Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Jeb's Health Care Plan: More Detail, But It Probably Wouldn't Accomplish Much <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The standard-issue conservative "replacement" for Obamacare is a familiar hodgepodge of tax credits, health savings accounts, high-risk pools, block granting of Medicaid, tort reform, and interstate purchase of health plans. Today, Jeb Bush has broken the rules and <a href="" target="_blank">offered up a plan that only includes the first four.</a></p> <p>If you're grading on a curve, that's a promising start, and Jeb makes things even more interesting by actually offering up a fairly detailed set of alternatives to Obamacare. I'm not sure any Republican candidate <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_jeb_bush_health_care_plan.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">has gone anywhere near as far as he has. A few highlights:</p> <ul><li>He wants to "promote innovation" by speeding up FDA approvals, increasing funding for the NIH, establishing national standards for electronic health records (but, oddly, removing any incentive to abide by them), and conducting a "regulatory spring cleaning." Some of this is standard conservative stuff, but not all of it.</li> <li>His plan provides a tax credit that can be used to buy private health insurance for anyone who doesn't get health insurance through their employer. However, it sounds like the credit would be pretty small, probably on the order of a few thousand dollars.</li> <li>He wants to broaden the use of health savings accounts.</li> <li>He wants to get rid of Obamacare's "Cadillac tax," but he would replace it with something that sounds to me like it's basically identical. Maybe I'm missing something here.</li> <li>"States would be held accountable to ensure access for individuals with pre-existing conditions." There's a fair amount of gibberish here, and even Jeb doesn't seem especially confident that it will work. However, it's meaningless anyway since insurance companies wouldn't be required to offer policies at the same rate to everyone (aka "community rating"). "States would report on access to care," but that's it. It appears that there's nothing in Jeb's plan that prevents insurance companies from simply charging sky-high prices to anyone with a pre-existing condition.</li> <li>There is, of course, no mandate to buy insurance. This would be catastrophic for insurance companies, except for the fact that Jeb's plan doesn't require them to cover patients with pre-existing conditions in the first place.</li> <li>Jeb almost fooled me by not mentioning block-granting of Medicaid. But of course that's in there. He calls it "capped allotments" and pairs it up with a proposal to essentially deregulate state Medicaid plans completely but still "hold states accountable for outcomes"&mdash;though there's not a single word about exactly what this means. Jeb's allotment would grow at the rate of inflation, which means they'd get smaller every year since medical costs typically grow faster than inflation.</li> </ul><p>Just about every serious health care plan that truly wants to expand coverage relies on a three-legged stool: mandates, community rating, and federal subsidies. Jeb's plan doesn't include the first two and offers only a stingy version of the third. It's much more detailed than your average Republican plan, but in the end it would probably expand coverage hardly at all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 13 Oct 2015 16:36:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 286721 at McDonald's Spams Schools With Infomerical on the Virtues of Fast Food <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Robust health requires nothing more than a little exercise and a daily dose or three of fast food. That's the message of the new 20-minute video <em>540 Meals: Choices Make the Difference </em>(viewable <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, short teaser above), <a href="" target="_blank">being</a> <a href="" target="_blank">promoted</a> in high schools and middle schools by McDonald's and <a href="" target="_blank">uncovered</a> by the superb school-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel.</p> <p>The video focuses on the dietary and exercise regimen of John Cisna, who <a href="" target="_blank">identifies himself</a> as an "Iowa HS[ high school] Science Teacher who lost over 50 lbs eating only McDonald's," who "now travel[s] across the country sharing my message about food choice." Cisna <a href="" target="_blank">gained notoriety</a> when he mimicked the self-experiment of documentarian Morgan Spurlock, director/subject of the famed <em>Super-Size Me </em>(2004), and took his meals exclusively at McDonald's for six months straight. Unlike Spurlock, who saw his weight rise and his health falter, Cisna claims his weight plunged and health improved. One key difference: whereas Spurlock famously assented to any plea by a McDonald's employee to "super-size" his orders, Cisna stuck rigorously to a limit of 2,000 calories per day.</p> <p>Apparently still haunted by the specter of <em>Super-Size</em> Me a decade since its release, McDonald's embraced Cisna, taking him on as a paid<a href="" target="_blank"> "brand ambassador</a>" and now pushing his message to school kids, both through the <em>540 Meals</em> film and through appearances at schools, documented on Cisna's <a href="" target="_blank">Twitter feed</a>. Siegel uncovered this McDonald's-produced <a href="" target="_blank">"teachers discussion guide</a>" to <em>540 Meals. </em>It recommends using the film "as a supplemental video to current food and nutritional curriculum," particularly in "plans that incorporate Morgan Spurlock's<em> Super-Size Me." </em>She also points to this <a href="" target="_blank">August press release</a> from McDonald's franchisees in the New York Tri-State Area, flogging<em> 540 Meals</em> to "high school educators looking for information to demonstrate the importance of balanced food choices."</p> <p>As Siegel shows in this handy<a href="" target="_blank"> list of quotes</a> from the film, it brims with agit-prop for the famous burger-and-fries purveyor, including such wisdom as "through careful planning and mindful choices, you can still enjoy your favorite McDonald's items."</p> <p>So what's wrong with pushing Cisna's message to school kids? Plenty, writes Siegel in her <a href="" target="_blank">post</a>, which is well worth reading in its entirety. Here's a sample:</p> <blockquote> <p>First, neither <em>540 Meals</em> nor the discussion guide ever offer young viewers the critically important disclaimer that &ldquo;Your calorie needs may be significantly lower than John Cisna&rsquo;s,&rdquo; nor do they even discuss how one might go about calculating one&rsquo;s daily caloric requirements. Instead, students are left with the vague but reassuring message that &ldquo;choice and balance,&rdquo; along with a 45-minute walk (which might burn off about 1/5 of a Big Mac) will allow them to eat whatever they want at McDonald&rsquo;s on a regular basis.</p> </blockquote> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Tue, 13 Oct 2015 15:53:32 +0000 Tom Philpott 286691 at Ben Carson Is a Paranoid Nutcase <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_carson_eyes_closed.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I'm hardly the first one to notice this, but lately Ben Carson has really been letting his freak flag fly&mdash;adding to a long history of this kind of thing. For example:</p> <ul><li>A few days ago Carson peddled a conspiracy theory about <a href="" target="_blank">Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Mahmoud Abbas all being old pals</a> from their days together at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow in 1968. He refused to divulge his source for this, but instead explained it this way: "That's what I call wisdom," Carson said. "You get these pieces of information. You talk to various people. You begin to have an overall picture. You begin to understand why people do what they do."</li> <li>He insisted that <a href="" target="_blank">Hitler's rise to power</a> was accomplished "through a combination of removing guns and disseminating propaganda"&mdash;despite the plain historical fact that Hitler didn't remove anyone's guns during the period when he took power.</li> <li>Asked if the "end of days" was near, said, <a href="" target="_blank">"You could guess that we are getting closer to that."</a></li> <li>He has suggested that <a href="" target="_blank">being gay is a conscious choice</a> because "a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out they&rsquo;re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."