Kevin Drum

One Last Fundraising Pitch for Our Spring Drive

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

Editor's note: Kevin asked us to repost his message below if we thought it would help in the final days of our Spring Fundraising Drive—and we sure do, the response has been great and we want to be sure everyone sees it. Read his touching letter and pitch in a couple of bucks—or more—via credit card or PayPal if you can swing it.

Our annual Spring Fundraising Drive is wrapping up at the end of the month, but as you all know, I'll be recuperating from my final round of chemotherapy in lovely Duarte, California, right about then. But I didn't want to be left out, so I asked if I could post my note a little earlier than I usually do.

I figure if there's ever been a time when I'm allowed to get slightly more maudlin than usual, this is it. (But just slightly. I have a reputation, after all.) I've been writing for Mother Jones since 2008, and it's been such a great job that it's almost getting hard to remember ever working for anyone else. They've provided me with more freedom to write whatever I want than anyone could hope for. That's been great for me, and I hope for all of you too.

Writing for the print magazine has been a huge gift as well, and it's something I dearly hope to return to when all the chemotherapy is over and my strength is back to normal. It's been a privilege to share pages with such an amazingly talented bunch of journalists.

Truthfully, I've been blessed to have such a great editorial team over the past few months, as well as such a great readership. You guys are truly the best to go through something like this with.

So here's the ask: Mother Jones has done a lot for me and a lot for you over the past few years, and when I get back they're going to keep right on doing it. That makes this fundraising request a little more personal than usual, but if there's ever been a time for you to show your appreciation, this is it. If you can afford five dollars, that's plenty. If you can afford a thousand, then pony up, because you're pretty lucky, aren't you? Either way, when I get back I sure hope to see that my readers have really stepped up to the plate.

Readers like you are a big part of what makes Mother Jones such a unique place. Your support allows me to write about what’s truly important, rather than obsessing over whatever generates the most clicks and advertising revenue. And it's not just me. It gives all of us the independence to write about issues that other places won't touch. It means that we ultimately answer to you, our readers, and not a corporate parent company or shareholders (and you've never been shy about letting us know what you think!).

Thanks for helping make Mother Jones what it is, and for making the last seven years some of the best of my life. And thanks in advance for whatever you can give to keep both me and Mother Jones going strong. Here are the links for donations:

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Politics Is Theater—and Sometimes We Need to Cover it That Way

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from BloombergView's Jonathan Bernstein, who began his career as political scientist. Since launching his blog in 2009, he's gone on to write about politics and government for the American Prospect, the Washington Post, and many other outlets.

I write today in defense of the theater criticism style of campaign reporting, which took solid hits from Derek Thompson and (in somewhat different wording) Paul Waldman this week. Thompson puts it this way:

A great deal of political writing these days is indistinguishable from theater criticism: Its chief concerns are storyline, costumes, and the quality of public performances....

To state the obvious: This is a really dumb way to try to cover elections. Theater-critic journalism is certainly not as substantive as policy analysis. It's also neither as meaty as terrific behind-the-scenes reporting, nor as harmless as anodyne horse-race coverage. It is, rather, personal opinion about a candidate's authenticity masquerading as nonpartisan analysis of their ability to connect with voters, often detached from any analysis of whether the candidate is really connecting with voters. It is a popular critic, in the orchestra section, writing in the first-person plural.

Sure, there's some terrible theater criticism stuff out there, and if we retired debates about "authenticity" today, it would be a great victory for common sense.

But the problem isn't reporting on candidate rhetoric as if it was theater. In many ways, it is theater! General election debates or official declarations of candidacy, for example, mostly do not affect election outcomes or reveal who candidates truly are. But that doesn't mean they should be ignored.

Let's start over. The real problems come when reporters go beyond what they know, and sometimes beyond what they can know.

That's the case when they use candidate performances to try to figure out who the "real" person underneath the candidate persona might be. In politics, it's the persona that counts. Politicians, when elected, try to keep their promises. But that includes more than policy promises. It also means that they try to "be" the person they promised to be on the campaign trail—and they're often punished if they try to deviate from that (so, for example, Barack Obama is punished when he acts as a partisan cheerleader in part because he promised to be a more unifying figure).

