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Pentagon Reportedly Finalizing Plan to Lift Ban on Transgender People

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

The Pentagon is expected to announce its plan to lift the military's longstanding ban on transgender service members as early as this week, according to the Associated Press. The plan, which is currently being formalized, would allow transgender people to openly serve in the military and protect current service members from being discharged based on their individual gender-identities.

A recent study estimated that approximately 15,000 transgender individuals are serving in the military.

Just last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter sat down with President Obama to discuss the plan. In February, both Obama and Carter expressed their openness to such a policy change. Once formalized, military leaders will have six months to work out the logistical issues before fully integrating transgender service personnel into the military.

While the president officially repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" back in 2011, which ended the military's ban on gay people, transgender service members were not included under the policy change. This measure seeks to change that.

For more on the Pentagon's transgender problem, read our deep-dive here.

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Yeah, Scott Walker Is Boring. But It's Not Like He's the Only One.

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 3:10 PM EDT

This is officially Scott Walker day, since today he's officially announcing his candidacy. So what can we say about him that's new and interesting? Nothing, really, and Brian Beutler thinks that's still his most serious problem:

Walker's biggest liability may be this: He is incredibly dull. Not just plodding-speaker dull, though he’s often that, too, but an actually boring person. Mitt Romney is nobody’s caricature of a party animal, but he could legitimately boast of being an industrial titan, a fixer, and a man of the world. Hillary Clinton isn’t particularly charismatic, but her life story is filled with dramatic tension, and nobody who masterminded #Benghazi can be credibly dismissed as boring.

Walker, by contrast, is painfully boring. His boringness is evidenced by this sequence of 37 tweets, which go back more than four years.

Walker abbrevi8es like a tween. His life turns on snow, dairy, hot ham, Kohls, haircuts, Packers, Badgers, and watching American Idol while eating chili. His critics err when they mock him for lacking a college diploma, but they could be forgiven for observing that his intellectual incuriousness is symptomatic of lacking ambition outside politics.

Oh, snap! He abbrevi8es like a tween! But give the guy a break. His two kids are 20 and 21, and Walker probably learned to tweet from them back when they were tweens. Now he's stuck in a time warp.

As for those 37 tweets, I guess we'll find out soon enough if America finds Kohl's and hot ham boring and unpresidential, or heartwarmingly ordinary and in touch with the common man. Or if, more likely, they don't read his tweets at all.

Anyway, yes, Scott Walker is boring. Maybe he'll get better with practice. Or maybe boring goes over surprisingly well with voters. Oddly enough, most world leaders aren't really very charismatic. I've never quite figured out why that is. And in any case, if Walker wins he'll be going up against Hillary Clinton, who's never going to win any awards for charisma either.

And there's more! In the first debate later this month, the big guns he'll be going up against are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who are only slightly more interesting than Walker. And all of them will have Donald Trump on the stage, who's going to make boring look really, really good by comparison. Should be a fun show.

Hillary Clinton's Big Economic Speech Abridged to 500 Words

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 1:48 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton gave her big economic speech today. As is my wont, I plowed through the transcript and excerpted only those parts that are actual policy proposals. This is sometimes a judgment call, but I think I got most of them. I didn't include any vague prescriptions that she promised to explain in detail in later speeches.

By my count, Hillary's laundry list includes 26 specific proposals, some with more detail than others. Not bad, even for a Clinton. So for those of you who aren't interested in the blah blah blah, and just want the meat, here's the Reader's Digest version of the speech, condensed to about two minutes of reading time.

Let me begin with strong growth.

....Empower entrepreneurs with less red tape, easier access to capital, tax relief and simplification.... business tax reform to spur investment in America, closing those loopholes that reward companies for sending jobs and profits overseas....comprehensive immigration reform....infrastructure bank that can channel more public and private funds, channel those funds to finance world-class airports, railways, roads, bridges and ports....greater investments in cleaner, renewable energy right now.

....Fund the scientific and medical research that spawns innovative companies and creates entire new industries....breaking down barriers so more Americans participate more fully in the workforce — especially women....family-friendly policies....fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days, child care are essential to our competitiveness and growth.

....Beyond strong growth, we also need fair growth.

....We have to raise the minimum wage and implement President Obama’s new rules on overtime....crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages....defending and enhancing Social Security....encourage companies to share profits with their employees....reforming our tax code....Buffett Rule....closing the carried interest loophole....the decline of unions may be responsible for a third of the increase of inequality among men....we have to get serious about supporting workers.

....Every 4-year old in America [should] have access to high-quality preschool in the next ten years....80% of your brain is physically formed by age of three....intervention to help those often-stressed out young moms understand more about what they can do and avoid the difficulties that stand in the way of their being able to get their child off to the best start....reviving the New Markets Tax Credit and Empowerment Zones to create greater incentives to invest in poor and remote areas.

