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Good Luck Going After the Pope, Climate Deniers

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 3:18 PM EDT
Pope Francis in Tacloban, Philippines

If you write about climate change for a living, you get used to being on the receiving end of tweets, emails, and comments explaining why manmade global warming is a colossal hoax. But it turns out that if you're the pope, the trolls take things a bit further. From our partners at the Guardian:

A US activist group that has received funding from energy companies and the foundation controlled by conservative activist Charles Koch is trying to persuade the Vatican that "there is no global warming crisis" ahead of an environmental statement by Pope Francis this summer that is expected to call for strong action to combat climate change.

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative thinktank that seeks to discredit established science on climate change, said it was sending a team of climate scientists to Rome "to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science."

"Though Pope Francis's heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations' unscientific agenda on the climate," Joseph Bast, Heartland's president, said in a statement.

Jim Lakely, a Heartland spokesman, said the thinktank was "working on" securing a meeting with the Vatican. "I think Catholics should examine the evidence for themselves, and understand that the Holy Father is an authority on spiritual matters, not scientific ones," he said.

The pope and his aides have publicly embraced the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet, and tomorrow the Vatican is putting on a summit entitled "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development." Heartland beat them to the punch, setting up a "prebuttal" event on Monday in Rome. Heartland seems especially upset that the Vatican summit will feature two notable figures—UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and economist Jeffrey Sachs—who, it says, "refuse to acknowledge the abundant data showing human greenhouse gas emissions are not causing a climate crisis."

Heartland is also encouraging its followers to send letters and emails to the pope and to spread the gospel of global warming denial to their local church officials. "Talk to your minister, priest, or spiritual leader," advises Heartland's website. "Tell him or her you've studied the global warming issue and believe Pope Francis is being misled about the science and economics of the issue."

As my colleague James West reported, a sizeable majority of US Catholics actually share the pope's belief the climate change is a serious threat. Heartland seems to be trying to shift their views on the issue by portraying climate activists as hostile to Catholic values. In an American Spectator op-ed today (headline: "Francis Is Out of His Element"), Heartland research fellow H. Sterling Burnett writes:

Those pushing for bans on fossil fuel use think too many humans are the environmental problem. Many of them worship the creation, not the Creator. The same people pushing the pope to join the fight against climate change support forcible population control programs such as those operating in China. That is not a Christian position.

On its website, Heartland goes even further, writing that "climate alarmists have misrepresented the facts, concocted false data, and tried to shut down a reasonable, scientific debate on the issue of climate change. This conduct violates the Eighth Commandment: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'"

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Here's How Elizabeth Warren Is Holding Clinton's "Feet to the Fire" on Liberal Policies

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 1:59 PM EDT

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may have officially ruled out a bid for the White House, but she might as well be a shadow candidate. That's according to a report by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker today, which describes the Massachusetts senator and her advisers working in the background to ensure Warren's populist agenda is embedded into Hillary Clinton's campaign. Judging by Clinton's recent embrace of a number of key Warren issues, the strategy seems to be working pretty well—and Warren's team appears to know it. In the New Yorker today:

One of Warren’s advisers believes that if she entered the race against Clinton she would be shredded by the Clinton political machine. Instead, the best way to pursue her agenda is to use the next year to pressure Clinton.

"I think she’s in a beautiful position right now," the Warren adviser said, "because she can get Hillary to do whatever the hell she wants. Now the question is, will Hillary stick to it if she gets in? But at the moment Elizabeth can get her on record and hold her feet to the fire."

Even as recently as last week, members of Warren's team reportedly passed around a photo of the two sitting next to each other with a thought quote hovering over Clinton that read, "What she said." Additionally from Lizza:

When I asked Warren last week if she believed that Clinton was co-opting her message, she hesitated and replied, "Eh."

Burn. Of course, team Clinton is quick squash any notion she's hijacking Warren's signature policies to score some liberal points. We'll see where she officially stands on the issues soon.

We Buy an Insane Amount of Cheap Fashion. John Oliver Reminds Us It All Comes at a Huge Price.

