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Watch Obama Announce His Immigration Executive Action Right Here

Thu Nov. 20, 2014 7:46 PM EST

While you're waiting for the speech to start, read about the three expected takeaways from President Obama's executive action on immigration, or about how some prominent conservatives are already calling for his impeachment.

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Video: A Drone Shoots Hauntingly Beautiful Footage of Buffalo's Snowstorm

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 5:02 PM EST
James Grimaldi/YouTube

Flying personal camera-equipped drones directly over big events like the Hong Kong protests and Independence Day fireworks is becoming commonplace. Now come these amazing aerial images of Buffalo, New York, besieged by snow for the third day in a row. The Buffalo area was coated with up to six feet of snow on Wednesday and there's been even more today. The eighth storm-related death was annouced this morning.

When the storm first set in, James Grimaldi of West Seneca, New York, sent his drone into the blizzard to film a bizarre world drained of color, and uploaded the stunning results to his YouTube channel. (Grimaldi has also posted his drone videos to his CNN's iReport page.)

Grimaldi's second-day video reveals the vast extent of the snow, the result of a massive "lake-effect snowfall event". The houses now look like giant mushrooms:

And finally, posted today, a new storm bearing down on Grimaldi's suburb:

This weekend's forecasted rain won't help recovery efforts. "We're going to have a lot of water running off quickly," the Weather Channel's Wayne Verno told NBC News. "We'll more than likely see some flooding."

No, the Culture Wars Haven't Heated Up. It Just Seems Like They Have.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 2:15 PM EST

Andrew Sullivan cogitates today on the seemingly endless outpouring of outrage over relatively small lapses in decent behavior:

I wonder also if our digital life hasn’t made all this far worse. When you sit in a room with a laptop and write about other people and their flaws, and you don’t have to look them in the eyes, you lose all incentive for manners.

You want to make a point. You may be full to the brim with righteous indignation or shock or anger. It is only human nature to flame at abstractions, just as the awkwardness of physical interaction is one of the few things constraining our rhetorical excess. When you combine this easy anonymity with the mass impulses of a Twitterstorm, and you can see why manners have evaporated and civil conversations turned into culture war.

I’m as guilty of this as many....

Why yes! Yes you are, Andrew.

On a more serious note, I actually disagree with his diagnosis of the problem, which has become so common as to be nearly conventional wisdom these days. Here's why: I have not, personally, ever noticed that human beings tend to rein in their worst impulses when they're face to face with other human beings. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Most often, they don't. Arguments with real people end up with red faces and lots of shouting constantly. I just flatly don't believe that the real problem with internet discourse is the fact that you're not usually directly addressing the object of your scorn.1

So what is the problem? I think it's mostly one of visibility. In the past, the kinds of lapses that provoke internet pile-ons mostly stayed local. There just wasn't a mechanism for the wider world to find out about them, so most of us never even heard about them. It became a big deal within the confines of a town or a university campus or whatnot, but that was it.

Occasionally, these things broke out, and the wider world did find out about them. But even then, there was a limit to how the world could respond. You could organize a protest, but that's a lot of work. You could go to a city council meeting and complain. You could write a letter to the editor. But given the limitations of technology, it was fairly rare for something to break out and become a true feeding frenzy.

Needless to say, that's no longer the case. In fact, we have just the opposite problem: things can become feeding frenzies even if no one really wants them to be. That's because they can go viral with no central organization at all. Each individual who tweets or blogs or Facebooks their outrage thinks of this as a purely personal response. Just a quick way to kill a few idle minutes. But put them all together, and you have tens of thousands of people simultaneously responding in a way that seems like a huge pile-on. And that in turn triggers the more mainstream media to cover these things as if they were genuinely big deals.

The funny thing is that in a lot of cases, they aren't. If, say, 10,000 people are outraged over Shirtgate, that's nothing. Seriously. Given the ubiquity of modern social media, 10,000 people getting mad about something is actually a sign that almost nobody cares.

The problem is that our lizard brains haven't caught up to this. We still think that 10,000 outraged people is a lot, and 30 or 40 years ago it would have been. What's more, it almost certainly would have represented a far greater number of people who actually cared. Today, though, it's so easy to express outrage that 10,000 people is a pretty small number—and most likely represents nearly everyone who actually gives a damn.

We need to recalibrate our cultural baselines for the social media era. People can respond so quickly and easily to minor events that the resulting feeding frenzies can seem far more important than anyone ever intended them to be. A snarky/nasty tweet, after all, is the work of a few seconds. A few thousand of them represent a grand total of a few hours of work. The end result may seem like an unbelievable avalanche of contempt and derision to the target of the attack, but in real terms, it represents virtually nothing.

The culture wars are not nastier because people on the internet don't have to face their adversaries. They're nastier because even minor blowups seem huge. But that's just Econ 101. When the cost of expressing outrage goes down, the amount of outrage expressed goes up. That doesn't mean there's more outrage. It just means outrage is a lot more visible than it used to be.

1I'll concede that this is potentially a problem with a very specific subset of professional troll. Even there, however, I'd note that the real world has plenty of rough equivalents, from Code Pink to the Westboro Baptist Church lunatics.

This News Anchor Wore the Same Suit for an Entire Year and No One Noticed

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 12:53 PM EST

Would you notice if your favorite newscaster wore the same outfit day after day for a whole calendar year? Based on an experiment conducted by Karl Stefanovic of Australia's Today program, the answer largely depends on whether the subject is a man or a woman.

Stefanovic recently revealed he had been doing just this, sporting the same blue suit for nearly every morning newscast for a year. But as he told his female co-anchors over the weekend, the stunt went virtually unnoticed. 

"I've worn the same suit on air for a year, except for a couple of times because of circumstance, to make a point," Stefanovic said. "I'm judged on my interviews, my appalling sense of humor – on how I do my job, basically. Whereas women are quite often judged on what they're wearing or how their hair is." 

Stefanovic's point is a well-documented problem. From the very lack of women represented in journalism to blatantly sexist coverage of female politicians, we're plagued with countless examples of sexist scrutiny playing out in the media. This experiment is yet another clear instance of such.

"No one has noticed; no one gives a shit. But women, they wear the wrong color and they get pulled up. They say the wrong thing and there's thousands of tweets written about them."

Stefanovic goes on to explain the experiment started as a show of solidarity with co-anchor Lisa Wilkinson, who says she is routinely criticized for her fashion choices by viewers. 

Watch below:

 

We Just Had the Hottest October on Record

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 12:29 PM EST
october map
NOAA

It's cold outside, which means it'll soon be time for the annual rousing chorus of climate change denial from people who think snow means global warming is fake.

Good thing NOAA is here to help. Today the agency released two new maps illustrating that even if you're cold right now, the planet is still getting hotter. In fact, 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

The map above shows where global temperatures for the month of October stood relative to the 20th century average. Overall, this was the warmest October since record-keeping began in 1880.

And it's not just October that was remarkably warm. The entire year so far, since January, has also been the warmest on record—a good 1.22 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. If the trend persists, 2014 will beat out 2010 as the hottest year on record:

year map
NOAA

A Follow-Up: Why the Working and Middle Classes Don't Like Obamacare Much

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:51 AM EST

Here's an interesting chart that follows up on a post I wrote a few days ago about Democrats and the white working class. Basically, I made the point that Democrats have recently done a lot for the poor but very little for the working and middle classes, and this is one of the reasons that the white working class is increasingly alienated from the Democratic Party.

I got various kinds of pushback on this, but one particular train of criticism suggested that I was overestimating just how targeted Democratic programs were. Sure, they help the poor, but they also help the working class a fair amount, and sometimes even the lower reaches of the middle class. However, while there's some truth to this for certain programs (unemployment insurance, SSI disability), the numbers I've seen in the past don't really back this up for most social welfare programs.

Obamacare seems like an exception, since its subsidies quite clearly reach upward to families in the working and middle classes. Today, however, Bill Gardner points me to a Brookings paper from a few months ago that suggests just the opposite. The authors calculate net gains and losses from Obamacare, and conclude that nearly all its benefits flow to the poor. If I interpolate their chart a bit, winners are those with household incomes below $25,000 or so, and losers are those with incomes above $25,000.

The authors are clear that their estimates are not definitive, thanks to difficulties in performing some of the calculations. And obviously they're just averages. Quite plainly, there are some families with higher incomes that benefit from Obamacare.

Still, there are fewer than you think—partly because the subsidies decline at higher incomes and partly because people with higher incomes already have employer insurance and don't need Obamacare. That said, I don't want to make too much of this single chart, especially given the measurement difficulties it presents. But I do think it's illustrative. If you think of Obamacare as something that benefits the working and middle classes, you're probably wrong. It may benefit a few of them, but overall it's a cost to them—or, under more generous assumptions, perhaps a wash.

Obviously there's more to this, and Gardner discusses some of the other electoral implications of Obamacare in his post. It's worth a read. But the bottom line is simple: like most of the social welfare programs championed by Democrats, Obamacare is primarily aimed at the poor. Once again, the working and middle classes are left on the outside looking in.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm sure many people will point out that middle class folks benefit from Obamacare in other ways. If they lose their jobs, for example, they can stay insured even if they have a preexisting condition. That's a benefit! However, as Gardner points out, an awful lot of middle-class voters don't know about these kinds of benefits, so it doesn't register with them. Basically, they take a look at who's getting the cash, and for the most part, it's not them.

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Al Franken Questions Uber Over Privacy

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:46 AM EST

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has taken a keen interest in tech policy since coming to Congress. As chairman of a Senate subcommittee that focuses on privacy, technology, and the law, Franken has been one of the more vocal advocates for net neutrality, fought against a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, and wondered about the privacy implications of fingerprint scanners on iPhones.

Now Franken has set his sights on Uber, an on-demand car service that uses smartphone technology to match passengers who need rides with available drivers. On Wednesday, Franken wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick posing a series of questions about how the company handles its users' information and how it plans to treat journalists.

Jim Webb Wanted to Punch George W. Bush. Now He Wants His Old Job.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 11:44 AM EST

Jim Webb is running for president. The former secretary of the Navy and Virginia senator launched a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday, becoming the first Democrat to formally dip his toe in the 2016 waters. Webb explained his candidacy in a video that looks like it was filmed by the people who make commercials for personal-injury attorneys:

A Republican for most of his life, Webb endeared himself to Democrats when he switched parties and beat incumbent GOP Sen. George Allen in 2006 by just a few thousand votes. Webb ran that campaign on an anti-Iraq War message, touting his own experience in Vietnam, but may have been pushed across the finish line by Allen, who called a Democratic volunteer "Macaca" (an obscure North African racial slur) at a campaign event.

As a senator he was a bit of an iconoclast, defined mostly by his disdain for Washington (something most senators espouse but rarely act on). His first meeting with President George W. Bush ended with the senator walking away furiously, reportedly on the verge of throwing a punch, after Dubya asked Webb about his son serving in Iraq. He sought to carve out a niche for himself by working for criminal justice reform, but left office before any political momentum developed on the issue. And then he left, after one term, leaving Democrats to defend a purple seat against Allen. His most impressive resume item may be his Navy Cross citation:

On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.

Webb has at least a few bumps to smooth over, though. He defended the Confederate flag and "the venerable Robert E. Lee" in his book Born Fighting, about the Scots-Irish, and in 1979, he wrote an essay for Washingtonian titled "Why Women Can't Fight"—a spirited case against admitting women into service academies. As a senator from a major coal-producing state, he opposed proposals to combat climate change. And only last month expressed his support for same-sex marriage. Beating an entrenched Republican in Virginia as a centrist in 2006 is one thing—but winning a Democratic presidential nomination requires winning Democratic primary voters.

Is Dianne Feinstein Crafting a Secret Water Deal to Help Big Pistachio? UPDATED

| Thu Nov. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EST

UPDATE: Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called off her backroom negotiations to push a California water bill through the current, lame-duck Congressional session, The Fresno Bee reported late Thursday afternoon. But she's not finished trying to make a deal with Big Ag-aligned GOP reps. She vowed to "put together a first-day bill for the next Congress, and it can go through the regular order,” the Bee reported. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is negotiating a behind-closed-doors deal with Republican lawmakers to pass a bill that would ostensibly address California's drought—an effort that has uncorked a flood of criticism from environmental circles.

Feinstein's quiet push for a compromise drought bill that's palatable to Big Ag-aligned House Republicans has been in the works for six months, Kate Poole, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me. And it has accelerated recently, as the Senator hopes to pass it by year end, during the "lame duck" period of the outgoing Democratic-controlled Senate.

Grandmothers Smoke Pot for First Time, Play Jenga, Are Perfect

| Wed Nov. 19, 2014 7:23 PM EST

Here is a video of three grandmothers in Washington smoking pot for the first time. It is wonderful.

P.S. Smoking pot is legal in the Evergreen state so put your cuffs away.

(via HuffPo)