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Blood Moon!

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 12:35 AM PDT

It turns out that timing is everything with the blood moon. We had a thin little haze of clouds passing across the sky here in Irvine, so I couldn't get a very sharp image, but at 11:24 pm, the moon was still disappointingly moon-colored. By 12:03 am, however, it was satisfyingly florid. Enjoy.

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Big Government Run Amok Decides to Back Down

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 3:46 PM PDT

The Washington Post gets results!

The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.

....“I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,” Social Security’s acting commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.

So there you have it. If your mother—maybe, possibly—got overpaid 40 years ago when you were a five-year-old child, the Social Security Administration will no longer seize your tax refund check in order to recover her alleged debt. Progress!

Anyway, Eric Posner says the government's legal position here was untenable all along. That's good to know.

No, the "Blood Moon" Does Not Mean the World Is Ending

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 1:46 PM PDT

Why is this night different from all other nights? Tonight the clouds will part, the heavens will open, the stars will shine, and the moon will bleed. Groovy! The blood moon, a deliciously named full lunar eclipse rendering the moon red, will be visible in the skies above North America around 2 a.m. Eastern time.

In the olden days the sudden appearance of a big red bloody moon probably sent people into a panic. Terrified, they probably ran around screaming, "Help me! Help me! My God, the moon has turned red! The moon has turned red! We're all going to die!" But then the moon would turn back to normal and they'd still be alive and probably a bit ashamed that they'd lost their heads and they'd warn their kids, "Look, kids, one day the moon might turn red for a little while, but don't worry. It's just a thing. Why does it happen? I don't know. Why does anything happen in this crazy world of ours! But if it does turn red, it'll be fine. Don't run around screaming. You'll feel very silly in the morning."

Nowadays, we have computers and microwaves and iPhones and telescopes and we're all very bright and evolved and we all watch Cosmos and the moon turning red is no big cause for alarm and…wait a second, what's that?

John Hagee, a best-selling author and evangelist who once claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God's way of punishing New Orleans for allowing LGBT parades, says that this is the dawning of the end of days. "God is literally screaming at the world: 'I'm coming soon.'" This is literally not true.

The mega-church founder does not believe that the world is ending just because the moon is turning red. The moon turns red all the time. The last total lunar eclipse was was in December 2011. What makes this blood moon slightly more notable than your average run of the mill blood moon is that it is the first of a tetrad, a series of four lunar eclipses that will happen about six months apart. The next one is set for October 8. These are sort of uncommon insofar as the last one was in 1967, but not that uncommon when you really think about the vastness of time, history, and space. But 1967 was also the year of the Six-Day War, Hagee would point out, and this blood moon is falling on the first night of Passover and even the most critical skeptic would have to admit that that coincidence is…well, utterly meaningless. As even the Young Earth Creationists at Answers in Genesis explain, "The timing of the eclipses…while interesting, falls far short of the sort of signs that will cause the heavens to shake (Matthew 24:29)."

The End Times are not here. Sorry. Don't forget to file your taxes. 

UPDATE: Should the clouds fail to part, you will be able to see the blood moon here:

UPDATE 2, April 15, 2014, 2:25am ET: This moon sure is taking its sweet time turning red, isn't it? While we wait, here's the music video for the Mando Diao song "Mr. Moon."

 

 

A Federal Judge Just Struck Down Part of Ohio's Gay Marriage Ban. See How Fast the Movement Is Spreading.

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 12:23 PM PDT

Ohio made strides toward marriage equality on Monday when a federal judge ruled that the state's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed out of state is unconstitutional.

The ruling, from US District Judge Timothy H. Black of Cincinnati, overturns part of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. Ohio voters approved the amendment in 2004. "The record before this court ... is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the state's ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Black wrote in his opinion.

Black didn't clear the way for same-sex couples to obtain marriage certificates in Ohio. But it does afford Ohio's same-sex couples the same rights under the law as any other married couple—so long as the ruling stands. On Tuesday, Black will decide whether to stay his ruling pending an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. 

Black announced that he would compel the state of Ohio to recognize existing marriages on April 4, after he heard arguments from three couples challenging the ban. The three lesbian couples were suing to place both parents' names on the birth certificates of their newborn children. For the couples, the ruling is a victory no matter what—Black has said he won't stay the part of the decision that compels Ohio to list both parents on their child's birth certificate.