</li> <li>Last year, before the November elections, he predicted that President Obama might <a href="" target="_blank">declare martial law and cancel the 2016 elections.</a> "If Republicans don&rsquo;t win back the Senate in November, he says, he can&rsquo;t be sure 'there will even be an election in 2016.' Later, his wife, Candy, tells a supporter that they are holding on to their son&rsquo;s Australian passport just in case the election doesn&rsquo;t go their way."</li> <li>Has repeatedly endorsed the <a href="" target="_blank">bizarre conspiracy theories of W. Cleon Skousen's 1958 book <em>The Naked Communist</em>.</a> "You would think by reading it that it was written last year&mdash;showing what they're trying to do to American families, what they're trying to do to our Judeo-Christian faith, what they're doing to morality." As my colleague David Corn notes, even most conservatives agree that Skousen was a nutcase. "He was a complete crank. He maintained that the Founding Fathers were direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel and contended that a global cabal of bankers controlled the world."</li> </ul><p>This goes well beyond merely being a very conservative guy. These are the kinds of weird beliefs and conspiracy theories that marinate in the deepest corners of right-wing websites and email lists. It's Alex Jones territory. It's time to stop whispering about this, and say out loud that Carson is just not a normal conservative guy. He's a paranoid nutcase.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 13 Oct 2015 15:22:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 286711 at Critics Pan New Show "21st Century" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Charlie Stross is unhappy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I want to complain to the studio execs who commissioned the current season of "21st century"; your show is broken.</p> <p>I say this as a viewer coming in with low expectations. Its predecessor "20th century" plumbed the depths of inconsistency with the frankly silly story arc for world war II. It compounded it by leaving tons of loose plot threads dangling until the very last minute, then tidied them all up in a blinding hurry in that bizarre 1989-92 episode just in time for the big Y2K denouement (which then fizzled). But the new series reboot is simply ridiculous! It takes internal inconsistency to a new low, never before seen in the business: the "21st century" show is just plain implausible.</p> </blockquote> <p>So far, I give the 21st century two stars. It might be better if they'd just release the whole thing at once so I could binge watch it, instead of forcing me to live through this nonsense week by week.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 13 Oct 2015 14:50:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 286706 at It Looks Like We're Stuck With Low Inflation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Back in August</a> I agreed with Brad DeLong that 4 percent inflation would be a good thing right now, but I was skeptical that the Fed could engineer this given current conditions. So I asked him what it would take. Today, I apparently made it to the <a href="" target="_blank">top of the question pile:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I think the answer is: We don't know whether it is in fact possible for a central bank today to hit a 4%/year average inflation target via conventional ordinary quantitative <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Inflation_Target.jpg" style="margin: 20px 30px 15px 30px;">easing. It might well require other tools. For example:</p> <ol><li>Miles Kimball's negative interest rates.</li> <li>Helicopter drops--that is, allowing everyone with a Social Security number to incorporate as a bank, join the Federal Reserve system, and borrow at the discount window, with the loan discharged by the individual's death.</li> <li>The Federal Reserve as infrastructure bank--an extra $500 billion/year of quantitative easing buying not government or mortgage bonds but directly-financing public investments.</li> <li>Extraordinary quantitative easing--buying not the close substitutes for money that are government bonds but rather the not-so-close substitutes that are equities.</li> </ol><p>I say: If we could win the argument about what the goal is, we could then begin the discussion about what policies would be needed to get us there.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's pretty discouraging. Of these, #2 and #3 are almost certainly illegal, and undesirable in any case. I may not like what Congress is doing, but disbursing money is certainly under their purview&mdash;and should be. I don't want the Fed mailing out checks or contracting for new roads and bridges.</p> <p>I don't know if #4 is illegal. Probably not. But I'm not crazy about this either. The Fed shouldn't be in the business of directly propping up the stock market, and certainly shouldn't be in the business of directly propping up specific stocks.</p> <p>So that leaves only #1. This one is perfectly OK, and a few European countries have adopted negative rates recently. But there's probably a limit to how negative these rates can be. Individuals could avoid negative rates by deciding to hold physical cash, which pays zero percent, but banks and corporations almost certainly couldn't. I'm not sure how long it's sustainable to essentially have two different interest rates like that.</p> <p>This is why DeLong mentions "Miles Kimball's" negative interest rates. Kimball's version depends on making the e-dollar into the unit of account, and this would allow negative rates of any level for any period of time. However, it would also require many years to make this transition. It's not an option in the short term.</p> <p>So if I'm reading DeLong right, it's not clear that the Fed could engineer 4 percent inflation <em>at all</em> right now. Maybe Scott Sumner has a bright idea about how we could do this.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:16:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 286696 at I'd Give Obama's Syria Policy a B+ <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>"I don&rsquo;t have a lot of good things to say about the Obama administration&rsquo;s Syria policy," <a href="" target="_blank">says Dan Drezner.</a> He links to <a href="" target="_blank">Adam Elkus,</a> who calls Obama's Syria strategy "semi-competent." <a href="" target="_blank">At the BBC,</a> Tara McKelvey writes about Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria, who was close to the Syrian opposition and wanted to arm them when the Assad regime started to crumble. "People in the intelligence community said the time to arm the rebels was 2012," she writes. The problem is that officials in Washington were unsure that Ford really knew the opposition well <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_syria_civil_war.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">enough. "Most of the rebels, he said, weren't 'ideologically pure', not in the way US officials wanted. 'In wars like that, there is no black and white,' he said."</p> <p>I'll agree on a few counts of the indictment against Obama. Now that the mission to arm the rebels has failed, he says he was never really for it in the first place. That's cringeworthy. The buck stops with him, and once he approved the plan, hesitantly or not, it was his plan. He should take responsibility for its failure. You can also probably make a case that we should have done more to arm the Kurds, who have shown considerable competence fighting both ISIS and Assad.</p> <p>But those are relative nits, and I'd be curious to hear more from Drezner about this. He basically agrees that arming rebels hasn't worked well in the Middle East, and there's little chance it would have worked well in Syria. "There is a strong and bipartisan 21st-century record of U.S. administrations applying military force in the Middle East with the most noble of intentions," he says, "and then making the extant situation much, much worse." He also agrees that Obama's big-picture view of Syria is correct. "The president has determined that Syria is not a core American interest and therefore does not warrant greater investments of American resources. It&rsquo;s a cold, calculating, semi-competent strategy. But it has the virtue of being better than the suggested hawkish alternatives." He agrees that those "hawkish alternatives" are basically nuts.