Tue 29 July, 2014

20:30 Open Thread - World Record Reject?» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Open Thread - World Record Reject?

And why can't they just leave Trev out of it? Via Daily Junkie.

Open thread below...

20:03 Open thread for night owls: 1,000 children» Daily Kos
Purple-eyes twin owls
The damage that can be done by 1,000 children:
Speaking to an anti-immigrant rally at the Massachusetts state house this weekend, Boston radio host Jeffrey Kuhner warned that the state’s plan to take in about 1,000 children fleeing violence in Central America will destroy the country and turn “Massachusetts into Mexichusetts." [...]

“As Shakespeare would put it, it is the national question: Shall we be or not be? Shall we exist as a nation jealous of its sovereignty, faithful to its law and its Constitution, protective of its citizens, or are we going to be transformed into a socialist third world banana republic which does what Mini-Me wants to do, what he is in the process of doing, if we don’t stop him now?” Kuhner said. “Because he is going to turn Massachusetts into Mexichusetts. And my answer to him is loud and clear: No mas, no more!”

By “Mini-Me,” Kuhner appears to be referring to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has introduced a plan to temporarily shelter 1,000 of the Central American children who have fled to the U.S. southern border.

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2009TX-Sen, Gov: Hutchison will step down in Fall, special in May 2010:

Republicans were hoping Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's expected resignation to run for governor wouldn't happen until next year, thus avoiding an early special election. Unfortunately for them, her plummeting poll numbers against über-wingnut Gov. Rick Perry have forced her hand. She's coming home earlier.
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on Wednesday told WBAP's Mark Davis she plans to officially launch her bid for Texas governor in August.  She added that she will step down from the U.S. Senate sometime in October or November to battle incumbent fellow Republican Governor Rick Perry.
Had Hutchison pulled a Palin this summer, Republicans would've been forced into a November special election, so she's giving them at least a seven-month respite. A fall resignation means the special election will take place in May 2010.

Hutchison claims she's sticking around through the fall to fight against Obama's health care and cap and trade plans, and to vote against Sonia Sotomayor. She needs to be the Queen of No in DC to try and appease the angry Right enraptured by Perry's secession talk. Good luck with that. She'd be better off coming home earlier to try and stem Perry's momentum. Instead, she just gifted him another four months in his head start.

Tweet of the Day
Ventricular clouds. http://t.co/...

On today's Kagro in the Morning show, another look back at Halbig today, this time in search of The One Analysis To Rule Them All. In gun news: open carry at the airport goes poorly; naked boobs are ruining Texas gun boners; a concealed carry ninja intervenes & nearly lets the bad guy get away; child gun deaths on the rise; at least 14 states see gun deaths top vehicular deaths; what to do if you don't like it when open carriers come in: just leave, and; if you think you shouldn't be afraid, one gun rights advocate says you're wrong. Natalie Tennant does what the Conventional Wisdom says she "has to," but would WV win in a real trade-off?

High Impact Posts. Top Comments
20:00 C&L's Late Nite Music Club With Maki Asakawa» Latest from Crooks and Liars

Maki Asakawa was a very talented lady; in addition to her abilities as a singer, she was also a composer who arranged most of her pieces, both original and covers. On top of that, she wrote all of her own lyrics, but, big deal, right? Plenty of people do all of that without breaking a sweat. However, Maki had thirty releases by the end of the '90s, which gives you an idea of just how prolific she was (she started in the late '60s/early '70s). If that wasn't enough, she literally did this until the day she died, at age 67, just before a show in 2010. Rest in Peace, Maki.

Who are your favorite prolific artists?

19:22 USIS under fire» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The company also conducted background checks of Edward Snowden and the Navy Yard shooter.
19:14 Children at the Border Are Not a Crisis for Americans» Politics - The Huffington Post
The unaccompanied children arriving on our Southwest border are not causing an immigration crisis for Americans. Politicians, as usual, are sensationalizing the facts for their own partisan agendas. More immigrant children are arriving but the crisis is for them, not the native born in the United States.

The number of unaccompanied children under 12 caught crossing the border illegally has surged by 117 percent this fiscal year. That sounds like a big increase but it only amounts to an increase of around 4,000 children. If we count the absolute number of children, including teenagers, detained, they are still less than 47,000 in total.

Nebraska GOP Senate candidate Ben Sasse lacks perspective when he complains, "How many more kids are going to be put on top of trains? Half-a-million? A million? Five million?" before the President sends a strong message to these children that they cannot migrate here.

Prior to our recent recession, there were around a million and a half annual attempts to cross the Southwest border illegally and roughly a third were successful. In recent years, net migration from Mexico has turned negative. The migration turn-around is a product of the improved performance of the Mexican economy relative to the U.S economy and the fall in Mexican fertility rates. Neither of these trends is likely to reverse in the near future.

With the wave of illegal Mexican migration largely behind us, an increase of a little more than 8,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, hardly amounts to a crisis. That number, and the children from these countries that are encouraged to migrate in the future, could easily be absorbed without significant ramifications for the native born population of the United States.

A key difference, compared to the illegal Mexican migration of prior decades, is that these are all children rather than adult workers. That makes it more likely that these kids are net tax consumers when they first arrive. President Obama has already requested $3.7 billion just to deal with the temporary problems related to these children. If they were allowed to stay their education and health care would cost tax payers many billions more.

But when considering the fiscal impact of any immigrant, we cannot just look at a snapshot in time but instead must consider the taxes they will pay and government services that they consume over their lifetimes. Serious scholarship on the fiscal impact of immigrants accounts for this lifecycle of taxes and services and any additional dynamic effects immigrants have on taxes generated in other parts of the economy.

Methodologies and assumptions vary from study to study but most serious scholarship finds that immigrants have little net fiscal impact over their lifetime. Some studies find negative impacts, some find positive impacts, but they are all small and clustered around zero. That means that, although there are some upfront tax costs of these migrant children, they won't impoverish taxpayers over the long run.

All of this is not to say that there is not a crisis. It is just not an immigration crisis for Americans. The crisis confronts these children. They have fled poverty and violence in their home countries. The United States government's war on drugs is one of the main causes of the violence that they flee.

In order to solve their crisis the children should be given refugee status and allowed to stay and the United States government should end its unwinnable war on drugs. That would help these children now. It would lower the violence and corruption in their home countries so that fewer families would feel the need to send their children North in the future.

As an upshot, we in the United States would be made better off too. The immigrant children would provide modest net economic gains to us once they are adults and drug legalization would eliminate many of the evils associated with prohibition while making us a freer and more prosperous society.
19:04 University Of Texas Picking William McRaven As New Chancellor» Politics - The Huffington Post
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- University of Texas System regents on Tuesday selected one of the top U.S. military special operations leaders as the lone finalist for the job of chancellor, overseeing the system's 15 campuses and $14 billion budget.

Navy Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, has been credited with spearheading the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Pakistan in 2011.

"Admiral McRaven is a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero," Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said after the unanimous vote to approve McRaven.

McRaven, 58, cannot be formally hired for 21 days. He would replace Francisco Cigarroa, the first Hispanic person to serve as Texas system chancellor, who is stepping down after five years.

Contract terms, including McRaven's salary, were not finalized, Foster said.

With nine academic and six health campuses, the Texas system has more than 215,000 students, about 90,000 employees. The chancellor's duties include representing the system in legislative matters, advocating higher education causes and raising money.

McRaven, who had previously announced his plans to retire in late August after 37 years in the military, would come to the chancellor's job with no professional academic experience. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and earned a master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Foster said the regents discussed McRaven's lack of higher education experience but decided he didn't need it. Foster said McRaven showed a "passion" for higher education and added that the regents decided "the chancellor's role was more one of management than academia."

What the regents will get, once McRaven's appointment is formalized in a final vote, is a military leader who since 2011 has commanded and overseen a 67,000-person, $10 billion operation and who has experience dealing with Congress and the White House.

McRaven, a four-star admiral, was also at the helm when Army Delta forces secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in May as part of an exchange for five Afghan detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center.

The son of an Air Force pilot and grandson of an Army doctor, McRaven grew up in San Antonio.

"I thank the regents for their trust and confidence in my leadership, and I look forward to this extraordinary responsibility with enthusiasm and pride," McRaven said in a statement released by the board.

Cigarroa announced in February he would return to his previous career a pediatric transplant surgeon at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, where he was president for eight years before being name chancellor.

Cigarroa's tenure was notable for creation of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, a merger of the campus in Brownsville and Edinburg, which will include a medical school, and a new medical school at the University of Texas at Austin.

It was also marked by tension between him and Austin flagship campus President Bill Powers, who also clashed with several regents. Powers recently agreed to step down in June 2015 under a warning from Cigarroa that he could be fired.

Cigarroa's clashes with Powers and the turmoil between the regents and lawmakers have created a volatile atmosphere for the new chancellor.

Prominent alumni and donors had rallied behind Powers, who also enjoyed considerable support from lawmakers who set public university budgets.

And in a recent hearing before a state House panel, Foster told state lawmakers he considered it "offensive" for lawmakers to try to directly influence personnel decisions such as the hiring and firing of campus presidents.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which includes many of the top donors and alumni who supported Powers and clashed with regents, applauded the selection of McRaven.

"McRaven is a proven leader with a strong backbone and the courage of his convictions who will stand up for what is right and in the best interests of the people of Texas," the coalition said in a statement.
18:47 Protecting the Lasting Achievement of Medicaid» Politics - The Huffington Post
Forty-nine years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in a new American era, creating a social compact that would withstand generations when he signed two hallmark health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid, into law. On that day, Mr. Johnson reflected on the nation's duty to care for its citizens and the crippling consequences of having to go without basic health care: "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, to thy needy, in thy land."

Since then, Medicaid has quite literally served as the nation's lifeline for the poor and vulnerable, providing access to quality care they otherwise would never be able to afford. For the more than sixty-five million Americans relying on Medicaid for health care today, the program needs no introduction.

Yet, that duty has not always been honored for migrants from three island nations to which America is duty-bound. Residents from the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia have a special relationship with the U.S. as a result of the contributions these islands made to our war efforts through the 1950s. In return for unfettered military access to the Pacific waters and in acknowledgement of the nuclear test bombings in some of these areas, the U.S. entered into treaties known as the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).

These treaties allow COFA migrants to freely live and work in the U.S. without restriction. They fill critical roles in the agricultural, elderly care and hospitality industries, pay taxes and serve in our nation's military. And until 1996, they were eligible for health care through Medicaid if they fell on hard times.

That changed with the so-called "welfare reform law," which rendered COFA migrants ineligible for public health programs. Prior to that year, these migrants could access basic health programs, consistent with the nation's commitment to provide for health and economic support under the COFA treaties.

The human and economic toll in the aftermath of Congress' actions in 1996 have been significant. Many of the 56,000 COFA migrants living and working in the U.S. face serious health conditions and despite being employed, cannot afford private health coverage. The health challenges -- cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease -- stem from a combination of poor infrastructure in their home countries and America's military activities there.

States with the largest influx of COFA migrants, including Hawaii, Arkansas and Oregon, have felt the fiscal burden of providing needed care to those within their borders. More than 13,000 COFA migrants live in Hawaii alone, and the state has borne the full brunt of paying for services under its state health program, to the tune of $238 billion from 2004 - 2010.

Meanwhile, health care for COFA migrants in Hawaii is in a state of flux. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that Hawaii does not have to provide care for COFA migrants within its borders. If the ruling stands, COFA migrants will be left with very minimal coverage, putting everyone's health at risk.

There is a dire need to restore Medicaid eligibility for COFA migrants, but it is the job of Washington to do it. In exchange for maintaining exclusive use and military strategic positioning in the Pacific, the U.S. is obligated to provide for the health and economic supports of COFA migrants. Yet, we have failed to live up to this obligation. Health care for COFA migrants is in an unacceptable state of crisis. COFA migrants who call America home pay a significant toll for the government's broken promise and unmet obligation in terms of health and equity.

Rep. Hanabusa and Sen. Hirono of Hawaii have both introduced bills and amendments to restore access to essential health programs that COFA migrants have accessed in the past. Sen. Hirono's amendment to the Senate-passed immigration reform bill would restore coverage, as would Rep. Lujan Grisham's recent HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act and the Health Equity and Accountability Act, reintroduced with each new Congress.

On this anniversary of one of America's greatest achievements for our citizens, let us not lose sight of our obligations to the Pacific jurisdictions. Now is the time to do our duty and provide quality care for COFA migrants. It's a matter of fairness and responsibility.
18:22 Flight MH17 Victims Left Lasting Contributions to AIDS Advocacy» LiveScience.com
Six of the people killed in the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 were dedicated to HIV/AIDS research and programs, and researchers mourned their lives at recent a health conference.
17:58 Time for Equal Rights Amendment» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Opinion: The ERA is needed to guarantee equality -- no ifs, ands or buts.
17:16 New Drug Could Treat Low Testosterone with Fewer Side Effects» LiveScience.com
Men with low testosterone could one day be treated with a drug called enclomiphene citrate, which is similar to the drug clomid that is used in women undergoing IVF .
17:09 Obama Won't Legalize Pot Just Because The New York Times Told Him» Politics - The Huffington Post
The White House has responded to New York Times editorials this week supporting marijuana legalization, saying ending U.S. pot prohibition isn't the "silver bullet solution."

The Office of National Drug Control Policy staff, while acknowledging the criminal justice system needs reform, argues in a blog post published Monday night that a series of Times editorials that began Sunday "ignores the science" and "fails to address public health problems" associated with a possible increase in marijuana use.

"The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana," the blog post reads. "While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem.

"Any discussion on the issue should be guided by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking," the blog post continues. "We will continue to focus on genuine drug policy reform -– a strategy that rejects extremes, and promotes expanded access to treatment, evidence-based prevention efforts, and alternatives to incarceration"

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, citing scientific studies, argues that marijuana is addictive, impairs development of brain structures, hurts academic performance in school-aged children and poses the threat of drugged driving on roadways.

The blog post also argues that legalizing weed would neither eliminate the black market for marijuana, nor guarantee that states will reap substantial revenue from retail marijuana sales.

"The White House should be commended for standing with the science -- not political ideology," Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told The Huffington Post. "But we shouldn't be very surprised. The White House has repeatedly said they stand with the science on this issue. And the science says that marijuana can be addictive for one in six teens, it doubles the risk of a car crash, and it significantly increases the risk for losing IQ points and is connected to mental illness."

The New York Times editorial board argued that, after weighing legalization, the scale tips in favor of ending the ban. The Times acknowledges concerns about certain forms of marijuana use, including that by minors, and advocates restricting sales to those under age 21.

"There are no perfect answers ... but neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol," the Times writes. The newspaper says the concerns are outweighed by the "vast" social costs of marijuana laws.

Mason Tvert, communications director for marijuana policy reform group Marijuana Policy Project, fired back, saying President Barack Obama still has "some 'evolving' to do when it comes to marijuana policy."

"The White House is clutching at straws to make its case that marijuana should remain illegal, and the hypocrisy is as glaring as ever," Tvert said. "President Obama has acknowledged that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer, yet his administration somehow maintains the position that marijuana is just too dangerous to allow responsible adult use. ... Nobody thinks ending alcohol prohibition was a bad idea, and it should come as little surprise that most Americans think it would be wise to do the same with marijuana prohibition."

To date, Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and about a dozen more states are considering legalization in some form. Still, federal law considers all uses of marijuana illegal, classifying it alongside heroin and LSD as one of the "most dangerous" drugs.
16:58 Senate steps closer to 'highway cliff'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Changes made to the Highway Trust Fund patch mean it now goes back to the House.
16:52 Dereliction of Duty» Politics - The Huffington Post
According to the Brookings Institution there are some 47,000 unaccompanied children in the USA from Central America, almost all of whom arrived this year. There is no question that the numbers have overwhelmed an already out-of-date system and there is no question, or should not be any question, about our responsibility to care for these children while our legal process takes its course and they are either deported or granted asylum.

But now Congress, which has been the most grid-locked Congress in history, is about to adjourn for the rest of the summer without taking the actions necessary to assure that these children are cared for and that their legal process is managed properly and efficiently.

This nation has always been built on compromise. This nation became a beacon to the entire world because we had a legislative process that worked. This nation grew great and strong because we elected people to "GOVERN" and to "REPRESENT THE BEST INTERESTS OF ALL AMERICANS." Now all of this has been thrown out the window and our system is absolutely derelict in its duty to our people, our principles and our heritage.

Maybe I am a heretic -- I have been called worse -- but I do not care if you are a Democrat or Republican, I do not care if you are an arch liberal or a Tea Party conservative, there are 47,000 children languishing in this country without proper care, without beds to sleep in, without medical attention or schooling. Now, 435 Representatives and 100 Senators are leaving for vacation where they will party, sun themselves, drink too much and eat some of the best food available...all while these 47,000 children languish.

Shame on all of you!

You have abdicated your right to be called "legislators." You should be called "abdicators" for that is what you are.

In the military one gets court martialed for dereliction of duty, but in Congress one gets re-elected for another term. It is time for the American people on all sides of the aisle to speak up and tell these overpaid abdicators that they dare not leave Washington until they take care of these children!
16:43 NRA Lobbyist Belittles Any Jew Who Backs Gun Control Because The Holocaust» Politics - The Huffington Post
Brian Judy, a senior state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, compared supporting gun control to paving the way for the Holocaust last week.

His particular target: venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who is affiliated with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and has supported a Washington state gun control initiative. Hanauer has said his family fled Germany to escape the Nazis.

Judy laid into Hanauer and other gun control supporters at a July 23 event opposing the Washington state initiative, I-594, which would require criminal background checks of individuals purchasing firearms at gun shows and online.

At first, Judy focused on a recent Politico Magazine article by Hanauer that warned about rising income inequality in America. But then his remarks turned toward the Nazis, as can be heard in the above audio:

At the end of this article, Hanauer talks about his family, and they're from Germany. They had a pillow manufacturer in Germany. And in one of the last paragraphs, he talks about his family being run out of Germany by the Nazis. It's like, how stupid can these ... So he's funding, he's put half a million dollars toward this policy, the same policy that led to his family getting run out of Germany by the Nazis. You know it's staggering to me. It's just -- you can't make this stuff up, that these people -- it's like, any Jewish people I meet who are anti-gun, I think, "Are you serious? Do you not remember what happened? And why did that happen? Because they registered guns and then they took them. And now you're supporting gun -- you come to this country and you support gun control? Why did you have to flee to this country in the first place? Hello! Is anybody home here?"

In response to the leaked audio, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle called on Judy to resign:

It is deeply offensive for anyone to suggest that Jewish supporters of gun violence prevention have "forgotten" the history of our people. For a representative of the National Rifle Association, or any organization, to repeat the out-of-touch falsehood linking gun violence prevention to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is not only an ignorant distortion but is exceedingly dangerous.

In 2006, an armed shooter forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, where he killed one woman and wounded five others.

The NRA did not return repeated requests from The Huffington Post seeking comment on the footage.

h/t Horsesass.org

UPDATE: 10:11 p.m. -- Hanauer responded by telling Seattle Met Magazine: "I'm disappointed, but not surprised. This is a common line of argument from the most extreme members of the gun lobby. The NRA lobbyist finally said in public what we know they think in private. I got involved in this work to move us on from this kind of divisiveness and to focus on solutions."
16:43 Huge Water Main Break Floods UCLA's Pauley Pavilion » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Huge Water Main Break Floods UCLA's Pauley Pavilion

According to local station KTLA, it's one of the largest water main breaks ever seen. From the article:

A large water main break in Westwood sent water flooding into streets, stranding people and vehicles and prompting the closure of Sunset Boulevard on Tuesday.

People were stranded by rising water, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, which was called the incident shortly before 3:30 p.m.

Sunset was closed from Marymount Place to Westwood Plaza, according to LAFD.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was en route, according to the Fire Department.

The address given for the flooding was 10630 W. Sunset Blvd., next to the UCLA campus (map).

“Most affected is ‘UCLA side’ of this apparent water main rupture,” the Fire Department’s Brian Humphrey said in an update.

KTLA has a live feed of the activity at the scene.

Here's a screenshot of the underground parking lot entrances:

Near the steps to Pauley Pavilion:

16:30 Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Calls Prison Reform Advocates 'Crazy' To Sue State» Politics - The Huffington Post
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) knows his state has a serious prison problem, but he had some harsh words for reform groups suing the state over alleged shortcomings in providing inmates health care, Alabama Media Group reported.

“You all are crazy to sue us,” he told an audience Monday at the state’s annual Alabama Sheriffs Association convention. “What good does it do to sue us?”

Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) filed a lawsuit against the state for discriminatory and dangerous inmate health care policies, including failure to treat hepatitis C cases and serious wounds, placing inmates under “do not resuscitate” or “allow natural death” orders without their knowledge and keeping disabled inmates segregated and deprived of accommodations, the lawsuit alleges.

Bentley, Alabama Media Group reported, said he wants to solve these problems and address the overarching issue of prison overcrowding but believes such lawsuits command time and money that could be spent creating solutions, namely cutting back on long sentences and altering the Habitual Felony Offender Act that cracks down on repeat offenders -- two contributing factors to Alabama having the third highest imprisonment rate in the nation.

But suing the state to achieve that might not be so “crazy.” In 2011, the Supreme Court mandated California reduce its prison overcrowding when it ruled in favor of inmates and advocate groups who sued the state over inadequate prison health care services. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has until February 2016 to meet federal requirements.

“We, too, are disappointed that we needed to take this step in filing this lawsuit,” SPLC attorney Maria Morris told Alabama Media Group in response to Bentley’s statements. "Our clients have been needlessly dying and suffering."
16:30 McCain calls Obama most lawless president ever, but says Senate wouldn't convict him if impeached» Daily Kos
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) smiles as he talks to reporters after a Republican Senate caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Via TPM, John McCain says that Republicans won't remove President Obama from office "even if we believed that it was warranted" because they don't have enough votes:
The fact is that we're not going to impeach the president because we don't have 67 votes in the United States Senate in order to do so.
McCain mangled his terminology there, because the Senate doesn't vote on impeachment—that's up to the House. Instead, the Senate would hold an impeachment trial if the House voted to impeach the president. Convicting Obama would require 67 votes, and nobody has ever suggested that there's any chance he'd be convicted. So while McCain did manage to get the headline he probably wanted, he didn't actually say anything that wasn't already universally accepted as obviously true.

But he did support the House's decision to sue the president:

But I do think a lawsuit filing, about the president's abuse of power, which he has clearly done—some 55 times, or whatever it is, on Obamacare alone—I think that's a good idea.
And he also said he believes Obama is the biggest lawbreaker ever to sit in the Oval Office, at least that he can remember:
I do believe that this president has broken more laws, by executive order—well, let me put it this way: I believe that he has abused the executive branch in a way that I don't recall any other president doing.
So on the one hand, McCain told us what we already knew: That there aren't enough votes in the Senate to convict Obama of impeachment. But he also added something we didn't know: That he believes Obama is the most lawless president that he can remember.

Good to know.

16:17 Bobby Jindal Is Being Sued By His Own School Board Over The Common Core» Politics - The Huffington Post
For the last four years, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has championed the set of learning benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards -- but a simmering mess of litigation in the state's court system shows that Jindal has moved as far away from his previous position as he can.

Last week, a group of parents, teachers and charter school managers sued Jindal over his recent repudiation of the Common Core. Jindal's decision to cut ties with certain testing vendors who create Common Core materials has left some Louisiana schools lacking critical resources as the beginning of the academic year approaches.

On Tuesday, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 6-4 to join the lawsuit against Jindal, known as Navis Hill, et al., v. Louisiana State. The litigants are seeking a preliminary injunction that they hope will allow the state to continue its plans to administer Common Core exams in the upcoming school year, which starts in as little as a week in some parishes. A hearing is scheduled for August.

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Jindal took some legal action of his own, filing a countersuit with the aim of invalidating the Memorandum of Understanding that Louisiana signed in 2010. That memorandum made the state a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two federal consortia that design Common Core tests.

"It's very easy to see what's going on," Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal's legal counsel, told The Huffington Post.

"Governor Jindal now has a much clearer understanding" of the Common Core tests, said Faircloth, who called the tests "a stalking horse for the federalization of education policy."

Although Jindal had previously championed the Common Core, he turned against it this summer, declaring it an unwelcome intrusion on the part of the federal government.

Though the state's legislature has upheld the Common Core, Jindal demanded that the state drop it, and suspended the state's contracts with testing vendors who create Common Core tests.

BESE president Chas Roemer said the current legal battle "is a constitutional question ... that is making sure we preserve our right to make these decisions."

Roemer called Jindal's countersuit a political strategy to distract from the school board vote. "It's called politics 101," he said. "They wanted to make sure you had more than one thing to write about ... They have no interest in a resolution. None."

The Common Core is a set of learning benchmarks in math and English language arts adopted by over 40 states that tell teachers what students need to know by the end of each grade. Recently, the standards have attracted controversy from parties as diverse as mothers concerned by abstract and different homework questions, tea party networks railing against what they see as federal overreach, and teachers' unions decrying hobbled and rushed implementation. Several states have dropped the Common Core, although some, such as Indiana, have replaced them with similar standards by a different name.

A few years ago, Jindal visited a charter school run by one of the Navis litigants to proclaim the Common Core's importance. But after a year of protracted fighting with the federal government over Jindal's expansion of school vouchers in Louisiana, the governor changed his tune.

In May, he compared the Common Core to centralized planning in Russia. In June, he wrote on Twitter that he would "not be bullied" by the feds, and that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's "comments & actions" prove that the Common Core is indeed a "fed takeover." Duncan accused Jindal of playing politics with education.

Jindal's filing includes a section that describes the Common Core as "good intentions co-opted by federal coercion," characterizing the federal government's Race to the Top competition as "effectively compel[ling] states to adopt a single, nationalized, state of standards." (Technically, Race to the Top, which took place during the first term of President Barack Obama, rewarded points to states for adopting college- and career-oriented common academic standards, though it did name the Common Core. Jindal has praised the initiative in the past.)

Despite signing the PARCC agreement in 2010, Jindal now characterizes it in his lawsuit as "effectively subject[ing] citizens of Louisiana to binding education policy developed by a private non-Louisiana entity." Therefore, according to the suit, "the Common Core goal of creating 'voluntary' standards to assist states has been lost." Faircloth said he thinks the suit will "unmask PARCC."

After turning against the Common Core, Jindal sought to pull out of PARCC, but the agreement he signed said the state could not leave the consortium unless its original signers agreed on Louisiana's departure -- which they do not.

Now, Jindal argues in the countersuit that the law prohibits delegating authority to a "non-public person or entity," and that the PARCC agreement is therefore invalid.

State school superintendent John White said Jindal's concerns were unfounded.

"There really is no effect whatsoever of what the administration is seeking here," said White during a call with reporters.

Later, White clarified in an email to HuffPost that while PARCC is a grant that funds test development, that development period is now over, and "there is nothing forcing" Louisiana schools to use those test questions in the future.

"Ending the agreement either prevents something from happening that's already happened, or prevents us from being made to do something no one is making us do," he told HuffPost.

Regardless of the contract technicalities, it's clear the fracas has thrown educators into chaos as they prepare to open their schools for the new academic year.

"This is a war on teachers, and today I sit and instead of getting an answer about what happens on Monday, you guys are going to court and suing the governor," said Candyce Watsey, a teacher in St. Tammany Parish, addressing the school board Tuesday during the meeting where administrators voted to join the suit against Jindal. "What am I going to tell my students?"
16:11 Thank god “The Bachelorette” is finally talking about sex» Salon.com
Now that a contestant has revealed that he and Andi "made love," maybe the show can stop playing the prude at last

16:11 “Happy Christmas”: Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham celebrate Yuletide in July» Salon.com
Kendrick, Dunham and Melanie Lynskey shine in a surprising Christmas comedy from indie auteur Joe Swanberg

16:10 I’m a lesbian marrying a man» Salon.com
Friends don't understand: My sexual orientation never changed. I simply fell in love with a very unexpected person

16:01 House Democrats Shame GOP For Not Caring About Border Kids» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- House Democrats publicly shamed Republicans on Tuesday for what they said is a lack of compassion toward undocumented children streaming across the U.S. border, urging them to have a heart.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking at a Congressional Progressive Caucus event, said deporting unaccompanied minors without adequate time to hear their cases to stay in the country was tantamount to "sending them back into a burning building."

House Republicans introduced a bill on Tuesday that would give President Barack Obama $659 million to address the crisis at the southern border, where more than 57,500 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended since October.

But the legislation includes measures Democrats staunchly oppose, such as changing a 2008 law meant to ensure due process for unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Democrats said the bill had too little funding for legal representation for the children and teenagers, who are often forced to go through a complicated process of applying for relief without an attorney.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the progressive caucus, said the children are being politicized. Congress, he said, needs to look at the bill "in the context of human beings and children."

"Regrettably, these migrant kids that are coming to this country are being blamed for everything right now dealing with the border, dealing with immigration reform and why we don't have it, dealing with DACA and the need to get rid of it," Grijalva said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that allows undocumented young people who have been in the U.S. for years to stay temporarily.

"They're to blame for having more troops on the border," Grijalva continued. "They're to blame for having every communicable disease that ever existed on the face of the earth. I think that's a lot to put on their little shoulders."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said there is "no reason" to change the 2008 law that gives legal protections to unaccompanied minors from Central America, arguing that the children deserve to know their rights when entering the country.

"It's time to push politics aside and put these kids first," Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said.

The hearing featured the testimony of undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the three Central American countries from which most of the unaccompanied minors are coming. Two of the children recently crossed the border and described being detained by the Border Patrol in perilous conditions, visibly moving many members of Congress.

Saul Martinez, 15, who was caught by Border Patrol agents along the Rio Grande in April, said he was detained for six days at a crowded facility without a bed or a blanket.

"Please don't mistreat children the way your country has treated me," the boy said through an interpreter.

With tears in her eyes, Mayeli Hernandez, 12, said through an interpreter that the border facility where she and her sister were held was extremely cold.

"People couldn't sleep. We had to sleep on the floor, and they only gave us a thin nylon blanket," Mayeli said. "It was very cold in there, and my little sister's lips even turned blue."

All three discussed escaping violence and poverty in their home countries and a fear of returning to their previous lives.

"We can't go back to our countries because they are very dangerous and very poor," Mayeli said. "For the first time, I am happy living here in the United States. My mom isn't sad all the time."

Dulce Medina, 15, immigrated from Guatemala five years ago. She now lives on Long Island and dreams of becoming a doctor and attending Stony Brook University.

"I do not want to go back to Guatemala because I am afraid there is no one to protect me," she said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called for an investigation into conditions at border detention centers. She also asked the children whether they had legal assistance while they were detained. When they answered that they did not, she and other representatives emphasized the need for more immigration judges and lawyers, arguing that the current House bill does not provide enough legal representation.

"During August recess, I hope there will be lawyers that go to the border, not just members of Congress," Norton said.
16:01 Last member of Enola Gay crew dies» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Theodore VanKirk, also known as "Dutch," died Monday of natural causes.
16:00 Ted Cruz Continues His Push To Repeal 'Every Bloody Word' Of Obamacare» Politics - The Huffington Post
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is encouraging fellow Obamacare opponents to take their sentiments to the campaign trail.

Cruz said Tuesday the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 elections are important opportunities for Republican candidates to push key issues, according to CNN. He was speaking at a conference hosted by the Young American's Foundation.

“I think those elections should be about many, many things,” Cruz said, citing job creation and economic growth. “But they should be about repealing every bloody word of Obamacare.”

Cruz over the last year has relentlessly pursued repealing Obamacare, even prompting a congressional showdown that led to a 16-day government shutdown in October. He told the group that the showdown may not have been a clean shot, but it set in motion efforts to bring down the Affordable Care Act.

“Some battles you can win with one clean rifle shot; other battles take time, take building that foundation,” he said. “I’m convinced that fight has laid the foundation.”

The Republican senator is a presumed candidate for the party's nomination for president in 2016. But first, Cruz hopes to turn Democratic seats in the Senate red in the midterms to accelerate efforts to repeal Obamacare, and said he's gunning to "retire Harry Reid."

While Cruz concentrates his energy on repealing the health care law, other leading Republicans believe it's a lost cause and are pushing for reform instead. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth-ranked Republican in the House, has said it's unlikely the law will be repealed, and calling on Republicans to "look at reforming the exchanges" in April.
16:00 Climate push takes center stage» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The White House releases a report that says inaction on climate change could cost $150 billion.
15:56 Democrats ask: Where's FLOTUS?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
They desperately need Michelle Obama's help, especially with fundraising for the midterms.
15:42 Senate Shortens Transport Extension, Sets Up Clash With The House» Politics - The Huffington Post

(Adds senator comment, details on fuel taxes)

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON, July 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved an $8.1 billion extension of federal funding for transportation projects through the end of 2014, setting up a clash with the House of Representatives just days ahead of cutbacks in money for road, bridge and transit construction.

The Democratic-controlled Senate had been considering a House-passed measure for a longer-term extension through May 2015, but reduced the amount of money with the aim of forcing Congress to approve a long-term transport funding bill during its post-election "lame duck" session in November.

The final bill, which also stripped the main funding mechanism in the House-passed measure, revenue from pension accounting changes, passed by a strong bipartisan vote of 79-18.

"Let's force the Congress this year - before the end of this year - to deal with an issue that's very important to our nation," said Senator Bob Corker, a Republican who co-sponsored an amendment to reduce the funding amount.

The vote raises the stakes for Congress as a twin deadline looms on Friday for a reduction in payments to states from the Highway Trust Fund and the start of a five-week summer recess for lawmakers.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner earlier on Tuesday said the House would simply strip any changes made by the Senate to the transportation funding bill and send back the original House version to the Senate for approval.

Such legislative "ping-pong" with time running out raises the risk that Congress will not replenish the rapidly dwindling Highway Trust Fund before Friday.

The Department of Transportation has said it will begin to curtail payments from the fund to states by as much as 30 percent starting that day, a move lawmakers and state transportation directors say could halt planning work for major projects and lead to the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of construction workers.

State transportation directors and business groups have been clamoring for a long-term solution that would eliminate uncertainty over the funding of road and rail transit projects that benefit the heavy construction industry and its suppliers, including Fluor Corp, Vulcan Materials, LaFarge SA and Caterpillar Inc.

The trust fund has suffered chronic shortfalls in recent years as revenue from fuel taxes, unchanged since 1993, have failed to keep pace with rising construction costs and been hit by improved vehicle fuel economy. Some lawmakers have advocated a fuel tax increase and believe this may be easier to achieve after November's congressional elections.

The House earlier this month approved a $10.9 billion funding patch largely funded through "pension smoothing," which allows companies to reduce their contributions to employee pensions, thus increasing taxable profits.

It also would extend customs fees for another, a measure in common with the Senate bill.

But the Senate measure substituted some other provisions to raise revenue by improving tax compliance, such as increased reporting requirements for mortgage interest deductions. (Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)
15:40 House Committee Votes To Condemn Obama On Bowe Bergdahl Prisoner Swap» Politics - The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- A House committee voted Tuesday to condemn President Barack Obama for failing to notify Congress ahead of the May prisoner swap that won the freedom of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- a vote that some Democrats hammered as another step toward impeaching the commander in chief.

Bergdahl, who apparently wandered off his base and was captured in Afghanistan five years ago, was freed at the end of May in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners, sparking cries of outrage from many lawmakers in Congress. The reason for their anger was that Congress passed a law requiring the White House to provide 30 days' notice for such exchanges.

In a 34-25 vote, the House Armed Services Committee voted to pass a resolution that "condemns and disapproves" of the president's decision not to give Congress notice of the planned swap as required by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014. Obama has asserted that his administration had been in talks with lawmakers well before the swap took place, and that he was clear that he might be required to take quick action.

All Republicans voted for the resolution, which raises national security concerns about releasing Taliban members from the Guantanamo Bay detention center and warns that the president has eroded trust among members of Congress. Two Democrats also voted for it: Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.).

But other Democrats lamented that the vote was political -- and, not coincidentally, that it came as House Republicans are preparing to sue the president and some are throwing around the idea of impeachment. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he agrees that the administration should have informed Congress about swap, but the president had to do what was necessary to ensure the safe return of Bergdahl.

"On balance, I think the president made the right decision to negotiate and effectuate this particular transfer in order to secure Sgt. Bergdahl's safety and freedom," Smith said. "For the Congress to second-guess that decision, in hindsight, on the basis of risk, while simultaneously expressing relief that the benefit of Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return was in fact achieved, would be as unfair as it would be wrong."

The committee also voted down an amendment offered by Smith that would have simply declared that the president should have alerted Congress.

"Yes, the president should have given 30 days' notice," he said. "That's the most frustrating part about this. There is no reason why [the administration] couldn't have done that."

However, he noted that many administrations have acted similarly in ignoring laws that they think are trumped by the Constitution. He pointed to warrantless surveillance and other acts of the Bush White House.

"We are being awfully selective about who we choose to condemn, because I don't remember anybody bringing up a resolution in the Republican-controlled House to condemn President Bush for blatantly violating the law then," Smith said.

Republicans argued that regardless of past administrations' actions, it was time to stop any executive from overstepping.

"If we let this abrogation of the presidential oath continue, we will ultimately undermine the Constitution and our way of life in a long-term basis," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), adding that the House must push back at what's "become a lawless presidency."

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a staunch defender of Obama, said the decision to condemn Obama and not previous presidents was just more evidence that many in the GOP are trying to build a case for impeaching Obama.

"What this is, ladies and gentlemen, is another extension of the movement to impeach president Obama," Johnson said. "Who among us does not think this step is a precursor to the drawing of articles of impeachment? Who among us does not believe that?"

Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) insisted that he does not want to impeach the president.

"None of us is interested in impeaching the president," McKeon said. "I've been there, I've done that, and I would not be a part of that," he said, referring to the GOP's impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

The measure now heads to the House floor. A GOP leadership aide said it won't get a vote this week. Committee members said during the hearing that they hoped for a vote in September.
15:39 The real Martha Stewart explains her drone» Salon.com
It's love at first sight.

15:39 ESPN suspends Stephen A. Smith over domestic violence comments» Salon.com
The sports pundit, who came under fire for suggesting that women "provoke" abuse, will be off air until Aug. 6

15:24 Science identifies precisely when the GOP went off the rails about climate change» Salon.com
A study claims that the Republican position on climate completely flipped in the early 1990s

15:18 Camp That Brings Israelis And Palestinians Together Gives Them Reason To Believe In Peace» Politics - The Huffington Post
It's no surprise Noa Epstein worries about the safety of her husband, a reservist in the Israeli army called to duty as war smolders in the Gaza Strip. But, still carrying memories of a transformative summer camp experience nearly two decades ago, she knows there is another side to the conflict, and she is filled with concern for the Palestinians too.

As rockets fly, troops battle and casualties mount in Gaza, teens from both sides of the border are heading to Otisfield, Maine, for Seeds of Peace, a camp now in its 22nd year of fostering dialogue among its participants. Even years later, campers like Epstein say they feel the impact of their experience gently nudging them to consider their words, to have compassion and always, always to aim for peace.

"I learned to empathize with the other side," said Epstein, 32, of Jerusalem. "I have friends who live in these places, in the West Bank and Gaza, that I care about, just as I care about Israeli soldiers."

Though Mideast peace may seem even farther from reality than when Seeds of Peace began in 1993, its ardent supporters argue its impact is still great. The lakeside camp was built on the notion that person-to-person contact would cement relationships, which would in turn slowly lead to broader societal change. Peace has been elusive, but former campers have taken on a bevy of projects aimed at making it a reality.

Epstein made friends with Palestinians for the first time at the camp. Palestinians and Israelis came together to celebrate her birthdays. She crossed the border to do presentations in schools and even slept over at a friend's house in Nablus, in the West Bank. She became fluent in Arabic and runs an organization that aims to bring Israeli and Palestinian students together.

"Beyond the cliche of finding the human face in the enemy, I really made friends who I trust," she said.

Siwar Mansour, a 19-year-old Palestinian living in Tira, Israel, who attended Seeds of Peace five years ago, said it taught her to truly listen to others, to consider why they've taken a position, and to think before she responds. She witnesses the hatred constantly. "They should all die," she once heard someone say of Palestinians. "Who cares about them?" she heard another time. She bites her tongue at the office, on the bus and in the mall, just as she does when the vitriol is unleashed on Facebook, taking a deep breath and mustering something surprising: hope.

"You find yourself believing that peace could actually happen," she said of the camp.

After her camp experience, Mansour enrolled in a high school where she was the only Arab, got involved with two musical groups that aim for reconciliation, and, determined to make the fight for peace a career, is applying to university programs in international relations.

Eldad Levy, 31, of Haifa, Israel, arrived at camp in 1998 filled with anger over bombings on buses and elsewhere, and having never had a Palestinian friend. At first, he huddled mostly with other Israeli Jews and even questioned the motives of Palestinians who fouled him in basketball.

Slowly, the perspectives driven by nationalism, ethnicity and religion faded, Levy said, as people of all backgrounds became friends. When it was over, he remembers the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Not long after, when the outbreak of violence known as the Second Intifada came, he received a call from a girl he'd befriended from Gaza.

"I'm so sorry about this," he remembered her saying. "I'm so sorry you have to go through this."

Her compassion was startling to him. He stayed involved in Seeds of Peace and, for a time, worked for the program. Today, about half of his social network stems from it. Palestinians and Israelis alike came to his wedding and have come to love his daughter.

Levy continues to have the difficult discussions that began 16 years ago, sometimes angering those he's close to when he questions Israeli leadership or expresses sorrow for Palestinian hardships.

Mahmoud Jabari, 23, arrived at camp in 2007, telling of the sight of tanks in the street and the sound of neighborhoods being shelled at night; of his childhood game of running from Israeli soldiers; of worrying his parents wouldn't arrive home safely each day. He had no interest in hearing of Israel's right to exist; he claimed all of Palestine.

For him, Israelis fell into two categories, soldiers and settlers. But sharing a cabin with them, having them listen to his story, changed him.

"I was sitting in front of someone who cared," said Jabari, who later enrolled at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. "And that was astonishing."

The hardest part, Jabari said, was leaving the idyllic camp setting, where open-mindedness and respect reigned and anything seemed possible.

"You go back to a different reality," he said. "Checkpoints, separation walls, military, settlements, restrictions of movement — and you become stuck between too many questions that sometimes you're unable to answer."

Tomer Perry, 31, of Jerusalem, said the deteriorating political climate has made dialogue far more difficult for campers today than when he attended in 1996 .

"The friendship you create in camp is really strained by the realities faced at home," he said. "And then they start to think of this whole thing as an illusion."

When a wave of violence like the Gaza war hits, it is particularly difficult, but not unfamiliar to the Seeds alumni. In the tragedy most closely linked with the organization, former camper Asel Asleh, a 17-year-old Israeli Arab, was shot to death by Israeli police during stone-throwing clashes in his village in 2000. He was buried in a forest green T-shirt printed with the Seeds of Peace logo — three children and an olive branch.

Amer Kamal slept in the cabin next to Asleh's at in 1997. He's still haunted by his friend's death. Today, Kamal is 31 and living in Minneapolis. Watching the news of Gaza, he gets angry and sad.

"Sometimes you fall into that trap. That's when you have to remind yourself what you believe," he said. "Having friends from the other side helps in remembering."


Follow Matt Sedensky on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sedensky
15:09 Climate Change Education Works for Students» Politics - The Huffington Post
While some members of Congress debate the scientific facts of climate change, students are weighing the evidence and deciding for themselves. One student in my district, Brandon Truong, a youth leader with the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), questions why there is still so much public debate when the scientific evidence is so clear.

"What makes me so different from the average person when it comes to climate change?" he asks. The answer: "Well, nothing -- really."

Brandon grew up in Fremont, CA. He admits that he was, like a lot of his peers, unaware of many social issues that affected his community -- including climate change. He says it was hard for him to decide which side of the "debate" to believe.

"Only after starting high school did I learn how to differentiate between credible and non-credible information from my teachers and organizations like ACE, which works to educate high school students about climate change," Brandon says.

"At Irvington High School, which I graduated from this spring, seniors are required to do a project called QUEST. This project entails identifying a social issue, doing research, writing papers, and finally giving a presentation. This dynamic opportunity gave me the chance to gain a deeper understanding of climate change, and maybe even inspire some of my peers to take action with me. In the midst of my research and work with ACE, I was excited to learn that my Congressman, Mike Honda, had proposed a bill regarding climate change education."

Earlier this year, I introduced the Climate Change Education Act. This bill will allow students across the country access to science based climate change education. The act will create a Climate Change Education Program to broaden the understanding of human-induced climate change, possible long and short-term consequences, and potential solutions. The program will include supporting teacher training in STEM fields to incorporate climate change science into K-12 curricula, and improving quality and access to higher education for green collar jobs and public education. As Brandon observes, educating people about climate change is just the first of many steps we need to take as a nation to address climate change.

"Millions of students, like me, currently go to school in states where teaching climate science is not mandatory in school curriculum," Brandon adds. "Luckily, I live in California -- I'm given the opportunity to have a 21st century science education. But, what about kids in other states? Don't they have the same right to climate science education? My generation can't be expected to solve a problem of the magnitude of climate change if we're never given the opportunity to learn about it."

As a member of the Safe Climate Caucus, I pledged to work together with the other 39 members to end the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. Students like Brandon inspire me to continue to keep the discussion on climate change going. We need more young leaders like him to truly begin to change the dialog on climate change.

"As for me, learning about, and acting on, this issue has inspired me to pursue higher education in the field of Environmental Science and Biology at UC-Santa Cruz," Brandon says, "and be more aware of my and my family's habits as consumers. As I sit here today and write this, I hope that you will consider the possibility of something different and better than what we have today. Let's work together, as we did in the past, to pave the way for our future generations."

With this he leaves me, and hopefully others who speak out about climate change in Congress, a little hope for the future.

This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 39 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.
15:09 America’s former spy chief is getting filthy rich “consulting” on cybersecurity» Salon.com
Gen. Keith Alexander stepped down from the NSA in March, now he's raking in the dough as a "cyberconsultant"

15:07 HUFFPOLLSTER: America's Opinions On Migrant Crisis Depend On How You Ask» Politics - The Huffington Post
Differing wording leads to different findings on the migrant children arriving in the U.S. Polling on the House race offers few hints of a 2010-like GOP wave. And we have yet more reaction to the new CBS/NY Times/YouGov internet panel polls. This is HuffPollster for Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

AMERICANS VIEW MIGRANT CHILDREN AS REFUGEES IN ONE POLL... - Public Religion Research Institute: "A majority (69%) of Americans say that children arriving from Central America should be treated as refugees and allowed to stay in the U.S. if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home countries. In contrast, 27% say that children arriving from Central America should be treated as illegal immigrants and deported back to their home countries….7-in-10 (70%) Americans say the U.S. should offer shelter and support to children coming from Central America while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay. However, more than 1-in-4 (26%) Americans believe these children should be deported immediately back to their home country….A majority (56%) of Americans believe Central American families are mostly trying to keep their kids safe in difficult circumstances, while 38% say these families are taking advantage of American good will and are trying to find a back door for immigrating to the country." [PRRI]

...but not in another - Christopher Sherman and Jennifer Agiesta: "For nearly two months, images of immigrant children who have crossed the border without a parent, only to wind up in concrete holding cells once in United States, have tugged at heartstrings. Yet most Americans now say U.S. law should be changed so they can be sent home quickly, without a deportation hearing….The poll found that most people — 53 percent — believe the U.S. does not have a moral obligation to offer asylum to people fleeing violence or political persecution. And 52 percent say the children entering the U.S. illegally who say they are fleeing gang violence in Central America should not be treated as refugees." [AP]

As always, how you ask matters - PRRI's survey question referred to a "large number of children from Central America now coming to the U.S. without their parents," and asked respondents to choose between saying they "should be treated as illegal immigrants and should be deported back to their home countries" and that "they should be treated as refugees and should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if authorities determine it is NOT safe for them to return to their home country." By contrast, AP asked, "Do you feel that children entering the U.S. illegally who say they are fleeing gang violence in Central America ought to be treated under the law as refugees or not?"

And variants on this topic are especially wide - A CNN/ORC question released last week used harsher language, describing "tens of thousands of children from Central American countries have been detained by the U.S. government at the Mexican border after illegally entering the United States without their parents or other guardians," and referring to a bill that would include "several billion dollars" in costs to care for the children while their cases are reviewed. Their survey resulted in the finding that "a bare majority views the children as refugees rather than illegal immigrants." [CNN]

GENERIC HOUSE POLLS SHOW FEW SIGNS OF A WAVE - Nate Cohn: "Unfortunately, generic ballot polling has been sparse so far this cycle. Last week, however, there were three national polls, by Fox News, CNN and Pew Research, asking the generic ballot question. None showed an anti-Democrat wave, like the one that brought Republicans back to power in 2010. In fact, none of the three polls showed Republicans with a lead among registered voters at all. The surveys are highly consistent with other surveys conducted over the last two months, which show Democrats ahead by an average of 1.9 points among registered voters. The Republicans have not led in a generic ballot poll since early June, when Fox News showed Republicans ahead by four points. These findings bear no resemblance to the one-sided results at this point in 2010, when Republicans held a clear 4.7-point advantage, or in 2006, when Democrats were ahead by 10.1 points. The current slight Democratic edge is fairly similar to what generic ballot surveys showed in the days ahead of the 2012 presidential election." [NYT]


VOTERS SAY OBAMA SHOULD STAY OFF THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL - Dana Blanton: "The new [Fox] poll re-asked a question from 2010 to test the president’s influence: if you were running for office as a Democratic candidate this year, would you want President Obama to campaign for you? While 41 percent of voters say yes, over half -- 57 percent -- say no, they wouldn’t want Obama on the campaign trail with them. In 2010 the results were much more balanced: 48 percent wanted the president to campaign for them, while 50 percent wanted him to stay home. Among Democrats, four years ago fully 82 percent wanted Obama to campaign on their behalf. That’s down to 69 percent in the new poll, a drop of 13 points." [Fox]

MORE ON THE YOUGOV/NEW CBS/NYTIMES POLLS - YouGov's Peter Kellner on the results and the advantages of their methodology: "The Democrats currently have 53 Senators. Two Independent Senators caucus with the Democrats, bringing the party’s effective tally to 55. The Republicans have 45. Our survey suggests that the Republicans are on course to gain at least four seats, and possibly as many as eight. But with five races neck-and-neck, with candidates from the two parties within two points of each other, there is all to play for....Today it is clear that there is NO sampling system that can be relied on to provide perfect raw samples. Survey researchers are in the business of obtaining the broadest, fairest range of respondents that they can, and then extrapolating from the people they can reach to those they can’t. This task requires care, skill and judgement. And in this less-than-perfect world, online research has the advantage that, for any given budget, it can reach more people and ask them more questions – and so go further in the quest for accuracy and understanding – than traditional surveys." [YouGov]

Rosier results for GOP - Taniel: "[T]here's much more to this polling than the toplines. Indeed, there are a number of issues with YouGov's data and methodology that require serious scrutiny...Taken individually, few of these polls stick out as outliers...But when these polls are taken together, it's striking that in almost every case the results are rosier for the GOP than what other polls are suggesting. In seven of the 9 tightest Senate races, Republican candidates are ahead by more than the Huffington Post's Pollster average—in many cases (such as in Michigan and North Carolina) significantly....There's precedent for this: In 2012, the margin of YouGov's final polls favored Republicans by an average 5 points, including large errors in competitive races in Nevada, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Virginia—all in the GOP's favor. At the very least, that means that these polls are at the Republican-friendly end of the spectrum of plausibility." [DailyKos]

In 2012, YouGov's panel also found stability where others showed big swings - More from Kellner: "We looked at candidate support before and after that first Obama car-crash debate. When we examined the two samples as if they were separate groups of people, and weighted them demographically, in much the same way as telephone polls do, we got the same result: a marked shift from Obama to Romney. But when we also weighted the data by how people had voted in 2008, and whether they described themselves as ‘liberal’, ‘moderate’ or ‘Conservative’, it became clear that Obama had lost very little support. Digging down into the responses of the people who did repeated surveys, we found that that few people shifted their vote. Instead, for a few days, Romney supporters were slightly more willing, and Obama supporters slightly less willing, to respond to election polls. As YouGov’s regular panel surveys had indicated, underlying sentiment barely shifted at all. Telephone polls were hit by a short-lived variation in response rates; they wrongly reported this technical phenomenon as a substantial shift in opinion." [YouGov]

More reactions from Twitter:

-Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta: "I get not wanting to let the perfect stand in the way of the good. But when it's science and there's no proof, good is subjective." [@jennagiesta]

-Jonathan Robinson (D): "We don't need an old clunker. Better political polling requires we ditch the RDD. It's a long time coming." [@jon_m_rob]

-Marist Institute Director Lee Miringoff: "Is the use of online polls driven by concerns over money or methods? Wish it was the later, but fear it is the former....Champion of innovation Warren Mitofsky would welcome debate over online polls. Doubt he'd welcome change to non-probability."
[@LeeMiringoff here and here]

-MassINC pollster Steve Koczela: "I remain puzzled by attempt to improve coverage of young & non-white voters by @UpshotNYT, resulting in 6% non-white, and 8% under 29 in MA." [@skoczela]

-Pollster.com co-founder Charles Franklin: "Problem I see is different firms do modeling better, others worse. @YouGovUS does very well, but model matters...Best models are complex so transparency to readers/reporters harder than standard probability sample, hard [enough]" [@PollsAndVotes here andhere]

TUESDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Charlie Cook notes that most of the Senate forecasts, whether based on models or a more qualitative approach, give Republicans a slight edge for the Senate in 2014. [National Journal]

-Aaron Blake argues that Obama's approval ratings are unlikely to improve; Jonathan Bernstein says Obama still has time to rise or fall. [WashPost, Bloomberg]

-Sean Trende ponders whether Texas, Arizona and Georgia may soon become "blue-ish" states. [RCP]

-Harry Enten finds Florida's Charlie Crist (D) and Rick Scott (R) "teetering on becoming the least-liked pair of candidates for any governor’s race in the past 10 years." [538]

-Brendan Nyhan explains why we're likely to see more "worst" presidents. [NY Times]

-NPR ran a series of stories last week on "how well we don't understand probability." [NPR via Flowing Data]

-Americans view embassies are important, but worry some locations are unsafe. [YouGov]

-Mona Chalabi explains why it's so difficult to count the transgender population. [538]

-The Journal of Big Data publishes its first articles. [Springer]

-Walt Hickey runs the numbers on The Hill's 50 Most Beautiful. [538]
15:02 Glenn Beck Accuses Obama Of Impeachment Scam» Latest from Crooks and Liars

Despite admonishing viewers, "We just have to say, 'No more'" to fear mongering and talking points, Beck engaged in exactly that on his radio show Monday. In fact, he sounded a lot like his old, fear mongering, hate mongering, conspiracy-mongering self as he joined his right-wing pals in accusing President Obama of manufacturing claims about right-wing efforts to impeach him. And then somehow tied that to conservatives losing the “immigration battle.”

Beck announced:

I’m gravely concerned because I don’t think we’re going to win this immigration battle, I really don’t. I think it’s going to go the way it always does. Because they’re going to win the PR battle. And the president is going to change the subject and he’s going to make it about impeachment.

Although Beck never made a connection between immigration and impeachment, he suggested one as he continued:

read more

14:58 CIA report may land in August» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"We will need to take some time with it," Senate Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says.
14:53 Good news, couch potatoes: Running even a little bit reduces your risk of early death» Salon.com
Running for any duration of time will reduce your risk of premature death by up to 45 percent

14:38 Mississippi’s last abortion clinic to remain open — thanks in part to a Reagan appointee» Salon.com
The victory was the work of reproductive justice advocates in Mississippi, but the Reagan appointee helped

14:30 Goober Gohmert Ready To Embrace Sandy Hook Trutherism» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Goober Gohmert Ready To Embrace Sandy Hook Trutherism

Is there ever a bad time for Louie Gohmert's crazy to leap off the page? No, I don't think so. Here's a lovely audio file of Gohmert welcoming the opportunity to add to his Catalogue of Crazy by promising a prompt viewing of a Sandy Hook truther's video.

[embed eid="9150" /]

Right Wing Watch:

While guest-hosting yesterday’s edition of the Family Research Council radio show “Washington Watch,” Rep. Louie Gohmert fielded a call from a Sandy Hook truther who asked the Texas congressman to watch and pray over a video, Sofia Smallstorm’s “Sandy Hook Hoax: Ultimate Case Closed Debunked.”

Sandy Hook truthers generally believe that the elementary school shooting was a hoax designed to justify the enactment of new gun laws.

Gohmert was quite receptive to the caller’s suggestion: “I will sure do that, Sandy, I’m always learning new things and appreciate the input. Thanks for that thought and I will check out Sofia Smallstorm’s video and find out what it is that is so compelling.”

read more

14:22 Billionaire’s dire warning: Solar flares could ruin everything» Salon.com
GOP megadonor is scared that a solar flare will knock out the U.S. power grid. Could his fears be justified?

14:00 Senate Dems suggest they'll link immigration reform to House bill on deporting refugee children» Daily Kos
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) addresses reporters after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, October 10, 2013. Reid expressed caution on Thursday about a short-term debt ceiling increase plan that Republica
Politico reports:
If House Republicans pass a pared-down funding bill for the border crisis, Senate Democrats are warning they may try to attach the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill to the package.

Obviously, there's no chance the House will pass immigration reform, so if this report is accurate, it's really more about positioning than trying to achieve a deal. In fact, with Senate Republicans already filibustering Democratic attempts to pass legislation dealing with just the refugee children, the House probably doesn't even need to worry about what would happen if the Senate passed a new border bill with immigration attached—because with Republicans saying they'd oppose any such effort, it won't.

There will probably be some tsk-tsking from the media about how something is better than nothing, and at least House Republicans passed something—if indeed they do pass something—so why isn't the Senate doing something? But given that the bill House Republicans are hoping to pass would accomplish nothing other than accelerating the deportation of refugee children, this seems like a case of nothing is better than something. And maybe if Senate Democrats link action to immigration reform, it will remind at least a couple of reporters in D.C. that the Senate has already passed major legislation to deal with the border in comprehensive fashion—and that it's House Republicans who refuse to act.

13:43 McDonalds Loses Ability To Shield Itself From Worker Lawsuits» ThinkProgress

In a significant victory for workers, federal labor officials have determined that McDonald's Corp. is the official employer of all McDonald's workers.

The post McDonalds Loses Ability To Shield Itself From Worker Lawsuits appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:33 Will better technology save the VA?» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Supporters hope wider use of telemedicine could reduce wait times for the beleaguered system.
13:32 Officials: Obama-Netanyahu call fake» POLITICO - TOP Stories
An Israeli news channel publishes a purported transcript of a call between the leaders.
13:32 Exercise Can Change How You See the World» LiveScience.com
Physical exercise could alter how people perceive their physical world by making their environments appear less threatening, a new study suggests.
13:23 Google Searches Could Predict the Next Financial Crisis» LiveScience.com
Can Google predict the future of financial markets? New research suggests that Google Trends, which tracks search terms over time, can be used to forecast changes in stock prices.
13:20 Secrets of the right-wing brain: New study proves it — conservatives see a different, hostile world» Salon.com
Phony WMD, Benghazi, birthers, truthers -- turns out there's a scientific explanation for deniers and Tea Partyers

13:20 Conservative star Mark Levin attacks “whores” at Chamber of Commerce» Salon.com
The perpetually enraged talk radio star is furious with the Chamber for endorsing a female Democrat

13:15 Obama announces expanded sanctions on Russia over Ukraine conflict» Daily Kos
President Barack Obama discusses Ukraine during a meeting with members of his National Security Staff in the Oval Office, Feb. 28, 2014.
On the heels of the European Union's approval of its first broad-based economic sanctions on Russia, President Obama today announced an expanded set of sanctions against Russia aimed at the country's energy, financial and military sectors. He also announced the suspension of programs to finance expanded trade with Russia or to increase economic development in Russia.

The president began his remarks by recalling the lives lost in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which he blamed on "Russia-backed separatists." The president accused "Russia and its proxies in Ukraine" of refusing to cooperate in the crash investigation and continuing to kill Ukrainian civilians. He said Russia was training and arming the separatists, and that its own military was firing on Ukraine from Russia, which he said was a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty.

President Obama said he has worked with our European allies to form a united response to Russia and that as a result, "the sanctions we're announcing today will have an even bigger bite." He also said the sanctions reflected America's commitment to follow through on its promises.

"Today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of progress. [...] This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made." Instead of violating Ukrainian sovereignty, said the president, Russia should resolve its differences diplomatically, while recognizing the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.

Asked by a reporter whether the sanctions marked the beginning of a new cold war, the president said they didn't. "It's not a new cold war...it's a very specific issue," he said, naming Russia's refusal to recognize Ukraine's independent and sovereignty.

Asked about whether the U.S. would provide Ukraine with military support, the president said the issue "at this point" wasn't whether Ukraine could fight the separatists, but whether Russia would stop supporting them. He said that he felt economic sanctions would impose a sufficient penalty on Russia that it should change Putin's actions, but he ended by saying that ultimately, it was Putin who would have to decide to stop Russia's involvement in Ukraine.

13:11 Senator Denies Climate Change On Senate Floor And Gets A Science Lesson From His Colleague» ThinkProgress

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) blocked a Senate resolution that would have simply stated that climate change is real, citing various reasons and conspiracies. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) provided a thorough debunking.

The post Senator Denies Climate Change On Senate Floor And Gets A Science Lesson From His Colleague appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13:05 McDonald's is responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants, labor board says» Daily Kos
McDonald's worker Keyana McDowell, 20, (L) strikes outside McDonald's in Los Angeles, California, December 5, 2013. Organizers say fast food workers will strike in 100 U.S. cities, and there will be protests in 100 more, to fight for $15 an hour wages and
In a move that could have far-reaching implications for franchised businesses and low-wage workers, the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel said Tuesday that McDonald's would be treated as a joint employer along with franchisees in 43 unfair labor practices cases. Setting this precedent would make it harder for the company to deny responsibility for wage theft and other abuses—like the cases that raised this question in the first place, with workers alleging they were fired in retaliation for participating in legally protected strikes. McDonald's, like other franchise businesses, has traditionally claimed that it has nothing to do with labor practices in its restaurants, but the tight control the company exerts over every aspect of management of its franchisee-owned restaurants points to a different conclusion:
...  advocates argue that the fast-food giant's franchise agreement and actual business practices are so restrictive and pervasive that franchise owners have little latitude with their staffing arrangements and no choice but to keep labor costs as low as possible. In a somewhat unusual arrangement, McDonald's even controls its own real estate and extracts exorbitant rents from its franchisees, who are on the hook for expensive renovations. All that has driven profit margins down to the point where former McDonald's executive Richard Adams, now a consultant, estimates that about a quarter of franchises don't even generate positive cash flow for the owner. That doesn't give them many options.
Steven Greenhouse flags another important detail in figuring out whether McDonald's exerts control as an employer over workers at franchise restaurants:
McDonald’s has even warned some franchisees that they were paying their workers too much.
If McDonald's thinks it's the company's business to correct when workers are being paid too well, shouldn't it be held responsibly when they're not paid enough, or are fired illegally? It seems that the NLRB agrees. McDonald's is, of course, challenging that.
13:04 It’s not OK to grope women on the street. That includes beauty queens» Salon.com
A hidden camera reveals the perils women face on the sidewalk and the subway, whether they're pageant stars or not

13:04 Hobby Lobby alleged to have fired pregnant employee who requested time off to give birth» Salon.com
A former Hobby Lobby employee says the "pro-family" company discriminated against her because of her pregnancy

13:04 Alabama state officials: We won’t comply with the EPA because God gave us coal» Salon.com
Alabama state officials say that EPA carbon standards violate God's law. Seriously.

13:01 Obama: 'Not a new Cold War'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He concedes he can't be confident they will prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to change course.
13:00 McDaniel's Vote Challenge Stumbles On True The Vote's Testimony» Latest from Crooks and Liars
McDaniel's Vote Challenge Stumbles On True The Vote's Testimony

12:55 Court keeps Miss. abortion clinic open» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A three-judge panel finds new requirements for abortion clinics would impose undue burden.
12:49 What will it take to stop the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history?» Salon.com
Health officials across three countries are scrambling to contain the outbreak

12:49 A Calgary fertility clinic tried to tamp down “rainbow” families» Salon.com
An awkward attempt to walk back a stunning racial policy

12:47 Want to kick Rep. Steve King out of office? Help us elect Jim Mowrer» Daily Kos
Democratic candidate for IA-04, Jim Mowrer
Goal ThermometerMeet Democrat Jim Mowrer, easily one of the hero candidates of the 2014 cycle. Why? Well, first he's a Fighting Dem, one of the many candidates Daily Kos has endorsed who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Second, he's running as a real Democrat in a red district, Iowa's Fourth District. Third, he's taking on Rep. Steve King. You know King—the guy who regularly competes with Rep. Louis Gohmert to see who can most effectively combine bigotry, stupidity and flat-out crazy in his public pronouncements. Like this one:
"His vision of America isn’t like our version of America. That we know," King said of Obama. "Now I don't assert where he was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't beat the same for him."
That was just last week, meaning that the birther movement is alive and well in the Republican Party in the form of Steve King. Do you need to remember more about him? How about calves the size of cantaloupes? Yeah, that was him. The guy who thinks people being able to buy affordable private insurance is a government scheme to "take over our skin and everything inside it." And don't even get me started on the light bulbs. The best thing there is to say about King is that Gohmert might be worse.

Iowa would be doing a service to the entire nation to replace King with Jim Mowrer, an Iraq war veteran who returned to work at the Pentagon after his active service in the National Guard. He's an award-winning civil servant, in fact, having received the "Outstanding Civilian Service Award," the third-highest honor a civilian can get for helping increase the efficiency of the Army. Now that's an achievement.

But Mowrer's motivation continues to be serving Iowa, and doing so as a real Democrat. He left D.C. and took his family back to his Iowa hometown to take on this race. He won't shy away from marriage equality or from a woman's right to make her own medical decisions. And read what he has to say about being a Democrat in his questionnaire for Daily Kos.

When I was just 7 years old, my father died in a farming accident. We lost the farm and my mom moved into town and raised my sister and I on a small salary. If it weren't for Social Security survivor benefits, we would have fallen too far to get back up. This is why I'm a Democrat. This is why I'm running for office, because if our neighbors fall, they shouldn't fall so far they can't get back up.
King has so far been able to hold off challengers, but Mowrer is a new kind of candidate, with very deep roots in the district and a smart campaign. There are about 160,000 independent voters in the district, and at least some of them must be embarrassed on a daily basis by their "representation." PPP polled on King last October, and found significant problems for him: 47 percent disapproval to 40 percent approval, he loses 49-45 to a generic Democrat and the tea party is underwater in approval 48-37. King has had lackluster fundraising and at the end of the last quarter, trailed Mowrer in cash on hand.

Here's a chance to do a real service for Iowa, and for the nation, by replacing one of the GOP's worst—not just with a Democrat, but with a Fighting Dem. Chip in $3 today to help Daily Kos elect Jim Mower and defeat Steve King.

12:46 Hillary Clinton: Redskins Should Change Their ‘Insensitive’ Name» ThinkProgress

Clinton is the latest prominent politician to speak out against the name.

The post Hillary Clinton: Redskins Should Change Their ‘Insensitive’ Name appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:44 To Keep Delivering Quality Products, General Mills Wants Major Carbon Cuts From Suppliers» ThinkProgress

"We applaud General Mills for taking this vital first step," said Monique van Zijl, who heads up Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign. "The ball is now in Kellogg's court."

The post To Keep Delivering Quality Products, General Mills Wants Major Carbon Cuts From Suppliers appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:33 Girls experience more gender-related bullying than boys» Salon.com
Because that's what we call "sexual harassment" when it happens between schoolchildren

12:30 Oklahoma Moms Stage Mass Breastfeeding In Public Park» ThinkProgress

“I should not have to take my baby into an unsanitary place to feed them, and neither should any other mom."

The post Oklahoma Moms Stage Mass Breastfeeding In Public Park appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:29 More Than 90 Percent Of Child Migrants With Lawyers Show Up In Immigration Court» ThinkProgress

New statistics demolish unsubstantiated claims that migrant children rarely show up for their immigration hearings.

The post More Than 90 Percent Of Child Migrants With Lawyers Show Up In Immigration Court appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:28 Gohmert: Obama Is 'Extremely Prejudiced' For Deporting Mexicans Instead Of Child Refugees » Latest from Crooks and Liars
Gohmert: Obama Is 'Extremely Prejudiced' For Deporting Mexicans Instead Of Child Refugees

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) suggested on Tuesday that the president of the United States was "extremely prejudiced" because he was deporting Mexicans, while allowing child refugees who were fleeing violence in Central America to stay.

In an interview with Newsmax TV host J.D. Hayworth, Gohmert said that President Barack Obama's plan to allow Honduran children a way into the U.S. without having to make the dangerous journey through Mexico was proof that he was trying to change the country.

"I mean, holy smokes, this guy truly is fundamentally transforming America," the Texas Republican opined. "But not into anything the Founders ever dreamed. These are people who are being given amnesty, who will eventually be able to vote if they're not already, who have no idea what it takes to maintain a Republic if you can keep it, madam [sic]."

"And if you want to say, look at where these folks came from, we've got to give them amnesty, we've got to help them," Gohmert continued. "Listen, there are are so many children around the world that are worse off than those in Central America, and how unfair is it to the Mexicans?"

read more

12:21 Senate approves McDonald for VA» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The former Procter & Gamble executive will take the helm of a deeply troubled agency.
12:06 Christie joins top GOP donors in N.J.» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The govenor mingles with Paul Singer and Woody Johnson at Trump National Golf Course.
12:04 Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Tells Women Not To Laugh In Public» ThinkProgress
12:02 Engineering students 3-D-print “bionic” arm for 6-year-old — for under $350» Salon.com
The usual cost for a prosthetic arm: $40,000

12:02 Journalism under fire: America’s freedom of the press is in danger» Salon.com
A new report highlights the increasing hostility that investigative reporters face

12:02 Bahamas Bacteria May Feast on Dust from the Saharan Desert» LiveScience.com
Bacteria living in the warm waters off the Bahama Islands may feed on the mineral-rich dust carried over by wind from the Sahara Desert, a new study finds. The growing bacteria create the limestone that shapes some of the Bahamas' structures.
12:00 Appeals Court Saves Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic» ThinkProgress

The state abortion law is unconstitutional, the court found.

The post Appeals Court Saves Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic appeared first on ThinkProgress.

12:00 Midday open thread: Murder, chlamydia, and a responsible hiring decision» Daily Kos
  • Today's comic by Jen Sorensen is Sincerely Screwed:
    Comic teaser panel
  • Good:
    A California probate judge on Monday ruled that [Donald] Sterling’s estranged wife, Shelly, had authority to sell the Clippers, all but paving the way for Shelly Sterling to sell the team to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer.
  • The NRA's top lawyer was convicted of murder in the 1960s, then released when a court said his conviction relied on flawed police work. Mother Jones takes a close look at Robert Dowlut.
  • Koalas are experiencing a chlamydia epidemic.
  • Ha ha ha ha ha. The Fourth Circuit's marriage equality decision:
    ... pointed to Scalia's dissent in the Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003, in which he warned that striking down the anti-sodomy law would only call into question laws that are based on moral choices. In ruling that the "historical and traditional status quo is therefore not a compelling interest that justifies the Virginia Marriage Laws," the court pointed to Scalia's Lawrence dissent, in which he admitted that "'preserving the traditional institution of marriage’ is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples.”

    A significant number of federal judges in Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan have cited Scalia's dissent in the 2003 Lawrence case or his dissent in last year's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) when they struck down gay marriage bans.

    Thanks for laying that groundwork, Justice Scalia!
  • Well, here's a responsible hiring decision.
  • Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is running a deeply authentic campaign for Senate in New Hampshire.
  • NPR's Michel Martin on balancing career and family as a woman of color.
  • TWiB: A disturbing trend has surfaced in New York law enforcement. First, Eric Garner, an asthmatic Staten Island father of six was put in a chokehold and now he's dead. All for apparently selling loosies. Now photos have surfaced of a 7-months-pregnant East New York woman being put in a chokehold by police for illegally grilling on the sidewalk.

    Where do we start?

    Subscribe on iTunes | Subscribe On Stitcher | Direct Download | RSS

  • On today's Kagro in the Morning show: things you need to believe to believe Halbig. Airport open carry goes poorly; naked boobs ruin gun boners. Open carrier came in? Just leave. One advocate says politicians should fear getting shot. Tennant does the "Red State Dem" thing.

12:00 Impeachment Wars Rage On» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Impeachment Wars Rage On

If you haven't received an email asking for donations to one group or another because impeachment is on the table, you're one of those rare birds who has your email filters set properly. For the rest of us, the inbox has been filled with appeals to donate so they won't impeach the president, or appeals from the Tea Party to donate so they can push Boehner to impeach the president.

John Boehner addressed this in his press conference this morning, calling the whole idea of impeachment a "scam" intended to raise money for Democrats.

Oh hello, pot! Meet kettle. Boehner's remarks unleashed a remarkable war of words between the White House, the Tea Party and the Republicans. Press Secretary Josh Earnest then shot back with a list of Republicans who have indeed called for impeachment.

read more

11:59 Could Underwater Ocean Turbines Power the World? | Video» LiveScience.com
The ocean energy startup Crowd Energy wants to crowd fund undersea turbines that could supplement or replace fossil fuels-fired power plants.
11:52 House border bill light on judges» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The GOP-led bill gives just $12.9 million.
11:46 Researchers: BP oil spill’s impact was “deeper and wider” than thought» Salon.com
New findings of deep-sea coral damage belie the oil company's insistence that all's well in the Gulf

11:46 Everyone — And Nobody — Wants A Ceasefire In Gaza» ThinkProgress

No fewer than three ceasefires were proposed in Gaza over the last twenty-four hours. None of them have stuck.

The post Everyone — And Nobody — Wants A Ceasefire In Gaza appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:33 Ventura nets $1.8M in defamation suit» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The former governor had alleged that the book "American Sniper" defamed his character.
11:32 Rep. Mike Kelly compares EPA regulations to terrorism» Daily Kos
Rep. Mike Kelly appearing on Fox Business. Chyron: 'Rep. Kelly: The Admin's War on Coal is a War on American Jobs, Livelihoods''
Rep. Mike Kelly
Oh c'mon:
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly (R) had choice worlds for the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule on power plant emissions Monday, moving beyond the usual “war on coal” language and likening the proposed regulations to an act of terrorism. [...]

“You talk about terrorism — you can do it in a lot of different ways,” he said. “But you terrorize the people who supply everything this country needs to be great — and you keep them on the sidelines — my goodness, what have we become?”

So first we were told that efforts to control carbon emissions is like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, now the same regulation amounts to "terrorism". Anything else? Anybody else want to weigh in with their deeply held pet theory about why we must continue to destroy the atmosphere of the planet at the fastest possible rate, some new thought on why turning the only planet mankind currently exists on into an Easy-Bake Oven, for freedom? Your starting bid is "because Hitler" and "because terrorism." Anyone else?
AL.com reports on a press conference delivered by officials from the Alabama Public Service Commission and the Republican National Committee yesterday at which they argued against new EPA coal plant regulations by claiming that “coal was created in Alabama by God, and the federal government should not enact policy that runs counter to God's plan.”

“Who has the right to take what God's given a state?" asked commissioner-elect Chip Beeker.

Oh f--k you, guy. That's it, I'm out. If anyone needs me I'll be out back building a Mars-capable escape rocket from a bunch of old apple crates.
11:31 Conservatives launch Reaganbook, a “Facebook for patriots”» Salon.com
Tired of Facebook's supposed liberal bias, a group of right-wingers are giving social media the Gipper glow

11:25 We Want Clean Power — Fight for It (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
The generation that would face the full effects of climate change needs to help lead the charge to prevent them.
11:15 This video of DMX riding a roller coaster is why he needs another reality TV show» Salon.com
He is cowering in fear, and it is hilarious

11:14 How One Agency Could Threaten Obama’s Climate Goals» ThinkProgress

If the BLM gives final approval for a plan to authorize sales of 10 billion tons of coal from the Powder River Basin it would lock in massive amounts of carbon pollution for decades to come.

The post How One Agency Could Threaten Obama’s Climate Goals appeared first on ThinkProgress.

11:00 Colbert, Stewart and Louis C.K. skewer Silicon Valley: The 10 best comedy takedowns of start-up culture» Salon.com
From chic nerds to "smart cups," there's so much to mock about tech culture. Here's who has done it best

11:00 7 reasons why Facebook is terrible for you» Salon.com
Research from around the globe shows how Facebook negatively impacts your life

11:00 3 Facts About Heart Attacks» LiveScience.com
Here are some common causes of and treatments for heart attacks, and other interesting facts about the condition.
10:59 W.H. mum on impeachment fundraising» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Josh Earnest says it's up to Democrats.
10:51 Celebs tweet on Israel-Gaza conflict» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A growing number of celebrities are weighing in - some backing Israel, others the Palestinians.
10:47 Healthy Living in Stressful Times May Reduce Aging Effects» LiveScience.com
Keeping healthy habits may be particularly important during stressful times, as a new study suggests it may protect the body against some negative effects of stress.
10:43 Judge puts D.C. gun ruling on hold» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The city wins 90-day delay of decision invalidating handgun control law.
10:40 Americans Favor Low-Fat Diet Over Low-Carb» LiveScience.com
Despite the popularity of low-carb diets, more Americans still say they try to avoid fat than carbs, according to a new poll.
10:36 Bob McDonnell Trial Opens With A Bang: Rich Donor Maureen's 'Favorite Playmate'» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Bob McDonnell Trial Opens With A Bang: Rich Donor Maureen's 'Favorite Playmate'

Opening arguments in the McDonnell corruption trial began with a bang, so to speak. Family values were conspicuously absent from the defense statements about Maureen McDonnell's fascination with high-rolling donor Jonnie Williams.

From WTVR reporter tweets:

The live blog just posted this:

Bob McDonnell admits to a “dysfunctional” marriage. Says Williams “poisoned” it.

read more

10:28 McDonnell corruption trial: The broken marriage, obsessive crush defense» Daily Kos
Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell speaking at CPAC. 19 February 2010.
Another falling star.
The corruption trial of ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife is now underway. If you're having trouble keeping track of which disgraced political officeholders are involved in what, this would be the Star Scientific scandal, in which the McDonnells (short version) are accused of taking gifts and cash from the dietary supplement business's owner in exchange for favors to the company.

Maureen McDonnell's defense is already distancing her from her husband, claiming her only involvement with Williams was that she had an obsessive crush on him:

Maureen McDonnell was not a wife scheming with her governor husband so they could enrich themselves; she was instead a woman craving attention after her own marriage broke down, her defense attorney said in court Tuesday. [...]

Dietary supplement company executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. took advantage of her genuine interest in so-called “nutraceuticals,” and of her interest in his attention, Burck said. [...]

Burck said one staffer would testify Maureen McDonnell considered Williams her ” favorite playmate,” and some would view their relationship as inappropriate. They exchanged 1,200 texts and phone calls during the period of the indictment, and Maureen grew protective and jealous of their connection, Burck said.

Uh-huh. I'm not sure if this is a defense or the first pitch for the inevitable TV movie.
10:17 BP Oil Spill Is Much Worse Than People Think, Scientists Say» ThinkProgress

"Yes, I'm concerned," lead researcher Charles Fisher said. "The ocean is under a lot of pressure ... and the deep sea is starting to feel it as well."

The post BP Oil Spill Is Much Worse Than People Think, Scientists Say appeared first on ThinkProgress.

10:11 5 Fascinating Facts About Americans’ Boozing and Smoking Habits» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Religion and education are key to understanding the American public's relationships with alcohol and tobacco.

Every July, Gallup surveys hundreds of American adults about how much we imbibe and smoke cigarettes—and how we publicly perceive of those activities—for its annual Consumption poll. From our opposition to lowering the drinking age to 18 to our overwhelming national preference for beer, the poll always uncovers a wealth of interesting findings. Here are five of the most striking facts about how Americans choose to cut loose.

1. Smokers Aren’t Necessarily Drinkers

Smokers are often stigmatized as more likely to give in to other unhealthy habits, like heavy drinking or overeating. Nicotine addiction is viewed as just one manifestation of an addictive personality, or, like alcohol abuse, as a crutch for managing social anxiety. Yet there is little correlation between smoking and drinking. Twenty percent of American adults smoke and 64% drink alcoholic beverages on occasion, but the percentage of drinkers among smokers is just 70%—only six points higher than the national average. According to the researchers, these results suggest that “the social and psychological forces at play that lead Americans to smoke and to drink are relatively independent of one another.”

2. Smoking Correlates to Religious Affiliation

The highest smoking rates in the U.S. are found among those who claim no religious identity. Mormons and Jews, on the other hand, have the lowest rates of any religious group in the country. This checks out, given that Mormon doctrine prohibits smoking and Jewish law discourages the use of cigarettes. But overall religiosity also corresponds to smoking rates; regular church attendance significantly decreases the likelihood of being a smoker and 11% of those who are “very religious” smoke, compared with 27% of those who are unreligious.

3. Wine Is the Alcohol of Choice for Highly Educated Americans

A whopping 49% of Americans with postgraduate educations prefer wine to other types of alcohol. Wine is also the beverage of choice among women and older Americans. Only 15% of those who have high school educations or less, however, name wine as their favorite alcoholic beverage. The link between education and alcohol preference makes sense, given that highly educated—and presumably more affluent—Americans have the leisure time, money and access to knowledge to learn about wine’s infinite varieties and subtle distinctions in taste.

4. Less Educated Americans Are More Likely to Smoke Cigarettes

Unsurprisingly, education corresponds to smoking patterns as well. Twenty-seven percent of Americans with high school education or less say that they smoke, while only 6% of those with postgraduate education do. This issue has been extensively studied by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the following stats on education level and smoking patterns in February of this year:

  • 24.7% of adults with 12 or less years of education (no diploma)
  • 41.9% of adults with a GED diploma
  • 23.1% of adults with a high school diploma
  • 9.1% of adults with an undergraduate college degree
  • 5.9% of adults with a postgraduate college degree

With education comes increased awareness of the harmful effects of smoking, as well as better access to healthcare information and programs that help people kick the habit. Proximity to other smokers also influences how likely people are to pick up smoking themselves. As the study authors put it, “less-well-educated Americans associate with other less-well-educated Americans who are more likely to smoke, making smoking more of an acceptable business and social behavior.”

5. Smokers Exercise Cognitive Dissonance to Justify Their Habits

In 2014, after decades of public education campaigns, scientific studies and anti-tobacco advertisements, no smoker can say with a straight face that she isn’t aware of the risks of regular tobacco use. But few choose to dwell on the potentially devastating health consequences of their habit (cancer, stroke, heart disease, pregnancy complications and respiratory problems). Smokers manage this cognitive dissonance—knowing that cigarettes are bad for them, yet choosing to smoke anyway—by acknowledging that smoking is harmful to their health but downgrading the degree of that harm. When asked by researchers how harmful the health effects of smoking are (very, somewhat, or not at all), 88% of nonsmokers said it is very harmful compared to only 47% of smokers. Nine percent of nonsmokers said it was somewhat harmful, while 41% said the same.

Here we see textbook evidence of the “optimism bias”—people believing, or at least hoping, that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. You hear the same logic with people who swear that their grandfathers smoked until the day they died at the ripe age of 95: Sure, smoking is dangerous, but maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones who escapes the negative health consequences of my actions.  


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10:08 Strange and Beautiful: Gallery of Old Sci-Fi Artwork» LiveScience.com
The Museum of Science Fiction, in Washington, D.C., launched its first online gallery, a collection of artwork from the archives of Omni Magazine, a science and sci-fi magazine published from 1978 to 1995.
10:04 NYT investigates plagiarism charge» POLITICO - TOP Stories
A reporter has been accused of lifting a paragraph from Wikipedia.
10:01 White House report details economic case for climate action » Daily Kos
Climate activists
Because Republicans can't be motivated to think about the future and work to mitigate climate change out of a sense of responsibility, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has another argument for them. Or it would if they truly cared about the economy, the debt, and the deficit. The cost to the U.S. economy of not reducing carbon pollution, the Advisers say in a new report is about $150 billion. A year.
The report is part of the White House’s effort to increase public support for President Obama’s climate-change agenda, chiefly an Environmental Protection Agency proposal targeting coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. The E.P.A. will hold public hearings, which are expected to be heated, on the proposal this week in Washington, Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh.

The rule could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, a decline in domestic coal production, an increase in electricity rates and a fundamental transformation of the nation’s power supply. The White House has repeatedly sought to make the case that the long-term cost of not cutting carbon emissions—including longer droughts, worse floods and bigger wildfires that will damage homes, businesses and the nation’s infrastructure—will be higher than the short-term expense of carrying out the regulation.

The Koch brothers intend to send out their astroturf force—Americans for Prosperity—to demonstrate against the EPA's public hearings. Because Americans for Prosperity actually only really cares about the Koch brothers' prosperity, and not so much the entire U.S. economy.  

Two new reports bolster the administration's case, and actually eclipse it in terms of the urgency of acting now, even a little bit. An international research team from Aarhus University in Denmark, Vermont Law School and CNA Corporation in the U.S. has determined that there will be a worldwide water shortage by 2040 if drastic action isn't taken soon to change how the world's power is produced. Currently, power generation is consuming untold—because it's not tracked—amounts of water which is necessary to keep systems cool. The only systems that don't require water are solar and wind. But we don't have to wait until 2040 for dire effects, the researchers find: by 2020—six years from now—30 to 40 percent of the world will no longer have access to clean drinking water.

The Kochs, of course, will always be able to buy whatever they need to subsist, even water. And they will always be able to maximize their private good by fighting government, so they surely won't be convinced by any of these arguments. But the policymakers who are responsible for the nation's future don't have that luxury.

09:58 Leahy unveils latest surveillance bill» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The bill would end the government's bulk phone records collection program.
09:49 Dems warn GOP on border bill» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Democrats may attach immigration reform to it.
09:46 Brain Scientist Arrested For Pointing AR-15 At Waiting Passengers At Phoenix Airport» Latest from Crooks and Liars
Brain Scientist Arrested For Pointing AR-15 At Waiting Passengers At Phoenix Airport

Another day, another ammosexual. This one happens to also be a leading brain scientist by the name of Peter Nathan Steinmetz, who thought it would be a brilliant idea to not only swagger around the airport with his AR-15, but point it at a couple of people, too.

He was promptly arrested, but not for openly carrying the weapon in the airport. No, he was arrested for 'inappropriately carrying' it when stopping for coffee in a Starbucks inside the airport terminal.

Phoenix New Times:

It seems Steinmetz, a Tempe resident, was doing nothing wrong up until the moment he pointed the weapon inadvertently at two women in the "B"-gate waiting area. Police tell thePhoenix New Times that, in general, it's not illegal to carry a semi-automatic rifle into an airport terminal. In this case, the problem was "the way he was carrying it," says Phoenix police Sergeant Steve Martos.

After buying the coffee, Steinmetz walked to the east end of Terminal Four's third level and stopped in front of the B gates, in the "non-secure" part of the terminal.

read more

09:45 Boehner calls impeachment talk a 'scam started by Democrats'» Daily Kos
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) calls on a reporter during a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol Hill in Washington October 23, 2013. After a bruising defeat over Obamacare in the government shutdown, Republicans
House Speaker John Boehner speaking with reporters on Tuesday morning:
"This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president's own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they are trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year's election," Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning. "We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans."
A scam started by Democrats? Gee, how dastardly. Heck, their plot must go way back to that time about 15 years ago when House Republicans—yes, Boehner included—impeached President Clinton.

And if it's a scam started by Democrats, then they have a willing accomplice in incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who when he went before Fox Nation on Sunday morning, refused to rule out impeachment.

Bottom line: It's obvious that Democrats want to fire up Democratic voters and contributors with impeachment talk. And it's equally obvious that Boehner isn't happy with the fact that it's working. Nobody questions that. But when you have the House preparing to vote to sue the president, and you have the legal masterminds of that lawsuit saying that if it fails, the only recourse is impeachment, and when you have a solid majority of Republican voters demanding impeachment, then at a minimum, you have to at least concede that if this is a Democratic scam, Republicans are more than willing accomplices.

11:05 AM PT: Here's the scam quote:

"It's all a scam started by the Democrats at the White House," Boehner said.
09:43 Hearing feeds push against Ex-Im» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg faces charges that he and three others took gifts.
09:40 Armed Militias Massing at Border to 'Protect' America From Small Children» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Armed with semi-automatic weapons, 10 vigilante groups are prowling the Texas-Mexico border.

Militia groups are starting to line the border between Texas and Mexico to protect the region from an influx of refugee children, despite warnings from state lawmakers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stand down. 

The militias have provided dozens of pictures to the media of their members “guarding” the border while carrying what appear to be semi-automatic rifles. The members in the photos are wearing tactical gear and military-style balaclavas that shield their identities (other photos show militia members with their faces blurred out).

Reportedly, 10 or more militias have descended on the border while child refugees from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala continue to make the long trek and crossing to the United States. So far, an estimated 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border.

The invasion of children has inspired groups such as The Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, and Patriots to rally their members to the border. They are reportedly lining the border between El Paso and The Rio Grande.

Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte has condemned the actions of militia groups,  criticizing them for "pointing guns at children.”

Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat who is running for Lieutenant Governor, said, “The presence of these outside independent militia groups does nothing to secure the border; it only creates an unsafe situation for law enforcement officials that are protecting our communities. Unfortunately, the vile rhetoric of my opponent inspires misguided efforts."

Van de Putte was criticizing statements by State Senator Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, who is also running for lieutenant governor. Patrick has declared the children to be a “safety threat” and says gang members and potential terrorists could exploit the porous border.

In a statement released yesterday, Texas Democrats called on Patrick and Attorney General Greg Abbott — the GOP gubernatorial nominee — to denounce the "armed vigilantes." Abbott and Patrick have yet to respond.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is warning that militias that rallied behind scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy this Spring may also be focusing on the immigrant-child crisis as it intensifies. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at SPLC, says it’s “possible that people at the Bundy ranch are headed toward the Texas border now."

Potok says that militias are now posting online messages urging their followers to deploy in response to the crisis. "We don’t know if these calls to go to the border are going to get much response at all,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s very unclear if this is just talk or actually developing.”

One militia, led by a 37-year-old truck driver named Chris Davis, began to deploy along the border earlier this month. Davis was seen in a YouTube video advising followers to aggressively confront those attempting a border crossing.

"You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, 'Get back across the border or you will be shot,'" Davis says in the video that was posted on his channel.

The video has reportedly been removed after a McAllen, Texas newspaper highlighted itearlier this month. Davis is now claiming that his militia, Secure Our Border, only intends to supplement law-enforcement efforts along the border despite law enforcement officials in Texas saying their help is not needed in the Rio Grande Valley.

“There’s nothing malicious, there’s no malicious intent—every person is vetted,” Davis told The Los Angeles Times. “We’re just here to serve freedom, liberty and national sovereignty.”

Davis was discharged from the U.S. Army in 2001 under less-than-honorable conditions to avoid court-martial proceedings, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Davis is also part of Open Carry Texas, and was part of a group that protested with rifles outside a San Antonio Starbucks restaurant last year. He and two other men were cited by San Antonio police for disorderly conduct.

The SPLC says that Cliven Bundy’s standoff against federal agents earlier this year is inspiring more militia actions and violent events.

“The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year,” says the SPLC report, entitled War in the West.

Bundy, a 68-year old rancher, owed more than $1 million to the U.S. for refusing to pay fees for grazing on federal land. When a federal court recognized his delinquency, the Bureau of Land Management hired cowboys to round up Bundy’s cattle to pay his debt.

The government’s action created a tense standoff between Bundy and hundreds of heavily-armed followers who turned their weapons on government agents. As the situation reached a tipping point, federal agents backed down in order to avoid bloodshed. 


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09:39 California And Mexico Sign Climate Pact During Governor Brown’s Visit» ThinkProgress

Not all environmentally oriented groups are as impressed with the governor's Mexican outreach, however.

The post California And Mexico Sign Climate Pact During Governor Brown’s Visit appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:38 No, Cutting Unemployment Benefits Didn’t Boost North Carolina’s Workforce» ThinkProgress

Letting the long-term unemployed go without benefits hasn't made a difference in the state's job growth.

The post No, Cutting Unemployment Benefits Didn’t Boost North Carolina’s Workforce appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:27 Court throws out Obamacare tax case» POLITICO - TOP Stories
It rules that ACA does not violate a provision that requires tax laws to be written in the House.
09:13 Paul writing book 'beyond left-right'» POLITICO - TOP Stories
In relation to the 2016 presidential election, he says the book is "just a coincidence."
09:13 Rare Pangolins May Be Eaten to Extinction, Conservationists Warn» LiveScience.com
They've been described as walking artichokes and the most trafficked mammals in the world. Now, conservationists warn that pangolins, or scaly anteaters, could be eaten out of existence if illegal hunting and poaching continue.
09:12 Global Warming To Boost Risk Of Kidney Stones» ThinkProgress

Dehydration boosts the risk of kidney stones. That's why countless studies have shown kidney stones are linked to higher temperatures, and global warming is only going to make it worse.

The post Global Warming To Boost Risk Of Kidney Stones appeared first on ThinkProgress.

09:09 Pangolin Photos: Scaly Mammals Threatened with Extinction» LiveScience.com
Conservationists warn that all eight species of pangolins, or scaly anteaters, may be eaten to extinction if illegal hunting and poaching continues.
08:58 Lawyer: McDonnells' marriage broken» POLITICO - TOP Stories
They are charged with taking over $165,000.
08:57 Gaza: More Than 110 People Killed in Less Than 24 Hours» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Gaza endured a night of relentless bombardment that brought some of the heaviest pounding since the start of the conflict three weeks ago.

Gaza endured a night of relentless bombardment that brought some of the heaviest pounding since the start of the conflict three weeks ago, in the hours after the Israeli political and military leadership warned of a protracted offensive.

Palestinian officials say more than 110 people have been killed in Gaza in the past 24 hours.

Israeli forces targeted key strategic targets, including the home of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and a building housing Hamas-controlled broadcast outlets.

Haniyeh's home was hit by a missile shortly before dawn, causing damage but no injuries. Eleven people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza City.

Shells hit fuel tanks at Gaza's only power plant, causing a massive explosion and black smoke to billow into the air. The plant's capacity - already down to about three hours' electricity supply a day - is likely to be further reduced.

Hamas said al-Aqsa TV and al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.

The Israel Defence Forces struck 150 targets in total during the course of the night. Sirens warning of rocket fire sounded across southern Israel.

The IDF said overnight that five soldiers had died in a gun battle on Monday with militants who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

The incident raised to 10 the number of military fatalities for the day, bringing the total to 53. Four others were killed in a mortar attack and another died in clashes in the south of Gaza.

The military released an aerial photograph that it said showed rockets fired by militants had fallen short. In a statement it said red lines drawn over the photograph indicated “the paths of the four terrorist rockets, as detected by IDF radars and sensors, that were launched in the attacks that resulted in one hitting the Al-Shifa hospital and one hitting the Shati refugee camp. Of the other two rockets, one landed at sea and the other was intercepted on its way to the city of Ashkelon.”

Witnesses in Gaza said missiles had been fired from Israeli F-16 jets. A spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza, Iyad al-Buzm, said explosives experts from the Gaza police had examined "the targeted places and the remnants of shells there" as well as the wounds on the bodies, determining them to be from an Israeli strike.

The Palestinian death toll stood at around 1,100, mostly civilians. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have been killed in rocket fire in the past three weeks.

The renewed bloodshed followed growing international calls for a ceasefire. On Monday the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council’s earlier call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both Israel and Hamas end the fighting “in the name of humanity”.

The US president, Barack Obama, told Netanyahu by phone on Sunday of his concern at civilian casualties. He also pressed for an immediate ceasefire.

Meanwhile there were fresh clashes in East Jerusalem between Palestinian protesters against the war in Gaza and Israeli security forces.

Monday evening's statements from the three men directing the Israeli military offensive on Gaza – Netanyahu, defence minister Moshe Ya'alon and military chief of staff Benny Gantz – will gratify hawkish cabinet ministers and media commentators who have been stridently urging an expansion of the operation in order to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.


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08:55 Giant Galaxy-Spying Telescope Set to Break Ground in Hawaii» LiveScience.com
A giant, 100-foot-diameter (30 meters) telescope has been green-lighted for construction on the island of Hawaii.
08:54 How NBA Players Could Benefit From Having Major Sports’ First-Ever Female Union Head» ThinkProgress

Michele Roberts is the first-ever woman elected to head up a major sports union in North America.

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08:53 In 2014, Colorado Oil And Gas Spills Are Happening Twice A Day» ThinkProgress

They are happening twice a day “and usually without anyone telling residents.”

The post In 2014, Colorado Oil And Gas Spills Are Happening Twice A Day appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:52 Mark Levin Attacks Chamber Of Commerce: "You Lie Down With Whores Like This And You Become One"» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
08:51 NRA Lobbyist Compares Gun Safety Law To Nazi Germany» ThinkProgress

How an NRA statement against a Washington gun safety bill turned into an anti-Semitic rant.

The post NRA Lobbyist Compares Gun Safety Law To Nazi Germany appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:49 In Images: Hawaii's Giant Thirty Meter Telescope» LiveScience.com
The Thirty Meter Telescope is a proposed optical telescope with a 100-foot (30 meters) primary mirror. The giant telescope is set to be built on the island of Hawaii.
08:49 Fab 4 Math: Computer Maps Beatles' Musical Evolution» LiveScience.com
Researchers developed an algorithm that can map the musical progression of bands like the Beatles.
08:48 George Zimmerman has a new job. Working as a security guard. For an ammunition store. For real.» Daily Kos
George Zimmerman in court, June 24, 2013
I'm sure the people of DeLand, Florida, feel safer already:
According to a DeLand police report, George Zimmerman has found work as a security guard at Pompano Pats in DeLand.

Pompano Pats is a locally owned store on South Woodland Boulevard that sells firearms, ammunition and motorcycles.

The report stated that the owner of the business asked Zimmerman to guard the store due to a recent burglary.

08:45 Senate Nominee Argues Low Minimum Wage Is ‘Appropriate for Iowa’» ThinkProgress

Ernst has argued against any federal minimum wage, claiming, "Every state has a different economy, different cost of living. I don’t believe that’s the role of the federal government."

The post Senate Nominee Argues Low Minimum Wage Is ‘Appropriate for Iowa’ appeared first on ThinkProgress.

08:41 Meghan McCain: No more Palin» POLITICO - TOP Stories
"I got all the Sarah Palin I need for one lifetime," she says about the Sarah Palin Channel.
08:36 The Right-Wing Agenda Propelling False Claims of Christian Persecution» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
How right-wing hacks created a sect of victims.

If you only consumed the Fox News Network or books penned by Fox “journalists,” you could be forgiven for believing that the streets of America run red with the blood of Christian martyrs or that Bibles are being burned in the streets of San Francisco by marauding atheists.  The claims of religious persecution are laughable even on cursory examination, but this slice of American self-delusion can no longer be ignored.  The manufactured war on Christians provides cover for fundamentalist to perpetrate actualdiscrimination, against gay people, religious minorities and women.  With the latest decision from the Supreme Court creating religious rights for billon-dollar corporations like Hobby Lobby, this wholesale nonsense has gone beyond anyone’s capacity to ignore.

To understand the rise of the Christian victim myth, one must trace it to the source: Fox News and especially its affiliated radio and book empire.  Even among the intellectually atrophied, there are a few who stand out for being worse than the rest.  At Fox News, I would argue it’s the trifecta of Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity and my personal favorite (and the main subject of this post), Todd Starnes.  To understand the creation of the religious victimization myth, I thoroughly examined Starnes’ latest polemic: “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.”  Forwarded by Huckabee and promoted by Hannity, this Fox News corporate product captures everything that is wrong, untrue and stupid about this ongoing narrative.

I have spent more hours than I want to admit trying to understand Todd Starnes as a fellow human being.  Like me, Starnes is an obese, white man, and we probably share pants sizes and a love of fried foods.  Where we differ is that Starnes has spent his entire life dedicated to Southern Baptists, a group that has only recently recovered from its hatred of dancing and interracial marriage.  He is a marginal member of the Fox News brand, but is a constant source of misinformation and social discord, regularly featured on Fox radio and the Fox News website.

Starnes might dismiss my criticism with his favorite insult of “elitist,” but that can’t stick to me. I’m a former military enlisted man, was a libertarian for years and have been clawing my own way out of the pit of angry, white America for decades. My own upbringing should make me love Starnes: undereducated, white, rural, gun-toting and fat.  Todd and I could be brothers, except that every word that he writes or utters makes me almost ill.  In that way, I’ll label his book a “Nauseātus Magnum Opus.”  My fascination about Starnes comes from how close I came to accepting his vision of reality.

Starnes shows a decided lack of shame in the central thesis of the book that “liberals and atheists are out to destroy America.” His over-the-top hyperbole only succeeds in exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of the “religious persecution” cry.  He also exposes his near genocidal hate for anyone unlike himself, gleefully waxing about many of us burning in hell, for instance. He offers a kind warning to “invest in some fire-retardant underwear” (page 131).  The days I spent examining his book would have been more comfortable pummeling my own genitals with a blunt instrument.

The Starnes-led sideshow is designed to cajole mostly blue-collar, lower-middle-class whites to vote against their own self-interest, and it’s a runaway, nefarious success.

Although the word “nefarious” describes the work, you won’t find that word or any other complicated language between the covers of the book.  Starnes offers many preposterous suppositions (two other words you won’t find in the book) and unsupported conclusions, but he uses only elementary school prose.  Of course, he could claim to be writing for accessibility, but I’d argue he’s manufacturing a fairy tale about good versus evil using childlike language.

To contrast the lack of complexity, there are 13 separate references to “sweet tea” and eight to “sweet potatoes.”  One could summarize his book with this much more accurate subtitle: White Southern Person With a Bad Diet = Good. Everyone Else = Satan.

His book purports to find examples of American Christians being victimized by the growing atheist menace. This is not my own hyperbole, but an actual claim (“Angry Atheists Armed With Attorneys,” page 175).  Of course, the Pew study on religious affiliation says that 78 percent of Americans identify as some form of Christian, while those who self-identify as “atheist” or “agnostic” hover around 5 percent.  Truly secular people are outnumbered 14-to-1, so the entire premise of the book is nonsense.

I consider myself an essayist rather than researcher, but the flaws in the book are so large they can be seen from space.  Starnes works hard to give the appearance of scholarship but it would only be credible to the most gullible and unsophisticated reader.  Starnes uses the veneer of endnotes as support, but when examined, they show only shoddy research, unsupported conclusions and narcissism.

For instance, he cites his own questionable work published in his own FoxNews.com columns, instances that have often been debunked elsewhere (thank you, Media Matters).  When he cites a third party, it’s often a source that cannot be taken seriously, such as his references to World Net Daily, a right-wing website that reports outlandish conspiracy theories such as “soy products make people gay” (among other bunk).  When he manages to cite journalistic sources, such as the Associated Press, the articles don’t support the point he is attempting to make.  Starnes seems to think just putting numbers after a reference point in a book is sufficient scholarship no matter how irrelevant the endnotes.

Even when he gets the basic facts right, the examples often crumble under their own illogic. My absolute favorite is that of a man “Jailed for Holding a Bible Study” (page 17).  That sounds bad, right?  Yet a page or two later, the details emerge:  “police officers raided the home and a two-thousand-square-foot building (emphasis mine) in their backyard. The family had moved their Bible study into the building after the group outgrew the home’s living room” (page 20). The man built a massive, unlicensed building in his backyard, preached to a congregation of 80 people and collected tithes. Who the hell would tolerate an unlicensed, non-permitted church or business in his or her neighborhood?

Starnes also makes some startling accusations against Barack Obama, claiming at one point that Obama’s “end goal is to eradicate the Christian faith” (page 7).  Here again the examples marvelously fail.  For example, Starnes includes the accusation that “[Obama] omitted the traditional phrase ‘in the year of our Lord’ on a presidential proclamation.”  Wow, that sounds like driving nails right into the hands of Jesus … except that Starnes fails to mention that this proclamation honored “Jewish Heritage Month.”  I find the phrase “in the year of our Lord” unnecessary, in any case, but for Jews it makes even less sense, because they don’t consider Jesus “their lord” in the year of reference.  The “evidence” in Starnes’ endnote is an article gushing with praise from the Jewish community for Obama’s act of sensitivity to this non-Christian community.

For me, Starnes’ greatest sin (if I may borrow from his constant religious posturing) is that he attacks so many groups and people that are so much weaker than he is.  He refers to many of these groups as “bullies” or “bigots,” even when it is he who hurls cruelty and insults.  America is overwhelmingly Christian and heterosexual, but to read Starnes, one could believe that he was the last Christian in America and could be murdered any moment by Muslims or atheists.  He cites examples where public schoolteachers weren’t able to preach Christianity to schoolchildren. Again, he expends not one drop of ink to ponder the feelings of Jewish, atheist or Buddhist parents.  Starnes cannot accept that Americans do not all worship as he does, and his book bubbles with underlying hostility and hate for marginalized groups.

Because I am not Starnes, I can concede when my opposition has found a handful of reasonable examples. There are cases of overreach in political correctness in America, for example, when a valedictorian is forbidden from thanking Jesus in a speech. But there is a difference between a student speaker and a principal who might use his government position to preach to captive students. But even if every single example from the book were true, it still would not prove a war on Christianity.  America is a big place, sadly filled with injustice. Innocent people are locked up, discrimination is a reality for many and children go hungry in the “richest” nation on earth.  Real, decent Christians would do much more for their faith by ignoring the war on Christianity nonsense and instead working to address injustices in their own neighborhoods. This is the kind of activism Jesus could get behind.

This book proves that the war on Christianity narrative is devoid of merit, yet the Fox News Misinformation Complex continues to peddle it. Rather than offer a final thought on the book, I instead will take a moment to urge every single thinking person to read this book (and follow the endnotes). Fundamentalist preachers often urge followers to avoid certain books, movies and even people. “Don’t talk to your atheist uncle anymore, because you might struggle in your faith,” one might say.  Although this book is a painful read, sensible people must listen to and then combat this deluded thinking, lest America be overrun with 13th-century sensibilities. If you get nothing out of it, you will at least learn how not to craft an argument.



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07:18 Fox Host Claims Conservatives Aren't Talking About Impeachment 12 Days After One Called For Impeachment On His Show» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy displayed a striking disregard for reality, claiming that conservatives are "not talking about" impeaching President Obama while failing to note that just days ago, Fox's Andrew Napolitano called for impeachment on the same show.

On the July 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested Obama is trying to "bait" Congress into impeaching him by overreaching on the implementation of immigration policies. Doocy replied, "Brian, to your point about impeachment, only Democrats are talking about it. Republicans, conservatives, not talking about it. Only Democrats. It's to gin up the base before November."

But just days ago, on July 17, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on Fox & Friends and counseled the GOP to impeach the president, which Napolitano claimed would "focus his attention immediately."

07:17 Clinton, Bloomberg at Africa summit» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The summit is expected to draw the largest-ever gathering of African leaders on U.S. soil.
07:11 Alaska's 'Hidden' Forests Captured in Unprecedented Detail (Photo)» LiveScience.com
A NASA imaging system has captured the first high-resolution images of Alaska's remote and poorly studied forests.
07:07 Ayn Rand's Fever Dream: Texas GOP Platform Crazier Than You Can Imagine» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Corporal punishment? You bet. Guns? Yes, please, more!
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Imagine the official presentation of a worldview concocted by conspiracy theorists and an assortment of cranks and grumpy people. Conjure a document written by scribes possessed of poison pens soaked in the inkpots of Ayn Rand and the Brothers Grimm, caught in the grip of a dark dystopian fantasy of dragons and specters, in which everyone’s wrong but thee and me and we’re not sure of thee.

In the spirit of the Alamo, this is a work straight out of the 19th century with no option for surrender.

No, this is not some “Game of Thrones” spinoff. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the official 2014 platform of the Republican Party of Texas, 40 pages of unrestrained, right-wing bluster against you name it — women, minorities, immigrants, Muslims, gays, Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service, red light cameras, the EPA, the World Bank, vaccinations — well, you get the picture. In the spirit of the Alamo, this is a work straight out of the 19th century with no option for surrender.

Pick a page, any page, and you’ll find yourself pitched through the rabbit hole into an alternate reality. Homosexuality? “… Chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible… Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”

But it can be cured! The Texas Republicans “recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”

That’s about as close to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” as the good ole boys (and 12 or so women) of the platform committee get. Corporal punishment? By all means: spare the rod and spoil the child. Guns, yes, please, more! “No level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms.” Foreign aid – no way, “except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with congressional approval.”

As for public schools, who needs them? “Since data is clear that additional money does not translate into educational achievement, and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.” And Social Security – let ‘em eat pork rinds: “We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.”

Roe v. Wade must be overturned: “We revere the sanctity of human life.” And yet, “Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate, is an effective deterrent, and should be swift and unencumbered.” Climate change is “a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or ‘climate justice’ initiatives.” This despite the assessment of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that “Large sections of the state are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought.”

Global diplomacy: “We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil.” Oh, and by the way, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

The Texas GOP supports repealing the 17th Amendment, which in 1913 established the direct election of US senators by the voters, taking that power away from state legislatures, which famously could be bought for pretzels and cheese.

All of this is disturbing enough, but what may be the most troubling are the platform planks urging the elimination of virtually any federal authority, the repeal of certain parts of the Constitution or insisting on archaic interpretations that most of us thought were put to bed more than a century ago. Executive decisions by any agency would have to be approved by Congress and as for all “unelected bureaucrats” – you mean civil servants, too? – “…we urge Congress to use their constitutional authority to defund and abolish these positions and return authority to duly elected officials.” Further, the FBI, DEA, ATF, immigration officers – ANY federal enforcement activities within Texas “must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county.”

In the Gilded Age, in part because of the ease of wholesale bribery at the state level, corporations like Standard Oil and Union Pacific had the US Senate in their pocket (not that it’s much better these days).

In their frenzied dreamland, what’s left of the Voting Rights Act would be repealed and more stringent restrictions on who’s allowed to vote would be put in place, further disenfranchising minorities. What’s more, Congress is to “withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom and the Bill of Rights” (!) and the Texas state legislature is to “ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify any federal mandated legislation which infringes upon the states’ 10th Amendment Right.” State nullification of federal law has been consistently forbidden by the Supreme Court since 1809 and, with slavery, was at the core of the losing Confederate cause 150 years ago. Then it was again used unsuccessfully by those opposed to the civil rights movement of the sixties. Still, it refuses to go away, like an antibiotic-resistant strain of strep.

No wonder the current slogan of Texas’ official tourism campaign is, “It’s like a whole other country.” They ain’t just whistling “Dixie.”

But for all the platform’s Texas-style bravado, there is no mention of Governor Rick Perry’s much touted “Texas miracle,” his and other state Republicans’ boast that since 2009, “about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas” due to low taxes and little regulation. There is in the document a general opposition to taxes, a call for the elimination of the minimum wage and this: “We believe that a favorable business climate and strong economy emerges when government is limited by low taxation, sensible regulation, and tort reform. The American private sector powers our economy and is the true creator of jobs.”

Maybe the bragging was backburnered because, as Phillip Longman points out in Washington Monthly, the state may have no income tax, “But Texas has sales and property taxes that make its overall burden of taxation on low-wage families much heavier than the national average, while the state also taxes the middle class at rates as high or higher than in California…

And unlike in California, middle-class families in Texas don’t get the advantage of having rich people share equally in the cost of providing government services. The top 1 percent in Texas have an effective tax rate of just 3.2 percent. That’s roughly two-fifths the rate that’s borne by the middle class, and just a quarter the rate paid by all those low-wage ‘takers’  at the bottom 20 percent of the family income distribution. This Robin-Hood-in-reverse system gives Texas the fifth-most-regressive tax structure in the nation.

Middle- and lower-income Texans in effect make up for the taxes the rich don’t pay in Texas by making do with fewer government services, such as by accepting a K-12 public school system that ranks behind forty-one other states, including Alabama, in spending per student.

In the words of “Texas on the Brink,” the annual report written by the progressive Legislative Study Group, a research caucus in the Texas House, “In Texas today, the American dream is distant. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation. Texas is dead last in percentage of high school graduates. Our state generates more hazardous waste and carbon dioxide emissions than any other state in our nation. If we do not change course, for the first time in our history, the Texas generation of tomorrow will be less prosperous than the generation of today.”

Instead of real solutions trying to come to grips with real problems, the Texas GOP went for the chimerical bucket list of the extreme right. Granted, there are plenty of excellent reasons to be angry with the federal government, and like any party platform this document is more for show than anything else. But it is a frightening reminder of what’s happening within the Republican Party in Texas and elsewhere in the country.

As Mark Binelli recently wrote in Rolling Stone, “After nearly six years of pumping out cynical horror stories involving our nefarious president and a Washington bureaucracy run amok, the right-wing fear machine has managed to reduce its target audience to a quivering state of waking nightmare, jumping at shadows.

If, to paraphrase Baudelaire by way of The Usual Suspects, the devil’s greatest trick was to convince the world he didn’t exist, the modern GOP’s greatest trick might have been convincing its electorate that he does, and that the federal government exists as some kind of infernal machine. While impressive, this trick has also proved to be a very dangerous one, as states of panic have a tendency to produce rather extreme results.

Binelli quotes Texas Democratic strategist Harold Cook:

“When I moved to Austin in 1989, Texas politicians were conservative in the classic sense of the term: They wanted to make sure government was small and unintrusive. There were pretty strong libertarian and populist streaks, and that still exists among the electorate, but what’s new, I think, is a litmus test driven by the Tea Party wing, where if you’re not mad enough, if you don’t demonstrate a certain level of hatred, then your motives are suspect. Your final votes on legislation don’t matter. These two politicians might be voting exactly alike – but the one the Tea Party loves is running around the district all the time screaming about how much he hates Obama.”

More than 150 years ago, the state’s governor, Sam Houston, hero of the Texas War of Independence, recognized this same spirit of suicidal extremism, tinctured with bigotry and fantasy, infecting his fellow Texans as they prepared to leave the United States and join forces with the Confederacy. Houston, while no fan of abolition, warned against secession; that the South would be overwhelmed. In a speech on September 22, 1860, at a mass meeting in Austin, he declared, “You are asked to plunge into a revolution; but are you told how to get out of it? Not so; but it is to be a leap in the dark — a leap into an abyss, whose horrors would even fright the mad spirits of disunion who tempt you on…

“Are we to sell reality for a phantom?”

The Texas GOP – and far too many others — say yes.



Related Stories

06:54 Steve Israel: Tough election, no wave» POLITICO - TOP Stories
He says his party isn't confronting an election that will further plunge it into the House minority.
06:50 Cartoon: Sincerely screwed» Daily Kos

(Click to enlarge)

This comic is based on something I read right here on Daily Kos about the Longmont fracking ban ruling. The phrase "sincerely held beliefs" caught my eye, since that's been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the Hobby Lobby ruling. While the judge in the fracking case cited a conflict between the local ban and state law and opened the door to further appeals, it seems like Longmont's concerns about the health effects of fracking go beyond mere "beliefs." You'd think such concerns might be accorded more gravitas than Hobby Lobby's pre-Enlightenment worldview, if a corporate charter can indeed be said to have a cosmology. It is frightening how little power communities seem to have to decide very basic public safety issues when they come up against energy interests.

On an unrelated note, Hobby Lobby really needs a better logo. The Lord hath created an abundance of attractive fonts. Go forth and use one!

Get a signed print of this cartoon from the artist. Or follow Jen on Twitter.

06:43 Drones Could Grow to $11 Billion Industry by 2024» LiveScience.com
A new report detailing the growth of the drone industry finds that over the next 10 years, the amount of money spent annually on drones and their accompanying technologies will likely double worldwide.
06:38 Congress rushes to pass VA funding before leaving for recess» Daily Kos
U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) announce bipartisan legislation to address problems in the VA health care system, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 28, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY HEALTH) - RTR40FKH
U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) announce bipartisan legislation to address problems in the VA healthcare system.
With a veterans' healthcare compromise in place, the race is on to line up the votes before Congress departs for its August recess. A House vote may come as soon as Wednesday, with House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller working to line up Republican votes—a possible challenge given that $12 billion of the $17 billion bill is not paid for by cuts elsewhere:
Miller said he approved of adding to the deficit in this instance “because the veterans need a quick response.”

He also expressed confidence that he would be able to convince fiscally conservative GOP and Tea Party members to vote for a compromise bill that boosts spending.

“There will be an education process that will have to take place,” Miller added. “Obviously, some of our members will need a little more educating than others.”

Isn't that a charmingly diplomatic way of putting it? And yes, many House Republicans doubtless will take some "educating" before they realize that ongoing health care for people injured in war is one of the costs of war. Or just that it will look really, really bad if they oppose this bill, and voters might just notice. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, wants a quick vote:
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should bring the conference report hammered out by House and Senate lawmakers “to the floor without any further delay,” Pelosi said in a statement, a clear indication that the measure will enjoy broad support from Democrats.
Congress will leave for August recess on Friday.
06:36 Human Rights Watch/ACLU: U.S. surveillance harming journalism, law, democracy» Daily Kos

The practice of journalism and of law in the United States is being dramatically, negatively harmed by large-scale surveillance by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. That's the finding of a new report from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, who conclude "[s]urveillance is undermining media freedom and the right to counsel, and ultimately obstructing the American people’s ability to hold their government to account."

Researchers conducted exhaustive interviews with senior government officials, attorneys, and journalists to complete the 102-page report, "With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy."

“People are increasingly scared to talk about anything,” observed one Pulitzer Prize winner, including unclassified matters that are of legitimate public concern. […]

This situation has a direct effect on the public’s ability to obtain important information about government activities, and on the ability of the media to serve as a check on government, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.

Journalists expressed concern that, rather than being treated as essential checks on government and partners in ensuring a healthy democratic debate, they may be viewed as suspect for doing their jobs. One prominent journalist summed up what many seemed to be feeling: “I don’t want the government to force me to act like a spy. I’m not a spy; I’m a journalist.” […]

As with the journalists, lawyers increasingly feel pressure to adopt strategies to avoid leaving a digital trail that could be monitored. Some use burner phones, others seek out technologies designed to provide security, and still others reported traveling more for in-person meetings. Like journalists, some feel frustrated, and even offended, that they are in this situation. “I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said one.

The result of the anxieties over confidentiality is the erosion of the right to counsel, a pillar of procedural justice under human rights law and the US Constitution, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.

Chipping away at the surveillance state to address all of the issues this report uncovered is a huge challenge. It starts with Sen. Patrick Leahy's NSA reform bill, which he'll introduce Tuesday. Leahy's bill would at least end bulk collection of Americans' data and the ability of intelligence agencies to sift through that information at will. That's just a start, but an important one.
06:09 Dem candidate 'hurt' by Obama» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant says she is "disappointed" in the president's handling of coal.
05:46 Poll: Let border kids stay» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Nearly 70 percent say the undocumented children should be treated as refugees.
05:32 Pretty in Pink: New Moon Rock Reveals Rosy Secret» LiveScience.com
A mysterious new moon rock has revealed its secrets to scientists on Earth, who cooked up a copy of the unattainable pink crystals in a searing hot crucible.
05:30 Daily Kos Radio is LIVE at 9am ET!» Daily Kos

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Daily Kos Radio's Kagro in the Morning show podcasts are now available through iTunes.

Greg Dworkin
can't be with us this morning, so how do you really know we're live? Now you'll always wonder!

Listen LIVE at 9:00 ET, here: The Daily Kos Radio Player

Click this Link to Listen on your iTunes, Winamp or Windows Media Player

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Listen to Stitcher
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What's an "active listener?" Believe it or not, it's someone who listens to at least 30 seconds of a show, once in a month.

Hey, I don't make the rules! I just exploit 'em.

So, how about giving us 30 seconds of your life? Head on over to our KITM archive on Stitcher, listen to 30 seconds' worth, and then after that, your time is your own.

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Need more info on how to listen? Find it below the fold.

05:16 Cheers and Jeers: Tuesday» Daily Kos
C&J Banner


Important Update

In keeping with the values of love, compassion and heart-blessing they talk about from sunup to sundown, the nation's conservative movement wants everyone to know that they have nothing against LGBT Americans. Well, except…..

Gays are into child rape.

There's an activist homosexual agenda in every branch of government.

Anti-gay church sign
Feel the love. (And the itch?)
Thanks to President Obama's employment non-discrimination executive order, cross-dressing federal agents are preparing to bust down your door.

LGBT rights + Game of Thrones = sexual anarchy.

Gays are infringing on straight people's right to prevent gays from having equal rights.

Gay people are gay because of the putrid-smelling demon spirit inside them.

The "homosexual movement" is destroying America.

And of course gays are---wait for it---the same as Nazis!!!

But other than that, it's all love and compassion and gays should stop being so intolerant of intolerance. It just ain't neighborly.

Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

05:11 Right-Wing Media Distort Hillary Clinton's Comments To Falsely Claim She Endorsed Hamas» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Right-wing media selectively edited comments made by Hillary Clinton to falsely accuse her of endorsing Hamas' extremist tactics. But Clinton made clear that Israel has a right to defend itself and credited its measures to decrease civilian casualties.

In an interview with Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed her support for a cease-fire to end the current Israeli/Hamas conflict.

Right-wing media outlets co-opted Clinton's interview to dishonestly claim that Clinton was justifying Hamas' tactics and endorsing the extremist group.

On July 29, the Washington Free Beacon distorted Clinton's comments, portraying them as justification of Hamas' tactics in an article headlined "Hillary: Hamas Uses Human Shields Because 'Gaza is Pretty Small.'"

On Fox News' The Five, co-host Andrea Tantaros accused Clinton of "trying to make an excuse for Hamas" and defending Hamas "for hiding rockets in places like schools."

05:07 Economics Daily Digest: Companies look to turn off the tap on free water» Daily Kos
Economics Daily Digest by the Roosevelt Institute banner

By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Companies Proclaim Water the Next Oil in a Rush to Turn Resources into Profit (The Guardian)

As the CEO of Nestle publicly declares that any water beyond survival needs should be paid for, Suzanne McGee considers the potential horror story of commodifying water.

Paid Leave Encourages Female Employees to Stay (NYT)

Federally mandated paid maternity leave could be one of the most powerful tools to reverse the decline of women's participation in the U.S. labor force, says Claire Cain Miller.

One More Clue that the Obamacare Lawsuits Are Wrong (TNR)

In light of current legal fights over health care exchange subsidies, Jonathan Cohn looks back to a 2010 e-mail from an influential House staffer for proof of Congress's intentions.

History Suggests Ryan Block Grant Would Be Susceptible to Cuts (Off the Charts)

Richard Kogan points out the vulnerability of block grants, which have less obvious impacts than individual programs. Of 11 major anti-poverty block grants, nine have faced cuts since 2001.

A Bill to Get the Labor Movement Back on Offense (The Nation)

George Zornick reports on a proposal by House Democrats that would make labor organizing a civil right and allow workers to take their complaints outside the National Labor Relations Board.

Fast Food Convention Portends Escalation in Strikes (MSNBC)

Ned Resnikoff writes that workers at this weekend's fast food convention pushed for more radical tactics as well as cross-movement collaboration with groups like Moral Mondays in North Carolina.

New on Next New Deal

After the End of the Innovation Era

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, envisions a future of slowed technological growth in his speculation for the Next American Economy project.

05:02 Stephen Colbert on the 'poor door'» Daily Kos

Last night, Stephen Colbert talked about that luxury apartment complex in New York City that is building a separate entrance for poorer people to use.

And folks, if you think about it, there is a sound moral principle behind separate wealth-based entrances. Jesus himself said:

(audience laughter and applause)

If anything, folks, I believe just one poor door is not enough. 'Cause if I'm paying over $25 million dollars for a penthouse apartment, why should I have to be stuck in an elevator with whatever vagrant is dwelling in the $15 million dollar hovel one floor beneath me? Under $20 million dollars? What is this, Bangladesh? (Or Worse, Queens?) (shocked audience reaction)

Video and full transcript below the fold.
05:00 Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest: Mitch McConnell's latest obstacle: the Libertarian» Daily Kos
Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest banner
Want the scoop on hot races around the country? Get the digest emailed to you each weekday morning. Sign up here.
Leading Off:

KY-Sen: SurveyUSA's newest poll finds GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell leading Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes 47-45, but that shrinks to 41-39 when Libertarian David Patterson, who earns 7 percent, is included. In May, SUSA had Grimes edging McConnell 43-42, but back then, left-leaning independent Ed Marksberry, who has since dropped out, was also listed; he took 4, the same as Patterson. These gyrations make the trendlines tricky to follow, but it probably makes sense to focus on the matchup with Patterson, as the Libertarians sound pretty confident that he'll make the ballot. (They have until Aug. 12 to submit signatures and say they're close to their goal.)

Traditionally, Libertarian candidates have hurt Republicans more than Democrats, and Patterson's presence could be especially valuable for Grimes. The hardest task Grimes faces is getting that last chunk of right-leaning undecided voters to flip to her rather than McConnell, but with a third party in the race, she's be almost as happy if they went to Patterson instead. That would allow her to win a plurality victory, much as Jon Tester did in Montana two years ago. And in America, we don't care how you win, just that you win.

There's also a Gravis poll that has Grimes tied at 45 with McConnell (though Patterson wasn't tested here). That at least finally puts Gravis in line with other pollsters; previously, they had McConnell up 43-36.

Finally, we have a Big Dog Alert! For the second time this campaign season, Bill Clinton is visiting the Bluegrass State to help Grimes. He'll be coming to eastern Kentucky on Aug. 6 for a rally, though no further details are available as of right now. Back in February, Clinton showed up in Louisville for a big Grimes event.

04:19 Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Obama's popularity revisited» Daily Kos
new unemployment claims over time, dropping
Steve Rattner: "Check out what's happened to new claims for unemployment insurance since Obama became POTUS--and give him some credit"
Seth Masket:
Now, as for the part of the question about the country running well…. As I and many others have written, presidential popularity and national election results are strongly related to the performance of the economy. And the economy has actually been turning out fairly good numbers recently. Jobless claims are down and economic growth is surging. So why hasn’t this benefited Obama politically?

Basically, because the good news is relatively new. The American economy is still emerging from the shadow of the worst crash since the Great Depression, and the recovery up until very recently has been rather paltry. Remember, GDP growth in the first quarter of this year was actually negative. And even consistently strong growth takes a while to affect voters’ impressions of the economy and the political system.

Matt Dickinson on foreign policy crises:
Yes, each of these situations is unique in important respects. Moreover, partisans on both sides can and will argue the merits of their preferred leader’s particular choices. But to the objective observer it often seems that presidents are damned if they do intervene, damned if they do not, and damned if they opt to do both. It is hard to see how changes in leadership styles, at least as characterized in the short-hand jargon of political pundits, has had much impact on presidents’ ability to effectively address any of these international crises. Instead, the lesson seems clear – a president’s ability to “solve” foreign policy crises has much less to do with his (someday her) personal leadership qualities, and everything to do with the nature of the crises themselves. When there are no good solutions, changing leadership styles is hardly likely to matter, despite what partisans critics on both sides of the political aisle would have us believe.
Don't ignore Congressional responsibility for inaction as well.

More politics and policy below the fold.

03:23 W.H.: Climate costs could soar» POLITICO - TOP Stories
It says climate change mitigation costs will rise by 40 percent every decade if delays continue.
03:15 Castro blasts Perry for border stunts» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The Democratic congressman accuses the governor of advocating for a "police state" on the border.
02:08 Dr. Politics on Biden's big chance» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Simon says it's possible for President Barack Obama to be impeached.
02:07 Obama immigration moves could be unstoppable» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Experts see any challenge to Obama's expected immigration policy changes hitting a roadblock.
02:06 Moms winning the Common Core war» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Top promoters of the standards conclude they're losing the broader public debate.

Mon 28 July, 2014

23:13 Hawaii's Climate Wipeout (Video)» LiveScience.com
Hawai'i faces the same risks from rising sea levels as other atolls and islands.
22:58 Are Kids Afraid of Nature? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
U.S. park rangers have observed that a fear of nature is growing in kids and adults.
22:25 Unleashing the Power of the Bilingual Mind (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
Can mixing languages in your mind help you learn both?
22:23 NBC Shows How To Report On The Economic Costs Of Climate Change» Media Matters for America - Latest Items


Climate change comes with a steep price tag for the economy, and mainstream media outlets are starting to get the message: NBC illustrated this by connecting "the new price of fighting fires" in California to global warming.

The July 29 edition of NBC's The Today Show reported on the extreme costs of fighting the dozens of wildfires currently burning in Yosemite National Park and across California, and how they are connected to climate change. The fires, taking place during Yosemite's driest year on record, have destroyed 20 homes and forced over 1,200 people to be evacuated. NBC correspondent Miguel Almaguer stated that the dozens of California wildfires are "costing big money," expanding that the state of California will spend $1 billion to fight wildfires this year. Almaguer also highlighted how global warming has had a direct impact on the fire, citing firefighters who are working on "the front lines of climate change":

MIGUEL ALMAGUER: Firefighters say this is the front lines of climate change.

FIREFIGHTER: The days are continuously longer, warmer, hotter periods during the summer, which helps dry the fuels out.

ALMAGUER: With record-setting wildfires in Washington and Oregon, 300-plus homes destroyed, this is the season of megafires. These massive blazes burning bigger, hotter, faster than ever before. In California where nearly 5,000 wildfires have burned this year, they'll spend $1 billion to fight flames. The price tag for a single retardant drop from a DC-10: $60,000.

FIREFIGHTER: It is not a cheap venture. Absolutely. It costs money to make these things happen. We are in unprecedented conditions.

ALMAGUER: The new cost of fighting fires to protect what is priceless in a season like no other. 

The broadcast aired the same day that the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report detailing the economic costs of not acting on climate change. The report found that the nation will suffer $150 billion in economic damages each year if we fail to prevent global temperatures from increasing two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Another recent report released by the Risky Business Project determined that a "business as usual" approach to climate change will cost the nation up to $507 billion in property damages by 2100. And the National Climate Assessment recently found that the United States is already paying an economic price for climate change. These findings illustrate why it is necessary to act on climate change as soon as possible; further delay may make the problem unavoidable

21:50 Health Check: What’s Your Gut Feeling About Probiotics? (Op-Ed)» LiveScience.com
You don’t usually have to look far to find news about the virtues of probiotics, but should you go out and seek probiotic-laden products to cultivate a healthier gut?
20:00 Open thread for night owls: Fist bumps less germ-riddled than handshakes» Daily Kos
Down with handshakes, up with fist bumps?
Ditching handshakes in favour of more informal fist bumps could help cut down on the spread of bacteria and illnesses, according to a study released on Monday.

