered Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon; the third spans the period from 1972 through 1976, which encompasses the end of Nixon and the rise of Reagan. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's Weisberg:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Most historians view the Nixon-Reagan transition as a break in the ideological continuum, a shift from an era in which Republicans made peace with the growing welfare and regulatory state to one in which a newly energized conservative movement effectively challenged <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_invisible_bridge.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">it. Perlstein, by contrast, sees the move from Nixon to Reagan as continuity: Both men tried to reverse what the 1960s were doing to the country.</p> <p>....<strong>An alternative thesis is the one Perlstein seemed to be framing up with his first, shorter, and better book: that the crucial bridge in modern Republican politics was the one leading from Barry Goldwater to Reagan.</strong> Nixon was the last important President of the New Deal Era, in the same way that Bill Clinton is best subsumed under the rubric of the Reagan Era....In his attack on government, Reagan drew very little from Nixon, and a great deal from Goldwater....Reagan&rsquo;s views were not simply Goldwater&rsquo;s views; they were Goldwater&rsquo;s views purged of their excesses and abstraction, grounded in the country&rsquo;s lived experience, and given a hopeful cast. That&rsquo;s the bridge Reagan walked across and the one I wish Perlstein had tried to sell us.</p> </blockquote> <p>I think Weisberg has missed the bridge that Perlstein is trying to sell us. Reagan <em>wasn't</em> merely a better, more congenial version of Barry Goldwater. That's part of the story, but there's a second part: Reagan's exploitation of the politics of resentment that Nixon rode to victory in 1968 and 1972. Just as Reagan sanded off the scariest edges of Goldwaterism to make it more palatable to a national audience, he sanded off&mdash;or perhaps just kept hidden&mdash;the scariest edges of right-wing populist resentment. But make no mistake: it was there, and it was a big part of Reagan's appeal. Intellectually, Reagan's politics may have been the child of Goldwater, but emotionally they were the child of Nixon.</p> <p>That said, I think Weisberg also makes some sharp criticisms of <em>The Invisible Bridge</em>. I enjoyed it, but it rings true when he complains that "for long stretches, reading this book feels like leafing through a lot of old newspapers." It's a little more of a pastiche than either of his first two books, and too often this is to the detriment of the bigger story.</p> <p>But there was another, more fundamental, disappointment. The genius of <em>Before the Storm</em>, the first book in the series, is that it explained the birth of movement conservatism to a liberal audience. This is harder than it sounds. A conservative history, simply because of the unspoken assumptions that would inevitably color it, would largely leave liberal readers cold. An overtly liberal history, by contrast, would almost certainly be unable to truly explain the appeal of Goldwater and his supporters. But Perlstein threads this needle brilliantly. <em>Before the Storm</em> explains the rise of Goldwater in a way that conservatives consider fair but that liberals find comprehensible.</p> <p>For better or worse, Perlstein abandoned this approach in <em>The Invisible Bridge</em>. Maybe that was inevitable as the spotlight moved first from a principled loser like Goldwater to a destructive manipulator like Nixon and then to a man who set back the liberal project in a way that's still painful to this day. It's just plain easier to be dispassionately curious about Goldwater than about either Nixon or Reagan. Nonetheless, this failing also makes <em>The Invisible Bridge</em> less interesting. Even granting the hagiographic glow that conservatives tend to demand of Reagan biographers, this really isn't a book that very many conservatives would consider fair. And except for brief flashes of insight<sup>1</sup> it doesn't truly explain to liberal ears just what was so appealing about the man.</p> <p>It's still a lovely book that I paged through hungrily. And let's face it: saying that it's not as good as <em>Before the Storm</em> is something you could say about nearly every book ever written. It's still pretty damn good. But I wish Perlstein had gone a little lighter on his obvious contempt for Reagan and spent a little more time owning up&mdash;perhaps uncomfortably&mdash;to just what it was about the liberalism of the 70s that finally drove so many voters crazy.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>For example, there's this brief bit about the White House consulting Reagan during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war:</p> <blockquote> <p>Kissinger [] solicited him for advice on the extraordinarily delicate matter of how to frame an Israeli resupply operation that, if handled incorrectly, could lead to a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Reagan suggested: "Why don't you say you will replace all the aircraft the Arabs claim they have shot down?"</p> <p>This was brilliant. Since the Arabs were wildly exaggerating their success, presenting them with a Hobson's choice&mdash;saying nothing or facing international humiliation&mdash;was perfect. Reagan's interpersonal intelligence was something to behold.</p> </blockquote> <p>More like that, please.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:09:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 260391 at Quote of the Day: Maybe Bill Clinton Needs a Minder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Ed Kilgore,</a> commenting on the latest "gaffe" from Bill Clinton:</p> <blockquote> <p>The idea of a former two-term President of the United States having to get his remarks vetted by some campaign operative who was in high school when Clinton was negotiating with the Israelis and Palestinians may seem humiliating. But it may come to that.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is all related to a minor dustup over Bill making some ambiguous off-the-cuff remarks about Bibi Netanyahu in a rope-line chat at the Harkin Steak Fry this weekend. By itself, it's not a big deal, but it might be an omen of things to come. After all, you may recall that Bill's remarks during Hillary's 2008 run for the Democratic nomination were not, um, 100 percent helpful at all times. And there's nothing the media loves more than a bit of Clinton discord that can be dissected and psychoanalyzed for days on end. It might not be fair, but no one ever said presidential campaigns were fair.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Hillary Clinton Media Tue, 16 Sep 2014 17:01:26 +0000 Kevin Drum 260361 at Chart of the Day: Fox's Benghazi Obsession <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fox_benghazi_obsession.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The good folks at Media Matter have taken on the soul-crushing task of tallying up coverage of Benghazi on Fox's prime-time evening shows, and they report that <a href="" target="_blank">Fox has aired nearly 1,100 segments</a> in the 20 months since the attacks. In a bit of a shocking upset, the winner of the obsession war wasn't heavy favorite Sean Hannity, but the normally more mild-mannered Bret Baier.</p> <p>However, don't count Hannity out quite yet. By far, the stupidest Benghazi talking point has been the endless "stand down" infatuation&mdash;the notion that rescuers were available but someone in the White House deliberately ordered them not to go in. This is stupid not just because it's been debunked over and over and over, but also because it makes no sense. Even if Obama hates America, why would he do this? It's political suicide.