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Chart: Happy Days Are Here Again—for the Superwealthy

| Tue Sep. 23, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

With Washington paralyzed on bread-and-butter issues and the midterms ahead, we put together a primer on the state of America's frozen paychecks. We'll be posting a new chart every day for the next couple of weeks. Today's chart: How the recovery left most Americans behind.

The Great Recession officially ended five years ago, but that's news for millions of Americans: A stunning 95 percent of income growth since the recovery started has gone to the superwealthy. The top 1 percent has captured almost all post-recession income growth. Compare that with how they did during these historic booms:

Sources: Boom and recovery gains, 1% gains: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel); average household income: Census Bureau.

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Photos: Warner Bros; Peter Morgan/Reuters; Christoph Dernbach/DPA/ZumaPress; Steve Jennings/Wireimage/Getty Images; Bo Rader/Witchita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images; Kimberly White/Reuters

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Stop Everything And Let This 11-Year-Old Boy Give You Hope For the Future

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 5:58 PM EDT

Last month, in the midst of nightly protests over the killing of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, an 11-year-old boy named Marquis Govan approached the podium at a meeting of the St. Louis County Council, pulled the mic down to his height, and calmly delivered an incredibly well-informed, thoughtful, and stirring set of remarks.

"The people of Ferguson, I believe, don't need tear gas thrown at them," he said. "I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don't need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses." He wasn't reading from notes, and the clearly stunned adults in the room gave him a round of applause when he finished.

If all this sounds surprising from a sixth-grader, Govan, a politics junkie who lives with his great-grandmother in St. Louis, drops more adult-sized portions of knowledge in this interview with CBS Sunday Morning. Don't miss it.

Emma Watson Explains Why Feminism Has Nothing to Do With "Man-Hating"

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 5:41 PM EDT

 

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters this past weekend, actress Emma Watson delivered a moving speech on the importance of gender equality, explaining why feminism is a crucial issue for everyone, not just the ladies.

"The more I've spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating," Watson said. "If there's one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women have equal rights and opportunities."

The 24-year-old Watson, who was appointed a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador six months ago, was speaking on behalf of the "HeForShe" campaign, which urges both men and boys to join the fight for women's rights.

In the deeply personal speech, Watson revealed she began questioning gender-based assumptions early on in her life, most notably after she began being sexualized by the media at the age of 14 and watching girlfriends quit sports because they didn't want to appear "bulky."

Watch the inspiring speech above.

 

Carbon Emissions Are Higher Than Ever, and Rising

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 2:34 PM EDT

Yesterday was a good day for the climate movement, as over 300,000 people—according to the event's organizers—descended on Manhattan for the biggest climate change march in history. The record-breaking turnout was a powerful sign that climate change is gaining traction in mainstream consciousness.

But even as the marchers were marching, new science was released that underscores how just how little time the world has left to break its addiction to fossil fuels. Global carbon emissions are the highest they've ever been, and are on the rise, according to a new climate study published in Nature Geoscience over the weekend.

The study totaled global carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production—which together account for over 90 percent of total emissions—and found that they rose 2.3 percent in 2013 to their highest level ever recorded, approximately 36.1 metric gigatons.

We'll use up our remaining carbon "budget" in the next 30 years.

Emissions have been on the rise for decades, setting a new record almost every year. The rate of emissions growth has increased since the 1990s—when it was 1 percent per year—to the last decade, when the average annual growth rate has been around 3 percent. The rate of growth in 2013 was actually slower than in 2012, the study found, reflecting energy efficiency improvements in the US and Europe that have reduced the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP. But that obscures increasing rates of growth in emissions from China and India. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions are still on pace to trigger what scientists say could be a catastrophic amount of warming, said Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter, the study's lead author.

"China will be twice as much in 10 years," Friedlingstein said. "We need to change the trend. There's a need to reduce emissions in every country."

Which brings us to the really unsettling part of this report—its attempt to pin down exactly how long we have to make that happen. Climate scientists often talk about a carbon "budget," which is the total cumulative emissions that will lead to a specified level of global warming. To have a better-than-even chance to stay within a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit increase over 1990s temperatures, the international standard for a reasonably safe level of warming, our global carbon budget is 3,200 gigatons. Since the Industrial Revolution, we've used up about two-thirds of that. On our current path, the study finds, we'll use up the rest in just the next 30 years.

In other words, if the emissions trend isn't reversed before 2045, we would have to drop immediately to zero carbon emissions on the first day of 2046. Since an instantaneous gearshift like that is obviously impossible, there's a need to bring emissions under control in the short term. That way we can stretch the "budget" for many more years and not face a choice between catastrophic climate change or a plunge into the Dark Ages.

We'll get an updated sense of how serious world leaders are about that goal at tomorrow's United Nations climate summit, which is meant as a curtain-raiser for major international climate negotiations next year in Paris.

