Getting Shot With Jack Daniels

Just yesterday, gun-toting Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies were narrowly defeated in their attempt to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits legally take their arms across state lines. (No thanks to Harry Reid for his wonderful leadership... Even Kirsten Gillibrand voted nay on this one!)

However, for residents of Tennessee, everything isn't so hunky-dory. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week, it became legal for "people with valid handgun-carry permits to go armed—the gun concealed or not—into Tennessee restaurants serving alcohol, provided the restaurant doesn't ban guns on the premises." This makes one wonder, what are these lawmakers smoking (or drinking)? A similar law was also just passed in Arizona.

Even our foes friends at FoxNews have acknowledged that alcohol consumption and gun violence are linked—"Heavily consuming alcohol can greatly lower inhibitions, increase confidence and potentially release violent impulses," according to a University of Pennsylvania study—so it's ludicrous that legislators would go out of their way to endanger the lives of innocent people who are at a bar or restaurant looking for a non-violent good time, and instead have to be around individuals living out their Wild West fantasies.

Global Warming Charlatanism

Ezra Klein is puzzled:

I've gotten a bunch of requests for a response to George Will's assertion that “If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.” I'm actually puzzled enough by that comment to not really know how to respond.

Sigh.  Here's the deal: Will is being cute.  If you're 29, you became an adult in 1998, and average global temperatures last year were lower than they were in 1998. So: no global warming in your adult lifetime.

In case you've missed it, this is the new favorite talking point from the chucklehead denialist set.  The earth is actually cooling!  But as about a thousand serious climate researchers have pointed out, it's not true.  Global temps have been trending up for over a century, but in any particular year they can spike up and down quite a bit.  In 1998 they spiked up far above the trend line and last year they spiked below the trend line.  So 2008 was cooler than 1998.

Of course, you can prove anything you want if you cherry pick your starting and ending points carefully enough.  For example: The year 2000 was below the trend line and 2005 was above it.  Temps were up 0.4°C in only five years!  The seas will be boiling by 2050!

This is idiotic, and only deliberate charlatans who think they have an especially gullible audience bother with it.  It's the trend line that matters, and the trend line has been going up for decades right along with rising CO2 concentrations.  Listen to the climatologists, not the charlatans.

Mileage Today No Better Than a Model T

A new study in Energy Policy analyzes changes in fuel efficiency of US vehicles between 1923 and 2006. During the Age of the Model T—circa 1923—the fuel efficiency of the overall fleet of all vehicle classes was 14 miles per gallon. In 2006, it was a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon.

Woo-hoo. Proof evolution doesn't exist.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the U of Michigan analyzed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet—cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. From 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency managed about 14 mpg. In 1973 it hit the abyss at 11.9 mpg. By 1991, it straggled upwards to 16.9 mpg. The 1991 efficiency—if you can call it that—was a response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Progress is now stalled. Between 1991 and 2006 the average efficiency improved by only 1.8 percent to 17.2 mpg.

New Scientist reports that electric vehicle research continues to advance with governmental backing but is unlikely impact fuel efficiency in the US in the short term.

For US fuel consumption to fall by 10 percent, average fuel efficiency across the entire fleet will have to rise to 19.1 mpg. Obama's May announcement that new cars should average 35.5 mpg by 2016 does nothing to boost the efficiency of the rest of the vehicle fleet.

The study suggests:

  • Financial incentives prodding owners to scrap older vehicles in favor of new ones
  • Tax breaks encouraging the development and introduction of fuel-saving tech
  • Society has much more to gain from improving a car from 15 to 16 mpg than from improving a car from 40 to 41 mpg. The benefits are greater from improving a truck from 4 to 4.5 mpg than from 7 to 7.5 mpg.

 

Is the Geithner Plan Working?

