Blogs

Benghazi Committee Passes 700-Day Milestone

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 1:01 PM EDT

House Democrats pointed out today that the Select Committee on Benghazi has now been cranking along for 700 days. Steve Benen comments:

To put this in context, the 9/11 Commission, investigating every possible angle to the worst terrorist attack in the history of the country, worked for 604 days and created a bipartisan report endorsed by each of the commission’s members....Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-S.C.) Benghazi panel has also lasted longer than the investigations into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Iran-Contra scandal, Church Committee, and the Watergate probe.

What Steve fails to acknowledge, of course, is that Benghazi is far more important than any of these other events. So naturally it's going to take longer. I'm guessing that 914 days should just about do the trick.

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Bernie Sanders Has Really Pissed Off Margaret Archer

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 12:14 PM EDT

Bernie Sanders is headed to the Vatican:

Whether or not the pope shares the Vermont senator's enthusiasm for Eugene Debs, he's "feeling the Bern" enough to have invited the Jewish presidential candidate to speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, during a conference on social, economic, and environmental issues. Sanders will head to Rome immediately after the April 14 Democratic debate in Brooklyn.

But apparently the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is decidedly not feeling the Bern:

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reached out to obtain his invitation to the Vatican and showed "monumental discourtesy" in the process, a senior Vatican official said.

"Sanders made the first move, for the obvious reasons," Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the conference Sanders will attend, said in a telephone interview. "I think in a sense he may be going for the Catholic vote but this is not the Catholic vote and he should remember that and act accordingly—not that he will."

Huh. I wonder what Bernie did to piss off Margaret Archer? Maybe it has something to do with his views on conflation:

Margaret Archer argues that much social theory suffers from the generic defect of conflation where, due to a reluctance or inability to theorize emergent relationships between social phenomena, causal autonomy is denied to one side of the relation. This can take the form of autonomy being denied to agency with causal efficacy only granted to structure (downwards conflation). Alternatively it can take the form of autonomy being denied to structure with causal efficacy only granted to agency (upwards conflation).

…In contradistinction Archer offers the approach of analytical dualism. While recognizing the interdependence of structure and agency (i.e. without people there would be no structures) she argues that they operate on different timescales. At any particular moment, antecedently existing structures constrain and enable agents, whose interactions produce intended and unintended consequences, which leads to structural elaboration and the [etc. etc.]

Does that help? No? Sorry about that. I guess someone will have to ask Archer just what Bernie did that was so monumentally discourteous. Was it merely asking for an invitation in the first place? Is it the fact that Bernie is pro-choice? Or something more? We need someone to dig into the Vatican gossip machine and let us know.

UPDATE: Apparently this is all part of some vicious infighting among the Vatican's social scientists:

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at an April 15 Vatican event by the Vatican, a senior papal official said on Friday....He said it was his idea to invite Sanders.

A Bloomberg report quoted Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that Sanders had broken with protocol by failing to contact her office first. "This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus," said [Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez] Sorondo, who is senior to Archer.

An invitation to Sanders dated March 30, which was emailed to Reuters, was signed by Sorondo and also included Archer's name.

Well then.

It's Been Quiet Lately. Maybe a Little Too Quiet...

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 11:53 AM EDT

Didn't there used to be some guy named Donald Trump running for president? Whatever happened to him? It seems like days since I've heard a desperate cry for attention from the campaign trail.

CEO Pay Down in 2015, But Still Higher Than Its Bubble Heights

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 11:28 AM EDT

Sad news today from the Wall Street Journal. Among CEOs of big companies, stock-based pay was up 7 percent last year and cash pay was up 2 percent. But thanks to slower growth of CEO pensions, overall compensation was down 4 percent.

But perhaps CEOs will be mollified by the broader picture, which you can see in the chart on the right. CEO pay is up about 44 percent since 2007 in nominal terms, and up about 38 percent when you account for inflation. For ordinary workers, pay has decreased 5 percent since 2007 when you account for inflation.

For anyone wondering why Bernie Sanders has struck such a chord with the electorate, this pretty much tells the story. The Great Recession sure didn't affect everyone equally, did it? Ordinary schlubs paid a high price, but the folks with the most lavish pay to begin with just shrugged it off like it never happened. If the rich wonder why calls to tax high incomes at 90 percent sound pretty good to a lot of people, this should clue them in.

Lackland Air Force Shooting Leaves At Least Two Dead

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 10:58 AM EDT

At least two people are dead following a shooting at Texas' Lackland Air Force Base on Friday morning that is being investigated as an apparent murder-suicide. Authorities say the shooting occurred at around 8:40 a.m. local time. 

"We do feel like the situation is contained and everything is OK at this point," James Keith, a spokesman for the sheriff's office said. The area is no longer on lockdown.

This is a breaking news event. We will update when more information becomes available.

Bernie Sanders to Speak at Vatican City About Social Justice

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 8:16 AM EDT

Sen. Bernie Sanders has accepted an invitation to speak at the Vatican for a conference on social justice next week. The April 15 event, which will be hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, is scheduled to cover a number of the Democratic presidential hopeful's signature campaign issues, including income inequality and the environment.

Sanders' appearance at Vatican City will come just days before the New York primary on April 19.

"I am delighted to have been invited by the Vatican to a meeting on restoring social justice and environmental sustainability to the world economy," Sanders announced in a statement on Friday.

"Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome 'the globalization of indifference' in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption, and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world."

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What the Lunch Ladies Didn't Tell You

| Fri Apr. 8, 2016 6:00 AM EDT

We're excited to present another episode of Bite, our new food politics podcast. Listen to all of our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes, Stitcher, or via RSS.

