Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.
Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 4 million. That's roughly how many Americans have been looking for a job, but can't find one, for more than six months.
Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: A map of poverty in America.
Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) income inequality and the 2014 agenda; (2) waiting for a boom; (3) transforming Obamacare from political liability to asset; (4) how the NSA distorts the privacy dialogue; and (5) is fracking bad for babies?
1. Top story: Can Obama make inequality the issue of 2014?
Obama will have trouble getting anything done in 2014. "The president's prospects are uncertain, as a plan to continue the expanded unemployment-benefits program for three months has scant Republican support and appears to be gaining little traction in the House. And some Republicans are signaling they aim to make policy demands in exchange for raising the debt limit, while the White House has said it won't negotiate over the matter...While much of the Obama agenda remains the same as last year, the White House's outreach to Capitol Hill will look different in 2014. Moving to shore up what many lawmakers had said was an underpowered effort to work with lawmakers, the White House has named Katie Beirne Fallon, a former longtime aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), as its legislative-affairs director. Phil Schiliro, who held that post earlier in the Obama administration, is returning to the White House, and John Podesta, a White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, will be a senior adviser." Colleen McCain Nelson in The Wall Street Journal.
...But here's what he'd like to do. "When President Obama returns to work on Monday following his two-week vacation here, he will begin the difficult task of rebooting his second-term agenda and developing a theme of economic fairness that Democrats can run on in the 2014 midterm campaigns. Obama is looking to the Jan. 28 State of the Union address to unveil specific proposals addressing income inequality, including expanding the federal minimum wage to $10 or higher, which administration officials said they believe could garner some bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and be successful campaign issues for Democrats in November’s elections." Philip Rucker and Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.
Democrats want to make income inequality the big issue of 2014. "The inequality campaign will intensify later in the year with a push in the Senate to raise the federal minimum wage that will be synced with President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, which is expected to dig heavily into the issue of economic disparity...The focus on income inequality builds on the economic themes Obama successfully harnessed to beat Mitt Romney in 2012. Democrats believe they can win again by spotlighting the growing divides between the rich and poor and daring Republicans to oppose legislation aimed at benefiting low-income Americans." Burgess Everett in Politico.
@jdlahart: Income inequality, segregation, quality of primary education, family stability key factors in economic mobility.
One of those big agenda items: extending unemployment benefits. "President Obama, seeking the upper hand with Congress as he heads back from his Hawaiian vacation, insisted on Saturday that lawmakers make restoring unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans who are out of work their “first order of business” in the new year...Mr. Obama said the program helped parents trying to feed children while they looked for work. “And denying families that security is just plain cruel,” the president said in the address, which was taped before his scheduled departure for Washington on Saturday night after two weeks on Oahu. “We’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough; we keep the faith with them until they start that new job.”" Peter Baker in The New York Times.
...Obama's effort is part of a broader push. "Gene B. Sperling, President Obama’s top economic adviser, said the program was critical to addressing the lingering issue of unemployment, providing emergency assistance for 1.3 million people who are still looking for work. “That requires a full-court press,” he said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “It does require more bipartisan effort to create jobs.”" Emmarie Huetteman in The New York Times.
...Republicans want offsetting budget cuts. "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains open to an extension of emergency unemployment benefits even in the face of growing conservative opposition to such a move. The Ohio Republican maintains the position he expressed last month that Republicans would “clearly consider” an extension of federal help for the long-term unemployed “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday. At the same time, a number of Republicans – including leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee – continue to question the need to extend the unemployment insurance (UI) benefits at all." Mike Lillis and Vicki Needham in The Hill.
Fifty years later, the War on Poverty is a mix of victories and successes. "To many Americans, the war on poverty declared 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson has largely failed. The poverty rate has fallen only to 15 percent from 19 percent in two generations, and 46 million Americans live in households where the government considers their income scarcely adequate. But looked at a different way, the federal government has succeeded in preventing the poverty rate from climbing far higher. There is broad consensus that the social welfare programs created since the New Deal have hugely improved living conditions for low-income Americans." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.
Map: Where can you find American poverty? Matthew Bloch, Matthew Ericson and Tom Giratikanon in The New York Times.
