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Greece Is Just a Few Days Away From Unconditional Surrender to Germany

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 1:24 PM EDT

Apparently the Greek prime minister is blinking:

In a letter sent on Tuesday to the creditors — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other eurozone countries — Mr. Tsipras said Greece was “prepared to accept” a deal set out publicly over the weekend by the creditors, with small modifications to some of the central points of contention: pension cuts and tax increases. In the letter, released publicly on Wednesday, Mr. Tsipras linked Greece’s acceptance of the terms to a new package of bailout aid that would need to be negotiated.

The development initially raised the prospect of progress in resolving a financial crisis that has sent shudders through global markets and deeply strained European unity. President François Hollande of France called for talks in the hopes of getting a deal by the weekend, saying, according to Agence-France Presse: “We need to be clear. The time for a deal is now.”

But other European leaders, fed up with Mr. Tsipras and in no mood for quick compromise, dashed any hopes of an immediate breakthrough.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany responded by repeating her position that there should be no further negotiations until Greece holds the referendum on Sunday.

In other words, Merkel is not even willing to grant Tsipras a few meaningless face-saving concessions. Why? I think Merkel believes she now holds all the cards and has no reason to make any concessions at all, no matter how small. And I suspect she's right. In the end, the Greek public will be unwilling to back Tsipras in Sunday's referendum and will vote to accept the European deal as is. The potential catastrophe of default and leaving the euro is just too scary for most of them to contemplate.

So Tsipras will be out and Europe will effectively have total control of Greek finances. After six months of cage rattling, the Greek revolt will be over and future governments will simply have to accept whatever pain Merkel wants to deal out. At that point, with Tsipras gone, it's actually possible she'll agree to a few concessions here and there. Policy issues aside, there's little doubt that Merkel's personal contempt for Tsipras has done a lot to cement her hard line toward Greece.

So that's my prediction. Unless Tsipras caves completely beforehand, the referendum will be held on Sunday and Greeks will vote to stay in the euro and accept Germany's terms. It will basically be an unconditional surrender.

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Santorum Holding Onto Debate Stage By His Fingernails in Latest CNN Poll

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 12:03 PM EDT

Fox News will be sponsoring the first Republican debate on August 6, and they have decided to limit the stage to the top ten candidates. The lucky winners will be the ones who "place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent, recognized national polls leading up to Aug. 4."

So how is everyone doing so far? CNN is certainly a recognized national poll, so they'll be part of the eventual winnowing. And their most recent poll shows Jeb! at the top followed by Trump, Huckabee, Carson, and Rand Paul. The bottom three candidates—Christie, Cruz, and Santorum—could easily lose a point or two just due to statistical churn, to be replaced by Jindal, Kasich, and Fiorina.

I'm looking forward to the Trump-Christie showdown for the Annoying Loudmouth Award, and to the Carson-Cruz showdown for the Looneybin Award—though both men have been disappointingly circumspect lately, hedging their beliefs as if they really wanted to win this thing.

But there's still a chance of Rick Perry melting down in amusing fashion. That should make the whole thing worth watching.

Obama Announces Plan to Open Embassies in Cuba and United States

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 11:41 AM EDT

On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in Washington and Havana to formally reestablish diplomatic ties after more than 54 years of broken relations.

"This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas," Obama said.

"We don't have to be imprisoned by the past," he added. "When something isn't working we can and will change."

Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry will also be traveling to Havana later this summer to "proudly raise" the American flag over the new embassy.

Wednesday's announcement, which follows last month's move by the United States to remove Cuba from a list of states sponsoring terrorism, is another historic step in normalizing relations between the two countries. Shortly before the president's press conference, the Foreign Ministry of Havana also announced that diplomatic ties with Washington would be fully restored by July 20.

Atlanta Fed Says Workers Finally Benefiting From Recovery

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 11:17 AM EDT

Here's some potentially good news. There are various way of tracking wage growth (with or without benefits, employer survey vs. worker survey, nonsupervisory vs. everyone, etc.), and the Atlanta Fed has introduced a new wage index constructed from the Current Population Survey. In theory, this should provide reliable data with a large sample size and will be available monthly. The good news is that their index shows nominal wage growth increasing at a fairly healthy 3.3 percent per year:

Wage growth by this measure was essentially unchanged from April and 1 percentage point higher than the year-ago reading. The current pace of nominal hourly wage growth is similar to that seen during the labor market recovery of 2003–04 and about a percentage point below the pace experienced during 2006–07, which was the peak of the last business cycle.

Other wage measures will be released later this week. With inflation still well under control, this is good news for workers, and potentially bad news for Fed watchers, who hope they won't use it as an excuse to raise rates. We'll see.

Jim Carrey Lashes Out at California's Mandatory Vaccine Law

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 9:17 AM EDT

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Jim Carrey voiced his anger over California's new law that officially ends personal belief exemptions for vaccinations. The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday, follows the measles outbreak in Disneyland that infected 117 people last December.

