Blogs | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/Blogs/2009/08/shocker-ethics-committee-clear-dodd-and-conrad http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en One Little Survey Question Explains All of Politics http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/one-little-survey-question-explains-all-politics <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Jonathan Bernstein points to a new Kaiser survey that examines opposition to the individual mandate in Obamacare. <a href="http://kaiserhealthnews.org/news/public-easily-swayed-on-attitudes-about-health-law-poll-finds/" target="_blank">Here's what they found:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>It remains among the least popular aspects of the law&nbsp;&mdash; with just a 35 percent approval rating. But when people are told that the mandate doesn&rsquo;t affect most Americans because they already have coverage through an employer, support jumps to 62 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>It only takes a wee bit of inference to figure out what's really going on here: when people find out that the mandate doesn't apply to them personally, lots of them are suddenly OK with it. In case politics has always mystified you, that's it in a nutshell. Now you know.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Fri, 19 Dec 2014 03:59:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 267001 at http://www.motherjones.com Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue to Overturn Legal Weed in Colorado http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/12/nebraska-and-oklahoma-sue-overturn-legal-weed-colorado <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma petitioned the US Supreme Court on Thursday to overturn pot legalization in Colorado, arguing that its legal weed has been spilling across their borders and fueling crime.</p> <p>"The state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system," the <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/250506006/Nebraska-Oklahoma-lawsuit" target="_blank">suit alleges</a>. "Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff states' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."</p> <p>The Department of Justice pledged last year not to interfere with pot legalization in Colorado and Washington, but only if the states met a list of conditions, including preventing legally purchased marijuana from being diverted to states where it's illegal. Nebraska and Oklahoma are now arguing that the Supreme Court should compel the DOJ to act.</p> <p>Evidence has been mounting that Colorado can't contain all of its weed. In June, <em>USA Today</em> <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/11/colorado-marijuana-exports/9964707/" target="_blank">highlighted</a> the flow of its marijuana into small towns across Nebraska. Since 2011, the paper reported, felony drug arrests in Chappell, Nebraska, a town just seven miles north of the Colorado border, have jumped 400 percent.</p> <p>But marijuana reformers argue that governments can't contain illegally purchased weed either, and that a few growing pains on the path to a more sensible drug policy are inevitable. "These guys are on the wrong side of history," Mason Tvert, communications director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "They will be remembered similarly to how we think of state officials who fought to maintain alcohol prohibition years after other states ended it."</p> <p>Nebraska attorney general Jon Brunning has actually become too eager to support the alcohol industry, Tvert adds. Between 2008 and 2012, beer, wine, and alcohol interests donated $86,000 to Brunning. In 2012, he advocated for a lower tax rate for sweetened malt beverages such as hard lemonade. "It appears he is fighting to protect their turf," Tvert says. "He should explain why he thinks Colorado adults should not be able to use marijuana instead."<br> &nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Civil Liberties marijuana Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:23:29 +0000 Josh Harkinson 266996 at http://www.motherjones.com Mystery Chart of the Day: What's Up With All the Skinny Economists? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/mystery-chart-day-whats-all-skinny-economists <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The chart on the right is <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/memo-to-staff-time-to-lose-a-few-pounds-1418775776" target="_blank">excerpted from the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>.</a> It shows which occupations have the lowest obesity rates, and most of it makes sense. There are folks who do a lot of physical labor (janitors, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obesity_occupation.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">maids, cooks, etc.). There are health professionals who are probably hyper-aware of the risks of obesity. There are athletes and actors who have to stay in shape as part of their jobs.</p> <p>And then, at the very bottom, there are economists, scientists, and psychologists. What's up with that? Why would these folks be unusually slender? I can't even come up with a plausible hypothesis, aside from the possibility that these professions attract rabid obsessives who are so devoted to their jobs that they don't care about food. Aside from that, I got nothing. Put your best guess in comments.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Thu, 18 Dec 2014 22:22:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 266976 at http://www.motherjones.com Rick Perry Is One Lucky Dude http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/rick-perry-one-lucky-dude <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.aei.org/publication/oil-price-collapse-may-end-texas-miracle-least-now/" target="_blank">From James Pethokoukis:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The energy sector gives, and the energy sector takes. The stunning drop in oil prices looks like bad news for the &ldquo;Texas Miracle.&rdquo; (Texas is responsible for 40% of all US oil production &mdash; vs. 25% five years ago &mdash; and all of the net US job growth since 2007.) This from JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli: &ldquo;As we weigh the evidence, we think Texas will, at the least, have a rough 2015 ahead, and is at risk of slipping into a regional recession.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Man, Rick Perry is one lucky guy, isn't he? It's true that the "Texas Miracle" <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_may_2014/features/oops_the_texas_miracle_that_is049289.php?page=all" target="_blank">may not be quite the miracle Perry would like us to believe.</a> As the chart below shows in a nutshell, the Texas unemployment rate has fared only slightly better than the average of all its surrounding states.</p> <p>Still, Texas has certainly had strong absolute job growth. However, this is mostly due to (a) population growth; (b) the shale oil boom; and (c) surprisingly strict mortgage loan regulations combined with loose land use rules, which allowed Texas to escape the worst of the housing bubble. Perry had nothing to do with any of this. And now that oil is collapsing and might bring the miracle to a sudden end, Perry is leaving office and can avoid all blame for what happens next.</p> <p>One lucky guy indeed.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_texas_area_unemployment.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 17px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Economy Thu, 18 Dec 2014 19:00:42 +0000 Kevin Drum 266946 at http://www.motherjones.com Yeah, Democrats Are Pretty Pro-Corporate Too http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/yeah-democrats-are-pretty-pro-corporate-too <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/no-tea-party-never-going-join-anti-corporate-liberals" target="_blank">A couple of days ago</a> I poured cold water on the idea that tea partiers might join up with the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party to form some kind of populist anti-corporate coalition. "Every once in a while they'll get themselves exercised over some trivial issue of 'crony capitalism' like reauthorizing the Export-Import bank," I said, but the truth is that the tea partiers have no real devotion to anti-corporatism. They just want to cut taxes and slash welfare.</p> <p>Over at <em>National Review</em>, Veronique de Rugy tries to make the case that ExIm is more important than I'm giving it credit for, but I'm not buying it. Sorry. It's just a shiny object of the moment that's both small and costs virtually nothing. On the other hand, I'm entirely willing to buy de Rugy's suggestion that <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/394881/myth-anti-corporate-liberals-veronique-de-rugy" target="_blank">Democrats aren't especially anti-corporate either:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Please. They talk the talk, but when it&rsquo;s time to vote, they rarely walk the walk. In the end, not unlike a number of Republicans, Democrats rarely miss an opportunity to support big businesses. They support the Department of Energy&rsquo;s 1705 loans, which mostly go to wealthy energy companies, and they never fail to join Republicans in saving other corporate energy subsidies; they support the reauthorization of OPIC, which mostly benefits large corporations; they support farm subsidies, which mostly benefit large agro-businesses at the expenses of small farms; they support Obamacare, which among other things amounts to a huge giveaway to the insurance industry; they support auto and bank bailouts; and for all their complaints about Wall Street, they managed to write a law, Dodd-Frank, that in some ways protects the big financial institutions that they claim to despise.