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Half of Emails Are Answered in 47 Minutes or Less

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

Many people seem to agree that email sucks, and almost as many of us are annoyed by "inbox zero" coworkers telling everybody in earshot how damn productive they are. We get it.

But while we all agree that email is slow, tedious, annoying, and perhaps impersonal, it turns out that many of us are actually pretty decent at returning the messages we need to. According to a new study by the folks at Yahoo Labs on how quickly emails get answered, about 90 percent of emails are returned within a day. In fact, half of emails are answered within 47 minutes, with the most likely return time being just about two minutes. (Of course many of those replies are short, coming in at about five words.)

The study—which, as the largest ever of its kind, analyzed more than 16 billion email messages sent between 2 million (randomized and opt-in) Yahoo! email users over a several month period—went a little deeper than reply times. It also studied how extended email threads play out (the longer the thread, the quicker the replies come until there's a measurable pause before a concluding message); what time of day is best for getting a long response (morning); and demographics. Teens work the reply button the fastest, with a median reply time of about 13 minutes. Adults 20 to 35 years old came in at about 16 minutes. Adults aged 36 to 50 took about 24 minutes, and "mature" adults, aged 51 and over, took the longest at about 47 minutes. Gender seems to make less of a difference than age, with males replying in about 24 minutes and women taking about 28 (insert joke about women being more thoughtful here).

As you might expect, all those numbers go out the window when an attachment is involved: it takes emailers almost twice the time to respond to messages containing additional files. Another not-so-surprising tidbit from the study suggests that we're quickest to reply from our phones, then our tablets, and finally our desktops. And predictably the more emails you get, the fewer you actually respond to: the data indicates that people receiving 100 emails a day may answer just five.

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The FDA Just Released Scary New Data on Antibiotics And Farms

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A close-up of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which is commonly found on supermarket pork.

Back in April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration launched an effort to address a problem that had been festering for decades: the meat industry's habit of feeding livestock daily low does of antibiotics, which keeps animals alive under stressful conditions and may help them grow faster, but also generates bacterial pathogens that can shake off antibiotics, and make people sick.

The FDA approached the task gingerly: It asked the industry to voluntarily wean itself from routine use of "medically important" antibiotics—those that are critical to human medicine, like tetracycline. In addition to the light touch, the agency plan included a massive loophole: that while livestock producers should no longer use antibiotics as a growth promoter, they're welcome to use them to "prevent" disease—which often means using them in the same way (routinely), and at the same rate. How's the FDA's effort to ramp down antibiotic use on farms working? Last week, the FDA delivered an early look, releasing data for 2013, the year after it rolled out its plan. The results are … scary.

FDA

Note that use of medically important antibiotics actually grew 3 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year, while the industry's appetite for non-medically import drugs, which it's supposed to be shifting to, shrank 2 percent. A longer view reveals an even more worrisome trend: between 2009 and 2013, use of medically important drugs grew 20 percent.And the FDA data show that these livestock operations are particularly voracious for the same antibiotics doctors prescribe to people. Farms burn through 9.1 million kilograms of medically important antibiotics vs. 5.5 million kilograms of ones not currently used in human medicine. That means about 62 percent of their total antibiotic use could be be helping generate pathogens that resist the drugs we rely on. (According to Natural Resources Defense Council's Avinash Kar, 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the US go to farms.)

The report also delivers a stark view into just how routine antibiotics have become on farms.

FDA

Note that 74 percent of the medically important drugs being consumed on farms are delivered through feed, and another 24 percent go out in water. That means fully 95 percent is being fed to animals on a regular basis, not being given to specific animals to treat a particular infection. Just 5 percent (4 percent via injection, 1 percent orally) are administered that way.

Anyone wondering which species—chickens, pigs, turkeys, or cows—get the most antibiotics will have to take it up with the FDA. The agency doesn't require companies to deliver that information, so it doesn’t exist, at least not in publicly available form. The FDA only began releasing any information at all on livestock antibiotic use in very recent years, after having its hand forced by a 2008 act of Congress.

Meanwhile, at least 2 million Americans get sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die, the Centers for Disease Control estimates. And while all of that carnage can’t be blamed on the meat industry's drug habit, it does play a major role, as the CDC makes clear in this handy infographic.

CDC

 

 

Today's Republican Dilemma: Who Do They Hate More, Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin?

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 12:43 AM EDT

Here's the latest from our pal in Russia:

President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran, potentially complicating negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program and further straining ties with Washington.

The sale could also undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to sell Congress and foreign allies on the nuclear deal, which Iran and the United States are still struggling to complete. It might also reduce the United States’ leverage in the talks by making it much harder for the United States or Israel to mount airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure if the country ignored such an agreement.