</p> <p>Anyway, guess who's spent the most time on the stand down order? That's right: Sean Hannity, by a huge margin. Hannity might not have won the overall obsession crown, but he certainly won the special award for pandering idiocy.</p> <p>As you'd expect, coverage was heaviest just after the Benghazi attacks in 2012, but even after that initial flurry Fox has kept up a steady drumbeat of 20-30 Benghazi segments each and every month. It makes me wish I could figure out an anti-Obama angle for <em>my</em> obsession with lead and crime. These guys would be the greatest allies ever. I need to put my thinking cap on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:21:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 260356 at Assignment Desk: How Does the Media Deal With Domestic Violence? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have an assignment for an enterprising reporter or intern with access to a telephone. I'd like a survey done of a dozen or so major media outlets, including but not limited to ESPN, CNN, the <em>New York Times</em>, CBS, Fox, the <em>Nation</em>, and <em>National Review</em>. And <em>Mother Jones</em>, of course. Here are the survey questions:</p> <ol><li>To your knowledge, have any of your employees ever been charged and/or convicted of domestic violence?</li> <li>In general, what is your corporate policy for dealing with employees who have been convicted of domestic violence?</li> </ol><p>Just curious!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Media Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:46:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 260351 at It's Hard to Say It, But US Policy Toward Terrorist Ransom Demands Is Probably Right <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Rukmini Callimachi's story in the <em>New York Times</em> today about the anger and frustration of James Foley's family over their treatment by the US government is heartbreaking. Foley was among dozens of hostages being held by ISIS, but one of the few to be murdered. Why? Because the others were Europeans, and European governments routinely pay ransoms to <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LargeMediaHeadlineSum&amp;module=photo-spot-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">win the release of their citizens:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;The F.B.I. didn&rsquo;t help us much &mdash; let&rsquo;s face it,&rdquo; Diane Foley said in a telephone interview. &ldquo;Our government was very clear that no ransom was going to be paid, or should be paid,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;It was horrible &mdash; and continues to be horrible. You are between a rock and a hard place.&rdquo;</p> <p>....The United States and Britain are among the only countries that abide by a zero-concession policy, refusing to accede to terrorists&rsquo; demands, arguing that doing so encourages more kidnapping. By contrast, European countries have repeatedly paid to free their citizens, despite signing numerous declarations vowing not to, prompting condemnation from former American officials and analysts.</p> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="246" data-total-count="7120" itemprop="articleBody">....As early as February of this year, the Europeans proceeded from requesting proof of life to making a ransom counteroffer, according to a person closely involved in the crisis who said the average sum negotiated per person was around &euro;2 million.</p> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="403" data-total-count="8038" itemprop="articleBody">The Foleys and the other American families were left to answer the emails themselves and kept largely in the dark....The families said they had little evidence that the kidnappings had become a major concern for the Obama administration, though they acknowledge that they were not necessarily aware of all of the government&rsquo;s efforts. While they reached out to the State Department and were repeatedly told &ldquo;everything was being done,&rdquo; they said they never had any clear indication that this was a policy priority.</p> </blockquote> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="403" data-total-count="8038" itemprop="articleBody">The Foley family has been berating the Obama administration for the death of their son ever since the video of his beheading was released, and who can blame them? If I were in their shoes, I'd probably feel exactly the same way, and I probably would have been desperate to try to raise the ransom money.</p> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="403" data-total-count="8038" itemprop="articleBody">But the hard truth is that this is why I wouldn't have been in charge of the government's response. There's very little concrete research that tells us whether the US non-negotiation policy is effective, but common sense suggests that it is. And at the very least, it starves terrorist groups of a flow of cash they can use to finance their operations. The European approach may seem more humane, but it's largely driven by political cowardice&mdash;their governments are afraid of the public backlash if they get stuck in a long-running hostage situation&mdash;and seems highly likely to lead to more hostages and more deaths in the long run.</p> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="403" data-total-count="8038" itemprop="articleBody">Of course, we now know that the US government <em>was</em> trying to free Foley and the others. But the rescue mission failed, and the Foleys, of course, were told nothing of it beforehand.</p> <p class="story-body-text story-content" data-para-count="403" data-total-count="8038" itemprop="articleBody">How hard-hearted do you have to be to say that, sadly, the Foleys are wrong and US government policy is right? I'm not sure. But that's how it strikes me. And I have nothing but contempt for conservative writers who have used this episode as an excuse for launching crude attacks on Obama. If you think the United States should change its policy regarding ransom demands, then have the guts to say so. Otherwise, keep your yap shut. The Foleys have an excuse for their grief. No one else has an excuse for exploiting it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Human Rights Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:33:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 260336 at Americans Are Refreshingly Realistic About the ISIS Threat <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_isis_campaign_terrorism.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Paul Waldman draws my attention to a <a href="" target="_blank">new Pew poll</a> with an interesting result. Hawkish Republicans have been running around for the past month insisting that ISIS terrorists are a direct threat to the United States, and therefore we have to fight them in Iraq so they don't come over here and start killing helpless women and small children en masse.</p> <p>But apparently hardly anyone is buying it. Only 18 percent of Americans think that fighting ISIS will reduce the odds of a terrorist attack on US soil. And there's not a big difference between the parties. Even among Republicans, only 23 percent think a military campaign against ISIS will make us safer at home. That's a refreshingly realistic appraisal.</p> <p>But why? Is it because the Republican fear campaign is so transparently unhinged? Or is it because of President Obama's unusually low-key approach to the ISIS campaign? I'd like to think it's at least partly the latter. I'm not very excited about <em>any</em> kind of campaign against ISIS at the moment, but as a second-best alternative, it's at least nice to see it being sold to the public as a case of having to eat our vegetables rather than as yet another exciting bomb-dropping adventure in defense of our national honor. It's a step in the right direction, anyway.