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Hillary Clinton to Supreme Court: Legalize Same-Sex Marriage Nationally

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:13 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's now-official presidential campaign has so far opted for gauzy announcement videos and vague feel good promises over much in the way of policy specifics. But on Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.

"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.

Clinton hasn't always supported same-sex marriage. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton, like then-Sen. Barack Obama, supported civil unions for LGBT couples but opposed marriage rights. She avoided weighing in on domestic politics while at the State Department and didn't announce that she supported marriage equality until March, 2013—but maintained that same-sex marriage was up to the states and not a nationwide, constitutional right. Last year, she ducked probing questions from NPR's Terry Gross about how she had evolved on the issue. Earlier this week, Buzzfeed called out the Clinton campaign for not saying where the presidential candidate stood on the upcoming court case.

Now Clinton seems ready to strike a different tone. Her top campaign operative, Robby Mook, will be the first openly gay presidential campaign manger, as my colleague Andy Kroll and I reported last week. Among the gauzy images in the video she released on Sunday announcing her presidential campaign were scenes of a gay couple discussing their upcoming wedding. And, thanks to her statement today, she's fully on board with the idea that LGBT couples should enjoy the same constitutionally protected rights as heterosexual couples.

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Awful People Write Hilariously Mean Letter To Friend Who Shared Too Many Photos Of Child On Facebook

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

You know how parents are always going on and on about their kids? "My kid this and my kid that" and shut up already, ok? Some of us don't even have kids and others of us have kids but those kids are really just sacks of potatoes dressed in clothes and we bring them around and introduce them to people like they're our kids but then we get hungry and we rip off their little baseball caps and eat the potatoes and OH MY GOD I ATE MY KID!

So parents! On Facebook! Annoying! Sometimes you want to just write them a nasty letter that's like, "no one cares about your dumb kid. Shut up." But you never actually do that because you understand that the parent just loves their kid and parents are supposed to love their kids and they want to be proud of their adorable kid and sing its praises from the rooftops and you understand in your heart, in your bones, that that is ultimately a good thing and complaining about it would not be a good look.

Some people in Australia apparently did do that, though. According to news.com.au's Em Rusciano, a woman named Jade Ruthven received the following enraged letter from a group of "friends" who were miffed by her over-sharing:

Jade's friends are not necessarily bad people, but they are not Jade's real friends. Real friends are willing to suffer your annoying child-bragging. Jade can do better.

Drum vs. Cowen: Three Laws

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Today Tyler Cowen published his version of Cowen's Three Laws:

1. Cowen’s First Law: There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it)

2. Cowen’s Second Law: There is a literature on everything.

3. Cowen’s Third Law: All propositions about real interest rates are wrong.

I'd phrase these somewhat differently:

1. Drum's First Law: For any any problem complex enough to be interesting, there is evidence pointing in multiple directions. You will never find a case where literally every research result supports either liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

2. Drum's Second Law: There's literature on a lot of things, but with some surprising gaps. Furthermore, in many cases the literature is so contradictory and ambiguous as to be almost useless in practical terms.

3. Drum's Third Law: Really? Isn't there a correlation between real interest rates and future inflationary expectations? In general, don't low real interest rates make capital investment more likely by lowering hurdle rates? Or am I just being naive here?

In any case, you can take your choice. Or mix and match!

Senate's Iran Bill Probably Not a Bad Idea After All

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

President Obama has said that he's willing to sign the latest Senate version of a bill that gives Congress a say in any nuclear deal with Iran. I'm glad to hear that because, oddly enough, I'm pretty much in favor of the current bill. Here's why:

  • Congress should be involved in major arms treaties, regardless of whether my preferred party happens to control Congress.
  • The current bill requires Congress to vote on a final deal within 30 days. No one expects a treaty to get implemented any sooner than that anyway, so it's not much of a roadblock.
  • If Congress disapproves the deal, the president can issue a veto. It would then take two-thirds of the Senate to override the veto and kill the treaty.

I don't see much of a downside to this. If Obama can't get even one-third of the Senate to go along with his Iran deal, then it probably doesn't deserve to be approved. And the threat of a suspicious and recalcitrant Congress going over the treaty language word by word might actually motivate Iran to agree to more straightforward language in the final document. It certainly shouldn't doom the negotiations or anything like that.

A lot of this is political theater, and a lot of it is pure Israel-lobby muscle at work. Still, I suspect it does little harm and might even do a little good. And setting out the parameters of the Senate vote beforehand is probably all for the good. This isn't a bad bill.

Driving While Black Has Actually Gotten More Dangerous in the Last 15 Years

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 9:50 AM EDT

Walter Scott's death in South Carolina, at the hands of now-fired North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, is one of several instances from the past year when a black man was killed after being pulled over while driving. No one knows exactly how often traffic stops turn deadly, but studies in Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Washington have consistently shown that cops stop and search black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers. Last week, a team of researchers in North Carolina found that traffic stops in Charlotte, the state's largest city, showed a similar racial disparity—and that the gap has been widening over time.

The researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill analyzed more than 1.3 million traffic stops and searches by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers for a 12-year period beginning in 2002, when the state began requiring police to collect such statistics. In their analysis of the data, collected and made public by the state's Department of Justice, the researchers found that black drivers, despite making up less than one-third of the city's driving population, were twice as likely to be subject to traffic stops and searches as whites. Young black men in Charlotte were three times as likely to get pulled over and searched than the city-wide average. Here's a chart from the Charlotte Observer's report detailing the findings:

Michael Gordon and David Puckett, Charlotte Observer

Not only did the researchers identify these gaps: they showed that the gaps have been growing. Black drivers in Charlotte are more likely than whites to get pulled over and searched today than they were in 2002, the researchers found. They noted similar widening racial gaps among traffic stops and searches in Durham, Raleigh, and elsewhere in the state.

Black drivers in Charlotte were much more likely to get stopped for minor violations involving seat belts, vehicle registration, and equipment, where, as the Observer's Michael Gordon points out, "police have more discretion in pulling someone over." (Scott was stopped in North Charleston due to a broken brake light.) White drivers, meanwhile, were stopped more often for obvious safety violations, such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and driving under the influence. Still, black drivers—except those suspected of intoxicated driving—were always more likely to get searched than whites, no matter the reason for the stop.

The findings in North Carolina echo those of a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Kansas, who found that Kansas City's black drivers were stopped at nearly three times the rate of whites fingered for similarly minor violations.

Frank Baumgartner, the lead author of the UNC-Chapel Hill study, told Mother Jones that officers throughout the state were twice as likely to use force against black drivers than white drivers. Of the estimated 18 million stops that took place between 2002 and 2013 in North Carolina that were analyzed by Baumgartner's team, less than one percent involved the use of force. While officers are required to report whether force was encountered or deployed, and whether there were any injuries, "we don't know if the injuries are serious, and we don't know if a gun was fired," he says.

These Popular Clothing Brands Are Cleaning Up Their Chinese Factories

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

It's well known that the outsourcing of clothing manufacturing to countries with low wages and weak regulations has led to exploitative labor conditions. But many foreign apparel factories also create environmental problems. The industrial processes used to make our jeans and sweatshirts require loads of water, dirty energy, and chemicals, which often get dumped into the rivers and air surrounding factories in developing countries. Almost 20 percent of the world's industrial water pollution comes from the textile industry, and China's textile factories, which produce half of the clothes bought in the United States, emit 3 billion tons of soot a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

But a few basic (and often profitable) changes in a factory's manufacturing process can go a long way in cutting down pollution. That's the takeaway from Clean by Design, a new alliance between NRDC, major clothing brands—including Target, Levi's, Gap, and H&M—and Chinese textile manufacturing experts.

