Kevin Drum

Female Genital Mutilation Is Not a Uniquely Muslim Problem

| Sat Feb. 6, 2016 10:10 AM EST

The Independent reports that about 5,000 girls and women in Britain are subjected to female genital mutilation each year: "FGM is carried out for cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities where it is believed to be a necessary preparation for adulthood and marriage." Ian Tuttle is exasperated by their kid-glove treatment of the practice:

True. But which cultures? Which religions? Hint: It’s not Anglicans....Let’s be frank: FGM is not spontaneously afflicting preteen and teenage girls; it’s not an illness being randomly caught. It’s a barbarous act being perpetrated by parents of young girls in specific and identifiable cultural/religious groups. Refusing to acknowledge that reality does not help to protect vulnerable women; it aids those who seek to repress them.

Hmmm. "Not Anglicans." Obviously Tuttle is blaming Muslims. Oddly, though, he doesn't come right out and say this. Why? The map on the right might provide a clue.

According to UNICEF, the practice of FGM is mostly limited to central Africa. It's not common in Morocco or Algeria or Libya or Saudi Arabia or Oman or Jordan or Syria or Iran. Basically, it's concentrated in a small swath of states in western Africa and another swath of states along the Red Sea (those in red and orange). With the exception of a handful of countries, only a small percentage of women who undergo FGM believe the practice is required by religion.

Still, that religion is Islam. There's no need to tiptoe around that ugly fact. Or is there?

Basically, FGM is a practice limited to certain parts of Africa—and although it's more common among Muslims than other religions, Christians are pretty close in most countries. As for Britain, its FGM problem is more due to where their African immigrants come from than it is to Islam per se.

Female genital mutilation is a barbaric practice, and Muslims in many countries are far too tolerant of it. Anyone who fights it—as do many feminist NGOs as well as Islamic clergy and scholars—is literally doing God's work. But it's uncommon in the heartland of Islam, and in Africa it's practiced by plenty of Christians too. The only way to represent it as a uniquely Islamic problem is to imply it with a wink and a nudge but without actually producing any evidence.

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Let Us All Take a Random Walk Through New Hampshire

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 8:53 PM EST

I'm feeling a little bored, and that means all of you have to listen to me regaling you with a bunch of random political tweets from my timeline. This is, truly, the best way of getting a real feel for the campaign trail from afar. First up is Donald Trump, who canceled an event today because airports were closed in New Hampshire:

Apparently so. CNN reports that Trump's operator at LaGuardia was open for business, and the operator in Manchester says it is "always open for business, 24 hours a day." And even if Trump did have airport trouble, it was only because he insists on going home to New York every night. Apparently the man of the people just can't stand the thought of spending a few nights at a local Hilton.

This whole thing cracks me up because of Trump's insistence that he's a "high energy" guy. But he can't handle a real campaign, the kind where you spend weeks at a time on the road doing four or five events a day. He flies in for a speech every few days and thinks he's showing real fortitude. He'd probably drop from exhaustion if he followed the same schedule as Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush.

Next up is Marco Rubio:

This is what makes it hard for me to figure out Rubio's appeal. To me he seems like a robot: he's memorized a whole bunch of virtual index cards, and whenever you ask a question he performs a database search and recites whatever comes up. The index cards aren't bad, mind you, and I suppose they allow him to emulate a dumb person's notion what a smart person sounds like. This is despite the fact that he normally talks with the same kind of hurried clip employed by nervous eighth graders reading off actual index cards.

Of course, this is just a specific example of a more general problem. Every four years, it looks to me like none of the Republican candidates can win. They all seem to have too many obvious problems. But of course someone has to win. So sure, Rubio reminds me of an over-ambitious teacher's pet running for student council president, but compared to Trump or Carson or Cruz or Fiorina or Christie—well, I guess I can see how he might look good.

And now for some old-school Hillary Clinton hate:

Well, I'll be happy to credit the Intercept, but I can hardly say it reflects well on them. This is yet another example of hCDS—Hillary Clinton Derangement Syndrome.1 I mean, has any candidate for any office ever been asked for transcripts of their paid speeches? This is Calvinball squared. Besides we all know the real reason Hillary doesn't want to release the transcripts: she gave the same canned speech to everyone and happily pocketed an easy $200 grand for each one. Hell, who wouldn't do that? Plus there's the obvious fact that the hCDS crowd would trawl through every word and find at least one thing they could take out of context and make into a three-day outrage. Hillary would have to be nuts to give in to this.

