2009 - %3, November

Is Climate Change a Feminist Issue?

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 2:24 PM PST

Yes, according to a report released yesterday by the United Nations Population Fund. "Women—particularly those in poor countries—will be affected differently than men," the report states. In developing countries, the report goes on to explain, erratic weather is increasing floods and droughts which "...increases the burden for women and girls, as they are the ones expected to ensure that there is enough food for the family." Women produce 60 to 80 percent of food in most developing nations, a task made increasingly difficult by climate change.

Aside from food production and acquisition, women in poor countries in general have fewer material resources and income-earning opportunities, more child-rearing duties, and they are less likely to survive natural disasters like tsunamis and floods than men. But as women may disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change, they may also be part of the solution. The report's authors suggest that wide access to contraception and reproductive health services for women in poor nations may do more to reduce climate change than any legislative action. (As we've reported before, children are CO2-heavy investments.) Additionally, women are "more likely than men to buy 'green' products" and are "less likely than men to trust governments and corporations to solve environmental problems."

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Al Qaeda: No Longer a "Direct" Threat

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 2:06 PM PST

Is al Qaeda no longer a profound threat to the United States?

In testimony to a House homeland security subcommittee on Thursday, Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst, al Qaeda expert, New America Foundation fellow, and Mother Jones contributor, said: 

Al Qaeda today no longer poses a direct national security threat to the United States itself, but rather poses a second-order threat in which the worst case scenario would be an al Qaeda-trained or -inspired terrorist managing to pull off an attack on the scale of something in between the 1993 Trade Center attack, which killed six, and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168.

Bergen added:

[A] key reason the United States escaped a serious terrorist attack has little to do with either the Bush or Obama administrations. In sharp contrast to Muslim populations in European countries like Britain -- where al Qaeda has found recruits for multiple serious terrorist plots -- the American Muslim community has largely rejected the ideological virus of militant Islam. The 'American Dream' has generally worked well for Muslims in the United States, who are both better-educated and wealthier than the average American. More than a third of Muslim Americans have a graduate degree or better, compared to less than 10% of the population as a whole.

Bergen is no naive optimist, ready to declare victory in the never-ending war on terrorism. But imagine if his measured view of the al Qaeda threat were to be fully incorporated into political discourse and government deliberations. Meanwhile, I wonder if the neocons and other hawks will come after him for daring to suggest that the al Qaeda danger be regarded realistically.

You can read his full testimony here.

ACORN Madness

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 12:53 PM PST

I understand that constantly calling the Republican base batshit crazy gets old.  I really do.  Honest.  But via TPM, check out this survey result from Public Policy Polling: 52% of Republicans now think that ACORN stole the 2008 election from John McCain.

There aren't words for this.  Something like 40 million Republicans are now convinced that ACORN (!) somehow managed to steal an election that McCain lost by seven percentage points. Another 20 million think they might have stolen it but aren't sure.  The Fox/Limbaugh/Palin axis, which probably directly reaches maybe 10 million people on a regular basis, has nonetheless convinced six times that number to buy into a conspiracy theory that makes the Area 51 crowd look sane by comparison.

This is craziness.  I could understand 10 or 15% believing this.  That's sort of the base level of people who will believe any nutty idea.  But 52%?  Someone in the GOP needs to take a deep breath and a long look in the mirror, and then try to rescue their party.  Condoning insanity is not a long-term electoral strategy.

California's Choice

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 12:23 PM PST

Here's the latest news from the world's biggest provider of penal services:

Caught between state funding cuts and rowdy student protests, a key committee of the University of California's Board of Regents on Wednesday reluctantly approved a two-step student fee increase that would raise undergraduate education costs more than $2,500, or 32%, by next fall.

...."I hate to say it, but if you have no choice, you have no choice," UC President Mark G. Yudof told reporters after the committee vote. He empathized with student anger, but said it would be better directed toward state lawmakers who have cut education funding.

....The regents' finance committee approved the new fees for UC's undergraduates 10 to 1, with only student Regent Jesse Bernal voting no. The full board is expected to endorse the change today, along with even higher increases for students in professional schools such as law and medicine.