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 9:37 AM EDT

Despite decades of outrage over the widespread use of sweatshops and child labor overseas, cheap fashionable garments have continued to prove irresistible to American customers. On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver said the appetite for such low-priced fashion has gotten to the point where Americans now purchase an average 64 new items of clothing every year.

"For the consumer, low prices are fantastic," Oliver explained. "And nowadays those clothes will even look good because trendy clothing is cheaper than ever and cheap clothing is trendier than ever."

But Oliver reminds us that all of the cheap fashion we're scoring comes at an incredibly high moral price. Watch below:

Republicans Painting Hillary Clinton As a Tool of the Superrich Forget One Little Thing

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, whose writing on politics has been published by the New Republic, the American Prospect, and the Los Angeles Times.

Barack Obama was raised by a financially struggling single mother, and Mitt Romney was the son of an auto executive turned governor who grew up to be a gazillionaire in the financial industry. This made biographical populism an unfruitful subject for the right in 2012. But circumstances have changed a bit. Hillary Clinton and her husband have grown extremely rich in their post–White House years, and the Republican Party is cultivating at least a couple of potential candidates, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, who boast of their modest backgrounds. Republicans are licking their lips for a year and a half of Hillary-as–Leona Helmsley, flying around in private jets, luxuriating in wealth, and disingenuously pretending to care about the struggles of average Americans. There is, however, one wee problem in the Republican populist plot. That is the policy agenda.

Conservative writer Jay Cost is already looking ahead to this problem, which he presents as a kind of dodge. After flaying Clinton for her wealth, he fumes, "Really, the only claim Clinton can make to understanding the travails of everyday Americans is her party's platform," writes Cost, "Endorsement of that document is a kind of sacrament that bestows the power of empathy upon every Democratic pol. This is perhaps the most absurd premise of the Clinton candidacy."

This is a strange and revealing passage. He argues that Clinton is a tool of the rich, and the only possible fact undermining this otherwise obvious reality is her party's platform, i.e., the stuff she would do as president. This is an "absurd" premise upon which to cast her as a populist if you think of elections as a soap opera drama between two individuals. It makes a lot of sense if you think about the presidency as a vehicle to change public policy.

And the cardinal fact of the modern political age is that the two parties are primarily fighting over redistribution. Democrats want the government to tax the rich at higher levels and spend more to support the poor, and Republicans want the opposite. The major political fights of the last three decades, from the Reagan tax cuts to the Clinton tax hikes to Clintoncare to the Bush tax cuts to Obamacare to the Ryan budget, have all been centered on the redistributionary principle.

And yet some conservatives don't want the Republican Party to invest its political capital so heavily in this fight. Maybe they don't care that much about overtaxing the rich. Or maybe they believe, accurately, that the political price of having to defend tax cuts for the 1 percent crowds out policies that appeal to the 99 percent, who have a lot more votes.

One of the distinctive qualities of this group of populist conservatives is that they seem unable to distinguish between the hope that the Republican Party will adopt their policy vision and the belief that it already has. They have a habit of invoking the GOP they wish existed as though it were the real thing.

Cost falls into this category. In the same piece, he describes a different kind of political debate, one which pits the Republicans against the economic elite, rather than on its side. He describes this alternative debate is if it were the real one:

The GOP ostensibly stands for smaller, more efficient government—but it allows the Democrats to define just what sort of government we are talking about. The debate always seems to be about Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance, Pell grants and Head Start. In other words, by the very terms of the conversation, big government works for the benefit of the downtrodden. Even as they defend big government, the Democrats identify themselves as the champions of the downtrodden and the GOP as their hardhearted assailants.

But what about corporate tax payouts? Or farm subsidies for the largest agribusinesses?

The debate "seems" to be about Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Pell grants, and Head Start because the Republican platform is to slash those programs deeply. Those are not things Democrats have defined as the "sort of government we are talking about." Those are programs Republicans have decided to make the focal point of their economic program (along with deep cuts in taxes for the highest earning Americans, a point Cost is too embarrassed to raise in this context).

What about corporate tax payouts and subsidies for the largest agribusinesses? Well, that would be a great debate for our hypothetical populist Republicans. The actual Republicans defend corporate tax loopholes. They will sometimes invoke them in general, as an argument for a generalized reform that lowers tax rates, but when faced with proposals to eliminate even completely egregious corporate loopholes (like the faster depreciations rate for private jets), they refuse. When Dave Camp went off the reservation before his retirement and designed a tax reform that did not give rich people a huge tax cut, his party abandoned him en masse and never mentioned his plan again.

