Blogs

Watch This California Republican Candidate Pretend to Save a Drowning Kid

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 4:21 PM EDT

Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for California governor, is out with a new ad attacking incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown's record on education. He has chosen to represent Brown's alleged "betrayal" of the Golden State's kids with a tasteful visual metaphor: a child drowning in a swimming pool.

With three weeks to go until election day, Kashkari is running far behind Brown. Most polls have found him trailing by at least 20 points for months against the generally popular Democratic governor. It's hardly Kashkari's first desperate-ish PR move: in the spring, he ran an ad in which he smashed a toy train in half with an ax to represent his opposition to California's bullet train project.

In July, a camera crew trailed him for a week as he attempted to live on $40 as a homeless person. And in August, Kashkari made a campaign issue out of a ruling that the nosebleed-causing emissions from the Southern California Sriracha hot-sauce factory were a "public nuisance."

But Kashkari's latest spot makes Texas gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis' controversial "wheelchair" ad look downright subtle. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the ad was produced by Something Else Strategies, which has made spots this election cycle for Republican Senate candidates like Iowa's Jodi "I grew up castrating hogs" Ernst.

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Gov. Scott Walker on the Minimum Wage: "I Don't Think It Serves a Purpose"

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 3:06 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is no fan of the minimum wage, and on Tuesday, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker made that plenty clear. Asked about Wisconsin's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage and whether he supported it, Walker said, "I'm not going to repeal it, but I don't think it serves a purpose." Here's the exchange with Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice:

Bice: You were asked [in Monday's debate] if you thought someone could live on the minimum wage in the state, and you said we should be trying to come up with jobs that pay more than that. And then you said, "The way you do that is not by setting an arbitrary amount by the state." That sounds like you're not a particular fan of the minimum wage. What is your position on the minimum wage? Should we have it?

Walker: Well, I'm not going to repeal it, but I don't think it serves a purpose because we're debating then about what the lowest levels are at. I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that.

The jobs I focus on, the programs we put in place, the training we put in place, is not for people to get minimum wage jobs. It's the training—whether it's in apprenticeships, whether it's our tech colleges, whether's it our [University of Wisconsin] system—it's to try and provide the training, the skills, the talents, the expertise that people need to create careers that pay many, many times over. [emphasis mine]

Walker has repeatedly arguing against raising the minimum wage, saying that doing so would kill jobs. (The Congressional Budget Office has found that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would eliminate 500,000 jobs but also lift 900,000 people out of poverty and boost earnings for 16 million people. Cities with higher minimum wages have also seen strong job growth in recent years.) Walker opposes increasing the federal minimum wage and said in January that "the best thing we can do to help people who are unemployed or under employed is to fix Obamacare."

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll found that 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage while 36 percent do not.

Prison Guards Can't Pepper Spray Just Any Schizophrenic Inmates in Arizona Anymore

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 2:52 PM EDT

Arizona prisons just got a little better. A class action lawsuit by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and others reached a settlement with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care and solitary confinement conditions in the state.

"This is one of the largest--if not the largest--prisoner settlements in recent years," said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country's three largest mental health care providers are jails.

The Parsons v. Ryan settlement also requires the Arizona prison system to make more than 100 health care improvements. Prison staff now has to monitor people with hypertension or diabetes. Pregnant women have to get more care. Prisoners whose psych meds make them sensitive to heat now have to be kept in cells that are no hotter than 85 degrees. Those not on anti-psychotic meds though, can keep baking.

We All Hate Congress. But Why?

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 1:46 PM EDT

Steven Taylor notes today the well-known fact that 90 percent of House members are easily reelected but Congress as a whole has an approval rating only slightly higher than Ebola. But if people hate Congress so much, how is it that they seem to love their own representatives even more?

As I have observed before, it is profoundly problematic that Congress can have an approval rating of 12.9% (RCP average) and have that many noncompetitive House races. While approval ratings capture a lot of issues it is reasonable to posit that a significant part of the frustration with Congress is driven by the fact that many citizens find that their interests are not well represented in that body.

