Blogs | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Here's What's at the Heart of the Crisis in Greece <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If you're in the market for some interesting commentary on Greece, there have been a couple of good ones recently. The first comes from Paul Krugman, who, among other things, makes a point that often gets missed: Greece is already running a primary surplus. That is, they've cut spending enough over the past few years <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/Blog_Greece_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">that their budget would be balanced if it weren't for interest payments on their gigantic debt. What's more, their primary surplus is <a href="" target="_blank">slated to rise to 4.5 percent in the future:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If Greece were to adhere totally to the previous terms, over the next five years it would make resource transfers of about 20 percent of one year&rsquo;s GDP. From the point of view of the creditors, that&rsquo;s a trivial sum. From the point of the Greeks, however, it&rsquo;s crucial; the difference between a primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP and, say, 1.5 percent of GDP for the Greek economy and the welfare of its citizens is huge. The only reason for the creditors to play hardball would be to make Greece an example, to discourage other debtors from trying to negotiate relief.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, the EU is demanding that Greece not just balance its budget, but run a large surplus that it will mostly send to large countries for whom it's a trivial sum. For Greece, though, it's a <em>huge</em> sum, the difference between years of penury and a return to growth. This is at the heart of the conflict between Greece and the EU.</p> <p>The second commentary comes from Daniel Davies, who makes the point that Greece's gigantic debt doesn't really matter <em>as debt</em>. Everyone knows Greece will never be able to pay it back. But if everyone knows this, why are Germany and the rest of the EU <a href="" target="_blank">so hellbent on refusing to write it off?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Don&rsquo;t think of the Greek debt burden, either in cash &euro; terms or as a ratio to GDP, as an economic quantity. It basically isn&rsquo;t an economically meaningful number any more. <strong>The purpose of its existence is as a political quantity; it&rsquo;s part of the means by which control is exercised over the Greek budget by the Eurosystem.</strong> The regular rituals of renegotiation of the bailout package, financing of debt maturity peaks and so on, are the way in which the solvent Euroland nations exercise the kind of political control that they feel they need to have if they are going to be fiscally responsible for the bills.</p> <p>....It is, therefore, totally inimical to the Eurosystem to hold out any hope of the kind of debt writedown that Syriza wants, as opposed to some smaller, cosmetic face value reduction or maturity extension. <strong>The entire reason why Syriza wants to get a major up-front reduction in the debt number is to create political space to execute the rest of their program.</strong> The debt issue and the political issue are the same issue. Syriza understands this, and so does the Eurosystem.</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words, Greece doesn't want to run a large budget surplus. They want to increase government spending in order to dig their way out of their massive economic depression. The rest of the EU wants no such thing. They're afraid that if they let Greece off the hook, then (a) everyone else will want to be let off the hook, and (b) Greece will go right back to its free-spending ways and soon require another bailout. If the price of that is years of pain and unemployment, so be it.</p> <p>There's more at both links, and both are worth reading.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Thu, 29 Jan 2015 05:40:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 269266 at Why are Scam PACs So Much More Common on the Right Than the Left? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>Politico's</em> Ken Vogel reports on a phenomenon that's gotten a fair amount of attention on <a href="" target="_blank">both the right and the left:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them....A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million &mdash; 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses.</p> <p>....[Democrats] have mostly avoided the problem, though they also benefit from the lack of tea party-style insurgency on their side. That could change if the 2016 Democratic presidential primary inflames deep ideological divisions within the party. But on the right, this industry appears only to be growing, according to conservatives who track it closely.</p> </blockquote> <p>And this problem isn't limited just to consultants who set up PACs to line their own pockets. Media Matters reports that right-wing outlets routinely tout&mdash;or rent their email lists to people touting&mdash;all manner of conspiracy theories <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_allen_west_pac.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">and out-and-out frauds. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's an excerpt from Media Matters' list:</a></p> <ul><li>Mike Huckabee sold out his fans to a quack doctor, conspiracy theorists, and financial fraudsters.</li> <li>Subscribers to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich's email list have received supposed insider information about cancer "cures," the Illuminati, "Obama's 'Secret Mistress,'" a "weird" Social Security "trick," and Fort Knox being "empty."</li> <li>Five conservative outlets promoted a quack doc touting dubious Alzheimer's disease cures.</li> <li>Fox analyst Charles Payne was paid to push now worthless stocks.</li> <li>Newsmax super PAC boondoggle.</li> <li>Right-wing media helped "scam PACs" raise money from their readers.</li> </ul><p><a href="" target="_blank">More here.</a> So here's my question: why is this so much more common on the right than on the left? It would be nice to chalk it up to the superior intelligence of liberal audiences and call it a day, but that won't wash. There's just no evidence that liberals, in general, are either smarter or less susceptible to scams than conservatives.</p> <p>One possibility is that a lot of this stuff is aimed at the elderly, and conservatives tend to skew older than liberals. And while that's probably part of the answer, it's hardly satisfying. There are plenty of elderly liberals, after all&mdash;certainly enough to make them worth targeting with the same kind of fraudulent appeals that infest the right.</p> <p>Another possibility is that it's basically a supply-side phenomenon. Maybe liberal outlets simply tend to be less ruthless, less willing to set up scam fundraising organizations than conservative outlets. In fact, that actually does seem to be the case. But again: why? Contrary to Vogel's lead, this kind of thing has been a problem on the right for a long time. It definitely got worse when the tea party movement created a whole new pool of potential patsies, but it didn't start in 2009. It's been around for a while.</p> <p>So then: why is this problem so much bigger on the right than on the left? I won't be happy with answers that simply assume liberals are innately better people. Even if they are, they aren't <em>that</em> much better. It's got to be something institutional, or something inherent in the nature of American conservatism. But what?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum The Right Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:01:29 +0000 Kevin Drum 269241 at The NFL Has a Domestic-Violence Problem, But All We Got Was This PSA <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Ever since the NFL <a href="" target="_blank">embarrassingly mishandled</a> the Ray Rice domestic-assault incident this summer, the league has tried to prove it has become enlightened about violence against women. Its latest attempt? A 30-second Super Bowl ad.</p> <p>The new public service announcement, which will air during the first quarter of Sunday's game, pans through a house in disarray, presumably because of a domestic dispute, while audio of a woman talking to a 911 dispatcher plays over it. At the end, a message flashes on: "Help End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; Pledge to Say 'No More.'" The PSA was made, free of charge, by advertising giant Grey for the sexual- and domestic-violence-awareness group NO MORE; the league <a href="" target="_blank">donated the prime advertising spot</a>, worth about $4.5 million.</p> <p>These broadcasts are part of an NFL offensive to save face after the Baltimore Ravens and the league <a href="" target="_blank">created an uproar</a> by barely punishing Rice after he was first charged with assaulting his then-fianc&eacute;e (and current wife).<strong> </strong>It wasn't until TMZ leaked security footage showing Ray Rice punching Janay Rice in an Atlantic City elevator (which Goodell dubiously <a href="" target="_blank">claimed</a> he hadn't seen before) that the NFL <a href="" target="_blank">indefinitely suspended the Ravens running back</a> and began to make an effort to change how it handles players accused of domestic violence and sexual assault.</p> <p>The NFL has since <a href="" target="_blank">reformed its punishments for players</a> involved in domestic or sexual violence, created <a href="" target="_blank">rather confusing</a> new disciplinary bodies to determine and hand out those punishments, <a href="" target="_blank">required the league</a> to attend education sessions about sexual assault and domestic violence, and <a href="" target="_blank">hired female advisers</a> to improve how the league deals with domestic violence.</p> <p>The NFL had its first test leading up to the AFC Championship game, when it <a href="" target="_blank">put the Indianapolis Colts' Josh McNary on paid leave </a>after he was charged with rape. But in order for the NFL to prove that it's committed to lasting reform of an entrenched culture that has <a href="" target="_blank">long ignored and even enabled violence against women</a>, it will to need to continue to address these issues&mdash;long after its Super Bowl ad has aired and the dust of this horrible season has settled.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Video Sports Wed, 28 Jan 2015 20:39:16 +0000 Luke Whelan 268916 at 8 Crazy Quotes In Support of Celebrating Robert E. Lee on MLK Day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama are the only three states in the country that celebrate&nbsp;Robert E. Lee on the same day as the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Their reasoning for the combo celebration is that the two have birthdays just a few days apart&mdash;never mind the, uh, conflict of interest.</p> <p>Today, Arkansas' elected officials had the opportunity to pass a <a href="" target="_blank">bill</a> seeking to separate the two commemorations. By doing so, Arkansas would join <a href="" style="line-height: 2em;" target="_blank">Georgia, Florida, and Virginia</a><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">, which honor Lee&mdash;but not on MLK Day.</span></p> <p>But this morning, Arkansas representatives struck down the bill with a chorus of nays. Below are a few choice quotes from opponents of the bill explaining why:</p> <p><em>1. "Everyone in this room owes Robert E. Lee a debt."</em></p> <p><em>2. "You've got MLK parades all over the nation, but no one celebrates Lee! Well, a lot of people do, a very large crowd."</em></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>bill to separate recognition of MLK and Robert E Lee due up at 10am. Those opposed already here. <a href="">#arleg</a> <a href="">#ARnews</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; David Goins (@dgoins) <a href="">January 28, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p><em>3. "This bill is out to change our constitution."</em></p> <p><em>4. "It's called American history."