Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Diet Advice From Warren Buffett <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>"Is the junk-food era drawing to a close?," I recently <a href="" target="_blank">wondered aloud</a>, citing declining sales from processed food giants like Kraft and Kellogg's. If so, no one has bothered to inform gazillionaire investment mogul and octogenarian Warren Buffett. "I'm one quarter Coca-Cola,&rdquo; Buffett recently <a href="" target="_blank">told</a> <em>Fortune's</em> Patricia Sellers. "If I eat 2,700 calories a day, a quarter of that is Coca-Cola. I drink at least five 12-ounce servings. I do it everyday."&nbsp;In addition to <em>being</em> one quarter Coke, Buffett literally owns 9 percent of Coca-Cola, through his conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway. And the cagey old investor apparently knows what he's doing&mdash;even though soft-drink sales have been declining for years, Coke's share price has <a href="" target="_blank">nearly doubled</a> since 2011, borne up by financial engineering tricks like share buy-backs, <em>Fortune</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>.</p> <p>In addition to regular infusions of the sugary soft drink, Buffett's diet regimen includes breakfasts of Utz Potato strings and chocolate chip ice cream, Sellers reports. If his diet sounds eerily similar to the one you dreamed of pursuing in first grade, that's apparently no accident. Here's Sellers:</p> <blockquote> <p>Asked to explain the high-sugar, high-salt diet that has somehow enabled him to remain seemingly healthy, Buffett replies: &ldquo;I checked the actuarial tables, and the lowest death rate is among six-year-olds. So I decided to eat like a six-year-old.&rdquo; The octogenarian adds, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the safest course I can take.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">For most of us, loading up on processed junk probably&nbsp;</span><a href="" style="line-height: 24px;" target="_blank">isn't</a><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;the&nbsp;</span><a href="" style="line-height: 24px;" target="_blank">way</a><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;</span><a href="" style="line-height: 24px;" target="_blank">forward</a><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">. But f</span>ar be it for me to question Buffett's lifestyle choices&mdash;he's going strong at 84 and has probably made more bank in the past 15 minutes than I'll make in my entire lifetime.&nbsp;</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:00:13 +0000 Tom Philpott 271041 at USDA Whistleblowers Tell All–and You May Never Eat Bacon Again <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In 2004, <a href=";ticker=HRL&amp;previousCapId=23491&amp;previousTitle=TI%2520Ventures" target="_blank">Elsa Murano&nbsp;</a>stepped down from her post as chief of the US Department of Agriculture division that oversees food safety at the nation's slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the <a href="">board of directors of pork giant Hormel</a>, a company that runs some of the nation's largest slaughterhouses. Murano received&nbsp;$237,000 in compensation for her service on Hormel's board in <a href="" target="_blank">2014</a> alone.&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href=""><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/aggag_630-small.gif"></a> <div class="caption"><strong>Read <a href="" target="_blank">The Spam Factory's Dirty Secret </a>and <a href="" target="_blank">Gagged by Big Ag </a></strong>Illustration by Tim O'Brien</div> </div> <p>This is a classic example of the "revolving door" that separates US government regulators from the corporations they regulate. It's hardly the most shocking thing I gleaned from the whistleblower-protection group Government Accountability Project's <a href="">recent expos&eacute;</a> of conditions at three hog-slaughter facilities associated with Hormel. But it's interesting to think about in light of GAP's allegations, found in sworn affidavits filed by four USDA inspectors stationed in Hormel-owned plants. Three of the inspectors chose to remain anonymous; the fourth, Joe Ferguson, gave his name.</p> <p>Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.</p> <p>What's more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line&mdash;from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That's when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speed-up formula sounds familiar, it's because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from <a href="" target="_blank">me</a>), the USDA <a href="" target="_blank">decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line</a> when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year (though it did <a href="" target="_blank">greenlight</a> turkey facilities to speed up the line from 51 to 55 birds per minute).</p> <p>All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: 1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; 2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and 3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of 1) and 2).</p> <p>The testimony of Inspector 3, affidavit <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, is full of choice nuggets, though not of the sort you want to sample before lunch. Here are a few:</p> <ul><li>"Not only are plant supervisors not trained, the employees taking over USDA's inspection duties have no idea what they are doing. Most of them come into the plant with no knowledge of pathology or the industry in general."</li> <li>"Food safety has gone down the drain under HIMP. Even though fecal contamination has increased under the program (though the company does a good job of hiding it), USDA inspectors are encouraged not to stop the line for fecal contamination."</li> <li>"HIMP was initially designed for the kill of young, healthy animals. This hasn't always been the case. A lot of the animals the plant has killed were too old. Some also had different diseases. They didn&rsquo;t even slow down the line for the diseased carcasses."</li> <li>"The company threatens plant employees with terminations if they see them condemning too many carcasses or carcass parts."</li> </ul><p>For its part, Hormel insists that "food safety is our top priority and we have been a leader in the production of safe, quality food for more than 100 years," as Rick Williamson, Hormel's manager of external communications, wrote in an email. "In addition to the USDA inspectors at the facility, there are Hormel Foods employees trained to the standards of the USDA conducting the additional inspections," he continued. "We've found this allows the USDA inspectors better perspective and more flexibility to monitor activity and identify any issues." As for food safety concerns, he added that "our facilities consistently meet or perform better than published USDA microbiological performance standards." But he didn't respond to my request for data to back that claim up, or for commentary on charges of poor training and intimidation of inspectors. But he did add a plug for the privatized inspection and faster kill lines enjoyed by three Hormel-associated plants: "The HIMP program places more accountability on the company, and we welcome that responsibility."</p> <p>The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the agency that runs the inspection program, is standing behind HIMP, too.&nbsp;USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee pointed to a November <a href="" target="_blank">2014 FSIS report </a>that, he said, "shows that the food safety outcomes at the pilot facilities are on par with those operating under other inspection systems." The report concluded that there's "no reason to discontinue HIMP in market hog establishments."&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the pilot inspection program will continue running as is, confined to five slaughterhouse and not expanding to include others, Lavallee said. Before expanding, he added, "the agency would first need to conduct a risk assessment to determine whether doing so would have a significant positive public health impact, and then engage in the rulemaking process, which can be lengthy."</p> <p>However, the USDA's and Hormel's rosy assessment of HIMP presents a stark contrast to a scathing <a href="" target="_blank">2013 report</a> from yet another USDA agency, the Office of the Inspector General, which found HIMP plants&mdash;which it did not name&mdash;made up three of the top ten US hog plants earning the most food-safety and animal-welfare citations in the period of fiscal years 2008 to 2011. Moreover, by far the most-cited slaughterhouse in the US over that period was in the program&mdash;it drew "nearly 50 percent more [citations] than the plant with the next highest number." The OIG also concluded that that the Food Safety and Inspection Service "did not provide adequate oversight" of HIMP over its first 15 years, and as a result, HIMP plants "HIMP plants may have a higher potential for food safety risks."