Blogs

There May Soon Be More Plastic in the Oceans Than Fish

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 6:00 AM EST

Discarded plastic will outweigh fish in the world's oceans by 2050, according to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That is, unless overfishing moves the date up sooner.

The study, a collaboration with the World Economic Forum, found that 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes waste collection systems, gets into waterways, and is eventually deposited in the oceans. That percentage is expected to increase in coming years, given that the fastest growth in plastic production is expected to occur in "high leakage" markets—developing countries where sanitation systems are often unreliable. The data used in the report comes from a review of more than 200 studies and interviews with 180 experts.

Since 1964, global plastic production has increased 20-fold—311 million tons were produced in 2014—and production is expected to triple again by 2050. A whopping 86 percent of plastic packaging is used just once, according to the report's authors, representing $80 billion to $120 billion in lost value annually. That means not only more plastic waste, but more production-related oil consumption and carbon emissions if the industry doesn't alter its ways.

The environmental impact of plastic waste is already staggering: For a paper published in October, scientists considered 186 seabird species and predicted that 90 percent of the birds—whose populations have declined by two-thirds since 1950—consume plastic. Plastic bags, which are surprisingly degradable in warmer ocean waters, release toxins that spread through the marine food chain—and perhaps all the way to our dinner tables.

Most of the ocean's plastic, researchers say, takes the form of microplastics—trillions of beads, fibers, and fragments that average about 2 millimeters in diameter. They act as a kind of oceanic smog, clouding the waters and coating the sea floor, and look a lot like food to small marine organisms.

In December, President Barack Obama signed a law banning microbeads, tiny plastic exfoliaters found in toothpaste and skin products that get flushed into waterways. But the MacArthur report urges plastic producers to step up and address the problem by developing products that are reusable and easily recycled—and that are less toxic in nature—and working to make compostable plastics more affordable.

The 2050 prediction is based on the assumption that global fisheries will remain stable over the next three decades, but a report released last week suggests that may be wishful thinking. Revisiting fishery catch rates from the last 60 years, Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia found that the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization drastically underestimates the amount of fish we pluck from the seas. The United Nations relies on official government data, which often only captures the activities of larger fishing operations. When the British Columbia researchers accounted for smaller fisheries, subsistence harvesting, and discarded catches, they calculated catches 53 percent larger than previously thought.

There was a glimmer of hope in the findings, though: The researchers write that fishing rates, after peaking in 1996, declined faster than previously thought—particularly among large-scale industrial fisheries. Whether that trend will hold is another story.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

My Non-Debate Wrap-Up

| Fri Jan. 29, 2016 12:05 AM EST

I may have missed most of the debate, but I did manage to catch the pre-debate festivities. What a horror show. Everybody knew exactly what Donald Trump wanted, and they gave it to him anyway. I flipped over to CNN and Brianna Keilar was interviewing Trump in his plane and letting him walk all over her. She throws him a softball about Fox so that Trump has an opportunity to announce that "someone" at Fox called to apologize to him. She asks him about his past support for abortion and he baldly changes the subject, basically daring Keilar to try to get an answer out of him—so she shrugs and moves on. I switch to MSNBC and they're split-screening with the Trump event. Switch back to CNN and now they're split-screening too. Switch to Fox and the very first question of the debate is, "Senator Cruz, do you have any zingers about Donald Trump you'd like to share with us?"

Curtis Houck informs us that the network evening news shows spent 10 minutes on the Trump boycott and less than two minutes on the actual debate. ABC News tells us that Trump was mentioned 11 times in the first 30 minutes of the debate. For the past two days Trump's boycott has been practically all anyone could talk about.

I know, I know: he's the frontrunner, we have to cover him, yada yada yada. But there's something pathological going on here. It's as if the press corps is a bunch of eight-year-olds tugging on daddy's arm begging for his approval. Trump refuses to answer any of their questions, but they don't press him because he might get mad and stop talking to them. He lies to their faces and they just move on. He puts on an obviously fake "veterans" event designed to show that he's the alpha chimp, and everyone rushes to cover it.

What the hell is going on? Seriously. What does everyone find so damn fascinating about the guy?

How I Got Barred From Donald Trump’s Chaotic Anti-Fox Rally

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 10:33 PM EST

Tonight I joined a small but growing club of reporters who have been banned from Donald Trump events. Officially, this is not true. Officially, as Trump's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told me in an email, Thursday night's event at Drake University in Des Moines was "well over capacity." However, every journalist I encountered got in—including a reporter from Canada who was promptly credentialed.