The study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps, where two people briefly press the top of their closed fists together, transferred about 90 percent less bacteria than handshakes.

"People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands," Dave Whitworth, a biologist at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

"If the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases," he said.

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2006CA-Gov: Reaping and Sowing in La Mesa, CA:

Funny how the Arnold specifically cites being troubled by the phrase, "Stop the invasion," as it dropped from the lips of a voter, but embraces a group that uses it for recruitment purposes. (For excellent extensive research into the Minutemen movement and its rhetoric, I cannot recommend Dave Niewert's series, The March of the Minutemen, highly enough.)

The governor really needs to get out more if this is the first time he's seen the "intensity of the prejudice" on display in California when immigration is brought up.

Schwarzenegger also needs to take some personal responsibility for unleashing the rhetoric of the Minutemen in this state. If Angelides were smart, instead of wasting time accusing the governor of flip-flopping and pandering to the Latino vote (what are campaigns, after all, but a splurging bonanza of non-stop pandering?), he'd force Arnold to disavow his previous endorsement of the vigilante group. Not only is this the right thing to do in terms of trying to tone down the hate speech so that a serious discussion of reforming immigration policy can ensue, it will create a wedge issue as the through-and-through whackjobs sit out the election, turning their hate and bile on their new betrayer, formerly known as "the most responsible politician in the West."

Tweet of the Day
Corporations and legislators are getting together to plan the fight against renewable energy. You're not invited http://t.co/...

On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Sarah Palin stole our idea of starting our own channel! And Florida continues to go gun crazy. Greg Dworkin brought us great show fodder, as usual, starting with the 11th Circuit upholding Florida's incredibly stupid "Docs vs. Glocks" law. Other tidbits: fist bumps vs. handshakes; the dumb poll of the day; why we're likely to see more "worst" presidents; weirdest Obamacare theory yet; the niche industry of conservative insurgency; and the maybe not-so-unique problems of measuring quality in health care. In the second hour, a deeper look into the niche insurgency industry & Glocks vs. Docs stories.

High Impact Posts. Top Comments
18:30 And the geeks shall inherit the Earth» Daily Kos
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
There's a story that before the first Iron Man film, when the executives at Marvel Studios were searching for financing, they would argue Marvel Comics had some of the most valuable intellectual property in the world. And those arguments were met with laughter from some potential investors. After producing nine films that have collectively grossed over $12 billion, no one is laughing.

Marvel's success is indicative of the rise of "geek culture." Even as short as twenty years ago, comic books, science fiction, fantasy, video games, computers and other aspects of technology were largely seen as the domain of uncool nerds. And movies based on comic book genre characters were usually really campy and relegated to being considered children's entertainment. Today, all of that has changed. Those geeky things of the past are part of multibillion dollar industries and very mainstream in the present. Everyone ponders the next moves by Apple and Samsung, and whether they'll have the latest jailbreak apps for their smartphones. TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead garner huge audiences and fandoms. And it's not uncommon to hear grown adults argue the finer points of zombie defense and the nature of Middle-Earth, or whether Twilight Sparkle is the best pony, or debating the properties of Adamantium and Vibranium.

Nothing exemplifies the commercialization of geek culture more than San Diego Comic-Con International. The four day convention is attended by hundreds of thousands and is a pop culture event. Below the fold is some of the movie and TV news that came out of this year's Comic-Con over the weekend.

17:39 The Five Most Poisonous Substances: From Polonium to Mercury» LiveScience.com
With the announcement of an inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, talk of poisons is back in the news.
16:30 If you have cable or satellite service, you are paying for Fox News» Daily Kos
Bill O'Reily 'Talking Points Commentary': 'The Far Left Running Wild: There are entire media operations that exist today solely to promote ideology. This is a bad situation that is getting worse.'
Most of you are helping pay his salary.
I ran into this researching something else:
If you’re a cable subscriber, you pay roughly 89 cents per month for the Fox News Channel, based on 2012 estimates provided by the industry research firm SNL Kagan. Cable channels generate much of their revenue from “license fees” they receive from cable companies in exchange for carriage in households. Those fees are passed along in subscribers’ monthly cable bills. Fox has aggressively negotiated its license fees, and now claims one of the highest average rates per subscriber. Only six non-premium cable channels command higher fees than Fox. CNN, by contrast, is estimated to average 57 cents per subscriber per month and MSNBC, 18 cents.
Let's call this the "Fox News Tax," because it's a forced levy on anyone who wants cable or satellite service. Kinda socialistic, actually. Why is Fox News afraid to compete in the free marketplace, where only people who watch the channel pay for it?

And what does the Fox News Tax get you? Shit content and falling viewership. Not only was 2013 their worst year since 2007, but 2014 isn't looking much rosier:

like the rest of cable news, their numbers continue to fall compared to the previous year. In total viewers, the network was down 20% in total day and 16% in primetime compared to Q2 2013 [...] In the demo, the network had its lowest quarterly performance since Q2 2001.
If it wasn't for sports, I would've cut the chord a long time ago. This makes me doubly wish I could.
16:25 Stopping Deadly Ebola Outbreak Will Be a 'Marathon,' CDC Says» LiveScience.com
The deadly Ebola virus is one flight away from the United States, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not as concerned about home country as it is for West African countries with weaker healthcare system.
15:37 How the VA deal came together» POLITICO - TOP Stories
Top negotiators turned to an unusual strategy: knock-down, drag-out arguing.
15:32 The Nunn memos: 10 key passages» POLITICO - TOP Stories
The campaign does not dispute the authenticity of the memos.
15:30 What's So Special About Google's Health Study?» LiveScience.com
What if, in addition to your medical history, your doctor knew about your Internet search history, kept track of your emails and took photos of your house?
15:15 Weight-Loss Supplement Linked to Liver Failure Case» LiveScience.com
A healthy 35-year-old woman who took a weight-loss supplement developed liver failure, and needed a liver transplant, according to a new report of her case.
14:31 Joni Ernst: Government shouldn't pass laws states 'would even consider nullifying'» Daily Kos
Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, glamor portrait.
Endorsed by Sarah Palin, which is all you needed to know
Where do Republicans keep digging up these people?
Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, appears to believe states can nullify federal laws. In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a form held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as a U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

Note that she's trying valiantly to couch it in the "would even consider nullifying" language, trying (apparently) to argue that regardless of what you might think of the idea that launched and was ended by the Civil War a hundred years back, the government shouldn't be passing laws that upset any single individual state so much that they would even "consider" marching through those particular woods again. Consider it a state-by-state line item veto of all federal law. You know, like the old Confedera—you know what, never mind. It's a lost cause.

This is flippin' Iowa; while Iowa Republicans are well known for their (ahem) attraction to certain flavors of batshittery, unless there's been one hell of an unremarked-upon earthquake in the last two centuries Iowa has never been considered part of the Deep South. The nullification rhetoric, though, seems to be a new Republican talking point everywhere. There's something about Barack Obama that really brings out the deep-south talking points in the party; again, go figure.

14:20 Here's what Mitch McConnell wants to repeal from his home state» Daily Kos

Via Joe Sonka, take a look at what Kentucky's uninsurance rates looked like before Obamacare—all the red areas are 17 percent or higher:

Map of Kentucky uninsurance rates before Obamacare shows much of state had rates above 17 percent

Now take a look after Obamacare—not a single red county, and even some that were once over 17 percent are now less than five percent:

Map of Kentucky uninsurance rates after Obamacare shows all counties had insurance rates below 17 percent

That's not good news, that's great news. In fact, it's literally life-saving news. And if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gets his way and repeals Obamacare, it would all be taken away.

13:56 7 Absolutely Horrible Head Infections» LiveScience.com
A countdown of the most horrible head infections.
13:44 Stunning Oasis in the Desert Seen from Space (Photo)» LiveScience.com
A snapshot from the International Space Station captures the Okavango Delta of Botswana in shimmery glory. This enormous inland delta is home to many of Africa's iconic species.
13:30 House GOP leadership dangles bribe to entice hardliners to support bill deporting refugee children» Daily Kos
Two female detainees sleep in a holding cell, as the children are separated by age group and gender, as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Nogales Placement C
Two refugee girls sleep in a holding cell, as the children are separated by age group and gender, as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Here's how far to the right House Republicans have moved on immigration issues: Not only are they proposing legislation to accelerate the deportation of refugee children fleeing Central America, they are trying to woo support hardliners—who fear Senate Democrats will magically turn the plan into something humane—by pledging not to do anything Democrats want and also by...

...spreading the word that members might vote on a bill that would roll back an Obama administration program that shields many young undocumented immigrants from deportations — though it’s unclear when that vote would occur.
Keep in mind that the House's bill is a bill designed to accelerate deportations of refugee children. In the words of Rep. Kay Granger, who drafted the plan, its goal is to "send the children back as quick as we can." And that means that in order to get votes on a bill aimed at deporting more kids, House Republican leadership's idea of negotiation is to offer to deport even more kids.
13:21 What Happened To The Israeli Generation That Believed Peace Would Come?» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
An Israeli woman living in the U.S. recoils at the cycle of violence.

I’m an Israeli who holds an American citizenship. I’m an Israeli living abroad. As I sit here writing at my dining room table, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge outside my window. Yes, I’m that lucky.

Twelve years ago, during one of the Israeli army’s military operations (I think it was called “Protective Wall”) my husband was called to reserve duty in Gaza. He was a tank commander during his military service and was now called to sit in a tank on the border with Gaza while other forces were busy razing the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank to the ground. His orders were to shoot at anyone coming too close to the border from Gaza. Most of the people who did come too close were farmers tending to their land. My husband refused to serve and was sent to military prison for a month. He was part of a movement of reserve soldiers who believed that this act of civil disobedience would make a difference and would shift public opinion toward resuming peace talks. We are not “moon-walking lefties,” the leaders of this movement said, we are the salt of the earth. We come from the mainstream of society, we are pilots and tank commanders and officers. They will have to listen to us.

This act of civil disobedience was a result of an optimistic upbringing. I was born in 1973, just weeks before the Yom Kippur War which reminded Israelis that victory in the battlefield is not enough in the Middle East. What we need is long-lasting peace.

Born to Peace was a popular song that year: “I was born to peace that is coming. I was born to peace that’s on its way. I was born to peace that will appear here. Oh I wish, how I wish it would just come.”

When I was a child it was common knowledge that our generation would no longer be drafted to the army because by then “peace will come.” Part Zionist determinism, part Messianic tradition, the idea that peace in our times is inevitable, was firm. Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 confirmed this belief. As part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt, the problem of the Palestinian refugees was to be solved within a decade, in continuing the talks led by Sadat, Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, Sadat was assassinated. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and started the Lebanon War, a long and bloody conflict. The peace process, needless to say, came to a halt.

The first Intifada erupted just in time for me, at 14, to become an activist. I was an idealistic teenager and I truly believed my actions would have an impact. When I was 19, I was proven right: the Oslo agreements, my peers and I thought, would surely bring peace. Yes, it would be difficult but we can do it, I was sure. Remember, “We were born to peace.”

Israelis of my generation have been aware of “the conflict” since birth. We were born into the Occupation. We matured into the first Intifada. We were young and hopeful during the Oslo Accords, had babies when suicide bombers were blowing up street corners. Now our children are teenagers and some of them are already in the army. My sister, an activist dedicated to collaboration with Palestinians around environmental issues, said today: "I remember our father leaving for a war in 1973 when I was 7. It was scary then. I remember my brother being in the army during the Lebanon war of 1982; that was stressful. I remember my husband being in the army during the Intifada, as an officer; and that was disturbing and difficult. But having my son in the war now, having my child there; that is a totally different story."

A friend whose child is also in the military said it was like waiting outside the operating room when your child is inside and you don't know if he will come out alive or dead or half alive, but this surgery is long.

In 2005, the creators of the well-known Israeli TV series, In Treatment, chose to depict in one of the main characters a fighter pilot who had killed many civilians in Gaza. While targeting a Hamas leader, he dropped a one-ton bomb on a residential building. This character comes into treatment with the psychologist (the series’ protagonist) and introduces himself, “I am the one-ton pilot.” The term held signified a moral dilemma: what does it mean when an army that dominates the skies drops a bomb on a civilian population in order to kill a man involved in terrorism? For many Israelis, this was a moral line crossed. We fight only to defend ourselves, many people said. Even after the Intifada, with its many civilian casualties, people in Israel still believed this to be a significant factor of their identity: “We were born to peace,” that is, we only fight when there is no choice.

Many tons of explosives have been dropped and many civilians killed since “In Treatment” went on air. The Israeli hearts seem to have hardened with every “operation” while life in most Israeli cities seemed to have been less and less affected by moral dilemmas and by the conflict itself.

Israelis had other things to worry about—the cost of living, housing prices and illegal immigration. Sound familiar? Israelis have problems that are typical of other countries in the West. Israel just wants to be a normal country. Young Israeli children who are now sitting in their daycare’s security rooms curled up on the floor, arms covering their heads, waiting for the sirens to stop, for the “boom” to be heard so they can return to storytime, are no longer told they are “born to peace.” In fact their parents, born in the 1980s, who were in their 20s during the second Intifada with its suicide bombings and constant fear, probably never had that illusion either.

The Palestinian problem doesn’t fit in with normality and normal problems. This problem: generations of refugees living in two tiny separate pieces of land, is unique in the world. Israel itself is a nation of refugees living with an ethos of heroism and war. It is still unsure whether it is democratic or theocratic, and it doesn’t have the resources to think about solutions.

What’s going to happen when all this ends, I asked my friends and family on Facebook. “First let it be over” was their common reply.

In Gaza people are fighting for their freedom. They are being massacred. They have nothing to lose. This week, Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf writes, “Nations will make inconceivable sacrifices in these kinds of struggles. An entire one percent of the Jewish population was killed in the 1948 war (Israel's War of Independence). The public accepted it painfully and with a stiff upper lip because they felt that they were fighting for their lives and for their freedom. We have become so much more susceptible to loss, not because we went soft, but because we have a deeper understanding that despite all the 'we’re fighting for our future' slogans, 2014 is not 1948. I’ve spoken to people in Gaza who don’t care much for Hamas in their everyday lives, whether due to its fundamentalist ideology, political oppression or other aspects of its rule. But they do support Hamas in its war against Israel; for them, fighting the siege is their war of independence. Or at least one part of it.”

The difference between Israelis and Gazans, as I see it now, is that in Gaza people are fighting for their lives and in Israel people are in despair. Israelis are scared of the rise of fundamental Islamists who are openly killing their own people in Iraq and Syria. They think these militants would not think twice before killing an Israeli, if it ever came to it. They no longer believe that peace is reachable and they don’t see a point in paying the unbearable price of constant war.

Another process taking place in Israel these days is the silencing of the peace seekers. Not only are their numbers dwindling, they are also being persecuted now, more than ever. Adam Amorai writes on his Facebook page, “I was scared of the right wing tonight like I was never scared before...20 meters from the spot where Yitshak Rabin was assassinated, Tel-Aviv’s left-wing activists were beaten with clubs and sprayed with pepper spray.” 

There are accounts of Israelis losing their jobs because of Facebook posts opposing the war. Jewish cities are becoming unsafe for Arab citizens, with reports of assaults, embarrassments and threats to Arabs walking on the street, on buses, trains etc. These have been a daily occurrence. 

Returning to normality after a cease-fire is reached, after the tunnels are destroyed, seems less and less likely. In Israel, people are in despair. In Gaza people will go on to the last soldier because they have nothing more to lose. It is a dire situation. We, the world that is watching, have an obligation here. Just like in every other desperate situation, we have to do our best to dream for these people who have lost their capacity to dream. They all deserve to live just like us, with their own Golden Gate in the background.


Related Stories

13:14 Medicare's finances keep on improving» Daily Kos
Child's hand grasping old person's hand.
The case for cutting Medicare and for repealing Obamacare is getting worse and worse all the time. This week's installment of bad news for the would-be cutters and repealers: the Medicare trustees' report, showing an improved outlook for the federal health program.
Medicare’s financial health is improving, according to a new official forecast that says that the program will remain solvent until 2030—four years later than anticipated a year ago—because of the Affordable Care Act and lower-than-expected spending on hospital stays.
For the more visually inclined, here's a chart showing how the life of the program has been extended over the past five years, courtesy of White House healthcare advisor Tara McGuinness.
Bar chart showing increasing strength of Medicare's financing sine 2009.
Healthcare spending continues to slow, a likely combination of the reforms in Obamacare and a still sluggish economy. But there's little question that the program reforms in Obamacare are a very real factor in these savings, and in strengthening the program.

The trustees also found little changes in the outlook for Social Security, estimating it is completely solvent until 2033, the same as last year's prediction, absent any changes to the program. The program has a large and growing surplus of $19.3 billion for 2014. Bottom line, neither program is in imminent danger of collapse, and neither program needs to be subjected to benefit cuts in order to save it. There's plenty of time for smart solutions to extend the lives of the programs beyond the next two decades that won't hurt retirees.

13:09 These Facial Features Matter Most to First Impressions» LiveScience.com
First impressions of people, such as whether they are trustworthy, dominant or attractive, can develop from a glimpse as brief as 100 milliseconds or less. And now a computer system can identify which facial features matter most to such first impressions.
13:01 Election Diary Rescue: Week 29» Daily Kos
DKos Miner 14
The following diaries are examples of this week's Election Diary Rescue. This post features a collection of 43 diaries.

(MI-Sen) Terri Lynn Land to file amended financial disclosure after "forgetting" a multi-million $$ bank acct by Eclectablog - Republican Terri Lynn Land, formerly Michigan's top official in charge of elections, forgot she had a multi-million dollar bank account when she filled out the mandatory financial disclosure form required of all candidates. But she remembered it long enough to tap it for contributions to her campaign.

(NY-21) NY-21 House Race - Moderate Republican endorses Tea Party candidate. Karl Rove is pleased. by AdirondackForeverWildFollow - The U.S. House seat being vacated by Democrat Bill Owens featured a bitter primary that saw Tea Party fave Elise Stefanik beat moderate Republican Matt Doheny. Doheny has now endorsed Stefanik. The Dem nominee is Aaron Woolf.

(MD-CoCouncil) GOP Leader Questions Candidate About Hate Group That Advocates Death Squads - Updated by jhutson - The head of Maryland's Republican Party has called local candidate for Anne Arundel County Council Michael Peroutka to the woodshed over his involvement with a high profile white nationalist hate group. Scary stuff.

GOTV 2014: What's your plan? by akadjian - Diarist and fellow users share their plans for GOTV. "On the 4-hour drive back from Netroots, I had some time to think. What is my GOTV strategy going to look like for November? I want to quickly share 3 things I picked up at Netroots and then I'm interested in your thoughts since I have never done this before."

This is the 29th weekly edition of Election Diary Rescue. It covers rescued down-ticket election diaries published from Sunday, July 20 through Saturday, July 26. We hope you enjoy the following gems dug up by our dedicated team of miners.

VOLUNTEER ALERT! As the election approaches we will be switching back to our traditional daily schedule for producing this blog. We will need a few good Kossacks to join the team.
Please e-mail us if you would like the opportunity to contribute to this legacy project. DKosEDR@gmail.com.

Diaries: (43)
Senate: (11) posts, (7) states
House: (9) posts, (6) states, (5) districts
State and more: (18)
General: (5)

12:49 Even a 5-Minute Run Is Great for Heart Health» LiveScience.com
Think you don't have time for a workout that will benefit your health? You may want to think again: A new study finds that running as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day may reduce the risk of death.
12:45 House GOP leader can't bring himself to say Republicans won't impeach Obama» Daily Kos
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room of White House to discuss the economy, November 16, 2012. Left of President Obama is Speaker of the House John Boehner.                             REU
Are House Republicans really thinking about impeaching President Obama, or is that just spin from congressional Democrats and the White House to fire up Democratic voters ahead of the November elections? Personally, I think the answer is obvious—they'd love to impeach Obama—but let's see what incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise had to say about it when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace popped the question over the weekend. He began:
You know, this might be the first White House in history that's trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president.
Okay, for the sake of argument let's say that the White House is trying to start the narrative. (I mean, except for all those GOPers calling for him to be impeached. Like Palin, for example.) But the question isn't who is trying to start the narrative, it's whether or not the narrative has a basis in reality. And if it's not true, then Scalise should just say so, right? Instead:
Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow his own laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land and he's not. In fact, the Supreme Court unanimously more than 12 times, unanimously said the president overreached and actually did things he doesn't have the legal authority to do.
Not only did Scalise refuse to say the narrative is false, he went on to repeat the bizarre and false claim that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled unanimously against President Obama's executive actions. That's simply not true—the real story is that the Obama administration's position in 13 court cases has failed unanimously, but only one of those concerned executive actions.

But let's call Scalise's first answer strike one, because Wallace gave him another shot at dismissing the impeachment talk:

We've made it clear. We're going to put options on the table to allow -- to allow the House to take legal action against the president when he overreaches his authority. Others have already done that. Cases are going to the Supreme Court. Like I said, more than a dozen times the Supreme Court unanimously -- I'm not talking about a 5-4 decision -- 9-0, unanimously said the president overreached.

So, we're going to continue to be a check and a balance against this administration.

If the first answer was strike one, that's gotta be strike two, because on a substantive level, it was the exact same thing. But Scalise was still at the plate, and Wallace gave him yet another shot:
WALLACE: But impeachment is off the table?

SCALISE: Well, the White House wants to talk about impeachment, and, ironically, they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too.

WALLACE: I'm asking you, sir.

SCALISE: Look, the White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda -- people paying higher costs for food, for health care, for gas at the pump. The president isn't solving those problems. So, he wants to try to change the subject.

We're going to continue to focus on getting the economy moving again, solve problems for everyday people. I would like to see the president engaged in that, too. That's his job.

But for whatever, he wants to change the topic, talk about things like this.

Technically, I think those were actually the third and fourth strikes, because that was actually two more chanties for Scalise to say that Republicans aren't thinking about impeaching Obama—though to be fair and balanced, you could say he fouled the first one off.

All kidding aside, how hard is it for a House Republican to say: "No, President Obama shouldn't be impeached." Scalise obviously wasn't eager to associate Republicans with impeachment—that's why he tried to blame the White House—but he had at his disposal a definitive way of dismissing the talk: He could have said it wasn't true. He could have even added an asterisk—"based on what we know today." Instead, he just tried to blame the White House while simultaneously accusing the president of being a lawless renegade. And if that's the kind of rhetoric we're getting from the GOP now, just wait until you hear what they'll have to say after the election—and after the courts toss out their lawsuit.

12:31 Having Trouble Reaching Orgasm? Here's What Might Help» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Women who focus on erotic thoughts during sex have an easier time reaching orgasm.

Apparently, ladies, it really is all in your head. A recent study published in the current issue of Sexologies finds that for females, the key to orgasms might not be in sex itself, but in thinking sexy thoughts. A poll of more than 250 French women found that for those who were able to focus on their bodies and steer their thoughts to the erotic during intercourse, they were more likely to be “orgasmic.”

According to Live Science, researchers were surprised by the prominent role erotic thinking seems to play in a woman’s ability to climax during intercourse:

The researchers did not expect that the cognitive aspect of orgasm in women would be as important as the results suggested, said study author Pascal De Sutter, a professor at the department of sexology and family science at the University of Louvain in Belgium.

“It seems that women have no problem” focusing on erotic fantasies when they are on their own, De Sutter told Live Science. But women who do not have regular orgasms during intercourse seem to have more difficulties focusing their attention on the present moment when they have sex with their partners, she said.

De Sutter’s findings correspond with earlier research showing that women who tend to have difficulty reaching orgasm have few erotic thoughts during sex. So the new study provides an interesting corollary (that women who do think erotic thoughts do tend to reach orgasm more easily or frequently), which might allow psychologists and sexologists to help women find their orgasms. With this new knowledge, it should be possible to develop techniques that will get women centered, focused and curling their toes in delight.


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12:24 Holy Hogwarts! New 'Invisible' Materials Made with Light» LiveScience.com
Invisibility cloaks may not be a reality yet, but a new method of building materials with light could one day be used to make these kinds of cloaking devices, researchers say.
12:09 6 of the Most Outrageous and Ignorant Celebrity Rants Supporting Israel’s Assault on Gaza» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
You wouldn't believe how ignorant these celebrity rants are.

The Israeli assault on Gaza has sparked intense, and often vitriolic, debate across the U.S., and the entertainment business is no exception. A number of Hollywood celebrities have come out in protest of the bombardment of the people of Gaza by Israeli air strikes and artillery, a signal that the mainstream discourse in the U.S., Israel’s number-one ally, is shifting. But the opposing side has also come out swinging.

Pro-Israel celebrities have voiced support for the assault, lambasting other stars in the same business for critiquing the state they support. The high-profile back and forth is a window into how polarizing Israel has become after decades of largely uncritical support in the U.S.

Here are six pro-Israel celebrities who have spoken up in recent days.

1. Joan Rivers. This American actress and comedian delivered what celebrity news website TMZ.com called a “rant”in support of Israel over the weekend.

Speaking to a TMZ reporter who caught her at an airport, Rivers slammed U.S. media coverage of Israel’s attack on Gaza for being too sympathetic to Palestinians. She said “BBC should be ashamed of themselves. And CNN should be ashamed of themselves.” But what was even more striking was her calls to “wipe” Gaza out.

“If New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out,” said Rivers. (The analogy only works if New York occupied and put New Jersey under a crippling air, land and sea blockade.) Asked about civilian casualties in Gaza, Rivers echoed Israeli army claims by saying, “don’t put your goddamn things in private homes! I’m sorry, don’t you dare put weapons stashes in private homes.”

Rivers also unleashed a torrent of criticism at Selena Gomez, the pop star who sent out an Instagram post praying for the people of Gaza. “Let’s see if she can spell Palestinian,” she said.

2. Howard Stern. Long a supporter of Israel, Stern did not hold back when a caller on his radio show said that Israel was to blame for the current crisis. His profanity-filled ranton SiriusXM went viral. 

“I’m so tired of the bullshit. If you’re anti-Israel than you’re anti-America. It’s the only democracy over there, it’s the only friend we have who’s willing to fight and stand up for what’s right.” said Stern. He also lashed out at Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is one of the most prominent supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel over human rights violations. Stern said Waters should “shut his mouth.”

3. Bill Maher. The comedian is a darling of liberals, but when it comes to Israel, the host of HBO’s “Real Time” is all for war.

Maher kicked up a storm of controversy over a Twitter message he sent that read: “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u — u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”

On his show, he agreed with conservative guest, Daily Caller writer Jamie Weinstein, on the Gaza conflict. “If it’s your father, your brother, your uncle who’s firing those rockets into Israel, who’s fault is it really? Do you really expect the Israelis not to retaliate?” said Maher. He also got in a crude anti-Muslim joke. “Jews have, I think, 155 Nobel Prizes, Muslims have two. That seems like kind of a big advantage for team Hebrew.”

4. Jon Voight. Speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Las Vegas, the Academy Award-winning actor said that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “do not really have Israel’s back covered as they say they do. Instead of telling Hamas to stop sending rockets into Israel aimed at its civilian population, they say Israel has to stop killing civilians. What a travesty of justice.”

5. Omri Casspi. The Israeli basketball player, formerly of the Houston Rockets, has used his public platform to defend the state he was born in.

“600 missiles been fired from GAZA by Hamas in the last 4 days. NUMBERS DONT LIE. STOP LYING,” he tweeted on July 12. That tweet came after his former teammate Dwight Howard sent out a message that read, “Free Palestine.” After a firestorm of controversy, Howard deleted the tweet, saying he would not comment on international politics anymore.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Casspi doubled down on his position. “I think of the people in Gaza… they think Jewish people are monsters with three heads. But Hamas is using humans as shields and building tunnels under people’s houses. What do we do?”

6. Mark Pellegrino. Americans may not know his name, but they probably know his face. Pellegrino has appeared in the popular television shows “Lost” and “Dexter” and the movie The Big Lebowski, among others. His social media messages have been supportive of Israel.

“Great quote from an Israeli Lt. Col: ‘Israel uses weapons to safeguard civilians. Hamas uses civilians to safeguard weapons.’” he wrote. He added: “not Israel's fault that those terroristic cowards hide behind children and fire rockets from apartment complexes. then display the bodies of the children they used as human shields to shame the Israelis. The shame is entirely on Hamas.”

Bonus: Jeff Halevy. "The Today’s Show" fitness correspondent won’t be well-known to most Americans. Nevertheless, he is on TV a lot, and he is also voicing support for Israel on Twitter. Responding to journalist Michael Tracey, Halevy said: “Israel shouldn't eradicate those who preempted the action by firing missiles at it?” He followed up with more tweets, including one that read: “Israel sought peace when it gave Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005 & all they’ve gotten in return is incessant rocket fire.”


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12:06 Earth May Be in Early Days of 6th Mass Extinction» LiveScience.com
The previous mass extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs, happened about 65 million years ago, likely from a catastrophic asteroid that collided with Earth. In contrast, the looming sixth mass extinction is linked to human activity.
12:01 Brain Gains: Women Getting Smarter Faster Than Men» LiveScience.com
Improved education and living conditions have narrowed the gender gap in math but have made women much better at certain memory tasks, new research suggests.
12:00 Midday open thread: Recaps, Rand and Rocker» Daily Kos
11:46 15 Funniest Twitter Suggestions for Shows on New Sarah Palin TV Channel» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
"Death Panels, She Wrote," and lots, lots more.

The Twittersphere was quick to respond to the hilarious news that Sarah Palin will start her own TV channel on the Internet, so she can get around all that icky "politically correct" stuff she hates in the mainstream media, and just talk to folks unfiltered. For only $99.95 a year, you can be a subscriber, although given her past patterns, it's not clear Palin will stick with it for an entire year. Something better might come up.

Numerous wits proposed show titles under #PalinTVShows.

Here's a sampling of the best suggestions with their author's Twitter tags. Sarah, listen up. Some very good ideas here.

1. "Really Easy Jeopardy"


2. "Back Alley McBeal"


3. "Death Panels, She Wrote"


4. "I Love Lucy But Deport Ricky"

@DavidCornDC (yes, that David Corn)

5. "Meet the Press . . . Never"


6. "Say Yes to the Confederate Flag Dress"


7. "James and the Giant Impeach"

@lizzwinstead (Yeupp, again. She's good.)

8. "The Sorest Loser"


9. "My Three Guns"


10. "Sarah the Vocabulary Slayer"


11. "Who Wants to Be a Shill-ionaire"


12. "Gone With the Windbag"

@FrankJPaladino (again)

13. "Camo Is the New Black"


14. "Mama Grizzly Addams Family Values"


15. "The Weakest Wink"








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11:32 Another record-breaking election: $2 billion for an off-year campaign» Daily Kos
Demonstrator holding sign saying

This is going to be an unprecedented campaign year in a few ways, all of which boil down to the obscene amounts of money that outside groups can spend to try to influence the vote in this post-Citizens United world. The New York Times has analyzed data provided by Kantar Media/CMAG through mid-July of this year, and finds earlier ad spending, more spending, and more outside spending than ever before. They predict the final price tag for political ad spending for 2014 to reach more than $2 billion.
“They have become a shadow party that’s effectively impossible to dislodge, and they will shape, if not control, the dialogue in key races and therefore nationally,” said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “All of this sets the stage for 2016.”

The phenomenon, which is playing out in races across the country, is particularly pronounced in several competitive Senate contests — in places like Alaska, Colorado and North Carolina, among others. In the Senate races alone, the number of political television spots from outside groups is nearly six times as much as it was at the same point in the 2010 cycle. In fact, more political ads from outside groups have already aired during the relatively slow summer period of the 2014 Senate contests—roughly 150,000 spots through mid-July—than ran throughout the entire 2010 Senate elections.

As we've seen so far in this campaign though, all that money isn't doing a whole hell of a lot to change voter minds. Particularly for the Koch brothers, where their Americans for Prosperity has been pouring millions and millions into races without moving the polling needle a bit. That's not a big surprise to the strategists.
“The irony is that the more political ads air on TV, the more voters tune them out,” said Mark McKinnon, a veteran Republican strategist and ad maker. “It just becomes a white noise. The return on investment is absurd.”
The Kochs will set the pace for spending, the Democrats will try to keep up, and the American electorate will become even more fed up and disgusted with politics than ever, having been subjected to the onslaught of ads that won't ever end. The Supreme Court's decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon don't just destroy democracy by giving an incredibly outsized voice to corporate and obscenely wealthy voters. It also locks people who don't have access to that kind of money out of running for federal office and it multiplies the cynicism and the disengagement of the voters.

At the rate we're going, we're not only going to see campaign spending records fall, we're on track to break another record for low voter turnout in an off-year election.

11:21 Frog Population Decline Linked to Killer Pathogen» LiveScience.com
Ranavirus may be partly to blame for dwindling frog populations.
11:20 Fourth Circuit becomes second appeals court to strike down same-sex marriage ban» Daily Kos
Paul Katami (R) shares a kiss after proposing marriage to Jeff Zarrillo (L) as the two plaintiffs in the case against California's gay marriage ban known as Prop 8 address reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2013.  REUTERS/Jonathan
Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrrillo, plaintiffs in the last marriage case to hit the Supreme Court, on their decision day. It's likely marriage equality is headed back to the Supreme Court, hopefully to be settled in the law for once and for all.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage, holding, in a two-one vote, that it is unconstitutional:
The decision, by Judge Henry Floyd acknowledged both the debate over such laws and, in the court’s view, the clear constitutional impediment to laws banning same-sex couples from marrying.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” he wrote. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen had previously ruled against Virginia's marriage ban, and the state's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, narrowly elected in 2013, refused to defend the ban in court.

The Fourth Circuit is the second appeals court to rule for marriage equality, following a late June decision from the Tenth Circuit, a decision cited by the Fourth Circuit (full decision here).

1:45 PM PT: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper reads the tea leaves:

Cooper: "After reviewing the 4th Cir decision .. I have concluded the state of North Carolina will not oppose" cases challenging ssm bans.
11:19 Rep. Curt Clawson mistakes U.S. government officials for foreigners» Daily Kos
In case you missed it last week, newly installed Florida Rep. Curt Clawson's first major contribution to the national discourse was an extended conversation with two United States government officials appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in which he was convinced, apparently by names and the skin color of the two witnesses, that they were probably from India.

So the good representative of the people, apparently without ever once looking at the witness list or bothering to consider what he might more properly ask those witnesses who his committee had hauled up to brief them about things, took it upon himself to foster better relations with the country he figured they were probably from:

Clawson: I am familiar with your country. I love your country. And I am hopeful with the new change in regime that the future and the land of promise and the land of opportunity of India can finally become so...

[...] So, just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there and there to be free enough capital so that both sides are on the same territory. And I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?

Biswal: I think your question is to the Indian government and we certainly share your sentiments, and we certainly will advocate that on behalf of the U.S. government.

Clawson: Of course. And I’m asking your opinion of how they view….

Biswal: Like I said, I think we have heard a lot of positive signals, a lot of positive intentions. And we will be engaging both through the state department, through the commerce department, through our USTR, through our treasury department to make sure that we are engaging on those issues and looking for the concrete steps forward.

Clawson: Okay, let’s see some progress.

The unfailing politeness of the poor witnesses as Rep. Clawson trundles along his merry way may be the best part.

Clawson has since apologized, but consider all that needed to happen in order for that exchange to have transpired. Clawson didn't know who his witnesses were. He knew the hearing was supposed to be about India—good on you, fella—but had no specific idea what he should be asking them or what they were here to say. He didn't bother to listen while the witnesses were introduced specifically as being from the State and Commerce departments. He just looked up and, apparently, said "huh, them folks ain't white. I guess they're furriners. I'll ask them about that."

Clawson is the representative elected to replace Rep. Trey Radel, aka Florida's Rob Ford, aka the guy who (eventually) resigned after being busted for cocaine possession. There are no indications that Clawson is also riding the white pony, but you have to wonder if the people of his Florida district are taking these elections very seriously.

11:05 Say What? Americans Are Just as Prudish About the Legal Drinking Age as 30 Years Ago» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
New study shows 74 percent are against lowering the drinking age to 18.

A newly released Gallup study confirms that Americans on the whole are still very much a conservative bunch when it comes to alcohol. The majority still reject a federal law that would lower the minimum drinking age to 18.

A whopping 74 percent of the 1,013 adults aged 18 or older who were surveyed said they would oppose such legislation, which is consistent with public opinion thirty years ago when the federal legislation first raised the the minimum drinking age to 21.

The laws were originally introduced in 1984 to curb driving fatalities involving young adults, with research showing a decline in such incidents. Yet, according to Gallup, the reduction was more likely attributable to the lack of uniformity in drinking laws among states during that period. Canada, with a drinking age of 19, also experienced a decline in drunk-driving incidents, Substance reported. Furthermore, the laws did not and still do not curtail binge drinking amongst teens.

Advocates of decreasing the drinking age have argued that lowering the age and teaching teens to drink responsibility would actually be far more effective than prohibition in terms of monitoring and reducing young people's desire to drink alcohol, which has most of its appeal due to its ‘forbidden status.’ Critics of the laws also argue that if 18 year olds are old enough to drive, vote and serve in the military, than they are old enough to drink.

Yet, public opinion does not support such a contention. Surprisingly, there was little variation across demographic groups when looking at sex, education, geography or political ideology. The survey found only 34 percent of liberals appeared to support lowering the drinking age, not even double the 18 percent of conservatives who supported a change. 

What's more, younger adults were no more likely to favor lower the drinking age than older folk. Even those who drink alcohol supported lowering the drinking age only marginally more (29 percent) than those who don’t drink (18 percent) with those who drink on a weekly basis supporting efforts to reduce the minimum by 35 percent.

Today, the United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world along with several other conservative countries including Kazakhstan, Japan and Iceland. More proof that this puritanical society we live in is not disappearing anytime soon.


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10:58 Mammoths and Mastodons of the Ohio Valley Were Homebodies» LiveScience.com
Mammoths and mastodons of present-day southwestern Ohio and northwestern Kentucky, were homebodies that tended to stay in one area, a new study finds.
10:58 Why the NYT's Call For Marijuana Legalization Is a Huge Deal» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The paper of record linked the govt's marijuana ban to the disastrous alcohol prohibition policy of the 1930's.

The New York Times editorial board made history Sunday, as the first major national paper to call for an end to marijuana prohibition. And how they did it is half the story -- with rare flash and panache, as well as the intellectual and moral substance to back it up.

The Times' editorial has the feel of legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite coming out against the Vietnam War. They dropped a bomb on our country's disastrous war on marijuana with unprecedented force.

Some people think of the Times' editorial page as a liberal mouthpiece -- but when it comes to marijuana prohibition and the drug war, they've been extremely cautious and conservative. In previous decades, the Times did as much as any other media outlet to legitimize drug war hysteria and its disastrous policies.

For them to pull no punches in rejecting the prohibitionist policies that their predecessors embraced speaks to the broader inter-generational transformation underway in America -- not just with the issue of ending marijuana prohibition, but also LGBT rights and other issues as well. It gives us hope that America can evolve, both morally and intellectually, in a more enlightened direction.

Just look at the content. The paper of record forcefully called the federal government to end the ban on marijuana, linking marijuana prohibition to the failed alcohol prohibition policy of the 1930's, while noting that marijuana is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. They also cited our country's massive, racially disproportionate numbers of marijuana arrests as further provocation for their position.

But the content is only part of the story -- the paper also put passion and juice behind it. The cover of the Sunday Review was splashed with an enormous image of an American flag, with marijuana leaves replacing the stars. I have never seen a Times editorial take up three-quarters of the cover of the Sunday Review.

In addition to the cover editorial, two Times' columnists wrote accompanying pieces, "Let States Decide on Marijuana" and "The Public Lightens Up About Weed."

These editorials had the feel of a manifesto and a campaign for the Times, and the paper announced that they were just the start. There will be a six-part series on marijuana legalization in which editorial staff examine a range of related issues such as criminal justice, public health, regulatory models, and so forth. As the "paper of record," the Times' advocacy on this issue has already created a tidal wave of media attention, with TV coverage on theSunday morning shows and a worldwide echo of follow-up stories.

It's worth noting that the Times' position is not actually that cutting-edge -- they are simply catching up with the majority of Americans who now support marijuana legalization.

And think about what this means for electoral politics. Even though marijuana reform has moved from the fringes to the mainstream of American politics in recent years, support has lagged among elected officials and other major institutions.

The Times has now provided elected officials with more evidence that ending marijuana prohibition and the drug war is not just the right thing to do -- it's also smart politics. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in this year's election, and especially in 2016 -- when Presidential candidates and other key figures will be obliged to take a position on this issue.

Marijuana arrests have been the key engine driving our country's devastating war on drugs. Tens of millions of lives have been damaged because of a marijuana possession arrest. The most powerful news outlet in the world coming on board, with the passion they did, should speed up an exit strategy from this long-lost war.


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10:47 King Richard III's Hasty Grave Opened to the Public» LiveScience.com
The public can now visit the first, but not final, resting place of King Richard III of England. The king's bones were found in 2012 in a parking lot in Leicester, England.
10:30 Citizen Science Aims to Clean Up Pacific Plastics » LiveScience.com
COASST studies seasonal patterns of ocean debris to aid in the clean up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
10:24 Pacific Ocean Garbage Swirls Predictably | Video» LiveScience.com
The 'Pacific Garbage Patch', including debris from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, travels in seasonal patterns. Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team's executive direct Julia Parrish explains the patterns. Full Story: http://goo.gl/IQ5gPC
10:11 Fast food workers vow to use civil disobedience in fight for $15» Daily Kos
Police in riot gear met protesters at McDonald's headquarters
Some workers were already arrested protesting the McDonald's shareholder meeting in May.
The more than 1,300 fast food workers who gathered outside Chicago over the weekend to plan next steps in their fight for $15 an hour and a union have a big next step planned: civil disobedience. Steven Greenhouse reports:
“They’re already slowly killing us with the way they’ve got us living,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King worker in Kansas City, Mo., who served as M.C. for much of the convention. “Are we going to stand up?” he asked. “I want to see who is willing to do whatever it takes, who is willing to get arrested.”

After his pleas, the workers voted unanimously to conduct a wave of civil disobedience actions.

A series of one-day strikes by fast food workers in cities across the country have fueled local and state minimum wage fights, led to workers at some fast food restaurants being fired in retaliation, and led to raises for workers in other restaurants. Civil disobedience is an obvious next step, and one we got a hint of in May when protesters were arrested around McDonald's shareholder meeting.

The number of workers in any one location willing to engage in civil disobedience may be small for now, but as part of a multipronged strategy including minimum wage campaigns, wage theft cases, and a complaint asking the National Labor Relations Board to declare McDonald's a joint employer with its franchise owners, the escalating workplace and in-the-streets activism planned creates still more pressure on fast food companies to improve their labor policies.

09:45 Never fear, Sarah Palin TV is here!» Daily Kos

Sarah Palin's new website screenshot

OMG, cannot wait!

Sarah Palin says she's fed up with traditional news media outlets. So she's starting her own online channel.

In a Sunday video, the former Republican vice presidential nominee announced the Sarah Palin Channel, a subscription-based Web site that she says will offer news, video chats with her and behind-the-scenes glimpses of speeches and political events she attends.

Hot damn, this is going to be some awesome content. Who wouldn't want to pay $9.95 month—discounted to just $99.95 for a year—to get inside "updates on the 'fun' in her household"?

Plus, it's awesome she's giving away some really great free content, like that countdown timer on how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds are left until President Obummer is no longer our commander in chief. I think I'll be checking that every day, because I, for one, am super excited for that day when we finally get a Real American President like Hillary Clinton, who Sarah Palin will obviously endorse because if you're a conservative woman and you can't endorse a female candidate for president just because she's a Democrat then you are obviously sexist.