What voter turnout means for efforts to remedy income inequality. "The gap between rhetoric about income inequality and action to deal with it is sizable. There are many reasons for that, but one possible explanation, according to a provocative new book, is the contrasting views of Americans who vote and those who do not. The book is titled “Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States.” The authors are two political scientists, Jan E. Leighley of American University and Jonathan Nagler of New York University...“Voters are significantly more conservative than nonvoters on redistributive issues and have been in every election since 1972,” they write. “Voters may be more liberal than nonvoters on social issues, but on redistributive issues, they are not. These redistributive issues define a fundamental relationship between citizens and the state . . . and are central to ongoing conflicts about the scope of government. It is on these issues that voters offer a biased voice of the preferences of the electorate.”" Dan Balz in The Washington Post.
@blakehounshell: Shorter Dan Balz: poor people don't vote
In Congress, though, 2014 begins with shrunken ambitions. "Back in 2009, during the heady days of hope and change, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced 90 pieces of legislation. In 2013, amid gridlock and dysfunction, he sponsored just 35 bills. None of them became law. It was a familiar pattern. Members of Congress from both parties introduced fewer bills last year than in similar legislative years over the past decade. They cast fewer votes than usual. And, as has been noted, they passed fewer laws than in any other year in recorded congressional history." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.
...And mostly, they'll be busy positioning themselves for midterm elections. "Political strategists on both sides expect the debates to position their parties for November, even if the legislation fails. Democrats want to enter the campaign season with a slate of proposals aimed at income inequality, which will include the jobless-benefits extension, a bill to boost the federal minimum wage and other measures. They believe Republicans would pay a political price if they stand in the way of policies that polls show are popular among voters of both parties...The jobless benefits and health-law issues will test the hopes that the bipartisan budget deal passed late last year would be a harbinger of greater cooperation. The agenda holds several issues that allow for bridge-building once the Senate reconvenes on Monday and the House on Tuesday. Ms. Yellen's nomination is expected to draw support from both parties. Also this month, Congress is expected to pass a big, governmentwide appropriations bill." Janet Hook and Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal.
...2014 won't be the year for immigration reform, for instance. "[V]eterans of Capitol Hill and Republican aides — even those sympathetic to advocates’ hopes — warn that in reality even if Boehner is able to move legislation it won’t look much like the Senate’s bipartisan bill and that a narrower compromise could be worse than no action at all." John Stanton in BuzzFeed.
House Republicans plan to dial back the crazy a little bit. "By playing it safe, House leaders hope to keep their rank and file from leading Congress into a conflagration like the 16-day government shutdown in October. Republican political prospects have roared back since then on a wave of anger at the troubled rollout of the federal insurance exchange website under the Affordable Care Act, and Republican leaders are loath to jeopardize that momentum" Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times.
Budget appropriations will need to get done. "House-Senate negotiators are slated to meet Monday in hopes of narrowing their last differences over a $1 trillion-plus omnibus spending bill that attempts to fill in the blanks after December’s budget deal and avoid another shutdown next week...The Pentagon’s base budget, which is expected to end up near $488 billion, represents its own middle ground: $24 billion less than the House approved in July but $20 billion more than what sequestration once threatened this month. At the same time, non-defense appropriations will be restored to $492 billion — roughly the same level as before the March automatic cuts but less than what President George W. Bush enjoyed in the last years of his administration." David Rogers in Politico.
MACGILLIS: A loss in Seattle in the fight against inequality. "The first 2014 battle in liberalism’s newly declared war on income inequality was fought not in New York but on the other side of the country, in the Puget Sound around Seattle. And the results weren’t pretty...In November, by a 2-1 margin, unionized Boeing machinists in Washington state voted down a contract proposal from the company that included freezing their pensions in favor of less generous and riskier 401(k) plans, increasing their out-of-pocket health spending and limiting raises to just 4 percent over the contract's eight-year term. Boeing promptly threatened to move the assembly of its new 777X aircraft to a state with anti-union right-to-work laws, and received no shortage of offers of states eager to provide incentives and bargain-basement labor. Boeing offered the Puget Sound workers a slightly revised contract that reversed a proposed change in the length of time it would take workers to achieve the top wage, but kept the most objectionable elements, including the pension freeze...[T]housands of Boeing workers gathered Friday to vote on the revised contract. And it passed—barely, with 51 percent of the vote." Alec MacGillis in The New Republic.
