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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 9, 2014

Thu Oct. 9, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

US Navy sailors wield hoses during a fire and mass casualty drill in preparation for future deployments. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Flood)

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Supreme Court Rules to Keep North Carolina's Extremely Restrictive Voting Law

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 10:12 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled to block an appellate court's effort to reinstate same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina, two elements of the state's controversial voting law.

The law was passed soon after the Supreme Court's decision last year to gut crucial elements to the Voting Rights Act of 1965–freeing North Carolina from Justice Department oversight and clearance requirements to institute any voting changes.

A number of key political races are taking place in North Carolina next month, including a close Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis.

As previously reported by Mother Jones:

This state's recent voting law is among the most restrictive in the nation. It's obviously aimed at keeping black and low-income people from voting. Last summer, Republican legislators took virtually every one of the different individual measures other states have used to obstruct minority voting and packaged them into a single bill. The legislation included a voter ID provision and restrictions on early voting and voter registration drives. It ended same-day voter registration and expanded opportunities for outside "poll watchers" to hassle voters about their eligibility.

More than half of the state's residents and 70 percent of African American voters in North Carolina used early voting in 2008 and 2012. In the last midterm election, 200,000 people voted during the seven days of early voting that have now been eliminated, and 20,000 used same day registration.

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling today,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, in a statement responding to the decision. “Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African-American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.”

Republicans tend to support voting laws like the one in North Carolina as a means to ostensibly prevent election fraud. But studies have shown such measures disenfranchise voters, specifically amongst minorities and low-income voters, thus suppressing support for Democrats.

This is as good as time as any to remind you, UFO sightings are more common than voter fraud:

Mother Jones
 

Fracking Chemicals, Brought to You by Susan G. Komen

| Thu Oct. 9, 2014 9:36 AM EDT

Here's some news that frankly, I initially thought was a spoof: for the second year in a row, breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure—which caused massive outrage when it defunded Planned Parenthood in 2012—has partnered with Baker Hughes, a leader in the fracking industry. The Houston-based oilfield services company will donate $100,000 to Komen over the year and sell 1,000 pink-painted drill bits used for fracking.

According to Baker Hughes' "Doing Our Bit for the Cure" campaign website, "The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening, and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds."

The irony here is that one of the primary criticisms of fracking is that the fracking process injects possible and known carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, and sulfuric acid, into the ground and surrounding environment. A 2011 senate investigation of 14 leading fracking companies found that, between 2005 and 2009—far from the height of the fracking era—the companies had "injected 10.2 million gallons of fracturing products containing at least one carcinogen."

Only adding to the irony is the fact that Komen's very own website, "Environmental Chemicals and Breast Cancer Risk," informs readers of "Common chemicals that may be associated with breast cancer," and some of the chemical categories listed are exactly those released when fracking.

Here are a few of those chemicals, along with the Komen website's very own explanations of the cancer risks of their chemical categories:

  • Naphthalene, a type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon: "Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – found in vehicle exhaust, air pollution, tobacco smoke, and grilled and smoked food...are produced by combustion and can be found in household sources such as car and other vehicle exhaust; cigarette smoke; and barbequed, smoked or charred foods. They are also found in industrial sources from petroleum production, waste incineration and coal or oil-fired power plants. Inhalation is the major means of PAH exposure because it can become suspended in the air. Like other chemicals associated with breast cancer risk, PAHs are stored in fat tissue and are considered EDCs because they can interact with the estrogen receptor. They can also act directly on DNA to cause mutations."
  • Lead and Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, a type of phthalate: "It has been well accepted that our body's own hormones, especially estrogen, play an important role in breast cancer risk. However, research has found that numerous environmental chemicals can act like estrogen. These chemicals are often referred to as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and some researchers believe they may contribute to breast cancer risk by mimicking or disrupting the effects of the body's natural estrogen. Some commonly recognized EDCs are DDT, BPA, PAHs, dioxin, PCBs, phtlalates and heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury)."

According to Fuel Fix, "Each steel bit—weighing 85 to 260 pounds—is painted by hand at the company's drill bit manufacturing facility in The Woodlands and then shipped to the drill site in a pink-topped container containing information packets with breast health facts, including breast cancer risk factors and screening tips."

Advocacy group Breast Cancer Action called the Komen/Baker Hughes partnership "the most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t" they've seen all year.

If You Pay Them, They Will Come

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 8:23 PM EDT

Here's something you don't see every day: a news article about employers who desperately want to hire more people but just can't find workers with the right skills. Oh wait. You do see that every day. What you don't see are articles which make it clear that a willingness to pay higher wages is all it takes to fix this problem:

Manufacturing wages are rising at a rapid clip in some major industrial states as shortages of certain skills and gradually falling unemployment rates force more companies to pay up to attract and retain workers.