Listen to Some of Liberia's Top Artists Sing about Ebola

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 2:03 PM EDT

Since it started in March, West Africa's Ebola outbreak has spread to five countries in the region. But its toll on the Liberian people—who account for more than half of the 5,700 cases—has been especially devastating. To instill a sense of unity amid the crisis, several Liberian organizations brought together some of the country's top artists to make a song about the crisis. The result, called "Save Liberia," debuted last week. You can listen to it below:

"It's like 'We Are the World' for Liberia," says Lawrence Yealue, Liberia's country director for Accountability Lab, an anti-corruption NGO that helped organize the project. "We Are the World" was a 1985 collaboration between more than 40 artists—from Michael Jackson to Bob Dylan—to raise money for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. This song, Yeaule says, will help spread a message about Ebola's seriousness to "every village and town" in Liberia.

Who's Going to Pay For the Latest Iraq War?

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 2:00 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan wonders why fiscal conservatives aren't asking some searching questions about the cost of the ISIS campaign:

The ISIS campaign is utterly amorphous and open-ended at this point — exactly the kind of potentially crippling government program Republicans usually want to slash. It could last more than three years (and that’s what they’re saying at the outset); the cost is estimated by some to be around $15 billion a year, but no one really knows. The last phase of the same war cost, when all was said and done, something close to $1.5 trillion – and our current travails prove that this was one government program that clearly failed to achieve its core original objectives, and vastly exceeded its original projected costs.

If this were a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure project for the homeland, we’d be having hearing after hearing on how ineffective and crony-ridden it is; there would be government reports on its cost-benefit balance; there would be calls to end it tout court. But a massive government program that can be seen as a form of welfare dependency for the actual countries — Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan — facing the crisis gets almost no scrutiny at all.

Yep. The only problem with Sullivan's post is the headline: "Does The GOP Really Give A Shit About The Debt?" Surely that's not a serious question? Of course they don't. They care about cutting taxes on the rich and cutting spending on the poor. The deficit is a convenient cudgel for advancing that agenda, but as Sullivan says, "it is hard to resist the conclusion, after the last few weeks, that it’s all a self-serving charade."

Indeed it is. And not just after the last few weeks. After all, if they did care, they'd be demanding that we raise taxes to fund the cost of our latest military adventure. Right?

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It's Time For Kansas to Rejoin the Real World

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 1:27 PM EDT

The Republican governor of Kansas has pauperized his state in order to fund tax cuts for the rich, while the Republican Secretary of State is busily trying to game the midterm ballot to ensure the reelection of the current Republican senior senator. I'd think this was a parody from the Onion if I didn't know it was for real. I sure hope the good folks of Kansas finally manage to come to their senses this November.

Everyone Please Calm Down About the White House Jumper

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 12:19 PM EDT

In response to the fence-jumper who got inside the White House before being apprehended, the Secret Service is considering the possibility of creating a larger "buffer zone" around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

One proposal is to keep people off the sidewalks around the White House fence and create several yards of additional barrier around the compound’s perimeter. Another is to screen visitors as far as a block away from the entrance gates.

Petula Dvorak is outraged:

Now the Secret Service — which hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory the past few years — wants us to pay for its mistake, to once again intrude on more public space and make suspects out of millions of visitors, residents and office workers who come near the White House every day. To further encroach on the country’s most important values: our openness and our freedom.

The security gurus think they might want to keep people off the sidewalks around the nation’s most famous residence. Or maybe screen tourists a block away from the White House. They want to Anschluss even more public space to expand The Perimeter around 1600 Pennsylvania, amping up the feeling of hostility, fear and paranoia that already pervades the heart of our nation.

Dvorak speaks for me, and I hope she speaks for plenty of others too. This crap has just got to stop. We simply can't continue this endless series of insane overreactions every time something bad happens. Sometimes an incident is just an incident. In this case, the Secret Service needs to examine its procedures and probably tighten up a thing or two. That's it.

This is a case where no-drama Obama really needs to step in. For God's sake, let's dial down the drama on this whole affair. It's nowhere near as big a deal as it's being played up to be.

Obamacare Isn't Perfect, But That's No Reason to Give Up On It

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 11:57 AM EDT

A few days ago I noted that health insurance companies were starting to price certain drugs at higher rates. Not just certain brands of drugs, but entire classes of drugs. This is being done in an apparent attempt to discourage patients with certain conditions from applying for insurance. Better to have some other insurance company pick up the cost of their expensive illness.

The reason this is happening is that Obamacare prohibits insurance companies from turning away customers with pre-existing conditions. So instead they need to find cleverer ways of making sure they're someone else's problem. David Henderson comments:

I predict that none of this will cause Kevin Drum to reconsider his pre-existing view that pricing for pre-existing conditions should be illegal.

