Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en My Ten-Dollar Offer to the Halbig Truthers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>There's no question that the statutory text of Obamacare contains a mistake. In one of its sections, it authorizes federal subsidies only for taxpayers who enroll through a state-based exchange, not for those who enroll through the federal <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ten_dollar_bill_again_again.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">exchange. But was it <em>really</em> a mistake? <a href="" target="_blank">Brian Beutler comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Right-wing activists have spent the last several months fabricating a rival narrative<span class="em">&mdash;</span>a ludicrous theory of intent, in which leading Democrats meant to condition the subsidies, but decided to keep the inducement a secret from reporters, back bench members, governors, budget analysts, and health care reform advocates. This kind of deceptive argumentation is perhaps to be expected from activists. <strong>What's become incredibly frustrating to me about the <em>Halbig </em>brouhaha in the last few days is watching the conservative health care writers who were in the same trenches watching the same debate unfold<span class="em">&mdash;</span>attempting, from a very skeptical vantage point, to explain the bill correctly<span class="em">&mdash;</span>suddenly turn around and vouchsafe the Halbig Truthers.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>That suggests something to me. As far as I know, not a single reporter who covered the Obamacare battle believes that Congress intended to restrict subsidies to state exchanges. As Beutler says, "To the extent that the question wasn&rsquo;t probed widely, if at all, it's because that would've been almost like asking whether the subsidies were intended to be denominated in Rubles." <a href="" target="_blank">Sarah Kliff agrees:</a> "It was never a question, during the five years I've spent writing about Obamacare, whether this would be case." Nobody in Congress questioned the universality of subsidies. Nobody in the executive branch questioned it. No governors questioned it. None of the bureaucrats tasked with building the exchanges questioned it. And nobody in the press questioned it.</p> <p>And that brings me to my suggestion: Is it really true that no one in the press questioned it? For the moment, let's forget about liberals. Hell, everyone knows we're in the bag for Obamacare, and by now we've probably scrubbed all our old posts of damning evidence. Ditto for the mainstream media. They're just shills for Obama anyway. But how about <em>conservatives</em>? They covered the Obamacare battle pretty obsessively too. Here's my guess: every single article written by conservatives between January 2009 and March 2010 (a) assumed that subsidies were universal and (b) never so much as mentioned the possibility that they weren't. In other words, they all believed in universal subsidies too because there was never any reason in their reporting to believe otherwise. Not one single reason.</p> <p>But maybe I'm wrong! So here's my offer: I will send a crisp, new ten-dollar bill to anyone who can point out a conservative who so much as suspected that subsidies were limited to state exchanges prior to March 2010. Surely that's incentive enough? Let's start digging up evidence, people.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 30 Jul 2014 00:31:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 257286 at "Confused Cats Against Feminism" Is the Purrfect Response to "Women Against Feminism" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Tumblr <a href="" target="_blank">Women Against Feminism</a> has inspired <a href="" target="_blank">scores</a> <a href="" target="_blank">of</a> <a href="" target="_blank">think</a> <a href="" target="_blank">pieces</a> decrying its misuse of the term "feminist." Yet when David Futrelle saw the collection of photos of women holding handwritten signs like "<a href="" target="_blank">I don't need feminism because I am not a victim,</a>" it reminded him of his cats.</p> <p>"It just seems like cats never know what's going on," Futrelle says. "If anyone would get really confused about feminism and announce their opposition to it, it would be cats. They have the right combination of myopicness and solipsism."</p> <p>So last Thursday, Futrelle posed his felines next to Women Against Feminism-style signs, snapped a picture, and launched his own Tumblr: <a href="" target="_blank">Confused Cats Against Feminism</a>. The cats, he said, were reluctant participants. "They did not want to cooperate at all when I started coming at them with this little sign that I'd drawn on with a very smelly Sharpie."</p> <p>Almost immediately, readers began sending Futrelle photos of their own cats. Now the Tumblr has 11,000 followers, and as of Tuesday morning, Futrelle was sorting through hundred of submissions.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="Cats against equal pay" class="image" src="/files/huggingcats_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Cats against equal pay. </strong><a href="" target="_blank"></a></div> </div> <p>The Chicago resident thinks his project taps a deep vein of exasperation among feminists that goes beyond the outrage over Women Against Feminism. "A lot of women and feminists are frustrated at trying to respond to arguments that are disingenuous or just weird and silly," he says. "Part of what's fun about the blog is to say, Look, we're just gonna respond with cats."</p> <p>The most successful posts, he says, "manage to tap into cat logic" or "capture the cats' desire to be pampered and protected, which is the complaint that some people have about the Women Against Feminism blog." His favorite submission so far is a cat sprawling on its back, exposing a patch of fur the size and color of a chocolate chip cookie on its stomach. "I DON'T NEED FEMINISM BECAUSE...COOKIE BELLY," <a href="" target="_blank">the text reads</a>.</p> <p>Futrelle says the joke wouldn't be as funny if it were Confused Dogs Against Feminism, because cats tend to be culturally coded as female. Also, "Dogs aren't as self-absorbed as cats. If you tried to do it with a dog I think the only thing you could go with is they're too stupid."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="Another confused cat" class="image" src="/files/indooroutdoor.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>"I don't need feminism because I like it when a man opens the door for me to enter a room. And then leave it again. And enter. And leave. And&hellip; enter. No wait, leave, definitely leave. Wait, I mean enter&hellip;" </strong><a href="" target="_blank"></a></div> </div> <p>This isn't Futrelle's first attempt to push back against antifeminist rhetoric. On his other blog, <a href="" target="_blank">We Hunted the Mammoth</a>, he's been chronicling the foibles of the men's rights movement for four years. Over time he's shifted from seeing the movement as merely misguided to realizing that it's driven by misogyny, he says. He hopes his blogging will encourage other people to respond to antifeminist overtures with humor.</p> <p>"Men's rights activists have a quote that's supposedly from Gandhi that they like to recite constantly: 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,'" Futrelle says. "As they see it, they've gotten to the point where people are fighting them. I'd like to knock them back to the point where people are laughing at them."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Mixed Media Interview Sex and Gender Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:26:59 +0000 Rebecca Cohen 257211 at The Forgotten Murder Trial of the NRA's Top Lawyer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Robert J. Dowlut is the NRA's top lawyer, a "human encyclopedia" on the subject of state gun laws and the man responsible for much of the gun lobby's success in a series of court cases that have steadily eroded restrictions on gun ownership in the United States. "He is a really <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nra_murder_mystery.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 27px 0px 15px 30px;">reliable and exhaustive source for legal input on the issue," says one admirer.