Free lunch department
May 5, 2014

As I've been writing repeatedly for my entire professional career, the U.S. is in a mild depression. It's been this way for six years now. Aside from the terrible effects of unnecessary mass unemployment, the second most infuriating aspect of this situation is the way we've behaved with respect to our national infrastructure. With construction unemployment very high, borrowing costs at historic lows, and materials cheap, we've been not just ignoring a chance for cheap new projects that would put people to work, but skimping on critical maintenance, leading to much more expensive catastrophic failures.

Luckily, world-best transit blogger Alon Levy is here with a set of utter no-brainer infrastructure projects — and not just the most famous ones, these are underrated projects that don't get much attention relative to their likely payoff. There are four in New York, two in Boston, and one in San Francisco (and one in Toronto, but we'll leave that to the Canadians). In a sensible country, these projects would be on the drawing board tomorrow.

It's a wholly worthy effort. Check it out. Ryan Cooper

on deadline
1:43 p.m. ET

As world leaders convene in Paris for the latest round of United Nations' climate change talks, New York Times energy reporter Coral Davenport shared an inside look Monday at what the marathon negotiation sessions are like. She describes the experience as "the most physically grueling work you can do in a suit," and has learned to bring along a case of Clif bars, hand warmers (in case of long security lines outside), and a sleeping bag.

Here's what she said of the 2014 summit in Lima, Peru:

Negotiators worked on Friday night through about 3 a.m. and then announced a 4-hour break. Bleary and delirious delegates staggered out of their meetings, many too exhausted to avoid reporters, and those of us who had been lying in wait were able to elicit punchy and candid quotes from typically cautious and reticent delegates.

Is it possible that this method is not the best for forging sweeping — and complicated — legal deals designed to save the planet and reshape the global economy? [The New York Times]

Davenport noted that although French President François Hollande is setting tight deadlines in the hopes of avoiding any spillover from the talks, the government booked the convention center for a couple of extra days. After all, in 23 years of annual talks, they've never ended on time, according to Davenport.

"Much like college students and the United States Congress, United Nations negotiators are notorious for leaving everything to the last minute," she wrote.

Read more about Davenport's experiences here. Julie Kliegman

women's health
1:29 p.m. ET

Following a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday that left three dead and nine injured, current and former employees of the women's health organization took to social media to stress that acts of terrorism and intimidation aren't rare — in fact, they're almost routine.

Writer Bryn Greenwood of Kansas tweeted about her experience working for three years at a Planned Parenthood clinic that regularly weathered attacks:

The Twitter account @ClinicEscort likewise compiled a list of 100 attacks on women's health clinics, Planned Parenthoods, and reproductive health doctors in the past 40 years, including multiple arsons, bombings, shootings, and a kidnapping:

Some states have announced that they are upping police patrols of Planned Parenthood clinics out of concern for the security of employees and patients. You can read more about what it's like to be a Planned Parenthood volunteer here. Jeva Lange

12:45 p.m. ET

One university president recently sent a strong message to students who raise concerns over campus activities, including lectures and sermons, that make them feel uncomfortable: "This is not a day care," wrote Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in a blog post spotted by Inside Higher Ed Monday. "This is a university!"

In the midst of debates over campus protests and trigger warnings, Piper wrote of a student who he said recently spoke to him about a university chapel sermon that made him feel bad for not showing love. Here's the president's response to him, and to other students who may feel similarly:

If you want the chaplain to tell you you're a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you're looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you're more interested in playing the "hater" card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don't want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn't one of them. [Oklahoma Wesleyan University]

As the New York Daily News points out, this isn't the first time Piper has written such a strongly worded defense of conservative values. Read Piper's full post here. Julie Kliegman

11:56 a.m. ET

In a report published Monday, members of a British parliament health committee asked Prime Minister David Cameron to drop his opposition to imposing a 20 percent tax on sugary drinks, BBC News reports. The cross-party committee wrote:

The scale and consequences of childhood obesity demand bold and urgent action. We believe that if the government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. We urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children's health and life chances through his childhood obesity strategy. [House of Commons Health Committee]

Dr. Sarah Wollaston, the conservative legislator who chairs the committee, argued in a Guardian opinion piece Monday that taxing soft drinks would cut back on kids' consumption, which could in turn help lower obesity rates. Cameron isn't the only one who opposes the idea: Not shockingly, the British Soft Drink Association is pushing back, too.

"This was not an inquiry in the conventional meaning of the word," association director general Gavin Partington said in a statement Monday. "It was part of the PR campaign by the health lobby to persuade ministers to introduce a tax on soft drinks." Julie Kliegman

survey says
11:29 a.m. ET

When the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) passed in 1986, Congress figured Americans couldn't afford the digital storage to retain thousands upon thousands of emails, wrote the woman with 46,000 email conversations filling 16 GB of her Gmail account.

Thanks to the dated assumptions of the ECPA, the government isn't required to get a warrant to search emails more than six months old — but new poll results find Americans want Fourth Amendment protections for all their online communications. Some 77 percent of registered voters said a warrant should be required for law enforcement to view any "emails, photos and other private communications stored online," and 86 percent said the ECPA was due for an update after learning how it currently functions.

The poll was commissioned by Digital 4th, a cross-partisan coalition pushing for expanded online privacy protections. Bonnie Kristian

Around the world
11:01 a.m. ET
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Japan will send a whaling fleet to the Antarctic on Tuesday, the first such trip since the International Court of Justice's 2014 ruling that whale hunts aren't definitively necessary for scientific research, The Associated Press reports. But Tokyo's latest proposal to the International Whaling Commission argued killing the animals is necessary for collecting data on the maturing ages of whales.

Australia, which brought the international case against Japan last year, may send a boat to shadow the Japanese fleet. A group of 15 environmental and animal rights groups also oppose the move, writing in a statement: "We strongly demand that the government not start any new research whaling programs, and instead take on new measures that contribute to ocean conservation."

Japan's plan, as described Monday by government agencies, involves catching up to 333 minke whales each year for 12 years, with an evaluation halfway through. That's reportedly about one third of the whales Japan has killed in previous expeditions. Julie Kliegman

prison policy
10:55 a.m. ET
David Greedy/Getty Images

Paroled prisoners in Illinois may find themselves back in court and on the hook for thousands of dollars, as the state has a growing habit of suing former inmates for the cost of their incarceration. But not every released prisoner is equally at risk: Illinois often targets those who have recently come into a little money — through an insurance settlement or an inheritance, for instance — and thus in theory have the ability to pay up.

In one story cited by the Chicago Tribune, an inmate received a $50,000 settlement from the Department of Corrections because his cancer was not properly treated in prison, only to have the department sue him for $175,000 for the cost of his care. In another, the department successfully extracted almost $20,000 from a man released after serving 15 months for a low-level drug offense; after paying, he had to live out of a homeless shelter and died penniless.

Critics suggest that the lawsuits make released inmates more likely to return to a life of crime. "If you don't have a way to support yourself, you go to the underground economy," said Alan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Center. "That's criminal, and you go back to prison. That's horrible public policy." Bonnie Kristian

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