2013 - %3, April

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 2, 2013

Tue Apr. 2, 2013 11:27 AM EDT

A Marine Special Operations Team member fires a M240B machine gun during night fire sustainment training in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 28, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau.

 

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Nelson, Georgia, Passes Meaningless Law Requiring All Households to Own Guns

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 11:16 AM EDT

Reuters published this story on April Fools' Day, but it does not appear to be a joke:

A small Georgia town on Monday passed a law requiring the head of each household to own a gun as a way to keep crime down.

The ordinance, approved unanimously by the City Council in Nelson, is symbolic, however, because there is no penalty for violating it, according to Councilman Duane Cronic, who introduced the measure last month.

It serves as an expression of support for gun rights and sends a message to would-be criminals, Cronic said.

The measure was passed amid the debate over gun laws in the United States following the December shooting rampage in which a gunman killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school.

The Nelson ordinance exempts convicted felons, residents with physical and mental disabilities and those who do not believe in owning firearms, Cronic said.

Crime in Nelson, which has only one police officer, consists mainly of petty theft, Cronic said.

The measure, dubbed the Family Protection Ordinance, was modeled on a law passed in nearby Kennesaw, Georgia in 1982; towns in Idaho and Utah have considered similar laws. For instance, the 140 residents of Byron, Maine rejected a mandatory gun law last month (the proposal was nixed even by the guy who proposed it, after he concluded he should have simply made it a recommendation).

Because Nelson's new law is symbolic and unenforceable, there is zero chance of a resident being punished for not buying a gun. It's like the law in Kentucky that makes it illegal to have ice cream cones in your back pocket. "I likened [Nelson's new law] to a security sign that people put up in their front yards," Cronic told the AP. "I really felt like this ordinance was a security sign for our city." 

The city council's agenda notes that the ordinance will also serve as "opposition of any future attempt by the federal government to confiscate personal firearms."

Ken Starr (!) Pleads With Senate GOPers to Confirm Obama Nominee

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

How many former Republican solicitors general does it take to prevent a filibuster?

Almost a year ago, President Barack Obama nominated Caitlin Hannigan and Sri Srinivasan to be judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, a key court that has jurisdiction over federal regulations and is often seen as a stepping-stone to the US Supreme Court. Four of the 11 seats on the court are currently vacant, but Senate Republicans have refused to confirm any of Obama's nominees, leaving the court dominated by conservatives eager to toss out federal regulations dealing with everything from air pollution to financial reform. Last month Halligan withdrew her nomination after Republicans filibustered her into oblivion.

That leaves Srinivasan, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is the Obama administration's principal deputy solicitor general and argued before the Supreme Court in the Defense of Marriage Act case. There are things liberals will like about Srinivasan (he wrote Supreme Court briefs supporting affirmative action and arguing cops should need a warrant to put a GPS on your car) and things they won't (he's represented corporate and anti-union interests). His nomination has gone untouched since June 2012, but next Wednesday the Senate will be holding a confirmation hearing. Monday a bipartisan group of former solicitors general sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) urging his confirmation. The list includes former Bush administration solicitors general Paul Clement and Theodore Olson, as well as former George H.W. Bush Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, who as special counsel investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"Sri is one of the best lawyers in the country," the letter reads. "He is extremely well prepared to take on the intellectual rigors of serving as a judge on the DC Circuit." 

There are more vacancies on the federal bench today than when Obama took office. The Obama administration hasn't put forth enough nominations to fill them all, but the chief impediment is that Republicans have slowed the judicial confirmation process to a crawl. The average Bush circuit or district court nominee waited 175 days for a vote, compared to 227 under Obama.

Srinivasan exemplifies this dysfunction. He clerked for a Reagan-appointed Supreme Court justice; he worked for Republican and Democratic administrations, and he's endorsed by the guy who helped the GOP almost bring down Bill Clinton. Yet thanks to GOP obstruction—and the Democrats' refusal to reform the filibuster—he still might not get confirmed.

Here's the letter:

 
An earlier version of this post stated that Starr was solicitor general under Reagan, he was solicitor general under George H.W. Bush.

Map of the Day: Who Tells the World About Your Country?