But the thing about this that makes me most proud to be an American is here is an example of a citizen who has spent her life outside the system, except for those years when she was running for city council and mayor and governor and vice president and maybe president, taking advantage of a technology that is completely outside the realm of government control, except for that little part about DARPA research having been essential to its creation, and using that fearsome individualism to build her own media network outside the reach of Big Government or Big Corporations—unless, of course, she gets her way on Net Neutrality, in which case we won't just be paying a $9.95 monthly fee to her, we'll have to pay an additional $5.00 a month to Comcast or Time Warner in order to be able to access her website. But it will still be totally worth it.

p.s.: In case you were thinking about alternate names for the show, a few ideas:

James And  The Giant Impeach #PalinTVShows
I Love Lucy But Deport Ricky #PalinTVShows
My Three Guns #PalinTVShows
09:23 Tumor Full of 232 'Toothlets': What's an Odontoma?» LiveScience.com
09:14 Republican mayor in North Carolina warns GOP over Medicaid fallout» Daily Kos
Mayor Adam O'Neal of Bellhaven, NC, a Republican who has been walking to Washington, DC on behalf of rural health care and Medicaid expansion, speaks at an event with at the Greater Prince William Community Health Center in Woodbridge, Virginia on Saturday, July 26, 2014.
Mayor Adam O'Neal of Bellhaven, NC, speaks at an event with at the Greater Prince William Community Health Center in Woodbridge, VA, on Saturday, July 26, 2014.

The Republican mayor of Belhaven, NC, is on a 273 mile walk to draw attention to health care, rural hospitals, and Medicaid expansion. Mayor Adam O’Neal (R) is on his way to Washington, DC, via North Carolina and Virginia, and is blasting fellow Republicans for refusing Medicaid expansion, a decision that he says was a factor in the closing of a hospital in his area.
Vidant Health purchased the Pungo District Hospital in 2011, but then ended up closing the facility, which had been designated a critical care center.

"We’ve had our health care stolen,” O'Neal said during a speech in Woodbridge, Va. on Saturday, adding that Vidant makes millions each year even though it's a non-profit. "It’s immoral for a company to take health care away from people and keep your non-profit designation." […]

"We need to stop playing politics with this,” he said. “I’m afraid that my Republican colleagues in North Carolina are going to get killed this fall because of Medicaid expansion. There’s 500,000 people in North Carolina that could have insurance coverage the next 2 years and not cost the state a dime, and the state’s not accepting that. Now, if you’re representing the citizens, how can you not do that?”

O'Neal says that Gov. Pat McCrory won't meet with him to discuss the issue and that "[n]ot a person in power" has confronted Vidant about the hospital closing. That lack of concern for the health care of North Carolinians will doom Republicans in 2014, O'Neal says.
09:10 Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed» LiveScience.com
Tree rings in the waterlogged ribs of a sunken ship found at the World Trade Center site revealed that the vessel was likely built in 1773, or soon after, in a small shipyard around Philadelphia.
09:06 Photos: Shipwreck Under the World Trade Center» LiveScience.com
In 2010, excavators discovered a wooden ship buried under the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. A new tree ring study reveals that the vessel was likely built in 1773, or soon after, in a small shipyard around Philadelphia.
09:03 Maybe Fist Bump Next Time? Handshakes Have Much Higher Risk of Making You Sick» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
A strong handshake passes on as many as 10 times the number of bacteria compared to bumping fists.

Traditionalists may be inclined to disagree, but a new study has revealed that fist bumps and high-fives are better greetings than firm handshakes —at least in terms of your health.

In fact, even adopting a limper, weaker grip when meeting people would have a noticeable impact on the spread of infectious diseases, experts have said.

The researchers from Aberystwth University found that a strong handshake passes on as many as 10 times the number of bacteria compared to bumping fists.

A high-five reduces exposure by roughly half compared to a handshake, the scientists said.

Using rubber gloves, Dr. Dave Whitworth and PhD student Sara Mela dipped one hand into a bacterial soup, coating it with E. coli.

They then performed a range of hand gestures of various intensities, recording which greetings passed on the most bacteria. Whitworth, a senior lecturer at Aberystwyth, said the hygienic nature of the fist bump was in part due to its speed as well as there being a smaller contact area.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands. But if the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is a genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.”

The study has been published in the American Journal of Infection Control, and comes on World Hepatitis Day and with viral diseases like Ebola making headlines like never before.

It is not the first time it has been proposed that there are more hygienic alternatives to shaking hands—and doctors in the US have previously argued that the traditional practice should be banned altogether.

But Whitworth told the BBC: “There's a lot of inertia into changing this, a handshake is a badge of office and medics are trained to have a firm handshake to infuse patients with confidence, but you've got to ask is that appropriate behaviour.”

He added that the study, aimed at a wider audience than the medical community, was inspired by increased measures at promoting cleanliness in the workplace through the use of hand-sanitisers and keyboard disinfectants.



Related Stories

08:29 Why the FDA's Latest Move on Chicken Inspection Is Literally Full of Sh*t» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
If approved by the USDA, a new rule could replace government inspectors with untrained company employees -- and that'll be bad for your health.

If you buy your chicken from the supermarket, here are a few things about its life that might make you less eager to eat it. As a chick, your chicken's beak was cut off so that it wouldn't attack other chickens in the overcrowded cage in which it was raised. Your chicken was fed so much grain so quickly – supplemented with antibiotics – that, by the time it was ready for slaughter at the age of five weeks, its breasts were swollen and disproportionately large, rendering it unable to walk. Once your chicken was slaughtered, it was tossed into a chlorinated bath or doused with other industrial-grade chemicals so that your chicken would reach you "clean".

But "clean", when it comes to meat, is a relative standard. Most chickens spend the bulk of their short lives covered or standing in feces (to say nothing of the conditions in which cows, pigs or even turkeys are raised), and the way in which they are dispatched in the modern era is so sordid that farm states are actually passing laws to keep you from ever bearing witness to the slaughter.

Old Macdonald had a farm – once – but corporations interested in maximizing profits bought him out.

The one small hope for human health has been that the US Department of Agriculture has inspectors to watch over those processing plants and make sure we don't eat sick chickens or chickens covered in their own feces as they make their way through the processing plant. That is, it's been the one hope until now.

The USDA is moving toward final approval of a rule that would replace most government inspectors with untrained company employees, and to allow companies to slaughter chickens at a much faster rate. (The rule is called the "Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection", but advocates like the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch are calling it the "Filthy Chicken Rule".) It could be approved as soon as this week.

This "modernization" of inspections through privatization is likely to cause more problems than already occur because the company employees will be disinclined to cost their bosses money by slowing down, stopping production or removing chickens when there's a problem. "It's really letting the fox guard the chicken coop", says Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch.

And there are already plenty of problems. The rule comes in the midst of a years-long increase in the number of food-born illnesses, driven in part by a shortage of government inspectors.

As the International Business Times reported:

An increase in the incidence of salmonella in the U.S. could have a real impact on consumers, as the pathogen already represents a major threat to public health. Salmonella 'is estimated to cause 1.2 million illnesses in the United States, with about 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths' each year, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study of more than 300 raw chicken breasts released by Consumer Reports earlier this year found that 10.8 percent harbored salmonella, while 65.2 percent tested positive for E. coli. Overall, about 97 percent of the breasts tested contained harmful bacteria, according to the study.

And salmonella isn't even one of the diseases the USDA can currently regulate by stopping production if diseased or feces-covered birds make it into the production line.

It's hardly better elsewhere: the Guardian just released the results of a major investigation into chicken factory farming in the UK, and found that poor hygiene and spotty adherence to the rules makes 280,000 people sick there each year.

Advocates had been working to make the American regulatory system more comprehensive, supporting bills like one introduced by Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) that would have allowed USDA inspectors to make sure that birds infected with salmonella didn't make it into our kitchens. Instead, the Obama administration is making sure we're getting a less powerful USDA altogether.

Of course, chicken processors are hardly the only offenders. Almost every kind of animal slaughtered in the United States is pumped full of drugs and raised in unsustainably large factory farms. It's incredibly bad for the environment, not to mention our stomachs.

But processing companies are uniquely powerful in the poultry industry. They've devised a system that sucks money from farmers, making them poorer every year, and sells increasingly cheap and unhealthy meat to consumers. And, with the new rule getting rid of government inspectors, companies stand to earn even more profits. (Estimates on the new rule place savings for those companies at about $256m per year.)

It's particularly disappointing seeing this rule from the Obama administration, which many food-safety advocates had hoped would improve the quality of the food we eat, rather than degrade it. "They've gone out of their way to cater to the industry on this," Corbo says. "This is a gift to the poultry industry."

Unfortunately, the cost of that "gift" could be human health.



Related Stories

08:03 Paul Krugman Lays Bare Latest Corporate Scheme to Rob American Taxpayers» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
It's called 'inversion,' and Congress could close this outrageous loophole right now.

If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court says, then why don't they have to pay taxes? Paul Krugman expresses outrage about the latest corporate scheme to dodge taxes in today's New York Times column

Admittedly, corporations do still pay some taxes. "The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation," the Nobel-prize winning economist writes. "But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent."

The latest of these aggressive tax-avoidance ploys is called “inversion.” And as Krugman explains, it's a purely legal maneuver that allows companies to claim that its "U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate."

The company does not need to move overseas to do this. What a quaint and old-fashioned notion. It's all done on paper. Sometimes, it might involve opening an office somewhere abroad. The most egregious current example is Walgreen, which will continue to operate its thriving pharmacy business in the U.S. (have no fear, your local Walgreen's will remain) but for purely tax reasons, is reportedly about to declare itself Swiss, which "will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another," Krugman writes.

That's what we have legislatures for, right? To rein in these corporate bad actors. Congress could rather easily crack down on this tax dodge. Why doesn't it?


Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion.

First of all, there are some good reasons to tax profits. In general, U.S. taxes favor unearned income from capital over earned income from wages; the corporate tax helps redress this imbalance. We could, in principle, maintain taxes on unearned income if we offset cuts in corporate taxes with substantially higher tax rates on income from capital gains and dividends — but this would be an imperfect fix, and in any case, given the state of our politics, this just isn’t going to happen. 
Furthermore, ending profits taxation would greatly increase the power of corporate executives. Is this really something we want to do?

Easy question, we know.

Yes, yes, yes, Krugman writes, the system should be reformed. But that does not appear to be happening any time soon, given the current obstructionist posse in the Republican-controlled House. We can't wait for that to get Walgreen's and its like to pay their share.




Related Stories

07:41 Chris Christie is breaking his own pension promises: 'Welcome to the real world, folks'» Daily Kos
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey March 28, 2014. On Thursday a law firm hired by Christie, a potential Republican 2016 contender for the White House, released a report clearing him of wrongdoing in
In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie made a big push to cut pensions for New Jersey's public workers, a push that included the promise that from now on, the state would do its part to keep the pension system funded after years of failing to meet its obligations. Now, as he says that the state once again can't contribute its share to its workers' pension fund—even though the workers are now contributing more and getting less—here's Christie's explanation:
“Promises were made that can’t be kept,” Christie said of the state’s public-employee pension system. “Welcome to the real world, folks.”
Yes, promises were made. By Chris Christie. Welcome to the real world of what happens when you take Chris Christie at his word, folks.

With his state's budget a mess and his eyes still on 2016 despite being under investigation in the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal, Christie clearly sees targeting public workers again as a way to win some conservative love and posture for the media about his willingness to make "tough" choices:

“The easiest thing in the world for me to do now would be just to say: ‘The heck with it. I tried. We got a little bit. I couldn’t fix the whole problem, but I’m gone in three years,’ ” he said at the town hall. “I wouldn’t have to take the heat. I wouldn’t have people yelling at me.”
Christie, of course, wants everything to come down to people yelling at him, and him yelling back, showing what a tough guy he is. It's a strategy that's worked for him in the past, distracting from the real issues and focusing attention on his personality. It may not work as well now that, thanks to the bridge scandal, people have started to realize that "tough guy" really means bully, in Christie's case. Not to mention that now he's not just talking about breaking the state's basic promise to its workers that they will get retirement they earned, but is planning to break—bragging about breaking—his own promise to public employees. And while the Republican base might get behind stealing pensions from public workers, who really wants to vote for a politician who can't be trusted in 2014 to live up to the promises of a law he fought for in 2011?
07:35 A Common Link Among Female Criminals: Brain Injury » LiveScience.com
A high percentage of women in prison have a history of a traumatic brain injury, a new study finds.
07:29 States scramble to protect Obamacare subsidies» Daily Kos
Enrique Gonzalez, 22, (L-R), Janet Regalado, 21, and their nine-month-old daughter Kayleen Gonzalez pose for a photo after signing up for health insurance at an enrolment event in Commerce, California March 31, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama's embattle
Last week's split decisions by federal appeals courts on the Obamacare subsidies are rippling down through the states. A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit ruled that the law says that subsidies should only be available to customers in states that created their own exchanges under the law, while in a second case the Fourth District Court ruled that the law intended for everyone in all the states to be eligible. Not knowing which way the case will wind up, governors in states that base their exchanges on the federal system are working to protect the insurance subsidies that have provided millions with affordable health insurance.
Among the 36 states, the level of federal involvement varies. That means states see gray areas to work with, if they want to, though the ultimate decision about their status would likely hinge on additional court decisions and determinations by the Obama administration.

For example, two states, Idaho and New Mexico, had intended to set up their own exchanges but turned to the federal government to handle their technology in May 2013. The Obama administration has described them as "federally supported state-based" exchanges and often issues data on their behalf, in which it groups them with the other 34 states with "federally facilitated" exchanges.

Two other states, Nevada and Oregon, are currently considered to be among the 14 "state-based" exchanges, but have had technological problems and are now looking to the U.S. to operate their technology for the coming year.

Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada have all issued statements saying that they run state-based exchanges, that the technology might be borrowed from the federal government, but the actual administration of the exchanges is what matters, and that it is done by the states. That's the argument also made by Delaware and to varying degrees as well by Arkansas and Illinois, where there are strong pushes from the legislatures to move ahead on establishing fully state-run exchanges. That's because the political ramifications are potentially very big.
“It becomes health reform for blue states,” said John Holahan, an author of the Urban Institute report. “In the rest of the country you don't have health reform.” […]

“If the end result is if you live in New York you get (subsidies) and if you live in Georgia you don't, I don't think that's politically palatable,” said Kevin Wagner, a political science associate professor at Florida Atlantic University. “You start hitting middle-class people, and they vote.”

Republican governors in Florida, Georgia, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are all up for re-election this November and all to varying degrees foes of Obamacare. For a few of them who have refused Medicaid expansion, their opposition to the law has already proven to be a campaign issue. Add in the loss of insurance to a huge chunk of people who have had it for this year—and many more people being deliberately hurt for political purposes—and you've got some serious election-year fallout.
07:08 First Glimpse of Higgs Bosons at Work Revealed» LiveScience.com
The Higgs Boson was spotted in an ultra-rare interaction between force-carrying particles called W-Bosons, which could explain how the Higgs boson imparts mass to other particles.
07:02 In Photos: UK's Top-Secret 'Taranis' Drone Takes Flight» LiveScience.com
At the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow, which ran from July 14 to 20, British aerospace firm BAE Systems announced that its Taranis drone has completed a second set of classified flight tests.
06:55 What Recovery? You Probably Became Poorer In the Last 10 Years» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
From 2003-2013, ordinary Americans lost a third of their wealth.

You sense it when you look at your retirement account. You feel it when the bills come in. According to new research supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, your instinct is right: you are very likely getting poorer.

For the study, researchers gathered information on families in the middle of the wealth distribution continuum. What they found is that in 2003, the inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992. Fast-forward 10 years: that figure is down to a mere $56,335.

Ordinary Americans got 36 percent poorer in just a decade.

The Great Recession and the bursting of the housing bubble did their damage, but a long list of additional factors have helped funnel money out of the hands of regular Americans and into the pockets of the rich, including deregulation, high unemployment and job insecurity, the shareholder value trend in which corporations focus on manipulating stock prices while throwing workers under the bus, the reduced influence of unions, the shredding of the social safety net, privatization, and tax structures which favor the rich.

And once the inequality train leaves the station, it only gathers speed until something stops it. As Thomas Piketty has recently emphasized, the rich get richer faster than you and me because of the rate of return on their wealth.

Underlying all of this is the spread of faulty economic thinking throughout academia, political circles and the mainstream press. Neoclassical economics, or so-called free-market ideology, essentially serves as the official justification for inequality, promoting mythologies about the rich as the great job creators (when they are actually job destroyers), the presumed benefits of inequality such as innovation (check the Scandinavian countries to debunk that one, where innovation thrives but inequality does not), and a host of similar nonsense.

The upshot is that regular people have endured one of the worst periods in recent memory. It will not surprise you to learn that during the same decade of 2003-2013, the rich were partying down. In the 95th percentile of wealth distribution, people got 14 percent richer.

To put all this in perspective, let’s take a look at another 10-year period, from 1937 to 1947. This decade witnessed something called the “Great Compression,” when income inequality in America plunged. The tax structure was addressed so that the rich paid their share, unions became a powerful force and regulation helped stabilize the financial sector and corporate America. Workers won protections and America’s middle-class blossomed and Americans enjoyed a period of low inequality for the next three decades.

By the 1970s, what’s known as the "Great Divergence” kicked off, with the rich gradually gobbling up more and more of the country’s wealth.

The authors of the Russell Sage study do not have much hope that America’s wealth disparity will get better any time soon: "The American economy has experienced rising income and wealth inequality for several decades, and there is little evidence that these trends are likely to reverse in the near term."

As we can see from the Great Compression, it doesn’t have to be this way. Things won't get better on their own, however: Inequality needs an intervention.


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06:50 Cartoon: The interview» Daily Kos

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06:46 O'Reilly Responds To George Will: "There's Plenty Of Downside" To Letting Undocumented Youths Stay In U.S.» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
06:42 Sanders and Miller reach deal on veterans' health care funding» Daily Kos
Senator-elect Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is interviewed by a Reuters reporter at Sanders' office in Burlington, Vermont November 28, 2006. Sanders, a 16-year veteran of the House of Representatives who swept 65 percent of the vote in Vermont running as an inde
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders
After being at odds last week, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller have reportedly reached a compromise on VA funding:
According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending — $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That’s $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.

To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to be experiencing long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare. [...]

The compromise legislation also permits the VA secretary to dismiss or downgrade employees in an expedited fashion based on performance or misconduct. It would also prevent wait-time metrics from being used in determining a VA employee’s eligibility for a bonus, and would authorize the VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases throughout the country.

With Congress itching to get to its August recess, it's likely this will move quickly, with relatively few procedural delays.
06:36 5 Ways to Outsmart the Supermarket and Lose Weight» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
How you can avoid buying junk food the next time you're at the supermarket aisle.

Do candy bars have a tendency to jump off the shelves and into your cart when you're at the supermarket? You're not alone. From the weekly circulars to the cash register, the entire grocery-shopping experience is designed to ensure you spend as much time and money on junk food as possible.

But fear not! My book Eat It to Beat It! is full of easy tips that empower you, the consumer, to stand your ground against a food industry that wants to make you fat. Here are five ways you can outsmart the supermarket and keep those sneaky vice foods out of your cart.

1. Pay with cash.

Paper or plastic? When it comes to checking out at the supermarket, paper money may be your best bet.

A series of experiments by Cornell University looked at the effects of payment method on food choice. When participants used credit cards, they bought more unhealthful "vice" foods than they did "virtue" foods. Researchers suggest that you're more likely to think twice about an impulse to buy junk food if it means parting with a hundred dollar bill than swiping plastic.

2. Shop with a cart.

I know what you're thinking: A basket has to be better than a cart because it's smaller -- less room for bad decisions! In fact, a study in Journal of Marketing Research suggests the opposite may be true: Shoppers gathering groceries in baskets are more likely to reach for junk than cart pushers.

According to the study, shoppers are more apt to compensate for the tension and strain a basket puts on the arm with "vice products" such as candy and soda. In fact, the odds of purchasing junk food at the cash register for a basket shopper was 6.84 times that of someone shopping with a cart!

3. Pump up the jams.

Antisocial as it sounds, bringing headphones to the supermarket and rocking out to some iTunes while you shop may keep unwanted items out of your cart.

According to a well-cited study by Ronald Milliman in the Journal of Marketing, supermarkets intentionally play slow, calming music to reduce turnover. That translates to 38 percent more time in the store, and an additional 29 percent more food in your cart! Stay jazzed and focused with music that puts some pep in your step.

4. Have a snack before you shop.

If you're hungry, you're probably not going to reach for a bag of lettuce, which is why it's a bad idea to do your grocery shopping with a grumbling tummy.

In a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, participants who hadn't eaten all afternoon chose more high-calorie foods in a simulated supermarket than those who were given a snack beforehand. This was especially true in the hours leading up to dinnertime.

Try to schedule grocery runs early in the day, and try one of my favorite snacks under 100 calories before you head out the door.

5. Make a list before clipping coupons.

The weekly circular may help trim a few dollars from your bill, but it could also add a few pounds to your frame, a recent study suggests.

The study, printed in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, looked at more than 1,000 online coupons offered by six major grocery chains and found most of them were for processed food snacks and prepared meals. In contrast, only 3 percent of coupons provided savings on fresh, frozen or canned produce; and a tiny one percent trimmed the price of unprocessed meats.

Don't be swayed by deals on unhealthy items, and check out apps like Grocery IQ that will scan your (hopefully health-conscious) grocery list and zip code for relevant savings you can then print out.


Related Stories

06:20 Fox News Is Disappointed That U.S. Deportation Policy Is Focused On Felons» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

A FoxNews.com article asserted that undocumented immigrants protesting outside the White House were given "a pass" from being arrested by immigration officials who prioritize apprehensions and deportations for more serious offenders. Immigration officials argue that targeting peaceful immigrants would divert limited federal resources from its focus on criminal offenders. 

A July 28 FoxNews.com article criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) policy on the prioritization of deportation after undocumented immigrants protested outside of the White House were not apprehended and deported. Despite being told by ICE officials that "the agency prioritizes deportation for felons," Fox dismissed the policy describing it as "a pass to other undocumented residents":

Illegal immigrant demonstrators were protesting outside the White House on Monday -- but don't expect America's immigration officers to intervene.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official indicated that even if the protesters end up getting arrested by D.C. police, they'd have to be serious criminals for ICE to get involved.

"Unless the individuals meet ICE's enforcement priorities, it's unlikely that the agency would get involved in the case," the official told FoxNews.com.

Under a policy that's been in effect for several years, ICE focuses deportation mostly on serious criminals and - in some cases -- those caught in the act of crossing the border. The agency prioritizes deportation for felons, repeat offenders, gang members and others with a serious criminal record. But the agency largely gives a pass to other undocumented residents.

Fox's desire for immigration officials detain peaceful White House protesters ignored the importance of ICE using its finite resources to prioritize the apprehension and removal of undocumented immigrants with criminal records. In a memo outlining the protocol on deportation detentions, ICE director John Morton explained that "these priorities ensure that ICE's finite enforcement resources are dedicated, to the greatest extent possible, to individuals whose removal promotes public safety, national security, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system." 

06:11 Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza Debunked» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Why does the mainstream media keep repeating these false claims?

Israel has killed almost 800 Palestinians in the past twenty-one days in the Gaza Strip alone; its onslaught continues. The UN estimates that more than 74 percent of those killed are civilians. That is to be expected in a population of 1.8 million where the number of Hamas members is approximately 15,000. Israel does not deny that it killed those Palestinians using modern aerial technology and precise weaponry courtesy of the world’s only superpower. In fact, it does not even deny that they are civilians.

Israel’s propaganda machine, however, insists that these Palestinians wanted to die (“culture of martyrdom”), staged their own death (“telegenically dead”) or were the tragic victims of Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes (“human shielding”). In all instances, the military power is blaming the victims for their own deaths, accusing them of devaluing life and attributing this disregard to cultural bankruptcy. In effect, Israel—along with uncritical mainstream media that unquestionably accept this discourse—dehumanizes Palestinians, deprives them even of their victimhood and legitimizes egregious human rights and legal violations.

This is not the first time. The gruesome images of decapitated children’s bodies and stolen innocence on Gaza’s shores are a dreadful repeat of Israel’s assault on Gaza in November 2012 and winter 2008–09. Not only are the military tactics the same but so too are the public relations efforts and the faulty legal arguments that underpin the attacks. Mainstream media news anchors are inexplicably accepting these arguments as fact.

Below I address five of Israel’s recurring talking points. I hope this proves useful to newsmakers.

1) Israel is exercising its right to self-defense.

As the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Territories more broadly, Israel has an obligation and a duty to protect the civilians under its occupation. It governs by military and law enforcement authority to maintain order, protect itself and protect the civilian population under its occupation. It cannot simultaneously occupy the territory, thus usurping the self-governing powers that would otherwise belong to Palestinians, and declare war upon them. These contradictory policies (occupying a land and then declaring war on it) make the Palestinian population doubly vulnerable.

The precarious and unstable conditions in the Gaza Strip from which Palestinians suffer are Israel’s responsibility. Israel argues that it can invoke the right to self-defense under international law as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The International Court of Justice, however, rejected this faulty legal interpretation in its 2004 Advisory Opinion. The ICJ explained that an armed attack that would trigger Article 51 must be attributable to a sovereign state, but the armed attacks by Palestinians emerge from within Israel’s jurisdictional control. Israel does have the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, but it must do so in accordance with occupation law and not other laws of war. Occupation law ensures greater protection for the civilian population. The other laws of war balance military advantage and civilian suffering. The statement that “no country would tolerate rocket fire from a neighboring country” is therefore both a diversion and baseless.

Israel denies Palestinians the right to govern and protect themselves, while simultaneously invoking the right to self-defense. This is a conundrum and a violation of international law, one that Israel deliberately created to evade accountability.

2) Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.

Israel argues that its occupation of the Gaza Strip ended with the unilateral withdrawal of its settler population in 2005. It then declared the Gaza Strip to be “hostile territory” and declared war against its population. Neither the argument nor the statement is tenable. Despite removing 8,000 settlers and the military infrastructure that protected their illegal presence, Israel maintained effective control of the Gaza Strip and thus remains the occupying power as defined by Article 47 of the Hague Regulations. To date, Israel maintains control of the territory’s air space, territorial waters, electromagnetic sphere, population registry and the movement of all goods and people.

Israel argues that the withdrawal from Gaza demonstrates that ending the occupation will not bring peace. Some have gone so far as to say that Palestinians squandered their opportunity to build heaven in order to build a terrorist haven instead. These arguments aim to obfuscate Israel’s responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank. As Prime Minister Netanyahu once explained, Israel must ensure that it does not “get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria…. I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Palestinians have yet to experience a day of self-governance. Israel immediately imposed a siege upon the Gaza Strip when Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006 and tightened it severely when Hamas routed Fatah in June 2007. The siege has created a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the Gaza Strip. Inhabitants will not be able to access clean water, electricity or tend to even the most urgent medical needs. The World Health Organization explains that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020. Not only did Israel not end its occupation, it has created a situation in which Palestinians cannot survive in the long-term.

3) This Israeli operation, among others, was caused by rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel claims that its current and past wars against the Palestinian population in Gaza have been in response to rocket fire. Empirical evidence from 2008, 2012 and 2014 refute that claim. First, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the greatest reduction of rocket fire came through diplomatic rather than military means. This chart demonstrates the correlation between Israel’s military attacks upon the Gaza Strip and Hamas militant activity. Hamas rocket fire increases in response to Israeli military attacks and decreases in direct correlation to them. Cease-fires have brought the greatest security to the region.

During the four months of the Egyptian-negotiated cease-fire in 2008, Palestinian militants reduced the number of rockets to zero or single digits from the Gaza Strip. Despite this relative security and calm, Israel broke the cease-fire to begin the notorious aerial and ground offensive that killed 1,400 Palestinians in twenty-two days. In November 2012, Israel’s extrajudicial assassination of Ahmad Jabari, the chief of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, while he was reviewing terms for a diplomatic solution, again broke the cease-fire that precipitated the eight-day aerial offensive that killed 132 Palestinians.

Immediately preceding Israel’s most recent operation, Hamas rocket and mortar attacks did not threaten Israel. Israel deliberately provoked this war with Hamas. Without producing a shred of evidence, it accused the political faction of kidnapping and murdering three settlers near Hebron. Four weeks and almost 700 lives later, Israel has yet to produce any evidence demonstrating Hamas’s involvement. During ten days of Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank, Israel arrested approximately 800 Palestinians without charge or trial, killed nine civilians and raided nearly 1,300 residential, commercial and public buildings. Its military operation targeted Hamas members released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011. It’s these Israeli provocations that precipitated the Hamas rocket fire to which Israel claims left it with no choice but a gruesome military operation.

4) Israel avoids civilian casualties, but Hamas aims to kill civilians.

Hamas has crude weapons technology that lacks any targeting capability. As such, Hamas rocket attacks ipso facto violate the principle of distinction because all of its attacks are indiscriminate. This is not contested. Israel, however, would not be any more tolerant of Hamas if it strictly targeted military objects, as we have witnessed of late. Israel considers Hamas and any form of its resistance, armed or otherwise, to be illegitimate.

In contrast, Israel has the eleventh most powerful military in the world, certainly the strongest by far in the Middle East, and is a nuclear power that has not ratified the non-proliferation agreement and has precise weapons technology. With the use of drones, F-16s and an arsenal of modern weapon technology, Israel has the ability to target single individuals and therefore to avoid civilian casualties. But rather than avoid them, Israel has repeatedly targeted civilians as part of its military operations.

The Dahiya Doctrine is central to these operations and refers to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on Lebanon in 2006. Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said that this would be applied elsewhere:

What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.

Israel has kept true to this promise. The 2009 UN Fact-Finding Mission to the Gaza Conflict, better known as the Goldstone Mission, concluded “from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what was prescribed as the best strategy [Dahiya Doctrine] appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.”

According to the National Lawyers Guild, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Israel directly targeted civilians or recklessly caused civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead. Far from avoiding the deaths of civilians, Israel effectively considers them legitimate targets.

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5) Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools and uses human shields.

This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in 2006 and in its war against Palestinians in 2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.

International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks. Human Rights Watch notes:

The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.

In fact, only Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the hoods of their cars or forcing them to go into a home where a potential militant may be hiding.

Even assuming that Israel’s claims were plausible, humanitarian law obligates Israel to avoid civilian casualties that “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” A belligerent force must verify whether civilian or civilian infrastructure qualifies as a military objective. In the case of doubt, “whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.”

In the over thee weeks of its military operation, Israel has demolished 3,175 homes, at least a dozen with families inside; destroyed five hospitals and six clinics; partially damaged sixty-four mosques and two churches; partially to completely destroyed eight government ministries; injured 4,620; and killed over 700 Palestinians. At plain sight, these numbers indicate Israel’s egregious violations of humanitarian law, ones that amount to war crimes.

Beyond the body count and reference to law, which is a product of power, the question to ask is, What is Israel’s end goal? What if Hamas and Islamic Jihad dug tunnels beneath the entirety of the Gaza Strip—they clearly did not, but let us assume they did for the sake of argument. According to Israel’s logic, all of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians are therefore human shields for being born Palestinian in Gaza. The solution is to destroy the 360-kilometer square strip of land and to expect a watching world to accept this catastrophic loss as incidental. This is possible only by framing and accepting the dehumanization of Palestinian life. Despite the absurdity of this proposal, it is precisely what Israeli society is urging its military leadership to do. Israel cannot bomb Palestinians into submission, and it certainly cannot bomb them into peace.




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05:56 O'Reilly: "In Certain Ghetto Neighborhoods It's Part Of The Culture" For Children To Smoke Marijuana» Media Matters for America - Latest Items
05:30 Daily Kos Radio is LIVE at 9am ET!» Daily Kos

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Daily Kos Radio's Kagro in the Morning show podcasts are now available through iTunes.

We're back on the air, after a little experiment with a pre-recorded, but all-new show on Friday. The main difference? We can have Greg Dworkin join us for the radio version of his abbreviated pundit roundup, but with questions, jokes and other interruptions! Also, I can't go out to breakfast.

Listen LIVE at 9:00 ET, here: The Daily Kos Radio Player

Click this Link to Listen on your iTunes, Winamp or Windows Media Player

Can't see the live stream and/or podcast players in these posts? Do you use NoScript or something similar to control Javascript? Want to? Remember to enable Libsyn and Shoutcastplayer, and you'll see our players every morning!

May I have your attention, please? Want to help support the show without cracking your wallet?

Listen to Stitcher
Stitcher's got a new revenue-sharing program for shows wiht more than 5,000 "active listeners" in a month.

What's an "active listener?" Believe it or not, it's someone who listens to at least 30 seconds of a show, once in a month.

Hey, I don't make the rules! I just exploit 'em.

So, how about giving us 30 seconds of your life? Head on over to our KITM archive on Stitcher, listen to 30 seconds' worth, and then after that, your time is your own.

Did you happen to miss our last not-exactly-LIVE, but still all-new show? You can catch it here:

Need more info on how to listen? Find it below the fold.

05:30 YouGov finds rosy picture for GOP in Senate and governor races, but the data merits scrutiny» Daily Kos

Excerpt of New York Times/YouGov July 2014 polling results

A sampling of YouGov's closest Senate polls

Internet polling has been picking up steam over the past decade, and on Sunday, CBS and The New York Times brought it further into the mainstream: They partnered with British pollster YouGov to conduct polls of every single Senate and gubernatorial race in the country. This gives us a far more comprehensive snapshot of the electoral landscape than we usually get—one based on an unusually large panel of more than 100,000 respondents nationwide, but one that also comes with question marks.

As for the results? Well, let's just say Republicans will uncork some bottles of champagne if these results come to pass.

In Senate races, Republican candidates are ahead in Georgia and Kentucky, the two states Democrats are targeting (by 5 percent in the former, 6 percent in the latter). More importantly, Republicans lead in eight Democratic-held states, though in four of them the margin is just 1 percent: Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina and Louisiana. In the four others, Republicans are further ahead: 4 percent in Arkansas, 8 percent in West Virginia, 16 in Montana, and 27 percent in South Dakota. That's two more seats than they need to win back control of the Senate.

Other incumbent Democrats do come up ahead, though. Mark Udall is up by 4 percent in Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen is ahead of Scott Brown by double digits in New Hampshire, and Alaska's Mark Begich is up either 2 percent or 12 percent, depending on which Republican he faces.

But the best news for the GOP may actually be how well its incumbent governors perform. Kansas's Sam Brownback, in huge trouble in every recent poll, is ahead here by a whopping 13 percent. The same goes for Georgia's Nathan Deal, up a dominant 9 percent, and Florida's Rick Scott, up 6 percent. Ohio's John Kasich is up 6 percent, while Michigan's Rick Snyder and Wisconsin's Scott Walker are up by a more more modest 3 and 2 percent, respectively. By contrast, in rarely polled Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy finds himself in a hole, down 7 percent in a rematch of his 2010 contest.

But there's much more to this polling than the toplines. Indeed, there are a number of issues with YouGov's data and methodology that require serious scrutiny, so we've got lots more analysis after the jump.

05:17 Cheers and Jeers: Monday» Daily Kos
C&J Banner


They'll be Brief

Late late late late late, that's me. Right on cue, I missed the Webby Award speeches this year. But I love 'em because they only get five words to say what they need to say (I think the orchestra starts playing 'em off after word three). Here are some of the best of 2014 for my C&J time capsule:

"Activism, meet Internet. Go crazy!"

"Once was lost, now Found."
---National Geographic

Webby Awards logo
"Thanks! We can't count."
---Mario Batali LLC

"Artists should get real pay!"

"Seriously. Please pay the artists."
---Vimeo, after winning a second award

"Math will set you free."
---PBS Digital Kids

"Dear Congress: protect Internet freedom."
---The Internet Association

"Internet vs. FCC. Let's win!"
---Women Make Movies

"Lobsters pee from their faces."
---The Week/Mental Floss

Eat yer heart out, twitter.

Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

05:07 Economics Daily Digest: Work shouldn't be a threat to working families» Daily Kos
Economics Daily Digest by the Roosevelt Institute banner

By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Poor Parents Need Work-Life Balance Too (The Nation)

Michelle Chen says that without the flexibility of scheduling offered by white-collar jobs, workers in the service industries face volatile schedules that disrupt family lives.

Fast-Food Workers Intensify Fight for $15 an Hour (NYT)

At the largest convention of fast-food workers, Steven Greenhouse reports that workers approved escalated tactics, drawing on the nonviolent civil disobedience of the Civil Rights Movement.

Close the Tax Loophole on Inversions (WaPo)

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew explains the need for immediate action to reform the tax code to limit companies' ability to avoid taxes by merging with foreign companies.

Fed’s Targeting of Asset Bubbles Leads to Contradictions (AJAM)

Bubbles might be necessary to obtain full employment, writes Philip Pilkington, but limiting bubbles is among the Federal Reserve's goals. Higher deficits or lower inequality could help.

New on Next New Deal

Two Tiers of College Tuition? Not on This Campus

Mohanned Abdelhameed, Vice President of the San Bernardino Valley Community College chapter of the Campus Network, explains why students rejected two-tiered tuition pricing models.

Inequality Could Spark a Second Civil War

In his speculation for the Next American Economy initiative, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren imagines a future in which national cohesion has disintegrated and a one-party civil oligarchy has taken control.

Quick Thoughts on Ryan's Poverty Plan: What Are the Risks?

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that Paul Ryan's wholesale adoption of the President's plan for the Earned Income Tax Credit shows the value of pushing further to the left.

05:00 Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest: New poll has Sam Brownback losing reelection by eight points» Daily Kos
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Leading Off:

KS-Gov: Let's not beat around the bush: A new SurveyUSA poll finds Republican Gov. Sam Brownback trailing state House Democratic Leader Paul Davis by a brutal 48-40, with a Libertarian taking five. SurveyUSA found similar numbers a month ago, when they found Davis up by six points. Brownback has posted some bad numbers before, but never quite this bad.

There are many reasons why Brownback has become so toxic in this very red state. In short, the governor and his conservative allies in the legislature have made brutal service cuts, especially to education. Brownback cut taxes without any idea of how to make up for the lost revenue, and Kansans are feeling the effects. It takes a lot to go from a 63-32 victory to a deficit in the polls in only four years, but Brownback has more than earned the dubious distinction of being the country's most vulnerable red state governor.

One small good piece of news for Brownback is that he doesn't appear to be in any primary danger. SurveyUSA finds him leading unheralded primary challenger Jennifer Winn 60-30. Not an impressive result, but it does indicate that at least some people can still stand Sam Brownback.

04:38 Mmm … Chocolate Cake! Why Some People Struggle to Resist Cravings» LiveScience.com
Brain activity can predict the likelihood that people will give in to their food cravings, new research shows.
04:30 Abbreviated pundit round-up: Suing the president, millennials not all libertarians, stadium rip-offs» Daily Kos

Charles M. Blow at The New York Times writes The Fight Over ‘Impeachment Lite’:

But this [suing of President Obama] isn’t about the public’s priorities, not even close. This is about base-voter activation; this is about midterm turnout. The president’s most ardent opposition wants more punishing actions taken. There is an insatiable vengeance-lust for the haughty president who refuses to bend under pressure or fold under duress.

He must be brought to heel. He must be chastened. He must be broken. So, House Republicans are throwing the red meat into the cage.

E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post sees one good thing in Paul Ryan’s stale ideas on poverty—which is that it would be only an experiment in a few states:
Ryan gave a well-crafted address at the American Enterprise Institute in which the centerpiece sounded brand spanking new: the “Opportunity Grant.” The problem is that this “pilot program” amounts to little more than the stale conservative idea of wrapping federal programs into a block grant and shipping them off to the states. The good news is that Ryan only proposes “experiments” involving “a select number of states,” so he would not begin eliminating programs wholesale. Thank God for small favors.
Below the fold are more pundit excerpts.
02:18 WSJ Attacks Efforts To Fix Conservative Case Law That Allows Discrimination Against Pregnant Women» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

The Wall Street Journal took a stand against fair treatment for pregnant workers, complaining that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) new guidelines designed to fight pregnancy discrimination despite conservative Supreme Court opinions holding discrimination against pregnant women is not sex discrimination was a "radical" reading of federal law.

Last week, the EEOC issued new guidelines to employers in an effort to curb increasing incidents of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace -- the first time in 30 years the agency had updated its guidelines regarding fair treatment of pregnant employees. One of these new guidelines interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to include reasonable accommodations for "pregnancy-related impairments," which can include serious ailments like anemia, gestational diabetes, and abnormal heart rhythms, among others.

But in a July 27 editorial, the Journal argued that protections provided by the ADA should be reserved only for the "truly disabled," not women who are disabled due to medical conditions caused by their pregnancies. The editorial also ignored the reality of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and claimed that the EEOC's comprehensive new guidance was a "radical legal interpretation" of the ADA that served no purpose other than to provide a "launching pad for trial lawyers." It went on to argue that the guidance was unnecessary given the fact that "pregnancy is not unprotected under federal law," without mentioning that these protections were a direct response to conservative case law that refused to treat pregnancy as a sex-based classification under federal law:

Even after the 2008 amendments, the ADA at no point defines pregnancy as a "disability." To end-run this fact, the agency discovers pregnancy's "impairments." The EEOC's guidelines argue, "Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, impairments related to pregnancy can be disabilities if they substantially limit one or more major life activities." Morning sickness, for example, would become a qualifying impairment under the ADA.

Thus the EEOC is piling one radical legal interpretation (discarding the ADA's clear intent to help the truly disabled) upon another (granting protections to pregnant women, who aren't covered under the ADA).


Pregnancy is not unprotected under federal law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." And the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended that law to protect, yes, pregnant women.

Anyone who reads the text of the EEOC guidance can see the rationale behind yet another display of Obama executive-branch muscle. The rules' imprecision is a launching pad for trial lawyers, a primary source of grateful Democratic campaign money. And Valerie Jarrett's CNN piece makes clear the initiative is another politicized front in the "war on women."

Ms. Jarrett says the guidelines will help employers "understand their obligations." With the most important being to hire more lawyers and fewer employees, of any sex.

01:05 Limbaugh Revises Obama's Remarks To Cast Him As Apathetic On Female Genital Mutilation» Media Matters for America - Latest Items

Rush Limbaugh accused President Obama of refusing to rebuke the practice of female genital mutilation while speaking to a group of young African leaders, cherry-picking from his remarks to mischaracterize Obama's very clear condemnation of the practice as a "barbaric" tradition that "needs to be eliminated."

President Obama spoke on Monday at a town-hall-style meeting honoring the Washington Fellowship For Young African Leaders, urging guests to abandon oppressive traditions, such as female genital mutilation and polygamy, in favor of progress.

Cherry-picking from Obama's remarks, Rush Limbaugh accused the president of refusing to condemn the practice of female genital mutilation on the July 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show. Limbaugh claimed Obama only halfheartedly stated, "'Female genital mutilation is not a tradition worth hanging onto,'" and implied Obama's statement didn't go far enough, claiming "he didn't condemn female genital mutilation. That would have been telling Africans what to do, and he would never impose his views on them because we're from the U.S. and who are we":

Sun 27 July, 2014

21:03 Could Dinosaurs Have Survived the Impact that Killed Them?» LiveScience.com
The space rock that wiped out most of the dinosaurs may have had a colossal case of bad timing. If the impact had occurred a few million years earlier or later, more of the majestic beasts may have survived, scientists say.
20:00 Open thread for night owls. Molly Ball: The one number that will decide this year's election» Daily Kos
Molly Ball at The Atlantic writes The One Number That Will Decide This Year's Election:

What will be the deciding factor in this year's elections? Will it be Obamacare? The chaos erupting across the globe? The president's approval rating? Will it besingle women voters, Hispanics, young people?

Mike Podhorzer crunched the numbers and found there's one factor that, with eerie consistency, explains the way elections have swung for the past decade. Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO, is one of the top electoral strategists on the left. The crucial factor, he found, is Democrats' vote share among voters making less than $50,000.

Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn't vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group's vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade.

Molly Ball
In 2004, Democrats won the working-class vote by 11 points; George W. Bush was reelected. In 2006, Democrats won the working-class vote by 22 points and took the House and Senate. In 2008, Democrats won by 22 points again, and President Obama was elected. In 2010, the margin narrowed to 11 points, and Republicans took the House back. In 2012, Obama was reelected—on the strength of another 22-point margin among voters making under $50,000.

"It doesn't often get reported, but the key indicator that has been decisive for the last several elections is how people making below the median income vote," Podhorzer said this week. Black or white, Asian or Hispanic, male or female, young or old, it's that simple. To reach these voters, Podhorzer believes, candidates need to focus on the economic issues of the working class. "Economic populism decides who wins elections in America," he said. [...]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2005Cheers and Jeers: Wednesday:


Wow. Now that it's safe to follow the herd, Chris Matthews goes out on a limb ...

"If the war in Iraq was going better, we wouldn't still be asking how we got into it. But it isn't, so we are. For some, the deciding argument for going to war with Iraq was self-defense...it was nuclear. If Saddam Hussein had the bomb or was about to [get it], we had to stop him.  

How many times were we told the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud?  How many times did the vice president tell us that Iraq had a nuclear program?  Who can forget that the President himself used his State of the Union to warn of Saddam cutting a deal down in Africa?  It was a smart, shrewd strategy...talking about mushroom clouds.  It got people off the fence.  It carried the undecideds.  It shut down the opposition.  It got us into Iraq.  But it was based on faulty, bogus evidence.  

Two years ago, with our forces fully engaged in Iraq, the nuclear threat was long seen as inoperative.  Now a former Ambassador [Joseph Wilson], who had been sent to Africa before the war looking for evidence of an Iraqi uranium deal, said he came back empty.  But he wasn't the first to try and knock down the nuclear argument.  Intelligence agencies had been doing that for months, just as unsuccessfully.

The larger scandal in this White House/CIA leak story is not just who leaked the name of an undercover agent, but whether we were given a case for war—the deciding factor for many of us—knowing that it didn't hold water.  As we work to find our way out of Iraq, we should focus a bit...on how we got in."

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15:09 Why 'Snowpiercer' Is the Must See Movie of the Summer» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The film for our times.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer.

Anyone who has followed the saga of this long-awaited science fiction dystopia knows that the release of the film is a story unto itself. The film was picked up for distribution by the Weinstein boys, who demanded the director cut 20 minutes and add a voice-over narration: Bong Joon-ho told them to take a flying leap and the rest is history. The film opened in extremely limited release across North America in June. In British Columbia's Lower Mainland, populated by 2.3 million people, Snowpiercer is currently playing in a single theatre in Abbotsford.

You also can download it via VOD. But Snowpiercer deserves to be writ large, on the big screen, with a packed audience. It is a film for the people and for the times we are living in. After the latest period of stupid, abysmally horrific violence these past few weeks, one could easily be convinced that humans have got to go. It doesn't take much imagination to think that the world might be better off without us. Indeed, that is the premise of a great many films this year, all busily envisioning the end of humanity, via alien invasion, talking apes, or giant fighting robots from the sky.

The end of the world in Snowpiercer begins with chemtrails. A great many conspiracy theorists in the Kootenays will nod sagely at this, and say "I told you so."

As the film's introduction informs us, in a last ditch effort to stop global warming, the sky was seeded with a chemical agent designed to reverse the effects of climate change. It worked a little too well, and the result was titanic ice age that froze the world solid. The few remaining humans have survived aboard a massive train which circles the globe punching through the frozen landscape like the fist of god.

Don't bother to ponder the logistics of this conceit too long. The film is essentially one enormous allegory from stem to stern, an end of the world fairytale for us naughty children. But like any good story, there is much more than initially meets the eye.Snowpiercer is towering in its attention to detail, specificity and grace. The construction of the train is a marvel of art direction serving narrative flow that moves forward, always relentlessly forward.

But beneath the surface there is something else. Ideas and ideologies aplenty -- take your pick. Class war, capitalist critique, environmental parable, and then, underneath all that, the idea that change can only be achieved with terrible sacrifice, and even that might not be enough.

All aboard

Let's begin with the train itself, given that it is the biggest and most obliterating symbol in the film. No one needs to tell you that Capitalism is the name of the engine that drives this infernal beast. Trains heralded the dawn of the industrial age, therefore it is fitting here that they should attend its sunset as well. The Snowpiercer is the brilliant design of a mysterious billionaire named Wilford, whose magisterial initial is emblazoned throughout. Initially conceived as a luxury vehicle, it has become an enormous moving, weaving version of society, divided by class and wealth. 

The very rich occupy the front cars, catered to and accommodated in compartments encrusted with Rococo ornamentation. Lush is the word. Brocades and wine dark velvets coat the interiors of these sections, like the robber baron mansions of old. The midsection is full of middle class folk, content to simply get along, having hairdos and manicures. The tail is for the poor and the downtrodden, the wretched of the train, the dirty, smelly rabble, muttering and resentful of their status. They are kept down by the constant application of armed threat from the riot police, a helmeted and jackbooted presence, who dole out gelatinous protein bricks and regularly bash anyone who looks at them funny. Seem familiar yet?

Into this highly stratified world, comes a revolutionary named Curtis (played curiously enough by Chris Evans, familiar to most as Captain America). In addition to the rest of the faceless masses, Curtis is helped along by a raggedy troop consisting of a single mother named Tanya (Octavia Spenser, The Help), an elderly radical named Gilliam (John Hurt,1984), a young firebrand named Edgar (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliott) and, most wonderfully, Song Kang-ho as security expert Namgoong Minsu (The Host).

Forgive me an aside to recount my very first glimpse of Song Kang-ho, hanging over a drainage culvert in Bong Joon-ho's sophomore film Memories of Murder. If you have never seen this film, drop whatever you're doing at the moment, it wasn't that important anyway, and go find this film. Memories is one of those films that upends all expectations. It contains multitudes: farce, tragedy, hilarity, terror and people getting kicked in the chest. I remember being completely floored the first time I saw it, as I never knew what I was going to feel from one moment to the next. Anchoring it all was Song Kang-ho, whose face simply demands to be looked at. Although he is only part of Snowpiercer's serpentine story, he commands attention with a world-weary charisma, and an enviable way with a cigarette.

A level of attention must be paid to the specificity of this casting. There is Evans, playing against type, and there is the worn humanity of John Hurt that immediately recalls earlier characterizations (1984's broken betrayer Winston Smith). Such echoes and palimpsests from other films, other stories, endure, carved into the action, just underneath. They form a narrative undertow that pulls you along (as if you were on a train or something). It may feel occasionally that the director has stacked the deck, as each of these actors who play the downtrodden carry with them traces from these earlier stories. Trust that there is a method and a meaning at work.

Ranged against the poor folk is a Hell's chorus of the violent and the corrupt, anchored by the human marvel that is Tilda Swinton. As Minister Mason, the train's second-in-command, she reads like a mangy magnified version of Maggie Thatcher, full of false teeth, helmet hair and a swirl of mink coat. But there are strange reserves of piteous humanity inside her hollowed out carcass. Add Vlad Ivanov (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), and Dutch actress Emma Levie (as the coolly murderous Claude) and you have the equivalent to a thespian all-star team.

Chugging along

The final character, if you could call it that, is the train itself, a behemoth (1,001 cars in the original graphic novel), sleek as fluted steel and relentless in the pursuit of forward motion. It is a perfect encapsulation of the momentum that has driven us right into disaster for the better part of the last century. To quote good old Howard Zinn, "You can't be neutral on a moving train." So it is here as well.

Revolution has been brewing for some time, as conditions have deteriorated in the caboose. Any act of insurrection is squashed in its infancy, but when soldiers come and take away the smallest children, the people have had enough and the stage is set for violent uprising, or, in this case, horizontal action.

Curtis and his followers are intent on taking the engine, but first they must secure the release of Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) who designed all of the doors in the train and is the only person capable of unlocking them. Along with his young daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko), he agrees to help in exchange for a steady supply of his drug of choices, a putty blue substance called Kronol that looks a lot like Play-Doh but possesses incendiary qualities all its own.

A plan is formed, weapons gathered and the insurgency, rallying under the cry, "Take the engine!" set out on their quest. If this were a story helmed by Michael Bay or James Cameron you would know what to expect. Heroes win, villains lose, order is restored. But Bong Joon-ho maintains the ruthlessness of his earlier work, filling the linear story with set pieces that defy conventional narrative rules. Innocent people are murdered, often hacked to pieces with axes. No one is safe. Characters drop one after another, in the service of their cause. Revolution is not pretty. Death, dismemberment and horrible sacrifice must be made in order to secure any lasting change.

As the would-be insurgents scramble forth, making their way from car to car, there is an air of surrealism that recalls the work of Terry Gilliam or the Jeunet Brothers, but it also reminded me, oddly enough, of Willy Wonka, locked inside the enormous chocolate factory with its endless succession of rooms, each full of menace and wonder.

Even as you are marvelling at the beauty of the sushi bar/aquarium, each car contains some new surprise, like a series of Faberge eggs strung together. In one section, young elites are being trained like Hitler youth, lustily singing anthems to order and the great engine that could. In the next car, club kid ravers in enormous fur coats dance like there is no tomorrow. Still in another, large Russian women take steam baths. Aquariums, greenhouses, discotheques, hair salons, and saunas -- all the usual stuff to keep humans pampered and protected from the elements, which in this case, are considerable.

Certain death awaits just outside the door. An earlier escape attempt from the train resulted in the participants being turned into ice sculptures a few short feet from the tracks.


If this were a Wes Anderson film, all of this exquisite detail would be the end point, but Bong Joon-ho has much more on his mind that pretty tableaus composed like Dutch paintings. The story is the thing, and even as the rebels cut and hack their way forward, there is a sense that, like the train itself, something is pulling us towards some terrible conclusion.

There is a reason that the smallest children, after being duly measured for size, are taken away.

The film's penultimate moment doesn't take place with enormous explosions or epic bloodshed, but in a quiet story told as the very last cigarette in the world is smoked. The infernal machinery of the thing must be kept going by devouring humanity, beginning with the youngest. In the innate power of its story, Snowpiercer ranks with other science fiction greats. Here, as in masterpieces such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis or Ursula K. Le Guin's story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, children are at the heart of the story. The relationship between parent and child is an element that occurs in most of Bong Joon-Ho's films (The Host and Mother). Despite all the sound, fury and scale of Snowpiercer, at its heart is something quite humble. Simple even. Just the idea that parents must protect their children, no matter the cost, be it your right arm or your political position.

The final ringing conclusion of the film makes explicit that it doesn't matter how many revolutions rise and fall and rise again. Within this closed system, they are essentially supplanting one thing with a variation of the same. 

As film after film about the end of the world continue to spill forth, it seems all we can think about at the moment is: "Stop the train, I want to get off!" But we're only picking up speed, burning, raping and killing. It is fitting that the central image of the film, the train itself, brings with it its own history of subjugation, violence and sacrifice, a trail of carnage, one body for every mile of CP track laid down, supposedly. If you would like an interesting summation of the role that railroads occupied in the rise of American monopolies have a gander at this.

Time to disembark

We must stop the train. We know it when we shop at the mall -- that the labour of some small child locked in a sweatshop made our cheap chinos. We know it when four little kids are burnt beyond recognition on a beach in Gaza. We know it when a kid is discovered still strapped into his seat belt in the midst of debris field from a downed airplane in a Ukrainian farmer's field. We know it when we deport eight-year-old kids like we were returning damaged goods.

The truth of the train is we have become a world that eats its young.

A society that cannibalizes its children is not one that deserves to continue. To return to Howard Zinn: "If we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory."

One scribe writing about the film quoted Frederick Jameson: "It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of Capitalism." The analogy of class struggle is a large part of the film, but unlike more didactic narrative, the story does not close in on itself in an insular enclosed fashion; rather it opens up to the possibility of difference and change.

Even the release of film itself points to the will of the people at work. While a film like Sex Tape, perhaps the stupidest film ever made by humans, is playing everywhere, Snowpiercergets dumped into a solitary theatre in the exurbs. But despite being buried by the Weinsteins, the film has proven to be a sleeper hit as demand to see it continues to grow.

Sometimes it only takes one spark to start a fire that will burn down the world, and so it is here as well. The film's final scene, perfect and remote and terrible, sums this up without a word. There is another way forward, as two kids take one small step after another into the silence and immensity of a brave new world. 


Related Stories

Sat 26 July, 2014

12:22 Woman Sentenced to Prison for Photographing a War Protest» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
‘We are losing a generation because of drones’ says activist Mary Anne Grady Flores.

Warplanes have long been based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, NY. But in 2009, something new arrived: MQ-9 Reaper drones that were flown remotely over Afghanistan, dropping missiles and bombs and unleashing terror.

Organizers in Upstate New York started protests soon after the drones arrived and founded Upstate Drone Action in 2010. In 2011, one longtime activist and member of the Catholic Worker movement, Mary Anne Grady Flores, 57, joined the struggle. As part of the “Hancock 38” in April that year, she was arrested for protesting at the base’s main entrance by participating in a die-in to illustrate the indiscriminate killing of civilians overseas by drones.

She was arrested again in October 2012 for another act of “civil resistance,” as she puts it, not “civil disobedience,” to uphold the U.S. Constitution and international treaties the U.S. signed. That led to Grady Flores and the 16 others being placed under court orders restricting their protest rights. Frustrated by the protesters’ persistence, a base commander, Col. Earl Evans, sought and received an orders of protection — usually reserved for domestic violence victims — which was used over time to bar approximately 50 protesters from the base’s grounds.

In February 2013, Grady Flores stood in the public intersection beyond the driveway leading to the air base taking pictures of the eight protesters participating in an Ash Wednesday action. Those witnessing were asking for forgiveness for what we as American citizens are doing with killer drones. She was later arrested across the street and down the road for “violating the order of protection.” A higher court has found the use of the order invalid.

But on July 10, DeWitt Town Court Judge David Gideon gave Grady Flores the maximum sentence of one year in jail for a second-degree criminal contempt charge, leaving a courtroom of supporters in shock. He defended his harsh sentence by claiming that she “would simply thumb her nose at the law once again.” DeWitt Town judges are planning on holding 20upcoming trials from August 2014 through 2015, threatening to send each activist to one year in jail.

On Wednesday, July 23, eight protesters went back to the air base to issue their own “people’s order of protection” on behalf of drone victims around the world. Seven were arrested and charged with trespass. Two of the protesters — Grady Flores’ sister Clare and Martha Hennessey, granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker — were charged with violating their orders of protection and are being held on $10,000 bail. All of them refuse to post bail and remain in jail pending their Aug. 6 court dates.

“These judges are out to try to stop the protests on behalf of the base,” Grady Flores said, who is out on $5,000 bail pending her appeal.

Grady Flores spoke to AlterNet about what motivates her to protest against drones, the connections she sees between our foreign and domestic policies, and what gives her hope.

Alyssa Figueroa: You joined these anti-drone protests in 2011. What made you start?

Mary Anne Grady Flores: That question brings me back to my childhood.  I grew up in an Irish household and was taught our music and culture that's deeply rooted in resistance to 800 years of British occupation of our island.  The rebellion song were sung and stories were told, while my parents participated as Catholic Workers in the civil rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam War. While in jail last week, I shared stories with one of the African American guards who said,"This is a tradition, right?" I said "Yes".  She said, "I get it."

Drones are a critical issue for people in the countries that are under attack, and it's important for those of us in the States to make the connections between poverty, racism and colonialism. As many black and Native feminists have pointed out, the violence that has historically and continues to be perpetrated inside the so-called borders of the United States sustains American imperialism abroad.

I began my closing statement from my January 2014 drone trial by acknowledging one of the core crimes of the United States and I’d like to share an the opening excerpt from that:

“I begin with the prayer that the non-violent witness, to stop the killing of other brown people on the other side of the world by drones at Hancock Airbase, be an offering to the healing begun by the Two Row Wampum Renewal, reminding us to honor treaties made with the Six Nation Confederacy, here, and honor the global treaties created for peace for all peoples.”

The other core crime that must be acknowledged is the racist economic system of slavery that this country’s white elite benefited from, and that all whites still benefit from under the regime of continued white supremacy.

So, we need to be making connections between how the State uses colonialism, racism and poverty to push people into the prison industrial complex, which works as a means of State repression and deprives entire communities of basic human rights.  The State entangles people in that system, including not only incarcerated people, but their families and dependents. The United States is doing the same thing in other countries to black and brown people. The very existence of U.S. military systems, including nuclear weapons and the drone program, require robbing the poor here and now in this country.

So, as Dr. Cornel West says, we need to connect the dots: racism, poverty and militarism. Drones are very central to U.S. foreign policy. We’re becoming more aware that this same policy is going to be directed toward us as the drones are being tested in six states. So the same drone used in Afghanistan, the MQ9 Reaper drone — it’s a weaponized drone, carrying hellfire missiles and can carry up to a 500-pound bomb — that same drone is being tested right here in upstate NY at Griffis Air Force Base, which is just a little bit north of Syracuse. And that’s only one of many places where they are being practiced with here in the United States.\

Why is that happening? Why are the drones being used in all the Border States by immigration enforcement and ICE to pick people up? Why does Texas have every police department using drones? And they’re not the only police department using them. The drones are here.

While I was in jail, I received an article that was sent from Pittsburgh, and it described the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. There were 36,000 people in the stadium and all of them had gone through metal detectors to be secure and have a safe crowd. And then one of their favorite ballplayers hit the ball out of the park. Well they not only saw that ball, they also saw a drone flying above the stadium. There are very few rules right now, hardly any legislation made concerning the safety and the use of drones, especially in urban areas.

But to go back to the use of drones in other countries, we understand that people have said we are losing a generation because of drones hovering over villages and cities in other countries. And this is what U.S. policy is. People in countries where the U.S. uses drones no longer go to weddings, they no longer go to funerals, they don’t send their children to school because these things are buzzing over them, causing trauma to everyone. Societies and cultures are falling apart being under this terror, this scrutiny and threat everyday. And that’s something we Americans need to become aware of. We have to start with the three A’s: awareness, and acceptance that this is what our government is doing, and then take action to stop this insanity.

AF: You’re 57 years old and a grandmother of three and a lot of the anti-drone activists taking action at Hancock airbase are 60+. Is there something you're seeing that others aren’t seeing?

MAGF: I think the reason there may be less young people involved is because of the pressures that they are under today. Young people are under the huge school debt, and so people are bound to jobs as soon as they get out of school. And mass incarceration is a real and threatening presence. There’s no breathing room. People are having to work two or three jobs. So here’s the poverty piece that Cornel West was talking about. Today most people are under such severe economic pressure just to survive doesn’t leave much time to participate in dissent if there is something going wrong. Dissent is a sign of a healthy society.

I think that’s one reason, but it’s not the only reason. There are major distractions within our society. People are not aware because of our media. They’re not aware of what U.S. policy is about. You’re not hearing enough about the militarized use of drones, enough for people to have any sort of outcry. There was a great statement that was put out by the latest action yesterday, naming who is dead in the latest of these drone strikes.

I think it’s really important that all ages, everyone get involved, and realize that we’re all connected here. It’s U.S. tax dollars that are paying for the drone program.

AF: You have a history of activism. In the past you have participated in nonviolent resistance in Palestine and Puerto Rico, as well as working as an organizer for the United Farm Workers Boycott back in the ‘70s. How does your anti-drone activism connect with the other activism you’ve done?

MAGF: Well, in the past two weeks, in the case of Palestine, drones are central in the horrible attack on Gaza, by Israel. Israel is one of the leading producers of drones and users of drones. The fact that is that Israel uses the drones along their apartheid wall, just as we do with preventing immigrants at our US border. All of the different technologies are being shared by the countries signed on to keeping empire in place.

So I think it’s critical that people pick their heads up and understand that we have parallel after parallel after parallel, no matter what the issue is — whether it’s the liberation of Puerto Rico, or the immigrant rights movement, or even the displacement of Central American children arriving today in the United States.

The activism that I was a part of back in the '80s, the solidarity with the people in Central America, the opposition of U.S. support of dictators in Latin America — we’re feeling the aftermath of decades of that policy right now in seeing this massive exodus of children from Latin America and the increase in violence within these societies because there’s a vacuum and a dismantling of their societies economically and militarily. And then the influx of drugs that has taken the place of economies that are more sustainable. Now we have the result of families sending their children out of their homes to increase their likelihood of survival. So we’re seeing the effects of U.S. imperialism, where the primary effected people are criminalized for acts of basic survival.

The issue of drones is just one symptom of the perversion of U.S. policy for decades, many decades. I think it’s really important we look at the arc of what our policy has truly been about. The NSA’s illegal tracking and vacuuming of all our information because they don’t want any dissent toward any of this. The 1971 Raids of the FBI offices in Media, PA exposed COINTELPRO, a program through which the FBI infiltrated, plotted to disrupt, and coordinated assassinations against members of the Black Panther Party; infiltrated and moved to disrupt the American Indian Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, and the Catholic Left, among many other groups. My dad, John Peter Grady, of the Camden 28, was the number one suspect of that infamous FBI raid, having 200 FBI agents tailing him for years afterwards.

After 40 years I learned the truth. Dad used to say, “I neither confirm nor deny that I did it.”  He took that secret to his grave when he died in 2002. My siblings and I were surprised to hear that Dad was not involved, and we laughed hard when we learned who’d done it, thanks to my Dad’s good friend Betty Medsger, former staff writer at the Washington Post, one of people who’d initially received the documents from the burglars. Anyway, that was the environment I grew up in and it's been confirmed by Snowden that we’re in it still and to a much greater degree.

So the march toward total global domination has become much more apparent to me anyway, and I hope to many. Many may not be fully aware of it just how other peoples in other countries weren’t aware of it, but political repression and other forms of state violence are increasing in the United States, not decreasing.

AF: Do you have hope that your resistance will be effective in stopping drones and U.S. militarism?

MAGF: I say we have to have hope. At the bottom of my emails, I have a quote from Howard Zinn speaking about hope. Maybe you can publish the whole thing.* I think it’s all we have. And I would say, I’m not responsible for the whole picture. I’m only one tiny part. And I say that I hope that people understand that we have to do this resistance in community, in fellowship, and with joy and celebration of life that we do have.

I’m not responsible for the outcome. I’m only responsible for doing the work here and now on the day to day. And that those small droplets of water in the pond — there’s points where there’s so much water that accumulates, it overflows and fills the fields and irrigates the plants. We can only do our little part.

When I was in prison, I was reading the Daily Scripture, which really feeds me as a Catholic Worker. And I was grateful to see from the book of wisdom asking what it is we’re expected of. There’s so much love and leniency by the creator, but we’re also expected to pick up and do what we can and not be lazy about this stuff. The call is real.

*”To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory” – Howard Zinn


Related Stories

11:20 Global confidence in President Obama much higher than Bush» Daily Kos
With the overlapping crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, Republicans trying to pin the blame on President Obama are singing the same sound bite in unison. As Mitt Romney put it earlier this year:
Our esteem around the world has fallen. I can't think of a major country, it's hard to think of a single country that has greater respect and admiration for America today than it did five years ago when Barack Obama became president. And that's a very sad, unfortunate state of affairs.
Of course, what's really sad (sadder even than candidate Romney's inability to tell CNN's Donna Brazile and PBS's Gwen Ifill apart) is that Obama's would-have-been replacement has reality exactly backward. As it turns out, polls have shown that almost every major country has more respect for Barack Obama now than for his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Please read below the fold for more on this story.

Fri 25 July, 2014

15:46 5 of the Most Widely Believed Consumer Conspiracy Theories, Debunked» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
From killer microwave ovens to banned 300-mpg cars, here's the scoop behind the exaggerated claims.

Conspiracy theories about the products we buy come and go. Only a few months ago, the the Internet was rife with chain mails and social media updates claiming Muslimspressured Subway restaurants to stop selling ham and bacon. Before that, it was supposedly "common knowledge" that the government forced KFC to stop calling the food it sold "chicken" because it was legally not chicken, butmeat from a mutant bird (this story seems to circulate every five years or so).

Many of these conspiracy theorists are twisting real information found in news accounts and research studies to help promote larger agendas, and many conspiracies are actually hatched by marketing websites of those who also sell the elixirs that can supposedly cure what ails us. Here are five good ones making the rounds.

1. Microwave ovens kill the nutrients in food.There are many consumer conspiracy theories related to microwave ovens, and together they would make an article in themselves. One, however, is repeated frequently on cooking and on dubious nutrition websites: The claim that microwaves kill food and radically deplete nutritional content.

While microwave ovens do change the nutrient values of food, so does other forms of cooking. But what’s so striking about the claim that microwaves are particularly good at removing food’s nutritional content, is that there’s evidence the opposite is true.

On the Science-Based Medicine website, Steven Novella laughs off the idea that microwaves kill food

By the time certain foods, like meat, hit your table, even if it is raw, any cells in the food are dead. The cells in fruits and vegetables start dying after they are picked. Anything frozen will also be dead. Some things alive in the food, you probably don’t want there, such as bacteria that cause spoilage.The more important point, however, is that having living cells is irrelevant to nutrient content.

Novella also notes that any heating of food will change its nutritional content and availability, and this can vary depending on the heat intensity, duration of heating, and any contact with water. He says the idea that microwaves are somehow radically different from other cooking techniques is nonsense.

One study often used by conspiracy theorists as proof is easily panned by scientific researchers. A study in the journal Science of Food and Agriculture claims microwaving broccoli severely impacts its nutrient value. In fact, the study is looking at foods boiled in microwave ovens.

Boiling, in fact can have a dramatic affect on the nutrient content of food no matter if it is done in a microwave or on a stovetop, especially for foods containing many water-soluble vitamins. An analysis by the Department of Food Science at Spain’s University of Murcia found that griddling, microwaving and baking produce the lowest losses of nutrients, while pressure-cooking and boiling create the greatest nutrient content losses.

It must be pointed out that cooking, no matter what method, doesn’t necessarily destroy nutrients, often it has the opposite effect. Certain nutrients aren’t easily obtainable when foods are digested raw. When food is cooked, proteins are broken down and cell walls are weakened, making the nutrition content more available. In fact, cooking has been shown to increase the amount of available lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoid levels in carrots.

The Harvard Medical School not only maintains that cooking in microwave ovens is safe, it advocates their use, saying “as a general proposition, cooking with a microwave probably does a better job of preserving the nutrient content of foods because the cooking times are shorter.” 

2. Fluoride is a mind-control drug. Only a few countries fluoridate their water supplies to prevent tooth decay: the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. While it was done with the best intentions, and has been hailed as a public health triumph by the Centers of Disease Control and the American Dental Association, countless conspiracy theorists are again taking to the web to declare that fluoridated water is proof of government malevolence.

This isn’t anything new. Back in the Cold War era, critics were claiming that water fluoridation was part of a communist mind-control scheme. In recent years water fluoridation has become a pervasive health and political issue in many countries, resulting in some halting water fluoridation altogether. But the debate has not been rooted in conspiracy theories, it focuses on whether government authorities have the legal basis to add chemicals to drinking water that do not improve its safety. Furthermore, consumers of public water cannot opt-out of fluoridated tap water and go with another utility. So this form of compulsory mass medication is actually a valid topic of discussion.

Still, to date, the only proven negative consequence of water fluoridation is dental fluorosis, which can create pitting and mottling on children's teeth, a condition which is mostly cosmetic. Also, there are some concerns expressed by the National Kidney Foundation, which has called for more research into fluoridation’s effects on those with renal diseases.

Some environmental organizations, like the Sierra Club, are also opposed to water fluoridation because of possible health risks and the impact of fluoridated water on the environment when the water gets into the soil.

There’s nothing wrong with public advocacy groups taking stands for or against fluoridation using valid arguments, but the renewed public-policy and health debate is perverted and exaggerated by conspiracy theorists. The most outrageous theory on water fluoridation is that it's being used by governments to make their citizens passive and lethargic, and that it’s virtually the same thing as Prozac (they’re actually  chemically dissimilar).

The modern version of the conspiracy theory claims we learned about water fluoridation from the Nazis, who gave it to Jews in concentration camps to make them docile. But this conspiracy theory upsets other anti-fluoridation activists. Paul Connett, the co-author of the book The Case Against Fluoride says, “We have done our level best to discourage opponents of fluoridation from using this emotive argument. The historical evidence for this assertion is extremely weak. It is sad that the U.S. media has done such a bad job of educating the public on this issue that it is so easy for crazy ideas to fill the vacuum."

The U.S. Holocaust Museum has stated that it has never heard of fluoride being used by Nazis as a mind-control drug.

3. New light bulbs must be cleaned up by hazmat crews. Compact fluorescent lights get a bad rap, even though they use about 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs. But many consumers have a notable worry over mercury in the bulbs, though its presence is overhyped. Some websites even claim that should bring in a hazardous waste team to clean up broken bulbs.

But the typical mercury exposure from breaking a CFL bulb is only about 0.07 mcg. To put this in context, a can of albacore tuna has almost 700 times more mercury and an old mercury thermometer, if broken, would release more than 6,000 times the mercury. While any broken bulb should be handled with care, it is perhaps best that broken CFL bulbs be swept up with a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner, which may disperse some of its contents into the air. If the bulb is not broken, there is no exposure risk whatsoever. But even so, many CFL bulbs are now sold with protective coverings to help mitigate the risk.

Still, the argument has been put out there that once these bulbs break or are disposed, they will add to the mercury in the environment. Yet, one coal power plant spews much more mercury into the air when it has to produce additional energy to power incandescent bulbs than what may come out of thousands of improperly disposed CFLs. Even so, many municipalities and retailers who sell CFL bulbs, will take back unbroken ones to recycle, so mercury will not be released into the environment.

4. Federal government has banned a 300-mpg car. Over the past several decades, there have been several conspiracy theories involving various sinister corporations and organizations who have kept miracle cars from the public. One of the most famous conspiracies was the "miracle carburetor” legend a few decades back. Legend has it that gasoline cars existed that got 80 mpg or more, but Big Oil bought the patents and locked them away for eternity.

Later, when General Motors canceled its EV-1 electric-car program and demanded the cars back in 2003, it gave these old urban automotive legends a sense of legitimacy. The movie, Who Killed the Electric Car?, correctly pointed the finger at GM, the government and the oil companies as being disinterested — at best — in developing renewable energy technologies.

The latest version of this conspiracy theory comes from freelance journalist Jim Stone, who recently wrote that Volkswagen has developed a 300 mpg car that will never be seen in America because politicians, bought and paid for by the oil industry, have conspired in hiding it. Stone writes:

You won't find the 300 MPG Volkswagen XL1 in an American showroom, in fact it has even been denied a tour of America because it is too efficient for the American public to be made widely aware of, and oil profits are too high in America with the status quo in place. No tour has been allowed for this car because the myth that 50 mpg is virtually impossible to obtain from even a stripped down econobox is too profitable to let go of, and when it comes to corporate oil profits, ignorance is bliss.

While the XL1 is a real car and it won’t be sold in the U.S., there’s no conspiracy. The XL1 is a plug-in hybrid car that runs on electric motors and a small, 1-liter diesel engine. Volkswagen says the XL1 gets 0.9 liters per 100 kilometers, which calculates to 260 mpg in a test cycle that allows for recharging the vehicle’s battery every 47 miles. But once the battery becomes depleted, the tiny diesel engine can get about 120 mpg.

All told, in realistic driving conditions, the XL1 would be amazingly fuel-efficient, but much less than the 300 mpg Stone claims. And there never was any evidence of a government/Big Oil conspiracy to keep this car from the American market, as Stone has claimed.

Last, the XL1 was never designed to comply with U.S. vehicle standards, as it was never intended to be sold here. However, this does not mean some of the technology from the XL1 won’t find its way into a future VW to be sold in the U.S.

Meanwhile several electric and electric-gas hybrid cars on the market in the U.S. do provide stunning fuel efficiency. The electric Tesla Model S, for example, gets the energy equivalent of 94 mpg (MPGe).

5. The government is covering up proof that cellphones cause cancer. Ever since cellphones entered the mainstream, there has been some concern about their possible link to brain tumors. Many years of studies have led to conflicting and inconclusive results, and in the scientific community there is no consensus on whether their use poses any serious health risk.

With such a high degree of scientific uncertainty about cellphones, the World Health Organization says we should view them as a potential serious risk until conclusive studies about their safety are released. Currently WHO classifies electromagnetic fields from cellphones as "possibly carcinogenic" and advised the public to adopt safety measures to reduce exposure, like use of hands-free devices or substituting talking on a cellphone with texting.

But as the Mayo Clinic notes, it may be many years before we see any medical research displaying a correlation between cellphone use and cancer.

It often takes many years between the use of a new cancer-causing agent — such as tobacco — and the observation of an increase in cancer rates. At this point, it's possible that too little time has passed to detect an increase in cancer rates directly attributable to cellphone use.  

However, all of this uncertainty over the risks of cellphones has spawned a conspiracy theory that the U.S. government and the telecom industry are in cahoots and are hiding the facts about cellphones and cancer. According to a study by the University of Chicago released earlier this month, one in five adults in the U.S. believe that large corporations have convinced the government to hide research proving that cell phones cause cancer.

This conspiracy theory appears to have been mostly chain-mail fare for years. Then, in late 2012, Joseph Mercola wrote an article on his eponymous alternate-medicine website claiming that science is deceiving the public about cellphones and that the “multi-trillion dollar” cellphone industry can wield great power by “making sizable political donations and through persistent lobbying efforts that influence and sometimes even directly shape government policies.”

Mercola cites an anti-science book called Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research which says that politicians actively suppress research potential human health risks. “The U.S. government is not protecting you from cell phone dangers,” Mercola warns his readers in a red, boldface headline.

Mercola's warnings have been echoed in several posts by Alex Jones on his website PrisonPlanet.com. Earlier this year, Jones’ site posted a video of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler being heckled by conspiracy theorists asking why the government won’t put warning labels on cellphones.

Despite the loud rhetoric from the other side, there’s a little proof of a conspiracy other than allegations made by two infamous conspiracy theorists.

As for the government’s part, National Institutes of Health have actually provided some $35 million in research grants between 2001 and 2011, according to the Government Accounting Office. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has echoed many of the concerns of the World Health Organization, even creating an information page from its National Cancer Research Institute.

We were not able to find any evidence of a coverup by the government and the telecom industry, as implied by Mercola and Jones.



Related Stories

15:21 CBO: Obamacare subsidies apply to both state and federal exchanges» Daily Kos
Earlier last week, two federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions as to whether Congress intended for the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance subsidies to Americans purchasing coverage through both state and federally run exchanges. While Romneycare architect and Obamacare consultant Jonathan Gruber seemed to create some confusion with remarks from 2012, for the drafters of the ACA there is no ambiguity at all. Whether a state elected to create its own exchange or instead defer to federal management of its marketplace, the number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer (D-MD) explained, "Clearly the subsidies would apply." As Vox reported:
"The clear intent of the tax credits is to make insurance more affordable, especially when you're mandating its purchase," says Topher Spiro, who worked as deputy staff director for health policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. "It's crazy to think of a mandate without subsidies. It just doesn't make any sense."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has always agreed. After all, for five years Congress's budgetary referee has been "scoring" versions of what ultimately became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Each and every time, CBO forecast the number of enrollees, the cost for the subsidies and the revenue raised from mandate penalties for all 50 states, regardless of their type of exchange. (Just as important, Congress's scorekeeper did take into account the number of states accepting or rejecting the expansion of Medicaid in revising its estimates for the number of people) to be newly covered by that program for low-income and disabled Americans.) And while Republicans complained that CBO had used "budget gimmickry" in repeatedly projecting Obamacare would reduce the national debt, at no time did GOP leaders in Congress protest the agency's forecasts for ACA tax credits in all 50 states.

Remember that throughout 2009 and 2010, elements of the ACA were in flux. For example, in reviewing proposals from both the House and the Senate, Director Douglas Elmendorf's agency had to account for addition and removal of a "public option" for insurance and the idea of state co-ops and regional purchasing alliances. For example, on November 18, 2009, Elmendorf informed Congress that a version of the ACA including a public option would reduce the debt by $130 billion over 10 years, while ensuring 25 million Americans through the exchanges by 2019. Another 15 million would gain coverage through Medicaid. CBO's one-paragraph summary of the PPACA read this way:

Among other things, the legislation would establish a mandate for most legal residents of the United States to obtain health insurance; set up insurance "exchanges" through which certain individuals and families could receive federal subsidies to substantially reduce the cost of purchasing that coverage; significantly expand eligibility for Medicaid; substantially reduce the growth of Medicare's payment rates for most services (relative to the growth rates projected under current law); impose an excise tax on insurance plans with relatively high premiums; and make various other changes to the federal tax code, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs.
And we'll see below the fold, CBO's job is to model the budgetary impact of legislation as directed by Congress.
12:02 Wall St. Landlords on a Cul-de-Sac Near You» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Institutional investors are capitalizing on the foreclosure crisis by buying homes cheaply and then converting them into rental homes.

It's time to put an end to the financialization insanity that's hurting average people, destroying the American dream, and turning our economy into one big giant casino.

One of the most startling trends to come out of the wreckage of the 2007-2008 financial crisis is the explosion of Wall Street firms buying up and renting out property all across the country.

The housing glut and foreclosure crisis that was, for most Americans, the symbol of the devastation caused by the worst economic downturn of our lifetimes, was, for Wall Street a wonderful business opportunity.

A study from the Center for American Progress estimates that in the five plus years since the crash, "institutional investors [i.e. big banks and hedge funds] have... bought approximately 200,000 single-family homes at bargain prices and converted them into rental homes."

Amazingly, the New York City-based hedge fund The Blackstone Group has focused so much of its resources on the real estate business that is now the single largest landlord in the entire country.

Now, I've known many people over the years who've decided to become landlords. It's a smart financial decision, the kind that middle class people used to do all the time to help them boost their income. Renting out your first or second home is great way to earn some extra money, help pay the mortgage, or even make a living once you retire and no longer take home a paycheck.

But making a few extra bucks isn't why big banks and hedge funds are buying up thousands of houses every year. The real reason why they're so enthusiastic about throwing people out of their homes and flipping those houses into rental properties is that they want to repackage those properties and their rent payments into fancy financial products - remember derivatives? - that they can then sell to investors.

In other words, being a landlord is just another way for Blackstone Group and companies like it to make money with money. They don't produce anything at all, they don't add anything to our economy, they don't help any middle-class families, they just make money with money.

And given that that's all they do, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that, they're really, really bad at being landlords.

The activist coalition Housing For All recently surveyed hundreds of tenants living in Blackstone-owned properties in the Los Angeles area and what they found was startling.

Nearly half of the tenants surveyed said they had problems with their plumbing. Almost 40 percent said they had roach or insect infestation. Another 22 percent said they had issues with rodents or termites. A similar number of surveyed tenants said that had problems with heating, mold, and roof leaks.

All in all, not a pretty picture, and a picture made worse by the fact that only one in 10 Blackstone tenants said they had ever met a representative of their landlord in person.

While Blackstone gets rich repackaging homes into fancy financial products, the people who actually live in those homes suffer.

There have always been slumlords, but what we're seeing right now with Wall Street firms like Blackstone buying up home after home, renting them out, and then using rental payments as the basis for derivative securities is something new and totally dangerous.

The financial products Wall Street is creating with its new rental empire are basically a re-hashed version of the mortgage-backed securities that crashed our economy five years ago. There's a new bubble in the works, and if we're not careful, we could see another financial crisis sooner than you might think.

This is a perfect example of why we need to totally rethink the financialization of our economy.

Banks and financial institutions, especially regular, old-fashioned commercial banks, do have an important role to play in our economy. They facilitate commerce and help everyday people save and use their money through things like checking and savings accounts. In our economy, banks are supposed to provide that function.

There's even a place for Wall Street in our economy. When regulated and controlled, investment banking can provide opportunities for asset and investment growth that wouldn't otherwise exist.

But there's a huge difference between finance being just one part of our multifaceted economy and making it the dominant sector, as it is today.

There's also a difference between allowing Wall Street to play a small role in the banking industry and letting it control the industry, as Congress and President Bill Clinton allowed to happen by deregulating the big banks in 1999 and 2000.

We now live in a financialized country, and every part of our economy, whether it's the real estate market, the commodities market, or the manufacturing industry, is in thrall to the big banks and hedge funds on Wall Street.

This is insane -- it's a recipe for disaster.

That's why it's time to go back to what worked for decades before Wall Street took control of the banking industry and the economy.

It's time to make banking boring again by putting a firewall between good old-fashioned checking-account "commercial banks" and the "investment bank" gambling houses on Wall Street.

Not only will this bring sanity to the banking industry, it'll also bring sanity to our entire economy as well, by protecting us from whatever crazy scheme Wall Street comes up with next.

Let the investment banks gamble all they want.

Just keep the rest of us, and our houses, out of it. Bring back Glass-Steagal.



Related Stories

09:45 Why Ukraine Is At the Heart of a Major U.S.-Russia Struggle» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
Behind the Ukraine crisis is a story about the $21.6 billion South Stream pipeline project.

Originally published at WhoWhyWhat.org:

South Stream pipeline’s planned route through the heart of Europe.
Photo Credit: 

Now that all eyes are on Ukraine and the potential of a bigger war looms, there’s never been a more important time to understand what is at stake.

As WhoWhatWhy readers know, the real reasons surrounding a conflict are often buried under the headlines and rhetoric. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that, behind the scenes, oil and natural gas are driving a big piece of the U.S. response to Russian involvement in Ukraine.

If you want to understand where the rubber meets the geopolitical road in the Ukraine war, you need to learn about the 1,480-mile South Stream natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline is core to the larger battle being fought over Europe between Moscow and Washington. It may even have been a motivation behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea. And if there’s a crack in the unified front between the U.S. and Europe over Russia’s role in Ukraine, South Stream is it.

Why does South Stream matter? It’s a $21.6 billion project to connect Russia’s gas reserves—the world’s largest—to Europe’s markets.  Europe relies on Russia for about 30 percent of its natural gas.

Any delays in finishing the pipeline—scheduled for completion in 2018—can only help Russia’s competitors in the international energy business.  And one player gearing up to challenge Russia in the European energy market is the United States.

This year, the United States became the largest producer of natural gas and oil hydrocarbons in the world, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. There’s solid evidence that the U.S. is seeking both commercial advantage and political influence by gaining a foothold in Europe’s oil and gas markets.

The evidence comes, in part, from the targets the Obama administration has chosen to punish for Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. All of this raises the question of how much the confrontation in the Ukraine is about who gets to sell natural gas (and later oil) to one of the world’s biggest energy consumers: Europe.


South Stream pipeline map.
Photo Credit: 


South Stream owes much of its existence to the 2005-2010 Russia-Ukraine gas disputes, which left as many as 18 European countries cut off from Russian gas. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run energy company, proposed South Stream as a way to circumvent Ukraine and ensure an uninterrupted, diversified flow to Europe. It found a willing partner in the Italy’s state-controlled oil and gas company, Eni S.p.A., and seven other gas-hungry countries.

To truly understand how intrinsic South Stream is to Russian economic influence over Europe, one only has to look at some of the targets of U.S. sanctions against Russian or Russian-linked companies. Two of them were directly aimed at slowing down or stopping South Stream.

