Friday, April 18, 2014

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

TPM

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.
The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.
"Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Obama’s budget would cut the deficit by $1.05 trillion, says Congressional Budget Office

RAW STORY

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request would boost U.S. tax revenues by nearly $1.4 trillion over 10 years if fully enacted, slashing deficits by $1.05 trillion while funding new spending, the Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday.
There is virtually no chance that Congress will advance Obama’s plan in its entirety. But the CBO’s latest analysis will feed campaign messaging by both Democrats and Republicans ahead of congressional elections in November.
The analysis compares Obama’s request to a new “baseline” estimate that CBO released last week that assumes no changes to current tax and spending laws.
But Obama’s budget plan is loaded with new policy changes, including an assumption that sweeping immigration reforms are enacted, producing a net 10-year deficit reduction of $158 billion.
It proposes to boost revenues by limiting tax breaks for wealthy Americans and businesses, imposing a new tax on millionaires, raising tobacco taxes, and restoring estate and gift taxes to their previously higher, 2009 levels.
At the same time, it would boost spending by expanding cash tax credits for low-income Americans, canceling the “sequester” automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs, and increasing funds for job training programs, among other changes.
Republicans, who last week in the House of Representatives passed an austere, 10-year balanced budget plan with deep domestic spending cuts and no tax increases, will focus their criticism on tax hikes in Obama’s plan. Democrats, who are basing their re-election campaigns on efforts to reduce the gap between rich and poor, are expected to highlight Obama’s proposals to aid the middle class and the poor.
The CBO analysis shows that Obama’s budget plan would increase deficits slightly relative to current law in fiscal 2014 and 2015, with deficits just above $500 billion in both years.
Deficits in later years of the 10-year budget window would begin to rise again in both Obama’s plan and the current-law CBO estimate as more of the Baby Boom generation retires and draws federal benefits. But deficits under Obama’s plan in those years would be lower than the CBO baseline as the new revenue measures gain steam.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Missouri Mayor Says He 'Kind Of Agreed' With Alleged Jewish Center Shooter

TPM

Marionville, Mo. Mayor Dan Clevenger spoke warmly this week of Frazier Glenn Miller, who allegedly went on a killing rampage on Sunday in Overland Park, Kan.
"He was always nice and friendly and respectful of elder people, you know, he respected his elders greatly. As long as they were the same color as him," Clevenger said while laughing, according to television station KSPR. "Very fair and honest and never had a bit of problems out of him."
Clevenger said he sympathized with some of Miller's views, but didn't like to broadcast that.
"Kind of agreed with him on some things but, I don't like to express that too much," Clevenger, the owner of a local repair shop, said.
He told CNN this week that he didn't buy some of Miller's claims.
"He had a lot of hate built up inside of him," Clevenger said. "And every time he'd come down here, he'd go on about different races -- mainly Jews. He claims they're all bad, but I don't believe that."
However, KSPR unearthed a letter to the editor that the mayor sent nearly a decade ago to a newspaper in Aurora, Mo. in which he expressed admiration for Miller's mission.
"I am a friend of Frazier Miller helping to spread his warnings," Clevenger wrote, according to KSPR. "The Jew-run medical industry has succeeded in destroying the United State's workforce."
Clevenger also reportedly wrote that the "Jew-run government backed banking industry turned the U.S into the world's largest debtor nation."
He seemed to stand by those positions in his interview with KSPR, blaming Jews for the country's economic woes.
"There some things that are going on in this country that are destroying us. We've got a false economy and it's, some of those corporations are run by Jews because the names are there," he said. "The fact that the Federal Reserve prints up phony money and freely hands it out, I think that's completely wrong. The people that run the Federal Reserve, they're Jewish."
But Clevenger denounced Miller's alleged violence, calling the deadly shooting "terrible."
"He didn't have any right to do that and I think he should pay with his life," Clevenger said.

Update: TPM reached Clevenger, who said he's "all done" talking about Miller.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pollution From Asia Makes Pacific Storms Stronger

nationalgeographic.com

What happens in Asia doesn't stay in Asia, a new study warns. Pollution from booming economies in the Far East is causing stronger storms and changing weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean, which in turn is changing weather in North America, scientists report.

"Whether the weather [in North America] will change in a good direction or bad is hard to say at this time," says Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station. Zhang is a co-author, along with several scientists from the U.S. and China, of a study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

The scientists say pollution from Asia is likely leading to stronger cyclones in the midlatitudes of the Pacific, more precipitation, and a faster movement of heat from the tropics toward the North Pole. As a result of these changes, "it's almost certain that weather in the U.S. is changing," says Zhang.

Smaller Drops, Bigger Storms

Zhang and his colleagues used computer modeling to study the effects on the weather of aerosols, which are fine particles suspended in the air. The main natural aerosols over the Pacific are sea salt tossed up by waves and dust blown off the land.

But those natural particles are now increasingly outnumbered by human-made ones. According to Zhang, the most significant aerosols the team considered are sulfates, which are emitted primarily by coal-fired power plants. Other aerosol pollutants are released by vehicle emissions and industrial activities.

In the atmosphere, such aerosols scatter and absorb sunlight, and thus have both cooling and warming effects on climate. But they also affect the formation of clouds and precipitation—and the magnitude of that indirect effect on clouds is one of the biggest uncertainties hampering scientists' ability to forecast climate change.

Clouds form when water vapor condenses around aerosol particles to form liquid droplets. Because pollution increases the number of particles, it leads to more water droplets—but smaller ones. Those smaller droplets in turn rise to greater heights in the atmosphere—and even form ice—before they precipitate back out.

In an earlier paper, Zhang and his colleagues used satellite data to show that the amount of "deep convective clouds," including thunderstorms, had increased over the North Pacific between 1984 and 2005. The most likely reason, they concluded, was an increase in aerosol pollution from Asia. "The intensified Pacific storm track likely has profound implications for climate," they wrote.

Global Effects

In the recent study the scientists took a first stab at considering those global implications. Standard global climate models simulate the atmosphere at grid points that are too widely spaced to resolve the fine-scale processes involved in cloud formation—which is one reason clouds remain such a knotty problem for climate scientists. But the researchers found a way to embed a "cloud resolving model" into a conventional climate model.

They then used that "multiscale" model to compare the preindustrial atmosphere of 1850, when levels of aerosol pollution over the Pacific were low, with the present atmosphere.

The simulations confirmed that human-made aerosols are now spreading across the Pacific and having large effects on the storms that sweep east during winter. The storms are more vigorous than they would be without pollution, with more ice and a broader "anvil" shape to the cloud tops. And those more vigorous storms are having a significant effect on the global atmosphere: They're increasing the flow of heat from the equatorial region toward the Arctic, says Zhang.

What about North America? The Pacific storm track has a big effect on American weather, and large-scale natural changes like El Niño and La Niña are known to disrupt its usual pattern, leading to floods and droughts.

"What we have shown is that aerosols from Asia can get transported over the Pacific and change weather in North America," Zhang says—but nailing down the nature of the change will require more research.

"We've been getting some weird weather, such as a very cold winter [in the eastern U.S.], so the next question is, does that have something to do with Asian pollution?"

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Cage The Elephant - Ain't No Rest For The Wicked

Pic Of The Moment: Obama Administration Exonerated On Benghazi

CBO Lowers Obamacare's Price Tag By $104 Billion Over 10 Years

TPM

CBO projected that the federal government would spend $164 billion less than previously expected on Obamacare subsidies by 2024. It appears that a number of factors contributed to that change. Premiums, especially in the near term, are expected to be lower than previously projected: The office estimated premiums would rise on average by about $100 in 2015. They are still expected to rise over the next decade, but at a lower rate than previously thought.
It's a combination of rising medical costs, a healthier enrollment population in 2015 and the make-up of the Obamacare plans, which have narrower provider networks and lower provider payments than their counterparts in the large-group market, that contribute to the CBO's calculations on premiums. Other changes, such as a smaller under-65 population, also factored into the revisions.
The savings on subsidies are somewhat offset by other revisions by CBO, including fewer individual mandate penalty payments and an estimated increase in the number of active workers with employer-based coverage (about 1 million per year), which decreases expected federal revenues.
The net effect is that the law is projected to cost $104 billion less over 10 years than CBO's most recent estimate in February 2014.