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Your Future Begins in Bali: Global Climate Summit Opens

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 10:43 PM EST

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, from the press conference "Overview of the main issues of the COP/Technical and logistical details for journalists."

Also largely absent from today's news—unless you read offshore, say, at the BBC—the portentous UN Climate Change Summit 2007 opening today in Bali. Governments are assembled to discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 when the current Kyoto Protocol targets expire. You know the Kyoto Protocol, the one Bush never signed, dooming it to irrelevance.

This is the first big international meet since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that evidence for global warming is "unequivocal." What's Bush's stance this time around? The BBC put it diplomatically:

Meanwhile, US President George Bush—who favours voluntary rather than mandatory targets—issued a statement saying that the nation's emissions had fallen by 1.5% in 2006 from levels in 2005.

Bush—that champion of weird math and damn the consequences—hopes his numbers will enable the US to avoid doing what everyone else is in Bali to do: agree to binding emissions targets. This even though 150 multinationals last week did just that, according to Business Green, including Coca-Cola, Gap, Nike, British Airways, Nestlé, Nokia, Shell, Tesco and Virgin, as well as a number of Chinese companies such as Shanghai Electric and Suntech.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Hunger: Coming Your Way

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 9:55 PM EST

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Global agriculture could go into steep, unanticipated declines due to complications that scientists have so far inadequately considered. So say three new reports published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Predicted changes from 1- to 5-degree C temperature rises in coming decades fail to account for seasonal extremes of heat, drought or rain, multiplier effects of spreading diseases or weeds, and other ecological upsets. All are believed more likely in the future, according to The Earth Institute at Columbia University:

"Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale. But there is a strong potential for negative surprises," said Francesco Tubiello, a physicist and agricultural expert at the NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies who coauthored all three papers. Existing research estimates that developing countries may lose 334 million acres of prime farm land in the next 50 years. After mid-century, continuing temperature rises—5 degrees C or more by then—are expected to start adversely affecting northern crops as well, tipping the whole world into a danger zone.

Is there any mention of any of these three papers anywhere in the mainstream news? Not that I can find. The world goes on, as usual, headlining inconsequentials and absurdities.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

What's in a (Maiden) Name? Me, That's What

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:47 PM EST

Women taking their husband's names always baffled me. I've known since I was a teenager that I wasn't going to. Aside from genealogic traceability and simplified familial paperwork, why on earth would I agree to be absorbed into some man I hadn't even met yet? And who might turn out to be a huge mistake? I've lost track of all my female friends and relatives now carting around the last names of men they've been divorced from for more than twenty years. But it isn't the possibility of divorce that makes me object to women taking men's names; its just the plain unvarnished, sexist truth of what it means. As one of my aunts famously said in leaving her husband after a long, troubled marriage, "I understand all about man and wife becoming one, but how come we always have to be you?" Symbols matter and that was one I simply couldn't stomach just as I could never stomach changing my citizenship. Don't ask me why those seem equivalent but they do to me. Even worse, to me, are hyphenated names. What a cop out; change your name or don't, girlfriend. Lordy, those godawful amalgamated, frankenstein names.

What I was up for was picking a new name we'd both take or flipping a coin to choose one of our surnames. Too bad I never thought of hiring a consultant or underwriting an internet survey to basically focus-group the new couple's potential new name. Ah, if only we'd had the internet. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who agonized over the whole whose-last-name thing.

Pre-Analysis of Romney's "Mormon Speech"

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:26 PM EST

romney.jpg Nobody is waiting until Thursday's speech to weigh in on whether or not Romney is making a smart move. Marc Ambinder has a nice list of pros and cons, but I think Ross Douthat hits it on the head.

With the Iowa caucus on January 3rd, the primary campaign basically lasts from today until Christmas Eve. That's all the time Romney has to reframe Mike Huckabee, his top competitor in Iowa, who, due to his late rise and favorable media coverage, has been able to keep his negatives off the radar. Huckabee has three "problems" that could make him vulnerable in the GOP race: a relatively compassionate history with illegal immigrants, a decidedly moderate fiscal record, and a complete lack of foreign policy chops. Romney has the money and organization in Iowa to put these things front and center.

Instead, though, a significant portion of the next three weeks will be devoted to questions of faith. And when Republican primary voters are asked to make a decision based on faith, and their options are the socially conservative former Baptist preacher who speaks eloquently and authoritatively about the Bible or a Mormon guy who doesn't even have the principles to avoid waffling on small parts of his faith in order to make it more palatable to voters, who do you think they are going to choose?

And then there's the danger that this speech brings all of Mormonism's quirks to the fore. Like the fact that it didn't allow black people to become priests until 1978. Or the fact that it technically sees all conventional Christian churches as "apostates." Or the fact that it still teaches that believers can have multiple wives in heaven. Maybe not odder than the oddities of any other faith (except the racism thing, which originates in some pretty nasty anti-black scriptures), but definitely not the stuff Romney wants in his news coverage.

If this speech had come six months ago, voters would have had time to chew it over, digest it, and then move on to something else. But now Iowans will have all this bouncing around their heads as they go to the caucuses.

Imus Goes Back To Work

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:24 PM EST

Imus is back on the air and that's just fine with me.

