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Elizabeth Warren: Democratic Women Need a Seat at the Governing Table

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 3:25 PM EDT

Ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) issued a rallying call this week reminding progressives to back Democratic women.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu," Warren told the largely female audience at an event on Monday for Emily's List, a group supporting pro-choice candidates nationally. "Washington works for those who have power. And no one gives up power easily, no one…Nobody’s just going to say ‘women have arrived and let’s just move over'…We have a chance but we have to fight for it.”

Warren went onto urge donors to specifically vote for candidates in tough reelection campaigns, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C). Their opponents are former senator Scott Brown and GOP candidate Thom Tillis, respectively.

While Brown famously posed nude in Cosmopolitan many moons ago, he failed to receive the magazine's endorsement due to what editors deemed were murky views on female reproductive rights. Tillis has his own fair share of unclear, unpopular stances on abortion rights.

Warren's push this week is part of an overall strategy in her recent efforts to mobilize enough support to maintain Democratic control of the Senate this fall -- an outcome that appears increasingly unlikely, according to polling data.

Unsurprisingly, Warren left no hints on Monday as to whether she herself would run in 2016. Her speech follows praise from former president Bill Clinton, in which he said the overwhelmingly popular Massachusetts senator would play an "important part" of the Democratic future.

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The Wild West Days of Pharmaceutical Sales Are Coming To an End

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

Pharmaceutical sales reps used to spend all their time inviting doctors to Hawaii for "conferences" and giving out lots of free samples. But the times, they are a changing:

Kendall French used to pitch drugs to doctors who could prescribe them.

But many of those doctors now work for hospitals that don't give them final say over what is on the menu of medicines they can pick. So when the GlaxoSmithKline PLC saleswoman began plugging two new lung-disease drugs to a big San Diego hospital system this spring, it was to an administrator who doesn't see patients but helps write the menu, also called a "formulary," of approved medications.

....Ms. French's sales calls are part of a shift that is rewriting the drug-marketing playbook. As hospital systems get bigger, they are putting distance between their doctors and drug sellers, making it harder for pharmaceutical companies to get quick acceptance of newly approved medicines and putting pressure on profits.

Today, 42% of doctors practice as salaried employees of hospital systems, up from 24% in 2004, according to Cegedim Relationship Management, a marketing consultant.

This is yet another example of how the health care market should be viewed as a competition between buyers and sellers. In some cases, this means that a region with a small number of powerful insurers might have lower overall costs because the insurers (buyers) have a lot of bargaining power with doctors and hospitals (sellers). In the case above, it means that hospital consolidation can reduce costs because it gives hospitals (buyers) a lot of leverage with pharmaceutical companies (sellers).

In other words, it's complicated. Hospitals are responsible for some of the most egregious billing practices in the entire health care industry, but at the same time, they can also be responsible for helping to contain costs. This is because powerful hospitals are both sellers (when they're dealing with insurance companies) and buyers (when they're dealing with pharmaceutical companies). Sometimes they're the good guys and sometimes they're the bad guys. It might not be the greatest way of running a health care system, but it's what we've got.

If It Weren’t For the Dashcam, Would This White Cop Be Punished for Shooting An Unarmed Black Man?

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 12:35 PM EDT

A white South Carolina state trooper is facing up to 20 years in prison after shooting an unarmed black man who was attempting to grab his driver's license during a simple seatbelt check.

The disturbing incident occurred on September 4 and was caught on video thanks to a dashcam attached to officer Sean Groubert's vehicle.

In the graphic video, Groubert is seen approaching Levar Jones at a local gas station, where he asks Jones to retrieve his driver's license.

Jones reaches into the car and Groubert suddenly opens fire, shooting him not once, but four times, as Jones puts his hands in the air and falls to the pavement.

"Get on the ground! Get on the ground!"

"I was doing what you told me to do," Jones can be heard saying. "I was getting my license!'

Jones survived with wounds to the hip. Groubert was arrested Wednesday and charged with aggravated assault.

The latest shooting, which follows mounting evidence police officers shoot black people at a higher rate than white people, comes as police departments around the country face increased pressure to outfit officers with recording technology such as dashcams and bodycams.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at least 60 percent of local police departments use dashcams. This latest incident will surely add to those calls for accountability. As Josh Marshall at TPM asks, "Would Groubert have lost his badge and be facing charges had there not been a dashcam video revealing the reality of what happened?" A justified question, considering law enforcement officials are rarely sentenced or convicted in such shootings. 

