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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 12, 2014

Wed Nov. 12, 2014 2:24 PM EST

US Army soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas pose for a photo with the Prime Minister of Estonia as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ray Boyington)

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UPDATE: Republicans May Oppose China Climate Deal, But Change Is Coming Anyway

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 10:45 AM EST

Speaking of climate change, Politico reminds us today that although Republicans may blindly oppose any and all plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there's a whole lot already baked into the cake that they can't do much about:

The coming rollout includes a Dec. 1 proposal by EPA to tighten limits on smog-causing ozone, which business groups say could be the costliest federal regulation of all time; a final rule Dec. 19 for clamping down on disposal of power plants’ toxic coal ash; the Jan. 1 start date for a long-debated rule prohibiting states from polluting the air of their downwind neighbors; and a Jan. 8 deadline for issuing a final rule restricting greenhouse gas emissions from future power plants. That last rule is a centerpiece of Obama’s most ambitious environmental effort, the big plan for combating climate change that he announced at Georgetown University in June 2013.

....The administration was committed to its upcoming deadlines many months ago, in some cases under court order, after postponing a number of the actions until after the 2012 or 2014 elections. Now that Obama is almost out of time, they’re coming all at once.

On deck are even more climate actions that will stretch well into 2015. In June, EPA is due to put out a final version of its rule for cutting greenhouse gases from the nation’s existing power plants — the linchpin of Obama’s entire climate effort.

Now, this is probably not enough to meet even the modest goals that Obama agreed to with China, but it's unquestionably the most ambitious effort of any president ever. And there's not much that Republicans can do to stop it. They can delay some of this stuff a bit, but that's just window dressing. Once the final rules are in place, there's nothing they can do to roll them back without Democratic support. And that's not likely to come.

Unlike Obama's threatened immigration rules, these are all things that have been in the pipeline for years. Obama doesn't have to take any active steps to make them happen, and Republicans can't pretend that any of them are a "poke in the eye," or whatever the latest bit of post-election kvetching is. This stuff is as good as done, and second only to Obamacare, it's right up there as one of the biggest legacies of Obama's presidency.

BREAKING: Climate Deal May Face Republican Opposition

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 10:23 AM EST

As the capstone of an "unexpectedly productive two days of meetings" between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a deal was announced yesterday that called on both the US and China to begin reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Mark Landler of the New York Times tosses in this deadpan paragraph about halfway through his dispatch:

Administration officials acknowledged that Mr. Obama could face opposition to his plans from a Republican-controlled Congress. While the agreement with China needs no congressional ratification, lawmakers could try to roll back Mr. Obama’s initiatives, undermining the United States’ ability to meet the new reduction targets.

Um, yeah. I guess that's a possibility.

I don't quite remember, but maybe someone can remind me. Are there any Republicans left in Congress who will publicly admit that climate change is both real and manmade? There must be one or two, right? I just can't remember who they might be.

Awkward: Watch a Supercut of Republicans Using China As an Excuse to Do Nothing About Climate Change

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 12:58 AM EST

The shock announcement of an ambitious and wide-ranging climate deal between the United States and China is leaving one vociferous group of politicians red-faced: those that have always used China as an excuse for delaying climate action.

The announcement between the two biggest emitters deals a blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the US must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation. And vice versa: China has long used US inaction as an excuse too.

Not anymore.

The Richest 0.1 Percent Is About to Control More Wealth Than the Bottom 90 Percent

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 2:50 PM EST

While a complex web of factors have contributed to the rise in income inequality in America, a new research paper says most of the blame can be largely placed in the immense growth experienced by the top tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans in recent years. From the report:

The rise of wealth inequality is almost entirely due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth share, from 7% in 1979 to 22% in 2012, a level almost as high as in 1929. The bottom 90% wealth share first increased up to the mid-1980s and then steadily declined. The increase in wealth concentration is due to the surge of top incomes combined with an increase in saving rate inequality.

So, who are the 0.1 percent among us? According to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the paper's researchers, the elite group is a small one, roughly composed of 160,000 families with assets exceeding $20 million, but their grip on America's wealth distribution is about to surpass the bottom 90 percent for the first time in more than half a century.  Today's 0.1 percent also tend to be younger than the top incomers of the 1960's, despite the fact the country as a whole has been living longer—proving once again, that there has truly never been a more opportune time to be rich in America:

rise of the megarich

The Great Wage Slowdown Finally Takes Center Stage

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 2:01 PM EST

I'm feeling better today, but still not really in good blogging condition. So just a quick note: it appears that the great wage slowdown is finally getting lots of mainstream attention. Why? Because apparently the midterm results have persuaded a lot of people that this isn't just an economic problem, but a political problem as well. In fact, here's the headline on David Leonhardt's piece today:

The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics

Josh Marshall makes much the same point with this headline:

Forget the Chatter, This is the Democrats' Real Problem

Both are saying similar things. First, growing income inequality per se isn't our big problem. Stagnant wages for the middle class are. Obviously these things are tightly related in an economic sense, but in a political sense they aren't. Voters care far less about rich people buying gold-plated fixtures for their yachts than they do about not getting a raise for the past five years. The latter is the problem they want solved.

