2013 - %3, February

Rick Scott, Tax-and-Spend Tea Partier?

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST
Fla. Governor Rick Scott (R), who chopped $300 million out of the higher education budget last year, talks about his plans to boost education spending.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has discovered the hard way that devotion to tea party economics has a significant downside—namely that the voters really hate it.

Elected in 2010 on a wave of tea party anger, Scott took office promising to slash spending, lower taxes and shrink the size and reach of the state government. And that he did. As my latest magazine feature documents, Scott’s first two state budgets cut state funding for everything from environmental protection to education, and he made a show of rejecting millions in federal funding for high-speed rail and health care  programs, just on principle.

Two years and many millions in cuts later, Scott is one of the country’s most unpopular governors. And now that Scott is facing reelection next year, he’s  changing his tune about government spending. The budget he presented to the state legislature this month was nearly $10 billion larger than the one he unveiled (at a tea party rally) in 2011, and the largest ever proposed in Florida history. And for the past two weeks, Scott has been touring the state, campaign-style, highlighting all the  ways he wants to spend more taxpayer money.

 

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Monsanto: All Your Seeds Are Belong to Us

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST

"Roundup Ready" soybeans.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana farmer, says that switching to Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans "made things so much simpler and better." Monsanto's patented beans can survive when they are sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup, which makes pest control much easier. Monsanto is less impressed with Bowman: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on a lawsuit that the company filed against him in 2007, accusing him of violating its patent on Roundup Ready soybeans.

Here's what happened: Bowman bought seeds from a grain elevator that sold soybeans for animal feed, industrial use, or other nonplanting purposes. The elevator contained a lot of "second generation" Roundup Ready seeds—the spawn of original seeds that other farmers had bought and harvested from Monsanto. That's not surprising, since "[Roundup Ready soybeans are] probably the most rapidly adopted technological advance in history," said Seth Waxman, who is representing Monsanto. "The very first Roundup Ready soybean seed was only made in 1996. And it now is grown by more than 90 percent of  the 275,000 soybean farms in the United States."

King Corn Mowed Down 2 Million Acres of Grassland in 5 Years Flat

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST

Corn and soy fields are rapidly swallowing up grassland in the western corn belt.

In a post last year, I argued that to get ready for climate change, we should push Midwestern farmers to switch a chunk of their corn land into pasture for cows. The idea came from a paper by University of Tennessee and Bard College researchers, who calculated that such a move could suck up massive amounts of carbon in soil—enough to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 36 percent. In addition to the CO2 reductions, you'd also get a bunch of high-quality, grass-fed beef (which has a significantly healthier fat profile than the corn-finished stuff).

Turns out, farmers in the Midwest are doing just the opposite. Inspired by high crop prices driven up by the federal corn-ethanol program—as well as by federally subsidized crop insurance that mitigates their risk—farmers are expanding the vast carpet of corn and soy that covers the Midwest rather than retracting it. That's the message of a new paper (PDF) by South Dakota State University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

13 Governors Screwing Over the Uninsured

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST
No health insurance? No problem!

Stephanie Mencimer's latest Mother Jones cover story showcased the grim impact tea-party-influenced state lawmakers have had in Florida. Under Gov. Rick Scott, the state rejected billions of dollars in federal funding for any kind of Affordable Care Act-related program, with Scott leading the fight against the expansion of Medicaid coverage for the poor. But Scott's certainly not the only governor to balk at the idea of making public health insurance more inclusive. In the last month, Govs. Tom Corbett (R-Penn.), Pat McCrory (R-N.C.), and Scott Walker (R-Wis.) announced their states would not be expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income, uninsured residents, and Koch-funded super-PAC Americans for Prosperity expressed its support for a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would reject the expanded Medicaid coverage in state code.

Thirteen state governors are refusing to implement Medicaid expansion, despite the fact that it's being offered with cherries on top: The Affordable Care Act's timeline guarantees that the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion in its first three years, tapering down to 90 percent of the paycheck by 2020. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income groups hovering above the federal poverty line in all states would cut the number of uninsured by nearly half nationwide, provided other features of the ACA are implemented.