For a more detailed look into racially motivated shootings by police, click here.

Republicans Still Having a Hard Time Believing In Racism

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

The chart below, from a recent PRRI survey, has gotten a fair amount of attention on the intertubes over the past couple of days:

Adam Serwer thinks the change between 2013 and 2014 is due to backlash from the Ferguson shooting, but I suspect that's only part of the story. The poll was done over the course of four weeks, and only the final week overlapped with the shooting of Michael Brown and its aftermath. Those folks in the final week would have had to change their opinions massively to produce the 5-10 point difference we see in the survey population as a whole.

So there's probably more to it, and that's a good thing. It suggests the shift in opinion might be more durable than one motivated by a single incident.

But I want to play partisan hack today and just focus on the far left bar, which shows that Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to think that blacks don't get a fair shake from the criminal justice system. At first glance, you might figure that's just demographics at work. Republicans are heavily white and old, and those two groups are the ones least likely to think blacks are treated unfairly.

But take another look. The mere fact of being Republican makes you less likely than even whites and seniors to believe blacks don't get fair treatment. Why? Call it the Fox News effect. If you're exposed day after day to Fox and Drudge and Limbaugh, it means you're being overwhelmed with the message that blacks are dangerous, blacks are thuggish, and blacks are forever whining about wanting special treatment. This message is so overwhelming that even after Ferguson, Republicans are far less likely than any other group to acknowledge the simple fact that blacks might occasionally get treated a little roughly by cops and DAs.

That's changed by ten points in the past year, so maybe there's hope. Perhaps Fox and the others have toned down their obsession with racial hot buttons over the past year. Perhaps.

Report: Eric Holder Plans To Step Down As Attorney General

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 11:24 AM EDT

Eric Holder is planning to announce this afternoon that he will step down as attorney general as soon as a replacement can be confirmed, according to a report from NPR. Holder has led the Justice Department since February of 2009.

Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly "adamant" about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama's second term.

Holder already is one of the longest serving members of the Obama cabinet and ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, for his return in early February 2009 to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general — the second in command — during the Clinton administration.

Holder's tenure has been rocky from the start and over the years calls have come for his resignation from the right, the left, the right, and, well, the left again. Holder's resignation does not come as surprise. Indeed, he told the New Yorker's Jeffrey Tobin in February that he planned on stepping down sometime this year.

RED 3: Mitt Romney May Be Retired, But Still Extremely Dangerous

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 11:00 AM EDT

Byron York says that Mitt Romney aspires to be the Harold Stassen of the 21st century:

Romney is talking with advisers, consulting with his family, keeping a close eye on the emerging '16 Republican field, and carefully weighing the pluses and minuses of another run. That doesn't mean he will decide to do it, but it does mean that Mitt 2016 is a real possibility.

....A significant number of Romney's top financial supporters from 2012 have decided not to commit to any other 2016 candidate until they hear a definitive word from Romney. They believe they are doing it with the tacit approval of Romney himself.

....If Romney did run, one thing the loyalists expect is a change in his top strategists. Recently one veteran Republican operative who was not involved in the Romney campaign said, "All his people want him to run again because they made so much money off it the last time." Now, Romney supporters say that if he mounts another campaign, they would demand that Romney not employ Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, the Republican strategists who played key roles in the 2012 campaign. Who would take their place is an open question.

I know that Romney doesn't want my advice, but here it is anyway: Just pay all these guys a bunch of money to go away and stop dreaming about a chance to light more of your money on fire. It will be cheaper in the long run, and your eventual job description will be the same too.

But as long as we're supposedly taking this seriously, let's put on our analytical hats and ask: could Romney beat Hillary Clinton if they both ran? On the plus side, Hillary's not as good a campaigner as Barack Obama and 2016 is likely to be a Republican-friendly year after eight years of Democratic rule. On the minus side, Romney has already run twice, and the American public isn't usually very kind to second chances in political life, let alone third chances. Plus—and this is the real killer—Romney still has all the problems he had in 2012. In the public eye, he remains the 47 percent guy who seems more like the Romneytron 3000 than a real human being.