It's also the case in "game changer" journalism, when reporters insist that whatever they are covering is important because it will have a direct effect on election outcomes. The brutal truth is that most campaign events don't have much to do with winning and losing. But they can still be important because they might affect how the winner will govern. Or they may not be "important" at all, but are still interesting in the way any human interest story can be interesting. If politics is important—and it is—then there's nothing wrong with wanting to know what it's like to be at events, or in the back rooms.

Good (regular) theater criticism doesn't usually focus on what an actor's choices mean about who he really is; nor does it primarily concern itself with whether a particular bit of staging will turn a show into a hit or a flop. If theater-critic political journalism can avoid those traps, I'm all for it.

Good Luck Going After the Pope, Climate Deniers

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 3:18 PM EDT
Pope Francis in Tacloban, Philippines

If you write about climate change for a living, you get used to being on the receiving end of tweets, emails, and comments explaining why manmade global warming is a colossal hoax. But it turns out that if you're the pope, the trolls take things a bit further. From our partners at the Guardian:

A US activist group that has received funding from energy companies and the foundation controlled by conservative activist Charles Koch is trying to persuade the Vatican that "there is no global warming crisis" ahead of an environmental statement by Pope Francis this summer that is expected to call for strong action to combat climate change.

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative thinktank that seeks to discredit established science on climate change, said it was sending a team of climate scientists to Rome "to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science."

"Though Pope Francis's heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations' unscientific agenda on the climate," Joseph Bast, Heartland's president, said in a statement.

Jim Lakely, a Heartland spokesman, said the thinktank was "working on" securing a meeting with the Vatican. "I think Catholics should examine the evidence for themselves, and understand that the Holy Father is an authority on spiritual matters, not scientific ones," he said.

The pope and his aides have publicly embraced the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet, and tomorrow the Vatican is putting on a summit entitled "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development." Heartland beat them to the punch, setting up a "prebuttal" event on Monday in Rome. Heartland seems especially upset that the Vatican summit will feature two notable figures—UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and economist Jeffrey Sachs—who, it says, "refuse to acknowledge the abundant data showing human greenhouse gas emissions are not causing a climate crisis."

Heartland is also encouraging its followers to send letters and emails to the pope and to spread the gospel of global warming denial to their local church officials. "Talk to your minister, priest, or spiritual leader," advises Heartland's website. "Tell him or her you've studied the global warming issue and believe Pope Francis is being misled about the science and economics of the issue."

As my colleague James West reported, a sizeable majority of US Catholics actually share the pope's belief the climate change is a serious threat. Heartland seems to be trying to shift their views on the issue by portraying climate activists as hostile to Catholic values. In an American Spectator op-ed today (headline: "Francis Is Out of His Element"), Heartland research fellow H. Sterling Burnett writes:

Those pushing for bans on fossil fuel use think too many humans are the environmental problem. Many of them worship the creation, not the Creator. The same people pushing the pope to join the fight against climate change support forcible population control programs such as those operating in China. That is not a Christian position.

On its website, Heartland goes even further, writing that "climate alarmists have misrepresented the facts, concocted false data, and tried to shut down a reasonable, scientific debate on the issue of climate change. This conduct violates the Eighth Commandment: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'"

Republicans Painting Hillary Clinton As a Tool of the Superrich Forget One Little Thing

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, whose writing on politics has been published by the New Republic, the American Prospect, and the Los Angeles Times.

Barack Obama was raised by a financially struggling single mother, and Mitt Romney was the son of an auto executive turned governor who grew up to be a gazillionaire in the financial industry. This made biographical populism an unfruitful subject for the right in 2012. But circumstances have changed a bit. Hillary Clinton and her husband have grown extremely rich in their post–White House years, and the Republican Party is cultivating at least a couple of potential candidates, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, who boast of their modest backgrounds. Republicans are licking their lips for a year and a half of Hillary-as–Leona Helmsley, flying around in private jets, luxuriating in wealth, and disingenuously pretending to care about the struggles of average Americans. There is, however, one wee problem in the Republican populist plot. That is the policy agenda.

Conservative writer Jay Cost is already looking ahead to this problem, which he presents as a kind of dodge. After flaying Clinton for her wealth, he fumes, "Really, the only claim Clinton can make to understanding the travails of everyday Americans is her party's platform," writes Cost, "Endorsement of that document is a kind of sacrament that bestows the power of empathy upon every Democratic pol. This is perhaps the most absurd premise of the Clinton candidacy."