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama Mon, 15 Sep 2014 22:28:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 260326 at Madam Secretary? Seriously? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I may be off my rocker for wondering about this, but here goes. You've seen the ads for <em>Madam Secretary</em>, right? (Aside from those of you who shun TV as unworthy of your attention, of course.) T&eacute;a Leone stars as a smart, tough, engaged, down-to-earth, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_madam_secretary.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">problem-solving secretary of state who <em>gets results by doing the right thing</em>.</p> <p>Now, sure, her husband is not a former US president. So she isn't quite just a gauzy, fictionalized depiction of Hillary Clinton. But she's close! And considering that secretary of state is surely one of the least glamorous positions in the federal government&mdash;another grueling day working the phones with fellow foreign ministers, hooray!&mdash;it's pretty hard not to see this as a fairly transparent attempt to make Hillary look like presidential timber. At least, that's what I'd think if I were either a Republican or any Democrat thinking of running against her.</p> <p>On the other hand, shows like this usually flop, so maybe it won't work out. Or maybe Hillary will look wan and fainthearted compared to the hard charging, damn-the-politics Elizabeth McCord. I dunno. But it sure seems like a helluva coincidence, doesn't it?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV Mon, 15 Sep 2014 20:27:18 +0000 Kevin Drum 260296 at Obama Has Indeed Learned Some Foreign Policy Lessons, Just Not the Ones the Establishment Likes <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at FP, David Rothkopf has a long and critical examination of President Obama's foreign policy. Unfortunately, it starts with a biting assessment from "one of America's most dependable Middle Eastern allies," which is almost single-handedly enough to disqualify it as serious analysis. Anyone who still thinks that America's "most dependable" Mideast allies have anything but their <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_flags_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">own ancient parochial hatreds at heart really needs to find a different line of work.</p> <p>But for some reason I kept reading. And as usual, among the endless parade of Obama horror stories, <a href="" target="_blank">Syria looms the largest:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>On Aug. 20, 2012, Obama met with reporters to discuss the crisis in Syria....In an unscripted moment, he suggested that he would take action against the Syrian regime if it used chemical weapons....Despite intelligence reports of multiple violations of that red line, the White House managed to ignore or sidestep the issue&nbsp;&mdash; that is, until exactly one year later, when, on Aug. 21, 2013, a major chemical-weapons attack claimed the lives of an estimated 1,429 people in Ghouta, a Damascus suburb.</p> <p>The tripwire strung by the president himself had been clearly and unmistakably tripped. <strong>Now, his credibility was at stake.</strong></p> <p>Three days later, Obama met with his national security team and indicated that he was inclined to strike Syria....Lacking many close relationships with European or other world leaders, he called one of the few he thought he could count on: British Prime Minister David Cameron....But Obama, Cameron, and their teams would soon discover that they had moved too quickly and had badly miscalculated....Parliament rejected Cameron's call to arms.</p> <p>This coincided with the U.S. Congress's growing doubts about the action. <strong>Some, perhaps most, of this was politics</strong>....Despite these headwinds, by the afternoon of Aug. 30, 2013, the White House appeared set to follow through on the limited-attack option....But later that afternoon, the president went on a walk around the South Lawn of the White House with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough....Afterward, when the two joined a small group of top advisors in the Oval Office, Obama reportedly <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a>, "I have a big idea I want to run by you guys," and then segued into his new plan to put action on hold until he could get a formal vote of congressional support.</p> <p>...."This was the real turning point for the administration's foreign policy," a former senior Obama advisor told me. "This was when things really started to go bad."</p> <p>With Syria festering for more than two years amid pleas to the United States for leadership and support from longtime regional allies, <strong>the media was primed to respond, and many critics immediately assailed the president for being indecisive</strong>....It also set a precedent that would seemingly require the president to seek congressional approval for future military actions, even though the War Powers Resolution explicitly notes that he does not require it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Rothkopf takes this as a fatal error, but it's telling what he thinks the error is. Obama has long had a fairly consistent belief that you should avoid bellicose, uncompromising rhetoric, but on August 20, 2012, he momentarily forgot that and set his infamous red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons. A year later, with his "credibility" at stake&mdash;perhaps the cause of more dumb wars than anything else in history&mdash;he was inclined to launch a military strike on Syria. But then he thought harder about it and decided to see if there was any support for the idea. As it turned out, there wasn't. Despite the endless hectoring of Republicans, when it came time to actually support a military response, they decided that playing politics was more important. And so Obama backed down.</p> <p>Rothkopf thinks this was Obama's big mistake. But there's an alternative reading: that setting the red line in the first place was the real mistake. It took a while, but eventually Obama concluded that maybe it wasn't wise to let our foreign policy be dictated by a brief, intemperate remark. Figuring that out, rather than being goaded into a pointless response, is a rare sign of wisdom in a president, most of whom serve out their entire terms in endless fear of the media questioning their credibility.</p> <p>The rest of Rothkopf's piece is choppy and incoherent enough that I couldn't really make sense of it. He thinks George Bush deserves credit for finally adopting a more diplomatic approach to foreign affairs in his second term, but criticizes Obama for continuing it. He praises Bush for adopting a more coherent foreign policy with less infighting in his second term, but criticizes Obama for basically doing the same thing from the start. He's obscurely critical of Obama's habit of asking everyone in a meeting for their opinions, and then not making a decision instantly. I don't quite know why. And there's the usual criticism of disjointed decision making and personality conflicts, which as near as I can tell has been a staple of foreign policy thumbsuckers since about the time of George Washington.</p> <p>More generally, Rothkopf criticizes Obama for not learning from his mistakes, but he seems not to understand that Obama <em>has</em> learned from his mistakes. Among other things, he's learned that even the limited appetite he had for military intervention in his first term was probably too much. In his second term, he's even more reticent to use military force. But apparently this doesn't count as a lesson learned. Not in the world of serious foreign policy, anyway.