Well, there you have it: Putin is eager to undermine any possibility of a US nuclear deal with Iran. This gives Republicans a choice: they can side with Putin or they can side with Barack Obama.

Decisions, decisions. I wonder what they'll choose?

Chart of the Day: Yet More Good News For Obamacare

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 8:32 PM EDT

During Obamacare's initial open enrollment period, the uninsured rate dropped dramatically. Then it leveled out a bit when enrollment closed. So how are things going in its second year?

The latest Gallup numbers tell the story. During the first month of open enrollment, the uninsured rate dropped moderately, and then dropped sharply again during the first quarter of 2015. It's now down to 11.9 percent:

This is great news, and confirms previous reports. As before, according to Gallup, the biggest drops have been among the young and those with low incomes. This represents millions of people who can now get decent medical care without fear of bankruptcy, and it's being done at a surprisingly moderate cost. It's just inconceivable to me why Republicans are so hellbent on ruining a program that's showing such great results and such great promise for so many people.

Ted Cruz's Big Money Man Is A Hedge Funder With a $2 Million Train Set

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

Robert Mercer, a Long Island hedge fund magnate, has made some lavish investments over the years: There's his 203-foot super yacht, called the Sea Owl. There's the $2 million model train set he had custom-built in his mansion—and the lawsuit he filed against the builders, saying they'd overcharged him.

And now there's the money he's putting behind Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions.

Mercer is the main bankroller of a ring of four super-PACs supporting Cruz for president, the New York Times reported Friday. The PACs have collected $31 million in the four weeks since Cruz launched his campaign, giving the freshman Senator's bid for the Republican nomination a powerful start.

This is not Mercer's first foray into campaign finance. As Mother Jones previously reported, Mercer is a longtime Republican donor who shares Cruz's disdain for financial regulation. He has plowed millions into campaigns against lawmakers who have pushed to rein in Wall Street. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D–Ore.), who started an effort to tax high-frequency financial transactions, was the target of a Mercer campaign of more than half-a-million dollars. So was former Rep. Timothy Bishop (D–N.Y.), an ex-SEC prosecutor. In 2012, Mercer shoveled more than $900,000 into an effort to unseat Bishop. While Bishop held onto his seat, Mercer targeted him again in 2014—this time, with success. Also in 2012, Mercer pumped millions into two super PACs, headed by Karl Rove, that flooded the airwaves with ads for Mitt Romney and Republican candidates for Congress. Club For Growth, a free-market focused super PAC, has notched more than a half million from Mercer, too.

Given Mercer's views, it's no wonder that he would back the GOP presidential candidate who has mused about abolishing the IRS. But Mercer has felt the sting of financial oversight professionally, too. As Mariah Blake reported for Mother Jones in 2014, for several years, federal agents had been scrutinizing Renaissance, the hedge fund Mercer runs along with a business partner, Peter Brown.

Last year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations got in on the action. In a hearing with Renaissance executives, its members accused the fund of using complicated financial maneuvers to avoid an estimated $6 billion in taxes. As Blake reported:

Renaissance is notoriously secretive about its investment formula. But documents released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in July offer some clues about the engine behind its growth. In 1999, Deutsche Bank—which did not respond to requests for comment—approached Renaissance and offered to package all of the Medallion fund's investments into a portfolio, or "basket," that was held in the bank's name. Under this arrangement, Renaissance would still control the trades and reap all the profits (minus the bank's generous fees). But it didn't have to pay short-term capital gains taxes on the underlying assets, even if they were only held for a few hours or days. (Short-term gains are taxed at 39 percent for the highest earners; long-term gains are taxed at roughly half that rate.)

"Renaissance profited from this tax treatment by insisting on the fiction that it didn't really own the stocks it traded—that the banks that Renaissance dealt with, did," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said during the recent hearing. "But, the fact is that Renaissance did all the trading, maintained full control over the account…and reaped all of the profits."

The company has denied any wrongdoing and the IRS investigation is ongoing.

Despite his outsized giving, Mercer is described by those who know him as quiet and intensely private. But as Bradley Smith, a campaign finance expert, pointed out to the Times, his money will do plenty of talking for him: The cash "sends the message to other donors that Cruz is a serious guy…And that brings in other donors."

Even Ray Kelly Is Now Convinced Cops Need to Wear Body-Cams

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 3:31 PM EDT

Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly—who once warned against police officers being equipped with body-cameras—is now coming out in support of the recording technology. Kelly's reversal, he noted on ABC's This Week on Sunday, was prompted by the video in South Carolina that caught police officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott.

"It has changed my mind," Kelly told host George Stephanopoulos. "Because we have to assume that this officer would not act the way he did if in fact he had a body camera that was recording."

Prior to the video's emergence last week, local reports of the shooting appeared to largely rely on the officer's account alone: Slager told authorities he had "felt threatened" by Scott and defended his actions as nothing more than a traffic stop gone wrong. The video's eventual publication, which clearly showed Slager shooting Scott in the back eight times as he attempted to flee, quickly lead to his arrest and murder charge.

"I think it is a game changer," Kelly said of the video. "What you will see is a movement now by many more police departments to go to cameras. There are issues with it, there are problems with it, but this trumps all of those problems."

As head of the NYPD, Kelly was a fierce defender of the department's controversial use of stop-and-frisk tactics and credited the program as a major factor in the city's declining crime rate. He also argued outfitting all officers with body-cameras would only thwart their abilities to perform their jobs properly. "I think we have to tread carefully in this area," he said in September. "I think cameras will make police officers hesitate and that can be a good thing or a bad thing."


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Here's How Republicans Handed Hillary Clinton a Big Fat Opportunity on Social Security

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

With Hillary Clinton now officially running for president, progressives are upping the pressure on her to embrace their policy agenda, including the holy grail of expanding Social Security benefits. As I wrote recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren did her part to force a discussion about expanding benefits onto the national agenda by engineering a Senate vote that won the support of nearly every one of her Democratic colleagues in late March.

But it's actually Republicans, not progressives, who have essentially guaranteed that Social Security will be a major issue in 2016, setting up a battle that will provide stark contrast between the two parties on the issue: As National Journal's Dylan Scott wrote last week, House Republicans passed a little-noticed procedural rule back in January that will ensure a heated debate on the Social Security at the height of the presidential campaign.

As things stand now, in the final three months of 2016, the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund will run out of money and beneficiaries will see an immediate 20 percent cut in benefits. Luckily, there's an easy fix: Congress can simply reallocate a small amount of payroll tax income from the larger Social Security retirement fund to the disability fund. In fact, this routine move has been done 11 times over the past several decades. And because the disability fund is so small compared to the general retirement fund, the fix would extend disability benefits until 2033 while hardly making a dent in the retirement fund. (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a handy explainer on this.)

But just as Republicans in recent years have turned once routine debt ceiling votes into near-catastrophic showdowns, the Republicans' new procedural rule blocks the House from voting on this simple fix unless they also address the long-term solvency of the program by cutting benefits or raising taxes. Progressives expect House GOPers to use the rule to force through benefits cuts in late 2016.

Or at least that seems to be their plan. But what House Republicans have actually done is set up a battle that will force the two parties and their respective candidates to take a position on whether to expand or cut Social Security benefits in late 2016—just as Americans are picking their next president.

As advocates for expanding benefits will happily tell you, an overwhelming majority of voters support expansion. As retirement policy expert Mark Miller wrote back in January, "Mr. Obama and other Democratic leaders have been presented a great opportunity here to re-locate their spines on Social Security and reclaim the legacy of FDR."

Maybe Elizabeth Warren should send John Boehner a muffin basket to show her appreciation.

This Kid's Reaction To Hillary Clinton's Campaign Video Is So Amazing

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 1:42 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton announced her presidential bid yesterday. There were a lot of reactions! Conservatives had reactions! Liberals had reactions! Lions, tigers, and bears had reactions! All of those reactions were garbage. This is the one true reaction.

 

Zeke is ready for Hillary. Just not in the way she'd probably expect...(This was Z's immediate reaction to viewing HRC's announcement video. Instant meltdown.)

Posted by Erin Celello on Sunday, April 12, 2015

Children are our future.

Saudi Arabia's Shiny New Air Campaign Not Working Any Better Than Anyone Else's

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 11:31 AM EDT

Back when Egypt started bombing Libya and Saudi Arabia started bombing Yemen, American conservatives were jubilant. That's the kind of swift, decisive action Barack Obama ought to be taking against our enemies in the Mideast. Never mind that this already was the kind of action he had taken. It didn't really count because he had been too slow to ramp up attacks and had demonstrated too little bloodthirstiness in his announcements. Did he really want to "destroy" ISIS or merely "degrade" it? Dammit man, make up your mind!

This weekend, though, the LA Times reminded us that regardless of who's doing it, air strikes alone simply have a limited effectiveness in wars like this:

Officials in Saudi Arabia, the region's Sunni Muslim power, say the air campaign is dealing a decisive blow against the Houthis, whom they view as tools of aggression used by Shiite Muslim-led Iran in an expanding proxy war....However, residents say the strikes have done little to reverse the territorial gains of the insurgents and restore exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to power in the quickly fragmenting country.