</em></p> <p><em>5. "I really wish we could all celebrate a non-separate, but equal holiday."</em></p> <p><em>6. "You wouldn't celebrate Christmas in July!"</em></p> <p><em>7. "Why are we doing this? We are chasing a non-problem."</em></p> <p><em>8. "Separate is&nbsp;not equal."&nbsp;</em></p></body></html> Mixed Media Race and Ethnicity Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:52:25 +0000 Inae Oh 269101 at FAA to Football Fans: Super Bowl Is a No-Drone Zone <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="" width="620"></iframe></p> <p>On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a 15-second warning to football fans eager to sneak a bird's-eye look at this Sunday's Super Bowl: Leave your drones at home. &nbsp;</p> <p>The No Drone Zone campaign is part of the FAA's ongoing efforts to regulate <a href="" target="_blank">small drones</a> flying over crowded stadiums. The <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Washington Post </em>reported</a> last November that the aviation agency was investigating a rash of incidents involving drones hovering over major sporting events. A month earlier, the agency extended its ban on airplane flights over large open-air stadiums to include unmanned and remote controlled aircraft.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drones over sporting events have occasionally raised alarms. In August, <a href="" target="_blank">a man was detained</a> after he flew a drone that flew over a preseason NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. A month later, police questioned a <a href="" target="_blank">University of Texas student</a> who was flying a drone around Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.&nbsp;Last October, a drone carrying an Albanian flag during a soccer match between Serbia and Albania <a href="" target="_blank">sparked a riot</a> in Belgrade.</p> <p>Earlier this month, the FAA <a href="" target="_blank">issued an advisory</a> reiterating the civil and criminal penalties for pilots who drone the Super Bowl. (Also banned in the airspace above the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona: gliders, parachutes, hang gliders, balloons, crop dusters, model aircraft, and model rockets.) The <a href="" target="_blank">Goodyear blimp</a> will be allowed.</p></body></html> MoJo Sports Tech Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:39:38 +0000 Edwin Rios 269186 at Murder In Los Angeles Is Way Down Among Teenagers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>LA Times</em> reports that murder is becoming <a href="" target="_blank">less common among teenagers:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;You're not seeing youngsters like you have in the past,&rdquo; said Det. Todd Anderson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. &ldquo;You used to see a lot more kids who were 16, 17, 18, 19. While it does still <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_la_times_age_homicide_victims_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">happen, it seems like they are getting a little bit older.&rdquo;</p> <p>In 2000, the average homicide victim was 30 years old and in 2014, the average victim was 34 years old, according to a Los Angeles Times data analysis. The shift comes as the total number of homicides falls.</p> </blockquote> <p>Why?</p> <blockquote> <p>George Tita, a criminologist at UC Irvine who studies homicide, said the increase in age is consistent with the changing nature of gang violence and the sharp decrease in killings throughout the county.</p> <p>Others say that the trauma of losing brothers, cousins and fathers to street violence may make gang life less appealing to younger people. &ldquo;It's the little brother looking at what happened to the big brother and saying, &lsquo;I don't want to go that way,'&rdquo; said Elliott Currie, another UC Irvine criminologist. &ldquo;It's something I think we criminologists don't talk about enough.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>That may be part of the answer. But you'll be unsurprised that there might be another, more plausible, reason: lead. Back in the 90s, the teenage and 20-something generations had grown up in the 70s and early 80s. This was an era of high lead emissions, and this lead poisoning affected their brains, causing them to become more violence-prone when they grew up.</p> <p>Today's teenagers, however, were born in the late 90s and early aughts. This was the era when leaded gasoline had finally been completely banned, so they grew up in a low-lead environment. As a result, they're less violence prone than their older siblings and less likely to find refuge in gangs.</p> <p>As always, lead is not the whole story. There have been other changes over the past couple of decades, and those changes may well have had an impact on both gangs and on crime more generally. But lead clearly has a generational impact. Younger kids are now less violent than in the past, while older folks haven't changed much. They've gotten older, which has always been associated with a drop in violent crime, but their basic temperament is still scarred by a childhood filled with lead emissions from automobiles.</p> <p>In any case, the age of a homicide victim is highly correlated with the age of the killer, and the chart above, excerpted from the <em>Times</em> story, shows homicide victimization age in 2000 and 2014. The huge bulge between age 15-30 is nearly gone, which is just what you'd expect if lead played an important role in violent crime. There may be less mystery here than the experts think.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Crime and Justice Science Wed, 28 Jan 2015 17:52:21 +0000 Kevin Drum 269116 at Greek Investors Apparently Surprised By Stuff No One Should Be Surprised About <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The latest news from Greece <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">is a bit peculiar:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his new cabinet on Wednesday that he would move swiftly to negotiate debt relief, but would not engage in a confrontation with creditors that would jeopardize a more just solution for the country....Later, the new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, appeared to harden the tone, saying that Greece&rsquo;s bailout deals were &ldquo;a toxic mistake&rdquo; and that the new government was determined to change the logic of how the crisis had been tackled.</p> <p>While many Greeks were hopeful that Mr. Tsipras would follow through with even a fraction of his populist promises, <strong>investors were more rattled.</strong> The Athens Stock Exchange, which already had billions of euros in value wiped out during Greece&rsquo;s election campaign, fell around 7.5 percent in midday trading on Wednesday after slumping around 11 percent on Tuesday. Shares in financial companies in Greece plummeted more than 17 percent on Wednesday.</p> </blockquote> <p>I wonder what has the stock market so spooked? After all, Tsipras is just doing what he's said he was going to do all along. Everyone expected him to take <em>at least</em> this hard a line on Greek debt, if not harder. So why the sudden panic? Shouldn't this have been priced in long ago? What's new here?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:50:07 +0000 Kevin Drum 269091 at No One Can Agree on What to Call Drones <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Early Monday morning, a small, <a href="" target="_blank">temporarily unidentified</a> flying object crashed on the White House lawn. The mishap, possibly the result of <a href="" target="_blank">droning under the influence</a>, prompted a salvo of alarming headlines about a stealthy violation of presidential airspace. "A Drone, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House," <a href="" target="_blank">declared</a> the <em>New York Times</em>. Fox News <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a>, "White House gets drone defense wake-up call," while <em>New York</em> magazine <a href="" target="_blank">warned</a>, "Secret Service Can't Protect White House From Drones."</p> <p>The most ominous-sounding word in those headlines is "drone," a term that's come to encompass everything from the two-pound <a href="" target="_blank">DJI Phantom</a> quadcopter that flew over the White House fence to the nearly <a href="" target="_blank">5,000-pound MQ-9 Reaper</a>, which can be flown remotely via satellite and fire laser-guided missiles at targets eight miles below. As Dutch designer Ruben Pater's <a href="" target="_blank">Drone Survival Guide</a> conveys, there are drones and then there are <em>drones</em>:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/drone-survival630.gif"><div class="caption"><strong>The Drone Survival Guide (in English and Pashto) </strong><a href="" target="_blank">Ruben Pater</a></div> </div> <p>Is there an easier way to differentiate a hi-tech toy from a killing machine? Why not just call that stray quadcopter a remote-controlled or model aircraft? (No one would write a headline such as "A Model Aircraft, Too Small for Radar to Detect, Rattles the White House.")</p> <p>The Federal Aviation Administration treats lightweight noncommercial drones as <a href="" target="_blank">model aircraft</a>. (They must stay <a href="" target="_blank">under 400 feet</a> and can't fly beyond the operator's line of sight.) Yet a true hobby drone is different than a traditional remote-controlled plane in one significant respect: It can fly itself. As former <em>Wired</em> editor Chris Anderson explains on <a href="" target="_blank">his site DIY Drones</a>, "Usually the UAV is controlled manually by Radio Control (RC) at take-off and landing, and switched into GPS-guided autonomous mode only at a safe altitude." The DJI Phantom can fly itself back home; users can program flight paths into <a href="" target="_blank">top-of-the-line model</a>. DIY Drones uses the terms UAV and drone interchangeably.</p> <p>Even if equating personal drones with model aircraft might irk amateur remote pilots, it would help defuse the devices' death-from-above image. That would probably please the manufacturers of military and commercial drones, who would prefer if you don't use the D-word at all. Testifying before the Senate in 2013, the head of the <a href="" target="_blank">Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International</a> (the robot lobby) <a href="" target="_blank">stated</a>, "I do not use the term 'drone.' The industry refers to the technology as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, because they are more than just a pilotless vehicle&hellip;The term 'drone' also carries with it a hostile connotation and does not reflect how UAS are actually being used domestically." Besides UAS, other suggested alternatives to "drone" include Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/marilyn-drone400.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>The future Marilyn Monroe poses with a World War II-era Radioplane drone. </strong><a href="" target="_blank">US Army via Wikimedia Commons</a></div> </div> <p>While the president and White House freely <a href="" target="_blank">call them drones</a>, the military is also not keen on the designation. An Air Force spokeswoman <a href="" target="_blank">told <em>Defense News</em></a> that "There are some people who are offended by it." And UAS has its detractors: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, <a href="" target="_blank">told a reporter</a> last year, "You will never hear me use the word 'drone,' and you'll never hear me use the term 'unmanned aerial systems.' Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft."</p> <p>Yet for critics of remote-control warfare, the word economically delivers an explosive payload&mdash;much like a drone. The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed using "drone" rather than the officially sanctioned abbreviations. "These acronyms are technical, bland, and bureaucratic. That's probably their principal advantage from the point of view of those who want to separate them from the ugly, bloody, and controversial uses to which they've been put by the CIA and U.S. military overseas," <a href="" target="_blank">writes</a> ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley. "[I]f the word continues to carry a reminder that this is an extremely powerful technology capable of being used for very dark purposes, then that's not necessarily a bad thing."