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Scott Walker's Tax Cuts Are Coming Back to Haunt Him

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 1:27 PM EST

Via Ed Kilgore, this might prove to be Scott Walker's biggest Achilles' heel:

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, facing a $283 million deficit that needs to be closed by the end of June, will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to balance the books thrown into disarray by his tax cuts.

....“They need some cash,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan research group that examines taxes and government spending. “This is kicking the can down the road.”

For the time being, this is probably not a big deal. Walker says he's just "restructuring" the state's debt, and that will probably wash for now. But there's no question that Walker's tax cut zealotry puts him in a dilemma. If the economy continues to slog along, Wisconsin's finances will deteriorate and Walker's presidential chances will suffer. If the economy picks up, Wisconsin will benefit but so will Hillary Clinton. The path to presidential success often turns out to depend on the economy, and for Walker it might end up being a narrow path indeed.

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Chart of the Day: Wages Are Down For Almost Everyone

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 12:51 PM EST

EPI's Elise Gould provides us with wage data for 2014 today, and the results aren't pretty:

  • Every group has seen a cumulative drop in wages since 2007 except for the top 5 percent (red line).
  • Every group saw a drop in wages in 2014 except for the bottom 10 percent (dark blue line).

Why did wages of the poor rebound a bit last year? Because 19 states raised their minimum wages:

A state-by-state comparison of trends in the 10th percentile suggests that these minimum-wage increases account for the nationwide 10th percentile increase. Between 2013 and 2014, the 10th percentile wage in states with minimum-wage increases grew by an average of 1.6 percent, while it barely rose (a 0.3 percent increase) in states without a minimum-wage increase.

In other news about wage growth, women have done slightly better than men; whites have done better than blacks; and college graduates have done better than high school grads. The full report is here.

Giuliani's Anti-Obama Rant Is a Big Opportunity for Jeb Bush

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 12:02 PM EST

Here is Rudy Giuliani telling us how he really feels about President Obama during a private group dinner last night featuring Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Classy, as always. But I bring it up to make a particular point. It's unlikely, I think, that Walker will repudiate Giuliani's comments. But Jeb Bush could—and if he's smart, he will.

Here's why. It would cost him some support among the tea party set, but he's not going to get a lot of support there anyway. What's more, he doesn't really need it. All Jeb has to do to win is follow the Romney strategy: sweep up all the votes of the Republican moderates while everyone else fights over scraps of the tea party vote. Taking a public stand against Giuliani would cement his position as the adult in the Republican field, a position that Mitt Romney rode to the GOP nomination in 2012.

But the Romney strategy only works if Jeb is the sole adult running. Walker is trying to straddle the line between mainstream and tea party, and if he can pull it off he'll win. Jeb's team has to make sure he can't do that, and the best way to accomplish this is to take a few high-profile stands—like denouncing Giuliani's views—that Walker isn't willing to emulate. If Jeb can force Walker to make some moves early on that paint him as a pure tea party creature, that could permanently hurt him. And with Romney out and Chris Christie looking weak, Jeb could then have the centrist Republican vote all to himself. That could put him in the White House.

But he has to go big and go fast. Denounce Giuliani in terms strong enough to get some attention, and in a way that's likely to push Walker into making a mistake. The race is on.

The American Public Is Becoming Ever More Rabid for War Against ISIS

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 11:22 AM EST

It sure isn't hard to gin Americans into a war fever. President Obama isn't even trying, but support for sending U.S. ground troops back into Iraq to fight ISIS continues to grow. According to a new CBS News poll, it now stands at 57 percent.

It's not just conservatives, either. Democrats favor sending in ground troops by a margin of 50-43 percent. We're only a few public beheadings away from two-thirds approval margins among all groups, which is something of a magic number. If we reach that point, President Obama and congressional Democrats might decide—reluctantly or otherwise—that they have to change course and send in a substantial ground force.

This would probably be a disaster. The most optimistic scenario is that Graeme Wood is right, and the ISIS folks are such nutters that they'd welcome a final, conventional showdown against the forces of the West:

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo....It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.

....Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse....If the United States were to invade, the Islamic State’s obsession with battle at Dabiq suggests that it might send vast resources there, as if in a conventional battle. If the state musters at Dabiq in full force, only to be routed, it might never recover.

That's a battle we could pretty easily win. But if it turns out the leadership of ISIS isn't quite as daft and millenarian as Wood says, then the only way to defeat ISIS would be in grisly house-to-house fighting in Sunni strongholds like Mosul. We already know that U.S. troops can't do that effectively, and neither can the predominantly Shia troops controlled by Iraq. It would be a long, grinding, disaster of a war.

But apparently the American public hasn't quite internalized that yet. They're becoming more and more enraged about ISIS, and they want to do something. That's a bad combination.

A Superbug Nightmare Is Playing Out at an LA Hospital

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 6:00 AM EST

In today's terrifying health news, the Los Angeles Times reports that two medical scopes used at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center may have been contaminated with the potentially deadly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Two patients have died from complications that may be connected to the bacteria, and authorities believe that 179 more patients have been exposed.

