News & Notes

Morning Reads: GOP’s New Plan to Kill Obamacare; Hedge Fund Tries to Destroy a Company for Profit

Good morning! Today is Johnny Appleseed Day, which you can celebrate by planting an apple tree or eating an apple or perhaps just using your iPhone….

Stat of the day: 61 percent — the share of young Republicans who favor marriage equality, according to Pew.

Back to the drawing board –> Sahil Kapur reports for TPM that House Republicans are considering cutting physicians’ fees for treating Medicare patients unless Dems agree to delay Obamacare’s individual mandate.

Radioactive –> TEPCO may have no choice but to dump “hundreds of thousands of tons” of contaminated water from the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific, reports The Guardian’s Justin McCurry.

Banana Republic –> Tony Romm reports for Politico that in advance of its announced merger with Time Warner, Comcast “donated to almost every member of Congress who has a hand in regulating it.”

Dirty money –> Prosecutors say that DC Mayor Vincent Gray knew about a costly “shadow campaign” waged with illegal campaign contributions from a large donor, according to WaPo’s Ann E. Marimow, Matt Zapotosky and Paul Schwartzmann.

Big numbers –> At Truthout, Dean Baker calls out the media (the NYT, specifically) for reporting big budget numbers without any context — as if people know whether $75 billion is a lot or a little to spend on infrastructure for a country of over 300 million people.

How’s that “free market” working? –> A hedge fund manager made a billion-dollar bet that a company’s stock would drop and then launched an all-out lobbying campaign to get Washington lawmakers to regulate it out of existence. Michael Schmidt, Eric Lipton and Alexandra Stevenson report for the NYT.

“Stuck on stupid” –> Protesters fighting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law said the Sunshine State is just that, according to Aaron Deslatte with McClatchy.

“The financial trade is controlled by old, rich white dudes” –> Patrick Caldwell reports for MoJo that Wall Street is fighting to block a rule that would require financial institutions to “self-assess” their efforts to promote diversity in the sector.

Unsustainable –> The population of Tucson has grown, and as the West faces increasing water problems, Slate’s Eric Holthaus wonders whether Tucson, Ariz., can survive climate change.

Outsourced –> TNR’s Alec MacGillis asks what the postal service is doing entering into a partnership with Staples, a company that faces bigger problems than the agency does.

Stay calm –> At The Atlantic, James Fallows writes that knee-jerk analyses of events like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 or Russia’s incursion into Crimea are too often wrong.

Coming home to roost –> TNR’s Danny Vinik argues that Republican rhetoric designed to whip up the base is making it difficult for lawmakers like House ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp to show that they’re serious about governing.

Everyone we don’t like is a terrorist –> Juan Cole writes that in the Middle East, everyone accuses their political opponents of being “terrorists.”

“This is your brain on murder” –> Salon is running an excerpt from Dean Haycock’s Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil about how the brains of violent felons show certain organic characteristics in brain scans.

Morning Reads: NSA Loses One in Court; Santorum: GOP Needs to Talk Like the Pope

Good morning — and a happy 74th birthday to Chuck Norris! Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we get up to speed for the new week…

Blocked –> Katherine Haddon reports for AFP that Russia sunk three of its ships to block Ukraine’s navy from entering a lake off of the Black Sea. Via: Yahoo News.

Midterm preview –> Slate’s Dave Weigel writes that there’s a lot more at stake than a single House seat in a special Congressional election that will be held in Florida tomorrow.

Rare defeat –> The NSA suffered one last week when a federal surveillance court ruled that it couldn’t hang onto phone records beyond a five-year limit. Brendan Sasso reports for The National Journal.

Chilling #Longread –> Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza didn’t leave behind many answers about what motivated him. But as Andrew Solomon writes in The New Yorker, his father, Peter, is searching for some sort of understanding.

CPAC –> Rick Santorum said that it would be much easier for Republicans to enact unpopular policies if they learned to talk in a more inclusive way — like Pope Francis. Dave Neiwert with the story for Crooks and Liars. ALSO: In the mood for a satisfying rant? Esquire’s Charles Pierce watched Sarah Palin’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and he is appalled.

Losing sleep for climate action –> Senate Democrats plan to hold an all-night talkathon to raise awareness of climate change, reports Susan Davis for USA Today.

Yutes –> Jesse Holland reports for the AP on a new study by Pew that finds millennials are “skipping church, marriage and political affiliations.” AND: At NY Mag, Jonathan Chait notes that they are a very liberal generation, and predicts they’ll change the face of our politics. BUT: Salon’s Alex Pareene points out that they share the same racial divide as older voters, with white millenials holding far more conservative views than other groups.

