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Republicans fret over people getting health care and a decent wage
This morning... Carl Hiaasen shows that buying just one state government can pay nationwide... Kathleen Parker still has no idea what "religious freedom" actually means... Ross Douthat frets over the disaster of people being able to control their own destinies... Michael Tomasky wants to really introduce you to the Beatles.  And...

Dana Milbank checks to see whose pants are really on fire.

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn't the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work. ...

Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile. ...

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn't matter. Can’t look at that.”

Big surprise here: every word of Limbaugh's statement is a absolute, complete lie. It's not what's in the memo, and it's designed just to cast confusion around an issue where the Republicans are clearly on the losing side of public opinion.

If you have to constantly lie to defend your position, perhaps you shouldn't lead off by calling your opponents "immoral."

Come on under the squiggly thing to see the rest of punditry on parade.

Carl Hiaasen shows that just because the governor you bought is in Florida, that doesn't mean he only helps you in Florida.

The state of Florida has joined a lawsuit aimed at blocking a massive cleanup plan for Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay.

And, no, you can’t make this stuff up. ...

The plan was devised by six bay area states, the District of Columbia and the federal government. Its mission is to improve water quality in the rivers, streams and estuaries of the Chesapeake region.

A federal judge upheld the terms of the so-called blueprint, which will limit the amount of pollution being dumped, but the ruling is being appealed.

Why would the state of Florida try to obstruct the cleanup of public waters hundreds of miles away from our own? Because Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are complete tools.

They aren’t suing on behalf of the citizens of Florida; they’re suing on behalf of big agricultural and development interests that don’t want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcing clean-water laws anywhere.

Among the lobby groups trying to dismantle the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint are the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Home Builders and those famously civic-minded folks at the Fertilizer Institute. They want us to trust them to regulate their own pollution, and to hell with the EPA.

The GOP strategy for the last decade has been to focus on state governments. This has allowed them to pass laws that have hindered the rights of women, immigrants, voters and everyone not present at the Koch brother's shindig. It's also given the GOP an astounding level of control over redistricting, allowing them to keep control of the House even when they draw far less than a majority of the vote. And apparently it allows them to fight battles against federal agencies, even when they can't win federal office. It's high time that Democrats devoted more attention to reviving a 50-state strategy--and not just one aimed at electing a president.

Kathleen Parker is upset that the president isn't oppressing the right people.

President Obama gave a lovely speech at the recent National Prayer Breakfast — and one is reluctant to criticize.

But pry my jaw from the floorboards.

Without a hint of irony, the president lamented eroding protections of religious liberty around the world.

Just not, apparently, in America.

Nary a mention of the legal challenges to religious liberty now in play between this administration and the Catholic Church and other religious groups, as well as private businesses that contest the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.

Missing was any mention of Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor — whose cases have recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court and that reveal the Obama administration’s willingness to challenge, rather than protect, religious liberty in this country.

Yes. How dare the president champion religious freedom at the same time he is fighting to keep corporations from forcing the religious beliefs of their leaders on their employees. Religious freedom is a right that accrues to individuals, Ms. Parker. If you champion the religious rights of a thing above individuals, freedom is not the name for what you get.

Ross Douthat is worried. Worried that Obamacare is going to force people to not be forced to... um. What is it again?

When economists look ahead to the possibilities awaiting our grandchildren, they often see this divide widening even further, as the digital economy delivers rich rewards to certain kinds of highly educated talent, while revolutions in robotics eliminate many of today’s low-skilled, low-wage jobs.

This context is crucial to understanding the debate that erupted last week over Obamacare’s impact on work-force participation. The Congressional Budget Office had always predicted that the new health care law's mix of direct benefits and indirect incentives would encourage some people to cut their hours or leave their jobs outright. But its latest report revised the estimate substantially upward, predicting that by 2021, the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers — most of them low-wage — could disappear from the American economy.

That big number prompted Republicans to recycle their predictions that the health care law would be a “job killer.” As liberals retorted, this is not exactly right: These would be working hours freely given up, not jobs lost in huge Obamacare-induced layoffs. Any health care reform worthy of the name would have some version of this effect: If you weaken the link between insurance and employment, workers will have one less reason to stay at a job they dislike. And it’s easy to envision cases where the ability to reduce one’s working hours would be an unmitigated good — for ailing near-retirees, for parents of young children.

At the same time, though, the design of Obamacare — Medicaid expansion, subsidies for comprehensive rather than catastrophic coverage, and then the way the subsidy disappears if you get a raise or take a higher-paying job — makes the work disincentive much more substantial than it would be under, say, a conservative alternative that offers everyone a flat credit to buy a catastrophic plan.

So... there you go. If everyone had nothing but insurance against catastrophe, they'd still be dependent on their employer for anything short of amputation. So they'd work harder. Plus we need to give rich people the same subsidies as poor people, because that's the only thing that will keep us safe from the robots. I think.

The New York Times makes the case for a higher minimum wage.

The political posturing over raising the minimum wage sometimes obscures the huge and growing number of low-wage workers it would affect. An estimated 27.8 million people would earn more money under the Democratic proposal to lift the hourly minimum from $7.25 today to $10.10 by 2016. And most of them do not fit the low-wage stereotype of a teenager with a summer job. Their average age is 35; most work full time; more than one-fourth are parents; and, on average, they earn half of their families’ total income.

None of that, however, has softened the hearts of opponents, including congressional Republicans and low-wage employers, notably restaurant owners and executives.

This is not a new debate. The minimum wage is a battlefield in a larger political fight between Democrats and Republicans — dating back to the New Deal legislation that instituted the first minimum wage in 1938 — over government’s role in the economy, over raw versus regulated capitalism, over corporate power versus public needs.

But the results of the wage debate are clear. Decades of research, facts and evidence show that increasing the minimum wage is vital to the economic security of tens of millions of Americans, and would be good for the weak economy. As Congress begins its own debate, here are answers to some basic questions about the need for an increase.

Fun fact: had the original minimum wage from 1968 kept pace with inflation, it would now be $18.28.  The remainder of the NYT pieces provides a good primer in minimum wage basics, and is a handy thing to have around if you're arguing with a doubter.

Personal note: it is highly entertaining watching Jennifer Rubin rail against the people she cheered in the last cycle.

Michael Tomasky doesn't want to hold your hand. He wants to smack you into realizing just what a revelation the Beatles really were.

Fifty years ago Sunday, the Beatles first appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." You'll almost surely see clips of them on the news this weekend, or on tribute shows, japing with the press, smiling those cheerful smiles, singing "All My Loving" — and you'll probably think, "Oh, they were so cute."
That's today's conventional wisdom: The Beatles were cute and unthreatening. The Rolling Stones — now, there was your threat. And the Who, smashing their instruments. And numerous others, against whom the Beatles were supposedly a dish of vanilla ice cream.
It's ridiculous. If there's one canard I'd like to see these anniversary festivities flip on its head, it's that one. To the America that existed then, the Beatles were plenty threatening. To understand why, you have to understand the music scene of the time, and how utterly new the Beatles were in every way, how totally uncategorizable.

...

The No. 1 song the week before "I Want to Hold Your Hand" commandeered the spot was [Bobby Vinton]'s awful (and I don't hate him; he had some decent hits) "There! I've Said It Again." A song from the Big Band era. And the No. 1 album before "Meet the Beatles" parked there for 11 weeks? "The Singing Nun.

For sure, there was great, edgy music coming out of Chicago and Detroit and Memphis. But most popular music was relentlessly mediocre, candied, bleached of anything that might produce in its pubescent listener an impertinent or certainly a sexual thought. Even Elvis, once so raucous, was now producing lame ditties like "Good Luck Charm."
And then suddenly, this glass-shattering, two-guitar noise. And with all those crescendos and climaxes and screams. ...

In that first wave, in early 1964, most adults mocked the group. Highbrow derision came not just from the Nation but the New Yorker, the New Republic and the New York Times. This music was dismissed as a little disease that would pass.
And it's true that all this wasn't seen as subversive yet. That would take another year or two, when the disease hadn't abated but, rather, metastasized and started taking over the culture, becoming dangerous.

It's easy now, in an age where many people look on the Beatles as elevator music, their parent's music, their grandparent's music to miss what made them so important, and what still makes the important. Even if you've never been a fan, read Tomasky's piece.

Doyle McManus on Bill Gates on foreign aid.

"The belief that the world is getting worse, that we can't solve extreme poverty and disease, isn't just mistaken. It is harmful," Gates writes. "It can stall progress. It makes efforts to solve these problems seem pointless."

In particular, Gates is worried that too many people believe that foreign aid is a waste of taxpayers' money.

"Aid is a fantastic investment, and we should be doing more," writes the man who made his name as a cutthroat software entrepreneur.

As Gates put it to me in an interview several years ago, "If voters understood it, they'd be for it."

Public opinion polls suggest that he's right about Americans not understanding. Polling has found that most voters think foreign aid accounts for anywhere from 10% to half of the federal budget; the actual figure is about 1%. And yet, many of the same voters say they're willing to support foreign aid, as long as they can be convinced that it's effective.

In Gates' view, there's plenty of evidence that it is. "The increase in farming productivity, like the green revolution, that's aid; billions would have starved without aid," he told the Washington Post recently. "Measles deaths are down; that's all aid. Smallpox eradication, that's aid. Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox; it just doesn't know how."

Diana Gitig reviews the book The Monkey's Voyage and looks at how much the world has been shaped by some of the most unlikely journeys imaginable.
The new book The Monkey's Voyage asks a deceptively simple question: how did we get here? My grandparents took a boat to New York in 1948 after spending three years in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Nazis had just murdered most of their families. But how did kiwis—flightless birds—get to New Zealand? And how did frogs—whose skin will quickly desiccate if exposed to either air or salt water—get to volcanic islands like Príncipe and São Tomé, off the east coast of Africa? ...

The biologist Alan de Queiroz has collected much of this data, and he uses it to shoot down his vicariance-leaning biogeographer colleagues in his new book, The Monkey’s Voyage.

Darwin thought hard about how all of the different species got where they were. He had to fight people with a Biblical perspective, though he realized that it was absurd for all of the Earth's species to have dispersed from Noah's Ark after it alighted on Mount Ararat. These people thought God created each species and placed it into the appropriate locale. ...

Sure, Darwin showed that some seeds can survive in seawater. But for most terrestrial animals—like primates and other mammals—this method of colonizing distant lands would rely on a raft carrying a male and a female (or a pregnant female), along with enough food and water to get across the ocean without succumbing to weather before making landfall. It does seem somewhat unlikely. Spiders attached to a ship's rigging or floating on winds, a scientist could buy. Birds, insects, even plants getting across the ocean, ok. But monkeys? Come on.

Yes. Do come on, and you'll learn once again one of those real lessons of evolution--given enough time, even unlikely events happen over, and over, and over again.

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Sat Feb 08, 2014 at 09:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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