Kevin Drum

If Hillary Clinton Testifies About Her Emails, She Should Do It In Public

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:12 PM EDT

Here's the latest on Hillary Clinton's emails:

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday to appear for a private interview about her exclusive use of a personal email account when she was secretary of state.

....Mr. Gowdy said the committee believed that “a transcribed interview would best protect Secretary Clinton’s privacy, the security of the information queried, and the public’s interest in ensuring this committee has all information needed to accomplish the task set before it.”

Go ahead and call me paranoid, but this sure seems like the perfect setup to allow Gowdy—or someone on his staff—to leak just a few bits and pieces of Clinton's testimony that put her in the worst possible light. Darrell Issa did this so commonly that it was practically part of the rules of the game when he was investigating Benghazi and other Republican obsessions.

Who knows? Maybe Gowdy is a more honest guy. But since Clinton herself has offered to testify publicly, why would anyone not take her up on it? It's not as if any of this risks exposing classified information or anything.

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Ditch the Keyboard, Take Notes By Hand

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

Joseph Stromberg reports on recent research suggesting that taking notes by hand is way better for students than taking notes on a laptop:

The two groups of students — laptop users and hand-writers — did pretty similarly on the factual questions. But the laptop users did significantly worse on the conceptual ones.

The researchers also noticed that the laptop users took down many more words, and were more likely to take down speech from the video verbatim....As a final test, the researchers had students watch a seven-minute lecture (taking notes either on a laptop or by hand), let a week pass, then gave some of the students ten minutes to study their notes before taking a test.

Having time to study mattered — but only for students who'd taken notes by hand. These students did significantly better on both conceptual and factual questions. But studying didn't help laptop users at all, and even made them perform slightly worse on the test.

The researchers explain this by noting previous research showing the act of note-taking can be just as important as a later study of notes in helping students learn. When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text.

Makes sense to me. No matter how good a typist you are, writing by hand is a more natural process that doesn't engage your entire brain—but it's also slower. You have to figure out what's being said and how to paraphrase it, and that act is part of learning. Rote note taking isn't.

Plus of course laptops are distracting. So put 'em away. Use the Cornell system if you want a system. But either way, use pen and pad, not keyboard and mouse.

Yemen "On the Verge of Total Collapse"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 10:54 AM EDT

As expected, things are going from bad to worse in Yemen:

The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as his office said that heavy fighting in the southern port city of Aden had left its streets lined with bodies and its hospitals full of corpses.

....Houthi forces were reported to have forced their way into Aden’s northeastern suburbs despite airstrikes by the Saudi Air Force and a naval blockade intended to sever the flow of weapons and other supplies to Houthi forces.

Well, perhaps the pan-Arab military force announced a few days ago will restore order? Unfortunately, Laura King of the LA Times reminds us that the last time Arabs fought together was during the 1973 war—which ended in disaster:

Now, nearly 50 years later, Arab states are joining forces again — this time, with the immediate aim of restoring order in chaotic Yemen, and moving as well to quell other regional conflicts.

But analysts say the nascent military alliance, whose planned formation was announced over the weekend by Arab leaders meeting in Egypt, could usher in new regional crises and intensify existing ones, sharpening sectarian differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and complicating already tangled national conflicts.

Yemen, whose tribes have for centuries been hostile to outsiders, could prove a deadly quagmire if conventional infantries from elsewhere in the Arab world attempt to wage a ground war against a homegrown, battle-hardened guerrilla force, the Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels. And a momentary sense of unity among Arab comrades-in-arms may fade as their sometimes-conflicting agendas come to the fore.

Read the whole thing. If it wasn't obvious already, King's piece makes it clear that the various Arab actors all have different goals and different agendas in Yemen. This is not likely to end well.

Yes, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker Are Different Kinds of Conservatives

| Mon Mar. 30, 2015 1:13 PM EDT

Jeb Bush may project a warmer, fuzzier, less hardnosed conservatism than Scott Walker, but is there really much difference between them? Greg Sargent isn't so sure:

Here’s what I’ll be watching: How will this basic underlying difference, if it is real, manifest itself in actual policy terms? On immigration...both support eventual legalization only after the border is secured. Will their very real tonal difference show up in real policy differences?

On inequality, Walker may employ harsher rhetoric about the safety net than Bush does, but the evidence suggests that both are animated by the underlying worldview that one of the primary problems in American life is that we have too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth....Will Walker and Bush differentiate themselves from one another in economic policy terms in the least?

Ed Kilgore agrees:

The important thing is not assuming Bush and Walker represent anything new or different from each other just because they offer different theories of electability and different ways of talking to swing and base voters. Much of what has characterized all the recent intra-party "fights" within the GOP has reflected arguments over strategy and tactics rather than ideology and goals. I'd say there is a rebuttable presumption that will continue into the 2016 presidential contest.

You'd think that the way to get a grip on this question would be to look at the 2000 election. Jeb's brother, George W. Bush, ran as a "compassionate conservative," and during the campaign he even made good on that. Remember his criticism of a Republican proposal regarding the EITC: "I don't think they ought to be balancing their budget on the backs of the poor"? Compassionate!

So how did that work out? Well, that's the funny thing: it's hard to say. Liberals tend to see Bush as a hardline conservative, but that's mainly because of the Iraq War and Karl Rove's hardball electoral tactics, which drove us crazy. Conservatives, by contrast, don't believe he was really all that conservative at all. And I think they have a point. In fact, I made that case myself way back in 2006 in a review of Bruce Bartlett's Imposter:

Bush may be a Republican—boy howdy, is he a Republican—but he's not the fire-breathing ideologue of liberal legend.

Don't believe it? Consider Bartlett's review of Bush's major domestic legislative accomplishments. He teamed up with Ted Kennedy to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased education spending by over $20 billion and legislated a massive new federal intrusion into local schools. He co-opted Joe Lieberman's proposal to create a gigantic new federal bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security. He has mostly abandoned free trade in favor of a hodgepodge of interest-group-pleasing tariffs. And after initially opposing it, Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley bill with almost pathetic eagerness in the wake of the Enron debacle, putting in place a phonebook-sized stack of new business regulations.

Want more? He signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, a bête noir of conservatives for years. His Medicare prescription-drug bill was the biggest new entitlement program since the Great Society. He initially put a hold on a wide range of last-minute executive orders from the Clinton administration, but after a few months of "study" allowed nearly all of them to stand. And he has increased domestic discretionary spending at a higher rate than any president since LBJ.

Obviously there's more to Bush's record than this—tax cuts, judicial appointments, the Iraq War, etc.—and he certainly counts as a conservative when you look at his entire tenure in office. The question is whether there's a difference between his brand of conservatism and, say, Scott Walker's or Ted Cruz's. I'd say there is, and that there's probably also a difference between Jeb Bush's brand of conservatism and the harder-line folks represented by Walker, Cruz, Santorum, and others. Tonal shifts and tactical choices often turn into real differences in who gets appointed to various cabinet positions and which priorities a new president will set. Jeb Bush is obviously no liberal. But would he govern differently than Scott Walker? My guess is that he would.

I Have a Pseudo-Flu

| Mon Mar. 30, 2015 12:44 PM EDT

When I was told that my daily injections of Neupogen would give me "flu-like symptoms," I wondered what that meant. Well, last night it meant that I felt a lot like I had the flu. I felt crappy indeed.

But there's some good news! "We want you to feel bad," my doctor told me last week a little apologetically. That means the drug is working. (That is, it's producing white blood cells and my body is reacting as if there were some kind of virus that had triggered this production.) So I guess it's working. Hooray!

I feel a little better this morning, but then, I usually feel a little better in the mornings. So we'll see how things go. It's just one thrill ride after another these days.

Sorry Mike, Indiana Is Neither Kind Nor Welcoming to Gays Anymore

| Mon Mar. 30, 2015 12:05 PM EDT

George Stephanopoulos tried really hard on Sunday to get Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to clarify the intent of his state's shiny new religious freedom bill. It didn't go well:

Stephanopoulos: I'm just bringing up a question from one of your supporters talking about the bill right there. It said it would protect a Christian florist. Against any kind of punishment. Is that true or not?

Pence: George, look....You've been to Indiana a bunch of times. You know it. There are no kinder, more generous, more welcoming, more hospitable people in America than in the 92 counties of Indiana. Yet, because we stepped forward for the purpose of recognizing the religious liberty rights of all the people of Indiana, of every faith, we suffer under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation and it's completely baseless.

....Stephanopoulos: So when you say tolerance is a two-way street, does that mean that Christians who want to refuse service, or people of any other faith who want to refuse service to gays and lesbians, that's legal in the state of Indiana? That's a simple yes or no question.

Pence: George, the question here is, is if there is a government action or law that a individual believes impinges on their freedom of religion, they have the opportunity to go to court....This is not about disputes between individuals. It's about government overreach. And I'm proud that Indiana stepped forward. And I'm working hard to clarify this.

But it turns out this isn't quite true. Indiana's RFRA really is different from most others. Garrett Epps explains:

The Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.”....What these words mean is, first, that the Indiana statute explicitly recognizes that a for-profit corporation has “free exercise” rights matching those of individuals or churches. A lot of legal thinkers thought that idea was outlandish until last year’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the Court’s five conservatives interpreted the federal RFRA to give some corporate employers a religious veto over their employees’ statutory right to contraceptive coverage.

Second, the Indiana statute explicitly makes a business’s “free exercise” right a defense against a private lawsuit by another person, rather than simply against actions brought by government. Why does this matter? Well, there’s a lot of evidence that the new wave of “religious freedom” legislation was impelled, at least in part, by a panic over a New Mexico state-court decision, Elane Photography v. Willock. In that case, a same-sex couple sued a professional photography studio that refused to photograph the couple’s wedding. New Mexico law bars discrimination in “public accommodations” on the basis of sexual orientation. The studio said that New Mexico’s RFRA nonetheless barred the suit; but the state’s Supreme Court held that the RFRA did not apply “because the government is not a party.”

Remarkably enough, soon after, language found its way into the Indiana statute to make sure that no Indiana court could ever make a similar decision. Democrats also offered the Republican legislative majority a chance to amend the new act to say that it did not permit businesses to discriminate; they voted that amendment down.

Hoosiers may indeed be the kindest and most welcoming folks in the country, but that cuts no ice in court. In court, any business can claim that it's being discriminated against if it's forced to sell its services to a gay couple, and thanks to specific language in the Indiana statute, no court can throw out the claim on the grounds that a business is a public accommodation.

That's different from other RFRAs, and it's neither especially kind nor welcoming. Indiana has taken anti-gay hostility to a new and higher level, and Pence and his legislature deserve all the flack they're getting for it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

On the other hand, if you're thinking of running for president, I guess it's a great entry in the base-pandering, more-conservative-than-thou sweepstakes. So at least Pence now has that going for him.

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The US Has No Clean Battle Lines in the Middle East

| Sun Mar. 29, 2015 11:11 AM EDT

From The Corner:

The United States is sending mixed signals to its allies in the Middle East by simultaneously giving support to the Saudi-led Sunni coalition fighting in Yemen and negotiating with Shiite Iran on its nuclear program, according to NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.

Engel pinpoints an apparent contradiction: Even as the U.S. is assisting Saudi Arabia and other nations in “confronting the Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen” by providing intelligence and other support, it continues to negotiate with Tehran on its nuclear program, and to collaborate with Iranian forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.

As a result, Engel says, “the Saudis, and the larger Sunni Muslim world, doesn’t [sic] feel the U.S. can really be trusted.”

Gee, no kidding. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni ally of the US that hates Iran. Iraq is a Shiite ally who's cozy with Iran. The US itself is hostile toward Iran, but shares a common enemy in ISIS. Syria is a total mess with no clear good guys. And, yes, a good nuclear deal with Iran would be a bonus for the safety of the entire region.

