2011 - %3, April

Why Iowa's Hogs and Vermont's Maple Trees Do Have a Stake in Global Warming

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 12:15 PM EDT

On Monday I posted an explanation of the Supreme Court case American Electric Power Company Inc. v. Connecticut, which the court heard oral arguments on this morning. At the heart of the case is the question of whether states and other entities can sue the country's biggest emitters for their contribution to global warming. Six states, the city of New York, and a handful of land conservancies have filed suit against the five biggest emitters in the United States using a common law nuisance argument. Basically, they argue that global warming, caused at least in part by these utilities, is harming their residents and environment.

On Tuesday, the American Security Project released a new report outlining the impact climate change could have on each state. The report could help bolster the states' arguments by showing that climate change really could have real and quantifiable impacts on states' economies.

Here are some of the projected costs to the six states involved in the case:

Connecticut:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that protecting the coast from a projected 20-inch sea level rise in sea level would be between $500 million and $3 billion by 2100.
  • Rising temperatures are a threat to wildlife and forestry in the state, which generate $300 million in annual revenue through tourism.
  • Between 2010 and 2050, climate change could cost Connecticut $9.5 billion in gross domestic project loss and over 36,000 jobs.

Iowa:

  • Winters and springs could become 30 percent wetter over the next few decades—increasing the frequency of weather events like the flood that ruined $4 billion in crops in 2008.
  • Iowa farmers already lose $40 million in hogs and pigs every year due to heat stress, a number that would likely climb as temperatures rise and impact an industry worth $4.3 billion annually.

Rhode Island:

  • The EPA estimates that sea level rise will cost Rhode Island up to $530 million by the end of the century.
  • Climate-spurred natural disasters affecting the port of Providence could directly impact the manufacturing and trade that accounts for 25 percent of the state’s $45 billion annual income.

Vermont:

  • Under business-as-usual projections, average temperatures in the state are expected to rise between 4 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, a change that would cut short the sap-tapping season and hurt the $32 million maple syrup industry.
  • Shorter winters and less snow would raise operating costs for ski resorts, a $750 million industry in the state, as operators would have to churn out more artificial snow to stay in business. The amount of artificial snow produced by ski resorts is already increasing; it went up 15 percent between 1997 and 2009.

New York:

  • Increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, Nor’easters and other extreme events could lead to "hundreds of billions—if not trillions—of dollars" in losses for New York's coastal areas.
  • Industries that will be affected by climate change provide 290,000 jobs and $77 billion in profits each year for New York.
  • Between 2010 and 2050, New York stands to lose $122.9 billion in GDP and over 560,000 jobs due to climate change.

California:

  • If emissions continue on the high-end of projections, the state could see sea level rise of 22 to 30 inches. Protecting the area around San Francisco Bay alone could cost up to $30 billion each year.
  • Ozone and particulate pollution already causes 8,800 deaths and costs the state $71 billion annually, numbers that are expected to rise with temperature.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Going in Circles in Libya

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 12:10 PM EDT

The LA Times reports on how things are going in Libya:

"We rushed into this without a plan," said David Barno, a retired Army general who once commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. "Now we're out in the middle, going in circles."

The failure of the international air campaign to force Kadafi's ouster, or even to stop his military from shelling civilians and recapturing rebel-held towns, poses a growing quandary for President Obama and other NATO leaders: What now?

Well, this, apparently:

A joint British-French military team of advisers is to be sent to Benghazi in a move that is likely to lead to accusations of mission creep....The UK-French team will advise the rebels on intelligence-gathering, logistics, and communications. In an indication of the serious nature of the move, the team will be run by a joint force headquarters, the Guardian has learned.

....William Hague, the foreign secretary, said in a statement that the team "will enable the UK to build on the work already being undertaken to support and advise the NTC [National Transitional Council] on how to better protect civilians". He added: "In particular they will advise the NTC on how to improve their military organisational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance."

Hague said the British section of the team will consist of "experienced British military officers".

Bud these are advisors, not trainers, no rebels are being armed, no boots are on the ground, etc. etc. Move on, nothing to see here, folks.

MAP: Has Your State Banned Sodomy?

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 11:29 AM EDT

Last week we reported on the debate in the Texas state legislature over whether to repeal to the state's ban on "homosexual conduct." It's been eight years since the Supreme Court officially knocked down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, but Texas' state legislature has thus far refused to remove the law from the books—in large part because most Texas Republicans still support it. In 2010, the state GOP made defense of the anti-sodomy statute part of its platform, calling for the state to effectively ignore the the law of the land: "We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy." Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, dismissed the Lawrence decision as the product of "nine oligarchs in robes" (never mind that it was a 6–3 decision).

But Texas isn't the only state that's still legislating bedroom activity. Fourteen states currently have laws on the books outlawing anal sex between two consenting, unrelated adults—referred to variously as "deviate sexual conduct," "the infamous crime against nature," "sodomy," and "buggery." And it's taken a concerted effort to keep those laws on the books. Since Lawrence, efforts to formally repeal laws in Montana, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, North Carolina, and, most notably, Texas have all faced resistance before fizzling out in their respective state legislatures. Conservatives in those states know they can't enforce the laws, but by keeping them in the code, they can send a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government. So which states still outlaw butt sex? Here's a map:

All Sodomy Outlawed: Idaho, UtahMichiganVirginiaNorth Carolina, South Carolina, FloridaAlabama, MississippiLouisiana

Just for gays: MontanaKansas, OklahomaTexas

Wall Street Watch

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 11:19 AM EDT

So how's the banking industry doing in the wake of the Great Collapse? Here are a few bellwethers:

  • Goldman Sachs crushed analysts' expectations. They're doing great!
  • Citigroup is successfully gaming those pesky new capital requirement. Nice job, Citi!
  • America's top bank regulator is cutting yet more sweetheart deals with America's top banks. Good job, OCC!

Being on Wall Street means never having to say you're sorry. It's a grand life.

Dems: GOP Will Make Grandpa Strip for Health Care Cash

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 11:06 AM EDT

Democrats haven't wasted any time using Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget as a political bludgeon after all but three House Republicans voted to pass the plan on Friday. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an attack ad campaign in more than 24 GOP-controlled swing districts, focusing on the Ryan plan's radical overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid. Since the GOP unveiled the budget, the party's refrain has been that Republicans want to "end Medicare as we know it." In the new DCCC campaign, that’s now been shortened to "Republicans voted to end Medicare"—full stop.

The Dems have also resorted to less, uh, conventional messages to drive the message home. The DCCC has released an ad on Tuesday as part of its new Medicare campaign, showing an elderly man who's forced to do menial labor to pay for health care under the Republicans' budget plan. The ad's crowning moment? Grandpa shows up as a Chippendale-style stripper at a bachelorette party. "Did someone call the fire department?" he asks. "Because it’s about to get hot in here!"

Will Americans think it's funny? Outlandish? Gross? It will depend on whether the Democrats can convince Americans that the GOP is pushing a plan that’s even more over the top.

Supreme Court to Uighurs: No US for You

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 6:27 AM EDT
Palau: It doesn't look so bad. (In fairness, it's not all this pretty. And just because you might want to visit somewhere doesn't necessarily mean you'd want to live there.)

On Monday, the Supreme Court said it would not hear an appeal from a group of five Chinese Muslims held at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. The men, who are members of the Uighur minority group from western China, fear that they may be tortured or executed if they are returned to their home country and therefore seek to be released in the United States. Both the Bush and Obama administrations determined long ago that the Uighurs are not a national security threat, and pretty much everyone agrees that their continued detention is unlawful. So these guys should be released, right? 

Unfortunately for the Uighurs, there's a catch, and it's why the Supreme Court declined to hear the case: the government has already offered to resettle the men in the Pacific nation/future climate change victim/onetime Survivor set of Palau, but they have refused. (Another group of Uighurs was resettled in Palau in 2009.) As Justice Stephen Breyer explained in a statement joined by Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "under present circumstances," there is "no Government-imposed obstacle to petitioners' timely release and appropriate resettlement." Breyer also noted that even though the Uighurs declined the Obama administration's first resettlement offers, the government says it's willing to "discuss the matter with the government of Palau," and is still working to find other countries willing to take the five men.

It seems like the most obvious thing to do here would be for the court to order the Uighurs resettled in the United States, as they desire. But the liberals on the court probably don't have the votes for that. While Kennedy joins the liberal bloc on many terrorism-related cases, the liberals would be without Elena Kagan, who was disqualified from ruling on the Uighur case because she worked on it in her previous job as solicitor general. As Breyer noted, the court was eager to resolve whether a court could order the release of an "unlawfully held prisoner" into the US "when no other remedy was available." Unfortunately for the Uighurs, they have another remedy available (namely Palau), and this time around, that made all the difference. So this decision ends up as just another reminder that not everyone wants to leave Gitmo. The war on terror sure produces some odd moments.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 19, 2011

Tue Apr. 19, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

1st Lt. Andrew McKinley, a logistics officer with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, high-crawls through a mud pit obstacle as he and his team of officers complete a testing course or “lane” during a Prop Blast, a traditional team-building event that welcomes new officers to the division, April 8, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Following a seven-mile run, participants completed four lanes of two hours each. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

Why We Deny

| Tue Apr. 19, 2011 1:33 AM EDT

I've always known that facts and evidence don't generally affect people's opinions much. But possibly the worst aspect of blogging for the past nine years is that now I really, really know it. I have my face rubbed in it every day. That's a different, and far more discouraging thing, than simply knowing it in an abstract, intellectual sort of way. But Chris Mooney comes to the rescue today, putting this all back into the realm of the abstract and using science to explain why science persuades so few people:

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

We're not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn't take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

Read the rest for the whole story. But be prepared to be annoyed when Chris wrenches his spine out of shape bending over backward to find an example of liberals denying science as much as conservatives. It might be true that you can find vaccine deniers in the aisles of Whole Foods, but if there's any rigorous evidence that belief in the vaccine-autism link is especially pronounced or widespread among liberals, I haven't seen it. Surely there's a better, more substantive example than that floating around somewhere?

Why Fox Dumped Glenn Beck

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 6:06 PM EDT

Joshua Green:

A friend in the TV industry whose business it is to know these things has a persuasive theory about why Fox News dumped Glenn Beck: Beck simply wasn't toeing the company line. Whereas other Fox News personalities dutifully parroted the preferred mantra about Obama and the White House being a bunch of left-wingers, Beck — after initially targeting administration figures (Van Jones, etc.) and winning huge ratings — consistently departed on his loony flights of fantasy about caliphates, SDS, and even fish sticks (stick with me here). My friend wasn't just spit-balling; he had evidence to back it up. He'd kept a list of about two months' worth of the tease headlines for Beck's show. He also had a similar list for Bill O'Reilly, whom he perceived as representing the Fox News baseline. It makes for a fascinating contrast — and if you plug it into Wordle, one you can visualize.

Well, it turns out Green's friend is also a friend of mine, and he emailed this morning to alert me to this. "A fun little side project of mine that you might find interesting," he said. And you might too. Click the link to see how Beck's brand of lunacy just wasn't quite the brand that Fox wanted.

Texas Dems Tap Iraq General for Senate

| Mon Apr. 18, 2011 5:21 PM EDT

The Democrats think they're within striking distance of a Republican-held Senate seat in Texas, and they think they've found their man: retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, a cantankerous San Antonian who oversaw the Iraq War effort in 2003 and 2004. "It's the one candidate that will cause John Cornyn some heartburn," a Dem state politico told McClatchy last week.

But Sanchez comes with obvious baggage, and Wired's Danger Room marshaled the opposition research today, calling Sanchez a "disgraced three-star" and launching into quite the denunciation:

Congratulations, Texas Democratic Party: you are on the verge of a new level in cynicism. Sanchez's tenure running the Iraq war saw a humiliated and cashiered Iraqi military metastasize into an insurgency that killed and maimed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Under pressure from the Pentagon, he approved abusive detention and interrogation practices for Abu Ghraib that resulted in the U.S.' most damaging wartime scandal since Vietnam. What could possibly interrupt Sanchez's deserved fade into obscurity? "He's the one guy who could unite the Hispanic vote," former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes told McClatchy. "He'll get the conservative Hispanic businessman." Amazing...

Really? A "new level" in military and racial cynicism? In congressional politics? (Hello, Allen West? Ilario Pantano?)