</p> <p>Ted Genoways, who in 2012 wrote a harrowing <a href="" target="_blank">account</a> in <em>Mother Jones</em> of what accelerated line speeds have meant for workers slaughterhouse workers, rejects Hormel's sunny assessment. Genoways' reporting, later expanded into the superb 2014 book <em>The Chain</em>, focused on the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minnesota, which supplies its meat solely to Hormel and is one of the three Hormel-associated plants among the <a href="!ut/p/a1/jZFBT8MgFMc_i4ceKXSdy-qtNjFrXVsXo-t6MbSjlIUCAVwTP73MedBl0_EOhMfv_3j_B6xhBWuB94xiy6TA_HCuZ29ohWZBlKAMBS7SInyeLrIiRJPQAZufQBkFDw54XZWPSYLmRXil_sKK0X_67IoHJjpPcgprhW0PmOgkrHrctup7Aw02ZOsujCLtwTcY5JZwA5SWO5eB1SLNnwBnxgLZAYW1ZS1zxZigQHEsrIFrWP_ZSDk9Bc5M6ghcHoXzSrlsvr5lE4smnDtTmnREE-2_a5furVXmzkMeGsfRp1JSTvxWDh46J-mlceZ-k1ANL9XH8j5Kd7d8v4xvPgEvGaCD/#MARKET_HOGS" target="_blank">five in HIMP</a>. He recently told <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Food Safety News</em></a> that "Yes, I think the line speeds [at the HIMP plants] are too fast. When you see the workers on the line say the speeds are too fast, the inspectors say the lines are too fast, the suppliers at the farm level say the lines are too fast, there&rsquo;s such a unanimity of opinion that I don't think you can come to any other conclusion."</p> <p>Well, not quite unanimous. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, of course, continues to defend the pilot program. But then there's its cozy ties to industry&mdash;in addition to Murano's leap to Hormel, FSIS's then-chief of staff <a href="" target="_blank">flew the coop</a> to the National Turkey Federation in 2011, and another high official <a href=";cck=1" target="_blank">bolted</a> to work for meat processor <a href="" target="_blank">OSI Group</a> just this month. Given the tasty meat-industry opportunities that evidently await the USDA's food-safety administrators, I take FSIS's defense of the HIMP program in the face of these sworn statements with about as much salt as you might find in a slice of Hormel's signature product, Spam.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:00:10 +0000 Tom Philpott 270126 at Killing Obamacare Halfway Is Worse For Republicans Than They Think <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Stuart Butler is probably the country's single most influential right-wing health care wonk. He opposed Obamacare and has long pushed a different, more conservative vision of national health care policy. But Joshua Green writes today that <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_healthcare_tyranny.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">even Butler is worried about what will happen if the Supreme Court abolishes Obamacare subsidies in the 34 states that <a href="" target="_blank">don't run their own exchanges:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Butler&rsquo;s worry is grounded in an understanding that voters with skyrocketing premiums may not blame Obama, as Republicans assume.</strong> They&rsquo;ll expect the party hellbent on destroying the law to have a solution&mdash;and react badly if none is forthcoming. Because 16 states operate their own exchanges and therefore won&rsquo;t be affected by the court&rsquo;s ruling, Butler believes the ACA will stagger on and eventually recover, since <strong>voters won&rsquo;t abide a system wherein some states have affordable, federally subsidized health-care coverage and others do not</strong>....&ldquo;People who believe the ACA instantly goes away are deluding themselves,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;By not doing anything to develop a Republican vision of how to move forward, they could end up with the very nightmare they&rsquo;re trying to avoid.&rdquo;</p> <p>....On the business front, the effects would be no less significant....Entire segments of the health system redesigned their business models to take advantage of the ACA&rsquo;s incentives. Hospitals, for instance, were given a trade-off: They stopped receiving government payments to offset the cost of treating the uninsured, cuts that amount to $269 billion over a decade. In return, they were promised millions of new patients insured through federal subsidies. <strong>&ldquo;All the major hospital systems and big insurers like Kaiser and Geisinger spent a ton of money adapting to the ACA,&rdquo; says Butler. If subsidies vanish, &ldquo;suddenly the market is misaligned. If you&rsquo;ve hired all these new doctors and health-care workers to cover all these new people walking in the door, and they don&rsquo;t come, what do you do? You lay them off.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>I agree that a system in which residents of some states get subsidies and others don't is untenable. I don't know quite how the politics would play out, but the states with subsidies won't give them up, and the states without subsidies are likely to face a revolt from residents who suddenly see a benefit taken away. Something will have to give.</p> <p>The effect on the medical industry is less clear. Yes, hospitals and insurers spent a lot of money adapting to Obamacare. If it goes away, they'll have to lay off some of their staff. But how much? Obamacare has reduced the ranks of the uninsured by about 4 percentage points, and roughly half of that is in states that don't run their own exchanges. So the number of insured would probably fall (very roughly) from about 87 percent to 85 percent. That might be bad news for some small regional outfits, who will see a bigger drop locally than that, but nationally it's not a death sentence.</p> <p>Still, Butler has a good point. The fallout from the Supreme Court halfway killing Obamacare would likely be more serious than conservatives believe. They don't want to think about this because they've been committed for so long to the mantra of simply repealing Obamacare, full stop. But even their own base, which has been told relentlessly that Obamacare represents the end of the America they love, might start to demand a fix once it becomes clear just what they're missing&mdash;and what all those blue states with their own exchanges are getting.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Supreme Court Fri, 27 Feb 2015 05:39:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 271076 at One Perfect Tweet Explains the Ultimate Lesson of #TheDress <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Twitter erupted into <a href="" target="_blank">craziness Thursday night after a dress went viral.</a> What color was the dress? Some thought it was gold and white; some thought it was blue and black. People had fun. Fun was had! Had was fun! It was a good time and times were good. But this being the world we live in some Serious Cops had to flash their lights and start ticketing people for having fun.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"> <p>I want to apologize to everyone upset with Dress Twitter. Sorry we had fun making jokes about something silly. We're monsters.</p> &mdash; Jesse Berney (@jesseberney) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <p>There are a lot of cops on the internet. Everyone's got a set of cuffs and a gun&mdash;and whatever crime they think you've committed, well, they're ready to slap those cuffs on you and sentence you to 20 years hard internet. A lot of commenters on this site are cops. Journalism Cops. I'm sure a bunch of people will comment on this post saying, "why is this news?"</p> <p>Anyway, no one likes Internet Cops. <em>Internet Cops</em> is probably the only police procedural CBS has ever passed on.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p><a href="">#TheDress</a> is a great way to find out who on Twitter takes themself way too seriously.</p> &mdash; NickBaumann (@NickBaumann) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>The lesson of #TheDress? Put your gun down, Barney Fife. Your services aren't needed.</p> <p>P.S. <a href="" target="_blank">The dress is blue.&nbsp;</a></p> <p><em>Disclaimer: Nick Baumann is a Senior Editor at </em>Mother Jones.<em> I gave him fair <a href="" target="_blank">warning</a> I was about to blog his tweet.</em></p></body></html> Contributor Fri, 27 Feb 2015 04:14:06 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 271071 at Why Are People Seeing the Dress in Different Colors? This Person Googled It For You. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>"<a href="" style="line-height: 2em;" target="_blank">What color is this dress?"</a></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>What color is this dress? White and gold, or blue and black? Photo on Tumblr divides Internet: <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; KTLA (@KTLA) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>It's the defining question of our generation.</p> <p>I felt very strongly that it was gold and white:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"> <p>In all seriousness I don't believe people see that as something other than some version of gold and white.</p> &mdash; Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>I was apparently wrong.</p> <p>I don't 100% know if it is accurate but this nice lady's answer sort of jibes with what I'm seeing.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>i actually took the time to research this so here's the real reason behind the dress written by yours truly. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; kaeIyn&acirc;&#153;&#155;please calum (@rebelashton) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">Adobe agrees:</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>For those seeing <a href="">#WhiteandGold</a> in <a href="">#TheDress</a> (<a href=""></a>), <a href="">@HopeTaylorPhoto</a> ends the debate. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Adobe (@Adobe) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Tay&nbsp;also signed off:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>I don't understand this odd dress debate and I feel like it's a trick somehow. I'm confused and scared. PS it's OBVIOUSLY BLUE AND BLACK</p> &mdash; Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) <a href="">February 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p><a href="" target="_blank"><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">WIRED is also on board.