</p> <p>But 50 years ago, according to a pile of court documents MoJo's Dave Gilson uncovered for <a href="" target="_blank">"The NRA's Murder Mystery,"</a> a teenage Dowlut had a rather different relationship with guns:</p> <blockquote> <p>Shortly before dark on the evening of April 17, 1963, Robert J. Dowlut went looking for a gun inside the city cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Making his way through the headstones, he stopped in front of the abandoned Studebaker family mausoleum. He knelt by the front right corner of the blocky gray monument and lifted a stone from the damp ground. Then, as one of the two police detectives accompanying him later testified, the 17-year-old "used his hands and did some digging." He unearthed a revolver and ammunition. As Dowlut would later tell a judge, the detectives then took the gun, "jammed it in my hand," and photographed him. "They were real happy."</p> <p>Two days earlier, a woman named Anna Marie Yocum had been murdered in her South Bend home. An autopsy determined she had been shot three times, once through the chest and twice in the back, likely at close range as she'd either fled or fallen down the stairs from her apartment. Two .45-caliber bullets had pierced her heart.</p> <p>....The following morning, Dowlut was charged with first-degree murder. A year and a half later, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. Before the judge handed down a life sentence, he asked the defendant if there was any reason why he shouldn't be put away. Dowlut replied, "I am not guilty." A day later, the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City registered Dowlut, now 19, as prisoner number 33848.</p> <p>Less than six years later, Robert Dowlut would be a free man&mdash;his murder conviction thrown out by the Indiana Supreme Court because of a flawed police investigation. The court ordered a new trial, but one never took place. Dowlut would return to the Army and go on to earn college and law degrees. Then he would embark on a career that put him at the epicenter of the movement to transform America's gun laws.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Click the link</a> to read the whole story.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Guns Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:48:08 +0000 Kevin Drum 257221 at Jim Carrey Movies, Ranked <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>The Mask</em> came out on July 29 1994. It was Jim Carrey's second blockbuster. (<em>Ace Ventura: Pet Detective </em>had hit theaters that February.<em>)</em> But where does it stand in the Jim Carrey canon? Here are all the Jim Carrey films*, ranked.</p> <p>1.<em> Liar Liar</em><br> 2. <em>The Truman Show</em><br> 3. <em>Man on the Moon</em><br> 4.<em> Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind</em><br> 5. <em>Yes Man</em><br> 6. <em>Bruce Almighty</em><br> 7. <em>Fun With Dick And Jane</em><br> 8. <em>Dumb &amp; Dumber</em><br> 9. <em>The Mask</em><br> 10. <em>A Christmas Carol</em><br> 11. <em>I Love You Philip Morris</em><br> 12. <em>Kick-Ass 2</em><br> 13. <em>Simon Birch</em><br> 14. <em>Me, Myself, &amp; Irene</em><br> 15. <em>Batman Forever</em><br> 16. <em>Ace Ventura: Pet Detective</em><br> 17. <em>Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events</em><br> 18. <em>The Cable Guy</em><br> 19. <em>Mr. Popper&rsquo;s Penguins</em><br> 20. <em>How The Grinch Stole Christmas</em><br> 21. <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em><br> 22. <em>The Number 23</em><br> 23. <em>Anchorman 2</em><br> 24.<em> Horton Hears a Who!</em><br> 25. <em>The Majestic</em><br> 26. <em>Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls</em></p> <p>(*Note: This is a ranking of "Jim Carrey movies," <em>a la </em>feature-length movies in which Jim Carrey appears beginning with <em>Ace Ventura: Pet Detective</em>. Movies that feature Jim Carrey from before <em>Ace Ventura: Pet Detective</em> are not "Jim Carrey movies." They are just movies that Jim Carrey happened to appear in.)</p></body></html> Mixed Media Film and TV Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:45:23 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 257216 at Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open—For Now <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The last abortion clinic in Mississippi has been on the brink of closure for nearly two years. But the fight to shutter the&nbsp;Jackson Women's Health Organization may have ended Tuesday, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals <a href="" target="_blank">struck down </a>the strict anti-abortion measure that would have closed its doors forever.</p> <p>The court fight to save the clinic began in 2012, after state lawmakers passed a bill requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital&mdash;or else face criminal charges. Restrictive anti-abortion bills had already closed several clinics in the state, and, had the Fifth Circuit not ruled against the state, Mississippi was <a href="" target="_blank">poised to become</a> the first state since <em>Roe v. Wade</em> without a single abortion provider.</p> <p>Attorneys for the Jackson Women's Health Organization argued that admitting privileges were unconstitutional and not medically necessary for the safety of its clients. (The clinic, after all, <a href="" target="_blank">already had a patient-transfer agreement</a> with a local hospital for rare cases in which a patient required hospitalization.) A federal judge was receptive to this argument and <a href="" target="_blank">blocked</a> <a href="" target="_blank">the law</a> from going into effect; in response, the state of Mississippi appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/roy-mcmillan_0_1_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong><a href="" target="_blank">Take a look</a> inside Mississippi's last abortion clinic. </strong></div> </div> <p>Amid the legal wrangling, the Jackson Women's Health Organization attempted to obtain admitting privileges to comply with the law. As <em>Mother Jones</em> <a href="" target="_blank">has reported</a>, all seven hospitals where the Jackson Women's Health Organization was eligible for admitting privileges turned the clinic down. This was partly because its providers travel to Mississippi from out of state, and partly because hospitals refused to be associated with abortion.</p> <p>As <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Mother Jones </em>reported</a> in 2012:</p> <blockquote> <p>The doctors' applications have been rejected by every hospital they've approached. Two hospitals wouldn't let them apply at all. Five others denied the applications for "administrative" reasons, before even completely reviewing the doctors' qualifications. Their rejection letters cited their policies regarding abortion and "concern about disruption to the hospital's business within the community." The clinic wrote follow-up letters to make sure the hospitals understood that the doctors were only seeking privileges to comply with the new law and wouldn't actually be providing abortions at the hospital, but no dice.</p> </blockquote> <p>Abortion rights advocates feared that the Fifth Circuit would be hostile to such claims. A three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit <a href="" target="_blank">upheld a very similar Texas law</a> in March. Appeals courts in the Fourth and Eighth Circuits have also <a href="" target="_blank">upheld admitting privilege laws</a>.</p> <p>But on Tuesday, the appeals court ruled, "Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state." It is not yet clear if the state will appeal to the US Supreme Court. But the decision&mdash;short of intervention from high court&mdash;means the clinic will remain open for the foreseeable future.</p></body></html> MoJo Reproductive Rights Top Stories Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:47:04 +0000 Molly Redden 257191 at Guns and Doctors: A Follow-Up <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Aaron Carroll responds to my skeptical take on doctors asking patients about their gun ownership:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think you ask legitimate questions, but these are consensus things that pediatricians ask about. You&rsquo;re thinking like an adult, and not as a parent.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t know if internists ask adults about guns. I doubt they do. But pediatricians do ask parents. They also ask if parents have talked about street safety. They ask if they keep chemicals out of reach of their children. They ask if they&rsquo;ve checked the temperature of the hot water heater. They ask about water safety, bathtubs, and talk about drowning. Fire safety. Bike safety. Car safety (including airbags). I could go on and on and on.