Who's next? How about Ted Cruz?

Cruz really pissed off Ben Carson in Iowa, just like he seems to piss off nearly everyone who actually gets a whiff of him up close. This is bad for Cruz because he's trying to appeal to evangelical voters. Unfortunately, Carson has apparently decided that as long as he's going to lose, he might as well mount a kamikaze attack against Cruz on the way down. And evangelicals listen to Carson. If he says Cruz bears false witness, then he bears false witness.

Finally, some good news for Bernie Sanders:

As it turns out, the Quinnipiac poll is probably bogus. Sam Wang points out that the median post-Iowa bounce was +6 percent in New Hampshire and +4 nationally—in Hillary's favor. So everyone should take a deep breath.

Still, the big Bernie bounce is what people were talking about today, and it will contribute to an irresistible media narrative. And let's face it: Hillary Clinton has never been a natural politician. Most Democrats like her, but they don't love her, and this makes Sanders dangerous. What's more, since Clinton already has a record for blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead to a charismatic opponent, he's doubly dangerous. If Democrats convince themselves that they don't have to vote for Clinton, they just might not. She has lots of baggage, after all.

Is this fair? No. It's politics. But Clinton still has more money, more endorsements, more superdelegates, more state operations, and—let's be fair here—a pretty long track record as a sincerely liberal Democrat who works hard to implement good policies. Sanders may damage her, but she's almost certain to still win.

And that's that. Isn't Twitter great? It's practically like being there. I can almost feel my shoes crunching on the snow drifts.

1This is a good example of a retronym. At first, we just had CDS. But then Hillary ran for president, so we had to make up a new term for insane Bill hatred: bCDS. And that, of course, means we also need hCDS. It's like brick-and-mortar store or manual transmission.

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 February 2016

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 2:54 PM EST

Here are the furballs up on the balcony surveying their domain. All is well in the kingdom—though Hilbert does appear to be alarmed about something. Probably a patch of light on the opposite wall or something. Hilbert is quite convinced that we humans don't take the threat of light patches seriously enough. Someday, perhaps he'll have the last laugh.

The Bernie vs. Hillary Fight Is Kind of Ridiculous

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 2:50 PM EST

Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow supports Hillary Clinton: "I think Bernie's terrific as an advocate. There's a difference between a strong community advocate and being someone who can get things done." Martin Longman says this is an example of how nasty things are getting: "Breaking out the Sarah Palin talking points isn't smart. Talk about how people view socialism all you want, but don't dismiss community organizers or advocates. This isn't a Republican campaign."

I had to laugh at that. Nasty? I'd rate it about a 1 on the Atwater Scale. Toughen up, folks.

And speaking of this, it sure is hard to take seriously the gripes going back and forth between the Hillary and Bernie camps. Is it really the case that we can't even agree on the following two points?

  • Sanders is more progressive than Clinton.
  • Clinton is more electable than Sanders.

I mean, come on. They're both lefties, but Sanders is further left. The opposing arguments from the Clinton camp are laughable. Clinton is more progressive because she can get more done? Sorry. That's ridiculous. She and Bill Clinton have always been moderate liberals, both politically and temperamentally. We have over two decades of evidence for this.

As for electability, I admire Sanders' argument that he can drive a bigger turnout, which is good for Democrats. But it's special pleading. The guy cops to being a socialist. He's the most liberal member of the Senate by quite a margin (Elizabeth Warren is the only senator who's close). He's already promised to raise middle-class taxes. He can't be bothered to even pretend that he cares about national security issues, which are likely to play a big role in this year's election. He wants to spend vast amounts of money on social programs. It's certainly true that some of this stuff might appeal to people like me, but it's equally true that there just aren't a lot of voters like me. Liberals have been gaining ground over the past few years, but even now only 24 percent of Americans describe themselves that way. Republicans would tear Sanders to shreds with hardly an effort, and there's no reason to think he'd be especially skilled at fending off their attacks.

I like both Sanders and Clinton. But let's stop kidding ourselves about what they are and aren't. Republicans won't be be swayed by these fantasies, and neither will voters. We might as well all accept it.

