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I Want to Hear a Good Argument Against Obama's Deal With Iran

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 2:40 PM EDT

Max Fisher talked to another arms control expert today, and Aaron Stein says it's a very good agreement. The Iran nuclear deal "exceeds in all areas. It makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote."

Fine. The technical experts are all impressed. But what about the opponents of the deal? What do they think?

Luckily, Matt Yglesias did the legwork to confirm what I had already concluded anecdotally: they don't really have any serious arguments against the deal. Oh, they toss out a few tidbits here and there about inspection times and so forth, but it's just fluff. The inspection regime is actually very tough. No, the problem is that conservatives simply don't want a deal. Period. They want sanctions to remain in force forever. Or they just want to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Or they don't say much of anything except that Iran is a bad country, and we shouldn't do deals with bad countries.

All of this is fatuous, and the critics know it. Sanctions never last forever. If we tried to keep them in place without ever offering Iran a reasonable bargain to lift them, our allies would desert us. Bombing would be just as bad. Instead of keeping Iran in check for ten or more years, it would merely set them back two or three. And it would confirm their belief that the only defense against the United States is a nuclear deterrent. They'd be even more determined to build a bomb after that. As for Iran's leadership not being choir boys, no kidding. You don't make deals like this with friendly countries. You make them with antagonists. That's the whole point.

I don't want Iran to build a nuclear bomb. It would quite likely set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which is the last place on the planet that we want to have one. And as near as I can tell, this deal is our best chance to keep Iran nuclear free for a good long time. If any conservative can offer a better plan, I'm all ears. Either:

Describe a tougher deal that you can reasonably argue Iran would have accepted.

     or

Explain why some other course of action would be better at keeping Iran nuclear free than a negotiated deal.

No name calling, no comparisons to Neville Chamberlain, no complaints that Iran hates Israel, and no blather about appeasement. Make an argument. A real argument about a course of action that would be better than the deal currently on the table. Let's hear it.

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Making Republicans Mad Is All Part of the Plan to Pass the Iran Deal

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 12:51 PM EDT

Why is President Obama talking so much about the Iran nuclear deal? It's not as if he's likely to convince many Republicans to support it, after all. Jonathan Bernstein says the answer lies in the unusual way Congress is being forced to vote on the deal: the agreement takes effect unless Congress votes to disapprove it. Obama can veto any resolution of disapproval, and it only takes one-third of Congress to sustain that veto. In other words, all Obama needs are Democratic votes. And the best way to get those votes is to take advantage of the power of polarization:

By speaking out in favor of something, and doing it repeatedly, presidents tend to polarize public opinion along party lines. If he needed bipartisan support, the best strategy would be to keep his mouth shut.

But Obama doesn't need any Republican help. He just needs Democrats to stick together, and not base their votes on interest-group attachments or, for that matter, on their personal views.

While Obama thinks the Iran agreement should win on its actual merits — otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to it! — not everyone sees it the same way. He can try to give swing voters in the House and Senate substantive reasons to support it. But this wouldn't be as efficient as simply getting the Democrats to act as partisans.

As Bernstein says in his teaser sentence, "A strategy that makes Republicans mad will unite Democrats." So Obama is talking and talking and talking, and conservative media is getting madder and madder and madder. That tends to unite liberals, even those who are strong supporters of Israel and might otherwise be reluctant to support a deal that Israel opposes.

Republicans are cooperating beautifully, aren't they? Obama must be very pleased.

America's Best Poverty-Fighting Tool May Be Even Better Than We Thought

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 11:54 AM EDT

The Earned Income Tax Credit has long been one of the wonk's favorite poverty-fighting tools. It's a tax credit available only to those who work, so it works as a powerful incentive to find employment. It also acts as a subsidy for low-paying jobs, which are often the only ones that the poor can find. And the money comes from the government, so it doesn't distort labor markets or meet resistance from employers, as the minimum wage does.

Today, Dylan Matthews points to an interesting new paper suggesting that the EITC is even better than we thought. Take a look at the chart on the right, which shows what happened after the 1993 EITC increase. It's focused on single women with children, the biggest beneficiaries of the EITC. The red line shows how benefits increased for mothers with children compared to women without children: the difference is about $1,700. The blue dots (with error bars) show the difference in employment. By 1998, employment among mothers with children had gone up about 8 percent compared to women without children. Quite clearly, the EITC subsidy was a big incentive for mothers to find jobs.