....Security experts question whether the coalition can achieve its goals through airstrikes alone. Saudi officials have not ruled out sending in tanks, artillery and other ground forces massed along the frontier. But Saudi leaders appear wary of such a move against the Houthis, hardened guerrillas who belong to an offshoot of Shiite Islam known as Zaidism.

The last time the Saudis fought the Houthis in the rugged mountains of northern Yemen, in 2009, more than 100 of their men were killed. Pakistan's parliament voted Friday to stay out of the conflict, a blow to the Saudis, who had reportedly asked the country to send troops, fighter jets and warships.

"This [war] will turn Yemen into Saudi Arabia's Vietnam," said Mohammed al-Kibsi, a veteran journalist and commentator in Yemen's capital, Sana, where the Houthis seized control in September.

Air strikes are useful components of a wider war. But to the extent anyone can truly win these conflicts in the first place, it's going to take ground troops. Lots and lots of well-trained, well-equipped, and well-motivated ground troops. Saudi Arabia is "wary" of committing ground troops in Yemen and Pakistan is staying out. In Iraq, it's still a big question whether the Iraqi army is up to the task. And to state the obvious, even among America's most bellicose hawks, there's no real appetite for sending in US ground troops.1

This is just the way it is, and everyone knows it. Air strikes can do a bit of damage here and there, and they can serve as symbolic demonstrations of will. But none of these conflicts—not in Yemen, not in Iraq, not in Syria, and not in Libya—are going to be affected much by air campaigns alone. They need ground troops. If you loudly insist that Obama is a weakling as commander-in-chief but you're not willing to commit to that, you're just playing political games.

1And don't fall for the "special ops" ploy. Politicians who want to sound tough but don't want to ruin their careers by suggesting we deploy a hundred thousand troops in Iraq again, are fond of suggesting that we just need a bit of targeted help on the ground from special ops. This is clueless nonsense meant to con the rubes, but nothing more.

This Chart Shows How State Taxes Screw You

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

A lot of people think the federal tax code should be more progressive, but it looks downright socialist compared to the typical state tax code. A chart released last week by Citizens for Tax Justice puts it in context, showing how the wealthy typically pay lower state tax rates:

Citizens for Tax Justice

This problem isn't limited to conservative states: According to a recent report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), every state places a higher effective tax rate on the poor than it does on the rich. In fact, several of the nation's most politically progressive states count among the worst when it comes to shoveling the tax burden onto low-income people and the middle class.

The nation's most regressive tax code belongs to Washington, a state that was ranked by The Hill last year as the bluest in the country based on its voting patterns and Democratic dominance. The poorest 20 percent of Washingtonians pay an effective state tax rate of 16.8 percent, while the wealthiest 1 percent effectively pay just 2.4 percent of their income in taxes.

There's a clear explanation for that: Washington has no income tax and thus heavily relies on a sales tax that disproportionately affects the poor. What's harder to grasp is why Washington's liberals put up with it.

Structural conditions help explain why regressive taxes endure in Washington and many other states. Some states require supermajorities to raise taxes or have constitutions that mandate a flat tax. In Washington's case, voters approved a personal income tax in 1932 by a two to one margin but were overruled the following year by the state Supreme Court, which decided that a constitutionally mandated 1 percent cap on property taxes also applied to income. An income tax bill passed by the state legislature a few years later was likewise struck down.

But the courts, weirdly, are no longer the biggest obstacle to a fairer tax code in Washington; over the years, they've gradually overturned most of the legal precedents that had been used to invalidate an income tax, and most experts believe such a tax would become law today if passed. The bigger problem is voters. In 2010, Washingtonians rejected by a whopping 30-point margin a proposal to establish an income tax that would only have applied to people earning more than $200,000 a year.

How do you square this with California, where, just two years later, a similar tax hike on the wealthy easily sailed through? Or with Oregon, Washington's political cousin, which has long had a progressive income tax?

I asked John Burbank, the executive director of the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute and an architect of Washington's failed 2010 income tax measure, why he thought the measure had failed to pass. At first, he cited the off-year election and opposition scare tactics. But when pressed, he offered a third explanation that I think makes more sense: "There is almost like a cultural prohibition that exists."

In other words people, liberal or conservative, who live in states with low or no income taxes get used to paying little. They may differ on protecting the environment, legalizing weed, or raising the minimum wage, but when you start to mess with the system on which they've built their personal finances, they get scared and balk. This is why changing the tax code is so hard, even in states where people may in their hearts believe it's the right thing to do.