</span></a></p> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">Black and blue wins. :((</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&acirc;&#128;&#139;</span>God bless us, every one.</p></body></html> Contributor Fri, 27 Feb 2015 02:17:40 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 271066 at Scott Walker Blows It Again: Asked About ISIS, All He Has Is Bluster <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_scott_walker_cpac_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Over at <em>National Review</em>, conservative blogger Jim Geraghty joins the crowd of pundits who are unimpressed with <a href="" target="_blank">Scott Walker's recent answers to fairly easy questions:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker received a lot of completely undeserved grief from the national news media in the past weeks. But he may have made a genuine unforced error in one of his remarks today. Asked about ISIS, Walker responded, <strong>&ldquo;If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.&rdquo;</strong></p> <p>That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn&rsquo;t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.</p> </blockquote> <p>Let's put aside the question of whether Walker deserves any grief for his weasely comments about evolution and President Obama's love of country. Fair or not, those actually seem like the kinds of questions presidential candidates get asked all the time. If Walker wants to be taken seriously, he should have better responses then he did.</p> <p>But hey&mdash;maybe those really were gotcha questions and Walker should get a pass for answering them badly. ISIS, by contrast, certainly isn't. It's one of the preeminent policy challenges we face, and if you're aiming for the Oval Office you'd better have something substantive to say about it. As Geraghty suggests, generic tough-guy posturing does nothing except show that you're out of your depth.</p> <p>At a broader level, the problem is that although Walker's anti-union victories are a legitimate part of his appeal and a legitimate part of his campaign story, he's become something of a one-note Johnny about it. His supposed bravery in standing up to union leaders and peaceful middle-class protestors has become his answer to everything. This is going to get old pretty quickly for everyone but a small band of die-hard fans.</p> <p>Needless to say, it's early days, and Walker's stumbles over the past couple of weeks are unlikely to hurt him much. In fact, it's better to get this stuff out of the way now. It will give Walker an improved sense of what to expect when the campaign really heats up and his answers matter a lot more than they do now.</p> <p>That said, <em>every</em> candidate for president&mdash;Democrat and Republican&mdash;should be expected to have a pretty good answer to the ISIS question. No empty posturing. No generic bashing of Obama's policies. No cute evasions. That stuff is all fine as red meat for the campaign trail, but it's not a substitute for explaining what you'd <em>actually do</em> if you were president. Ground troops? More drones? Getting our allies to contribute more? Whatever it is, let's hear it.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Fri, 27 Feb 2015 00:09:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 271056 at Elizabeth Warren Launches New Battle Against the Fed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>While speaking before the Senate's Banking Committee on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hit Fed Chair Janet Yellen with a string of <a href="" target="_blank">harsh questions</a> over the performance of Scott Alvarez, the Fed's general counsel, who is at the helm of an investigation of a Fed leak from September 2012.</p> <p>Warren has expressed frustrations over the investigation's <a href="" target="_blank">lack</a> of public information.&nbsp;</p> <p>"Wall Street banks could profit handsomely if they knew about the Fed&rsquo;s plans before the rest of the market found out, and that&rsquo;s why any leak of confidential information from the Fed results in serious penalties for the people who are responsible,"<a href="" target="_blank"> Warren said</a>&nbsp;on Tuesday. "But apparently there have been no consequences for the most recent leak."</p> <p>The Massachusetts senator specifically pointed to Alvarez's Wall Street-friendly reputation, mainly referring to his past criticisms of Dodd-Frank, when she asked Yellen whether the Fed's views aligned with those of its top lawyer.</p> <p>Pressed for a strict yes or no response, Yellen <a href="" target="_blank">eventually</a> said she is "not seeking to alter Dodd-Frank in any way at this time."</p> <p>"Do you think that it is appropriate that Mr. Alvarez took public positions that do not evidently reflect the public position of the Fed&rsquo;s board, especially before an audience that has a direct financial interest in how the Fed enforces its rules?" Warren <a href="" target="_blank">responded.</a></p> <p>Yellen <a href="" target="_blank">appeared</a> slightly irritated:</p> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BrowserPreview_tmp-2_2.gif"></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Economy Regulatory Affairs Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:02:28 +0000 Inae Oh 270896 at The FCC Did a Lot More Than Just Approve Net Neutrality Today <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The FCC <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">voted today</a> in favor of strong net neutrality rules, but this is something that's been expected for weeks&mdash;and something I've written about before at length. So instead of commenting on that yet again, I want to highlight something else that <a href="" target="_blank">might be nearly as important:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Federal Communications Commission will allow some cities and towns to set up and expand municipal Internet services, </strong>overruling state laws that had been put in place to block such efforts.</p> <p>The commission granted petitions by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to overturn laws that restricted the ability of communities in those states to offer broadband service. In all about 20 states have passed such laws. The vote was 3-2 and along party lines. The decisions don&rsquo;t affect the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_google_fiber.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">other states, but they do set a precedent for consideration of similar petitions in the future.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a step in the direction of creating more competition for broadband internet, which I think is at least as important as net neutrality regulations. So hooray for this ruling, which is a step in the right direction. And while we're on the subject, it's also worth noting that the FCC's net neutrality decision could end up stimulating more broadband competition too. Why? Because net neutrality depends on regulating broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, and this means that companies like Google, which are trying to set up their own high-speed networks, will be able to do it more cheaply. <a href="" target="_blank">This is from a couple of months ago:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>In a letter Tuesday to the FCC, Google&rsquo;s director of communications law Austin Schlick highlighted a potential positive for the company if Title II kicks in. <strong>As a regulated telecom service, Google Fiber would get access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities.</strong> The FCC should make sure this happens because it would promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband internet service, Schlick argued.</p> <p>Cable and telecom companies, like Comcast and AT&amp;T have long had the right to access utility poles and other important infrastructure, such as ducts, conduits and rights of way, he noted. Google Fiber, which competes against these companies, has not had this right and the service has had trouble getting access to some poles as it builds out its fiber-optic network to homes.</p> <p>....Hooking up homes using poles is about a tenth of the price of digging trenches across streets and sidewalks, according to Reed Hundt, who was FCC chairman in the 1990s. <strong>&ldquo;Pole access is fundamental and Google will never be able to make the case for Google Fiber without pole access,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If Title II gives Google pole access, then it might really rock the world with broadband access.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>If Google gains pole access, and cities and towns are free to set up their own high-speed networks, then local cable companies will finally start getting real competition in the high-speed internet market. Net neutrality is a big win for consumers, but real competition might be an even bigger win. This is far from a done deal, but things are starting to head in the right direction.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Tech Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:04:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 271031 at Some Llamas Escaped and Went on a High-Speed Chase and It Was Amazing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Llamas! Arizona! Internet!