March 28, 2014
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Paul Krugman points out that proposals to introduce higher taxes on the rich — like the Buffett rule — have received serious pushback from conservatives:

As inequality has become an increasingly prominent issue in American discourse, there has been furious pushback from the right. Some conservatives argue that focusing on inequality is unwise, that taxing high incomes will cripple economic growth. Some argue that it's unfair, that people should be allowed to keep what they earn. And some argue that it's un-American — that we've always celebrated those who achieve wealth, and that it violates our national tradition to suggest that some people control too large a share of the wealth. [The New York Times]

But, as Krugman rightly points out, high taxes on the rich are hardly un-American. He points to Theodore Roosevelt and Irving Fisher as examples of the fact that "in the early 20th century, many leading Americans warned about the dangers of extreme wealth concentration, and urged that tax policy be used to limit the growth of great fortunes."

In fact, as Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century points out, "confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes — that is, taxation whose goal was to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money — was an American invention."

This shouldn't really be very surprising. America was founded by a group of men deeply distrustful of monarchies, aristocracies, concentrated wealth, and inherited privilege, and who enacted laws to prevent wealth from concentrating in too few hands.

As Steven Budiansky noted in 2010:

With Thomas Jefferson taking the lead in the Virginia legislature in 1777, every Revolutionary state government abolished the laws of primogeniture and entail that had served to perpetuate the concentration of inherited property. Jefferson cited Adam Smith, the hero of free market capitalists everywhere, as the source of his conviction that (as Smith wrote, and Jefferson closely echoed in his own words), "A power to dispose of estates forever is manifestly absurd. The earth and the fullness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural." Smith said: "There is no point more difficult to account for than the right we conceive men to have to dispose of their goods after death." [Liberal Curmudgeon] John Aziz

8:34 a.m. ET
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Despite the Obama administration's recent track record of foreign policy success — restoring relations with Cuba, the Iran deal, a climate deal with China, and various trade agreements — many in the Defense Department are grumbling about being elbowed out of the National Security Council's decision-making. In The Washington Post, several unnamed officials dished on their frustration with the White House's NSC clique and Obama's "micromanaging," which some say ultimately ends up keeping policies from ever getting off the ground.

Or, as one official bemoaned, policymaking has been "sclerotic at best, constipated at worse."

"There are problems that call for a real 'whole of government' solution," David Rothkopf, who has extensively covered the NSC, added in The Washington Post. "I've never seen an administration that says it more and does it less."

"Benghazi is a good example, and . . . Ebola," another former official explained. "That can't just be left to CDC and State and others to manage. No. You have to have a czar and a whole team of people. And why is that? Because the politics on this issue have become so much more corrosive and challenging that it's a natural instinct for the White House to say, 'We've got to have an eye on this. On everything.'"

See, Obama? Nobody likes a micromanager. Read all the whining in The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

Ancient artifacts
8:17 a.m. ET

In the very last hour of the final day of a dig, archaeologists made a big discovery when a stone suddenly vanished into an underground blackhole. While excavating an area ahead of the construction of a new school in Jerusalem, the researchers had stumbled upon a Second Temple-era ritual bath, accessible by a stone staircase and an outer room complete with benches. Haaretz notes that while the discovery of ritual baths from the Second Temple-era are "not rare in the Holy Land," there is something particularly special about this discovery: It bears writing and symbols, done in mud and soot, that somehow managed to be preserved throughout the centuries.

The images on the bath's plaster walls include a boat, palm trees, various plants, and what may be a menorah. The inscriptions in ancient Aramaic and cursive Hebrew script may denote names. "The symbols we see are familiar to us from coins, sarcophagi, and graves, but a concentration like this is certainly unusual," Amit Re'em, a manager for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, told Haaretz. "It is possible that writing on mikveh walls was common, but not usually preserved."

However, to archaeologists' horror, the writing's long tenure of preservation seemed to come to an end shortly after the discovery was made. Exposed to air, the writing quickly began to fade, prompting emergency archaeology teams to rush to the scene. But it was too late to preserve the writing's legibility. At this point, archaeologists remain unsure as to who carved the writings and images, and what the message in the writing is.

Becca Stanek

Iran and the bomb
8:06 a.m. ET
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President Obama is dipping into his past political successes to promote his biggest pending diplomatic accomplishment. In a speech Wednesday at American University, Obama will argue that the same people who supported the now-unpopular invasion of Iraq in 2003 are trying hardest to sink the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S. Obama's early opposition to the Iraq War helped propel him to the White House.

Obama is framing the looming vote in Congress on the nuclear deal as the most consequential foreign policy decision since the Iraq War, but he will also draw parallels between the Iran pact and nuclear treaties Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan negotiated and signed with the Soviet Union.

The speech is the public face of a big push to shore up support among congressional Democrats, in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition a $40 million campaign to sink the deal led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Three on-the-fence Democrats — Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Tim Kaine (Va.), and Ben Nelson (Fla.) — formally backed the Iran pact this week, while three others — Reps. Steve Israel (N.Y.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (Fla.) announced their opposition.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who is leaning toward supporting the accord, tells USA Today that Obama's lobbying is "appropriate and needed.... God knows there are plenty of people pushing on the other side who have never read the agreement, don’t understand the agreement, who are pushing very hard to make sure it’s deep-sixed." Obama needs enough Democrats to sustain a potential veto. Peter Weber

Train Trouble
6:46 a.m. ET

Right before midnight on Tuesday, two passenger trains in India's Madhya Pradesh state derailed at a crossing near the flooded Machak River, killing at least 29 and injuring 70 more. Officials said Wednesday that up to 600 people were on the two trains, which did not collide, and at least 300 people have been rescued from the wreckage. Indian rail officials blamed the accident on monsoon rains, which they say washed away soil from under the tracks, sinking a section into the muddy ground.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the accidents "deeply distressing," and his government said the families of the deceased would each receive 200,000 rupees, or about $3,100. You can see scenes from the accident in the Associated Press video below. Peter Weber

The Daily Showdown
5:26 a.m. ET

On Monday night, 14 Republican presidential candidates gathered together on a New Hampshire stage for their first debate. On Tuesday's Daily Show, almost retired Jon Stewart barely had time to mock them. (Don't worry, he set aside a few minutes, with Sen. Ted Cruz getting the brunt.) "I shouldn't complain about the Republican race being such a circus," Stewart said. "At least it's fun to watch. The Democratic primary is basically one joyless Bataan death march to a Hillary Clinton nomination."

And then the rumor that Vice President Joe Biden is thinking of entering the Democratic race — and pundits touting Biden's proclivity for gaffes as a political plus. "Really?" Stewart asked, skepticism mixing with glee. "So the reason loose-lips McGee f—ed up his 2008 presidential run is now the reason he's a viable candidate? You know, not just blurting shit out, that's a pre-Trump presidential quality. Post-Trump, it's all about saying the crazy." Hasan Minhaj got in on the fun, "reporting" from "Clinton campaign headquarters" that Clinton is furiously engaging in "gaffe prep" to fend off the Biden challenge. If you like to laugh and don't mind mild vulgarity, watch below. Peter Weber

4:44 a.m. ET
Andy Loveridge/AP

One of the best parts of The Onion, and a staple of news satire, is the point/counterpoint format. In Wednesday's New York Times, op-ed contributor Goodwell Nzou provides a real-life counterpoint to the prevailing U.S. outrage of the killing of Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion allegedly killed by a Minneapolis dentist.

When he read about Cecil's demise, "the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine," writes Nzou, who is working toward a PhD in molecular and cellular biosciences at Wake Forest. And when he found out that the dentist is being treated as the villain, "I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I'd experienced during my five years studying in the United States." He continues:

Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being "beloved" or a "local favorite" was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from The Lion King? In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror. [Nzou, New York Times]

Nzou goes on to wonder why "Americans care more about African animals than about African people," then puts Cecil's death in a bit of context: "Americans who can't find Zimbabwe on a map are applauding the nation's demand for the extradition of the dentist, unaware that a baby elephant was reportedly slaughtered for our president's most recent birthday banquet." Read the entire op-ed at The New York Times. Peter Weber

The Daily Showdown
4:04 a.m. ET

The Daily Show is probably best known for Jon Stewart skewering conservatives, cable news, and Arby's, but some of its greatest segments don't have Stewart in them at all. Over the years, Daily Show correspondents have delivered field pieces from as far away as India and as close as midtown Manhattan, and some of the most memorable interviews involve people saying really crazy things on camera. The most-asked question of Stewart in his recent sadistic Q&A, he said on Tuesday's show, is "are the people in the field pieces real?"

Senior Correspondent Correspondent Jessica Williams came on to answer that: "They are real, and they do know who we are, and they don't care because we bring a camera with us.... Jon, it's like Girls Gone Wild, except they flash us their controversial ideas." To prove her point, Williams went and re-interviewed two previous subjects who, as she said, are "still returning our calls." One man, gun rights advocate Noel Flasterstein, said enthusiastically that he still likes to watch his interview with friends, and the doubling-down by Harlem pastor James David Manning — with a new, unpalatable flavor of crazy thrown in — has to be seen to believed. You can watch below. Peter Weber

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