</p> <p>So why exactly is Obama's record in Syria "semi-competent"? Why does Drezner not have much good to say about it? My only serious criticism is that Obama did too much: he never should have talked about red lines and he never should have agreed to arm and train the opposition at all. But given the real-world pressures on him, it's impressive that he's managed to restrict American intervention as much as he has. I doubt anyone else could have done better.</p> <p>There is something genuinely baffling about American hawks who have presided over failure after failure but are always certain that next time will be different. But why? If anything, Syria is <em>more</em> tangled and chaotic than Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, or any of the other Middle Eastern countries we've gotten involved in since 2001. What kind of dreamy naivete&mdash;or willful blindness&mdash;does it take to think that we could intervene successfully there?</p> <p>Anyway, that's my question. Given the real world constraints, and grading on a real-world curve, what has Obama done wrong in Syria?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:48:41 +0000 Kevin Drum 286686 at Recap: "The Good Wife" Would Like You to Stop Selling Photos of Your Naked Children <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><strong>RECAP: <em>The Good Wife</em>, Season 7, Episode 2: "Innocents."</strong></p> <p>The episode opens and the good wife is in bond court and she meets a kid who has been arrested for vandalizing some stupid photo exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Art and this kid, see, this kid just doesn&rsquo;t know how to help himself. &ldquo;I did it,&rdquo; he says over and over despite the good wife&rsquo;s pleas that he ixnay the whole confession-ay. The bond judge grants the dumb kid bail and as he&rsquo;s being led away he says to Alicia, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s me&hellip;in the photo [i defaced.] It&rsquo;s me.&rdquo;</p> <p>Eli visits Governor Bad Wife to apologize for saying some mean things during last week's episode. Peter is all, &ldquo;great, thanks, apology accepted, Alan Cumming, but you still can&rsquo;t work in the campaign.&rdquo; Eli is like &ldquo;I hear you, buddy. Live long and prosper.&rdquo;</p> <p>Can we talk about this whole thing for a second? The entire idea that Peter would fire Eli for Margo Martindale is insane. Peter owes everything to Eli and up until last week&rsquo;s episode has been acutely aware of that. I get they just needed to set up a fight for Eli to have but it really just makes Peter seem even worse than he already is.</p> <p>And, look&mdash;OK, this is turning into a rant&mdash;but Peter, the bad husband, has never been portrayed as an actually evil or nefarious person. Deeply flawed, yes, but never villainous. The whole throwing Eli under the bus thing is really annoying me. But I digress.</p> <p>Eli bumps into Margo Martindale as he&rsquo;s leaving Peter&rsquo;s office and she threatens to kill Eli if he comes near &ldquo;[her] candidate again.&rdquo; Eli asks her if she&rsquo;s seen <em>It Follows</em>. Like me, she has not. Unlike me, she hasn&rsquo;t even read the <a href="" target="_blank">Wikipedia summary.</a></p> <p>Back to the kid who hates the art. The photo is of him as a child when he was naked. His mom is a famous photographer. His mom is played by Amy Irving! I love Amy Irving. Amy Irving and my dad were in a movie once called <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Competition</em></a> where they played competing pianists who fall in love. The art vandal in this episode is basically my brother.</p> <p>Alicia needs an investigator because Kalinda is gone so she interviews a few of them. One is this guy who is clearly really good. He&rsquo;s played by a famous actor whose name I can&rsquo;t remember, but he was in <em>Watchmen</em> and various other things. He is too famous not be the one she ends up with but also his character is too rich for Alicia&rsquo;s blood. He costs $5 more than another investigator so Alicia goes with the cheaper one&hellip;for now.</p> <p>Cary and Howard are fighting about something and I don&rsquo;t know or care what.</p> <p>Mamie Gummer is back guest starring as Amy Irving&rsquo;s lawyer. The good wife feels for Amy Irving&rsquo;s son because he&rsquo;s clearly a screwed up twentysomething and it&rsquo;s probably because of all these naked photos of him running around. She is going to try to get the Chicago Museum not to show the photos.</p> <p>Eli calls the good wife and lets her know that Peter won&rsquo;t let her hire him as her chief of staff. The good wife is like, &ldquo;no way, Jos&eacute;&rdquo; and goes to visit her husband and is like &ldquo;LET ME HIRE ELI OR I WILL DESTROY YOU BY TELLING THE PRESS HOW OUR MARRIAGE IS A SHAM&rdquo; and Peter is like, &ldquo;ok ok ok ok.&rdquo;</p> <p>Amy Irving and the son she photographed nude as a child meet and he is like, &ldquo;mom, please don&rsquo;t put these photos in the museum&rdquo; and his mom is like, &ldquo;I&rsquo;m an artist, kiddo.&rdquo; Amy Irving is really good at playing a hippy artist here.</p> <p>Alicia&rsquo;s case against Amy Irving has to do with whether her son ever gave consent to be photographed nude. Mamie Gummer says Amy Irving gave consent because she is the child&rsquo;s mom.</p> <p>Margo Martidale dispatches a spy to be Eli&rsquo;s assistant and report back to her all his activities because she finally realizes that he isn&rsquo;t giving up without a fight.</p> <p>Amy Irving&rsquo;s son takes the stand and explains how ever since the photographs of him naked where made public he has received emails from pedophiles. &ldquo;After the book was published I&rsquo;d come out of school and these&hellip;men&hellip;would be waiting for me.&rdquo; Gross.</p> <p>Cary and Howard are still fighting. I don&rsquo;t want to bother trying to explain this storyline but one of Howard&rsquo;s throw away lines is: &ldquo;I can some up the Cubs turnaround in one word: Jews.&rdquo;</p> <p>The investigator Alicia hired screws up a bunch because she is utterly incompetent and Alicia is like &ldquo;damn i should have hired that famous actor who was far too famous to only appear in one scene of this TV show.&rdquo;</p> <p>Amy Irving takes the stand and is all, &ldquo;look, back off, ok? I am an artist and lots of artists use their children as subjects and if I were a man you&rsquo;d be throwing me a fucking parade&rdquo; and then the bond attorney who is now Alicia&rsquo;s second chair is like, &ldquo;I&rsquo;m not in the business of throwing parades for people who take photos of naked children.&rdquo;</p> <p>Back at Alicia's house, Eli presents the good wife with a plan to make her &ldquo;Saint Alicia&rdquo; again. She needs to go the Democratic party chief who screwed her over last season. I don&rsquo;t remember all the details of that but he was corrupt and forced Alicia to drop out of the State&rsquo;s Attorney race even though she had totally won and not done anything wrong. He is a bad corrupt person. That is all we need to know.</p> <p>The corrupt man asks Eli to let him and Alicia talk privately and is like &ldquo;I want to put you on the election board. People like people on the election board! But here&rsquo;s the thing, I need you to do me a corrupt favor. Vote No on the first vote. DON&rsquo;T ASK ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT THE FIRST VOTE WILL BE BUT JUST VOTE NO, OK?&rdquo; And the good wife says, &ldquo;ok,&rdquo; because the good wife is not a perfect human being.</p> <p>Alicia fires her shitty investigator and calls the guy from <em>Watchmen</em> but he maybe is going to work for Cary. Cary can offer him a lot more money.</p> <p>Anyway blah blah the case of the naked child continues and it isn&rsquo;t going great for Alicia and Amy Irving&rsquo;s kid but then <em>P.I. Watchmen</em> suggests she put a pedophile on the stand and the pedophile is like, &ldquo;oh yeah I love looking at those photos of that kid naked! All the pedos love it!&rdquo; It&rsquo;s a darkly humorous scene.</p> <p>The judge isn&rsquo;t convinced that it&rsquo;s kiddie porn though and is like &ldquo;museum can open!&rdquo; but then Alicia realizes she can go after Amy Irving for lost wages because the kid was a subject of the photo and was essentially working during the photo shoots. She is going to sue Amy Irving for a whole lot of money.</p> <p>It seems like ol&rsquo; good wife has Amy Irving over a barrel but then the kid is like &ldquo;mom, i don&rsquo;t want your money I just want the photos so the pedophiles will leave me alone&rdquo; and the good wife is like, &ldquo;the photos are still on the internet, kid. You can&rsquo;t unring the bell. But this money can help you start a new bell.