</p> <p>To further complicate things, some people insist that "drone" only refers to unpiloted aircraft used for target practice&mdash;the term's original meaning. As analyst Steve Zaloga <a href="" target="_blank">explained to <em>Defense News</em></a>, it was coined by an American admiral who in 1935 witnessed a demonstration of a remote-controlled British aircraft dubbed the Queen Bee: He "adopted the name drone to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. Drone became the official US Navy designation for target drones for many decades." (Fun fact: Future bombshell <a href="" target="_blank">Marilyn Monroe</a> assembled small target drones in a California factory during World War II.) According to Zaloga, the military kept calling all remote-controlled aircraft drones until the 1990s. (He's partial to calling them RPAs.)</p> <p>Drones will likely remain the most convenient way to describe the rapidly expanding variety of&hellip;drones. But whatever you do, don't call them "pilotless drones." That phrase especially infuriates pedants, like Drone Man, the <em>San Francisco Chronicle</em> reader who left an angry voicemail expressing his disgust at the paper's use of the seemingly redundant (yet <a href="" target="_blank">grammatically acceptable</a>) term. Here's the dance mix:&nbsp;</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="473" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Military Tech Top Stories Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:00:10 +0000 Dave Gilson 268981 at 6 Terrifying Facts About Measles <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The current outbreak of measles that began in California has <a href="" target="_blank">sickened</a> 86 people and landed <a href="" target="_blank">30 babies</a> in home isolation. The California Department of Health has issued an official <a href="" target="_blank">warning</a> that "any place where large numbers of people congregate and there are a number of international visitors, like airports, shopping malls and tourist attractions, you may be more likely to find measles, which should be considered if you are not vaccinated."</p> <p>Not everyone is so concerned. In a <a href=";id=116317855073374" target="_blank">Facebook post</a> on January 16, celebrity pediatrician Robert "Dr. Bob" Sears encouraged his followers not to "let anyone tell you you should live in fear of" measles. "Ask any Grandma or Grandpa (well, older ones anyway)," he wrote, "and they'll say 'Measles? So what? We all had it. It's like Chicken pox.'"</p> <p>Well, Dr. Bob is wrong&mdash;measles is serious business. Consider these facts:</p> <ol><li><strong>Measles is one of the most contagious illnesses known to man.</strong> According to the <a href="" target="_blank">Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> (CDC), it infects about 90 percent of people who come into contact with it. The virus can survive on surfaces or even in the air for up to two hours. That means that if an unvaccinated person happens to pass through a room where someone with measles was a few hours before, he or she has a very high chance of contracting the disease.&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Some people who get measles become seriously ill.</strong> Before the advent of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, between 3 and 4 million people contracted measles each year in the United States. Of those, 48,000 were hospitalized, 4,000 developed the life-threatening brain condition encephalitis, and 400 to 500 died.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Almost everyone needs to be vaccinated for measles in order to protect the most vulnerable people.</strong> The epidemiological concept of "herd immunity" means that enough people in a given community are immunized so that people who can't get vaccinated&mdash;infants that are too young to receive vaccines, people who can't get vaccinated because their immune systems are not strong enough, and the small number of people for whom the vaccine doesn't work&mdash;are protected. The threshold for herd immunity varies by disease; for measles, it's <a href="" target="_blank">92 to 94 percent</a>.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>In some places in the United States, MMR vaccination rates among kindergartners aren't anywhere near the herd immunity threshold.</strong> In Marin County, California, only 80 percent of students are up to date on their vaccinations. In Nevada County, California, the figure is 73 percent. <em>New York</em> magazine <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> last year that dozens of New York City private schools had immunization rates below 70 percent. (Californians can check rates at individual schools <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.)<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Worldwide, measles is far from eradicated.</strong> According to the <a href="" target="_blank">CDC</a>, in 2013, more than 60 percent of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia Nigeria, and Pakistan were not adequately vaccinated against measles. Seventy percent of measles deaths worldwide occurred in those countries.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Measles could make a major comeback in the United States.</strong> It's happened in other developed nations: In the mid-1990s, UK public health officials considered measles eradicated in the country&mdash;but in 2008, because of low vaccination rates, measles once again hit <a href="" target="_blank">endemic status</a>. Between 2008 and 2011, France saw <a href="" target="_blank">more than 20,000 cases of measles</a>&mdash;after virtual elimination of the disease just a few years before.</li> </ol></body></html> Blue Marble Health Top Stories Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:00:10 +0000 Kiera Butler 269046 at Something Really, Really Terrible Is About to Happen to Our Coral <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Coral reefs cover just 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, but provide habitat to 25 percent of sea-dwelling fish species. That's why coral scientist C. Mark Eakin, who coordinates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric&nbsp;Administration's Coral Reef&nbsp;Watch program, is surprised that the warning he <a href="" target="_blank">has been sounding since last year (PDF)</a>&mdash;that the globe's reefs appear to be on the verge of a mass-scale bleaching event&mdash;hasn't drawn more media attention.</p> <p>Bleaching happens when coral loses contact with <a href="">zooxanthellae</a>, an algae that essentially feeds them nutrients in symbiotic exchange for a stable habitat. The coral/zooxanthellae relationship <a href="">thrives within a pretty tight range of ocean temperatures</a>, and when water warms above normal levels, coral tends to expel its algal lifeline. In doing so, coral not only loses the brilliant colors zooxanthellae deliver&mdash;hence, "bleaching"&mdash;but also its main source of food. A bleached coral reef rapidly begins to decline. Coral can reunite with healthy zooxanthellae and recover, Eakin says, but even then they often become diseased and may die. That's rotten news, because bleaching outbreaks are increasingly common.</p> <p>Before the 1980s, large-scale coral bleaching had never been observed before, Eakin says. After that, regionally isolated bleaching began to crop up, drawing the attention of marine scientists. Then, in 1998, an unusually strong <a href="">El Ni&ntilde;o</a> warming phase caused ocean temperatures to rise, triggering the first known global bleaching event in Earth's history. It whitened coral off the coasts of <a href="" target="_blank">60 countries and island nations,</a> spanning the<a href="" target="_blank"> Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. </a>We functionally "lost between 15 percent and 20 percent of the world's coral reefs" in '98, Eakin said. Only some have recovered.</p> <p>Eakin is concerned about a relapse, because the oceans are relentlessly warming, driven by climate change from ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions. As heat builds in the ocean, he says, coral become more vulnerable to bleaching.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/warming%20copy.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Getting hot in here: Coral reefs are sensitive to warming water. Oh-oh. </strong>NOAA</div> </div> <p>As a result, it no longer takes a classic strong El Ni&ntilde;o to cause warming and trigger mass bleaching. This current El Ni&ntilde;o, after starting strong last year, has essentially collapsed, in what Eakin calls a "highly unusual" pattern. Even so, the northeast Pacific is experiencing "very warm" water, he said. Overall, the oceans' waters have warmed so much in recent years that most coral areas are "right on the verge of having enough heat stress to cause bleaching and it doesn't take nearly as much to start one of these global-scale events," he said. Since 1998, there have been two major beaching events, neither driven by a strong El Ni&ntilde;o. In 2005, the Caribbean ocean experienced its worst-ever bleaching event despite a relatively tame El Ni&ntilde;o year, and in 2010,<a href="" target="_blank"> the second-ever globe-spanning bleaching event occurred</a>, again during a mild El Ni&ntilde;o. It wasn't as severe as the 1998 disaster, but unlike the earlier one, it "didn't have a strong El Ni&ntilde;o driving it," Eakin says.</p> <p>Which brings us to 2015. During our phone conversation, Eakin directed me to <a href="" target="_blank">this page</a> on NOAA's Coral Reef Watch site. He asked me to consider the below chart, which shows the water-temperature patterns that prevailed in spring&nbsp; '98&mdash;bleaching was most severe where the color is darkest red, signifying the most severe warming.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/noaa1998%20copy.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA</div> </div> <p>Then he directed me to the latest NOAA analysis, taken this month, that forecasts warming patterns four months into the future.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/noaa2015%20copy.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA</div> </div> <p>He called the warning currently happening in the Indian Ocean (the one on the left in the above charts) "amazingly similar" to the situation in '98, which foretells a warming pattern that could subject coral to a '98-scale bleaching crisis. "If you look at where we were in 1998 and look at where we are now, you see that the ocean is primed to respond with a sustained high temperature during the warm season in a way that previously took a big El Ni&ntilde;o, and now doesn't," he said.</p> <p>Again, a mass bleaching doesn't translate directly to mass coral die-off, because coral can recover. But the recovery takes decades&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">large reefs grow about 1 centimeters per year</a>, Eakin says&mdash;and the bleaching events are coming faster and faster, each one stalling recovery and causing new damage. The emerging pattern for large-scale events looks like this: 1998, 2005 (confined mainly to the Caribbean), 2010, and now, quite possibly, 2015.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bleaching.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Bleached coral within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. </strong>NOAA</div> </div> <p>And another facet of climate change makes recovery even more difficult, Eakins added: <a href="" target="_blank">acidification</a>, which comes about as the oceans sponge up more and more carbon from the atmosphere. Heightened acidity makes it <a href="" target="_blank">harder for coral to absorb the calcium carbonate</a> it needs to build and maintain their skeletal structure.