Most healthy people aren't at risk of catching a CRE infection, but in hospitals this bacteria can be quite dangerous: CRE kills as many as half of all people in whom the infection has spread to the bloodstream. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working with the California Department of Public Health to investigate the situation, which is expected to result in more infections.

The problem isn't just in Los Angeles, though. Last month, USA Today reported that hospitals around the country struggle with transmissions of bacteria on these scopes—medical devices commonly used to treat digestive-system problems—and there have been several other under-the-radar outbreaks of CRE.

This is pretty scary stuff, considering that we are starting to fall behind in the antibiotics arms race against bacteria. Due in large part to unnecessary medical prescriptions and overuse of antibiotics in our food supply, these superbugs are on the rise. In a study published last year that focused specifically on hospitals in the Southeast, researchers reported that CRE cases had increased fivefold between 2008 and 2012.

As Mother Jones' Tom Philpott wrote recently, unless something changes, it will only get worse:

in a new report, the UK government has come out with some startling global projections. Currently, the report finds, 700,000 people die annually from pathogens that have developed resistance to antibiotics, a figure the report calls a "low estimate." If present trends continue, antibiotic failure will claim 10 million lives per year by 2050, the report concludes. That's more carnage than what's currently caused by cancer and traffic accidents combined.

The CDC has, in recent years, amped up its efforts to contain the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and has developed a toolkit to help educate both patients and medical practitioners. The Obama administration has increased funding in 2015 for CDC research into how to better detect these types of infections. It also expanded the National Healthcare Safety Network to track threats of superbugs and areas of antibiotic overuse.

But the CDC emphasizes that more must be done:

Can you imagine a day when antibiotics don't work anymore? It's concerning to think that the antibiotics that we depend upon for everything from skin and ear infections to life-threatening bloodstream infections could no longer work. Unfortunately, the threat of untreatable infections is very real.

Racist Chelsea Fans Shove Black Man Off Paris Metro Train

| Wed Feb. 18, 2015 7:41 PM EST

A group of fans of the English soccer club Chelsea were filmed forcibly blocking a black man from entering a subway train in Paris.

The video, recorded by an onlooker and provided to the Guardian on Tuesday, shows the white fans violently shoving the unidentified subway rider as he attempts to squeeze into the train, while chanting "We're racist. We're racist. And that's the way we like it." A black woman is seen backing away from the commotion.

According to Paul Nolan, the British man who recorded the scene, the fans also referenced World War II in their chants.

Club officials were quick to condemn the incident. "Such behaviour is abhorrent and has no place in football or society," read a statement. "We will support any criminal action against those involved, and should evidence point to involvement of Chelsea season-ticket holders or members the club will take the strongest possible action against them, including banning orders."

Paris prosecutors have also announced a probe looking into the video.

The shocking footage comes as a separate video surfaced earlier this week of Arrigo Sacchi, Italy's former soccer coach, complaining there were "too many colored players" playing for Italian teams. Sacchi has since said his comments were misunderstood and the product of the media "always looking for scoops."

As for Chelsea, the team has been dogged by racist allegations for decades. In 2011, captain John Terry was accused of calling a black player a "fucking black cunt." European soccer in general is notorious for such abuse.

The UEFA also condemned the Chelsea supporters, but said because it occurred inside the Paris Metro and not the stadium any disciplinary action could not be taken.

"We are appalled by the incident which took place in the Paris Metro on Tuesday,” officials said in a statement. "However, as it occurred away from the stadium, it is outside UEFA’s remit to act.”

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Obamacare Will Cover About 19 Million People This Year

| Wed Feb. 18, 2015 4:52 PM EST

With the signup deadline now past, we have a pretty good idea of how many people will be getting health care coverage via Obamacare in 2015. Here's a rough estimate:

The Medicaid number will rise throughout the year, and is higher if you use a looser way of counting. Needless to say, it would also be higher if all the holdout states joined in. For now, though, using a strict count just through February, the Obamacare total stands at about 18.6 million people—and will likely rise a bit more thanks to state extensions of the deadline. So call it 19 million or so.

That's a lot of people. If you got into politics to help actual people with actual problems, you should be damn proud of voting for the Affordable Care Act in 2010. No other legislation of at least the past two decades even comes close to its real-world impact.

Eric Holder Wants All Executions Put on Hold

| Wed Feb. 18, 2015 4:00 PM EST

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court makes a decision on the constitutionality of certain lethal injection methods later this year, saying on Tuesday that he opposes capital punishment because he believes the odds of eventually making a mistake and executing an innocent individual are "inevitable."

Here's some of what Holder had to say at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington:

It is one thing to put somebody in jail for an extended period of time, have some new test that you can do and determine that person was, in fact, innocent. There is no ability to correct a mistake where somebody has, in fact, been executed. And that is, from my perspective, the ultimate nightmare…I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked. And among them, the Supreme Court's determination as to whether or not lethal injection is consistent with our Constitution is one that ought to occur.

Holder, who stressed that he was speaking personally and not for the Obama administration, has voiced his opposition to the death penalty before. In November, the attorney general told the Marshall Project that there is always the possibility that a jury will sentence the wrong person to death. "We have the greatest judicial system in the world," he said, "but at the end of the day it's made up of men and women making decisions, tough decisions. Men and women who are dedicated, but dedicated men and women can make mistakes."

The Supreme Court agreed last month to hear an appeal by death row inmates in Oklahoma who say the state's lethal injection methods violate the Constitution. In April, the state botched the execution of 38-year-old Clayton Lockett, who reportedly writhed in pain after receiving a three-drug combination and died 43 minutes later. The court is expected to rule by the end of June.

As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer has reported, states are searching for new capital punishment methods after losing access to sodium thiopental, an anesthetic traditionally used in lethal injections. The only US manufacturer of the drug stopped producing it in 2011, while suppliers in Europe who object to the death penalty will no longer export it to the United States. In a bid to find other options, some states have used untested combinations or bought from unregulated compounding pharmacies, while lawmakers in Utah have even voted to bring back the firing squad for executions. In Ohio, lawmakers passed a "secret execution" law that exempts from public records searches the names of suppliers of lethal injection drugs.

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution—scheduled for next week—of a death row inmate convicted of killing four people in Orlando in 1985, pending a decision from the high court.

Here's a Surprisingly Simple Reason that New Regulation Might Spur the Creation of More Startups

| Wed Feb. 18, 2015 2:30 PM EST

Earlier this morning I wrote about a new study suggesting that new federal regulation doesn't inhibit the creation of new startup companies in an industry. In fact, it might actually stimulate the creation of startups. This seems counterintuitive, but a reader with some experience in the education and health care sectors—which were influenced by NCLB and Obamacare, respectively—proposes an explanation for this:

Healthcare startups have absolutely exploded post-ACA....This was pretty well anticipated by venture capital; a bunch of Sand Hill firms started putting together ad-hoc health IT teams shortly after the ACA was passed, on the basic logic that anything that changed an industry as much as the ACA did would necessarily create a lot of startup opportunities.

I worked in education research shortly after the passage of NCLB, and while I can't speak to this nearly as confidently as I can speak to the current healthcare startup landscape, it at least seemed to me that a lot of startups sprung up to help schools/districts/states etc. adapt to the new law.

The general principle I've taken from this is that federal regulation, or at least major federal regulation, changes the landscape of its target industries enough to increase startup opportunities, because incumbents are slow to adapt for all the same reasons incumbents are usually slow to adapt to change. Entrepreneurs and startup investors have a pretty good sense of that dynamic.

This seems pretty plausible. Any major change, whether it's a technological change or a regulatory change, creates a new landscape. And big incumbents are usually slow to react, regardless of where the change came from. This gives startups an opportunity to dive in and take advantage of the change faster than existing firms.

This doesn't mean that regulatory change is necessarily either beneficial or harmful. It might be generally beneficial on the theory that nearly anything which shakes up an industry ends up being useful. Or it might be generally harmful because startups addressing regulatory change don't really add any long-term value. That's a question for another day. Either way, though, it's change, and that might be reason enough to expect an increase in startup activity whenever new federal regulations are introduced.

Testing for Marijuana-Impaired Driving Is About to Get a Whole Lot Easier

| Wed Feb. 18, 2015 1:06 PM EST

This is just a tidbit, but it's an interesting one. Here's the background: Legalized marijuana, which is pretty obviously gaining ground steadily, leads to higher marijuana use (duh) and thus to higher rates of driving while stoned. Or does it? The problem is that THC remains in your system for a week or more after you've smoked a joint, so even if you test positive at a roadside stop it doesn't necessarily mean that you're stoned now—or even that you've smoked within the past day, let alone the past few hours. As a result, drivers who are perfectly safe run the risk of being unfairly convicted of impaired driving, while drivers who are stoned can often escape conviction if they have a good lawyer.

Today, Keith Humphreys passes along the news that this might be about to change. It's from a study in the Journal of Analytic Toxicology:

The JAT paper evaluated a different approach which may resolve these problems: Oral fluid sampling. The driver suspected of impairment is mouth swabbed at roadside and the saliva is placed in a machine, which rapidly prints out a result. This technology is fairer than urinalysis because it is only sensitive to recent marijuana use rather than use that happened a day ago or a week ago.

Of the devices the researchers tested in the study, the Dräger Drug Test 5000 had the best results. Assuming it doesn’t cost a mint, this technology could be a breakthrough for law enforcement as well as an important civil rights protection for people suspected of drug-impaired driving.

Like I said, just a tidbit. But an interesting one, especially given the obvious trajectory of marijuana legalization in America. If this technology pans out, it makes studies of marijuana-impaired driving more feasible and it removes one more argument from the arsenal of anti-legalizers.