Still, snark aside, if you put all this together I guess it means Romney really would have a shot at winning if he ran. We still live in a 50-50 nation, after all, and for the foreseeable future I suspect that pretty much every presidential election is going to be fairly close. And Romney certainly has a decent chance of winning the Republican nomination, since he'd be competing against pretty much the same clown show as last time.

So sure: Run, Mitt! I hear that Eric Cantor is available to be your vice president.

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The Right's Newest Obama Conspiracy: He Made Up a "New" Terrorist Group to Defeat

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 10:44 AM EDT

On Monday night, the US military bombed ISIS, the radical group taking over chunks of Iraq and Syria. As a "last-minute add-on," as NBC put it, the US also targeted an organization called the Khorasan Group, a shadowy outfit composed of Al Qaeda veterans. After the bombing, the White House and the Pentagon noted that the Khorasan Group was in the "execution phase" of planning attacks on the West.

But some conservatives made sure not to give President Obama any credit for possibly thwarting a terrorist threat. Instead, they hatched yet another anti-Obama conspiracy theory: The president had concocted a supposedly new terrorist organization to destroy. That is, he and his aides were calling this new target the Khorasan Group, and not Al Qaeda, so they would not have to acknowledge that Al Qaeda—which the president in 2012 said was "on the run"—was still a threat.

"From what I understand, the [Obama] regime has given this group a new name in order for Obama to be able to continue to say he wiped Al Qaeda out," Rush Limbaugh said on Wednesday. "So you come up with a new name for Al Qaeda, the Kardashians, or Khorasans, or whatever they are, and either way it's defeating…So this new group is essentially just Al Qaeda renamed."

Glenn Beck came to a similar conclusion: "What is Khorasan? [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper mentioned Khorasan for the first time last week. What is it? It's an Al Qaeda splinter group. Notice they're not saying 'Al Qaeda Khorasan.' They're just calling it Khorasan. Why? The Pentagon claimed they have been watching Khorasan for a very long time, but it wasn't too long ago that this administration said Al Qaeda was decimated and on the run. But now they're an imminent threat? It doesn't add up, does it?"

Right-wing bloggers jumped on the bandwagon. Sweetness and Light (the Conservative Political Action Conference's blog of the year in 2009), claimed, "There are dozens of Al Qaeda subsets, and we have never bothered to call them by their specific tribal names before—but now all of a sudden we have to call Al Qaeda 'the Khorasan Group' in order to help save Obama's ass face." 

Sarah Noble of the Independent Sentinel wrote, "Khorasan IS Al Qaeda…They have been dangerous since 2009 and they have been unremittingly dangerous."

The Gateway Pundit noted: "The Obama administration can't say they bombed al-Qaeda because they said they defeated al-Qaeda. So, now they spin lies about core al-Qaeda being defeated and how they bombed the 'Khorasan Group' instead of al-Qaeda. It's just more lies."

But if the Obama administration wants to hide the Khorasan Group's connection to Al Qaeda, it has done a poor job. The administration and US officials have been open about Khorasan's affiliation with Al Qaeda—especially the ties of its leader Muhsin al-Fadhli, a close ally of Osama bin Laden—since disclosing details about the group this week before the strikes. Obama referred to the Khorasan Group as "seasoned Al Qaeda veterans" in a statement on Tuesday morning. US officials told the Associated Press earlier this month that the group of about 50 Al Qaeda veterans, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, set up shop in Syria on the orders of Al Qaeda top dog Ayman al-Zawahari in order to attract recruits.

Because the Obama administration has not revealed any intelligence showing that the Khorasan Group was indeed close to executing plots against the United States and other Western nations, it's hard for pundits and citizens to evaluate the claim that a direct and imminent threat was addressed by these air strikes. If administration officials can be taken at their word, then Obama has scored a hit in the battle against Islamic jihadists aiming to harm the United States. But that might be too difficult for conservatives to concede.

Bill Clinton Is Right: Storyline Reporting Has Poisoned the Political Press

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:45 AM EDT

Today brings a remarkable column from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. It's about the Clinton family's adversarial relationship with the press:

Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

“If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. "And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, every thing that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”

That's an interesting comment from Bill Clinton. Is it true? Well, check this out from the start of Cillizza's column:

Amy Chozick is the reporter tasked with covering the Clintons — and the runup to the now-almost-inevitable Hillary Clinton presidential bid — for the New York Times. Sounds like a plum gig, right? Until, that is, a press aide for the Clinton Global Initiative follows you into the bathroom.