This is a strange and revealing passage. He argues that Clinton is a tool of the rich, and the only possible fact undermining this otherwise obvious reality is her party's platform, i.e., the stuff she would do as president. This is an "absurd" premise upon which to cast her as a populist if you think of elections as a soap opera drama between two individuals. It makes a lot of sense if you think about the presidency as a vehicle to change public policy.

And the cardinal fact of the modern political age is that the two parties are primarily fighting over redistribution. Democrats want the government to tax the rich at higher levels and spend more to support the poor, and Republicans want the opposite. The major political fights of the last three decades, from the Reagan tax cuts to the Clinton tax hikes to Clintoncare to the Bush tax cuts to Obamacare to the Ryan budget, have all been centered on the redistributionary principle.

And yet some conservatives don't want the Republican Party to invest its political capital so heavily in this fight. Maybe they don't care that much about overtaxing the rich. Or maybe they believe, accurately, that the political price of having to defend tax cuts for the 1 percent crowds out policies that appeal to the 99 percent, who have a lot more votes.

One of the distinctive qualities of this group of populist conservatives is that they seem unable to distinguish between the hope that the Republican Party will adopt their policy vision and the belief that it already has. They have a habit of invoking the GOP they wish existed as though it were the real thing.

Cost falls into this category. In the same piece, he describes a different kind of political debate, one which pits the Republicans against the economic elite, rather than on its side. He describes this alternative debate is if it were the real one:

The GOP ostensibly stands for smaller, more efficient government—but it allows the Democrats to define just what sort of government we are talking about. The debate always seems to be about Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance, Pell grants and Head Start. In other words, by the very terms of the conversation, big government works for the benefit of the downtrodden. Even as they defend big government, the Democrats identify themselves as the champions of the downtrodden and the GOP as their hardhearted assailants.

But what about corporate tax payouts? Or farm subsidies for the largest agribusinesses?

The debate "seems" to be about Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Pell grants, and Head Start because the Republican platform is to slash those programs deeply. Those are not things Democrats have defined as the "sort of government we are talking about." Those are programs Republicans have decided to make the focal point of their economic program (along with deep cuts in taxes for the highest earning Americans, a point Cost is too embarrassed to raise in this context).

What about corporate tax payouts and subsidies for the largest agribusinesses? Well, that would be a great debate for our hypothetical populist Republicans. The actual Republicans defend corporate tax loopholes. They will sometimes invoke them in general, as an argument for a generalized reform that lowers tax rates, but when faced with proposals to eliminate even completely egregious corporate loopholes (like the faster depreciations rate for private jets), they refuse. When Dave Camp went off the reservation before his retirement and designed a tax reform that did not give rich people a huge tax cut, his party abandoned him en masse and never mentioned his plan again.

Farm subsidies are an issue that somewhat divides the parties, since rural members tend to support them regardless of their affiliation. Neither party will forthrightly eliminate them altogether, which is the position I'd favor. But the actual political divide in Washington confounds Cost's idealized one. It is the Obama administration that wants to reduce agriculture subsidies, and House Republicans fighting to keep them at a higher level.

So, "what about corporate tax payouts? Or farm subsidies for the largest agribusinesses"? Well, those issues underscore the same conclusion as the issues Cost doesn't want to talk about. It would be wonderful if Republicans stopped being a party whose most despised spending programs benefit the poor and whose most acceptable spending programs benefit the middle class or even the affluent. It would likewise be nice if the Republican Party wasn't most determined to reduce (or, if possible, eliminate) the taxes paid most heavily by the rich, while also being most willing to raise the taxes heavily paid by the poor. The world would be a much better place. It is not, however, the world we inhabit.

The Science of How Gay Marriage Will Destroy America

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case that could legalize same-sex marriage in every state by the end of the court's term in June. To stop that from happening, supporters of the state-level bans that could be in jeopardy have filed 66 friend-of-the-court briefs, offering a host of social, political, and scientific reasons the court should uphold existing state bans.

