Kevin Drum

Thursday Hummingbird Blogging - 19 March 2015

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

Sorry for the lack of blogging yet again. In the meantime, here's the latest pic of our baby hummingbirds. They look perilously close to flapping their wings and leaving the nest.

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My Stake In the 2016 Election Is Way More Personal Than Usual

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 1:20 PM EDT

Ed Kilgore:

I'm increasingly convinced that by the end of the Republican presidential nominating process the candidates will have pressured each other into a Pact of Steel to revoke all of Obama's executive orders and regulations. The post-2012 GOP plan to quickly implement the Ryan Budget and an Obamacare repeal in a single reconciliation bill will almost certainly be back in play if Republicans win the White House while holding on to Congress. Republicans (with even Rand Paul more or less going along) are all but calling for a re-invasion of Iraq plus a deliberate lurch into a war footing with Iran. And now more than ever, the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court would seem to vary almost 180 degrees based on which party will control the next couple of appointments.

This is more personal for me than usual. Scary, too. There are no guarantees in life, and there's no guarantee that MoJo will employ me forever. If I lose my job, and Republicans repeal Obamacare, I will be left with a very serious and very expensive medical condition and no insurance to pay for it. And I feel quite certain that Republicans will do nothing to help me out.

Obviously lots of other people are in the same position, and have been for a long time. But there's nothing like being in the crosshairs yourself to bring it all home. If Republicans win in 2016, my life is likely to take a very hard, very personal turn for the worse.

So What's Next For Israel and Palestine?

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 11:14 AM EDT

I thought all along that Benjamin Netanyahu was going to win this week's election in Israel. I never wrote about it, but Mark Kleiman is my witness. My reasoning was simplistic: the polls were pretty close, and Netanyahu is a survivor. In a close race, he'd somehow figure out a way to pull out a win.

But yikes! I know Israeli politics is tough stuff, but I sure wasn't prepared for the sheer ugliness of Netanyahu's closing run. His speech before Congress turned out to be just a wan little warmup act. When things got down to the wire he flatly promised to keep the West Bank an occupied territory forever, and followed that up with dire warnings of Arabs "coming out in droves" to the polls. Even by Israeli standards this is sordid stuff.

I don't follow Israeli-Palestinian politics closely anymore, having long since given up hope that either side is willing to make the compromises necessary for peace. But even to my unpracticed eye, this election seems to change things. Sure, no one ever believed Netanyahu was truly dedicated to a two-state solution in the first place, but at least it hung out there as a possibility. Now it's gone. This will almost certainly strengthen Hamas and other hardline elements within the Palestinian movement, which in turn will justify ever tighter crackdowns by Israel. Is there any way this doesn't end badly?

I just don't see the endgame here for either side. Can someone enlighten me?

Republicans Take Game Playing to New Heights With Latest Budget

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 10:27 AM EDT

I would like to nominate this for least surprising headline of the year:

And it gets even better. This is unusually straightforward reporting:

House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or “achieving sustainability.” They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.

What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a “cut.” The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.

I get that budget documents are often as much aspirational as anything else, but surely they should have at least some grounding in reality? Here's the best part:

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

House Republicans sure don't make it easy to take them seriously, do they?

I Have Great Lungs

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 8:13 PM EDT

In addition to the whole multiple myeloma thing, regular readers may recall that about a year ago I suddenly developed breathing difficulties. Things have improved since then, but I still have regular spells of shortness of breath. In fact, I'm going through one right now, which is likely contributing to all my other woes.

I mention this because today was the last of my pre-stem-cell-transplant workups, which happened to be a lung test. And just as always, I passed with flying colors. It even included a blood draw directly from an artery, which confirmed that my hemoglobin count is outstanding and the oxygen content of the blood in my extremities is normal or even a little above normal. And my lung volume? Better than 100 percent, whatever that means.

So the mystery continues. My lungs are getting plenty of air; they're producing plenty of oxygen; my heart is pumping perfectly; and the oxygen content of my blood is just peachy. Almost by definition, it sounds like there can't be anything wrong. Except that there is. Go figure.

In any case, all my tests are complete, and as far as I know there were no red flags. Next Wednesday I spend the day at City of Hope getting oriented. On Friday I get a nice big bonus round of chemotherapy, after which I spend a week injecting myself with a drug that stimulates white cell production. Then I get a Hickman port installed in my shoulder. Following that, I spend three or four days at City of Hope, where they draw blood through the port, centrifuge it, keep the stem cells, and send the rest back. When they have enough stem cells, they process and freeze them and send me home for a week of rest.

Then comes the stem cell transplant itself. I get a gigantic blast of chemotherapy that kills everything in its path—which includes all the remaining cancerous cells in my bone marrow but also all my non-cancerous plasma stem cells. That would kill me too, so the next day they unfreeze my stem cells and pump them into my body. Then I spend several weeks recuperating.

That's the short version. More later. Despite everything, it appears that all systems are go.

"Arming Our Allies" a Fiasco Yet Again in Yemen

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 2:38 PM EDT

No surprise here:

The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

....“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"Arming our allies" works sometimes, but just as often it ends up like this. If we'd done this in Syria two years ago, those arms would most likely be in the hands of ISIS or Iranian militias by now.

There just aren't very many good middle grounds between staying out of a fight and getting fully engaged in it. Iraq is our latest stab at this middle ground, and so far it's too early to say how it's going. But recent history is not kind to the idea.

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My Un-Miracle

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 1:16 PM EDT

If a miracle happened on Friday, an un-miracle happened on Sunday. I was fine all day Friday, fine on Saturday, and fine Sunday. Until lunchtime. Then I collapsed again. Ditto on Monday around 10 am. Ditto again today.

As usual, no idea what's going on. But I'll blog whenever I have spurts of energy.

My Day

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Heart test. Check. EKG. Check. Chest X-ray. Check. Complete spinal X-ray. Check. 20 vials of blood drawn. Check. All that's left is a lung test tomorrow and dropping off a stool sample. Then I get a week off before I visit City of Hope for an orientation and further instructions in preparation for the stem cell transplant in April. Progress!

Republicans Are Making Obama Popular Again

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

This isn't exactly Oprah levels of adulation or anything, but President Obama's Gallup approval ratings have been rising steadily ever since Republicans won the midterm elections last year. He's been bouncing around positive territory ever since the start of 2015, and today he clocks in at 48-47 percent approval.

Is this because the economy is picking up and people are just generally happier? Is it because his executive actions have made a favorable impression on the public? Is it because Republican incompetence makes him look good by comparison? Hard to say, but it certainly suggests that Democrats are pretty happy with him. As Ed Kilgore says:

Among Democrats, who are supposedly on the brink of a "struggle for the soul of the party," and ideologically riven between Elizabeth Warren "populists" and Obama/Clinton "centrists," Obama's approval rating stands at 81%. And looking deeper, he's at 86% among self-identified "liberal Democrats," 78% among "moderate Democrats," and yes, 67% among "conservative Democrats," such as they are....This is another example of isolated data being somewhat limited in value, but worth a couple of dozen Politico columns.

Yep. And I'll bet that once things get going, Hillary Clinton will poll about the same way.

Factlet of the Day: Mutual Funds Suck

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Jeff Sommer summarizes the results of actively managed mutual funds over the past five years:

If all of the managers of the 2,862 funds hadn’t bothered to try to pick stocks at all — if they had merely flipped coins — they would, as a group, probably have produced better numbers.

I am not an investment advisor, so do whatever you want to do. But if you're smart, you'll invest in a few low-fee index funds and then just leave them alone. That is the path of wisdom.