Most of these governors argue the expansion would be too expensive, even though including the poor would only increase these states' Medicaid spending by an average of 3 percent over the next decade, and taxpayers will be paying for the federal program anyway. Several of the governors rejecting Medicaid expansion ran for office on anti-Obamacare or tea party platforms, preaching austerity and less federal meddling. Maine's Gov. Paul LePage, whose state would actually see its portion of Medicaid spending reduced by expanding the program, argued that Maine would not be "complicit in the degradation" of the country's health care.

Not all GOP governors are rejecting Medicaid expansion—earlier this month, Michigan's Rick Snyder and Ohio's John Kasich agreed to let newly eligible groups onto their Medicaid rolls, joining GOP governors from Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Dakota who support the program's expansion. Pressure for other governors to concede is mounting—even Florida governor Rick Scott now appears to be keeping the state's options open. Update, 6:55 p.m. EST: Scott just announced that he will be supporting Medicaid expansion in Florida, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The announcement came hours after the federal government agreed it would allow the state to privatize the service through a state managed care plan.

Here are the players still holding out:

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Robert Bentley (R-Ala.)

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Bentley did not mince words: "It is, in my opinion, truly the worst piece of legislation that has ever been passed in my lifetime," the governor said at a luncheon last year. After last year's presidential elections, Bentley also announced he would not be supporting Medicaid expansion—a move that would add more than 300,000 Alabama residents to Medicaid rolls, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report. Like his fellow Republican governors, Bentley cited the costliness of covering the poor as the reason he was opposed (expanding Medicaid coverage would cost the state some $771 million), but researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham found that opening the program to more low-income groups would actually generate $1.7 billion in state tax revenue over the decade it's implemented, in addition to $20 billion in new income.

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Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)

Georgia has the fifth-highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, and expanding its Medicaid program would accommodate 698,000 new Medicaid enrollees, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A report from Harvard Law School reveals that Georgia—like Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas—also has one of the highest rates of new and existing AIDS cases, along with the worst outcomes nationwide, in part because the poor aren't able to access treatment through the state's strict Medicaid eligibility requirements.

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Butch Otter (R-Idaho)

In July 2012, Otter appointed a 14-member committee to weigh the pros and cons of expanding Medicaid coverage to more of Idaho's poor. In November, the panel unanimously agreed that the state should accept expansion, arguing that this reform would save the state the money it bleeds in the state-funded ER costs its uninsured residents can't pay. But in 2013, the governor announced Idaho would not be pursuing Medicaid expansion—despite the fact that the state would only have to spend $261 million to cover up to roughly 100,000 newly eligible Idahoans, receiving $3.7 billion from the federal government over 10 years.

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Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

One of the most outspoken critics of Medicaid expansion, Jindal published an op-ed in the Washington Post in January challenging the president to meet with the Republican governors who would prefer to keep Medicaid coverage "flexible," i.e., thin. With more than 20 percent of its residents uninsured, Louisiana has one of the highest proportions of uninsured in the country, compounded by the fact that the state also maintains some of the nation's tightest Medicaid eligibility requirements.

Hospitals and Democratic lawmakers alike have lobbied Jindal to change his mind—last December, Sen. Mary Landrieu pointed out in a letter to Jindal that Medicaid expansion could actually save the state some $267 million in unpaid care costs. "I know from your many speeches across the nation during the recent Presidential campaign your steadfast opposition to the Affordable care act," Landrieu wrote. "However, the election is over."

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Paul LePage (R-Maine)

Uncompensated care in Maine hospitals has doubled over the past five years, according to a 2012 report from the Portland Press Herald. The state is also one of 10 identified by the Kaiser Family Foundation that would see direct savings from implementing Medicaid expansion, as the federal government would pay more for those currently eligible for the program. But last year, LePage announced that Maine would not be expanding its Medicaid program, writing in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: "Maine will not be complicit in the degradation of our nation's premier health care system."

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Phil Bryant (R-Miss.)

"As governor, I will fight to protect our future," Bryant wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Times last October. "And that means that I will resist any effort to expand Medicaid in this state."