As I mentioned last night, big banks are handing out big paychecks again.  Matt Yglesias says this is all part of the plan:

The Obama administration didn’t want large financial institutions to fail. They also didn’t want to try to get congress to appropriate funds on the scale that would be needed to take the banks over, clean house, and recapitalize them publicly. What they came up with was a strategy of implicit and explicit guarantees designed to allow financial institutions to recapitalize themselves through profits. And big profits mean big paychecks. This is an ugly solution to the problem, but for whatever it’s worth it’s working.

That's true.  The idea that banks could be safely recapitalized via earnings was explicitly part of the Obama/Geithner plan.  And maybe this was safer than pessimists like me thought, since the two weakest banks, Citi and Bank of America, had already received massive federal guarantees on their toxic assets in addition to their TARP money.

Still and all, I'd caution that it's only working so far. The Geithner plan leaves the banking sector fairly weak, and while this is OK as long as things continue to improve, it could yet become a big problem if there's another shock and things take a turn for the worse.  So let's hope there aren't any more shocks.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho): Hey MoJo, You're Awesome!

Mary Harris Jones herself would have gotten a chuckle out of this: We've received a mash note from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-La.) congratulating MoJo for "successfully using flexibility to meet both business and employee goals." Of course you knew that Crapo and Lincoln's offices coordinate the Senate Staff Work Group on Workplace Flexibility; the letter comes on occasion of the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexbility, which rewards how well companies deploy things like flex time, family leave, telecommuting, etc. (Yes—MoJo staffers who blog at 2 a.m. have the option of doing it from home!) Worth noting that of the more than 100 honorees, very few (including us and the Girl Scouts) are nonprofits, while most are large companies (primarily tech) or law firms, accounting firms, and such. It's not the only major award we've won or been nominated for lately, and we're proud to add it to our expanding trophy closet.

Urban Pollution Is the New Lead

It doesn't take a fancy public health study to convince us that urban pollution—the kind that welcomes you to Los Angeles like a stifling hug from a dirty old uncle—is bad. But it helps. 

According to a new study released by Columbia, a common form of air pollution called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may be to blame for diminished intellectual ability in children. (PAH has also been linked to astronomical rates of chronic asthma and other respitory problems.)

The Mailman School of Public Health found that 5-year-olds in my old 'hood of Washington Heights,  Harlem, and the South Bronx who were exposed to high levels of the stuff in utero scored an average of 4.5 points lower on a standard IQ test than peers who weren't.  According to the authors, that's comperable to low-level lead exposure—and we all know how toxic lead is.

 

Chart of the Day

Maybe you know this, maybe you don't, but generally speaking you can't sue your credit card company if you have a dispute with them.  The fine print in your contract says that all disputes have to be resolved by an arbitrator.  And not just any arbitrator: it has to be one chosen by the credit card company.  Probably one with a record of siding against the consumer 99.8% of the time.

But those days may be ending thanks to Lori Swanson, the attorney general of Minnesota.  She sued one of the two biggest arbitration outfits in the country last week and they caved almost immediately.  Within days they announced they'd no longer be taking new cases.

So what was Swanson's complaint?  Simple: it turns out the National Arbitration Forum had affiliated itself with a debt collection conglomerate, something that might have made them just a wee bit less than perfectly neutral in consumer debt disputes.  The affiliation was done through a chain of intermediaries to try and keep everything on the QT, but it was still there.  The chart on the right shows how it worked.  Here's the explanation from the court filing:

Accretive, Agora, Axiant, the Forum, and Mann Bracken form a complex web of companies that compose some of the largest debt collectors and arbitrators of consumer credit card debt in the country.

....In June 2006, principals of Accretive, LLC met in Minnesota with Edward Anderson and Michael Kelly, officers of the National Arbitration Forum....Among other things, Accretive promised the Forum that it could provide it with “[i]ntroduction to legal collections individuals” and stated that “we believe Accretive would be a great partner to help NAF become a billion dollar company.”

....Under the proposal, Cline’s company — Accretive, LLC — would acquire a 40 percent ownership interest in the Forum and the right to appoint two members to its board of directors. Accretive promised to play an “active role in landing new customers.”