Cast your mind back to your high school cafeteria, and recall that feeling of having a tray full of tater tots, grayish Salisbury steak, and lime Jello and trying to find a friendly place to sit. Excruciating, right?

Two words: Cow tongue.

Impressive, then, that our guest on this week's episode of our podcast Bite voluntarily spends a whole lot of time thinking about that lovely place. Bettina Elias Siegel is the writer behind the popular blog The Lunch Tray, which is all about the fascinating politics behind what kids eat. Siegel schools us on how mandatory cookies at her kids' cafeteria inspired her to start blogging, and she tells us about the weight-loss video that McDonald's made for schools and the truth about those too-perfect photos of what schools in other countries serve for lunch.

 

But that's not all the lunch fun in the episode! We asked you, our listeners, to share your cafeteria memories, and you guys delivered. I don't want to give too much away, but let me just say two words: Cow tongue.

And if school lunch isn't your thing, don't worry—you can still tune in to hear Tom Philpott wonder whether we've finally reached peak juice.

Yawn. Yet More Good Obamacare News

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 7:33 PM EDT

There's so much good news about Obamacare, you really are getting tired of winning all the time, aren't you? Well, here's the latest:

This is courtesy of Gallup. It shows that after a couple of modest increases in the uninsured rate at the end of 2015, the start of a new year produced a new surge of people into Obamacare, driving the uninsured rate down to 11 percent. That's a new record low.

As always, don't try to compare this directly to the CDC figures for the uninsured. Gallup counts everyone over 18. CDC counts everyone under age 65. Because of this, the Gallup number is generally about one percentage point lower than CDC.

Maybe Atrios Is Right About Driverless Cars

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 5:47 PM EDT

A couple of weeks ago we bought a Neato robotic vacuum. It wouldn't operate for more than five minutes at a time, so I called tech support. They were very nice, and said I had to "calibrate the battery." Huh. I did that, and it got better, but then it wouldn't return to its base. Calibrate it again, they said. So I did, and it started returning home. But then it started running into a wall and getting stuck. I don't know why. It was just a bare wall. But the robot apparently wanted to climb up to the ceiling or something, and you know how robots are once they get an idea in their heads. Then it went under a chair and refused to come out.

So I returned the Neato and went to Fry's, where I bought a Roomba. Much better! It worked the first time with no problems—except for one thing: it would only clean one room. Apparently some bright spark in the Roomba marketing department asked engineering to write a bit of additional firmware that would cripple the device so they could call it a new model and sell it at a new price point. But this makes it fairly useless, since the whole point of a device like this is to schedule it and forget it.

But I tried it anyway. Oddly, it worked OK upstairs, where there are many hallways and rooms. Downstairs, though, it would only clean the living room. I moved it to the kitchen, but no dice: it made a beeline for the living room and cleaned it again. So I tried one more time. Success! It started cleaning the kitchen. But then it developed a grudge against our dishwasher. I wish I had video of this, but basically it went nuts. It banged into it, circled around angrily, got up on its hind wheels (seriously) and banged away some more. It was pissed. I watched it do this for more than five minutes before I shut it off. I was afraid it would eventually wreck the dishwasher. It's going back to Fry's tomorrow.

For some time Atrios has been saying that driverless cars are a fantasy. I think he's crazy. But I have to score this round in his favor. Robotic vacuums travel at about 1 mph; they don't have to avoid other robotic vacuums; nothing in their path moves; and all they have to do is crudely recognize obstacles and map a way around them. And yet, after ten years of development, they still can't do it reliably. Maybe driverless cars really are a fantasy.

But I have good tech news too. Many years ago I got tired of the lousy keyboards that come with modern computers, and bought an old IBM mechanical keyboard. It was nice, but it was so loud I stopped using it. The noise was so overpowering that it almost made conversation impossible.

Last week I decided to try again. You may not be aware of this, but thanks to gamers there's been a renaissance in high-quality mechanical keyboards. The one I bought was insanely expensive (about $150), but also had some other features I wanted, and it's killer. For the cognoscenti among you, it uses Cherry MX brown switches, and I love it. It has a great feel, but the sound is muffled just enough that it won't wake the neighbors.

It even advanced the cause of journalism. Once I tried it out, I was so eager to type something substantial that I finally got back to a story I'm writing for the next issue of the magazine. It's all finished now, and you're probably going to hate it. Everyone's going to hate it. But at least it was created using a really nice keyboard.

Watch The Daily Show's Jessica Williams Tear Down Fearmongering Bathroom Bills

| Thu Apr. 7, 2016 5:24 PM EDT

On Wednesday night, The Daily Show's Jessica Williams confronted the growing panic in state legislatures over transgender people and where they can go to the bathroom. North Carolina continues to face a massive backlash from the business community for the bathroom law it enacted in March that, among other things, requires people to pee in the location that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificates. Police departments in North Carolina say they're puzzled by the law, which critics say will be all but impossible to enforce. On Wednesday, a state senator in South Carolina introduced another so-called bathroom bill, while the Tennessee House revived one of its own.

Williams interviewed several transgender people for her sketch, including a black trans woman who was arrested last year in Iowa—where she had traveled to attend a funeral—because she didn't have a copy of her prescription for her hormone pills. (She spent eight days in jail and missed the funeral, and the charges were later dropped.) "Because of discrimination and profiling, at least 47 percent of black trans people will have at some point in their lives been incarcerated," Williams explained. "You'd think there'd be laws to correct this. But instead, this year alone, state legislatures have introduced 175 anti-trans bills."

Proponents of bathroom bills say they're necessary to prevent trans women from acting as sexual predators on girls in bathrooms. But experts say these fears aren't based on reality. "If anything, trans people are the ones getting assaulted," one trans man told Williams. Watch the Daily Show clip above for more, and check out our coverage of anti-trans violence here.