....The third key driver of income alongside strong growth and fair growth must be long-term growth.

....A new $1,500 apprenticeship tax credit....reform capital gains taxes to reward longer-term investments that create jobs more than just quick trades....[Make] sure stock buybacks aren’t being used only for an immediate boost in share prices....Empowering outside investors who want to build companies but discouraging “cut and run” shareholders who act more like old-school corporate raiders.

....Serious risks are emerging from institutions in the so-called “shadow banking” system....I will appoint and empower regulators who understand that Too Big To Fail is still too big a problem....ensure that no firm is too complex to manage or oversee....prosecute individuals as well as firms when they commit fraud or other criminal wrongdoing....when the government recovers money from corporations or individuals for harming the public, it should go into a separate trust fund to benefit the public.

And the obligatory paean to bipartisanship and comity:

....You know passing legislation is not the only way to drive progress. As President, I’ll use the power to convene, connect, and collaborate to build partnerships that actually get things done. Because above all, we have to break out of the poisonous partisan gridlock and focus on the long-term needs of our country.

A Mexican Drug Lord Escaped From Prison, So Now Donald Trump Wants an Apology

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 1:28 PM EDT

America, Donald Trump would like an apology.

Following Sunday's news that Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had tunneled out of prison, the GOP candidate unleashed a Tweetstorm in which he claimed the kingpin's escape vindicated his controversial comments that Mexico sends criminals and rapists to America.

Trump also took a shot at Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, suggesting that they would meekly negotiate with the drug lord, whereas he would try a mano a mano approach.

The real estate mogul mused that US government would offer citizenship to the on-the-run drug lord.

And Trump seems unfamiliar with the workings of a vacuum cleaner.

Trump said the timing of El Chapo's escape was almost too good.

It's worth noting that Trump's solution to securing the border—building a wall—would do little to deter a drug lord like El Chapo, whose tunneling skills are legendary.

Chart of the Day: Obamacare Keeps On Working

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 11:46 AM EDT

I got distracted on Friday and failed to pass along the latest Gallup poll of health insurance coverage in the US. As you can see, it's dropped once again, from 11.9 percent last quarter to 11.4 percent this quarter. In case that seems a little bloodless, that means that over a million Americans are now insured who weren't last quarter. For the entire year, nearly 4 million people are newly insured. Since the peak just before Obamacare went into effect, 16 million Americans have gained health insurance. And if Republican-controlled states hadn't thrown a collective temper tantrum and refused to accept Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, the total number would be more like 20 million.

Not bad. Still a lot of work to do, but not a bad start.

Greece Surrenders to Europe -- For Now

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 10:48 AM EDT

Well, it appears that Greece has accepted the European deal. This means austerity as far as the eye can see, and no guarantees from Europe except that negotiations over the real agreement will begin soon. Greek opinion on the street was mixed:

Miltiades Macrygiannis, proprietor of an antiques store in Athens, Art and Craft Interiors, said he was hopeful and relieved that a so-called Grexit — a Greek exit from the eurozone — appeared to have been avoided. But he was also disgusted.

“It’s simple: We wasted five months,” Mr. Macrygiannis said. In the end, he added, the austerity measures that had to be taken appeared to be worse than what the creditors had been willing to give five months ago, when the new Greek government took office.

All true. And banks will remain closed for at least another week until Greece passes legislation implementing the preconditions just to get talks started. After that, who know? But Grexit is still a live possibility. Alexis Tsipras has chosen against it for now, but there's no telling if he'll remain opposed once the Europeans really start twisting the knife.

In any case, if he's smart he'll start up all the plans for Grexit so he's ready to go if that's the way things turn out. There's not much point in keeping it secret, either. Everyone knows it's a real option now, so he might as well have drachmas and government IOUs ready to go if the day comes. Grexit may never come, but if it does, there's no point in making it even more chaotic than it has to be.

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John Oliver Explains How Wealthy Sports Teams Are Scamming Taxpayers

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 10:26 AM EDT

Every year, American cities across the country spend billions of dollar in public money in order to build shiny new sports stadiums we probably don't need. As John Oliver explained on the latest Last Week Tonight, these stadiums are increasingly designed to look like "coked-up Willy Wonka" coliseums with expensive features like swimming pools and party cabanas.

"We don't just help teams build stadiums, we let them keep virtually all the revenue those stadiums produce," Oliver said on Sunday.

The segment goes onto show, stadium financing often hurts the local economy and surrounding businesses, even blocking cities from paying for crucial things like hospitals—all this as wealthy stadium owners only get richer with empty promises of economic growth.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't have giant aquariums in ballparks full of terrified fish. Of course we should, this is America! If we don't have them, no one else will! But we should not be using public money to pay for them."