Arguing that Medicaid expansion could result in 1 in 3 Mississippians having Medicaid health insurance, Bryant said he'd rather have 1 in 3 residents "earn health care coverage through good-paying jobs." He also stressed personal responsibility, exercise, diet, and his own crusade to end teen pregnancy—via abstinence education programs. Mississippi has the eighth-highest rate of uninsured people in the country, and, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, some 231,000 Mississippians would newly enroll in Medicaid if expanded. Some state legislators are still hoping to discuss the idea of growing the program through a state Senate bill reauthorizing Medicaid.

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Pat McCrory (R-N.C.)

Last week, McCrory announced he would be throwing his weight behind a bill that would reject Medicaid expansion in his state. "It would be unfair to the taxpayers, unfair to the citizens currently receiving Medicaid and unfair to create a new bureaucracy to implement the system," McCrory said Tuesday. Roughly 1.6 million North Carolinians are uninsured, and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that more than 500,000 residents would enroll if the state extended more coverage to the poor.

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Mary Fallin (R-Okla.)

While Fallin, like other governors, cited costs as one reason to abstain from Medicaid expansion, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, argued that the net gain of Medicaid expansion would be positive, with costs "likely to be largely or fully offset by budget savings" in other state agencies like the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 225,000 Oklahomans would be newly eligible for expanded Medicaid, and that the state would spend between $549 to $789 million on the expanded program in its first six years.

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Tom Corbett (R-Pa.)

"Washington is asking us to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act without any clear guidance or reasonable assurances," Corbett told Pennsylvania state legislators during his budget address on February 5. "It would be financially unsustainable for the taxpayers, and I cannot recommend a dramatic Medicaid expansion.”

Corbett, who helped file a lawsuit against the ACA while he was state attorney general and running for governor in 2010, is up for reelection in 2014—though only 31 percent of the state thinks he deserves another shot, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. The rate of uninsured residents in Philadelphia and surrounding counties has doubled in a little over a decade, and Medicaid expansion would enroll more than half a million newly eligible Pennsylvanians for the program's coverage.

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Nikki Haley (R-S.C.)

Like Rick Scott, Haley was swept into office on a tide of tea party fervor. In July of 2012, she announced on Facebook that South Carolina would not expand its Medicaid program, though, like several of the other states on this list, South Carolina has one of the higher proportions of uninsured in the country, with more than 20 percent of its population lacking health care coverage.

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Dennis Daugaard (R-S.D.)

Parents of Medicaid-eligible kids who earn more than $9,936 a year make too much to qualify for South Dakota Medicaid. But Daugaard opposes expanding Medicaid to cover more of the state's uninsured adults, explaining to one local radio station: "I want to stress that these are able-bodied adults. They're not disabled: We already cover the disabled. They're not children: We already cover children. These are adults—all of them." According to a 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, accepting Medicaid expansion would enroll some new 44,000 South Dakotans for Medicaid coverage, and cost the state a 3.6 percent increase in its Medicaid expenditure over ten years.

Gage Skidmore/Compfight

Rick Perry (R-Texas)

Perry, like Scott and Jindal, has been an early expansion naysayer, though his state has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation. "To expand this program is not unlike adding a thousand people to the Titanic," he told Fox News in July of 2012. Perry argued that expanding Medicaid coverage would bankrupt the state, though by investing $15 billion in the expansion, Texas would receive $100 billion in federal funding and cover 1.8 million newly enrolled residents under the program.

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Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

Wisconsin's tea party governor is the latest to join the anti-Medicaid expansion crew, but is also advocating a novel approach: Instead of expanding his state's Medicaid coverage, which already covered low-income individuals up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line (with an enrollment limit), Walker would hike that Medicaid eligibility back to 100 percent of the FPL, remove the enrollment limit, and set up a health exchange to provide private insurance to other low income groups. As the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff points out, this means that Wisconsin will be turning down the federal government's offer to pay for new Medicaid enrollees.

This article has been revised.

Music Review: "Bad Boys" by Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST
album cover

TRACK 4

"Bad Boys"

From Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside's Untamed Beast

PARTISAN

Liner notes: The unholy love child of Howlin' Wolf and Fiona Apple, Sallie Ford gleefully shouts, "I can fuck/I can drink/And I don't care what you think," with rude drums and twangy rockabilly guitar amplifying the uproar.