&rdquo; Amy Irving looks at the kid and reaches her hand across the table. The kid reaches his hand and joins his in hers. This is the end of the scene.</p> <p>Peter tells Margo Martindale that Eli did a good thing by getting Alicia on the elections board and that she should call him and give him an attaboy. She is disturbed by this instruction.</p> <p>Back at the good wife&rsquo;s home we find out that she won the case on behalf of Amy Irving&rsquo;s son and got a nice chunk of change so apparently that handshake meant Amy Irving was agreeing to pay her kid. The male investigator shows up and is all &ldquo;knock knock, I have a really good offer. Can you beat it?&rdquo; We know what the offer is but Alicia does not. Diane offered him $250 an hour. Alicia says, &ldquo;what&rsquo;s the offer I have to beat?&rdquo; And Jeffrey Dean Morgan (thank god, I finally remembered his name) lies to her and says, &ldquo;$90 an hour.&rdquo; Alicia offers him $95 which is still way less than the $250 he was really offered but he says yes because he likessssssssss her.</p> <p>The end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Mixed Media Film and TV Ben's Thoughts Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:10:16 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 286681 at Another Long, Hot Summer of Catcalling Is Coming to a Close <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hannah Giorgis writes about the endless struggle with <a href="" target="_blank">catcalling in New York City:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After another summer spent shrugging off men&rsquo;s loud assessments of my body any time I left my apartment, I am exhausted. And as the streets thin out and the weather cools to a temperature less accommodating of men who consider catcalling a leisure sport, I am increasingly able to pause and feel the depth of my own fatigue.</p> <p>....Every outing involves dozens of split-second decisions. The short, loose dress or the long, form-fitting one? The almost-empty subway car or the crowded one? The shorter route or the more well-lit one?....My mind can only make so many daily calculations before it slips into what social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister calls &ldquo;decision fatigue.&rdquo; Processing each of these useless equations takes a biological toll on my brain, leaving it more inclined, as the day wears on, to look for shortcuts.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the whole thing. Or, if you'd prefer a video dramatization of what it's like, check out the YouTube below.</p> <p><iframe align="middle" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="" style="margin: 20px 0px 5px 65px;" width="500"></iframe></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 12 Oct 2015 14:03:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 286676 at Country-Rocker Corb Lund Shows Off His Wit and High-Lonesome Voice <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><strong>Corb Lund<br><em>Things That Can't Be Undone</em><br> New West</strong></p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CBcoverFinal.jpg" style="height: 300px; width: 300px;"></div> <p>With his flexible, high-lonesome voice and witty songs, Corb Lund makes records that have real staying power. On <em>Things That Can't Be Undone</em>, his first studio outing in three years, the Canadian country-rocker and his nimble supporting trio, the Hurtin' Albertans, dispatch sizzling boogie rave-ups and heart-tugging ballads equally well, uncorking a batch of snappy tunes bigger names would be smart to cover. Among the high points: "Weight of the Gun," a loping tale of regret in the spirit of vintage Johnny Cash, "Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues," a hilarious unofficial sequel to Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It," and the haunting war story "Sadr City." Then again, there's not a dull or false note to be found on this remarkable and rewarding album.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Music Mon, 12 Oct 2015 10:00:11 +0000 Jon Young 286306 at Report: John Boehner Is the Guy Who's Kept the Hillary Email Scandal Alive <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Back when the Benghazi committee started up, Rep. Trey Gowdy swore that it was nothing more than an impartial search for the truth about a raid that cost four American lives. So how is that coming along? <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">The <em>New York Times</em> reports:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Now, 17 months later &mdash; longer than the Watergate investigation lasted &mdash; interviews with current and former committee staff members as well as internal committee documents reviewed by <em>The New York Times</em> show the extent to which <strong>the focus of the committee&rsquo;s work has shifted from the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack to the politically charged issue of Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.</strong></p> <p>....The committee has <strong>conducted only one of a dozen interviews</strong> that Mr. Gowdy said in February that he planned to hold with prominent intelligence, Defense Department and White House officials, and it has held none of the nine public hearings &mdash; with titles such as &ldquo;Why Were We in Libya?&rdquo; &mdash; that internal documents show have been proposed.</p> <p>At the same time, the committee has <strong>added at least 18 current and former State Department officials to its roster of witnesses,</strong> including three speechwriters and an <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_boehner_clinton.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">information technology specialist who maintained Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s private email server.</p> </blockquote> <p>From the standpoint of a genuine Benghazi investigation, Hillary Clinton's email issues wouldn't matter. All the committee would care about is getting a look at the emails from her private server&mdash;which is now happening. For some reason, though, they care deeply about investigating that email server to death, even though it has nothing to do with the Benghazi attacks. Why is that?</p> <p>A friend of mine has tried to persuade me that Gowdy is probably playing things straight. I've argued that I don't believe it. He's a true believer, and he cares a lot more about taking down Democrats than he does about Benghazi itself, which he probably knows perfectly well has already been investigated to death. So which of us is right? This tidbit sheds a bit of light on things:</p> <blockquote> <p>[Gowdy] said that at one point this spring he told John A. Boehner, the House speaker, that he feared the task of investigating the email issue would distract from his committee&rsquo;s work....<strong>[and] pressed Mr. Boehner to have another House committee examine the matter of Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s emails,</strong> but that Mr. Boehner had rejected the request.</p> <p>....Senior Republican officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing confidential conversations, said that <strong>Mr. Boehner had long been suspicious of the administration&rsquo;s handling of the attacks and that Mrs. Clinton&rsquo;s emails gave him a way to keep the issue alive and to cause political problems for her campaign.</strong> But he thought that the task was too delicate to entrust to others and that it should remain with Mr. Gowdy, the former prosecutor.</p> </blockquote> <p>If this is true, my friend is halfway right: Gowdy never really wanted to get distracted with politically motivated attacks on Hillary Clinton. But John Boehner did, and he figured Gowdy was the best man for the job.</p> <p>I'm not quite sure what this says about Gowdy, but it's certainly clear that Boehner thought that manipulating the media into nonstop reporting on Hillary's email server was a great idea. He also figured the media would take the bait. And they did.</p> <p>So Gowdy gets, oh, let's say a C+. He tried to do the right thing, but caved in pretty quickly. Boehner gets a D. He was all about taking down Hillary Clinton from the get-go. The media gets an F. Boehner at least has the excuse of being a senior Republican leader, and attacking Democrats comes with the territory. But the media is not supposed to be so gullible that they believe everything Republicans say about Democratic leaders. In the case of Hillary Clinton, though, that rule seems to have been suspended. Again.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 12 Oct 2015 05:04:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 286671 at Benghazi Staffers Spent Their Days Designing Personalized "Tiffany Glocks" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Who said this?