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March 19, 2014

Democrats have made income inequality a prominent issue of late, and there's a good reason why: Wealth distribution in the U.S. is far less equitable than it is in just about any other developed country.

Using data from the OECD's latest Society at a Glance report, the following chart compares countries based on their Gini coefficients. In short, the Gini coefficient is a number between 0 (representing perfect income equality) and 1 (total inequality, with one person holding a nation's entire wealth.)

"The United States continues to have higher levels of inequality than most OECD countries," the report says, "driven by rising gains by the wealthiest 1 percent and greater poverty among the poorest Americans." Keep that in mind the next time someone claims all this income inequality talk smacks of class warfare, socialism, or Nazi Germany. Jon Terbush

11:50 a.m. ET
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Anticipation on the Korean peninsula is building, and the real estate industry is benefiting.

Inventive entrepreneurs are flocking to the area along the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea, hoping to buy up land so that they have a prime location in the event of the country reunifying with their neighbors to the north, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

For years, people in South Korea have been eyeing the markets every time North Korea seems to ever-so-slightly crack open its door to the outside world. Of course, leader Kim Jong Un has continued to isolate the nation, but his historic summit with President Trump brought new optimism to the region. In March and April, real estate transactions in border city Paju skyrocketed to about three times the average level from the last decade, reports the Times, while other regions remained stagnant.

Real estate agents and developers say the building excitement is tangible, as industrious businesspeople and wealthy investors arrive near the DMZ by the dozens to look at properties, willing to spend millions to get on the ground floor of what they think is a forthcoming change. The area along the DMZ is "like land that's still in a mother's womb, not yet born to the world," said Kim Yoon-sik, a developer. "If it is born, it'll be huge." Summer Meza

11:22 a.m. ET
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

NFL players have a problem with the criminal justice system, and a bunch of presidential pardons won't solve it.

Four current and former players representing the Players Coalition advocacy group challenged President Trump to go beyond pardoning unjustly jailed people in a New York Times op-ed Thursday. Instead, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins, and Benjamin Watson are pushing for complete criminal justice reform.

After the Philadelphia Eagles were disinvited from a Super Bowl victory visit to the White House over the league's national anthem kneeling, Trump tried to make a concession. He asked players to send a list of people they thought were unjustly jailed, and he'd pardon them if he agreed.

Clemency can be valuable, like when Trump commuted Alice Johnson's life sentence for a nonviolent drug charge at Kim Kardashian West's behest, the players acknowledged in their op-ed. They suggested that blanket pardon for drug offenders who've already served long sentences could be a good first step.

But truly fixing the justice system means preventing nonviolent offenders from getting life sentences in the first place, and the players say Trump's executive power can make that happen. And if the president chooses not to wield it, then the players will keep using their power as Americans and professional athletes to insist on change. Read the whole op-ed at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:49 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in South Dakota v. Wayfair that states can require online retailers to collect sales tax, even if the business has no physical presence in the purchaser's state. The decision was 5-4, with Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in dissent.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying that "the internet's prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy." The court overruled the 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, which held that for a state to collect sales tax from an online retailer, the retailer would have to have a physical location of business in that state.

The decision is seen as a win for local businesses and governments. Read the decision here. Jeva Lange

10:33 a.m. ET
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Immigrant children being held in juvenile detention centers in Virginia say they were physically and verbally abused for years, an investigation by The Associated Press found Thursday.

Children as young as 14 have filed claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia, alleging that they were abused after being taken to the facility for crossing the border illegally as unaccompanied minors. Officials accused them of being involved in gangs like MS-13, but AP reports that the children were detained in high-security and often brutal conditions without ever being convicted of any crime. The center has held around 30 children at a time, between ages 12 and 17, since 2007.

The lawsuit alleges that the children were often beaten while handcuffed, left naked in concrete cells in solitary confinement for days, and were shackled to chairs with cloth bags over their heads. A child development specialist who worked in the facility said the kids would often be bruised and even suffer broken bones, and developed severe psychological problems as a result of the abuse. Shenandoah officials denied all allegations of abuse or misconduct.

A 15-year-old from Mexico said he was handcuffed and put in a chair for punishment. "They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair," he said. "They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night." He and other detainees recalled attempting suicide at several points during their time in Shenandoah. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

10:14 a.m. ET

In a deep-red congressional district like Texas' 31st, Democrats would need a miracle to beat longtime Republican incumbents. The first ad from Air Force veteran and Purple Heart recipient MJ Hegar seems up to the challenge.

Hegar is running as a Democrat against incumbent GOP Rep. John Carter this fall, and she uses her life story to break the mold of a traditional campaign ad. The video is deeply personal, chronicling Hegar's childhood dreams of being a pilot, her harrowing three tours in Afghanistan, her fight against discrimination once she left the military, and all the doors she had to break down on the way. She even name-checks Carter — who apparently turned down a meeting with her during her anti-discrimination fight because she wasn't a donor.

It's an inspiring story, and Hegar's qualifications likely have Democrats thrilled. But the district, which covers northern Austin and its suburbs, is strongly Republican; the GOP has a 10-point advantage there, per The Cook Political Report. Still, the day Hegar's ad dropped, Cook shifted Texas' 31st District from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican" — and cracked the door a little bit wider for Hegar. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m. ET

MSNBC's Chris Hayes insisted that Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) cite his sources on Thursday when the lawmaker doubled-down on his unproven allegation that terrorists and cartel members are "posing as families … trying to cross our borders."

The tense exchange began after Hayes told Marshall, "we've interviewed mothers from Guatemala and Honduras whose sons have been killed by drug cartels who have fled 1,000 miles north risking everything. Are they a national security threat?" Marshall replied by citing a statistic also used frequently by the administration: That immigrants falsely posing as family members have tripled at the border (Marshall claims it's "quadrupled" in speaking with Hayes).

The data being cited, though, "reflects a period of less than two years, making it difficult to draw a meaningful historical comparison," writes The New York Times. "And the instances of fraud make up less than 1 percent of families apprehended at the border." That's part of why Hayes later interrupts to say: "You keep using the word 'posing' … you keep implying that these people are making up stories, that 5-year-olds have been coached, that they've been taken by traffickers. What I'm asking you is to present evidence that that is happening in any systemic way."

Watch the entire exchange, and Marshall's response, below. Jeva Lange

9:13 a.m. ET

Koko, the western lowland gorilla who was taught sign language by Dr. Francine Patterson in the early 1970s, died this week in her sleep at the age of 46, the Gorilla Foundation said Thursday.

Koko famously appeared on the 1978 cover of National Geographic in a photo she took of herself in a mirror. Koko "revealed the depth and strength of a gorilla's emotional life," NPR writes, mourning her adopted kitten, Ball, when it was hit by a car in 1984. "Cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love," Koko had signed to Patterson in response to the question "What happened to Ball?" She reportedly knew some 1,000 signs, and 2,000 words of spoken English, the New York Post reports.

The Gorilla Foundation wrote that Koko's "impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world." Learn more about Koko in the documentary below. Jeva Lange

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