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'd quibble with some of this. Obamacare is indeed good for the insurance industry, but it's not <em>that</em> good. And anyway, this is mostly due to the fact that the structure of American health care is historically dependent on private insurance, and it's just not possible to completely overhaul that overnight. In this case, Democrats caved in to special interests as much because they had to as because they wanted to.</p> <p>Still, it's true that most Democrats are pretty cozy with corporate America. There's a smallish anti-corporate wing of the party, but it rarely has much influence because (a) it's usually outnumbered in the Democratic caucus and (b) there's essentially no anti-corporate wing of the Republican Party to team up with. Being pro-corporate is one of the few bipartisan issues left in Congress. There are lots of fights over small stuff, but it's mostly just window dressing that hides widespread agreement over the big stuff.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Corporations Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:39:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 266931 at http://www.motherjones.com Is Vladimir Putin Ready to Make a Deal? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/vladimir-putin-ready-make-deal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_putin_press_conference_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">In his yearly press conference, Vladimir Putin appeared to be trying to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/world/europe/vladimir-putin-annual-press-conference.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">cool down the rhetoric over Ukraine:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Putin recognized the efforts of President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine in ending the conflict in the southeast of that country, but he suggested that others in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, may be trying to prolong the conflict....&ldquo;We hear a lot of militant statements; I believe President Poroshenko is seeking a settlement, but there is a need for practical action,&rdquo; Mr. Putin added. &ldquo;There is a need to observe the Minsk agreements&rdquo; calling for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of forces.</p> <p>Russia has toned down its talk on the Ukraine crisis in the past month, and some of its most incendiary language, like &ldquo;junta&rdquo; and &ldquo;Novorossiya,&rdquo; a blanket term used for the separatist territories, is no longer used on state-run television news. Mr. Putin also notably omitted those terms, which he had used in other public appearances, on Thursday.</p> </blockquote> <p>So does this mean Putin is adopting a more conciliatory attitude toward the West? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/putin-predicts-economy-recover-in-two-years/2014/12/18/6b81bb70-8689-11e4-9534-f79a23c40e6c_story.html?hpid=z4" target="_blank">You be the judge:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In general, he blamed &ldquo;external factors, first and foremost&rdquo; for creating Russia&rsquo;s situation &mdash; accusing the West of intentionally trying to weaken Russia. &ldquo;No matter what we do they are always against us,&rdquo; Putin said, one of a series of observations directed at how he said the West has been treating Russia.</p> <p>Putin attributed Western sanctions that have targeted Russia&rsquo;s defense, oil and gas and banking sectors for about &ldquo;25 percent&rdquo; of Russia&rsquo;s current difficulties.</p> <p>But Putin stood firm over the actions that brought on the Western backlash, including Russia&rsquo;s annexation of the Crimea peninsula after pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine began an uprising earlier this year....&ldquo;Taking Texas from Mexico is fair, but whatever we are doing is not fair?&rdquo; he said, in comments seemingly directed at the United States.</p> <p>Putin also suggested that the West was demanding too many concessions from Russia, including further nuclear disarmament. Likening Russia to a bear &mdash; a longtime symbol of the country &mdash; he chided the West for insisting the Russian bear &ldquo;just eat honey instead of hunting animals.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;They are trying to chain the bear. And when they manage to chain the bear, they will take out his fangs and claws,&rdquo; Putin said. &ldquo;This is how nuclear deterrence is working at the moment.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>For what it's worth, I'd say Putin is probably right about sanctions being responsible for around 25 percent of Russia's economic problems. As for his guess that those problems will last two years before Russia returns to growth? That might not be far off either, though I suspect growth will be pretty slow for longer than that.</p> <p>It's hard to render a real judgment about Putin's intentions without being fluent in Russian and watching the press conference in real time, but based on press reports I'd say Putin's anti-Western comments were milder than they could have been. My guess is that events in Ukraine really haven't worked out the way he hoped, and he'd be willing to go ahead and disengage if he could do so without admitting that he's conceding anything. The anti-Western bluster is just part of that. (Though it's also partly genuine: Putin really does believe, with some justification, that the West wants to hem in Russia.)</p> <p>Oddly, then, I'd take all this as a mildly positive sign. The rhetoric seemed fairly pro forma; Putin obviously knows that sanctions are hurting him; and there were no serious provocations over Ukraine. I'll bet there's a deal to be made with Putin as long as it's done quietly.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:53:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 266926 at http://www.motherjones.com The First Person Jeb Bush Followed on Twitter Was Karl Rove http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/12/jeb-bush-karl-rove-twitter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush is running for president. (<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/23-reasons-why-jeb-bush-shouldnt-run-president" target="_blank">Maybe</a>.) But just how much does he have in common with his brother, George W.? His Twitter page might offer a clue. The <a href="https://twitter.com/JebBush/following" target="_blank">first human</a> Jeb followed on Twitter was none other than his brother's former deputy chief of staff&mdash;Fox News analyst Karl Rove. So is the <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/11/how-rove-fought-with-fox-over-ohio.html" target="_blank">Oracle of Ohio</a> going to be back in the fold come 2016? We can only hold our breath. Or perhaps Jeb just likes Rove's engaging Twitter personality. (Full disclosure: the first person I followed on Twitter was <a href="https://twitter.com/chuckgrassley" target="_blank">Chuck Grassley</a>.)</p></body></html> MoJo Elections Jeb Bush Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:23:10 +0000 Tim Murphy 266921 at http://www.motherjones.com Listen to the Real Stephen Colbert Explain How He Maintained His Flawless Character for 9 Years http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/12/stephen-colbert-character-podcast-artist-farewell <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172480519&amp;color=ff5500" width="100%"></iframe></p> <p>The curtain comes down on <em>The Colbert Report</em> Thursday night after a spectacular nine-year run on Comedy Central. But a big question remains: How on Earth did Colbert stay in character for so long?</p> <p>"Stephen Colbert," the character, is indisputably a brilliant creation. I watched every week because "Stephen Colbert" attacked right-wing media by embodying its most outlandish traits; the more sincere he was, the more searing and audacious the satire. He was sophisticated and simple at the same time. He gave viewers an amazing gift: temporary relief from the political divide by skewering idiocy at its source. (My colleague Inae Oh has compiled some of his best segments <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/12/colbert-goodbye" target="_blank">today</a>).</p> <p>It was a wildly impressive formula, in part for the stamina it required from Stephen Colbert, the comic. As fellow performer Jimmy Fallon <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/business/media/stephen-colbert-prepares-final-colbert-report.html?_r=0" target="_blank">told</a> the<em> New York Times</em> this week: "I was one of those who said, 'He'll do it for six months and then he'll move on.'&hellip;It's gets old. But not this. He's a genius."</p> <p>That's what makes the above podcast, <em>Working, With David Plotz</em>, so fascinating: It's Colbert, in his own words, out of character, describing his daily routine of getting into character; a real craftsman. It also reveals the vulnerable human performer within; a real artist.</p> <p>Broadcaster and media critic Brooke Gladstone <a href="http://www.onthemedia.org/story/letterman-colbert-america/transcript/" target="_blank">said back in April</a> that Colbert "seems to be a modest man, too modest perhaps, to see that by lightly shedding the cap of his creation, he's depriving us all of a national treasure."