Blogs

Stephen Colbert Is Replacing Letterman. Here Are His Best—and Worst—Political Moments

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 11:27 AM PDT

On Thursday, CBS announced that Stephen Colbert will replace the retiring David Letterman as host of Late Show. (Mashable reported last week that Colbert was the network's top choice to take over for Letterman.) When Colbert leaves for CBS, he'll be leaving behind The Colbert Report at Comedy Central, where he has played the part of fake conservative cable-TV commentator since 2005.

We're assuming that once he starts his gig at Late Show he'll be doing less left-leaning political satire than he's used to. So here's a look back at his very best—and very worst—political moments over the past few years. And no, #CancelColbert does not make either list:

THE BEST:

1. Colbert slams the Obama administration's legal justification for killing American citizens abroad suspected of terrorism: "Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do," Colbert said in March 2012. "The current process is, apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

"Due process just means that there is a process that you do" is pretty dead-on:

 

2. The Colbert Report's incredibly moving, stereotype-smashing segment on the openly gay mayor of Vicco, Kentucky: "To get your point across, sometimes you just gotta laugh," Mayor Johnny Cummings told Mother Jones, after the segment aired. "That's how I look at it. So I thought, OK, The Colbert Report would be perfect."

"If God makes 'em born gay, then why is he against it?" a Vicco resident asks in the clip's moving final moments. "I can't understand that. I've tried and tried and tried to understand that, and I can't."

 

3. Colbert on The O'Reilly Factor: Bill O'Reilly still seems to think that Colbert, the satirist, is doing great damage to this country.

 

4. Colbert's roasting of President George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner:  "Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating," Colbert said. "But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias."

For a transcript, click here.

 

5. Colbert's surreal congressional testimony: He testified (in character) before a House hearing in 2010 on immigrant farm workers. He offered to submit video of his colonoscopy into the congressional record:

 

6. Colbert was a two-time presidential candidate who used comedy to highlight the absurdity of the post-Citizens United election landscape. Here's his recent letter to the IRS, in which he requests the opportunity to testify at a public hearing:

Stephen Colbert Comment to IRS

 

THE WORST:

1. That time he used Henry Kissinger as a dance partner: The former secretary of state and national security advisor has been accused by human rights groups and journalists of complicity in major human rights violations and war crimes around the globe: In Chile (murder and subversion of democracy), Bangladesh (genocide), East Timor (yet more genocide), Argentina, Vietnam, and Cambodia, to name a few.

So it's odd that Colbert would feature him in a lighthearted dance-party segment last August. The video (set to Daft Punk's hit "Get Lucky") also includes famous people whom no one has ever accused of war crimes, such as Matt Damon, Jeff BridgesBryan Cranston, and Hugh Laurie:

 

2. The other time he made Kissinger seem like a lovable, aging teddy bear: Kissinger was also on The Colbert Report in 2006 during the Colbert guitar "ShredDown." The following clip also features Eliot Spitzer and guitarist Peter Frampton:

 

Colbert's apparent coziness with Kissinger is even stranger when you consider how Colbert has blasted "the war crimes of Nixon," and has said that he "despair[s] that people forget those." Perhaps he forgot that "the war crimes" he spoke of were as much Kissinger's as they were President Nixon's.

Anyway, viewers can hope that when he's hosting on CBS, there will be fewer musical numbers featuring war criminals.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Watch Harrison Ford Fight Climate Change In a Fighter Jet

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 11:17 AM PDT

Any film that opens with Harrison Ford buckling into a fighter jet for the sake of science can't be all bad. Especially when that's followed by Don Cheadle tromping through Texas cow country, followed by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman strapping on a flak jacket and pushing into the heart of Syria's civil war. It's almost enough to make you forget you're watching a show about climate change.

But in fact, the new Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously is about just that, traversing the warming globe alongside an A-List cast that, as the season progresses, will include Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The show premieres Sunday (but the first episode, above, is already online), and counts Hollywood kingmakers Jerry Weintraub and James Cameron as executive producers, and Climate Progress founding editor Joe Romm and Climate Central scientist Heidi Cullen as science advisors.

If you already follow climate change, many of the stories here won't be new—deforestation in Indonesia, drought in Texas, conflict in Syria. But Years is a rare, big-budget effort to put the issue squarely in front of an audience more accustomed to Dexter and Homeland, and it does so with spectacular cinematography and compelling, interwoven plot lines that help to propel you through the basics of climate science to arrive at... aw, don't listen to me, just watch the thing.

Some Follow-Up Notes on Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century"

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 10:47 AM PDT

I'm a little reluctant to dive ever deeper into the weeds of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century since I'm woefully unqualified for the task. But I have a couple of follow-up comments that might be worthwhile. These are things I alluded to in my post on Tuesday but didn't elaborate on.

First: As you know by now, Piketty's primary argument is that, historically, r > g. That is, the return on capital is higher than economic growth, which means that owners of capital see their incomes grow faster than ordinary laborers. Since the rich own most of the capital, this means that the incomes of the rich naturally increase faster than the non-rich unless proactive steps are taken to stop it.

That's fine. But take a look at the highlighted region in the chart on the right. The first set of points is for 1950-2012, a period in which r was about 0.5 percentage points less than g. The next set of points is a projection for 2012-2050, a period in which r is roughly 0.5 percentage points greater than g. This is not a big difference, especially considering the inherent noise in the data. Even if it's correct, it means the next 40 years will see only small changes in the relative returns to capital and labor.

The real action is in the period 2050-2100, and it's almost entirely dependent on Piketty's projection that g will plummet by two full percentage points. Now, this might be correct. But keep in mind what's going on here. Piketty's main conclusion is (a) based on a projection more than 50 years in the future, which is inherently unreliable, and (b) primarily a guess that economic growth will plummet. So everything boils down to this: will global economic growth plummet during the period 2050-2100? I'd like to suggest that this is a very different question from the one most people are addressing in their reviews of Piketty.

Second: Another thing I mentioned on Tuesday is that if economic growth slows and capital stocks increase, then the return on capital should go down. Piketty acknowledges this—though not in the chart above—but contends that r will fall less than g. In technical terms, this all depends on the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor. However, over at Tyler Cowen's blog, Matt Rognlie argues that Piketty is confusing gross and net production functions. If you account for depreciation, then the elasticity is such that r is likely to fall much faster than Piketty thinks as capital stocks increase and economic growth slows down.

I want to be clear that I can't assess this independently. But it sounds plausible, and Cowen thinks it sounds plausible too. I'd very much like to hear Piketty or someone else address this.

Behind the Scenes on Those Enormous Medicare Billing Numbers

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 8:53 AM PDT

Yesterday's data dump of how much Medicare pays doctors has generated predictable outrage about the vast amounts some of the top doctors bill. Obviously there are a lot of reasons for high billing rates, but Paul Waldman points to an interesting one: the way Medicare reimburses doctors for pharmaceuticals is partly to blame. The #1 Medicare biller on the list, for example, was a Florida ophthalmologist who prescribes Lucentis for macular degeneration instead of the cheaper Avastin. Since Medicare pays doctors a percentage of the cost of the drugs they use, he got $120 for each dose he administered instead of one or two dollars. That adds up fast. (More on Avastin vs. Lucentis here.)

In the LA Times today, a Newport Beach oncologist who's also near the top of the Medicare billing list offers this defense:

For his part, Nguyen, 39, said his Medicare payout is misleading because all five physicians at his oncology practice bill under his name, and much of that money overall is reimbursement for expensive chemotherapy drugs on which he says doctors make little or no money. Other high-volume doctors voiced similar complaints about the data.

Anyway, Waldman wonders why we do this:

If nothing else, this story should point us to one policy change we could make pretty easily: get rid of that six percent fee and just give doctors a flat fee for writing prescriptions. Make it $5, or $10, or any number that makes sense. There's no reason in the world that the fee should be tied to the price of the drug; all that does is give doctors an incentive to prescribe the most expensive medication they can. That wouldn't solve all of Medicare's problems, but it would be a start. Of course, the pharmaceutical lobby would pull out all the stops trying to keep that six percent fee in place. But that's no reason not to try.

The backstory here is that Medicare used to set the reimbursement rate for "physician-administered drugs" based on an average wholesale price set by manufacturers. This price was routinely gamed, so Congress switched to reimbursing doctors based on an average sales price formula that's supposed to reflect the actual price physicians pay for the drugs. Then they tacked on an extra 6 percent in order to compensate for storage, handling and other administrative costs.

I don't know if 6 percent is the right number, but the theory here is reasonable. If you have to carry an inventory of expensive drugs, you have to finance that inventory, and the financing cost depends on the value of the inventory. More expensive drugs cost more to finance.

However, this does motivate doctors to prescribe more expensive drugs, a practice that pharmaceutical companies are happy to encourage. I don't know how broadly this is an actual problem, but it certainly is in the case of Avastin vs. Lucentis, where the cost differential is upwards of 100x for two drugs that are equally effective. And the problem here is that Medicare is flatly forbidden from approving certain drugs but not others. As long as Lucentis works, Medicare has to pay for it. That's great news for Genentech, but not so great for the taxpayers footing the bill.

MAP: In 31 States, Daycare Is More Expensive Than College

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 7:20 AM PDT

Last month, Shanesha Taylor, a homeless single mom in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for allegedly leaving her two children in her car while she went to a job interview. Taylor's story, and her tearful mug shot, have attracted national attention and an outpouring of donations. Debate the morals, but one thing is clear: child care is expensive. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, infant daycare costs more than in-state college tuition in about two-thirds of the nation.

In 31 states, parents have to shell out more annually for infant child care than for a year of tuition and fees at a mid-priced state college, according to a report released last fall by Child Care Aware America, a national organization of child-care resource agencies. In New York, daycare for young children costs $8,000 more than in-state college tuition. Infant child care in Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska and Oregon also costs thousands of dollars more per year than a state college education. Check it out, via the Post. (In red states, daycare costs more):

The difference in the cost of daycare and higher education among states is due to variances in costs of living, differing state regulations, and disparities in state spending on higher education.

Child care costs have jumped over the past couple decades. In 1985, the average weekly cost of daycare in the US was $87 in 2013 dollars. In 2010, child care cost $148 a week. That may help explain why more moms are choosing to stay at home today than at any point during the past 20 years. According to a Pew Research report released Tuesday, the share of stay-at-home mothers rose from a low of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012.

Second Look: Greece May Be Recovering, But Only Barely

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 7:16 AM PDT

Yesterday I linked to a Hugo Dixon column arguing that Greece is, improbably, starting to recover. Ryan Cooper points to Greece's stubbornly high unemployment rate and begs to differ:

With unemployment still over 27 percent, I'd say let's hold off on talk of a recovery.

Indeed, I rather fear this could be the worst of all worlds. Moving off the Euro would have been awful, but at least held the prospect of returning to growth and full employment within a couple years (from a much lower base). By contrast, the bank Natixis recently estimated that, given very generous assumptions, it will take Spain (which is in similarly dire straits) 25 years to return to 2007-era employment. A nation can do a great deal of catch-up growth in that time.

Realistically, I'd guess this means that Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, etc., will never recover fully, and instead we're witnessing the birth of a crummy, tattered Franco-German empire with a permanently depressed periphery.

Fair enough. I think it's worth pointing toward signs of progress, but it's certainly true that the eurozone's can-kicking response to its financial crisis has had the effect of enormously protracting the misery of the mostly southern debtor countries. Recovery may be starting, but even if it is, it's going to be a very, very long time before Greece is actually in anything approaching decent shape.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 10, 2014

Thu Apr. 10, 2014 7:00 AM PDT

Solders assigned to Troop C, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fire 60mm mortars during a live-fire exercise March 23. The exercise consisted of infantry, artillery and aircraft coming together as one to destroy targets on the range. (Photo by Sgt. Brian Smith-Dutton 3rd BCT Public Affairs)

Democratic Donors Are Gearing Up for Clinton in 2016

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 6:36 AM PDT

Democratic donors are apparently warming to the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidential run. On Thursday, Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that aims to encourage Clinton to enter the 2016 race, released its fundraising numbers for the first quarter of 2014. Between January and March, it pulled in more than $1.7 million.

In the realm of super PACs, $1.7 million might not seem like much—compared to the massive sums the Koch brothers regularly dump into campaigns, it's a pittance. But it's an impressive haul given Ready for Hillary's self-imposed limitations. The group started off as a small-scale operation, just two Clinton superfans agitating for their hero to make another run at the White House. Ready for Hillary capped donation at $25,000 to maintain little-guy cred, a restriction its founders have maintained even as major Democratic donors like George Soros have joined their cause. That $1.7 million was cobbled together from 32,000 donations, 22,000 of them from new donors, and 98 percent of them for less than $100. Nearly 10,000 contributions were for the group's suggested amount: $20.16.

The group's funds are coming in at a faster clip with each reporting deadline. Ready for Hillary raised $1.2 million in the first half of 2013 and more than $4 million last year total. The midterm elections are still seven months away, but a growing number of Democrats are already opening up their wallets for 2016.

What's the point of raising all that money when Clinton isn't even a candidate yet? List-building. Ready for Hillary has no intention of running TV advertisements—that responsibility has fallen to Priorities USA, the super PAC that bolstered President Obama's 2012 reelection campaign but has retooled to support Clinton's presumed candidacy. Instead, Ready for Hillary is building a network of field staff and running online ads to collect the names and contact information of diehard Clinton supporters. Once Clinton makes her candidacy official—presumably sometime early next spring—Ready for Hillary will sell or lease its list to the official campaign, giving Clinton a leg up on any primary challengers. She'll launch her campaign with a national database of her most likely donors and volunteers. At the group's current pace, Ready for Hillary should have ample information to offer: It now boasts 1.7 million Facebook fans and, with the latest report, more than 55,000 donors.