</p> <p>This is a recipe for delight!</p> <p>Anyway, I don't know any details about this story other than llamas escaped (presumably from some sort of pen?) in Arizona and then they ran free and a chase began and the world was caught up in it, man, and it was like the '60s in Europe and people were riding Vespas and falling in love and hair was blowing in the wind and hot people were wearing leather jackets and berets and some were smoking to signify their rebellious nature and everyone was singing rock and roll and saying "Viva la llama!"</p> <p>Okay, a lot of that didn't happen but the llamas did escape and there was a chase and it was amazing. Then they were caught.</p> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BrowserPreview_tmp-1_2.gif"></p> <p>Watch the entire wonderful epic below:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><br><em>Bye bye Miss American Pie</em></p> <p><em>Drove my Chevy to levee</em></p> <p><em>but the levee was dry</em></p> <p><em>and good ol' boys were drinking</em></p> <p><em>whiskey and rye, singing</em></p> <p><em>"they caught the llamas."</em></p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Animals Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:29:25 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 271026 at The FCC Just Approved Net Neutrality <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to categorize the internet as a <a href="" target="_blank">public utility</a> and thereby uphold strong net neutrality regulations.</p> <p>Advocates applauded the passage as a victory for internet consumers, blocking what had been described as the creation of internet "fast lanes" for companies willing to pay more for<a href="" target="_blank"> high-speed service. </a></p> <p>The vote came down to a 3-2 margin, with <a href="" target="_blank">dissents</a> from Republicans Michael O'Reilly and Ajut Pai.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free open access to the internet," FCC&nbsp;Chairman Tom Wheeler said prior to the vote.</p> <p>"The internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules," <a href="" target="_blank">he added.</a></p> <p>In recent months, net neutrality has emerged as a divisive political issue, with fierce opposition against regulations coming from <a href="" target="_blank">Republicans and broadband </a>providers alike. President Obama's announcement back in November fully supporting net neutrality's <a href="" target="_blank">preservation</a> prompted members of the GOP to denounce the potential move.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.</p> &mdash; Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) <a href="">November 10, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Tech Thu, 26 Feb 2015 18:40:07 +0000 Inae Oh 271011 at Loretta Lynch Now Likely to Win Confirmation as Attorney General <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It looks like Loretta Lynch is likely to be <a href="" target="_blank">approved as our next Attorney General:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Eight Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee, including chairman Chuck Grassley, opposed Lynch&rsquo;s confirmation after what Democrats criticised as a record-long delay in appointing the first African American woman to the top law enforcement job in the US.</p> <p><strong>But Lynch was backed by three moderate Republicans to pass through a committee vote on Thursday, 12-8.</strong> She is now likely, over the coming days, to scrape through a vote in the full Senate to succeed current attorney general Eric Holder, who announced his resignation last September.</p> </blockquote> <p>The three "moderate" Republicans who voted to confirm Lynch were&nbsp;Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. Flake is probably a legitimate moderate, but it's an odd world where Hatch and Graham are on that list too. In today's GOP, though, they really are moderates. That tells you most of what you need to know about the state of national politics these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Crime and Justice Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:19:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271006 at Immigration Fight Is a Loser Because Republican Hearts Aren't Really Into It <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Our story so far: Last year President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. Conservatives went ballistic and threatened to refuse to pass a budget&mdash;thus shutting down the government&mdash;unless the budget defunded the immigration plan. They eventually gave in on that, but only because they were promised a second bite at the apple. The resulting compromise funded every department except the Department of Homeland Security, which <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Immigration_Sign.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">was given only short-term funding. That now has to be reauthorized, and this time around conservatives are threatening to refuse to pass a DHS budget&mdash;thus shutting down the department&mdash;unless it defunds the immigration plan.</p> <p>But Democrats have been unified in refusing to approve a budget that defunds the immigration plan, and now Republicans are stuck. Shutting down DHS would be a PR disaster, and they haven't really managed to get the public riled up about Obama's immigration plan. Why not? Dave Weigel reports that the problem is simple. <a href=";wpisrc=nl_wonk" target="_blank">Their hearts aren't really in it:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"Republicans have not done a particularly effective job of communicating what they want here," said Ira Mehlman, FAIR's national media director. <strong>"They let the president get out there first and explain his position with public events. I don&rsquo;t understand why they haven&rsquo;t turned the tables on the president and capitalized. It is baffling."</strong></p> <p>And it's less than conservatives did in a comparable standoff, the summer 2013 fight over whether or not to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Initially, Republican leaders in the House had wanted to split the defunding from the must-pass appropriations bill. They were denied the votes for that from the GOP conference. At the same time, the conservative Heritage Action was hosting town halls around the country, putting pressure on Republicans to kill the ACA. Some members of the Senate, most famously Texas Senator Ted Cruz, joined them.</p> <p><strong>There have been no comparable Heritage Action rallies in the weekends or recesses of 2015.</strong> "This fight was set up by leadership when they opted for the cromnibus strategy," explained Heritage Action president Michael Needham in an email, "and it is a fight nearly every Republican promised their constituents both on the campaign trail and then again in December. In other words, it has been set up for months on the ground they chose."</p> <p>Heritage Action will key-vote the DHS bill, knuckle-rapping the Republicans who don't go all the way to de-fund the executive orders.<strong> But it has not organized opposition to a "clean bill." Neither, really, has [Ted] Cruz. He spent very little of last week's recess talking about the coming DHS fight.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So what happens next? Perhaps Republicans allow DHS to be shut down for a symbolic few days and then allow a vote on a clean funding bill that will pass the House with a few Republican votes and a lot of Democratic votes. Because basically most of them don't really care.</p> <p>As well they shouldn't. The truth is that they shot themselves in the foot from the very start by going ballistic over Obama's actions. The thing is, Obama didn't really do all that much. Before he acted, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported. Afterward, we had 11 million undocumented immigrants who weren't going to be deported&mdash;but would be given temporary documentation that officially protected them from the deportation that wasn't going to happen anyway. Conservatives could have just grumbled and let it go, but instead they gave Obama a huge win by making it seem as if his actions were a major victory in the immigration wars. It's been a boon for both Obama and the Democratic Party, and huge headache for the Republican Party.</p> <p>It's too late now to back away from the relentless claims that Obama has acted like a lawless, Constitution-shredding tyrant over immigration, but Republicans have to figure out something. The public might or might not approve of how Obama implemented his reforms, but they're fine with the reforms themselves. Aside from a few tea party dead enders, there's just no widespread outrage to tap into.</p> <p>So instead of spending their first few months in control of Congress doing something, Republicans are fighting dumb battles that Obama has suckered them into. The faster they get out from under that rock, the better off they'll be.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:06:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 271001 at Supreme Court Opens a Crack in Fight Against Occupational Licensing Restrictions <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is not a topic that I've spent a lot of time on, but for several years there's been an interesting coalition of liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives who are opposed to the relentless increase of licensing regulations in occupations like hair dressing and interior decoration. Their complaint is that these requirements are mostly just attempts by the industries themselves to increase barriers to entry and thus increase the prices they can charge.