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The President of the Boy Scouts of America Just Endorsed Dropping the Ban on Gay Leaders

| Thu May 21, 2015 2:14 PM EDT

The president of Boy Scouts of America is calling for an end to the organization's ban on gay leaders, saying the "status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained." Robert Gates, who was speaking at the group's annual summit on Thursday, said the changes would not be made at the meeting, but indicated officials should look into revisions in the future.

In Gates's remarks, the former defense secretary urged the organization to "deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it be." His address, sure to ruffle a few feathers, stopped short of supporting gay rights outright. Instead, Gates said that the policy shift was necessary to keep the organization nationally relevant.

"While our work won't be done until we see a full end to their ban on gay adults once and for all, today's announcement is a significant step in that direction," Zach Wahls, director for Equality, said in response to Thursday's announcement. "I'm proud to see Dr. Gates charting a course towards full equality in the BSA."

In 2013, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts—gay leaders however were not included in the changes. Just yesterday, the Girls Scouts of America double downed on the group's welcoming of transgender girls.

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Republicans Hate Obamacare Even If They Like Their Own Obamacare Plans

| Thu May 21, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

A new Kaiser poll gives us an in-depth look at what people think about health insurance plans purchased through an Obamacare exchange. Some of the results are unsurprising: people like plans with low deductibles; most say it was easy to shop for a plan; and most were pretty satisfied with the plans they purchased. But unless I'm badly misreading something, there's one result that's pretty gobsmacking. First off, here's a chart showing basic satisfaction levels with Obamacare plans:

That's pretty good. Positive responses increased a bit from 72 percent to 74 percent. That compares very favorably with satisfaction levels toward employer plans. But now take a look at this chart that breaks down Obamacare favorability attitudes by party:

This is crazy. This isn't a general survey of all Americans. It's a survey specifically of people who don't have group coverage. Most of them (probably more than two-thirds) have actually purchased Obamacare plans and therefore have personal experience with them, but favorability is nonetheless still driven mostly by party ID. You can buy an ACA plan on the marketplace, get a subsidy, and be happy with your plan—but if you're a Republican you still overwhelmingly hate Obamacare by 74-25 percent.

Folks, that is hardcore.

This Story Maggie Gyllenhaal Just Told Perfectly Explains the Hollywood Sexism Complex

| Thu May 21, 2015 12:46 PM EDT

Maggie Gyllenhaal recently lost a film role because she was apparently "too old" to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man, the 37-year-old actress revealed in a new interview with The Wrap.

"There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” Gyllenhall said. "I'm 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me."

While she declined to identify the project's name—because Gyllenhall is all class—she said she was eventually able to laugh off the rejection. 

"It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh."

Back in January, Gyllenhaal picked up a Golden Globe award for her performance in the BBC miniseries The Honourable Woman. During her acceptance speech, she stressed the importance of Hollywood embracing the roles of real women.

"When I look around the room at the women who are here and I think about the performances that I've watched this year what I see actually are women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not, sometimes sexy, sometimes not, sometimes honorable, sometimes not," she said onstage. "What I think is new is the wealth of roles for actual women in television and in film. That's what I think is revolutionary and evolutionary and it's what's turning me on."

Despite Gyllenhaal's optimism, it sure looks like Hollywood is hell bent on keeping ageism securely intact. 

CNN Plans to Feature Peanut Gallery Debate as Warmup for Main Event

| Thu May 21, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

CNN will be hosting the second Republican debate, and they've come up with a....unique way of dealing with the fact that there are just too damn many candidates. To handle the crowd, they're going to have two separate debates:

"The first 10 candidates — ranked from highest to lowest in polling order from an average of all qualifying polls released between July 16 and September 10 who satisfy the criteria requirements ... will be invited to participate in 'Segment B' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate," the network states in its candidate criteria. "Candidates who satisfy the criteria and achieve an average of at least 1 percent in three national polls, but are not ranked in the top 10 of polling order will be invited to participate in 'Segment A' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate."

Did you get that? All the yokels—Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, etc.—will go on first. They'll be sort of the warm-up act. Then they'll get shuffled off the stage and the big guns will have prime time all to themselves. This is pretty humiliating for the also-rans, but presumably if they play by the rules they'll have a chance to move up, just like in English Premier League soccer. Perhaps Rick Perry will stumble and get relegated to the minor leagues for the next debate, while Jindal will knock everyone's socks off and get promoted to the show. I don't know if I'd quite call this "fun," but it would certainly make for some interesting office pools.

The first debate, which is hosted by Fox, will feature none of this nonsense. The top ten candidates will be invited to the debate, and that's that. If you're outside the top ten, you can watch the debate on your big-screen TV at home. Or, if Fox is feeling generous, perhaps the sad sacks polling at the 1% level will be allowed to while away their time in the spin room, where they can try to buttonhole reporters and explain why they really should have been up on the stage. Maybe the saddest story will win a prize.

Job-Seeker Hillary Clinton Posts Resume on LinkedIn

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

Have you heard the news? Hillary Clinton is on the hunt for a new gig.

And in an effort to attract prospective employers, the former secretary of state just joined LinkedIn with her very own profile. She even dressed up her page with an article on how to "jump-start small business." 

Enjoy the imminent deluge of spammy messages, Hillary! Everyone deserves a distraction from "sensitive but unclassified" emails.

By About 2020, We'll Probably Finally Know Whether a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Good Idea

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

So my near neighbor of Los Angeles is poised to raise the minimum wage to $15. How should we think of that?

Personally, I'm thrilled. Not because I think it's a slam-dunk good idea, but because along with Seattle and San Francisco it will give us a great set of natural experiments to figure out what happens when you raise the minimum wage a lot. We can argue all we want; we can extrapolate from other countries; and we can create complex Greek-letter models to predict the effects—but we can't know until someone actually does it.

So what do I think will happen? Several things:

In the tradeable sector, such as clothing piece work and agriculture, the results are very likely to be devastating. Luckily, LA doesn't have much agriculture left, but it does have a lot of apparel manufacture. That could evaporate completely (worst case) or perhaps migrate just across the borders into Ventura, San Bernardino, and other nearby counties. Heavier manufacturing will likely be unaffected since most workers already make more than $15.

In the food sector, people still need to eat, and they need to eat in Los Angeles. So there will probably be little damage there from outside competition. However, the higher minimum wage will almost certainly increase the incentive for fast food places to try to automate further and cut back on jobs. How many jobs this will affect is entirely speculative at this point.

Other service industries, including everything from nail salons to education to health care will probably not be affected much. They pretty much have to stay in place in order to serve their local clientele, so they'll just raise wages and pass the higher prices on to customers.

Likewise, retail, real estate, the arts, and professional services probably won't be affected too much. Retail has no place to go (though they might be able to automate some jobs away) while the others mostly pay more than $15 already. The hotel industry, by contrast, could easily become less competitive for convention business and end up shedding jobs.

On the bright side, of course, a large number of low-income workers will see their wages rise. On the less bright side, the experience of Puerto Rico suggests that (a) employment losses could be as high as 9 percent, and (b) lots of low-wage workers will flee to other places.

So if I had to guess, I'd say that Los Angeles will see (a) less poverty for low-wage workers who keep their jobs, and (b) higher prices for middle-class consumers, who will end up paying for the minimum wage hike. Since the poor spend more than the middle-class, this could be a net stimulus for the LA economy. On the downside, we're also pretty likely to see significant job losses. In other words, I agree with Adam Ozimek that we should not treat this as terra incognita just because it's never been done before:

It’s true that the farther we go out of the historical sample, the more uncertain we are about the magnitude of the impact. But I think minimum wage advocates are taking the wrong message from this. After all, a $100 minimum wage would also be out of sample and subject to the same “we have no clue” and “can’t be on solid ground” statements from Dube and Neumark. But this uncertainty is all in the direction of more job losses. When you enter unprecedented minimum wage hike territory your uncertainty goes up, but so undeniably does your risk of job losses. The idea that a minimum wage hike being of an unprecedented magnitude creates neutral uncertainty is like someone drinking more beer than they ever have just being uncertain about what it will do to their driving ability.

So we'll see. My own guess is that $15 is too high. I would have supported something in the $10-12 range for a city as large and basically prosperous as Los Angeles. But $15? There's just too much uncertainty in a number that big, and the uncertainty almost all points in the direction of significant job losses.

But I could be wrong! We now have three cities that are jumping into the deep end of the minimum wage debate, and that will eventually tell us more than all the speculation in the world combined. Fasten your seat belts.

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School Lunches Just Got Way Better in These 6 Cities (and It's Not the Food)

| Thu May 21, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A school lunch served on a foam polystyrene tray.

School lunches may be healthier than when you were a kid, but the wasteful and polluting materials that cafeterias serve them on have actually gotten worse. In an effort to save on labor and equipment costs, many schools switched from washable trays to disposable foam ones over the past couple of decades. But this trend is now beginning to change.

