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Jon Stewart Is Leaving "The Daily Show"

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 6:55 PM EST

Update: Here is Jon Stewart's announcement:

Original post below

Jon Stewart reportedly surprised Daily Show audience members tonight by announcing his retirement from the comedy show he has hosted for more than 15 years. The announcement hasn't been made official but many of those in attendance have taken to social media to share the news.

Tonight's episode airs at 11pm ET on Comedy Central.

Update: Comedy Central just amde it official with the following statement. "Jon will remain at the helm of The Daily Show until later this year."

This is a developing story. We'll update when more news becomes available.

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Here's What Boston's Record-Setting Snowfall Looks Like

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 4:43 PM EST

In the past two weeks, Boston has been hit by three separate snowstorms that have dumped a combined total of more than 70 inches of snow on the city. The storms have shattered Boston's previous record—set back in 1978—for most snowfall in a 30-day period.

The historic snowfall has virtually paralyzed the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the oldest transit system in the country, forcing the agency to declare a state of emergency. Roof collapses have been reported throughout the area and the city's public school system has been closed for eight days, as of Tuesday.

The relentless snowfall is showing no signs letting up either, with another storm forecasted for the area this Thursday.

Steven Senne/AP
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/AP

While city plows have been working round-the-clock to clear the snow—more than 130,000 combine hours according to the Department of Public Works—the city is still struggling with what to do with the excess. On Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh indicated that the snow might be dumped into Boston's harbor, a move that some experts warned could have environmental consequences.

Growing Income Inequality Was What Made the Great Recession so Great

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 3:57 PM EST

A couple of years ago a new narrative emerged about the role that income inequality may have played in the boom/bust cycle that ended in the Great Recession. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

  • Middle class incomes stagnated during the aughts.
  • Income gains went mostly to the rich, who got ever richer.
  • To sustain its accustomed lifestyle, the middle class began borrowing more. The rich eagerly provided them with loans, since there were limited opportunities to invest the huge pool of money flowing their way.
  • This worked fine, until it didn't. Eventually the middle class couldn't borrow any more, and the music stopped. The result was an epic crash driven by high household debt levels.

This view is strongly associated with Raghuram Rajan (in his book Fault Lines) and others. But a few days ago Bas Bakker and Joshua Felman wrote a piece suggesting that there's more to the story. The rich, they say, did more than just provide money that fueled a middle-class consumption boom and bust. The rich participated actively themselves. That is, the rise and fall of the consumption of the rich had as big an effect as that of the middle class—maybe even bigger.

The chart on the right shows the authors' estimate of consumption patterns by income class. As you can see, from around 2003 to the present, it was fairly flat for the bottom 90 percent. But for the well off, consumption rose substantially from 2003-06, dropped conspicuously between 2006-09 and then began increasing again at a quick pace:

The model suggests something truly striking. The top decile explains the bulk of overall consumption growth. Between 2003 and 2013, about 71% of the increase in consumption came from the rich. Much of the slowdown in consumption between 2006 and 2009 was the result of a drop in consumption of the rich. The rich also played a key role in the subsequent recovery.

Their conclusion:

Our results suggest that the standard narrative of the Great Recession may need to be adjusted. Housing played a role, but so did financial assets, which actually accounted for the bulk of the loss in wealth. The middle class played a role, but so did the rich. In fact, the rich now account for such a large share of the economy, and their wealth has become so large and volatile, that wealth effects on their consumption have started to have a significant impact on the macroeconomy. Indeed, the rich may have accounted for the bulk of the swings in aggregate consumption during the boom-bust.

In some ways, this shouldn't come as a surprise. If the bulk of income gains are going to the rich, it stands to reason that their consumption will vary substantially as those incomes go up and down. Middle-class consumption still plays a big role here, and the loss of housing wealth after 2006 still explains a great deal of why the Great Recession was so deep and so long.