</p> <p>Long live Colbert.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Podcasts Media Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:51 +0000 James West 266911 at http://www.motherjones.com Rape Is Way Down Over the Past Two Decades — But So Is All Violent Crime http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/rape-way-down-over-past-two-decades-%E2%80%94-so-all-violent-crime <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Keith Humphreys passes along some <a href="http://www.samefacts.com/2014/12/crime-incarceration/sexual-assault-has-declined-dramatically-in-a-generation/?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RealityBasedCommunity+%28The+RBC%29" target="_blank">positive news about rape:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Twenty years ago, the National Crime Victimization Survey was redesigned to do a better job detecting sexual assault....In the space of one generation, the raw number of rapes has dropped by 45% and the population-adjusted rate of rape has dropped 55%.</p> <p>I started my career working with and advocating for rape victims, and no one needs to convince me that the only acceptable goal for society is to have no rapes at all. But that doesn&rsquo;t change the fact that we have experienced an astonishingly positive change that should lead us to (1) <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ncvs_crime_1993_2013.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Figure out how it was achieved so that we can build on it <strong>(personally, I credit the feminist movement, but there may be other variables)</strong> and (2) Never give up hope that we can push back dramatically against even the most horrific social problems.</p> </blockquote> <p>I have to call foul on this. The starting point for this statistic is 1992, the absolute peak of the violent crime wave in America that started during the 60s and continued rising for a generation. Since that peak, <em>all</em> violent crime <a href="http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv13.pdf" target="_blank">as measured by the NCVS</a> has declined by well over half. The decline in rape is simply part of this overall trend, not a bright spot in an otherwise grim crime picture.</p> <p>In fact, it's just the opposite: the decline in the reported rape rate has <em>lagged</em> the overall drop in reported violent crime. It's plausible that the feminist movement has something to do with this, since it's encouraged more women to report rapes and pushed the criminal justice system into taking rape more seriously. But the raw decline in rape itself? That's almost certainly due not to feminism, but to the same factors that have been responsible for the stunning decline in all violent crime over the past two decades. My hypothesis about this is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline" target="_blank">pretty well known,</a> so I won't repeat it here. But whatever it is, it's something pretty broad based.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:51:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 266916 at http://www.motherjones.com Bid Farewell to "The Colbert Report" with Some of the Show's Most Genius Moments http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/12/colbert-goodbye <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Tonight, Stephen Colbert will close the curtain on the&nbsp;ludicrous, yet wholly enjoyable persona he created as the conservative host of "The Colbert Report."&nbsp;</p> <p>As the nation prepares to say goodbye, <em>Mother Jones</em>&nbsp;pays tribute to everyone's favorite right-wing blowhard&nbsp;with a round-up of&nbsp;some of our favorite&nbsp;moments from the show's stellar nine year run.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>1. In which Colbert takes on Mitt Romney's infamous 47 percent video by throwing shrimp at poor people:&nbsp;</strong><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;">"We job creators know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Lunch is $50,000 a plate!"</span></p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:604ed25e-7cfb-4e64-b2f4-e6a68fc317f7" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><strong style="line-height: 2em;">2. In which Colbert becomes a migrant worker for a day:&nbsp;</strong><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">"</span><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;">Are there any beans that are in the shade?"</span></p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:30e4a5f6-ed01-11e0-aca6-0026b9414f30" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><strong>3. In which Colbert cites our study on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph" target="_blank">income disparity</a>&nbsp;to propose the rich starting their own country, America&nbsp;Plus:&nbsp;</strong><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;">"We already live in gated communities, I say we just connect them all with really long driveways. To visit, you just need a green card!"</span></p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:3a693038-ed01-11e0-aca6-0026b9414f30" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;"><strong>4. In which Colbert repeatedly&nbsp;stabs his Karl Rove substitute,&nbsp;"Ham Rove,"&nbsp;with a large knife,&nbsp;a segment that prompted the political operative to&nbsp;question Colbert's mental state:</strong> "Ham Rove, my salted and trusted advisor."</span></p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:7f6cb860-9e53-44f1-9a95-be1a245acff2" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><strong>5. In which Colbert and Buddy Cole take on Russia's anti-gay laws through the lens of the U.S. speed skating team:</strong> "Is speed skating a choice or were you born a speed skater?"</p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:51cb8eab-fe3b-4b75-8ba8-647dad584a3c" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><strong>6. In which Colbert hypnotically dances with Bryan Cranston, Jeff Bridges, and even Henry Kissinger to "Get Lucky": "</strong>This is Colbchella goddammit!"</p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:comedycentral.com:e15c030e-791e-4341-a1fc-557e839dd668" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p><strong>7. In which Colbert breaks character to pay a moving tribute to his mother, Lorna Colbert:</strong> "If you also like me, that's because of my mom."&nbsp;</p> <div style="background-color:#000000;width:640px;"> <div style="padding:4px;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="354" src="http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:colbertnation.com:fea45535-3609-477f-a3bf-e85a5a891a33" width="630"></iframe></div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Media Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:17:05 +0000 Inae Oh 266791 at http://www.motherjones.com How a 20-Minute Conversation Can Convince Someone With Anti-Gay Views to Change Their Minds http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/12/gay-prejudice-study <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>A recent study suggests that a single conversation between a gay person and a same-sex marriage opponent may have the power to change the&nbsp;person's mind on the issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>The study, published last week in the journal <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6215/1366" target="_blank"><em>Science</em></a>, analyzed data collected by the <a href="http://www.lalgbtcenter.org/" target="_blank">Los Angeles LGBT Center</a> after it sent pro-gay marriage canvassers to areas of southern California that had voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008 until the Supreme Court overturned it in 2013. Starting in 2009, canvassers&mdash;both gay and straight&mdash;engaged in over 12,000 brief one-on-one conversations with those precincts' registered voters about either gay marriage or, with a placebo group, recycling. The survey found that respondents who had discussed gay marriage showed less prejudice towards gay people following their chat with the canvasser than those who had discussed recycling.</p> <p>But these conversations weren't equally effective across the board: At a certain point in the initial conversation, the gay canvassers had been instructed to reveal that they were gay and hoping to get married, but that the law prohibited it, whereas the straight canvassers spoke of a "friend" or "relative."</p> <p>Only the gay canvassers' effectiveness proved enduring.</p> <p>"Those who discussed same-sex marriage with straight canvassers," write the study's authors, Michael J. LaCour and Donald P. Green, "quickly reverted to their pretreatment baseline opinions, and 90% of the initial treatment effect dissipated a month after the conversation with canvassers."</p> <p>Meanwhile, the respondents who spoke to gay canvassers remained just as enlightened nine months later.</p> <p>"The data show that in 20 minutes, the Los Angeles LGBT Center&rsquo;s volunteer canvassers accomplished what would have otherwise taken five years at the current rate of social change," the center's David Fleischer said in a <a href="http://www.lalgbtcenter.org/science_reveals_los_angeles_lgbt_center_breakthrough_in_persuading_voters_reducing_prejudice" target="_blank">statement.