Starting in 2013, 33 mills in the cities of Guangzhou and Shaoxing participated in a pilot program that focused on improving efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of producing textiles. The results, released in a report today, are impressive. 

The 33 mills reduced coal consumption by 61,000 tons and chemical consumption by 400 tons. They saved 36 million kilowatts of electricity and 3 million tons of water (the production of one tee shirt takes about 700 gallons, or 90 pounds, of water). While mills often needed to invest in capital up front, they saw an average of $440,000 in savings per mill—a total of $14.7 million—mostly returned to them within a year.

How did they accomplish all this? Below are some of the measures that were implemented:

  • Upgrading metering systems to monitor water, steam, and electricity use (and identify waste)

  • Implementing condensation collection during the steam-heavy dying process

  • Increasing water reuse after cooling and rinsing (some clothes get rinsed as many as 8 times; the final rinses often leave behind clean water)

  • Investing in equipment for recovering heat from hot water used for dying and rinsing, and from machines

  • Stopping up steam and compressed air leakage to increase energy efficiency

  • Improving insulation on pipes, boilers, drying cylinders, dye vats, and steam valves to prevent wasted energy

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Lincoln Died 150 Years Ago Today and If He Were Still Alive He Wouldn’t Have Been a Republican

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 12:03 AM EDT

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC. Lincoln died the following morning, just six days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered and the Civil War, which lasted four years and killed an estimated 750,000 soldiers, officially ended.

JT Vintage/Glasshouse/Zuma

As the country commemorates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death, the debate over how the Republican Party has changed since then has been renewed. Lincoln, the first Republican president, has long been a source of pride for modern-day conservatives who still claim to be part of the "party of Lincoln." His legacy is regularly cited by GOP politicians when they find themselves having to defend the party against charges of gutting civil rights and holding racist attitudes towards minorities. But as Salon notes this week in a piece titled, "Abraham Lincoln would despise you all: Race, the South and the GOP’s most delusional fantasy," attempts to invoke Lincoln in present-day Republican ideology are ultimately futile. The party's staunch opposition to gay marriage, for example, clearly distances itself from Lincoln's to the fundamental "proposition that all men are created equal."

One perfect example of what the GOP once was and what it became can be seen in then-Senator Jim Jeffords' explanation of why he was moved to leave the party in 2001. In his speech, which came shortly after George W. Bush became president, Jeffords said his initial decision to declare himself a Republican was largely rooted in principles that aligned with the "party of Lincoln." But Bush's shifting principles ultimately changed that for him:

In the past, without the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue and influence and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically.

Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll disagree with the president on very fundamental issues—the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small.

Of course, Republicans aren't exactly pleased with this perspective. A peek into that mindset is offered in this editorial in the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday:

On a Lincoln anniversary that will no doubt bring even more lectures about how the GOP has abandoned its first president, we do well to remember that Old Abe was a man who enforced his red lines (e.g., no expansion of slavery). Before that, he was a corporate lawyer who rose from poverty through hard work and ambition—and wanted an America where everyone had the chance to do the same.

If America's progressives wish to embrace this Lincoln legacy, more power to them.

One hundred fifty years later, it's understandable why both parties are eager to claim Lincoln's legacy.

Republicans Like Class Warfare—So Long As It's Against Hillary Clinton

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 4:18 PM EDT

How do you go about redefining Hillary Clinton? As one of the most well-known political figures in modern history, just about everyone in America already has a opinion of her.

After months in the lab and out in the field polling voters and testing messages, Republicans believe they have the answer they need to help prevent another four years of a Democratic presidency. As Politico reports today, the GOP plans to depict Clinton as an out-of-touch one-percenter, who doesn't drive her own car or pump her own gas, who owns multiple large houses and commanded a six-figure fee for her pre-campaign speaking gigs, who can't grasp the daily life of a working-class family. As Politico's Eli Stokols puts it, the GOP plans to "Mitt Romnify" Clinton:

The out-of-touch plutocrat template is a familiar one: Democrats used it to devastating effect against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. While Hillary Clinton's residences in New York and Washington may not have car elevators, there's still a lengthy trail of paid speeches, tone-deaf statements about the family finances, and questions about Clinton family foundation fundraising practices that will serve as cornerstones of the anti-Clinton messaging effort.