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy Obama Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:13:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 260276 at Here's the Defense of Unsalted Pasta Water That Darden Won't Make Itself <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at Vox, a virtual water cooler for the world's most pressing problems, Matt Yglesias tells us that Darden is fighting back against charges that it has mismanaged Olive Garden. <a href="" target="_blank">But he's unimpressed with their PowerPoint deck:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The entire Darden counter-presentation has <i>nothing to say about salting the water</i>. And to be clear, this is a 22 slide presentation. They had plenty of opportunity to explain themselves, apologize, or deny it. Instead, they're just keeping quiet.</p> </blockquote> <p>Here at MoJo, an entirely different virtual water cooler for the world's most pressing problems, I don't know anything about cooking pasta. However, one of my readers claims he does. So here's the defense that Darden has declined to offer on its own:</p> <blockquote> <p>I acknowledge that salting the water is a common and recommended practice for both pasta and dried beans, but this practice has the effect of toughening the outer surface of both pasta and beans during the cooking process. If you wait to add salt until after the cooking is completed the texture of the boiled food will be more tender. This does not mean it can&rsquo;t be &ldquo;al dente,&rdquo; which refers to the structure of the complete noodle (or bean), just that the skin or surface is not tough. Try it.</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it. Feel free to discuss this critical issue in comments.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Mon, 15 Sep 2014 17:06:52 +0000 Kevin Drum 260271 at Maybe Obama Can Change the Way We Think About War <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_business.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over the weekend, Peter Baker wrote a story about President Obama's cautious, calculated approach to the fight against ISIS. It is, Obama says, a reaction against the <a href="" target="_blank">frenzied buildup to the Iraq War in 2002-03:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In his own way, Mr. Obama said, he had seen something similar, a virtual fever rising in Washington, pressuring him to send the armed forces after the Sunni radicals who had swept through Iraq and beheaded American journalists. He had told his staff, he said, not to evaluate their own policy based on external momentum. He would not rush to war. He would be deliberate.</p> <p>&ldquo;But I&rsquo;m aware I pay a political price for that,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>His introspection that afternoon reflected Mr. Obama&rsquo;s journey from the candidate who wanted to wind down America&rsquo;s overseas wars to the commander in chief who just resumed and expanded one....<strong>He alternated between resolve as he vowed to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad if Syrian forces shot at American planes, and prickliness as he mocked critics of his more reticent approach to the exercise of American power.</strong></p> <p>&ldquo;Oh, it&rsquo;s a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than &lsquo;don&rsquo;t do stupid things,&rsquo; &rdquo; guests recalled him saying, sarcastically imitating his adversaries. &ldquo;I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn&rsquo;t make for good theater.&rdquo;</p> <p>....This account of Mr. Obama&rsquo;s thinking as he arrived at a pivotal point in his presidency is based on interviews with 10 people who spoke with him in the days leading up to his speech Wednesday night....The president invited a group of foreign policy experts and former government officials to dinner on Monday, <strong>and a separate group of columnists and magazine writers for a discussion on Wednesday afternoon.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>What I'm curious about is why Obama is so intent on making this public. Obviously you don't invite a bunch of columnists and reporters for a chat&mdash;off the record or otherwise&mdash;unless you intend for everyone in the world to hear what you said. In fact, this is a bit of theater in its own right, since a supposedly "private" meeting is bound to get <em>more</em> attention than a garden-variety interview.</p> <p>So....why? Is it something of a sop to his base, trying to assure them that he's not planning to let the current fight morph into Iraq War 2.0? Is it hubris, making sure everyone in the foreign policy community knows that he doesn't care what they think? Is it a deliberate jab against the media and its complicity in ramping up war fever? Or does he truly think that the Beltway punditocracy will respond favorably to this kind of thing?</p> <p>It's all very strange. It's obvious that Obama truly believes he's being cautious and wants everyone to know that this is deliberate, not merely the ramblings of a tortured executive who can't make up his mind. Perhaps he's trying his best to normalize this kind of decisionmaking about war, since it's basically unheard of in modern history. If that's the case, then I wish him the best of luck.</p> <p>And you know what? He might actually be having an effect. He might really be embarrassing a few people into facing up to their tacit assumption that the only kind of strong foreign policy is one that involves both liberal use of the military and plenty of Churchillian rhetoric to go along with it. Maybe he really is normalizing a more levelheaded approach to the world's problems. That would certainly account for the almost insane gibbering we've been getting lately from folks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom have apparently been driven mad at the thought that all-war-all-the-time might be losing its appeal as the default foreign policy of serious people. Who knows? Maybe a few serious people are even starting to see it for the folly that it actually is.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:43:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 260241 at There's an Easier Way to Get Rid of Plastic Bags <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Katie Rose Quandt explains why banning plastic bags <a href="" target="_blank">is no panacea:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Although plastic bags' manufacture is relatively energy intensive (according to the Australian government, a car could drive 36 feet with the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag), other kinds of bags use even more fossil fuel. A heavy-duty, reusable plastic bag must be used 12 times before its global warming impact is lower than continuing to use disposable bags, according to a study by the UK Environment Agency. A cotton bag takes 132 uses, and a paper bag&mdash;which will still be legal with California's ten-cent fee&mdash;must be used four times before its global warming impact is less than using single-use bags.</p> </blockquote> <p>What a mess. Carbon taxes are no panacea either, but this is a pretty good example of why they're so useful. Instead of sponsoring endless studies of the carbon impact of various bags&mdash;and then trying to educate consumers about these studies&mdash;just tax carbon and forget about it. The carbon-intensive bags will rise in price and eventually, if plastic bags really are the worst option, they'll get priced out of the market. No muss, no fuss. And if consumers decide to pay for them anyway, that's not a big problem either. It just means they'll have less money to spend on other carbon-intensive activities. One way or another, it will come out in the wash.</p> <p>The downside, of course, is that this only accounts for carbon. If you want to ban plastic bags for other reasons, then you'll just have to go ahead and ban them. But that's true of everything. A carbon tax doesn't solve every problem on the planet, but it does quickly and cleanly provide a price signal that reduces the demand for carbon-intensive products.