These briefs fall into a few categories. The more temperate ones argue that marriage should be decided at the state level—an attempt to sway Justice Anthony Kennedy without disparaging same-sex unions. Others are more dramatic in tone, such as a brief from the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative group in Texas, that predicts legalizing same-sex marriage would be "analogous overreaching" to "this Court's misguided attempt to impose its views on the entire country in Dred Scott," the 1857 decision often cited as one of the causes of the Civil War.

Opponents have also tried to demonstrate more specific social harms from gay marriage in their briefs. As SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston noted recently, they don't want to be caught flat-footed this time around, as they were during the Proposition 8 case over California's same-sex marriage ban. Asked how same-sex marriages would harm opposite-sex marriages during 2009 pretrial hearing in that case, conservative lawyer Chuck Cooper admitted, "Your Honor, my answer is: I don't know."

Referring to the California case, attorney Gene Schaerr, who helped coordinate some of the briefs in support of the gay-marriage bans, told the National Law Journal recently that he "looked back at the amicus briefs" filed in that case. "[O]ur side had not made as powerful a social science case for the traditional definition of marriage as could be made," said Schaerr, formerly of Winston & Strawn, who defended Utah's gay marriage ban last year.*

This time around, Schaerr and his allies want to avoid that mistake. Here are a few of the scientific reasons submitted to the Supreme Court from the opponents of same-sex marriage:

Same-sex marriage will cause an additional 900,000 abortions: As Schaerr, the chief author of this amicus brief, admits, "abortion and same-sex marriage may seem unrelated." But, he has found a connection. Schaerr, writing on behalf of "100 scholars of marriage," argues that states with same-sex marriage have seen a decline in opposite-sex marriage by "[at] least five percent." Schaerr extrapolates this 5 percent figure, concluding that over the next 30-year "fertility cycle," nearly 1.3 million women will forego marriage. Arguing that unmarried women are more likely to get abortions, Schaerr calculates an additional 900,000 abortions. But, he acknowledged to the Washington Post last week, "it is still too new to do a rigorous causation analysis using statistical methods."

The "homosexual experience" leads to "early death": This is the argument put forward by Mike Huckabee Policy Solutions, an advocacy group that supports the "national policy aims" of the former Arkansas governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, and the Family Research Institute, the "anti-gay movement's main source for…completely discredited junk science" on LGBT people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Their brief argues that "consistent evidence indicates that individuals who engage in homosexuality experience significantly higher mortality rates than those who do not."

Children of same-sex marriages are disadvantaged: The Ruth Institute, a San Diego-based group that appears to be run by one woman, Jennifer Roback Morse, and seeks to address "the lies of the Sexual Revolution," argues that the "'consensus' that 'the kids are ok' has been manufactured by systematically excluding evidence" that they are not okay. The group is particularly worried about children not having a biological connection to both parents and predicts "social chaos, by creating a world in which families are determined by policy, rather than biology."

Same-sex marriage will hurt underprivileged women and children: A group that describes itself as "scholars of the effects that marriage law has on the welfare of women, children, and underprivileged populations," and including gay marriage foe Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, claim that marriage is particularly helpful to the stability and economic status of poor Americans. But redefining marriage, they argue, would create a new era "where men and women are viewed as interchangeable, nonessential facets of family life; and where the law has cemented marriage as a mere governmental capstone of a loving relationship." Without marriage's "historical" focus on procreation and stability, single mothers will end up raising children on their own, hurting their economic outlook.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that Winston & Strawn defended Utah's ban. It did not.

Tales From City of Hope #8: The Day +3 Cake

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 11:45 PM EDT

As promised, the Day +3 cake arrived today, produced with a mother's love along with an assist from Duncan Hines. That's the childhood formula, so that's what I got. I will spend the next few days in a chocolate coma.

Marian visited today too, which was a good thing. My fatigue is getting ever worse, and when I got back from my daily hydration I pretty much crashed for two hours. So the visit was mostly between Marian and my mother. I woke up just in time to say goodbye. Before I crashed, however, I did get this badly-composed selfie of the three of us, all sporting our now-stylish surgical masks. Enjoy.

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Quote of the Day: George Bush Still in Foreign Policy Denial

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 9:57 PM EDT

From Bloomberg's Josh Rogin, after reading a transcript of George W. Bush's remarks on the Middle East to a closed-door meeting with Jewish donors this weekend:

For George W. Bush, the remarks in Vegas showed he has little respect for how the current president is running the world. He also revealed that he takes little responsibility for the policies that he put in place that contributed to the current state of affairs.