Chozick describes a "friendly 20-something press aide who the Clinton Global Initiative tasked with escorting me to the restroom," adding: "She waited outside the stall in the ladies’ room at the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference is held each year."

Yes, this may be an extreme example. And, yes, the press strictures at the Clinton Global Initiative are the stuff of legend. But, the episode also reflects the dark and, frankly, paranoid view the Clintons have toward the national media. Put simply: Neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton likes the media or, increasingly, sees any positive use for them.

Here's what makes this fascinating. If you click the link and read Chozick's piece, you'll learn that every reporter at the CGI is "cloistered in a basement at the Sheraton" and that an escort is required wherever they go, "lest one of us with our yellow press badges wind up somewhere where attendants with an esteemed blue badge are milling around." It's entirely fair to argue that this is absurdly restrictive. It's not fair to imply that this is special treatment that Chozick got because she's the beat reporter covering the Clintons. Every other reporter at the event got the same treatment.

But that's what Cillizza did. In other words, he had already settled on a storyline, so he shoehorned the Chozick anecdote into his column to support that storyline. Which was exactly Clinton's complaint in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I don't actually have any doubt that the Clintons do, in fact, have a pretty tortured relationship with the press. After the way the press treated them in the 90s, it would be remarkable if they didn't. It might even be "dark and paranoid." That wouldn't surprise me too much either.

Nonetheless, I wish Cillizza would at least try to analyze his own tribe's behavior with the same care that he analyzes the Clintons'. In any fair reading, the press has legitimate grievances about its treatment by the Clintons, but the Clintons have some legitimate grievances about the obsessive shiny-toy-feeding-frenzy nature of modern political press coverage too. Unfortunately, all Cillizza manages to say about the hostile atmosphere of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign is that reporters weren't "entirely innocent in the whole thing."

Nobody should take this as a defense of the Clintons. High-profile politicians have always gotten klieg-light treatment, and they have to be able to handle it. At the same time, there ought to be at least a few mainstream reporters who also recognize some of the pathologies on their own side—those specific to the Clintons as well as those that affect presidential candidates of all stripes. How about an honest appraisal—complete with biting anecdotes—of how the political press has evolved over the past few decades and how storyline reporting has poisoned practically everything they do?

Chart: It's Never Been a Better Time to Be Rich

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday's chart looked at how the richest of the rich have enjoyed massive income gains for decades.

But wait, you say, isn't that the way it's always been? Yes and no. It's never been a bad time to be rich in America. But some times have been a lot better. In fact, the best time may be now, especially when you consider the amount of total income controlled by the top 1 percent since colonial times (with ancient Rome thrown in for comparison):

Sources: Rome: Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen; US in 1774 and 1860: Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson; US in 1929-2012, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel)

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

The Rich Are Getting Richer, Part the Millionth

| Wed Sep. 24, 2014 9:59 PM EDT

It's not easy finding new and interesting ways to illustrate the growth of income inequality over the past few decades. But here are a couple of related ones. The first is from "Survival of the Richest" in the current issue of Mother Jones, and it shows how much of our total national income growth gets hoovered up by the top 1 percent during economic recoveries. The super-rich got 45 percent of total income growth during the dotcom years; 65 percent during the housing bubble years; and a stunning 95 percent during the current recovery. It's good to be rich.

But there's more! The next chart, via Ryan Cooper, shows this trend even more explicitly. It comes from Pavlina Tcherneva, an economics professor at Bard College, and it also shows the distribution of national income growth during economic expansions. The difference is that it shows the share of the top 10 percent, and it shows it for every single expansion since World War II.

It's a pretty stunning chart. The precise numbers (from Piketty and Saez) can always be argued with, but the basic trend is hard to deny. After the end of each recession, the well-off have pocketed an ever greater share of the income growth from the subsequent expansion. Unsurprisingly, there's an especially big bump after 1975, but this is basically a secular trend that's been showing a steady rise toward nosebleed territory for more than half a century. Welcome to the 21st century.