But if Bakker and Felman are right, it's far from the whole story. Consumption patterns of the rich are even more volatile than those of the middle class, and when they're getting most of the income gains, then overall consumption patterns become more volatile too. If more income had been flowing to the middle class during the aughts, there would have been less borrowing and a more even pattern of consumption. The boom would have been more moderate and the bust would have been less catastrophic. Growing income inequality made the economy ever more fragile and ever more unstable, and we all suffered as a result.

Listen to the Powerful, Firsthand Stories of Mexican Women Fighting Against Sexual Harassment

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 1:03 PM EST

In the fall of 2012, Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh launched "Stop Telling Women to Smile," a project featuring posters with the faces of real women exposed to street harassment, oftentimes in the form of catcalling, paired with powerful quotes underneath. For Fazlalizadeh, the pieces served as a visual tool to directly address both harassers and women who experience harassment in their very own neighborhoods.

This past September, Fazlalizadeh brought "Stop Telling Women to Smile" to Mexico City, where women are subjected to a level of street harassment both pervasive and constant. Its own public transit system has been deemed one of the most dangerous for women in the world, a distinction that has given way to the use of single-sex buses and female-only subway cars in order to combat the city's notorious harassment issues.

The new interactive, which debuted Monday on Fusion, tells the stories of 72 women, packaged with videos, locations, and a timeline outlining Fazlalizadeh's time in Mexico City. The abroad iteration is titled "All the Time. Every Day" and features women of all ages–local politicians, students, and mothers included–and narratives detailing instances of verbal harassment and physical touching in public.

"I know that you would do it for free, but I will pay you to suck me off," Adriana, one of the women included in the interactive, recounts being told by a man once.

"When I walk, I see men seeing me," Ana, another women, describes. "That gets me really nervous. If you say something, you're the bad one."

It's this sense of powerlessness that "All the Time. Every day" seeks to highlight, providing women a platform to address public abuse too often ignored by their larger community. Check out the project in its entirety at Fusion.

We Had No Idea How Much We Loved Baby Wombats Until This Very Moment

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 12:00 PM EST

Last week, I posted an article from deep within a YouTube hole where train-spotters post their latest videos. Today: baby wombats. I saw this clip of an adorable baby wombat approaching a man pop up in my Facebook feed, and boy, is it very, very cute:

There are a ton of baby wombat videos on YouTube. Watch energetic wombats Jojo and DJ frolic after a feed in this video shot at the "Wild About Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center", in Victoria, Australia.

And, for a more serious take, watch Stephanie Clark and Wayne White, wildlife rehabilitators, talk about the long road to recovery for "Tunna"—orphaned as a baby after his mom was hit by a car—and the intricacies of releasing him back into the wild. Five months later, he's strong and healthy:

Of course, cars on Australia's long bush roads, while deadly, aren't the only threat to wombats. Australia's wombats are also threatened by climate change, and encroaching development. The Northern Hairy-Nose Wombat, the world's largest burrowing herbivore, is one of the most endangered species on the planet (there are only about 200 of them), and is therefore especially vulnerable to climate shifts and severe weather. Droughts can also force wildlife like wombats into direct competition with domesticated animals for food. As temperatures rise in Australia, the country's various species of wombat will experience a shift in their habitats, both in size and altitude.

Now, back to the baby wombats:

Needed: More Bourgeois Buses for the Middle Class

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 10:41 AM EST

Josh Barro thinks our cities are building too much light rail. It's expensive, often slow, and offers virtually no advantage over simply opening up a bus line. The problem, according to a 2009 report from the Federal Transit Administration, is that "Bus-based public transit in the United States suffers from an image problem." But what if transit agencies tackled that image problem head on?

That 2009 transit report gives reason to believe it’s possible. The researchers conducted focus groups with “choice riders” in Los Angeles: people who have cars but sometimes use transit. These riders had an unsurprising preference for trains. “Riding the bus carries a ‘shame factor,’ ” the researchers found. “Most of the choice riders would not consider using it, or if they did, they would feel ashamed and keep it a secret.”

