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Chart: Half of All Income Goes to the Top 10 Percent

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 6:15 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Our last installment looked at stagnating middle-class incomes.

Today, we look at both sides of the income split and how they've traded places. For the first time in a century, the top 10 percent of Americans control more than half of all income. If this trend persists, predicts economist Thomas Piketty, their share will rise to 60 percent by 2030.

Source: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

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Here's Why Obama Fumbled on the Economy Last Night

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 7:17 PM EDT

Paul Waldman asks us to imagine what's going to happen the next time there's some kind of Islam-inspired terror attack on American soil:

The news media would amp up the fear to levels we haven't seen in the last decade, encouraging everyone to look for sleeper cells lurking down at the Piggly Wiggly. Republicans would of course unite behind President Obama in our time of mourning—kidding! They'd go on TV to denounce him for being so weak that the evildoers struck us in our very heart, and proclaim not only that the blood of the victims is on the hands of every Democrat, but that more attacks are coming and we're more vulnerable than we've ever been. Dick Cheney would emerge snarling from his subterranean lair to warn us that this is only the beginning and we really need to start bombing at least five or six more countries. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has already said about ISIL that "this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home," might just tear off his shirt and scream, "We're all gonna die! We're all gonna die!" right on Fox News Sunday.

Now bear with me a for a moment. Here's a seemingly unrelated story about Sam Brownback's effort to spur economic growth in Kansas by lowering taxes on the rich and cutting back on welfare:

As he runs for reelection, Brownback is finding that what he once called a “real live experiment” in red-state governance is struggling to produce the benefits he had promised....In an interview on his way to Dodge City — where he would sign legislation creating a “National Day of the Cowboy” — Brownback said he regretted referring to his plans as an experiment. But he defended his tenure, saying it represented a Ronald Reagan-style approach to governance that eventually would rebuild Kansas’s economy after a long slide.

“I wish I could take that back, because I don’t consider this an experiment,” he said. “So many people on the left really want this to fail. . . . This is a long-term strategy to make us more competitive.

Democrats and Republicans are both good at some things and bad at others. One of the things that Republicans are good at is making—and repeating over and over and over—firm predictions about the outcomes of their policy preferences. If you fail to wage eternal war in the Middle East, there will be a terrorist attack in the United States. If you lower taxes, the economy will improve. Etc.

These are easy things to understand for voters. And guess what? Eventually there will be a terrorist attack. Eventually the economy will improve. So when those things happen, Republicans have a nice, simple story already planted in the public mind that allows them to take credit or place blame for it.

Democrats are not so good at this. President Obama fumbled last night on 60 Minutes when he tried to take credit for the improved state of the economy compared to when he took office. Partly, of course, this is because the economy is only in so-so shape. But it's also because Democrats have no simple, pre-digested narrative. They never said—over and over and over—that if we passed a stimulus bill, the economy would improve. Or that if we rescued GM, the economy would improve. Or that if we raised taxes on the wealthy, the economy would improve. Instead, Democrats had sort of a dog's breakfast of policy choices that they endorsed, but never made into a centerpiece of a claim about economic recovery. So now, when the economy is recovering, nobody really gives them any credit.

Now, this may be a more honest way of conducting our affairs. Most government policies really do have only a modest effect on economic growth. Likewise, most government policies have only a modest effect on the chances of someone eventually pulling off a terrorist attack. But honest or not, it means voters don't associate Democrats with much of anything. They don't give them credit for improving the economy, for example, or for preventing terrorist attacks. And honest or not, it's political malpractice.

George Zimmerman's Family Describes Living in a Paranoid World of Color-Coded Threats

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 5:05 PM EDT
George Zimmerman

In an incredibly absorbing article in GQ, the family of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted after fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager, discusses its attempts to "rebrand" while living in paralyzing fear.