Obamacare Enrollment Up About 15 Percent This Year

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 1:07 PM EST

Open enrollment for Obamacare is over, and HHS announced yesterday that 12.7 million people signed up via the exchanges plus another 400,000 via New York's Basic Health Program. So that gives us 13.1 million—up from 11.4 million last year. And since HHS is getting better at purging nonpayers, this number should hold up better throughout the year than it did in 2015. Charles Gaba has more details here.

Add to that about 15 million people enrolled in Medicaid thanks to the Obamacare expansion, and the total number of people covered this year comes to 28 million or so. This means Obamacare has reduced the ranks of the uninsured from 19 percent to about 10 percent. Not bad.

Obamacare's raw enrollment numbers remain lower than CBO projected a few years ago, but that's partly because employer health care has held up better than expected—which is a good thing. The fewer the people eligible for Obamacare the better. More on that here. Generally speaking, despite the best efforts of conservatives to insist that Obamacare is a disastrous failure, the truth is that it's doing pretty well. More people are getting covered; costs are in line with projections; and there's been essentially no effect on employment or hours worked. The only real problem with Obamacare is that it's too stingy: deductibles are too high and out-of-pocket expenses are still substantial. Needless to say, though, that can be easily fixed anytime Republicans decide to stop rooting for failure and agree to make Obamacare an even better program. But I guess we shouldn't hold our collective breath for that.

Here's How Morality Shapes the Presidential Contest

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 11:10 AM EST

A few years ago Jonathan Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind, an attempt to understand the way different people view morality. I won't say that I bought his premise completely, but I did find it interesting and useful. In a nutshell, Haidt suggests that we all view morality through the lens of six different "foundations"—and the amount we value each foundation is crucial to understanding our political differences. Conservatives, for example, tend to view "proportionality"—an eye for an eye—as a key moral concern, while liberals tend to view "care/harm"—showing kindness to other people—as a key moral attribute. You can read more about it here.

So which presidential candidates appeal to which kinds of people? Over at Vox, Haidt and Emily Ekins write about some recent research Ekins did on supporters of various presidential candidates. I've condensed and excerpted the results in the chart on the right. As you can see, Democrats tend to value care but not proportionality. Republicans are just the opposite. No surprise there. But were there any moral values that were unusually strong for different candidates even after controlling for ideology and demographics?

Yes. Sanders supporters scored extremely low on the authority axis while Trump supporters scored high on authority and low on the care axis. Outside of the usual finding for proportionality, that's it. Hillary Clinton supporters, in particular, were entirely middle-of-the-road: "Moral Foundations do not significantly predict a vote for Hillary Clinton; demographic variables seem to be all you need to predict her support (being female, nonwhite, and higher-income are all good predictors)."

So there you have it. Generally speaking, if you value proportionality but not care, you're a Republican. If you value care but not proportionality, you're a Democrat. Beyond that, if your world view values authority—even compared to others who are similar to you—you're probably attracted to Donald Trump. If you're unusually resistant to authority, you're probably attracted to Bernie Sanders. The authors summarize the presidential race this way:

Bernie Sanders draws young liberal voters who have a strong desire for individual autonomy and place less value on social conformity and tradition. This likely leads them to appreciate Sanders's libertarian streak and non-interventionist foreign policy. Once again, Hillary Clinton finds herself attracting more conservative Democratic voters who respect her tougher style, moderated positions, and more hawkish stance on foreign policy.

....On the Republican side...despite Trump's longevity in the polls, authoritarianism is clearly not the only dynamic going on in the Republican race. In fact, the greatest differences by far in the simple foundation scores are on proportionality. Cruz and Rubio draw the extreme proportionalists — the Republicans who think it's important to "let unsuccessful people fail and suffer the consequences," as one of our questions put it.

....One surprise in our data was that Trump supporters were not extreme on any of the foundations. This means that Trump supporters are more centrist than is commonly realized; consequently, Trump's prospects in the general election may be better than many pundits have thought. Cruz meanwhile, with a further-right moral profile, may have more difficulty attracting centrist Democrats and independents than would Trump.

So which moral foundations define you? If you're curious, click here and take the test.

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Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in January

| Fri Feb. 5, 2016 10:17 AM EST

The American economy added 151,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a ho-hum 61,000 jobs—all of it in the private sector. The headline unemployment rate ticked down to 4.9 percent. This is not a great result, but all the trends were in the right direction. Labor force participation was up, the number of employed workers was up, and the number of unemployed people declined.

