Illegal Border Crossings Lowest in 20 years

“As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million,” the Washington Post reports.

“A key — but largely overlooked — sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border in pursuit of work. But demographic data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the United States for a decade or more.”

Party That Wins Obamacare Lawsuit Could Be the Loser

Associated Press: “The party that wins the impending Supreme Court decision on President Barack Obama’s health care law could be the political loser.”

“If the Republican-backed challenge to the law’s subsidies for lower-earning Americans prevails, the GOP would have achieved a paramount goal of severely damaging “Obamacare.” But Republican lawmakers would be pressured to help the millions of Americans who could suddenly find government-mandated medical coverage unaffordable — and they’d face blame from many voters if they failed to provide assistance.”

“Should the Obama administration win, relieved Democrats would crow that Obama’s foremost domestic achievement had stood unscathed. But some say they’d have lost a potentially powerful cudgel for the 2016 campaigns: Being able to accuse Republicans of ending the assistance and disrupting health coverage for many.”

“Not everyone thinks their party will lose politically should they win in court. Many Republicans say if the Supreme Court rules that subsidies were provided illegally, it would be the Democratic administration’s fault for doing so, not the GOP’s.”

States Team Up To Keep Obamacare Sustainable

Fiscal Times: “A handful of states struggling to finance their Obamacare health exchanges are considering teaming up with other states to keep their insurance portals sustainable as federal funds run out this year.”

“A number of states including California and Oregon are having trouble financing their exchanges now that federal funding is drying up. Covered California, for example, is running a deficit of $80 million.”

“To save on costs, California is reportedly in talks with Oregon, another state struggling to afford its exchange, to merge their exchanges.”

“They’re not alone. Other states are contemplating building similar multi-state exchanges. New York and Connecticut are also discussing the plan, though both are in the very preliminary stages … The option is seen as an alternative to joining the federal exchange as other struggling state exchanges, like Nevada, have done.”

Wind Power Could Become Nation’s Largest Energy Source

Eco Watch: “Wind power could become even more prevalent in the U.S. than previously expected, according to a new report released last week from the Department of Energy (DOE), Enabling Wind Power Nationwide. The new report, which was announced at the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER Conference in Orlando, Florida, finds that there is wind power potential in nearly the entire U.S., even in places that were previously thought to have insufficient wind to generate electricity.”

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“According to the report, the U.S. has the ability to ‘unlock the vast potential for wind energy deployment in all 50 states’ because of next-generation wind turbines. These taller turbines with longer blades, which are currently under development by the DOE and its private industry partners will be able to capture the wind more effectively at higher altitudes where the wind is usually stronger and more constant, says the report.”

If Congressional Districts Were the Same Size

Washington Post: Daily Kos contributor Daniel Donner on Tuesday tweeted a map of the United State re-imagined as a series of hexagons representing congressional districts — the catch being that each congressional district would be the same size geographically.

The East is more recognizable than the West, since states there tend to be geographically smaller but have larger populations — and thus there’s more districts that were used to draw out the state.

Is the Rate of Innovation Slowing?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new analysis showing that the “breakneck pace of innovation is showing signs of a slowdown.”

“More than 2.15 million patentable inventions were created world-wide in 2014, 3.3% more than in 2013. But the pace of growth seems to be slowing, according to Bob Stembridge, a Thomson Reuters intellectual property analyst: It was 17.7% in 2013, 20% in 2012 and 7.3% in 2011.”

“A different measure of innovation, the global rate of publication of scientific papers, also is slowing. The total number of research papers in 12 key industries fell beneath 250,000 last year… The number was around 300,000 in 2013. It peaked in 2008—just before the economy entered a recession—at 350,000.”

How Obama Can Make the Tax System More Progressive

Ike Brannon argues that President Obama should propose “a radical tax reform that goes far beyond what’s currently being contemplated by congressional Republicans.”

“Along with reducing the tax break for inherited wealth — an idea already floated by the White House — it would include eliminating the deduction for mortgage interest as well as state and local taxes while also capping the deductibility of charitable contributions and retirement savings. The proposal would also have a much lower cap for the deductibility of employer-provided health insurance than the one coming down the pike and eliminate lower tax rates for carried interest as well.”

“These tax deductions (actually, all tax deductions for that matter) go overwhelmingly to the wealthy… The problem is that most deductions have large lobbies dedicated to protecting them. If Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) or Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were to propose these reductions, congressional Democrats would allege they are harming the middle class with their cuts and lobbyists would reward them for doing so. But if it’s the White House that’s proposing it, Messrs. Ryan and Hatch would leap at the deal and work furiously to round up votes, knowing there is no other way to come up with enough rid tax expenditure savings to finance anything worthy of being called a ‘fundamental’ tax reform.”

Obamacare Lawsuit: An Empty Suit?

Jonathan Chait comments on the latest news related to the Obamacare subsidies case “reassuring those of us who followed the health-care debate when it happened that we are not completely insane.”

“It is difficult to convey to people who don’t follow health care for a living just how preposterous the lawsuit against Obamacare has become. The original theory behind the lawsuit seized upon a tiny drafting error.”

“At the beginning of the legislative process, the law’s authors assumed that states would be happy to build their own exchanges. As it proceeded and the backlash reached a fever pitch, Congress realized that Republican states might boycott the exchanges, and created the federal exchanges as a fallback. But they failed to correct every line in the text, leaving one stray passage that assumes exchanges will be created by a state.”

“And so we are left with a lawsuit that is likely to gain at least three, and possibly as many as five, votes on the Supreme Court despite the fact that it rests on a history that is almost literally insane. Even those of us who have a low estimation of the intellectual standards of the conservative movement have been astounded by its ability to persuade itself of a historical theory so clearly at odds with reality.”

Female Soldiers Wrestle With New Roles

The New York Times writes that “even though women distinguished themselves as leaders and enlisted soldiers” in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “many of them describe struggling with feeling they do not quite belong.”

“Women are 10 times more likely than men to have reported serious sexual harassment. Suicide has been an enormous issue across the military, particularly for white men. But Army data show that the suicide rate for female soldiers tripled during deployment, to 14 per 100,000 from 4 per 100,000 back home — unlike the rate for men, which rose more modestly.”

“As social scientists have sought to understand the increased rates of depression and suicide among enlisted women, they have looked at research on other groups at the margins of a culture, whether blacks in the Ivy League, whites attending a nonwhite high school — or women in male professions. And they have found that the mental costs borne by those in the minority are similar. Members of such groups tend to report as many insults and bad days as members of the dominant culture. But compared with the majority, they feel far less secure.”

The Future of Cars: Pay-Per-Mile One-Way Car Rentals?

Mark Gilbert: “Industry behemoth Ford Motor said today it’s inviting 2,000 Londoners to sign up for its GoDrive car-sharing service, which will offer pay-per-minute one-way car rental in the capital, with guaranteed parking at the chosen destination. Ford reckons car-borrowing will grow by as much as 23 percent in London by 2025, while the global auto-sharing industry will be worth more than $6 billion by the end of this decade. Half of the fleet of 50 cars will be the company’s Ford Focus Electric model.”

“It seems pretty clear that auto ownership, at least in our crowded cities, is going the same way as music or software. Why own racks of compact discs or even MP3s when you can stream tunes into your ears? Why burden your computer hard-drive with programs and data that you can access and run off the cloud? And if you live in a city center, why have an expensive depreciating asset sitting in its parking place for most of the time if Ford will let you pay just for the road time you need and nothing more?”

Coal Power Faces a Steady Decline

Inside Climate News: “Coal’s future as a major energy source is being attacked by a variety of pathogens: government regulations, market forces and moral arguments. As a result, government charts plotting coal’s life expectancy look like the flat vital signs of a very sick patient.”

“The Energy Department’s statistical arm, the Energy Information Administration, forecasts in its its latest annual energy outlook that U.S. coal production ‘remains below its 2008 level through 2040.’ And that is without weaving in the impact of the Clean Power Plan, because it hasn’t yet taken effect.”

“For the next 15 years or so production might creep up, it said, but only by a fraction of a percent each year. Considering that production has dropped 16 percent between 2008 and 2013, that’s hardly a robust recovery.”

“And then the tepid growth evaporates away. From 2030 on, the report said, demand for coal from its main users, electric power companies, would be essentially flat.”

“Coal’s dwindling prospects reflect several main factors: the increasing weight of other environmental regulations, including new standards limiting mercury emissions and other toxic pollutants; the availability of cheap, relatively clean natural gas; steadily increasing energy efficiency, and the surging installations of renewable energy plants, especially wind and solar.”

Obamacare: An Example of How Politics Makes Smart People Stupid

Ezra Klein argues that five years after its passage, Obamacare is “increasingly, evidence of much that’s right” with American politics.

“Much of what Americans know about Obamacare is simply wrong. A plurality, for instance, think the law is costing more than originally estimated. Only 5 percent know it’s actually costing quite a bit less:”

“Obamacare is an example of a depressing fact of American politics: more information doesn’t change minds … The more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. When it comes to politics, people reason backward from their conclusions. Politics makes smart people stupid.”

“Even as it is often irrational for elected officials to look at the facts and come to a conclusion that puts them at odds with their party, it is rational for them, when in power, to come to conclusions that will help them govern well.”

“Governing has feedback loops that press releases don’t. Parties that want to stay in power — and they all do – have an incentive to do a good job.”

“In that way, voters discipline the system even if they don’t know much about individual policies, and even if they don’t regularly update their opinions on how various laws are working. Most people aren’t experts on politics, but they are experts on their lives and the lives of their loved ones … They eventually punish the politicians they think responsible.”