Fracked –> New controversy arises in the midwest over the extraction of sand for fracking. Richard Mertens reports for the Christian Science Monitor.

Fat pills –> In the NYT, Pagan Kennedy looks at new research that suggests our liberal use of antibiotics may play a role in our obesity epidemic.

Actually, it was Wall Street –> At TNR, Dean Starkman punctures the “big lie” that we were all responsible for the 2008 crash.

That hippetty-hop music –> MoJo’s Lauren Williams reports that amateur rappers’ violent lyrics are regularly used against them in criminal cases, and the Supreme Court will soon determine whether that’s prejudicial.

Not just the GOP’s civil war –> At Truthout, Herbert Gans argues that the US is in the midst of a bloodless political conflict with far-reaching effects on our society.

Everyone lived! –> A low-flying pilot and a descending parachutist collided in midair on Saturday, sending both crashing to the ground. Miraculously, neither was seriously injured. A photographer caught the incident on camera. Via: ABC News/ Yahoo News.

Morning Reads: ALEC Coming to a Town Near You; Ugly Ideology at CPAC

Good morning — and happy Friday! Here are some of the stories we’re reading as we push toward the weekend…

Jobs –> February jobs report beats economists’ pessimistic predictions but still shows anemic growth. Nelson Schwartz runs down the details for the NYT.

Ukraine –> The Supreme Council of Crimea voted to become part of the Russian Federation yesterday — TNR’s Linda Kinstler has a roundup of developments.

“Villages, towns, cities and counties” –> ALEC is coming to corrupt a local government near you, reports Ed Pilkington for The Guardian.

Not everyone’s sold on Hillary –> Sen. Bernie Sanders tells The Nation’s John Nichols that he’s “prepared to run” for the White House in 2016 — perhaps as an independent. At No More Mister Nice Blog, Steve M. reluctantly writes that running for president is no way to start a movement.

The power of corporate propaganda –> Keystone XL has overwhelming public support according to a new Washington Post poll, and the vast majority of respondents believe, wrongly, that the project would create tons of jobs.

And some people power –> Fifteen Vermont towns passed a resolution calling on the legislature to establish a public bank that would serve Main Street like North Dakota’s. Jon Queally reports for Common Dreams.

Separate and unequal –> At Dissent, historian Colin Gordon, author of Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality, writes about how growing inequality is tearing our social contract apart.

CPAC –> The annual conservative confab is underway, and Devin Burghart reports for The National Memo that “ugly racial ideology” is front and center. ALSO: Paul Ryan told a moving anecdote that appears to have been lifted from a book, according to WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler.

Is the dream dead? –> Salon’s Andrew Leonard writes that a libertarian fantasy has died with the unmasking of Bitcoin’s creator.

Theft is a crime –> But wage theft is rarely prosecuted as such. But in New Haven, that’s changing, thanks to grassroots activism on behalf of mostly low-wage workers. Melinda Tuhus reports for In These Times.

Getting it wrong –> At TAP, Abby Rapoport argues that the media’s beloved ‘establishment v. tea partiers’ narrative is all wrong in Texas.

Irony=dead –> Peter Maas notes that the NSA has an in-house advice columnist — and that one letter writer complained about being watched by his boss.

Threatening for action –> Chuck Schumer says Obama should stop deporting people who would be eligible for legalization under the Senate immigration bill if the House fails to act by September. Reid Epstein reports for Politico.

Probably not kosher –> Oscar Mayer has invented an iPhone app that — with the help of an external device — wakes you up with the sounds and smell of frying bacon.

Morning Reads: The Plutocrats’ Civil War; Big Oil Lobbying for Disaster

Good morning! Here are some of the stories we’re reading on another chilly day in NYC…

Kremlin Network News –> An American anchor for Russia Today resigned on-air in protest of the network’s Ukraine coverage. James Kirchick has her story at The Daily Beast.

“Clean” coal –> Spencer Woodman reports for Salon that the head of North Carolina’s Environmental Protection Agency is a former businessman — and a fierce anti-environmentalist and climate change denier — whose agency blocked multiple lawsuits against Duke Energy for its handling of coal ash. ALSO: Alpha Natural Resources, one of the countries largest coal companies, will pay a record fine for polluting waterways in five Appalachian states, reports Dina Capiello for the AP. Alpha acquired Massey Energy in 2011, and more than half of the violations came from that company’s operations.

Plutocrats’ civil war –> Dave Levinthal reports for the Center for Public Integrity that the GOP’s “civil war” is actually a battle between deep-pocketed super PACS. ALSO: Slate’s Dave Weigel writes that those Texas tea party challenges were all about fundraising.

Not your father’s Pope –> Francis didn’t go as far as endorsing civil unions for gays and lesbians, but he came closer than anyone could have imagined. Catherine Thompson reports for TPM.

Can’t have civil rights defenders defending civil rights –> In a minor debacle for the administration, Obama’s nominee to head the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was rejected by the Senate — with seven Democrats joining in — as a result of arguing that accused cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death penalty hearing was tainted. Ian Millhiser has the details for ThinkProgress.

That’s some democracy –> Rep. Darrell Issa cut off Democrats’ microphones during a hearing on the IRS’ scrutinizing “social welfare” organizations. WaPo columnist Dana Milbank calls him out.

Lobbying for disaster –> A report released this week projects that if Big Oil gets its way and kills decades-old regulations on crude oil exports, it would release the equivalent of four billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams.

Good times for some –> The headline on Julie Creswell’s NYT report says it all: “For Rich, ’13 Was Good for Making, and Spending, Money.”

But not for others –> Katherine Peralta reports for Bloomberg that college grads are increasingly being forced to take low-wage jobs, and it’s pushing out people with less education.

Small victories –> TNR’s Alec MacGillis calls the decision by Facebook and Instagram to crack down on illegal gun sales a “small but auspicious” victory for gun safety advocates.

We need a raise –> Eric Morath reports for the WSJ that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would save the government $4.6 billion in food stamps, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress.

They just want some dignity –> Chinese workers at a factory that was recently sold by IBM are striking, part of a growing trend in China as labor shortages give workers new confidence to flex some muscle. Keith Bradsher reports for the NYT.

Facts are hard –> At MoJo, Chris Mooney offers five obviously false beliefs that have become unimpeachable “facts” for far too many Americans.

Morning Reads: Putin Gives Unhinged Presser; Paul Ryan’s Misleading Poverty Report

Good morning! Today is the 244th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Winston Churchill also delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech on this date in 1946.

In newer news, here are our Morning Reads….

Ukraine –> Top diplomats from Russia and the West are gathering in Paris to try to resolve the crisis as international observers head to Crimea and the EU puts together an aid package for Ukraine. Lori Hinnat with the latest for AP, via TPM. ALSO: Hillary Clinton proves Godwin’s Law by comparing the current situation to Hitler’s aggression in the 1930s. ALSO TOO: TNR’s Julia Ioffe writes that Putin rambled semi-coherently during an hour-long press conference yesterday. AND: Ioffe’s colleague, Isaac Chotiner, looks at some conservatives who have developed a bizarre crush on the Russian leader.

Must-read –> A summary doesn’t do justice to this McClatchy report about CIA staffers facing potential criminal charges for monitoring computers used by congressional staffers preparing a report about CIA torture. Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor tell quite a tale.

Oops –> Rob Garver reports for the Fiscal Times that some of the researchers cited in Paul Ryan’s poverty report are crying foul, claiming that he mischaracterized their findings. ALSO: Paul Krugman on “the real poverty trap.”

Sludgeocracy –> North Carolina cited five more Duke Energy power plants in that massive coal ash spill. AP, via The Guardian.

Strange bedfellows –> Rand Paul and Attorney General Eric Holder are joining forces to push sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders. Steve Hsieh reports for The Nation.

Deep in the heart… –> For the most part, very conservative Texas candidates beat back very, very conservative challengers in the Lone Star state’s primaries yesterday, reports Manny Fernandez for the NYT. ALSO: George P. Bush — whom Salon’s Alex Pareene called “the GOP’s secret idiot” – won the nomination for Texas Land Commissioner.

Underfunded effort –> At AlterNet, Steve Rosenfeld reports that a referendum that would hike California’s minimum wage to $12 per hour is hugely popular but may not get on the ballot because organizers are running out of cash.

Profiting from the criminalization of poverty –> At The Guardian, Lauren Gambino looks at the booming for-profit probation scam industry.

In New Zealand, sex workers are human beings deserving of rights –> So concluded a tribunal in a landmark ruling, reports Michelle Chen for In These Times. 

OK, now it’s getting serious –> Chipotle warned that it may stop offering guacamole if climate change worsens. Emily Atkins reports for ThinkProgress.

Better late than never –> The New York Times corrected a 161 year-old spelling error brought to light by Twitter and the popularity of “12 Years a Slave.”  Katie Long with the details at Slate.

Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue –> An Arkansas GOP candidate for Congress has legally changed his name from Conald “Connie” Reynolds to ”Colonel Conrad Reynolds” because the latter sounds more manly, according to TPM’s Dylan Scott.

And finally, don’t miss The Daily Show‘s report on seafood — the “Mercedes of food” — and why it is an inappropriate food source for America’s food stamp recipients.

A Comprehensive Guide to the EPA’s New Pollution-Reducing Gasoline Rules

This post first appeared at ThinkProgress.

In a photo made through a chain-link fence, traffic is gridlocked on the Long Island Expressway into Manhattan near the turn off for the Queensboro Bridge, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York. New York's subway system rumbled partially back to life Thursday, though the morning commute was plagued by long delays and massive gridlock on the main highways and bridges leading into the city. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday finalized major new regulations that it says will create a cleaner environment, improve public health and help flight climate change — all by requiring oil refiners to put less sulfur in American gasoline.

While the concept seems simple enough on its face, the 1,000-plus page doozy-of-a-rule was adopted despite harsh objections from the oil industry, which said the new standards would cost too much to implement and do little to help the environment. But public health, environmental and even auto industry groups disagreed. The rules, they said, help create a cleaner vehicle fleet that will eventually add billions to the US economy.

Here’s a brief overview of the new standards — what they do, how much they will cost and the benefits EPA purports they will bring.

Why do we care whether there’s sulfur in gasoline?

Sulfur — that notoriously stinky, rotten-egg like element — is a normal part of gasoline’s chemical makeup. When cars burn gasoline, they emit sulfur, along with a host of other pollutants. Sulfur is not a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, but it is an environmental pollutant. When it’s emitted from cars, it comes back to earth in rainwater.

But sulfur pollution itself is not the real problem. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that the sulfur in gasoline actually makes the pollution-reduction systems in cars — called catalytic converters — significantly less efficient. More sulfur in gasoline means less effective pollution control. Therefore, when there’s more sulfur, there’s more pollution of every kind, including greenhouse gases and soot.
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Morning Reads: Latest From Ukraine; Paul Ryan’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ Con

Good morning — and a happy 64th birthday to Rick Perry! Here are some of the stories we’re looking at this AM…

The Big Story:

In other news…

Compassionate conservatism –> Paul Ryan released a report on poverty, and Salon’s Joan Walsh characterizes it as another empty attempt to rebrand the GOP. ALSO: At ThinkProgress, Igor Volsky notes that Ryan’s analysis actually shows that anti-poverty programs work pretty well. AND: TNR’Jonathan Cohn points out that the report undermines the rationale behind the Ryan budget.

Speaking of budgets –> Hunter Walker reports for Business Insider that Obama’s 2015 budget will once again include closing Wall Street’s beloved “carried interest” loophole that allows huge hedge funds to pay tiny tax rates. AND: Rand Paul is blocking a deal with Switzerland that would reveal thousands of ultra-wealthy tax-dodgers, reports Rachael Bade for Politico.

Messing with the spies –> Utah lawmakers are considering a wide-ranging bill that would sharply limit the government’s ability to use surveillance data — from NSA and other agencies — in criminal prosecutions. Michael Maharrey with the details at Turn it Off (a privacy advocacy group).

“Liberty” to discriminate –> Gabriel Arana writes at The Prospect that Hobby Lobby v. Sebellius — the Surpreme Court challenge to Obamacare’s contraception provision — might pave the way for discriminatory laws like the one that crashed and burned in Arizona last week.

More equal economies work better –> So writes Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic after a new study was released that supports the claim.

Government subsidizing a group that hates government –> Virginia’s House Speaker, a former national chairman of ALEC, spiked a bill that would have ended tax-payer funds for lawmakers to travel to conferences whose “agendas and materials are not available to the public” — like ALEC’s. Josh Israel has the story for ThinkProgress.

Jailed for working a legal job –> Nora Caplan-Bricker reports for TNR that people are still being jailed for marijuana that’s legal in their states, and no pardons have been forthcoming.

This one’s bizarre –> Rep. Steve Stockman, running for a senate seat in Texas, has threatened to “jail” people for publishing an old mugshot of him back in the 1970s. Erich Lach reports — and publishes the pic — for TPM.

Putting drones to good use? –> Facebook is considering purchasing a company that manufactures high-altitude solar-powered drones that can fly for five years without landing. They would bring internet connectivity to parts of the world without access, beginning in Africa, reports Sarah Perez and Josh Constine for TechCrunch.

Do you have to shoot yourself? –> ThinkProgress headline says it all: “Kentucky Churches Giving Away Guns To Help People Discover Jesus.”

“We often swim there!” –> The BBC offers images of a giant snake eating a large crocodile, along with a charming interview with the Australian woman who took them. Not recommended for those with snake phobias.

Morning Reads: Plutocrats Get Pushy; Pentagon Cuts Won’t Decrease Military Spending

Good morning! Eighty-three years ago today, “The Star Spangled Banner” — originally, “In Defense of Fort McHenry” – became the national anthem of the United States. Since then, most Americans have only heard the first quarter of it — we don’t sing about the “havoc of war” or patriots’ blood washing away the Brits’ “foul footsteps’ pollution” or “the hireling and slave” before baseball games. Go figure.

Stat of the day: Under 10 percent — the tax rates paid by a third of America’s most successful corporations.

Arrested –> Hundreds of young people were arrested protesting Keystone XL at the White House on Sunday. Emily Stephenson reports for Reuters.

What Florida needs is more shooting –> Henry Pierson Curtis reports for McClatchy that Florida lawmakers are considering expanding “Stand Your Ground” to make it legal to brandish a weapon or fire warning shots when you feel threatened — one of a number of anti-gun-safety provisions being considered. Meanwhile, Marissa Alexander, sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot toward her allegedly violent husband, has been told by prosecutors that if she loses a second trial, scheduled for July, she’ll be sentenced to 60 years. Jon Swain with the story for The Guardian.

Ukraine –> Maria Alyokhina, a founding member of Pussy Riot who was released from prison prior to the Sochi Olympics, has written a piece about Putin’s recent moves for TNR. ALSO: MoJo’Kevin Drum offers a pretty good prediction about how the crisis in Crimea will play out in our political discourse.

The definition of plutocracy –> The NYT’s Nick Confessore reports: “Clubs of elite donors in both parties are taking a more central role in shaping policy and campaigns, displacing party leaders and… outside-spending organizations.”

Another victim of the drug war –> Robert Duncan got laid off from his broadcasting gig, and after a while took a job working in a medical marijuana dispensary operating legally under CA law. He had no ownership stake in the operation, and a lawyer he consulted told him it wouldn’t be a problem. Today, he begins a two-year prison sentence. The Huffington Post is going to accompany him live later today.

There’s always money for war –> At Other Words, Mattea Kramer explains why those defense cuts we keep hearing about won’t actually lead to less defense spending.

(Alleged) sleaze –>  Wisconsin lawmakers are seeking to oust state Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer (R) after a lobbyist and a staffer accused him of sexual harassment at a Republican fundraiser in DC. He had previously been charged with “inappropriate behavior” at an ALEC conference in Chicago. Daniel Bice reports for the Milwaukee J-S.

A third party that’s working for working people –> Sarah Jaffe profiles the Working Families Party for In These Times.

View from the other side –> At Slate, Tik Root offers readers the perspective of a Yemeni family that lost four sons to the “War on Terror.”

Dems’ white people problem –> Jackie Calmes reports for the NYT that Democrats are trying to figure out how to win back less educated white male voters.

Buried lede –> Towards the end of this piece by Capital New York’s Eliza Shapiro is news that charter school mogul Eva Moskowitz is closing 22 schools for a day and bussing the kids and their parents up to Albany to stage a rally in support of charter schools.

Bad governance –> At The Nation, John Nichols considers whether Maine’s Paul LePage is the worst governor in the US.

Funny and scary –> The great Roy Edroso takes a tour of right-wing bloggers’ reactions to the fight over Arizona’s gay discrimination bill for The Village Voice.

Morning Reads: Hunger Striking CO Prisoners Force-Fed; Sad State of US Democracy

Good morning! On this very day in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick announced that they’d discovered the double-helix structure of DNA.

For some newer news, here are our morning reads…

Ukraine –> Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s fugitive president, showed up in a swanky Moscow hotel asking Russia for protection against ‘extremists.’ Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are calling the sudden appearance of Russian soldiers at two airports an “invasion.” David Stout reports for Time.

A little Guantanamo right here at home –> Steven Hsieh reports for The Nation that hunger-striking inmates at a federal “supermax” prison in Colorado are being force-fed.

Way to support those troops –> Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would increase funding for veterans’ health care and education, insisting that it must also contain new sanctions against Iran. Ramsey Cox has the story for The Hill.

Little democracy, please? –> The Electoral Integrity Project released its annual report which found that the US ranked last among Western democracies. “Experts highlighted concern over American practices of district boundaries, voter registration and campaign finance,” according to The Monkey Cage.

Related –> Bill Clinton is leading a nationwide Democratic initiative to fight back against restrictive voting laws, reports John Whitesides for Reuters.

Still fighting –> At ABC News, Abby Phillip writes that after five years, the tea party movement is still tangling with the Republican establishment.

Getting weirder every day –> At Slate, Katy Waldman looks at a new bill in Iowa that would allow women to sue doctors for “abortion regret.”

Fitting –> The only person to be found liable for fraud in the lead up to the 2008 crash, a notorious Goldman Sachs trader who still owes over $1 million in fines, will teach a class at the University of Chicago — a school that’s notorious for advancing conservative economic theory. Patrick Caldwell reports for MoJo.

Someone’s gotta get rich –> At The American Prospect, Virginia Eubanks looks at how big banks are raking in serious profits from food stamps.

Trigger happy –> Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy that a number of killings by Border Patrol officers have raised questions about training and accountability.

Great #LongRead –> Alok Jha, one of the people stuck on that scientific vessel stuck for days in the Antarctic, has written a great piece about the experience in The Guardian.

Some atheists are OK –> At Salon, Elizabeth Stoker notes the disconnect between CPAC’s ban on atheists and conservatives’ fondness for rabid anti-Christian Ayn Rand.

De Blasio –> NYC mayor fulfills a campaign promise by blocking three new charter schools, reports Rebecca Fishbein at Gothamist.

Losing clout –> At Foreign Policy, John Judis offers a fascinating historical perspective to explain why the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is no longer able to get its way so easily on Capitol Hill.

We saw that movie –> Mississippi man pronounced dead in his home on Wednesday alarms funeral workers when he starts kicking around in the body bag on Thursday. Via: AP.

Morning Reads: Big LGBT Wins; Did the Army Spy on Antiwar Activists?

Good morning! It’s International Polar Bears Day, and a leading conservation group encourages you to do one small thing to fight climate change. In the meantime, here are some morning reads…

Demonstrators celebrate after they learn Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB1062, a bill designed to allow Arizonans to refuse service to gays, at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LGBT wins –> A federal judge struck down Texas’ ban on gay marriage — the fifth such ruling since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA last June — and Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed Arizona’s gay discrimination bill.

Quite a few bad apples –> The Army disqualified 588 soldiers as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and drill sergeants for infractions like sexual assault. Progress, yet one has to worry that they still have jobs. Tom Vanden Brook reports for USA Today.

Not big on democracy –> Ohio cut early voting favored by African Americans. Zachary Roth reports for MSNBC.

Big Brother on your webcam –> The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman and James Ball report that Britain’s surveillance agency, GCHQ, has been spying on Yahoo webchat users. The Optic Nerve program reportedly targeted 1.8 million users worldwide in one six-month period alone.

Climate change havoc –> At MoJo, Jeremy Schulman reports on a controversial new study that looks at historic patterns of temperature and crime and predicts a significant increase in murders, rapes, assaults and other mayhem as America gets hotter.

Christie’s next move? –> Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss report for The Nation that Chris Christie is likely to attack public workers’ pensions, yet again, as he positions himself for a 2016 presidential run.

Blocked –> Sen. Rand Paul blocks Surgeon General nominee for agreeing with the mainstream medical establishment that gun violence is a public health problem. Sy Mukherjee reports for ThinkProgress.

Rumors of its death are premature –> In Democracy: a Journal of Ideas, Theda Skocpol writes that the tea party movement is alive and well and wielding plenty of influence over today’s GOP.

Army spying on activists? –> At The Stranger, Brendan Kiley previews an upcoming trial that will reveal more details about John Towery, a veteran who was allegedly paid by the US army to infiltrate, monitor and disrupt anti-war activists.

Point/counterpoint on a horror story –> A victim of kidnapping and rape was detained by authorities as a material witness and compelled to testify against her assailant. Many people are outraged, seeing it as a second victimization, as Robin Marty reports for Care2But at SlateAmanda Marcotte argues that while the anger is understandable it is also misplaced, as prosecutors ultimately “made the right call.”

All in on Obamacare –> Karen Tumulty reports for WaPo that some GOP strategists are worried that the party has put all its midterm eggs in the anti-Obamacare basket. ALSO: Alexander Burns reports for Politico that Planned Parenthood is planning an all-out offensive on repro rights for the midterms.

LIZ!! –> Sen. Elizabeth Warren made her first foreign policy address, stressing the need to focus more energy on avoiding civilian casualties when engaging in military action, according to Noah Bierman of The Boston Globe.

Cooking the books on Keystone –> Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Weiners has a good backgrounder on the apparent conflicts of interest that critics says tainted Keystone XL’s environmental review.

Trend yet? –> Marijuana legalization in Alaska is going to be decided by a popular vote, according to WaPo’s Niraj Chokshi.

Time to start thinking about a Prime Directive? –> NASA almost doubled the number of planets known to humanity on Wednesday when it confirmed 715 new neighbors identified with the planet-hunting Kepler telescope, reports the AP’s Seth Borenstein.

Morning Reads: Stand-Your-Ground’s Toxic Effect; Wal-Mart Linked to “Cult-Like” Youth Group

Good morning! Today is Tell a Fairy Tale Day, but we’ll stick to nonfiction in this morning’s reads…

Stat of the day: 43 percent — the dramatic decline in the obesity rate of young children over the past decade.

How the 1 percent cheat –> Credit Suisse used “cloak-and-dagger schemes that belong in a spy novel” to help thousands of Americans avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars, according to Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain. Dominic Rushe reports for The Guardian.

Now Georgia –> Dana Liebelson reports for MoJo that a religious-liberty-to-discriminate bill much like Arizona’s is moving swiftly through the Georgia legislature. ALSO: The Daily Beast’s Ben Jacobs reports that Arizona could lose the Superbowl if Gov. Jan Brewer signs the gay Jim Crow bill that’s sitting on her desk.

Heckuva job –> The Congressional Budget Office scored a proposed GOP “fix” to Obamacare, projecting that it will cause a million workers to lose their existing employer-provided coverage and add $74 billion to the deficit over the next decade. Sahil Kapur reports for TPM. ALSO: WaPo’s Greg Sargent looks at more Obamacare “horror stories” falling apart on closer examination.

Welfare queens –> David Cay Johnston offers some shocking numbers on corporate subsidies at Al Jazeera America.

Youth indoctrination –> Salon’s Josh Eidelson has quite a story about a Wal-Mart-backed campus “leadership group” that one professor claims to be marked by a “cultlike character, institutional corruption and corporate conservative ideology.”

Shoot-first –> Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick says “Stand Your Ground” laws are changing our culture in truly dangerous ways.

Trashed –> Alec Luhn reports for The Nation on the devastation left in the wake of the Sochi Olympic games despite repeated promises that these would be “Zero Waste Games.”

Didn’t get the memo that the Cold War ended –> Robert Shrum argues in The Daily Beast that the continuing embargo on Cuba is “America’s stupidest foreign policy.”

Disinvited –> Organizers of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference changed their minds and decided not to allow an atheist group to have a table, according to Dan Merica at CNN.

A matter of perception –> With six very wealthy Republican businessmen vying for Senate seats, The Hill’s Cameron Joseph says much will ride on whether voters see them as successful problem-solvers who know about creating jobs or out-of-touch rich guys trying to buy power.

Reefer madness –> A Maryland police chief testifying against a proposal to de-criminalize marijuana cited a satirical website’s hoax story about 37 people dying of marijuana overdoses on the first day of legal weed sales in Colorado. HuffPo’s Hunter Stuart with the story.

Will the Chamber of Commerce’s SCOTUS Winning Streak Continue with Key Greenhouse Gas Challenge?

In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, Filr)
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, smoke rises in this time exposure image from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, Filr)

The Supreme Court is hearing two major challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, Thomas Donnelly, counsel to the Constitutional Accountability Center, wrote a post titled, “Six Reasons the Greenhouse Gas Cases Are Worth Watching,” which detailed the background of the cases and outlined the political landscape that brought them before the court.

The first case was argued in December. EPA v. EME Homer was a challenge to the EPA’s ability to regulate pollution that drifts across state lines. Arguments in the second case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, began yesterday.

BillMoyers.com asked Donnelly to bring us up to speed on these potentially significant cases. Below is a transcript of our conversation that’s been lightly edited for clarity.

Joshua Holland: Let’s begin with the basics. Can you give us a little bit of the background of this week’s case?

Thomas Donnelly: Absolutely. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA is a follow-up case to one of the landmarks of the last decade in the Roberts court, called Massachusetts v. EPA. And that green-lighted EPA’s efforts to regulate climate change. It said that under the Clean Air Act, greenhouse gases are covered and that EPA must go forward and figure out whether or not there’s a genuine threat there, and if there is, must address it by valid regulations.

This case now is a follow-up to that, weighing whether or not EPA can now extend regulations to what are called stationary sources. These are power plants, large emitters of greenhouse gas emissions. And industry challengers, along with some states, like Texas, have come into court and said, “EPA, you cannot do this. You’re overstepping your bounds.” And EPA’s coming back and saying, “Well, the court said seven years ago, in a very important decision, that we have the authority to address greenhouse gases and the threat of climate change, and so we’re doing it here, and we’re doing it in a way that is consistent with the last five presidential administrations in terms of how they’ve interpreted this important provision of the Clean Air Act.”
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The Obama Administration Is Racing Against the Clock on Regulations

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Boehner, SOTU 2014

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

In January, The Washington Post reported that an internal White House assessment of what had gone wrong during a very tough 2013 concluded that the administration had focused too much on trying to persuade a recalcitrant Congress, and would instead focus on what could be achieved with “a more executive-focused presidency” moving forward.

Yesterday, Ben Goad reported for The Hill that new rule-making at various regulatory agencies is a vital part of that strategy, but time isn’t on their side:

President Obama has ordered his officials to step on the gas and clear as much of his regulatory agenda as possible during the twilight of his time in office.

The clock is ticking, creating a sense of urgency in the administration to crank out his new rules without delay. MORE

Morning Reads: UAW Appeals VW Vote; Suit Claims Big Oil & Wall Street Fixed Prices

Good morning! Sorry it’s Monday. Here are some of the stories we’re reading this morning…

Shrinking –> Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper report for the NYT that the Pentagon plans to shrink the size of the army to pre-World War II levels, and eliminate a new class of aircraft.

Fraud –> Bloomberg’s Christie Smythe reports that, according to several lawsuits, some of the biggest oil companies in the world conspired with Morgan Stanley to manipulate oil prices for over a decade.

Toxic water for thee –> Exxon Mobil is the country’s biggest natural gas producer, but its CEO is suing to stop a fracking project near his ranch. This prompted Forbes columnist Rick Ungar to accuse him of “exquisite hypocrisy.”

UAW’s long-shot –> At The Nation, John Nichols looks at the larger significance of UAW’s petition, filed on Friday, to get the recent vote at Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant overturned because of outside interference.

Propaganda –> Rosie Gray reports for Buzzfeed that “several conservative bloggers repeated talking points given to them by a proxy group for the Ukrainian government” — and some got paid.

Trapped –> At TNR, David Dayen argues that when millennials can’t move out of their parents’ homes, it’s a problem for the entire economy.

Bad diagnosis –> Dean Paton writes at Yes! about the “myth” behind public school failure — and the push for privatization.

15 yards –> The NFL is planning to institute a new penalty for using the “n-word” on the playing field. Catherine Thompson has the details at TPM.

Tackling inequality –> Some students and faculty at St. Mary’s College are trying to push for a policy limiting the president’s income to ten times that of the lowest-paid staffer. Ry Rivard reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Gun crazy –> A Florida judge ordered that several guns be returned to a blind man — with a previous history of gun violence — who shot and killed a friend and was then exonerated under the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. Scott Kaufman reports for The Raw Story.

And she better watch out for photon torpedoes –> George Takei says that he and other money-spending gays, lesbians and allies will boycott Arizona if Jan Brewer signs its LGBT Jim Crow law.

One more reason to hate them –> John Gravois reports for Pacific Standard that hand-made, artisanal toast is the “tip of the hipster spear” in San Francisco these days.

Here’s a Plan to Save the Post Office and Give the Working Poor a Break

This post originally appeared at In These Times.

In this April, 15, 2008, file photo, Jackie Doyle, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., second from left, waits in line to mail her husband's taxes at the James A. Farley Main Post Office in New York. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)
In this April, 15, 2008, file photo, Jackie Doyle, of Greenwood Lake, NY, second from left, waits in line to mail her husband's taxes at the James A. Farley Main Post Office in New York. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)

Your friendly local post office may have an honorable history, but it’s facing tough times, including a fiscal crisis and, more generally, a struggle to keep pace with growing digital communication technologies. Conservatives have increasingly dismissed the United States Postal Service as a clunky relic of old-fashioned America, with right-wing lawmakers seeking to phase it out through service cuts and privatization. Now, some progressives are trying to save the USPS by rebranding it as a financial vehicle: a place for you to pick up your mail and deposit a paycheck in one stop.

Some officials have pitched the idea of the postal service expanding into “non-bank” financial services, carefully designed to complement rather than directly compete with Wall Street. In a recent white paper, the USPS Inspector General’s office suggested that local post offices could offer products such as international money transfers, small short-term loans and prepaid debit cards for bills or everyday purchases. To fulfill needs unmet by big banks, these financial services would ideally be targeted toward “low-income areas like rural communities and inner cities.”

Ultimately, though, many advocates want to see the postal service be bolder and actually delve into full-scale banking services. Labor and consumer advocacy groups like AppleSeed say the USPS is excellently positioned as a government-supported, publicly accountable institution to fill a longstanding gap in the financial system by offering interest-bearing accounts and other basic banking services. In addition, branching into the affordable finance business would offer the USPS a steady revenue stream.
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