Taylor suggests that the main problem is that we have a lousy electoral system: "Single seat districts with plurality winners create poorly representative outcomes." Maybe so. But I'm curious about something. I've seen hundreds of polls that track approval ratings for Congress, and they're all uniformly terrible. But to the best of my recollection, I've never seen a poll that asks people why they disapprove of Congress. So consider this a bleg. Have I missed a good poll on this subject? Has anyone done a good study with lots of crosstabs that really dives into the question of why so many different groups all dislike Congress so much?

It Doesn't Matter Which Diet You Choose

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

In the category of "news you can use," Emily Oster summarizes a new study that compares weight loss on various diets. After cutting through all the muck, we get the chart on the right. The answer, it turns out, is that all of the diets are about equally effective.

So which one you choose is mostly a matter of preference. If you think you can stick to a low-carb diet, choose one of those. If you like vegetables, choose a veggie-based plan. If you think you can tolerate low fat, go for one of those. What matters isn't so much the mechanics of the diet, but whether you can stick with it over the long haul.

(If your doctor recommends a particular diet because you suffer from some particular condition, then of course this changes things. And remember, "don't be an idiot" is always an unvoiced component of all diet and health recommendations.)

As for me, I'm on the three-quarters diet. I do this about once a decade or so and then spend the succeeding decade gaining back the weight I lost. This is my third go-around. As you might guess, it's a pretty simple diet: eat less food. In particular, I try to eat about three quarters of my usual meals and snacks. I'm finding it much more annoying this time than in the past—partly because I'm working at home, where temptation is ever present, and partly because my motivation and self-discipline have deteriorated over the years. However, the precipitous collapse of my body over the past six months is providing at least some short-term motivation, and yesterday I learned that my sleep apnea is apparently much worse than it was a decade ago. Maybe weight loss will help with that. I hope so, since I had no luck with a CPAP machine back then, and I kind of doubt I'll have better luck this time around. But we'll see.

Mark Zuckerberg Just Donated $25 Million to Fight Ebola

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have donated $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help combat the Ebola crisis, which has killed more than 4,400 people in West Africa. Zuckerberg announced the nice chunk of cash via his Facebook on Tuesday:

 

Scaremongers in Congress and the media have Americans in a tizzy about Ebola: Nearly two-third of Americans now fear the virus will soon infect them or or someone they know. Although Zuckerberg's donation won't do much to quell the the panic, it's certainly a nice response to recent criticism that Silicon Valley types have done little-to-nothing to combat the ongoing public health crisis.

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Darrell Issa is Finally Going Off His Nut

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Darrell Issa's latest jihad is also one of his most peculiar: he's accusing the EPA of working too closely with environmental groups. Seriously. That's it. Here's a report from the New York Times about the "cozy" relationship between EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Republicans say the most vivid example of a cozy relationship is an email exchange [...] celebrating legal maneuvering that provided Mr. Obama with something both the E.P.A. and the environmental group wanted: a court-ordered deadline for release of a 2012 E.P.A. regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions on future power plants — a precursor to Mr. Obama’s announcement in June. (The environmental group had joined with others to sue the E.P.A. to force the regulation, and the E.P.A. quickly settled.)

On Dec. 23, 2010, the day the settlement was announced, Mr. Doniger emailed Ms. McCarthy, “Thank you for today’s announcement. I know how hard you and your team are working to move us forward and keep us on the rails. This announcement is a major achievement.” He added, “We’ll be with you at every step in the year ahead.”

Ms. McCarthy responded, “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience. Enjoy the holiday. The success is yours as much as mine.”

Reacting to the email exchange, Mr. Vitter said in a statement: “Who is working for whom? The key example in all of this is the settlement agreement on greenhouse gases when the N.R.D.C. sued the E.P.A., the E.P.A. settled, and the two celebrate the agreement. It doesn’t get any more blatantly obvious than that.”

Explosive! "Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience." Truly a smoking gun of improper influence. They used first names and everything!

