2013 - %3, June

How President Obama’s Climate Speech Could Have Rocked Even More

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 10:04 AM EDT

President Obama's speech Tuesday on climate change is getting pretty high marks. Or as Al Gore put it, it was "the best address on climate by any president ever."

At both the beginning and end of the speech the president invoked the historic "Earthrise" image, taken from the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve of 1968 as the craft orbited the moon. That "blue marble" is the namesake of this blog itself, and was a great inspiration to the developing environmental movement in the 1970s.

At the close of the speech, the president put it like this:

…that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon's surface, containing everything we hold dear—the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity—that's what's at stake. That's what we're fighting for. And if we remember that, I'm absolutely sure we'll succeed.

It looks like Obama here may be channeling the celebrated environmental writer (and longtime Mother Jones contributor) Bill McKibben, who similarly drew upon "Earthrise" to great effect at the opening to his 2010 book Eaarth. Only, McKibben goes considerably further—and arguably achieves a more impressive rhetorical effect—by noting that global warming has literally changed what Earth looks like from space. What this suggests is that the "Earthrise" picture wouldn't be the same today as it was in 1968 (although to be sure, some of the differences might be hard to notice given the distance of the shot).

Here's McKibben:

Consider the veins of cloud that streak and mottle the earth in that glorious snapshot from space. So far humans, by burning fossil fuel, have raised the temperature of the planet by nearly a degree Celsius…A NASA study in December 2008 found that warming on that scale was enough to trigger a 45 percent increase in thunder-heads above the ocean, breeding spectacular anvil-headed clouds that can rise five miles above the sea…

And again:

Or consider the white and frozen top of the planet. Arctic ice has been melting slowly for two decades as temperatures have climbed, but in the summer of 2007 that gradual thaw suddenly accelerated. By the time the long Arctic night finally descended in October, there was 22 percent less sea ice than had ever been observed before, and more than 40 percent less than the year that the Apollo capsule took its picture…Within a decade or two, a summertime spacecraft pointing its camera at the North Pole would see nothing but open ocean. There'd be ice left on Greenland—but much less ice.

Barack, Bill—you guys should talk. Between the two of you, you just might move us to save this rock.

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21 Percent of Homes Emit 50 Percent of CO2

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 5:05 AM EDT

Not all homes pollute equally—even in the relatively homogeneous world of a mid-sized town in Switzerland. A study of a village of 3,000 finds that 21 percent of households belched half the town's greenhouse gases. The biggest factors running up the carbon tabs of the disproportionate polluters: the size of their houses and the length of their commutes. Airline travel wasn't factored into this research.

The energy people use to power their homes and drive their lives accounts for more than 70 percent of CO2 emissions, write the authors in  Environmental Science & Technology. But in addressing that problem policymakers and environmentalists mostly point their fingers at the supply side: power plants, heating and cooling systems, and the fuel efficiency of cars. The Swiss researchers chose to parse it differently and developed a lifecycle assessment model of how energy consumption for housing and car travel, per household and per capita, impacts greenhouse gas emissions.

Their conclusion: ​energy conservation in a small number of households could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If the super polluting homes cut their emissions in half, the authors write, "the total emissions of the community would be reduced by 25 percent."

Be interesting to see the model these researchers developed used to compare the larger income and lifestyle gaps typical in US towns and cities.

I wrote more about the power of individual choices in combating emissions in Diet for a Warm Planet.

Quick Reads: "Humboldt" by Emily Brady

| Thu Jun. 27, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

 

Humboldt cover

Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier

By Emily Brady

GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING

Pot-growing hippies who fled San Francisco for Northern California's rural Humboldt County are victims of their own success in this multigenerational epic about the pathologies and paradoxes of the nation's biggest weed-based economy, and how a growers' utopia devolved into paranoia and violence. It's an empathetic but unflinching portrait of a community caught in the legalization movement's crosswinds.

