Blogs

5 Ways Climate Change Is Ruining Your Breakfast

| Sun Aug. 24, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Welcome to the worst breakfast-related crisis since Lord of the Rings: There might be an impending Nutella shortage. And there's a good chance the culprit is climate change.

The price of hazelnuts, a main ingredient in the delicious chocolate spread, is up 60 percent after unseasonable ice storms devastated hazel tree farms in Turkey's Black Sea coastal region this year. And colder winters and heavier precipitation are exactly what the EU's Centre for Climate Adaptation says the Black Sea coast should expect as climate change advances. Though Nutella's manufacturer hasn't raised its prices yet, it's facing increasing strain as palm oil and cocoa get more expensive, too.

It would be bad enough if Nutella were the only food that melting ice caps and changing weather patterns are threatening to rob from the breakfast table. But no—the list of climate change's culinary casualties goes on. Here are some other ways it's making the most important meal of the day a little less satisfying:

  1. Rising cereal prices. Kix might be kid-tested and mother-approved, but have fun buying them in 2030, when their cost could be as much as 24 percent higher due to drought-stricken grain crops, according to an Oxfam International report. (And that doesn't even account for inflation.) Lovers of Frosted Flakes and Kellogg's Corn Flakes should also start stockpiling now—Oxfam predicts their respective prices will rise by 20 and 30 percent by 2030.
  2. A global bacon shortage. The aporkalypse is nigh. Even if you're on a no-carb diet, shrinking grain supplies are bad news. Pricier corn and soybeans equals pricier pig feed, and pricier pig feed equals smaller pig herds. In 2012, Britain's National Pig Association announced that a pork and bacon shortage "is now unavoidable."
  3. Bland-but-costly coffee. There's an epic drought in Brazil, the world's largest coffee exporter. As a result, one commodities trading firm says caffeine addicts will consume 5 million more bags of beans than coffee growers can produce in the 2014-2015 season, and the price of coffee futures has already doubled to $2 a pound. To make matters worse, beans grown at higher temperatures don't develop the blend of aromatic compounds that give coffee its distinctive flavor.
  4. Waffle woes. The nation had to collectively leggo its Eggos in November 2009, when record flooding in Atlanta stopped waffle production at the local Kellogg plant. Sure, this has happened once so far, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, "projected sea level rise, increased hurricane intensity, and associated storm surge may lead to further erosion, flooding, and property damage in the Southeast."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sarah Palin's Ice Bucket Challenge Video Is Actually Kind Of Funny

| Sat Aug. 23, 2014 7:59 PM EDT

Here is Sarah Palin's ice bucket challenge video. I don't get the Diet Dr. Pepper bit, but the ending made me laugh.

Iowa GOP Official Warns That Child Migrants Might Be Highly Trained "Warriors"

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 4:25 PM EDT

Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott has a special theory about the flood of child migrants entering the United States: What if they're secretly ninjas?

Republican congressmen have previously argued that the 70,000 youths who will come across the border in 2014 are being brought over to bolster Democratic voter rolls at some point in the distant future, or that they are carrying a deadly disease that does not actually exist in their home countries. Scott, in a Thursday radio segment flagged by Right Wing Watch, sought to outdo them all:

For us just to open our borders it's chaos we don't know orderly who's coming in, who's not. When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe even…middle-schoolers. But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they're coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans. We have no idea what's coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it's not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong.

This is a terrible idea for a Red Dawn sequel.

Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2014

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

Here's Domino helping Marian with a bit of gardening in the front yard. The days may not be sunny and warm forever, so she's taking advantage of whatever ones are left to her.

Did Obamacare Wreck a Baseball Game?

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 2:20 PM EDT

A few days ago, a Chicago Cubs game was called in the fifth inning after the grounds crew had so much trouble spreading a tarp that the field got soaked during a rain delay and play couldn't be continued. The Corner reveals what really happened:

Insiders at the ball club report that the real culprit is Obamacare. Because the Affordable Care Act requires offering health benefits to employees who work more than 130 hours per month or 30 hours a week (“full time”), the Cubs organization reorganized much of its staff during the off-season. Sources that spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times claimed that, on Tuesday night, the crew was drastically “undermanned.”

Huh. What do you think of that, Dean Baker?

The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.

Quite so. My guess is that this is just another installment in the long-running effort of American corporations to use Obamacare as a scapegoat for everything under the sun. Usually this has to do with raising copays for their employees or something like that, but the ingenuity of American capitalism knows no bounds. Why not blame a rain delay on Obamacare too?

