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Here's How Much the Storm Is Helping California's Epic Drought

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 6:21 PM EST
People canoeing and kayaking in a flooded parking lot in Healdsburg, California.

In the midst of the most intense drought in hundreds of years, Northern California is being bombarded with rain (here are some crazy photos). In a state that produces roughly half of the country's fruits and veggies, the water is more than welcome. The storm is expected to dump 2-8 inches of water in the Bay Area, and 2-5 inches in Southern California. But California would need 18-21 more inches of rain over the next six months in order to make up for the drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The state usually gets about 23 inches of rain per year.

Check out the similarity between a drought intensity chart from two weeks ago, when California was still pretty dry, and two days ago, after several days of rain.

Compared with the levels two weeks ago, there's been a small but noticeable increase in the state's reservoir water; California's two largest reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville, have both seen a three percent rise. The image below, updated on December 10th, compares how much California's reservoirs can hold (in yellow) with how much they're currently holding (in blue).

California Department of Water Resources

Some experts are worried that the rain will make people forget about the fact that California's still in a drought. "Thursday it'll rain, and people will say, 'Oh, I'm very excited,' and Saturday it'll rain, and 'Oh, drought’s over.' Not even close," Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with Public Policy Institute of California focused on water, told KQED. "This has been three consecutive years of extreme dryness, and that extreme dryness translates to much lower groundwater levels, and very dry soils. It’s going to take a lot of rain to break this drought."

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Dozens of Staffers Just Walked Out of Congress. This Powerful Picture Shows Why.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 3:55 PM EST

On Thursday afternoon, dozens of congressional staffers walked out in protest of the recent grand jury decisions failing to indict the two officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The result was an incredible display of solidarity, with staffers raising their hands in the air to invoke Brown's "hands up, don't shoot" image. See the photos below:

 

Here's the Ugly Side of Bipartisanship

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 2:36 PM EST

Dylan Matthews, after running down all the obnoxious amendments to the omnibus spending bill currently wending its way through Congress, wonders aloud if it's still worth supporting:

If you're Barack Obama, or a liberal Democrat generally, most of these riders are setbacks, in some cases significant ones. Indeed, Obama's condemned the Dodd-Frank and campaign finance provisions. He could, in theory, reject the deal and demand that Congress send him a bill without changes to Dodd-Frank, or one that doesn't meddle in DC's affairs, etc. And yet he has come out in favor of House passage of the bill.

Is he making a massive mistake?

This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It's messy, it's ugly, and it's petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.

That's politics. The fact that it's happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.

I understand that this sounds very Slatepitchy. But it's true. Even at its best, politics is lubricated by venality, ego, and mutual backscratching. And you know what? By the normal standards of this kind of stuff, the obnoxious riders in the current spending bill are pretty mild. Really. The only one that rises above the level of a political misdemeanor is the provision that allows banks to get back into the custom swaps business, and even that's hardly the end of the world. Swaps may have provided a tailwind to the 2008 financial collapse, but they were far from its core cause.

So should working politicians avert their gaze from the muck and vote to keep the government functioning? Of course they should. Government shutdowns are immensely costly in their own right, after all. This kind of crass calculus sucks, but that's human nature for you. All things considered, I'd say we all got off fairly easy this time around.

There's a Big Coal Giveaway in the Cromnibus Bill

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 2:17 PM EST

This story originally was originally published by The Huffington Post and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The 1,000-page omnibus spending package released Tuesday night is reigniting a fight over rules for U.S. financing of coal plants abroad.

In October 2013, the Treasury Department announced that it would stop providing funding for conventional coal plants abroad, except in "very rare" cases. And in December 2013, the Export-Import Bank announced a new policy that would restrict financing for most new coal-fired power plants abroad. The bank, often called Ex-Im, exists to provide financial support to projects that spur the export of U.S. products and services. The change in coal policy aligned with President Barack Obama's June 2013 call to end US funding of fossil fuel energy projects abroad unless the products include carbon capture technology.

But the language in the omnibus blocks both Ex-Im and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the US's development finance institution, from using any funds in the bill to enforce these new restrictions on coal projects.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, touted this prohibition in his statement on the spending package. He said the measure would help "to increase exports of US goods and services." Rogers told The Hill that coal exports "are just about the only bright light in the coal business these days."

Environmental groups have fought for years to get the government's financial institutions to stop funding fossil fuel projects abroad, including a number of coal-fired power plants, mines, pipelines and natural gas export terminals. Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said in a statement that including this rider in the omnibus "undercuts one of the most important contributions President Obama has made to climate policy internationally."

"This continued desperate attempt by Republicans to prop up the moribund coal industry is a fools errand," Justin Guay, associate director of the international climate program at the Sierra Club, told The Huffington Post. "The coal industry is a dead man walking; it's time to align our economy with an industry that actually has a future."