</a>&nbsp;"How did we do it? Our team had heartfelt, reciprocal and vulnerable conversations on the doorsteps of those who opposed marriage for same-sex couples, and volunteers who were LGBT came out during their conversations."</p> <p>Researchers are hopeful their persuasion methods can produce similar results in&nbsp;reducing&nbsp;prejudices on other social issues as well.&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Gay Rights Science Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:00:06 +0000 Inae Oh 266631 at http://www.motherjones.com Russia Has Already Blown Up the Global Economy Once. Will It Do It Again? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/russia-has-already-blown-global-economy-once-will-it-do-it-again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Just in case you're thinking that Russia's economic problems are little more than a fitting karmic payback for Vladimir Putin, you might want to think twice. When the global economy is fragile, sometimes even small events can send the whole system into cardiac arrest, <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_committee_save_world.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">and that affects everyone, not just Putin and his cronies. So in case you've forgotten, here's a brief refresher on the events of August 1998:</p> <ol><li>Russia devalues its currency and defaults on its sovereign debt.</li> <li>Markets that are already jittery thanks to the East Asian financial crisis go into full-blown frenzy mode.</li> <li>Money pours out of low-quality emerging market investments and into high-quality US, Japanese, and European bonds.</li> <li>As a result, yield spreads between low-quality and high-quality bonds widen sharply.</li> <li>Long Term Capital Management, which had made large bets on spreads <em>narrowing</em> as the East Asian crisis receded, is blindsided, suffering huge losses.</li> <li>As LTCM gets close to insolvency, Bear Stearns stops clearing their trades. Death is imminent.</li> <li>Because LTCM is so highly leveraged, its debts exceed $100 billion and its collapse thus threatens every bank on Wall Street. Amid growing panic over a systemic meltdown, the Fed finally steps in and arranges a bailout package. Crisis over&mdash;for now.</li> </ol><p>This is not going to happen again. The world is not the same now as it was in 1998. It's just meant as an example of how an otherwise limited financial crisis can have a global impact. The fact that it begins with a Russian currency crisis is merely a felicitous coincidence.</p> <p>But also a bit of an unnerving coincidence. More than likely, Russia's problems will be contained to Russia. But they might not be, so we should all be careful what we wish for.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:47:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 266906 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama's Had a Helluva Good Month Since the Midterms http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/obamas-had-helluva-good-month-midterms <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>So how have things been going for our bored, exhausted, and disengaged president? He's been acting pretty enthusiastic, energized, and absorbed with his job, I'd say. Let us <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_obama_happy.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">count the things he's done since the November 4th midterm elections:</p> <ul><li><strong>November 10:</strong> Surprised everyone by announcing his support for strong net neutrality.</li> <li><strong>November 11:</strong> Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting&nbsp;progress at the Lima talks last week.</li> <li><strong>November 20:</strong> Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.</li> <li><strong>November 26:</strong> Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.</li> <li><strong>December 15:</strong> Took a quiet victory lap as Western financial sanctions considerably sharpened the pain of Vladimir Putin's imploding economy.</li> <li><strong>December 16:</strong> Got nearly everything he wanted during the lame duck congressional session, and more. Democrats confirmed all important pending nominees, and then got Republican consent to several dozen lesser ones as well.</li> <li><strong>December 17:</strong> Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba.</li> </ul><p>I guess you can add to that a non-event: In its second year, Obamacare signups are going smoothly and ahead of target. Am I missing anything beyond that? Maybe. It's been quite the whirlwind month for our bored, exhausted, disengaged president, hasn't it?</p> <p>All of these things are worthwhile in their own right, of course, but there's a political angle to all of them as well: they seriously mess with Republican heads. GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they're going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying. So there's a good chance that they'll spend their first few months in semi-chaos, responding to Obama's provocations instead of working on their own agenda.</p> <p>Was that part of the plan? Beats me. But it seems to be working pretty well so far.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Obama Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:37:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 266871 at http://www.motherjones.com The Person Who Cares Most About Barack Obama's Approval Rating is Hillary Clinton http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/person-who-care-most-about-barack-obamas-approval-rating-hillary-clinton <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Peter Beinart thinks President Obama is due for a comeback. <a href="http://prospect.org/article/barack-obamas-revival-way" target="_blank">Paul Waldman agrees:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I think Beinart is probably right, and the economy is the main reason; it swamps every other consideration in evaluating the president. We could have some major shock that upends the momentum it has been gaining, but if things proceed for the next two years on the trajectory they're on, the Obama presidency will be one of the best for job creation in recent history. <strong>But it's also important to understand that an Obama revival, should it happen, is going to look different than that of other presidents.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>In this case, "look different" means that even in the best case Obama will end his presidency with approval ratings in the mid-50s, but no higher. The country is just too polarized to produce anything better. Conservatives of nearly all stripes are going to disapprove of Obama come hell or high water, and that puts a ceiling on how high his approval rating can go. Ditto for any other president these days.</p> <p>But it's true that the economy seems to be doing pretty well these days, and it's usually the economy that drives approval ratings. That's good news for Obama, but it's far better news for Hillary Clinton. For Obama, leaving office with a strong economy is nice for his legacy, but that's about it. For Hillary, it almost certainly means the difference between winning and losing the presidency. If the economy is sluggish or worse in 2016, there's simply no way she overcomes voter fatigue toward Democratic rule. But if the economy is ticking along strongly, she just might.</p> <p>So that's that. The person who cares most about Obama's approval rating isn't Barack Obama. It's Hillary Clinton. It's the tailwind she needs if she wants to become the first woman to occupy the Oval Office.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Hillary Clinton Obama Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:41:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 266841 at http://www.motherjones.com New York State Just Banned Fracking http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/12/new-york-state-just-banned-fracking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>After years of wrangling between environmentalists, lawmakers, and fossil fuel companies, New York's top public health administrator said he would ban fracking in the state, citing health risks.</p> <p>From <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/nyregion/cuomo-to-ban-fracking-in-new-york-state-citing-health-risks.html?smid=tw-bna&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">the </a><em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/nyregion/cuomo-to-ban-fracking-in-new-york-state-citing-health-risks.html?smid=tw-bna&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times</a>:</em></p> <blockquote> <p>The Cuomo administration announced Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State, ending years of uncertainty by concluding that the controversial method of extracting gas from deep underground could contaminate the state&rsquo;s air and water and pose inestimable public-health risks.</p> <p>"I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York," said Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of health.</p> <p>That conclusion was delivered publicly during a year-end cabinet meeting called by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany&hellip;The state has had a de facto ban on the procedure for more than five years, predating Mr. Cuomo's first term. The decision also came as oil and gas prices continued to fall in many places around the country, in part because of surging American oil production, as fracking boosted output.</p> </blockquote> <p>New York is the second state to ban fracking, after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/vermont-fracking-ban-first_n_1522098.html" target="_blank">Vermont did so in 2012</a>. That move was largely symbolic, since Vermont has no natural gas to speak of. New York, by contrast, would have been a prize for the fracking industry, thanks to its massive share of the <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/46381.html" target="_blank">Marcellus shale formation</a>.</p> <p>"This is the first state ban with real significance," said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney in New York for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "My head is still spinning, because this is beyond anything we expected."</p> <p>The fracking battle in New York isn't quite over yet, Sinding said. Now the attention of activists will turn toward proposed infrastructure projects in the state&mdash;like a <a href="http://www.irondequoitpost.com/article/20141119/News/141119635" target="_blank">gas storage facility</a> by Lake Seneca and an <a href="http://www.app.com/story/news/local/red-bank-middletown-area/middletown/2014/12/16/fight-renews-offshore-liquified-natural-gas/20499791/" target="_blank">export facility on Long Island</a>&mdash;that would handle natural gas from fracking projects in neighboring states like Pennsylvania.</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Infrastructure Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:01:03 +0000 Tim McDonnell 266836 at http://www.motherjones.com Young Fidel Castro Wrote FDR to Ask for 10 Bucks http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/12/fidel-castro-fdr-10-bucks-letter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>In November 1940, a young Cuban student named Fidel Castro sent <a href="http://research.archives.gov/description/302040" target="_blank">a handwritten letter</a> to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Writing in English, Castro congratulated the president on his reelection and requested "a ten dollars bill green american&hellip;because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them." Thinking strategically, the future Cuban dictator also offered access to his country's iron to build American ships.</p> <p>He signed off with a flourish:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/castro-sig630.gif"><div class="caption">National Archives</div> </div> <p>The letter from the now 88-year-old Castro (<a href="http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/09/my-good-friend-roosvelt.html" target="_blank">who was 14</a> when he wrote it, not 12 as he said) now resides in the <a href="http://research.archives.gov/description/302040" target="_blank">National Archives</a>. FDR probably never saw the letter. Castro did receive a response&mdash;<a href="http://mentalfloss.com/article/28940/time-fidel-castro-asked-fdr-10" target="_blank">but no cash</a>&mdash;from the US Embassy in Havana. The polite snub officially marks the first exchange between Castro and the United States&mdash;and the beginning of a long, acrimonious relationship that may be <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/12/obama-cuba-alan-gross" target="_blank">about to thaw</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Text of the letter (errors and all):</p> <blockquote> <p>Mr Franklin Roosvelt, President of the United States.</p> <p>My good friend Roosvelt I don't know very English, but I know as much as write to you.<br> I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periodo).<br> I am twelve years old.<br> I am a boy but I think very much but I do not think that I am writing to the President of the United States.<br> If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.</p> [&hellip;]</blockquote> <blockquote> <p>I don't know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don't know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.<br> (Thank you very much) Good by. Your friend,</p> <p>Fidel Castro</p> <p>If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oriente Cuba.</p> </blockquote> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/castro-letter630.gif"><div class="caption">National Archives</div> </div></body></html> MoJo Foreign Policy International Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:04:50 +0000 Dave Gilson 266826 at http://www.motherjones.com Battered Ruble Stabilizes -- For Now http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/battered-ruble-stabilizes-now <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>I promise not to post this chart every day, but since I've put it up for the past two days when the ruble was crashing, I figure I should let everyone <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ruble_dollar_2014_12_17.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">know when the crash has halted. For a few hours, anyway, <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/ruble-volatile-in-early-trading-1418802891?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection" target="_blank">thanks to some dubious measures from Russian banking authorities:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The currency was trading 8% stronger against the dollar at 62.1 on the Moscow exchange, while Russia&rsquo;s RTS Index was up 17%, after the central bank eased regulations on the banking system in a bid to provide some relief on capital adequacy for banks and convince Russians to keep their money in rubles.</p> <p>Measures including allowing banks not to take provisions against souring loans and weakening assets they hold, and allowing lenders to use last quarter&rsquo;s exchange rate when settling some foreign-exchange transactions.</p> </blockquote> <p>I'm not sure that loosening banking regulations is a great response to a currency crisis, but I guess you never know. In any case, it seems to have stabilized things for the time being. In the longer term, storm clouds are still brewing. Stay tuned.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:49:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 266821 at http://www.motherjones.com Surprise! Obama Plans to Normalize Relations With Cuba. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/surprise-obama-plans-normalize-relations-cuba <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/sure-why-shouldnt-obama-normalize-relations-cuba" target="_blank">A couple of weeks ago,</a> <em>National Review's</em> Jay Nordlinger suggested that maybe President Obama's next executive action would be normalization of relations with Cuba. That struck me as something out of left field, since I'd heard not even a hint of a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Visit_Cuba.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">peep of a rumor that anything along these lines was in the works. But congratulations Jay! <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/american-alan-gross-released-from-cuba-after-5-years-in-prison-1418825981?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories" target="_blank">You were right:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.</p> <p>In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis who hosted a final culminating meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.</p> <p>....The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to.</p> </blockquote> <p>Oddly enough, I don't see any reaction yet from Nordlinger, or indeed, from anyone over at <em>National Review</em>. Perhaps the intercession of Pope Francis is giving them pause?</p> <p>In any case, this is good news. I don't personally care an awful lot about Cuba or our relations with them, but half a century of pointless enmity really ought to be enough. Fidel Castro may not have been an admirable guy, but&nbsp;Fulgencio Batista was no great shakes either, and it's long past time to stop pining away for the days when he was in power. So let it go, folks. We don't have to approve of everything Cuba does in order to act like adults and conduct normal relations on both sides. We manage to do it with Russia and Venezuela and Pakistan, after all.</p> <p>In any case, that's that. The next step is lifting the trade embargo, but I suppose it's unlikely that a Republican Congress is going to act on that any time soon. Too bad. There's no longer any reason for it, and I'll bet the majority of cigar smokers are Republicans. They want their Havanas, so lifting the embargo would, in a sense, be nothing more than a routine bit of base maintenance. Perhaps if Republicans think of it as just another political payoff for their strongest supporters, they can be talked into it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:31:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 266811 at http://www.motherjones.com BREAKING: US to Normalize Relations With Cuba http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/12/breaking-us-normalize-relations-cuba <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/report-cuba-frees-american-alan-gross-after-5-years-detention-on-spy-charges/2014/12/17/a2840518-85f5-11e4-a702-fa31ff4ae98e_story.html" target="_blank">Wow</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>The United States and Cuba will begin talks to normalize relations, including opening an embassy in Havana and putting to rest one most enduring Cold War standoffs, a U.S. official said Wednesday.</p> <p>The landmark initiatives appeared to be set in motion by a surprise prisoner swap that freed American contractor Alan Gross after five years in custody in Cuba. In exchange, the United States would release three Cubans jailed for espionage, the Associated Press reported.