</p> <p>This is what pediatricians do. You may be too far removed from that to remember, but it is! Read <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Bright Futures</em></a>. It&rsquo;s hundreds of pages long.</p> </blockquote> <p>In my post, I was mostly thinking about adult doctors, not pediatricians, though I suppose both were on my mind. In any case, this is an obvious distinction, and I thought it was worth passing along.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Guns Health Care Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:05:54 +0000 Kevin Drum 257201 at Quote of the Day: "The Press Loves to Cover Her Hard" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_hillary_clinton_speech.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Dave Weigel notes that the media is <em>still</em> obsessed with Hillary Clinton's comment about being <a href="" target="_blank">"dead broke" when she and Bill left the White House:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>They've got to be sick of this by now. Maggie Haberman had it nailed three weeks ago: Hillary Clinton was "still raw over the partisan wars that hindered her husband&rsquo;s legacy and left the couple with millions of dollars in legal debt." Her answer, as she told Ramos, was accurate, and it's baffling to her that this became a "gaffe." As she continued her tour, HarperCollins was printing up copies of <em>Clinton, Inc.</em>, a tell-all by the <em>Weekly Standard's</em> Daniel Halper. <strong>On Page 18, Halper recalls that in 2001 "the Clintons were broke, owing a fortune in legal fees from the many investigations into their personal lives," and that they had to be loaned $1.3 by Terry McAuliffe.</strong> Until just a month ago, that was how even conservatives remembered the Clintons' departure from the White House.</p> </blockquote> <p>What's the deal with this? Sure, Hillary could have responded to questions about her wealth a little better. She's not the natural politician Bill is. But really, there's not much else here. So why does it continue to be news a full month later? Uber-insider Mark Halperin explains:</p> <blockquote> <p>She has a lot of positive attributes that are currently just being overwhelmed by all this negative coverage. And it&rsquo;s going to keep going. The momentum&mdash;there&rsquo;s, there&rsquo;s&mdash; <strong>The press loves to cover her hard.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This comes courtesy of Bob Somerby, who's been following this ever since the initial flood-the-zone coverage of Hillary's "gaffe" in the <em>Washington Post</em>. <a href="" target="_blank">Somerby tells the rest of the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Multimillionaire TV stars asked if voters would support a person as wealthy as Clinton. In response to Clinton&rsquo;s answers, some of the nation&rsquo;s most famous pundits launched their famous &ldquo;gaffe culture.&rdquo;</p> <p>The <em>Washington Post</em> even launched a front-page jihad concerning the size of Clinton&rsquo;s speaking fees. In the <em>New York Times</em>, Maureen Dowd assailed Clinton for her &ldquo;rapacious&rdquo; behavior and her &ldquo;wanton acquisitiveness,&rdquo; which she was said to be passing along to her daughter.</p> <p>....Halperin made a starting suggestion&mdash;he suggested the press corps&rsquo; coverage of a major candidate could determine the outcome of our next White House campaign.</p> <p>Plainly, that&rsquo;s what happened in Campaign 2000, when a twenty-month war against Candidate Gore let George Bush reach the White House. In the main, that war was conducted by the mainstream press corps, <em>not</em> by the RNC.</p> <p>The press corps&rsquo; poisonous war against Gore let Bush reach the White House. But it&rsquo;s a basic law of the guild: Major journalists <em>never</em> suggest that the behavior of their own guild could have such startling effects.</p> </blockquote> <p>The media's preoccupation with the Clintons' wealth won't last forever. Even for the Washington press corps, it's too transparently silly to pretend that it's somehow surprising that a presidential candidate is wealthy. But Somerby and Halperin are right: it's a sign of things to come. The press has never liked Hillary, and she's never liked them, and that's that. If she decides to run for president, this is going to be one of her biggest problems&mdash;or maybe her biggest, period. She's just never going to catch a break.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Hillary Clinton Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:49:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 257196 at Should Doctors Ask You About Your Guns? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In Florida, it's illegal for a physician to ask you if you own a gun. Pediatrician Aaron Carroll <a href="" target="_blank">thinks this is ridiculous:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When pediatricians ask you about using car seats, they&rsquo;re trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about how your baby sleeps, they&rsquo;re trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about using bike helmets, they&rsquo;re trying to <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gun_sale.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">prevent injuries. And when they ask you about guns, they&rsquo;re trying to prevent injuries, too.</p> <p>....When I ask patients and parents whether they own guns, if they tell me they do, I immediately follow up with questions about how they are stored. I want to make sure they&rsquo;re kept apart from ammunition. I want to make sure they&rsquo;re in a locked box, preferably in a place out of reach of children. Doing so minimizes the risks to children. That&rsquo;s my goal.</p> <p>When we, as physicians, ask you if you drink or smoke, it&rsquo;s not so that we can judge you. It&rsquo;s so we can discuss health risks with you. When we ask you about domestic violence, it&rsquo;s not to act like police detectives. It&rsquo;s so that we can help you make better choices for your health. When we ask you about what you eat or whether you exercise, it&rsquo;s so we can help you live better and longer. We&rsquo;re doctors; it&rsquo;s our job.</p> </blockquote> <p>I don't often disagree with Carroll, but I think I might here. Not about Florida's law: that really is ridiculous. The state may have an interest in making sure doctors don't give demonstrably bad advice, but it certainly doesn't have a legitimate interest in preventing them from asking simple, fact-oriented question. This represents prior restraint on non-commercial speech, and as such it's beyond the pale.</p> <p>That said, <em>should</em> physicians ask about gun ownership? I'm not so sure. Carroll says he only wants to discuss "health risks," and that's appropriate. Doctors have expertise in the area of human health: that is, the biology and physiology of the human body. But that's not the same thing as the <em>safety</em> of the human body.</p> <p>Not only do doctors have no special professional expertise in this area, but it's simply too wide open. Does your car have air bags? Do you ever jaywalk? Have you checked your electrical outlets lately? Is your house built to withstand an earthquake? Do you know how to work safely on your roof? Do you make sure to watch your kids in the pool? Are you planning any trips to eastern Ukraine?</p> <p>I could go on forever in this vein. These are things unrelated to human physiology. If you define them all as health risks, you're simply defining every aspect of life as a health risk, and therefore your doctor's concern. That goes too far, and I don't blame people for sometimes reacting badly to it. There are certainly gray areas here, but generally speaking, if I want advice about my health, I'll see a doctor. If I want advice about gun safety, I'll talk to a gun pro. I think it might be best to leave it this way.</p> <p><strong>FULL DISCLOSURE:</strong> My view is almost certainly colored by the fact that I'm all but phobic about doctors. I hate visiting them, I hate talking to them, and I hate the fact that they never seem to really, truly respond to what I tell them. I would be very annoyed if a doctor suddenly veered off and started quizzing me about general safety issues.</p> <p>I'm keenly aware that this is an obvious overreaction on my part, and I do my best to restrain it when I'm actually talking to a doctor. Nonetheless, it's there.