Kevin Drum


| Sat Sep. 26, 2015 11:21 AM EDT

Last night the Mother Jones site suddenly went crazy—but only on Firefox on my tablet. Every other combination of site, browser, and platform works fine. This morning, AdBlock suddenly stopped working. Everywhere. Have gremlins invaded my house? I guess I'll just wait a day or two and see if everything spontaneously fixes itself, as so often these things do.

UPDATE: Apparently AdBlock wiped out my filter subscriptions on every device. Why? Gremlins, perhaps. I added another one and now it works again. But I still have weirdo rendering on the MoJo site, on my tablet. Perhaps some strange difference between Firefox on Windows 7 (desktop) and Windows 8.1 (tablet)?

UPDATE 2: Now the New York Times crossword puzzle site is broken on my desktop, but works fine on my tablet. It was fine yesterday. WTF?

UPDATE 3: Huh. The NYT crossword works if I disable AdBlock. Something related to the new filter subscription?

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Chart of the Day: The Current State of the GOP Race

| Sat Sep. 26, 2015 7:00 AM EDT

Here's the Real Clear Politics take on the Republican primary race as of Friday. I've modified it to show only the top six candidates—which, let's face it, are the only ones we're really interested in at this point. Note that this is not a single poll, but an aggregate of the most recent four national polls, all taken after last week's debate.

Needless to say, you shouldn't treat this as gospel. Other poll aggregators may show slightly different results. Still, it's a pretty good roadmap to the current state of play.

UPDATE: Here's the HuffPost Pollster version of the same chart. I decided I didn't really care about Ted Cruz, so I ditched him.

New Hillary Clinton Emails Surface

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 8:23 PM EDT

Uh oh:

The Obama administration has discovered a chain of emails that Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to turn over when she provided what she said was the full record of work-related correspondence as secretary of state, officials said Friday, adding to the growing questions related to the Democratic presidential front-runner's unusual usage of a private email account and server while in government.

This is the kind of thing that really could hurt Hillary Clinton. But when you scroll down to the details, it looks a lot less sinister:

The messages were exchanged with retired Gen. David Petraeus....They largely pertained to personnel matters and don't appear to deal with highly classified material, officials said.

....The State Department's record of Clinton emails begins on March 18, 2009 — almost two months after she entered office. Before then, Clinton has said she used an old AT&T Blackberry email account, the contents of which she no longer can access. The Petraeus emails...start on Jan. 10, 2009, with Clinton using the older email account. But by Jan. 28 — a week after her swearing in — she switched to using the private email address on a homebrew server that she would rely on for the rest of her tenure. There are less than 10 emails back and forth in total, officials said, and the chain ends on Feb. 1.

In other words, we're missing the very tag end of an innocuous email chain from Hillary's Senate days that spilled over into her tenure as Secretary of State. That's a little hard to get too exercised about.

I don't know what the broader picture is here. Clinton has consistently said she switched to her new email address on March 18, but the Petraeus emails make it look like she might have switched by January 28. Or maybe she partially switched? Or else emails started getting forwarded to the new account as a test for a few weeks, and then got deleted on March 18 when she began using it for good? Beats me.

Either way, this seems typical of this whole affair. Substantively, it's hard to believe anything shady is going on here. After all, it's unlikely there's anything to hide from her first few weeks in office, and certainly not the Petraeus emails. But optically, it certainly looks bad. It seems like another example of Clinton handling her email issue awkwardly and defensively when she doesn't really need to.

On the bright side for Hillary, this news was released on a day when the media was preoccupied with popemania and John Boehner's resignation. So at least she's not getting another round of dismal front-page headlines out of it. Yet.

Friday Cat Blogging - 25 September 2015

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

A few weeks ago Hopper got her picture taken in the bathroom sink, so naturally Hilbert immediately decided he wanted his picture taken in the bathroom sink. He doesn't fit quite as nicely, but he seemed pretty happy. He never went back, though. Once he'd evened things up with Hopper, he moved on to other attention-demanding exploits.

Jeb Bush: Deficits Are For Democrats to Worry About

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 1:15 PM EDT

I analyze the news for you:

What Jeb Bush said this morning:

Everybody freaks out about the deficit....But if we grow our economy at a faster rate, the dynamic nature of tax policy will kick in....I'm more optimistic.

What he meant:

We should freak out about the deficit only when a Democrat is president. I'm a Republican. When Republicans are president we don't worry about the deficit. We just cut taxes on the rich.

You're welcome.

Boehner Resigns, Cruz Explodes, Shutdown Averted

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 12:50 PM EDT

The always charming Ted Cruz reacts to the news that John Boehner will be resigning from Congress next month:

If it is correct that the speaker, before he resigns, has cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to fund the Obama administration for the rest of its tenure, to fund Obamacare, to fund executive amnesty, to fund Planned Parenthood, to fund implementation of this Iran deal — and then, presumably, to land in a cushy K Street job after joining with the Democrats to implement all of President Obama's priorities, that is not the behavior one would expect of a Republican speaker of the House.

Unsurprisingly, this isn't true:

Following Boehner’s announcement, House Republicans said there was agreement to pass a clean spending bill to keep the government open. Several members of the Freedom Caucus, the conservative group which led the revolt against Boehner’s leadership, said they will now support the spending bill without demands that it include language to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

So no deal with the evil Nancy Pelosi was necessary. Imagine that. I guess we'll have to wait and see about the cushy K Street job, though.