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 10:34 AM EDT

Mark Graham recently tallied up the nationality of people who make edits to Wikipedia. He found, for example, that 85 percent of edits to articles about America are made by Americans. Conversely, only 9 percent of edits about Kenya are made by Kenyans. His advice:

Some parts of the world are represented on one of the world's most-used websites predominantly by local people, while others are almost exclusively created by foreigners, something to bear in mind next time you read a Wikipedia article.

Graham's map is below. Via Zoe Pollock.

ADHD Diagnoses Increased More Than 50 Percent in a Decade

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

In 2011, eleven percent of school-age children had been diagnosed with ADHD That's a sixteen percent more than in 2007 and 53 percent more than a decade ago, according to a New York Times analysis of new data from the Center for Disease Control.

This comes out to a grand total 6.4 million children in the US, up to 4 million of whom have prescriptions for Adderall, Ritalin, or other medication, a class of drugs that brings in an estimated $9 billion in sales annually. The Times found that boys, particularly teenage boys ages 14-17, have the highest rates of diagnosis, though no one knows why:

The New York Times

The director of the CDC told the New York Times that "The right medications for A.D.H.D., given to the right people, can make a huge difference. Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate." The CDC estimates that we spend $31.6 billion annually in health care and work absence costs for children and adults with ADHD and their families.

Clearly, more and more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. What the new study doesn't tell us is whether more and more kids actually have it. Another recent CDC study, that both surveyed parents and screened children, suggested doctors are over-diagnosing ADHD in some kids while overlooking the condition in others. The survey, which focused on South Carolina and Oklahoma, found that of children taking ADHD medication, only 40 percent in South Carolina and 28 percent in Oklahoma actually met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

In other words, the current system for diagnosing kids with ADHD is probably not working very well. Meanwhile, as another recent story in the Times demonstrated, concerns over the potential side effects of ADHD medications—which can include addiction and anxiety—are mounting.

Keystone XL: The Science, Stakes, and Strategy Behind the Fight Over the Tar Sands Pipeline

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Miss Thursday's event? No problem—watch it here:

Watch live streaming video from climatenexus at livestream.com

On February 17, more than 40,000 people rallied in Washington to convince the president to reject the Keystone XL, a proposed 875-mile pipeline running from the Canadian border into Nebraska and slated to transport oil from tar sands (which is 17 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than standard crude oil). The crowds outside the White House provided overwhelming proof that opposing Keystone has mobilized a new and powerful grassroots constituency.

But in the US Senate, the mood was different. In a nonbinding vote, 62 Senators—including 17 pro-Keystone Democrats—voted to approve the pipeline. Just 37 Senators voted against it. In fact, the amendment was co-sponsored by four Democrats, including Max Baucus of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

So are activists' efforts all in vain? What will happen to the environmental movement if President Obama ultimately lets Keystone go forward?

And more broadly: What does this say about the best strategy for fighting climate change? Does compromise, horse-trading, and winning industry allies ultimately work best—or do you have to push the limits of the possible? You're invited to the next Climate Desk Live event—hosted by myself—for a debate and discussion between some of the leading voices on this issue:

May Boeve, executive director and co-founder, 350.org.

David Roberts, Grist magazine, who has been covering Keystone regularly and recently wrote about the "Virtues of Being Unreasonable on Keystone."

Michael Levi, director of the program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the new book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle For America’s Future (Oxford, May 2013), where he writes that combating climate change will require "doing deals [with those] who want to expand production of oil and gas."

Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent for Time magazine, author of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, who recently declared that on Keystone, "I'm with the Tree Huggers!"

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Quick Reads: "Odds Against Tomorrow" by Nathaniel Rich

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
book cover

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Did Nathaniel Rich see Sandy coming? His protagonist did. Rich's second novel follows Mitchell Zuckor, a perpetually fearful Wall Street quant whose lucrative niche is calculating the odds of worst-case scenarios—fires, floods, power grid collapses, pandemic viruses—and helping corporate clients plan for the unthinkable. When a hurricane inundates New York City, Zuckor embarks on a post-apocalyptic adventure in an objet d'art canoe bought at a gallery for 29 grand. It's fiction, thank heaven, but fiction with an edge: Zuckor's job description and his paranoid calculations are well grounded in reality, and Odds Against Tomorrow underscores the tenuous line between order and chaos.