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Guns Health Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:47:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 257156 at Color Me Skeptical About a Guaranteed Income for All <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Should we have a guaranteed minimum income in the United States? Something nice and simple that would replace nearly our entire current alphabet soup of means-tested welfare programs?<sup>1</sup> Dylan Matthews posts about this frequently, and others <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Uncle_Sam_Money.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">chime in occasionally as well. It even has some support among conservatives.</p> <p>I am not so sure, myself. Keith Humphreys makes a couple of good points <a href="" target="_blank">here,</a> but I want to step back a bit. At a bare minimum, I need answers to four questions:</p> <ol><li>How big would it be?</li> <li>Is it a family benefit or a personal benefit?</li> <li>Is it for adults only, or would children also qualify for a benefit?</li> <li>How would it phase out with income?</li> </ol><p>There are many more details to work out, all of them important, but I don't think you can even begin to talk about this without answers to these four basic questions.</p> <p>I'm skeptical about the whole thing because I don't think you can make the details work out. Nor do I think that it's politically feasible either now or in the future.<sup>2</sup> What's more, I'm always skeptical of ideas like this that haven't been adopted by any other country, even the ones with far more liberal welfare states than ours. I figure there must be a reason for this.</p> <p>But I'm happy to be proven wrong. Just give me a policy skeleton to work with. What exactly are we talking about here?</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Proponents usually (but not always) make exceptions for education and health care, which are too variable and too expensive to be handled by a simple minimum income.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Perhaps it's feasible in our far-distant robot future. Maybe even necessary. For now, though, let's stick to the medium-term future.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Income Inequality Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:50:42 +0000 257146 at America Should Get Out of the Peacekeeping Business in Israel <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>Washington Post</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Anyone who has made even a passing glance at the Israeli media in the past few days will have noticed the incredible chorus of criticism being directed at John Kerry right now. The secretary of state has been lambasted by all sides for his apparent failure in attempts to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.</p> <p>[Examples follow]</p> </blockquote> <p>And it's not just Israelis. Elsewhere in the <em>Post</em>, David Ignatius <a href="" target="_blank">takes Kerry to task too:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Secretary of State John Kerry has made a significant mistake in how he&rsquo;s pursuing a Gaza cease-fire &mdash; and it&rsquo;s not surprising that he has upset both the Israelis and some moderate Palestinians.</p> <p>Kerry&rsquo;s error has been to....</p> </blockquote> <p>I think we should stop right there. Kerry has made only one mistake, and that was trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the first place. He didn't fail because of any personal shortcomings; he failed because there were no terms under which either side would ever have agreed to a ceasefire. The fighting will stop when both sides decide to stop, and not a minute before. It's long past time for everyone to acknowledge this.</p> <p>The United States has been trying to broker peace in the Middle East for the past 20 years. Maybe longer, depending on how you count. But 20 years at least, and every attempt has failed. Various Americans have tried, all with different approaches, and the result has been the same every time: not just failure, but a steady and inexorable deterioration of the situation. It's no longer credible to pretend that maybe a different person with a different approach and different sympathies might have made a difference in any particular situation. Blaming Kerry for this latest failure is just delusional.</p> <p>Quite famously, we all "know" what a deal between Israel and the Palestinians needs to look like. It's obvious. Everyone says so. The only wee obstacle is that neither side is willing to accept this obvious deal. They just aren't. The problem isn't agreeing on a line on a map, or a particular circumlocution in a particular document. The problem is much simpler than that, so simple that sophisticated people are embarrassed to say it outright: Two groups of people want the same piece of land. Both of them feel they have a right to it. Both of them are, for the time being, willing to fight for it. Neither is inclined to give up anything for a peace that neither side believes in.</p> <p>That's it. That's all there is. All the myriad details don't matter. Someday that may change, and when it does the United States may have a constructive role to play in brokering a peace deal. But that day is nowhere in the near future. For now, it's time for America to get out of the peacekeeping business. Our presence there does no good, and might very well be doing active harm. This doesn't mean withdrawing from the region, it just means getting out of the shuttle diplomacy business. Neither side is ready for it, and probably won't be for years. Let's end the charade.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum International Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:58:55 +0000 Kevin Drum 257141 at Today Is International Tiger Day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Established in <a href="" target="_blank">2010</a>,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">International Tiger Day</a>! aims to raise awareness of the fact that tigers are <a href="" target="_blank">facing extinction</a>. "A hundred years ago 100,000 tigers roamed in Asia," explains <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Independent</a></em>. "But now only 3,000 survive in the wild." The culprit? <a href="" target="_blank">Poachers</a>, mostly.</p> <p>Tigers are marvelous creatures. Have a look at some of these stunning photos to celebrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/5590652478_e1bb9e8e80_b.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A tiger cub in Chiang Mai, Thailand. </strong><a href="" target="_blank">lejaclyn</a>/Flickr</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/6340731249_4477ee8281_o.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Sumatran tiger cub at the World Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Kent, UK.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Tiny_Packages</a>/Flickr</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/11016214955_2f5a546afe_o.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Two tiger cubs. Washington D.C. </strong><a href="" target="_blank">Sonderman</a>/Flickr</div> <div class="caption">&nbsp;</div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/6789552275_76aeaf4897_b.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Two Siberian tigers in the snow.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Garg</a>/Flickr<br> &nbsp;</div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/4575837040_e665e83c5a_o.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Mother gives cub piggy back ride.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">WOAW</a>/Flickr</div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/6279148974_60e78e4ce1_o.jpg"></p> <div class="caption"> <p><strong>Two Amur tigers snuggle in Switzerland.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Tambako</a>/Flickr</p> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/5455672660_92573421f6_o.jpg"></p> <div class="caption"> <p><strong>A Sumatra tiger in profile.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">pe_ha45</a>/Flickr</p> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/6984925505_9b04776aa6_o.jpg"></p> <div class="caption"> <p><strong>Snow snuggling in Zurich.