January 20

* Our top story today: Happy MLK day! Ed Kilgore has good thoughts on why Martin Luther King Jr. is still highly relevant today:

King matters today because so many Americans still want to deny the existence of injustice and inequality, and make the poor and the powerless offenders against the pride and self-satisfaction of the privileged.

TPM also has a nice roundup of color pictures from the MLK era.

* Tom Coburn is retiring, and Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) is going to run to serve the rest of his term. Who’s that, you ask? Never mind, shouts the Senate Conservatives Fund — whoever he is, he’s not conservative enough! Wonder if they’d be satisfied with a seal trained to bark “No-Bama!”

* David Dayen finds yet another government program, the “Hardest-Hit Fund,” ostensibly designed to help struggling homeowners, that is instead basically running them over with a half-track. Yet again, I question the inherent value of subsidizing homeowning, particularly for the poor. Maybe we can cut back on the massive mortgage interest deduction and direct the savings into rental vouchers?

* The International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has stopped its 20 percent uranium enrichment, so sanctions will be slightly eased as per the earlier agreement. Fingers crossed on this one.

* On a related note, Daniel Larison makes a good point: Iran has had basically the same negotiating position on enrichment since 2005, and there’s little reason to believe we couldn’t have has this same deal almost 10 years ago. In other words, sanctions have accomplished little except appeasing congressional hardliners.

* Matt Bruenig writes up some stories and research on what amounts to a basic income experiment among some Cherokee Indians. Turns out reducing poverty by straight-up cash grants has strongly positive results.

* Ed Luce has a great column on how, with the federal government gridlocked for the foreseeable future, all the interesting governance stories are happening at the local level, especially cities:

Only in the cities does gridlock largely cease to exist. And it is in the cities where America’s most significant 21st century trends – from deep inequality to cutting-edge innovation – are most vividly on display. They are also where the most interesting politics is taking place. Since Republicans control no US city of any significant size, the battles are largely intra-Democratic.

Paul Krugman chimes in with his own examples.

* Ned Resnikoff has an excellent piece about a spill at the Line 67 pipeline in Canada, which is being expanding to Keystone XL size. Turns out oil companies are chronically reluctant to invest in expensive, high-end infrastructure, and would instead prefer greater profits and the occasional disastrous spill.

* Speaking of which, environmental catastrophe corporate pro tip: If spill liabilities get too large, just declare bankruptcy, repurchase your assets with a shell company and offload the damage onto taxpayers! Ain’t freedom grand?

* National Security Agency roundup: Henry Farrell breaks down a terrible Sean Wilentz piece on Greenwald, Snowden and Assange. Will Wilkinson and Rick Perlstein have related thoughts.

* Do nations have hit points?

* Finally, on a fun note, this is the craziest mathematical result I’ve ever seen.

What else?