....“What we mainly need is welders,” said Terry McIver, chief executive and owner of Loadcraft Industries Ltd., a maker of parts for oil rigs in Brady, Texas....Dewayne Roy, head of the welding program at Mountain View College in Dallas, said he recently had a waiting list of about 250 people seeking to enroll. One student, Logan Porter, 22, started working for a metal-fabrication shop in the Dallas area in February and is putting in 55 to 60 hours a week. He earns $17 an hour, but with time and a half for overtime, his weekly take-home pay typically exceeds $800. “I love the work,” he said.

....Steve Van Loan, president of Sullivan Palatek Inc. in Michigan City, said job hopping is becoming more of a problem. “They get an offer for more money across town, and they’re gone,” he said. Wages on average at his firm, which makes compressors that power drills and other tools, are rising 4% to 5% this year, compared with 2% to 3% in recent years, Mr. Van Loan said.

How about that? If you pay more, you attract workers with the right skills. If you pay more, training programs start to fill up. If you pay more, you can steal folks away from your competitors.

Pay is the great equalizer. There are always going to be shortages of specific skills in specific times and places. But a long-term nationwide shortage? That just means employers aren't willing to pay market wages. They should read their Milton Friedman. If you pay them, they will come.

Jon Stewart Would Have Been a Terrible Host of "Meet the Press"

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 5:02 PM EDT

Gabriel Sherman says that Chuck Todd wasn't NBC's first choice to replace David Gregory as host of Meet the Press:

Before choosing Todd, NBC News president Deborah Turness held negotiations with Jon Stewart about hosting Meet the Press, according to three senior television sources with knowledge of the talks. One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually “anything" to bring him over. "They were ready to back the Brinks truck up," the source said. A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment. James Dixon, Stewart's agent, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

....Though not a traditional journalist, Stewart can be a devastatingly effective interrogator, and his Meet the Press might have made a worthy successor to Tim Russert’s no-bullshit interviews.

Help me out here, folks. Who's crazy: me or NBC (and Gabriel Sherman)? This whole thing sounds nuts to me because Jon Stewart is a terrible interviewer. He's congenitally unprepared for any serious policy discussion and frequently creates awkward moments where he literally seems to have run out of anything to say even though he's still got a couple of minutes left before the next ad break. When he's shooting the breeze with other comedians, his interviews can be pretty funny. But when he's talking to serious folks? It's almost painful to watch.

Am I wrong here? Am I missing something? Is Stewart really "devastatingly effective" and I'm just too shallow to see it?

Ladies, Let Sarah Silverman Convince You to Get a Sex Change to Fix the Gender Wage Gap

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 3:47 PM EDT

Despite the countless number of politicians, think tanks, feminists, and executive orders out there working to narrow America's gender wage gap, women still make 78 cents to a man's dollar. It's a dismal fact we all know, and one that has persisted for far too long.

Sarah Silverman, "writer, comedian, and vagina owner," is no longer going to wait for the rest of the country to get on board to fix this inequality. In a new satirical video, she proposes the only rational solution left—get a sex change.

"Every year the average woman loses around $11,000 to the wage gap," Silverman explains, while waiting patiently to choose the perfect penis for her surgical transformation. "Over the course of the working years of her life, that's almost 500 grand."

"That's a $500,000 vagina tax."

Ladies, prepare to be convinced below:

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One Weird, Nobel Prize-Winning Trick That Could Halve America's Lighting Bill

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 3:10 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics. In the first of the prestigious awards to be handed out this week, Japanese scientists Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura were honored for their invention of the blue light-emitting diode commonly known as an LED. The $8 million prize "rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind"—and LEDs have crossed the bar.

Invented just twenty years ago, blue LEDs paved the way for many now-common devices, like television LCD-screens, Blu-ray discs, and laser printers. But more importantly, they give off white light in a new, more efficient way, reducing energy consumption the world over.

Blue LED
Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

"I (was) not too sure whether I could win a Nobel Prize," Shuji Nakamura said in a telephone interview after he was informed of the award. "Basically physics, it means that usually people was awarded for the invention of the basic theory. But in my case, not a basic theory. In my case just making the device, you know?"

In traditional electric lighting, most of the energy is lost when it is converted to heat. But LEDs convert electricity directly to light.

The invention was based on over three decades of work and research. And since their discovery in the early '90s, the technology has rapidly improved: state of the art LEDs are now over four times more efficient than florescents and almost 20 times more efficient than regular light bulbs. Because they last so much longer, LEDs are also less wasteful.