The school districts of six major cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and Orlando— announced today that they will stop using polystyrene foam trays, and begin serving lunch on compostable plates.

The Urban School Food Alliance, which counts the country's largest school districts among its members, coordinated the change after developing an affordable compostable plate made from recycled newspaper that costs just a penny more than its foam counterpart.

"Shifting from polystyrene trays to compostable plates will allow these cities to dramatically slash waste sent to landfills, reduce plastics pollution in our communities and oceans, and create valuable compost that can be re-used on our farms," said Mark Izeman, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which partners with the Alliance.

This shift to compostable plates by more than 4,000 schools will save an estimated 225 million petroleum-based plastic trays from going into landfill each year.

What's next? The Alliance hopes to introduce compostable cutlery by next school year.

 

This New Study Shows Sexual Assault on College Campuses Has Reached "Epidemic" Levels

| Wed May 20, 2015 4:19 PM EDT

A new study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests college sexual assault may be far more prevalent than previously believed. The study, titled "Incapacitated and Forcible Rape of College Women: Prevalence Across the First Year," which focused on first-year female students at one New York college, attempted to measure how frequently rape or attempted rape occurred by having female students fill out surveys throughout their freshman year.

Of the 483 women who completed the questionnaires, 18.6 percent reported instances of attempted rape. Incidences of rape were significantly higher when alcohol or drugs were involved.

"Sexual violence on campus has reached epidemic levels," the study's authors wrote. "During their first year in college, one in seven women will have experienced incapacitated assault or rape and nearly one in 10 will have experienced forcible assault or rape. Interventions to reduce sexual violence on campus are urgently needed."

Past studies have posted similar rates. One study reported one in five women suffering from some form of sexual violence during their college careers.  What is striking about these new findings is that they indicate high levels of such sexual assault in just a single year and early on in a woman's college experience.

As Jesse Singal at the Science of Us blog notes, scientifically measuring the frequency of sexual violence is a complex and difficult task: What one person considers to be sexual assault someone else might not.  In addition, this latest study only focused on one campus—making it impossible to generalize on a national scale.

But as recent events have shown, sexual violence on college campuses is a persistent problem. For decades, conservatives have resisted calls for campuses to better protect women by dismissing the issue. With the fallout over Rolling Stone's botched campus rape investigation only fueling detractors, it's especially important for studies like the one published by the Journal of Adolescent Health to provide solid data to legitimize the problem so that potential assaults might be avoided.

Rand Paul's Latest Fundraiser Now Underway

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

I see from the intertubes that Sen. Rand Paul has begun another talking filibuster. This time it's to protest any legislation that extends the NSA's ability to access metadata from phone calls, even if the data is held by the phone companies and available only by court order. Paul's filibuster will annoy a lot of people, but in the end I think I agree, for once, with John McCain: "He'll get his headline and then we'll move on."

That's pretty much the lay of the land. Paul will chew up some floor time, which might end up eating into Memorial Day weekend for the Senate, but since virtually no one agrees with his position, it's simply not going to accomplish anything. I'm even a little skeptical about the headlines. Frankly, once you've done the Jimmy Stewart bit once, its entertainment value starts to plummet.

On the other hand, Paul seems to be mostly treating this as another great fundraising opportunity, and it might very well be. But that's probably all it will be.

The Science of Why New York's Bagels Taste So Damn Good

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:11 PM EDT

MANHATTAN—New York City has the best bagels in America. This is a truth handed down from generation to generation. Why are the bagels here better than the bagels in Boston, Boise, Birmingham, or even cities that begin with letters other than B? Legend has it that it has something to do with the water that's piped down here from upstate. That's never really felt right. I'm not a water scientist but it just seems like some nonsense that sounds like it could be true so what the hell, sure, it's true! Doctor Oz probably credits NY bagels to the water.

So, anyway, some cats from the American Chemical Society got together and ran some tests and spoke to some chefs and concluded that indeed it's not the magical properties of the Empire State's water supply that makes NYC bagels unique, but rather the unique competence of NYC bakers. Yes, the softness of the water plays a role but not an integral one. The baking method used in New York is just better than the baking method bakers in other cities use—but there is no reason why those bakers couldn't start using the NYC method (with some slight modifications), or so sayeth the video.

Is this video accurate? I have no idea. I am not a professor of baked goods. It sounds maybe reasonable to me. It sort of makes sense, right? Because, yeah, New York has the best bagels but I've certainly had good bagels other places. But those bagels are normally the exception to the bagel culture of the area. I've definitely had one or two okay bagels in LA. Maybe those bakers are using the NY method? I don't know. What do you think?