Farm subsidies are an issue that somewhat divides the parties, since rural members tend to support them regardless of their affiliation. Neither party will forthrightly eliminate them altogether, which is the position I'd favor. But the actual political divide in Washington confounds Cost's idealized one. It is the Obama administration that wants to reduce agriculture subsidies, and House Republicans fighting to keep them at a higher level.

So, "what about corporate tax payouts? Or farm subsidies for the largest agribusinesses"? Well, those issues underscore the same conclusion as the issues Cost doesn't want to talk about. It would be wonderful if Republicans stopped being a party whose most despised spending programs benefit the poor and whose most acceptable spending programs benefit the middle class or even the affluent. It would likewise be nice if the Republican Party wasn't most determined to reduce (or, if possible, eliminate) the taxes paid most heavily by the rich, while also being most willing to raise the taxes heavily paid by the poor. The world would be a much better place. It is not, however, the world we inhabit.

The Science of How Gay Marriage Will Destroy America

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case that could legalize same-sex marriage in every state by the end of the court's term in June. To stop that from happening, supporters of the state-level bans that could be in jeopardy have filed 66 friend-of-the-court briefs, offering a host of social, political, and scientific reasons the court should uphold existing state bans.

These briefs fall into a few categories. The more temperate ones argue that marriage should be decided at the state level—an attempt to sway Justice Anthony Kennedy without disparaging same-sex unions. Others are more dramatic in tone, such as a brief from the Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative group in Texas, that predicts legalizing same-sex marriage would be "analogous overreaching" to "this Court's misguided attempt to impose its views on the entire country in Dred Scott," the 1857 decision often cited as one of the causes of the Civil War.

Opponents have also tried to demonstrate more specific social harms from gay marriage in their briefs. As SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston noted recently, they don't want to be caught flat-footed this time around, as they were during the Proposition 8 case over California's same-sex marriage ban. Asked how same-sex marriages would harm opposite-sex marriages during 2009 pretrial hearing in that case, conservative lawyer Chuck Cooper admitted, "Your Honor, my answer is: I don't know."

Referring to the California case, attorney Gene Schaerr, who helped coordinate some of the briefs in support of the gay-marriage bans, told the National Law Journal recently that he "looked back at the amicus briefs" filed in that case. "[O]ur side had not made as powerful a social science case for the traditional definition of marriage as could be made," said Schaerr, formerly of Winston & Strawn, who defended Utah's gay marriage ban last year.*

This time around, Schaerr and his allies want to avoid that mistake. Here are a few of the scientific reasons submitted to the Supreme Court from the opponents of same-sex marriage:

Same-sex marriage will cause an additional 900,000 abortions: As Schaerr, the chief author of this amicus brief, admits, "abortion and same-sex marriage may seem unrelated." But, he has found a connection. Schaerr, writing on behalf of "100 scholars of marriage," argues that states with same-sex marriage have seen a decline in opposite-sex marriage by "[at] least five percent." Schaerr extrapolates this 5 percent figure, concluding that over the next 30-year "fertility cycle," nearly 1.3 million women will forego marriage. Arguing that unmarried women are more likely to get abortions, Schaerr calculates an additional 900,000 abortions. But, he acknowledged to the Washington Post last week, "it is still too new to do a rigorous causation analysis using statistical methods."

The "homosexual experience" leads to "early death": This is the argument put forward by Mike Huckabee Policy Solutions, an advocacy group that supports the "national policy aims" of the former Arkansas governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, and the Family Research Institute, the "anti-gay movement's main source for…completely discredited junk science" on LGBT people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Their brief argues that "consistent evidence indicates that individuals who engage in homosexuality experience significantly higher mortality rates than those who do not."

Children of same-sex marriages are disadvantaged: The Ruth Institute, a San Diego-based group that appears to be run by one woman, Jennifer Roback Morse, and seeks to address "the lies of the Sexual Revolution," argues that the "'consensus' that 'the kids are ok' has been manufactured by systematically excluding evidence" that they are not okay. The group is particularly worried about children not having a biological connection to both parents and predicts "social chaos, by creating a world in which families are determined by policy, rather than biology."