</strong> <a href="" target="_blank">Tambako</a>/Flickr</p> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <p><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/3833556477_8b1585ffa3_o.jpg"></p> <div class="caption"> <p><strong>A cub by its mother's side. Amn&eacute;ville, Lorraine, France. </strong><a href="" target="_blank">Tambako</a>/Flickr</p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div></body></html> Mixed Media Animals Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:24:15 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 257106 at Midwestern Waters Are Full of Bee-Killing Pesticides <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A while back, I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote about</a> how the US Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting a slow-motion reassessment of a widely used class of insecticides, even as evidence mounts that it's harming key ecosystem players from pollinating bees to birds. Since then, another federal entity with an interest in the environment, the US Geological Survey, has released a pretty damning study of the pesticide class, known as neonicitinoids.</p> <p>For the paper (<a href=";from=rss_home#.U9K1y4LQnFI">press release</a>; <a href="" target="_blank">abstract</a>) published last week in the peer-reviewed journal <em>Environmental Pollution, </em>USGS researchers took 79 water samples in nine rivers and streams over the 2013 growing season in Iowa, a state whose vast acreage of farmland is largely devoted to neonic-treated corn and soybeans. Neonics showed up in all of the sites, and proved to be "both mobile and persistent in the environment."</p> <p>Levels varied over the course of the season, spiking after spring planting, the authors report. At their peak, the neonic traces in Iowa streams reached levels well above those considered toxic for aquatic organisms. And the chemicals proved to linger&mdash;the researchers found them at reduced levels before planting, "which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years,&rdquo; USGS scientist Michelle Hladik, the report's lead author, said in the press release. And they showed up "more frequently and in higher concentrations" than the insecticides they replaced, the authors note.</p> <p>Other studies have shown similar results. Neonics have shown up at significant levels in wetlands near treated farm fields in <a href="" target="_blank">parts of the High Plains&nbsp; </a>and in <a href="" target="_blank">Canada</a>, as wells as in rivers in ag-heavy areas of <a href="" target="_blank">Georgia</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">California</a>.</p> <p>These findings directly contradict industry talking points. Older insecticides were typically sprayed onto crops in the field, while neonics are applied directly to seeds, and then taken up by the stalks, leaves, pollen, and nectar of the resulting plants. "Due to its precise application directly to the seed, which is then planted below the soil surface, seed treatment reduces potential off-target exposure to plants and animals," Croplife America, the pesticide industry's main lobbying outfit, declared in a <a href="" target="_blank">2014 report</a>.</p> <p>Yet the USGS researchers report that older pesticides that once rained down on the corn/soy belt, like chlorpyrifos and carbofuran, turned up at "substantially" lower rates in water&mdash;typically, in less than 20 percent of samples, compared to the 100 percent of samples found in the current neonic study. Apparently, pesticides that are taken up by plants through seed treatments don't stay in the plants; and neonics, the USGS authors say, are highly water soluble and break down in water more slowly than the pesticides they've replaced.</p> <p>In another <a href="">document</a>, Croplife claims that neonicotinoids "have been used in the United States for many years without significant effects on populations of honey bees." But the paper shows that neonic use didn't start in the heart of corn/soy belt until 2004, and then quickly ramped up. The below graphic, lifted from the paper, shows usage data on the three major neonic chemicals, with the chart on the bottom right depicting total use. According to the USDA, colony collapse disorder <a href="" target="_blank">started in 2006</a>. Correlation doesn't prove causation, but the industry's "many years without significant effects" claim doesn't hold up to scrutiny.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202014-07-25%20at%205.49.37%20PM%20copy_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Neonic use in Iowa. </strong>Chart: USGS</div> </div> <p>In leaching from farm fields, neonics follow a pattern established by spray-applied herbicides like atrazine, the authors note, which undergo a similar <a href="">"spring flush</a>" into waterways. That means that each spring in Iowa, critters like frogs and fish find themselves immersed in a cocktail of damaging chemicals.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the use of seed treatments is surging&mdash;it <a href="">tripled over the past decade.</a> And not just neonics. Fungicides&mdash;chemicals that kill fungal pests&mdash;are also being applied to seeds at record rates. According to Croplife, "today&rsquo;s seed treatment market offers pre-mixture products containing combinations of three, four or more fungicides." It also boasts: "The global fungicide seed treatment market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 9.2 percent and is expected to reach $1.4 billion by 2018."</p> <p>And these chemicals, too, are <a href="">emerging as a threat to honeybees</a>. They also may be fouling up water. In 2012, the USGS released a <a href="" target="_blank">research review</a> on fungicides and their effect on waterways. The report noted plenty of "data gaps"&mdash;i.e. a dearth of research&mdash;but also evidence of "significant sublethal effects of fungicides on fish, aquatic invertebrates, and ecosystems, including zooplankton and fish reproduction, fish immune function, zooplankton community composition, metabolic enzymes, and ecosystem processes, such as leaf decomposition in streams, among other biological effects."</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Top Stories Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:00:15 +0000 Tom Philpott 257021 at The Best "Dear John Letter" Ever Sent <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In 1947, years before she met John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier sent her high school boyfriend what is maybe <a href="" target="_blank">my favorite Dear John letter of all time.</a></p> <blockquote> <p>"I&rsquo;ve always thought of being in love as being willing to do anything for the other person&mdash;starve to buy them bread and not mind living in Siberia with them&mdash;and I&rsquo;ve always thought that every minute away from them would be hell&mdash;so looking at it that [way] I guess I&rsquo;m not in love with you."</p> </blockquote> <p>Jackie O. would have been 85 Monday. RIP.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Tue, 29 Jul 2014 05:57:30 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 257131 at Take Two: Just How Good Are Generic Meds Anyway? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">A few days ago</a> I wrote a post about generic painkillers and the fact that doctors themselves&mdash;who should know better&mdash;often don't use them. "If physicians aren't really sold on generics in their own personal lives," I asked, "does this mean they're not really sold on them in their professional lives too?"</p> <p>Well, perhaps I got it backwards. A friend sent me a link to a <em>Forbes </em>article from last year about the FDA <a href="" target="_blank">retracting its approval of a generic version of Wellbutrin:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The episode is bringing momentum to a movement that has been quietly building among many doctors and medical societies that are increasingly willing to ask a question that borders on heresy: Are generics really identical to the branded products they are meant to replicate? To a surprising degree, they say, the answer is no.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re a layperson, this is the way you probably think of generics: They&rsquo;re the exact same products in different packaging; generics companies can sell such medications for a fraction of the cost of the originals because they don&rsquo;t have to spend huge sums on drug development and marketing....But generic drugs diverge from the originals far more than most of us believe.