</p> <p>For example, why should you have to pay a dentist for a tooth-whitening procedure? That doesn't require years of schooling and it could be done perfectly well by a technician with less training and a <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_teeth_whitening.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">lower price tag. <a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday the Supreme Court kinda sorta agreed:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Supreme Court on Wednesday effectively rejected North Carolina&rsquo;s tight control over the lucrative teeth-whitening business.</p> <p>In a divided decision that polishes up the court&rsquo;s free market credentials, six justices agreed the Federal Trade Commission can charge the dentist-dominated North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners with &ldquo;anticompetitive and unfair&rdquo; actions....The court&rsquo;s 6-3 decision did not, by itself, explicitly strike down the North Carolina teeth-whitening regulations that restrict the work to dentists. <strong>The decision does, though, reject the North Carolina board&rsquo;s argument that it enjoyed immunity from the Federal Trade Commission filing charges.</strong></p> <p>....North Carolina dentists began teeth-whitening services in the 1990s. By 2003, non-dentist providers began offering the same service in spas and salons. They charged less, prompting dentists to complain to the state board, which subsequently issued cease-and-desist orders to the non-dentists.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a small step, but potentially an important crack in the door. All it says is that the FTC can file antitrust charges if it wants to, which obviously depends a lot on who happens to be appointing FTC commissioners at any given moment. It's also limited to industry licensing boards that aren't "actively supervised" by the state. In the North Carolina case, "the board is funded by industry fees rather than taxpayer dollars, and six of the eight members are dentists selected by industry representatives." That was enough for the Supreme Court to decide that state supervision was basically a sham.</p> <p>So it's a narrow ruling. But it has some potential to lead to a loosening of occupational licensing restrictions in the future. It's worth keeping an eye on.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> I just read my morning paper over breakfast (yes, I'm a dinosaur), and David Savage has a piece about this in the <em>LA Times</em> that explains the issues pretty well. It's better than the McClatchy piece above. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to read it.</a></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Regulatory Affairs Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:13:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270991 at Chart of the Day: Inflation Continues to Fall Short of Weimar Germany Levels <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The BLS released its <a href="" target="_blank">January inflation report</a> today, and guess what? Hyperinflation continues to be kept at bay. In fact, the CPI didn't just stay at a low level in January, it was actually negative. Compared to a month ago, prices dropped 0.7 percent. Compared to a year ago, prices dropped 0.1 percent (blue line in chart below):</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_january_2015.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 15px 8px;"></p> <p>This will cause Paul Krugman to dance another victory jig, but the number the Fed really cares about is core inflation, which excludes food and energy (red line in the chart). This is because food and energy tend to be volatile, which makes them unreliable guides to the long-term trajectory of inflation. The core rate is a better predictor of that. But the news is good here too: Core inflation remained low and stable, increasing only 1.6 percent compared to a year ago.</p> <p>According to the BLS, gasoline was "overwhelmingly" the cause of the sharp decline in the overall CPI, and it's unlikely that this will continue. Gasoline prices have probably fallen about as much as they can, and over the next year will remain stable or perhaps rise a bit. But there's no telling for sure because energy prices are volatile. That's the whole point of focusing on core inflation.</p> <p>In any case, as you can see, core inflation has remained below the Fed's 2 percent target for quite a while. Two years, in fact. This is why Krugman and many others are urging the Fed to hold off on raising interest rates. The labor market still has some slack, and there's simply no sign of inflation on the horizon&mdash;and when there is, there will be plenty of time to act. After all, if the Fed can tolerate two years of inflation below their target, they can tolerate a year or two of inflation above their target. What's more, there's no risk here. The Fed knows perfectly well how to get inflation down if and when it gets above target for a sustained period.</p> <p>In other news, <a href="" target="_blank">wages are up a bit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees rose 1.3 percent from December to January, seasonally adjusted. This result stems from a 0.3 percent increase in average hourly earnings combined with a 0.9 percent decrease in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's nice, but note that it's mainly an artifact of negative inflation. If you think of core inflation as the better measure of long-term price levels, wages are up only slightly. That's better than nothing, of course, but still nowhere near a sign of dangerous tightness in the labor market.</p> <p>Bottom line: Inflation continues to be well controlled. There's no need to give up on loose monetary policy yet. Let's wait until the labor market looks like it's really picking up again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:51:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 270981 at Obama Just Vetoed the GOP's Keystone Bill, and This Democratic Presidential Hopeful Is Pissed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Jim Webb is sounding increasingly serious about <a href="" target="_blank">running</a> for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Last week, <em>National Journal</em>'s Bob Moser <a href="" target="_blank">wrote a cover story</a> wondering whether the former Virginia senator could "spark an anti-Hillary uprising," in which Webb explained that his absence from the campaign trail this winter was, in part, the result of major knee surgery to fix problems leftover from his days in the Vietnam War.</p> <p>Webb struck his first blow against his fellow Democrats on Wednesday. But rather than targeting Clinton, his likely presidential opposition, he struck out against the party's incumbent, President Barack Obama. In a series of tweets, Webb lashed out at the president for <a href="" target="_blank">vetoing a bill</a> that would have approved construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Regret Obama's veto of <a href="">#KeystoneXL</a> Pipeline Bill that passed Senate 62 -36 and House 270 - 152.</p> &mdash; Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) <a href="">February 25, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>State Dept found neutral on climate change, no serious impact on environment, and creation of 40,000 jobs. 6 years is a long time to wait.</p> &mdash; Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) <a href="">February 25, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>No one owns me &amp; I owe nothing to big oil. Just common sense&mdash;no harmful impact to enviro., 40k jobs, and 62 Sen. supported it, incl. 9 Dems</p> &mdash; Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) <a href="">February 25, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Webb's tweetstorm doesn't tell the whole story. A <a href="" target="_blank">letter from the EPA</a> released earlier this month argued that, thanks to recent drops in oil prices, Keystone XL could prove disastrous for carbon emissions.</p> <p>As <a href="" target="_blank">I detailed in December</a>, Jim Webb had an atrocious record on climate change and environmental issues while he served in the Senate. Standing up for Virginia's roots as a coal state, Webb tried to thwart Obama's efforts to regulate greenhouse gasses through EPA regulation, and he helped block Democratic attempts to pass a cap-and-trade law.</p> <p>Clinton, for her part, has <a href="" target="_blank">regularly sidestepped</a> addressing whether she wants to see the pipeline constructed, though she has generally been supportive of other environmental efforts made by the Obama administration.</p> <p>While Webb objected to Obama's decision to veto this specific bill, it's still unclear whether the two Democrats disagree on the underlying issue. Obama has strenuously rejected attempts by congressional Republicans to force immediate approval of the pipeline, but his administration has not yet said definitely if it intends to let the project go forward eventually.