Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/10 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Quote of the Day: Nathan Deal Is Tired of Barack Obama's Treachery http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/quote-day-nathan-deal-tired-barack-obamas-treachery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>From Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, apparently upset that his tax-fighting economic policies aren't yet producing a <a href="http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=428D4B88-7DBB-46D4-98DE-B9C7F69A0F4F" target="_blank">paradise on earth:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It&rsquo;s ironic that in a year in which Republican governors are leading some of the states that are making the most progress, that they almost, without exception, are classified as having a bump in their unemployment rates. Whereas states that are under Democrat governors&rsquo; control, they are all showing that their unemployment rate has dropped. And I don&rsquo;t know how you account for that. <strong>Maybe there is some influence here that we don&rsquo;t know about.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe! It might be that the Obama administration is cooking the books to make Republicans looks bad. Or maybe Democrats in Georgia are deliberately refusing work in order to spike the unemployment numbers. Or&mdash;and this is my suspicion&mdash;maybe computers have finally acquired human-level intelligence and they don't like Nathan Deal! If I were a computer, I sure wouldn't.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Fri, 19 Sep 2014 17:26:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 260631 at http://www.motherjones.com When I Was 5, I, Um -- What Were We Just Talking About? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/when-i-was-5-i-um-what-were-we-just-talking-about <!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_shrug.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I remember approximately diddley-squat<sup>1</sup> about my childhood. But why? Melissa Dahl <a href="http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/09/dudes-have-horrible-memories.html" target="_blank">explains the latest research to me today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The way parents tend to talk to their sons is different from the way they talk to their daughters. Mothers tend to introduce more snippets of new information in conversations with their young daughters than they do with their young sons, research has shown. And moms tend to ask more questions about girls&rsquo; emotions; <strong>with boys, on the other hand, they spend more time talking about what they should do with those feelings.</strong></p> <p>This is at least partially a product of parents acting on gender expectations they may not even realize they have, and the results are potentially long-lasting, explained Azriel Grysman, a psychologist at Hamilton College who studies gender differences and memory. &ldquo;The message that girls are getting is that talking about your feelings is part of describing an event,&rdquo; Grysman said....&ldquo;And it&rsquo;s quite possible, over time, that those tendencies will help women establish more connections in their brains of different pieces of an event, which will lead to better memory long-term.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>So I can blame my crappy memory on my mother? Cool.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>This is a technical term used by neurologists and memory researchers.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Science Fri, 19 Sep 2014 17:06:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 260626 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Really, Really Want to Send Ground Troops Into Iraq http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/republicans-really-really-want-send-ground-troops-iraq <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I missed this <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/18/us/politics/for-first-time-most-americans-disapprove-of-obamas-handling-of-terrorism.html?_r=0" target="_blank">NYT/CBS poll</a> when it came out a couple of days ago, but a friend pointed it out to me this morning. I don't think much comment is necessary. It's pretty easy to see how the fight against ISIS is going to turn into a massive game of Munich-mongering and appeasement-baiting in short order. Yikes.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poll_ground_troops_isis.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 6px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Military Obama The Right Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:44:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 260616 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama Signs Order to Take Away Your Antibiotics http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/obama-signs-order-take-away-your-antibiotics <!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.nytimes.com/2014/09/19/health/us-lays-out-strategy-to-combat-crisis-of-antibiotic-resistance.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Here's the latest from the White House:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Obama administration on Thursday announced measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, outlining a national strategy that includes incentives for the development of new drugs, tighter stewardship of existing ones, and improvements in tracking the use of antibiotics and the microbes that are resistant to them.</p> <p>....John P. Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters that the new strategy &mdash; <strong>established by an executive order that President Obama signed on Thursday</strong> &mdash; was intended to jolt the federal government into action to combat a health crisis that many experts say it has been slow to recognize.</p> </blockquote> <p>I guess we can all see where this is going, right? It'll start with Alex Jones, maybe, and then Glenn Beck will catch the infection. Drudge will get it next, then Limbaugh, and finally the entire crew of Fox News will come down with it. The tyrant Obama is taking our amoxicillin away from us! Think of the children and their earaches!</p> <p>Sadly, there's no treatment for this airborne virus. We just have to let it burn itself out. Maybe someday scientists will find a cure for <em>vox bardus</em>.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Obama Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:30:04 +0000 Kevin Drum 260611 at http://www.motherjones.com Don't Worry, the Crazy Is Coming Soon in the House Benghazi Hearing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/dont-worry-crazy-coming-soon-house-benghazi-hearing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday's Benghazi hearing, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R&ndash;SC), was shockingly calm. Aside from a bit of gotcha over a 15-year-old report, there were no conspiracy theories, no hot buttons pressed, no shrieking clown shows. The extremely sober topic was whether the State Department has been <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gowdy_hearing.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">successfully implementing the recommendations made by the Accountability Review Board shortly after the attacks. Everyone was on their best behavior, <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_09/a_benghazi_unicorn052151.php" target="_blank">and even Ed Kilgore was impressed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Now it's possible Gowdy will be taken to the woodshed by other Republicans (not to mention the conservative media that has made <em>Benghazi!</em> a sort of national security counterpart to Agenda 21), and come back snarling and ranting. But for the first time since September 11, 2012, the subject is being discussed by Republicans in an atmosphere that isn't reminiscent of a Tea Party street rally.</p> </blockquote> <p>Go ahead and call me a stone partisan blinded by my own ill will toward Republicans, but come on. Gowdy doesn't need to be taken to the woodshed by anyone. This is just well-played theater from a guy who's a mite smarter than the usual tea party crackpot. He's gulling everyone into treating this like a serious investigation so that he'll have some credibility stored up when it comes time for the hundredth repetition of the stand-down myth or the latest insane parsing of the White House talking points. That's what this is all about.</p> <p>I'll apologize if Gowdy manages to keep the tone of this hearing civil and judicious all the way to the end. But I'm not too worried about having to eat any crow here.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Military The Right Thu, 18 Sep 2014 20:01:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 260571 at http://www.motherjones.com How to Discriminate Against Pre-Existing Conditions in Two Easy Tiers http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/how-discriminate-against-pre-existing-conditions-two-easy-tiers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Via ProPublica, here's an editorial published yesterday <a href="http://www.ajmc.com/publications/issue/2014/2014-vol20-n9/is-all-skin-in-the-game-fair-game-the-problem-with-non-preferred-generics/1" target="_blank">in the <em>American Journal of Managed Care</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>For many years, most insurers had formularies that consisted of only 3 tiers: Tier 1 was for generic drugs (lowest co-pay), Tier 2 was for branded drugs that were designated &ldquo;preferred&rdquo; (higher co- pay), and Tier 3 was for &ldquo;nonpreferred&rdquo; branded drugs (highest co-pay)....Now, however, a number of insurers have split their all-generics tier into a bottom tier consisting of &ldquo;preferred&rdquo; generics, and a second tier consisting of &ldquo;non-preferred&rdquo; generics.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. What's going on here? In some cases, this new non-preferred tier is reserved for higher-priced medicines. That's pretty easy to understand: insurers are trying to motivate their patients to choose cheaper drugs when they're available. That's the same reason copays are lower for generics compared to brand name drugs.</p> <p>But it turns out that sometimes <em>all</em> the generic drugs for a particular disease are non-preferred and therefore have high copays. What are insurance companies trying to motivate in these cases? <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/a-new-way-insurers-are-shifting-costs-to-the-sick" target="_blank">Charles Ornstein takes a guess:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The editorial comes several months after two advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services claiming that several Florida health plans sold in the Affordable Care Act marketplace discriminated against H.I.V. patients by charging them more for drugs.