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BREAKING: President Obama Will Veto Congress' Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 1:33 PM EST

President Barack Obama is planning to veto a bill that would force approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, according to the Associated Press:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the president's position hasn't changed since November, when pipeline supporters in Congress last attempted to push through its approval—an effort that fell just one vote shy of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Obama was adamant then that approval for the pipeline come not from Congress, but from the State Department, which normally has jurisdiction over international infrastructure projects like this one. A final decision from State has been delayed pending the outcome of a Nebraska State Supreme Court case, expected sometime early this year, that could alter the pipeline's route.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McDonnell and other Republicans have vowed to make passage of a new Keystone XL bill a top priority for the new year, and they seem prepared to move forward with a vote later this week. The bill is likely to pass. But the challenge for Republicans is to garner enough support from Democratic senators to achieve the 67 votes required to override a presidential veto. Yesterday, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters he had just 63 votes.

Even if Congress fails to override Obama's veto, it still won't be the end of what has become the flagship issue for US climate activists; the possibility remains that the State Department could still approve the project. But the Obama administration may be leaning against approval. In December, the president said the pipeline is "not even going to be a nominal benefit to US consumers."

This post has been updated.

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The Itsy Bitsy Ambitions of John Boehner

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 10:44 AM EST

You can't accuse John Boehner of starry-eyed idealism:

When I ask him to name his top priority, he lays out not a grand legislative bargain but a seemingly modest managerial goal that has eluded him for much of his time at the top: exercising enough control over his conference to pass spending bills through regular order.

Um, OK. That seems doable. But I'm not so sure about this:

The idea of a Boehner-Obama bargain late in the game is no idle fantasy....Boehner told me “bipartisanship” was in fact one of his top priorities for 2015, and, in private, in the wake of the 2013 shutdown debacle, Boehner told his inner circle that he has no problems passing big legislation “by working directly with the Democrats” if his own conference defies him again.

....That’s the way it worked in December: Two-thirds of Republicans joined about one-third of Democrats to pass a Boehner government-funding plan....When I asked Boehner if he worried Republicans would slam him for dealing with Democrats, he blew a puff of smoke and answered, “I don’t care.”

It's true that during the recent lame-duck session, Boehner was willing to pass a compromise budget that alienated much of his own caucus and required lots of help from Democrats to pass. But will he be willing to do that when it comes to a "big deal on taxes, entitlements and government spending, trade and immigration"? I have my doubts, no matter how much we hear that Boehner and Obama are really tighter buddies than you'd think. It's not just that Boehner really, truly has to be willing to defy a big chunk of his caucus, after all. He also has to be willing to take the risk of making genuine compromises in order to get a sizeable chunk of Democrats on board. Outside of budget deals, I've simply seen no evidence that Boehner is willing to do that—or, even if he is, that he has the mojo within his own caucus to get most of them to agree to such a deal.

But we'll see. Maybe Boehner will surprise us. I just wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Republicans Will Never Allow Guantánamo To Be Closed

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 10:05 AM EST

I guess you can add this to the list of President Obama's executive actions designed to circumvent an unhelpful Republican Congress:

In a series of secret nighttime flights in the last two months, the Obama administration made more progress toward the president’s goal of emptying the military prison at Guantánamo Bay...Now 127 prisoners remain at Guantánamo, down from 680 in 2003, and the Pentagon is ready to release two more groups of prisoners in the next two weeks; officials will not provide a specific number.

President Obama’s goal in the last two years of his presidency is to deplete the Guantánamo prison to the point where it houses 60 to 80 people and keeping it open no longer makes economic sense.

Hmmm. Will Republicans be willing to close Guantánamo if it no longer makes economic sense to keep it open? Color me skeptical. This is a tough-on-terrorism issue, not a budget issue. If I had to guess, I'd say that Republicans would refuse to close Guantánamo if there were even a single prisoner left there. If it becomes a US version of Spandau, well, that's just fine. Closing it is for appeasing, weak-kneed, liberals, not rock-jawed severe conservatives.