</p> <p>Eakin says it will take major action to reverse climate change to save the globe's coral reefs. Currently, carbon dioxide makes up nearly 400 parts per million of the atmosphere, and for coral to thrive, we'll need to throttle that back to 350 ppm or possibly even 320 ppm, he said. Those are <a href="" target="_blank">ambitious goals</a>. Making coral resilient enough to survive until we can manage to do that, he added, will require taking action against "local stressors" that also harm them, like overfishing and pollution.</p> <p>"People say corals are the rainforests of the sea. But coral reefs are more biodiverse than rainforests," he said. "It ought to be the other way around: Rainforests are the coral reefs of the land." And these glorious cradles of oceanic life aren't getting any stronger. "The punch that knocks a boxer out in the ninth round doesn't have to be as hard as the punch that would knock him out in round one," Eakin said.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Top Stories Oceans Wed, 28 Jan 2015 11:00:09 +0000 Tom Philpott 268966 at This Map Shows Why The Midwest Is Screwed <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The ongoing drought in California has been, among other things, a powerful lesson in how vulnerable America's agricultural sector is to climate change. Even if that drought <a href="" target="_blank">wasn't specifically caused by man-made global warming</a>, scientists have little doubt that droughts and heat waves are going to get more frequent and severe in important crop-growing regions. In California, the cost in 2014 was staggering: $2.2 billion in losses and added expenses, plus 17,000 lost jobs, <a href="" target="_blank">according to a UC-Davis study</a>.</p> <p>California is country's hub for fruits, veggies, and nuts. But what about the commodity grains grown in the Midwest, where the US produces over half its corn and soy? That's the subject of a <a href="" target="_blank">new report</a> by the climate research group headed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (who <a href="" target="_blank">recently shut down rumors</a> that he might run for Senate).</p> <p>The report is all about climate impacts expected in the Midwest, and the big takeaway is that future generations have lots of very sweaty summers in store. One example: "The average Chicago resident is expected to experience more days over 95 degrees F by the century's end than the average Texan does today." The report also predicts that electricity prices will increase, with potential ramifications for the region's manufacturing sector, and that beloved winter sports&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">ice fishing, anyone?</a>&mdash;will become harder to do.</p> <p>But some of the most troublesome findings are about agriculture. Some places will fare better than others; northern Minnesota, for example, could very well find itself benefiting from global warming. But overall, the report says, extreme heat, scarcer water resources, and weed and insect invasions will drive down corn and soybean yields by 11 to 69 percent by the century's end. Note that these predictions assume no "significant adaptation," so there's an opportunity to soften the blow with <a href="" target="_blank">solutions</a> like better water management, switching to more heat-tolerant crops like sorghum, or the combination of genetic engineering and data technology now <a href="" target="_blank">being pursued by Monsanto</a>.</p> <p>Here's a map from the report showing which states' farmers could benefit from climate change&mdash;and which ones will lose big time:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/crop-map-630.jpg"><div class="caption">Risky Business</div> </div></body></html> Blue Marble Maps Climate Change Climate Desk Food and Ag Science Tue, 27 Jan 2015 21:44:23 +0000 Tim McDonnell 268986 at No, Saudi TV Didn't Blur Out Michelle Obama's Face When the President Met King Salman <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Twitter is <a href=";src=typd" target="_blank">hopping</a> right now about how Saudi TV allegedly blurred Michelle Obama's face, thanks to this YouTube video:<iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-cards="hidden" lang="en"> <p>Saudi TV blurred out Michelle Obama's face when she and Barack met King Salman! <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Jack Moore (@JFXM) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-cards="hidden" lang="en"> <p>Our producer just referred to the blurring of Michelle Obama here as a "blurka" <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Only it's bullshit. The <a href="" target="_blank">YouTube uploader</a> appears to have added the blur, not some Saudi TV network.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>lots of people in Saudi Arabia tweeting at me that the <a href="">@FLOTUS</a> blur was done by the person who uploaded the video and not by Saudi TV</p> &mdash; Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"> <p><a href="">@jeneps</a> this is absolutely not true. I saw this LIVE, First Lady was not blurred. I believe it's the person who uploaded the video.</p> &mdash; &Ugrave;&#133;&Ugrave;&#134;&Ugrave;&#138;&Oslash;&plusmn;&Oslash;&copy; &Ugrave;&#133;. &Oslash;&sect;&Ugrave;&#132;&Oslash;&sup1;&Ugrave;&#130;&Ugrave;&#132;&Oslash;&sect; (@MunirahAlOqla) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>(Here is another video the YouTuber uploaded <a href="" target="_blank">that's blurred</a>.)</p> <p>This version shows no such blur:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-cards="hidden" lang="en"> <p>This Saudi TV footage a) Shows Michelle Obama unblurred b) Appears to show Obama &amp; King Salman walking to a waltz. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Tom Gara (@tomgara) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-cards="hidden" lang="en"> <p>Saudi TV video shows Michelle Obama was not blurred out as some reporting; likely scraped &amp; blurred then posted <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Brian Ries (@moneyries) <a href="">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Nothing is real on the internet.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Tue, 27 Jan 2015 21:32:27 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 268996 at Mormon Church Comes Out in Support of LGBT Rights <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In a groundbreaking news conference on Tuesday, the Mormon Church officially announced its support for some LGBT rights, on the condition that the same legal protections are extended to all religious groups. But in doing so, the church also made clear their<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;endorsement did not reverse the church's opposition to&nbsp;</span><a href="" style="line-height: 24px;" target="_blank">same-sex marriage.</a><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;</span></p> <p>"We call on local, state, and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation," Elder Dallin Oaks, <a href="" target="_blank">a top official of the church</a>, said. "[These] protections are not available in many parts of the country."</p> <p>"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values," church<strong>&nbsp;</strong>officials <a href=";SECTION=HOME&amp;TEMPLATE=DEFAULT" target="_blank">stated</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The announcement comes as an <a href="" target="_blank">anti-discrimination</a>&nbsp;bill makes its way through Utah's state legislature that seeks to&nbsp;ban gender-based discrimination in the workplace and housing. In the past, the church has made overtures towards&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">friendlier LGBT&nbsp;stances</a>,&nbsp;but Tuesday's press conference is by far its most clear endorsement of gay rights. <em>Mother Jones</em>' Stephanie Mencimer has covered the church's <a href="" target="_blank">evolution</a> on same-sex marriage:</p> <blockquote> <p>In the five years since the LDS church sent busloads of the faithful to California to canvass neighborhoods, and contributed more than $20 million via its members to support the initiative, it has all but dropped the rope in the public policy tug of war over marriage equality. The change stems from an even more remarkable if somewhat invisible transformation happening within the church, prompted by the ugly fight over Prop. 8 and the ensuing backlash from the flock.</p> <p>Although the LDS's prophet hasn't described a holy revelation directing a revision in church doctrine on same-sex marriage or gay rights in general, the church has shown a rare capacity for introspection and humane cultural change unusual for a large conservative religious organization.</p> </blockquote> <p>"I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination," state senator and founder of the Utah Pride Center&nbsp;Jim Dabakis said in a news release following the announcement. "As a religious institution, Mormons have had a long history of being the victims of discrimination and persecution. They understand more than most the value and strength of creating a civil society that judges people by the content of their character and their ability to do a job."</p> <p>Watch Tuesday's announcement below:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p></body></html> MoJo Gay Rights Religion Tue, 27 Jan 2015 19:38:22 +0000 Inae Oh 268946 at ISIS Fighters Lose Kobani In Win For Obama's Iraq Strategy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_kobani_1.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;"><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>LA Times</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Kurdish fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani appeared poised Monday to deal a decisive defeat to Islamic State militants after months of street clashes and U.S. aerial bombardment, signaling a major setback for the extremist group.</p> <p>....<strong>The apparent breakthrough shows how U.S. air power, combined with a determined allied force on the ground, can successfully confront Islamic State.</strong> The military watched with surprise as Islamic State continued sending hundreds of fighters, vehicles and weapons to Kobani, which was of no critical strategic importance to the overall fight but had become something of a public relations fight.</p> <p>"Essentially, they said, 'This is where we are going to make a stand' and flooded the region with fighters," said Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command, in charge of air operations in the battle against the Islamic State.</p> </blockquote> <p>My expert in all things Kurdish emailed me this comment today: "This is a big deal, and it proves the viability of Obama's strategy of working with proxies in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS. My prediction is we won't hear much boasting about it from Obama though. These aren't the politically chosen proxies."</p> <p>I've been one of the skeptics of Obama's strategy, and I'll remain so until the Iraqi military demonstrates the same fighting ability as the Kurdish peshmerga. Kobani, after all, is more a symbolic victory than anything else, and ISIS continues to control large swathes of Iraq. Nonetheless, at a minimum this shows that ISIS is hardly unbeatable, something that Iraqi forces probably needed to see.</p> <p>Bottom line: this is a proof of concept. When we can do the same thing in Mosul with Iraqi forces in the lead, then I'll be a real believer.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Iraq Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:33:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 268951 at Obama's Trip to India Shortened His Life by 6 Hours <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over the weekend President Barack Obama was in India for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on nuclear power, trade, climate change, <a href="" target="_blank">and other topics</a>. The climate piece was, if not necessarily a letdown, certainly less exciting than Obama's <a href="" target="_blank">wide-reaching deal with China</a> in November. Crucially, the China deal included specific carbon emissions reduction targets; those were left out in India over Modi's (<a href="" target="_blank">arguably justifiable</a>) insistence that the country be able to aggressively expand its electricity infrastructure to fight poverty.