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71% of Americans Think Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Wrong

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 12:36 PM EDT

Julian Sanchez draws my attention to a YouGov poll from last month about civil asset forfeiture, the practice of confiscating money that police merely believe to be connected to a crime. What do Americans think of this?

I suppose I should be happy: 71 percent of the respondents think that police should only be able to seize your money if you've been convicted of a crime. But what about the other 29 percent? It's sort of discouraging that nearly a third of the country doesn't think that conviction is necessary.

Then again, I've seen polls showing that a third of Americans don't really believe in free speech or fair trials or other bedrocks of democracy, so maybe this isn't bad. Now if we can just mobilize that 71 percent to care enough to make it an issue, maybe this poll will actually mean something.

Debating the Debates: Should Democrats Have More?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 12:06 PM EDT

Ryan Cooper wants more debates. Before we boo him off the stage, though, note that he's asking for more Democratic debates. And he thinks Hillary Clinton ought to be in favor. Here's why:

It would stop Republicans from dominating 2016 coverage....While a lot of the attention is negative due to half the candidates being strap-chewing lunatics, it's still building a sense of excitement.

....It would give the political press something to talk about besides the endless, pointless Clinton email story.

....Clinton could probably use the practice. I still remember the first presidential debate in 2012, when President Obama was roundly defeated by Mitt Romney. Obama looked like a very powerful man who was not used to being sharply challenged, and came off as simultaneously haughty and unsure of himself. Hillary Clinton is a smart, capable person, but sycophantic courtier syndrome is a real thing, and a square debate on equal footing is one of the few ways someone of Clinton's fame and standing can work against it.

Let's examine this. More debates would be fun. On the other hand, it would mean yet more long nights of liveblogging for me. On the third hand—wait a second. I'm curious about something. Do other countries have debates? According to Wikipedia, yes. The following countries have regular campaign debates:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Kenya
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

That's not very many. Thirteen countries out of 200—and only seven that aren't part of the old British Empire. It's a little odd that the Anglo-Saxon bloc is so gung-ho on debates, considering that Mother Britain didn't have its first televised debate until 2010. Of course, they only held a grand total of three, but then again, their campaign season only lasts six weeks. At that rate, we'd have 30 or 40 debates in America.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yes: should Hillary Clinton welcome more debates? I'm going to say no. A presidential campaign is obviously a zero-sum affair, and all her competitors want more debates. Unless they're idiots, that's because they think it will benefit them—which it would, by giving them priceless exposure. Obviously Hillary has no interest in that, so like most front runners she wants fewer debates.

All other arguments aside, then, the DNC is unlikely to change its mind on this. So tune in on October 13 for the first Democratic debate, held at the fabulous Trump Las Vegas. Just kidding. That would be a hoot, though, wouldn't it? It will actually be held at the fabulous Wynn Las Vegas, owned by a Democratic billionaire rather than a Republican one.

The EPA Is Coming After Your Defeat Devices

| Fri Sep. 25, 2015 11:04 AM EDT

If you're using a defeat device on your car, you'd better remove it ASAP. New testing protocols are coming in the wake of the VW scandal:

The EPA is sending a letter to auto manufacturers to explain that it may test or require testing of vehicles in an environment that would resemble normal driving conditions, the official said.

....“We have to be concerned about whether or not there are other defeat devices out there that we have not been able to detect,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at an event hosted by The Wall Street Journal this week. “This was particularly difficult for us to detect. We got there.”

Sounds like more big-government bullying by the EPA to me. I expect Republicans to do the right thing and denounce this immediately.

Chart of the Day: The Surprisingly Close Relationship Between Housing Sales and Housing Starts

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 11:13 PM EDT

The Economist notes a "bizarre" relationship today:

For the last forty years the number of new houses built privately has been almost exactly one-tenth the total number of houses bought and sold in a given year. So, for example, if 1m houses are bought or sold in Britain next year (as seems likely) then you can expect about 100,000 houses to be built by private housebuilders.

This doesn't actually seem all that strange to me. I'd guess that when the economy is good, there are both more houses built and more houses sold. It's true, though, that the 10:1 relationship is surprisingly precise, which makes it intriguing. So that got me wondering: is the same thing true in the United States?

Sort of. If you're not a housing expert—and I'm not—it's a little tricky knowing exactly which data to use. I used Census Bureau data for houses sold and housing starts, and got the chart on the right. It shows a very close relationship except for the period 1997-2007, which corresponds to the great housing bubble. That makes sense: if there are a lot of transactions but just the usual amount of new construction, you'd expect prices to spike. And that's what happened.

The other interesting thing is that the relationship in the US is about 2.5:1. The Economist claims that economists don't know why this relationship exists, and then goes on to propose a fairly outré theory: Home builders in Britain tend to target the price of newly built houses at the upper 10 percent of local prices. Thus the 10:1 relationship.

I don't get this, and the Economist writer doesn't seem to get it either. If it's true, though, it would mean that American home builders target the price of newly built houses at the upper 40 percent of local prices. Why the difference?

It's a mystery. In fact, I'm not even sure why I wrote this post. Perhaps so that someone smarter than me (and the Economist) can explain what's going on.