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>He described to CNN an office environment in which employees spent their days Web surfing and sometimes drinking at work. He said staffers joined a &ldquo;gun buying club&rdquo; for &ldquo;chrome-plated, monogrammed, Tiffany-style Glock 9-millimeters,&rdquo; and some would spend hours at a time at work designing the personalized weapons.</p> </blockquote> <p>Answer: Maj. Bradley Podliska, a former member of the House Benghazi committee, who claims he was fired for refusing to spend his time focused solely on Hillary Clinton instead of actually investigating Benghazi. I don't know yet if I believe him, but the whole Tiffany Glock thing sounds way too weird to have been made up.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 11 Oct 2015 05:31:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 286661 at Was the "California Stop" Really Invented in California? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_california_stop.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">On my way home from lunch today I saw the billboard on the right. Seems like it should be "California Alto" or something, shouldn't it? I guess "California Stop" is one of those things that's famous enough that it's always rendered in its native language.</p> <p>But I'm curious: where did "California Stop" come from, anyway? I won't claim that I have a ton of experience driving all over the country, but I've driven in plenty of places both east and west, and it seems to me that people are pretty casual about stop signs everywhere. Sure enough, on a message board that posted a question about this, various folks said that in their neck of the woods it was called a:</p> <ul><li>St. Louis Stop</li> <li>New York Stop</li> <li>Hollywood Stop</li> <li>New Orleans Stop</li> </ul><p>This suggests that it really is common everywhere, but it's equally common to think it's unique to your own city/state/region. But if that's the case, why is it so common to call it a California Stop? Did we do it first? Is it related to California pioneering the right-on-red rule? Anybody know what the deal is?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 11 Oct 2015 00:15:03 +0000 Kevin Drum 286656 at Have You Ever Thought About the Republican Party? I Mean, Really Thought About It? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As much as we've talked about it, I wonder if we've really gotten our heads around the fact that Paul Ryan is literally being begged to be the leader of the Republican Party. He is Literally. Being. Begged. To be the leader of one of America's two major parties! And he doesn't want it, no how, no way. Because he knows there's a substantial faction of his party that's insane. And who would know better?</p> <p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_boehner_ryan_stoners.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">I feel like this is one of those things that maybe you can only truly comprehend after a couple of blunts:</p> <blockquote> <p>Boehner: Dude, have you ever thought about the Republican Party? I mean, <em>really</em> thought about it?</p> <p>Ryan: I know. <em>I know.</em> It's, like, insane, man. (Giggles, coughs.) This is good stuff. Medical, right?</p> <p>Boehner: That's it! Totally insane. I mean, completely batshit fucked up.</p> <p>Ryan: But awesome. Insane but <em>still awesome</em>. I mean, seriously, it's our only defense against, like, total socialism.</p> <p>Boehner: Oh man, you been reading <em>Atlas Shrugged</em> again? You're bumming me out, dude.</p> </blockquote> <p>And while we're on the subject, I have another idea. As thousands of people have pointed out, nothing in the Constitution says the Speaker has to be a member of Congress. This has spawned a whole cottage industry of jokes. Donald Trump! Bibi Netanyahu! Rush Limbaugh! But I have another idea: does it have to be one person? Here's the relevant text:</p> <blockquote> <p>The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers....</p> </blockquote> <p>Sure, "Speaker" is singular in that sentence, but "Speaker and other Officers" suggests that maybe leadership of the House could be shared. How about a triumvirate, like Rome in its glory days? Ryan could be one, some tea party nutcase could be another, and the third could be, um, Mia Love, who's a black woman and the daughter of immigrants. I'm not sure how they'd make decisions, but I guess they'd figure out something. Maybe rock paper scissors.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 10 Oct 2015 17:08:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 286651 at Donald Trump Has Big Plans to Reform the NIH <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A few days ago Donald Trump called into Michael Savage's radio show. Savage suggested that if Trump wins, he would like to be appointed head of the National Institutes of Health. <a href="" target="_blank">Trump responded:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Well, you know you'd get common sense if that were the case, that I can tell you, <strong>because I hear so much about the NIH,</strong> and it's terrible.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is appalling on several levels, but the part that made me laugh is in bold. It's such vintage Trump. Can you just picture this? People practically mobbing Trump in the streets to complain about the NIH? Hell, I'd be willing to bet a week's salary that Trump had never even heard of the NIH until Savage mentioned it.</p> <p>Then again, maybe I'm just easily amused these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sat, 10 Oct 2015 15:30:50 +0000 Kevin Drum 286646 at Friday Cat Blogging - 9 October 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hmmm. What happened here? There is no documentary record, so perhaps if Hopper hides no one will connect her with it. Worth a try! Meanwhile, Hilbert hangs around absentmindedly, not realizing that his sister is doing her best to pin the rap entirely on him. That's family values, folks.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hilbert_hopper_2015_10_09.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 40px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:55:12 +0000 Kevin Drum 286631 at The "Gig Economy" Is Mostly Just Silicon Valley Hype <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>How big is the "gig economy"? An Uber driver is the archetypal gig worker, but more generally it refers to anyone who works independently on a contingent basis. This means, for example, that an old school freelance writer qualifies.</p> <p>Still, it's tech that's driving the gig hype, and if the hype is true then the number of gig workers should be going up. Lydia DePillis takes a look at this today and <a href="" target="_blank">recommends two sources:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Freelancers Union, which advocates for self-employed people of all kinds, recently came up with the 53 million number Warner mentioned. MBO Partners, which provides tools for businesses that use contractors, put it at 30.2 million. But for lawmaking purposes, <strong>it's probably a good idea to get your information from a source that doesn't have a commercial interest in the numbers it's putting out.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>True enough, but let's start with these folks. <a href="" target="_blank">The Freelancers Union</a> reports that in 2015 the gig economy "held steady" at 34 percent of the workforce. <a href="" target="_blank">MBO Partners</a> reports that it "held firm" at 30 million. They additionally report that it's increased 12 percent in the past five years, which is <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gig_economy.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">not especially impressive considering that total employment has increased 9 percent over the same period.</p> <p>The government does not track this directly, and I assume that these two sources are generally motivated to be cheerleaders for the gig economy, which means their numbers are about as optimistic as possible. If that's true, it looks as though the gig economy is almost entirely smoke and mirrors. After all, if it were a big phenomenon it would be getting bigger every year as technology became an ever more important part of our lives. And yet, both sources agree that 2015, when the economy was doing fairly well, showed no growth at all in the gig economy. What's more, as <a href="" target="_blank">Jordan Weissmann</a> and others have pointed out, what little government data we have isn't really consistent with the idea that the gig economy is growing.