But what the local transit agency marketed as the “Orange Line” — really just a bus route in the San Fernando Valley with high frequencies on a dedicated right of way — managed to gain acceptance among “choice riders.” Focus group participants “used terms like the ‘train-bus’ or the ‘bourgeois bus’ to describe the Orange Line service,” the researchers said. The Orange Line has repeatedly beaten its ridership estimates, and nearly half its riders have access to a car, compared with just a quarter on regular local bus routes in Los Angeles. That performance shows it is possible to overcome anti-bus bias with the right amenities and marketing.

My experience here is vanishingly small since I own a car and rarely use the bus, but I'd add the "danger" factor to the "shame" factor. I can recall a few occasions where I've ridden a local bus for one reason or another, and when I mentioned this my friends were agog. They acted as if I'd literally taken my life in my hands. "Isn't that dangerous?" they asked. Well, I dunno. I got on, paid the fare, sat down, and waited until the bus got to my stop. Then I got off. End of adventure.

So perhaps we need a two-pronged marketing campaign if we want to attract more suburbanites onto buses. They need to be convinced that new bus lines are both bourgeois1 and safe. I might add that although Barro doesn't highlight this particular feature, the Orange Line mentioned in the report also has "high frequencies." That's a key feature too, and it costs money. But it still costs less to run a high-frequency bus than an above-ground light rail system.

Maybe we need more celebrities to ride the bus. I'll bet if George Clooney took the bus to work, it would suddenly become a lot more popular. You'd probably need to increase service to accommodate all the paparazzi, but surely that's a small price to pay?

1I confess to some curiosity here. Did focus group participants really refer to the Orange Line as a "bourgeois bus"? That seems a bit unlikely to me.

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Here Is the First Lawsuit Over Concussions in Pop Warner Football

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 6:25 AM EST

In the past year, both the NFL and the NCAA have settled multimillion-dollar lawsuits over concussions and football-related trauma, and complaints have even trickled down to the high school level. Next up in the legal crosshairs? Youth football. 

On Thursday, Debra Pyka, the mother of Joseph Chernach, a 25-year-old Wisconsin man who committed suicide in 2012, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pop Warner, claiming that cognitive damage from his three years in organized youth football was responsible for his death. The lawsuit claims Chernach suffered from postconcussion syndrome and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease most often associated with former NFL players, as a result of "numerous" concussions he sustained starting when he was 11. 

Chernach did not play football beyond high school; BuzzFeed reported in December that in a university examination of the brains of 19 people who played youth and high school football, Chernach was one of four people to test positive for CTE. 

The fatal combination altered Chernach's "cognition, behavior, and mood" in the years leading up to his death, according to the lawsuit:

 
 

Pyka's lawsuit came eight days after Boston University researchers released a study on former NFL players who'd played football before age 12. The study, published in Neurology, showed that repeated hits earlier in their careers could raise the odds of cognitive decline as adults. 

Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of Pop Warner's medical advisory committee, dismissed the BU study, telling ESPN's Outside the Lines that the effects on former professional athletes and those who never made it to that level are incomparable. The study's lead author, Dr. Robert Stern, countered that although the study does not show what happens to those beyond the professional level, it "does suggest something that I think makes logical sense. The logic is you shouldn't hurt your brain over and over and over again as a child."

This isn't the first high-profile lawsuit brought against Pop Warner over on-field injuries. Last March, the family of 16-year-old Donnovan Hill, who suffered a spinal injury in 2011 while making a tackle during a game, refiled a personal-injury complaint against Pop Warner and Hill's coaches in California. Among other things, Hill's lawyers argued that his coaches improperly taught him to tackle head-first. (Pop Warner later implemented rules limiting contact during practice and banning head-to-head contact.)

Meanwhile, participation in youth football has dwindled since 2008, in part due to the fear of on-field injuries. An espnW/Aspen Institute Project survey last September found that 82.3 percent of parents surveyed considered preventing their children from playing football as a result of those risks.  

Read the rest of the complaint below:

 

 

The Closer Republican and Democratic Senators Sit, the More They Disagree

| Tue Feb. 10, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Over the years, various would-be reformers have called for the elimination of the tradition of congressional Republicans and Democrats sitting on opposite sides of the aisle. If partisan adversaries move closer together physically, the thinking goes, perhaps they'll find more common ground politically.