Issa must really be getting desperate. I mean, normally I understand the supposed malfeasance in his investigations. I may think his charges are foolish, but at least I get it. But this time? Even in theory, what's supposed to be wrong here? An environmental group expressing pleasure at a court ruling? The EPA administrator sending back a polite note? Everybody knew all along that both sides wanted the same thing, so this is hardly a surprise. And certainly light years from scandalous.

Issa must be going off his nut because his investigations keep failing to excite anyone. Or maybe this is just designed to provide some fodder for fundraising emails for the upcoming election. It's hard to figure out what else could be going on.

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

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

Marine Infantry Officer Course students stand by before a helicopter drill in Arizona. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Marchetti)

A Place With the Population of West Virginia Just Powered A Work Day Entirely on Clean Energy

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:39 AM EDT
Wind energy is booming in South Australia.

Here's one for the naysayers who insist renewable energy can't keep the lights on and power our cities. An entire state in Australia with a population of  around 1.7 million people just used renewable energy to meet 100 percent of its electricity needs throughout an entire working day. According to industry news site Energy Business News:

Between 9.30 and 6pm on Tuesday, September 30, a day not unlike most Tuesdays, with business and homes using electricity as usual, the state received the favourable weather conditions allowing solar and wind infrastructure to work side by side to achieve the impressive achievement.

The analysis comes from Pitt & Sherry, an Australian energy consultancy. As the wind picked up, all but two of the state's coal-fired power generators, and one gas-powered unit, were shut down; the excess power was exported to other regions, according to the report. There were a few moments during the previous days—on September 27 and 28—when the state actually produced more wind power than the state's total energy demand. Normally, nearly a third of the state's energy comes from renewable sources, according to figures from 2012 to 2013.

South Australia, home to the city of Adelaide, has almost half of the country's wind capacity; 25 percent of its households have rooftop solar installations, according to the report. The state is aggressively pursuing green energy goals, upping its 2025 renewable energy commitment from 33 percent to 50 percent, having met its previous goal six years ahead of schedule.

This is despite the conservative federal government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatening to gut a national renewable energy target, having already defunded several government agencies responsible for the country's climate change policies. In July, Australia became the world's first developed nation to repeal a carbon tax.

All of that policy uncertainty is having an impact on the renewable energy sector in Australia. Investment has virtually frozen in a land famous for being bathed in sun. Recent data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows Australia is on track to record its lowest level of financing for big renewable projects since 2002, dropping the country from the 11th largest investor to 31st in Bloomberg's rankings. In the third quarter of this year, investment was down 78 percent from the same time last year.

Krugman: Obama One of the Most Successful Presidents in American History

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:14 AM EDT

President Barack Obama may be facing some of his lowest approval ratings to date, but that isn't stopping Paul Krugman from defending the president's overall track record. In fact, the Nobel Prize-winning economist is arguing Obama is one of the most "successful presidents in American history."

Krugman, who was once among the president's more notable skeptics, made his case in a new feature for Rolling Stone aptly titled "In Defense of Obama," in which he dismissed persistent attacks from Republicans and mounting disappointment expressed by Democrats with an outline of the Obama administration's key achievements in several areas including healthcare, the environment, national security, and the economy.

It's a tough time to be making that case. Americans are increasingly frustrated by Obama's handling of ISIS and continued unrest in Iraq. As for the economy, even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently blamed Obama's economic advisers for repeatedly failing ordinary Americans in favor of Wall Street.

But in a follow-up interview with ABC News, Krugman told Jonathan Karl the recent onslaught of criticism is unwarranted, noting Americans have experienced more "consequential" changes under Obama's presidency than ever before.

"People who had this idea that Obama was going to bring a transformation of America, I thought were being naïve," Krugman said in the interview. "But, by God, we got health reform, and we got a significant financial reform. We are getting the environmental action … it’s not everything you would have wanted, but it’s more than anyone else has done for decades."

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is still out there claiming the president has accomplished nothing: