2008 - %3, October

China Emissions Forecast To Double

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 3:53 PM EDT
800px-135494920_1611fcc6c8_o_d.jpg China's greenhouse gas pollution could double or more in two decades. This according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a report breaking with official reticence on the subject, reports Reuters. Beijing hasn't released recent official data on emissions from coal, oil and gas. But researchers abroad estimate China's CO2 emissions now surpass the US, the biggest emitter in recent decades.

By 2020 China's could emit 2.9 billion tons of pure carbon annually. By 2030, up to 4.0 billion tons yearly. The Chinese Academy of Sciences estimates China's current CO2 emissions by citing data from the US Department of Energy of 1.4 billion tons in 2004. The new report warns of drastic risks from the forecast growth, yet also warns that economic development must not be hamstrung. Sound familiar?

For more: an interesting study from MIT debunking the widespread notion that outmoded energy technology or the utter absence of government regulation is to blame for China's air pollution problems. It's more complicated than that (think: energy infrastructure and types of coal). However—"To a significant degree, our planet's energy and environmental future is now being written in China," says the study's authors.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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An Early Voting Story That Pulls on the Heart Strings

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 3:23 PM EDT

This is kinda magical, I'm not going to lie. It's a story a reader emailed to Ben Smith after voting early in Cincinnati:

The Upside of the Mortgage Crisis

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 2:39 PM EDT

It's hard to believe that most Americans aren't re-thinking their lifestyle choices in the wake of the economic meltdown we're navigating. I know I have, and what I've mostly been thinking about is how to stay out of debt, slash expenses, build up my savings (now that I live in an economic banana republic), and downsize without sacrificing more comfort than I can sustainably live without. If you thought you were thinking outside the box on insulating yourself from economic turmoil and simplifying your life, check these folks out:

Bill and Sharon Kastrinos practice the ultimate in minimalism. They've squeezed into a 154-square-foot home that looks more like a kid's playhouse than their previous 1,800-square-foot home....
The house cost them $15,000, and the utilities are a mere $15 a month. The couple now live on property owned by their daughter in California wine country, where the average home in 2007 cost $725,000. If they want to leave, the home has wheels and can be pulled behind their vehicle and plugged into any RV park in the nation.

Turns out, there's a boomlet growing among homebuilders developing this new specialty: dollhouses for people.

Are New Airport Scanners a "Virtual Strip Search?"

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 2:23 PM EDT

EU lawmakers and its civil liberties' group, along with our own ACLU, are up in arms over a new airport scanner recently authorized there. From CNN:

The new system, which the European Union plans to authorize at the bloc's airports, allows guards to see an outline of passengers' bodies beneath their clothes, making it easier to detect any concealed objects.

When I read the comments here on MoJo, I often wonder what the hell most of them are doing reading (or trying to read) our liberal musings. Now, I'm going to end up dragging some knuckles of my own. Unless the small photo accompanying the article is misleading, it looks like the screeners (of whom I am no fan) aren't seeing much. Mostly skeletons and clothing seams. I'm also noticing that many travelers approve of the new technology since it makes the post-9/11 Death March lines move much faster.

OK. Now I'll wait for the links in the comments showing exactly how invasive and revealing the scans are in real life. I can admit I'm wrong since I so rarely am.

Even so, though, given that strange women have repeatedly felt me up IN PUBLIC for no reason whatsoever, I'm not so sure I care about being just one more walking skeleton some TSA drone is none too happy to be looking at.

Perhaps, though, it's not being seen sorta naked that is bothering civil libertarians, but rather that the search is invasive merely by virtue of going beneath the clothing. Point taken. In these post-Gitmo, post-wiretapping, post-any sort of personal sovereignty world we're increasingly living in, maybe this is a stand worth taking (however miniscule the actual loss of privacy) just to oppose the mission creep of this administration's assault on our rights.

Maybe I'm becoming de-sensitized (first they came for the Jews...), but until I see some better photos, I'm going to wait this one out. I find the hand searches so loathesome at this point, I might just prefer the scan.

The Pirates Who Stole Christmas

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 2:20 PM EDT

pirateflag.jpg

According to a new report from the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy on the high seas, instances of piracy this year are on par with the last—199 worldwide between January and September 2008 versus 198 during the same period last year. But bucking the trend are the waters off the coast of Somalia, where attacks have grown 75 percent, numbering 63 since last January, almost a third of the world total.

IMB Director Pottengal Mukandan characterized Somalia's piracy epidemic as "unprecedented" and said "it is clear that pirates in the Gulf of Aden believe that they can operate with impunity in attacking vessels." Indeed, men in speedboats armed with AK-47s and RPGs have raked in some $30 million ransom so far this year, seizing over 30 merchant ships, including the MV Faina, a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 T-72 battle tanks, allegedly bound for the government of South Sudan.

Wanted: Finance Industry A Team

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

WANTED: FINANCE INDUSTRY A TEAM....One of the things that makes our current financial crisis even scarier than it might otherwise be (at least to me) is that no one really, truly, seems to be entirely sure of what's going on. Even genuine experts appear to be sort of baffled by the whole thing — though that hasn't stopped them from producing hundreds of different theories. Ezra Klein points out one of the causes of this problem, which has been at the back of my mind as well:

One sidenote of the past few months is that folks turned to economists when what they needed were finance experts. But there are relatively few finance experts who aren't affiliated with financial institutions, and so much of their commentary is tainted.

....Asking folks who have a general education in matters of macroeconomy to evince a complete knowledge of opaque financial instruments developed in the past few years is a bit odd. But asking the folks who developed and traded those instruments to give unbiased commentary on them is little better. It's a weird situation, and it's why, I'd argue, you've had a lot more commentary on things like the bailout bill, which are fairly general in nature and can be understood using tools from traditional economics, than the specifics of the financial crisis.

I second that motion. More finance experts, please. And mortgage and securitization experts. And ratings agency experts. And central banking experts. All stirred together with a bunch of top notch macroeconomists. Unfortunately, I suppose we'd probably all have to chip in and guarantee these guys $10 million bonuses to do real analysis for us, wouldn't we? Maybe George Soros could bankroll them.

UPDATE: Speaking of finance analysis, I wrote yesterday about a Fed paper suggesting that there was, in reality, no credit crisis at all. In fact, banks are lending like crazy! I was skeptical, but said, "Even if it turns out to be wrong, reading the explanation of why it's wrong should be instructive."

Mark Thoma and friends oblige with an explanation here. It's not conclusive, I think, but it certainly suggests that the original paper I linked to was woefully simplistic.

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Complicated Problems

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 1:34 PM EDT

COMPLICATED PROBLEMS....Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain's primary economic advisor, says that income inequality has gone up everywhere, not just in the U.S., and opines that "The source of that is education." Matt Yglesias has a bunch to say about that, including this:

While there does seem to be an education-related component to the growth in inequality (specifically, the number of college graduates has not kept up with the growing labor market demand for college educated workers) there are also other factors, including the declining real value of the minimum wage and declining rates of unionization. In both cases, and all others I'm aware of, McCain takes the pro-inequality side.

I just want to quickly endorse the broader point Matt is making here. The growth of income inequality is a complex problem with multiple causes. In fact, virtually every social problem interesting enough to remain unsolved has multiple causes, and that makes them hard to address. The answer to this is not to pretend otherwise ("education" by itself certainly doesn't explain the astronomical income growth of the top 0.1% compared to the top 1%, for example), nor is it to give up because there are lots and lots of causes and it's hard to fix them all.

There are multiple kinds of income inequality, and assuming you care about this in the first place (and you should, both for reasons of basic fairness and because an egalitarian economy works better than a vastly unequal one) you have to address them all. You need things like minimum wage laws and the EITC to help the poor keep up. Unionization can help the working class and educational and training policies can help the middle class. Tax policies, at a minimum, should be designed to be at least modestly progressive at the high end. (Our current tax system, which features regressive state, local, and payroll taxes, and which taxes capital gains and dividends at low rates, has produced overall tax rates that are only slightly progressive. Most billionaires don't pay an awful lot more than grocery checkers.) Things like universal healthcare can ameliorate some of the ill effects of whatever income inequality is left even after you've addressed the other stuff.

One way or another, though, any solution has to focus like a laser on increasing median wages to keep up with GDP growth. In the same way that TV revenue has produced an immense ocean of money for top athletes, keeping median wages flat has produced an immense ocean of extra money that sloshes around for the benefit of the tippy top executive class. Treat the middle class more fairly, and income inequality will decrease naturally. That should be Job 1 for Barack Obama's economic team.

Video: Meet the Black McCains

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

Much as it means to them to mingle at their bi-racial family reunions, guess who these folks are voting for?

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

And just for giggles, check McCain here, during his 2000 run, gobsmacked to learn that his Mississippi family—the one which owned 2000 miles of plantation and fought in the Civil War—had ever owned slaves. For a smart guy, connecting the dots seems kinda laborious:

"But what McCain didn't know about his family until Tuesday was that William Alexander McCain had owned 52 slaves. The senator seemed surprised after Salon reporters showed him documents gathered from Carroll County Courthouse, the Carrollton Merrill Museum, the Mississippi State Archives and the Greenwood, Miss., Public Library."

"I didn't know that," McCain said in measured tones wearing a stoic expression during a midday interview, as he looked at the documents before Tuesday night's debate. "I knew they had sharecroppers. I did not know that."

..."I knew we fought in the Civil War," McCain went on. "But no, I had no idea. I guess thinking about it, I guess when you really think about it logically, it shouldn't be a surprise. They had a plantation and they fought in the Civil War so I guess that it makes sense."

"It's very impactful," he said of learning the news. "When you think about it, they owned a plantation, why didn't I think about that before? Obviously, I'm going to have to do a little more research."

Then he began to piece together information out loud. "So maybe their sharecroppers that were on the plantation were descendants of those slaves," he said.

Puh-lease.

Proposition 8 Update

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 12:30 PM EDT

PROPOSITION 8 UPDATE....A new poll shows that California voters remain opposed to a ban on gay marriage:

But the poll also found that support for Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to disallow same-sex marriage, has gained somewhat since a similar survey was taken in late August. The latest results show 44% in favor and 52% opposed, with a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.

It's gonna be close, folks. Back in May, based on demographic fundamentals, I predicted that Prop 8 would pass 52%-48%. There's good news and bad news that might change that, though.

The good news is that this is a Democratic year and liberal turnout at the polls might be higher than normal. The bad news is that the No forces are running bland, generic ads, while a few weeks ago the Yes forces began saturation coverage of fiendishly effective scare ads that scream, "Gay marriage will be taught to second graders!" — and the Mormon church is providing them with plenty of money to scream with. Conversely, the No side is determined that their ads not mention "gay marriage" or anything else that might potentially upset anyone, hoping that people won't figure out what Prop 8 is about and will just vote against it because it's vaguely "unfair." Unfortunately, it's hard to see that working. Given the high-wattage campaign from the Yes folks, there can't really be many people left in the state who don't know what Prop 8 is about.

Here in my little neck of the woods, the Yes folks are also pretty well organized. They've got troops of people holding signs and banners at street corners during rush hour, and I chatted with a few of the sign holders yesterday on my way to the market. They were all nice folks. Wrong, but nice, and very committed to the cause. And judging from the honking of horns as cars whizzed by, there are plenty of people here who agree with them.

But that's Orange County for you. It's hardly a representative sample of the state. Still, there are plenty of people who think the same way, and another couple of weeks of high-decibel Yes ads are probably going to add to their numbers. It's gonna be close.

UPDATE: Elizabeth Gettelman has a report from Oakland about the street corner picketers there. Apparently most of them have been organized by local Mormon churches, which I guess isn't surprising.

One of the guys I talked to on my corner last night asked if my opposition to Prop 8 was "because of the church thing," and at first I didn't really realize what he was talking about. As I walked away I figured it out: he wanted to know if I was turned off by the Yes campaign because I'd heard it was bankrolled by the Mormon Church. I guess they must run into that a lot.

The Other O in Ohio

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

FlagResized.jpgBarack Obama has gotten a lot of grief about his campaign's vaguely presidential seal. But shortly after he attended an event in Toledo, Obama was accused of taking his enthusiasm for heraldry too far.

On the October 15 broadcast of his radio show, conservative personality Bob Grant complained that there was something funny about one of the flags on Obama's stage:

What is that flag that Obama's been standing in front of that looks like an American flag, but instead of having the field of 50 stars representing the 50 states, there's a circle? Is the circle the 'O' for Obama? Is that what it is? Did you notice Obama is not content with just having several American flags, plain old American flags with the 50 states represented by 50 stars? He has the 'O' flag. And that's what that 'O' is. Just like he did with the plane he was using. He had the flag painted over, and the 'O' for Obama.

Oh, the hubris. Not content with his already dubious demipresidential seal, Obama has now designed his own standard. Will no one stop this egomaniac? Or, as Grant said: "Now, these are symptom—these things are symptomatic of a person who would like to be a potentate—a dictator."

The gravel-voiced Grant, a pioneer of the angry talk radio format, had a point. All of these O doodads seem vaguely Napoleonic. But Grant, who once referred to New York Mayor David Dinkins as "the men's room attendant at the 21 Club," is famous for sharing his first impressions with listeners before checking for offensiveness or, well, accuracy.

Wrong again, Grant; it turns out the offending banner ruffling behind the junior senator from Illinois was, in fact, the state flag of Ohio.


—Daniel Luzer