There's a lot of things the Golden State will do to save water (including declaring a State of Emergency and virtually closing the water supply to the Central Valley) but pushing Californians to pee in the shower is NOT one of them. 

"That's not something we've advocated, no," said Water Department spokesman Matt Knotley, who seemed shocked by the suggestion, apparently all the rage in Brazil, that folks should pee in the shower to save water. "If that's what they want to do in their country, fine. There are plenty of other ways that are very easy to save water." 

Unfortunately, none of those have a cute Portugese PA video. 

 In case you're totally grossed out, you should know that this is not the first time we've approached water conservation through toilet humor. In the late 80s, when I was potty training, you could sum California's drought policy in a simple rhyme: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.  

A Pensacola judge has green lighted the government seizure of Pensacola's Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park whose owners, Kent and Jo Hovind, owe $430,400 in federal taxes. The Hovinds' excuse for not paying was that they were employed by God and thus could claim zero income and property.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, the government will sell off the Hovinds' property to pay the debt. Not sure exactly what those properties are, but the park's website offers a few clues:

Learn about dinosaurs, principles of science, and even how to make a paper airplane that can fly over 300 feet! Handle our real, live creatures and take the Leap of Faith swing. Enjoyable and educational for all ages, it is specifically targeted for kids under a million years of age!

Be prepared to be challenged to think and to follow the Lord in the way God the Creator has planned for you. If you do not know your Creator, we will be overjoyed to introduce you to Him.

Our funny and experienced guides will lead your family or group on the tour, declaring the works of the Lord and the words of the Lord.

DAL is not an amusement park, for “amuse” means “to not think,” and we want people to think. Rather, it is an amazement park.

So I wonder what's to become of all the park's statues and critters? And what's the going rate for a Leap of Faith swing these days, anyway?

Does fiscal stimulus work when the economy is in a deep recession?  There's no way to definitively "prove" that it does, but we can certainly amass evidence for it.  Via Tim Fernholz, here's a chart from a talk CEA chair Christina Romer gave today.  The question she's addressing is whether countries that applied bigger stimulus packages have recovered more quickly:

To get evidence about this, we started with a set of forecasts of growth in the second quarter of this year that were made last November — after the crisis had hit, but before countries had formulated their policy response. We then collected analysts’ recent best guesses for what second-quarter growth will be in those countries. This figure shows the relationship between how countries’ second-quarter growth prospects have changed from what was expected back in November, and the countries’ discretionary fiscal stimulus in 2009.

The fact that the observations lie along an upward-sloping line shows that, on average, things have improved more in countries that adopted bigger stimulus packages. And, the relationship is sizable: on average, a country with stimulus that’s larger by 1% of GDP has expected real GDP growth in the second quarter that’s about 2 percentage points higher relative to the November forecast.

Italics mine. This is, obviously, hardly ironclad proof about how well fiscal stimulus works.  For one thing it's based on estimates, not final data, and if those November forecasts were systematically overoptimistic they might also have been systematically useless.  What's more, eyeballing that line doesn't suggest to me that Romer's correlation is very strong — especially since it mostly seems to rely on three Asian outliers.

Still, it's up and to the right, and that's a data point in favor of using fiscal stimulus during an economic crisis.  There's more evidence in the talk too, all of which is suggestive though not conclusive.

Of course, you wouldn't expect anything conclusive at this point.  Overall, though, I expect data from 2008-2011 to become a rich field for economists to study in the future.  We haven't had a worldwide recession like this since the Great Depression, and it presents a unique opportunity to study what worked and what didn't.  There are enough variables that drawing firm conclusions will always be hard, but it's nonetheless the best chance we've had in decades to get meaningful comparative data on macroeconomic policy responses to an economic crisis.  This paper is a start.

John Brennan, President Obama's senior advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, gave a speech Thursday morning outlining the President's strategy for decreasing the threat of  global terrorism. Some consider Brennan an odd choice to deliver this message because of his ties to the Bush administration and his reported opposition to declassifying the Bush torture memos. But love him or hate him, he's Obama's man, and he was there to defend Obama's policies. And defend them he did.

Brennan stressed the importance of restoring America's moral reputation. A key strength of the President's anti-terrorism strategy, he said, is that it no longer undermines national security by turning the American forces into monsters with the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Such actions, he said, "were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated." Brennan's repudiation of these techniques is especially interesting because he was Obama's first choice for CIA chief, but withdrew his name after critics said he was too soft on torture, which paved the way for the eventual choice Leon Panetta.

Dick Cheney and others who claim Obama's policies are putting the country at risk came in for heavy criticism from Brennan. Such claims show nothing more than "inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness" and fail to understand that Obama's "views are nuanced, not simplistic; practical, not ideological," he said.