</p> </blockquote> <p>President Obama&nbsp;is scheduled to speak at noon. Watch below for his press conference:&nbsp;</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/m6MgATBZMII" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><strong>Update: </strong>The White House just released a fact sheet outlining the policy changes with Cuba:</p> <div class="DV-container" id="DV-viewer-1382402-white-house-fact-sheet-cuba">&nbsp;</div> <script src="//s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/viewer/loader.js"></script><script> DV.load("//www.documentcloud.org/documents/1382402-white-house-fact-sheet-cuba.js", { width: 630, height: 500, sidebar: false, text: false, pdf: false, container: "#DV-viewer-1382402-white-house-fact-sheet-cuba" }); </script><p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:16:54 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 266806 at http://www.motherjones.com Wall Street Salivating Over Further Destruction of Financial Reform http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/wall-street-salivating-over-further-destruction-financial-reform <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Conventional pundit wisdom suggests that Wall Street may have overreached last week. Yes, they successfully managed to repeal the swaps pushout provision in Dodd-Frank, but in so doing they unleashed Elizabeth Warren and brought far more attention to their shenanigans than they bargained for. They may have won a battle, but with the public now suitably outraged and alert for further mischief, they're unlikely to keep future efforts to weaken financial reform behind the scenes, where they might have a chance to pass with nobody the wiser.</p> <p>Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was all just political theater and Wall Street lobbyists know better than to take it seriously. Ed Kilgore points to <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/finance/227363-emboldened-wall-street-ready-to-dismantle-dodd-frank-financial-law" target="_blank">this article in <em>The Hill</em> today:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Banks and financial institutions are planning an aggressive push to dismantle parts of the Wall Street reform law when Republicans take control of Congress in January.</strong></p> <p>Fresh off a victory in the government funding debate that liberals decried as a giveaway to Wall Street, advocates for the financial sector aim to pursue additional changes to Dodd-Frank that they say would lighten burdens created by the 2010 law. <strong>Among the top items on the wish list: easing new requirements on mortgages, loosening restrictions on financial derivatives and overhauling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau....</strong><strong>Another fight on the horizon is the push for &ldquo;regulatory relief,&rdquo;</strong> as financial institutions and Republicans seek to require agencies to pursue more cost-benefit analysis when writing rules.</p> <p>....In the face of loud opposition, financial lobbyists say they have a compelling case for revisiting the law. While the economy is improving, they argue the new rules have made it exceedingly difficult to obtain loans, including mortgages.</p> </blockquote> <p>Will Democrats in the Senate manage to stick together and filibuster these efforts to weaken Dodd-Frank? Or will enough centrists peel off to allow a few of them to pass? I'd like to think that Elizabeth Warren has made unity more likely, but then again, I have an uneasy feeling that Wall Street lobbyists might have a better read on things than she does. Dodd-Frank has already been weakened substantially in the rulemaking process, and this could easily represent a further death by a thousand cuts. After all, as the Wall Street flacks say, the economy is improving. And who needs a bunch of fussy rules when the economy is good?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Economy Regulatory Affairs Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:37:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 266796 at http://www.motherjones.com This New Report Explains Exactly How the Afghan Economy Will Fall Apart http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/12/us-government-has-new-report-which-explains-exactly-how-afghan-economy-will-fall-apart <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld toured a reconstruction center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2004, he was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/12/international/asia/12rumsfeld.html" target="_blank">gushing with optimism</a>. "It is so clear that the Afghan people are winning the struggle to rebuild this nation," he said. That hope is now basically dead. Last week, the Special Investigator General for the Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a <a href="http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/spotlight/High-Risk_List.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> that explains exactly how Afghanistan's economy will fall apart in the next few years. The reasons are easy to understand: Western powers came to the country and built a lot of infrastructure. Now coalition forces are leaving, and Afghanistan has to figure out how to maintain everything the westerners built. With foreign funds drying up, that'll be a tall order.</p> <p>In 2013, the Afghan government collected $2 billion internally, but it spent $5.4 billion. "In other words," SIGAR notes, "domestic revenue covered only 37% of the total budget." The 2014 budget of $7.6 billion plans for even more spending than last year. But Afghanistan's government expects to pay for just $2.8 billion of that with its own money.</p> <p>Afghanistan, like any other debt-burdened nation in the world, can make the imbalance work as long as it has another, external source of funds. But donors are starting to temper their support, and the security, social services, and infrastructure maintenance costs are increasing rapidly. (You can read <em>Mother Jones</em>' list of Afghan infrastructure disasters from last year <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/11/afghanistan-withdrawal-left-behind" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p> <p>More money will be hard for Afghanistan to come by on its own. There's some mineral development in the works, but it'll be decades before it reaches its true potential, SIGAR says. Licit exports only amounted to a $376 million, or about $8.20 per person, in 2012, according to the <a href="https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html" target="_blank">CIA World Factbook</a>. (The CIA names "small-scale production of bricks" and "handwoven carpets" among the country's top industries.)</p> <p>Afghanistan's one lucrative export is illegal everywhere. Last year, Afghanistan's opium industry was worth an estimated $3 billion, despite the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/afghanistan-opium-poppy-heroin-record-levels" target="_blank">billions</a> the US has spent trying to stamp it out.</p> <p>"Without donor contributions," SIGAR argues, "the Afghan government will not be able to meet most of its operating or development expenditures." Citing an IMF report, SIGAR says the gap between domestic revenue and expenses will average $7.7 billion every year through 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>So who's fault is this mess? SIGAR lays much of the blame at the feet of the United States and other countries that built Afghanistan's infrastructure in the first place. "Each new development project that the United States and other international donors fund increases the country's O&amp;M [operation and maintenance] costs, adding pressure to Afghanistan's operating budget," the report states, adding that the US and other other governments should have had a plan for how to pay for their projects' maintenance, knowing they'd eventually have to leave.&nbsp;</p> <p>"Much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted," the report adds, "because the Afghans cannot <em>sustain</em> the investment without massive continued donor support."</p></body></html> MoJo Afghanistan Foreign Policy Top Stories Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:16:46 +0000 Alex Park 266706 at http://www.motherjones.com The Best Food Books of 2014, Part 1 http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/12/best-food-books-2014-part-1 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The publishing industry may be in the midst of a long, slow decline, but it's churning out a cornucopia of food books&mdash;and 2014 has been another banner year. Today, I'll look at my favorites on the politics/culture front, and soon I'll take up the cookbook beat.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/big%20fat%20surprise%20image.jpg"></div> <p><strong><em>&bull; The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,</em> by Nina Teicholz.