Same-sex marriage will hurt underprivileged women and children: A group that describes itself as "scholars of the effects that marriage law has on the welfare of women, children, and underprivileged populations," and including gay marriage foe Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, claim that marriage is particularly helpful to the stability and economic status of poor Americans. But redefining marriage, they argue, would create a new era "where men and women are viewed as interchangeable, nonessential facets of family life; and where the law has cemented marriage as a mere governmental capstone of a loving relationship." Without marriage's "historical" focus on procreation and stability, single mothers will end up raising children on their own, hurting their economic outlook.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that Winston & Strawn defended Utah's ban. It did not.

Tales From City of Hope #8: The Day +3 Cake

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 11:45 PM EDT

As promised, the Day +3 cake arrived today, produced with a mother's love along with an assist from Duncan Hines. That's the childhood formula, so that's what I got. I will spend the next few days in a chocolate coma.

Marian visited today too, which was a good thing. My fatigue is getting ever worse, and when I got back from my daily hydration I pretty much crashed for two hours. So the visit was mostly between Marian and my mother. I woke up just in time to say goodbye. Before I crashed, however, I did get this badly-composed selfie of the three of us, all sporting our now-stylish surgical masks. Enjoy.

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Quote of the Day: George Bush Still in Foreign Policy Denial

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 9:57 PM EDT

From Bloomberg's Josh Rogin, after reading a transcript of George W. Bush's remarks on the Middle East to a closed-door meeting with Jewish donors this weekend:

For George W. Bush, the remarks in Vegas showed he has little respect for how the current president is running the world. He also revealed that he takes little responsibility for the policies that he put in place that contributed to the current state of affairs.

Yep, that sounds like the George Bush we all came to know and love. My favorite quote: "In order to be an effective president ... when you say something you have to mean it," he said. "You gotta kill em."

The Law, In Its Finnish Majesty....

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 1:04 PM EDT

In Finland, a speeding ticket costs you more if you're rich than if you're poor. Fair enough, perhaps. "The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too," says the New York Times.

In any case, I already knew this. What I didn't know was the formula:

The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month.

Then, that figure is multiplied by the number of days of income the offender should lose, according to the severity of the offense.

Mr. Kuisla, a betting man who parlayed his winnings into a real estate empire, was clocked speeding near the Seinajoki airport. Given the speed he was going, Mr. Kuisla was assessed eight days. His fine was then calculated from his 2013 income, 6,559,742 euros, or more than $7 million at current exchange rates.

Sadly for Reima Kuisla, he was clocked at 103 kph, which set him back a whopping 54,024 euros. However, if he'd been traveling just 3 kph slower, his fine would have been only 100 euros. No matter what you think of the social justice of this system, that does seem like a bit of a steep spike, doesn't it?

Here in America, though, perhaps we have different priorities. What minor but annoying infractions would you like to apply this system to here in the good 'ol USA?

Why CNN Wouldn't Cut Away From White House Shindig To Cover Huge Freddie Gray Protest

| Sun Apr. 26, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

As politicians, celebrities, and journalists gathered for the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner last night in D.C., just miles away in Baltimore, Maryland, a big crowd marched to protest the death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. By Saturday evening, 12 people were reported arrested as some in the largely peaceful crowd threw rocks and smashed windows, and the jumbotron at the Baltimore Orioles game warned fans to stay inside.

But you wouldn't have known any of that from CNN, which chose to stick with live coverage of every second of the White House dinner. "The most powerful man in the world is going to tell some jokes," contributor Errol Louis explained, with scenes of the gala in the background. If you wanted to know what was going on with the rallies, you could "find a live feed" somewhere, he said—just not, evidently, on America's 24-hour news network.

"We sort of make our best choices, and we'll catch up," Louis said. "They'll find out all of what happened in the streets of Baltimore by this time tomorrow." 

This Was Pretty Good/Sad/Awful

| Sat Apr. 25, 2015 11:05 PM EDT

I haven't liked Cecily Strong's speech tonight very much but this was pretty good/sad/awful.