Yep, that sounds like the George Bush we all came to know and love. My favorite quote: "In order to be an effective president ... when you say something you have to mean it," he said. "You gotta kill em."

The Law, In Its Finnish Majesty....

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 1:04 PM EDT

In Finland, a speeding ticket costs you more if you're rich than if you're poor. Fair enough, perhaps. "The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too," says the New York Times.

In any case, I already knew this. What I didn't know was the formula:

The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month.

Then, that figure is multiplied by the number of days of income the offender should lose, according to the severity of the offense.

Mr. Kuisla, a betting man who parlayed his winnings into a real estate empire, was clocked speeding near the Seinajoki airport. Given the speed he was going, Mr. Kuisla was assessed eight days. His fine was then calculated from his 2013 income, 6,559,742 euros, or more than $7 million at current exchange rates.

Sadly for Reima Kuisla, he was clocked at 103 kph, which set him back a whopping 54,024 euros. However, if he'd been traveling just 3 kph slower, his fine would have been only 100 euros. No matter what you think of the social justice of this system, that does seem like a bit of a steep spike, doesn't it?

Here in America, though, perhaps we have different priorities. What minor but annoying infractions would you like to apply this system to here in the good 'ol USA?

Tales From City of Hope #7: Weekend Update

| Sat Apr. 25, 2015 12:54 PM EDT

Since my actual stem cell transplant happened on Thursday, that counts as Day Zero. Today is Day +2. It turns out that part of the prep for the transplant was an IV injection of both Benadryl and Ativan, so I was pretty conked out the entire day. Friday was about the same. Strong stuff, but today I seem to be more alert. For now, anyway.

My white cell count continues to drop, which is paradoxically a good thing. Basically, my immune system will drop nearly to zero, probably around Monday or Tuesday, and then begin rebounding. Assuming nothing goes wrong, the main effect will be lots of fatigue and poor appetite. So let's hope nothing goes wrong, shall we?

In the meantime, while I wait for a guest post from President Obama, my mother has promised to deliver me a traditional chocolate birthday cake of my childhood on Sunday. We shall christen it the Day +3 cake since we're not even within shouting distance of my birthday at the moment.

Otherwise, today is busy! Marian is here, doing some laundry while I'm being hydrated for four hours. Later my sister is coming, and our friend Eileen a little after that. Should be quite the party.

Friday Cat Blogging - April 24 2015

| Fri Apr. 24, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

While Kevin is undergoing treatment, we've invited lots of exciting guest writers to stop by in his honor. But there's no reason the hospitality can't extend to another species, is there?

This week's Mother Jones affiliated cat is Max, who joined reporter Patrick Caldwell last summer as the fifth (and only feline) resident of his Washington, DC row house. Here's a shot of Max exploring the dark corners of his realm.

 

So amazed to discover the underground territory

A photo posted by Patrick Caldwell (@patcaldwell) on

 

Max's background is almost as shrouded and mysterious as that crawl space. How old is he? No one knows. How many people have cared for him before Pat and his roommates? No one's quite sure about that either.

As the story goes, Max has been bequeathed from shared home to shared home like a well-loved futon as his keepers have, one after the other, moved out of the beltway. And while that might make him sound like a very mobile cat, Pat reports he's quite sedentary in most respects. His favorite form of play—swatting at things just above his head—can and usually is performed while reclining on his back. This Thanksgiving, he gave the humans a brief scare by slipping away while they were out celebrating. But true to his nature, when they came home Max seemed to have whiled away the hours just a few yards from the window they'd mistakenly left open.

Unlike Hilbert and Hopper, Max can't count on Southern California's sun to keep him warm, so over the winter his roommates cleverly rigged up a cat bed right above a radiator. Ready for a nap?

 

 

I feel ya buddy

A photo posted by Patrick Caldwell (@patcaldwell) on

 

With the roommate most responsible for Max heading to Kansas City for medical school come fall, this peripatetic puss's future is a bit unsettled. Will he stay with his current community, or will he head west? If he stays, what if the new roommate is allergic, or—as hard as this may be to imagine—not a cat person? Yes, there may be yet another loving home in his future.

Whatever happens, there's no doubt Max will land on his feet. Cats always do.