</strong> This is the most provocative and assumption-shredding food book I've read in years. With exhaustive reporting and lucid science explication, Teicholz drives home her central thesis: that dietary fat, even (if not especially) the saturated kind, is actually good for us. But that's not even her most impressive feat. She also rips the halo from the so-called Mediterranean Diet (which she distinguishes from the actual diets consumed by Mediterranean dwellers), exposing it as one part sound science and three-parts olive oil industry-funded (you read that right) hokum. (I'm still reeling from the revelation that olive oil is a relatively recent addition to the Italian and Greek diets.) And she shows why the food industry's recent rush away from trans fats&mdash;whose evils she herself helped establish in a <a href="http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/06/heart_breaker">2004 <em>Gourmet</em> article</a>&mdash;may actually be a net negative for public heath. (Partial spoiler: Unlike trans fats, which are artificially hardened vegetable oils, liquid vegetable oils generate lots of "toxic oxidative breakdown products" when they're held at high heat for an extended time&mdash;as they are in fast food industry's fry bins.) All in all, a must read.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/defending%20beef%20cover.jpg"></div> <p><strong><em>&bull; Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, </em>by Nicolette Hahn Niman.</strong> A longtime critic of industrial agriculture and a lawyer by training, Niman mounts a lawyerly case for pasture-based beef production. She does so from an interested position. She's the wife of Bill Niman, one of the nation's most celebrated grass-based ranchers. But critics who want to dismiss Niman's advocacy on economic-interest grounds have to grapple with the mountains of evidence she brings to bear. The main ecological question that haunts grass-fed beef involves climate change. Cows emit methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon, when they burp, which is often. But by grazing, they also promote healthy, flourishing grasslands, which suck carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soil. In doing so, they convert a wild vegetation that people can't digest into a highly nourishing foodstuff. So on balance, do cows contribute to or mitigate climate change?&nbsp; The conventional view holds that the burps win. Niman casts more than reasonable doubt on that verdict. Citing loads of research, she argues that enteric emissions (methane from burps) are likely overstated and can be curtailed by breeding and techniques like abundant salt licks, and more than offset by the carbon-gulping capacity of intensive grazing (where farmers run dense herds through a pasture for a short time, and then give the land plenty of time to recover). She also shows that healthy pastures also provide plenty of other benefits, including habitat for pollinating insects and birds, which are declining rapidly as industrial grain farming&mdash;mostly for grain to feed confined animals&mdash;expands. Reading Niman alongside Teicholz makes you want to grill a steak&mdash;or, better yet, a fatty and nutrient-dense beef liver.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/the%20chain%20cover.jpg"></div> <p><strong>&bull; <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Chain-Farm-Factory-Fate/dp/006228875X">The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food,</a> by Ted Genoways. </em></strong>If <em>Defending Beef</em> delivers a compelling vision for how meat can and <em>should</em> be produced, Genoways exposes&mdash;perhaps more clearly than any writer since Upton Sinclair&mdash;its massive human toll in an era of corporate dominance. Building on two long features published in <em>Mother Jones</em> (<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/06/ag-gag-laws-mowmar-farms" target="_blank">here</a> and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/hormel-spam-pig-brains-disease" target="_blank">here</a>), he lays out in withering detail the horrific conditions faced by workers in factory-scale slaughterhouses after decades of union busting and a relentless push to speed up the kill line. Having laid out the unsavory tale of the rare neurological disorder that overtook workers at a Spam factory in Minnesota in the mid-2000s, Genoways shifts to the plight of animals raised cheek-by-jowl in factory-like conditions, tended by workers under severe pressure to make them conform to their environment. Abuse&mdash;beating with sticks, kicking, etc.&mdash;is routine, Genoways shows; and the meat industry uses its considerable political clout to promote laws that ban efforts to expose it. Niman exhorts her readers to choose their meat "wisely and well"; Genoways reminds us of just how tricky that task is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/meat%20racket.jpg"></div> <p><strong><em>&bull; The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America's Food Business, </em>by Christopher Leonard.</strong> How did the meat industry amass such power? To answer that question, the veteran agribusiness journalist Christopher Leonard teases out the rise of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, which evolved after the Great Depression from a small country business to the globe's largest meat company. Today, it slaughters and packs about a quarter of the beef consumed in the United States, and a fifth of the pork and the chicken. Tyson developed the highly lucrative model that would come to dominate US meat production: grab hold of the profitable bits of the supply chain (selling feed and meat) and foist the risky bits (actually raising animals) onto farmers working under contract. As Tyson and other meat companies scaled up, they enticed farmers to scale up, too&mdash;taking on huge crushing debt burdens to build massive high-tech barns, keeping them subject to the whims of the big processors. Leonard has written the best account I know of on the serf-like conditions faced by farmers who operate under the heel of the meat giants.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/american%20catch%20cover.jpeg"></div> <p><strong><em>&bull; American Catch, </em>by Paul Greenberg</strong>. Most recent books on the state of the oceans suggest we're eating too much seafood&mdash;that overfishing strains fish populations and contributes to their impending collapse. They're probably right in global terms, but in <em>American Catch,</em> the excellent fish writer Greenberg shows that we Americans, at least, are eating too <em>little</em> of it&mdash;and that our fish-averse ways are contributing to ecological degradation, not just in the oceans that surround us, but also on land, particularly in population-dense regions like New York City and the Gulf Coast. In rollicking prose worthy of a novelist&mdash;Greenberg's vocation before he took up seafood as his great topic&mdash;he spins out a compelling argument that goes like this: Despite the 3.8 billion acres of ocean that lie in US territory along more than 94,000 miles of coastline, we eat just 15 pounds of seafood per capita annually (vs. about <a href="http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/per-capita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-in-pounds/" target="_blank">200 pounds of meat and poultry</a>)&mdash;and 91 percent of that paltry amount is imported. As a result, we have little incentive to maintain our coasts as robust ecosystems. And so we pave over vital marshlands and salt flats, leaving coastal cities vulnerable to the ever-harsher storms promised by climate change. And we foul coastal waters with agricultural runoff and the pollution from near-shore oil drilling, sacrificing an abundant source of wild, healthy food. <em>American Catch</em> will leave you craving a couple dozen US-grown oysters&mdash;and a beer to help ease your pain at the folly he describes.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/third%20plate%20cover.jpg"></div> <p><strong><em>&bull; The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, </em>by Dan Barber</strong>. Barber, a celebrated chef known for his obsession with farm-to-table cooking, offers a serious critique of the very trend that he rode to fame&mdash;and a vision for what comes next. The farm-to-table restaurant movement started in the 1970s, when chefs began to realize that decades of industrial agriculture had sapped ingredients of flavor. So they began to seek out more interesting produce from the few surviving small-scale farms, and helped spark a revival of agriculture focused on quality and flavor, not just volume and gross profit. But those innovative chefs never revised their vision of what Barbers labels the "first plate": a big chunk of corn-fed beef meat with a few vegetables on the side. "The steak was now grass-fed, the carrots were now a local, heirloom variety, grown in organic soil," he writes. "But inasmuch as it reflected all of the progress American food has experienced in the past decade, the striking thing about the second plate was that it looked nearly identical to the first." Using his considerable storytelling skills and his wide travels as fodder, Barber makes the case for a "third plate": a "new cuisine, one that goes beyond raising awareness about the provenance of ingredients and&mdash;like all great cuisines&mdash;begins to reflect what the landscape can provide." That is, a much more farm-centered, regionally adapted vision of the restaurant&mdash;one that puts what's being harvested at the center of the plate, not necessarily big, fancy cuts of meat. Bringing a Wendell Berry-like ecological vision to the role of the chef, Barber has produced a delicious read.