</p> <p>And it's a pretty market-friendly mechanism, too, so conservatives ought to like it. Except for the fact that it is, unquestionably, a tax, and we all know that taxes are verboten as long as a single Republican with breath in his body remains in Congress. So we'll get no carbon tax in the foreseeable future, even though it would be good for the planet; allow us to cut taxes in other areas; and make everyone's lives easier. Maybe someday.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Climate Change Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:24:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 260231 at How Should the NFL Handle Domestic Violence Cases in the Future? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I was browsing the paper this morning and came across an op-ed by sports writer Jeff Benedict about Ray Rice and the NFL's problem with domestic violence. After the usual review of the league's egregious mishandling of the Rice incident over the past few months, <a href="" target="_blank">we get this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>So this nagging truth remains: It should not take a graphic video to get the NFL to do the right thing. For too long the NFL has had an antiquated playbook when it comes to players who commit domestic violence.</p> <p>....NFL players aren't like men in the general population, especially in the eyes of children. Rather, NFL players are seen as action heroes who epitomize strength, athleticism and toughness. That's why so many kids emulate them. And that's why one instance <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ray_rice.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">of a celebrated player using his muscle to harm a woman is too many.</p> <p>Etc.</p> </blockquote> <p>I read to the end, but that was about it. And it occurred to me that this piece was representative of nearly everything I've read about the Rice affair. There was lots of moral outrage, of course. That's a pretty cheap commodity when you have stomach-turning video of a pro football player battering a woman unconscious in an elevator. But somehow, at the end, there was nothing. No recommendation about what the NFL's rule on domestic violence <em>should</em> be.</p> <p>So I'm curious: what should it be? Forget Rice for a moment, since we need a rule that applies to everyone. What should be the league's response to a player who commits an act of domestic violence? Should it be a one-strike rule, or should it matter if you have no prior history of violence? Should it depend on a criminal conviction, or merely on credible evidence against the player? Should it matter how severe the violence is? (Plenty of domestic violence cases are much more brutal than Rice's.) Or should there be zero tolerance no matter what the circumstances? How about acts of violence that aren't domestic? Should they be held to the same standard, or treated differently? And finally, is Benedict right that NFL players should be sanctioned more heavily than ordinary folks because they act as role models for millions of kids? Or should we stick to a standard that says we punish everyone equally, regardless of their occupation?</p> <p>Last month the NFL rushed out new punishment guidelines regarding domestic violence after enduring a tsunami of criticism for the way it handled Rice's suspension. <a href="" target="_blank">Details here.</a> Are these guidelines reasonable? Laughable? Too punitive? I think we've discussed the bill of particulars of the Ray Rice case to exhaustion at this point, so how about if we talk about something more concrete?</p> <p>Given the circumstances and the evidence it had in hand, how should the NFL have handled the Ray Rice case? And more importantly, how should they handle domestic violence cases in general? I'd be interested in hearing some specific proposals.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Sex and Gender Sports Sun, 14 Sep 2014 16:07:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 260216 at Friday Cat Blogging - 12 September 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A few of you have written to ask if we plan to get another cat. The answer is probably yes, but not immediately.&nbsp; And what does "not immediately" mean? There's no telling. A new cat could walk into our lives tomorrow, or it might take a little while longer. We'll see.</p> <p>In the meantime, my mother's cats continue to be perky and photogenic, and ever since she learned how easy it is to take pictures with her iPad and email them directly to me, I've been getting more photos of her brood. Below you can see the latest. Mozart has pretty plainly settled in to alpha cat status, and Ditto just as plainly isn't quite sure he's happy about that. But it's too late. Ditto has the bulk, but I think Mozart has whatever indefinable feline quality it is that makes him boss. It's his house now.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_mozart_ditto_2014_09_12.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 12 Sep 2014 18:55:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 260171 at If You Want Good Workers, You Need to Pay Market Wages <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> is running <a href="" target="_blank">yet another article</a> about the inability of manufacturing companies to attract good employees. <a href="" target="_blank">And Dean Baker is annoyed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If employers can't get enough workers then we would expect to see wages rising in manufacturing.</p> <p>They aren't. Over the last year the average hourly wage rose by just 2.1 percent, only a little higher than the inflation rate and slightly less than the average for all workers. This follows several years where wages in manufacturing rose less than the economy-wide average....If an employer wants to hire people she can get them away from competitors by offering a higher wage. It seems that employers in <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wages_manufacturing.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the manufacturing sector may need this simple lesson in market economic to solve their skills shortage problem.</p> </blockquote> <p>The chart on the right shows what Baker is talking about. It's a slightly different series than the one he uses in his post, but it makes the same point. Manufacturing wages are rising <em>more slowly</em> than in the rest of the economy. If manufacturing companies are really desperate for qualified workers, they have a funny way of showing it.</p> <p>Now, it's possible that what they really mean is that they don't think they can be competitive if they have to pay higher wages. So they want lots of well-qualified employees to work for below-market wages. And who knows? That's possible. But if that's really the problem, then apprentice programs and skills training aren't likely to solve it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Fri, 12 Sep 2014 17:28:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 260151 at Quote of the Day: Salt Your Pasta Water, Capiche? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From Starboard Value LP,</a> a private investment firm critical of Olive Garden's current management:</p> <blockquote> <p>If you Google "How to cook pasta", the first step of Pasta 101 is to salt the water. How does the largest Italian dining concept in the world not salt the water for pasta?</p> </blockquote> <p>Quite so. On the other hand, Starboard refers to Olive Garden as an "Italian dining concept," which is a strike against them. So I guess I don't know who to root for in this monumental battle for control of low-quality quasi-Italian food.