</p> <p>Specifically, the complaint contended that the plans placed all of their H.I.V. medications, including generics, in their highest of five cost tiers, meaning that patients had to pay 40 percent of the cost after paying a deductible. The complaint is pending.</p> <p><strong>"It seems that the plans are trying to find this wiggle room to design their benefits to prevent people who have high health needs from enrolling,"</strong> said Wayne Turner, a staff lawyer at the National Health Law Program, which filed the complaint alongside the AIDS Institute of Tampa, Fla.</p> </blockquote> <p>If <em>all</em> your HIV drugs are expensive, then people with HIV will look for another plan. Technically, you're not discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition, but you're sure giving them a reason to shop around someplace else, aren't you?</p> <p>At the moment, this practice appears to be confined to just a few insurers and a few classes of drugs. But if it catches on, it will prompt everyone to follow suit. After all, you can hardly afford to be the insurance company of choice for chronically sick people, can you? This is worth keeping an eye on.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:37:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 260556 at http://www.motherjones.com IHOP Has Cut Back Its Menu By 30 Items http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/ihop-has-cut-back-its-menu-30-items <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Here's an interesting factoid: in 2008 we apparently reached Peak Menu. That year, the average menu contained 99.7 items. Then the housing bubble burst, we entered the Great Recession, and menus <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_menu_length.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">began to shrink. Today's menus feature a paltry 92.6 items.</p> <p>Why is this? Cost is one reason: it's cheaper to support a smaller menu. But Roberto Ferdman writes that <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/18/americans-are-tired-of-long-restaurant-menus/" target="_blank">there's more to it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The biggest impetus for all the menu shrinking going on is likely tied to a change in the country's food culture: Americans are becoming a bit more refined in their tastes.</p> <p>"Historically, the size of menus grew significantly because there wasn't the food culture there is today,"&nbsp;said [Maeve Webster, a senior director at Datassential]. "People weren't nearly as focused on the food, or willing to go out of their way to eat specific foods."</p> <p>For that reason, as well as the fact that there were&nbsp;fewer restaurants then, there used to be&nbsp;a greater&nbsp;incentive for restaurants to serve as many food options as possible. That way, a customer could would choose a particular restaurant because it was near or convenient, rather than for a specific food craving (which probably wasn't all that outlandish anyway). But now, given the increasing demand for quality over quantity, a growing appetite for exotic foods and a willingness to seek out specialized cuisines, Americans are&nbsp;more&nbsp;likely to judge a restaurant if its offerings aren't specific enough.</p> <p>"The rise of food culture, where consumers are both interested and willing to go to a restaurant that has the best Banh Mi sandwich, or the best burger, or the best trendy item of the moment, means that operators can now create much more focused menus," said Webster. "It also means that&nbsp;the larger the menu, the more consumers might worry all those things aren't going to be all that good."</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Let me say, based on precisely no evidence, that I find this unlikely. Have American tastes really gotten more refined since 2008? Color me skeptical. And even if American palates <em>are</em> more discriminating, are we seriously suggesting that this has affected the menu length at IHOP, Tony Roma's, and Olive Garden&mdash;the three examples cited in the article? I hope this isn't just my inner elitist showing, but I don't normally associate those fine establishments with a "growing appetite for exotic foods and a willingness to seek out specialized cuisines."</p> <p>So, anyway, put me down firmly in the cost-cutting camp. Long menus got too expensive to support, and when the Great Recession hit, casual dining chains needed to cut costs. They did this by lopping off dishes that were either expensive to prep or not very popular or both. Occam's Razor, my friends, Occam's Razor.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Food and Ag Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:11:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 260536 at http://www.motherjones.com Apple Gives Its Middle Finger to the NSA http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/apple-gives-its-middle-finger-nsa <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I'm a little late getting started this morning, even though I actually woke up much earlier than usual. What happened is that I wrote a post; then lost it by hitting the wrong key and blowing away my browser window; then recreated it; and then decided not to publish it after all. I'm still not sure if this is because the post was genuinely ill-conceived, or because I'm just <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_apple_logo.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">too cowardly to put it up. Questions, questions....</p> <p>In any case, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/apple-will-no-longer-unlock-most-iphones-ipads-for-police-even-with-search-warrants/2014/09/17/2612af58-3ed2-11e4-b03f-de718edeb92f_story.html?hpid=z2" target="_blank">I'm fascinated to see this tidbit</a> among all the boring recent Apple iPhone news (bigger screen, thinner profile, yawn):</p> <blockquote> <p>Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police &mdash; even when they have a search warrant &mdash; taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.</p> <p>....The key is the encryption that Apple mobile devices automatically put in place when a user selects a passcode, making it difficult for anyone who lacks that passcode to access the information within, including photos, e-mails and recordings. Apple once maintained the ability to unlock some content on devices for legally binding police requests but will no longer do so for iOS 8, it said in the new privacy policy.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure how universally this kind of technical fix can be applied elsewhere. I have a feeling that in practice, it's probably a limited solution. But it would certainly be a bit of poetic justice if the NSA's overreach and the government's unwillingness to rein them in led to a sea change in private security that simply makes it impossible to respond to mass requests for customer data.</p> <p>Of course, this might not be the end of things. For the time being, actual traditional governments with police forces and courts are still more powerful than even the highest of high-tech corporations. If Congress passes a law requiring Apple to maintain unlock codes, then they'll have to do it whether they like it or not. I wonder how this is all going to play out?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Tech Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:54:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 260521 at http://www.motherjones.com The MoJo Investigative Fund Needs Your Help http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/mojo-investigative-fund-needs-your-help <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Mother Jones Investigative Fund is the secret behind some of the best work <em>Mother Jones</em> does. Right now we're trying to raise an infusion of $65,000 over the next two weeks, and I'm worried that we won't reach our goal.</p> <p>The urgency is real. Just look at the headlines: The pivotal midterm elections are approaching, with nearly unlimited &ldquo;dark money&rdquo; flowing to candidates. Politicians are itching to send our military back into the Middle East quagmire. Our police forces are being militarized at a scary pace. Women, immigrants, and the poor are under attack.</p> <p>But <em>Mother Jones</em> is fighting back. We expose the powerful, reveal the truth, and shape the national debate with solid, unassailable reporting. If you support this kind of reporting, please donate $5 or more to our investigative fund. Your gift of any amount is fully tax-deductible, and we'll immediately use it to support <em>Mother Jones'</em> reporting.</p> <p>It only takes a minute to make your tax-deductible contribution, and you can give using your smartphone, tablet, or computer.</p> <ul><li>To donate via credit card, <a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=7Z94DRU&amp;extra_don=1" target="_blank">click here.</a></li> <li>To donate via PayPal, <a href="https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&amp;hosted_button_id=LDTEDETCLTJSY" target="_blank">click here.</a></li> </ul><p>Thanks!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:50:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 260501 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day #2: Pick an Issue, Any Issue http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/quote-day-2-pick-issue-any-issue <!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.nationalreview.com/corner/388251/gingrich-warns-gop-population-turmoil-fall-joel-gehrke" target="_blank">From self-declared visionary Newt Gingrich,</a> asked what the Republican agenda should be for this year's campaign:</p> <blockquote> <p>I don&rsquo;t actually care what it is, for the next seven weeks, as long as it exists.</p> </blockquote> <p>Come on, folks! Just pick anything that sounds good and rally around it. Does Newt have to do <em>all</em> your thinking for you?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections The Right Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:21:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 260506 at http://www.motherjones.com Scotland Should Plan On Having Its Own Currency http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/scotland-should-plan-having-its-own-currency <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When provinces propose a split with the mother country, they usually insist that they'll continue to use the old currency. This is odd on its face since having your own money is usually considered one of the key attributes of a sovereign state. So what's the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pound_sterling.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">appeal of keeping the old country's currency? <a href="http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/09/how-long-would-scotland-keep-sterling?fsrc=rss" target="_blank">Greg Ip ponders the question:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Facilitating trade and capital movements is only one part of the story. Another, I think, is political and emotional. Forming a new country is fraught with risk. For savers, in particular the elderly, one risk looms especially large: that one&rsquo;s retirement savings are suddenly redenominated in a new currency whose value is then inflated away. In both Quebec and Scotland, independence is mostly a movement of the left, and a separate currency would create the ever-present temptation to use the printing press to accommodate fiscal expansion and industrial policy. By promising to keep the old currency, separatists are reassuring savers that they will not succumb to the temptation of inflation.</p> </blockquote> <p>I wonder if this is true? I hope it's not. I don't have a strong opinion about Scottish independence, but I do have a strong opinion about this. Here it is: if you favor independence, but only if Scotland holds onto the British pound, you're an idiot. If you don't trust a Scottish government to run its own monetary policy, then you don't trust a Scottish government. Period.</p> <p>There are other arguments for currency union, of course, but I don't think they add up to much. Nor do I truly believe them. They mostly seem like post hoc rationalizations to provide people with a more palatable reason for keeping the British pound than fear of a reckless Scottish monetary authority. Generally speaking, the history of currency unions is simply too fraught for anyone who's paying attention to really think it's a good idea. And as Ip points out, they rarely last very long anyway.</p> <p>An independent Scotland should have its own currency and its own monetary policy. If this makes you nervous, then the whole idea of independence should make you nervous.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:38:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 260496 at http://www.motherjones.com Prison Rates are Down. Thanks to Lead, They're Going to Stay Down. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/prison-rates-are-down-thanks-lead-theyre-going-stay-down <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Yesterday the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the latest numbers on incarceration rates, and the headline news is that we're sending fewer people to prison. But there's an interesting wrinkle in the numbers that few news outlets have picked up on, even though it's a trend that's been obvious in the numbers for a long time. <a href="http://www.ricknevin.com/uploads/Prisoners_in_2013_-_The_News_Media_Buries_the_Lead.pdf" target="_blank">Here it is:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_incarceration_rate_age.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 70px;"></p> <p>That's from Rick Nevin, and you know what's coming next, don't you? Lead. It explains a lot of what's going on here.</p> <p>The US started phasing out gasoline lead in 1975, which means that children born after 1975 were exposed to steadily less lead. And the effect was cumulative: the later they were born, the less lead they were exposed to and the less crime they committed when they grew up. However, children born <em>before</em> 1975 were unaffected by all this. They were born in a high-lead era, and since all that matters is exposure during early childhood, the damage had already been done.</p> <p>In 2013, this means that the statistics show a reduction in crime rates in adults under the age of 40, and the younger the cohort the lower the crime rate. Unsurprisingly, this also means they're incarcerated at lower rates. The chart above shows this fairly dramatically.</p> <p>But it also shows that incarceration rates have stayed steady or increased for older men. Those <em>over</em> the age of 40 had their lives ruined by lead when they were children, and the effect was permanent. They're still committing crimes and being sent to prison at the same rate as ever. It's hard to explain both these trends&mdash;lower prison rates for kids, higher prison rates for the middle-aged&mdash;without taking lead into account.</p> <p>This is one of the reasons that the lead-crime hypothesis is important. In one sense, it's little more than a historical curio. It explains the rise and fall of crime between 1960 and 2010, but by now most environmental lead has been cleaned up and there's only a limited amount left to worry about. So it's interesting, but nothing more.</p> <p>But here's why it matters: if the hypothesis is true, it means that violent crime rates aren't down because of transient factors like drug use or poverty or harsh penal codes. The reduction is permanent. Our children are just flatly less violent than the lead-addled kids who grew up in the years after World War II. And that in turn means that the decline in incarceration rates is permanent. We don't need as much prison space as we used to, and we don't need punitive penal codes designed to toss kids behind bars for 20 years at the first sign of danger.</p> <p>In other words, we can ease up. Our kids are less violent and our streets are less dangerous. Nor is that likely to change. The lead is mostly gone, and it's going to stay gone. We're safer today not because of broken windows or three-strikes laws or 20-year sentences for dealing cocaine. We're safer because we're no longer poisoning our children in ways that turn them into hair-trigger thugs. And guess what? If we cleaned up the ambient lead that still remains, we'd be even safer 20 years from now.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Science Wed, 17 Sep 2014 17:18:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 260461 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Go Away, I'm Performing Brain Surgery http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/quote-day-go-away-im-performing-brain-surgery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_09/plagiarizing_pet_rocks052134.php" target="_blank">From the campaign of GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby,</a> declining to respond to allegations of plagiarism:</p> <blockquote> <p>Dr. Wehby is too busy performing brain surgery on sick children to respond, sorry.</p> </blockquote> <p>This might be the most brilliant refusal to comment ever in the history of politics.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:03:30 +0000 Kevin Drum 260456 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Are No Longer Favored To Take Control of the Senate http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/republicans-are-no-longer-favored-take-control-senate <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Speaking of poll aggregators and the Senate race, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/9/17/6153603/senate-election-forecasting-2014-guide-republicans-chances" target="_blank">here's an interesting infographic from Vox:</a></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_vox_senate_average.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 15px;"></p> <p>I actually haven't been following the polling super closely, so I didn't realize that basically no one is still projecting a Republican takeover except for Nate Silver&mdash;though things are still close enough that none of this probably means much yet. We're still six weeks away from Election Day, and a lot can happen in six weeks.</p> <p>Still, there's a bottom line here for reporters: <em>Republicans are no longer favored to take control of the Senate.</em> At least, not by the folks who have had the best records for projecting election results over the past decade or so. This should no longer be the default assumption of campaign roundup stories.</p> <p>There's much more at the link, including forecasts for individual races.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:43:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 260446 at http://www.motherjones.com Polling Cage Fight Heats Up Today http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/polling-cage-fight-heats-today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Nate Silver today:</p> <blockquote> <p>I don&rsquo;t like to call out other forecasters by name unless I have something positive to say about them....</p> </blockquote> <p>But he wants to make an exception for one guy: Sam Wang. The guy is so preposterously deluded that <a href="http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-the-fivethirtyeight-senate-forecast-model-works/" target="_blank">something just has to be said:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That model is wrong &mdash; not necessarily because it shows Democrats ahead (ours barely shows any Republican advantage), but because it substantially underestimates the uncertainty associated with polling averages....In 2010, for example, Wang&rsquo;s model made Sharron Angle the favorite in Nevada against Harry Reid; it estimated she was 2 points ahead in the polls, but with a standard error of just 0.5 points. If we drew a graphic based on Wang&rsquo;s forecast like the ones we drew above,<sup></sup>it would have Angle winning the race 99.997 percent of the time, meaning that Reid&rsquo;s victory was about a 30,000-to-1 long shot. To be clear, the FiveThirtyEight model had Angle favored also, but it provided for much more uncertainty. Reid&rsquo;s win came as a 5-to-1 underdog in our model instead of a 30,000-to-1 underdog in Wang&rsquo;s; those are very different forecasts....If you want a &ldquo;polls only&rdquo; model that estimates the uncertainty more rigorously, I&rsquo;d recommend The Huffington Post&rsquo;s or Drew Linzer&rsquo;s.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not quite sure how it happened, but Silver has managed to become truly torqued off about Wang. If Wang's prediction of this year's Senate race turns out to be more accurate than Silver's, I almost hate to think what might happen. Silver's head is going to explode or something. In any case, this is far <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_wang_senate_2014_09_17.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 10px 15px 30px;">more fun than you normally get from a couple of geeky poll aggregators.</p> <p>By the way, Wang is now <a href="http://election.princeton.edu/todays-senate-seat-count-histogram/" target="_blank">projecting</a> that Democrats have an 81 percent chance of controlling the Senate after the election. Not by much, mind you: he figures they're likely to hold exactly 50 seats, which would make Joe Biden the tiebreaker and give Democrats a bare majority. We'll see.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:47:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 260441 at http://www.motherjones.com Poverty Keeps Getting Worse and Worse for Working-Age Adults http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/poverty-keeps-getting-worse-and-worse-working-age-adults <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Census Bureau released its <a href="http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-169.html#" target="_blank">annual poverty report</a> today, and the headline number shows that the official poverty rate declined from 15.0 percent to 14.5 percent. This decline was driven entirely by a drop in the number of children living in poverty.