You can't miss it in today's news: US births break record, 40 percent out-of-wedlock. Frankly, my dear, who gives a shit about the wedding bands. Though that's pretty much what all the moralizing is about.

No, what's stupefying is the fact that nowhere in this much-travelled article does anyone ever talk about the real impact of more babies being born in the US in 2007 than any other year in the nation's history.

So let's talk about it. And let's start with a really interesting study just published in the journal Global Environmental Change. A couple of statisticians at Oregon State U disengaged their mechanical pencils from their pocket protectors, clicked some fresh lead onto recycled paper (we hope) and came up with this bold analysis into that sacristy of human reproduction—to have or not to have:

  • A mother and father are each responsible for one half of the emissions of their offspring and 1/4 the emissions of their grandchildren and so on forever or thereabouts
  • Therefore, under current US conditions, each child adds 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of the average female
  • That's 5.7 times her lifetime emissions
  • Translation: one child costs nearly 6 times your own CO2 emissions
  • In the pessimistic scenario, each American child adds 12,730 metric tons to your carbon legacy
  • In comparison, under current Bangladeshi conditions, each child adds 56 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of the average female

The bottom line is that absolutely nothing else you can do—driving a more fuel efficient car, driving less, installing energy-efficient windows, replacing lightbulbs, replacing refrigerators, recycling—comes even close to simply not having that child. All those good things still add up to less than 500 metric tons of CO2 savings. Not having the kid saves between 10,000 and 13,000 metric tons of CO2.

So why are we still giving tax breaks for having kids? Why are we pretending that because they're cute they're harmless? Little monsters.

Who-hoo! Mother Jones has just been nominated for three National Magazine Awards. The NMAs are often described as the magazine world's Academy Awards (without the awful musical medleys). Picking up three Ellie nods is a real honor, and all the more so since we won a General Excellence Award last year. This time, we've been nominated in the General Excellence categories for both print and online (our print submission consisted of three special issues on torture, energy, and the new "ECOnomy"). We're also up in the Public Interest category. As always, we're pitted against a diverse group of formidable competitors—Foreign Policy, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, and Paste, to name a few. We're practicing balancing Ellie statues on our noses, just in case. But it's not too soon to thank you, the key ingredient in our reader-supported journalism, for keeping us on our toes and pushing us to keep going. Winners will be announced April 30—we'll keep you updated. The official press release is after the jump.

New Music: Phoenix

Okay, this song has been available on the French band Phoenix's web site for a couple weeks now, but it's taken a few listens for it to become my favorite tune of the moment. "1901" kicks off with a bit of Bloc Party-style dramatics, big synth-y bass notes and echo-y radar blips acting all spooky and stuff. But it gets more complicated, the dark underpinnings supporting a song that quickly becomes joyful, ecstatic even. The lyrics don't give anything away—the chorus' repeated line, "Falling, falling," seems to contain both senses of the word, "head-over-heels" and "from a great height." This mixed up combination of emotions doesn't really have a name in English, I don't think, but it's all too common: a tossed salad of ecstasy and agony, nostalgia and contentment that a lot of great pop-dance-rock music seems to inhabit, like LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends," Silversun Pickups' "Lazy Eye," Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)." Phoenix's "1901" may be too much plain old fun to enter that pantheon of greatness, but right now its three glorious minutes feel like the first sign of spring. Listen and download a high-quality (hooray!) 256 kbps mp3 of "1901" as well as the multitrack files at the band's web site, or listen to a YouTube stream below. The band's new album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, will be out May 25. Phoenix - "1901"

Healthcare This Year?

Jon Cohn's tick-tock in the New Republic about Obama's healthcare plan is mostly fairly ordinary stuff: some of Obama's advisors wanted to go slow, others wanted to seize the moment, meetings were held, etc. etc.  But through it all, Obama was Obama:

Health care, in the end, might have gotten pushed aside — except that one very senior official in the administration kept insisting that it stay on the agenda. That official was Obama himself. Repeatedly, the president made clear that he was not abandoning health care reform.

....By the end, the debate had coalesced around three options: investing around $1 trillion over ten years, offset by new revenue and some substantial reductions in Medicare and Medicaid spending; investing a slightly lower amount, in the neighborhood of $600 billion, which could be offset by more modest revenue increases and reductions in Medicare and Medicaid; or putting aside just $300 billion, offset mostly by changes to Medicare and Medicaid. A final decision wasn't made until Friday, February 13, as a deadline for setting the budget loomed. Rejecting the $1 trillion proposal, because the offsets it required seemed too severe, Obama went with the $600 billion option — $634 billion, to be precise.

This seems to be typical Obama: he really does know what he wants, and he really does insist on getting it.  At the same time, as long as things are moving in the right direction, he seems profoundly willing to compromise about how fast he gets there.  I haven't quite figured out yet whether I think this is good or bad, but it's what we've got.  We may have a liberal in the White House, but we don't have one who's temperamentally likely to knock heads and try to make history.

Jeez.  Not much love for the Pac Ten from our hoops loving president.  A first round win for Washington is all he's got for us in his NCAA bracket.  Somebody needs to take this up with him when he shows up here in Orange County later today.

Essay Mills

Alan Jacobs proposes a novel theory for the success of essay mills in cranking out low-cost papers for slothful college students:

It seems to me that the most noteworthy fact here is this: essay mills of this kind can succeed only because college professors all over the Western world assign precisely the same kinds of papers. No wonder some of the writers can turn out dozens of the damned things in a week — “I can knock out 10 pages in an hour,” one of them says. “Ten pages is nothing.” The assignments we professors give are so woodenly predictable that they positively invite woodenly predictable essays in response.

I can feel a contest coming on: Propose a topic that's truly essay-mill-resistant.  Better yet, propose a general algorithm that makes any topic harder to fake from a distance.  Remember: extra credit for originality!

Wilkerson on Guantanamo

Over at Washington Note, Larry Wilkerson writes about several dimensions of the debate over Guantanamo Bay that he thinks haven't gotten enough attention:

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there....The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

....The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent....All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals.

....Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.

Read the whole thing.  He presents some compelling evidence that although shutting down Guantanamo might be politically difficult thanks to Dick Cheney's "recent strident and almost unparalleled remarks about the dangers of pampering terrorists," it's almost certainly not much of an operational challenge at all.

Damn Liberals

ThinkProgress glosses a Roll Call story today telling us that Evan Bayh is spearheading a group of 15-20 Democratic senators "seeking to restrain the influence of party liberals in the White House and on Capitol Hill."  And it's about time, isn't it?  We've now gone nearly a full two months without Democrats forming a circular firing squad designed to bring down a Democratic president and prove that Democrats can't actually get anything done.  I say, that's two months too long.

But at least a bunch of senators will get to preen a bit about how they managed to water down progressive legislation and get the White House to beg them for their votes.  And that's what public service is all about, isn't it?

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, has weighed in on his party's Rush wars.

Rush Limbaugh is "the center of gravity" of the Republican Party, and "we need a new center of gravity," Hagel told me on Tuesday night.

That evening, Hagel was taping an interview with Rachel Maddow for her MSNBC show. Now cochairman of the Commission on United States Policy Toward Russia, he discussed Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's announcement that Russia would begin a "large-scale rearming" and the news that Russia might be putting long-range bombers in Cuba and Venezuela. On the segment, Hagel, who was a foreign policy leader in the Senate, talked about his recent trip to Moscow and called for moving the US-Russia relationship back to a "smart" track. He also criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for claiming that the Obama administration has placed the nation in danger and noted that Cheney was partly responsible for the "mess" the Bush administration left behind.

On the show, Hagel took a shot at new Republican Party chairman Michael Steele. Asked about Steele's threat to support primary challengers against Republican Senators Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, who each defied GOP leaders and voted for Obama's stimulus package, Hagel called it "a very foolish, foolish move," commenting, "there's no room for that kind of silliness." He added, "People expect serious people to deal with serious issues and to govern seriously. And when you don't do that, you become irrelevant."

Maddow did not ask Hagel about Limbaugh. But prior to the taping, Hagel was not shy about bemoaning Limbaugh's drag on his party. He told me that Limbaugh was the opposite of what the Republican Party needs now. "We blew eight years of governing," Hagel said, excoriating GOPers for having "run up" the national debt. "You can only blame Ted Kennedy for so much," he remarked.

Hagel's comments about Limbaugh were not surprising. Before he left the Senate last year, after serving two terms, Hagel developed the reputation of an independent Republican. He flirted with a presidential run in 2008 and then backed off. Last summer, he practically endorsed Obama, traveling to Iraq with the Democratic candidate, when John McCain's campaign was attacking Obama for being soft on defense and accusing him of wanting to lose the war there.

The Rush wars, though, have abated in the past week. Steele has moved on, after apologizing to Limbaugh for calling his broadcasts "ugly" and "incendiary." Pro-administration groups have throttled back on the anti-Limbaugh ads. The mini-uproar over Limbaugh's offensive reference to Ted Kennedy's possible death has subsided. (The new GOP cat-fight is a three-way dust-up involving Laura Ingraham, Meghan McCain, and Ann Coulter.)

But Limbaugh's not fading away, and Republicans will continue to have to figure out their party's relationship to the radio provocateur. And Hagel, for one, does not want his party--he still calls himself a Republican--to be fall prey to Limbaugh's gravitational pull.

Here's Hagel on The Rachel Maddow Show:


Yesterday, I noted that Organizing for America is asking people to call their lawmakers in support of a budget no one from the Obama Administration has explained.

Today, Obama does the explaining himself, in a web video. It's below.