It's the combination of these effects—more employment and the direct effect of the tax credit—that makes EITC a more powerful poverty fighter than previously thought.

So why not extend the EITC to cover more people (men, women, the childless, the very poor, etc.) and make it more generous, instead of focusing on raising the minimum wage? Virtually every serious economist on both left and right would support this. Some might have different kinds of wage subsidies they like better, but all of them prefer the EITC to the minimum wage.

The answer, of course, is that the minimum wage is paid by employers. The EITC is paid by the government. Therefore it has to be funded by the government. And that means either raising taxes to cover the cost, or else slashing some other social program. Republicans refuse to do the former and Democrats refuse to do the latter. In the latest round of this game, both Paul Ryan and Barack Obama agree that the EITC should be increased, but neither is willing to accept the other's funding proposal. Matthews provides the gory details:

Because Obama and Ryan both fund their plan in ways that are totally unacceptable to the other side, they haven't come to a deal to pass this plan. Obama would pay for the expansion by raising taxes on hedge fund managers and rich self-employed people, while Ryan would cut other safety net programs and "corporate welfare," which is this case means specifically energy subsidies the Obama administration likes. Ryan has explicitly rejected Obama's funding mechanism, and it's hard to imagine Obama accepting Ryan's.

So we have a stalemate, even though both Ryan and Obama and practically everyone else believe an increased EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty tools we have. What's worse, outside the wonk world the EITC has been losing ground among Republican politicians for decades. It's now generally viewed by the tea party set as just another giveaway to the moochers and takers, culminating in the widespread belief during the 2012 campaign that the poor ought to pay more taxes, not less. More on this grubby history here.

President Obama Gets Greeted by Confederate Flags in Oklahoma City

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, demonstrators on the streets of Oklahoma City waved Confederate flags as President Obama's motorcade arrived, a stark scene captured by a New York Times photographer.

The incident comes in the midst of a renewed national push to remove the battle flag from government sites after the massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. Similar counter rallies embracing the slogan "Confederate Lives Matter" were scheduled in Oklahoma City ahead of the president's visit.

Following the attack in Charleston, Obama delivered an impassioned eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and one of the nine people murdered, in which the president called the flag's enduring presence in the South a "reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation."

While South Carolina finally lowered the flag on state capitol grounds last week after more than 50 years, this latest scene encountered by the country's first black president is a reminder that the path to a more perfect union is still very much a work in progress.

The Latest From Greece: A Quick Rundown

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

A quick summary of Greece to start my morning (or ease you into lunch if you're on the East coast):

  • The Greek parliament has passed the first batch of legislation demanded by the Europeans.
  • This seriously split Syriza, and could even lead to the downfall of the government. In the meantime, there was rioting in the streets of Athens.
  • The European Central Bank responded by providing €900 million to Greece's banks. It's not much, and capital controls will stay in place for a while. But it keeps the ATMs churning out €60 per day, which is better than €0 per day.
  • Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB, said it was "uncontroversial" that Greece needs substantial debt relief. It all depends on Greece keeping its side of the deal. So now both the ECB and the IMF—two-thirds of the Troika—are publicly on board with debt relief.

That's about it for now. Amid the chaos, things are moving forward. Nonetheless, the religious types among you should give thanks daily that you don't live in Greece.

Caitlyn Jenner Just Delivered this Kickass Speech About Acceptance

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

Caitlyn Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at last night's ESPY's in Los Angeles, and used the opportunity to deliver a powerful speech urging fellow athletes and celebrities to understand the immense challenges trans people, especially teenagers, face everyday.

"It's not just about one person," Jenner said. "It's about thousands of people. It's not just about me, it's about all of us accepting one another. We're all different. That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing. And while it may not easy to get past the things you don't always understand, I want to prove that it is absolutely possible if we only do it together."

The award, presented by ESPN, recognizes individuals who "transcend sports," and is named after the late African-American tennis champion Arthur Ashe, who was known for fighting discrimination in the sport and raising public awareness about AIDS.

Looking ahead, the former Olympian said she would use her fame to push for transgender rights. Jenner mentioned 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson and 15-year-old Sam Taub, both trans teenagers who killed themselves earlier this year, to illustrate the urgency of the challenges facing teens.

"They're getting bullied," Jenner said. "They're getting beaten up. They're getting murdered. And they're committing suicide."

She concluded her speech with a message for her critics and those questioning the motives behind her public transition.

"If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead because the reality is I can take it," she said. "But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it. So for the people out there wondering what this is all about, whether its about courage or controversy or publicity, it's about what happens from here."

Jenner's transition made national headlines after she sat down with Diane Sawyer for an exclusive interview in April, in which she detailed her journey. She made her public debut with a June cover shoot for Vanity Fair.

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Reddit's Former CEO Is Fed Up With the Site's Vindictive Trolls, But Not Its Anonymous Gun Dealers

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Custom AR-15s were produced for Redditors with the company's permission.

As turmoil continues at Reddit, former CEO Yishan Wong has been defending ousted leader Ellen Pao, in part with a schadenfreude-tinged post on Tuesday in which he informed the trolls populating the site's controversial hate-speech forums that their days are likely numbered. But when I questioned Wong on Tuesday night on Twitter about another controversial corner of Reddit—a de facto national market for assault weapons called r/GunsForSale that we exposed in a Mother Jones investigation last year—he was of a different mindset. As Wong had put it earlier on Tuesday, the new CEO now had "the moral authority to move ahead with the purge" of Reddit's darkest reaches. I wondered whether that might now also apply to a forum where anonymous gun dealers revel in the prospect of profiting from the mass murder of first graders and boast about selling firearms with zero regulatory scrutiny.

Reddit wasn't just allowing this gun market to thrive on its platform when we broke the story, it had also put its stamp on it—literally. The company had licensed its official alien logo for use on a bunch of custom AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, produced for and purchased by the site's users. Turns out Wong, who was CEO at the time, was himself a fan. In his response to me on Tuesday night he wrote in a series of tweets:

Ironically the sensationalist, leading questions you sent us when "researching" this muckraking piece sparked my interest in guns, which later led me to buy an AR-15. Wish I could get one of those reddit-stamped lower receivers though. Seriously, the hi-res pictures you included made those rifles look amazing. It was almost an advertisement for them.

A fresh look at r/GunsForSale this week revealed plenty of Bushmaster AR-15s and Glocks with high-capacity magazines—the weapons of choice for mass shooters in Charleston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and so many other places—continue to be available from unidentifiable sellers eager to do deals in person. As in: Meet me in the parking lot, show me the money, no questions asked.

"I'd prefer to sell this face to face. I am in North Florida." From a July 14 gun listing on Reddit

There is now hot debate about a regulatory process that let the Charleston killer purchase his Glock after three days from a gun store, despite his disqualifying criminal record. But forget about how licensed retailers should operate: With sites like r/GunsForSale brimming with product, including in South Carolina, that whole conversation may really just be moot.

Another Fatal Police Shooting Caught on Video—and More Questions About a Dispatcher's Role

| Thu Jul. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal court ordered the release of video showing a June 2013 police shooting in Gardena, California (a city in southern Los Angeles County) in which an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, was killed and another unarmed man wounded. Previously, an internal review by the Gardena Police Department had concluded that the shooting was justified, and prosecutors in Gardena decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved. In May, the City of Gardena agreed to pay $4.7 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family of Diaz-Zeferino. But the newly released police dash cam footage, first posted by the Los Angeles Times, has raised questions about the events leading up to the fatal encounter—including the potential mishandling of a 911 call, an issue that has come up with other officer-involved killings.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there may have been a miscommunication by the police dispatcher:

The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. on June 2, 2013, after a bicycle was stolen from outside a CVS Pharmacy on Western Avenue. A police dispatcher mistakenly told officers that the crime was a robbery, which usually involves a theft using weapons or force, and officers headed to the area in search of two suspects.

Gardena police Sgt. Christopher Cuff saw two men riding bicycles east on Redondo Beach Boulevard. The men were friends of the bike theft victim and were searching for the missing bicycle. Mistaking them for the thieves, Cuff ordered the men to stop and put their hands up, according to a district attorney's memo written by a prosecutor who reviewed the police videos.

The Gardena killing is the latest in a string of high-profile police shootings captured on video, which have brought scrutiny on police tactics and procedures. With the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, evidence emerged that the dispatcher who relayed the 911 call did not include potentially key details about the suspect, as Mother Jones previously reported. And according to a recent Washington Post data investigation of police shootings of mentally ill suspects, "officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong."

