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  • Now Tesla Wants to Buy a Solar Company

    This story originally appeared on Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Elon Musk—future Mars settler, founder of Tesla—stepped into the solar business earlier this week with Tesla Motor's $2.5 billion bid to buy SolarCity, the top home solar company in America.

    Shareholders from both companies still have to approve the deal. And if they do, Tesla promises the results will be awesome. Musk says that he never wanted Tesla to be just a carmaker. Buying SolarCity will turn Tesla into a company that will sell you an electric car and the power to charge it. "This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered," Tesla wrote in its company blog.

    Then Wall Street frowned. The day after the announcement, Tesla's stock slumped 10 percent, and Morgan Stanley cut its rating on Tesla's shares.

    So what gives? Does Wall Street not have the vision to get with Musk? Is the most futuristic car company in America about to drive off a cliff?

    Here are a few ways of looking at it:

    This whole thing is really a family drama.

    Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's co-founder and CEO, is Musk's cousin. Is there some kind of family power struggle taking place? According to Eric Weishoff, founder of Greentech Media, Rive "didn't sound happy enough for a man that just got $77 million dollars wealthier." And why should Tesla buy Solar City when the two companies have been collaborating on batteries for half a decade now?

    Tesla's stock is sinking because Wall Street doesn't get Silicon Valley.

    Tesla was born in the startup culture of Silicon Valley, where it's all about taking bold stands and getting big or going home. In Silicon Valley, companies eat other companies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snack.

    Worriers, however, have good reason to wonder why Tesla wants to get into the solar business so badly when it has 375,000 pre-ordered Tesla Model 3s that it's supposed to be making. There's the also the example of Sun Edison, an actual energy company that went bankrupt after a massive company-buying spree.

    This smushing together could actually work, because, you know, synergy!

    Tesla's current clientele is, to put it mildly, loaded. Three-quarters of Model S buyers make more than $100,000 a year. It's entirely possible that they are exactly the kind of people who might wander into a showroom, order a car, and impulse-purchase an entire solar installation to go along with it.

    Solar City sells 100,000 solar installations a year to a wide demographic. If the price of the Tesla Model 3 manages to drop from the current sticker price of $35,000 and keep dropping, it's imaginable that SolarCity's current customers could be persuaded to choose a Tesla for their next car.

    What we really need are lots of little Teslas, not a bigger Tesla

    It's been clear for a long time that Musk is a crazy dreamer of the Steve Jobs variety. But building a big company, even a really cool big company, cannot get America to low-carbon car heaven alone. The Big Three automakers—GM, Ford, and Chrysler — arose out of a Cambrian stew of automotive experimentation in the workshops of Detroit. Many have made the point (including me) that three still wasn't enough to create the kind of competition that the American automotive industry needed to avoid getting its ass kicked by automakers in Germany and Japan.

    This sale — if it goes through — might lead to great things. But what the world really needs are many Teslas, enough to create a large ecosystem of entrepreneurs working on cars, batteries, and solar. We need this a lot more than we need to buy solar panels from a car company.

  • Watch: What It's Like to Earn $9 an Hour as a Prison Guard

    In December 2014, Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer started a job as a corrections officer at a Louisiana prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's second-largest private prison company. During his four months on the job, Bauer would witness stabbings, an escape, lockdowns, and an intervention by the state Department of Corrections as the company struggled to maintain control. Read Bauer's gripping firsthand account here.

    Bauer's investigation is also the subject of a six-part video series produced by Mother Jones senior digital editor James West. In the second episode, Bauer learns about an escape finds out that a guard's $9 an hour wage doesn't stretch very far.

    Also: Watch episode one.

  • The Lawyers Who Helped Make Gay Marriage the Law of the Land Are Just Getting Started

    Last June, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. A year later, President Obama has christened Stonewall Inn the first national monument to LGBT rights, and the nation is engaged in a conversation—and new legal battles—involving transgender equality, another piece of the puzzle. I caught up with Memphis-based civil rights attorney Maureen Holland, part of the winning legal team in Obergfell, to discuss the eventful past year, the Pulse massacre, and her next big legal project.

    Maureen Holland

    Mother Jones: After the Obergefell ruling, there was substantial resistance, including Kim Davis the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses. Several states proposed bills that would let businesses deny services to LGBT customers on religious grounds. Were you surprised by the level of pushback?

    Maureen Holland: It did not surprise me. Many southern states pushed back after the Loving [1967 interracial marriage] case was decided, so we recognized there might be resistance. But I think the pushback was overshadowed by the overwhelming support for the decision. For some time, I was continually getting comments about how many lives were positively affected.

    MJ: Since then, there's been a growing number of federal lawsuits by people alleging their civil rights were violated when they were denied marriage benefits, or fired after coming out to their employers as gay.

    MH: Employment protections are the next step in the gay-rights fight. In February 2015, before Obergefell, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that its offices would accept claims from people alleging sexual orientation-based discrimination in the workplace. After Obergefell, many people believed their cases would finally be heard if they filed claims—so they did. But the EEOC has to review the claims, decide which ones it wants to take action on, deny the claim, or tell the claimant they can sue in federal court. In recent months, we've seen people filing lawsuits who finally got their right-to-sue letters for claims they filed right after Obergefell. I don't know if any organization is keeping track of the number of cases.

    MJ: You're now working on a case on behalf of a gay cop in Memphis who says he was harassed while working as his department's LGBT liaison. You argue that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is covered under the Civil Rights Act's ban on gender discrimination in the workplace. Can you explain the logic?

    MH: Sexual orientation discrimination is essentially discriminating against somebody because they're not conforming to the norms of their sex. Men should talk a certain way. Women should wear a certain attire at work. That kind of discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And discriminating against someone because they're a man dating a man but you think they should date women is the same type of discrimination. So we think it is illegal as well. That argument would also extend to discrimination based on gender identity.

    MJ: Which brings me to my next question: In Obergefell the Supreme Court found that gay marriage is a protected right under the Constitution, but it didn't say sexual orientation is a protected class, like race and gender. Is there any language in that opinion that suggests your strategy will succeed?

    MH: There's language in any court opinion—called dicta—that you can draw implications from and use to extend the finding to other contexts. The dicta in Obergefell is clear: The Court adopts the idea that "psychologists and others recognize that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable." In my complaint for the Memphis officer, I use this and other quotes as the framework for the argument that the Obergefell ruling was not just about marriage.

    MJ: This notion that sexual orientation is immutable sounds like a clear indication that it should be a protected class. The Constitution's equal protection clause was meant to protect people from discrimination based on attributes they can't change.

    MH: Exactly. But we don't have case law that says it with that level of clarity in regard to sexual orientation. That's why people are bringing these cases.

    MJ: Let's pivot to transgender rights. We're in the midst of a big national debate about that. Why now?

    MH: It's the next conversation we had to have about LGBT rights. Gender identity—what is that? What does it mean? How do our laws apply to individuals who transition? The Obergefell decision opened up space for a more national conversation.

    MJ: President Obama repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell. His Department of Justice stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act before the Obergefell decision. And 11 states are now suing his administration over bathroom guidelines it issued for transgender students.

    MH: I think President Obama has become a great advocate for LGBT rights. He's talked about his transition in thinking on same-sex marriage, and the fact that we got to see him do that openly and honestly has been helpful. He has issued executive orders that give protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to public-sector employees. All these things speak well to his willingness to not just say it, but to do things that are meaningful to protect LGBT people.

    MJ: When might the Supreme Court take up the question of whether sexual orientation and gender identity are constitutionally protected?

    MH: It could happen the year after next. They have to accept a case that asks the question, first. But there are a number of those moving into the Court of Appeals. It also depends on the decisions of the Courts of Appeal. The Supreme Court tends to take cases when there's a difference in opinion in the circuits—not just because they think a case is interesting. That's what happened in Obergefell.

    MJ: I'm curious about your thoughts on what happened in Orlando.

    MH: I was heartbroken. It was hard to see—as a member of the LGBT community myself—people targeted because of their identity, when a year prior we had celebrated Obergefell. No one should be targeted because of who they love, and that message needs to continue to be said, and protections need to be in place. I spoke at a vigil for Orlando here in Memphis the day it happened. The crowd came out, and I think they were afraid to be who they are because they knew they could be targeted. You want to live in a community where you don't have to be afraid to go outside or go to work and be who you are. And that's what I hope the future will be. We're not there yet.

  • Watch: What It's Like to Become a Guard at a Private Prison

    In December 2014, Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer started a job as a corrections officer at a Louisiana prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's second-largest private prison company. During his four months on the job, Bauer would witness stabbings, an escape, lockdowns, and an intervention by the state Department of Corrections as the company struggled to maintain control. Read Bauer's gripping firsthand account here.

    Bauer's investigation is also the subject of a six-part video series produced by Mother Jones senior digital editor James West. In the first episode, Bauer gets a job with CCA and begins four weeks of training at Winn Correctional Center, which one former guard describes as "hell in a can." Bauer also explores why a dangerous job that pays $9 an hour is attractive in an area with few employment options.  

  • Powerful Photos From One of Texas' Most Historic Black Communities
    Johnny Jones
    Whether singing in a choir or playing keyboards on stage Saturday nights, music is been Jones' passion. He spent his career working on the railroad tracks that run through Tamina. Now retired, Jones devotes his time to singing and recording Gospel music.

    When photographer Marti Corn moved to The Woodlands, Texas, in 1996, she found herself living next to the subject of what would become her first book: the town of Tamina.

    "Literally across the tracks" from The Woodlands, as Corn says, Tamina is a small community just north of Houston. Founded in 1871 by freed slaves, Tamina (originally known as Tammany) flourished for decades, benefiting from the logging industry and a railroad that ran from Houston to Conroe. It's the oldest freedman town in Texas and one of the last emancipation communities of its kind left in the country; descendants of the original freed-slave founders still live in town.

     But in the 1960s and '70s, affluent suburbs like Shenandoah, Chateau Woods, Oak Ridge, and The Woodlands grew, pushing up against poorer, rural Tamina . This juxtaposition is what drew Corn to Tamina. As she met its residents, she thought she could help create awareness of the town and its history through her photography. "At the very least," Corn says, "I could gift those who live in Tamina with a book of portraits and their stories so their descendants would know where they came from."

    Consider Corn's mission accomplished. Her book, The Ground on Which I Stand (published by Texas A&M University as part of its Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life), is a nuanced portrait of the town, filled out by archival family photos and a history of the town

    The book compiles oral histories of 15 families, from those whose trace their lineage in Tamina for seven generations to relative newcomers. Resilience and pride in Tamina are common threads throughout the book, tying together family stories into a wonderful tribute.

    As Annette Hardin, one of the descendants of the founding families, told Corn, "The value developers place on our land is vastly different than ours. What they don't understand is that it's not just our property—it's our legacy. The land represents the blood, heart, and soul of our African American heritage."

    Live Oak
    This emancipation town's landscape has a unique pastoral charm. Eighty-year-old live oaks shade houses built years ago. Horses can be found along most streets behind the wooden fences or tethered to a tree.
    "The prejudice we have felt might be one of the reasons we are such a close community."
    Horse and Trailer
    This is a community that is at risk of gentrification as real estate values escalate and surrounding cities eye Tamina land for development.
    "Five-fifty a week, that’s what we made cuttin' wood. We’d cut four cords a day to make that dollar. Times sure could be real hard, and we had many hungry days."
    Faith plays an important role in Tamina. There are five churches, many of which line the railroad tracks.
    Sweet Rest Cemetery
    Many headstones at Tamina's Sweet Rest Cemetery are hand-made with names either painted onto crosses or etched into concrete markers. The cemetery floods every time there is a heavy rain, causing headstones to sink into the ground.
    Tamina has the opportunity to send its children to some of the best schools in the country, thanks to the growth of surrounding cities. But that growth also puts the town at risk of gentrification.

    The Ground on Which I Stand: Tamina, a Freedman's Town
    Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce

  • Hot Chilis, Maggot Therapy, and Penis Transplants

    We can thank the armed forces for a lot more than just national security: Many advances in modern medicine we take for granted came from scientists' work trying to keep soldiers safe. Everything from inventing certain mosquito repellents to treatments for dysentery and diarrhea have come from the military's medical breakthroughs.

    That's just one of the insights Mary Roach shares on this week's episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The writer also tells host Indre Viskontas about advances in ear plugs, a method of cleaning battle wounds that involves maggots, and the latest innovations in penis transplants.

    Most or Roach's studies and anecdotes come from her latest book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, which keeps with her style of single-syllable-science-titles (Gulp, Stiff, Bonk) but has a completely new theme: the military. Roach got the idea for the project while she was reporting in India and learned that the world's hottest chili pepper, the bhut jolokia (also known as the "ghost chili"), has been weaponized by the Indian Defense Ministry. 

    "Military science suddenly presented itself to me as something that was more esoteric and broader…and less focused on bullets and bombs," she explains.

    Roach talks about inventions as old as military toilet paper, and newer advances such as penis reconstruction and replacements. The procedure wasn't an option in the past, Roach says, because injuries that left soldiers without lower limbs or genitals were often fatal. Advances in medical treatment mean soldiers often survive below-the-belt wounds and may need genital reconstruction. The surgery is still uncommon: There are only about 300 genital injuries for every 18,000 limb amputations, she says. On her visit to a cadaver lab at Johns Hopkins, Roach was able to learn about the arteries necessary to connect in order to perform a successful surgery.   

    "It's like transplanting a tree," Roach says. "You don't just lop it off, you take the roots and the soil around it."

    Roach is known for her squirm-inducing but always fascinating subject matter, such as cadavers, fecal transplants, and pig sex. In Grunt, Roach even details the healing power of maggots. As medieval as it sounds, the creature is incredibly efficient at cleaning wounds. Although the knowledge had been around for centuries, it was World War I surgeon William S. Baer who noticed a soldier who had been lying in the fields for days returned to camp with large open wounds that were free of infection. When he saw that maggots had been eating the dead flesh, allowing the wounds to heal, Baer started using the insects. Today "maggot therapy" is used on diabetic patients; the insects are even approved by the FDA as a medical device. While military surgeons are open to the idea, Roach says, getting hospital staff on board is a challenge.

    "It's been an uphill struggle…they're maggots, they're gross!" Roach said. "The nursing staff has to be trained in how to change the maggot-dressing and they might not want that added to their duty list."

    Roach sees her exploration of military science as illuminating some of the grizzly realities of war.

    "Even when things are going okay in the military, even when no one is shooting at you, it really sucks," Roach says. "It's not a political book, but it's kind of an antiwar book in its own way."

    Mother Jones senior editor Dave Gilson also talked with Mary Roach about Grunt. Here's a highlight from their interview:

    W.W. Norton

    MJ: Did hanging out with soldiers and researchers change any misconceptions you had about the US military?

    MR: I didn't have any conception of this world at all. I didn't realize that almost any of this existed—the Naval Submarine Medical Research Lab, or NAMRU Three or the Walter Reed Entomology Branch. That was all a surprise to me. I had maybe a misconception that everyone in the military was sort of hawkish. But in fact, the people who deal with the aftermath of war, trying to repair people's bodies and minds, they are understandably quite anti-war. They're not big boosters of war, particularly the people I talked to at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. Pathologists, people who have a real, day-after-day, graphic presentation of what war does to the body. I wasn't really expecting that.

    Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

  • If Music Be the Food of Love, Play on, Rufus Wainright
    Jacob Blickenstaff

    Rufus Wainwright, the son of critically admired folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, grew up amid a bramble of musical siblings, aunts, in-laws, half-siblings and close family friends. (Wainright also has a daughter with Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen, whom he co-parents along with his husband.)

    While maintaining the family legacy of incisive songwriting, Rufus has stood on his own as a genre-expanding songwriter, incorporating elements of classical music, opera, and the American songbook into visceral contemporary music, beginning with his self-titled debut in 1998.

    He has made those influences more explicit during the last decade with 2007's Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall—a live, song-for-song re-creation of Judy Garland's Live at Carnegie Hall album, and an opera, Prima Donna, which Wainwright composed and produced in 2009 and released as an album in 2015.

    Earlier this year, Wainwright released another classical work, All My Loves, which presents nine Shakespeare sonnets in both dramatic recitations and composed arrangements. The eclectic treatment under producer/arranger Marius de Vries—who previously collaborated on Wainwright's lush albums Want One and Want Two—involves a varied cast that includes soprano Anna Prohaska; pop singers Florence Welch (of Florence & the Machine) and sister Martha Wainwright; and the actors Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fischer, and William Shatner. I caught up with Wainright recently as he swung though New York to reprise Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. He is now touring in Canada and Europe.

    Mother Jones: Shakespeare's sonnets explore longing, betrayal, and lust and its consequences, themes that are present in your songs as well. Did you have a sense of that connection as you worked on this project? 

    Rufus Wainwright: I feel like the sonnets are the gift that keeps on giving. Certainly in terms of my life—anybody's life—you go through death, childbirth and marriage, glory and defeat, and so on. The last 10 years for me have been all of that, so the sonnets have been there with me. I've been able to lean on them profoundly for many years, and they've given me a wider perspective of what's going on, really, on the inside. If my songs can do that as well, then I'm a lucky guy. 

    MJ: You began working on musical settings for the sonnets some years ago, while your mother was fighting cancer.

    RW: I wrote the music for the majority of them during her illness. It wasn't planned out that way, just coincided. But I was happy to not have to write lyrics while that was going on in my life—it was so painful.  

    MJ: Part of the scholarly debate about the sonnets is whether they were autobiographical or written on behalf of someone else. Do you feel there are parallels in songwriting, the autobiographical vs the universal? 

    RW: I wouldn't categorize my work as mysterious as the relationship between Shakespeare and his world, because that is one of the great mysteries: How could someone have written all that he did? Was it only one person? And why do we know so little about it? I don't take that mantle, but I will say that I strive for what you do find in Shakespeare's work—that there is a definite humanity and a definite character behind the writing in the sonnets, and it's very real because it's so deeply personal. I try to aspire to that in what I do.

    MJ: Are there qualities in his material that you are trying to bring into your songwriting? 

    RW: I can't really gauge that. I just keep chugging along and I hope that in doing work with the sonnets or the operas—or singing Judy Garland shows—that all gets in there. It's not up to me to judge that, either; that's for the public to do. But I want to deepen as an artist, and working with Shakespeare definitely points in that direction. 

    MJ: Sonnet 20, which addresses the "master-mistress of my passion," is most discussed and interpreted in context of homosexuality, and the longing of one man for another. What's your take on it?

    RW: I think it is about attraction in general. That's what is so brilliant about it. There's no question that the writer projects a sort of startling situation in that because he's a man he can't quite do all that he wants to with this other man. But he focuses more on the effect of beauty—what it makes one do emotionally and how it breaks down the barrier between man and woman. That's part of the subtlety that Shakespeare is the best at, ever, in any art form. 

    MJ: Something that perhaps was under-noticed on your earlier pop albums is how much classical music is a part of it. For example, the opening track of Want One, "Oh What A World," takes directly from Ravel's Bolero. When did you first start to integrate classical into your pop songwriting? 

    RW: My love of classical hit pretty early. I was 13 when it occurred, and that was really the only music I listened to for many, many years. I went to a conservatory, but I always knew I would be in the pop world, because A) it was more fun and B) you didn't have to practice as much and you could go out more. But I immediately saw this opportunity to inject my material with these sounds that most members of my generation really didn't know about, so it was a great way to differentiate myself from the pack. Now I'm paying back the favor a little bit. 

    MJ: Tell me about your collaborations with Marius de Vries.

    RW: Marius is one of the great and most versatile musicians of our time. He's really able to keep a keen eye on what's going on in the pop world, but by the same token introduce all sorts of musical influences be they classical, ethnic music, or whatever—so he's a great unifier. I really needed someone like that to do this album because I'm going out on so many limbs.

    I let him go out and see what he can bring back, and oftentimes it's great, and sometimes we know immediately it won't work. We give each other a lot of leeway because we respect each other's taste, and also sometimes our lack of taste, because we're not afraid to do things a little out of the ordinary. 

    MJ: This new album takes a very eclectic approach, both in the performers involved and the musical settings.

    RW: I feel that the sonnets can take it. They are so wildly varied and so sturdy in terms of their form and geometry and light, so it was fun to throw all these different musical styles at them and see what sticks. And of course they all stick if you do a good job at it, because they are limitless. 

    MJ: As a husband and father, have you had to temper your artistic ambitions? 

    RW: The only big change is that I have to rest a lot more now! I think my imagination and my passions are still firing away, but it's really the body that starts to make up the rules. It's not a major problem; it's just when you get a little older you realize how much your body thanks you when you are good to it. I haven't changed much.   

    MJ: Judy Garland was coming out of a rough time when she made those live recordings. Do you feel any affinities with her and where she was in her life at that time? 

    WR: Well, I have a lot of advantages: I'm not addicted to horrifying pills. I also have surrounded myself with far more caring and upright individuals. And I wasn't abused as a child, so I'm doing okay! 

    MJ: Sorry, I wasn't trying to put you in the same redemptive narrative box. 

    WR: I mean, I love Judy Garland! I worship at her altar in so many ways. But really when it comes to me getting on stage and performing that material, that's when I call to the songwriters and the lyricists and musicians and really make it about that. If you try to unsettle her spirit and bring it into the room, it's a double-edged sword. If you are going to try and do battle with her, you're going to lose, so I make it about the music. 

    MJ: I wonder what the dynamic was, and still is, between you and your intensely musical family.

    RW: I'm very blessed, mainly because even though my family is mostly in show business, it's really centered around music. My parents were very successful in many ways, but they weren't necessarily top of the charts. We were never wealthy because of music. We always had to work and we always had to struggle a little bit, and I think at the end of the day that's been very good for me, because I have a sense of it being very ephemeral. I don't have a sense of entitlement in terms of being some kind of spoiled brat. Musically I'm able to keep going, because it's not about money and it's not about success. It's a challenge.

    This profile is part of In Close Contact, an independently produced series highlighting leading creative musicians.

  • Listen: Reveal Takes You Inside Shane Bauer's Immersion Reporting

    For four months in late 2014 and early 2015, Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer worked as a corrections officer at a Louisiana prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's second-largest private prison company. Read his gripping firsthand account of his experience here.

    Bauer's investigation is also the subject of the latest episode of Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Listen to "The Man Inside" below.

    Reveal can be heard on public radio stations across the country and on the Reveal podcast.

  • Pentagon Will Reportedly Lift Transgender Service Ban in July

    The Pentagon will officially lift its longstanding ban on transgender military service sometime next month, according to multiple reports.

    USA Today reports that high-ranking members of the Pentagon’s personnel team could meet next week to hammer out the final details of the plan to lift the service ban. According to one defense official cited anonymously by the paper, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work could sign off on the final plan as early as next Wednesday. The end of the service ban will be announced after final approval from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and could come down as early as July 1, just before the start of the Fourth of July weekend.

    The military currently does not allow openly transgender people to enlist in the military, citing medical reasons to disqualify them from service.

    Citing an anonymous Defense Department official, USA Today also notes that the announcement will include a directive from the Pentagon that gives each military branch one year to "implement new policies affecting recruiting, housing and uniforms for transgender troops."

    A Pentagon official told the Washington Post that the Defense Department would likely make an official announcement sometime in July, but added that an official date for ending the ban has not been set.

    If the predicted timeline holds, the lifting of the transgender military service ban will come roughly one year after Carter issued a directive commissioning a task force to come up with a plan for incorporating openly transgender service members into the military. Carter’s directive also changed the process for discharging transgender soldiers who were already in the military but had not come out publicly, elevating discharge authority out of the immediate chain of command and into the hands of a senior Pentagon official. 

  • Don?t Worry Super-Rich, Paul Ryan?s Tax Plan Still Has Your Back

    House Republicans rolled out a roadmap for tax reform Friday that drastically cuts corporate taxes and benefits high-income taxpayers—but not nearly as much as the plan proffered by the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled the GOP proposal—the sixth and final policy blueprint that the House GOP has issued this month under Ryan's direction—at a news conference in Washington. The plan would slash corporate rates from the current 35 percent to 20 percent and lower the top individual rate from 39.6 to 33 percent. (Trump has proposed cuts to 15 and 25 percent, respectively.) The blueprint also eliminates the estate tax, long a target of Republicans in Congress, and lowers the tax rate on income from investments.

    "The way I'd sum it up is: We want a tax code that works for the taxpayers—not the tax collectors," Ryan said. "We want to make it simpler, flatter, fairer...Make it so simple that the average American can do their taxes on a postcard."

    Since taking the House in 2011, Republicans have repeatedly promised to overhaul the tax system, which hasn't seen a major update since 1986. But they have stumbled over a political roadblock: Every major deduction or tax credit has a devoted constituency who would be enraged were it to be eliminated. The last comprehensive Republican proposal was submitted in 2014 by retired Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. His scheme varied significantly from the new blueprint. It lowered the corporate rate to 25 percent rather than 20 percent and cut the top individual rate just to 35 percent, while at the same time sacrificing popular deductions on charitable giving and mortgage interest. It failed to attract much support within the party and never received a vote.

    The new blueprint is more circumspect, maintaining the mortgage and charitable deductions, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, a key poverty-fighting tool, and a deduction for spending on higher education. It leaves it to the Ways and Means Committee to reform these programs. Otherwise, the plan makes an effort to simplify the system, replacing itemized deductions with a higher standard deduction and eliminating most business tax breaks. It also reduces the number of income tax brackets from seven to three.

    It is not yet clear whether the plan would add to the deficit. But as Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center writes, "It is hard to imagine how these tax cuts could pay for themselves." The House GOP's scheme is bound to cost less than Trump's tax cuts. Experts estimate that the presumptive nominee's plan would shrink revenues by $9.2 trillion over 10 years, forcing draconian cuts in government spending.