Jon Stewart Can't Believe the Right Wing Defense of the CIA Torture Report Either

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 2:00 PM EST

From rectal feeding to threats aimed at children, the horrific practices outlined by the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report have provoked widespread condemnation of the CIA. As if these torture methods weren't enough to swallow in one news cycle, a number of talking heads were quick to applaud the torturers. Andrea Tantaros of—surpriser!—Fox News and her unbelievable "America is awesome" rant is just one example.

Last night, Jon Stewart showed he's just as disgusted with these responses as the rest of us. Watch below:

Rick Perry: Running for President Is "Not an IQ Test"

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 1:59 PM EST

A lot of people think Texas Governor Rick Perry might be dumb. Perry does not think that should stop him from running for president.

"Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test," Perry told MSNBC this morning. "It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life experiences. And I think Americans are really ready for a leader that will give them a great hope about the future."

Here are some clips of Rick Perry being dumb:

 

 

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These Photos of Flooding in San Francisco Are Insane

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 1:02 PM EST

A huge rain storm is battering Northern California right now. The photos are bonkers.

(Disclaimer: These are all from social media so maybe some are fake because some people get off making fake weather photos whenever these things happen, but they all look pretty legit to me.)

Video: It Takes Only 60 Seconds to Refute Every Obnoxious Climate Denier You Know

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 12:16 PM EST

If only all complicated science was accompanied by a kindly but sober British accent, and a jazzy beat. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K. Royal Society have teamed up to produce this beautiful animation about the basics of climate science—from the greenhouse effect, to the role of human burning of fossil fuels, and the impacts on sea level rise, temperatures and the arctic. It's well worth your 60 seconds.

For more reading, the two groups have co-authored an excellent (and colorful) climate change primer that lays out the answers to 20 common questions—great to have up your sleeve for that awkward Christmas lunch with your climate-denying cousin. And there's also a more lengthy report—still highly readable—to get you deeper into the nitty gritty of of the science.

H/t: The Telegraph.

Things Are Finally Looking Up For the American Economy

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 10:53 AM EST

Neil Irwin says the American economy is now firing on all cylinders:

Total retail sales rose 0.7 percent in November, as holiday shopping began, and that came despite a sharp tumble in gasoline prices that reduced the dollar value of sales at gas stations by 0.8 percent. Analysts had expected a rise of only 0.4 percent.

....The November retail sales number could well be a fluke. But only 11 days into December, here is a partial list of readings on the economy that have handily beat already-strong analyst forecasts: Institute for Supply Management’s survey of manufacturing firms; its survey of nonmanufacturing firms; motor vehicle sales; construction spending; job growth; wage growth; and now retail sales. The only major piece of data that has been disappointing was a negative report this week on factory orders, a volatile series of data.

I'm not quite as excited by the wage growth number as Irwin, but it's true that recent economic news has been distinctively more positive than in the past. As usual, my biggest worry is whether weakness in Europe and China is going to derail things, and it's too early to tell just how serious a concern that is. For now, though, things are finally looking up. Huzzah.

Don't Count Out Rick Perry. He's a Better Candidate Than He Was in 2012.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2014 10:32 AM EST

From Rick Perry, asked if he's smart enough to occupy the Oval Office:

Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test.

Boy howdy, we've proven that quite a few times, haven't we? In any case, I'm genuinely interested in Perry's candidacy. Back in 2012, when he first got into the race and was being lauded as practically unbeatable, I wrote a post listing the top ten reasons that Perry was weaker than everyone thought. For reference, here's the nickel version of the list:

  1. Everyone looks good before they get into the race.
  2. He's too Texan.
  3. He's too mean.
  4. He's too dumb.
  5. He's too smarmy.
  6. He's too overtly religious.
  7. Policywise, he's too radical, even for Republicans.
  8. Despite conventional wisdom, about half of the GOP rank-and-file aren't tea party sympathizers.
  9. Perry's campaign is going to be heavily based on the "Texas miracle."
  10. Republicans want to beat Obama. They really, really want to beat Obama. Romney is still their best chance.

Obviously #1 is no longer a factor. Perry has run before, and expectations this time around are suitably modest. And #10 doesn't apply this year. Of the remaining eight, I'd say he's rather noticeably working to soften #2, #3, #4, #6 (maybe), and #7. And this in turn also means he's trying to reach out beyond his tea party base (#8). In other words, he seems to be keenly aware of the weaknesses that got my attention in 2012 and is explicitly trying to overcome them.

Does this mean he can win this time around? Not at all, and for various reasons I'd still bet against him. But despite the fact that his star has waned compared to 2012, I'd say his chances are actually better this time around. After all, he's still a very savvy politician—and although I don't know how high his IQ is, it's high enough. If he's got the self-discipline to stick to his reinvented self and not make any dumb mistakes, he could be formidable in the Republican primaries next year.