Rah Rah Rah! California Just Passed a Law Protecting Cheerleaders

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:33 PM EDT
The Raiderettes and other pro cheerleaders now will make minimum wage in California.

Here's a reason to cheer: Today, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that guarantees better pay and working conditions for professional cheerleaders. Introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the new law was inspired by a series of recent lawsuits in which NFL cheerleaders, including the Oakland Raiderettes, alleged that they received less than minimum wage, had to make unpaid appearances, and were fined for things like bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. (For more on these degrading working conditions, check out our coverage of NFL cheerleaders and NHL ice girls—which Gonzalez says was "essential" for gaining support for her bill.)

Under the new law, professional sports teams will be required to pay cheerleaders minimum wage as well as provide paid overtime and workers' comp. It protects professional mascots as well, though most mascots, most of whom are male, are already granted basic employee rights. (According to Gonzalez, the average mascot makes about $30,000 per year.)

A former college cheerleader, Gonzalez describes the law as a "no-brainer" that addresses basic gaps in equality and pay. "We would never tolerate shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace," she said in a statement. "An NFL game should be no different​." Gonzalez hopes the law will inspire national change; earlier this year, New York lawmakers introduced a similar bill. 

GOP Candidates Pile On to Praise Planned Parenthood Sting

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:17 PM EDT

Yesterday, an eight-minute undercover video alleged that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of contraceptive and abortion services, profits off the sale of "baby parts," catching the attention of abortion foes everywhere.

Speaker John Boehner called for President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."

Now conservative presidential hopefuls are weighing in. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals will investigate the claims made in the video, in part because Planned Parenthood plans to open a $4 million clinic in New Orleans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the video "A disturbing reminder of the organization's penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life."

House Speaker John Boehner called for Health and Human Services Secretary Slyvia Burwell and President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices." In a short written statement, he said: "Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child. When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific  video—we must all act."

There's just one problem: It's not clear whether key revelations in the video, which has cleared 1 million views on its YouTube page, are accurate. In it, Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services Deborah Nucatola is shown having a meal in a restaurant and discussing the tissue donations with what the nonprofit claims are "actors posing as buyers from a human biologics company." She says the clinics "absolutely" want to accommodate patients who want to make donations. "They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, 'This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off this,'" she says in the video.

But Media Matters, a a nonprofit "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in U.S. media," found that key elements of Nucatola's conversation were cut out.

Key parts of the Planned Parenthood director's conversation were cut out from the video.

Nucatola discusses pricing for tissue in the video, giving the impression that there is a profit involved. "You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved," says Nucatola. "It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there that’s going to be doing everything . . . is there shipping involved? Is someone going to be there to pick it up?" 

Media Matters notes that the unedited footage shows a nearly eight-minute conversation regarding the basic reimbursement costs for the legal donation process in which Nucatola also says, "Nobody should be selling tissue here. That's not the goal." This statement does not appear in the viral video. In the unedited version of the video, Nucatola repeatedly refers to the process as "tissue donation," not "tissue sale." In its statement on the video, Planned Parenthood notes that only the actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue, are reimbursed, which is the standard in the medical field. 

The group behind the video is the Center for Medical Progress, a nonprofit associated with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-abortion group that "supported" the undercover project and regularly aggregates abortion horror stories and anti-abortion legislative victories.

In its statement, Planned Parenthood said that the "well-funded group" operates solely to damage Planned Parenthood, and that the video "falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research." This is not the first such "sting video" the abortion provider has confronted—Live Action, a conservative anti-abortion group, has been making similar videos since 2007.

The Center for Medical Progress describes itself as an organization composed of citizen journalists "dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances." A blog post dated July 6, 2015 is the first sign of its existence and introduces the organization and conveyed its mission to create "a world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature and do not destroy, disfigure, or work against them."

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, explained in its statement that fetal tissue has been an essential part of significant medical studies because of its rapid cell division and its adaptive nature. A version of the rubella vaccine came from fetal tissue, and the 1954 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to scientists who used the tissue to develop a polio vaccine using cultures from fetal kidney cells.

"In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases," it said. "Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue...just like every other high-quality health care provider does—with full, appropriate consent and under the highest ethical and legal standards."