</p> <p>So be wary of the hype. Maybe the gig economy will be a big thing in the future. Maybe the tech portion is growing, but the growth is hidden by a decline in traditional freelancing. Maybe. For now, though, it appears to be mostly just another example of the reality distortion hype that Silicon Valley is so good at.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:22:35 +0000 Kevin Drum 286626 at Monsanto's Stock Is Tanking. Is the Company's Own Excitement About GMOs Backfiring? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Pity Monsanto, the genetically modified seed and agrichemical giant. Its share price has <a href=",%22allowChartStacking%22:true%7D" target="_blank">plunged 25 percent</a> since the spring. Market prices for corn and soybeans are in the dumps, meaning Monsanto's main customers&mdash;farmers who specialize in those crops&mdash;have less money to spend on its pricey seeds and flagship herbicide (which recently got named a "<a href="" target="_blank">probable carcinogen"</a> by the World Health organization, <a href="" target="_blank">spurring lawsuits</a>).</p> <p>Monsanto's long, noisy attempt to buy up rival pesticide giant Syngenta <a href="" target="_blank">crumbled into dust last month</a>. And Wednesday, Monsanto reported quarterly revenues and profits that <a href="" target="_blank">sharply underperformed Wall Street expectations</a>. For good measure, it also sharply <a href="" target="_blank">lowered its profit projections for the year ahead</a>.</p> <p>In response to these unhappy trends, the company announced it was slashing 2,600 jobs, <a href="" target="_blank">12 percent of its workforce</a>, and spending $3 billion to buy back shares. Share buybacks are a form of <a href="" target="_blank">financial</a> (as opposed to genetic) engineering&mdash;they magically boost a company's earnings-per-share ratio (a metric closely watched by investors) simply by removing shares from the market. And buybacks <a href="" target="_blank">divert money from things like R&amp;D</a>&mdash;or keeping a company's workforce whole&mdash;and into the pockets of shareholders.</p> <p>In a conference call with investors (<a href="" target="_blank">transcript</a>), Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant put a positive spin on the company's prospects. "Our germplasm performance has never been better, our trait technology has continued to leap and our market position and pipeline remains strong," he <a href="" target="_blank">declared</a>. But later, he hit upon a theme that became obvious when Monsanto was stalking Syngenta: that Monsanto's leadership feels the company is too invested in high-tech seeds, and underinvested in old-fashioned pesticides. (The market for Syngenta owns the globe's leading position.)</p> <p>In the call, Jeff Zekauskas, an analyst with JP MorganChase, <a href="" target="_blank">asked</a> Grant whether Monsanto was still interested in boosting its pesticide portfolio by buying a competitor. Grant's <a href="" target="_blank">answer</a> was essentially yes: "We still believe in the opportunity of integrated solutions," i.e., selling more pesticides along with seeds. He added:</p> <blockquote> <p>We've got a 400 million acre seed technology footprint. We've seen time and time again that we can increase revenue and improve grower service by bringing chemistry up on that footprint.</p> </blockquote> <p>Translation: Our patented seeds and traits are sown on 400 million acres worldwide (about four times the size of California), and if we could sell more pesticides (chemistry) to the people who farm those acres, we could make more money. Later, he noted:</p> <blockquote> <p>We continue to see duplication in R&amp;D in the sector. We continue to see the low effectiveness of R&amp;D with some of our competitors and we continue to think that consolidation in this space is inevitable.</p> </blockquote> <p>Translation: Research-and-development investments in the ag-biotech/agrichemical sector aren't paying off&mdash;not enough blockbuster new products&mdash;so the few companies remaining in the field (there are <a href="" target="_blank">six</a>) are going to start swallowing each other up.&nbsp;</p> <p>Massive layoffs, share buybacks, dreams of buying up the pesticide portfolios of competitors&mdash;these aren't characteristics of a company confident in the long-term profitability of its core technology: the genetic modification of crops.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Fri, 09 Oct 2015 18:08:24 +0000 Tom Philpott 286576 at Here's Why Sea World in San Diego Can't Breed Killer Whales Any Longer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sea_world_map.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">You may have seen the news that Sea World in San Diego will <a href="" target="_blank">no longer be allowed to breed killer whales:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>After an all-day meeting that drew hundreds of supporters and critics of the park, the California Coastal Commission moved to ban captive whale breeding and drastically restrict the movement of whales in and out of the park.</p> </blockquote> <p>The California Coastal Commission? Why do they have any say over Sea World's orca breeding? One of the charmingly idiosyncratic aspects of governance in California is that the Coastal Commission regulates all construction done within about 1000 yards of the coastline. As you can see, Sea World is well within that boundary, and it so happens that they wanted to build a bigger tank for their killer whales. But they could only do this if the Coastal Commission approved it.</p> <p>Still confused? Well, the initiative that created the Coastal Commission didn't really put any boundaries on the commission's power. They can pretty much cut any deal they want, which is why they're so furiously hated by every gazillionaire who lives near the coast. In this case, their deal was this: you can build the bigger tank, but only if you stop breeding whales and don't bring any new ones in. And that was that.</p> <p>This has been today's California Explainer for all you poor folks who are forced to live in less desirable parts of the country and don't understand our tribal customs. You're welcome.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 17:37:39 +0000 Kevin Drum 286611 at Ben Carson Is Wrong About Hitler and Guns <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">More guns, fewer holocausts?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Ben Carson said Thursday that Adolf Hitler&rsquo;s mass murder of Jews "would have been greatly diminished&rdquo; if German citizens had not been disarmed by the Nazi regime&hellip;"But just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would 6 million Jews have been slaughtered?" Blitzer asked.</p> <p>"I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed," Carson said&hellip;"I&rsquo;m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first."</p> </blockquote> <p>This got me curious: <em>Did</em> Hitler take away everyone's guns? As you can imagine, I know zilch about the history of gun control in Germany, so I surfed <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hitler_nuremburg.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">over to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, for a quick refresher course. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's what they say:</a></p> <ul><li>In 1919, the Treaty of Versaille disarmed Germany. "Fearing inability to hold the state together during the depression, the German government adopted a sweeping series of gun confiscation legislation." This was long before Hitler came to power.</li> <li>In 1928 this legislation was relaxed. "Germans could possess firearms, but they were required to have [] permits&hellip;Furthermore, the law restricted ownership of firearms to '&hellip;persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who can show a need for a permit.'" Again, this was before Hitler came to power.</li> <li>In 1938, Hitler relaxed the law further. Rifles and shotguns were completely deregulated, permits were extended to three years, and the age at which guns could be purchased was lowered to 18.</li> </ul><p>Now, Hitler <em>did</em> effectively ban Jews from owning guns in 1938. However, this is highly unlikely to have affected the fate of the Jews even slightly. The Nazis were considerably better armed and organized, and if Jews had taken to shooting them it would have accomplished nothing except giving Joseph Goebbels some terrific propaganda opportunities. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a good example of this: Jews fought back, and the result was a few dead Germans and 13,000 dead Jews.</p> <p>The bottom line is familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of history: Hitler was popular. He didn't need to take away anyone's guns. Whatever you think about gun control, using Hitler to defend your position is a bad idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 16:16:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 286601 at Hillary Clinton Wants to Cut Mega-Banks Down to Size <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bring back Glass-Steagall! This is a popular cry among lefty populists, but it's probably not a very good idea on the merits. Glass-Steagall is a New Deal law that split up commercial banks and investment banks, and it was repealed in 1999. Ten years later Wall Street went up in smoke. But commercial banks and investment banks both had problems, and so did combined banks. The repeal of Glass-Steagall really had nothing to do with it.</p> <p>On the other hand, the repeal of Glass-Steagall did allow banks to get bigger, and that increased size <em>was</em> a problem. When small banks go bust, we just clean up the mess and get on with things. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_big_banks.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">When gigantic banks go bust, Wall Street goes up in smoke.</p> <p>So rather than turning back the clock and reinstating Glass-Steagall, a better idea is to address bank size directly. The Fed approved one approach to this a couple of months ago by requiring the very biggest banks to hold <a href="" target="_blank">larger capital reserves than smaller banks:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>As well as making the big banks safer, <strong>the rules may also persuade them to get smaller.</strong> Capital is an economically expensive funding source for a bank. As regulators demand that large banks have more capital, their overall expenses rise. In turn, the banks may decide to pare down their less profitable businesses and shrink over time. Previous regulatory initiatives that increased capital already seem to have had that effect, and the Fed may want to see that continue.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hillary Clinton wants to go even further by directly taxing big banks, and taxing them even more if their capital structure is relatively risky. <a href="" target="_blank">Matt Yglesias runs down her plan for us:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Clinton doesn't spell out precise numbers for her fee, perhaps recognizing that in the real world this would all be subject to negotiation in Congress anyway. But the key pillars are:</p> <blockquote> <ul><li>The fee would be assessed on banks with more than $50 billion in assets (34 banks fit the bill as of today, though two of them are very close to the line) as well as on a handful of other institutions that the government has already flagged for extra regulatory scrutiny.</li> <li>The fee rate would be higher on short-term debt than on long-term debt.</li> <li>The fee rate would be higher on banks with more debt in their financing structure.</li> <li>FDIC-insured bank deposits would be exempt from the fee.</li> </ul></blockquote> <p>The upshot of all this would be to <strong>nudge the banking system toward institutions becoming either smaller or else more boring,</strong> because risky activity would be more profitable in a smaller institution than in a larger one. The result would be to push risk out of the kinds of institutions whose failure would be catastrophic, without impeding banks' ability to become big per se.</p> </blockquote> <p>So wonky. So boring. But, as Yglesias says, also a pretty good idea. That's often the case with well-thought-out plans.</p> <p>In any case, the Fed plan affects the eight biggest banks in the country. Hillary's plan would affect 34 banks. And of course, the eight mega-banks would have to abide by the Fed's higher capital requirements <em>and</em> Hillary's tax.</p> <p>All of these plans, by the way, are roundabout methods of reducing the amount of leverage that big banks can engage in. As a purist, I'd prefer to just pass rules that directly regulate leverage levels. But that's easier said than done, and higher capital requirements are a close substitute. Hillary's plan is even more indirect, but it also reduces risk by nudging banks to get smaller. Lots of leverage is still bad, but a smaller bank that goes bust is less catastrophic than a bigger one that goes bust.</p> <p>More details are <a href="" target="_blank">here,</a> part of the Clinton campaign's <a href="" target="_blank">rather startling array of detailed policy statements.</a> It's enough to make you think she might be a wee bit more serious than anyone on the Republican side.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 15:24:27 +0000 Kevin Drum 286596 at All Those Annoying Drug Ads on TV Might Be Paying Off <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Good news! According to a new study, the placebo response is getting stronger, and if this continues perhaps all our pain woes will soon be treatable with sugar pills. <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_placebo_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">But this is happening only in the United States for some reason. <a href="" target="_blank">Why?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One possible explanation is that <strong>direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs</strong> &mdash; allowed only in the United States and New Zealand &mdash; has increased people&rsquo;s expectations of the benefits of drugs, creating stronger placebo effects. But Mogil&rsquo;s results hint at another factor. "Our data suggest that the longer a trial is and the bigger a trial is, the bigger the placebo is going to be," he says.</p> <p><strong>Longer, bigger US trials probably cost more, and the glamour and gloss of their presentation might indirectly enhance patients&rsquo; expectations,</strong> Mogil speculates. Some larger US trials also use contract research organizations that can employ nurses who are dedicated to the trial patients, he adds &mdash; giving patients a very different experience compared to those who take part in a small trial run by an academic lab, for instance, where research nurses may have many other responsibilities.</p> </blockquote> <p>So good old glamor and gloss&mdash;American specialties, for sure&mdash;could be making anything in the shape of a pill more effective. On the other hand, the paper itself <a href=";issue=00000&amp;article=99737&amp;type=abstract" target="_blank">suggests a more prosaic possibility:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Our study results are of course potentially influenced by trends in study quality and/or publication bias....In the past, small studies were conducted. If they had a large placebo response, they did not show a positive treatment advantage and therefore they were not published. In contemporary U.S. studies, trials are typically large enough to detect positive treatment advantage despite large placebo responses, and therefore reported placebo responses appear to have increased.</p> </blockquote> <p>So it's possible this is all an artifact of publication bias. In the past, studies with null results for the target drug (i.e., large placebo responses) never saw the light of day. Then pharma companies got smart, and started running larger trials that would show statistically significant results no matter what. So all the studies got published, even those with large placebo responses.</p> <p>You may decide which to believe. I recommend believing the glitz and glamor explanation, since glitz and glamor are bound to get ever glitzier and more glamorous over time, and are thus likely to improve your pain more. And really, who cares <em>why</em> your pain gets better? If it's better drugs, fine. If it's because pharma companies are spending lots of money on marketing, fine. Just make it go away, please.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 14:48:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 286586 at Donald Trump's Base Is Pretty Old, But Not All That Conservative <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Someone asked me the other day where Donald Trump's support comes from. I realized I didn't really know, so I figured I should check it out. According to David Brady and Douglas Rivers, a pair of political scientists at Stanford, recent YouGov polls <a href="" target="_blank">break it down like this:</a></p> <ul><li>Not particularly ideological....20 percent of Trump's supporters describe themselves as &ldquo;liberal&rdquo; or &ldquo;moderate,&rdquo; with 65 percent saying they are &ldquo;conservative&rdquo; and only 13 percent labeling themselves as &ldquo;very conservative.