2013 - %3, January

WATCH: Can a Fish-Sharing Program Save the Oceans?

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 7:41 AM EST


An interesting short video from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation on what sustainable fishing means to a guy who makes his living fishing—and how his idea has changed over time. FYI when he talks about catch shares he's referring to a means of fisheries management that dedicates a secure share of fish—or the catch from a fishing area—to individual fishermen, fishing communities, or fishery associations. Here's how the Environmental Defense Fund describes the process:

With a secure privilege of the total catch and clearly defined access to resources fishermen have the ability to catch a certain amount of fish each year and are responsible for not exceeding that amount. And with this privilege fishermen are afforded great flexibility in planning their business operations. They are no longer told exactly when or how to fish and are able to enjoy the freedom to do what makes sense for them. Often fishermen have the opportunity to buy and sell shares which improves flexibility and increases economic efficiency. Fishermen are also able to coordinate harvests to meet market demands, resulting in higher prices for their catch and overall resulting in improved levels of the fishery's profitability.  

 

US catch share programs by region (click for more info): NOAA Fisheries / Office of Sustainable Fisheries

The first catch share program in the US began in 1990, according to NOAA, in the Mid-Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog Fishery. Catch shares are currently in use in 15 US fisheries managed by six regional fishery management councils (map above).

Simulation of trend in fisheries collapse if all non-catch share (ITQ) fisheries had switched to catch shares in 1970 (dotted line), compared with the actual trend (solid line): Christopher Costello, et al. Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse? Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1159478

A 2008 paper in Science assessed catch share fisheries worldwide and found them highly effective: 

To test whether catch-share fishery reforms achieve these hypothetical benefits we have compiled a global database of fisheries institutions and catch statistics in 11,135 fisheries from 1950 to 2003. Implementation of catch shares halts, and even reverses, the global trend toward widespread collapse... [T]hese findings suggest that as catch shares are increasingly implemented globally, fish stocks, and the profits from harvesting them, have the potential to recover substantially.

 

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Chart: What Exactly (Cough) Is Beijing (Hack) Breathing?

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST

China's landlocked capital of 20 million people has experienced record-breaking pollution over the last few days. The South China Morning Post reported that visits to Beijing Children's Hospital hit a five-year high, with more than 7,000 patients a day. Bloomberg News found that heart attacks roughly doubled since Friday at Peking University People's Hospital. (H/t Shanghaiist).

Kids were forced to stay home from school as Beijing authorities enacted unprecedented measures to combat the thick, nostril-burning layer of grossness. They even banned the use of certain government vehicles. The "fog," as it is euphemistically known in China, is set to continue for a number of days and has prompted an unusual display of openness from the country's state-controlled press, calling for urgent action.

Climate Desk breaks down exactly what's in the air.

Beijing Air

Glenn Beck's Fake City Is a Sign of Tea Party Irrelevance

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST
Glenn Beck wants to build his own theme park: Independence, USA.

Glenn Beck may not be a Fox News contributor anymore, but he's not content to be just another talking head on the AM dial either.

Beck, whose anti-Obama rhetoric leading up to the 2008 election landed him a job on Fox, and whose tearful pleas to Americans helped invigorate the Tea Party, isn't stopping at punditry. As MoJo's Tim Murphy reported last Friday, it appears the new gold-standard of conservative punditry is building your very own city-theme park hybrid, where Americans can learn all the values that make this country great except, one imagines, the value of organic communities.

Beck's grand planned commmunity will be called Independence, USA (if it's ever built) which is not quite as catchy as Freedom, USA, or America, USA, but we won't dock points for lack of creativity just yet.

Honestly, while this may be even sillier than the Free State Project, which was pretty unbelievably silly, the fact is Glenn Beck is in the news again after a long dry spell. That we're talking about him at all may mean he's already won this small battle. Like Sarah Palin before him, Beck is doing whatever he can to remain relevant in a post-Tea Party political climate.

Indeed, it's not looking good for the tri-corner hat industry. According to Rasmussen, only 8 percent of voters self-identify as Tea Party members now, down from a high of 24 percent in April 2010. Meanwhile 49 percent of voters view the Tea Party unfavorably, compared to a 30 percent favorability rating. And this is from Rasmussen, a polling outfit not exactly harsh on conservatives.

That's why Beck's latest scheme may have more relvelance than its pure entertainment value: It's a sign that the Tea Party is beginning to fade and the pundits who used to sing its praises are showing just how desparate they've become. When even Ann Coulter is chastising her fellow commentators about the rules of defeat, you know something is seriously shaky inside the far-right GOP's house of cards.

Meanwhile, powerful financiers at the RNC are starting to worry about the direction the party has taken, and popular Republican governors like Chris Christie are speaking out about the absurd failings of leadership in the Republican-controlled House. Beck's Independence project may be a joke, but it's just one more sign that the far right is in big trouble.

For my part, I say we encourage Beck to build it (thus fulfilling his desire for freedom) and then let him secede from the Union (allowing him to scratch that independence itch.) I could think of a worse fate for America than a few of our louder and more ridiculous pundits going Galt.

Debunking the Denial: '16 Years of No Global Warming'

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 7:01 AM EST

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

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."
– Attributed to Mark Twain

The difficulties in debunking blatant antireality are legion. You can make up any old nonsense and state it in a few seconds, but it takes much longer to show why it's wrong and how things really are.

Magical Thinking in the Press Corps

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 2:51 AM EST

Dana Milbank joins the fantasy-based faction of the press corps that's still convinced President Obama could get more done if only he'd schmooze with Republican members of Congress a little more:

Arguably, Obama's no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy approach is good politics. His first-term experience made clear that he gained nothing from Republicans when he took a passive approach. Yet…it's tempting to wonder whether Obama could achieve more if he could establish personal connections with Republicans on Capitol Hill. But Obama disparaged the notion behind Calmes's question—that a better bedside manner could help his agenda.

"I like a good party," the president informed her after attesting to his "friendly guy" status. "Really what's gone on in terms of some of the paralysis here in Washington, or difficulties in negotiations, just have to do with some very stark differences in terms of policy."

That may be true, but until recent years, sharp disagreements were smoothed by personal ties. On Monday, by contrast, Obama showed unrelenting hostility toward the opposition, accompanying his remarks with dismissive shrugs and skeptical frowns.

I continue to wonder what it will take to put a stake through the heart of this hoary Beltway meme. It's true that Obama isn't the schmooziest president in history, but how much evidence do you need to convince yourself that schmooziness simply isn't the problem here? We know for a fact that Republicans constructed their strategy of total opposition before he was even sworn in. Eight days after his inauguration, House Republicans voted against the stimulus bill unanimously. In the Senate, Republicans embarked on a strategy of total opposition to everything from Day 1, filibustering every bill, every appointment, and every judge. Senate Democrats spent months negotiating over health care reform—without Obama playing a role—and eventually learned that Republicans never had the slightest intention of agreeing to anything. After winning control of the House in 2010, the GOP's top priority was to engineer a hostage crisis over the debt ceiling. This isn't arcane knowledge or ancient history. It's common knowledge.

Over the last four years, one thing has become crystal clear: The mere fact that Obama supports something almost guarantees united Republican opposition. Schmoozing doesn't matter. Golf dates don't matter. Invites to the White House bowling alley don't matter. Milbank implicitly admits as much, and yet he's still "tempted" to think that Obama could smooth things over if only he'd hoist a few more beers with Eric Cantor. After all, that kind of thing used to work.

This is magical thinking. The reason it doesn't work anymore isn't because Obama is insular. It doesn't work because the Republican Party has become a party of zealots. What does it take for DC columnists to finally admit that?

Front page image: Samantha Appleton/The White House

Afghan Officials Want Us Out of Afghanistan. So Let's Get Out.

| Tue Jan. 15, 2013 2:07 AM EST

The Washington Post reports that there's already disagreement between American and Afghan officials about exactly what "withdrawal" means:

Top Afghan officials said Obama’s pledge last week to remove U.S. troops from Afghan villages should apply to Special Operations forces charged with training the Afghan Local Police. But U.S. officials said they assumed that the policy would apply only to traditional military operations and would include an exemption for the police trainers, whose mission they see as critical to security throughout Afghanistan.

The dispute underscored just how difficult negotiations over a long-term security partnership could be during the next year. The disagreement, like others before it, centers on the fundamental question of what will keep Afghans safe: U.S. officials say the local police program thwarts insurgents, but Karzai insists that it invites attacks.

I know it's easy to get too simplistic about this stuff, but in this case I think simplistic is best. This kind of mission just flatly can't work if the host nation isn't cooperative. So it really doesn't matter how critical Americans think the training program is. If Afghan leaders are opposed to it, then it's time to stop. It's not worth risking a single American life for a program that has no chance of producing long-term results.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has failed. Maybe that's because of poor planning, or maybe it never had a chance of working regardless. At this point it no longer matters except as grist for lessons learned. It's time to get out.

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WATCH: The Gun Lobby Keeps Chalk Outlines Working Overtime [Saunders Cartoon]

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 6:46 PM EST

Editors' note: Mother Jones illustrator Zina Saunders creates editorial animations riffing on the political news and current events of the week. In this week's animation, chalk outlines from a crime scene dream about being on a blackboard instead of a sidewalk. The animation, as always, was written and animated by Zina Saunders.

Fox News Is Having an Ongoing Freakout Over Jack Lew's Signature

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 6:39 PM EST

What ever could this mean???

You've probably heard by now that Jack Lew—the wonky White House chief of staff and President Obama's pick for next Treasury secretary—has quite the funky signature.

So strangely fascinating, so acrobatically whorling is his signature (pictured above), that it has taken on a life of its own since the announcement of Lew's nomination—after all, Treasury secretaries' signatures tend to end up on American currency: Lew's now-famous John Hancock has already inspired a meme, the Jack Lew Signature Generator, a billow of snarky Tweets, a camp of people maligning the signature as terrible, a competing camp praising the signature as awesome, this gorgeous Reddit thread, and this joke from the president.

It also inspired a mild-to-moderate freakout from the people over at Fox News.

First, there was this on Friday:

From the piece by reporter Cristina Corbin: "Dianne Peterson, a handwriting expert based in Tennessee, agreed that the squiggly autograph shows Lew cares little about others' opinion of him."

And then this happened the next day:

That was an edition of Fox & Friends last Saturday morning in which Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson, Alisyn Camerota, and Mike Jerrick spent an entire segment interviewing Michelle Dresbold, the Pittsburgh handwriting expert and author of the 2006 book Sex, Lies, and Handwriting. (Dresbold is also known for trying to uncover the identity of Jack the Ripper and concluding that he was an abortionist from Rochester, N.Y. She also weighed in on Casey Anthony's handwriting.) Here's a snapshot of their odd discussion:

Dresbold: [Jack Lew's signature is] repetitive, and what that means is the person is compulsive, they can't stop, their hand keeps repeating and repeating. So when [Lew] thinks about something, he thinks about it over and over and over again, and can never let go.

Jerrick: But because his signature's loopy, doesn't mean he's particularly loopy, does it? I mean...

Dresbold: It might, but I don't think he is...The thing you also want to notice is you absolutely cannot read anything in it, not one letter. And when you cannot read a signature it means that person does not want to give you any information about their personal life at all.

Jerrick: You can really read a person's personality by a signature?

Dresbold: Oh, definitely...

(Well, actually, no, no you can't, but whatever.)

Fox & Friends on Monday brought on bloviating ignoramus and reality-TV star Donald Trump, who also started talking about Signaturegate, and how Lew's signature showed the future Treasury secretary to be "unbelievably secretive":

Trump was kind enough to clarify later in the day with a Tweet:

In the recent past, Fox has had larger freakouts over things like The Lorax, a dog in a Christmas card, and the rabid leftism of Muppets. So there you go.

Yes, There's a Business Model for Immense Riches With No Effort

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 6:16 PM EST

This is so weird that I just have to comment on it. Via Tyler Cowen, it's Bruce Sterling, arguing that true artificial intelligence isn't in our future:

We’re no closer to “self-aware” machines than we were in the remote 1960s. Modern wireless devices in a modern Cloud are an entirely different cyber-paradigm than imaginary 1990s “minds on nonbiological substrates” that might allegedly have the “computational power of a human brain.” A Singularity has no business model, no major power group in our society is interested in provoking one, nobody who matters sees any reason to create one, there’s no there there.

Obviously I don't know any more than you do about whether or not we'll eventually create true AI. But no business model? Nobody interested in creating it? Nobody who even sees any reason to create it?

Huh? The business value of true AI is immense beyond measure. If you had it, you could run your business better than anyone else and far more profitably since you'd no longer need any human labor. And even if that weren't true, there are loads of people interested in creating it regardless. It doesn't even matter if there's a reason to create it. Lots of people are working their way toward that goal anyway.

I'm genuinely stonkered by this. If we never achieve true AI, it will be because it's technologically beyond our reach for some reason. It sure won't be because nobody's interested and nobody sees any way to make money out of it.

(As for the Singularity, a hypothesized future of runaway technological advancement caused by better and better AI, who knows? It might be the end result of AI, or it might not. But if it happens, it will be a natural evolution of AI, not something that happens because someone came up with a business model for it.)

Greece's Latest Fiscal Solution: Create an Ecological Crisis!

| Mon Jan. 14, 2013 4:31 PM EST

The green crowd used to feel pretty rosy about Greece. After former Prime Minister George Papandreou was elected in 2009, he set up a government ministry to study the environment, energy, and climate change, and he talked up initiatives on eco-tourism and renewable energy. But now, after six years of recession, the country has begun buying into several new environmentally damaging development schemes to generate liquidity, the New York Times reports.