Ohio is the seventh state in the past six months where a federal judge has struck a blow to same-sex marriage bans. In March, a federal judge in Michigan handed down an opinion that would allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and a federal judge in Kentucky moved the state closer to recognizing out-of-state marriages. Judges in Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Texas have also issued rulings striking down bans on same-sex marriage.

We've added Ohio to our animated map illustrating how fast the right to marriage is sweeping the county:

gay marriage map gif
Matt Connolly and Molly Redden

A few things to note about the map: Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Texas are not issuing marriage licenses due to the appeals, although in Michigan and Utah, several hundred couples were married in the time it took the states to prepare appeals.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy organization, characterizes Wisconsin's domestic partnerships as limited—the state law enumerates 43 rights same-sex partners enjoy, whereas married couples of the opposite sex are entitled to more than 200. Under Wisconsin law, it is illegal for same-sex couples to travel out of state in order to marry; couples who do so, and continue living in Wisconsin, risk a $10,000 fine and nine months in prison.

The map does not show the District of Columbia, which has issued licenses to same-sex couples since March 2010. California issued marriage licenses beginning in June of 2008 but stopped doing so that November, when voters passed Proposition 8. A Supreme Court decision overturned Prop. 8 in June 2013.

Today Brings Good News/Bad News on Obamacare

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 11:02 AM PDT

The CBO released a small bit of good news/bad news about Obamacare today. The good news: they now estimate that the 10-year cost of the program will be $104 billion less than they previously thought—which, in turn, was less than they had projected in 2010. This is primarily because exchange premiums have come in lower than CBO originally estimated, which means that federal subsidies will be lower.

The bad news: the lower cost of premiums is primarily because the quality of the plans coming from insurers is lower than CBO originally estimated: "The plans being offered through exchanges in 2014 appear to have, in general, lower payment rates for providers, narrower networks of providers, and tighter management of their subscribers’ use of health care than employment-based plans do. Those features allow insurers that offer plans through the exchanges to charge lower premiums (although they also make plans somewhat less attractive to potential enrollees)."

CBO didn't update its projection of Obamacare revenues, but if those don't change, it means that Obamacare will reduce the deficit even more than we thought.

But here's an interesting thing: CBO continues to project that Obamacare will lead to no short-term change in employer-based insurance. But the latest Rand poll suggests that employer insurance has increased by about 7 million since Obamacare enrollment started up last year. If that number turns out to be real, I wonder how that will affect CBO's budget estimates? It all depends on how this feeds into their models, but it seems like it would be a positive thing one way or the other.

LISTEN: Alleged Kansas Gunman Frazier Glenn Miller Discusses the Tea Party, Obama, and Ron Paul

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 10:23 AM PDT

In a 2010 radio interview, Frazier Glenn Miller, the man suspected of killing three people Sunday at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement center in Kansas, said he was interested in the tea party, voiced support for then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and spoke approvingly of Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman and presidential candidate. In late April 2010, Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, was a guest on The David Pakman Show, a nationally syndicated left-of-center radio and television program. At the time, Miller was running for US Senate as an independent in his home state of Missouri with the slogan "It's the Jews, Stupid," and Pakman pressed Miller on his extreme views.

During the interview, Miller was unabashed about his anti-Semitic positions. When asked whether he thought the United States would be better off if Hitler had succeeded, Miller responded, "Absolutely, the whole world would…Hitler would have created a paradise on Earth, particularly for white people. But he would have been fair to other people as well." He added, "Germans are blamed collectively because of the alleged so-called Holocaust."

Not surprisingly, Miller denigrated most American politicians, but cited one positively: "If I had my way [all US senators] would be in jail right now for treason, if not hung from a sturdy oak tree…Ron Paul is the only independent politician, representative in Washington." He also spoke highly of another conservative: "Patrick Buchanan, he's a great man, he's a great historian, he's one of the very few journalists who has the courage to speak out against Jewish domination in the country." Miller called Howard Stern "a Jew liar." When asked whether he supported the tea party, Miller replied, "The school's still out on them. They're a new movement. I'm watching them closely. I suspect, however, they'll be infiltrated by the Jews and therefore led into defeat."

During the interview, Pakman asked Miller whom he would "elect, deport, and waterboard"—given the choices of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former Fed chair Alan Greenspan. Miller answered, "I like Obama more than the other two, by far." He chose to elect Obama, deport Greenspan, and waterboard Biden. Miller said, "I have a great deal of admiration [for] Louis Farrakhan," and he called Ahmadinejad "a great man" because he "has guts and he tells the truth about the Jews."

"I'm a convicted felon and I'm proud of it," Miller boasted, noting that he "was convicted of declaring war on the federal government and possession of illegal weapons." He added that Jews "were responsible for my conviction that prompted me to go underground and declare war…Morris Dees mainly, he's a Jew that runs the Southern Poverty Law Center." (The SPLC monitors hate groups.)

In November 2013, Pakman had an exchange of emails with Miller in which Miller noted that he was "close friends" with Craig Cobb, a white supremacist who had attempted to form an all-white town in Leith, North Dakota. According to Miller, the two had worked together "on several White Nationalist projects, including the Aryan Alternative newspaper." Referring to the recent news that a DNA test indicated that Cobb had African ancestry, Miller told Pakman, "I can't believe a man as intelligent as you, actually believes Craig Cobb is an octoroon. Surely, you know it's just another jewsmedia fraud."

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The Lawyer Behind the Supreme Court's Latest Campaign Finance Decision Has a New Cause: Sarah Palin for Senate

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 9:23 AM PDT

When the Supreme Court recently demolished yet another chunk of the nation's campaign finance laws, Dan Backer arguably cheered louder than anyone. It was Backer, a Washington, DC-area attorney active in conservative politics, who had convinced an Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon to challenge the government's limit on the number of candidates, party committees, and political action committees an individual can contribute to in a single election cycle. (The basic limits on how much money that donor can give to each candidate, party, or PAC remain intact.) Backer, who represented McCutcheon, responded to the news of the Supreme Court's decision by tweeting (in apparent reference to William Wallace in Braveheart): "FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!"

Backer's victory is shining some light on another high-profile cause of his: Convincing Sarah Palin to run for US Senate.

In an email headlined "Palin for Senate" recently blasted out by a PAC called the Tea Party Leadership Fund, Backer writes, "Sarah's the proven leader we need." He goes on, "She has a better grasp on world politics, and she knows what it means to cherish and protect our American freedoms far better than THE MAN WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE LEADING THE FREE WORLD." Backer slams incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for spending "too much time in Washington, DC, begging the Obama administration for favors rather than representing the good people of Alaska." Palin supporters need to act quick, Backer warns: The window for her to get into the race "has almost closed." And so Backer asks recipients to sign a petition and gather enough signatures to "to push Sarah Palin over the top in a critical run for Alaska's Senate seat in 2014."

In an interview, Backer said almost 100,000 people had signed the Palin for Senate petition. If Palin did enter the race,he said the Tea Party Leadership PAC would bolster her candidacy with direct mail and radio ads. "Nobody's going to be a greater agent for change than Sarah Palin from Alaska," Backer told me. "She will bring something to the race and she will disrupt the Senate. And disruption is good."

Read the email:

 

Backer's plea isn't entirely out of left field. Palin has made noises about running for Senate in Alaska. Last summer, she said on Sean Hannity's radio show that she was considering a run. "I've considered it because people have requested me considering it," she said. "But I'm still waiting to see what the lineup will be and hoping that...there will be some new blood, new energy, not just kind of picking from the same old politicians in the state." But this email comes when it's getting late for a possible Palin campaign. (The filing deadline is six weeks away.) Right now, the much-watched Alaska Senate race pits Begich against Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Most polling shows Begich in the lead, but the seat is considered a toss-up Senate race that could determine which party ends up controlling the upper chamber.

Backer's email asks for more than just a signature; it includes a plea to donate $5 or more to the Tea Party Leadership Fund PAC. (Backer is the PAC's treasurer.) A cynical political observer might wonder if this "Palin for Senate" effort could be more of a fundraising ploy than a realistic attempt to get Palin into the race. Campaign records show that the Tea Party Leadership Fund has so far raked in $3.8 million in the 2013-14 election cycle, and most of that money—almost $9 of every $10—has gone to fundraising, legal fees (to Backer's own firm), consulting, and other related expenses.

