I don't know if Hardball host Chris Matthews will run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania and challenge incumbent Republican Arlen Specter. I do know that it would be refreshing to have a fellow in the Senate with as much passion as Matthews. Sure, he peeved a number of people with his comments on Hillary Clinton during the recent presidential campaign. But last night, I was a guest on his show and watched Matthews eviscerate former Reagan administration aide Frank Gaffney on the question of whether the Iraq war had been justified. I had been booked to debate Gaffney on the subject. But Matthews tore into him more than I could.

I give Matthews plenty of credit--not just for being right on this issue but for devoting the first quarter of his show to the matter. He shoved aside Blago and Caroline Kennedy to discuss a war that the mainstream media does not sufficiently cover. There aren't many television talk show hosts who still greatly care about whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of that crew hoodwinked the country into war. But Matthews does. He wants to win the fight over the history and make sure that the public does not forget how the soon-to-be-gone Bush administration misled the nation. I'm not urging Matthews to run--I enjoy appearing on his show and would be sad to see it disappear--but it would be heartening to see in the Senate a man who displays so much zeal on this front.

I have a feeling that in the coming years the Bush-backers and neocons will not give up the fight; they will relentlessly argue that the war was right and just. Even though the majority of the American public doesn't buy that, the foes of the war will have to push back and do combat over and over on this point. Whether Matthews is on TV or in the Senate, he could be a valuable participant in that (alas) never-ending debate.

Kevin helped drive a stake through the heart of a favorite conservative trope yesterday when he put up a chart illustrating the effective tax rate on the rich and superrich. (Hint: It's only slightly higher than the middle and upper middle classes.) This article should finish it off. Guess what the effective tax rate on Goldman Sachs, which made $2.8 billion in 2008, will be this year? One percent.

Out of Iraq

OUT OF IRAQ....Barack Obama visited an elementary school today and chatted with the children. From the pool report:

Then he told the kids he was opening the floor to questions, and proceeded to take more than double the number of questions than he took at his press conference....One child ask him about iraq and he said he plans to have troops home in.a year and a half.

This is good to hear. Obama wouldn't lie to a bunch of fourth graders, would he?

The Gift of Nature

399px-Eaglecreek-28July2006.jpg Walking in a park in any season or even viewing pictures of nature helps improve memory and attention by 20 percent. All it takes is 30 minutes. Even when it's cold. Even when we don't enjoy it. The study by U of Michigan researchers found that effects of interacting with nature are similar to meditating.

Participants were sent on walking routes through urban streets as well as through a botanical garden and arboretum. The city strolls provided no memory boost but the parks improved short-term memory. Interestingly, the test subjects didn't need to enjoy the walks. They received the same cognitive benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny as when it was 25 degrees in winter.

Participants were also tested sitting inside and looking at pictures of either downtown scenes or nature scenes. The results were the same: about 20 percent improvement in memory and attention scores from looking at photos of nature.

The study appears in Psychological Science and dovetails with some of the researchers' earlier work suggesting that people will be most satisfied with their lives when their environment supports three basic needs: the ability to understand and explore; the ability to make a difference; and ability to feel competent and effective.

Best holiday present? Take someone out into nature. Truly the gift that gives forever. Or at least for 20 percent longer.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.

Median Wages

MEDIAN WAGES....So let's assume that we manage to stabilize the economy sometime soon via whatever combination of stimulus spending, tax cuts, and bailouts you think is best. What's next? Where will demand come from to get the economy moving normally again? Paul Krugman comments:

I find it useful to compare U.S. spending in recent years with spending in the mid-90s, when things seemed much more sustainable. What changed? Well, we had bloated housing investment and bloated consumer spending. Meanwhile, nonresidental investment as a percentage of GDP was about the same in 2007 as it was in 1996.

So what offset the consumer/housing boom? A vastly increased trade deficit. And that suggests that a return to normalcy would involve getting savings up, housing spending down, and a combination of more exports and less imports.

I think the big thing I'd add to that is growth in median incomes. One way or another, there's really no way for the economy to grow strongly and consistently unless middle-class consumers spend more, and they can't spend more unless they make more. This was masked for a few years by the dotcom bubble, followed by the housing bubble, all propped on top of a continuing increase in consumer debt. None of those things are sustainable, though. The only sustainable source of consistent growth is rising median wages. The rich just don't spend enough all by themselves.

