Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last few days, you’ve probably read this piece, which is both fascinating and disgusting. It’s a hilarious read (I shared it with one of my co-interns, and I knew he was reading it when I heard fits of laughter every few minutes). Just what we all needed after this grim news week. And it might be a worthy candidate for my list of the best things I’ve read all year (last year’s list here).

Elizabeth Warren Slams Mitch McConnell: He Wants ‘Students To Dream A Little Smaller’

The Huffington Post - July 16, 2014

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) lambasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Wednesday for his refusal to help students carrying heavy debts, criticizing McConnell’s suggestion that students should just consider cheaper colleges if they’re not wealthy enough to go to the most expensive schools.

At a town hall event in Buckner, Kentucky last week, an attendee asked McConnell how he believes the government can help alleviate student debt. McConnell replied that it is not the government’s role to forgive “obligations that have been voluntarily incurred.”

"Not everybody needs to go to Yale," McConnell said, before going on to tout the benefits of for-profit education, which often leaves students mired in even more debt and unable to find decent jobs.

Speaking at Make Progress, an annual gathering of young progressive activists and student leaders held on Wednesday, Warren hit back.

"Mitch McConnell believes that when it comes to a choice between protecting tax loopholes for billionaires or reducing student loan interest rates, he will work to protect every last dollar of every last tax loophole," said Warren. "And then he tells students to dream a little smaller, to do with less and give up a little sooner."

"His vision for America is that no one reaches higher than they can already afford," she added.

Warren has made student debt her signature issue, part of her larger emphasis on income inequality. Earlier this year, she introduced a bill that would have enabled millions of people to refinance their student debt, and would have raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans to offset that cost. McConnell, who mocked the bill as “a show vote,” led a filibuster that ultimately torpedoed the bill in the Senate.

The failure of that bill appears to have fueled Warren’s antagonism toward McConnell. As political retribution, she recently campaigned for Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), McConnell’s challenger in the November midterm elections. At an event at the University of Louisville on June 29, Warren and Grimes both attacked McConnell for being out of touch with the needs of Kentucky students.

Grimes has since announced that her team broke a state record for fundraising in the second quarter of 2014, taking in more than $4 million in the April-June period alone.

On Wednesday, Warren urged students to tell McConnell and the 37 other senators who voted against her bill to prioritize students’ concerns, arguing that lawmakers are pitting America’s wealthiest citizens against young people seeking an education.

"This one really does boil down to three words: billionaires or students," said Warren. "Which way is this country going?"

The White House’s Gender Pay Disparities Have Barely Changed In 20 Years

My latest for HuffPost: a deep dive into gender pay equity at the White House over 3 administrations—featuring number crunching.

The Huffington Post - July 8, 2014

WASHINGTON — Wage and hiring disparities between men and women appear to be bipartisan problems that aren’t really improving.

The gender pay gap among White House staffers has changed very little through the past three presidential administrations, even though Democrats tend to prioritize the issue more than Republicans. This is true even at the senior staff level where there has been only a slight improvement since the last Republican-controlled White House.

Last Tuesday, the White House released its annual list of staff salaries, which it has been required to do every year since 1995.

The numbers reveal a gender pay gap, but not because men were paid more than women for the same jobs performed. Rather, it was because men occupied upper-level (higher-paying) positions more often than women and, according to the Obama administration, because the administration was trying to bring in more women at the junior level — in lesser-paying jobs — to help them move up eventually.

At Wednesday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest admitted that “the White House has some improvement to make” on the gender equity front.

"I wouldn’t hold up the White House as the perfect example here," he said.

The implication left by the briefing was that while the president has made progress on the pay equality front, he has more work to do. Left unanswered was how much progress the president has actually made.

The answer, according to a review of White House salary data, is not that much. In prior administrations, the gap between the number of women and men in senior-level positions was similar to what it is today.

The Huffington Post examined the top 25 percent of earners in each administration to see how men and women fared at the top of the White House pyramid.

For 2014, the top 25 percent of earners within the White House have been compensated above $110,500 annually. That group includes 70 men and 38 women, or 65 percent who are men and 35 percent who are women.

The gender pay gap at the upper level was actually narrower at the start of the Obama administration in 2009. Back then, the upper quartile salary was $113,000 a year. Of the employees making that or above, 67 were men and 50 were women, or 57 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

This was only a slight improvement from 1993, when The Washington Post obtained a list of White House salaries and published them. In President Bill Clinton’s first year in office, 40 men and 25 women, or 62 percent and 38 percent, respectively, earned over the upper quartile salary of $85,000.

Due to a lack of available data in the intervening years, it’s difficult to tell if anything changed during Clinton’s two terms in office. The gap initially spiked during the first years of the Bush administration. In 2001, 71 percent of the top 25 percent of earners in the White House were men and only 29 percent were women (70 men vs. 28 women). In 2003, 72 percent were men and 28 percent were women. By the end of Bush’s first term, however, the gap had shrunk to 65 men and 37 women earning in the top 25 percent — percentages that are virtually identical to today’s White House.

The gap shrunk more in 2005, when the upper quarter was 60 percent men and 40 percent women. But in the last part of Bush’s second term, the gap widened again, from 65 percent men and 35 percent women in 2006, to 72 percent men and 28 percent women in 2007, and 73 percent men and 27 percent women in 2008.

Overall, Obama has done better at elevating women to senior-level positions. He began his presidency with 57 percent men and 43 percent women. The gap was at its narrowest in 2010 with 55 percent men and 45 percent women. But over the past few years, the gap has widened again: In 2011, it was 59 percent men and 41 percent women; in 2012, it was 62 percent men and 38 percent women.

When reached for comment, a White House official directed The Huffington Post to Earnest’s comments and noted that more than half of its departments are directed by women. Also, in April, Obama took executive action to enforce equal pay for federal contractors.

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, acknowledged the problem on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes in April. But she also said that part of the pay gap problem at the White House was because “we’re over-represented among the entry-level positions.” In other words: A large number of lower-paid female employees has been bringing down the overall average. Munoz explained that one of the White House’s goals is “to make sure that people move up the chain, that women are moving up and that they’re getting qualified to move up the ladder and to earn higher salaries.”

However, looking at the data, it appears the current administration isn’t hiring more women in lower-level positions compared with its predecessors. In 2006, the second year of Bush’s second term, 59 percent of staffers earning below the median salary in the White House were women. This year, at the same point in Obama’s presidency, 55 percent were women.

The numbers released last week caused Obama’s critics to pounce, noting that he has been urging businesses to reduce gender pay disparity throughout his time in office and chastising lawmakers to pass legislation that would facilitate this. The first piece of legislation the president signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expands the amount of time someone can sue an employer for pay discrimination on the basis of gender, race, nationality, age, disability or religion. And in June, the issue of pay disparity came up at the White House Summit on Working Families; one of the proposals announced at the summit would hold employers more accountable for providing equal pay. Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked one effort to impose this, the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, herself one of the highest-paid staffers at the White House, told HuffPost Live that the wage disparity between men and women is “ridiculous.”

Gun Owners Ease Off Buying Binge, Not So Worried About Washington Anymore

My first reported piece for HuffPost.

The Huffington Post - June 24, 2014

WASHINGTON — Gun nuts are calling the National Rifle Association’s bluff.

After a year and a half of stockpiling weapons and ammunition, a buying binge that sent gun company stocks soaring, weapons enthusiasts seem to have realized that President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress are not, in fact, going to take away their guns.

The push to expand background checks for gun purchases, launched after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, fell short in the Senate and was never taken up in the House, but it helped fuel the buying binge, which continued with the news that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to spend millions to push gun control. The paranoia was stoked by the NRA and the gun industry itself, which benefited from fears that the Second Amendment was in peril.

But even the most paranoid gun buyers are starting to understand that Washington will be unable to do anything anytime soon to stem the flow of school shootings — of which there have been 74 since Sandy Hook.

Now, a leading gun manufacturer’s stock is sliding as the demand for guns is expected to decline.

In its financial report released last Thursday, Smith & Wesson reported a 4.6 percent decline in profits for its fourth quarter, compared to last year. The company is also predicting lower demand for the coming year.

According to Bloomberg.com, financial analysts think that fears of tighter gun legislation have stalled, which is leading to fewer people buying guns.

"Demand for modern sporting rifles has fallen off significantly following the post-Newton [sic] legislation-driven demand and the ensuing post-surge period," said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Lake Street Capital Markets, in a note to clients. "Long gun sales will decline about 25 percent in FY2015 and become a smaller percentage of Smith & Wesson’s sales."

Dean Lockwood, a weapons systems analyst at the market research firm Forecast International, told The Huffington Post that gun owners “have gotten over the panic buying stage and are back to a more normal level.”

"Because of all the political furor, there was a huge spike in purchases in guns and ammunition. There were major retailers who could literally not keep things on the shelves — people were buying things as soon as they put them out there. And that has since eased up. I don’t know if you want to say people have gotten their fill, but the panic has subsided somewhat," he said.

Lockwood noted that gun sales are typically volatile based on political conditions.

"We’re starting to see the ebb in the ebb and flow of sales. The gun industry is especially susceptible, given the politics of it, and you will see spikes and then it will ease off, spikes and then it will ease off," he said.

"It doesn’t take much for another spike, another panic," Lockwood added. "You could have one announcement — boom, we’re right back. It’s that sort of situation. Don’t think of it as a rounded bell curve. Think of it as [a] spike and then gradual valley from there, because that’s the way it tends to run."

However, he noted that the gun industry also relies on brand loyalty, which can help stabilize the market. In that sense, he thinks Smith & Wesson’s sales decline is fairly inconsequential and “a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things.”

"Smith & Wesson knows that they’ll have customers who will always buy Smith & Wesson. It’s that sort of loyalty that drives them and sustains them. As long as they can maintain the quality of their products, there’s going to be a market," he said.

Smith & Wesson reported record profits for fiscal year 2014, and overall its stock has risen dramatically over the last year. The company’s financial success has been bolstered by rising handgun sales for self-defense purposes and an increase in state concealed-carry legislation. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company has been focusing on a new line of lightweight pistols that can be stowed inside a small purse or a pocket.

I’m off and running at the Huffington Post’s DC bureau, where I am interning this summer. Here’s where my stories can be found.