</p> <p>....The FDA&rsquo;s rules effectively acknowledge that. The agency&rsquo;s definition of bioequivalence is surprisingly broad: A generic&rsquo;s maximum concentration of active ingredient in the blood must not fall more than 20% below or 25% above that of the brand name. This means a potential range of 45%, by that measure, among generics labeled as being the same.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, physicians are becoming increasingly concerned about the reliability of prescription generics, so maybe they're a little bit skeptical about over-the-counter generics too.</p> <p>Now, I doubt that anyone seriously thinks this applies to aspirin or ibuprofen. There's nothing proprietary about the formulas for these medications, and everyone knows how to make them just as well as the big guys. Still, I suppose it's possible that a generalized uncertainty about generic prescription meds could translate into a bit of uncertainty about OTC meds too. And that little bit might be enough to make lots of doctors shrug their shoulders and plunk down an extra dollar or two for a name brand.</p> <p>I'm just guessing here, of course. Mostly I just thought it was an interesting article and wanted to pass it along.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Tue, 29 Jul 2014 05:04:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 257126 at Medicare Actuaries Are Big Fans of Obamacare's Cost Reduction Programs <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As long as we're perusing the 2014 Medicare Trustees Report, here's another interesting chart. It shows just how much the Medicare actuaries expect to save thanks to all the cost-reduction measures included in Obamacare. It's a pretty speculative forecast, of course, but their estimate is that Obamacare will reduce federal spending a lot. By 2080, the savings add up to about 1.5 percent of GDP, which in today's dollars amounts to $250 billion per year.</p> <p>Now, don't take this too seriously on a pure policy basis. Projections that are extended 70 years out are pretty worthless. Trend lines don't stay the same that long, and government policies change every decade anyway. Nor does this mean that Obamacare is a free lunch. It still has a high net cost since it's insuring a whole lot of people who never had insurance before.</p> <p>Still, this shows that the Medicare actuaries take the efficiency measures in Obamacare pretty seriously. If we stick to them, they really are likely to cut the growth rate of Medicare spending. And remember: Medicare costs get reflected in overall health care costs too. If Republicans ever win their jihad against Obamacare, we lose not just the Medicare savings, but a lot of savings in private health care too. That's a lot to give up.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicare_obamacare_savings.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 30px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Health Care Tue, 29 Jul 2014 00:42:01 +0000 Kevin Drum 257111 at US Coal Exports Have Erased All The CO2 Savings From the Fracking Boom <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The domestic fracking boom has been widely celebrated as a godsend in the fight against climate change. In 2007, cheap natural gas began replacing dirtier coal as the fuel of choice in US power plants. By 2012, the switchover was annually saving an estimated 86 million tons of CO2, the carbon equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road. That's obviously a huge accomplishment, but it comes with a lesser known catch: All of that coal we're no longer using is still getting dug up, sold off, and spewed into the atmosphere.</p> <p>The carbon pollution savings from our switch from coal to gas has been more than canceled out by an increase in our coal exports, according to <a href="" target="_blank">a recent study</a> by Shakeb Afsah of the group CO2 Scorecard. After the domestic market for coal dried up in 2007, US exports of steam coal increased by 83 million tons, resulting in the release of an additional 149 million metric tons of CO2. That's 73 percent more CO2 than Americans have saved so far by ditching the black stuff.</p> <p>The study is mentioned today in a <a href="" target="_blank">great story</a> by AP's Dina Cappiello, who looks at whether the coal exports will ultimately increase carbon emissions. Coal companies point to studies suggesting international demand for coal is fairly inelastic, meaning that if US coal exports suddenly disappeared, they would simply be replaced by coal from somewhere else. Yet other studies conclude that the US exports depress prices, driving up demand and delaying a switch to cleaner options.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">As I've previously noted</a>, huge new coal export terminals proposed on the West Coast have become the latest flash points in the climate wars. Cappiello points out that a single ship full of Appalachian coal, exported from Virginia to South America, contains enough greenhouse gas to match the annual emissions of a small American power plant.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Energy Infrastructure Mon, 28 Jul 2014 22:37:33 +0000 Josh Harkinson 257096 at Chart of the Day: The Great Medicare Spending Mystery <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here it is: the biggest question mark in the entire federal budget. The <a href="" target="_blank">2014 Medicare Trustees Report</a> is out today, and it shows, rather remarkably, that the cost per person of Medicare in 2013 was absolutely flat compared to 2012. Even more remarkably, they expect the combined increase over the next two years to be zero as well. In other words, Medicare costs are growing considerably slower than the inflation rate.</p> <p>And now for the trillion-dollar question: How long will this slowdown last? The historical data in the report, along with future projections, suggests that between 2006 (when the prescription drug benefit began) and 2018, Medicare costs will have grown, on average, at exactly the rate of inflation. In real terms, that means zero growth over a 12-year period. But Medicare's actuaries don't expect that to last. Starting in 2017 they expect high growth rates again, leading to Medicare spending outpacing inflation.</p> <p>This is by far the biggest unknown going forward in the federal budget: Will Medicare spending continue to increase slowly, or will it revert to the higher growth rates of the early aughts? You can make a pretty good case either way. But no matter what anyone tells you&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">including me</a>&mdash;don't be fooled. The real answer is that We. Just. Don't. Know.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_medicare_spending_projection_2014.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 15px 0px 5px 25px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:57:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 257101 at Anyone With a Concealed Carry Permit Can Now Come Dangerously Close to the White House <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A federal judge has <a href="" target="_blank">ordered the District of Columbia </a>to stop enforcing its restrictions on carrying handguns on the streets of the nation's capital. The decision also forced the District government to allow out-of-state concealed carry and open carry permit holders to wield their weapons within steps of the White House.</p> <p>Senior District Court Judge Fredrick Scullin Jr., ruling from his regular post in Syracuse, New York, said that the case is a no-brainer. Based on the US Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in <em>DC v. </em><a href="" target="_blank"><em><em>H</em>eller, </em></a>which validated the individual right to bear arms, Scullin said the city's gun laws were clearly unconstitutional. He sided with the plaintiffs, who argued that while the city passed a law requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public, it then refused to grant them to anyone who planned to carry their weapons outside their homes, a move that violated the Second Amendment.</p> <p>The <em>Heller</em> case, spearheaded by Alan Gura, the same lawyer who won this weekend's ruling, struck down DC's long-standing ban on the ownership of handguns. But in complying with the ruling, the city passed new laws in 2008 that were so restrictive that, the court said, they still prevented virtually anyone from getting a license to carry a handgun outside of their homes. And that, Scullin said, just won't fly.</p> <p>The potential implications of the decision are enormous, should it be allowed to stand. The District of Columbia is unlike any other American city. It's filled with important federal agency buildings, monuments, courthouses, not to mention the White House. Visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and many members of Congress travel its streets on a daily basis.</p> <p>DC is also home to large public events attended by all manner of VIPs, including presidential inaugurations, which are difficult enough to secure without the prospect of gun-toting citizens joining the fray. The security apparatus in DC is intense. And assassination attempts aren't unheard of. <a href="" target="_blank">Former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. was shot</a> in 1977 in the DC Council building. John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton. There was also the 2013 Navy Yard shooting that left 12 people dead. DC is a magnet for crazy people with guns, something law enforcement officials have long recognized.</p> <p>Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier <a href="" target="_blank">testified before Congres</a>s in 2008 against a bill pending in the House that would have accomplished what Scullin's ruling effectively did, overturning the city's gun laws. She noted that in order to watch the oral arguments in the <em>Heller</em> case, she had to leave her gun behind. No weapons are allowed inside the very building where the justices decided that the city's gun restrictions were just too restrictive.</p> <p>Many of those type of restrictions in DC will remain in place, regardless of Scullin's ruling. Both DC and federal laws will still allow the government to bar the bearing of arms in certain places, including federal buildings, schools, the Capitol, etc. Traversing the District without encountering terrain that prohibits guns would be difficult. Just crossing the trendy DuPont Circle neighborhood might entail stepping foot on federal parkland, where guns are barred.</p> <p>Even so, the ruling, which took effect almost immediately, could put a lot more guns into a city that's spent untold millions trying to secure and defend against terrorist and other public safety threats. The plaintiffs in the case that prompted Scullin's ruling, <em>Palmer v. DC</em>, argue that DC's gun laws need to be overturned for the benefit of law-abiding citizens. The plaintiffs are all described as upstanding folks just looking to defend themselves on the mean streets of DC (or at least not get arrested for having a gun in the car, as one of them did). But, as any number of recent gun-related massacres can attest, not all legal gun owners are sane, stable, or well intentioned.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">Violence Policy Center has been keeping a running tally </a>of all the people in the US who've been killed by people legally carrying a concealed weapon. Since 2007, that figure has reached 644, and it includes 14 law enforcement officers. Fewer than 20 of those deaths were deemed lawful self-defense. There's a good reason why DC has banned the open or concealed carrying of weapons by ordinary citizens for 150 years. But thanks to the US Supreme Court, and now Judge Scullin, those common sense practices may go out the door.&nbsp;</p> <p>Scullin's ruling, at least in the near-term, is likely to be short-lived. The District has <a href="" target="_blank">asked the court to stay its decision </a>and let the city's current laws stand until it can formally appeal the ruling or until it can revise its laws to meet constitutional scrutiny.</p></body></html> MoJo Crime and Justice Guns Regulatory Affairs Top Stories Mon, 28 Jul 2014 20:16:11 +0000 Stephanie Mencimer 257061 at House Republicans Pass Bill to Lower Taxes on the Rich and Raise Taxes on the Poor <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So what are Republicans in the House of Representatives up to these days? <a href="" target="_blank">According to Danny Vinik,</a> they just passed a bill that would reduce taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor.</p> <p>I know, I know: you're shocked. But in a way, I think this whole episode is even worse than Vinik makes it sound.</p> <p>Here's the background: The child tax credit reduces your income tax by $1,000 for each child you have. It phases out for upper middle-income folks, but&mdash;and this is the key point&mdash;it phases out differently for singles and couples. The way the numbers sort out, it treats singles better than couples. This is the dreaded "marriage penalty," which is bad because we want to encourage people to get married, not discourage them.</p> <p>So what did House Republicans do? Naturally, they raised the phase-out threshold for married couples so that well-off couples would get a higher benefit. They didn't have to do this, of course. They could have lowered the benefit for singles instead. Or they could have jiggled the numbers so that everyone got equal benefits but the overall result was revenue neutral.</p> <p>But they didn't. They chose the path that would increase the benefit&mdash;and thus lower taxes&mdash;for married couples making high incomes. The bill also indexes the credit to inflation, which helps only those with incomes high enough to claim the full credit. And it does nothing to make permanent a reduction in the earnings threshold that benefits poor working families. Here's the net result:</p> <blockquote> <p>If the House legislation became law, <a href=";id=4171" target="_blank">the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimated</a> that a couple making $160,000 a year would receive a new tax cut of $2,200. On the other hand, the expiring provisions of <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_cbpp_child_tax_credit.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the CTC would cause a single mother with two kids making $14,500 to lose her full CTC, worth $1,725.</p> </blockquote> <p>So inflation indexing, which is verboten when the subject is the minimum wage, is A-OK when it comes to high-income taxpayers. And eliminating the marriage penalty is also a good idea&mdash;but again, only for high-income couples. Which is crazy. I don't really have a firm opinion on whether the government should be in the business of encouraging marriage, but if it is, surely it should focus its attention on the people who need encouragement in the first place. And that is very decidedly not the upper middle class, which continues to get married at the same rate as ever.</p> <p>So we have a deficit-busting tax cut. It's a cut only for the upper middle class. It's indexed for inflation, even though we're not allowed to index things like the minimum wage. And the poor are still scheduled for a tax increase in 2017 because this bill does nothing to stop it. It's a real quad-fecta. I wonder what Paul Ryan thinks of all this?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Income Inequality Mon, 28 Jul 2014 18:12:28 +0000 Kevin Drum 257071 at Why on Earth Are Argentine Bonds So Hot Right Now? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>What's the hottest ticket in the global bond market right now? That's right: Argentine bonds. They're on a tear. But why? Didn't Argentina just <em>lose</em>&mdash;once and for all&mdash;its court case against vulture funds who own old Argentine bonds and are <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_argentina_map.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">refusing to accept partial payment of the kind that everyone else accepted after Argentina's default a decade ago?</p> <p>Why yes, they did lose. Argentina now has to pay the vulture funds&mdash;which is politically unthinkable for any Argentine politician who wants to avoid being tarred and feathered&mdash;or else it has to default on <em>all</em> its bonds, including the restructured "exchange" bonds that it issued in 2005. So why are these exchange bonds becoming more valuable? Argentina has always been <em>willing</em> to pay those bonds, so it's not as if the court ruling has made default less likely. The risk of default was already close to nil. So what's up?</p> <p>Felix Salmon, having gotten tired of financial journalists offering up bizarre theories to explain this, tells us today that it's probably all simpler than it seems. In fact, the odds of default <em>have</em> gotten higher, just as logic dictates, but this might actually be a good thing for bondholders. Normally, he points out, there's no upside to bonds: you get the coupon payment, but you never get anything more. In Argentina's case, however, that might not be true.</p> <p>First off, there's something called a RUFO clause. This means that if Argentina does eventually settle with the vulture funds, it has to offer the same deal to all the other bondholders.</p> <blockquote> <p>Obviously, Argentina doesn&rsquo;t have the money to pay out the exchange bondholders in full according to that clause. But if Argentina is paying out billions of dollars to vultures who deserve much less than they&rsquo;re getting, and if those payments create a massive parallel legal obligation to the bondholders who cooperated with the country and did everything they asked, <strong>then it&rsquo;s not unreasonable to expect that Argentina might end up paying something to the exchange bondholders,</strong> if doing so would wipe out any RUFO obligations.</p> </blockquote> <p>Then there are interest payments:</p> <blockquote> <p>The second way that exchange bondholders could get more than 100 cents on the dollar is, paradoxically, if there is a default. The minute that Argentina goes into arrears on its coupon payments, the clock starts ticking. From that day onwards &mdash; and actually, that day has been and gone already &mdash; bondholders are owed not only those coupon payments but interest on those coupon payments. <strong>And the interest accrues at the standard statutory rate of 8% &mdash; a massive number, these days.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So there you have it: a paradoxical case in which bonds might be viewed as more valuable if the odds of default are higher. Salmon admits that he's just speculating here, since no one knows for sure why the market is so hot for Argentine bonds in the wake of Argentina <em>losing</em> its court case. But this is at least a reasonable guess. And a fascinating one.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:11:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 257056 at Congress Might Actually Pass a Bill to Address VA Problems <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Since I've been griping for a long time about Congress being unable to pass so much as a Mother's Day resolution these days, it's only fair to highlight the possibility of <a href="" target="_blank">actual progress on something:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>House and Senate negotiators have reached a tentative agreement to deal with the long-term needs of the struggling Department of Veterans Affairs and plan to unveil their proposal Monday.</p> <p>Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who lead the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees, continued negotiating over the weekend. Aides said they "made significant progress" on legislation to overhaul the VA and provide funding to hire more doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. Sanders and Miller are scheduled to discuss their plan Monday afternoon.</p> </blockquote> <p>We don't have all the details yet, and the bill hasn't actually passed or anything. There's still plenty of time for tea partiers to throw their usual tantrum. And there's also plenty of time for the House GOP leadership to respond to the tantrum by crawling back into its cave and killing the whole thing. It'll be President Obama's fault, of course, probably for attending a fundraiser, or maybe for sneezing at the wrong time.</p> <p>But maybe not! Maybe they really will pass this thing. It would provide vets with more flexibility to see doctors outside the VA system, which is a bit of a Band-Aid&mdash;but probably a necessary one&mdash;and it provides additional funding for regions that have seen a big influx of veterans. On the flip side, I don't get the sense that the bill will really do much to fix the culture of the VA, which becomes a political cause c&eacute;l&egrave;bre every few years as we discover that all the same things we yelled about the time before are still true. But I guess that's inevitable in a political culture with the attention span of a newt.</p> <p>All things considered, it would be a good sign if this bill passed. The VA, after all, isn't an inherently partisan issue. Just the opposite, since both parties support vets about equally and both should, in theory, be more interested in helping vets than in prolonging chaos for political reasons.</p> <p>In other words, if there's anything that's amenable to a basically technocratic solution and bipartisan support, this is it. In a way, it's a test of whether our political system is completely broken or just mostly broken. "Mostly" would be something of a relief.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:38:49 +0000 Kevin Drum 257051 at We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 28, 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p class="rtecenter"><em>US Marines take cover behind a barrier after tossing a grenade at <span class="meta-field photo-desc " id="yui_3_16_0_rc_1_1_1406554548253_1419">Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Sarah Dietz.)</span></em></p></body></html> MoJo Military Mon, 28 Jul 2014 13:43:03 +0000 257041 at Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens' "Cold World" Brings the Spirit <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><strong>Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens<br><em>Cold World</em><br> Daptone</strong></p> <p><img alt="Naomi Shelton Cold War" class="image" src="" style="float: right;">If you pick up <em>Cold World</em>, get ready to do some foot-stomping. Like her more secular labelmate <a href="" target="_blank">Sharon Jones</a>, Naomi Shelton sings with a gritty warmth that will rouse believers and nonbelievers alike, while her Gospel Queens serve as a stirring foil, locating that sweet spot where church music and old-school R&amp;B intersect. This isn't a mere exercise in nostalgia for purists, however: Exciting tracks like "Get Up, Child" and "Bound for the Promised Land" boast propulsive grooves that will keep any party cooking with funky grace.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> Mixed Media Music Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:09 +0000 Jon Young 256856 at Fast Tracks: Imelda May's "Tribal" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="629"></iframe></p> <p><strong>TRACK 3</strong></p> <p>"It's Good to Be Alive"</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/tribal-300x300.jpg"></div> <p>From Imelda May's <em>Tribal</em></p> <p>VERVE</p> <p><strong>Liner notes:</strong> Riding an exuberant rockabilly groove, the Irish shouter delivers a message of hope.</p> <p><strong>Behind the music:</strong> A veteran of Jeff Beck's guitar sessions, May wrote this exhilarating tune the day after giving birth to her first child.</p> <p><strong>Check it out if you like:</strong> Big, confident voices, from Wanda Jackson to Connie Smith to Neko Case.</p> <p><em>This review originally appeared in the </em><a href="" target="_blank">July/August 2014</a> Issue <em>of </em>Mother Jones.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Media Music Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:07 +0000 Jon Young 252791 at Obama Is About to Give You the Right to Unlock Your Phone <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Ever wondered why you can't transfer your old phone to a new carrier? The practice, known as cellphone unlocking, is illegal. It probably won't surprise you that in the '90s, wireless carriers&mdash;who, for obvious reasons, wanted everyone to buy new phones and plans&mdash;lobbied for a ban.</p> <p>As I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a> last year, this ban isn't just annoying and expensive for consumers, it's also wasteful. We only keep our phones for an average of 18 months , and when we get a new one, the old one seldom makes it to a recycling facility. Many languish in desk drawers; some end up in the garbage. That means a lot of electronic waste in landfills, not to mention the environmentally hazardous materials such as <a href="" target="_blank">rare earths</a> required to make all those new phones.</p> <p>So it's great news that today the House unanimously passed a <a href="" target="_blank">law</a> that would finally make phone unlocking legal. The Senate approved the measure last week. Now President Obama just needs to sign off, which he has <a href="" target="_blank">pledged</a> to do.</p> <p>After that, if you unearth that old phone from the desk drawer, someone might actually be able to use it.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Econundrums Tech Fri, 25 Jul 2014 21:26:09 +0000 Kiera Butler 257011 at