 

Meet the Artists Behind the Giant Poster Targeting Drone Pilots

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 2:21 PM PDT
Two weeks ago, artists unfurled this giant poster of a drone-strike survivor in a field in northwest Pakistan.

On the night of August 23, 2010, an American drone destroyed a home in Danda Darpakhel, a village in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The strike was meant to target a Haqqani network compound, but also killed Bismillah Khan, his wife, and two of their sons, aged 8 and 10 years old. The family's two young sons and daughter, whose names and ages are unknown, survived.

Now Khan's daughter's face has become part of the first-ever art installation aimed at an audience watching from the sky: American drone pilots.  Two weeks ago, artists spread out a large poster of the girl in Khyber Pakhtunkwwa, the Pakistani province that neighbors North Waziristan. The image on the sprawling poster comes from a photo (below) taken by Pakistani photographer Noor Behram a few hours after the strike on the girl's home. 

The artists call their project #NotABugSplat, a reference to "bug splat," drone-pilot lingo for kills.

A girl and her two brothers after surviving a drone strike in August 2010  Noor Behram/ Reprieve

The artist collective, which includes artists from France, Pakistan, and the United States, set up the poster with the help of the British charity Reprieve  and a Pakistani NGO, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. They hope that the poster will make drone operators empathize with the people who live under their gaze. "We were considering whether to put words in the poster, but decided against it, since the photograph already speaks a thousand words," one of the members of the collective, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mother Jones, "Her eyes say everything."

When the artists arrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they were greeted by "warm, welcoming" villagers, who helped them unfold the gigantic image. The 90-foot by 60-foot poster took an hour and a half to unfurl. At ground level it looked like a bunch of pixels. But once the villagers saw a photo of the image taken by the artists' own remote-controlled mini-drone, they were ecstatic. 

Unfolding the image #NotABugSplat
Villagers with the poster #NotABugSplat.com
The poster as seen from the artists' own drone #NotABugSplat

To get a sense of the scale of the poster, it helps to look at the road winding besides it, dotted by miniscule people who are "about the size of bugs", says one of the artists.

The strike that killed most of the girl's family also destroyed or badly damaged five other houses, killing at least nine civilians who were part of a community of Afghan refugees that had been there for two decades. The girl and her brothers were taken in by family members on the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

More than 100 days have passed since the last American drone strike in Pakistan. The #NotABugSplat artists hope there they won't have to make any more such posters. "But if the need is there, we will do more," says the collective.

Most Senators Overseeing the Comcast-Time Warner Deal Have Taken Money From Both

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 1:35 PM PDT

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Comcast and Time Warner executives about their extraordinarily controversial merger proposal. A recent poll found that 52 percent of respondents believed mergers like it lead to reduced competition and poorer service for consumers. 

At today's hearing, a number of the senators expressed concern about the deal which, if approved, would result in a single company serving slightly less than 30 percent of the US paid television market and up to 40 percent of American broadband subscribers. Chairman Leahy (D-Vt.) started the proceedings, saying that "thousands of Americans have flooded the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] in recent weeks with comments supporting the restoration of open-internet rules. Their voices on this issue should be heard."

But Leahy and most of his colleagues have already "heard" from both Comcast and Time Warner—in the form of generous campaign contributions. Out of the committee's 18 members, 15 have accepted donations from at least one of the two media giants since the 2010 election cycle; 12 have received money from both. The average contribution over that time: $16,285. Democrats were the biggest recipients, taking an average of $18,531 from the two cable and internet giants, nearly twice as much as their Republican counterparts. Here's the breakdown: 

Senator Comcast Time Warner
Chris Coons (D-Del.) $57,200 $10,200
Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) $41,600 $21,300
Orin Hatch (R-Utah) $36,750 $6,000
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) $28,373 $23,575
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) $22,500 $62,650
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) $21,831 $20,275
Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) $20,600 $0
Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) $17,000 $2,333
Al Franken (D-Minn.) $14,750 $11,600
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) $13,000 $4,000
Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) $12,025 $25,780
Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) $8,500 $5,000
Ted Cruz (R-Texas) $7,500 $0
John Cornyn (R-Texas) $6,000 $3,500
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) $0 $3,000
Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) $0 $0
Mike Lee (R-Utah) $0 $0
Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) $0 $0

Source: Center for Responsive Politics