Quite right. When it comes to Obamacare, there are two kinds of people. Henderson is the first kind. Whenever they hear about a problem, their invariable response is that this proves Obamacare is a hopeless mess and needs to be abandoned.

I'm the second kind. When I hear about a problem, my response is that we need to try to fix it. This is because I believe everyone should have access to decent health care at a reasonable price, and one way or another, we need to figure out how to provide it. We don't give up just because it's hard.

For what it's worth, this particular problem is not something that's taken any of us by surprise. Capitalism has a well-known capacity for motivating people to find clever ways to make money, and Obamacare supporters were all keenly aware that insurance companies would try to game the rules to maximize their profits. It was one of those things that required constant vigilance. Unfortunately, that never happened because it turned out that Republicans in Congress are so uncompromisingly opposed to Obamacare that they've prevented problems of any kind from being addressed, apparently in the hope that someday these problems will grow serious enough that the public will turn against the whole thing.

I guess you can decide for yourself if you consider that a praiseworthy response to a law you don't like. I consider it loathsome myself. As for my pre-existing view about pre-existing conditions, that's easily explained. I supported Obamacare as a good first step, but if I had my way the whole edifice would get torn down and replaced with a sensible national health care plan of the kind used by virtually every other civilized country on the planet. This is because health care of the kind that civilized people desire simply isn't a good that can be efficiently provided by the free market, for reasons that are fairly obvious to anyone familiar with the literature. Nor is this just an academic point. Half a century of experience shows us that national health care works better on nearly every measure than our Rube Goldberg system. It's not perfect, because nothing ever is. But it would be a big step forward.

The Great "Out-0f-Network" Scam Is Eating Patients Alive. And It's Supposed To.

| Mon Sep. 22, 2014 10:36 AM EDT

Over the weekend, Elizabeth Rosenthal gave us the latest installment in her series of rage-inducing stories about the American health care system. Like all the others in the series, it was all but ignored by the rest of the world. I guess everyone was too busy panicking over the White House fence jumper or figuring out ways to one-up each other in their withering scorn for Roger Goodell.

Or, like me, they've just given up even hoping that anyone will ever do anything about it. Saturday's installment was about a medical practice that infuriates me more than almost any other: the routine practice of creating artificial and insanely high "list prices" for procedures that bear no relation to reality and exist for only one reason: to occasionally take advantage of the people who are most vulnerable to abusive pricing. That includes the uninsured, who can least afford it, and those who are already on the gurney going into surgery, who are barely in any condition to fight back.

Rosenthal's latest piece is about the increasingly common practice of calling in "assistants" during surgical procedures who aren't covered by the patient's insurance and are therefore not subject to rates negotiated with the insurance company. This allows them to charge as much as they feel like, and then to harass patients with bill collectors forever unless they pay up. Here's a graphic that accompanied the article:

The stomach-turning part of this is that it's so obvious what's going on. Clearly, the muscle and skin graft in the first example can be done for about $2,000, which produces a decent income for the doctor. So what's the reason for list price topping $150,000? There isn't one. It's solely so doctors can scam the occasional patient and make a fast buck. As long as it's not a Medicare or Medicaid procedure, and it's out-of-network, there are no rules. So why not?

Are these assistants pals of the primary surgeon who get called in occasionally as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge buck-raking favor for a friend? Does it happen more randomly than that? Who knows. But there's a limit to what patients can do. They're in prep for surgery, there are tubes in their arms, and they get handed a bunch of papers to sign. Who knows what they say? Are they going to check? Are they going to read all the fine print? No and no, even if they're aware that this kind of stuff can happen. Which most patients aren't. A few weeks later they get the bill and their jaw drops to the floor. It's the same thing that happens to uninsured patients who don't have the benefit of insurer-negotiated rates when they land in the ER.

And there's virtually no way to negotiate anyway. Have you ever tried to mark up a consent form? Have you ever tried to get a hospital to agree to an out-of-pocket max before an operation? Are you laughing hard enough yet? Insurance companies can do this, but ordinary schlubs like you and me can't.

This is a scam, plain and simple. So why does it continue? Let's allow James J. Donelon, the Republican insurance commissioner of Louisiana, to explain:

This has gotten really bad, and it’s wrong. But when you try to address it as a policy maker, you run into a hornet’s nest of financial interests.

And there you have it. It's a great racket that allows doctors to extort loads of money from those in the most pain and with the least ability to fight back. None of them want the gravy train to end, and that's your "financial interests" right there. It's shameless and venal and there's no excuse for it. And that's America's health care system.

In good conscience, I'm not even sure I can recommend that you read the whole piece. It will probably send your blood pressure skyrocketing and possibly send you to the ER, where you'll be pauperized by the very practice the article is about. You have been warned.