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:53:39 +0000 Kevin Drum 260136 at Surprise! Our Arab Allies Aren't Really Going to Do Anything to Help Us Fight ISIS <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here is the <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=LedeSum&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">least surprising story of the day:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama&rsquo;s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.</p> <p>....The tepid support could further complicate the already complex task Mr. Obama has laid out for himself in fighting the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: He must try to confront the group without aiding Syria&rsquo;s president, Bashar al-Assad, or appearing to side with Mr. Assad&rsquo;s Shiite allies, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, against discontented Sunnis across the Arab world.</p> </blockquote> <p>If Arab countries just flatly didn't want to support our anti-ISIS effort, that wouldn't be surprising. American intervention in the Middle East hardly has an enviable history of success. It would be entirely understandable if they just wanted us to keep our noses out of things.</p> <p>But that's not what's going on. It's not that they don't want American intervention. Many of these countries have been practically begging for it. The problem is that they want our help solely in support of their own sectarian and nationalist pursuits. They want America to commit an endless well of troops and arms in service of ancient enmities and murderous agendas that they themselves are unwilling to commit their own troops and money to. And for some reason, we keep playing along with the charade.</p> <p>Fighting ISIS isn't really part of this agenda. It's Sunni; it's anti-Assad; and it's far away. Most of our putative allies in the Middle East either don't care very much about it or have actively supported it in the past. They'll pay lip service to destroying it now because they don't want to break with the United States entirely, but that's about it. It's just lip service.</p> <p>By tomorrow they'll be back to privately griping that we haven't turned Iran into a glassy plain or something. And then, like a couple who knows their marriage is broken but can't quite bear the thought of divorce, we'll be back to stroking their egos and promising that we really do share their interests. We don't, thank God: we're not quite that depraved. We just want their oil and a sort of unstated tolerance of Israel.</p> <p>It never changes. Next year the details will be slightly different, but we'll go through the same dance all over again. Hooray.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Iraq Military Fri, 12 Sep 2014 14:43:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 260131 at A Wee Question About That Residual Force Everyone Keeps Blathering About <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's something I don't get. Republicans seem to universally hold the following two opinions about Iraq and ISIS:</p> <ol><li>President Obama is to blame for the military success of ISIS because he declined to keep a residual force in Iraq after 2011.</li> <li>In the fight against ISIS, we certainly don't want to send in combat troops. No no no.</li> </ol><p>"Residual force" has become something of a talisman for conservative critics of Obama's Iraq policy. It's sort of like "providing arms," the all-purpose suggestion for every conflict from hawks who know the public won't stand for sending in ground troops but who want to support something more muscular than sanctions. It's a wonderful sound bite because it sounds sensible and informed as long as you don't think too hard about it (what arms? for whom? is anyone trained to use them? etc.). Luckily, most people don't think too hard about it.</p> <p>"Residual force" sounds good too. But if we don't want boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS, what exactly would it have done? Hang around Baghdad to buck up the morale of the Iraqi forces that came fleeing back after encountering ISIS forces? Conduct ever more "training"? Or what? Can someone tell me just what everyone thinks this magical residual force would have accomplished?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Thu, 11 Sep 2014 17:28:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 260081 at Not-Quite-Supermoon Blogging - 7 September 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I didn't actually get around to hauling out my camera for Monday's supermoon (how many of these things do we get every year, anyway?), but I did snap a few pictures on Sunday. So in the spirit of better late than never, here's one of them. The clouds and the colors were kind of interesting, even if the picture itself is so-so.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_moon_2014_09_07.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 15px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 11 Sep 2014 16:04:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 260076 at Workplace Wellness Programs Are Just an Excuse to Lower Your Pay <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I don't like workplace wellness programs. This isn't because I think they do no good. It's because I don't like the idea of employers deciding that they can dictate my personal health choices. Or any of my other personal choices, for that matter. Maybe it's for my own good, but so what? Lots of things are for my own good. Nonetheless, I'm an adult, and I get to choose these kinds of things for myself, even if I sometimes make bad choices.</p> <p>Today, however, Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll delight me by surveying the literature on wellness programs and bolstering my personal pique with actual facts. It turns out that wellness programs, in fact, <a href=";abg=0" target="_blank">generally<em> don't</em> do any good:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Rigorous studies tend to find that wellness programs don&rsquo;t save money and, with few exceptions, do not appreciably improve health. This is often because additional health screenings built into the programs encourage overuse of unnecessary care, pushing spending higher without improving health.</p> <p>However, this doesn&rsquo;t mean that employers aren&rsquo;t right, in a way. Wellness programs can achieve cost savings &mdash; for employers &mdash; by shifting higher costs of care onto workers. <strong>In particular, workers who don&rsquo;t meet the demands and goals of wellness programs (whether by not participating at all, or by failing to meet benchmarks like a reduction in body mass index) end up paying more. </strong>Financial incentives to get healthier sometimes simply become financial penalties on workers who resist participation or who aren&rsquo;t as fit. Some believe this can be a form of discrimination.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is basically what I've long suspected. For the most part, wellness programs are a means to reduce pay for employees who don't participate, and there are always going to be a fair number of curmudgeons who refuse to participate. Voila! Lower payroll expenses! And the best part is that employers can engage in this cynical behavior while retaining a smug public conviction that they're just acting for the common good. Bah.</p> <p>Did I mention that I don't like workplace wellness programs?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:41:02 +0000 Kevin Drum 260061 at Here's Why Congressional Approval for War Is So Important <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In my previous post, I complained that I wasn't sure what would prevent further escalation in Iraq "aside from Obama's personal convictions." A friend emails to ask just what I'd like to see. In the end, aren't the president's personal convictions all that prevent <em>any</em> military operation from escalating?