Every reporter, that is, except those who, like me, seem to be banned. Braving the cold to chat with the long line of people waiting to get into Trump's event, I came across other reporters blacklisted by Trump. There was BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins, whom Trump apparently still hasn't forgiven for this story from two years ago. Coppins had joined up with a German reporter who was also not allowed in. (I'm not sure why.) A student kindly suggested we warm up in the university's library, where we were joined by the Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi, also barred from entering.

More Trump events will take place this campaign season, and perhaps Mother Jones reporters' luck will change. But I'm not holding my breath. One of my colleagues was escorted from a Trump event last month by security. It seems that once Trump and his team have decided someone is not on the list, their word is just about final.

Carly Fiorina Just Unleashed an Unhinged Rant Against Hillary Clinton

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 8:24 PM EST

Carly Fiorina brought down the house at tonight's GOP undercard debate with a long, vicious rant against Hillary Clinton that included everything from a recycled El Chapo joke to a call to indict Clinton over her role in Benghazi. Or because of her emails. Or something.

Here's a quick rundown of the things Fiorina accused Clinton of:

Being a wannabe dictator: "Hillary Clinton would do anything to gain and hold onto power, anything." That's why she didn't leave Bill, apparently.

Wrongly refusing to leave her husband: "If my husband did what Bill Clinton did, I would have left him long ago." Fiorina insisted that line "wasn't a personal attack."

Dodging prison: "She's escaped prosecution more than El Chapo."

Being a bad secretary of state: "She's gotten every single foreign policy challenge wrong."

Just kind of being terrible in general: "She has not accomplished much of anything in her life."

Lying a lot: "The Clinton Way: say whatever you have to say, do whatever you have to say, lie as long as you can get away with it."

Fiorina's campaign then unveiled an ad during the debate titled "Qualified for the Big House, not the White House"—also a line from Fiorina's debate rant—featuring more of her attacks on Clinton.

Amazon Is Becoming Just Another Mortal Company

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 5:52 PM EST

Amazon stock tumbled 11 percent after today's earnings report. Here's why:

Amazon recorded $35.75 billion in sales in last year’s final three months [and] $482 million in profit....Analysts, however, were expecting $36 billion in sales and net income of $754 million.

I assume no one was concerned about Amazon missing its sales forecast by a minuscule amount, so this was all about its profit number. But in the past, investors didn't much care about Amazon's profitability. They just trusted Jeff Bezos to grow the company and shovel earnings endlessly into ever more growth opportunities. Eventually Amazon would own the whole world.

Not anymore. Amazon's sales growth is now merely mortal, not stratospheric, and investors want to see Amazon prove it can actually make money as a mature corporation. I guess pretax income of 1.3 percent just isn't going to cut it in the future.

Georgia Lawmaker Defends KKK: "It Made a Lot of People Straighten Up"

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 5:27 PM EST

A Georgia state representative has triggered anger on social media after he made several statements that appear to defend the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, a group he insists "was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order."

"It made a lot of people straighten up," Republican State Rep. Tommy Benton said, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. "I’m not saying what they did was right. It's just the way things were."

Benton's remarks come after he introduced a bill on Wednesday to amend the state's constitution in order to protect Confederate monuments from being removed or edited at Stone Mountain, which currently depicts the images of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

"A great majority of prominent men in the South were members of the Klan," he said in reference to the bill. "Should that affect their reputation to the extent that everything else good that they did was forgotten?"

Since the deadly shooting inside historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina last year, calls to remove southern symbols bearing the Confederate flag and celebrating its racist heritage have been renewed with some success.

Benton also referred to another bill that attempted to prohibit the celebration of holidays that honor Confederate leaders, and compared these efforts to the terrorist activities of ISIS.

"That's no better than what ISIS is doing, destroying museums and monuments," he said. "I feel very strongly about this. I think it has gone far enough. There is some idea out there that certain parts of history out there don't matter anymore and that’s a bunch of bunk."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

This Prosecutor Gave the Perfect Answer to People Defending the Anti-Abortion Activists Behind Those Deceptive Videos

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 4:01 PM EST

On Monday, the district attorney in Harris County, Texas, announced that a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood had instead issued indictments against two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Susan Merritt, who released a series of doctored Planned Parenthood videos last summer. Since the indictments, district attorney Devon Anderson has faced an onslaught of criticism from the anti-abortion movement about both the severity of the charges—one is a felony—and a department employee's affiliation with Planned Parenthood.

Today, in a video on KHOU, a Houston TV network, Anderson explained why her office indicted David Daleiden and Susan Merritt. Even though the decision goes against her opinions on abortion, she says, it follows the law.

"An inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn't always lead where you want to go," Anderson says at the start of the video. "Anyone who pays attention knows that I'm pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong. But my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law."

Anderson dispels some of the misconceptions that have sprung up about her office's decision. For example, defense attorneys have argued that charging both Daleiden and Merritt with a felony for using fake driver's licenses is too extreme because young people caught with fake IDs often receive a misdemeanor charge. But Anderson explains that in Texas, using a fake ID from another state is a felony. "That's the law," she says.

Anderson also addresses the allegation—repeatedly emphasized by the anti-abortion news site LifeNews—that a prosecutor in her department who is involved with the Planned Parenthood board actively participated in the presentation of this case to the grand jury. "That is simply not true," she says. She noted that soon after the lieutenant governor asked her department to review this case in August, this particular prosecutor made her relationship to Planned Parenthood known, and the department issued a press release saying she would not be involved in the case. 

Some defense attorneys have asked for another grand jury to review the case. Anderson says she won't do that because it constitutes "grand jury shopping."

"That violates the integrity of the whole system," she says. "Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken, and I respect their decision."

Adele Has the Perfect Response to Mike Huckabee's "Hello" Parody

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 3:44 PM EST

Update: The audio on the video has since been un-muted. It seems the copyright issue may have been resolved. We'll update with more information as we learn it.

In addition to her Grammys, Academy Award, and charting-topping albums, pop sensation Adele can add "getting Mike Huckabee to shut up" to her long list of accomplishments.

The former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate posted a cover of Adele's song "Hello" on Twitter and YouTube yesterday, featuring lyrics about Iowa and his rivals. Now, due to a claim from the copyright holder of the song, the audio for the post has been muted. So though you can still watch Huckabee engage in a roadside phone conversation and exchange fake text messages with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, you are fortunate enough to do so without a questionable Adele cover playing in the background.

Trump Is Going to Raise Taxes on the Rich!

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 2:29 PM EST

I'm not a fan of New York magazine's "conversations" with 100 Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. I suspect that its sample is skewed; its conversations are skewed; and that pulling out just the juicy quotes from longer interviews makes it even more skewed. And all of these skew in the same direction: to make Republican voters look angry, dumb, and ignorant. I very much doubt that it provides a remotely accurate picture of how the average conservative in Iowa and New Hampshire really feels about life.

That said, I can be just as suckered by an eccentric quote as the next guy. Here is Nicole Martin of Manchester, New Hampshire:

Trump is bold, and he says what’s on his mind, but I feel like he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has in business if he wasn’t a good negotiator. At our office, we plugged his tax plan into our software, to see, and it’s genius. We couldn’t believe it. It’s still a little higher taxes for people that are wealthy, but it’s not going to hurt them. And it’s going to save a lot of the smaller people a lot of money. They need it. He’s just not going to tax them. It makes sense.

I really want to know more about this. They "plugged" Trump's tax plan into their "software"? What software is that? And how does it tell them that Trump's plan means "a little higher" taxes on the rich? On average, Trump's plan would cut taxes on the rich by more than a million dollars.

Oh well. He's going to make America great again. What else do you need to know?

New Science Tells Us That Men In Politics Are Blowhards

| Thu Jan. 28, 2016 12:54 PM EST

A couple of researchers in Switzerland wanted to judge how confident students in different career paths were. First, they split them into groups of 12 and gave each a short test:

  1. In which year was the Nobel Prize in physics awarded to Albert Einstein?
  2. In which year was pope John Paul I (the direct predecessor of John Paul II) elected Pope?
  3. In which year did the reactor accident happen in Chernobyl?
  4. In which year was Elvis Presley born?
  5. In which year did the first flight with the supersonic jet Concorde take place?

The answers are 1921, 1978, 1986, 1935, and 1976. My guesses were 1920, 1979, 1986, 1940,1 and 1973, so I was off by a total of 10 years. How do I think this compared with the rest of my group? I'm going to say I was third best. If it turns out that I was, in fact, only fifth best, I was overconfident by two ranks.

So how did everyone do? The first answer is simple: as you'd expect, men were vastly overconfident in their results and women were vastly underconfident. The chart on the right shows the second answer: political scientists were way overconfident and humanities students were way underconfident. Buck up, history majors! You know more than the budding politicians even if they're oh-so-sure they know everything.

Bottom line: Science™ says that men in politics are blowhards. Ignore them. Women with English degrees know more than they think. Listen to them. That is all.

1This means that Elvis was drafted into the army at age 23. Doesn't that seem a little late?