</p></body></html> MoJo 2016 Elections Climate Change Climate Desk Elections Energy Top Stories Infrastructure Wed, 25 Feb 2015 22:12:09 +0000 Patrick Caldwell 270961 at This Koala Is So Cute You'll Want It To Get Away With Stealing This Kid's Car <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase=",0,47,0" height="354" id="flashObj" width="630"><param name="movie" value=";isUI=1"><param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF"><param name="flashVars" value="videoId=4078665676001&amp;playerID=3680665367001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAACKW9LH8k~,A7HfECo5t7CatyA-8fEJ4LzBn7uU7ewe&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true"><param name="base" value=""><param name="seamlesstabbing" value="false"><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"><param name="swLiveConnect" value="true"><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"><embed allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" base="" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" flashvars="videoId=4078665676001&amp;playerID=3680665367001&amp;playerKey=AQ~~,AAACKW9LH8k~,A7HfECo5t7CatyA-8fEJ4LzBn7uU7ewe&amp;domain=embed&amp;dynamicStreaming=true" height="354" name="flashObj" pluginspage="" seamlesstabbing="false" src=";isUI=1" swliveconnect="true" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="630"></embed></object> <p>Never leave your Land Rover unattended in the Outback. This <a href="" target="_blank">"cheeky"</a> koala tried to drive off before the car's owner, a teen about to return home from school, foiled its getaway.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Koala accused of trying to steal family car says he's just waiting for a mate <a href=""></a></p> </blockquote> <p>Happy Wednesday.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Video Animals Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:52:57 +0000 Tim McDonnell 270971 at I Want to Hear the Republican Plan For Fighting ISIS <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The drumbeat for President Obama to "do something" to fight ISIS is growing louder every day among prospective Republican presidential candidates. It's all a bit weird, since Obama rather plainly <em>is</em> doing something, as interviewers repeatedly point out whenever the subject comes up. But no matter. It's a good sound bite, and in any case, whatever <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fallujah_bridge.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">Obama is doing, Republicans insist they want to do <em>more.</em> Today, Paul Waldman points out that all these presidential wannabes are just reflecting <a href="" target="_blank">what the Republican base wants to hear:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Four months ago, 57 percent of Republicans thought we should use ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria; that number has now gone up to 67 percent. <strong>Among the conservative Republicans who will dominate the primary contests, it&rsquo;s even higher, at 71 percent.</strong> When Pew asked respondents to choose between &ldquo;using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world&rdquo; and &ldquo;relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,&rdquo; last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't suppose that most voters have really thought this through in much detail, but I wonder just how far they really want to go. The ISIS stronghold of Mosul, for example, is about five times the size of Fallujah, and probably has about 3-4 times as many ISIS defenders as Fallujah had Sunni insurgents back in 2004. And Fallujah was a huge battle. It took more than a year to retake the city; required something like 15,000 coalition troops in all; and resulted in more than a hundred coalition deaths.</p> <p>At a first guess, a full-scale assault on Mosul would likely require at least 2-3 times as many troops and result in several hundred American deaths. And Mosul is only a fraction of the territory ISIS controls. It's a big fraction, but still a fraction.</p> <p>So this is what I want to hear from Republican critics of Obama's ISIS strategy. I agree with them that training Iraqi troops and relying on them to fight ISIS isn't all that promising. But the alternative is likely to be something like 30-50,000 troops committed to a battle that will result in hundreds of American casualties. Are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz willing to own up to that? If they are, then good for them and we'll let the American public decide who's got the better strategy. But if they're not, then it's all just a con job for the rubes. The GOP candidates are screaming for "more," but not willing to acknowledge what "more" really means.</p> <p>Let's hear it, folks. When you say "more," what do you really have in mind? Candidates for president shouldn't be allowed to get away with nothing more than vague grumbles and hazy bellicosity any longer. Let's hear the plan.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Iraq Military Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:12:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 270956 at Health Update <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is not of interest to most of you, but I do get emails and queries fairly frequently, so I figure I ought to share once in a while. The big picture summary is that nothing serious is wrong; a biopsy is scheduled for Friday; and I've been officially enrolled in the second stage of chemo treatment (the stem cell transplant). For those who want to know more, additional detail and miscellaneous griping is below the fold.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/kevin-drum/2015/02/health-update"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Kevin Drum Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:28:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 270941 at Eat What You Want, But Eat Fresh <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is interesting. <a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday</a> I wrote a post suggesting that we should all try to eat more fresh food and less processed food, but that otherwise it didn't matter much what kind of diet you followed. (Within reason, of course.) This was based solely on my intermittent reading <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_processed_foods.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">of food research over the years, not on a specific rigorous study. Today, however, fellow MoJoer Tom Philpott tells me that there is indeed a&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">rigorous study that backs this up:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Over the past decade, there has been a bounty of research on the ill effects of highly processed food. And when Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller surveyed the scientific dietary literature for a paper in 2013, they found that a "diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."</p> <p><strong>Interestingly, Katz and Meller found that as long as you stick to the "minimally processed" bit, it doesn't much matter which diet you follow: low-fat, vegetarian, and Mediterranean have all shown good results. Even the meat-centered "paleo" approach does okay. </strong>The authors conclude the "aggregation of evidence" supports meat eating, as long as the "animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods&mdash;the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by diet as we are." That's likely because cows fed on grass deliver meat and milk with a healthier fat profile than their industrially raised peers.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, Tom is optimistic that processed food is losing its allure as Americans migrate more and more to fresh foods. I can't say that I share this optimism, but I hope he's right. There's nothing wrong with a potato chip or a can of soup here and there (everything in moderation!), but a steady diet of processed food really is something worth avoiding.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Food and Ag Health Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:46:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 270926 at SIM Card Manufacturer Says Its Encryption Keys Are Safe From NSA Hacking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sim_card.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm passing this along without comment since I don't have anything substantive to add. I just wanted to keep everyone up to date on the <em>Intercept</em> story about the NSA <a href="" target="_blank">stealing cell phone encryption data stored on SIM chips:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Security-chip maker Gemalto NV said Wednesday that American and British intelligence services could be responsible for a &ldquo;particularly sophisticated intrusion&rdquo; of its networks several years ago, but denied that the alleged hack could have widely compromised encryption it builds into chips used in billions of cellphones world-wide.</p> <p>....Company executives also asserted that the interceptions wouldn&rsquo;t have compromised the security of its newer SIM cards for 3G and 4G cellular networks, only older 2G networks. The reason: Gemalto says the new technology no longer require it to send telecom companies the keys to decrypt individuals&rsquo; communications&mdash;so they couldn&rsquo;t have been intercepted.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. On the one hand, many of the Snowden documents are indeed fairly old, dating back to 2010 or 2011. So they could be out of date. On the other hand, the NSA didn't necessarily have to "intercept" anything here. A sufficiently sophisticated hack could presumably have given them direct access to the Gemalto database that contains the encryption keys. And needless to say, Gemalto has a vested interest in assuring everyone that their current products are safe.