</p> <p>It's a fair point, and I'm glad he brought it up. The answer, I think, lies in congressional approval for military action, and this is one of the reasons I think it's so important. If Obama is truly serious about not sending combat troops into ISIS-held areas in Iraq, then let's get a congressional resolution that puts that in writing. Let's get an authorization for war that spells out a geographical area; puts a limit on US troop deployments; and specifically defines what those troops can do.</p> <p>Would this be airtight? Of course not. Presidents can always find a way to stretch things, and Congress can always decide to authorize more troops. But nothing is airtight&mdash;nor should it be. It's always possible that events on the ground really will justify stronger action someday. However, what it <em>does</em> do is simple: It forces the president to explicitly request an escalation and it forces Congress to explicitly authorize his request. At the very least, that prevents a slow, stealthy escalation that flies under the radar of public opinion.</p> <p>Presidents don't like having their actions constrained. No one does. But in most walks of life that deal with power and the use of force, we understand that constraint is important. Surely, then, there's nowhere it's more important than in matters of war and peace. And that's one of the reasons that congressional authorization for war is so essential.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Iraq Military Obama Thu, 11 Sep 2014 02:52:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 260041 at Obama's Iraq Speech: Light on Substance, and Maybe That's a Good Thing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_isis_speech.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Well, that was pretty anticlimactic. Here is President Obama's shiny new plan for defeating ISIS:</p> <ol><li>More airstrikes, including strikes in Syria.</li> <li>A few hundred advisors to work with Iraqi troops. They will provide training, equipment, and intelligence.</li> <li>Counterterrorism to prevent ISIS attacks.</li> <li>Humanitarian aid.</li> </ol><p>We are, presumably, already engaged in #3 and #4. We're partially engaged in #1. Basically, then Obama is proposing to (a) expand the air war and (b) provide more aid to the Iraqi army. That's really not an awful lot&mdash;which is fine with me.</p> <p>Will this work? Airstrikes by themselves are obviously limited in what they can accomplish. They can frustrate ISIS plans in specific areas, but they can't do a lot more than that. As we've known all along, real success depends on the Iraqi military. Unfortunately, given the fact that we spent years training Iraqi forces and ended up with an army that cut and run at the first sight of ISIS forces, I have my doubts that further training will really do that much good. But if it doesn't, there's little we can do anyway. So it's probably our only option.</p> <p>The big question, of course, is whether our assistance will stay limited. If the Iraqi military fails, as it may, will we start pouring in more troops? Obama was clear on this: "We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq." Still, sometimes events run away with things, and I'm not sure what's going to prevent a slow accretion of more and more US forces aside from Obama's personal convictions. This is a thinner reed than I'd like even if I believe that he's entirely sincere in his desire to avoid escalation. We'll just have to wait and see.</p> <p>In any case, that's really all we got tonight. I'd like to write something longer and more insightful, but there just weren't enough specifics in the speech to justify that. The last third of the speech was mostly platitudes about partners, chairing a UN meeting, America is great, God bless the troops, etc. There wasn't an awful lot there.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama Thu, 11 Sep 2014 01:54:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 260036 at Let's Not Give ISIS Exactly What They Want <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p class="commentContent"><a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> I wrote a post noting that a supposedly war-weary public had suddenly become awfully war happy. "All it took," I said, "was a carefully stagecrafted beheading video and the usual gang of conservative jingoists to exploit it." Here's a Twitter conversation that followed (lightly edited for clarity):</p> <blockquote> <p class="commentContent"><strong>DS:</strong> Think of what you wrote: "All it took was...beheading"? I opposed W's but this is what wars are made from &amp; I think rightly so.</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_foley_beheading.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><strong>Me</strong>: Really? So any group anywhere in the world merely needs to commit an atrocity to draw us into war?</p> <p><strong>DS:</strong> On what other basis should wars be fought if not to stop groups from committing atrocities against Americans?</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not trying to pick on anyone in particular here, but it's pretty discouraging that this kind of attitude is so common. There's no question that the beheading of American citizens by a gang of vicious thugs is the kind of thing that makes your blood boil. Unless you hail from Vulcan, your gut reaction is that you want to find the barbarians who did this and crush them.</p> <p>But that shouldn't be your final reaction. This is not an era of conventional military forces with overwhelming power and no real fear of blowback. It's an era of stateless terrorists whose ability to commit extremely public atrocities is pretty much unlimited. And while atrocities can have multiple motivations, one of the key reasons for otherwise pointless actions like one-off kidnappings and beheadings is their ability to either provoke overreactions or successfully extort ransoms. Unfortunately, Americans are stupidly addicted to the former and Europeans seem to be stupidly addicted to the latter, and that's part of what keeps this stuff going.</p> <p>In any case, a moment's thought should convince you that we're being manipulated. We've read account after account about ISIS and its remarkably sophisticated command and publicity apparatus. The beheading video is part of that. It's a very calculated, very deliberate attempt to get us to respond stupidly. It's not even a very subtle manipulation. It's just an especially brutal one.</p> <p>So if we're smart, we won't give them what they want. Instead we'll respond coldly and meticulously. We'll fight on our terms, not theirs. We'll intervene if and only if the Iraqi government demonstrates that it can take the lead and hold the ground they take. We'll forego magical thinking about counterinsurgencies. We won't commit Western troops in force because we know from experience that this doesn't work. We'll avoid pitched battles and instead take advantage of our chances when they arise. Time is on our side.</p> <p>Above all, we won't allow a small band of medieval theocrats to manipulate us. We need to stop giving them exactly what they want. We need to stop doing stupid stuff.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Wed, 10 Sep 2014 20:57:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 260021 at I Have Gone Over to the Dark Side <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have gone over to the dark side. I've been on the edge for a while, playing passive-aggressive games with my copy editor, but I guess I might as well just fess up. I now routinely use <em>they</em> and <em>them</em> as gender-neutral singular pronouns.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>I'm not proud of this. But <em>he or she</em> has always grated on the ear. Likewise, using <em>he</em> some of the time and <em>she</em> some of the time is just too damn much work. And it's kind of confusing too. How careful are you going to be to use them equally? How much attention are you <iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe>going to pay to make sure you aren't using them in gendered ways (<em>he</em> when you're writing about doctors, <em>she</em> when you're writing about nurses)? Etc.