</p> <p>Instead, India committed to expand its solar power capacity by 33-fold within seven years, and to work closely with the United States in advance of major UN climate talks in Paris in December. (India's participation will be vital for the summit to produce a meaningful international agreement.)</p> <p>As <em>Bloomberg</em>'s <span class="author" itemprop="author">Natalie Obiko Pearson <a href="" target="_blank">noted</a>, </span>Obama got a first-hand taste in the trip of how important it is for India to fuel its growth with clean energy sources. India is already the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US, and air pollution in many of its cities far exceeds even the <a href="" target="_blank">infamous levels in Beijing and other Chinese megalopolises</a>.</p> <p>In fact, Delhi&mdash;the capital city where Obama's meetings took place&mdash;has the world's highest concentration of PM 2.5, <a href="" target="_blank">according to the UN</a>. These tiny airborne particulates can increase the risk of heart disease and a host of really awful respiratory ailments. The PM 2.5 levels in Delhi are so insanely bad that breathing the air for only a few hours can have irreversible health impacts&hellip;even on the leader of the free world.</p> <p>From <em><a href="" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a>:</em></p> <blockquote> <p>During Obama's three-day visit, PM2.5 levels in Delhi have averaged between 76 to 84 micrograms per cubic meter, according to <a href="" rel="external" title="Open Web Site">data</a> collected by India's Ministry of Earth Sciences&hellip;Those levels translate roughly into an estimated loss of 2 hours a day in <a href="">life expectancy</a>, said <a href="" rel="external" title="Open Web Site">David Spiegelhalter</a>, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, who specializes in quantifying risk in a way that is understandable to the public.</p> </blockquote> <p>Obama was there for three days, so that's six hours off his life. That is profoundly terrifying. It also underscores how, for developing countries, the need to stem pollution from power plants is about much more than solving the long-term problem of global warming. It's about addressing an urgent pubic health crisis.</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Health International Obama Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:08:54 +0000 Tim McDonnell 268931 at Check Out the Adorable Creatures and Gorgeous Vistas Obama Wants to Protect in Alaska <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Sunday, President Obama <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> that he will call on Congress to increase the protection of Alaska's <a href="" target="_blank">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> by adding more than 12 million acres of it to the National Wilderness Preservation System&mdash;the highest level of conservation protection. If Congress signs on, which is <a href="" target="_blank">pretty</a> <a href="" target="_blank">unlikely</a>, it would be the largest wilderness designation since the <a href="" target="_blank">Wilderness Act</a>, signed in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.</p> <p>The refuge covers nearly 20 million acres and contains five distinct ecological regions. It is home to at least 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species, and 42 species of fish. There are <a href="" target="_blank">plenty of&nbsp;political reasons</a> why Obama wants to protect it, but here are a few of the ecological ones:</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="ANWR" class="image" src="/files/AP01080102785.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>The coastal plain provides spring grazing for caribou and other mammals. </strong>Associated Press</div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/1149046_639472622749967_1996008234_n_1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Conservationists argue that oil and gas drilling in the coastal plain would threaten the <a href="" target="_blank">millions</a> of birds that nest there.</strong><strong> </strong>USFWS</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="MUSKOX" class="image" src="/files/muskox-in-the-snow-in-alaska.jpg" style="float: left;"><div class="caption"><strong>The furry musk ox&mdash;the Inupiat's call it "omingmak" ("the bearded one")&mdash;lives on the coastal plain year round. </strong>USFWS</div> <div class="caption"> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202015-01-26%20at%2011.41.33%20AM.png"><div class="caption"><strong>There is a unique ecosystem of animals&mdash;that includes the arctic fox&mdash;that have adapted to survive in ANWR. </strong>USFWS</div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="Tundra swan" class="image" src="/files/tundra%20swan%20chicks.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Tundra swans rely on the remote and undeveloped refuge to nest. </strong>USFWS</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="Caribou" class="image" src="/files/15842503347_85dc201dfb_z.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Caribou migrate through the coastal plain. </strong>David Gustine/USGS</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/800px-Upper_Peter_Lake.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>According to the US Department of the Interior, oil and gas development could <a href=";prodId=OVIC&amp;displayGroupName=Viewpoints&amp;limiter=&amp;disableHighlighting=true&amp;displayGroups=&amp;sortBy=&amp;zid=&amp;search_within_results=&amp;action=2&amp;catId=&amp;activityType=&amp;documentId=GALE%7CEJ3010859206&amp;source=Bookmark&amp;u=spl_main&amp;jsid=975a7e2a2c9c7f44afe1f6994d6fe45d" target="_blank">pollute water resources</a> in ANWR.</strong><strong> </strong>USFWS</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <div class="caption"> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202015-01-26%20at%2011.51.12%20AM.png"><div class="caption"><strong>ANWR is an <a href="" target="_blank">important denning</a> area for polar bears.</strong><strong> </strong>Alan D. Wilson</div> <div class="caption"> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202015-01-26%20at%202.12.45%20PM.png"><div class="caption"><strong>The Alaska marmot, considered <a href="" target="_blank">highly vulnerable</a> to changes in habitat, calls ANWR home. </strong>USFWS</div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p>To hear Obama talk about the importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, watch this video:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> </div> </div></body></html> Mixed Media Animals Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:00:11 +0000 Gabrielle Canon 268866 at Dust From Factory Farms Carries Drugs, Poop Bacteria, and Antibiotic-Resistant Genes Far and Wide <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Ever approached a feedlot teeming with thousands of cattle? Unlike industrialized hog and chicken farms, where huge enclosed buildings trap at least some of the smell, cattle feedlots are open-air&mdash;as anyone who has <a href="" target="_blank">driven Highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco can testify</a>. Turns out, when you inhale the aroma, you're not just getting a blast of ammonia and other noxious fumes. You're also probably breathing in tiny particles of antibiotics, bacteria from cows' "fecal matter and gut flora," and antibiotic-resistant gene sequences. That's the conclusion of a <a href="">new study</a> from Texas Tech researchers, who analyzed air samples taken just downwind of ten cattle feedlots in Texas and states to the north, each containing between 20,000 and 50,000 cows.</p> <p>The team placed portable air samplers 10-20 yards upwind and downwind of feedlots in the fall and winter months, when temperatures are mild and wind is moderate, and analyzed the particulate matter. Monenisin, an antibiotic growth promoter widely used on beef and dairy feedlots, turned up in 100 percent of samples, at much higher rates downwind (mean: 1,800 parts per billion) than upwind (below the level of measurement.) Now, monenisin isn't used in human medicine, meaning that it doesn&rsquo;t directly contribute to antibiotic resistance that affects us. But tetracycline antibiotics&mdash;used commonly to treat <a href="">urinary tract infections and pink eye</a>&mdash;showed up in 60 percent of the downwind samples and 30 percent of the upwind samples, again at much lower levels upwind.</p> <p>To put these findings in perspective, the authors note they found antibiotics in the air outside of these feedlots at levels similar to those typically found within large enclosed hog operations&mdash;meaning that finding yourself 20 yards from a giant cattle lot is a lot like being <em>inside</em> a hog house. &nbsp;</p> <p>They also found bacteria "common to fecal matter and gut flora" at significantly higher levels downwind than upwind, including several that can cause human infections, including including <a href="">corynebacterium</a>, Leptospira, Clostridia, Bacteroides, and Staphylococcus.</p> <p>And they picked up gene sequences that confer resistance to tetracycline at rates ranging from 100 to more than 1,000 times higher downwind than upwind. And get this: Those tetracycline-resistant genes appeared at much higher rates than those typically found in the liquid manure lagoons that build up in beef feedlots&mdash;meaning that wind may be even more prolific than water at spreading antibiotic-resistant genes from the farm to the surrounding region.</p> <p>So how is all this nasty stuff moving from the feedlot to the surrounding air? The authors offer a simple explanation: The ground in feedlots "consists primarily of urine and fecal material," the study notes. In the morning, all of that &hellip; stuff is relatively stable, held more or less in place by moisture from humidity. But after hours of sunlight, the floor material "becomes dry and brittle, thus becoming source material for fugitive dust."</p> <p>So what does this all add up to? The study doesn't comment on whether the particles the researchers found are at high enough levels to directly cause human harm. But that's not the main concern&mdash;most of us don't spend much time near massive concentrated cattle operations. (Feedlot workers are another story.) The larger issue is those antibiotic genes, traces of antibiotics, and fecal microbes that are being scattered far and wide. The authors note that of the nation's 2,100 large-scale (1000 head or greater) cattle feedlots, more than three-quarters are in the region of area study, the southern Great Plains (a swath stretching from northern Texas through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado)&mdash;the very region with the "highest frequency of dust storms in the United States." The region's semi-arid conditions&mdash;as well its its propensity for prolonged droughts&mdash;provides an ideal environment for the "wind scouring of dry soils," and "aerial transport and deposition" of feedlot particles into "surrounding soil surfaces, water surfaces, vegetation, and other living organisms."</p> <p>And that's under calm weather conditions. "Fronts and other major weather patterns frequently sweep through this region, and are often associated with exceedingly high wind velocities which themselves transport significant masses of particulates into the atmosphere and across the region and continent," they add. And once in the environment, resistance genes can jump from bacteria that don't pose a threat to humans to ones that do, the authors note.</p> <p>The study is yet another reminder that the massive amounts of waste generated on factory farms don't stay on factory farms. (Here's a <a href="" target="_blank">2011 paper</a> from North Carolina State and Kansas State researchers showing that cockroaches and flies carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria from large hog facilities; and a <a href="" target="_blank">2014 one</a> from Johns Hopkins and University of North Carolina researchers finding that resistant bacteria leave the farm in the noses of workers.)