Lighting accounts for about a quarter of the world's energy consumption. The Climate Group, a nonprofit pushing LED use worldwide, reports that illumination is responsible for over 1,900 million tons of CO2 emissions every year. They calculate that number could be reduced by up to 70 percent, just by replacing traditional streetlamps with LED powered versions.

Created by The Climate Group

Last year, the US Department of Energy released a report saying LEDs could halve the country's usage of electricity for lighting by 2030. The savings would equal the output of fifty 1,000 megawatt power plants, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking 40 million cars off the road—not to mention cutting energy bills by $30 billion.

Of course there are still technical developments and obstacles to be overcome before this vision is realized. But it is not far fetched or far off, thanks to the latest Nobel laureates. To learn more about the science behind their world-changing invention (or to send them a quick congratulatory note!) you can head to the prizes' site.

The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century Is About a Lot More Than Just Wages

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 2:47 PM EDT

David Leonhardt writes about why the economy looks so bad even though unemployment has fallen below 6 percent:

American workers have been receiving meager pay increases for so long now that it’s reasonable to talk in sweeping terms about the trend. It is the great wage slowdown of the 21st century.

Yes indeed. This started around the year 2000 and hasn't changed since. But as I've written before, that's not all that changed around the year 2000. Here's a more comprehensive list:

  1. Median income growth slowed in the mid-70s, but it stalled almost completely around 2000 and hasn't recovered since.
  2. Real-world investment opportunities began stagnating around 2000.
  3. Labor markets slackened permanently starting around 2000.
  4. The employment-population ratio among women plateaued around 2000 and continued its long-term decline among men.
  5. The labor share of income in the nonfinancial sector dropped steeply starting in 2000 and never recovered.
  6. The number of jobs created by new businesses peaked around 2000 and has been falling ever since.
  7. State and local government output suddenly stagnated around 2000.
  8. Globally, the energy intensity of GDP stopped growing around 2000, which means world economic growth became limited by energy growth.
  9. Household debt inflected upward in 2000, and kept growing until the Great Recession put a stop to it.

I call this the Inflection Point of 2000, and it seems like too many things, all happening at about the same time, to be mere coincidence. In my piece last year about our robotic future, I suggested that much of it might be the barely visible early signs of a more automated economy, and I still suspect that may be part of what's going on. But I don't know for sure, and the evidence on this score is distinctly fuzzy.

And yet. It sure feels like something changed right around 2000. But what?

Here Are Two Videos of NYPD Officers Pummeling Teenagers Suspected of Weed Possession

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 2:47 PM EDT

Two videos emerged this week capturing officers of the New York City Police Department beating two reportedly unarmed teenagers suspected of marijuana possession.

The first recording is of surveillance footage showing officers swiftly approaching 16-year-old Kahreem Tribble after he was seen tossing a black bag onto a Brooklyn street. The video appears to show Tribble then slowing down, attempting to surrender.

Tribble puts his hands in the air, but the officers ignore him and begin pistol-whipping him in the face. He reportedly suffered cracked teeth, bruises, and bleeding in the mouth.

One officer has been suspended without pay; another placed on modified duty.

The second video, reported today, just one day after Tribble's incident was uncovered, shows 17-year-old Marcel Hamer lying on the street while being placed under arrest. Hamer can be heard screaming, "Mister! It was just a cigarette!"

The arresting officer proceeds to punch Hamer in the face, who is immediately knocked out and appears lifeless on the street.

“Yeah, get it on film," the officer can be heard taunting onlookers.

Hamer's family says he now has brain damage.

Statistics to keep in mind as you sit there bewildered and disgusted: New York City is home to 30,000-50,000 marijuana arrests a year, despite repeated calls to decriminalize low-level pot possession. Studies have shown time and time again, blacks are no more likely to smoke weed than whites. But data from 2002 to 2012 indicate an overwhelming 87 percent of those arrested for possession are either black or Latino youths.

Immigration, ISIS, and Ebola: A Perfect Right-Wing Storm

| Wed Oct. 8, 2014 12:31 PM EDT

Here is Republican congressman Tom Cotton, currently running for a Senate seat in Arkansas:

Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.

And here is Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, currently running for reelection in California:

At least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas.

You will be unsurprised to learn that neither of these things is true. They were just invented out of whole cloth, much like Rep. Phil Gingrey's fear that immigrant children might be bringing Ebola across the border. And I think we can expect more of it. The confluence of immigration, ISIS, and Ebola is like catnip to the Republican base. It appeals to their deepest fears. It demonstrates how feckless President Obama is. And it confirms that we need to be far more hawkish about national security. What's not to like?