Surprisingly, this produced decent wage growth: both hourly and weekly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees went up at an annual rate of about 3.5 percent. That's not bad.

We Are Live-Blogging the Democratic Debate in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:53 PM EST

As debates go, this one was pretty good. The moderators generally did a good job, allowing the candidates to argue when it made sense, but ending things when it looked like there was nothing useful left to say. This is a lot easier with two people than ten, of course, and also easier when both candidates are relatively civil.

Hillary was more aggressive than I've seen her before. Her complaint early on that Bernie was slandering her with innuendo and insinuation (and "artful smears") was tough but, I think, also fair. And I have a feeling Bernie felt a little embarrassed by it. He was certainly careful to pull things back to a civil tone after that. Hillary is not a natural campaigner, but she's a good debater, and this was Hillary at her pugnacious best.

Obviously foreign affairs are not Bernie's strong point, but I was still a little surprised at just how poorly prepared he was to say much of anything or to draw much of a contrast with Hillary's views. Either he really doesn't know much, or else he thinks his dovish views are losers even among the Democratic base. I won't pretend that Hillary was a genius on this stuff—almost nobody is on a debate stage—but at least she sounded well briefed and confident.

On financial issues, Bernie was surprisingly weak. This really is his strong point, but he continues to have a hard time getting much beyond platitudes. I get that it's a debate and 90 seconds isn't much, but it's still enough time for a little more detail than "the system is rigged." Hillary didn't do much better, but she held her own and gave a strong response to the two (!) questions about her Goldman Sachs speeches.

Overall, I doubt this debate changed many minds. Bernie insisted that we can dream. Hillary insisted that we figure out what's doable. I'd score it a clear win for Hillary based on her aggressiveness and generally solid answers compared to Bernie's platitudes and obvious reluctance to attack hard. But I admit this might just be my own biases talking, since Hillary's approach to politics is closer to mine than Bernie's.

Debate transcript here.


11:06 - And that's a wrap.

11:04 - Hillary: We need to "come up with the best answers." That's her campaign in a nutshell.

11:02 - No, neither Hillary nor Bernie will pick the other as VP. Come on, Chuck.

10:58 - But Bernie will happily get suckered! It's campaign finance reform for him.

10:55 - Hillary isn't going to be suckered into setting a top priority, thus throwing all the others under the bus. Come on, Chuck.

10:47 - I thought this was a 90-minute debate. What's the deal?

10:44 - Regarding Flint, I will not be happy until either Hillary or Bernie mentions that we now know lead poisoning leads to higher crime rates, "as brilliantly set out in an article by Kevin Drum a couple of years ago." I will vote for whoever says this first.

10:42 - Bernie on the death penalty: In a violent world, "government should not be part of the killing." I have to admit I've never really understood this particular bit of reasoning.

10:31 - Ah. Hillary now gets to use Colin Powell as backup for her email problems.

10:29 - Hillary is thrilled about all the young people supporting Bernie. OK then.

10:25 - Bernie loves the caucus process? Seriously?

10:17 - Bernie: "Pathetic" that Republicans refused to support VA reform.

10:12 - I hate to say this, but Bernie on North Korea sounds about as well briefed as Donald Trump. Very strange situation. Handful of dictators—or, um, maybe just one. Gotta put pressure on China. "I worry very much about an isolated, paranoid country with atomic bombs."

10:10 - Bernie does himself no favors on national security. I'm closer to his position than Hillary's, but Bernie honestly sounds like he's never given this stuff a moment's thought. At least Hillary has some views and sounds confident in her abilities.

10:08 - Bernie wagging his finger again. I'm pretty sure the hosts will call on him regardless.

10:06 - Bernie really needs to have a foreign policy other than "I voted against the Iraq War."

10:05 - Why is there bipartisan loathing of being "the policeman of the world"? What does this even mean?

10:03 - Hillary: we have a very cooperative government in Afghanistan. You bet. Wildly incompetent and corrupt, but pliable.

10:01 - Everyone agrees that a Muslim civil war is the right way to handle the Middle East.

9:59 - Hillary frequently insists on responding even when Bernie hasn't really left a mark. Leave well enough alone!

9:58 - Hillary provides Shermanesque answer about not sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria.

9:46 - Oh FFS. Is "Release the transcripts!" going to be the next big Hillary "scandal"?

9:44 - Unfortunately, Hillary doesn't really explain her more complicated financial regulation plan very well. There's probably no help for that, especially in 90 seconds.

9:42 - I'm with Hillary on reinstating Glass-Steagall. To me, it's the Democratic equivalent of raising the retirement age to save Social Security: easy to understand, but not the best answer by a long way.

9:41 - Hillary defends her Goldman Sachs speeches competently, but Bernie doesn't really fight back. He just provides a generic answer about the pernicious power of Wall Street.

9:31 - Hillary is attacking very hard tonight. Bernie voted to deregulate derivatives! Not that there's anything wrong with that. You think she's played this game before? Bernie responds by telling people to look up a YouTube.

9:29 - Bernie answers with generic criticism of special interests and money in politics. Not a strong response.

9:27 - Hillary criticizes Bernie for claiming to run a positive campaign, but constantly attacking her "by innuendo, by insinuation." Then she asks him to stop the "artful smear" he's been carrying out against her. This is a tough hit on Bernie.

9:26 - Hillary: "I won't make big promises." Not sure that came out as well as it should have.

9:23 - I think Hillary missed a chance to say that of course Bernie is a Democrat and he shouldn't have to defend himself on that score. It would have been a nice moment for her with no downside.

9:19 - Hillary refers to Bernie as "self-appointed gatekeeper" of who's a progressive. Ouch.

9:17 - Bernie: Obama was a progressive by 2008 standards.

9:15 - Bernie: none of his ideas are radical. True enough, by non-American standards.

9:14 - Good answer from Hillary on whether she's progressive enough: Under Bernie's standards, no one in the party is truly progressive.

9:07 - Hillary: "The numbers just don't add up" for all of Bernie's proposals.

9:01 - I see that Rachel Maddow is as excited as I am that Martin O'Malley has dropped out.

9:00 - And with that, on with the debate!

8:58 - This is the second election cycle in which I've liked both of the Democratic frontrunners. In 2008 I ended up leaning for Obama, which I don't regret. This year I'm leaning toward Hillary. Both times, however, I've been surprised at how fast things turned ugly. But ugly they've turned.

8:53 - Last night on Twitter I said that Hillary Clinton had given a terrible answer to the Goldman Sachs speech question. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always hated Hillary. This morning I wrote that Bernie Sanders was disingenuously pretending not to criticize Clinton over her Wall Street contributions even though he obviously was. I was immediately besieged with outraged comments about how I was just another Beltway shill who's always been in the bag for Hillary. Welcome to the Democratic primaries.

Rubio Feasts on the Leftovers in New Hampshire

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 8:25 PM EST

Apologies for two polls in one day, but the latest CNN poll shows something interesting in the Republican race. Donald Trump is still in the lead in New Hampshire, but in the wake of the Iowa caucuses Marco Rubio has picked up a lot of support. Basically, several other folks have either left the race or lost their fan base, and nearly all of it has gone to Rubio.

It's only one poll, and the absolute margin of error is large, but it probably shows the trend fairly well. And what it suggests is that as the also-rans steadily drop out of the race, Rubio is picking up the bulk of their support. If this happens in other states as well, Rubio could be well on his way to building a commanding lead.

More Classified Emails Found on Private Server

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 2:42 PM EST

The indefatigable Ken Dilanian reports the latest news on classified information being sent to private email accounts:

The State Department’s Inspector General has found classified information sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned.

In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State’s archives contained national security information now classified “Secret” or “Confidential.” The letter was read to NBC News.

....Colin Powell told NBC News he strongly disputed that the information in the messages was classified, and characterized the contents as innocuous. Said Powell, “I wish they would release them so that a normal, air-breathing mammal would look at them and say, ‘What’s the issue?’”

Sorry, Colin! It's an election year, and no normal mammals are to be found. Just the usual horde of hacks and bottom-feeders.

FWIW, I agree with him. Just release everything. Aside from a few zealots at the CIA playing stupid interagency games, nobody who's actually seen any of these emails seems to think there's anything even slightly confidential about any of them. It's long past time to cut the crap and put this whole thing to bed one way or the other.