2013...mewhat-popular - %2

Surprise! Lots of People Are Saving Money Thanks to Obamacare.

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 9:22 PM EST

Today brings ever more stories of rate shock from people signing up for Obamacare:

Sue Spanke of Missoula, Mont., was highly displeased this fall when she learned her health insurance had been canceled....After angrily calling her state auditor's office, Spanke, a self-employed artist in her 50s, found she was eligible for a federal subsidy. Her new insurance will cover her for a mere $30 to $40 a month with a deductible of only $500. She had been paying $350 a month for a Blue Cross policy with a $5,000 deductible. "I went from a horrible policy that didn't cover anything, that was breaking me, to the best policy at the best price I've had since I was in my 20s," she said.

....In Lancaster, Pa., Lori Lapman, 58, learned her health plan was being canceled in September—by October things were looking up. Per The Sunday News: "Sitting at a laptop with a certified health law helper, Lapman went to HealthCare.gov, found it running smoothly, and bought a subsidized Highmark plan that allows her to keep her doctors while saving her money. Her canceled plan cost her $520 a month. Her new coverage? Only $111.73."

....In a letter to the editor in The Santa Maria Times, Allan Pacela told the story of how after his wife lost her insurance this fall, she found much better coverage under Obamacare. The couple is now saving $8,000 per year for a "much better plan."

There's more at the link, and all from doing a quick Nexis search of newspapers across the country. Just imagine what we might find out with a little bit of old-school shoe-leather reporting.

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Rand Paul Doubles Down on Support for GOP Senate Candidate Who Rallied With Secessionists

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 8:48 PM EST

On Monday, Mother Jones profiled North Carolina Senate hopeful Greg Brannon—a Republican primary candidate who believes public education is dehumanizing and Marxist, and who recently cosponsored a rally with a secessionist group, the League of the South, which seeks "a free and independent Southern republic." Brannon feels bipartisan compromises in Washington "enslave" Americans. He prefers the governing style of his "modern hero" Jesse Helms—a North Carolina senator of 30 years best known for refusing, even until the day he died in 2008, to renounce his support for racial segregation.

Sen. Rand Paul, among other big-name conservatives, has endorsed Brannon as the best candidate to challenge vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan next fall. And while Paul's office didn't respond to requests for comment for that profile, a photo posted on Paul's Facebook page Monday evening reiterated Paul's support for Brannon and his campaign.

"Greg Brannon is the type of 100% fight to repeal ObamaCare conservative I need in the U.S. Senate," read the caption, under a composite photograph that showed a smiling Paul next to Brannon. "Support his 'Retreat is NOT an Option Money Bomb' by clicking the link below." The caption linked to a page on Brannon's website where supporters could donate to Brannon's ten-day "Money Bomb" campaign. The fundraiser, which ended Monday night, aimed "to fight back against Karl Rove and the DC Insiders who are determined to silence grassroots conservatives," a reference to Rove's work for one of Brannon's primary opponents.

In a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, Brannon was the only Republican who beat Hagan in a head-to-head matchup. When PPP polled Republican primary voters on the four GOP candidates, North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis ran 9 points ahead of Brannon—but nearly half of those voters said they were undecided.

This Might Be the Most Jaw-Dropping Tale of Fraud You Read This Year

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 4:22 PM EST

Yesterday, a friend emailed to complain about this headline at NBC News: 

Climate change expert's fraud was 'crime of massive proportion,' say feds

Technically, this headline is correct. It's about a guy who's a climate change expert. And he did perpetrate a fraud. The thing is, his fraud had nothing to do with the fact that he's a climate change expert. So why make it sound that way in the headline? Is it just clickbait for the fever swamp denier crowd?

And yet! You really, really ought to click the link and read the story anyway. Just ignore the ridiculous headline and dig in. This really is one of the more remarkable fraud stories of the year. I guarantee your mouth will be hanging open by the time you finish it.

2015 in Film, as Predicted by the 2013 Black List

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 4:03 PM EST

The 2013 Black List was announced Monday. No, it has nothing to do with communism (we think). Instead it is a collection of the top unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, according to various studio executive and readers who make up the judges. Making the Black List is a big deal! Loads of Oscar winners and box office triumphs have begun there. In two years, you'll probably be seeing many of these scripts in theaters. We thought we’d give you a preview of those films. However, since we know nothing about these screenplays except for their titles, we had to get creative.

Here are the imagined plots of the 72 screenplays on the 2013 Black List:

1. Time and Temperature, Nick Santora
“All it takes is a little time and temperature,” Helena’s grandmother always said as they waited for their victims to roast in the cauldron.

2. Pure O, Kate Trefry
College sophomore Annie reads a New York Times article that says women aren’t having as many orgasms as men. Outraged, she sets about teaching every man, lesbian, and bi-curious woman at Oberlin how to give oral sex. Written with Evan Rachel Wood in mind.

3. The Company Man, Andrew Cypiot
Corporate lawyer gets subpoenaed by the SEC to testify against his shady company, refuses to rat, goes to prison for 18 months, is rewarded by the CEO with a secret Cayman account worth millions, lives a long and happy life, dies serenely with his family by his side, and burns in hell for all eternity.

4. Burn Site, Doug Simon
It’s 1997 and a Tower Records is haunted by the ghost of a witch who was burned at the stake in that very same location 300 years earlier. “Napster is coming,” she howls nightly.

5. Capsule, Ian Shorr
Sad 40-year-old man finds a time capsule from 30 years ago containing his hopes and dreams, goes looking for his best friends who also dreamed big. Surprise! None of them made it, so they band together to finally make their dreams come true.

6. Extinction, Spenser Cohen
The human race is basically extinct. All that is left are one man and one woman…and boy they can't stand each other!

7. Bury the Lead, Justin Kremer
A newspaper staff facing big cuts gets together one night and kills the belt-tightening owner, burying him in coverage from Syria. No one notices.

8. Line of Duty, Cory Miller
Three unpopular undergraduates are dispatched by jocks to hold their place in line at the coolest club in Ohio. Over the course of a “wild and crazy night” they learn self-worth.

9. A Boy and His Tiger, Dan Dollar
Based loosely on the Allen Ginsburg poem "The Lion for Real", this is the harrowing tale of a boy dealing with the shame of masturbation.

10. Inquest, Josh Simon
Who took the cookie from the cookie jar? A child’s introduction to the judiciary system (looking for a home at Pixar; would accept PBS).

11. Sweetheart, Jack Stanley
Man and woman in love are driving through the French Riviera. “Sweetheart,” they say to each other. Car crashes off a cliff and both die instantly. Their respective spouses come to retrieve the bodies, fall in love. Tagline: Sometimes it takes death to find your true sweetheart.

12. Shovel Buddies, Jason Mark Hellerman
“Usually, I can’t stand to look at your ugly face, but out here, in the quiet? Digging graves? You’re like the only person who understands me.” Two competitive hitmen exchange ribald barbs in this quirky buddy flick about killing people who don’t deserve it for money.

13. Fully Wrecked, Jake Morse, Scott Wolman
You’ve seen snowboarding movies. You’ve seen Jackass. You’ve seen the cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba. But have you seen a man high on marijuana cigarettes, dressed as a vacuum, and holding a cat, wipe out on a black diamond while riding an unwaxed snowboard? And then find the strength of character to do it again? Not until now.

14. The End of the Tour, Donald Margulies
In this unauthorized sequel to Almost Famous, Henry goes to New York to make it as a journalist…just as the newspaper industry is imploding. Watch the sad decline of one of America’s most important institutions through the eyes of a boy who once held so much promise. Bonus: killer soundtrack (rights pending).

15. The Mayor of Shark City, Nick Creature, Michael Sweeney
Child prodigy Ethan Klein could have been anything and gone anywhere, but did he want a PhD at Oxford or the presidency of the United States? No. He wanted to run the drug trade in San Jose. And he’s doing an incredible job, an incredibly bloody job.

16. Spotlight, Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Good Samaritan saves old lady from oncoming subway train, becomes a hero, is given the key to the city, goes on the Today show, where his past DUIs are revealed. He later loses his government job. Moral: Never do anything for anybody.

17. Gay Kid and Fat Chick, Bo Burnham
We’re not touching this one.

18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alexis C. Jolly
A stirring portrait of Mr. Rogers’ clinical depression.

19. Ink and Bone, Zak Olkewicz
Oh, so you want to open an “artifacts shoppe” in San Francisco’s uber-hip Mission District? Welcome to the club. The real-life story of hipsters applying for building permits.

20. Dogfight, Nicole Riegel
Man who owns pit bulls that fight other pit bulls falls in love with woman who owns another pit bull his pit bull is supposed to fight.

21. Sovereign, Geoff Tock, Greg Weidman
Do you have ownership over your own thoughts, or is some unknown entity ruling your soul? I mean, like, when you really think about it, man, like think think? This movie follows four Sarah Lawrence undergraduates on a metaphysical journey.

22. I'm Proud of You, Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue
Two estranged, emotionally stunted brothers reunite to drive across the country, dig up their recently deceased father’s corpse, and “get some closure.”

23. The Special Program, Debora Cahn
Area special snowflake applies for MacArthur Fellowship, waits patiently to hear back while his life passes him by.

24. Faults, Riley Stearns
Who's to blame for the Westing family’s hard luck? Jack the alcoholic dad, Gemma the cheating mom, Bertie the psychopathic son, or Joan, the daughter who cooks dinner every night and cries into her teddy bear. OK, clearly not Joan.

25. The Independent, Evan Parter
In a world gone mad, where depravity and sin fill the streets, only one man is brave enough to make unnecessary cuts to social security.

26. The Shark Is Not Working, Richard Cordiner
Behind-the-scenes look at “fish slavery” at SeaWorld, brought to you by the Defenders of Wildlife. “When you think about it, no one asked that shark to delight that horde of children, you know?” says co-creator Angela Sim.

27. Autopsy of Jane Doe, Richard Naing, Ian Goldberg
When it’s discovered that Jane Doe is in fact the beloved film actress Gwnyeth Paltrow—thought to be at a yoga retreat lo these many weeks—the vegan food lobby funds a massive manhunt to find the poor, pitiful, murderous soul who couldn’t stand seeing perfection exist in the world.

28. The Civilian, Rachel Long, Brian Pittman
Internet detective with no particular expertise investigates crime with no particular significance. First of a trilogy.

29. The Crown, Max Hurwitz
Dentist with a drug problem is cash poor but crown rich. Tries to unload $800,000 in dental prosthetics in Costa Rica.

30. Revelation, Hernany Perla
Man has a revelation: Buy gold.

31. The Killing Floor, Bac Delorme, Stephen Clarke
A young girl is traumatized when she wanders into a meat factory after a bouncy ball. The pools of blood haunt her dreams. She tries vegetarianism. She tries activism. But only revenge makes her feel better. The story of how sometimes murder is the only option.

32. Elsewhere, Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
In this claustrophobic tale of obese twins working in a laundromat in Wyoming, we finally understand the meaning of hell.

33. Clarity, Ryan Belenzon, Jeffrey Gelber
Everyone starts taking Adderall all the time, and it’s really great for a while—until people lose too much weight and stop making sense.

34. 1969: A Space Odyssey or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon, Stephany Folsom
Two people sit on a bench and talk about Stanley Kubrick movies with their mouths…but their eyes are saying, “Kiss me.” Will they or won’t they? Tensions run high in this talky. Run time: 2:26. (Mother Jones' Asawin Suebsaeng spoke to Stephany Folsom about what her script is actually about. That interview is here.)

35. From Here to Albion, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
American importer/exporter Henry Roth works hard to bring blue jeans to Britain.

36. Nicholas, Leo Sardarian
Nicholas is handsome, young, and has his whole life ahead of him, but when he impregnates Mrs. Claus, his future is set in stone. Adorable elf children make this a must-see.

37. The Golden Record, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell
Everything in Scott Willard’s life comes easy to him—grades, girls, money—but one day at Harvard he takes mushrooms and realizes that despite his sterling credentials, his life is meaningless. He sets out to make it right. Conveniently, he’s rich, so he can do whatever he likes.

38. Man of Sorrow, Neville Kiser
The biography of Joe, who felt like a fraud even though really he worked pretty hard.

39. Dig, Adam Barker
One man’s journey of self-discovery while digging a hole, a really deep hole (based on the real-life blog).

40. Free Byrd, Jon Boyer
Unjustly convicted inmates escape from prison, are illiterate.

41. Reminiscence, Lisa Joy Nolan
A 27-year-old moves to the big city to pursue his dreams, gets an internship, has awkward sex with a lady in his office, lands a full-time gig at an art gallery, but can’t stop thinking of this one summer when he had sex with men back in Nevada.

42. Beauty Queen, Annie Neal
At 33, Miss America 1994 goes back to small-town Nebraska and opens a dry-goods store, dates a local contractor, gets pregnant, married, divorced, then makes her daughter enter pageants.

43. The Politician, Matthew Bass, Theodore Bressman
The President is forced to shoot down a hijacked transatlantic flight headed towards Washington, killing 211 Americans. Impeached by the House, he begins lobbying for support in the Senate. In the end, he is acquitted after agreeing to support increased ethanol subsidies in the farm bill.

44. American Sniper, Jason Dean Hall
We’re pretty sure this is based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History.

45. Tchaikovsky's Requiem, Jonathan Stokes
It’s about hockey.

46. The Remains, Meaghan Oppenheimer
Elizabeth has a secret she’s never told anyone. But when a book is discovered on a park bench full of codes and high-level math, Berlin’s top code-breaker starts solving a riddle that leads straight to her.

47. Beast, Zach Dean
Sexy male underwear model Junot Grant has everything he’s ever wanted—his penis 50-feet tall on a billboard in Times Square, a gorgeous girlfriend—but he leaves the glamorous life behind to journey to his home village in Brazil and confront is oldest foe, Dad.

48. The Line, Sang Kyu Kim
Old dying theater director blames his failing heart on stress from years of being unable to mount a successful version of Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy. With only days to live, he resolves to hunt down and kill every former cast member who ever uttered the word "Macbeth” backstage.

49. Half Heard in the Stillness, David Weil
The pretentious love story for the holidays. Poetry is whispered, sex is hinted at, and professors get tenure in “Half Heard in the Stillness.”

50. The Fixer, Bill Kennedy
The long-awaited sequel to Pulp Fiction starring an aging Harvey Keitel, a ranch house in the valley, and old cars. And brain pieces, of course.

51. Pox Americana, Frank John Hughes
This searing, multi-story Crash-like drama tells the tale of 17 interwoven lives over the course of 36 hours. The thesis: chicken pox parties are gross.

52. Broken Cove, Declan O’Dwyer
It was July and everyone was beautiful—Jacquelin, Janey, James, and Ralph. They frolicked when they wanted to frolic, they drank when they wanted to drink, they swam when the water was warm. Then summer ended and they lost touch and got jobs and their hair thinned, and now, when the light is just right, they think of that night they had that orgy in the cove, and they smile.

53. Last Minute Maids, Leo Nichols
When down-on-their luck duchesses are forced to be their own housekeepers, high jinks and mistaken identity ensue. Can the elder duchess catch a rich man before their mansion is seized?

54. Section 6, Aaron Berg
A soccer team that sucks and shouldn’t win somehow wins and the people who live in its vicinity are happy for a while.

55. Sugar in My Veins, Barbara Stepansky
From the flophouse to the boardroom: meet the heroin addict who taught Big Soda how to hook a nation on sugar.

56. Where Angels Die, Alexander Felix
Anaheim. It's Anaheim. That's where they die. This is about Anaheim.

57. Frisco, Simon Stephenson
Beautiful, smart Jessica is from New Jersey, but she really wants to fit in here in her new home of San Francisco so she calls it Frisco all the time. The mystery at the heart of this film: why can’t Jessica make friends?

58. Sea of Trees, Chris Sparling
This is a movie about a bunch of really pretentious people who live in a forest but insist on calling it a sea of trees.

59. Diablo Run,  Shea Mirzai, Evan Mirzai
It’s about dogs.

60. Cake, Patrick Tobin
A man is addicted to cake, dies.

61. Seed, Christina Hodson
Jane and Jane were married in one of San Francisco's first same-sex marriages at City Hall. Now they are ready to be parents. Join them on a journey of finding the right progenitor for their child, as they go from sperm bank to friend to sperm bank, and fall more in love along the way.

62. Superbrat, Eric Slovin, Leo Allen
The story of a former child reality TV star who learns to be a real person in middle age.

63. Pan, Jason Fuchs
A mysterious film critic who looks a bit like a goat teaches Hollywood to value art over profit but also, separately, and due to personal problems, hits a bunch of people in the face with frying pans.

64. Dude, Olivia Milch
“I warned you not to call me that. You knew I was capable of this,” opens this bro-tastic movie that starts at the end with a heinous crime and works its way backward.

65. Hot Summer Nights, Elijah Bynum
Seven friends think they’re going on a sun-filled summer vacation to Brazil. Little do they know that July is actually winter in the southern hemisphere. Four die immediately. The other 3 must make it through brutal terrain. A story of survival.

66. Holland, Michigan, Andrew Sodroski
Elon Musk creates a brilliant space colony on the moon, a one way ticket to which costs $500,000. Jealous, Richard Branson invades. The 99 percent watch the bloodshed from a small town in Michigan.

67. Mississippi Mud, Elijah Bynum
The artisanal Brooklyn-distilled moonshine one grad student turned into a household name.

68. A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
*ring ring*
“Hello?”
“Hi. My name’s Jeff. I’m an ad rep from Monster.com...”
*click*

69. Randle is Benign, Damien Ober
What if you thought you were dying of cancer, so you spent your savings, cheated on your wife, quit your job, and did everything on your bucket list you ever wanted to do—then found out the lump was benign? This is the story of Randle putting his life back together after cancer takes it away and then gives it back, broken in pieces.

70. Make a Wish, Zach Frankel
Sophie is about to turn 30 but she swears she isn’t freaking out that much. It’s normal to cry on the subway every night and booty-call her ex-boyfriend. He may be horrible, but he’s better than being alone, right? But then a funny thing happens: She makes a wish, blows out the candles, and her life begins to change. Coincidence?

71. Patient Z, Michael Le
Everyone on Earth has been turned into a zombie except Janet. She’s the last one left. She kills a bunch of them, but then they catch her and there are a lot of moral questions about who is in the right here. Also: Gore and explosions. Have you seen the Walking Dead?

72. Queen of Hearts, Stephanie Shannon
Callooh! Callay! O frabjous day! Lewis Carroll was probably a child rapist.

See you at the movies!

Raw Data: Inflation Is Going Down, Down, Down

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 2:49 PM EST

Via the Wall Street Journal, here's how inflation has been doing over the past year. Long story short, it's been declining steadily since the end of 2012 and is now running at about a 1 percent annual rate. Bottom line: we should be worried about unemployment, not inflation. Until the labor market gets tighter, inflation just isn't likely to be any kind of serious problem.