</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Health Top Stories Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:00:09 +0000 Tom Philpott 268821 at Scott Walker Is the Winner in 2016's First Republican Campaign Cattle Call <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Rep. Steve King (R&ndash;Tea Partyville) held his big annual Republican confab in Iowa this weekend, and most of the 2016 wannabe candidates for president were there. But I know you're all busy people who don't care about the details. You<iframe align="right" allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="258" src="" style="margin: 20px 20px 15px 30px;" width="400"></iframe>just want to know who won. <a href="" target="_blank">Take it away, Ed Kilgore:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The consensus winner (first announced by <em>National Review's</em> John Fund, but echoed by many others) was Scott Walker, who did exactly what he needed to do: show he could twist and shout with the best of them despite his "boring" image, <strong>and make an electability argument based on the fruits of confrontation rather than compromise.</strong> This latter dimension of his appeal should not be underestimated: at a time when MSM types and (more subtly) Jeb Bush and Chris Christie continue to suggest Republicans must become less feral to reach beyond their base, here's Walker saying he won three elections in four years in a blue state by going medieval on unions, abortionists and Big Government. So Walker's passed his first test in the challenge of proving he's not Tim Pawlenty, and that's a big deal given his excellent positioning in the field.</p> </blockquote> <p>Kilgore's "Tim Pawlenty" comment is a reference to Midwestern boringness, which has generally been seen as Walker's chief shortcoming. You can judge for yourself if you watch his 20-minute speech in Iowa, but I'd say he still has some work to do on this score. He wasn't terrible, but he never sounded to me like he really struck a connection with the crowd. He knew the words but not the tune&mdash;and even his words were a little too stilted and lifeless. Anytime you deliver an applause line and nothing happens, your words still need some work. And anytime you deliver an applause line, fail to wait for applause, then interrupt yourself to tell the crowd "you can clap for that, that's all right"&mdash;well, your delivery needs some work too.</p> <p>I'm on record saying that I think Walker is the strongest candidate in the Republican field. He's got the right views, he's got a winning record, he's got the confrontational style tea partiers love, and he doesn't come across as a kook. But yes, he needs to work on the whole charisma thing. If he gets serious about that, I still like his chances in the 2016 primaries.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum 2016 Elections Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:05:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 268901 at Here's How Much You Should Tip Your Delivery Guy During A Blizzard <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As you may have heard, a <a href="" target="_blank">blizzard</a> is about to destroy life as we know it on the Eastern seaboard. Your children, your children's children, their children's children will all learn of this snowfall in stories. If a normal snowstorm is, as the wise men used to say, "God shedding a bit of dandruff," then what we are about to experience can only be described as, well, God shedding...a lot of dandruff? An avalanche of dandruff? One or two revelations of dandruff? We're going to be knee-deep in God's dandruff, is what I'm saying.</p> <p>If, like mine, your fridge is bare of everything but the essentials (Tabasco, old Bloody Mary mix, a few jars of pickles) then you're probably hoping to make it through this thing via one of two ancient ways: 1) <a href="" target="_blank">master-cleanse </a>or, 2) Seamless. Assuming you take the second door, the question becomes: What do you tip a delivery man during a blizzard? What is morally acceptable?</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Don't forget, NYC: if you skipped going to the store because you can just order Seamless you're a monster who's headed for the 9th circle &lt;3</p> &mdash; Matt Langer (@mattlanger) <a href="">January 26, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Let's first dispense with the question of whether or not it is <em>ever</em> acceptable&mdash;regardless of gratuity&mdash;to order delivery during a blizzard. Leave that to the poets and the ethicists. It doesn't matter in the real world. <a href="" target="_blank">People order delivery more during bad weather</a>. Them's the facts. You are going to order delivery in bad weather.</p> <p>During really bad weather like blizzards and apocalypses, a lot of restaurants nix their delivery offerings altogether&mdash;and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has banned all non-emergency vehicles, including delivery bikes, after <a href=";set=vb.5281959998&amp;type=2&amp;theater" target="_blank">11pm Monday night</a>. But the ones that manage to stay open&mdash;and in this case are willing to deliver on foot well into the night&mdash;reap the benefits of constrained supply. If this were Uber, it would result in surge pricing to get more restaurants delivering. But since GrubHub and its parent company Seamless don't do that&mdash;and they shouldn't unless there is some way of ensuring that the increase goes to the delivery person and isn't pocketed by the owner&mdash;we're thrown into this sort of state of moral worry. You know in your bones that the guy who brings you pizza in sub-zero weather should get more than the guy who brings you pizza when it's 68 degrees and sunny. But how much more?</p> <p>GrubHub Seamless crunched the numbers on tips during last year's polar vortex and found that residents in some <a href="" target="_blank">zip codes increased their tips by as much as 24 percent</a>, but on the whole, New Yorkers raised their normal tipping amount by a meager 5 percent. In the Midwest, however, where the temps dipped especially low, gratuities rose higher, to <a href="" target="_blank">14 percent in Chicago and 15 percent in Detroit and Minneapolis. </a>Maybe the stereotypes are true and Midwesterners really are the nicest people in the country.</p> <p>So, more. Tip more. How much should you tip a delivery man in a blizzard? More. <em>More than you usually tip.</em> Whatever you usually tip, tip better. Are you a good tipper normally? Become a great tipper. Are you an awful tipper? Become a just-bad tipper. (Also, you're a very bad person, and no one likes you very much.)</p> <p>Want a strict system? Don't trust your heart to lead you to the right amount? <a href="" target="_blank"><em>New York</em></a> magazine can help. Last year they spoke to Adam Eric Greenberg, a UC San Diego Ph.D. who co-authored an <a href="" target="_blank">empirical analysis on the relationship between weather and tipping</a>. Here's what he told them:</p> <blockquote> <p>When the weather is bad, be a bit more generous by tipping 20 to 22 percent. If it's raining outside, tip 22 to 25 percent. If there's any snow accumulation, add a dollar or two on top of what you'd tip if it were raining. Having to work as a delivery guy during a blizzard is similar to getting stuck with a party of 20 as a restaurant server, so if you hear weather forecasters promising a "polar vortex, " a 30 percent tip is not outrageous.</p> </blockquote> <p>So, there you have it: <strong>30 percent.</strong> Anything under 25 percent and you go to Hell.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:45:48 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 268791 at Does the Internet Really Make Dumb People Dumber? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I don't normally get to hear what Bill Gates thinks of one of my ideas, but today's the exception. <a href="" target="_blank">Because Ezra Klein asked him:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Ezra Klein:</strong> ....Kevin Drum, who writes for <em>Mother Jones</em>, has a line I've always thought was interesting, which is that the internet makes dumb people dumber, and smart people smarter. Do you worry about the possibility that the vast resources the internet gives the motivated, including online education, will give rise o a big increase in, for lack of a better <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_internet_dumb_smart.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">tterm, cognitive or knowledge inequality that leads to further rises in global inequality?</p> <p><strong>Bill Gates:</strong> Well, you always have the challenge that when you create a tool to make activity X easier, like the internet makes it easier to find out facts or to learn new things, that there are some outliers who use that thing extremely well. It's way easier to be polymathic today than it was in the past because your access to materials and your ability if you ever get stuck to find people that you can engage with is so strong.</p> <p>But to say that there's actually some negative side, that there actually will be people that are dumber, I disagree with that. I mean, I'm as upset as anyone at the wrong stuff about vaccination that's out there on the internet that actually confuses some small number of people. There's a communications challenge to get past.</p> <p>But look at IQ test capability over time. Or even take a TV show today and how complex it is &mdash; that's responding to the marketplace. You take <em>Breaking Bad</em> versus, I don't know, <em>Leave it to Beaver</em>, or <em>Combat!</em>, or <em>The Wild, Wild West</em>. You know, yeah, take <em>Combat!</em> because that was sort of pushing the edge of should kids be allowed to watch it.</p> <p>The interest and complexity really does say that, broadly, these tools have meant that market-driven people are turning out more complex things. Now, you can say, "Why hasn't that mapped to more sophistication in politics or something like that?" That's very complicated. But I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet.</p> <p>I'm sure that was said when the printing press came along and people saw romance novels and thought people would stay indoors and read all the time. But I just don't see there being a big negative to the empowerment.</p> </blockquote> <p>Unsurprisingly, Gates agrees that the internet can make smart people smarter. By analogy, the printing press also made smart people smarter because it gave them cheap, easy access to far more information. Since they were capable of processing the information, they were effectively smarter than they used to be.</p> <p>It's equally unsurprisingly that he disagrees about the internet making dumb people dumber. It's a pretty anti-tech opinion, after all, and that's not the business Bill Gates is in. But I think his answer actually belies his disagreement, since he immediately acknowledges an example of precisely this phenomenon: the anti-vax movement, something that happens to be close to his heart. Unfortunately, to call this merely a "communications challenge" discounts the problem. Sure, it's a communications challenge, <em>but that's the whole point</em>. The internet is all about communication, and it does two things in this case. First, it empower the anti-vax nutballs, giving them a far more powerful medium for spreading their nonsense. On the flip side, it makes a lot more people vulnerable to bad information. If you lack the context to evaluate arguments about vaccination, the internet is much more likely to make you dumber about vaccinating your kids than any previous medium in history.</p> <p>The rest of Gates' argument doesn't really hold water either. Sure, IQ scores have been rising. But they've been rising for a long time. This long predates the internet and has nothing to do with it. As for TV shows, he picked the wrong example. It's true that <em>Breaking Bad</em> is far more sophisticated than <em>Leave it to Beaver</em>, but <em>Breaking Bad</em> was always a niche show, averaging 1-2 million viewers for nearly its entire run. Instead, you should compare <em>Leave it to Beaver</em> with, say, <em>The Big Bang Theory</em>, which gets 10-20 million viewers per episode. Is <em>Big Bang</em> the more sophisticated show? Maybe. But if so, it's not by much.