The first South Stream-related company the U.S. targeted was Stroytransgaz, which is building the Bulgarian section. Putin ally and billionaire Gennady Timchenko owns it and he’s already on the sanctions list. So Stroytransgaz had to stop construction or risk exposing other companies on the project to the sanctions.

The second entity in the sanctions crosshairs was a Crimean company called Chernomorneftgaz. After the Russian annexation, the Crimean parliament voted to take over the company, which belonged to the Ukrainian government. And guess what that company owned? The rights to the exclusive maritime economic zone in the Black Sea.

That’s important because Russia routed the pipeline on a longer path through the Black Sea that cut out Ukraine. It avoided the Crimean waters, going instead via Turkey’s.


The European Union attacked South Stream through a non-binding resolution that called for a halt to its construction. EU member states don’t have to pay attention to the resolution, which was mostly designed to put public pressure on Russia.

That’s where split among countries in Europe became evident.

Several that will benefit from the pipeline have spoken out in support of construction or moved ahead with agreements to build it. Italy wants it to proceed, and Austria and Russia signed an agreement to construct a segment, in defiance of the EU’s position that the pipeline may violate anti-competitiveness rules. Germany’s Siemens will supply the instrumentation for the pipeline.

One country that’s trying to avoid getting trampled as the giants fight is Bulgaria. It still has close ties to Russia but is subject to pressure from the U.S.

Both have taken aim at its section of South Stream, which is where the pipeline will come ashore from Russia via the Black Sea. The European Union warned the Bulgarian government that its construction tender broke EU rules. The U.S. sanctioned the company that won the tender, Stroytransgaz.

Bulgaria is arguing to the EU that its position is legally sound, and that its economic stability is at risk without South Stream. Bulgaria has no other secure gas supply so “the national interest must be protected,” Economy and Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said.

In the meantime, Bulgaria is hard at work finding a way around the U.S. sanctions. The government may hand the construction job to a subsidiary of Gazprom that’s building the Serbian section. And here’s a neat trick: the Bulgarian government approved an $835 million loan from Gazprom to pay for it, secured by future revenue from the pipeline.


According to Vladimir Putin, South Stream is just a business venture facing ordinary commercial setbacks that have nothing to do with Ukraine. Washington is interfering, Putin said after meeting with his Austrian counterpart in June, because the United States wants to supply the gas to Europe. “It is an ordinary competitive struggle. In the course of this competition, political tools are being used,” he said, referring to the U.S. sanctions.

Undoubtedly, the United States has a massive commercial interest in selling natural gas to Europe. Thanks to the abundant supply created by the domestic shale-gas boom, the U.S. may be able to export liquefied natural gas to European buyers in the near future. Already, Washington has licensed seven export facilities; about 30 more are awaiting approval. The first exports could start by the end of this year.

But since all the infrastructure to ship liquefied gas is not yet in place, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, a South Stream proponent, has ridiculed the idea of U.S. gas exports to Europe in a year or two as “fairy tales.” Meanwhile, Putin has pointedly said that piped gas will always be cheaper than the liquid form, and Moscow has consistently claimed that Europe’s gas bill will rise if it chooses alternatives besides Russian natural gas.

However, there’s more than natural gas at play in Europe’s energy future. The Obama administration is negotiating a free trade agreement with Europe that could legalize American oilexports for the first time since 1975. This would bring U.S. exporters in direct competition with Russia, which sells 84 percent of its oil exports to Europe today.

At the moment the South Stream pipeline is projected to generate approximately $20 billion a year in income.  With that much money at stake, the politics behind the armed confrontation in eastern Ukraine takes on a new dimension: Is the shooting war there part of larger, longer-term conflict—a continuing battle between the United States and Russia for global energy dominance?


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09:00 Media Titan Rupert Murdoch's Latest Media Takeover Plot Is His Most Audacious Yet» AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
If the titan is successful in his bid, the mega deal would be bad for everyone.

Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's richest men, and the owner of News Corporation, which operates Fox News, The New York Post, and other major outlets.

In addition to effectively owning countless news outlets across the world, Murdoch is also owner of movie and television powerhouse 21st Century Fox. Earlier this month, Murdoch made a nearly $80 billion offer to have 21st Century Fox takeover Time Warner, a move that was rejected by the company.

But Murdoch has not given up on his quest to merge the two media titans. As The New York Times noted, he is “determined and unlikely to walk away anytime soon, people briefed on the matter said. And he has a track record of pursuing companies that first said no before giving in.” This week it was reported that 21st Century Fox may be planning to increase its offer after its sale of Italian and German Sky TV holdings, which would generate an extra $13.5 billion.

While much of the press has focused on whether Murdoch will be successful in his bid, the bigger question is: what happens if he is?

A Mega Merger That Threatens Everyone

If Murdoch is successful in his latest bid, he will be furthering media consolidation in an era where an increasingly small pool of companies control most of what Americans see. For example, four companies own virtually all of local media, as this interactive map from media freedom group Free Press shows. Some are saying that the merger is itself a response to Comcast's move on Time Warner Cable and AT&T's move on DirectTV – meaning that mergers are leading to more mergers.

A Time Warner merger with 21st Century Fox would allow Murdoch to put companies such as HBO, TNT, and TBS (Time Warner) under the same umbrella as Fox News and FX (Fox has said it would sell CNN to avoid running afoul of antitrust laws). The Los Angeles Times notes that one of the first losers under such a massive merger could be writers and producers:

What would likely be of tremendous concern would be the power a 21st Century Fox - Time Warner combination would have in the creative community, specifically writers and producers looking to make television shows and movies.

The majority of TV shows and movies are produced by just a handful of companies -- Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Walt Disney Co., Comcast's NBCUniversal and Sony Corp. A merger of two of the biggest producers would eliminate a buyer and give that entity a lot of leverage.

"The increased buying power 21st Century Fox would have is a huge antitrust issue I would expect the Justice Department to look at," said Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a media watchdog group.

Essentially, the people who do the laborious work producing the television Americans enjoy would be facing an increasingly small cartel-like operation of owners who actually buy their productions, an easy way to further reduce their wages and increase company profits.

Given the benefits to the companies of being able to put the squeeze on those who produce the programming, why was Time Warner hesitant? Vox's Matt Yglesias explains one likely reason: Time Warner's shareholders would likely lose out due to Murdoch's insistence on keeping control of voting shares of the company:

The merger makes business sense, and the price Murdoch is offering — about a 22 percent premium over the current market price of Time Warner shares — is fair. Nonetheless, Time Warner executives and board members are raising one big objection to the merger. Murdoch is offering some cash to Time Warner shareholders, but most of the purchase would be financed with shares of 21st Century Fox stock.

That's a fairly standard practice, except 21st Century Fox stock is a bit unusual — it doesn't carry any voting rights. Like many family firms, Murdoch's company has a two-tier share structure with the bulk of the voting shares in the hands of the Murdoch family. Time Warner's board says it would be a mistake for Time Warner shareholders to swap their voting rights in the company for non-voting shares of questionable value.

The solution to this ever growing world of media conglomerates would be, as the Free Press spokesperson says above, anti-trust actions. One observer has the following advice:

At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates. We've done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently. Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public's broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC's pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history – and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents [sic].

That observer was Ted Turner, himself the man behind Turner Enterprises and the rise of networks like CNN, writing in 2004. With increasing consolidation that threatens writers, producers, shareholders, and consumers, you have to wonder if Murdoch will be writing a similar column a decade from now.


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07:24 What Does the Democratic Party Actually Believe? » AlterNet.org Main RSS Feed
The Dems need to experience more of the surprise rebellions that took down some old bulls in the GOP.

To put it crudely, the dilemma facing the Democratic party comes down to this: Will Dems decide next time to stand with the working people, or will they stick with their big-money friends in finance and business? Some twenty years ago, Bill Clinton taught Democrats how they can have it both ways. Take Wall Street’s money—gobs of it—while promising to govern on a heart-felt agenda of “Putting People First.”

It worked, sort of, for the party. Not so much for the people. New Democrats prevailed. Old labor-liberals lost their seat at the table. Among left-wing malcontents, Bill Clinton became “slick Willie.”

Now economic adversities have blown away the Clinton legacy, which is rightly blamed for much of what happened to middle-class wage earners. New voices like senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherod Brown are demanding a new new politics—big governing reforms that really do put people first. The old New Dems are stuck with their moderation and obsolete economic doctrine that is utterly irrelevant amid the nation’s depressed circumstances.

Sooner or later I expect politics will change, because the injuries and adversities will not go away in the absence of stronger government interventions. For now, however, the Clintonites are the Democratic Party, having deliberately excluded liberal thinkers and activists from the ranks of government policymakers for two decades. Economic experts recruited by the Obama administration are more likely to have been trained at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. They do not personally share the public’s anger.

So here is the unspoken subtext for 2016 and beyond: What does the Democratic Party actually believe? Democrats argue among themselves, but try not to provoke fratricidal accusations. The question is sufficiently hot that it is no longer a subterranean discussion. The Washington Post and The New York Timesare chewing on it too.

A recent Post article warned Democrats to lay off the “inequality” talk for fear of sounding like “class warfare.” Well, yes, it is. As billionaire Warren Buffett remarked, the class warfare has been underway for some years . “Our side won,” he said.

The president has made several fine speeches on the issue, but the Post says the White House has already decided to drop it. Talk specifics, but keep it cool. Robert Borosage, director of the Campaign for America’s Future, suggests this is a recipe for “passive voice populism.”

The New York Times produced a tougher piece on the Dems’ intramural debate. It described in disturbing detail how closely Hillary has relied on the financial constituency. “As Wall St. Faces Scorn, It Warms to Clinton,” the headline said. She was, after all, a senator from New York. And when she ran for president and lost in 2008, organized labor was enthusiastically on her side.

Still, Hillary Clinton is dangerously out of step with the new zeitgeist. If she already has the 2016 nomination locked up, as her campaign gremlins keep telling us, it’s hard to imagine she would desert the finance-friendly politics that supported her rise to power.

The Hillary question has many corners to it. On one hand, it could achieve the epic breakthrough of electing a woman. On the other hand, it might postpone the restoration of progressive economic polices for another four years.

For that reason and some others, Clinton could run and lose the election. Still, many Dems see her as as the best prepared candidate and the best compromise among contending party factions. Dems do realize the need to hold onto the White House and Supreme Court appointments in order to derail the Roberts Court’s attack-happy right-wingers. Or, who knows, maybe she will decide not to run.

In other words, this dilemma will not be resolved by one election, or maybe several elections, because it is larger than individual candidates and their personal qualities. Nor is it limited to Democrats (witness the nervous breakdown of the Republican Party). We are really looking at the capture of representative democracy deformed by the deadly embrace of capitalism.

Only the people themselves can dig themselves out of this trap. My personal hunch is that Democratic office holders will not find the courage to embrace the future and the reform vision that some of their colleagues are advocating until their party feels threatened by its own constituencies. That is, the Dems need to experience more of the surprise rebellions that took down some old bulls in the GOP. If the people cannot get either major party to lead the way, maybe they will need to create a new party that will.


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Tue 22 July, 2014

07:26 Top-Secret British Combat Drone Gets Test Run» LiveScience.com
A prototype of a top-secret, unmanned British warplane, called Taranis, recently completed a second set of classified flight trials at an undisclosed location, according to the drone's builders.

Thu 10 July, 2014

01:49 Rossby waves and surface weather extremes» RealClimate
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Sun 06 July, 2014

07:05 Release of the International Surface Temperature Initiative’s (ISTI’s) Global Land Surface Databank, an expanded set of fundamental surface temperature records» RealClimate
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Wed 02 July, 2014

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Sun 01 June, 2014

16:35 Unforced variations: June 2014» RealClimate
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Thu 08 May, 2014

06:39 El Niño or Bust» RealClimate
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Fri 02 May, 2014

06:35 Unforced variations: May 2014» RealClimate
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Wed 30 April, 2014

04:36 Faking it» RealClimate
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Fri 25 April, 2014

19:57 Nenana Ice Classic: Update» RealClimate
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Thu 24 April, 2014

12:47 Labels for climate data» RealClimate
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Tue 15 October, 2013

Sun 22 September, 2013

06:34 The Last Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The Oil Drum (TOD) was an internet energy phenomenon that ran for over eight years from April 2005 to September 2013. The site was founded by Prof. Goose (also known as Professor Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University) and Heading Out (also known as Professor Dave Summers formerly of the Missouri University of Science and Technology).

The site took off with the advent of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 and resulted in the first 200+ comment event, indicating that there was demand for a site where concerned citizens could gather round a camp fire to discuss events impacting their energy supplies and ultimately, their well being. In eight years, >960,000 comments have been posted. Two other energy linked disasters, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Fukushima Daiichi reactor melt downs would see readership soar to >75,000 unique visits per day.

These pages have hosted over 7,500 articles covering every aspect of the global energy system. It was not unusual for a post to attract over 600 comments, many of which were well informed and contained charts and links to other internet sources. The site would become known for a uniquely high level of discourse where armchair analysts of all stripes added their knowledge to threads in a courteous, and ultimately pro-social way that energy experts at hedge funds, corporations or universities might not have the freedom to do. It is this emergent property of smart people sharing knowledge on a critical topic to humanity's future that will be missed.

The site was built on twin backbones that would often pull the readership in opposite directions. Drumbeats, edited by Leanan (who remains anonymous to this day) provided daily energy news digest and a forum for debate. And articles, written by a legion of volunteer writers, that strove to provide a more quantitative analysis of global energy supplies and the political, social and economic events that lay behind them. All the content would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Super G, our site engineer, who maintained and updated software and hardware as the site grew and evolved for over eight years on a voluntary basis.

In the course of 2013, a decision was made to archive The Oil Drum and the main purpose of this Last Post is to provide some direction to new and future readers of the vast content it contains. The main contributors are listed below along with links to where their writings can be now be found. If you are looking for content there are two main options. The first is to look for author specific content where clicking on the live hyper linked name of the contributor will take you to a page giving access to all the content produced by that author. The second option is to use the Advanced Search facility at the top left of this page. Simply enter a few key words and this will return a page of the most relevant articles.

Editorial board

Arthur Berman (aeberman) Arthur E. Berman is a petroleum geologist with 35 years of oil and gas industry experience. He worked 20 years for Amoco (now BP) and 15 years as consulting geologist. He gives keynote addresses for energy conferences, boards of directors and professional societies. He has been interviewed about oil and gas topics on CBS, CNBC, CNN, Platt’s Energy Week, BNN, Bloomberg, Platt’s, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

He was a managing editor and frequent contributor of theoildrum.com, and an associate editor of the AAPG Bulletin. He is a Director of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and has served on the boards of directors of The Houston Geological Society and The Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. He has published more than 100 articles on petroleum geology. He has done expert witness and research work on several oil and gas trial and utility commission hearings.

He has an M.S. (Geology) from the Colorado School of Mines and a B.A. (History) from Amherst College.

Nate Hagens is a well-known speaker on the big picture related to the global macroeconomy. Nate's presentations address opportunities and constraints we face in the transition away from growth based economies as fossil fuels become more costly. On the supply side, Nate focuses on biophysical economics (net energy) and the interrelationship between money and natural resources. On the demand side, Nate addresses the behavioral underpinnings to conspicuous consumption and offers suggestions on how individuals and society might better adapt to the end of growth. He will be writing at themonkeytrap.us.

Nate has appeared on PBS, BBC, ABC, NPR, and has lectured around the world. He holds a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. Previously Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. Nate is the former President of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (non-profit publisher of The Oil Drum), is current US Director of the Institute for Integrated Economic Research, and serves on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute. Nate also served as the lead editor of the Oil Drum for several years.

Rembrandt Koppelaar has since 2010 been a Research Associate at the Swiss Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER), where he works on modelling of costs of resource and energy flows. Since June 2012 he combines this with a PhD research position at Imperial College London, to contribute to a spatial simulation of the resource flows of an economy at a micro-level using agent-based approaches. He joined the Oil Drum in 2006 first as a contributor and later as an editor, triggering by his concern in oil depletion. An interest that also led him to establish and become President of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Netherlands from 2006 to 2010. He is author of the book “De Permanente Oliecrisis” discussing the end of cheap oil and its consequences (Dutch language, Nieuw Amsterdam publishers, 2008). Rembrandt holds a BSc and MSc in economics from Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Brian Maschhoff (JoulesBurn) earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of New Mexico and a Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Arizona. He has worked at several academic institutions and government laboratories, and currently engages in a wide variety of scientific and technical pursuits including web-based education, data visualization, and research on salmon recovery. His research on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia is also posted at Satellite o'er the Desert. He also blogs at Picojoule, and he might eventually be found @joulesburn on Twitter.

Euan Mearns has B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in geology from The University of Aberdeen. Following an academic career in Norway and a business career in Scotland I took time off work in 2005 to help care for two sons and two dogs and to allow my wife's career to blossom. In 2006, wondering why the oil price and the value of my oil stocks kept going up I stumbled upon the The Oil Drum that provided unique insight, at that time, into The Earth energy system. Feeling the need to put something back I submitted a couple of articles and have since written roughly 100 posts and hosted many guest posts from worthy authors.

In 2009 I was appointed as Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen and teach occasional courses there. For the last 7 years, writing and editing articles for The Oil Drum has consumed a fair portion of my time, but I have in return learned a huge amount. I also continue to work as a consultant for the oil industry. The focus of my interest is the importance of energy to society, society's response to the infrastructure and secondary impacts of energy provision and the political response. I plan to continue writing about Energy, Environment and Policy at Energy Matters.

New post, 8th October: UK North Sea Oil Production Decline
New post 18th November: Marcellus shale gas Bradford Co Pennsylvania: production history and declines
New post, 28th November: What is the real cost of shale gas?
New post, 9th December: OPEC oil production update July 2013
New post, 18th December: OECD oil production update July 2013
New post, 3rd January: Global Oil Supply Update July 2013
New post, 6th January: The Primary Energy Tale of Two Continents

Paul Sears was born in the UK, and did a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cambridge. Since first coming to Canada on a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Western Ontario in 1973, he has worked at the University of Toronto and in the Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa. Most of his work since the mid 1970s has been on the supply and use of energy in one form or another. His interest in the limitations to oil supply dates back to about 1962, when he was at school watching a promotional film from an oil company. The subject of the film was oil exploration, and this caused him to wonder about the dependence of our society on oil and the limits to supply. Other interests are canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, camping, keeping planted aquaria and learning Mandarin Chinese. Sadly, Paul Sears passed away on September 13, 2012. You can read an obituary here.

Dave Summers who writes under the pen name, "Heading Out", comes from a family that for at least nine generations has been coal miners, and he started his working life, as an Indentured Apprentice, in 1961 shoveling coal on one of the last hand-won coal faces in the UK at Seghill, after a few weeks supplying that face with the help of a pit pony. With bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Leeds University in the UK he moved to Rolla, Missouri and Missouri University of Science and Technology (then UMR) in 1968. He was named Curators’ Professor of Mining Engineering in 1980 and for many years directed the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center at MS&T. His main work has been in the developing use of high-pressure water for cutting, cleaning and demilitarization. As one of the quiet revolutions that has crept into industry during his career, his research group worked in nuclear cleanup, rocket motors, and surgical applications as well as developing tools to cut, drill and mine more mundane rock, coal and metals. The team carved the half-scale Stonehenge out of Georgia granite, using only water, and later cut Edwina Sandy’s Millennium Arch from Missouri granite, both of which are on the MS&T campus. They also used the technique in a demonstration excavation that resulted in creating the OmniMax theater under the Gateway Arch in St Louis.

He retired from the University, and was named Emeritus in 2010, and lives quietly with his wife Barbara, with occasional commutes to visit their children, located on the two coasts very far from rural America.

In 2004 he began to write a blog, and in 2005 teamed with Kyle Saunders to jointly found The Oil Drum, a site for “discussions on energy and our future.” He now writes on energy, the applications of waterjets, a little on the use of the 3D modeling program Poser, and occasionally on climate matters. His blog, where the Tech Talks continue, can be found at Bit Tooth Energy. He again thanks all those who have contributed to The Oil Drum over the years and wishes them joy and prosperity in their futures!

Dr. David Archibold Summers has written numerous articles, a textbook, Waterjetting Technology, and jointly holds several patents, the last two of which have been licensed and deal a) with the use of waterjets to remove skin cancer and b) for high speed drilling of small holes through the earth.

Gail Tverberg (Gail the Actuary) became interested in resource limits and how these affect insurance companies and the economy more generally in 2005. She began writing about this issue while working as a property-casualty actuarial consultant at Towers Watson. In 2007, she took early retirement to work specifically on the issue of oil limits.

Between 2007 and its suspension in 2013, Gail worked as a contributor and editor at TheOilDrum.com. She also started her own blog, OurFiniteWorld.com, where she continues to write on a regular basis. Her writings include Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy in January 2012. She has spoken at at many conferences on subjects related to oil limits, including both academic and actuarial conferences. She now plans to write a book, tentatively called "Discontinuity Ahead: How Oil Limits Affect the Economy."

Gail worked for CNA Insurance prior to joining Tillinghast (which eventually became part of Towers Watson) in 1981. She has a BA in Mathematics from St. Olaf College and an MS in Mathematics from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Her Twitter feed is @gailtheactuary.

Chris Vernon originally graduated with a masters degree in computational physics before working for ten years in the field of mobile telecoms specialising in radio network architecture and off-grid power systems in emerging markets. He subsequently returned to university to take an MSc in Earth system science and a PhD in glaciology focusing on the mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet. Chris is a trustee at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, works for the UK Met Office and maintains a personal web page.

Selected contributors

Big Gav studied Engineering at the University of Western Australia in Perth. Since then he has travelled widely and worked in the oil and gas, power generation, defence, technology and banking industries. He has been blogging about peak oil for almost 3 years at Peak Energy (Australia) and is probably the most prolific example of a techno-optimist in the peak oil world. He may be alone in thinking that peak oil represents a great opportunity to switch to a clean energy based world economy, rather than the trigger for the end of industrial civilisation.

Jason Bradford is currently a Farm Manager in Corvallis, OR and a Managing Partner for a sustainable farmland fund, Farmland LP. Most of his writing for The Oil Drum occurred while he lived in Willits, CA, where he was instrumental in the founding of Willits Economic Localization, hosted a radio program called "The Reality Report," and was a board member of the local Renewable Energy Development Institute. He also founded and ran a small farm at a local elementary school with a lot of community support and the backing of The Post Carbon Institute, where he is currently a board member. His brief but enjoyable academic career began at Washington University in St. Louis and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG), where he taught courses in Ecology and from which he received a doctorate in Evolution and Population Biology in 2000. After graduation he was hired by the Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development at MBG, and between 2001 and 2004 secured grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society for multi-disciplinary research on issues related to species extinction and ecosystem function. His "aha moment" came during this research period where the connections between environmental decline, resource consumption, economic growth, belief systems and institutional inertia led to a dramatic change in the course of his life's work.

He continues to blog at Farmland LP.

David Murphy is an Assistant Professor in the Geography Department and an Associate of the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, both at Northern Illinois University. He serves also as an Environmental Policy Analyst for the Environmental Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. Murphy’s research focuses on the intersection of energy, economics, and the environment. Recently, his work has focused on estimating how the extraction of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has impacted the provision of ecosystem services from the local environment. In addition, he researches how the energy return on investment from oil is related to oil price and economic growth. Dr. Murphy's work for Argonne National Laboratory addresses the environmental impacts associated with energy development.

He tweets: @djmurphy04

Robert Rapier works in the energy industry and writes and speaks about issues involving energy and the environment. He is Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at Merica International, a forestry and renewable energy company involved in a variety of projects around the world. Robert has 20 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries, and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining, natural gas production, synthetic fuels, ethanol production, butanol production, and various biomass to energy projects. Robert is the author of Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. He is also the author of the R-Squared Energy Column at Energy Trends Insider. His articles on energy and sustainability have appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and Forbes.

Jeff Vail (jeffvail) is an energy intelligence analyst and former US Air Force intelligence officer. He has a B.S. in engineering and history from the US Air Force Academy and a Juris Doctor from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. His interests are in global energy geopolitics and the the "rhizome" theory of social and economic organization. He is the author of the political anthropology book A Theory of Power and maintains a blog at http://www.jeffvail.net.

Jérôme à Paris is an investment banker in Paris, specialised in structured finance for energy projects, in particular in the wind power sector. After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, he wrote his Ph.D. in economics in 1995 on the independence of Ukraine, with a strong focus on the gas relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and he worked on financings for the Russian oil & gas industry for several years after that. He is the editor of the European Tribune, a community website on European politics and energy issues. He has written extensively about energy issues, usually from an economic or geopolitical angle for the European Tribune and for DailyKos where he led a collective effort to draft an energy policy for the USA, Energize America.

Rune Likvern After Rune's first time seeing The Oil Drum (TOD and Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future; ISEOF), in 2005 he created an account as nrgyman2000 and later got an invitation to become part of the staff of volunteer writers at what was then TOD Europe. In 2008 he started to post under his real name.

He is a Norwegian presently living in Norway and holding a masters degree from what is now the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. For more than two decades he was employed in various positions by major international oil companies, primarily Statoil, working with operations, field/area developments (in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea) and implementation (primarily logistics) of Troll Gas Sales Agreement (TGSA) which is about natural gas deliveries to European customers. This was followed by a period as an independent energy (oil/gas fields assessments, cash flow analysis, portfolio analysis etc.) consultant and as VP for an energy hedge fund in New York. In recent years he had a sabbatical to do more in depth research, reading and participating in discussions about energy, biology (what makes human {brains} what they are and why), and not least financial and economic subjects in several global forums as well as some advisory work.

Presently he is looking for gainful employment/engagements.

He also posts on his blog Fractional Flow
(primarily in Norwegian, but some future posts are planned for in English).

Phil Hart studied Materials Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne before spending five years with Shell UK Exploration and Production, based in Aberdeen, Scotland. He worked on two new North Sea oil and gas field development projects followed by a stint with the Brent field maintenance team as a corrosion engineer. In late 2006, Phil returned to Melbourne and was for a while an active member of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil. He provided many briefings to government, business and community audiences and is still available for presentations around Melbourne and Victoria. Phil now works primarily in the water industry but consults as required for The Institute for Sensible Transport as well. He is also a keen astronomer and night sky photographer: www.philhart.com.

Luís Alexandre Duque Moreira de Sousa (Luís de Sousa) is a researcher at the Public Research Institute Henri Tudor in Luxembourg and a Ph.D. student in Informatics Engineering at the Technical University of Lisbon. Luís created the first Portuguese language website dedicated to Peak Oil in 2005 (PicoDoPetroleo.net); in 2006 he would be one of the founders of ASPO-Portugal and later that year integrated the team that started the European branch of The Oil Drum. Since then he has continuously written about Energy and its interplay with Politics and Economics, both in English and Portuguese. Luís is a regular presence at the collective blog European Tribune and writes on the broader issues of life on his personal blog AtTheEdgeOfTime.

Sat 21 September, 2013

14:34 The House That Randy Built» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

One of the nice aspects of the 7+ years I have been involved with The Oil Drum has been attending conferences and meeting with some of my cyber friends, who by and large figure among the nicest bunch of folks I ever met. In 2007 I attended the ASPO meeting in Houston and it was then that I met Randy Udall for the first time. Well you know what some Americans are like - you meet, you chat a while, discover you get along, down a couple of beers and before you know it you are invited to go visit. And so it was with Randy Udall....

The house that Randy built, sunk low in the Colorado terrain, provides shelter from winter storms and from exposure to summer sun. Photovoltaics, solar hot water (on the roof) and a single wood burner (chimney) provides all the energy needs.

Three years later, my wife and I had a trip planned to the States to go visit Dave Rutledge (another cyber mate) at his mountain lodge in New Mexico and I thought it would be cool to visit Randy en route. We exchanged a couple of emails, he warned that his wife Leslie was cautious about some of his friends coming to stay and that his son once claimed that the family lived in a "mud hut" and by now I was wondering if this was such a good idea. But plans were made and we went to stay with Randy in Colorado for a couple of days in August 2011; on arrival, any trepidation melted away.

A "mud hut", not quite. The stucco exterior finish covers thick foam insulation that in turn covers compressed earth (adobe) blocks. This provides protection from winter cold and summer heat, and thermal inertia from the large temperature swings prevalent in this part of the world.

At first sight Randy's house did indeed have the feel of a "mud hut" but upon entering the reality of a beautifully and lovingly crafted passive house unfolded. I was astonished to learn that Randy had designed and built every inch of this house himself, including the manufacture of every compressed earth brick and the hammering in of every nail - in neat serried ranks.

I wish I had recorded the vital statistics but the mass of bricks was carefully calculated to provide thermal inertia, keeping the house warm in winter but cool in summer. I was also very surprised to learn that all of the insulation was on the outside of the masonry structure which is the opposite of the way we build our houses in the UK. South-facing windows collect wintertime solar energy and the adobe block walls and brick floors soak up much of that heat energy, keeping the home warm through cold nights. During the summer, just opening the windows at night cools off the massive floors and walls, helping the house stay cool during hot days. Putting the insulation on the outside of the exterior walls is the only way to make this adobe wall strategy work effectively.

The house was set low in the terrain, providing protection from winter storms and from the worst excesses of summer heat. Outside you find a large solar PV array, providing a surplus of electricity and solar hot water arrays on the south facing roofs providing all the hot water required and, if my memory serves correctly, some interior heating during winter time.

The rather plain exterior gave way, inside, to simple, beautifully crafted, elegance.

Every timber cut and every nail hammered by one man. This is a masterpiece that will hopefully endure.

Inside, beautiful craftsmanship provides simple but elegant living space to match the view of Mount Sopris that dominated the surrounding landscape. Not many of us leave a lasting legacy. Randy has left memories of a wonderful and thoughtful teacher and a house that will hopefully stand as a testimony to his passion for sustainable living for centuries to come.

The view out of the front window wasn't that bad either. Mount Sopris (3,952 m /12,965 ft) offered Randy and his family fantastic walking, climbing and ski mountaineering opportunities.

Renewable energy and renewable transport. I am seldom pleased with the pictures I take, but there is something about this one I really like.

On the second evening of our visit, we dined with the local mayor and downed a few glasses of red. Randy may look pensive but he is actually looking at his lap top, has my credit card and is planning a road trip for us through Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon en route to New Mexico, one of the best trips my wife and I have ever made. He knew this area like the back of his hand.

To some, this house and lifestyle may seem fabulously exuberant. But the house, in fact, was built for a relatively tiny amount of money with most of the cost coming by way of blood, sweat, tears, knowledge and love of a vision for the future. These Udalls lived a simple life with a very strong sense of community involvement.

Most folks who read these pages will already know that in June of this year Randy died aged 61 of natural causes while hiking alone in the Wind River range of Wyoming, hunting for wild trout. The tragedy here is that he was snatched from his family and the sustainable living community he championed 10 to 20 years prematurely.

Thank you to Leslie Udall for consent to publish this article and to Steve Andrews for some useful editorial comments.

Thu 19 September, 2013

21:27 Twenty (Important) Concepts I Wasn't Taught in Business School - Part I» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Twenty-one years ago I received an MBA with Honors from the University of Chicago. The world became my oyster. Or so it seemed. For many years I achieved status in the metrics popular in our day ~ large paychecks, nice cars, travel to exotic places, girlfriend(s), novelty, and perhaps most importantly, respect for being a 'successful' member of society. But it turns out my financial career, shortlived as it was, occurred at the tail end of an era ~ where financial markers would increasingly decouple from the reality they were created to represent. My skill of being able to create more digits out of some digits, (or at least being able to sell that likelihood), allowed me to succeed in a "turbo" financial system that would moonshot over the next 20 years. For a short time I was in the 1% (and still am relative to 'all humans who have ever lived'). Being in the 1% afforded me an opportunity to dig a little deeper in what was really going on (because I quit, and had time to read and think about things for 10 years). It turns out the logic underpinning the financial system, and therefore my career, was based on some core flawed assumptions that had 'worked' in the short run but have since become outdated, putting societies at significant risks.

Around 30% of matriculating undergraduate college students today choose a business major, yet 'doing business' without knowledge of biology, ecology, and physics entirely circumvents first principles of how our world really works ~ my too long but also too short summary of the important things I wasn't taught in business school is below.

The Blind men and the Elephant, by Rudyard Kipling

Business as usual as we know it, with economics as its guide and financial metrics as its scorecard, is in its death throes. The below essay is going to appear critical of finance and the nations (world's) business schools. But it is too, critical, of our entire educational system. However, physicists, plumbers and plowmen do not have the same pull with respect to our cultural goals and narrative that financial folk do - as such an examination of the central assumptions driving society is long overdue. But before I point out what I didn't learn in MBA school, I want to be fair - I did learn things of ‘value’ for the waters I would swim in the future: statistics, regression, how to professionally present and to facilitate meetings, and some useful marketing concepts. Of course, like any 20 something student, 1/2 of the value of graduate school is learning to interact with the group of people that will be your peers, and the relationships and contacts that develop. Plus the placement office was very helpful in getting us jobs as well.

The culture at Salomon Brothers impressed me the most and I landed in their Private Investment Department, where we were basically stockbrokers for the uber-rich - as a trainee I wasn't allowed to call on anyone worth less than $50 million (in 1993). After Salomon shut our department down I went to a similar job at Lehman Brothers. At Lehman I increasingly felt like a high paid car salesmen and after 2 years quit to go work for a client, develop trading algorithms on commodities and eventually started my own small fund. But increasingly, instead of trading or trying to grow my business I found myself reading about oil, history, evolution and ecological issues. It really bothered me that 'externalities' were not priced into our goods or profits. One day, on a hike, it struck me that what I was doing felt spiritually hollow and despite it ‘paying the bills’ I began to realize I was more interested in learning about how the world worked and maybe doing something about improving it. In 2002 I gave my clients their money back, embarked on basically a 2 year hiking trip with my dog, and a car full of books. Eventually I would obtain a PhD in Natural Resources, but like many of you my real degree was obtained on this site, interacting with the many and varied people I met and continue to call friends and mentors. I am continuing to work on, or at least think about, making the near and long term future better, despite the tall odds, while living on a small farm in Wisconsin. More on this below.

In the years that have passed, modern society has become a crazy mélange of angst, uncertainty and worry. Many of us intuitively recognize that we’ve constructed a ginormous Rube Goldberg machine which for a number of reasons may not continue to crank out goods and services for the next 30-40 years. We blame this and that demographic for our declining prospects – the Republicans, the environmentalists, the greedy rich, the lazy poor, the immigrants, the liberals, etc. We blame this and that country or political system – evil socialists, heartless capitalists, Chinese, Syrians, Europeans, etc. We watch TV and internet about the latest ‘news’ influencing our world yet are not entirely confident of the connections. But underlying all this back and forth are some first principles, which are only taught piecemeal in our schools, if at all. Below is a short list of 20 principles underpinning today’s global ‘commerce’. I should note, if I was a 25 year old starting business school, eager to get a high paying job in two short years, I wouldn’t believe what follows below, even if I had time or interest to read it, which I probably wouldn't.

20. Economic 'laws' were created during and based on a non-repeatable period of human history

"I found a flaw. I was shocked because I'd been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well." Alan Greenspan testimony to Congress, Oct 2011

Click image to enlarge.

The above graphic shows a three-tiered time history of our planet, starting with the top black line being geologic time. The tiny black sliver on the far right, is enlarged in the second line, and the sliver on its far right is again enlarged on the bottom line, where the last 12,000 years are shown. We, both our environment, and ourselves, are products of this evolutionary history. Our true wealth originates from energy, natural resources and ecosystem services, developed over geologic time. Our true behavioral drivers are a product of our brains being sculpted and honed by 'what worked' in all 3 eras of this graph (but mostly the top 2). The dark line on the bottom is human population, but just as well could be economic output or fossil fuel use, as they have been highly correlated over this period.

The economic ‘theories’ underpinning our current society developed exclusively during the short period labeled 'A' on the graph, on a planet still ecologically empty of human systems and when increasing amounts of extraordinarily powerful fossil energy was applied to an expanding global economic system. For decades our human economies seemed to follow a pattern of growth interrupted by brief recession and resumption to growth. This has made it seem, for all intents and purposes, that growth of both the economy and aggregate individual wealth was something akin to a natural law –it is certainly taught that way in business schools. The reality is that our human trajectory –both past and future - is not a straight line but more like a polynomial - long straight stretches, up and down, with some wavy periods in the middle, and ultimately capped. Our present culture, our institutions, and all of our assumptions about the future were developed during a long 'upward sloping' stretch. Since this straight line period has gone on longer than the average human lifetime, our biological focus on the present over the future and past makes it difficult to imagine that the underlying truth is something else.

Evidence based science in fields like biology and physics has been marginalized during this long period of 'correlation=causation'. This oversight is not only ubiquitous in finance and economics but present in much of the social sciences, which over the past 2 generations have largely conflated proximate and ultimate explanations for individuals and societies. In nature geese fly south for the winter and north in the spring. They do this based on neurotransmitter signals honed over evolutionary time that contributed to their survival, both as individuals and as a species. "Flying north in spring" is a proximate explanation. "Neuro-chemical cues to maximize food/energy intake per effort contributing to survival" is an 'ultimate' explanation. In business school I was taught, 'markets go north' because of invention, technology and profits, an explanation which seemed incomplete to me even though it has appeared to be valid for most of my life. Social sciences have made great explanations of WHAT our behavior is, but the descriptions of WHY we are what we are and HOW we have accomplished a vast and impressive industrial civilization are still on the far fringes of mainstream science. Economics (and its subset of finance) is currently the social science leading our culture and institutions forward, even if now only by inertia.

19. The economy is a subset of the environment, not vice versa

If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers.
Joseph Wood Krutch

When you have to classify the very capacity of the Earth to support life as an "externality", then it is time to rethink your theory. --Herman Daly--

Click image to enlarge.

Standard economic and financial texts explain that our natural environment is only a subset of a larger human economy. A less anthropocentric (and more accurate) description however, is that human economies are only a subset of our natural environment. Though this may seem obvious, currently anything not influencing market prices remains outside of our economic system, and thus only actively 'valued' by government mandates or by some individuals, not by the cultural system as a whole. A landmark study in NATURE showed that the total value of 'ecosystem services' -those essential processes provided to humans by our environment like: clean air, hydrologic cycles, biodiversity, etc. if translated to dollar terms, were valued between 100-300% of Global GNP. Yet the market takes them for granted and does not ascribe value to them at all!!! Part of reason is that the negative impacts from market externalities aren't immediate, and with our steep discount rates (see below), the near term 'benefits' of GDP outweigh 'abstract' costs at some unknown future date.

Mankind's social conquest of earth has brought with it some uncomfortable 'externalities'. We are undergoing a 6th great extinction, which is no wonder given that humans and our livestock now outweigh wild animals by almost 50:1. Our one species is appropriating over 30% of the Net Primary Productivity of the planet. (One can ask, how can we use 30% of sunlight yet have 50x the weight of the other vertebrates and the answer, as we will see below, is our consumption of fossil carbon). A short list of deleterious impacts not incorporated into prices/costs includes: air pollution, water pollution, industrial animal production, overfishing (90% of pellagic fishes (tuna) in ocean are gone), nuclear waste, biodiversity loss, and antibiotic resistance. Perhaps the most ominous is the threat of climate change and ocean acidification, where humans, via burning large amounts of fossil carbon, are impacting global biogeochemical systems in profound and long-lasting ways.

Since GDP, profits and 'stuff' are how we currently measure success, these 'externalities' only measurement is the sense of loss, foreboding and angst by people paying attention. Such loss is currently not quantified by decision makers. In the past, only when there was a ‘smoking gun’ e.g. in the case of chlorofluorocarbons, DDT, unleaded gasoline, did society organize and require rules and regulations for the externalities, but these examples, as serious as they were, were not anathema to the entire human economy.

18. Energy is almost everything

Without natural resources life itself is impossible. From birth to death, natural resources, transformed for human use, feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources prosperity is out of reach.
— Gifford Pinchot Breaking New Ground (1998), 505.

In nature, everything runs on energy. The suns rays combine with soil and water and CO2 to grow plants (primary productivity). Animals eat the plants. Other animals eat the animals. At each stage of this process there is an energy input, an energy output and waste heat (2nd law of thermodynamics). But at the bottom is always an energy input. Nothing can live without it. Similarly, man and his systems are part of nature. Our trajectory from using sources like biomass and draft animals, to wind and water power, to fossil fuels and electricity has enabled large increases in per capita output because of increases in the quantity of fuel available to produce non-energy goods. This transition to higher energy gain fuels also enabled social and economic diversification as less of our available energy was needed for the energy securing process, thereby diverting more energy towards non-extractive activities. The bottom of the human trophic pyramid is energy, about 90% of which is currently in the form of fossil carbon. Every single good, service or transaction that contributes to our GDP requires some energy input as a prerequisite. There are no exceptions. No matter how we choose to make a cup, whether from wood, or coconut, or glass or steel or plastic, energy is required in the process. Without primary energy, there would be no technology, or food, or medicine, or microwaves, or air conditioners, or cars, or internet, or anything.

A long term graph of human output (GDP) is one highly correlated with primary energy use. For a while (1950s to 1990s) improvements in efficiency, especially in natural gas plants, complemented energy use as a driver of GDP, but most of these have declined to now have only minor contributions. Since 2000, 96% of our GDP can be explained by 'more energy' being used. (For more data and explanation on this, please see "Green Growth - An Oxymoron"). Some resource economists have claimed that the relationship between energy and the economy decoupled starting in the 1970s, but what happened was just an outsourcing of the 'heavy lifting' of industrial processes to cheaper locations. If one includes energy transfers embedded in finished goods and imports there isn’t a single country in the world that shows a disconnect between energy use and GDP. Energy it turns out, not dollars, is what we have to budget and spend. Quite simply, energy is the ability to do work. How much work, we'll see below.

17. Cheap energy, not technology, has been the main driver of wealth and productivity

Click image to enlarge.

The chemical potential energy available from the burning of things (e.g. wood) is rather astounding when compared with the energy which we supply our bodies in the form of food, and the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas burn even hotter while also being much easier to store and transport. We quickly learned that using some of this heat to perform work would transform what we could accomplish in massive ways. One barrel of oil, priced at just over $100 boasts 5,700,000 BTUs or work potential of 1700kWhs. At an average of .60 kWh per work day, to generate this amount of 'labor', an average human would have to work 2833 days, or 11 working years. At the average hourly US wage rate, this is almost $500,000 of labor can be substituted by the latent energy in one barrel of oil that costs us $100. Unbeknownst to most stock and bond researchers on Wall Street, this is the real ‘Trade’.

The vast majority of our industrial processes and activities are the result of this ‘Trade’. We applied large amounts of extremely cheap fossil carbon to tasks humans used to do manually. And we invented many many more. Each time it was an extremely inefficient trade from the perspective of energy (much more energy used) but even more extremely profitable from the perspective of human society. For instance, depending on the boundaries, driving a car on a paved road uses 50-100 times the energy of a human walking, but gets us to where we are going 10 times faster. The ‘Trade’ is largely responsible for some combination of: higher wages, higher profits, lower priced goods and more people. The average american today consumes ~60 barrel of oil equivalents of fossil carbon annually, a 'subsidy' from ancient plants and geologic processes amounting to ~600 years of their own human labor, before conversion. Even with 7 billion people, each human kWh is supported by over 90kWh of fossil labor, and in OECD nations about 4-5 times this much.

Technology acts as an enabler, both by inventing new and creative ways to convert primary energy into (useful?) activities and goods for human consumption and, occasionally, by making us use or extract primary energy in more efficient ways. Even such services that appear independent of energy, are not so- for example, using computers, iPhones, etc in aggregate comprise about 10% of our energy use, when the servers etc are included. Technology can create GDP without adding to energy use by using energy more efficiently but:

a) much of the large theoretical movements towards energy efficiency have already occurred and

b) energy saved is often used elsewhere in the system to build consumption demand, requiring more and more primary energy (Jevons paradox, rebound effect). Technological improvement thus does increase efficiency, but higher levels of resource consumption and a larger scale of resource extraction offset this advantage.