Brennan argued that al Qaeda's weakened economic and political position in the Middle East and throughout the world is evidence that the administration's strategy is working. Al Qaeda, said Brennan, "is being forced to work harder and harder to raise money, to move its operatives around the world, and to plan attacks." But he also emphasized that our overall strategy has been far from perfect, and the United States must increase pressure on terrorists to ensure that they never obtain nuclear weapons. The administration has a five-point plan to continue its fight against Al Qaeda:

On July 31, three Americans went missing while on a hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are presumed to have been detained by Iranian authorities. One of them is Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist who has a piece on contractor corruption in Iraq in the forthcoming issue of Mother Jones. The piece had nothing to do with Iran, and Bauer was not on assignment for us when he went to Kurdistan. Below is a statement by Shon Meckfessel, who was traveling with Bauer, but was not with him at the time of his disappearance.

I’m writing this statement to help people understand what happened to my three friends, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, who went missing by the Iran/Iraq border. I have been close friends with Shane and Sarah for years, and
recently met Josh, a longtime friend of Shane. Shane is a language student and freelance journalist; Sarah is an English teacher; and Josh arranges student exchange trips. All of us have done some writing about our travels, and all of us share a deep appreciation for Middle Eastern cultures.

In late July the four of us decided to travel from Damascus, Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan for a short vacation. Sarah had to return to work in a week. While going there might seem strange to Americans, the Kurdish territory is actually very beautiful and quite safe. Since the Kurds gained autonomy in 1992, no American has ever been harmed there. The city of Sulaimania is increasingly popular with tourists, and a friend of ours told us it was the most beautiful area
he’d ever seen.

We arrived in Sulaimania the night of July 29th and stayed at the Hotel Miwan. Walking around town the next day, we asked a number of people--taxi drivers, hotel staff, and people on the street--for good places to experience the mountainous terrain in the area. Every one of them told us to visit a place called Ahmed Awa. Not one of these people mentioned that Ahmed Awa was anywhere near the Iranian border. In fact, on the wall of our hotel there were three photos of tourists standing near the Ahmed Awa waterfall.

Ahmed Awa seemed the clear choice for appreciating the stunning natural beauty around Sulaimania, far from any sort of risk. However, it may have been unclear to the people who encouraged us to visit Ahmed Awa that we intended to go hiking in the area, rather than simply visiting the waterfall.

There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan, and Ahmed Awa was not on the map we’d printed out. My sense--wrongly as it turns out--was that Ahmed Awa lay northwest of Sulaimania, in the direction of Dokan Lake (and Dokan Resort), another scenic area we’d considered visiting during our trip through Kurdistan.
On the evening of July 30th, Josh, Shane, and Sarah set out for Ahmed Awa with the plan to camp out. I stayed behind at our hotel because I was coming down with a cold, and wanted a night to recuperate. We agreed to meet up the next day near Ahmed Awa. I purchased an Iraqi SIM card for my cell phone to make sure we could find each other the next day (providing the area had a signal,
which very luckily it did).

I spoke with Shane twice that evening. I called him at around 8 p.m. and he told me they’d just been dropped off near a strip of restaurants in Ahmed Awa. A couple hours later he told me they had followed a trail up from the strip of restaurants to the waterfall, and were continuing on the same trail to camp in peace.

On July 31st I woke up feeling better and decided to join my friends. At about 11:30am I called Shane. He told me the weather had been mild all night. That morning they had woken up early and resumed hiking along the same trail. Shane sounded very calm and content, happy to be in a beautiful environment, and made absolutely no mention of any risk whatsoever. I am absolutely certain that they had no knowledge of their proximity to the Iranian border or they would have never continued in that direction. Shane told me they were planning to turn around soon. He thought we could meet up near the waterfall. I sent Shane two text messages, one at 12:50pm and one at 1:22pm, to which he did not respond. At 1:33pm I received a call from Shane during which he told me that they were being taken into custody and that I should call the embassy. I hope that people understand my friends’ presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake. --Shon Meckfessel

Bauer's story will be arriving in subscribers' homes next week. We will release it online soon.

UPDATE: On Friday evening it was reported that the three Americans were being moved to Tehran.

UPDATE: Shane's Mother Jones investigation is here. The hikers' families have launched a website to build support for consular access to their loved ones.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery are the Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow them on Twitter here and here.


 

The equation for our prison reform system looks something like this:

Tough on crime=good people. Reform seekers=sissies!

Watch satirist Mark Fiore take on the American poky system below:

Megan McArdle asks:

Why is restless leg syndrome always the poster child for people who hate pharma advertising?  Both my fiance and I clearly have it, and you know what?  It's really not very much fun not being able to sleep, nor are the cramp-like sensations that accompany the uncontrollable urge to kick your legs.