In fact, I could easily see this becoming a stock question during the Republican primaries. "Would you ever close Guantánamo?" The candidates will then take turns trying to top each other with ever more absurdly hawkish answers, the same way they did with immigration in 2012. Like this:

Candidate 1: I will never close Guantánamo. These are the most dangerous people in the world.

Candidate 2: Not only wouldn't I close it, I'd expand it.

Candidate 3: Expand it and make it more secure. I'd build a moat.

Candidate 4: And an electrified fence.

Candidate 5: I'd take away their Obamacare!

At that, everyone would look admiringly at Candidate 5 and silently give him the victory.

It's Omnicom's World, We Just Live In It

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 9:31 AM EST

Luke O'Brien has a wonderful little story in Politico about the trials and tribulations of being on Russia's PR team these days, and it's worth a read if you have a bit of time to kill. But if you don't have the time, I was intrigued by just the list of names that peppered the piece. Here you go:

Ketchum, the giant PR agency on the Russia account....turned to The Washington Group....owned by Omnicom....Alston & Bird....Clark & Weinstock, an Omnicom company....APCO Worldwide....Diversified Energy Communications Ltd....action-movie star Steven Seagal....Global Strategic Communications Group.

Someday, we will all work for Omnicom, with an occasional job on the side for Global Strategic Communications Group. It sounds lovely, doesn't it? Almost like working for the dark side of a James Bond movie.

Antibiotic Failure Will Kill 10 Million People a Year by 2050

| Tue Jan. 6, 2015 6:00 AM EST

If your goal is to ruin the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs, I can think of two efficient ways. One would be to wildly overprescribe them—say, to people suffering from a cold virus, even though antibiotics work their magic on bacterial pathogens, not viral ones. The other would be to feed daily, low doses of them to animals confined by the thousands in vast indoor facilities. In both cases, you're creating ideal conditions for bacteria to evolve to survive the drugs we throw at them: A percentage of bacteria withstands the chemical onslaught, and passes genes on to ever-heartier next generations.

Unhappily, both of those practices—overprescription to people and routine use on animal farmshave been in play pretty much since the emergence of antibiotics after World War II. And so we have entered an age of widespread antibiotic resistance—on our way to what Thomas Frieden, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has called a "post-antibiotics era."

What would that be like? In a great 2013 piece, the journalist Maryn McKenna laid out all the ways we quietly rely on antibiotics to control and minimize infections in high-stress but routine situations—everything from cesarean sections to car accidents. And in a new report, the UK government has come out with some startling global projections. Currently, the report finds, 700,000 people die annually from pathogens that have developed resistance to antibiotics, a figure the report calls a "low estimate." If present trends continue, antibiotic failure will claim 10 million lives per year by 2050, the report concludes. That's more carnage than what's currently caused by cancer and traffic accidents combined.

The economic toll will also be mind-boggling. By 2050, the report estimates, antibiotic resistance will be incurring $8 trillion in annual expenses globally. That's equal to nearly half of the total output of the US economy in 2014—an enormous hemorrhaging of global resources.

The report, the first in an ongoing review of antibiotic resistance ordered by British Prime Minister David Cameron last summer, focuses narrowly on impacts. Future ones will discuss potential solutions. Here's a start: Convince the US meat industry, which now sucks in 80 percent of the antibiotics consumed in the country, to wean itself from its reliance on routine antibiotic use.

Repeat After Me: Competition Is Good. Competition Is Good.

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 8:21 PM EST

Did you know that companies facing no competition are likely to charge you more? It's true! But in case you'd like a bit of evidence for this truism, Binyamin Appelbaum directs our attention to a clever study of mortgage rates from the Chicago Fed. It turns out that when the federal government authorized the mortgage refinancing program called HARP, they set up the rules in a way that discouraged anyone from participating aside from the original lender. This meant that, effectively, the original lender had little or no competition for the refinanced loan.

The results are shown on the right. The HARP rules took effect for mortgages with a loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent or higher. Private label mortgages, which didn't fall under the new rules, show a normal range of interest rate spreads at all LTV values. But loans backed by Fannie Mae, which did fall under the new rules, show a sharp discontinuity upward precisely at an LTV of 80.

In other words, at exactly the point where lenders faced no effective competition thanks to HARP rules—i.e., Fannie-backed loans with an LTV of 80 or above—interest rate spreads suddenly increased by about 0.2 percent. Without competition, lenders were free to charge a little more, and they did.

I know: you're shocked. And in case you're tempted to think that 0.2 percent doesn't really seem like that much, the authors point out that it adds up fast: "While the anti-competitive features of HARP may appear to have curtailed borrower gains by relatively small amounts, they resulted in sizable increases in profitability for a subset of lenders. These results further highlight the importance of restoring full competitiveness to mortgage refinancing markets."

Quite so. Competition is good. We've paid less and less attention to this over the past few decades, and we do so at our peril. It's the heart and soul of capitalism.

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Future Scientist Investigates Ice, Falls Adorably, Wins Everything

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 6:52 PM EST

This video is from last year but it popped up on Digg today and I really don't care that it's old because today is the first real work day of 2015 and that's sad because work and the passage of time are two of the main reasons I'm going prematurely gray. So, instead of letting that frown sit unturned upside down, press play and, awwwww.

Here is a GIF of the moment when, in Mother Jones copy editor Ian Gordon's words, "someone takes her batteries out."

It's Official: 2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 5:31 PM EST

Update, January 16, 10:50 am, ET: NASA and NOAA announced on Friday that 2014 was indeed the warmest year on record. As NASA explained in a press release, "Since 1880, Earth's average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet's atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades."

For more on the new findings, watch the video from NASA above.

 

Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)

For many Americans, 2014 will be remembered for its multiple blasts of Arctic air and bitter winters. And this week, another bout of freezing temperatures is marching east across the country, in the first major thermometer plunge of the season.

But as cold as you may have been last year, it's now official that 2014 was actually the hottest year globally since record-keeping began. So confirmed the Japan Meteorological Agency in preliminary data released Monday.

The Japanese government agency monitors and records the long-term change of the global average surface temperatures and found that 2014 was far warmer than previous years. How much warmer? 2014 exceeded the 1981-2010 temperature average by 0.27 degrees Celsius (or 0.49 degrees Fahrenheit). There was unusually warm weather all around the world, from a record-breaking heat wave in Australia to the hottest European summer in 500 years.

The data shows that four out of the five hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade: In second place is 1998, then 2010 and 2013 tied for third, and 2005 in fifth place. The new numbers reveal that the world has been warming at an average rate of 0.7 degrees Celsius (or 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) per century since records began.

Two US government agencies, NOAA and NASA, are expected to confirm the results of the Japanese observations in the coming weeks.

10 Great Songs to Help You Achieve Your New Year's Resolutions

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 5:01 PM EST

So it's five days into the new year—how are those resolutions going? Yeah, that's what I thought. Sure, you could use science to shore up your flagging resolve to hit the gym every morning or play less Candy Crush. But if you need a little additional sonic inspiration, read on.

You want to: Embrace who you are.

Your song is: Perfume Genius' "Queen."

"No family is safe when I sashay," Mike Hadreas sneers in this defiant celebration of queer identity. As he put it in his own explanation of the song: "If these fucking people want to give me some power—if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles—well, here she comes."

You want to: Reconnect with your estranged relatives.

Your song is: Sun Kil Moon's "Carissa."

Singer Mark Kozelek's struggle to find meaning in a freak garbage-burning accident that killed his second cousin makes for a stark, haunting ballad. "You don't just raise two kids and take out your trash and die," he pleads. By the end of the song, you'll have your phone in your hand and your family's number halfway dialed—if you're not too busy wiping your eyes.