</p> <p>What other options are there? None. You can write around the problem, but that usually produces a mess. There have been a few feeble attempts to invent new pronouns, but they've gone nowhere and never will. So we're stuck. The easiest thing is just to use <em>they</em> and <em>them</em>. Everyone knows what you mean, and except for us grammar pedants, nobody cares. I don't think I have the will to resist anymore. I have been assimilated.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>See the <a href="" target="_blank">previous post</a> for an example&mdash;and for the proximate cause of this post.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 10 Sep 2014 18:12:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 259991 at Mobile Payments: A Solution Still Searching For a Problem <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Lots of people are skeptical of Apple's new mobile payment system. <a href=";abt=0002&amp;abg=0" target="_blank">Neil Irwin is one of them:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The core challenge Apple faces is that buying things with a credit card isn&rsquo;t nearly as onerous a process as they make it out to be.</p> <p>Mr. Cook showed a video at the product rollout of a woman burrowing in her purse for a credit card, navigating past a box of Tic Tacs &mdash; Tic Tacs! &mdash; and struggling to open her wallet in order to find her card, then being asked to show her driver&rsquo;s license before completing the transaction. It had a lot in common, actually, with those infomercials in which actors manage to horribly bungle the most basic tasks until some new product solves a nonproblem.</p> </blockquote> <p>This strikes me about the same way as those old Visa ads about the horrors of paying for your bottle of spring water with cash. You monster! How dare you impede the march of civilization! But just as cash is, in fact, pretty easy to use, Irwin's core observation is <iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe>that paying with a credit card is pretty easy too, especially for low-dollar purchases that require only a quick swipe. Using your mobile phone doesn't really provide much of an advantage.</p> <p>But wait! Maybe credit cards really do pose problems. Because I'm a grumpy old man, I often find myself muttering under my breath at the supermarket checkout line. Why? Because there's someone ahead of me who apparently has never used a credit card before to pay for anything. They wait until the entire purchase is rung up. Then it suddenly occurs to them that they'll be required to offer payment for all this stuff. Then they retrieve their card. Then they stare at the card reader as if it had been designed by Martians. Then they stare at it some more. Then the checker tells them to push the button that says "Approve." Etc.</p> <p>This is annoying to people like me who are easily annoyed. But here's the problem: will mobile payments make things better? I guess it's possible, but my 30 years of experience with computing devices doesn't make me hopeful. How likely is it that people who still have trouble with card swipers, which have been around for decades, will be seamlessly waving their iPhones around with no problems and no breakdowns? I dunno. Maybe Apple is the company that can finally make it happen. But until I see the real-life evidence, my guess is that it will be about as seamless as trying to teach people how to change the privacy settings on their Facebook account.</p> <p>There really are issues with credit cards as payment devices. They're fairly easily stolen and they're pretty insecure. Still, these things are relative. As long as you use a credit card instead of a debit card, you're not responsible for most losses, and various forms of modern technology have made credit cards much more secure than in the past. And as Irwin points out, they're pretty easy to use. It's just possible that the Steve Jobs reality distortion field could have convinced everyone otherwise, but I'm not sure Tim Cook is up to the task.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 10 Sep 2014 16:30:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 259971 at Yet More Data Suggests That Health Care Costs Really Are Slowing Down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jonathan Cohn points us to the latest <a href="" target="_blank">Kaiser/HRET survey</a> of employer health plans and <a href="" target="_blank">passes along some good news:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Its main finding: This year, the average annual price of a single person&rsquo;s coverage is $6,025 and the average annual price for a family policy is $16,834. (Those are the full prices for coverage, including the portion that employers pay directly.)</p> <p>That&rsquo;s a lot of money, obviously. But the cost of the family policy is only 3 percent higher than it was last year, and the cost of the single policy rose by even less....What to think about this? Generally speaking, it&rsquo;s a positive development when premiums aren&rsquo;t rising too quickly, since it means that workers have more money in their paychecks.</p> <p>....Critics of the Affordable Care Act insisted it would cause employers to jack up premiums. There&rsquo;s no evidence of that happening. And of course this data is consistent with all the other recent data we&rsquo;ve gotten on health care spending under Obamacare. <strong>National health care <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_premium_growth_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">spending, the amount of money we spend as a country, is rising at historically low rates.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I'd place a fair amount of emphasis on that last point. The chart on the right shows the annual increase in premiums for family coverage since 2000. As you can see, premium increases have been falling pretty steadily during the entire period. In the early aughts, employers were routinely seeing double-digit increases. But in the past few years, that's dropped to around 3-4 percent, which is only slightly higher than the general rate of inflation.</p> <p>This is all consistent with <a href="" target="_blank">other</a> data on <a href="" target="_blank">health care</a> inflation <a href="" target="_blank">rates,</a> which shows a fluctuating but steady decrease since the early 80s and an even more concrete decrease over the past decade. Obviously this trend has nothing to do with Obamacare, which is benefiting from a bit of a tailwind here.</p> <p>At the same time, Cohn is right to point out that Obamacare critics all insisted that it would cause premiums to skyrocket. It didn't. Some premiums went up thanks to new minimum requirements for coverage and the start of community rating, which requires insurance companies to cover everyone, even those with preexisting conditions. But that mostly affected the individual market, and even there premium increases have been pretty manageable for the vast majority of people.</p> <p>How long will this slowdown in health care inflation last? My guess is that it's more or less permanent. It will vary a bit from year to year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it hit 3-4 points above the general inflation rate in some years. But the downward trend has been in place for three decades now, and that's long enough to suggest that it was the double-digit increases of the 80s and early 90s that were the outliers. Aside from those spikes, the current smaller increases are <a href="" target="_blank">roughly similar to health care spending increases over the past half century.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:55:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 259956 at