I've wondered about this too.  Is it just because it's kind of funny sounding?  I don't have it myself, but I have a friend with RLS and he tells me he can barely sleep in the same bed with his wife when it's acting up because it's so violent.

Actually, though, the answer doesn't seem to have much to do with whether RLS really exists.  It's more about whether pharmaceutical companies are vastly overestimating its incidence in order to sell more drugs.  In Britain, for example, GlaxoSmithKline got in trouble for promoting an off-label use of one of their products for RLS:

Dr Des Spence, the Glasgow GP who raised the complaint, said the case was an example of the way pharmaceutical companies used patient groups to promote a new condition, and then supplied drugs to treat it.

“The Ekbom Support Group was hijacked by GSK to promote restless legs syndrome and the GSK drug ropinirole,” he said. “I am not saying some people do not experience pain and restless legs but claims on the website that it is a widespread and serious condition are disproportionate.”

The Ekbom Support Group says 5% of the population suffer from the condition. Doctors say fewer than 3% experience symptoms on a regular basis and, of them, only a minority require any treatment.

This is the great gray area of pharmaceutical advertising, of course.  On the one hand, letting people know about a condition and a possible new way to treat it is perfectly fine.  On the other hand, we're all natural hypochondriacs, and it's all too easy to convince millions of people whose legs twitch a bit that they have a serious disease.  In fact, most of them just have legs that twitch a bit.

Anyway, the lesson here seems to be (a) RLS is real but (b) you probably don't have it.  What the policy response to this should be I'm less sure of.

On Thursday morning, Christina Romer, the chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, painted a rosy picture of how February's "Recovery Act" is working. Calling fiscal stimulus "a well-tested antibiotic, not some newfangled gene therapy," Romer rattled off statistics: As of June, over $100 billion had been spent, and by the end of the next fiscal year, 70% of the package is expected to be out the door.

Her bottom line: the Act is "absolutely" working, because job loss is slowing—from 700,000 in this year's first quarter to 436,000 in the second quarter—and GDP is not falling quite as quickly as before.

But, Romer said, it's not over yet:

As is always the case, especially around a turning point, there is substanial uncertainty to this forecast. There is even greater uncertainty about how strong the recovery is likely to be. The strength will depend on a range of factors, including how fast the economies of our trading partners recover; whether American consumers decide to increase their savings rate even more than they already have; and how quickly financial markets and business confidence return to normal levels. 

Romer also seems confident that the Recovery Act's investment incentives and tax relief for businesses are responsible for slower investment decline in this year's second quarter. Also, perhaps not surprisingly, states that received more stimulus funds have lower rates of job loss. And to top it off, most analysts estimate that GDP growth, which is now at -1 percent, is likely to become positive by the end of the year. But don't get too excited:

The U.S. economy had problems even before the current crisis. For this reason, the Administration is working with Congress to help rebuild the economy better. It is as if, when you went to the doctor for that strep throat, he discovered you had high blood pressure as well. The antibiotic was great for the infection, but he prescribed other medicine, a better diet, and a good dose of exercise for the blood pressure.

There's a whole lot of optimism here. But that's unsurprising coming from an administration official. The economy is still getting worse, but it's not getting worse as quickly as it was. It'll be nice when Romer can point to some real positive numbers, not just smaller negatives.

Yesterday, former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was convicted by a Virginia federal judge for 11 criminal counts including bribery, racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud. (He was acquitted on five counts including obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.)

In commemoration of the judge's decision, let's take a moment to note the top five similarities between William Jefferson and American founding father Thomas Jefferson.

 

Thomas Jefferson: Was the man behind the Louisiana Purchase.

William Jefferson: Was the man behind many Louisiana purchases.

 

Thomas Jefferson: Stored food in dumbwaiters.

William Jefferson: Stored food and cash in a freezer.

 

Thomas Jefferson: Supported the virtues of the yeoman farmer.

William Jefferson: Grew up on a yeoman farm

 

Thomas Jefferson: Developed strong relationships with France.

William Jefferson: Developed strong relationships in Africa which led to his personal ventures in Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea.

 

Thomas Jefferson: Supported the will of the people after the French Revolution.

William Jefferson: Supported by the will of the people through his brilliant political machine.

A debate that raged on this website back in March, when environmental correspondent Julia Whitty's posting about the climate change impact of childrearing led to nearly 150 comments—that's a lot—is being rekindled this week over at Livescience and Treehugger.

The issue at hand: Can we afford, environmentally speaking, to have so many children? (Whether our marriages can afford it is a separate debate.) As Whitty previously reported, scientists at Oregon State estimated that, under current conditions, each American child adds 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the average mother's lifetime carbon legacy, nearly six times the carbon footprint of a childless American woman. By contast, each Bandladeshi child adds only 56 metric tons to his mom's lifetime footprint.