Needless to say, I agree, but here are the two key takeaways from Marshall and Leonhardt and pretty much everyone else who tackles this subject: (1) nobody has any real answers, and (2) this hurts Democrats more than Republicans since Democrats are supposed to be the party of the middle class.

I'd say #1 is obviously true, and it's a huge problem. But #2 is a little shakier. Sure, Republicans are the party of business interests and the rich, but voters blame their problems on whoever's in power. Right now, Democrats have gotten the lion's share of the blame for the slow economy, but Republicans rather plainly have no serious ideas about how to grow middle-class wages either. They won't escape voter wrath on this front forever.

I'm not going to try to say more about this right now. I just wanted to point out that this is finally starting to get some real attention. And that's good: it's one of the great economic trends of our time, and therefore one of the great political trends as well. For a short rundown of the other great trends of our time, I recommend this piece. I wrote it a couple of years ago, and I continue to think these are the basic battlegrounds our politics are going to be fought on over the next decade or two.

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Tennessee Voters Just Made It Easier to Restrict Abortion—And the GOP Isn't Wasting Any Time.

| Tue Nov. 11, 2014 10:15 AM EST

For years, as lawmakers in other conservative states passed onerous restrictions designed to limit abortion access, deep-red Tennessee stood out as an exception—because the state's constitution forbade many of the harshest anti-abortion measures.

But that changed on Election Day. Last week, 53 percent of Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1—a change to the state's constitution that will allow lawmakers to pass a slew of new abortion restrictions. And Republicans, led by Beth Harwell, the speaker of the state house of representatives, are already working on three abortion restrictions to debate in 2015: One measure would set up a mandatory waiting period between a woman's first visit to an abortion clinic and the time of the procedure. A second would force women to undergo mandatory counseling, known as informed consent, before an abortion. And a third would add new, unspecified inspection requirements for abortion facilities.

As I reported in September, Amendment 1 was aimed at overturning a 2000 court decision that struck down a 48-hour waiting period, an "informed consent" law, and a requirement that all second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital. Amendment 1 reads: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion," including for pregnancies "resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

Supporters of Amendment 1 argued that the new language was necessary because Tennessee was barred from inspecting abortion clinics. (In fact, the Tennessee Department of Health inspected several of the state's clinics within the past year before renewing their licenses.)

Amendment 1 detractors, on the other hand, warned that the measure was actually aimed at using strict new regulations to close some of Tennessee's seven abortion clinics. This tactic is popular with Tennessee's neighbors. It's part of why nearly 1 in 4 women who receive an abortion in Tennessee live in another state, such as Alabama and Mississippi, where highly restrictive abortion laws have closed all but a handful of abortion providers.

Abortion rights advocates also worried that the amendment would allow abortion opponents to spread misinformation about abortion through an informed consent law; South Dakota, for example, compels doctors to tell women that abortion can lead to an increased risk of suicide—an assertion that mainstream medical organizations say is false. All told, both camps poured $5.5 million into the fight over Amendment 1.

It's not as though Tennessee was abortion-friendly to begin with. Before Amendment 1 came along, Tennessee passed anti-abortion laws that limited insurance coverage for abortion, outlawed the abortion pill, and caused two abortion clinics to close because they could not gain admitting privileges with local hospitals.

The real danger of Amendment 1 is that the measure "will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes," Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, said in the run-up to the election. "We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass."

Turns out he was spot-on.

"Pouring Rain" by Dream Police

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 6:09 PM EST
dream police

TRACK 4

"Pouring Rain"

From Dream Police's Hypnotized

sacred bones

Liner notes: Woozy analog synths + jittery drum machine + yearning vocals = scruffy, poignant psychedelia.

Behind the music: Dream Police is Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro, founders of the mercurial Brooklyn band the Men, which has ranged from brutal punk to rootsy Americana.

Check it out if you like: Velvet Underground, Neu!, early Human League.

Oh Great, Here's a Hit Song Demanding Women Shut Up and Drink

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 5:05 PM EST

While students around the country join Emma Sulkowicz's fight against flawed campus sexual assault policies, a new song by popular duo Play-N-Skillz is glorifying rape culture to the catchy tune of telling women to quit resisting and drink up already. The video, which came out in late October, has already been viewed more than 600,000 times. 

Sample lyrics include: "A shot of vodka? I can't. Tequila? I can't. After party? I can't. Girl-on-girl? I can't. Literally I can't. Literally I can't."

This back and forth banter is repeatedly met with a resounding: "Oh my god. Shut the fuck up!" 

On the surface, "Literally, I Can't" is a weak, and late, attempt to poke fun at an internet-established joke about a woman's inability to utter concrete sentences to describe their unbridled excitement/disgust/horror/delight. But the result is an incredibly offensive mantra with an equally repugnant video starring fratty dudes in "STFU" varsity jackets, imploring the prude sorority girls of LIC to give in and let loose.

Lovely, no? As for a purely musical assessment, the song is just insufferable. Envisioning bros singing along to it, red Solo cups at the ready, is eye roll-inducing. But when you recall that Sulkowicz is still out there literally carrying the weight of the issue, that's when it gets truly heartbreaking. 

(h/t Mashable)

 

Housekeeping Note

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 3:10 PM EST

Sorry folks. Not a good day today. Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow.