2009 - %3, July

Should You Trade in That Clunker?

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 8:55 PM EDT

The federal government's Cash for Clunkers program officially began today, but the ridiculous car dealership ads encouraging you to "get rid of that old jalopy" have been airing for some time now:

 

Nevermind that the Model T shown above gets better gas mileage than many of Detroit's newest offerings. With so much Madison Avenue labor dedicated to trashing old cars, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit of an econundrum: Buy a new car with lower emissions? Or don't, and save the energy needed to manufacture it? Last year, we looked into the question and came up with this rule of thumb: If your car gets more than 25 mpg and you don't drive much, you're better off keeping it instead of buying something more efficient. Fortunately, Cash for Clunkers only allows trade-ins for cars that get less than 18 mpg. Does that make the program the best use of government money? Probably not, but compared to a lot of other subsidies to banks and automakers, it's not all that bad.

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EA Promotion at Comic Con: The Second Circle of Hell

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 7:41 PM EDT

To promote the new game "Dante’s Inferno" at Comic Con this year, EA launched the contest "Sin to Win." The contest consists of "committing an act of lust" with a "booth babe," and showing proof of that encounter on Twitter. The winner will receive "a sinful night with two hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi, and a chest full of booty." I'm guessing the paparazzi are so you can post pictures of this lovely evening to every one of your online profiles—I'll refrain from guessing what is in the "chest full of booty."

In one fell swoop, EA has managed to alienate any women who might have played the game, and any men who do not act like 14-year-olds on hormone overdrive. The majority of tweets tagged with the EA sanctioned #lust are also tagged #EAfail.

The promotional site for the game only goes as far as the second circle of hell. But, it looks like this little excercise might put EA a bit farther down. Lets see just how deep they might go:

Circle 1—Limbo: Poets and philosphers, not coders and gamers.

Circle 2—Lust: EA is very aware they (and their potential consumers) qualify for this.

Circle 3—Gluttony: I would say the "chest full of booty" counts.

Circle 4—Greed: A profit-based company automatically qualifies.

Circle 5—Anger: Game play might induce bouts of swearing, and they have certainly annoyed many Comic Con attendees, but for this excercise they are free and clear.

Circle 6—Heresy: Making a video game about hell and then asking people to commit mortal sins probably means you don't buy Dante's poem, so welcome to the lower levels.

Circle 7—Violence: The game includes a lot, but were only talking about the promotion here.

Circle 8—Fraud: There are lots of folks in this one, including flatterers and seducers. EA qualifies for both since they will be procuring the "hot girls" for the evening and making the poor guy (or gal) think this is really a date.

Circle 9—Treachery: Looks like they are safe from hanging out with Satan.

Friday Frog Blog: Weddings, Discoveries, and Obsessions

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 6:03 PM EDT

This week in frog, three stories you could have missed:

  • In India, villagers fell back on an old tradition when they hosted a frog wedding as a symbolic act that they hope will bring rain to their land.
  • A species of frog that was thought to be extinct was miraculously discovered in the San Bernardino National Forest near Idyllwild, California.
  • Lady Gaga's got a frog fetish.

As a belated tribute to Walter Cronkite, we leave you with the following words: "And that's the way it is."

Friday Cat Blogging - 24 July 2009

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

Catblogging is late!  Sorry about that.  And if Inkblot and Domino were human, they'd be plenty upset at these somewhat less than flattering poses I caught them in.  Still, it's good motivation to slim down, which is exactly what they're going to do since I've put them both on a new diet.  As long as I can keep one of them (*cough*Inkblot*cough*) from hogging the limited portions I'm putting out, everything will be fine.  Wish me luck.

What My Marriage Counselor Asked

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 4:26 PM EDT

Nearly 25 years ago, a marriage counselor asked me a simple question. Four words, and it changed my life.

I had been in and out of this relationship for several years. First we hung out, then we hung it up. We lived together on a commune, we moved out and then moved apart. We saw others, we moved back in together. We separated, got married, then separated again. It was your typical troubled hippie relationship, circa 1970s.

Through all of it, there was a stew of anger simmering on a back burner. We had no idea what was fueling it, so we did the logical thing: we pretended it wasn't there. Well, watched pots may never boil, but let me tell you, it's the unwatched ones that seethe and roil out of sight, and, from time to time, explode. When they do, anyone nearby gets burned. There was never any actual violence, even verbal abuse, but the pain we inflicted on each other was real enough.

After one particularly bad scalding, we agreed to see a marriage counselor. Our first session started like a court hearing, with me as the prosecutor rattling off the charges against my then-wife. I was more like a cross between a prosecutor and an earnest shrink, actually. "Charge #1 [fill in the blank]; Why did she do that?" "Charge #2; I don't understand why she did such a terrible thing!" Repeat for charges 3-12. Why? Why? WHY?!

Finally, I turned to the judge/marriage counselor and pleaded: "I don't understand how she can say she loves me and still do these things that are so hurtful!"

The counselor had the quiet hand-wringing demeanor of Gabriel Byrne's character, Paul Weston from In Treatment. He appeared to mull over my question and then sat upright in his chair.

"I'm not really interested in why she does those things," he said, slowly. "What I want to know is: Why do you stay?"

Two days later I moved out. We got a divorce and that was that.

It's the same with climate deniers. (Stay with me, here.)

Why do good, smart people like MJ's own Kevin Drum continue to debate those who insist global warming isn't caused primarily by human action? It's not like the facts aren't out there. This is settled science (as far as science can ever be considered settled). A list-serv of enviro-journo types to which I belong recently went through a small spasm along these same lines: "How can we best convince doubters that global warming is real?"

Once upon a time that was a legitimate question. No more.

Like the marriage counselor's reaction to me digging into my former-wife's motivations, I've lost interest in what motivates climate deniers. Religion? Politics? Money? I don't know and I don't care. The battle between those who accept global warming and those who don't is like a really bad marriage where the two sides bicker endlessly over who's right. This marriage cannot be saved. It's time for a divorce.

Journalists and others need to turn our attention to solutions. Debating solutions to global warming is a sign of a healthy relationship. All sides have a common baseline and can help each other figure out where we need to go from here.

Politically, massive resources should be used to defeat everyone in Congress who still wants to debate the modern equivalent of "Is the earth really round?" We need to divorce pols who are divorced from reality, and the proper venue for that is the ballot box (or in some cases the recall petition).

And then, we need to get on with our lives, with creating solutions to the largest problem facing us: global warming

All I can say for sure is that it worked for me.

Once I stopped debating deniers I met this really wonderful energy source named solar power. We've been seeing each other pretty regularly for several months now.

I'm happy to say I think it's serious.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. He edited The Climate Bill: A Field Guide. For more of his stories, click here.

 

Yes, the Globe is Still Warming

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 4:21 PM EDT

Jim Manzi defends George Will: "There has not been a lot of measured warming for the last ten years."  But that's just not true.  A fifth of a degree in the trendline is still a fifth of a degree in the trendline, even if you post a chart that uses a shorter timespan and displays the results by month instead of by year.

Now, it is true that the single year 2008 was cooler than the single year 1998.  It's also true that there hasn't been much warming over the past six years.  Noisy data can usually provide any answer you want if you cherry pick it well enough.  But neither of these things is the same as demonstrating that there's been no warming during the past decade.  There has been.  About a fifth of a degree.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 24, 2009

Fri Jul. 24, 2009 3:56 PM EDT

Sgt. Jerrod Fields, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Paralympic sprinter hopeful, works out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. A below-the-knee amputee, Fields won a gold medal in the 100 meters with a time of 12.15 seconds at the Endeavor Games in Edmond, Okla., on June 13, 2009. Sgt. Fields lost his leg to an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq, in March 2005. You can read more about him here. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

Obama Kills Deadlines for Health Care Reform

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 3:54 PM EDT

When is a presidential deadline not a deadline?

On Wednesday night, during a primetime White House press conference, President Barack Obama was asked why he had been pushing to complete action on a health care reform package by August 7, the day Congress is scheduled to shut down for its summer recess. He replied:

if you don't set deadlines in this town things don't happen.  The default position is inertia.  Because doing something always creates some people who are unhappy.  There's always going to be some interest out there that decides, you know what, the status quo is working for me a little bit better.

But the next day Senate majority leader Harry Reid said there was no way Congress could meet Obama's August 7 deadline. This was not a shocking pronouncement. Virtually no one in Washington truly believed legislation this complex could be wrapped up in time for Congress's vacation. And with the slow pace of the recent deliberations within the Senate finance committee, it seemed especially unlikely that a Senate bill could be written by this date--let alone voted on.

So Obama, acknowledging reality, gave up on the dog-day deadline. At a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thursday, the president responded to Reid's statement of the obvious:

My attitude is I want to get it right, but I also want to get it done promptly.  And so as long as I see folks working diligently and consistently, then I am comfortable with moving a process forward that builds as much consensus as possible.

But not only is Obama rolling with the punches; he's dropping the whole idea of a deadline.

At Friday's daily White House press briefing--after Obama made a surprise appearance to say that he had spoken with the police officer who had arrested Skip Gates and to note that he regretted accusing the Cambridge cops of having acted "stupidly"--I asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs whether Obama will be establishing a new deadline. Maybe one in September? Or October? By Christmas?

Gibbs chuckled. But seriously, given that Obama on Wednesday night had said that a deadline is necessary to concentrate the mind of Congress, wasn't a new one required?

Gibbs replied that the deadline Obama had previously set had led to real progress, noting that various committees in Congress had taken steps toward constructing health care reform legislation "because we poked." He said that Obama and his aides had always realized that the final bill would not be produced until after August. "We continue to believe we can see health care reform this fall," Gibbs said.

And what about a deadline? Gibbs said nothing about a new deadline.

******

Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, according to informed sources, is telling people that the demise of the August 7 deadline is no big deal. His scenario: during the August recess, members of the House and Senate will work to make sure that the House and Senate health care reform bills will be similar to one another--with a collection of different taxes being adopted to finance reform--and then in September returning legislators will have an easier time handling the final steps. Sounds easy.  If this is what happens, no deadline will be necessary. If.

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VIDEO: Obama Mouths Off

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 3:38 PM EDT

Remember during the campaign, when then-candidate Obama was perfectly poised and careful to stay on message? Be it climate change, social issues, or foreign policy, Obama and his campaign lackeys clung to their message for dear life. Not even Sarah Palin's repeated insinuation that Obama is either a terrorist or secretly in love with terrorists could faze them.

So where did that ninja-like focus go? In each of this week's divisive issues, President Obama swerved from the important goal of moving health care reform through Congress to give his critics the unrelentless, shameless platform that is 24-hour news networks. When it came to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and proving his own citizenship, President Obama just could not avoid commenting.

Whether you think that the Cambridge police department, as President Obama put it at his health care press conference Wednesday night, "acted stupidly," in arresting the prominent Harvard professor breaking into his own house, or if you think that Gates blew it with his response, it's clear that Obama should have steered clear of the issue. The next day, instead of debating health care, the MSM focused on the President's Gates remark and its implications for race in America. Obama backpedaled today and even invited Gates and Officer Crowley to the White House for a beer. 

Jon Stewart mocked Obama and the MSM response last night on The Daily Show (skip to 6:00 minute mark). “I think it’s fair to say that Obama handled that question… oh what’s the word I’m looking for…stupidly?”

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Back to Square One on Pot

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 2:55 PM EDT

Meet the new drug czar, not especially different from the old drug czar:

The federal government is not going to pull back on its efforts to curtail marijuana farming operations, Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Wednesday in Fresno...."Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine," he said.

...."Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit," Kerlikowske said in downtown Fresno while discussing Operation SOS — Save Our Sierra — a multiagency effort to eradicate marijuana in eastern Fresno County.

It's disappointing to hear him say that — and a bit cowardly.  But hardly unexpected.  Despite a flurry of optimism a few months ago, Obama and Kerlikowske have obviously come to the same conclusion as all of their predecessors: this isn't a fight worth fighting.  They've got other fish to fry, they know perfectly well there's no support for marijuana legalization in Congress, and there's no political upside in taking the side of a bunch of potheads.  It's better to simply denounce the demon pot, provide the culture warriors with nothing to complain about, and move on.

We might legalize marijuana someday — de facto if not de jure — but not today.  Maybe in another ten years or so.