&rdquo;</li> <li>A bit older, less educated, and less affluent than the average Republican.</li> <li>Slightly over half are women.</li> <li>About half are between 45-64 years of age, 34 percent over 65, and less than 2 percent younger than 30.</li> <li>One half of his voters have a high school education or less, compared to 19 percent with a college or post-graduate degree.</li> <li>Slightly over a third of his supporters earn less than $50,000 per year, while 11 percent earn over $100,000 per year.</li> </ul><p>The only two of these that are noteworthy are the first one, which shows that Trump's appeal spans ideological boundaries, and the fourth one, which shows that his support comes almost exclusively from the middle-aged and the elderly. Aside from that, he appears to be a fairly standard issue Republican.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Fri, 09 Oct 2015 13:25:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 286581 at British Photographer Don McCullin Gets a Smashing Present for His Birthday <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Without question, British photographer <a href="" target="_blank">Don McCullin</a> is one of the best and most influential photojournalists of the 20th century. With his visceral frontline images, he brought intense, gut wrenching moments of combat into the homes of millions. A regular photographer for London's <em>Sunday Times Magazine</em>, McCullin's work ran in all the major magazines and newspapers. He unflinchingly showed readers exactly what was happening in the wars being fought in their names.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="Don McCullin sitting for a portrait" class="image" height="466" src="/files/AP_653780560191-630.jpg" width="350"><div class="caption"><strong>Photojournalist Don McCullin CBE at the Oxford Union, Oxfordshire, Britain, 2014. </strong>Roger Askew/REX/AP</div> </div> <p>McCullin spent decades in the thick of some of the most hellish wars: from Vietnam to Biafra, Czechoslovakia, then Northern Ireland, the genocide of Brazilian Indians. He was one of the few photojournalists to cover the Khmer Rouge's take over of Cambodia (where he was badly wounded). In Uganda he was captured and held in the cell right next to where executions were taking place. He covered Beirut off and on for years. In between those wars, he didn't let up, photographing the homeless in London, the Bangladeshi monsoon of 1971 and the Consett steel works in Northern U.K. Later McCullin began shifting away from wars to photographing less damaging subjects. He made trips to India and Indonesia, photographing quieter moments.</p> <p>This retrospective, <a href="" target="_blank">first published by Random House UK in 2001</a>, is being re-released to coincide with McCullin's 80th birthday on October 9th, 2015. Since this book's original publication, McCullin's still been at it&ndash;this edition is updated with newer images shot since 2001, photos that flow incongruously with the classics. The new edition includes an entire new section on African work from 2004, a handful of new photos from India. And it should be noted that McCullin covered the war in Iraq and the early days of the Syrian conflict, shooting Aleppo in 2012.</p> <p>Though it should go without saying, this is not a book for the squeamish. As with most books of war photography, there are some very graphic pictures. But it's also not just a collection of war photos and it's nothing compared to his earlier photobooks that really pulled back the curtain on the violent, bloody reality of war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Don_McCullin_Render_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Don McCullin (Aperture, 2015) </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images<br> &nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mccullin-1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Outside Buckingham Palace, 1960 </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images<br> &nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mccullin-2.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Fishermen playing during their lunch break, Scarborough, Yorkshire, 1967 </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mccullin-3.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Vietnamese family after a grenade-attack on their bunker, Hue, 1968 </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mccullin-6.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>The battlefields of the Somme, France, 2000 </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/mccullin-7.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Consett, County Durham, 1974 </strong>Don McCullin/Contact Press Images</div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Mixed Media Slideshows Books Human Rights International Military Fri, 09 Oct 2015 10:00:09 +0000 Mark Murrmann 286341 at Don't Do It, Paul! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">REPORT:</a> John Boehner is personally asking Paul Ryan to step up and be Speaker. They have spoken twice today by phone....Boehner told Ryan he is the only person who can unite GOP at this crisis moment. Ryan undecided but listening, per source.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_young_guns_gone.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 140px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Thu, 08 Oct 2015 23:29:46 +0000 Kevin Drum 286566 at Smoking Will Kill 1 in 3 Young Men in China <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Smoking will kill one in three young men in China unless rates of tobacco use drop dramatically, according to a new <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> in the medical journal<em> The Lancet.</em></p> <p>The study, led by Oxford University epidemiologist Zhengming Chen, is full of eye-opening stats: In 2010 alone, smoking accounted for 1 million Chinese deaths, primarily of men. If the current trend continues, that number will double by 2030. (In the United States, cigarettes kill 480,000 people annually&mdash;a number that's been steadily declining over the last several decades and is expected to keep dropping.)<strong> </strong>"About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20," explains Chen. "Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit."</p> <p>The researchers came to these conclusions by conducting two nationally representative studies&mdash;the first in the 90s, the second 15 years later&mdash;that tracked the health outcomes of smoking among a total of 730,000 men and women.</p> <p>There is some good news: While smoking among men has increased dramatically in recent years, smoking among women has plummeted, to roughly 3 percent of the population. And the proportion of smokers overall who have chosen to quit rose from 3 percent to 9 percent between 1991 and 2006.</p> <p>The high smoking rates are fueled by low prices. "Over the past 20 years, tobacco deaths have been decreasing in Western countries, partly because of price increases," said Richard Peto, a co-author of the study. "For China, a substantial increase in cigarette prices could save tens of millions of lives." Pervasive myths don't help either, including beliefs that Asians are less susceptible to tobacco's effects and smoking is easy to quit. The World Health Organization <a href="" target="_blank">estimates</a> that only a quarter of Chinese adults have a "comprehensive understanding" of smoking's hazards.</p> <p>This lack of awareness is hardly surprising when you look into who's selling the cigarettes: An estimated 98 percent of the Chinese cigarette market is controlled by China National Tobacco Corporation, a government-owned conglomerate that runs more than 160 cigarette brands. According to a <a href="" target="_blank">Bloomberg Business feature</a> on the topic, the industry accounts for 7 percent of the country's revenue each year and employs roughly 500,000 people. In 2013, the company manufactured 2.25 trillion cigarettes. (Philip Morris International, the second-largest producer, manufactured 880 billion.)</p> <p>"The extent to which the government is interlocked with the fortunes of China National might best be described by the company&rsquo;s presence in schools," writes Bloomberg's Andrew Martin. "Slogans over the entrances to sponsored elementary schools read, 'Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.'"</p></body></html> MoJo China Health International Thu, 08 Oct 2015 23:03:16 +0000 Julia Lurie 286516 at