Yudof is right: there's probably not much choice anymore.  Partly this is because of dumb tax and spending decisions in the past.  Partly it's because of the recession.  And partly it's because the prison guards union has spent the last 30 years scaring Californians into fits in order to build up the prison population.  The chart on the right shows an almost ghostly parallel: adjusted for inflation, UC tuition has gone up 5x since 1980.  During the same period, spending on corrections has also gone up 5x.  As we spend ever more on warehousing prisoners, we're forced to make students pay ever more for their education.  The two lines track almost exactly.

We used to have the world's greatest system of higher education and we thrived.  Now we have the world's biggest system of penal institutions and we're broke.  That's the decision Californians have made over the past 30 years: more prisons and better paid prison guards, but lower taxes and less education.  (And not just higher education, either.)  It's hard to think of a stupider allocation of resources.  But hey — at least our property taxes are capped!  Hooray!

The Rest of the World

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 11:20 AM PST

John Judis compares the coverage of Barack Obama's trip to South Korea in three different newspapers today:

Both the Post and the Times focus not on South Korea per se, but on Obama’s taking a “stern tone” toward North Korea in his discussions with the South Koreans.  The Post suggests that the two sides have agreed to a “new approach,” which will reject “endless, inconclusive disarmament negotiations” with the North. OK, pardon me if I yawn.

....Now let’s look at the Financial Times story by Christian Oliver and Edward Luce, which is about one-third the size of the other pieces....Here are the opening paragraphs:

When George Bush senior visited Seoul as US president 20 years ago, things were simple – the US was the undisputed main ally and trade partner. Astonishingly, there was only one weekly flight from South Korea to China, the communist foe. Barack Obama on Wednesday visits a South Korea where the US is no longer the only show in town. China is now the main trade partner, with 642 flights each week.

One flight versus 642 flights — that’s a small detail that tells a large story about South Korea and China....There’s more, too, about Obama making trade promises to South Korea that Congress is unlikely to let him keep. All in all, you get in one-third the length three times more interesting information than in the Times and Post articles, and it’s epitomized in the lead paragraphs comparing the number of flights that now run weekly between China and South Korea.

There are two things going on here.  First, the FT writes for a more sophisticated audience that's been following this story for a while and is actually interested in learning more about it.  Second, and related, the FT doesn't have to pretend that the only news that matters is whatever happens to be the current hot button in the United States.  American audiences tend to believe that pretty much every international issue revolves mainly around how it affect the United States, and that's the only angle they're interested in.

At least, that's what American newspapers assume.  They might find out different if they tried the FT's approach, but honestly, they probably know their audience pretty well.  Even most highly educated Americans just don't care much about the rest of the world except to the extent that it affects us.

Fiore Cartoon: Terrorist Lockdown

Thu Nov. 19, 2009 10:31 AM PST

A rundown of how terrorism is handled in the US:

--Rudy Giuliani, John Boehner: Wuss!

--American justice system: Tough!

See how these and others fare in satirist Mark Fiore's cartoon below:

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Quote of the Day

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 9:41 AM PST

From Jon Stewart, explaining what it's like to listen to Sarah Palin:

It's just a conservative boiler plate mad lib.

I think that nails it.  Yesterday I was thinking about how everything she says sounds like it's just plucked from the tea party talking points of the day, but Stewart comes closer to the truth.  They aren't just talking points, they're sort of bizarrely, syntactically mashed up talking points.

I wonder what really goes on inside her head?  Lots of politicians have mastered the art of speaking in talking points and never going off message, but mostly they at least try to sound like they know what they're talking about.  Palin doesn't.  She just spouts the sixth grade version of the talking points with an apparently total unawareness that she sounds like a child.

Virtually every political commenter — even the ones who like her! — concluded after the presidential campaign that she needed to study up on the issues, maybe pick one to make into her signature, and use that to increase her gravitas.  But obviously she hasn't.  She just doesn't care.  Or, perhaps, doesn't think there's any reason she needs to know about issues.  I mean, she beat that nerdy issue guy in the Alaska governor's race just by making fun of his book learning, didn't she?  Why change a winning game plan?

Controlling Healthcare

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 9:13 AM PST

Ezra Klein on the cost control portions of the Senate healthcare bill:

If this piece of the bill was passed on its own, it would be the most important cost control bill ever considered by the United States Congress. But you could never have passed it on its own. You needed the coverage to make the grand bargain work. Republicans like to call this bill a trillion-dollar experiment to expand the health-care system, and in some ways, it is. But it's also a multitrillion-dollar experiment to cut costs in the health-care system, and it deserves credit for that, and support from fiscal conservatives. It's easy to talk about cutting costs, but this is the chance for people to actually do it.

This is a consistently underappreciated aspect of the current reform efforts in general and the Senate bill in particular.  Are they Rube Goldberg concoctions?  Sure.  Might they fail?  Sure.  But they are, by several miles, more ambitious attempts to rein in both Medicare costs, and healthcare costs generally, than anything ever done.  Nothing else even comes close. MedPAC, Medicare growth targets, excise taxes on Cadillac plans, givebacks from Pharma, a modest public option, delivery reforms — these are all pitifully inadequate to the task, but they're also the best prospects for healthcare cost control we've ever seen.

Right now Democrats are stuck.  For short-term political reasons, Republicans have decided to demagogue cost-control because it helps them gin up opposition to healthcare reform in general.  This means Dems can't really afford to do more on this front even if they wanted to.  But at least these bills set the stage.  They put in place both goals and programs that can be built on later if America's party of fiscal conservatism ever decides to stop throwing temper tantrums and instead join in seriously addressing America's long-term fiscal problems.  That probably won't be until after 2012, but if reform passes this year at least we will have gotten started by then.

Offset Your Infidelity

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 5:05 AM PST

Do you have difficulty being faithful? Fear not: CheatNeutral allows you to offset your infidelity by paying another couple not to cheat. With just a few easy payments, you can assuage you guilt and continue your meandering ways.

Sound crazy?

That's because the "service" is an elaborate satire of carbon offsets, the system that allows polluters to justify their sins by paying to reduce emissions elsewhere.

As Mark Shapiro illustrates in the recent issue of Mother Jones, in the wrong hands carbon offsetting=greenwashing. When enviro-villains GM, American Electrical Power, and Chevron recently partnered with the Nature Conservancy, they weaseled out of tougher emission limits by purchasing reserves in a Brazil forest. In return, they got rights to the trees' potentially lucrative carbon sequestration—while pushing locals from their land. Environmentally responsible? Yeah, right.

Of course, carbon offsetting isn't all bad. Legit companies like TerraPass, for instance, allow individuals and businesses to offset their everyday emissions by funding renewable energy projects.

But CheatNeutral sharply makes the point: Wouldn't it make more sense for the worst offenders to not screw over a partner—or an ecosystem—in the first place?

Crashing the Chamber of Commerce's SF Conference

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 5:00 AM PST

Yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce came to San Francisco to hold a "government affairs" conference. SF is, of course, Mother Jones' home turf, but sadly, we weren't sent an invitation—probably because of this, this, or this.

The Chamber's contentious relationship with its chorus of critics didn't keep a polar bear, a big street puppet, and a crowd of burly union members from gathering to give the business lobby what Greenpeace campaigner Lauren Thorpe called "a good San Francisco welcome." At a park near the Fairmont Hotel, where the Chamber was meeting, the ususal lunchtime crowd of women walking shih tzus was was replaced by a sea of placards. Labor leaders denounced the Chamber for opposing health care reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, and green jobs. "I don't think it's a stretch to say they are so 20th century," Danny Kennedy, cofounder of Sungevity, San Francisco’s largest residential solar company, said through a bullhorn. "We have to go kick them into the dustbin of history where they deserve to be."

With that, the chanting crowd marched to the Fairmont. It was joined by San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party member, who called upon the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which was attending the event, "to boldly stand up and say that what the US Chamber is doing is wrong."