You want to: Meet "the one."

Your song is: ​TLC's "No Scrubs."

You could read the wisest advice columnists, the most egregious collections of bad pickup strategies, and even OKCupid founder Christian Rudder's data-driven take on the subject of finding love. Or you could just listen to this blast of '90s girl group goodness.

You want to: Unplug.

Your song is: St. Vincent's "Digital Witness."

Maybe you're already burned out on all the scrubs in the online-dating universe, or maybe you're worried about Facebook influencing your vote and giving you an eating disorder. Either way, take a break from the screens and dance to this funk-infused critique of online voyeurism. "If I can't show it/If you can't see me/What's the point of doing anything?" singer Annie Clark asks wryly.

You want to: See the world.

Your song is: Iggy Pop's "The Passenger."

You might know it as the soundtrack to a Guinness commercial or the intro theme music for Anderson Cooper 360, but if you listen to the lyrics, this song is actually a meditation on the nihilistic pleasure of traveling through a decaying urban landscape. Plus, Iggy seems like he'd be an entertaining road trip companion.

You want to: Get in shape.

Your song is: ​Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger."

What are you doing sitting around and reading this playlist? Get to the gym already.

You want to: Make new friends.

Your song is: Friends' "Friend Crush."

I'm not sure if this band is just really into friendship or what, but it perfectly captures the blurred line between friend-courting and romantic courting in this sultry, bass-driven tune.

You want to: Quit smoking.

Your song is: Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."

A gentle reminder about the dangers of smoking in bed.

You want to: Change your diet.

Your song is: Neko Case's "Red Tide."

If you've been contemplating a switch to vegetarianism, allow Case to persuade you. Her vision of a world in which the battle between humans and nature has reached a decisive end ("Salty tentacles drink in the sun but the red tide is over/The mollusks they have won") will make you scared to go near a plate of shellfish ever again in your life.

You want to: Be more like Beyoncé.

Your song is: "Flawless."

To be honest, this should be everyone's resolution.

Iowa to Democrats: Please, Please Have a Real Race So We Can Get Lots of Your Money

| Mon Jan. 5, 2015 1:15 PM EST

Last night I noticed a Wall Street Journal piece about Iowa Democrats being slow to "rally" around Hillary Clinton, but I only read the first couple of paragraphs before I got bored. Today, Ed Kilgore tells me I quit too soon. If I had read to the bottom, I would have learned that this phenomenon probably has nothing really to do with a desire for a more populist candidate:

State Democratic officials also want a contested race because that boosts the party apparatus and fundraising....“When we have these candidates out here running for office, we invite them to county dinners and the numbers swell at these events,” said Tom Henderson, chairman of Democratic Party in Polk County, which includes Des Moines. “So it is a great, great service for the Democratic Party to have these candidates running for office.”

Kilgore explains further:

You have to appreciate that candidates in both parties for state and local office in Iowa (and to a lesser extent, in other early states) are accustomed to enjoying the benefit of world-class mailing lists, state-of-the-art campaign infrastructures, and top-shelf campaign staffers from all over the country. These goodies come to them courtesy of presidential candidates, proto-presidential candidates, people who want to work on presidential campaigns, and people who want to influence presidential campaigns. This is why Iowans so fiercely protect their first-in-the-nation-caucus status, and also why they hate uncontested presidential nomination contests. So of course they don't want HRC to win without a challenge.

Roger that. In any case, talk is cheap right now. My guess is that everything changes once HRC actually announces her candidacy. When that happens, I'll bet everyone starts rallying just fine. Iowa Democrats might be eager for their quadrennial infusion of money and pandering, but not so eager that they want to risk being caught on the losing side. Once the pressure is on to become an early HRC supporter or else spend the rest of the year on the Clinton shit list, well, I have a feeling an awful lot of early supporters are suddenly going to come out of the woodwork. We'll see.