Music recommendations interlude: John Lennon, "Working Class Hero," 1971.
DIONNE: The social-justice majority. "Why are we arguing about issues that were settled decades ago? Why, for example, is it so hard to extend unemployment insurance at a time when the jobless rate nationally is still at 7 percent and higher than that in 21 states ?...Similarly, raising the minimum wage wasn’t always so complicated. The parties had their differences, but a solid block of Republicans once saw regular increases as a just way of spreading the benefits of economic growth. The contention over unemployment insurance and the minimum wage reflects the larger problem in American politics. Rather than discussing what we need to do to secure our future, we are spending most of our energy re-litigating the past." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.
SUMMERS: Strategies for sustainable growth. "The challenge of secular stagnation, then, is not just to achieve reasonable growth but to do so in a financially sustainable way. There are, essentially, three approaches. The first would emphasize what is seen as the economy’s deep supply-side fundamentals: the skills of the workforce, companies’ capacity for innovation, structural tax reform and ensuring the sustainability of entitlement programs. This is appealing, if politically difficult, and would make a great contribution to the country’s long-term economic health. But this approach is unlikely to do much in the next five to 10 years...The second strategy, which has dominated U.S. policy in recent years, is lowering relevant interest rates and capital costs as much as possible and relying on regulatory policies to ensure financial stability...The third approach — and the one that holds the most promise — is a commitment to raising the level of demand at any given level of interest rates through policies that restore a situation where reasonable growth and reasonable interest rates can coincide. To start, this means ending the disastrous trends toward ever less government spending." Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post.
STIGLITZ: The great malaise drags on. "There’s something dismal about writing year-end roundups in the half-decade since the eruption of the 2008 global financial crisis. Yes, we avoided a Great Depression II, but only to emerge into a Great Malaise, with barely increasing incomes for a large proportion of citizens in advanced economies. We can expect more of the same in 2014." Joseph E. Stiglitz in Project Syndicate.
MANKIW: The EITC, not the minimum wage, is the answer. "If we decide as a nation that we want to augment the income of low-wage workers, it seems only right that we all share that responsibility. Plan A [the EITC] does that. By contrast, Plan B [the minimum wage] concentrates the cost of the wage subsidy on a small subset of businesses and their customers. There is no good reason this group has a special obligation to help those in need. Indeed, one might argue that this group is already doing more than its share. After all, it is providing jobs to the unskilled." N. Gregory Mankiw in The New York Times.
KONCZAL: Raising the minimum wage reduces poverty. "One funny part of watching journalists cover the minimum wage debate is that they often have to try and referee cutting-edge econometric debates...But instead of diving into that controversy, let’s take a look at where these economists, and all the other researchers investigating the minimum wage, do agree: They all tend to think that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty. That’s the conclusion of a major new paper by [UMass Amherst economist Arin Dube]." Mike Konczal in The Washington Post.
KOTLIKOFF: Abolish the corporate income tax. "I, like many economists, suspect that our corporate income tax is economically self-defeating — hurting workers, not capitalists, and collecting precious little revenue to boot.The fact that the marginal tax rate, whether 23 percent, 35 percent or somewhere in between, is so much larger than the average rate suggests that a sizable share of corporate profits and production is ending up overseas and untaxed. Making, rather than just stating, this case requires constructing a large-scale computer simulation model of the United States economy as it interacts over time with other nations’ economies, and then seeing how the model reacts when you change the American corporate income tax. I’ve developed such a model with three colleagues through the Tax Analysis Center, a nonpartisan research group. Our findings make a very strong, worker-based case for corporate tax reform. In the model, eliminating the United States’ corporate income tax produces rapid and dramatic increases in American investment, output and real wages, making the tax cut self-financing to a significant extent." Laurence J. Kotlikoff in The New York Times.
LIPTAK: Can we make justice need-blind? "Fifty years ago, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that poor people accused of serious crimes were entitled to lawyers paid for by the government. But the court did not say how the lawyers should be chosen, how much they should be paid or how to make sure they defended their clients with vigor and care. This created a simple problem and a complicated one. The simple one is that many appointed lawyers are not paid enough to allow them to do their jobs. The solution to that problem is money. The complicated problem is that the Gideon decision created attorney-client relationships barely worthy of the name, between lawyers with conflicting incentives and clients without choices." Adam Liptak in The New York Times.
CHAIT: Obamacare will go from 'doomed' to 'scandal.' "Obamacare — actual, real, Obamacare, with doctors and cards and everything — has been operational for nearly a week now. It has been … extremely boring. It does not look like Stalinist collectivization. There aren’t even any beheadings. It looks like regular medical insurance, except several million more people now have it than before...Obamacare will neither collapse, nor will Republicans accept its legitimacy, but the nature of their opposition will instead slowly morph. Gleeful predictions of imminent collapse will give way to bitter recriminations at the nefarious tactics used to make the law work. Obamacare will cease to be the something certain to destroy Obama and become something Obama has gotten away with." Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.
SUPER: The poor are most vulnerable to malfunctioning government technology. "[F]ood stamp and Medicaid recipients can only look on in envy [at Healthcare.gov]. Just as disaster-relief agencies keep track of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, students of anti-poverty programs remember a litany of automation and contracting meltdowns — some of them prolonged, even epic. Florida, 1992-93. Michigan, 1998-99. Colorado, 1998-2002. Texas, 2006-7. Indiana, 2007-9. The Colorado Benefits Management System is particularly memorable: When first implemented, it reportedly refused food stamps to anyone who did not have a driver’s license from Guam." David A. Super in The New York Times.
WALLISON: The bubble is back. "Housing bubbles, then, become visible — and can legitimately be called bubbles — when housing prices diverge significantly from rents...Today, after the financial crisis, the recession and the slow recovery, the bubble is beginning to grow again. Between 2011 and the third quarter of 2013, housing prices grew by 5.83 percent, again exceeding the increase in rental costs, which was 2 percent." Peter J. Wallison in The New York Times.
They grow up so fast interlude: A time lapse of what it's like to be 16 again.
2. Will this economy ever boom?
What Bernanke said at the AEA conference this weekend. "In his final major address as Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke said Friday that the U.S. recovery should pick up steam this year as the worst effects of the housing bust wane and Washington's fiscal tightening eases. Mr. Bernanke, who steps down from the central bank at the end of the month, presented a cautiously optimistic outlook for U.S. and global growth. Budget policies at both the federal and state level have curbed growth in recent years, but that drag appears likely to diminish this year and next, he said. Other factors slowing the expansion, such as the European debt crisis, tightened lending standards, and U.S. households' drive to pare heavy debt loads, also have diminished, he said...Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal last month estimated U.S. growth in 2013 was 2.1%, and they expected it to accelerate to 2.7% in 2014. Strong data on spending by businesses and consumers since then have led some to boost their forecasts further." Victoria McGrane and Pedro Nicolaci Da Costa in The Wall Street Journal.
...He also debated the secular-stagnation hypothesis with Larry Summers. "The self-appointed heir to Mr. Hansen's theory is Lawrence Summers, the former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama, who points to nagging sluggish U.S. growth since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000 and proposes more aggressive government spending in response. Mr. Summers first raised the secular stagnation idea in November and pressed his argument during three days of meetings this past weekend...Puzzlement over the causes of slow growth pervaded presentations at the AEA meetings. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke touched on the subject in a speech Friday, turning new attention to anemic growth in productivity." Victoria McGrane and Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.
Wrap-up: More important debate over monetary policy coming from Bill Dudley, Jeffrey Lacker and Charles Plosser this weekend. Tim Duy on his blog.
Explainer: Is the economy set to take off? Here are five factors to watch. Sudeep Reddy in The Wall Street Journal.
Here's a #slatepitch from two academics: Is the U.S. recovery actually strong? "The American economy is actually doing reasonably well — at least compared with what would be expected after a major financial crisis — according to a provocative study from Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, Harvard economists and financial crisis historians whose work has been attacked and embraced by the political right and left. The study, presented over the weekend at the annual meetings of the American Economic Association, rejects comparisons with regular postwar American recoveries, as other economists have made, and instead examines 100 major, or “systemic,” financial crises that have occurred over the last two centuries, in the United States and abroad. It found that relative to previous American financial crises, the current economy is doing substantially better." Catherine Rampell and Shaila Dewan in The New York Times.
Auto sales soar even as the rest of the economy struggles. "[C]heap loans and a surge in leasing have combined with pent-up demand to send the reborn industry soaring far above much of the still-struggling U.S. economy. Automakers sold about 15.6 million new cars and trucks in 2013, up about 8 percent from 2012...With the average age of the nation’s auto fleet now approaching 12 years, getting a new car or truck is a growing necessity for many consumers." Michael A. Fletcher in The Washington Post.
Where is deflation a clear and present danger? "German policy makers aren't too worried. A paper published in December by the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, proclaims, "No deflation in sight." In Germany, that may be true: The latest figure for November shows annual inflation of 1.6%, the third highest in the euro zone. But others are less sanguine. Jean Pisani-Ferry, head of France's economic-policy planning council, argues in an article for Project Syndicate, "It's past time to recognize the deflation danger facing Europe." With the economy operating below capacity and unemployment in the bloc averaging above 12%, prospects for serious blows to growth elsewhere in the world and subdued commodity prices, Mr. Pisani-Ferry sees a real risk of falling prices." Stephen Fidler in The Wall Street Journal.
J.P. Morgan nears another $2-billion settlement. "The bank plans to reach as soon as this week roughly $2 billion in criminal and civil settlements with federal authorities who suspect that it ignored signs of Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, according to people briefed on the case. All told, after reaching the Madoff settlements with federal prosecutors in Manhattan and regulators in Washington, the bank will have paid some $20 billion to resolve government investigations over the last 12 months." Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess in The New York Times.
Running tutorial interlude: The difference between sprinters and marathoners.
3. Democrats have a year to transform Obamacare from political liability to asset
Meet Phil Schiliro, the Obamacare fixer. "Shortly after his unexpected return last month, Schiliro met with more than a dozen Democratic senators to convince them the White House gets it. His message, according to a Senate aide present: I understand your frustration, and that’s why I’m here — to streamline coordination with the Hill, fix problems, deal with issues before they blow up. He told the senators to reach out whenever they needed him — morning, noon or night, on his mobile phone, at home, by email or any other means necessary...His sole focus, unlike McDonough, is to run point on the politics and policy of the Obamacare implementation. It’s the mirror to the tech-side troubleshooting job filled first by Jeff Zients and now by Kurt DelBene. Before Schiliro, there was no single person at his level tasked with thinking strategically across the board and managing all the moving parts — from the Hill to the federal agencies to the White House, administration officials said." Carrie Budoff Brown and Jonathan Allen in Politico.
Interview: The group that got health reform passed is declaring victory and going home. Harold Pollack in The Washington Post.
Obama administration to tout slow growth in national healthcare spending. "The agency responsible for implementing ObamaCare will release a report on Monday showing slow growth in national healthcare spending. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) will brief reporters at the National Press Club on what the Obama administration has touted as a trend of slower healthcare spending growth since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act." Jonathan Easley in The Hill.
HealthCare.gov defects leave many Americans eligible for Medicaid, CHIP without coverage. "More than 100,000 Americans who applied for insurance through HealthCare.gov and were told they are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) remain unenrolled because of lingering software defects in the federal online marketplace, according to federal and state health officials. To try to provide coverage to these people before they seek medical care, the Obama administration has launched a barrage of phone calls in recent days in 21 states, advising those who applied that the quickest route into the programs is to start over at their state’s Medicaid agency." Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.
Churning between Medicaid and exchanges could leave gaps in coverage, experts warn. "In 2014, millions of people are expected to shift between the health exchanges and Medicaid as their income fluctuates. That could be costly for states and insurance companies, and patients could wind up having gaps in coverage or having to switch health plans or doctors. The process — called “churning” — is common in Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor and disabled. Typically, people lose Medicaid eligibility after their income spikes temporarily, such as when they get a seasonal job or pick up extra hours at certain times of the year. They re-enroll when their income drops...Matthew Buettgens, a senior research analyst at the Urban Institute who studies churning, estimates that 9 million people will shift between Medicaid and the exchanges during the year." Jenni Bergal in The Washington Post.
New York poised to allow limited use of medical marijuana. "New York would become the 21st state to allow medical use of marijuana under an initiative Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will unveil this week. Cuomo (D) plans to use administrative powers rather than legislative action to allow a limited number of hospitals to dispense marijuana for certain ailments. He will formally announce his plans in his state of the state speech Wednesday." Michael Virtanen in The Washington Post.
States are looking to crack down on people who try to keep their kids unvaccinated. "A surge in cases of whooping cough in the state and a spike in measles across the country has the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment weighing new rules. One possible change would require parents to receive counseling or education on the benefits and risks of vaccination before they can opt out for nonmedical reasons. Such a move would make Colorado the latest of a handful of states, including Washington and Oregon, to adopt tougher rules. All U.S. states allow children to be exempted from vaccination requirements for medical reasons...Vaccines are "an incredibly important public-health intervention," said Rachel Herlihy, chief of the state health department's immunization section." Donna Bryson and Betsy McKay in The Wall Street Journal.
Cultured interlude: Symmetry, a palindromic film.
4. The NSA is using secrecy to overstate its own case
Could unlimited phone surveillance have prevented 9/11? "[T]he Mihdhar calls tell a different story about why the bureau failed to prevent the catastrophe. The C.I.A. withheld crucial intelligence from the F.B.I., which has the ultimate authority to investigate terrorism in the U.S. and attacks on Americans abroad...Yes, the F.B.I. could have stopped 9/11. It had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was coöperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks." Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker.
I could have stopped waterboarding before it happened. "It was the best—actually the first—piece of good news for the Agency since 9/11. And as acting general counsel of the CIA, it was a development that would come to shape the next few years of my life—as well as America’s burgeoning “war on terror.” I didn’t know it then, but Zubaydah’s capture would set the stage for some of the most consequential, and controversial, legal choices the Bush administration would confront." John Rizzo in Politico Magazine.
The clemency-for-Snowden debate continues. "The whistleblower-versus-traitor argument has taken on a new dimension with recent moves to curtail the programs that Mr. Snowden revealed. A federal judge ruled that one program was probably unconstitutional, technology companies are demanding changes, lawmakers are considering restrictions, and even a White House panel urged modifications. If the programs are so debatable, advocates for Mr. Snowden argue, then he should not be punished for bringing them to light." Peter Baker in The New York Times.
Senators have taken sharp sides on this. "Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian-minded Republican, said he disagreed with those who have argued for the most severe penalties for Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor...But a leading Democrat, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, took a directly opposing view. “I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea-bargain with him prior to him coming back,” Mr. Schumer said." Brian Knowlton in The New York Times.
Your daily dose of crazy interlude: Roscoe Bartlett has gone off the grid.
5. How clean is fracking?
Study: Fracking is bad for babies. "In a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers -- Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent." Mark Whitehouse in Bloomberg.
Wall Street has fallen in love with solar power. "SolarCity has captured investors’ imaginations and become a potent symbol of a stock market ascent that makes the vertigo-inducing heights of Twitter seem tame. SolarCity’s share price, which closed at $59.27 on Friday, has soared more than sevenfold since it went public, and the company, which did not exist eight years ago, is valued at roughly $4.9 billion. Depending on whom you talk to, the rise of SolarCity and similar companies is either a sure sign that solar power is finally having its day or that yet another mania has gripped the markets. Two other companies, SunPower and SunEdison, have also exploded in value. In all, an estimated $13 billion was invested in solar projects in 2013, a tenfold increase since 2007." Diane Cardwell and Julie Creswell in The New York Times.
The left turns against science on GMOs. "Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones." Amy Harmon in The New York Times.
Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.
Economists agree: Raising the minimum wage reduces poverty. Mike Konczal.
Must-read profile: Dick Metcalf, the gun writer who was banished for questioning the gun-rights gospel. Ravi Somaiya in The New York Times.
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