This is hardly the first time the actor has spoken out against vaccinations. Carrey, who dated anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy, has long pushed the belief there is a link between vaccinations and autism.

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

Here's How Africa Can Fix Hunger Without "Help" From Monsanto

| Wed Jul. 1, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Imagine if Monsanto announced the debut of a genetically engineered superfood—a vegetable rich in protein and essential vitamins and minerals, perfectly adapted to Africa's soils and changing climate.

The leaves of amaranth, pumpkin, and cowpea (black-eyed pea) plants are packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein.

There'd be howls of protest, no doubt, from anti-GMO activists. But also great adulation—possibly a World Food Prize—along with stern lectures about how anti-science romanticism must not impede heroic corporate efforts to "feed the world."

Thing is, such superfoods exist in Africa. They exist thanks not to the genius and beneficence of a foreign company, but rather through millennia of interactions between Africa's farmers and its landscape. And while their popularity waned in recent decades as urbanization has swept through the continent, they're gaining renewed interest from food-security experts and urban dwellers alike, reports a new article by Rachel Cernansky in Nature

Cernansky focuses on the work of Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a horticulturalist at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, who has since the 1990s been a kind of Johnny Appleseed for reviving appetites for indigenous vegetables in Africa. Here's Cernansky:

Most of the indigenous vegetables being studied in East Africa are leafy greens, almost all deep green in colour and often fairly bitter. Kenyans especially love African nightshade and amaranth leaves (Amaranthus sp.). Spider plant (Cleome gynandra), one of Abukutsa's favourites for its sour taste, grows wild in East Africa as well as South Asia. Jute mallow has a texture that people love or hate. It turns slimy when cooked — much like okra. … [M]oringa (Moringa oleifera) is not only one of the most healthful of the indigenous vegetables — both nutritionally and medicinally — but it is also common in many countries around the world.

In a 2010 paper, Abukutsa-Onyango demonstrated the nutritional punch packed by these foodstuffs. This chart, pulled from the paper, shows how African vegetables like the leaves of amaranth, pumpkin, and cowpea (black-eyed pea) plants outshine rival western greens that have been introduced into African agriculture over the past century.

From: " African Indigenous Vegetables in Kenya: Strategic Repositioning in the Horticultural Sector."

 

Then there's the leaves of the moringa tree, native to Africa and parts of Asia, which, according to the anti-hunger nonprofit Trees for Life International, deliver three times more vitamin A than carrots, seven times more vitamin C than oranges, and twice the protein of cow's milk, per 100 grams.

Traditional markets, supermarkets, and restaurant menus in Nairobi now feature indigenous vegetables heavily.

Unlike "exotic" (i.e., non-native to Africa) vegetables like kale and cabbage, these crops are adapted to Africa's soils and growing conditions. "Most of the traditional varieties are ready for harvest much faster than non-native crops, so they could be promising options if the rainy seasons become more erratic—one of the predicted outcomes of global warming," Cernansky writes.

As a result of these advantages, indigenous vegetables are gaining traction throughout East Africa. Traditional markets, supermarkets, and restaurant menus in Nairobi feature them heavily, Cernansky reports. As a result, "Kenyan farmers increased the area planted with such greens by 25 percent between 2011 and 2013." They're also gaining ground in Western Africa.

Of course, spiderplant and cowpea leaves are a long way from solving Africa's nutritional problems. As of 2013, indigenous vegetables accounted for just 6 percent of Kenya's total vegetable market, reports SciDevNet. Despite growing demand, SciDevNet found, production is constrained by the same factors that haunt African food security broadly: poor infrastructure (roads, rail, etc.) for bringing fresh food from farm to market, along with a dearth of investment in research and development.

There are no simple answers, no silver bullets, to the problem of ensuring a robust food supply on a warming planet with a growing population. But it's important to remember that the best, cheapest solutions aren't necessarily the ones that emerge from patent-seeking laboratories.

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Jeb Bush Made Millions But Gave Little to Charity

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 7:45 PM EDT

Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns on Tuesday evening. So how much did he give to charity over the years?

Not that much. Between 2003 and 2013, Bush gave 1.5 percent of his income to charity, according to the lists of charitable deductions in the tax returns. That's about half the national average of 3 percent, according to Charity Navigator.

In a letter posted on his website, Bush says he has given $739,000 to charity between 2007 and 2014, which indicates that he increased his annual rate of giving substantially last year. (His 2014 tax return will be released in the fall, according to his campaign.) "Since I left the governor's office I have tried to give back—and even though all of us strive to do more—I'm proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he wrote.

Bush's charitable donations as a percentage of his income is substantially less than the 13.8 percent given by Mitt Romney in the year before he launched his last presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave away about $10 million in the years leading up to the 2008 election, with much of that money going to the family's foundation. That was about 10 percent of their income. The Obamas gave 15 percent of their income to charity in 2014. (The Bidens' charitable giving was far lower: 2 percent.)

Jeb Bush's Finances Could Spell Trouble For Him in the GOP Primaries

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 5:55 PM EDT

Jeb Bush is in big trouble:

Since leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Jeb Bush has made about $29 million, a considerable increase in his personal wealth since reentering the private sector....The documents show he paid an effective tax rate of more than 36 percent each year since leaving the governor’s office, according to his campaign.

That's it? $5 million per year? And he was lame enough with his finances to hand over 36 percent to Uncle Sugar? What the hell kind of business-oriented Republican does he think he is? You could make that much working for a bunch of do-gooder charity operations like some starry-eyed Democrat.

Jeb better have a good explanation for this. Otherwise he might not make it out of the primaries.

The Guy Who Made the ISIS-Dildo Flag Just Told Off CNN

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 4:42 PM EDT
A still taken from CNN's news coverage last Saturday.

Anyone near the internet last Saturday was treated to one of most glorious cable news gaffes in recent memory. CNN thought it had a stunner of a scoop: Gay pride was being infiltrated by Islamist terror!

CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux crossed from the US studios to international assignment editor Lucy Pawle in London, who claimed to have spotted an ISIS banner amongst the rainbow-adorned floats at London's annual LGBT pride parade. A glorious exclusive! "I seem to be the only person to have spotted this," Pawle claimed. The segment was given the full, breaking-news treatment: Peter Bergen, the network's national security analyst, was even called in for his sober assessment.

The only problem? The banner Pawle spotted was a satirical flag adorned not with ISIS's logo in Arabic, but with butt-plugs and dildos.

Now the flag's creator has spoken publicly for the first time in a Guardian op-ed that is sure to make CNN execs, Pawle, and Malveaux squirm with humiliation. Why did Paul Coombs—a self-described "collagist" and "multi-media dildo obsessive"—make the flag? "Medieval ideologies and barbarism were being spread and recorded through that most modern of expressions, social media, with that flag ever-present," he writes in something of an artistic mission statement. "It has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key."

"The Pride festival is a pure celebration of the finest aspects of humanity: of tolerance, togetherness, acceptance and liberation, the polar opposite of what Isis stands for," he continues. "If there was anywhere where my flag had a voice, it was there."

Coombs also writes, "CNN correspondent Lucy Pawle described my flag as a 'very bad mimicry' but the only bad mimicry I could see was CNN's impression of a reputable news organization. What does this say about every other report that they broadcast? And why have they not mentioned it since?"

Boom. Great questions, Coombs. Indeed, the original report has been taken down from CNN's website.

The NSA Just Got Six More Months of Unlimited Snooping in Your Phone Data

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 2:34 PM EDT

Almost as soon as Congress passed the USA Freedom Act earlier this month, which ended the National Security Agency's mass collection of phone records under the Patriot Act, the government moved to keep that program around for as long as it could. Administration lawyers went before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government surveillance requests, and argued that because the new law gives the NSA six months to shut down the program, the NSA should be able to keep vacuuming up this metadata until then—even though the Patriot Act had briefly expired, ending the legal authorization for such bulk collection.

Today we learned the government won that argument: the National Journal obtained a ruling from the FISA court saying this bulk collection can continue for the next six months.

"Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized," wrote Judge Michael Mosman in the ruling. "For this reason, the Court approves the application."

The good news for privacy advocates is that there was, for the first time, actually an argument at the FISA court on the issue. I wrote earlier this month about how the USA Freedom Act is meant to open up the court, and one of the ways it does so is by giving federal judges who sit on the FISA court the option of bringing in what's called an "amicus panel," a group of outside experts who can advise the court on privacy concerns. That panel hasn't yet been appointed, but Mosman allowed former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to join the proceedings and argue against restarting bulk collection. Cuccinelli and FreedomWorks, the tea party-aligned conservative group, already tried to block the program earlier this month.

But judges can also decline to use an amicus panel or a stand-in. Dennis Saylor IV, another federal district judge who sits on the FISA court, chose this path in a case two weeks ago because he considered his pro-government ruling one in which "no reasonable jurist would reach a different decision."

That, civil liberties advocates say, is exactly why the amicus panel is needed. "His decision does not even acknowledge the existence of any other interpretation of the law," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in an email. "That’s simply bad judging.…Congress may need to consider whether to make amicus participation mandatory rather than leave it to the court’s discretion."

A footnote in Saylor's decision revealed another potential basis for the FISA court to reject the privacy panel: money. "There may be other circumstances, as well, where appointment of an amicus curiae is not appropriate," Saylor wrote. "For example, such an appointment would in most instances result in some degree of additional expense and delay."

Saylor didn't rule on whether time and cost are sufficient grounds not to appoint an amicus. But as Steve Vladeck of American University's Washington College of Law points out, "Judge Saylor tries hard to say he’s not saying that, but he is surely suggesting it. That makes no sense to me, since there’s no other context in which courts pay for amici." The footnote still leaves open the prospect that the FISA court could choose not to appoint outside experts simply because finding them could be a pain in the ass.