Blogs

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 July 2015

| Fri Jul. 3, 2015 1:36 PM EDT

Today you get a very special episode of Friday Catblogging. It's a movie! I made it with my shiny new Surface 3, and although it's not the greatest catblogging movie ever made, it does prove the old adage: any camera you have is better than any camera you don't. So sit back and enjoy Hopper using her passive-aggressive defensive skills to keep Hilbert at bay. Our show takes place atop the fireplace mantle, everyone's favorite new place these days.

Have a great 4th, everyone. See you next week.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Greek Media Really, Really Wants Yes Vote On Euro-Bailout

| Fri Jul. 3, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Henry Chu of the LA Times reports on how the Greek media is presenting Sunday's upcoming vote on the bailout:

Strong emotions are in abundant supply. But impartial reporting is not.

Along with Skai TV, nearly all the mainstream press and television stations in Greece have skewed their coverage or are openly in favor of the "yes" campaign, throwing in doubt just how fair Sunday's election will be. The snap referendum has already come under criticism for being called with too little notice by the left-wing Greek government — which is urging a "no" vote — to allow for proper campaigning and educating of voters.

....In a widely circulated examination of how the six biggest TV networks treated the rival referendum rallies Monday and Tuesday, freelance journalist Markos Petropoulos found that the pro-government "no" demonstration got about 81/2 minutes of coverage, whereas the "yes" protest received more than five times that much.

In another newscast, one network devoted 18 minutes to warnings and statements from European leaders about the breakdown of bailout negotiations with Athens and the surprise referendum announcement that had precipitated it. The Greek government's position got two minutes.

The bias toward the "yes" side reflects the fact that many of Greece's biggest news outlets are owned by corporate titans and other "oligarchs" whose business interests would be directly threatened by a "no" victory and the potential abandonment of the euro in favor of the drachma, [Nikolas] Leontopoulos said.

I suppose it's no surprise that Greece's corporate class is deeply unthrilled by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftist government, and would be happy to see him humiliated and tossed out of office. I assume that they also prefer the devil they know—grinding European-imposed austerity for years—to the devil they don't—exiting the euro amid chaos and eventually rebuilding their economy with a devalued drachma. After all, they'll stay rich either way, and sticking with their fellow European moguls probably seems the better bet by far.

Less than 48 hours to go now.

Bobby Jindal Really, Really, Really Hates Gay Marriage

| Fri Jul. 3, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

From The Advocate:

After three courts told him he had to, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will finally allow his administration to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples today.

....Jindal's administration argued it's possible the Supreme Court's ruling didn't apply to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where Louisiana had been defending its statewide ban....On Wednesday, the circuit court actually went through the motion of confirming the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over it.

....But Jindal's administration jumped on that as reason to delay even further. The Fifth Circuit technically sent the case back to the lower, district court where its earlier ruling in favor of the state had to be corrected. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Jindal's spokesman said no same-sex couple would be recognized until the district court formally reversed itself. And so it did that today."

I've seen several people wondering why Jindal wasted time with this, since he knew perfectly well what the outcome would be. The answer is obvious: He's trying to position himself as the most tea-partyish, most anti-Obama, most combative conservative in the Republican field. So this is basically brand marketing. Republican voters now know that no one will stand up for traditional values as strongly as Bobby Jindal. Message sent and received.

Obama Just Came Out Hard Against the Washington Football Team’s Racist Name

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 7:06 PM EDT

In an irony that will surely be lost on team owner Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins are being kicked off their land.

From the Washington Post:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this spring that the National Park Service, which owns the land beneath Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, was unlikely to accommodate construction of a new stadium for the Redskins unless the team changes its name.

Jewell oversees both national park land and America's trust and treaty relationships with Native American tribes.

Her decision not to extend the District's lease of the RFK land badly hinders Bowser's bid to return the Redskins to D.C.—and boosts efforts to lure the team across the Potomac to Northern Virginia.

Jewell, who has been an outspoken critic of the team's controversial name, added that adjusting the federal lease on the property, which doesn't expire for another 22 years, is "not likely to be a priority for the administration." The team's owner Dan Snyder, who has vowed to never change the team's name, has long been interested in building a new stadium in the DC area.

There's actually a great precedent for this. As we explained in 2013,

The showdown began in 1961, when John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, Stewart Udall, who'd committed to ending segregation anywhere in his sphere of influence, declared his intent to break pro football's last color bar...The call for integration was met with opposition, most notably from the team's owner, George Preston Marshall, a laundromat magnate turned NFL bigwig who had held firm for years. Udall had one advantage over Marshall: The team's new home field, DC Stadium (later renamed RFK Memorial), was federal property. With Kennedy's approval, Udall gave Marshall a choice: He could let black players on his team, or take his all-white squad to someone else's gridiron."

Don't worry, Washington fans: There's always Virginia (or stay in Maryland).

China Adopts an Unusual Approach to Fighting a Stock Market Crash

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 2:38 PM EDT

Hum de hum hum. Greece is in trouble. Puerto Rico too. And don't forget China:

Chinese shares plunged Thursday, even as Beijing grasps for solutions to stem the selling, including relaxing rules on the use of borrowed funds to invest in stocks....The Shanghai Composite closed down 3.5% while the smaller Shenzhen market was down 5.6%. The ChiNext board, composed of small-cap stocks, sank 4%. Even after losing nearly a quarter of its value from a mid-June high, China’s main stock market has almost doubled in value over the past year.

....In a rare move late Wednesday, Chinese regulators set in motion draft proposals to ease restrictions on margin lending earlier than scheduled....Regulators’ sudden shift in attitude about margin trading comes after vocal warnings about its risks in recent months. In April, regulators took various steps to rein in the practice, which had allowed investors to borrow several times their investment money.

Inscrutable, those Chinese. Their stock market is crashing so they're promoting an increase in margin trading. That's sort of like lighting a tree on fire when it gets dark outside and all your flashlights are dead. It'll work. For a while. But it's really not considered best practice.

Then again, maybe there's something I don't understand here. All I know is that panicky measures to halt a panic don't usually work. And the Chinese stock market still has a long way to fall. I sure hope they figure something out.

The Combined Black Workforces of Google, Facebook, and Twitter Could Fit on a Single Jumbo Jet

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 2:00 PM EDT

We already knew that Google, Facebook, and Twitter employed relatively few African Americans, but new details show that the gap is truly striking. All three companies have disclosed their full EEO1 reports, detailed accounts of their employees' race and gender demographics that the law requires them to submit to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The reports show that out of a combined 41,000 Twitter, Facebook, and Google employees, only 758, or 1.8 percent, are black. To put this in perspective, all of those workers could fit onto a single Airbus A380. Have a look:

African Americans comprise 13 percent of the overall workforce, which means they are underrepresented at Google, Facebook, and Twitter by a factor of 7. Here's a visual comparison of the black employees…

 

 

versus all other employees:

Race and gender gaps in tech hiring have been hot-button issues as of late. Since last May, when Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up at Google's shareholder meeting, he has won some serious diversity concessions from major tech companies—but the pace of minority hiring remains slow. As the Guardian noted yesterday, Facebook hired 1,216 new people last year, and only 36 were black. Since last year, the percentage of black Google workers has not changed.

It should be easier to shift workplace demographics at smaller companies. Twitter, with fewer than 3,000 employees in 2014, has a huge black user base that is sometimes referred to as "Black Twitter." Jackson wants the company to do more to move the needle. "I am very disappointed," he told the Guardian. "We are becoming intolerant with these numbers. There's a big gap between their talk and their implementation."

Airplane image: Anthony Lui/Noun Project

Correction: An early version of this story misstated the number of black employees at Google and incorrectly suggested that Twitter had released its 2015 EEO1 report. Mother Jones regrets the errors.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

America's BBQ Grills Create as Much Carbon as a Big Coal Plant

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 1:48 PM EDT

As your neighbors fire up their barbecues this Independence Day, the most popular day in America to grill, they won't just send the scent of tri-tip or grilled corn over the fence in your direction—they'll also send smoke. As my colleague Kiera Butler wrote about here, even the "cleanest" gas grills emit pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every hour they're used. So how many emissions can we expect from dinner barbecues on the 4th?

Roughly eighty percent of American households own barbecues or smokers, according to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association. Let's say all 92.5 million of them decide to grill on Saturday. A 2013 study by HPBA found that 61 percent of users opted for gas grills, 42 percent for charcoal, and 10 percent for electric (some respondents had multiple grills). If that reflected all households across the United States, and each household used its grill for an hour on the 4th of July, then we'd get a calculation like this:

(56.425M gas grills*5.6 pounds of CO2) + (38.85M charcoal grills*11 pounds CO2) + (9.25M electric grills*15 pounds CO2 ) = 882 million pounds of CO2

That's roughly as many emissions as burning 2145 railcars of coal, or running one coal-fired power plant for a month.

But let's be honest—no one wants to give up summer grilling, and these emissions stats probably won't convince your neighbor to turn off the barbecue. You might instead offer up ideas on recipes with ingredients that are friendlier to the planet—like these 4 veggie burgers that don't suck.

My $500 Pill Revealed

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 1:03 PM EDT

Have you ever wondered what a $500 pill looks like? Well, here's your answer: it looks like pretty much any other pill.

Anyway, I'm supposed to take this for 21 days, then a week off, then another 21 days, etc. This will last a few months before we know if it's working. If it does work, then I'll be taking it forever (I think). So that's $126,000 per year to keep Kevin alive. Of course, I pay only a fraction of that thanks to having excellent health insurance, and I'm sure that even Kaiser pays nowhere near that list price. Maybe half that, or a third. Still, pretty expensive!

Luckily I'm not on Obamacare. From what I hear, my case would have gone straight to a death panel, which almost certainly would have decided that my societal worth didn't measure up to the cost of the treatment. And who could argue? I mean, blogging? Seriously?

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to mention something in my previous health update: I feel great. Not 100 percent, mind you, but pretty good. My stomach is in fine fettle (in fact, I'm overeating these days), I'm sleeping well, and my energy level has recovered almost to normal. The long-term prognosis for the multiple myeloma is obviously still uncertain, and that's an unhappy thing, but in the meantime at least I feel good for the first time in eight months!

Sorry, Obama. The Founding Fathers Loved Peas

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 11:31 AM EDT

On Wednesday, after the New York Times proposed adding peas to guacamole (what's next, mayonnaise?), President Barack Obama announced that the proper way to make guacamole is with avocado, onions, garlic, and hot pepper. It wasn't the first time the leader of the free world had disparaged peas. In 2011, when Congress stalled on raising the debt ceiling, he announced that it was time for all parties involved to "eat our peas"—swallow the tough pill, if you will.

But Obama's anti-pea polemic, published just days before the Fourth of July, puts him at odds with an important group of Americans—the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers loved peas.

Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, was the English pea. He cultivated 19 different kinds of peas in the Monticello vegetable garden, including 15 kinds of English peas. Among them were Marrowfat, Hotspur, Blue Prussian, and Early Frame. (Jefferson even spoke with Mother Jones about his peas in February.) Letters to his daughter, Mary, often made reference to the status of the peas. Here he is discussing peas in a letter to George Washington:

Peas weren't just sustenance for Jefferson. They were a way of life; every year he would hold a contest with his neighbor to see whose peas would sprout first. Per the Monticello website:

Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"

Divers, that clever knave! There's even a children's book, First Peas to the Table, inspired by Jefferson's fruitless obsession with winning at peas.

Jefferson's friends in government got in on the action too. At his prodding, George Washington attempted to plant English peas at Mount Vernon, with  mixed results. But Washington loved peas so much that when a bunch Tories attempted to kill him, they did so by poisoning a dish of his favorite food—peas. Wise to the plot, a 13-year-old girl fed them to his chickens first as a precautionary measure. (Or at least, that's the legend. It's probably apocryphal.)

The point is, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved peas. If avocados had even been around when they were president, they would have made pea guacamole. And they would have loved that, too. Pea hold these shoots to be self-evident.

Greece vs. Germany: Behind a Veil of Morality vs. Technocracy, the Germans are Winning the War of the Narrative

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 11:31 AM EDT

Just a quick note on Greece. Although I've periodically written at considerable length on the Greek crisis, in shorter posts I often sound as if I blame the whole thing on Germany. That's shorthand, though, and fairly sloppy shorthand.

Here's the thing: Greece bears plenty of blame in this whole debacle. They borrowed way too much when their economy was booming; they refused to modernize their infamously porous tax collection, especially toward the rich; they lied through their teeth about their finances for years; and governments of both right and left have doggedly supported an insanely bloated public sector that would make even a Russian blush.

On the German (i.e., Northern European) side of things, the story of blame is a little more....technocratic. Banks made bets on interest rate convergences between north and south when the euro was introduced. This paid off, and for years they happily shoveled money into Greece at great profit. Greece's economy overheated, but the ECB kept monetary policy loose because that benefited Germany twice over: first by providing Germans with a good place to invest their money and second by providing Greeks with enough money to import German goods. Eventually, this hot money flow produced inflation, but monetary policy stayed loose anyway because the German economy was kind of sluggish at the time and needed the boost. Inevitably, this produced a capital account surplus in Greece and therefore a current account deficit. When the Great Recession hit, everything went to hell. Due to the hot money flows, Greek banks had become dependent on wholesale funding, and when that suddenly dried up a banking crisis got added to the rest of the mix. It's been downhill ever since.

Now: read those two paragraphs carefully. It's plain there's fault on both sides. But the fault of the Greek side is easy to understand and easy to put in moralistic terms. They lived high, they lied about their finances, and they coddled their government workers. It's easy to paint the Greeks as irresponsible wastrels who are just getting what they deserve.

The German side is quite different. Be honest: did you even understand it? It's all very technocratic, almost hydraulic in nature. Investors made bets on some derivatives; centralized monetary policy was not ideal for Greece; hot money flows inevitably produced current account deficits; and when the Great Recession cratered the economy it all turned into a full-blown banking and debt crisis. This is all very recondite. Sure, maybe it was Germany's fault, but in an abstract, bureaucratic way. It's a lot harder to see bad personal behavior here.

I'm not alone in thinking that once you dig into things, German behavior has been quite a bit worse than Greek behavior. But it's hard to make this case in a way that makes much sense emotionally. What most people see is a highly intricate and technocratic system on one side and a bunch of reckless, happy-go-lucky Greeks on the other side. So who are you going to blame?

We humans are attracted to human stories, so the answer is the Greeks, of course. They hired the money, didn't they? The fact that they were stuck in a monetary web designed by Germans that was almost guaranteed to produce disaster—well, maybe that's true and maybe it's not, but it all sounds like a bunch of blah blah blah. What did you say an ECB refi rate was again?

So: reckless people vs. a complex financial system that a few eggheads say was rigged. Which story do you think is going to win?