</p> <p>So....who knows what really happened here. We'll likely hear more about it as Gemalto's internal investigation continues.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:19:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 270921 at DHS Funding Fight Is Going Down to the Wire <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We're getting down to the wire in the funding fight over the Department of Homeland Security: DHS will shut down this weekend if funding isn't approved by Friday. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell wants to simply hold two separate votes: one to fund DHS and another to repeal President Obama's recent immigration actions. But tea partiers in the House are adamantly opposed to that: they want to keep the two things together in one bill, which they hope will force Democrats to cave in and kill the immigration plan. In reality, it will only produce deadlock in the Senate and a shutdown of DHS that Republicans will be blamed for. So what's John Boehner to do? <a href="" target="_blank">Greg Sargent comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We&rsquo;ve seen this particular thriller a number of times already. Here&rsquo;s how it always goes: We are told there&rsquo;s no way Boehner would ever dare move must-pass legislation with a lot of Democrats. He&rsquo;s stuck! Then pressure builds and builds, and Boehner does end up passing something with a lot of Democrats. Last I checked, he&rsquo;s still Speaker.</p> <p>....<strong>The fact that Boehner has the mere option of passing clean funding with the help of a lot of Democrats is rarely even mentioned. </strong>You can read article after article about this whole showdown and not be informed of that basic fact. Thus, the actual reason we&rsquo;re stuck in this crisis &mdash; Boehner is delaying the moment where he does pass something with Dems for as long as possible &mdash; goes oddly unmentioned. Yet recent history suggests that Boehner himself knows this is how it will end, and that all of this drama won&rsquo;t change the outcome.</p> </blockquote> <p>Probably so. After all, the only thing that changed in the last election was control of the Senate, and Senate Republicans are willing to compromise. The House is probably going to have to go down that road eventually too.</p> <p>But my guess is that they're going to shut down DHS for a while first. Boehner has made it pretty clear that he feels like he needs to demonstrate his conservative bona fides at the beginning of this new session of Congress, and that means holding out as long as he can. It's a waste of time, and it's going to hurt Republican efforts to work on other legislation, but that's life. Symbols are important, and Boehner needs to show whose side he's on. There's a good chance this will last a couple of weeks before it gets resolved.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Immigration Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:31:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 270916 at This Is the Best Reason Why a Newspaper Has Ever Withheld a Source's Identity <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When a <em>New York Times </em>reporter approached a random woman about the <a href="" target="_blank">improved conditions</a> inside the bathrooms at the usually disgusting Port Authority Bus Terminal, the reporter&nbsp;probably did not anticipate the question would lead to fulfilling a profound lifelong goal. Alas, dreams delivered:</p> <center> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Best reason to go off the record. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Helen Kennedy (@HelenKennedy) <a href="">February 25, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></center> <p>The brand new Port Authority, where it's always best to stay anonymous.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Media Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:19:31 +0000 Inae Oh 270911 at Rachel Maddow Slams "Ballistic" Bill O'Reilly Over Threats to Reporter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bill O'Reilly has a <a href="" target="_blank">history</a> of hurling insults and threats at his detractors. With the controversy over the <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> from <em>Mother Jones, </em><a href="" target="_blank">CNN</a>, and others that he <a href="" target="_blank">embellished</a> his reporting experience in the Falklands War, the Fox News host has added to this reputation by suggesting <em>Mother Jones</em> editor David Corn be placed in "the kill zone" and by telling a <em>New York Times</em> reporter she would face consequences if a story on the controversy did not please him.</p> <p>"I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take that as a threat," O'Reilly told <em>Times </em>reporter<a href="" target="_blank"> Emily Steel.</a></p> <p>During&nbsp;the "Debunktion Junction" <a href="" target="_blank">segment</a> on her show Tuesday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow slammed O'Reilly over his latest personal attacks and threats.</p> <p>"Fox News has a bunch of folks like Mr. O'Reilly on their shows&mdash;part of why I call them 'Republican TV,'" Maddow said. "But they also have a lot of real reporters on staff who do real reporting all day long on real news...I'm sure they don't take kindly when their own reporters get threatened for trying to do their jobs.&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">But it is hard to imagine what this is going to do to the work environment at Fox News channel for the Fox News channel's real reporters, and they do have them."</span></p> <p><strong>Watch below:</strong></p> <p><iframe border="no" height="354" scrolling="no" src="" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Media Mother Jones Wed, 25 Feb 2015 14:13:33 +0000 Inae Oh 270901 at Is the Junk-Food Era Drawing to a Close? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Not long ago, the great processed-food companies like Kraft and Kellogg's towered over the US food landscape like the high hat that adorned the head of Chef Boyardee, the iconic canned-spaghetti magnate whose empire is now owned by ConAgra.</p> <p>But now, Big Food has fallen on hard times. Conagra, which <a href="">owns</a> Hunts, Reddi Whip, Ro-Tell, Swiss Miss, and Orville Redenbacher, along with Chef Boyardee, recently <a href=";par=yahoo&amp;doc=102422608">slashed its 2015 profit projections and sacked its CEO</a>. Kraft&mdash;purveyor of Oscar Mayer deli meats, Jell-O, Maxwell House coffee, and Velveeta cheese&mdash;also recently <a href="">shook up top management </a>and <a href="">reported sluggish sales </a>in 2014. Cereal titan Kellogg's has seen its sales plunge 5.4 percent over the past year, <em>Advertising Age </em><a href="">reports</a>.</p> <p>What gives? Part of the problem is currency fluctuations. Having conquered the US market, Big Food for years has looked overseas for growth. Recently, a strong US dollar has cut into foreign profits, because a pricier dollar makes overseas sales worth less when they're converted to the US currency, as the<em> Wall Street Journal </em>recently <a href="">reported</a>.</p> <p>Currencies rise and fall, but the real specter haunting the industry may be something less ephemeral than the dollar's gyrations. Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison&mdash;whose company makes V8 juice and Pepperidge Farm baked goods along with soup&mdash;recently publicly declared that there's a "mounting distrust of so-called Big Food, the large food companies and legacy brands on which millions of consumers have relied&hellip;for so long," <a href="">reports</a> <em>Fortune</em>'s Phil Wahba, in an account from a conference at which Morrison spoke. Morrison also cited the "increasingly complex public dialog when it comes to food" as a drag on Campbell Soup's and its competitors' sales, Wahba reports.</p> <p>In other words, Big Food successfully sold a vision of cooking as a necessary inconvenience, to be dispatched with as painlessly as possible&mdash;open a soup can for dinner, unleash a squirt of artificial cream onto a boxed cake for dessert&mdash;that's starting to lose its charm.</p> <p>One reason is surely health. Over the past decade, there has been a bounty of research on the ill effects of highly processed food. And when Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller surveyed the scientific dietary literature for a paper in 2013, they <a href="">found</a> that a "diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."</p> <p>Interestingly, Katz and Meller found that as long as you stick to the "minimally processed" bit, it doesn't much matter which diet you follow: low-fat, vegetarian, and Mediterranean have all shown good results. Even the meat-centered "paleo" approach does okay. The authors conclude the "aggregation of evidence" supports meat eating, as long as the "animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods&mdash;the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by diet as we are." That's likely because cows fed on grass deliver meat and <a href="">milk</a> with a healthier fat profile than their industrially raised peers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, as Big Food flounders, sales of fresh food grown by nearby farmers continues to grow at a pace that would make a Big Food exec salivate. A recent US Department of Agriculture <a href="">report</a> found that there are now 8,268 farmers markets nationwide&mdash;a jump of 180 percent since 2006. Then there are regional food hubs, which the USDA describes as "enterprises that aggregate locally sourced food to meet wholesale, retail, institutional, and even individual demand"&mdash;the kind of operations that can move fresh food from local farms to, say, grocery stores, so you don't have to show up at the exact right time at the farmers market to get your local collard greens. Food hubs, the USDA reports, have jumped in number by 280 percent since 2007.</p> <p>Finally, there are schools&mdash;a site long dominated by Big Food, where little consumers learn eating habits before they emerge into the world as income-earning adults. According to the USDA, school districts with farm-to-school programs grew by more than 400 percent between 2007 and 2012.</p> <p>For decades, "American cuisine" was an oxymoron, the punch line to a sad joke. Billions of dollars in profits have been made betting on the US appetite for processed junk. Those days may be drawing to an end.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:00:13 +0000 Tom Philpott 270886 at Christian Singer Who Sold His Song to "Fifty Shades of Grey": "I Thought It Was a Rom-Com" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Remember your high school prom? Now imagine, for the slow dance, the class nerd&mdash;pale, big glasses, a little chubby&mdash;walked on stage and belted out the most exquisite Otis Redding cover you'd ever heard. That's what came to mind when I saw Paul Janeway, the lead singer of <a href="">St. Paul &amp; the Broken Bones</a>, perform at the Fillmore in San Francisco over Valentine's Day weekend. Featuring Janeway's wrenching vocals plus sizzling guitar, horns, and rhythm, the tight and explosive seven-piece Broken Bones banded together in Birmingham, Alabama, and released their first EP in 2012. They've since appeared <a href="">on Letterman</a> and at Bonnaroo, and released a full album, <em>Half the City</em>, produced by the keyboardist from the <a href="" target="_blank">Alabama Shakes</a>.</p> <p>Though his passionate tunes will surely inspire steamy encounters, Janeway's roots are pure: He learned to sing at his Pentecostal-leaning church. So it might come as a surprise that the band's song "Call Me" was included in <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em>, the film based on E.L. James' erotic BDSM novel.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Decked out in a crisp navy suit, a red satin pocket square, and flashy gold shoes, Janeway charged through Redding numbers during his Fillmore set, as well as a dance-worthy cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" and a killer version of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Let Me Roll It." The Broken Bones' gospel-infused originals kept the audience swaying through the show, and delivered proof that classic soul lives on through more than just covers.</p> <p>I spoke with Janeway the morning after his latest San Francisco show.</p> <p><strong>Mother Jones: </strong>You've said: "My goal in life until I was about 18 years old was to be a preacher." What was your first reaction to learning that your song would be in <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em>?</p> <p><strong>Paul Janeway:</strong> [<em>Laughs</em>.] All right, my first <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em> question! When they presented the licensing opportunity, they presented it as: It's going to be a huge movie, they want to put a decent amount of the song in the movie in a nonsexual scene.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>I knew it was a book, but I had no idea what it was. So I was like, sure, big movie, good exposure. I'll be in this romantic comedy. Which is what I thought it was: a romantic comedy. It's a good way to make money in the music business, you know. Then I saw a preview for it, and I was like, "Oh, shit. Oh, no. What have I done?"</p> <p>To me it's kind of funny. I'm glad it's in a nonsexual scene to be honest with you, not for my sake but for my family's sake. I don't have any moral things about it. It's not like we're in the movie&mdash;it's just a song for a minute.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>My friend had heard some of your songs but didn't know much about you. When we first walked in show, his first words were: "Wow, it's just a bunch of white dudes." Do you get that a lot?</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> Yeah, a little bit. It is interesting that people get kind of shocked by that, I guess. I don't ever really think about that because it's just music that we love. We're from Alabama, and if you look at the <a href="" target="_blank">Muscle Shoals Swampers</a>, that was just a bunch of white dudes. They wrote some of the best soul music ever written. I think if people don't know the musical history, I think they're like, "Oh?!"</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>I didn't realize you were so theatrical: You were humping the speakers at one point, throwing down the mic. Did that dramatic side start before you became a singer, or has music brought it out of you?</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> That's always been something I've been attracted to. I love Broadway musicals. Really for me, as St. Paul, it's an exaggeration of my personality put on to the max. It's just ridiculous. I don't typically climb on speakers in real life. It's an adventure within the show&mdash;like, okay, here's something to climb on. The first night [in San Francisco] I got on the really tall speaker and got really scared. I'm like, I'm not doin' that the second night!</p> <p>In Dallas one time, it wasn't well-lit on the stage. I jumped in front of the horn mics and I couldn't see the stage or the monitor. So I tripped over the monitor and took out both horn mics, the trombone player broke his slide out. I thought I broke my ankle, but it was just really badly bruised.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>You sing so much about love and affection: How do you get in the mood if your personal life is making you feel down or cynical?</p> <p><strong>PJ: </strong>I got married seven weeks ago. It's weird because I'm very happy, and some of the songs are about heartbreak. I'm not really heartbroken. When it's show time, when you have a song that's danceable, it's easy to sing about love and sex.</p> <p>It's really the ones about heartbreak and sadness that are difficult to handle because I have to get to a place mentally during the song that's not really where I want to be. We have this song called "<a href="" target="_blank">Broken Bones and Pocket Change</a>": Sometimes I get really emotional, and I have to take a break, 20 seconds to be like, "Okay, we're done with that one." You want the song to have the same meaning it had when you sang it the first time.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>You really belt. How do you take care of your voice?</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> A lot of Coca-Cola. [<em>Laughs</em>]. That's not really good for you, but I do drink a lot of Coke. I don't drink alcohol; I don't smoke. I never have in my 31 years on the planet. I do vocal warm-ups. I use this spray called Entertainer's Secret. And sleep. The thing is, I can sleep 12 to 13 hours. It's pretty vital to the rejuvenation of the voice. You do it night in and night out, your voice has to recuperate, it's key. I think if I was a hard partier, I think it would be a lot tougher. But I'm not; I'm pretty lame.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>I think I heard you say on stage that Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" was the best soul song of all times.</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> It's definitely one of the best. As a song live, you can't follow it. I think Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and then a William Bell song, "I Forgot to Be Your Lover." Those three songs to me&mdash;it's kind of like picking your favorite kid though.</p> <p>"Try a Little Tenderness" is an old song. But as far as Otis Redding's execution, it's one of the best executions ever. Live, it's a <em>monster</em> of a song. I don't know why we have the guts to do it. It's sacred territory. I think when we were starting out, we were too stupid to think about that. We just loved the song. We were like, we know this is a classic: If you can't measure yourself to that, you don't need to be doin' this.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Let's talk about the art of the carefully selected pocket squares. Do you pick your own?</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> I do, I do. I've actually lost quite a few at this point. They end up in my book bag or somewhere else. There was a really great one, that was like lacy, almost like panties. It was pink. That was the best pocket square I've ever had, but I cannot find it. It was amazing.</p> <p>I actually handle all that stuff myself. Those gold shoes are the only thing I like wearing&mdash;they are just flashy enough to make me feel good about doin' it.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>What's the red pin you're always wearing?</p> <p><strong>PJ:</strong> It says Alabama. It's an Alabama football thing. It's my code way to stayin' real tied to the state of Alabama&mdash;a little piece of home.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Film and TV Music Religion Top Stories Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:00:11 +0000 Maddie Oatman 270881 at