For a more likely cause of penny pinching on the grounds crew, the Wall Street Journal has you covered.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 22, 2014

Fri Aug. 22, 2014 1:47 PM EDT

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, performs a live-fire exercise to prepare for future deployment. (US Navy Photo)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chart of the Day: Welfare Reform and the Great Recession

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 1:04 PM EDT

CBPP has posted a series of charts showing the effects of welfare reform on the poor over the past couple of decades. In its first few years it seemed like a great success: welfare rolls went down substantially in the late 90s while the number of poor people with jobs went up. But the late 90s were a boom time, and this probably would have happened anyway. Welfare reform may have provided an extra push, but it was a bubbly economy that made the biggest difference.

So how would welfare reform fare when it got hit with a real test? Answer: not so well. I added some red recession shading to the CBPP chart on the right, and as you can see, the Great Recession created an extra 1.5 million families with children in poverty. TANF, however, barely responded at all. There was no room in strapped state budgets for more TANF funds:

The TANF block grant fundamentally altered both the structure and the allowable uses of federal and state dollars previously spent on AFDC and related programs. Under TANF, the federal government gives states a fixed block grant totaling $16.5 billion each year....Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997.  State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more. To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995. That “maintenance of effort” requirement isn’t adjusted for inflation, either.

Welfare reform isn't a subject I know a lot about. I didn't follow it during the 90s, and I haven't seriously studied it since then. With that caveat understood, I'd say that some of the changes it made strike me as reasonable. However, its single biggest change was to transform welfare from an entitlement to a block grant. What happened next was entirely predictable: the size of the block grant was never changed, which means we basically allowed inflation to erode it over time. It also made it impossible for TANF to respond to cyclical economic booms and busts.

Make no mistake: this is why conservatives are so enamored of block grants. It's not because they truly believe that states are better able to manage programs for the poor than the federal government. That's frankly laughable. The reason they like block grants is because they know perfectly well that they'll erode over time. That's how you eventually drown the federal government in a bathtub.

If Paul Ryan ever seriously proposes—and wins Republican support for—a welfare reform plan that includes block grants which (a) grow with inflation and (b) adjust automatically when recessions hit, I'll pay attention. Until then, they're just a Trojan Horse for slowly but steadily eliminating federal programs that help the poor. After all, those tax cuts for the rich won't fund themselves, will they?

Obamacare May Not Be Popular, But Its Provisions Sure Are

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

Brian Beutler on the way health care reform is playing out in the Arkansas Senate race:

The most interesting thing about Senator Mark Pryor’s decision to tout his support for the Affordable Care Act in a well-financed, statewide television ad isn’t that he stands apart from other embattled Democrats this election cycle. It’s that Republicans scrambled to spin the story, insisting to reporters that Pryor couldn’t possibly be running on Obamacare if he won’t refer to the law by name.

....Instead, Pryor says, "I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny [sic] coverage based on pre-existing conditions.” Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything about “a law” at all, but that’s a niggling, semantic critique. That Republicans working to defeat Pryor are asking reporters to squeeze the word “Obamacare” into this sentence is an admission that they’ve lost the policy fight. They criticize Pryor for eschewing the label, because the label’s just about the only thing they’re comfortable assailing.

I suppose this isn't the biggest thing in the world, and as Beutler says, Republicans did manage to talk several reporters into mentioning this. So from their point of view, it's just savvy media strategy. Besides, the truth is that Republicans have always focused on only a few things in their critique of Obamacare. That's because polls have shown for years that most of the provisions of the law are popular even though support for the law itself is pretty shaky. This causes Republicans endless grief, since Democrats get to harass them relentlessly about whether they oppose closing the donut hole; whether they oppose subsidy assistance; whether they oppose guaranteed issue; and so on. Republicans can hem and haw about how they'd keep all this stuff and only get rid of the nasty taxes and mandates, but even the dimmer bulbs in the GOP caucus know perfectly well that this is untrue.

In any case, other Democratic politicians have touted their support for specific provisions of Obamacare, so Pryor isn't really doing anything new. He's just being smart. He knows that denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions is extremely unpopular, even among conservative voters, and he'd love to draw his opponent into a debate about exactly that. Tom Cotton has so far refused to take the bait, pretending that he'd somehow keep that provision while repealing everything else. This is a bald-faced lie, of course, but if he sticks to that story like glue he can probably avoid any serious damage from Pryor's attacks.

Drought Weighing You Down? Nope, It's Lifting You Up

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Here's a odd piece of news: According to a study published Thursday in Science, the water loss due to this year's drought has caused the entire western side of the United States to literally rise. After examining data from nearly 800 GPS stations across the country, researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that the area west of New Mexico has risen by an average of four millimeters this year. In the Sierra Nevadas and along California's coast—two areas that have received far less precipitation this year than normal—the land rose 15 millimeters.