Behind the music: The Portland-based singer (and daughter of noted puppeteer Hobey Ford) cites Tom Waits' 2002 album Alice as an inspiration.

Check it out if you like: Shilpa Ray, Zola Jesus, Cat Power, and other charismatic oddballs.

Music Review: "What a Shame" by Jamie Lidell

| Wed Feb. 20, 2013 6:01 AM EST
album cover

TRACK 3

"What a Shame"

From Jamie Lidell's Jamie Lidell

WARP

Liner notes: Old-school heat and future-funk cool combine on this furious mix of hard electro-beats and Lidell's frenetic multitracked singing.

Behind the music: The Nashville-based Brit has worked with Christian Vogel as half of Super Collider and has collaborated with Beck, Feist, and Simian Mobile Disco.

Check it out if you like: Legendary R&B masters like Cameo and Bobby Brown, or modern-day peers like Nick Waterhouse and Michael Kiwanuka.

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There is No Possible Sequester Deal to be Made

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 8:44 PM EST

I've successfully avoided writing about the sequester over the last few days, but I'm curious: does anyone seriously think a deal is even possible? I don't quite see how. Here are the possibilities:

  • Eliminate the sequester entirely. Zero chance of Republicans agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, replace them with domestic cuts plus a tax increase. Zero chance of Republicans agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, double the domestic cuts. Zero chance of Democrats agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, keep the domestic cuts. Approximately zero chance of Democrats agreeing to this.
  • Kick the can down the road with some kind of small-ball deal. Possible, I guess.

Am I leaving out some possible permutation here? I can just barely imagine a small-ball deal, maybe one that's 100 percent spending cuts, maybe one that includes some kind of semi-hidden revenue increase. But that's about it. Every other possibility is substantially worse than the status quo to either Democrats or Republicans.

But for some reason we keep talking as if a deal is possible. So what am I missing here? As far as I can tell, neither side is genuinely trying to negotiate. They're just trying to make sure the other side gets the blame when sequestration kicks in, as it inevitably will.

So who's winning that game? A friend emails to say that this paragraph from Gloria Borger, a reliable barometer of DC conventional wisdom, suggests that Republicans are:

The president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.

Sure enough, Borger unquestioningly accepts the Republican framing that (a) further tax increases are an absurdity and (b) the debt ceiling deal wasn't about reducing the deficit, it was about reducing spending. If this view is common deep in the lizard brains of the DC press corps, Obama has his work cut out for him.

Who Pays the Corporate Income Tax?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 5:42 PM EST

Who pays the corporate income tax? Corporations, obviously. That's like asking who's buried in Grant's tomb. One way or another, though, actual people have to ultimately pay the tax. Consumers pay it if companies respond to corporate taxes by raising the price of their products. Workers pay the tax if corporations respond by lowering wages. Shareholders pay the tax if it simply eats into profits and lowers share prices.

But which is it? Bruce Bartlett reports today that the March issue of the National Tax Journal has four articles that address this question. Here are the answers:

  • Article #1: Shareholders pay 100 percent.
  • Article #2: Shareholders pay 100 percent.
  • Article #3: Shareholders pay 40 percent, workers pay 60 percent.
  • Article #4: Shareholders pay 82 percent, workers pay 18 percent.

The old saw says that if you ask ten economists about something, you'll get 11 answers. By simple arithmetic, this suggests that if you ask four economists, you'll get 4.4 answers. But in this case we only got three. Not bad!

So what's the real answer? By using the blogger's expedient of simply averaging all the responses, it looks like shareholders end up paying 80 percent of the corporate income tax. That's probably close enough for water cooler arguments, anyway.

Meet the 3 Chinese Hackers Pwned by Mandiant

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 5:41 PM EST
Retired PLA rear admiral Zhang Zhaozong, who inspired UglyGorilla.