I never listened to him, or any other shock jock, before and I won't now. No, not even to make sure he doesn't go off again, notwithstanding how much some black leaders want me to (Rev. Sharpton's press conference on the subject will be announced soon. Stay tuned). Life is too short to spend hoping we'll have another band wagon to jump on and chase down another powerful white man. I could have lived a long time without Imus's 'nappy headed ho' psychic assault and I hope to go another lifetime before I ever do again. Call me weak, but I won't be surfing the air waves looking for more insults. In my experience, they have a way of finding you without any extra help. Let's hope his new show is nice and uneventful.

Besides, whatever else you have to say of Imus, he has been more contrite than just about any one else in public life who's been caught redhanded saying something so unregenerately hateful. I actually admire him a little after reading about his first day back at work:

Rove Misled Rose on CIA Leak Case, and the White House Is Still Stonewalling

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:16 PM EST

Did Karl Rove fib to Charlie Rose?

Is the Bush administration preventing Congress from further investigating Rove's role in the Valerie Plame leak case and doing the same regarding the White House?

The answers: Yes, and it seems so.

Let's start with the first question. On November 21, Charlie Rose conducted an interview with Rove during which Rove claimed disingenuously that congressional Democrats in 2002, not the Bush White House, pushed for a pre-election vote on a resolution authorizing George W. Bush to attack Iraq. This comment kicked up a controversy. But in one portion of the Rose interview cut out of the TV-edit that appeared, Rove tossed out another whopper. This excerpt was posted by the Charlie Rose show on YouTube, and it covers questions Rose posed to Rove regarding former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's recent hullabaloo-causing statement about a key episode in the CIA leak case. If you just awoke from a coma, McClellan said,

I...publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. There was one problem. It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself.

Rove claimed to Rose that McClellan had emailed him a few notes maintaining that these few sentences had been misinterpreted. Rove added that he would not have anything else to say on this until a "more full disclosure" appears in McClellan's book, which is scheduled to be published next spring. But Rove went on to insist that he had not misled McClellan, and he claimed total innocence:

I did not knowingly disclose the identity or name of a CIA agent.

Wait a minute. Let's look at an email (first disclosed by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek) that Matt Cooper, then a Time correspondent, sent to his editors on July 11, 2003--three days before the name and CIA employment of Valerie Plame Wilson was first disclosed in a column by Robert Novak.

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Hummers: More Than Just a Menace to the Environment

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 3:12 PM EST

hummer.jpg People who drive Hummers apparently like them because they look like engines of destruction. New research out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that it's not just an image thing. Hummers really do leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

According to the Institute data, Hummer owners wiped out two and a half times as many parking lot pilings and smaller cars than the average car driver. The H2 pickup was especially bad, topping the list with the worst property-damage claim record of any car on the road. The reason is fairly obvious: Hummers are enormous. With bumpers far too high off the ground, these pricey toys turn the run-of-the-mill shopping mall fender-bender into a major catastrophe.

"The Hummer is a classic example of a big mismatch with just about anything out there on the road," says Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit research arm of the auto insurance industry. The new data suggest that those seeking relief from a midlife crisis should abandon giant SUVs and return to the classy sports car. The car generating the lowest number of property-damage claims? The Porsche 911 coupe.

New Iowa Polls Put Clinton Up Big, but the Numbers Are Phony

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 2:20 PM EST

There's been a minor splash because of two new polls that seemingly contradict the Obama surge in Iowa.

The first is an AP-Pew poll that has the three-way race looking like this: Clinton 31%, Obama 26%, Edwards 19%

The second is an Iowa State University poll that is even more startling: Clinton 31%, Edwards 24%, Obama 20%

Here's the catch. The AP-Pew poll was conducted November 7-25. Some of the results there are two to three weeks old. The Iowa State University poll was conducted November 6-18. All of the results there are two to three weeks old. They all predate the juvenation the Obama campaign has gotten going in Iowa these past few weeks.

More current numbers all show the race tied or with Obama leading slightly. An American Research Group poll conducted 11/26-11/29 has Obama 27%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 23%. A Des Moines Register poll conducted 11/25-11/28 has Obama 28%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 23%. A Rasmussen poll conducted 11/26-11/27 has Clinton 27%, Obama 25%, Edwards 24%.

The average, according to Real Clear Politics, is dead even: Obama 27.5%, Clinton 27.2%, Edwards 22.3%.

How Many Ron Paul Dollars to the Amero?

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 1:35 PM EST

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Zut alors and ¡ay caramba! You can now purchase Ameros, the hypothetical currency of the North American Union, the imaginary superstate conspiracy endorsed by Ron Paul in last week's GOP debate. The creator of the Amero coins describes them as "private-issue fantasy pattern coins," which is fitting, since the idea of the unified currency and the NAU is, well, a fantasy. (Why in the world would Canada want to hitch the loonie to the floundering greenback, anyway?) This isn't the only fantasy currency connected to Paul: The Feds recently busted the private mint that had been selling a "Ron Paul Dollar" and is investigating its owner for manufacturing currency. So if you had $100 to spend on a currency from an alternate reality, would you stock up on Paul Bucks, Ameros, or Linden Dollars?

New Iran NIE Shocker: Nuke Weapons Program Shut Down in 2003

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 1:19 PM EST

Hot off the presses from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI): a long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, entitled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" (.pdf)

But any journalist would have told the folks at the office of the Intel Czar, the report should have had a different headline. Something like:

IRAN HALTED NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM IN 2003.

From the NIE, Key Judgment A:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran's announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work.

The NIE also states: