2008 - %3, December

Climate Change Update

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 9:28 AM PST

CLIMATE CHANGE UPDATE....My morning paper delivers some good news and some bad news on climate change. The bad news:

In one of the report's most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world's major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this number grow further as more studies are done. But there's also good news:

The report is reassuring [] on the prospects for some potentially drastic effects, such as a huge release of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, that is now locked deep in the seabed and underneath the Arctic permafrost. That is unlikely to occur in the near future, the scientists said.

"It's unlikely that we're going to see an abrupt change in methane over the next hundred years, but we should worry about it over a longer time frame," said Ed Brook, the lead author of the methane chapter and a geosciences professor at Oregon State University....By the end the century, Brook said, the amount of methane escaping from natural sources such as the Arctic tundra and waterlogged soils in warmer regions "could possibly double," but that would still be less than the current level of human-generated methane emissions.

The release of methane from melting permafrost is one of the worst of the feedback-loop scenarios that could cause climate change to spiral out of control during the middle part of the century. If we really have a hundred years or more before it gets out of hand, that's good news.

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Milk

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 9:17 AM PST

MILK....Matt Yglesias explains why he didn't like Milk as much as he expected to:

My first instinct was to say that the problem with the film is that the pacing is odd, but I think the problem may actually be that on some level Harvey Milk's story isn't that interesting.

This is an underappreciated phenomenon. When it comes to fiction, everyone understands that an uninteresting story is a death knell. But when it comes to stories based on real people, filmmakers too often seem to think that just because a person has done something of note, it means that this person's life story is inherently interesting. But it's not. Harvey Milk did worthwhile things and his life ended in a dramatic way, but his life story is actually fairly ordinary. The same can be said for the subjects of a disturbingly large number of biopics.

Which isn't to say that Milk is bad. I didn't think it lived up to its hype, but it was still pretty good. And Sean Penn did a phenomenal job in the title role. The film might be worth seeing just for that.

How Would You Say "Goodbye, George W. Bush"? Tell Him

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 11:09 PM PST

Office sort of quiet? Itching to spice up dinner conversation at the in-laws'? Dying to test drive the camera Santa brought? How about making an entry for our "Goodbye, George W. Bush" video contest? Put your 30-second (or so), PG-13 video on YouTube labeled "Mother Jones Goodbye Bush Video" and send us the link at mojobushvideo@gmail.com; all styles of entries are welcome, from simply talking at the camera to fancier stuff. Winners will be featured on the MoJo site and get prizes, not to mention more YouTube views than Straight No Chaser.
P.S. Spread the word! Contests are only as good as the number of entries they get, and we can't afford to advertise--so tweet, blog, and link away.

A Very Grinchy Christmas

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 10:42 PM PST

A VERY GRINCHY CHRISTMAS....There's just no way to sugar coat this. Retail sales fell off a cliff this year:

When gasoline sales are excluded, [retail sales fell] 4% in December.... The holiday retail-sales decline was much worse than the already-dire picture painted by industry forecasts, which had predicted sales ranging from a 1% drop to a more optimistic increase of 2.2%.

....A final burst of spending retailers hoped for last weekend never came. Shopper traffic fell 27% compared with the same time last year, while sales declined 5.3%, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales in retail outlets nationwide.

Christmas this year was pretty grim in China too. And they're expecting worse next year.

Meet the Woman Whose Bra Brought Down a Governor

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 10:23 AM PST

From The New Yorker:

Pamela Davis, blond suburban mother of three, was told that her bra would be the best place to wear the wire that kick-started a long investigation into Chicago graft and that ultimately caught the governor of Illinois trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Davis is the president and CEO of Edward Hospital, in Naperville, Illinois. She is proud of the fact that on her twenty-year watch the hospital has grown from a hundred-and-sixty-two-bed community facility to a four-hundred-and-twenty-seven-bed regional medical center that leads the county in babies delivered.

Back in 2003, Davis was trying to get approval for a new medical office building from the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. A night or two before a hearing was to be held, Davis recalled, something strange happened. A business acquaintance of hers, Nicholas Hurtgen, then a managing director of the Chicago office of Bear Stearns, called her at home and told her that unless she agreed to use a certain contractor she should pull her building request, because it wasn't going to be approved.

Greed, I understand—if not to this extent. But I will never understand why these morons continue to use the phone (see: Eliot Spitzer) for their shenanigans.

But, anyway, here's to pissed off chicks everywhere! Read the piece. Davis is open about her disrespect both for Chicago corruptions and bumbling FBI drones who refused to take her seriously. Good thing she didn't give up.

Merry Christmas!

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 10:20 AM PST

MERRY CHRISTMAS!....Santa brought Inkblot and Domino an exciting collection of boxes, ribbons, and wrapping tissue! They're very excited. What did Santa bring you?

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God Rest Ye Worried Gentlemen: The Recession Hits Old Folks Hard

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 9:52 AM PST

This holiday season brings no glad tidings to America's old folks. A recent report from the Urban Institute outlines the recession's impact on older workers, and its implications for retirees, as well. The report is so concise and comprehensive—and so grim—that it is worth including here almost in it entirety. The gist of it is that old people are far worse off than they were in the last deep and protracted recession, in the early 1980s, because we have lost more jobs, more government benefits, and more of our life savings.

For older workers, this recession is unprecedented. Last month, 298,000 Americans ages 65 and older were unemployed, 50 percent more than when the recession began a year ago.

During previous downturns, relatively few older Americans were counted as unemployed. Although many lost their jobs, they generally retired instead of looking for work. During the severe 1981-82 recession, seniors' unemployment rate grew by just 0.8 percentage points – only about one-fourth the increase for prime-age workers (25 to 54).

Today, however, seniors are nearly as likely as their juniors to join unemployment lines, because pink-slipped seniors can no longer afford to put their feet up. Shrinking Social Security benefits, traditional pension plans, and 401(k) balances combine with soaring health care costs to force them to keep pounding the pavement.

Your Christmas Eve Miracle Story

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 4:30 PM PST

YOUR CHRISTMAS EVE MIRACLE STORY....Our nation's news media is surprisingly devoid of feel-good Christmas stories for us today, so this will have to do: it's the tale of Bess, a little black cat who was, unbelievably, stranded underneath a window seat for nine weeks without food and water but then rescued and resuscitated.

This is not quite as good as the story of a cat who trekked 30 miles across town to find its owner. I'm not sure it's even as good as the story of my friend's cat, which had cancer and finally disappeared one night for good, only to show up two years later hale and hearty. What's more, poor Bess might have permanent neurological problems because of her trauma — though I'm not sure how you can tell in a cat anyway. But it's Christmas Eve, and she's back, and apparently she's happy and purring. Enjoy!

Scrooged by the Democrats: Will the Rich Ever Pay Their Fair Share?

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 3:46 PM PST

All of us who have been taught the Biblical story of Christmas (since my grandfather was a Methodist minister, that certainly includes me) will remember that Jesus is supposed to have been born in a stable because there was "no room at the inn." Less often repeated is the reason why his parents had hit the road in the first place, despite the fact that Mary was nine months gone at the time. According to the Book of Luke, "it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." The Romans ordered all people to go to their home towns to register for a census, which was needed in order to institute the new tax system. That's why the holy family was schlepping the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary went into labor.

The Bible never tells us how much Joseph—an impoverished carpenter with two dependents, one of them a kid who wasn't even his—ended up having to pay in taxes. But it's safe to assume that the local Romans, and the wealthy Sadducees who supported them, got off easy in comparison to working stiffs like Joseph. Maybe they even got off as easy as rich Americans have, under the tax cuts passed by the Bush Administration in 2001 and 2003.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Barack Obama, along with all of his Democratic contenders, promised a swift repeal of these tax cuts. A rollback of tax cuts benefitting only corporations and the wealthiest individuals was supposed to provide the financing for Obama's policy proposals, from education and health care to infrastructure and green energy. But by September, the Democratic nominee was already backpedaling on his pledge, and within three weeks of his election, Obama's economic advisors confirmed that, after all, the new president might just let the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule in 2011, rather than eliminating them two years earlier. The decision is based on the premise that it is unwise—in economic as well as political terms—to raise taxes during a recession, since lower taxes stimulate the economy.

It's Lott-Tastic!

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 11:47 AM PST

IT'S LOTT-TASTIC!....I just love me some righteous John Lott bashing, and Nate Silver delivers with the latest example of Lott's customary careful use of primary sources in an op-ed over at Fox News. It's true that his mistake is a small one in the grand scheme of things, but two items make this latest Lott affair especially awesome:

  1. The op-ed in question is co-authored by Ryan S. Lott. You may recall him as the "ry" in Mary Rosh. Awesome!

  2. In comments to Nate's post, Lott says both he and Fox have corrected the error. But it's a stealth correction: you'd never know the op-ed had been changed unless you clicked over to Lott's personal website where he mentions it. Awesome!

Good times. Brings back memories, this does.