It's Hard for a White Guy to Get Himself Arrested

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 2:26 PM EST

Over at The Atlantic, a former prosecutor named Bobby Constantino has a piece called "I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System." It's oddly riveting. It starts with a description of his former career:

In between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed — shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings — I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

In a nutshell, this guy desperately tried to get himself arrested for walking around New York City with a stencil and a spray can (a class B misdemeanor) and had no luck. So he tagged City Hall. With a surveillance camera recording him. Still no luck. He turned himself in. They turned him away. He literally found it impossible to get arrested.

He finally succeeded, spent a night in jail, and went to court. And then just the opposite happened. He was initially sentenced to five days community service until the prosecutor suddenly realized the case file was flagged "no deal." So he went back to court, and this time they insisted on throwing the book at him. The judge was so pissed off at him that he then doubled the book.

There's more, and it's worth a read. A white guy in a suit, it turns out, is practically invulnerable to being arrested. But when he uses this fact to embarrass the judicial system, the judicial system suddenly turns on him with a fury. Welcome to America.

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National Review Lets Its Freak Flag Fly

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 1:49 PM EST

National Review is being sued by climate scientist Michael Mann for defamation. In a blog post at The Corner last year, Mark Steyn quoted Rand Simberg calling Mann the "Jerry Sandusky of climate science" (both are from Penn State); wrote that Mann was "the man behind the fraudulent climate-change 'hockey-stick' graph"; and concluded that "his 'investigation' by a deeply corrupt administration was a joke." (The "investigation" cleared Mann of any wrongdoing.)

A judge recently ruled that Mann's suit could go forward. I'm personally a little uneasy about this, since I'd normally think of Steyn's post as hyperbolic and stupid, but still fair comment on a public figure. It's a close call, though. I suspect Mann will lose his case, but that's for a jury to decide now.

Today, though, I read this blog post over at NRO asking for money to help them with their defense:

One readers supports NRO with $50 and this note:

I have followed the catastrophic global warming argument since I retired in 2007. In a few years it will be seen as the greatest “scientific” scam of all time. Best wishes on your court case, and glad to help.

....And another reader, sends $200 in support and this:

Have tried in past to support, fully agree with your efforts here. As a chemical engineer, I have been looking at “global warming” for over a decade. Such nonsense.

Questioning climate science is one thing, and National Review has done plenty of that. But I'm still a little surprised that apparently they aren't embarrassed at having readers who believe that global warming is "the greatest scientific scam of all time." Or, as the chemical engineer puts it, "nonsense." In fact, NR is so far from being embarrassed that they put these letters front and center on their website as a call to arms.

Wasn't there a time when a serious publication would quietly bury correspondence like this? Sure, every magazine has some lunatic readers, but you generally want your public face to be a little more serious. The stuff you publish should at least have the veneer of respectability.

Either that's hopelessly old-fashioned thinking, or else National Review really does believe that climate change is just flatly a scientific scam. I guess I don't read them closely enough to know which. But I was still a little taken aback that they seem actively proud to trumpet stuff like this. Shouldn't they be leaving this kind of thing in Glenn Beck's capable hands?

Elizabeth Warren Introduces Bill to Prevent Employers From Discriminating Against Poor People

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 1:39 PM EST

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and six of her colleagues in the Senate introduced a bill that would prevent employers from using credit checks in the hiring process, a practice that disproportionately hurts poor people.

Over the past few decades, credit reporting bureaus have begun selling their services not just to lenders, but to a wide range of employers. Forty-seven percent of employers check applicants' credit history as an indicator of their employability, according to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. But research shows that a person's credit score has nothing to do with her likelihood of succeeding in the workplace. The Equal Employment for All Act—co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)—would prohibit the judging of applicants by this metric.

"A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual's character or abilities," Warren said. "Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness—let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills."

The bill, which is backed by over 40 community, financial reform, labor and civil rights organizations, would be a boon for low-wage workers, minority communities, and women. Credit checks used in the hiring process disproportionately disqualify people of color. Divorce tends to hit women's finances harder than men's, and women are also more likely to receive subprime loans than men.

Chi Chi Wu, a staff lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, told the New York Times in May that most of the people who contacted her group complaining that they'd been denied a job because of poor credit were low-wage workers applying to big retail chains. "Someone loses their job," she said, "so they can't pay their bills—and now they can't get a job because they couldn’t pay their bills because they lost a job? It’s this Catch-22 that makes no sense."

There is ample support for the senators' bill. In 2011, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced a similar bill in the House. Nine states have adopted legislation that curbs the use of credit reports to in the hiring process.

It's Time For Everyone to Check Up On Their Crystal Balls

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 12:06 PM EST

Neil Irwin praises Goldman Sachs for a year-end report in which it revisited its forecasts from last January:

In this case, the Goldman team did pretty well. Of 10 predictions, they were correct on seven, accurately forecasting, for example, that the economy would not tip into recession in 2013, that the housing market would continue its recovery, that corporate profit margins would stay fat and that inflation would remain low.

Their most clear-cut mistakes were in expecting capital spending to accelerate (it didn't, rising only about 2 percent, not the 6 percent Goldman economists forecast) and in expecting the unemployment rate to fall only slightly (it fell much more than they expected, because people left the labor force surprisingly fast).

This is a good practice, but I'd add a couple of comments. First, it's only a good practice if they commit themselves to doing it every year, not just in years when their track record is good. Second, not all forecasts are created equal. Predicting that the economy wouldn't fall back into recession, for example, isn't that impressive. There were certainly people last January who predicted slow growth, but there was virtually nobody who thought we were headed back to recession.

But those quibbles aside, this is a worthwhile thing to do. I might even do it myself except that I don't think I ever made any numeric forecasts that I could check. But maybe I should re-read my January archives and see.

We’re Still Losing Ice at the Poles

| Tue Dec. 17, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent in Sep. 2013, two days earlier than usual. The orange line is the median minimum extent from 1981 - 2010; note how much lower the ice was this year.

This story first appeared on Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

One of the key indicators and consequences of global warming is ice loss at the Earth's poles. As the planet warms, on average and over time, every summer more ice melts. It refreezes in the winter, but again as temperatures rise, in general we'll see less ice at any given time as compared to the year before.

The situation for the two poles is different. In the north the Arctic ice floats on the ocean, and on the south the Antarctic ice is over land and sea. This means that they way they melt—how quickly, how much, even where specifically in those regions—are different. Still, the fact is the ice at both poles is melting. We've known this for quite some time.

And some new data show it's even worse than we thought.
 

Bad News, Australis Edition

ice loss in Antarctica
Ice loss in Antarctica; blue shows where ice is thinning, red where it's growing. Note the imbalance. CPOM / ESA

Measurements of Antarctic ice made by the European Space Agency's CryoSat satellite show that it's losing about 150 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice on average every year just from the West Antarctica ice sheet alone. This is notably more than what had been previously estimated, and is likely to be more accurate due to the satellite's better coverage and use of radar to measure ice thickness.

The bulk of this loss is from melting glaciers, with their runoff flowing into the sea. This in turn is raising the sea level by about 0.3 millimeters per year (again, just from the West Antarctic ice sheet alone). It's unclear if this increase in ice loss is due to faster thinning of the ice, or due to better coverage of the satellite in regions otherwise difficult to access. Either way, the ice is melting more rapidly than previously thought.

This amount of loss is staggering; it's equivalent to about a hundred billion tons. That's equivalent in volume to a mountain about four kilometers (2.5 miles) high, roughly the size of a medium-size mountain in the Rockies.

I'll note that some people who deny global warming like to talk about ice in Antarctica increasing, not decreasing. This is at best misleading; the sea ice fluctuates every year, and has grown marginally recently, but this is tiny compared to the loss of land ice. Overall, Antarctica is losing ice, rapidly, with more melting every year.

 

Bad News, Borealis Edition

Maps of ice loss in the Arctic show it dwindling over time. A fair question to ask is, when will we see an ice-free summer there?

This question isn't all that easy to answer; it depends on past measurements as well as models of how the ice melts. Most conservative models estimate it will happen before the end of this century, but how long before? Some say it may be 50 years or more, some much sooner.

In the Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed reports on a study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and undertaken by scientists with the U.S. Navy has shown that the Arctic could see its first nearly ice-free summer in just three years, in 2016. These results actually came out last year, and are based on ice loss from a few years back, using a relatively straightforward extrapolation.

In the paper, the scientists claim that ice loss is underestimated by most models because they don't include feedback mechanisms; that is, processes in the system that amplify other processes. For example, as water warms it cannot hold as much dissolved carbon dioxide. That CO2 is released in the air, accelerating the warming process because it's a greenhouse gas.

I'm not sure how much stock to put in a prediction of an ice-free Arctic in just a few years, but that day is clearly coming, and soon. Looking at the sea ice extent (essentially, how much area is covered by ice) over the past few years, we've lost about 2 million square kilometers over 15 years.* The extent is at roughly 10 million sq. km now, so extrapolating we have 75 years left. I'll note that's very rough, and I'd consider that only a decent upper limit to how long it will take. With feedback processes, that's likely to be a severe overestimate.

Arctic ice loss from 1978 throught the end of 2013. Note the trend. NSIDC
 

To give you a more visceral sense of just how much trouble we're in, Andy Robinson, who created a video earlier this year showing the ice loss, has updated it with data including this year's minimum:

Note that this is volume of ice, not extent, which is a better measure of real loss. Extent fluctuates more, and doesn't include the thickness of the ice; you can get very thin ice in the winter adding to the extent but not really adding to the total amount of ice. Plus, thin ice melts more readily in the summer.

And, of course, this puts lie to the whole idea that sea ice in the Arctic is "recovering", which we knew was more hot air from the deniers all along anyway.


Double Pole Loss, What Does It Mean?

So, we're losing ice, and fast. But what does it mean?

First, again, it's a clear indicator of the reality of global warming. Second, melting ice means rising sea levels. That means loss of land area, more flooding, and bigger storm surges from hurricanes (like with supertyphoon Haiyan in November).

There's another potential issue, too: This melting ice can indirectly cause weirder weather. As the ice melts, more ocean surface is exposed to the Sun, warming it further. Moreover, as more fresh water is dumped into the salty ocean from the polar ice, the currents in that water change, bringing with them different temperatures to different places. The flow of the jet stream over the pole depends on temperature, and that can change as the temperature changes. You see bigger dips in the stream, bringing cold weather south, and warm weather north. This can also create what are called blocking patterns; high pressure systems that block the normal movement of air, creating stagnant conditions over a region. Alaska's heat wave over the summer was one from one such blocking pattern, as was Greenland's last year. A vicious cold snap in the US in March 2013 was also due to such an event.

Unfortunately, from what I can tell, it's not clear what exactly will happen as more ice is lost at the poles; but it's a safe bet we'll get more extreme weather as it occurs. And it's also a safe bet these changes won't be beneficial. They're happening too quickly. Plants, animals, humans: We can't adapt quickly enough to our rapidly fluctuating environment.

That's what worries me. Not so much cripplingly hot summers or more severe winters—as bad as those will be—but also the changes in rainfall, flooding, fires, and more. Our ability to feed ourselves depends very strongly on the weather, and that weather is changing. The house odds are getting worse, and the stakes are very high indeed.