But Backer says the Tea Party Leadership PAC has spent so much non-electoral money because it was building its donor lists during 2013, an off year. This year, he says, the PAC plans to be a counterweight to the outside money from corporations and trade associations backing establishment Republican candidates. "We knew this was going to be a tough cycle and a tough year," he said. "You need resources you can put on the ground when you need them."

How to Lose Money and Come Out OK Anyway

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 8:37 AM PDT

TIAA-CREF is buying Nuveen Investments for $6.25 billion from Madison Dearborn, a private equity shop that bought Nuveen in 2007. Nuveen has performed poorly since then, but insiders say that the TIAA-CREF deal ensures that the Madison Dearborn will at least break even on its investment. Felix Salmon is gobsmacked after running through the numbers:

So here’s my back-of-the-envelope math: you buy a company for $2.7 billion in cash, plus debt which you refinance a few times. While you’re running the company, it loses a total of $2.4 billion. And then you sell the company for $1.75 billion in cash. Total going out the door: $5.1 billion. Total coming in, at exit: $1.75 billion. Net loss: some $3.35 billion, give or take.

All of which raises some big questions about the WSJ’s claim that Madison Dearborn “will have at least broken even on its Nuveen investment”. If that claim is even close to being true, then at the very least we can’t take Nuveen’s public filings at face value at all....This is worth remembering, when private-equity types (think Mitt Romney) claim that their interests are aligned with the interests of the companies they buy. That certainly doesn’t seem to have been the case here. Nuveen is being sold with about $1.5 billion more debt than it started with, and with cumulative losses under Madison Dearborn’s ownership of some $2.4 billion. That’s not a great legacy for TIAA-CREF to inherit. If Madison Dearborn really is breaking even on this deal, that only goes to show the enormous disconnect between the economics of private equity companies — the wealthy rentiers of society — versus the economics of the real-world companies they buy and sell.

Of course, one possibility is that Madison Dearborn is just putting a brave face on things and reporters are taking it at face value. More likely, though, there are tax games of some kind that allowed Madison Dearborn to strip a ton of value out of Nuveen over the past seven years. I suppose they're also benefiting from low interest rates, which means that Nuveen's refinanced debt is less onerous now than it was in 2007.

In any case Salmon's point is well taken. If you can break even after running a company as disastrously as Madison Dearborn has, there's something pretty badly rotten about the entire world of high finance. But then, you knew that already, didn't you?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 14, 2014

Mon Apr. 14, 2014 6:48 AM PDT

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters from 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade "Wings of Destiny" transport Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans" 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), on to Landing Zone Red Crow during Operation Golden Eagle here April 8, 2014. The four-day exercise was the first brigade-size air assault operation conducted by the 101st Abn. Div. in more than a decade and featured Soldiers from 3rd BCT and 101st CAB moving more than 1,100 Soldiers and sling-loading more than 20 pieces of equipment. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Joel Salgado, 3rd BCT Public Affairs)

Pop on Steroids and Blistering Punk in EMA's and Screaming Females' New Releases

| Mon Apr. 14, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Screaming Females
Screaming Females Don Giovanni Records

EMA
The Future's Void
Matador

Screaming Females
Live at the Hideout
Don Giovanni

In pop music, there's plain old noise, which can be plenty of fun, and then there's smart noise, which can be even more fun. On The Future\'s Void, her stunning sequel to Past Life Martyred Saints, EMA (Erika M. Anderson) unleashes a thrilling sonic firestorm that defies simple categories. Think Kate Bush's luminous chamber pop on steroids, turned inside-out by a healthy dose of punk aggression and filtered through damaged electronic effects. Howling, snarling and sometimes singing, the South Dakota-bred Anderson rails against cultural norms ("So Blonde"), takes a cue from cyber-prophet William Gibson ("Neuromancer") and embraces the bizarre ("Cthulu"), with consistently riveting results.

Staking out more familiar turf, Screaming Females' blazing Live at the Hideout finds fleet-fingered guitar goddess Marissa Paternoster, the New Jersey band's only female member, in stellar form at a Chicago club. Screaming Females' furious attack suggests an old-fashioned power trio tempered by a less heavyhanded indie-rock sensibility, often recalling the late, great Sleater-Kinney. As a singer, Paternoster shouts with engaging flair, but when she rips off a series of blistering licks—check out "It All Means Nothing" or "Baby Jesus"—she's flat-out amazing.