If only it were that easy. In fact, seating Republicans and Democrats closer together might make the situation worse, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Toronto. Published in the American Sociological Review, the paper examines how US senators' voting behavior is affected by the level of interaction between lawmakers. Specifically, how does voting behavior change when senators of different parties sit closer together on the chamber floor or join more committees with each other?

The study's coauthors, business profs Christopher Liu of the University of Toronto and Sameer Srivastava of UC-Berkeley, looked at voting behavior in the Senate from 1973 to 2009. Their findings: Senators from the same party tended to converge in their voting behavior when they interacted more. If they sat closer together or joined more of the same committees, they later voted similarly. But under the same conditions, senators from different parties who interacted more tended to vote differently. In other words, when Republicans and Democrats sit closer together, their votes move further apart.

When Republicans and Democrats sit closer together, their votes move further apart.

In a polarized setting like the Senate, the study explains, "conflicting identities will become more salient, and the normative pressure to move further apart in their thoughts and actions will intensify." Translation: "Sometimes keeping some distance is the better option."

Srivastava says these polarizing effects are stronger and statistically significant when pairs of senators sit less than 33 feet from each other. Beyond that distance, the effects taper off. And, he adds, on the committee level, greater interaction only exacerbated the ideological division between pairs of Republicans and Democrats who joined committees with a history of political divisiveness. Yet in committees where members regularly cosponsored bills across party lines, greater interaction did not drive them apart.

Inside the 52-by-85-foot US Senate chamber, each senator sits at an assigned desk. Seats are reassigned every two years. The desks are moved to new positions, with senators choosing their spots according to seniority. By tradition, Republicans sit on the left side of the main podium, and Democrats sit on the right. During the moving process, some senators shift closer toward the opposing side, while others shift farther away.

Srivastava stresses that the study is intended only to demonstrate a social phenomenon that might also hold true in high-stakes situations beyond Capitol Hill. For example, in a corporate setting, similar dynamics might be seen after a high-profile and contentious merger that brings opposing executives onto the same board.

The study does not lay out any quick fixes for a more cooperative Congress. There's no magic distance between adversaries that will foster greater compromise. But Srivastava does offer one suggestion: Since the polarizing effects described in the study only apply to situations with opposing and public identities, lawmakers may get along better behind closed doors. "Moving some of the interactions into more private settings could help, possibly," he explains. But in the end, he says, the main obstacle to compromise may not be where senators sit, but the personalities and beliefs they bring to the room in the first place.

Quote of the Day: Who Would Be Dumb Enough to Trust Republicans With the Economy Yet Again?

| Mon Feb. 9, 2015 4:24 PM EST

From Kevin Hassett, a conservative economist who's advised both John McCain and Mitt Romney, explaining what Hillary Clinton's economic message should be in the 2016 presidential campaign:

The Republicans gave us a crappy economy twice, and we fixed it twice. Why would you ever trust them again?

Not bad, Kevin! Thanks. This comes via Ed Kilgore, who's similarly impressed: "Wow, no kidding. Hillary Clinton should say that. It would almost fit on a bumper sticker, and with a few photos would make killer text for a 30-second ad."

Iran's Supreme Leader Signals Support for Nuclear Deal

| Mon Feb. 9, 2015 4:12 PM EST

Hmmm:

Iran's supreme leader offered a new signal of support Sunday for a deal to scale back his country's controversial nuclear program as negotiators race to meet an upcoming deadline.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose recent public pronouncements have usually been skeptical about the talks, promised in a speech to Iranian air force officials that "I would go along with the agreement in the making," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

It is not for nothing that they call him the Supreme Leader. If Khamenei really is suggesting publicly that he might be willing to approve a nuclear agreement with the West, that's a potentially big deal. It's never really mattered much what anyone else thinks about the negotiations, after all.

So does this mean I should raise my expectation of a deal from 50-50 to, say, 60-40? Maybe. But I'm not sure I'm there yet.