Blogs

Watch John Oliver Explain How the Government Seduces Americans to Spend Huge on the Lottery

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 9:14 AM EST

Americans spend a colossal amount of money betting on the lottery, even when the chances of winning have always been near-impossible. In fact last year alone, lottery sales raked in a massive total of $68 billion, according to the latest Last Week Tonight.

"That's more than Americans spent last year on movie tickets, music, porn, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and video games combined," John Oliver explained. "Which means Americans basically spent more on the lottery than they spent on America."

It becomes even more bizarre when you understand it's our states governments profiting from the giant business, which targets lower-income families who have historically spent more on tickets than the wealthy.

One of the frighteningly successful ways governments accomplish this is by creating ads that essentially mask the lottery as some kind of mutual fund or "charitable investment." Watch below:

 

 

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Why Rand Paul Was the Only Kentucky Republican to Lose on Tuesday

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 8:00 AM EST
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Republicans had a pretty good night last Tuesday. They won control of the Senate and added to their already-sizable House majority. They now hold 33 governors' mansions and 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers. But even as they solidified their grip on state governments, they came up short in one red state they'd trained their sights on—Kentucky. And that's bad news for Sen. Rand Paul.

While the national GOP's resources primarily targeted the state's Senate race, Paul focused his attention on winning control of the Democratic-controlled Legislature in Frankfort. His reasons went beyond mere party loyalty—he wanted a GOP statehouse majority to pass a bill, written with him in mind, that would allow a politician to run for Senate and president in the same year. He's up for reelection in 2016, and is also seriously considering a White House bid. But given the depth of the GOP presidential field that year, he doesn't want to bet the house on winning the nomination.

For Paul, a.k.a. the best-dressed man in Washington, this is hardly a deal-breaker. He got some good news on Wednesday, when Sen. Mitch McConnell, whom Paul dutifully backed in the face of a tea party primary challenge, all but endorsed his presidential bid. And if Paul were to drop out of the race early (say, in the face of an unstoppable Mitt Romney wave), there'd be plenty of time to get back into Senate reelection mode. But the longer he stays in the hunt, the more difficult things will become on the home front.

Bob Dylan and The Band's Legendary "Basement Tapes" Live up to the Hype

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Bob Dylan
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

The recordings Bob Dylan made with The Band in the basement of a house in West Saugerties, New York in 1967 have long been the stuff of legend. Bootlegged in part as Great White Wonder before the end of the decade, released officially in truncated and doctored form in 1975, and repeatedly bootlegged in numerous permutations since, these remarkable recordings found Bob and friends in back-to-basics mode, tackling a mix of enticing Dylan compositions (including "Quinn the Eskimo" and "I Shall Be Released") and rootsy covers with the verve of a boozy roadhouse ensemble. With a mind-boggling 138 tracks on six discs, The Basement Tapes Complete lives up to the hype. The performances range from sketchy fragments to fully realized pieces, many with surprisingly good sound quality. (The lowest-fi bits are consolidated on disc six.) The tapes also include obscure Dylan originals such as "I'm Your Teenage Prayer" and "I Can't Come In with a Broken Heart," while the covers revisit songs associated with Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues"), John Lee Hooker ("I'm in the Mood"), and Elvis Presley ("I Forgot to Remember to Forget"), among others. Endlessly fascinating, often surprising, and essential listening for Dylan fans.

Republican Agenda Starts to Take Shape

| Mon Nov. 10, 2014 12:48 AM EST

Reading between the lines, I gather that Republicans are starting to coalesce around a legislative agenda to celebrate their recent midterm victory:

  • Ban abortions after 20 weeks.
  • Wipe out all of Obama's new and pending EPA regulations.
  • Repeal Obamacare bit by bit.
  • Figure out a way to obstruct Loretta Lynch's nomination as Attorney General.

Oh, there's still some desultory happy talk about tax reform and fast-track trade authority and other "areas of agreement," but that seems to be fading out. Poking a stick in President Obama's eye is very quickly becoming the order of the day.

And no reason not to, I suppose. Republicans won, after all. But they shouldn't be surprised if Obama continues to plan to poke back.

See the Moving Artwork Commemorating the Fall of the Berlin Wall 25 Years Ago

| Sun Nov. 9, 2014 11:13 AM EST

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which for more than 28 years divided East and West Germany and became the defining symbol of the Cold War. On November 9, 1989, following a series of large protests that swept throughout Eastern Europe, East German officials hurriedly changed travel regulations to the West, for the first time allowing regular citizens to cross. The rules were supposed to take effect the next day, but East Germans swarmed the border stations and, as it became clear border guards were no longer willing to shoot, the gates were finally opened. Crowds from both sides began demolishing the wall, and for months Berlin resonated with the sound of people pecking away at the concrete.

A crowd celebrates atop the wall after realizing that guards have set their weapons down. Peter Kneffel/DPA/ZUMA

 
Running through a border crossing on November 10. DPA/ZUMA

 
A man celebrates atop the Wall. Before the border opening, anyone climbing it would have been shot and killed. More than 250 people died trying to cross. Scott A. Miller/ZUMA

 
A forlorn guard at the Brandenburg Gate. AP
 
DIY demolition. Scott A. Miller/ZUMA

 
AP
 
Official demolition of the Wall did not begin until 1990, but East German guards removed this section on November 12, 1989. Eberhard Kloeppel/DPA/ZUMA

 
Before the "anti-fascist rampart," as the GDR government called it, went up, barbed wire and armed guards prevented people like this couple from fleeing to the West. AP/Edwin Reichert

 

To commemorate the anniversary this weekend, Berlin installed a "border of light" made up of 8,000 illuminated balloons tracing where the wall once stood.

AP/Markus Schreiber
 
AP/Markus Schreiber
 
AP/Kay Nietfeld

 

"Remembrance belongs to the people," the installation's creator, artist Marc Bauder, said. "We want to offer individual access instead of a central commemoration." Tonight, exactly 25 years after the opening of the border was announced, the balloons will be released into the air.

Here's What It Looks Like When a Typhoon Devastates Your City

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 5:30 PM EST

Well before Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on November 8, 2013, weather watchers knew the storm would be terrible. But with more than 6,300 confirmed deaths and billions of dollars in damage, it turned out to be one of the worst natural disasters of the decade. The photos below show what the town of Dulag and the city of Tacloban looked like before and after Haiyan.

Dulag

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google
 

Tacloban

DigitalGlobe/Google


Tacloban

CNES-Astrium/Google


Tacloban

CNES-Astrium/Google

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Why Don't We Make Election Day A Holiday?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 5:12 PM EST

An estimated 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots during Tuesday's midterm elections—the lowest voter turnout since 1942. It wasn't that much of an anomaly, however: For decades, voter turnout in non-presidential election years has hovered far below what it was in the mid-19th century, when it peaked at around 70 percent. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th out of 169 countries for average voter turnout.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a way to reverse this trend: Make election day a national holiday. "Election day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote," Sanders said in a press release announcing the Democracy Day Act. "While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy."

Sadly, Congressional Republicans, who've made voter suppression a key part of their electoral strategy, are about as likely to support a voting holiday as they are to declare war on Christmas.

Pointergate: This Week's Most Racist Local News Story

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 4:22 PM EST

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was recently participating in a neighborhood charity event aimed at boosting voter participation, when she stopped to pose in a photo with a volunteer named Navell Gordon. In said photo, Hodges and Navell point at each other.

Pretty typical stuff, and material for, at most, a quick news anecdote highlighting the mayor's community involvement. But Navell happens to be a young black man, a fact that must have something to with what happened next: Newscasters at KSTP, the local ABC affiliate, took the innocuous photo and quickly warped it into an exclusive report accusing Hodges of "posing with a convicted felon while flashing a known gang sign" and thereby instigating violence in their fair city.

In the same report, KSTP goes on to admit there is zero evidence Navell actually belongs to a gang. But they're certain he has "connections to gang members."

"She's putting cops at risk," retired police officer Michael Quinn told the station. "The fact that they're flashing gang signs at each other, showing solidarity with the gangs, she's legitimizing what they're doing. She's legitimizing these people who are killing our children in Minneapolis."

Here's a tweet from the story's reporter promoting the piece before it aired.

KTSP has so far stood by the report, but issued a statement claiming Minneapolis police fed the item to them.

The story is infuriating. But just to drive the point of how insanely racist KTSP's report truly is, watch the video below in which Navell discusses his involvement with non-profits like Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and how he's working to move on from his past.

"I made some mistakes in life," he says, while footage appears of him and Hodges posing for the photo in question. "I can't vote. I'm not ashamed to say that. But I'm working on fixing that right now so I can be able to vote for my next president."

Next up for KTSP? Well, word surfaced today that Obama is likely to tap US Attorney Loretta Lynch as the nation's next attorney general. Perhaps the station should stage a timely investigation into her gang affiliations, given this shocking photo:

AP/Seth Wenig

Friday Cat Blogging - 7 November 2014

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 2:52 PM EST

Remember I told you that 56-year-old human reflexes were no match for 11-month-old kitten reflexes? Well, if you throw in a bad back, it's game over. Unless these guys are snoozing, I'd guess that only about one picture in ten is even close to catblogging material these days.

Still, one in ten is one in ten, so here are today's pictures. On the left, Hopper is sitting on the window sill, waiting for a bird to fly by and entertain her. On the right, Hilbert has taken up shop on Marian's chair in our newly rearranged living room (rearranged to make room for a more back-friendly chair for Kevin). He actually spent most of the night on Wednesday sleeping in our bed with us. Progress!

In other news, my sister recommends that all of you with cats try this. She's coming over to visit tomorrow morning, so we'll try it then. Let us know in comments how it goes.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2014

Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:39 PM EST

US Navy Sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish camera to survey the ocean floor. In this operation, designed to promote maritime security, a quarter of the world's navies are participating. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight)