Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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It's a Monday, So Unemployment Checks Are Being Slashed Somewhere

Happy Sequestration!

| Mon Apr. 29, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

Last week, Congress took quick and decisive action to restore funding to the Federal Aviation Administration that had been cut as part of sequestration. The move, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, comes as welcome news to America's frequent fliers. The long-term unemployed, on the other hand, are still totally screwed.

On Monday, New Hampshire residents receiving new emergency unemployment benefits—designed to assist people who have been without work for more than 26 weeks—will see their checks shrink by about 17 percent due to sequestration cuts. (Per the Associated Press, between 150 and 180 New Hampshire residents apply for emergency unemployment benefits every week.) Also laying down the sequestration hammer on the long-term unemployed on Monday: Utah, which will cut its benefits by 12.8 percent. The move is expected to impact roughly 4,000 citizens, according to the Deseret News. Alabama's 12.8-percent cuts (affecting about 16,500 people) and Rhode Island's 12.2-percent cut (affecting about 8,000 people) both go into effect this week as well.

As tough as these cuts are, they only get steeper the longer states wait. States that wait to make cuts will have a shorter period of time in which to enact them. As the National Journal explains, "If California waits until June 30 to reduce the checks, for instance, it will have to cut benefits by 22.2 percent between then and Sept. 30 in order to meet the sequester's requirements."

This could be averted if Congress restored full funding for the emergency unemployment benefits program. But don't expect Congress to act fast this time—people on emergency unemployment assistance generally don't fly business class.

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Chart: Here Are the 18 House Democrats Who Haven't Endorsed Marriage Equality

So, um, what's the holdup?

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Since mid-March, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed marriage equality in a YouTube video, 11 Democratic senators have formalized their "evolution" on the issue in a series of interviews, statements, Facebook posts, and Tumblr entries. Only three Democratic senators—Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana—have yet to officially come out in support of gay marriage.

While the Senate holdouts hail from states that voted for Mitt Romney last fall, their 18 counterparts in the House come mostly from districts that President Obama won in 2012—in some cases overwhelmingly—even though the majority hail from red states. Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), David Scott (D-Ga.), and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) all represent heavily black districts in the Deep South that Obama won by 30 points or more.

Richmond is a particularly interesting case. Although he told the Hill's Cameron Joseph that he is a "proponent of equal rights," he did not explicitly endorse marriage equality. Meanwhile, his New Orleans district, where 76 percent of voters cast for Obama, includes one of the largest gay communities in the South and is home to the annual LGBT "Southern Decadence" festival. In a statement provided to Mother Jones, Richmond said he supported equal rights, but did not respond specifically to the question of marriage:

I am a firm proponent of equal rights and support efforts to end prejudice against all human beings. A person's decision concerning who they commit their life to should be respected regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference. Our collective goal as Americans should be to strive to treat all people with decency and fairness.

Here's the breakdown of the Democratic holdouts, and how Obama fared in their districts last fall.

Correction: Costa formally endorsed marriage equality on April 18, before this story was published.

Iowa GOPer: "Let's Hear it For Rising CO2 on Earth Day!"

State Rep. Dwayne Alons celebrates Earth Day with an ode to carbon dioxide.

| Wed Apr. 24, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

No one celebrates Earth Day quite like the Republican party of Iowa. On Monday, as environmental activists across the world called for increased attention (or any attention at all, as the case may have it) to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, state Rep. Dwayne Alons took to the floor of the state capitol to offer up a counterpoint: Climate change is awesome.

Alons cited a 2012 article in Global Change Biology on the impact of increased carbon dioxide levels on the growth of Greek fir trees:

There's a man by name of Koutavas has come out with this report that basically says there's a very positive indication that rising global CO2 is a good factor, not a bad factor, and we shouldn't be fighting that. And to sum up of some of his words in his report and such observations in the words of Koutavas are most consistent with a significant CO2 fertilization effect operating through restricted stomatal conductance and improve motor use efficiency. And he also opines that if this interpretation is correct—and what other interpretation could there possibly be?—atmospheric CO2 is now overcompensating for growth declines anticipated from dryer climates suggesting its effect is unusually strong and likely to be detectable in other up-to-date tre-ring chronologies from the Mediterranean. There we have it: The increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2 as illustrated in the data I have before me, and the graph is quite significant, appears to be the most important factor driving recently enhanced growth rates of Greek fir trees, and it in spite of unfavorable moisture conditions and declining temperatures that should be causing growth declines. Not bad for a growth-promoting and life-sustaining molecule that some have incorrectly labeled a pollution. So let's hear it for rising CO2 on Earth Day!

The study doesn't actually say, as Alons suggests, that CO2 is a "good" thing or that we "shouldn't be fighting that." It's simply looking at a near-term effect of CO2 on a specific population. Scientists are skeptical that tree growth will continue to keep pace with rising CO2 levels. And all is not well for Alons' beloved Greek fir; he forgot to mention—or perhaps had no idea—that the species is in a continual decline due to, among other things, drought and air pollution.

Rep. Ralph Watts, who followed Alons on the floor, proposed Iowans observe Earth Day by honoring power plants. He suggested that legislators "leave our lights on all night long in celebration of Earth Day and recognition of those privileges we have."

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