This review originally appeared in our July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Peeing During Filibusters, Explained

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 5:52 PM EDT

Update (6/27/2013): This morning, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that, according to Joel Burns, who holds Sen. Davis' former Fort Worth City Council seat, Davis was equipped with a catheter during her filibuster. When contacted to confirm, Davis' office responded that the senator "made all necessary preparations."

While obsessively watching state Sen. Wendy Davis' heroic filibuster in the Texas Legislature yesterday, I couldn't help thinking the obvious: 13 hours without peeing is a long time. Was she just holding it? Or wearing some sort of, er, contraption? (The options on such things, by the way, are many.)

For the most part, the logistics on this tend to be something politicians keep mum about. "It's a kind of urological mystery," Joseph Crespino, biographer of legendary filibusterer Strom Thurmond, told the BBC last year.

But over time, filibustering heavyweights have tried some pretty incredible tactics to avoid defeat by bathroom—and have gone on to share their tales. A few of them below:

1. Steam baths and a surreptitious urine bucket: Thurmond, who completed the longest federal filibuster in US history (24 hours, 18 minutes) in 1957, took the minimalist route with a bucket. His aides set it up in the cloakroom so that Thurmond could pee while keeping one foot on the Senate floor.

But even before that, Thurmond took daily steam baths to prepare for the epic speech, to make it easier for his body to absorb, rather than expel, fluid.

Thurmond also got lucky: After speaking for about three hours, Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater asked him to temporarily yield the floor for an insertion in the Congressional Record. This gave Thurmond a few precious minutes to make his one and only trip to the restroom.

2. When without a bathroom, bring the bathroom to you! In 2001, then St. Louis Alderwoman Irene Smith staged a filibuster during a City Hall debate to protest a ward redistricting plan that she believed would have hurt the city's black communities. Nature called, but rather than yielding the floor and ending her filibuster, Smith's aides came down and surrounded her with a sheet, quilt, and tablecloth while she relieved herself in a trash can. Here's video of the incident:

Later, she was charged with violating the city's public urination prohibition, but was never convicted: Given the sheets, there wasn't any hard proof of the act.

3. Astronaut bags and a light diet: In 1977, then-Texas Sen. Bill Meier staged a 43-hour filibuster over a bill he believed to be an attack on the state's open records laws. He wore an "astronaut bag" on the Senate floor, and when it filled up, then Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby would arrange to take a message from the House, while Meier ran to the women's restroom (closest to his desk) to empty the bag. On each trip, two sergeants-at-arms came with him to ensure he never sat down. Meier also said he ate lightly in the days preceding his filibuster. Today, Meier is a judge on the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

4. Catheters: After his filibuster protesting the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director, Rand Paul told Glenn Beck that he'd considered fitting himself with a catheter for the speech, but decided against it, even though he'd tried them before.

5. Adult diapers: Lots of jokes and rumors have flown around about various filibustering politicians pulling a Lisa Nowak and using these, though we haven't been able to find any confirmed instances.

 

Can We Stop Talking About Wendy Davis' Shoes Yet?

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 5:39 PM EDT

Yesterday at 11:30 AM, Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator, began filibustering a piece of anti-abortion legislation that threatened to shut down all but five of the state's abortion clinics. The filibuster, which lasted almost 11 hours, ended dramatically around midnight: Senate Republicans managed to do in Davis' filibuster but opponents of the bill literally screamed and yelled for fifteen minutes in order to delay the vote until after midnight, preventing it from passing (for now).

But what did she wear?, you were wondering, right? The media is on it: Davis' choice of footwear, a pair of pink sneakers, was front-and-center in many, many articles that ran on the filibuster this morning.

From the lead paragraph in this morning's Washington Post:

The job of state senator isn't considered one of the most physically demanding occupations a Texan could take up. But Fort Worth's Wendy Davis put on her running shoes to run out the clock. Pink-sneakered, intellectually steeled, and back-braced for the long haul, Davis intended to slog through a grueling 13-hour-long filibuster…

From Slate:

There appears to be only two things standing in the way of Texas passing a package of sweeping new restrictions on abortions that would effectively close most abortion clinics in the state: Wendy Davis and her pink shoes.

The New York Post went for the hat trick, including Davis' sneakers in the headline and photo this AP story, which in turn mentions Davis' sneakers in its lead:

The Daily Beast:

Wearing pink sneakers, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth began her filibuster at 11:18 a.m., knowing that she would need to remain on her feet for almost 13 hours to prevent the vote on what would be the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The Atlantic Wire:

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis may or may not be able to stop a controversial anti-abortion bill from becoming law, but she's not going to let it get through without a fight. Davis took the floor of Senate chamber on Tuesday—armed with a pair of comfortable pink sneakers—and will attempt to filibuster the bill.

What about Mother Jones? We're no better than the rest of them:

Donning pink tennis shoes, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) waged an almost 11-hour filibuster Tuesday to thwart a GOP-backed bill that would have shuttered most of the abortion clinics across Texas.

The shoe chat was lively on Twitter:

And at the New York Times:

VIDEO: Ag Gag in Action at Utah Slaughterhouse

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 4:48 PM EDT

Animal rights activist Amy Meyer was the first person to be prosecuted under an ag gag law for a disturbing scene she caught on tape in February at the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. in Draper, Utah. 

Meyer was standing on a public easement outside the barbed wire fence that encloses the slaughterhouse and recorded a tractor carrying away a downer cow and flesh coming out of a chute on the side of a building. She was approached by the manager of the company who told her she had to leave, citing Utah's ag gag law: "If you read the rights here and the laws in Utah, you can't film an agricultural property without my consent."

Check out Meyer's footage, first published this week by environmental blogger Will Potter:

Utah's law, enacted in March 2012, makes it illegal to record, "an image of, or sound from, an agricultural operation while the person is committing criminal trespass." Like many other states' ag gag laws, Utah also forbids obtaining, "access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses." As Ted Genoways' reveals in a recent investigation for Mother Jones, laws criminalizing whistleblowing on Big Ag have been sweeping the country in the past few years. Ag gag laws were introduced in 12 states just this year, and are currently pending in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Check out MoJo's map to see where these bills have passed and failed.

Meyer used to pass by the slaughterhouse on her way to volunteer at a local animal sanctuary in Draper, where the mayor is a co-owner of the meat-packing plant, and felt compelled to, "do more to fight what's happening to cows inside factory farms and slaughterhouses," she told Mother Jones. After she filmed the downer cow incident and then a confrontation with Smith and Sons's manager, police arrived to question Meyer, but did not detain her. She was later charged with "agricultural operation interference." As shown by the video, Meyer was standing on public property while recording, which was why the prosecutor ultimately dropped the charges on April 30, after Potter publicized the case

On May 18, hundreds of local activists gathered outside the slaughterhouse to protest the state's ag gag law. A spokesperson for the plant told ABC News, "the meat processing facility is inspected daily and has a good record for animal care," and the company maintained in a written statement that their "animal handling and treatment practices are humane and responsible."

However, as Meyer points out to the plant's manager in the video, more transparency is in order: "Why are you concerned about being filmed, if you think this is a legitimate business?"

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No, the Supreme Court Probably Didn't Signal the Imminent End of Gay-Marriage Bans Today

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 4:34 PM EDT

Greg Sargent reports that some supporters of gay marriage are excited by a "tell" buried in today's Supreme Court decision on DOMA. Here it is:

State laws defining and regulating marriage, of course, must respect the constitutional rights of persons, see, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967); but, subject to those guarantees, “regulation of domestic relations” is “an area that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the States.”

Loving struck down state laws against interracial marriage, so the idea here is that the court might be suggesting that someday it will strike down laws against gay marriage too.

Maybe. But I'm not sure I'd read that much into this. The court is basically expressing a tautology: If we decide something is a constitutional right, then state laws have to respect that constitutional right. Unfortunately, that really doesn't say anything about whether or not the court will declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right anytime soon. It just says that if they do, then states will have to go along. Needless to say, we already knew that.

But who knows? Maybe my Supreme Court Kremlinology is just rusty.

The New Right-Wing "ObamaCars" Conspiracy Theory Is Heinously Dumb

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 4:11 PM EDT
An actual Obama car.

A new rumor is making the rounds—first on Breitbart, then Fox News and beyond—that the Senate's immigration reform bill contains a provision that could provide free, taxpayer-subsidized cars, scooters, motorcycles, Segways, hovercraft, and god knows what to young Americans. The supposed nationwide government-sponsored "ObamaCar" giveaway would happen during a 15-month period following passage of the legislation. America will grow weaker and poorer; our enemies, foreign and domestic, will be emboldened.

I've reached out to the White House for comment on the existence of the government's top-secret car-gifting plot, but have not yet received a response. Instead of allowing the Obama administration's silence to fuel any suspicions you may have about the Far-Reaching ObamaCar Conspiracy, here's a fleck of reassurance: There is absolutely nothing to this allegation. At all. You can add it to the long list of explosively wrong and heinously dumb conservative memes that have cropped up in the Obama era.

"An amendment by [Sen. Bernie] Sanders to the immigration bill would provide a youth jobs program that includes the possibility of transportation and child care services," PolitiFact notes. "That prompted conservative news outlets to make claims such as, 'New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths'...There is no proof to support the idea that the program would include free car, motorcycle or scooter giveaways. In fact, that such a process would end up allowing car giveaways seems laughable."

And if PolitiFact's thorough takedown doesn't convince you, here's a fact-check courtesy of the office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)—a man who isn't exactly known for leaping to President Obama's defense:

MYTH: The new Hoeven-Corker Amendment creates a special program with taxpayer money to give free cars, motorcycles, or scooters to young people 15 months after the bill passes.

[...]

FACT: There are absolutely no cars, motorcycles, or scooters for young Americans in the immigration bill, and no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund the new jobs program for American youth.

So there you have it. If you buy the vehicle-giveaway story, you might as well believe that Marco Rubio chows down on $16 muffins while using his very own Obamaphone to mass-text Friends of Hamas while driving his brand new ObamaCar to work.

Sugar Industry Getting a Sweet Deal From Uncle Sugar

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 4:01 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports today that three giant sugar companies received more than half of all sugar loans in the past year. But there's trouble brewing:

Disclosure of the loan recipients comes as domestic sugar prices are trading around four-year lows, raising concerns that some processors—who turn sugar cane or sugar beets into the sweetener—may not be able to repay what they owe.

....During the past nine years, the government has lent $8.8 billion to sugar processors. The 2012 loans were granted with an interest rate of 1.125% to 1.250%, depending on the month in which they were issued....In case of a default, a processor would pay the government back in sugar rather than cash; the sugar is then typically sold by the USDA at a loss.

I'll bet college students wish they could get a deal like that. Instead they'll soon be getting their loans at 6.8 percent—with no allowance whatsoever for default until the day they die, let alone the possibility of repaying the government in used textbooks or something. Let us all now take a moment to marvel at our national priorities.

Watch: San Francisco Celebrates Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act Decisions

| Wed Jun. 26, 2013 4:00 PM EDT

Hundreds gathered at San Francisco's City Hall this morning to witness announcements of the Supreme Court's historic rulings which overturned California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California in 2008, began its path to the Supreme Court with the help of San Francisco city attorneys. On August 19, 2009 the City and County of San Francisco joined as coplaintiffs challenging the Prop 8 ballot measure. Watch as city officials greet the crowd and gay couples celebrate their renewed right to marry in California.

Note: There were audio recording issues during the final interview, most likely caused by jubilant celebration.