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Image: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is reflected on the first day of the 113th Congress in Washington

House Science Committee keeps embarrassing itself

12/02/16 10:01AM

American politics is filled with cringe-worthy personalities and developments, but among the most dramatic embarrassments is the Republican-run House Science Committee. Take yesterday, for example.
The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology's Twitter account retweeted a Breitbart News article that is unscientific and steeped in opinion on Thursday.

The article claims the science behind global warming is "in its final death rattle."
"Thanks [sic] what's now recognized as an unusually strong El Nino, global temperatures were driven to sufficiently high levels to revive the alarmist narrative -- after an unhelpful pause period of nearly 20 years -- that the world had got hotter than ever before," Breitbart's article, written by a climate denier, told readers.

Most sensible adults would recognize this as nonsense. The GOP-led House Science Committee thought it was insightful and worth sharing to a broader audience.

The committee is led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a favorite of Big Oil, who is both a notorious climate denier and an occasional contributor to Breitbart News -- a right-wing website formerly run by Steven Bannon, who'll soon serve as the chief strategist to the president of the United States.

The broader problem is that the House Science Committee keeps finding new ways to make itself the punchline of a national joke. When ExxonMobil, for example, was accused of covering up its climate-change awareness for years, Science Committee Republicans stepped up to protect the oil giant.

It's part of a lengthy House Science Committee campaign to combat any public effort to address the climate crisis.
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Voting booths are set up for early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Counting the documented cases of voter fraud in 2016

12/02/16 09:23AM

Donald Trump doesn't appear to be comfortable with the fact that he lost the popular vote. I suppose it's hard to blame him: the president-elect is taking office with the knowledge that Americans were given a choice between two major-party candidates, and he came in second.

To make himself feel better, Trump recently declared that it only looks like he lost the popular vote -- which the Republican believes he secretly won "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Trump, of course, was brazenly lying, and neither he nor his aides have been able to substantiate the claim in anyway.

Nevertheless, folks like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the RNC's Sean Spicer have dutifully stuck to Trump's script, pretending that the fraud claims have merit, even though reality points in a very different direction.

Nearly all of the fact-checking pieces have thoroughly documented that the fraud claims are ridiculously untrue, but were there any documented cases of fraud? We know the "millions" claim is absurd, but was the total number of fraudulent votes literally zero? The Washington Post did some digging:
We combed through the news-aggregation system Nexis to find demonstrated cases of absentee or in-person voter fraud -- which is to say, examples of people getting caught casting a ballot that they shouldn't -- during this election. This excludes examples of voter registration fraud -- the filing of fraudulent voter registration information. Those aren't votes cast -- and given that organizations often provide incentives for employees to register as many people as possible, registration fraud cases (while still rare) are more common.
The Post's research found a grand total of four documented instances of voters attempted to cast fraudulent votes. Not four percent, literally four individuals.

And most of them were Republicans.
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Unemployment rate drops to lowest point in more than 9 years

12/02/16 08:46AM

The penultimate jobs report of the Obama era offered a timely reminder that the nation's Democratic president is handing off a healthy economy to his Republican successor.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, continues to improve, dropping from 4.9% to 4.6%. It's the 14th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower -- and the lowest jobless rate Americans have seen since August 2007.

As for the revisions: September's job totals were revised up, from 191,000 to 208,000, while October's were revised down, from 161,000 to 142,000. Combined, that's a net loss of 2,000.

Over the last 12 months, the overall economy has created 2.25 million new jobs, which is a pretty healthy number. And with one month remaining in 2016, the U.S. remains on track to create over 2 million new jobs this calendar year. What's more, November was the 74th consecutive month of positive job growth, which is the longest on record.

Remember, as far as Republicans are concerned, results like these were completely impossible. For the right, the combination of the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes, and assorted regulations would stifle job growth and push the economy into a recession, but the exact opposite happened. Nevertheless, Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers believe they'll "get the economy moving" by undoing the policies that pushed the unemployment rate to a nine-year low. Now that Republicans are poised to take complete control over federal policymaking, we'll see how that works out.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at the KI Convention Center on Oct. 17, 2016 in Green Bay, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Self-indulgent Trump embraces the permanent campaign

12/02/16 08:00AM

Donald Trump had been scheduled to give testimony this week in the "Trump University" fraud case, though the case was settled before the president-elect had to suffer this indignity. But a few weeks ago, the Republican's attorneys said the whole case should be delayed -- because Trump was far too busy to play any role in the proceedings.

And at first blush, that made some sense. Ordinarily, a president-elect has to maintain a rather grueling schedule, choosing a cabinet, attending security briefings, staffing his White House, speaking to international leaders, preparing a policy agenda, and even preparing for his inauguration. Every hour of every day counts.

But Trump isn't ordinary, and he isn't spending his time the way presidents-elect usually do. Trump, for example, is offered daily intelligence briefings from U.S. national security agencies, but he skips most of them. And instead of turning his attention to the enormous responsibilities that will soon fall on his shoulders, Trump yesterday made time for some self-indulgent celebrations of himself and his recent campaign.
[T]alking about trade and the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs, Trump broke free from his self-described "action plan to make America great again," and began what turned into a seven-minute monologue on his viewing of the election night returns.

He scoffed, talking about the Rust Belt and Midwest states, at the suggestions that his campaign wouldn't be able to "break the blue wall."

"We didn't break it!" Trump said. "We shattered that sucker."
He talked about the "fun" of fighting Hillary Clinton; he took a few shots at Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) for not supporting his campaign; and he took time to ridicule conservative independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin. We heard "lock her up" chants, which Trump greeted with a grin; we heard repeated whining about journalists and news organizations; and we even heard mockery of a protester.

If it seemed as if Trump was returning to campaign mode yesterday, there's a good reason. Indeed, the problem is that Trump never actually left campaign mode.
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Trump trades stick for carrots for jobs stunt

Trump trades stick for carrots for jobs stunt

12/01/16 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's publicity event at a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana after he used tax benefits and not the tax penalties he threatened on the campaign trail to convince the company to keep some jobs in the U.S. that had previously been planned for export to Mexico. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.1.16

12/01/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tennessee: "Three more people have died in the ferocious wildfire that erupted across Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorities said Thursday, raising the death toll to 10 as officials continue to assess the damage."

* A bit of a surprise out of France: "French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday he would not seek a second term in office in the presidential election in 2017, an unprecedented move that leaves the way open for other left-wing candidates. It is the first time in decades that an incumbent French president has not sought re-election. Hollande is the most unpopular president on record."

* A bigger surprise out of California: "Gov. Jerry Brown has tapped House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) to be the next attorney general of California. He will succeed Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November."

* This is an important effort worth watching: "A Republican senator and a Democratic senator have joined forces to try to protect DREAMers and shield them from deportation as concerns mount that President-elect Donald Trump could repeal President Barack Obama's executive action to protect them."

* Putin intends to play Trump like a fiddle: "After a wave of euphoria among Russia's political elite over the victory of Donald J. Trump, President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday gave a more measured response in his annual address to the nation, calling for cooperation but expressing misgivings over some of Mr. Trump's statements about nuclear weapons."
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Vice president-elect Mike Pence, watches as President-elect Donald Trump speaks during an election night rally, Nov. 9, 2016, in N.Y. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

The parts of the Carrier deal Trump doesn't want to talk about

12/01/16 03:50PM

As promised, Donald Trump is in Indiana today, celebrating himself for his role in an agreement with Carrier to keep some jobs in Indiana. "Companies are not going to leave the United States without consequences," the Republican president-elect declared this afternoon.

It's a nice little line, which happens to be ridiculous. In the case of Carrier, the "consequences" include the company accepting a ton of taxpayer money.
A source with knowledge of the state's negotiation with Carrier's parent company, United Technologies, said the deal would grant the parent company of Carrier Corp. $7 million in financial incentives over 10 years in exchange for a guarantee that the air and heating conditioning company would retain at least 1,000 jobs and invest $16 million into its Indiana operation.

Carrier confirmed Thursday that "the state of Indiana has offered Carrier a $7 million package over multiple years, contingent upon factors including employment, job retention and capital investment."
While the agreement is obviously good news for the workers who'll keep their jobs, let's not lose sight of the relevant details Donald Trump doesn't want to talk about.

1. Carrier jobs are still moving to Mexico. While the company will receive $7 million in taxpayer money to keep roughly 800 jobs in Indiana, the Wall Street Journal reports that Carrier "still plans to move 600 jobs from the Carrier plant to Mexico," plus moving another 700 other jobs that will be lost when it closes a separate plant in Huntington, Ind. In other words, under Trump's alleged triumph, the one that will teach a valuable lesson to American companies, Carrier is shipping 1,300 jobs from Indiana to Mexico, even as receives millions of dollars from the state.

2. This is the exact opposite of what Trump said he'd do. As a presidential candidate, Trump mocked government efforts to keep employers stateside with grants, tax incentives, and low-interest loans. Candidate Trump said that approach "doesn't work," which is why he'd use a stick rather than a carrot: "What you do is you tell them, 'You move to Mexico, you`re going to pay a 35 percent tax bringing these products that you make in Mexico back into the country.'"

Except, with Carrier, Trump's doing exactly what he promised not to do, ignoring the solution he assured voters would work "easily."
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House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., presides over a markup session on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The curious company Trump's HHS Secretary keeps

12/01/16 12:41PM

There's some disagreement among medical associations surrounding Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The American Medical Association, to the consternation of many of its members, is backing the right-wing congressman, while the National Physicians Alliance is not.

But it's an entirely different medical organization that's generating headlines this week, and for good reason. New York magazine noted today:
[T]he bright-red warning flags go beyond Price's policy stances. The congressman also belongs to a truly radical medical organization known as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. And when you look into the specifics of what that group espouses it's hard not to shudder a little bit extra hard.

Science Blogs managing editor David Gorski, himself a surgeon, summed up what he knows about the AAPS in a helpful blog post. The short version is that the organization stands at direct odds, in myriad ways, with some of very foundational beliefs of evidence-based modern public-health research. As Gorski explains, the organization takes what is basically an Ayn Rand-ian view of the medical world in which doctors are brilliant superheroes constantly undermined by government meddling in the forms of demands for evidence and accountability and things like that.
A Mother Jones piece from a few years ago added, "[D]espite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society. Think Glenn Beck with an MD."

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons last came up a few years ago when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has all kinds of weird scientific beliefs, noted his affiliation with the group. It wasn't encouraging: the organization has expressed "doubts about the connection between HIV and AIDS and suggested that President Barack Obama may have been elected because he was able to hypnotize voters." The AAPS has also peddled discredited claims about vaccines and autism.
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