</p> <p>This gives me an excuse to make a point that doesn't get made often enough. You'll often see charts showing that the overall poverty rate has remained roughly the same since the late 60s, and that's true. But this is largely due to more generous Social Security benefits, which have reduced elderly poverty from over 30 percent to under 10 percent.</p> <p>There's been no such reduction among working age adults. In fact, just the opposite. The low point for working-age poverty was about 9 percent, reached in 1968, and since then it's steadily increased. There are small variations from year to year, but basically it went up to about 10-11 percent in the 80s and then increased to 13.6 percent during the Great Recession. It's stayed there ever since.</p> <p>The safety net has helped most of these folks tread water, but it doesn't change the fact that the market economy has gotten steadily bleaker for the poor over the past 40 years. It's great that we've made such significant inroads against elderly poverty, but aggregates can fool you about the rest of the country. Among everyone else, poverty has only gotten worse and worse.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_poverty_18_64_2013.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 1px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:14:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 260426 at http://www.motherjones.com The Endless Rabbit Hole of Secession, Shetland Islands Edition http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/endless-rabbit-hole-secession-shetland-islands-edition <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><strong>NOTE: There's, um, a pretty important update at the bottom of this post.</strong></p> <p>Following a string of links from an Atrios post, I came across this paragraph from a piece a few months ago about the <a href="http://www.spectator.co.uk/australia/australia-features/9226741/little-scotlanders/" target="_blank">possibility of Scottish independence:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As for Mr Salmond&rsquo;s fantasies about oil revenues: stocks are dwindling, fracking is driving down the price, when territorial waters are drawn up he may find some of what he thinks is his oil in the North Sea will actually be England&rsquo;s, <strong>and the Shetland Islands &mdash; in whose waters much of his reserves lie &mdash; say that if Scotland goes independent, they will seek to re-join Norway.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. What? <em>Re</em>join Norway? Hasn't it been quite a few centuries since they had anything to do with Norway? I clearly haven't been paying enough attention to this stuff. What's it all about? <a href="http://euanmearns.com/cameron-warns-norway-over-shetland-land-grab/" target="_blank">Here's a piece from earlier this year:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>David Cameron today summoned Norwegian Ambassador H&aring;rek Hardbalne to Downing Street to demand that Norway makes clear it has no territorial interest in the Shetland Islands. <strong>This follows yesterday&rsquo;s extraordinary announcement by the leader of Shetland Islands&rsquo; Council, Leif Erikson, that Shetland planned to hold a separate referendum on independence from Scotland should Scots choose independence from the UK on September 18th.</strong></p> <p>....In an interview with the BBC, ambassador Hardbalne said that he did not wish to comment on the surprise move by Shetland but wished to stress that Norway has always upheld the democratic rights to self determination. The BBC reported that the threat of sanctions and exclusion from NATO already had the Norwegians running scared.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's <em>Dr.</em> Leif Erikson, by the way. In any case, apparently the Shetland Islands really have been making noises about this. If Scotland secedes in order to grab a bigger share of North Sea oil wealth, then why shouldn't they secede from Scotland? They have <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_shetland_islands_oil.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the same gripe about unfair division of oil revenues, after all. <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9151646/Scotlands-oil-rich-Northern-Isles-tell-Alex-Salmond-We-might-stay-with-UK.html" target="_blank">This is from 2012:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Orkney and Shetland islands could remain part of the UK if the rest of Scotland votes to separate, according to a report submitted by their MSPs to the Government. The islands could even declare independence themselves, it adds.</p> <p>Alternatively, they could agree to join a separate Scotland only if they are granted a much bigger portion of North Sea oil and gas revenues, around a quarter of which lies in Shetland&rsquo;s waters alone. Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland, agreed the threat was political &ldquo;dynamite&rdquo; but questioned why Mr Salmond was the only politician who could use oil wealth to argue for self-determination.</p> </blockquote> <p>This bit of soap opera is obviously old news to anyone who's followed the Scottish independence movement closely, but that doesn't happen to include me. In any case, it's an amusing confirmation of my belief that no matter how small a political unit you have, there's always a piece of it that's richer than the rest and feels like it should no longer have to subsidize all the rest of the freeloaders. I wonder if the Shetland Islanders would be open to an invitation to join the state of California?</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> It appears that I've been taken in by an April Fools post regarding the whole Norway business. Leif Erikson is not the leader of the Shetland Islands council, and&nbsp;H&aring;rek Hardbalne (aka Hagar the Horrible) is not the ambassador from Norway. So sorry. But in a way, being suckered into this joke somehow makes this whole post better, doesn't it?</p> <p>As for the rest of it, there doesn't seem to be much to that either. There's been some talk here and there about secession and/or rejoining the UK if Scotland votes for independence, but nothing very serious. Basically, I was pretty thoroughly snookered by all this.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE 2:</strong> If you're interested, the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> has a more sober assessment of the Shetland Islands <a href="http://online.wsj.com/articles/as-scotland-votes-on-independence-shetland-islands-ponder-own-fate-1410967801?mod=WSJ_hp_RightTopStories" target="_blank">here.</a> Bottom line for those too lazy to click: "People on this remote North Sea archipelago are following the Scottish independence campaign as intently as the rest of the U.K. Some even want another vote soon after&mdash;on their own independence from Scotland....To be sure, the breakaway campaign is a fringe one. 'I don't get a sense there is an appetite for full independence,' said Malcolm Bell, a member of Shetland Island council."</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:02:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 260411 at http://www.motherjones.com No, Ronald Reagan Was Not Just a More Amiable Version of Barry Goldwater http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/no-ronald-reagan-was-not-just-more-amiable-version-barry-goldwater <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jacob Weisberg is critical of Rick Perlstein's <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Invisible-Bridge-Nixon-Reagan/dp/1476782415/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&amp;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="http://www.democracyjournal.org/34/a-bridge-too-far.php?page=all" 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 as well: 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 also 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 sensibilities 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 http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: Maybe Bill Clinton Needs a Minder http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/quote-day-maybe-bill-clinton-needs-minder <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_09/here_we_go_with_the_big_dog_go052110.php" 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 http://www.motherjones.com Chart of the Day: Fox's Benghazi Obsession http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/chart-day-foxs-benghazi-obsession <!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_fox_benghazi_obsession.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">The good folks at Media Matters 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="http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/09/16/report-foxs-benghazi-obsession-by-the-numbers/200694" 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 http://www.motherjones.com Assignment Desk: How Does the Media Deal With Domestic Violence? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/assignment-desk-how-does-media-deal-domestic-violence <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <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 http://www.motherjones.com It's Hard to Say It, But US Policy Toward Terrorist Ransom Demands Is Probably Right http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/its-hard-say-it-us-policy-toward-terrorist-ransom-demands-probably-right <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <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="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/us/for-hostages-family-us-policy-offered-no-hope.html?hp&amp;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 http://www.motherjones.com Americans Are Refreshingly Realistic About the ISIS Threat http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/americans-are-refreshingly-realistic-about-isis-threat <!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_pew_isis_campaign_terrorism.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Paul Waldman draws my attention to a <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2014/09/15/bipartisan-support-for-obamas-military-campaign-against-isis/" 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 http://www.motherjones.com Madam Secretary? Seriously? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/madam-secretary-seriously <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <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 Leoni 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 http://www.motherjones.com Obama Has Indeed Learned Some Foreign Policy Lessons, Just Not the Ones the Establishment Likes http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/09/obama-has-indeed-learned-some-foreign-policy-lessons-just-not-ones-establishment- <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <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="http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/09/national_insecurity_obama_foreign_policy" 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="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323527004579077401049154032" 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 http://www.motherjones.com