"She's admitted she hasn't driven a car for decades; she probably doesn't ever go into a coffee shop and talk to regular people unless it's for a staged photo-op," said American Crossroads CEO Steven Law, alluding to Clinton's portrayal in her campaign's launch video on Sunday. "She really has lived the life of a 1-percenter these last several years, and it shows.

"We know her team is working to rebrand her as a relatable, regular person; the question is, can she actually perform in a way that convinces people she is that person? We think that's going to be hard for her."

The outlines of the effort to Mitt Romnify Hillary Clinton are still being sketched. Crossroads, the super PAC that spent $70 million in 2012 mostly on television ads attacking President Barack Obama, is in the middle of an extensive research project analyzing voters' existing perceptions of Clinton and their reactions to a number of potential critiques. But the Republican National Committee has done focus groups that suggest Clinton is more vulnerable to charges of being imperious and bending the rules than anything else tested against her.

"The most potent message against Clinton is that she doesn't live an average life, she's out of touch and doesn't play by the same set of rules," said the RNC's research director, Raj Shah. "[T]hat resonates more deeply than some of the policy hits, the ethical hits."

Soon after Stokols' story was published, Crossroads GPS, the GOP establishment's leading dark-money group, released its own polling data from 15 battleground states highlighting what it called Clinton's "major hurdles." Based on a poll of one thousand likely voters conducted in late March, Crossroads found that 95 percent of respondents had a fully formed opinion of Clinton; her popularity was evenly split, with 49 percent favoring her and 46 percent opposing. Crossroads also claims that some of the "most potent concerns" voiced by respondents were Clinton's "record of scandals" at the State Department, as well as doubts that the former first lady "is honest and trustworthy."

The data here aren't that surprising—after all, this was a poll commissioned by a Republican shop. But what caught my eye was Crossroads founder Steven Law's statement in the press release accompanying his group's findings: "A staged van tour," he said, "can't erase the legacy of scandals and luxury lifestyle that are ingrained in Americans' view of who Hillary really is." Right there Law shows his hand—luxury lifestyle. That's on top of his "one-percenter" jab to Politico.

In other words, get ready for 18 months of ominous, grimly narrated attack ads about out-of-touch plutocrats and the lifestyles of the rich and politically famous. Except this time the target isn't Mitt Romney; it's Clinton, the Democrat trying to run as the "champion" of "everyday Americans."

The FDA Has Some Bad News About Your Kind Bars

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 2:41 PM EDT

Depressing news for all you Kind bar fans: The popular nut and fruit snack, which bills itself as a "healthy and tasty" treat, is actually kind of not healthy at all.

According to a letter from the Food and Drug Administration to the makers of Kind, the bars "do not meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy’ on a food label" under the law.

"Your website states, 'There’s healthy. There’s tasty. Then there’s healthy and tasty' and 'all of our snacks are pretty much the nirvana of healthful tastiness.' In addition, your webpage for the Kind Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein product states 'KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein is a healthy and satisfying blend of peanuts and antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.' However, none of your products listed above meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy' that are set forth in 21 CFR 101.65(d)(2)."

The FDA said the bars have too much saturated fat to justify the term "healthy," and also don't measure up to their "antioxidant-rich" claim. Bloomberg reports Kind is "moving quickly to comply" to edit its labels.

More disappointment for people who thought cheerfully labeled snacks and drinks (a la Vitamin Water) could actually make them fitter.

(h/t Bloomberg)

Hair Update

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 12:35 PM EDT

Huh. My hair is starting to fall out in clumps. That's not supposed to happen until after the chemo next week. I wonder what's going on?