"The earth is an elastic material just like a block of rubber."

Adrian Borsa, a coauthor of the study, explained what's happening: "The earth is an elastic material just like a block of rubber. If you put a water load on it, the earth deforms, if you take the water away, the earth will come back." Using the GPS data, the researchers estimated that the Western United States has lost 62 trillion gallons of water to the atmosphere this year because of the drought. That's enough water to cover the entire Western US in six inches of water.

The earth rising seems not only vaguely biblical, but also counterintuitive; one might expect the earth's surface to fall if water is being taken from it. In fact, the ground is falling in some places: Some GPS stations in California had to be left out of the study because farmers are extracting so much groundwater that the ground is literally caving in. But this study didn't examine the ground at a surface-level—it showed that the earth's crust and mantle are responding elastically to the drought. So while some areas may be falling because of man-made changes at a local level, the West as a whole is rising.

As it turns out, the rise and fall of the earth due to water loss actually happens a little each year with the change of the seasons: Land is heavier in the winter and spring, and when water evaporates in the summer and fall, land is a little lighter. But the annual variation in California's mountains is about 5 millimeters—not this year's 15. The difference "sounds tiny," said Borsa, but from a geological standpoint, "it's a whopping signal" of the amount of water lost to the drought.

Contrary to most drought news these days, this rise of the West doesn't have looming disastrous effects in and of itself: The researchers, for example, don't think that this change will cause more extreme earthquakes.

But Borsa says that using GPS data on the rise of the earth could help regulators to understand how much water is being used in the West—particularly in California. California is the only Western state that doesn't measure or regulate major groundwater use; if you can drill down to it, it's all yours. A report produced for the state's Department of Food and Agriculture estimated that California's farmers will pump about 13 million acre-feet of groundwater this year—enough water to put a piece of land the size of Rhode Island 17 feet underwater.

With no regulatory system in place, though, it's challenging for officials to know if these estimates are lining up with reality. "The extractions aren't monitored, so no one really knows how to monitor the water supply," says Borsa. Using GPS data "could be a great tool for water managers."

Compton to District Security Guards: Go Ahead, Bring Your AR-15s to School

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

When students in the Compton Unified School District return to classrooms on Monday, some of them will have new pencils or notebooks. Their teachers will have new textbooks. But this year, the district's campus police will be getting an upgrade, too: AR-15 rifles.

The board of the Los Angeles-area school district approved a measure to allow the campus cops to carry the new guns in July. The district's police chief, William Wu, told the board that equipping school police with semi-automatic AR-15s is intended to ensure student safety.

"This is our objective—save lives, bottom line," Wu told the board.

Crime is a serious problem in Compton, an independent jurisdiction south of downtown Los Angeles. In the 12 months preceding July, the city of nearly 100,000 experienced 28 murders, making it the 11th-deadliest neighborhood in the county, according to a data analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

But the choice to make Compton school police the latest local law enforcement agency to adopt military-style weapons was less about dealing with street crime than it was about preventing more exotic incidents like mass shootings. At the board meeting, Wu cited an FBI report released in January that found that 5 percent of "active shooters"— or shooters which are conducting an ongoing assault on a group of people—wore body armor, which can stop most bullets fired from handguns. To make his case, Wu cited a range of examples, including the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the University of Texas shooting in 1966, in which a student killed 16 people from the campus clock tower, out of range of police sidearms. (The student was eventually killed when a group of police climbed the tower and shot him at close range.)

"They will continue until they are stopped," Wu said, at which point a board member interjected.

"No, they will continue until we stop them," he said. "Compton Unified School Police…holding it down."

"These rifles give us greater flexibility in dealing with a person with bad intent who comes onto any of our campuses," Wu said in a statement. "The officers will keep the rifles in the trunks of their cars, unless they are needed."

Compton is not the first district in the Southern California to allow AR-15s on its campuses. At the meeting, Wu said that Los Angeles, Baldwin Park, Santa Ana, Fontana, and San Bernardino all allow their officers to use the same weapons. 

Compton school police last made news in May 2013, when a group of parents and students filed a suit against the department, alleging a pattern of racial profiling and abuse targeting Latino students. The complaint said that officers beat, pepper-sprayed, and put a chokehold on a bystander who was recording an arrest with his iPod. The group also claimed that Compton school police used excessive force against students and parents who complained that English-as-a-second-language programs were underfunded. (The case is ongoing.)

Wu said at the board meeting that seven officers have already been trained to use the new weapons. He said all officers would be purchasing their own weapons. The guns will be the officers' personal property, but they could be bringing them to work as early as September.