The Zimmermans' stories, which are both simultaneously tragic and bizarre, show a family eager to move on from the April 2012 "incident" in which George killed Trayvon Martin. They're also struggling with debt and paranoia:

They watched the movie Argo to learn how to live like CIA. Code names for everyone. No mail delivered to the house. No visitors. No talking to the few neighbors they had. No long phone conversations—keep it short and vague to outwit surveillance. Never discuss your whereabouts via phone or text. Keep a weapon close by at all times. Robert slept with his gun. Still does.

And in case someone—or multiple someones—decided to mount an attack on the house, the Zimmermans pre-packed their own "go-bags" filled with everything they would need to flee in a rush, as well as what they called "footballs"—like the one President Obama has with the nuclear codes—that contained laptops, cell phones, and other essential electronics.

They also memorized a color-coded threat-ID system. Code blue: Law enforcement at the door. Code brown: Draw your weapons. Code black: Come out guns blazing.

The Zimmermans wonder if a reality show starring George or a sit-down with Fox's Sean Hannity will restore their name. In an upsetting and absurd twist, George's brother Robert, the family's most vocal member, describes hoping to cash-in on their newfound infamy with a show inspired by the Kardashians. He rationalizes: "Like, use the shit you've got."

Read the full feature here.

Report: Secret Service Lied About White House Fence Jumper

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 4:41 PM EDT

Omar Gonzalez, the White House fence-jumper from earlier this month, apparently surprised the guard at the front door because a nearby alarm box had been muted:

After barrelling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting due to an ongoing investigation of the incident.

So....they just lied?

On a related note, I wonder who the whistleblowers are that have been feeding all this stuff to WaPo's Carol Leonnig? Not that it matters, I suppose, but I'm curious about whether it's folks who are appalled by the security lapses or folks who have some other kind of axe to grind.

Here's Yet Another Rage-Inducing Scam in the American Health Care System

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 1:03 PM EDT

Here is your statistic of the day:

The average salary of an emergency room physician was $311,000 in 2014, rising from $247,000 since 2010 — a period when many other types of doctors experienced declines in salaries, according to Merritt Hawkins, a physician staffing firm.

Why is this? A shortage of ER physicians? More emergencies? Higher standards for ER work?

Nope. Elisabeth Rosenthal's latest rage-inducing piece about America's health care system1 suggests the reason is far more corrupt. Apparently one of the great trends in American health care2 is to outsource ER staffing. This means that even if you're careful—possibly while in great pain or barely even coherent—to show up at an in-network ER covered by your insurance plan, there's a pretty good chance that the actual doctors who attend you aren't in your network. Naturally, this being American health care,3 you have no choice in this matter even if you're savvy enough to know about the whole in-network and out-of-network distinction. And as we all know, out-of-network docs in the American health care system4 are basically allowed to charge any prices they want. And they do.

This is a great scam for everyone. Presumably hospitals save money because freelance ER docs cost them less. And the ER docs cost less because they know they'll be able to run the ol' out-of-network scam on lots of patients, thus raking in the bucks. It's a win-win.

As a result, during a period of economic stagnation that produced zero wage growth for everyone else, ER docs are now making $64,000 more than they did four years ago. And they're doing this by preying on the most vulnerable, most easily scammable members of society: folks who are flat on their backs and almost by definition unable to understand what's going on around them. Not that it would matter if they did, of course. The law provides no recourse even if you don't like this system. That's the way things roll in the American health care system.5

If this kind of stuff doesn't make you pop a vein, I'm not sure what would. It's right on a par with the telemarketing ghouls who prey on senior citizens with dementia. Except that these guys wear white coats and are welcomed into all the best country clubs.

1Best in the World, Baby.™

2Best in the World, Baby.™

3Best in the World, Baby.™

4Best in the World, Baby.™

5Best in the World, Baby.™

Watch John Oliver Call Out America for Blindly Supporting Obama's Drone War

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 12:22 PM EDT

On the latest "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver looked into how Americans have come to widely accept President Obama's growing reliance on drone strikes, while knowing little to nothing about the administration's rules for using them.

"Because our rules for drone strikes are a little like Harvey Keitel's balls: We've all seen them in 'The Piano,' 'Bad Lieutenant, or on SnapChat. And from, from a distance you think, 'Well, I understand the contours of those.' But if you were to really examine them, you'd discover that they're actually lost in a haze of fuzziness and grey areas. Much like the rules for our drone strikes."

The comparison, which Oliver says has contributed to defining Obama's presidency as much as Obamacare and "receiving racist emails from distant relatives," perfectly illustrates just how little both the public and the administration knows exactly who and how many we're going about killing with such strikes ---  strikes that have waged on despite the continued lack of answers Obama seems quite intent on never sufficiently explaining to us.

"That is a little disturbing. Because the question 'how many people have you've killed in drone strikes' is not one of those questions where it's okay to say you don't know. It's not like asking someone 'who was the voice of Disney's Aladdin' or 'what are Skittles are made from.' It's different…And the crazy thing is it's literally always been like this."

 

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Republicans Once Again Favored to Take Control of the Senate

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 12:00 PM EDT

Remember my post a couple of weeks ago saying that Republicans were no longer favored to take control of the Senate? Well, recent polls have not been kind to the Ds, and now everyone—including Sam Wang—agrees that Republicans are once again favored. Here's the Vox aggregation of aggregators:

You may now either celebrate or else sharpen up your seppuku knives, depending on your partisan leanings. But keep one thing in mind: two weeks ago, only one pollster out of six thought Republicans were favored. Today six out of six think Republicans are favored. Things can change mighty fast, and there's still more than a month to go before Election Day. Your guess is as good as mine whether Joni Ernst can go five consecutive weeks without letting the crazy show.

Obama Needs to Learn How to Admit Error on National TV

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

So President Obama was on 60 Minutes last night. Steve Kroft asked about the meteoric rise of ISIS in northern Iraq:

Steve Kroft: How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?

President Obama: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.

I can't find a full transcript to verify that this was the complete context surrounding Obama's remark, but I wonder what possesses him to do stuff like this? It's Management 101 that you don't throw folks under the bus (on national TV!) unless you have pretty convincing reasons for doing so. I mean, all he had to do was say that "we underestimated" what was happening in Syria.

This is really tone deaf. Even if the whole debacle really was Clapper's fault, it would still sound terrible to say so. Was this just a real-time flub? Or, after six years, does Obama still not understand how petty it sounds to try to deflect blame this way?

Bluesman Gary Clark Jr. Is the Guitar Hero for Our Time

| Mon Sep. 29, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Gary Clark Jr.
Live
Warner Bros.

Gary Clark Jr Live

A guitar hero for the modern era, Gary Clark Jr. plays bluesy rock with a blistering urgency that makes the hoariest conventions feel brand new. For all his flashy expertise, the muscular solos and buzzing riffs never feel gratuitous, while Clark's terse, tough singing nicely complements his fretwork. This 15-track, 97-minute feast is the perfect showcase for his brilliance, mixing versions of standards like "Three O’Clock Blues" (popularized by B.B. King) and "Catfish Blues" (also covered by Jimi Hendrix) with pungent originals, from sleek boogie ("Travis County") to tender soul ("Please Come Home"), with lots of fireworks in between. While it's tempting to view him as the next coming of Hendrix, especially in light of his take on Jimi's "Third Stone from the Sun," Clark is closer in spirit to Stevie Ray Vaughan: less an exotic, godlike genius than a gifted guardian of tradition who never fails to thrill.

Here Is A Video Of Sarah Palin Petting An Alligator

| Sun Sep. 28, 2014 1:52 PM EDT

Sarah Palin went down to Louisiana Saturday to help raise money for Republican US Senate candidate Rob Maness. Maness—who is challenging incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu—and Palin served alligator dishes to around 100 attendees, according to local CBS affiliate WWL.

Here is a video of Palin petting an alligator.

At press time it was not clear if the alligator she was petting was also the alligator she later served as a meal. We're guessing it wasn't.