....The Forum — aided by principals of Accretive — thereafter went to great lengths to concoct an elaborate corporate structure that conceals — but does not legitimize — the affiliations that undermine its claims of independence and neutrality. For example, for most of its existence, defendant NAF, Inc. operated as a standalone company. As part of the transaction between the Forum and Accretive, both companies created new companies that would conceal the affiliation between them. The Forum formed Forthright, and Accretive formed Agora. As a result, at no time is Accretive publicly disclosed as an owner of the Forum....In fact, the three defendants — NAF, Inc., NAF, LLC, and Forthright — effectively operate as one enterprise.

Italics mine.  Basically, a guy named J. Michael Cline, who owned a bunch of debt collection companies, put together a plan to secretly buy a stake in NAF.  Result: synergy!  NAF rules against the consumer and one of Cline's companies collects the debt.

There's plenty more like that if you plow through the rest of the complaint.  And needless to say, NAF claims that nothing shady was going on at all: their rulings would have continued to be completely fair and neutral regardless of who their partners were.  You can decide for yourself if you believe them.

UPDATE: There are two big arbitration outfits, NAF and the American Arbitration Association, and both have stopped taking new cases.  However, Swanson's office didn't sue AAA.  They only sued NAF.  The post has been corrected to reflect this.

Amy Poehler, We Love You Too

The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered Emmy Award nominees Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary-Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to discuss the entertainment business. Surprisingly, the conversation turned to Mother Jones:

For the record, Mother Jones doesn't have an age limit for our cover girls.

On the other hand, we do have strict accuracy requirements, and it's a pretty sure bet that our team of fact checkers would catch a discrepancy like casting Amy Poehler to play Rachel McAdams' mom (she's only 8 years older) or Sarah Silverman to parent Jonah Hill (a 13 year difference). Then again, this is the same Hollywood that thought we'd buy Winona Ryder as Zachary Quinto's Star Trek mom—she would have been a mother at the age of six.

Maliki: No Time for a Question on Corruption

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been in Washington this week, selling Iraq as a success story of national reconciliation and democracy and looking for businesses willing to invest there. On Wednesday, he met with President Barack Obama at the White House and claimed he was working hard against sectarian conflict--even as he's been criticized for increasingly playing sectarian politics.

On Thursday morning, Maliki spoke to policy wonks and reporters at the United States Institute of Peace. He didn't make much, if any news. He hailed the "democratic process in Iraq," maintaining that all sects are treated equally by his government. Asked whether US military forces will remain in Iraq after the ongoing withdrawal is completed in 2011, he said that Iraq might request that the United States provide military training. He said nothing significant about Iran and the political upheaval there. He did contend that his government had "achieved a great victory" in fighting the corruption that it had inherited from Saddam Hussein's regime.

With that remark in mind, after Maliki concluded his speech, I headed toward the microphone set up for questions. I had a simple query. How could he claim victory against corruption when his own government had chased out of the country the two leading anti-corruption investigators: Salam Adhoob and Judge Radhi al-Radhi? (I've written about each.) These two men have repeatedly blasted Maliki for heading a government rife with corruption, from top to bottom. And how had Maliki and his aides rewarded Radhi and Adhoob for trying to investigate corruption cases that represented what they claimed to be billions of dollars in fraud? Maliki and his crew accused these two men of being corrupt, and the pair were forced to flee Iraq, out of fear of being murdered.

So I was prepped to press Maliki on all this. But several people elbowed me to reach the mike, and with Maliki giving long-winded answers to questions (as do most politicians), time ran out before I could question him. He then scooted off.

As the crowd left the room, I mentioned to another journalist the question I had composed for Maliki. "Or," he said, "you could have asked him how his son got all that money to buy that luxury hotel in Damascus." (It only cost a reported $35 million.) I suppose I could have, had I been given the chance, but no one else had. And by now, Maliki was long gone.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Ensign Jason Revitzer, Supply Officer of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), kisses his wife during the return of New Hampshire from its maiden deployment. (Photo courtesy navy.mil.)