</p> <p>In any case, the heart of Gates' response is this: "I don't see a counter trend where there's some group of people who are less curious or less informed because of the internet." I won't pretend that I have ironclad evidence one way or the other, but I wouldn't dismiss the problem so blithely. I'm not trying to make a broad claim that the internet is making us generally stupider or anything like that. But it's a far more powerful medium for spreading conspiracy theories and other assorted crap than anything we've had before. If you lack the background and context to evaluate information about a particular subject, you're highly likely to be misinformed if you do a simple Google search and just start reading whatever comes up first. And that describes an awful lot of people.</p> <p>Obviously this has been a problem for as long humans have been able to communicate. The anti-fluoridation nutballs did just fine with only dead-tree technology. Still, I think the internet makes this a more widespread problem, simply because it's a more widespread medium, and it's one that's especially difficult to navigate wisely. Hopefully that will change in the future, but for now it is what it is. It doesn't <em>have</em> to make dumb people dumber, but in practice, I think it very often does.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tech Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:55:43 +0000 Kevin Drum 268871 at The Pentagon Is Holding an Essay Contest to Honor Saudi Arabia's Brutal King. Here's Our Entry. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Shortly after Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, the 90-year-old king of Saudi Arabia, died <a href="" target="_blank">last Friday</a>, the Pentagon and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, <a href="" target="_blank">paid their respects</a> by inviting college students to participate in a "research and essay competition" in the late monarch's honor. No prize has been announced, but the Pentagon issued a press release about the contest listing the deceased monarch's considerable accomplishments: "the modernization of his country's military," his "lifetime" support of Saudi Arabia's alliance with the United States, his support of "scholarly research," and what Dempsey called the king's "remarkable character and courage." Although, as a woman, I wouldn't be recognized as a full human being by the king, here is my essay contest submission:</p> <p><strong>On women's rights:</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Amnesty International, December 11, 2014: Saudi Arabia</a>: Two women arrested for driving.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch, April 20, 2008:</a> Male guardianship laws forbid women from obtaining passports, marrying, studying, or traveling without the permission of a male guardian.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch, December 2, 2014:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The informal prohibition on female driving in Saudi Arabia became official state policy in 1990. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, <a href=";src=pm" target="_blank">female American soldiers were permitted to drive on military bases in Saudi</a><u> Arabia</u>, and Saudi women organized a protest demanding the right to drive in Saudi Arabia as well. Dozens of Saudi women drove the streets of Riyadh in a convoy to protest the ban, which then was just based on custom. In response, officials arrested them, suspended them from their jobs, and the Grand Mufti, the country&rsquo;s most senior religious authority, immediately declared a fatwa, or religious edict, against women driving, stating that driving would expose women to &ldquo;temptation&rdquo; and lead to &ldquo;social chaos.&rdquo; Then-Minister of Interior Prince Nayef legally banned women&rsquo;s driving by decree on the basis of the fatwa.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>On migrant worker's rights:</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch, December 1, 2013</a>: Hundreds of thousands of workers were arrested and deported, some reporting prison abuses during their detentions. No standard contract for domestic workers was ever drafted. Human Rights Watch interviewed migrant workers about the arrests:</p> <blockquote> <p>One of the Ethiopians, a 30-year-old supervisor at a private company, said he heard shouts and screams from the street, and left his home near Manfouha to see what was happening. When he arrived near Bank Rajahi on the road to the Yamama neighborhood, west of Manfouha, he saw a large group of Ethiopians crying and shouting around the dead bodies of three Ethiopians, one of whom he said had been shot, and two others who had been beaten to death. He said six others appeared to be badly injured.<br><br> He said he saw Saudis whom he called&nbsp;<em>shabab</em>&nbsp;(&ldquo;young men&rdquo; in Arabic), and uniformed security forces attack the Ethiopians who had gathered. The&nbsp;<em>shabab</em>&nbsp;were using swords and machetes, while some of the uniformed officers were beating the migrants with metal police truncheons, and other officers were firing bullets into the air to disperse the crowd. He said that he narrowly escaped serious injury when a Saudi man swung a sword at his head. It missed, but hit his arm, requiring stitches to close the wound.&nbsp;</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>On peaceful protest:</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch, December 18, 2013:</a> Authorities arrested and charged many peaceful protestors for "sowing discord" and challenging the government.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Amnesty International, December 4, 2014:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>On 6 November, the authorities sentenced Mikhlif al-Shammari , a prominent human rights activist and an advocate of the rights of Saudi Arabia&rsquo;s Shi&rsquo;a Muslim community, to two years in prison and 200 lashes on charges related to his peaceful activism. In a separate case, on 17 June 2013 Mikhlif al-Shammari had already been sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) to five years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban, on charges related to his peaceful activism. The court also banned him from writing in the press and on social media networks, and from appearing on television or radio.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch, January 10, 2015:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>King Abdullah of <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a> should overturn the lashing and prison term for a blogger imprisoned for his views and immediately grant him a pardon. Saudi authorities lashed Raif Badawi 50 times on January 9, 2015, in front of a crowded mosque in Jeddah, part of a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website and allegedly insulting religious authorities.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>On torture:</strong></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">The Washington Post, November 19, 2004: </a></p> <blockquote> <p>A federal prosecutor in Alexandria made a comment last year suggesting that a Falls Church man held in a Saudi Arabian prison had been tortured, according to a sworn affidavit from a defense lawyer that was recently filed in federal court in Washington.</p> <p>The alleged remark by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg occurred during a conversation with the lawyer, Salim Ali, in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, according to Ali's affidavit.</p> <p>The document was filed Oct. 12 in connection with a petition by the parents of the detained man, Ahmed Abu Ali, who are seeking his release from Saudi custody.The lawyer stated in the affidavit that he asked Kromberg about bringing Abu Ali back to the United States to face charges so as "to avoid the torture that goes on in Saudi Arabia."</p> <p>Kromberg "smirked and stated that 'He's no good for us here, he has no fingernails left,' " Salim Ali wrote in his affidavit, adding: "I did not know how to respond [to] the appalling statement he made, and we subsequently ceased our discussion about Ahmed Abu Ali."</p> </blockquote> <p><strong><a href="" target="_blank">In conclusion, from Human Rights Watch:</a></strong></p> <blockquote> <p>For [Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz's half-brother and successor, <a href="">Salman bin Abdulaziz]</a> to improve on Abdullah&rsquo;s legacy, he needs to reverse course and permit Saudi citizens to peacefully express themselves, reform the justice system, and speed up reforms on women&rsquo;s rights and treatment of migrant workers.</p> </blockquote></body></html> MoJo Foreign Policy Human Rights International Top Stories Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:29:45 +0000 Jenna McLaughlin 268811 at ANWR Proposal Shows That Obama's Power to Set the Agenda Is Alive and Well <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest salvo in President Obama's <a href="" target="_blank">flurry of executive activity following the 2014 election:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Obama proposed designating 1.4 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness, drawing cheers from environmentalists but setting off a bitter new battle Sunday with the Republican-controlled Congress over oil and gas drilling in pristine areas of northern Alaska.</p> <p>The plan would permanently bar drilling and other forms of development in the 19.8-million-acre refuge&rsquo;s coastal plain, a narrow strip between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean where caribou give birth. The area, estimated to hold 10.3 billion barrels of oil, is <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_anwr_caribou.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 25px 0px 15px 30px;">home to more than 200 species, including polar bears, wolverines, musk oxen and thousands of migratory birds.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, technically this is meaningless. ANWR has been a battleground for years, as much symbolic as anything else. The amount of oil it could produce isn't really huge, but then again, the environmental damage that a pipeline would produce probably isn't that huge either.<sup>1</sup> In any case, the Interior Department already bans drilling in ANWR, and there's no way that a Republican Congress is going to pass a bill to make a drilling ban permanent. So what's the point of Obama's proposal?</p> <p>It's simple: once again he's using the agenda-setting power of the presidency. Basically, he's making ANWR something that everyone now has to take a stand on. Talking heads will fulminate on one side or the other, and Republicans will respond by introducing legislation to open up ANWR to drilling. This isn't something they were planning to spend time on, but now they probably will. Their base will demand it, as will the Republican caucus in the House and Senate. Nothing will come of it, of course, but it will eat up time that might otherwise have been spent on something else.</p> <p>And that's why Obama is doing this. It also lays down a marker and lets everyone know that Democrats are the party of natural beauty while Republicans are the party of Big Oil. It can't hurt to make that clear. Still, that's not the main goal here. The main goal is to toss some sand in the gears of Republican plans for the 115th Congress. Obama is proving once again that even with the opposition in control of Congress, he still has the power to decide what people are going to talk about.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Please address all hate mail regarding this assertion to my editors. Thanks.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Energy Obama Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:59:16 +0000 Kevin Drum 268826 at It's Time for Greece to Decide If It's Leaving the Euro <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As expected, the Syriza party won power in Sunday's election in Greece. Their platform is pretty simple: the austerity forced on Greece after the 2008 financial collapse is no longer tolerable. The Greek economy is in shambles, growth is negative, and unemployment is above 25 percent. Europe needs to forgive its loans to Greece and allow the Greek economy to grow again. <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;module=first-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">Here is Europe's response so far:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>&ldquo;The Greeks have the right to elect whoever they want; we have the right to no longer finance Greek debt,&rdquo; Hans-Peter Friedrich, a senior member of [Angela] Merkel&rsquo;s conservative bloc, told the daily newspaper <em>Bild</em> on Monday. &ldquo;The Greeks must now pay the consequences and cannot saddle German taxpayers with them.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>In other words: Screw you. The loans need to be repaid no matter the cost. This has been the German position for some time<sup>1</sup>, and the German position is the de facto European position. So we have a standoff.</p> <p>It's unclear what will happen next. There will be negotiations, of course, but the truth is that Syriza doesn't have much leverage. They can threaten to unilaterally default and leave the eurozone, but that's about it. A few years ago, that would have meant something because everyone was afraid that if Greece defaulted, perhaps Spain and Italy and Portugal and others would follow suit. This could well have destroyed the euro. Today things are exactly the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/images/blog_greece_germany.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">opposite. Nobody is really afraid that other countries would follow Greece in leaving the euro, but they <em>are</em> afraid that if they make serious concessions then other countries will want their debt forgiven too. And that's simply not on the German agenda.</p> <p>So is Syriza serious? Will they really default if they don't get what they want? Leaving the euro would be no easy task and would cause immense economic pain. The only question is whether the pain would be worth it in the long run. It might be, but it's hardly an easy call, and it would take real guts for Syriza to call Germany's bluff and leave the euro. The practical problems alone&mdash;how fast can you create new physical currency and coins to replace euros?&mdash;are nearly insurmountable. The economic problems of capital flight and being shut out of the international loan market would be colossal. Greeks would take an instant hit to their standard of living, perhaps as large as 50 percent.</p> <p>But it still might be worth it. The Greeks may calculate that in the medium term, exiting the euro and adopting a devalued currency would allow their economy to become competitive and finally start growing again. Without that, they could be looking at a decade or more of pain and stagnation.</p> <p>So there's the question: which road would leave Greece better off in 2025? Years more of stagnation followed by a slow, painful recovery? Or a huge hit now followed&mdash;maybe&mdash;by a robust recovery? It's not an easy question.</p> <p>And of course, there's also the purely emotional aspect of all this. The Germans are tired of the whining Greeks. The Greeks are tired of living under the German jackboot. It may simply be time for a divorce, consequences be damned. The next few months will be a time of high tension for Europe.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Ironically, this was the position of the allies toward German reparation debt following World War I, and we all know how that turned out. But no one is afraid of Greece starting a new world war, so no one cares about the irony.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy International Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:17:13 +0000 Kevin Drum 268816 at This Is Not a Drill: 29 Million Brace for Massive, Historic Snowstorm <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><strong>Update: Monday, January 26, 6:35 p.m. EST: </strong>This was the scene outside our office this afternoon. Yikes!</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><strong>Update: Monday, January 26, 6:00 p.m. EST: </strong>From <a href="" target="_blank">our friends at Climate Central</a>, here's a little background on the weather forces behind the storm and how they relate to man-made climate change:</p> <blockquote> <p>The low pressure area at the heart of the storm is tracking along the East Coast in a way that lets it exploit the contrast between the cold air over land and the warmth of the oceans, which are running more than 2&deg;F warmer than normal along much of the coast, said <a href="">Kevin Trenberth</a>, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The warmer ocean waters mean more moisture in the atmosphere for the storm to suck up; the cold air over the continent ensures that moisture falls as snow.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>Update: Monday, January 26, 5:00 p.m. EST:</strong> New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to put a "hard stop" on the region's public transit later tonight in preparation for worse snow conditions starting in the early hours of Tuesday:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>As per <a href="">@NYGovCuomo</a>, all <a href="">@NYCTSubway</a>, <a href="">@NYCTBus</a>, <a href="">@LIRR</a> and <a href="">@MetroNorth</a> operations will be fully closed by 11pm.</p> &mdash; MTA (@MTA) <a href="">January 26, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>New Yorkers were piling into the subway ahead of the evening rush hour:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz-6.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Heading into the Union Square subway entrance Monday afternoon. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p><strong>Update: Monday, January 26, 2:45 p.m. EST:</strong> Even just after a couple hours of snow dumped by the strengthening blizzard, New York City's landscape is white-washed for the first time this season:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz-1.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>NYC's heroic fleet of food delivery cyclists soldiered on as snow came down in Manhattan. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz4.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Almost as soon as it started, the snow was coming down in sheets. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz-5.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>In Midtown, so begins the long battle to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz-3.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Stay warm, little guy! </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/bliz-2.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Central Park quickly turned into a winter wonderland. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p><strong>Update: Monday, January 26, 2:15 p.m. EST:</strong> As the blizzard begins to hit New York City, my colleague James West ventured out to capture some Brooklyn street scenes, in super-slow motion (flick the player to HD for some fun snow-falling prettiness):</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>After a few months of mild weather, today and tomorrow the East Coast is in for one hell of a snowstorm. <a href="" target="_blank">Twenty-nine million people</a> from New Jersey to Maine are under a blizzard alert. Here's the latest snow forecast for the Boston region from the National Weather Service:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Looks like <a href="">@NWSBoston</a> is all in. 28" for Boston (verbatim current fcst) would be a new all-time record. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) <a href="">January 26, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>And New York:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p>Here is our latest storm total snow range forecast graphic. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; NWS New York NY (@NWSNewYorkNY) <a href="">January 26, 2015</a></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>The range shown for New York here&mdash;up to two feet dumped on the city by Wednesday&mdash;is at least down from yesterday's estimates, when, <a href="" target="_blank">as our friend Eric Holhaus at <em>Slate </em>reported</a>, meteorologists were warning that it could be the largest blizzard in the city's history. Still, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="" target="_blank">told residents</a> "to prepare for something worse than we have seen before." The worst of the worst is expected starting Monday afternoon and through Tuesday.</p> <p>Stay tuned here for more updates, as well as images from inside the storm.&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Photo Essays Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:10:17 +0000 Tim McDonnell 268801 at In This Hopeful New Video, UNICEF and Electronic Artist RL Grime Tackle the Horrors of Child Marriage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Every year around the world, more than 14 million girls are wed, typically to much older men, before they turn 18. The child brides, who more often than not are forced into these marriages by their parents, find themselves socially isolated and more likely than older wives to be beaten by their husbands or in-laws. In Chad, where nearly 70 percent become child brides, girls are more likely to die in childbirth than attend secondary school.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="RL Grime" class="image" src="/files/RL%20credit%20Andi%20Ellowayrsz1.jpg" style="height: 362px; width: 250px;"><div class="caption"><strong>"Before UNICEF approached me, I was unaware of this epidemic," RL Grime told me. </strong>Andi Elloway</div> </div> <p>This new video, a collaboration between UNICEF and the electronic music producer RL Grime, tells the story of a child bride who meets a sad end&mdash;but with a twist. Featuring Grime's haunting new song "Always," the video will be used in the African Union's #ENDChildMarriageNOW campaign to highlight how children and communities suffer when girls marry too young. It "transmits a very strong message because it shows a too common reality in the life of many young girls," says UNICEF's Chad representative. "The video, at the same time, also shows an alternative story full of hope. It portrays the crucial role education can play in empowering girls and the collective change needed in the society to end child marriage."</p> <p>According to UNICEF, giving girls better access to education, offering economic incentives and support for families, and implementing legislation to restrict child marriage are all crucial to solving the problem. But the first step is simply to make people aware of it.</p> <p>RL Grime, whose real name is Henry Steinway, and whose tracks have clocked millions of listens on <a href="" target="_blank">YouTube</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">SoundCloud</a>, was happy to help. "Before UNICEF approached me, I was unaware of this epidemic of child marriage that is plaguing Chad and other places globally," he writes in an email. "So when they came to me with the opportunity I was happy to be involved and help shed light on a very real world topic."</p> <p>He picked "Always," the opening track from <em>VOID</em>, his first full-length album, because he felt it evokes both the gravity of the problem and the idea of hope. "I think it's a somber yet uplifting track," he writes. "The lyric 'I feel better when I have you near me' really meshed well with the overall theme of the video, which to me hits on this sense of community."</p> <p>The video has been officially endorsed by the First Lady of the Republic of Chad, who will present it to other leaders at the Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa later this month.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Human Rights International Music Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:00:10 +0000 Gabrielle Canon 268721 at