David Letterman Comes Out of Retirement to Call Out Donald Trump

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 8:45 AM EDT

David Letterman may have only retired just two months ago, but that isn't going to stop the former "Late Show" host from taking on the joke of a presidential run that is Donald Trump's current campaign for the White House

On Friday, Letterman reemerged on stage in San Antonio, Texas for a very special "Top 10" list to explain.

"I retired," Letterman told the crowd, with Martin Short and Steve Martin by his side. "I have no regrets. None. I was happy, I'll make actual friends, I was complacent, I was satisfied, I was content. And then a couple of days ago Donald Trump said he was running for president."

"I have made the biggest mistake of my life."

Among the zingers reserved for Trump, "During sex, Donald Trump calls out his own name" and "He wants to build a wall? How about building a wall around the thing on his head?" drive it home.

Watch below for the full list:

 

The Punk Band Negative Scanner Gets Apocalyptic

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Negative Scanner
Negative Scanner
Trouble in Mind

Folks who cheered Sleater-Kinney's recent reunion and crave another righteous blast of purifying punk noise should check out the debut album of this exciting Chicago foursome. Echoing the equally terrific White Lung, Negative Scanner makes a bracing racket from pungent raw materials—careening drums, clattering guitars, urgent vocals—with agitated frontwoman Rebecca Valeriano-Flores hinting at apocalyptic consequences every time she sings. Highlighted by blistering tunes like "Planet of Slums" and "Would You Rather," this searing 27-minute eruption is close to perfect, but not for delicate ears.

Europe's Message to Greece: Don't Let the Door Hit You On Your Way Out

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 1:25 AM EDT

A few days ago everyone thought Greece had capitulated completely to European demands for further austerity. It turns out that was all sorts of wrong. Over the weekend, Europe's finance ministers met in Brussels and eventually released a statement that showed Greece what real capitulation looks like. Marcus Walker of the Wall Street Journal summarizes things pretty well:

Sunday’s statement on Greece by eurozone finance ministers will go down as one of the most brutal diplomatic démarches in the history of the European Union, a bloc built to foster peace and harmony that is now publicly threatening one of its own with ruination unless it surrenders.

....The other 18 euro members were late Sunday pushing Greece to implement all of the austerity measures and broader economic overhauls its voters have twice rejected—in elections in January and in a referendum on July 5—not in return for new rescue loans, but as a precondition for even talking about them.

....The demands from the so-called “Eurogroup” of finance ministers range from handing Greek public assets to a fund in Luxembourg to auction off to giving international technocrats powers to approve or veto draft laws in Athens.

Yep. Greece not only has to agree to additional conditions, that's just the starting point. It has to actually pass them into law before the rest of Europe will even agree to open further talks—at which point Greece will learn what Europe really wants from them. Considering that Germany has already demanded they hand over €50 billion in public assets for eventual privatization to pay off loans, it's hard to know just how much more they could demand. But apparently there's more. Much more.

A senior EU official described this as an "exercise in extensive mental waterboarding," and that seems pretty appropriate. Actual shooting wars have ended with the victors demanding less onerous terms than these.

Greece hasn't responded yet, and it's hard to know what their next move will be—primarily because it's hard to know what's really behind the European demands. Are they harsh but nevertheless made in good faith? Or have they deliberately been crafted to be impossible to accept because the rest of Europe is fed up and simply wants Greece to exit the eurozone?

Nobody knows. France presumably wants Greece to stay. Germany gives every indication that it wants Greece to get the hell out and go its own way. In any case, Alexis Tsipras's gamble that the threat of default and Grexit would scare the rest of Europe has obviously backfired spectacularly. Even Greece's friends—relatively speaking—seem not to care much anymore. Maybe they'd prefer Greece to stay and the eurozone to remain intact, but if it doesn't happen, they'll shrug and move on.

As for the consequences, my guess is that whatever comes next will matter only to Greece. The rest of Europe will be largely unaffected. If Greece accepts austerity, Greece will suffer and everyone else will sigh. If Greece defaults and exits the euro, European institutions will barely notice that a supposedly key pillar of the EU—that the euro is inviolable—has been shattered. For now, anyway, Greece is seen as unique: a singularly reckless country that lied to get into the euro in the first place and never should have been part of it. Nobody thinks this debacle will repeat itself.

It doesn't matter if this is true or not. What matters is that it's widely accepted, and that means Greece no longer has any leverage. They either become a ward of Brussels—Europe's Detroit, if you will—or they default and leave the euro. That's it.

Given that, I'd say I've moved from being about 50-50 on either option, to being about 80-20 in favor of default and Grexit. Make no mistake: the economic and social devastation would be immense. But eventually things would get better. Conversely, given the events of this weekend, it's no longer clear if that would be the case if Greece stays in the euro. The pain would be all but unending. At long last, Grexit now looks not only possible, but maybe even inevitable. If so, better now than later.