In case you missed it, the cybersecurity firm Mandiant just released a bombshell report (pdf) on how nearly 150 sophisticated hacking attempts against American corporations and government agencies over the past decade almost certainly originated from a single Shanghai office building controlled by People's Liberation Army (PLA). The hacking group, dubbed APT1 in the report, launches its attacks from roughly the same address in the city's Pudong New Area as the one used by the PLA's Unit 61398, a probable cyberwar division. But the excellent New York Times exclusive on Mandiant's findings omits some colorful details about the hackers themselves. One of them, for instance, is apparently a Harry Potter fan. Here are profiles of the three Chinese hackers Mandiant outed in its report.

Jack Wang, a.k.a. Wang Dong, a.k.a. UglyGorilla

A profile photo used by UglyGorilla

Back in 2004, the cyberwarfare expert Zhang Zhaozhong was participating in an online Q&A hosted by the website China Military Online. A retired PLA rear admiral, professor at China's National Defense University, and strong advocate of the "informationization" of military units, Zhang had written several works on military tech strategy, including "Network Warfare" and "Winning the Information War." One question for Zhang came from a site user with the handle "Greenfield," who brought up the United States' cyberwar capabilities. "Does China have a similar force?" he asked. "Does China have cyber troops?"

Greenfield would soon become one of those troops, according to Mandiant. When he registered for the China Military site, he gave his real name as "Jack Wang" and the email address uglygorilla@163.com—details that would later be associated with the hacker known as UglyGorilla. That October, UglyGorilla registered the hacker zone HugeSoft.org, a name that, as Bloomberg has reported, "combines two common descriptors of a gorilla, along with sub-domains like 'tree' and 'man.'"

In 2007, UglyGorilla authored the first known sample of a widely used family of Chinese malware and brazenly left his signature in the code: "v1.0 No Doubt to Hack You, Writed by UglyGorilla, 06/29/2007."

DOTA, a.k.a. Rodney, a.k.a. Raith

DOTA may have taken his or her name from the video game "Defense of the Ancients," commonly abbreviated DotA. The name shows up in dozens of email accounts that DOTA created for social engineering and phishing attacks, according to Mandiant. It appears Mandiant was able to hack some of these accounts, allowing them to get DOTA's phone number (a mobile phone in Shanghai) and the username of DOTA's (blank) US-based Facebook account, where DOTA registered as female. Mandiant published a screen-grab of one of DOTA's Gmail accounts:

DOTA appears to speak fluent English and may be a fan of American and British pop culture. The answers to security questions associated with his or her internet accounts—such as, "Who is your favorite teacher?" or "Who is your best childhood friend?"—are often some variation of "Harry" and "Poter."

Mandiant linked some of DOTA's other passwords to a pattern that seems to be associated with Unit 61398, the PLA's cyberwar division.

Mei Qiang, a.k.a. SuperHard

Similar to UglyGorilla, Mei Qiang signs much of his work by embedding his name into the code. His malware is often signed "SuperHard" and his Microsoft hacking tools are altered from "Microsoft corp." to "superhard corp."

SuperHard primarily works on tools used by other Chinese hackers; he's probably employed in APT1's research and development arm, according to Mandiant. He has also volunteered to write Trojan software for money. Mandiant researchers gained access to some of the hacker's internet accounts. They believe he (or she; it's hard to know) used the email address mei_quiang_82@sohu.com, which, based on Chinese habit, suggests that the user is named Mei Quiang and born in 1982. They also traced SuperHard to Shanghai's Pudong New Area—information that should give US security experts plenty of leads, assuming the hacker hasn't been fired yet.

 

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape: The Most Horrible Hashtag of the Week Thus Far, Explained

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 4:08 PM EST

There's this new hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape that's now on its second day of trending on Twitter: A really, really great expression of our shared humanity, and of the possibilities of feel-good, thoughtful conservative satire... this is not:

For the uninitiated, this isn't an example of right-wingers deciding out-of-the-blue to be insensitive to rape victims. They have their reason, and his name is Joe Salazar, a first-term Democratic state representative in Colorado. On Friday, Salazar spoke on the state House floor in support of House Bill 13-1226, which would eliminate "the authority of a concealed handgun permit holder to possess a concealed handgun on the campus of an institution of high education." In other words, the bill would ban concealed firearms on college campuses in Colorado. Opponents of the proposed legislation maintain that banning concealed carry on campuses would make it harder for students to protect themselves against mass shooters and rapists on school grounds.