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This Marble Race Is the Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen In my Entire Life

| Tue May 12, 2015 3:17 AM EDT

Here is the most amazing marble race ever.

Here is that same amazing marble race with the theme song to Chariots of Fire.

 

This amazing marble race was on DIgg so I took the time to add the Chariots of Fire theme song to it. You're welcome.

Posted by Ben Dreyfuss on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

You're welcome.

(via Digg)

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West Virginia Democrats' Best Hope Might Be This Billionaire Coal Magnate

| Mon May 11, 2015 6:21 PM EDT

Over the last six years, West Virginia Democrats have seen their grip on state politics slip away in no small part due to their alleged collaboration with President Barack Obama's "War on Coal." The solution: put a coal kingpin on the ballot.

On Monday, Jim Justice, owner of Southern Coal Corp., announced he would run for governor as a Democrat in 2016, to replace the retiring incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Justice, the state's richest citizen with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, is a political novice but a state icon. In 2009, he purchased the Greenbrier, a historic mountain resort that had fallen on hard times, and restored it into a first-class resort. During his gubernatorial campaign kickoff event, Justice drew a parallel between his state's lackluster reputation, and the derelict condition of the White Sulphur Springs retreat. "[Times] were tough at the Greenbrier, too," he said.

In Justice, Democrats have found a walking counterpoint to the war-on-coal attacks. (The attacks are also largely unfounded—under Tomblin the state has rolled back mine safety regulations.) In contrast to, say, frequent Greenbrier guest Don Blankenship, who as CEO of Massey Energy famously re-designed his property so he wouldn't have to use his town's polluted drinking water and is currently awaiting trial on conspiracy to violate mine-safety laws, Justice has always styled himself as a man of the people. A 2011 Washington Post profile began with a surprise sighting of Justice at an Applebee's near his hometown. The richest man in the state, it turned out, was grabbing a late snack after coaching his hometown's high school girls basketball team.

But Southern Coal Corp. isn't without its issues. An NPR investigation last fall found that the company owed nearly $2 million in delinquent fines for federal mine safety violations. (After the report was published, Justice agreed to work out a payment plan.) And he may not have the Democratic field to himself, either; senate minority leader Jeff Kessler (D) filed his pre-candidacy papers in March. No Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring yet.

Cheater Punished

| Mon May 11, 2015 5:53 PM EDT

Don't do the crime if you can't...well, maybe just don't do the crime?

The NFL has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four games for his role in deflating football for the AFC Championship Game, the league said in a statement Monday.

The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017 and have been fined $1 million.

(via ESPN)

This Likely GOP Presidential Candidate Actually Believes in Global Warming

| Mon May 11, 2015 5:12 PM EDT

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination, thinks climate change is real and caused—at least in part—by human activity, according to MSNBC.

Christie said he believes there's "no use in denying global warming exists" but that he's skeptical about most of the mainstream approaches to dealing with it. That includes cap-and-trade programs and unilateral steps to reduce America's carbon footprint, such as President Barack Obama's proposed restrictions on power plant emissions.

Christie's comments essentially matched those he made in back in 2011, the last time he spoke publicly about the issue. In some respects, his position is refreshingly distinct from those of his probable rivals in 2016. Many of the GOP contenders—for example, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—sit somewhere on the spectrum of climate change denial. But at the same time, Christie's track record in New Jersey suggests that as president, he'd be unlikely to actually do much to confront global warming, even if he thinks it's happening. As Climate Progress put it:

As governor, Christie withdrew New Jersey from the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing emissions, in 2011. Last year, Christie called RGGI "a completely useless plan" and said that he "would not think of rejoining it." Christie even vetoed an attempt by the New Jersey state legislature to rejoin RGGI…New Jersey also doesn't have a statewide climate change plan—the state is the only one on the eastern seaboard to not have one in place or be in the process of developing one, according to the Georgetown Climate Center.