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Books Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:00:07 +0000 Tom Philpott 266751 at http://www.motherjones.com Republicans Cave In, Begin Traditional Holiday Backbiting, and Head For Home http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/republicans-cave-backbite-head-home <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Earlier today, Harry Reid pushed through Senate confirmations of Tony Blinken to be deputy secretary of State and Sarah Salda&ntilde;a to head up Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At that point, Republicans, finally tired of staying in <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_US_Capitol_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">session and convinced that Reid wasn't bluffing about continuing to hold confirmation votes, <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/sarah-saldana-confirmed-immigration-and-customs-enforcement-113612.html?hp=t4_r" target="_blank">caved in:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Dozens of nominees were confirmed unanimously or by voice vote</strong> as the clock ticked on, building on Democrats&rsquo; progress pushing through several bitterly contested nominations during the last days of their majority. After fighting Democrats tooth and nail for more than a year on lifetime judicial appointments, <strong>Republicans waved the white flag on fighting Reid&rsquo;s attempts to confirm a dozen judicial nominations and allowed eleven of them to go through without dissent.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. <em>Dozens</em> of nominees? <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/another-republican-upends-the-senates-year-end-plans/2014/12/16/127292d8-8559-11e4-9534-f79a23c40e6c_story.html?hpid=z3" target="_blank">How many dozen?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Democrats controlling the Senate also <strong>secured agreements from Republicans to confirm at least six dozen of President Obama&rsquo;s nominees</strong> to serve as federal judges, agency bosses and on myriad government boards, a last-minute coup for the White House since most of the picks faced tougher odds next year once Republicans take full control of Capitol Hill.</p> </blockquote> <p>And of course everyone knows <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/us/politics/with-the-way-eased-two-more-obama-nominees-win-approval-from-senate.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">who to thank for all this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Most of the day was consumed with nominations, none more irritating to many Republicans than the ones who received a vote because of an impulsive move by one of their colleagues. <strong>And with the book now closed on the 113th Congress, they could go down as the Cruz Confirmations</strong> &mdash; the batch of the president&rsquo;s nominees who were confirmed by the Senate only after Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, forced his colleagues to stay in session for 10 hours on a bleak December Saturday.</p> <p>&ldquo;No, we would not have had all of these 24 confirmations, and I think most people know that,&rdquo; said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, referring to the two dozen nominees that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, forced votes once Mr. Cruz made his move.</p> </blockquote> <p>Merry Christmas!</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Wed, 17 Dec 2014 06:09:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 266776 at http://www.motherjones.com On Torture, Dick Cheney Isn't the Problem. We Are. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/torture-dick-cheney-isnt-problem-we-are <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pew_poll_torture.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/394773/interrogation-verdict-rich-lowry" target="_blank">Rich Lowry is a satisfied man:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After a week of condemnations of the CIA interrogation program, and talk everywhere of how it violated our values and weakened our standing in the world, the verdict of public opinion is in: People support it....In the case of <em>Cheney v. Feinstein</em>, Cheney wins&mdash;at least with the public.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is the most discouraging part of the whole torture debate. It's one thing to learn that Dick Cheney is every bit the vicious wretch we all thought he was. But time after time since 9/11, polls have shown that the American public is basically on his side. As a nation, we simply don't believe that a comprehensive program of state-sanctioned torture is wrong. On the contrary: we think it's just fine as long as it's done to other people. If we're a Christian nation, as we're so often reminded, we're still an Old Testament one.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Human Rights Tue, 16 Dec 2014 23:50:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 266766 at http://www.motherjones.com The Great Paradox of Bitcoin: If It Ever Succeeds, It's Doomed http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/great-paradox-bitcoin-if-it-ever-succeeds-its-doomed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Will Bitcoin ever become a major competitor to the world's more conventional currencies? It certainly has some advantages over existing payment networks, thanks partly to its technical structure and partly to the fact that it's largely free of regulation. But Henry Farrell argues that <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/16/bitcoins-financial-network-is-doomed/" target="_blank">its freedom from regulation is a chimera:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Up to this point, regulators have largely tolerated Bitcoin as a curiosity and experiment....But if Bitcoin were ever to threaten to become a truly decentralized payments network, owned by no one, and with no one e.g. capable of implementing Know Your Customer rules, regulators <em>would</em> know very well what to do with it. <strong>They&rsquo;d introduce regulatory guidances and pass laws to freeze it off from the regular financial system.</strong> Very possibly, Bitcoin could still survive at the margins (as the Hawala system has survived). However, it would be isolated, and in no position to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_bitcoin.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">threaten Visa or Mastercard, let alone the underlying payment and messaging services that really underpin the world financial system.</p> <p>If Tim Lee and other Bitcoin fans want to make the case that Bitcoin can become a major payment network, they need to do one of two things. First, they could show that the U.S. and other major states would not feel threatened by a well-established payment system that they couldn&rsquo;t control. Second, they could show that a Bitcoin financial network would survive the opposition of hostile states that have enormous control over the actually-existing financial systems that Bitcoin needs to connect to, as well as regulators, police, etc. I don&rsquo;t see any very plausible arguments that would support either claim. It&rsquo;s perfectly possible that the underlying technologies of Bitcoin (which help solve some interesting problems of trust and exchange) can be deployed to other valuable uses. <strong>But Bitcoin is doomed as a payments network &mdash; the very point at which it looks as though it is likely to be widely deployed is the point at which governments, like that of the United States, will crack down on it.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This is almost certainly correct, and the interesting question, I think, is whether Bitcoin and its ilk can figure out ways to operate on a large scale without being effectively shut down by real-world governments. At the moment, I don't see any way they can do that, but it's not impossible that this will change in the future.</p> <p>The evolution of the internet itself provides conflicting guidance as an analogy. Generally speaking, national governments have had considerable difficulty regulating internet content. It's just too distributed and fast moving. So perhaps digital payment networks similar to Bitcoin will eventually thrive because they pose similar problems to would-be regulators. Like kudzu, they'll simply be impossible to contain.</p> <p>On the other hand, countries like China have shown that internet content <em>can</em> be regulated. It merely requires sufficient motivation. And even less authoritarian governments have managed to throw a lot of sand in the gears when they rouse themselves to action. Given that regulating commerce and money is easier than regulating content, this bodes ill for the future of Bitcoin. There's not much question that it can harried into uselessness if national governments decide to do it.</p> <p>Still, there are lots of currencies in the world, and it's possible that a medium-scale version of Bitcoin could stay alive by remaining fairly modest in its connection to any one currency, but fairly large when all of its connections to all the world's currencies are added up. This might cause problems of coordinated action that would end up defeating national regulators, especially if there were dozens or hundreds of different digital currencies to deal with. Maybe. Possibly. I'm not sure if the arithmetic here would ever add up to anything significant, but I'm also not sure it's impossible.</p> <p>But if I had to put money on it? I'd say Bitcoin is doomed in the medium-term future. Farrell is right: it can be a bit of a curiosity, but if it ever enjoys wider success, that very success will kill it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Tue, 16 Dec 2014 19:55:47 +0000 Kevin Drum 266746 at http://www.motherjones.com