The flip side of this, of course, is that rich people are going to have to accept the fact that they don't get all the money anymore. Their incomes will still grow, but no faster than anyone else's.

How do we make this happen, though? I'm not sure. Stronger unions are a part of it. Maybe a higher minimum wage. Stronger immigration controls. More progressive taxation. National healthcare. Education reforms. Maybe it's just a gigantic cultural adjustment. Add your own favorite policy prescription here.

This isn't just a matter of social justice. It's a matter of facing reality. If we want a strong economy, we can only get it over the long term if we figure out a way for the benefits of economic growth to flow to everyone, not just the rich. This is, by far, Barack Obama's biggest economic challenge. Until median wages start rising steadily and consistently, we haven't gotten ourselves back on track.

mojo-photo-bushshoe.jpgSometimes the internet might seem like a vast wasteland of empty-headed blogs (ahem!), pornography, and pop-up ads, but then something like this happens, and it renews one's faith in having this series of tubes hooked up to our idea trucks. Or whatever. Journalist Muntather al Zaidi not only expressed Iraqi frustrations at still-President Bush with his famous footwear lob, but also inspired legions of Photoshoppers to create their own chuckle-riffic versions of the event and provide them on their internets for all to see. My ten favorite, via Boing Boing, HuffPo, Wired, and Urlesque after the jump.

The top ten ethics scandals of 2008, which we've got on prominent display today, is classic Mother Jones content. But we write about things that are positive, too! Or at least we link to them. Sometimes. Like right now!

The Drum Major Institute has a list out of the best public policy from 2008. It includes Los Angeles' attempt to clean up its ports, an executive order from pre-Hookergate Eliot Spitzer, the Second Chance Act for released prisoners, and an attempt to expand health care citywide in San Francisco. Check it out here.


TORTURE....Responding to Andrew Sullivan, Reuel Marc Gerecht defends his defense of torture:

I take it from your post that if you had been confronted on 7 September 2001 with a captured Khalid Shaykh Muhammad or Abu Zubaydah and you knew that a major, mass-casualty terrorist strike was about to go down in the United States, and you had plenipotentiary authority for the nation's security, you would not have used any physically coercive techniques against the gentleman? Okay, but I do believe that moral men can go the other way, and I strongly suspect that the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans elected or appointed to high office would go the other way.

....Would that the Clinton and the Bush administrations — especially the Bush administration — had started a public discussion of what we do with holy warriors who live to slaughter thousands....You might not like what America's legislature would have decided (Andrew, what was your position on this in 2001/2002?), but it would have carried the approval of more of the American people's representatives.

Sadly, I suspect that Gerecht is right: if torture had been put to a vote back in 2001, it would have passed. The language would have been prettied up, of course, but the intention would have been clear enough and the public would have approved. Even today, I'm pretty sure that a majority of Americans are basically OK with torture as long as it's mostly kept out of sight and they can go about their business.

But even for torture apologists like Gerecht, I wonder how far they're willing to go. He must know that over the past few years we've tortured a steady and sizeable stream of people who were either decidedly small fish or else just completely innocent. How many of those people is he willing to brutalize on the slim chance that once, someday, we'll just happen to have someone in our custody who knows about a terrorist plot scheduled for tomorrow and can be successfully tortured into giving it up in time? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Where exactly does he draw the line?

"It's time for a bailout for the oceans," declared Oceana's chief scientist Michael Hirschfield at today's National Press Club press briefing. Hirschfield, along with three of the country's top marine scientists, urged the Obama administration, namely recent energy appointees Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson, to abandon the ideology of the past eight years and take science seriously.

Overfishing, climate change, pollution, and increasing acidity were cited as the most ominous threats. But these threats are hardly new. Mother Jones examined the plight, the players, and the solutions in our 2006 special report "The Last Days of the Ocean." Check it out here.

The Minnesota canvassing board is taking a look at challenged ballots one by one right now. You can follow along via live video at theuptake.org. It's interesting stuff, and a Senate race likely hangs in the balance.