Why the Euro is Doomed

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 1:58 AM EDT

Matthew O'Brien on why Europe's common currency is doomed:

The euro is the gold standard minus the shiny rocks.

Read the whole thing, which is a pretty good summary of, um, why the euro is doomed. I agree with it, but I also suffer from cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, all the fundamentals—which O'Brien summarizes admirably—say that the euro can't survive. On the other hand, I can't believe that Europe will ever let the euro fail. Obviously one of these beliefs is wrong. The latter, I suspect, but I'm hardly completely sure of that.

For a related take, but with a somewhat different emphasis, my version of O'Brien's argument is here.

Breaking: Politicizing Religious Worship Now a Bad Thing

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 12:18 AM EDT

Apparently, during a sermon attended by President Obama yesterday, Rev. Luis León said this:

It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back ... for blacks to be back in the back of the bus ... for women to be back in the kitchen ... for immigrants to be back on their side of the border. The message of Easter is about the power of love over loveless power.

OK, that's probably not especially appropriate for an Easter sermon. At the same time, this is a little hard to take seriously:

"It’s sad when clergy egregiously politicize worship," Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Christian organization Institute on Religion and Democracy, wrote in one of several blogs and articles that have criticized the sermon. "Is this characterization of religious conservatives as racists, chauvinists and bigots really fair and accurate? And if political critique of religious conservatives were appropriate in an Easter sermon, couldn’t León offer a thoughtful analysis rather than snide smugness?"

Is the religious right really now taking the position that religious worship shouldn't be politicized? It's a little late to start complaining about it now, isn't it?

Twitter, Addiction, and Changing Social Norms

| Mon Apr. 1, 2013 11:48 PM EDT

I see there's some discussion of Twitter today on the blogosphere. I'm going to use it to make the most outlandish point possible. Watch as I attempt this death-defying feat.

Ahem. So Nick Beaudrot gave up Twitter for Lent. And he liked it! "After two days without Twitter, I barely missed it; by the second week, I was downright happy not to be thinking about 'staying on top' of my feed." Ezra Klein says "amen":

The problem isn’t Twitter, exactly. Twitter, like so much else, is excellent when consumed in moderation. But it’s also an unusually addictive product, and it has certain unusual properties that help it crowd out other information streams.

....[Compared to those other information streams,] Twitter elicits a more poisonous information anxiety. It moves so fast that if I’m not continuously checking in, I completely lose track of the conversation — and it’s almost impossible to figure out what happened three hours ago, much less two days ago. I can’t save Twitter for later, and thus there’s always a pressure to check Twitter now. Twitter ends up taking more of my time than I’d like it to, as there’s a constant reason to check it rather than, say, reading a magazine article.

It's not just Twitter. It's broader than that. Within the verbal, well-educated, politically conscious social group that most bloggers belong to, we've always been expected to keep up with things. The problem is that "keeping up" increasingly means being surrounded by an endless torrent of tweets, texts, blogs, and Tumblrs demanding our attention. With traditional physical forms of news consumption no longer acting as natural limits, the risk of relapse into obsession is never more than a ringtone away, with nothing but raw self discipline as our last line of defense. Modern social norms don't allow us to turn this stuff off completely, but for those of us who are vulnerable to this kind of addiction, ever advancing technology conspires to turn us into nervous wrecks if we don't.

You may or may not feel much sympathy for this problem. I don't, because I don't have any problem limiting my news consumption. I dip into Twitter whenever I feel like it, I don't bother with Tumblr, and I mark all my RSS feeds read at the end of the day whether I've actually read them or not. For lots of people, though, it's not that easy. It's a real headache.

So here's my outlandish point: if you do feel any sympathy for this problem, you should probably also feel some sympathy for conservative warnings about the breakdown of traditional social norms. In our own social group (verbal, educated, etc.), we tend to look at things like declining marriage rates and easier access to drugs as generally neutral or positive. That's because we mostly have the self discipline to regulate our own behavior even when laws and norms loosen up, and we have robust social networks to help us out if our self discipline breaks down. But that's not universally true in every social group. Many of the things that seem harmless to us—the way Twitter seems harmless to me—are real problems for people with poor educations, poor impulse control, and weak social networks.

We probably don't think about this as much as we should, and conservatives don't help by crying wolf over every single social change they happen to dislike. But it's something to think about anyway.