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Surprise! EPA's New Power Plant Rules Aren't Going to Destroy America After All.

| Fri Jul. 24, 2015 12:13 AM EDT

Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there's one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? It turns out they aren't really all that expensive after all. The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?

Apologies for the spoiler, but can you guess what's happening now that President Obama's new carbon rules for power plants are about to take effect? Mitch "War on Coal" McConnell has been issuing hysterical warnings about these regulations for years, but the Washington Post reports that—sorry, did you say something? You've already guessed, have you?

More striking is what has happened since: Kentucky’s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule — something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort....“We can meet it,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA’s mandate.

The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency....Despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.

Iowa is expected to meet half of its carbon-reduction goal by next year, just with the wind-power projects already planned or in construction. Nevada is on track to meet 100 percent of its goal without additional effort, thanks to several huge ­solar-energy farms the state’s electricity utilities were already planning to build. From the Great Lakes to the Southwest, electric utilities were projecting huge drops in greenhouse-gas emissions as they switch from burning coal to natural gas — not because of politics or climate change, but because gas is now cheaper.

“It’s frankly the norm,” said Malcolm Woolf, a former Maryland state energy official and now senior vice president for Advanced Energy Economy....“We’ve yet to find a state that is going to have a real technical challenge meeting this.”

Try to contain your surprise.

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I Can’t Stop Laughing At This Video Of Donald Trump Trying To Sell Steaks At Sharper Image

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 6:38 PM EDT

Who buys steaks at Sharper Image?

Also, this quote makes no sense.

 

It's good to laugh.

Silicon Valley Made a Bunch of Dudes Billionaires, But It’s Making You Poorer

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 5:25 PM EDT

First the tech industry made your life easier with iPhones, tablets, and smart-everything. But is it also making it harder for you to get ahead?

A recent study on global income inequality by the International Monetary Fund identifies technological change as a top factor driving the split between rich and poor worldwide. Specifically, the study's authors found that the growth of technology accounts for nearly one-third of the widening gap between the top 10 percent and bottom 90 percent over the past quarter century. Other factors include the globalization of trade and finance.

Here's how tech has contributed to widening the gap: It's eliminated jobs by automating tasks, and it's driven up the "skill premium," meaning jobs that require skills like coding pay more lucratively than traditional blue-collar jobs. But even tech workers aren't safe, because their industry's needs evolve so quickly that they may be made obsolete by the very advancements they're working toward. In the end, the jobs that pay the most are only for those who can keep up with the changing times, and those who can afford the required education to get a position in the first place.   

The study notes that technological change has contributed most to rising income inequality in the 39 OECD countries that make up 80 percent of global trade and investment. It finds that inequality has grown the most in the United States and the United Kingdom, even as poverty in emerging economies has decreased.

Education hasn't alleviated income inequality as much as it could, according to the study. Despite a notable rise in highly-educated workers, the wage gap between high- and low-skilled workers remains. The researchers suggest that education is a viable solution only if governments invest it and make it affordable. "What we find really is that raising income shares of the rich doesn't trickle down," says Era Dabla-Norris, the study's lead author and a researcher at the International Monetary Fund. "And raising the income shares of the poor and middle class is actually good for growth."

And while other studies have found links between housing costs and venture capital investment, high levels of innovation, high concentrations of high-tech industry and venture capital startups (looking at you, San Francisco), the issue of inequality is a complex one. "There are some common drivers across the world, but the drivers vary," Dabla-Norris says. "Policies to alleviate inequality have to be country-specific; there is no one-size-fits-all."

It's Not Just Social Security Anymore. Jeb Bush Wants to Destroy Medicare Too.

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 5:12 PM EDT

Republicans have been talking for years about "reforming" Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they'll love it so much that, um, Republicans don't dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients. Or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There's a lot of blah blah blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It's only younger workers, who don't pay as much attention and have been brainwashed—by conservatives—into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP's reformed version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right?

But I've never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now. Here's Jeb Bush:

A lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.

Boom! If we don't gut Medicare, they'll have nothing. When they turn 65 they'll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn't it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it's something, after all.

Jesus. You'd think we were Greece. Oh wait—these guys do think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for Social Security and Medicare. If they're correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That's about 3 percent of GDP more than we're spending now.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can't afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would—what? I don't even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That's it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?

Jeb Bush Wants America to "Phase Out" Medicare

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 4:40 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a crowd in New Hampshire that Americans need to consider ways to "phase out" Medicare.

The former Florida governor, who was speaking at an event hosted by the Koch-brothers supported group Americans for Prosperity, also suggested "people understand" and agree with him on the issue.

"They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits," Bush said. "But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something—because they're not going to have anything."

Bush's comments echo the views of former president and brother George W. Bush, who pushed to severely slash Social Security with a controversial reform plan back in 2005. That effort proved overwhelmingly unpopular and failed.

A day before Bush's Medicare comments, a new report showing the program's costs to be significantly under what had been previously projected nearly ten years ago, as our own Kevin Drum noted:

Beyond that, it's always foolish to assume that costs will rise forever just because they have in the past. Medicare is a political program, and at some point the public will decide that it's not willing to fund it at higher levels. It's not as if it's on autopilot, after all. We live in a democracy, and after lots of yelling and fighting, we'll eventually do something about rising medical costs if we simply don't think the additional spending is worth it.

Despite the resulting failure of his brother's plan to do away with Social Security, Bush said he believes that his plan to gradually eliminate Medicare will prove to be a "winning argument if we take it directly to people."

Waller County Officials: Sandra Bland Autopsy Consistent With Suicide

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 4:04 PM EDT

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, the Waller County District Attorney revealed preliminary autopsy results in the death of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who was found dead in her jail cell days after being arrested for a traffic stop, saying that examiners discovered no apparent injuries consistent with a violent homicide or struggle.

Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam told reporters that he was presenting physical rather than criminal findings, but said there was no evidence found in the autopsy of injuries to Bland's hands or internal organs to suggest a violent struggle had taken place in the jail. Previously, a medical examiner called her death a suicide by hanging. Bland's family disputes the finding.

There was no evidence the first autopsy performed on Bland was defective as was previously alleged by an attorney representing Bland's family, Diepraam added.

According to the new autopsy findings, Bland's injuries were consistent with having "a force against her back."

A portion of the press conference focused on the presence of marijuana found in Bland's system—confirmed by preliminary autopsy results. Many took to social media to question the relevance of the finding.

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Study: Juvenile Detention Not a Great Place to Deal With Mental Health Issues

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 3:39 PM EDT

If you land in the hospital as an incarcerated teen, it's more likely for mental health reasons—psychiatric illnesses, substance abuse, depression, or disruptive disorders—than for any other factor, says a new study.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine examined nearly 2 million hospitalizations in California of boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 over a 15-year period. They found that mental health diagnoses accounted for 63 percent of hospital stays by kids in the justice system, compared with 19 percent of stays by kids who weren't incarcerated, according to their study published Tuesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Should we be getting them into treatment earlier, before they start getting caught up in the justice system?"

The study's lead author, Dr. Arash Anoshiravani, said it seems likely that many locked-up kids developed mental health problems as a result of earlier stressful events during their childhoods, such as being abused or witnessing other acts of violence. "We are arresting kids who have mental health problems probably related to their experiences as children," he said in a statement. "Is that the way we should be dealing with this, or should we be getting them into treatment earlier, before they start getting caught up in the justice system?"

Even if someone enters detention without a major mental health problem, she has a good chance of developing one once she's there. The World Health Organization cites many factors in prison life as detrimental to mental stability, including overcrowding, physical or sexual violence, isolation, a lack of privacy, and inadequate health services. And the problem is obviously not just limited to juvenile offenders: Earlier this year, a study by the Urban Institute found that more than half of all inmates in jails and state prisons across the country have a mental illness of some kind.

In the California study, kids in detention and hospitalized were disproportionately black and from larger metropolitan counties like Los Angeles, Alameda, and San Diego. Among children and teens in the justice system, girls were more likely than boys to experience severe mental health problems, with 74 percent of their hospitalizations related to mental illness, compared with 57 percent of boys' hospitalizations. (Boys, on the other hand, were five times more likely to be hospitalized for trauma.)

Earlier mental health interventions could lead to major savings, the researchers added: Detained youth in their study had longer hospital stays than kids outside the justice system, and a majority of them were publicly insured.