Christie's logic—that even if climate change is real, there's nothing we can do to stop it—is out of step with mainstream science. And it ignores the growing international political momentum around climate action, which Obama has sought to lead. Moreover, if Christie thinks that kind of rhetoric is going to help him score points with Republican voters in the wake of the federal indictments handed down last week in the Bridgegate scandal, he has a long way to go: The latest polling puts Christie behind all of his serious opponents for the nomination.

Obama Okays Shell's Plan to Drill for Oil in the Arctic

| Mon May 11, 2015 3:31 PM EDT
Protesters in Seattle have taken to kayaks as Shell's Arctic drilling fleet approaches the city.

Royal Dutch Shell cleared a major hurdle this afternoon when the Obama administration announced conditional approval for the company's application to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's North Slope. The decision came after a few months of public comment on Shell's exploration plan, which was roundly condemned by environmental groups and several North Slope communities.

Shell's plan involves drilling for oil in a patch of ocean called the Burger Prospect. The drilling is slated to take place this summer when sea ice is at its lowest. In anticipation of this decision, two massive oil drilling ships owned by Shell are en route to a temporary dock in Seattle; from there, they are scheduled to press on to the Arctic.

If the ships make it to the planned site, it will be the first attempt Shell has made to drill in the Arctic (an area believed to hold massive subterranean reserves of oil and gas) since its disastrous effort in 2012. Back then, Shell faced a yearlong series of mishaps as it tried to navigate the icy waters, culminating in a wreck of the Kulluk, one of its main drilling ships. For many environmentalists, that botched project was a sign that Shell is ill-equipped to handle Arctic waters.

Moreover, today's decision underscored what many describe as an inconsistency in President Barack Obama's climate change policy: Despite his aggressive rhetoric on the dangers of global warming, and a suite of policies to curb the nation's carbon footprint, Obama has also pushed to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. Earlier this year, he announced a plan to limit drilling permits in some parts of the Arctic while simultaneously opening a vast new swath of the Atlantic ocean to drilling.

Allowing Shell to forge ahead with its Arctic ambitions flies in the face of the president's own climate agenda, said Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"It's a total mystery why the Obama administration and [Interior] Secretary [Sally] Jewell are continuing down this path that is enormously risky, contradicts climate science, and is completely unnecessary to meet our energy goals," Matzner said. "It's a dangerous folly to think that this can be done."

Before Shell can start drilling, it still needs to secure a few final federal and state permits, including one that requires Shell to demonstrate how it plans to protect ocean life during drilling and in the case of a spill. Those decisions are expected within the next month or so.

A spokesperson for Shell told the New York Times: "Before operations can begin this summer, it's imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical, and delivered in a timely manner. In the meantime, we will continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator."

Creeper Rand Paul Staffer Licks Camera Lens at Town Hall Event

| Mon May 11, 2015 2:40 PM EDT

Rand Paul is frequently dubbed the most interesting man in politics, but one of his staffers is apparently attempting to best the Republican presidential candidate for the dubious distinction. In the case of David Chesley, Paul's political director in New Hampshire, however, "interesting" may be generous. Straight up bizarre is more like it.

An innocent tracker was recording video for a town hall event today, when Chesley, a bald middle-aged man, started bobbing his head directly in front of the camera, taking up the entire field of vision. After a few seconds of bobbing—perhaps pondering his next disruptive move—he opened his mouth, stuck out his tongue, and licked the lens.

Yes, lick.

The campaign has not yet explained why the man who is charged with helping Paul win the key state to New Hampshire did this. But frankly, who cares. Watch the incident below:

 

 

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J.K. Rowling Reveals "Elizabeth Warren" Was a Ravenclaw

| Mon May 11, 2015 12:05 PM EDT

Is Elizabeth Warren actually just an enigmatic adolescent ghost? Maybe! On Monday, Harry Potter author (and greatest living British person) J.K. Rowling dropped a bombshell in response to a question from a Twitter fan:

 

According Harry Potter Wiki, Moaning Myrtle was a member of Ravenclaw House. Five points for Ravenclaw!

Video Visitation Giant Promises to Stop Eliminating In-Person Visits

| Mon May 11, 2015 11:30 AM EDT

Video visitation is the hot new trend in the corrections industry. Companies like Securus and Global Tel*Link, which have made big bucks charging high prices for inmate phone services, are increasingly pitching county jails new systems that will allow inmates to video-chat with friends and family. Using new terminals installed onsite, inmates can communicate with approved users who log in remotely on a special app similar to Skype. For inmates whose loved ones don't live anywhere near their corrections facility, that can be good news.

But as I reported for the magazine in February, those video-conferencing systems sometimes come with a catch—jails that use the systems are often contractually obligated to eliminate free face-to-face visits, leaving family members no choice but to pay a dollar-a-minute for an often unreliable service.

In a press release last week Securus has announced it will no longer require jails to ditch in-person visitation:

"Securus examined our contract language for video visitation and found that in 'a handful' of cases we were writing in language that could be perceived as restricting onsite and/or person-to-person contact at the facilities that we serve," said Richard A. ("Rick") Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Securus Technologies, Inc.  "So we are eliminating that language and 100% deferring to the rules that each facility has for video use by inmates."

Translation: Nothing to see here, move along! But while inmates might be getting their face-to-face visitation back, Securus' concession on in-person visits comes even as it's fighting the Federal Communication Commission's efforts to regulate the cost of intrastate prison phone calls (it capped the price of interstate prison phone calls in 2014 at 25 cents per minute). And the corrections technology industry isn't the only group defending the status quo—the executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association told IB Times earlier this month that if the FCC interferes with phone prices (corrections facilities often get a cut of the profits), some jails may just decide to cut off access to phone calls.

Progressives Are Getting Clobbered in Europe. Here's Why Their Chances Are Better in America.

| Mon May 11, 2015 10:00 AM EDT
Britain's Labour Party leader Ed Miliband delivering his resignation speech.

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from Ruy Teixeira.

The United Kingdom voted on May 7 to determine its next government. Despite predictions that there would be a hung parliament with an advantage to Labor in forming a coalition government, that did not turn out to be the case. Instead the Conservatives won an outright majority, meaning that David Cameron will continue as Prime Minister, not Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, as most believed.

Naturally, Labor Party supporters, and progressives in general, are aghast at this outcome. And certainly a Labor government would have governed differently than the Tories, who have been ruling the UK since 2010 and have famously adopted budget austerity as their main economic policy. But how differently? Oddly, the ascension of "Red Ed", as the British tabloid press likes to call him, may not have made as big a difference as one might think. This is because the Labor Party did not propose to break decisively from the pro-austerity policies of the Tory government. Indeed, the Labor Party election manifesto promised to "cut the deficit every year" regardless of the state of the economy.

Could the torchbearer for social democratic progress be the Democrats in 2016?

This "Budget Responsibility Lock", as the manifesto jauntily called it, may seem bonkers given everything we have learned about the negative economic effects of austerity policies since 2010, including in the UK, and the rapidly declining intellectual credibility of austerity as an economic doctrine. Well, that's because it is bonkers, as Paul Krugman explains in a lengthy article for The Guardian with the somewhat despairing title: "The austerity delusion: The case for cuts was a lie—Why does Britain still believe it?"

The bulk of Krugman's article is a detailed and very convincing analysis of how nutty austerity was as a policy and how poorly it has worked. However, I'm not sure he really clears up the question of why British economic discourse is still dominated by this mythology. But this is a tough one. And it's not as if the British Labor Party is alone in its attempts to reconcile social democracy with austerity; most continental social democratic parties are having similar difficulties breaking out of the austerity framework.

In fact, the center left party that's most ostentatiously stepped out of this framework is that wild-eyed band of Bolsheviks, the American Democratic Party, which has moved steadily away from deficit mania since 2011. This raises an interesting question. Given the macroeconomic straightjacket European social democrats seem determined to keep themselves in, is the Democratic Party really the torchbearer now for social democratic progress?

In this regard, it's interesting to turn to a recent book by political scientist Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic America, that makes the case (summarized here and here) that, over the long term, the US is, in fact, on a social democratic course.

By social democracy, Kenworthy means an economic system featuring "a commitment to the extensive use of government policy to promote economic security, expand opportunity, and ensure rising living standards for all… [I]t aims to do so while also safeguarding economic freedom, economic flexibility, and market dynamism, all of which have long been hallmarks of the U.S. economy." He calls this "modern" social democracy, contrasting with "traditional" social democracy in that it goes beyond merely helping people survive without employment to also providing "services aimed at boosting employment and enhancing productivity: publicly funded child care and preschool, job-training and job-placement programs, significant infrastructure projects, and government support for private-sector research and development."

Kenworthy anticipates that, as we move toward this kind of social democracy, we will do most of the following:

1) Increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation.

2) Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit while making it available to middle income families and indexing it to GDP per capita.

3) Increase benefit levels and loosen eligibility levels for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, general assistance, food stamps, housing assistance, and energy assistance.

4) Mandate paid parental leave.

5) Expand access to unemployment insurance.

6) Increase the Child Care Tax Credit.

7) Universalize access to pre-K.

8) Institute a supplemental defined contribution plan with automatic enrollment.

9) Increase federal spending on public child care, roads and bridges, and health care; and mandate more holidays and vacation time for workers.

It's interesting to note that most of this list is consistent with the mainstream policy commitments of the Democratic Party and that a good chunk of it will probably find its way into the platform of the 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate. Maybe Kenworthy's prediction is not so far-fetched.

One other reason to see the US as a potential beacon for social democratic progress stems from the nature of political coalitions in an era of demographic change. In the United States, the Democratic Party has largely succeeded in capturing the current wave of modernizing demographic change (immigrants, minorities, professionals, seculars, unmarried women, the highly-educated, the Millennial generation, etc.) Emerging demographic groups generally favor the Democrats by wide margins, which combined with residual strength among traditional constituencies gives them a formidable electoral coalition. The challenge for American progressives is therefore mostly about keeping their demographically enhanced coalition together in the face of conservative attacks and getting it to turn out in midterm elections.

The situation is different in Europe, where modernizing demographic change has, so far, not done social democratic parties much good. One reason is that some of these demographic changes do not loom as large in most European countries as they do in the United States. The immigrant/minority population starts from a smaller base so the impact of growth, even where rapid, is more limited. And the younger generation, while progressive, does not have the population weight it does in America.

Beyond that, however, is a factor that has prevented social democrats from harnessing the still-considerable power of modernizing demographic change in Europe. That is the nature of European party systems. Unlike in the United States, where the center-left party, the Democrats, has no meaningful electoral competition for the progressive vote, European social democrats typically do have such competition and from three different parts of the political spectrum: greens; left socialists; and liberal centrists. And not only do they have competition, these other parties, on aggregate, typically overperform among emerging demographics, while social democrats generally underperform. Thus it would appear that social democrats, who have also hemmoraged support from traditional working class voters, will be increasingly unable to build viable progressive coalitions by themselves.

Bringing progressive constituencies together across parties is of course difficult to do and so far European social democrats seem completely at sea on how to handle this challenge. Much easier to have all those constituencies together in one party—like we do in the United States.

The road to progress isn't clear anywhere but, defying national stereotypes, it's starting to look a bit clearer in the US than in Europe.

Watch John Oliver Celebrate Mother's Day by Slamming the Hypocrisy of No Paid Maternity Leave

| Mon May 11, 2015 8:52 AM EDT

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that fails to offer mothers paid maternity leave—a shameful distinction we share with Papua New Guinea. As families gathered to celebrate Mother's Day yesterday, John Oliver took to Last Week Tonight to address the issue and show why current federal law allowing just 12 weeks of leave, all of which is unpaid and extremely limited, forces countless new mothers back to work or in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

"This is not how its supposed to work," Oliver said. "Mothers shouldn't have to stitch together time to recover from childbirth the same way that we plan a four-day weekend in Atlantic City."

Much of this problem is two-fold, Oliver explains, with companies refusing to offer paid leave packages and fearmongering lawmakers claiming any federal mandates to do so would only hurt businesses.

"You can't go on and on about how much you love moms but fail to pass legislation that makes life easier for them."

Watch the full report below: