Paying For The Roof Over Your Head

Apr 24 2014 @ 5:16pm

One Bedroom Rent

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham map how much it costs to rent a one-bedroom residence in every US county (interactive version here):

No single county in America has a one-bedroom housing wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (several counties in Arkansas come in at $7.98).

Coastal and urban counties are among the most expensive. The entire Boston-New York-Washington corridor includes little respite from high housing wages. Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties in California rank as the least affordable in the country (scroll over each county in the interactive version for rankings; click to zoom). In each of those counties, a one-bedroom hourly housing wage is $29.83, or the equivalent of 3.7 full-time jobs at the actual minimum wage (or an annual salary of about $62,000). Move inland in California, and housing grows less expensive.

But renting is often a better deal than buying. Catherine Rampell is shocked that we still consider home buying a great investment:

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Yesterday, the DOJ announced changes to the clemency process. Philip Bump lists the new criteria inmates must meet:

• Be federal inmates who would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today,
• Be non-violent offenders without ties to criminal organizations or gangs,
• Have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence,
• Have no significant criminal history,
• Have demonstrated good conduct in prison, and
• Have no history of violence prior to prison.

Nicole Flatow further unpacks the news:

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Quote For The Day II

Apr 24 2014 @ 4:32pm

“For a journalist to write a book that says, in essence, that the struggle for marital equality “had largely languished in obscurity” until 2008 and the battle over Proposition 8 in California is tantamount to saying that the black-civil-rights struggle didn’t get going until President Obama was elected president that same year,” – Frank Rich on the Becker book.

Mental Health Break

Apr 24 2014 @ 4:20pm

Zack Beauchamp explains the Palestinian reconciliation agreement signed in Gaza yesterday:

According to the new deal, the two Palestinian factions would form a shared interim government within five weeks, and hold elections for Palestinian Authority President, PA legislative council, and Palestinian Liberation Organization council within six months. If implemented, the Palestinians would have a unified government for the first time since 2007. The Palestinian split had made peace negotiations extremely difficult, as Israel couldn’t make two separate deals with two separate Palestinian groups.

There’s some reason to believe the deal won’t hold. Hamas and Fatah came to similar agreements in both 2011 and 2012, but both of those fell apart. This deal doesn’t resolve underlying issues between the two groups, such as whether Palestinians should agree to a permanent peace deal with Israel or whether Palestine should be governed according to Islamic law. Those are pretty significant disputes.

Israel immediately cut off talks and announced reprisals:

The top-level inner cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “decided unanimously that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel,” a statement said after an emergency meeting that lasted throughout Thursday afternoon. Israel also said it plans to introduce economic sanctions against the PA — which will reportedly include withholding tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA.

Noting that past attempts at reconciliation have failed, Karl Vick thinks this announcement could be a tactical play:

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Starry-Eyed Youth

Apr 24 2014 @ 3:40pm

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Amanda Petrusich theorizes about why young people are more attracted to astrology than their elders:

While [Millennials are] hardly the first group to feel the draw of the unknown, it also makes sense that a generation that came of age with the whole of human knowledge in its pockets might find the ambiguity of astrology a little welcome sometimes. For people born with the web, information has always been instantly accessible, so astrology’s abstruseness – and, ironically, its promises of clarity regarding the only real unknowable: the future – becomes appealing. This generation’s predicament, as I understand it, has always felt Dickensian: “We have everything before us, we have nothing before us.”

But then I’m reminded, again, that inaccuracy, or, at least, a belief in the fluidity of truth, is at the heart of the present-day zeitgeist: Our news is often hasty and unverified, our photos are filtered and retouched, our songs are pitch-corrected, our unscripted television programs are storyboarded into oblivion, and most everyone shrugs it all off. Astrology might not offer the most accurate or verifiable information, but at least it offers information – arguably the only currency that makes sense in 2014.

Previous Dish on astrology here, here, and here.

Rauch On Eich

Apr 24 2014 @ 3:24pm

The obvious weakness in my own and others’ case for not wanting to punish someone who donated to the pro-Prop 8 campaign six years ago is the racial analogy. After all, isn’t opposition to marriage equality morally identical to opposition to inter-racial marriage? If so, why not punish and ostracize and get someone fired for opposing marriage equality as you would in a miscegenation case? I grappled with this at the time but Jon Rauch has a helpful piece explaining our position a little better.

Basically: gendered marriage had long been a settled assumption about the nature of what marriage is when we came along with the argument for same-sex marriage. Inter-racial marriage had existed as gendered marriage for a long time in some parts of the country, alongside anti-miscegenation laws in others. We were therefore asking for a bigger change than in the past – and one that had far less traction and history behind it. When you’re asking for more, a little more patience is necessary – and a little more lee-way for opponents is appropriate. We’re talking prudence here.

Yes, the opposition to inter-racial marriage had religious roots and rationalizations.

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The same Pew survey that showed the French to be so accepting of extramarital affairs also offered a fascinating overview of global attitudes toward homosexuality. One reader’s take-away is that public support for gay people doesn’t always translate into gay rights:

Only 8 percent of respondents in Germany, my home country, find homosexuality “morally unacceptable,” while 37 percent of Americans hold that view. I would have guessed that there was a significant difference between Western European countries and the US, but I would not have expected the difference to be so stark.

So considering those numbers, you’d think we’d have marriage equality in Germany. We don’t. We have registered partnerships, a form of civil unions, and most rights coming with them had to be fought for in the courts in recent years. The political left is for marriage equality. Standing in the way of enacting it in parliament are Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Before last year’s elections, Merkel was put on the spot by a gay voter in a televised town hall forum asking for adoption rights for gay couples. Merkel had to explain her opposition and she was clearly uncomfortable having to do so . One wonders if her opposition is heartfelt or merely a nod to her party’s religiously conservative wing.

The fact that whether homosexuality is viewed as morally acceptable or not does not necessarily go hand in hand with marriage equality is quite evident when looking at other countries.

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We learn something new from readers every day:

I enjoyed that link on the gynosome, but I think that your coverage of sexual orientation and biology focusing on things like 29saw_drawing-blog480bug penises miss issues about sexual orientation that genuinely fascinate biologists. The concept of “natural law” doesn’t really carry much weight with actual biologists, and it’s not all that surprising that there is an insect in which the female has a penis.

There are hundreds of species with these sorts of reproductive role reversals, including males who incubate eggs internally or even in their mouths, and in which female parental investment is limited. At this point, it’s almost trivial to point out that same-sex behavior and even same-sex parenting is common in nature, or that every possible variation on genitalia occurs somewhere in nature. Even in mammals, there are females with “penises.” Female hyenas have pseudo-penises bigger than those owned by males, and they swing their dicks with more élan and pride than the males do!

This is all entertaining, but it misses the deeper and more interesting question evolutionary biologists ask about homosexuality:

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The View From Your Obamacare

Apr 24 2014 @ 2:19pm

Not all of the experiences from our readers are positive:

I was going to get a new car, but the increase in my premiums sapped up the income I’d set aside for the additional expense.  So I guess I’m stuck with my 12 year old truck.  Oh, should also mention that my deductibles nearly tripled and my coverage sucks in comparison.

Another reader:

While I recognize the large-scale benefits of the ACA, we found its implementation absolutely devastating to our small business.  Our company is a medical device developer/manufacturer with about 12 employees. Because we employ mostly high-pay, high-skill engineers and scientists, almost none of our employees qualified for any sort of subsidy. Most of our employees are married and have kids, so they needed the most expensive policy, the dreaded “Self + Family” option.

Because we are a small-business, we did not have the H.R. resources to shop for private insurance and had to contract a third party to do so for us. And because we are a small company, we had virtually zero bargaining leverage with insurers. Larger companies in our area ended up with much better group policy offers from the same insurer as us. In general, our policies went up about $300/month per employee, and our deductible increased from $2,500 to $3,850.

But what is the absolute worst is that insane 2.3% medical device tax enacted to “pay for” the ACA.

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Obama Support

Nate Cohn highlights the increasing political uniformity of Southern whites:

While white Southerners have been voting Republican for decades, the hugeness of the gap was new. Mr. Obama often lost more than 40 percent of Al Gore’s support among white voters south of the historically significant line of the Missouri Compromise. Two centuries later, Southern politics are deeply polarized along racial lines. It is no exaggeration to suggest that in these states the Democrats have become the party of African Americans and that the Republicans are the party of whites.

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Derek Mead outlines the FCC’s new proposed Internet regulations:

While the exact framework has yet to be announced, it’s expected that ISPs will be able to charge content providers extra for higher speeds. It would likely be voluntary, which is a key legal distinction; if Netflix doesn’t want to pay Comcast for bandwidth, it won’t have to. And if Time Warner Cable wants to negotiate different rates for special treatment with Google, NBC, and Netflix, it’ll be open to do so. But regardless, it will mean that those that have money can cruise in the internet fast lane, and those that can’t will be stuck with what’s left.

It represents a fundamental shift away from net neutrality, which assures that end users can pay for faster speeds but all content is treated the same. Net neutrality proponents argue that such equality is crucial for the vibrancy of the web. If Netflix has to pay more for faster streaming speeds, it will probably just pass those costs on to users; if a startup can’t afford to leverage a better delivery deal, it’s going to find it even harder to compete with the web giants.

Tim Wu is dismayed:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.)

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Email Of The Day

Apr 24 2014 @ 1:25pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 9.30.11 AMA reader writes:

I’m a US Army soldier on deployment to Kuwait and read your blog daily. Like other government computer networks, the one here blocks certain content.  This screen capture, from the article about the gag order imposed by James Clapper on the intel community, is too ironic not to share.

Oberammergau Passionplay 2010 Final Dress Rehearsal

That may seem a rather strange way to kick off discussion of a book about the beliefs of Christians in the decades and first few centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. But it’s the question that lingers in my head after reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of A Jewish Preacher From Galilee.

What Ehrman does in this book – as he did most memorably in Misquoting Jesus – is explain how the texts that we have about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus came to be written. I am not qualified to judge the details of the scholarship – my knowledge of such matters is a tiny fraction of Ehrman’s. I know no Aramaic or Hebrew and very little Ancient Greek. Readers with more expertise may well, with any luck, deal with some of the specific controversies – such as the notion that Jesus probably wasn’t buried at all – as we go along.

But the book’s main claims about the origins and nature of the texts are not in any scholarly doubt. And bookclub-beagle-trthey challenge the traditional and reflexive mental universe that most Christians, and all fundamentalists, share. For many Christians in the modern world, there is an unchallenged notion of an inerrant text that contains what we have even come to call the “gospel truth.” It is entirely inspired by God. It has complete authority in Protestant circles and shared authority in Catholicism (along with church teaching and the sensus fidelium). It is the sole authorized account of the extraordinary story that changed the world.

And yet it isn’t the only account – we have many other extant Gospels that never made the cut. Those Gospels are not as compelling or as coherent or as influential – but they sure do exist. That very fact – established in the 20th Century – explodes any idea of “orthodoxy” among the first Christians. Like any human beings trying to grapple with grief and empowerment and fear and supernatural experiences, they did not understand them fully at first or ever. They disagreed among themselves about them. They had very different perspectives and interactions with Jesus. In the Gospels themselves, Jesus’ disciples are a mess half the time – misunderstanding him, betraying him, frustrating him, and abandoning him at critical moments throughout. Whatever else the Gospels teach us, they sure teach us not to trust Jesus’ followers for either truth or morality. Peter disowned him three times in his hour of greatest need. And most fled after his crucifixion.

And the Gospels offer radically different accounts of what Jesus did, said and meant. There is no single coherent account, for example, of Jesus’ last words in the cross, or of his first appearances after his death – critical moments that you might think would have been resolved as fact early on, but weren’t. If I were to come up with a phrase to describe what has been handed down to us in these texts, it would be a game of Chinese whispers.how-jesus-became-god

Does this rebut Christianity in a decisive way? For many orthodox Christians, wedded to the notion of a single, coherent and inerrant text, it must. But since the scholarship is pretty much indisputable, it seems to me that it is not Christianity that should be abandoned in the wake of these historical revelations, but a false understanding of what the Gospels and Letters actually are. In the end, the sole criterion of a religion is whether it is true. And if you’re misreading its core texts and failing to understand their origins and nuances, you’re not committed to the truth. You’re committed to a theology that has become more important than the truth.

And I’d argue that seeing them in this flawed and human way does not reduce their power. In fact, their very humanness, their messiness, their reflection of competing memories and rival understandings and evolving theologies make the Gospels a riveting tapestry of anecdotage and love and grief. I think that when you treat these texts that way, the figure of Jesus does not become more opaque. He becomes more alive in moving and marvelous detail through the distorted memories of those who loved him and through the stories that the generations that never saw or knew him in the flesh told each other about who he was. Is this human mess guided by the Holy Spirit? That’s obviously a question only Christians can answer.

My own view is that the sheer vibrancy, power, shock, detail and beauty of these stories – and their enduring resonance over the centuries – makes the presence of the Holy Spirit obvious. In fact, if we want to understand how God interacts with human beings, these Gospels show the way. Even through their obvious literal imperfections, a deeper perfection shines. Agnostic and atheist readers will of course disagree. But my point is simply that, for Christians, there is no need to be afraid of the truth about these texts. Because as Christians, there can never any need to fear the truth. In fact, fear of what such scholarship might reveal exposes a defensive crouch and a neurotic denialism that can only lead us away from Jesus rather than toward him.

The truths of this book that only the neurotic or defensive Christian will deny are the following:

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This doesn’t look good:

Ukraine has sent in troops to clear out occupied government buildings in the city of Sloviansk, sparking a new round of violent clashes in the eastern part of the country. The fighting comes one day after President Oleksandr Turchynov announced that Kiev would move forward with “counter-terrorism” efforts in the east. Some outlets are reporting that a number of Russia separatists have been killed in clashes with Ukrainian soldiers. …

Russian President Vladimir Putin, not surprisingly, appears to be seizing on the event as justification both for the previous annexation of Crimea, and a pretext for further incursions into Ukraine. He said using the army against the Ukrainian people is “a very serious crime” that would have “consequences.” The Russian army claims they’ve been “forced” to launch news military drills along their border with Ukraine as a response.

Civil war expert James Fearon of Stanford tells Zack Beauchamp why he wouldn’t call this a “civil war”:

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Quote For The Day

Apr 24 2014 @ 12:06pm

“I would absolutely concede that, while I find [Cliven] Bundy’s case completely unsympathetic, it is 100 percent possible to agree with his views on grazing rights without being racist. Where we differ is that, I’d argue, it’s not exactly a coincidence that Bundy also turns out to be a gigantic racist. Just like Ron Paul’s longtime ghostwriter turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. And like the way Rand Paul’s ghostwriter also turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. Presumably all these revelations have struck Tuccille as a series of shocking coincidences. Why do all these people with strong antipathy toward the federal government turn out to be racists? Why do all these homosexuals keep sucking my cock?” – Jon Chait.

The View From Your Window

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:56am

Island Pines, NY-11-29 AM

Fire Island Pines, New York, 11.29 am

The Dismemberment Of Sean Hannity

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:44am

Better not to take the Stewart bait sometimes (after the jump because of auto-play complaints):

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The War Over The Core, Ctd

Apr 24 2014 @ 11:25am

Jennifer Rubin sighs over growing right-wing distrust of the Common Core:

The rationale for Common Core is that state standards, even the best of them, are far too low, leaving our kids in the dust behind international competition. (“A 2009 study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found no state had reading proficiency standards as rigorous as those on the highly respected and internationally benchmarked NAEP 4th grade exam. Only one state, Massachusetts, had an 8th grade test as rigorous as the NAEP exam. Worse still, a large number of states had reading proficiency standards that would qualify their students as functionally illiterate on NAEP.”)

At a dinner with a group of journalists a year or so ago, [Jeb] Bush explained to us that while middle-class families in good school districts may think they are getting a good education, a significant percentage of their kids are not college ready and, in any case, match up poorly against foreign competition.

Jamelle Bouie, who doesn’t agree with Rubin very often, describes the opposition from conservatives as “near-senseless”:

Common Core was a bipartisan initiative, with support from the vast majority of governors, including Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who has since reversed course as he preps for a potential 2016 presidential run. What happened to make Common Core an object of hate for conservative activists? The answer is easy: “The Republican revolt against the Common Core,” noted the New York Times on Saturday, “can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it.” This near-senseless Republican reaction is just one part of a growing tribalism that’s consumed the whole of conservative politics.

Steve Benen points out:

It’s become so bad that in January, Common Core supporters practically begged the White House not to mention the standards in the State of the Union address, fearing it would necessarily push Republicans further away.

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Bonnie Tsui chides our aversion to ugly produce, which results in massive waste:

A recent report commissioned by the U.K. global food security program shows that of a given crop of fruit or vegetables grown in the country, up to 40 percent is rejected because it doesn’t meet retailer standards on size or shape. That’s a sizable chunk of the $31.3 billion of food that gets jettisoned in Britain every year. American supermarkets lose $15 billion each year in unsold fruits and vegetables. American consumers like their apples red and their bananas unspotted, so grocery stores comply—sometimes even dyeing and cutting to fit.

Changing mainstream culture to accept a crooked cucumber has bigger implications than just cost. Given that 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, food waste is a huge piece of the global climate problem. Last month, a new study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed scientists’ deep concerns about dropping agricultural production—as much as 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century. The panel’s researchers have also found that though minor improvements can be made to improve efficiency in agriculture, the real game changers will lie on the consumption side.

(Image via Flickr user comedynose)