Ohio State's Quarterback Has the Perfect Response to a Fan's Stupid "Shut Up and Play" Tweet

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

Sometimes athletes choose to stand in the center of a movement and make a statement. Ohio State's Cardale Jones, quarterback of this year's national championship football team, took some time Thursday to ask a simple question on Twitter:

It wasn't exactly incendiary stuff from Jones, who has been dinged for expressing himself on social media before. Still, when one fan decided to chime in to tell Jones to shut up and stick to football, the 22-year-old junior from Cleveland wasn't having it:

Also, a reminder: College athletes aren't getting paid while the NCAA rakes in millions

(h/t @byjoelanderson)

Ted Cruz Wants to Be Able to Oust Supreme Court Justices

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

Ted Cruz is plowing ahead with an effort to subject Supreme Court justices to elections, tapping into conservative anger toward the court after last month's rulings preserving the Affordable Care Act and making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

After calling publicly for retention elections for the justices, the senator from Texas and Republican presidential candidate convened a Senate hearing on Wednesday to discuss "possible solutions" to the Supreme Court's "activism."

"This past term, the court crossed a line, continued its long descent into lawlessness to a level that I believe demands action," a dour Cruz said in his opening statement at the hearing of a Senate Judiciary Committee subpanel. "Five unelected lawyers have declared themselves the rulers of 320 million Americans."

Two of the three witnesses agreed that the court had overstepped its bounds. Ed Whelan, a former Justice Department official and legal blogger at the conservative National Review, said the gay marriage opinion, Obergefell v. Hodges, "is rivaled in Supreme Court history only by Dred Scott v. Sandford," the decision that helped catalyze the Civil War, and Roe v. Wade, which recognized a woman's right to an abortion.

In response, Cruz said he supported proposals for term limits for Supreme Court justices, in addition to his own proposal to subject Supreme Court justices to retention elections.

Cruz's retention election proposal received praise from one of the witnesses, John Eastman, a conservative scholar at Chapman University School of Law in California and board chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that has fought bitterly to keep same-sex marriage illegal. (Eastman once equated homosexuality with "barbarism.") Eastman suggested two additional constitutional amendments to limit, as he put it, "judicial tyranny": Give a majority of states the power to override "an erroneous decision" of the court, and allow Congress to veto Supreme Court rulings by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses.

Although liberals fared well in the Supreme Court's recent rulings, they often find themselves in agreement with Cruz's position on term limits. The one liberal witness at the hearing, Neil Siegel, a constitutional expert at Duke Law School and former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel to then-Sen. Joe Biden, said he supported term limits. (He's not the only prominent liberal legal scholar to do so.) Eastman, by contrast, said term limits wouldn't save the court from a parade of activist judges, while Whelan didn't take a position.

"I've become persuaded as a matter of constitutional design I think [term limits are] a good idea," Siegel said Wednesday. "People are appointed in their forties. They can stay there till their nineties. I think nomination and confirmation is a way that over time we ensure democratic accountability. … I think regular changeover on the court, like an 18-year term, might be a very good idea and worth serious consideration."

This is not the first time that politicians or scholars have proposed reigning in the lifetime appointment of Supreme Court justices. A recent poll found that two-thirds of Americans would support term limits for the court. But any such changes would likely require a politically difficult constitutional amendment, given that the Constitution says justices "shall hold their offices during good behavior"—generally interpreted to mean as long as they like, unless they're impeached and removed from office.

Donald Trump Says He May Run As a Third-Party Candidate

| Thu Jul. 23, 2015 1:45 PM EDT

Donald Trump, displeased with the Republican National Committee, is threatening to launch a third-party White House run.

In an interview with The Hill, Trump said that while the RNC had been happy in the past to accept his money, the party has "not been supportive" of his candidacy. Consequently, he is mulling a third-party presidential run, and says the chances of him launching one would increase if he feels the committee treats him unfairly during the primaries.

"I'm not in the gang. I'm not in the group where the group does whatever it's supposed to do," Trump told The Hill, explaining why he believes he's unpopular with the GOP establishment.

A third-party Trump campaign would be cause for celebration among Democrats, since he would potentially siphon off Republican support and clear the way for a Democratic victory.