That's it. That's the way the world is. The United States is not allied solely with Shiite or Sunni regimes and hasn't been since at least 9/11. It's confusing. It's messy. And maybe President Obama hasn't handled it as skillfully as he could have. But who could have done any better? There just aren't any clean battle lines here, and the sooner everyone faces up to that, the better off we'll be.

Peculiar Eyesight Question

| Sat Mar. 28, 2015 12:14 PM EDT

I'll be asking my optometrist about this shortly, but just for fun I thought I'd throw it out to the hive mind to see if anyone knows what's going on.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that my distance vision is a little fuzzy. Time for new glasses, you say, and you're probably right. But here's the odd thing. I keep all my old glasses, and last night I tried them all on just to see if an older prescription worked better than my current glasses. What I discovered was a little strange.

Right under my TV I happen to have two LED clocks. One uses red LEDs and the other uses blue LEDs. With my current glasses, the blue LEDs are sharp and the red LEDs are fuzzy. But when I put on glasses that are a few years old, it changes. The red LEDs are sharp and the blue LEDs are fuzzy. The difference is quite noticeable, not a subtle thing at all.

Anyone know what this is all about?

Should We Welcome Saudi Arabia to the Fight in the Middle East?

| Sat Mar. 28, 2015 12:01 PM EDT

I have occasionally griped in this space about the fact that putative Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia and Jordan basically view the American military as a sort of mercenary force to fight their own tribal battles. Sure, they provide us with basing rights, and sometimes money, but they want us to do all the fighting, and they complain bitterly about American naiveté when we don't fight every war they think we should fight.

Recently this has changed a bit, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan launching independent air attacks against various neighbors, and Saudi Arabia even making noises about launching ground attacks in Yemen. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Josh Marshall makes some useful points:

It is always dangerous when power and accountability are unchained from each other. In recent decades, we've had a system in which our clients look to us for protection, ask for military action of various sorts — but privately. And then we act, but always in the process whipping up anti-American sentiment, mixed with extremist religious enthusiasms, which our allies often, paradoxically, stoke or accommodate to secure their own holds on power. This is, to put it mildly, an unstable and politically toxic state of affairs. This does not even get into the costs to the US in blood and treasure.

There are pluses to the old or existing system. We control everything. Wars don't start until we start them. But the downsides are obvious, as well. And nowhere has this been more clear than with the Saudis. The Saudis sell us oil; and they buy our weapons. We start wars to protect them, the reaction to which curdles in the confines of their domestic repression and breaks out in terrorist attacks against us. I don't mean to suggest that we are purely victims here. We're not. But it's a pernicious arrangement.

This is why I think we should be heartened to see the Saudis acting on their own account, taking action on their own account for which they must create domestic support and stand behind internationally.

There's more, and Marshall is hardly unaware of the risks in widespread military action among countries that barely even count as coherent states. "Still, the old system bred irresponsibility on many levels, including a lack of responsibility and accountability from the existing governments in the region. For all the dangers and unpredictabilities involved with having the Saudis or in other cases the Egyptians stand up and take actions which they believe are critical to their security on their own account is better for everyone involved."

Some food for thought this weekend.

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 March 2015

| Fri Mar. 27, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

Today I get to spend six hours in a chair getting Cytoxan pumped into my body. So this is it. No more tests or consults. This is the first actual step in the second stage of my chemotherapy. Following this infusion, I will spend a week injecting myself with a drug that (a) stimulates white blood cell production and (b) will apparently make me feel like I have the flu. Next, I spend a week in LA sitting in a chair several hours a day while they extract stem cells from my body. Then a week of rest and then the stem cell transplant itself, which will put me out of commission for a minimum of three weeks.

So no blogging today. Next week is iffy. Probably nothing much the week after that either. Then maybe some blogging during my rest week. And then I'll go offline probably completely for a month or so. It all depends on just how quickly I recover from the transplant. We'll see.

In the meantime, here are Hopper and Hilbert, hale and hearty as ever. Have a nice weekend, everyone.