Despite the power in the Trade, its benefits can be readily reversed. Firstly, if we add very large amounts of primary energy, even if it is inexpensive, the wage increases/benefits start to decline. But more importantly, and has been happening in the past decade or so, as energy prices increase, so too do the benefits of the “Trade” start to wane. The graph to the right (source, page 18) shows that as the price of energy doubles or triples the benefits of this 'Trade' quickly recede. This is especially true for energy intensive transportation, like air travel, and for highly energy intensive processes, like aluminum smelting, cement manufacture- fully 30% of US industry falls into this category. The ensuing reduction in 'salary' from large energy price increases can only partially be offset by efficiency measures or lean manufacturing moves, because the whole 'Trade' was predicated on large amounts of very cheap energy. This is why the mainstream media touting increased oil production or the growth rate in solar/wind is missing the larger point - what matters are the benefits derived at the various cost points of energy extraction/harnessing. Even with large amounts of gross energy, if it is too costly, it is much less helpful or worse, the infrastructure, trade arrangements and expectations built upon continued $40 oil and $0.05kWh electricity will have to be changed. Basically, the benefits to human societies from the mammoth bank account we found underground are almost indistinguishable from magic. Yet we have managed, over time, to conflate the Magic with the Wizard.

16. Energy is special, is non-substitutable in the production function, and has an upward sloping long term cost curve

"Oil is a renewable resource, with no intrinsic value over and above its marginal cost... There is no original stock or store of wealth to be doled out on any special criterion... Capital markets are equipped to handle oil depletion...It is all a matter of money", M.A. Adelman, Professor of Economics, MIT Source

Physics informs us that energy is necessary for economic production and, therefore growth. However, economic texts do not even mention energy as a factor that either constrains or enables economic growth. Standard financial theory (Solows exogenous growth model, Cobb Douglas function) posits that capital and labor combine to create economic products, and that energy is just one generic commodity input into the production function - fully substitutable the way that designer jeans, or earrings or sushi are. The truth is that every single transaction that creates something of value in our global economy requires an energy input first. Capital, labor and conversions are ALL dependent on energy. For instance, the intro text by Frank and Bernanke (2d ed., 2004, p. 48) offers explanations for increased productivity: …increased quantity of capital per worker, increased # of workers, and, "perhaps the most important,...improvements in knowledge and technology." Nowhere in standard economic literature is there even a hint that the "improvement" in technology they refer to has, historically, been directly linked to the progression of displacing solar-powered human and animal muscle with larger and larger quantities of energy from oil, coal, and gas. Though energy is central (in that even more difficult ore grades require more overburden to extract, requiring more diesel fuel, etc), energy is not the only key limiter – other minerals and metals are finite and deteriorating in quality and cannot be (easily) replaced.

Since energy seemed the same as any other commodity economic models assumed that energy and resources would follow the same decreasing cost curve we have come to expect from gadgets like toasters and coffee cups, where the technology, outsourcing of parts to their lowest cost countries, and efficiencies of scale have generally formed a declining cost over time. For a while, energy too followed this curve, but given that high quality resources are finite, and require high quality processed resources themselves to extract and refine, eventually the cost curve of energy and other key minerals and ores, begins to rise again. This 'dual view' of energy vs regular everyday products is a key failing in economic texts. But for most of the past 60-70 years however this omission was perhaps understandable, as there WAS a continuing supply of cheap energy so its worth seemed to be just the dollar price of it. For most, this is still the dominant worldview – dollars are more important than energy.

Historical cost curves for oil, coal and natural gas for Europe - Graph source: Rune Likvern Click to enlarge

15. Energy has costs in energy terms, which can differ significantly than dollar signals

“It is appropriate to conclude that, as long as the sun shines brightly on our fair planet, the appropriate estimate for the drag on the economy from increasing entropy is zero. William Nordhaus

“ The laws of economics are like the laws of engineering. There's only one set of laws and they work everywhere. One of the things I've learned in my time at the World Bank is that whenever anybody says "But economics works differently here", they're about to say something dumb. Lawrence H. Summers

“ ... the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources ... at some finite cost, production can be freed of dependence on exhaustible resources altogether.... Nobel Laureate Robert Solow

In nature, animals expend energy (muscle calories) in order to access energy (prey). The return on this ‘investment’ is a central evolutionary process bearing on metabolism, mating, strength and survival. Those organisms that have high energy returns in turn have surplus to withstand the various hurdles found in nature. So it is in the human system where the amount of energy that society has ‘to spend’ is that left over after the energy and resources needed to harvest and distribute that energy are accounted for. Finite resources typically follow a 'best first' concept of resource extraction. As we moved from surface exploration based on seeps to seismic surveys showing buried anticlines, to deep-water and subsalt reservoir exploration, and finally to hydro-fracturing of tight oil formations , the return per unit of energy input declined from over 100:1 to something under 10:1. To economists and decision makers only the dollar cost and gross production mattered during this period, as after all, more dollars would ‘create’ more energy flowing through our economies. Net energy can peak and decline while gross energy continues to rise, and indeed can go to zero when there is still plenty of gross resource remaining. Everything we do will become more expensive if we cannot reduce the energy consumption of specific processes faster than prices grow. Yet, financial texts continue to view economic activity as a function of infinite money creation rather than a function of capped energy stocks and finite energy flows.

Left chart - western Majors price needed for cash flow break even in yellow, overlayed on OPEC vs non-OPEC crude oil production. Source IEA, Goldman Sach 4/13 report 'Higher long term prices required for troubled industry'. Right curve total oil production from Western Majors - source

Irrespective of the dollar price tag, it requires about 245 kilojoules to lift 5kg of oil 5 km out of the ground. Similar biophysical costs apply to every energy extraction/harnessing technology we have - but they are all parsed into financial terms for convenience. After all, isn't it dollars (euros, yen, renminbi) that our system is trying to optimize? But these physical input requirements will not vary whether the number of digits in the worlds banking system increases or shrinks or goes away. Though fossil fuels are our primary source of wealth, they were created a long time ago, and in drawing down their bounty we have not needed to pay the price of their generation, only their extraction. And, despite enormous amounts of sunlight hitting the earth everyday, real (and significant) resources need to be expended in order to harness and convert the sunlight into forms and at places where it can be used.

There is an enormous difference between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ which manifests in financial sphere via costs. Irrespective of our choice of nominal statistic measuring GDP (wampum or dollars or digits or gold), an increasing % of them will be allocated to the energy sector. If our objective is just to increase GDP, we can just keep growing gross energy by locating and exploiting deeper and deeper pockets of fossil hydrocarbons, but eventually our entire food, healthcare, entertainment infrastructure will be to provide for a giant mining operation. Few media outlets (none actually) handicap the new surge in gross USA oil production by a)capex requirements going up faster than oil prices, b) the enormous increase in diesel use in the shale plays and c) the higher API gravity oil (42 for Bakken, 55 for Eagleford) which exaggerate energy content per barrel between 3.5% and 10.7%. Under current trends, the implications of energy depletion is we will move from energy costing less than 5% of our economy to 10-15% or more. In addition to the obvious problems this will create, we will be using lower quality energy as well. As oil has become more expensive, we are increasingly going towards coal and wood to replace it. Already, in countries with a large drop in ability to afford (e.g. Greece) are cutting down forests to heat their homes in winter.
Net energy is what societies should be focused on, and most don’t even know what it is.

14. Money/financial instruments are just markers for real capital

Some material things make my life more enjoyable; many, however, would not. I like having an expensive private plane, but owning a half-dozen homes would be a burden. Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends. Warren Buffet - The Giving Pledge

Some of my 'real capital': Natural capital - my backyard with trees, sun, water, Social capital Here 2 of my dogs, but equally my friends, contacts and family relationships, Built capital Our house, with solar hot water, chain saws, an aloe vera plant, and a deck, and Human Capital My health and skills (identifying edible mushrooms), my fathers health and skills (he's a doctor, and can grow vegetables, etc)

Growing a big bank account is like fat storage for animals – but it’s not, because it’s only a marker for fat – its caloric benefit stored for the future is intertwined with a sociocultural system linked to monetary and credit marker. In business school, (and on Wall St.) we were taught that stocks going up ~10% a year over the long run was something akin to a natural law. The truth turns out to be something quite different. Stocks and bonds are themselves ‘derivatives’ of primary capital - energy and natural resources – which combine with technology to produce secondary capital - tractors, houses, tools, etc. Money and financial instruments are thus tertiary capital, with no intrinsic value – it’s the social system and what if confers that has value and this system is based on natural, built, social and human capital. And, our current system of ‘claims’ (what people think they own) has largely decoupled from underlying ‘real capital’.

13. Our money is created by commercial banks out of thin air (deposits and loans are created at same time)

Though societies require ‘energy’, individuals require money in order to transact in the things energy provides. What is money anyways? I certainly didn't learn in business school (or any school for that matter). Quite simply, money is a claim on a certain amount of energy. When our economic engine kicked into gear in the early 1900s, money (not energy or resources) was the limiting factor. We had so much wealth in our natural resource bank account that we needed ways of turbocharging the broader economy so productive ventures could be undertaken by anyone with skill, products or ambition. It was around this time that banks came into existence - to increase the flow of money to match the productive output of our economies only made sense - too little money and we couldn't produce the 'power' needed by a hungry world. Creditworthy individuals/businesses could now obtain loans from commercial banks who were required to keep a small portion of their assets on reserve with a central bank. And it worked fabulously well. Correlation=causation and all that.

We were taught to view credit creation as a series of consecutive bank "intermediations", where some initial deposit rippled through the banking system and via a multiplier, created additional money. E.g. banks are unable to create credit themselves, but are just passing on some wealth already created. This is true for about 5% of money coming into existence. The reality for 95%+ of money creation is profoundly different. The standard concept of lending describes a transfer of an existing commodity to its exclusive use somewhere else. However, this new credit extended by banks does not remove purchasing power or claims on resources from anywhere else in the economy. Since banks are capital constrained, not reserve constrained they lend when (ostensibly) creditworthy customers have demand for loans, not when they have excess reserves. As such the ‘fractional reserve banking’ system taught in textbooks and demonized on the blogosphere is not the proper description. I didn't learn this until 2007 or so. Banks do not lend money, they create it. And this is why the focus on government debt is a red herring. All of our financial claims are debt relative to natural resources.

**(Edit - This new paper by Bank of England states precisely what I did just above -banks are not just intermediaries as taught in textbooks)

12. Debt is a non-neutral intertemporal transfer

The left graph, shows the disconnect between GDP and aggregate, non-financial debt. In every single year since 1965 we have grown our debt more than we have grown our GDP. The right graph shows the inverse - how much GDP we receive for each new dollar of debt - declining debt productivity. Source: FED Z.1 2013, NBER

(Note: I use the terms credit and debt interchangeably, though creditor and debtor are opposites)

Of the broad aggregate money in existence in the US of around $60 trillion, only about $1 trillion is physical currency. The rest can be considered, ‘debt’, a claim of some sort (corporate, household, municipal, government, etc.) If cash is a claim on energy and resources, adding debt (from a position of no debt) becomes a claim on future energy and resources. In financial textbooks, debt is an economically neutral concept, neither bad nor good, but just an exchange of time preference between two parties on when they choose to consume. (* we were taught in corporate finance, because of the deductibility of interest, choosing debt over equity is preferred in situations with taxes – but in the real world, when capital markets are open and credit is flowing, if a CEO has choice between financing a project with equity or debt, he/she will almost always prefer debt. And so they do.) However, there are several things that happen when we issue debt/credit that cause the impact of the convention to be much different than in the textbooks:

1) While we are issuing debt (especially on a full planet) the best and easiest to find energy and resources deplete making energy (and therefore other things) generally more expensive for the creditor than the debtor. People that choose to save are ‘outcompeted’ by people who choose to consume by taking on debt. At SOME point in the future SOME creditors will get less, or nothing. (the question now is ‘when’ and ‘who’)

2) We increasingly have to issue more debt to keep up with the declining benefit of the “Trade”, lest aggregate demand plunge.

3) Over time we consume more rather than adding productive investment capacity. This lowers debt productivity over time (debt productivity is how much GDP we get for an additional $ of debt, or the ratio of GDP growth relative to debt growth). If an additional dollar of debt created a dollar of GDP, or anything close, it would be more or less like the textbooks claim – a tradeoff in the temporal preferences of the creditor and debtor. And, when debt productivity is high, we are transforming and extending wealth into different forms of future wealth (energy into productive factories etc). But when debt productivity is low (or approaching zero as is the case now), new debt is really just an exchange of wealth for income. This is happening now in all nations of the world to varying degrees. E.g. since 2008, G7 nations have added 1 trillion in nominal GDP, but at a cost of increasing debt by $18 trillion – and this doesn’t include off balance sheet guarantees.

Debt can thus be viewed two ways – 1) from a wealth inequality perspective, for every debtor there is a creditor – a zero sum game, 2) all claims (debts) are relative to the energy and natural resources required to a) service them and b) pay off the principle. (So, think 2 Italians: Gini and Ponzi.)

11. Energy measured in energy terms is the cost of capital

The cost of finite natural resources measured in energy terms is our real cost of capital. In the short and intermediate run, dollars function as energy, as we can use them to contract and pay for anything we want, including energy and energy production. They SEEM like the limiters. But in the long run, accelerating credit creation obscures the engine of the whole enterprise - the ‘burning of the energy’. Credit cannot create energy, but it does allow continued energy extraction and much (needed) higher prices than were credit unavailable. At some point in the past 40 years we crossed a threshold of 'not enough money' in the system to 'not enough cheap energy' in the system, which in turn necessitated even more money. After this point, new credit increasingly added gross energy masking declines in our true cost of capital (net energy/EROI). Though its hard to imagine, if society had disallowed debt circa 1975 (e.g. required banks to have 100% Tier 2 capital and reserves) OR if we had some natural resource tether – like gold – to our money supply since then, global oil production and GDP would likely have peaked 20-30 years ago (and we’d have a lot more of the sub 50$ tranche left). As such, focus on oil and gas production numbers isn't too helpful without incorporating credit forecasts and integrating affordability for societies at different price tranches.

An example might make this clearer: imagine 3,000 helicopters each dropped a billion dollars of cash in different communities across the country (that’s $3 Trillion ). Citizens that get there first would stuff their backpacks and become millionaires overnight, lots of others would have significant spending money, a larger number would get a few random hundreds stuck in fences, or cracks, and a large % of the population, not near the dropzone, would get nothing. The net effect of this would be to drive up energy use as the new rich would buy cars and take trips and generally consume more. EROI of the nations oil fields wouldn’t change, but oil companies would get a higher price for the now harder to find oil because the economy would be stronger, despite the fact that those $3 trillion came from thin air (or next to it). So, debt went up, GDP went up, oil prices went up, EROI stayed the same, a few people got richer, and a large % of people got little to nothing. This is pretty much what is happening today in the developed world.

Natural systems can perhaps grow 2-3% per year (standing forests in USA increase their volume by 2.6% per year). This can be increased via technology, extraction of principle (fossil carbon), debt, or some combination. If via technology, we are accessing energy we might not have been able to access in the future. If we use debt, we are diverting energy that would have been accessible in the future to today by increasing its affordability via handouts/guarantees and increasing the price that energy producers receive for it. In this fashion debt functions similarly to technology in oil extraction. Neither one is 'bad', but both favor immediate consumption on an assumption they will be repeated in continued iterations in the future.

Debt temporarily makes gross energy feel like net energy as a larger amount of energy is burned despite higher prices, lower wages and profits. Gross energy also adds to GDP, as the $80+ per barrel oil extraction costs in e.g. Bakken Shale ends up being spent in Williston and surrounding areas (this would be a different case if the oil were produced in Canada, or Saudi Arabia). But over time, as debt increases gross energy and net energy stays constant or declines, a larger % of our economy becomes involved in the energy sector. Already we have college graduates trained in biology, or accounting, or hotel management, working on oil rigs. In the future, important processes and parts of non-energy infrastructure will become too expensive to continue. Even more concerning is that, faced with higher costs, energy companies increasingly follow the societal trend towards using debt to pull production forward in time (e.g. Chesapeake, Statoil). In this environment, we can expect total capital expenditure to keep pace with total revenue every year, and net cash flow become negative as debt rises.

In the last 10 years the global credit market has grown at 12% per year allowing GDP growth of only 3.5% and increasing global crude oil production less than 1% annually. We're so used to running on various treadmills that the landscape doesn't look all too scary. But since 2008, despite energies fundamental role in economic growth, it is access to credit that is supporting our economies, in a surreal, permanent, Faustian bargain sort of way. As long as interest rates (govt borrowing costs) are low and market participants accept it, this can go on for quite a long time, all the while burning through the next tranche of extractable carbon and getting reduced benefits from the "Trade" creating other societal pressures. I don't expect the government takeover of the credit mechanism to stop, but if it does, both oil production and oil prices will be quite a bit lower. In the long run it's all about the energy. For the foreseeable future, it's mostly about the credit

But why do we want energy and money anyways?

Continued in Part II

Wed 18 September, 2013

21:17 So, What Are You Doing?» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

It's September and we still have 7 more 'final' posts in the queue (myself, Joules, Jerome, Jason, Art, Dave Murphy, and Euan...) and will run them every 2 days until finished. Leanan will post a final Drumbeat later this week where people can leave website links contact details, etc.

For 8 years we read about what people think about energy related themes. I thought it would be a good idea to use this thread to highlight what people are actually doing in their lives given the knowledge they've gleaned from studying this topic, which really is more of a study of the future of society.

What do TOD members plan to do in the future? Herding goats, fixing potholes, creating web sites, switching careers, etc? I'll go first. Feel free to use my template or just inform others what you're doing. This might be interesting thread to check back on in a few/many years.....(Please no posting of energy charts etc. and let's not respond to others in this thread, just a long list of what people are doing w/ their time).

Ere we scatter to the ether, please share, anonymously or otherwise : what are people doing?

Thu 12 September, 2013

11:32 The Exponential Legacy of Al Bartlett» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado, died September 7, 2013 at the age of 90. It is coincidental that, in the year that he "officially" retired from teaching (1988), I first heard his famous lecture Arithmetic, Population, and Energy (although I don't recall if that was the title at the time). I was in my last year in graduate school, and his talk was one of the keynote presentations (or perhaps during dinner) for a scientific conference. It was seemingly out of place given that the subject of the meeting was surface chemistry and physics, but it most certainly became stuck somewhere in my mind for reasons other than its novelty.

Most scientists are transfixed on interesting scientific details, some with relevance to technological problems, and perhaps buzz-worthy enough to attract funding. There has never been much money in solving problems with no real technological solution. I became reacquainted with this talk in 2006, probably via a link on The Oil Drum. TOD was by its nature dealing with limits to growth (of oil, if nothing else), and over the last few years, we have discussed the various ways in which we could perhaps keep the oil flowing or replace it with something else. Perhaps the implications of exponential growth was kept in the back room somewhere, like an embarrassing relative, while the latest "game changing" solution was bandied about. But we need to continually remind ourselves that, while important, finding the next energy source or improving efficiencies the keep the economy growing are not long-term solutions for a finite planet.

Below are some more reflections on Prof. Bartlett's legacy, from ASPO-USA (where he had long been on the advisory board) and from the University of Colorado.

Albert A. Bartlett: Ode to a Gentle Giant

Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett enjoyed 90 years of rich life on this earth; moreover, thousands of people have enjoyed and been touched by Al's life.

He is of course most widely known as a tireless, eloquent, and supremely caring voice for charting a sustainable path for humanity. With seemingly endless determination, he applied his training in math and physics and skills as a master teacher to focus attention on a simple but paramount idea--on a finite planet, "growth" is unsustainable. "Sustainable growth is an oxymoron", is how Al is sometimes quoted.

His most reknowned quote, however, is "the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function"--referring to the accelerating rate exhibited by anything growing as a constant percentage increase.

Al developed a now-famous lecture that illustrated the power and importance of this mathematical phenonomenon, and reportedly delivered that lecture more than 1700 times over the following decades. That one man would be compelled to devote much of his career to the understanding of a basic, unassailable fact of life speaks volumes about the world we live in, as well as Al's great character.

ASPO-USA is proud to have had Al as a longstanding member of our advisory board, and I was exceptionally fortunate to be acquainted with him in his latter years. While the nature of our relationship was professional, what I will always remember is the warmth, humility, and quiet joy that he brought to his work and his relationships with his colleagues and students.

For those that dare to concern themselves with the monumental issues that concerned Al, there is a risk of gloominess creeping into our outlook on life and humanity. Al is a beautiful reminder that need not be the case.

The note that Al wrote to us after he visited his doctor was filled with the peace and happiness of a man who had understood long ago what was important in life and had lived his own life accordingly. We should all be so blessed, and some of us were also blessed to know Al.

In honor to Al, inspired and informed by his life and his friendship, we re-commit ourselves to continuing and building on his legacy.

Click below to view Al's famous lecture - Arithmetic, Population, and Energy:


Jan Mueller Executive Director, ASPO-USA


CU-Boulder campus mourns death of longtime, celebrated physics professor Al Bartlett

excerpted from here

“Al Bartlett was a man of many legacies,” said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. “His commitment to students was evidenced by the fact that he continued to teach for years after his retirement. His timeless, internationally revered lecture on the impacts of world population growth will live beyond his passing, a distinction few professors can claim. And we can all be thankful for his vision and foresight in making the Boulder community what it is today.”

Bartlett was born on March 21, 1923, in Shanghai, China. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University and spent two years as an experimental physicist at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project before earning his graduate degrees in physics at Harvard. He then started his teaching career at CU-Boulder.

When Bartlett first delivered his internationally celebrated lecture on “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” to a group of CU students on Sept. 19, 1969, the world population was about 3.7 billion. He proceeded to give it another 1,741 times in 49 states and seven other countries to corporations, government agencies, professional groups and students from junior high school through college.

His talk warned of the consequences of “ordinary, steady growth” of population and the connection between population growth and energy consumption. Understanding the mathematical consequences of population growth and energy consumption can help clarify the best course for humanity to follow, he said.

The talk contained his most celebrated statement: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” A video of his lecture posted on YouTube has been viewed nearly 5 million times.

This year, the world population is about 7.1 billion and the CU Environmental Center announced a program this summer in which 50 student and community volunteers received training in exchange for a commitment to give Bartlett’s talk at least three times in 2013-14.

Before his death, Bartlett requested that any memorial gifts be made to the University of Colorado Foundation Albert A. Bartlett Scholarship Fund, in care of the Department of Physics, 390 UCB, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, 80309.

Tue 10 September, 2013

06:59 Of Milk Cows and Saudi Arabia» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

Under the desert in eastern Saudi Arabia lies Ghawar, the largest oil field in the world. It has been famously productive, with a per-well flow rate of thousands of barrels per day, owing to a combination of efficient water injection, good rock permeability, and other factors. At its best, it set the standard for easy oil. The first wells were drilled with rather rudimentary equipment hauled across the desert sands, and the oil would flow out at ten thousand barrels per day. It was, in a sense, a giant udder. And the world milked it hard for awhile.

However, this article isn't just about a metaphor; it is also about cows, the Holsteins of Haradh. But in the end, I will circle back to the present and future of Saudi oil production.

I registered on The Oil Drum over seven years ago, and one of the subjects that fascinated me was the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. There was much discussion about the largest of these, Ghawar, and whether it might soon go into steep decline - taking the world with it. About that time, an application called Google Earth added some features which enabled users to mark up the globe with their own placemarks and such, and I set out to find Ghawar (or at least its footprints) in the vast sandscape that is the Eastern Province. Starting with published maps which could be overlaid atop the satellite imagery in Google Earth, I found some initial wells...and then a lot more...and kept going. An article authored by Saudi Aramco engineers showed well locations in northern Ghawar, and I noticed that many wells which I found yet were not on the map. I deduced that these were wells drilled after the map was drawn, and their locations seems to indicate intensive drilling in the center of the field, which was previously bereft of wells. I began publishing some of these findings on the blog Satellite o'er the Desert and was invited to contribute to The Oil Drum.

In my Google Earth-enabled virtual travels around Saudi Arabia looking for oil wells and such, I have come upon many strange sights. Some of these are of natural origin yet can only be appreciated from a satellite's perspective, as is the case for this tidal pool located near a gas oil separation plant for the Safaniya oil field:

Figure 1. My favorite Google Earth view, near Safaniyah oil field, Saudi Arabia

There are many crop circles scattered about eastern Saudi Arabia -- by which I mean circles of crops watered by central pivot irrigation (as opposed to circles of crops flattened by aliens). A line of such circles cuts across the southern tip of the Ghawar field, seemingly following the course of a dry river bed.

Figure 2. Irrigation along the southern fringe of the Ghawar Oil Field, Saudi Arabia. Arrows indicate location of features of interest.

Located on this line, just to the west of the field periphery, are three rather symmetrical structures:

Figure 3. Symmetrical objects of interest near Ghawar oil field.

Each of these is about 250 meters in radius. It took me awhile to discover what these were, as at the time, crowdsourced mapping was just getting started. It so happens that they are part of a huge integrated dairy operation, one of the largest in the world. Fodder crops are grown in nearby circles, cows are milked with state of the art equipment, and the milk is packaged and/or processed into cheese and other products before being shipped. All of this happens in the northernmost fringe of the Rub' al Khali desert, one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Start here to browse around Saudi Arabia's Dairyland on your own using Google Maps.

Turning Black Gold Into White Milk

Here is a glossy PR video describing the operations:

Although the original intent was to locally breed cows more suited to the Saudi climate, it seems they had to import them. Here is another video describing the transport of cows from Australia. A bit different than a Texas cattle drive.

They Built It, But They Didn't Come

Answering why and how these dairy farms came to be located here reveals some interesting history of Saudi Arabia. Although great wealth of the country results from its abundant store of fossil fuels, the necessity of diversifying the economy has long been recognized. The lack of food security was always a big concern. In addition, there remained the nagging problem of what to do with the Bedouins, nomadic peoples who resisted efforts to be integrated into the broader Saudi society. And since they now had it in abundance, they decided to throw money at the problems. What could go wrong?

As related in the book "Inside the Mirage" by Thomas Lippman, a problem with Saudi agriculture is that most of the private land was owned by just a few people, and they were wealthy aristocrats, not farmers, and there wasn't much local knowledge of modern large-scale agriculture in any case. One of the proposed solutions was to create huge demonstration projects by which modern techniques of farming could be learned and applied. As for labor, the goal was to provide individual farms, housing, and modern conveniences to the Bedouin, who would settle down for a life on the farm. The largest such project was the al-Faysal Settlement Project at Haradh, designed for 1000 families. It didn't work out as planned, though, because the Bedouins never came:

You know of the Haradh project, where $20 million was spent irrigating a spot in the desert where an aquifer was found not too far from the surface. This project took six years to complete and was done for the purpose of settling Bedouin tribes. At the end of six years, no Bedouin turned up and the government had to consider how to use the most modern desert irrigation facility in the world.

(From a 1974 Ford Foundation memo)

Eventually, the Saudi government partnered with Masstock, a Dublin-based industrialized endeavor run by two brothers. The Haradh project became the largest of their operations in Saudi Arabia at the time. Eventually, a new company called Almarai (Arabic for "pasture") was created which involved Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer. In 1981, a royal decree created the National Agricultural Development Company (NADEC) for the purpose of furthering agricultural independence, and (for reasons I haven't discerned), NADEC gained control of the Haradh project. Almarai went on the become the largest vertically integrated dairy company in the world, and Al Kabeer is a hidden billionaire.

As a side note, NADEC sued Saudi Aramco a few years ago as a result of the latter using some NADEC property for Haradh oil operations, and a lower court ordered Saudi Aramco to vacate. The web links to those reports have disappeared, and one wonders how the appeal went. Separately, NADEC has reportedly obtained farmland in Sudan. Food security.

Speaking of Cash Cows

A half decade ago, much of The Oil Drum's focus was on possible problems with Saudi Arabian oil production. Was the flow from Ghawar tanking? Were all of their older fields well past their prime, and were their future options as limited as Matt Simmons suggested in Twilight in the Desert? My analyses and those of others here seem to suggest a rather aggressive effort to stem decline. With further hindsight, it is clear that Saudi Aramco was caught a bit off guard by decline in existing production. But over time, they were able to complete several decline mitigation projects as well as many so-called mega-projects with many million barrels per day of new production. With each project, the technological sophistication has grown - along with the expense. The Khurais redevelopment, which is reportedly producing as expected, features centralized facilities for oil, gas, and injection water processing. Water goes out, and oil comes back.

Figure 4. Left: map showing Saudi oil fields, Right: Khurais Project pipeline network (source: Snowden's laptop)

The most recent project, the Manifa field redevelopment is a logistical marvel. These have so far proven to be very successful projects (even though Manifa is not fully completed). But if one looks for the impact of the projects on their total output, one comes back somewhat underwhelmed. In the following graphic I show Saudi Arabian production with the theoretical (zero depletion) and official (as reported directly by Saudi Aramco) production capacities.

Figure 5. Saudi Arabian crude oil production increases from megaprojects since 1996, compared with actual crude production (source: Stuart Staniford). Cumulative increases are superimposed on the Saudi Aramco reported baseline value of 10.5 mbpd capacity in 1995. Blue dots denote values obtained from references 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Here are some conclusions one might draw from the above (including the references):

  • Saudi Aramco has generally been self-consistent when reporting spare capacity and total capacity in light of actual production
  • Production capacity increased subsequent to startup of megaprojects. However, the net production capacity increases were uniformly and substantially less than the planned increments. In total, 5 million barrels per day of production was added, but capacity increased by only 2 mbpd.
  • It is most unlikely that reported production capacities accurately reflected what was producible at any point in time, given the reported values as correlated with the timing of the increases from the megaprojects.
  • However, actual production did not generally increase immediately after projects were completed, indicating that production capacity was not completely exhausted beforehand. But there was certainly an impetus to add a lot of production quickly.

The gap between what might have been (red staircase) and what is reported as production capacity (blue dots) is explained by considering the net of two competing developments: 1) depletion of legacy fields (Ghawar etc.) as they are produced, and b) mitigation of this depletion by drilling new wells in these fields. Since Saudi Aramco does not release data for individual fields or new vs. old wells, we are left to speculate on the relative magnitudes of these. On the plus side, the 5 mbpd from the new projects will (hopefully) deplete less rapidly than older fields. On the minus side, only 2 mbpd capacity was added - and they have exhausted all of the major fields in the pipeline. On the double minus side (for the world, anyway), only 1 - 1.5 mbpd of actual production was added since 1995, and (according to BP) all of that increase went into internal consumption. So after nearly 20 years, though total world crude production (and population) has increased, Saudi Arabia exports the same amount of oil as before. And yet, there is still a lot of hydrocarbons under Saudi Arabia. And it seems they already realize the need for more, as there are reports of planned increases from Khurais and Shaybah totaling 550 kbpd by 2017 to "take the strain off Ghawar". I feel its pain.

Addendum: According to this news report, oil has not actually flowed yet from Manifa. The new Jubail refinery has reportedly no received any Manifa oil as of yet:

The refinery is configured to run on heavy crude oil. But two industry sources said the refinery had not received any of the heavy crude expected from Aramco's new Manifa field and that it was running instead on light crude. Aramco said in April that it had started production at Manifa.-Reuters

Still the One?

Despite all of the negativity emitted above, it is also evident that Saudi Arabia has had and will continue to have a role as the primary provider of spare capacity which can be deployed to buffer variability in world demand. It can do this because Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, can effect oil prices by virtue of what it can put on or take off the world market. Contrast the Saudi production profile with that of the United States, shown below.

Figure 6. United States monthly crude oil production (source: EIA)

Aside from some minor month-to-month fluctuations and some notable downward spikes caused by Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2002 (Isadore), 2004 (Ivan), 2005 (Katrina and Rita), and 2008 (Gustav), production follows a smooth trend. Especially noteworthy is the contrast between Saudi and US production subsequent to the economic downturn in 2008, when oil prices collapsed: Saudi Arabia throttled back while the US kept pumping. Any individual producer in the US had little incentive to hold back oil. However, with the increased importance of Shale plays (Bakken and Eagle Ford) to US production, this might change the dynamics going forward. Since these wells deplete rapidly, any decrease in drilling caused by low prices will also throttle demand (although with a time lag).

The Hungry Cow

The other new "above ground factor" is the problem of growing internal consumption in Saudi Arabia, of just about everyting including oil. To air condition all of those cows, it takes a lot of electricity (and currently oil). And all of that milk feeds a growing, young population. But that milk is bound to get more expensive, since the aquifers from which those massive dairy operations get their water are being rapidly depleted.

Milk consumption in Saudi Arabia reached 729.4 million litres in 2012
The Kingdom has already depleted 70% of these sources of water and must now turn increasingly to desalinisation which when factored into the cost of producing fresh milk is very expensive. Experts have estimated that it takes between 500- 1000 litres of fresh water to produce 1 litre of fresh milk if one takes into around the irrigation required to grow the Rhodes grass or Alfalfa required to feed the cows.

It seems Saudi Arabia has cash flow problems, although it is hard to imagine why, given that they are currently producing as much oil as ever at $100/barrel. For one thing, their population keeps growing:

Figure 7. Saudi Arabia population growth (source: Thanks, Jonathan!)

and they need to spread around some money to maintain political stability. Their energy use is out of control, as is their water consumption. And for those segments of Saudi society into which much of the oil revenue flows, consumption is a happening thing. And nobody really knows where the all money goes.

Saudi Aramco is overseen by the Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ministry and, to a lesser extent, the Supreme Petroleum Council, an executive body. The company pays royalties and dividends to the state and supplies domestic refineries. Revenues go to the Finance Ministry, but the amounts are not published. There is no transparency in the national budgeting process, and it is unclear how oil revenues are used. Environmental impact assessments are required, but the results are not made public. Laws and decrees concerning the extractive industries are published and include guidelines for the licensing process in sectors other than upstream oil, but do not contain details on fiscal arrangements. Saudi Arabia has no freedom of information law.

Some ends up in London, where some Saudi tourists spend the entire summer. Of course, this was true in 2002 (and oil was $26/barrel then).

But they do seem to have money to throw around to garner political influence (note that the US does the same with money that it doesn't have). And they have grand plans for looking beyond their petro-heritage:

Best hopes for wise spending.

Au revoir. Au lait.

Sat 07 September, 2013

20:05 IEA Sankey Diagrams» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

The International Energy Agency has taken its share of abuse from The Oil Drum over the years for its rather optimistic forecasts. But it deserves a hearty shout-out for an invaluable resource it has on its web site: Interactive Sankey Diagrams for the World.

Sankey Diagram showing world energy flows (Click for larger view)

As long as you understand what a Sankey Diagram is, not much more introduction is needed here. You can look at individual countries, consumption patterns as well as production, and more. Click on individual flows and graph over time.

World energy use for steel production (Click for larger view)

One curiosity, though:

The world oil imports (2295) and oil exports (2218) don't match in the top graphic. "Statistical difference"?

As with data from the BP Statistical Review series, there might be occasional quibbles with the numbers. Also, I've seen prettier Sankeys. But if you've been wondering what to do with all of your time after The Oil Drum goes on hiatus, there you go.

Fri 06 September, 2013

21:13 My Last Campfire Post» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I checked my user profile for this site and discovered that as of today I have been a member for 7 years and 37 weeks. Wow! So much has happened to me and my family over those years and a lot of it was shared on The Oil Drum. For reasons I’ll explain, I haven’t been around much lately. My most recent article was over three years ago.

My first writings for The Oil Drum were over six years ago as guest posts through Nate Hagens, and then as a staff contributor for the “Campfire” section of the site. I am not an energy expert so my role wasn’t about modeling depletion or providing context to the energy news of the week. What I did was consider the broader relationships between energy, resources and society, and explore the implications of more expensive and less energy to our consumer-oriented economy and culture. The most complete and succinct example of this role is probably my “Beware the Hungry Ghosts” piece, which includes this passage:

Several religious traditions describe what are termed “hungry ghosts.” These sad beings have insatiable appetites, with tiny mouths and huge stomachs. Modern society creates hungry ghosts among the living. We “have” more than ever, but are constantly bombarded with messages that it is never enough. The poor go to dollar stores, the middle class spend hours at Bed Bath and Beyond, the rich buy ever larger yachts, and city planners are always looking for more land and water in which to expand their urban sphere. Wants have become indistinguishable from needs. I anxiously walk among our nation of hungry ghosts, asking myself what these addicts will do when they can't get their fix?

What many of us found at The Oil Drum was a place to share our anxieties with those who share our anxieties. I am not being dismissive of this at all! Many here have points of view that place us outside of conventional wisdom, and this can be socially difficult. Where else can we go to have conversations that may be impolite, misunderstood and dismissed by the hungry ghosts we live among?

A fine example of thinking profoundly differently is in Kurt Cobb’s essay “Upside Down Economics” in which he gives a visual representation of U.S. GDP from the perspective of an Ecological Economist:

Figure 1

Many of my articles framed topics from an Ecological Economics perspective, where the economy is a subsidiary of the planet and functions by extracting resources and depositing wastes. Essential resources like energy, mineral ores, food and fiber can only be easily ignored when they are inexpensive to buy and reliably available. Many of us are alarmed because we see existential threats to the bottom of a top heavy pyramid and would like those situated higher up to pay attention and look below.

At the bottom of Cobb’s chart you see the economic sector “Agriculture & Forestry.” That is where I currently work, and where much of my writing here was about. I didn’t just explore the food growing sector, but also the so-called Food System, that includes transportation, processing and warehousing, retailing and end-use. Classic statistics discussed, and that devoted readers of The Oil Drum can probably rattle off at any cocktail party, include:

The U.S. Food System consumes several fossil fuel calories for each food calorie eaten.

The typical grocery store has about three days supply of goods on its shelves.

Each U.S. farmer (plus machines with fuel) feeds 100 people.

Figure 2. Graphic used in the post “Ecological Economics and the Food System

Two additional posts, “Save it for the Combine” and “Energy Descent and Agricultural Population” perhaps best capture the sense of the transformative change fossil fuels made in agricultural production and labor inputs, and offer some perspectives on adaptation to lower fossil fuel availability.

Figure 3. The percent agriculture population is plotted in relation to per capita energy use.  Nations with abundant use of exosomatic energy tend to have less of their population involved in agricultural production, presumably either because they can afford to import much of their food or employ labor saving devices in food production.  For example, only about 1% of the US labor force is involved in farming.  Data comes from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  Original article containing figure is here.

The Campfire series was not only about exploring heterodox ideas, it was also meant to be a place where practical advice was shared. Many of us wanted to go beyond the talking stage and “do something” about the information and analyses presented on the site. This brings me to why I haven’t been writing here lately.

I went to the 2008 ASPO meetings in Sacramento not only to learn, but to network and hopefully meet someone who could help me with something. I wanted to farm at a significant scale to practice and demonstrate a form of agriculture that needs much fewer external inputs and is thus adaptive to our times. I met my eventual business partner (and TOD member) Craig Wichner in Sacramento. We were able to introduce our company, Farmland LP, at ASPO 2009 in Denver, where I gave two talks that eventually became posts (here and here). Over the past four years Craig and I have taken a heterodox idea and turned it into something substantial: Farmland LP currently owns and manages 6300 acres of cropland in California and Oregon.

So, I’ve been pretty busy. I am still writing on my company website but most of my posts are news related to the business. On occasion I do develop articles that look at the big picture and do in-depth analyses, such as “ The Many Benefits of Multi-Year Crop Rotations” and “Google Earth, Rotational Grazing and Mineralization, Part 1 and Part 2” but I won’t have time for more of that sort of writing until we are done with planting this fall.

This brings me to the end of my last Campfire post. In customary fashion I will pose some questions and ask readers to share their experience, wisdom, frustrations, and final thoughts for The Oil Drum.

Did any of you follow similar paths to mine, whereby the information and critical thinking shared on this site led to significant changes in your life path? (I never thought I’d be a farmer when I grew up.)

What barriers to making the changes you wanted did you encounter? Did they stop you from going on or did you overcome them somehow? (My wife gave me the foundation I needed to do this work. She had the income-earning job and the patience to allow me time to explore. Thank you Kristin!)

Thu 05 September, 2013

06:22 The Economic and Political Consequences of the Last 10 Years of Renewable Energy Development» The Oil Drum - Discussions about Energy and Our Future

I've been privileged to be an editor of TOD over the past several years, and am glad to have been invited to do a final post as the site moves to an archive status.

When I started writing about energy on the blogs in 2003/2004, I was writing mostly about Russia, gas pipelines and gas geopolitics. There were so many conspiracy theories abounding on topics like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline or (a bit later) Russia vs Ukraine pipeline conflicts that I felt the need to put out a different version, given that I knew the inside story on many of these issues - and that got me invited to contribute these to TOD as well. In the meantime, my job (which was, and - full disclosure - remains, to finance energy projects) slowed moved from oil&gas work to power sector transactions and, increasingly, to renewable sector deals, and I started writing about the wind business, in my mind from the perspective of a banker wanting to make sure that these projects could be paid back over periods of 15 or 20 years.

While my work is now almost exclusively focused on offshore wind in Northern Europe, I still do not consider myself a 'wind shill'... but it does give me a different perspective on the debates currently going on about energy policy in various places, and on the changes to the power sector caused (among others, by renewables) that are underpinning such debates, and I thought it would be a useful complement, together with Big Gav's overview of the clean energy sector, to the other articles more traditionally focused on the oil&gas side of things.

I'll focus on Germany, where the transformation has been most advanced (and even has brought a new word to us: the Energiewende), and where the consequences of high renewable penetration are most visible.

A lot of rather unusual things have been happening in the Germany power sector lately, from negative prices, to utilities closing down brand new power plants and, naturally, a ferocious debate as to whether to cut support for renewable energy (as has already been done in Spain).

I've long described renewable energy producers as a price takers (i.e., they don't influence market prices in the short term and have to "take" market prices as set by other factors, unless shielded by specific regulatory regimes), but we are getting to the point, in a number of places, and in Germany in particular, where the penetration of renewable energy is such that it has a real macroeconomic impact on the prices of electricity, both at the wholesale and the retail levels, and thus on the way power markets run, and on the politics surrounding them. There's the additional factor that apparent spending on renewables is targeted by governments at a time of austerity in Europe, egged on by hardly disinterested utilities.

It is worth going through what's been happening in some detail.

:: ::

In the good old days, wholesale prices of power followed the price of natural gas, as gas-fired plants are the producer of the marginal kWh most of the time. This is still the case in the USA, and it looks like this:

Source: neutroneconomy

Retail prices tend to follow the average wholesale cost, plus a slice for distribution costs and taxes which can vary quite wildly from country to country:

Source: eurostat

But we've seen prices diverging across markets over the past two years, as shown in the following graphs:

  • gas prices diverging sharply across continents (notably as a result of the gas shale developments in the US and increased demand for gas in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, while European prices remain largely indexed to oil):

  • Source: Fidelity

  • wholesale power prices diverging from gas prices:

  • Source: Die Welt, via gwpf

    Note: the lines above represent long term break-even prices for, from the bottom, nuclear power plants, coal-fired plants and gas-fired plants

  • retail prices moving in the opposite direction to wholesale prices, and increasing:

Source: wikipedia (DE)

German wholesale prices have been trending down over the past several years, despite the closure of close to half of the nuclear plants of the country, and despite the persistently high natural gas prices on the continent, while retail prices have been going up, including due to contributions to pay for guaranteed fixed prices to renewable energy producers (the "EEG" component in yellow in the last graph).

The fall in wholesale prices means that most traditional power plants are not economical at current levels, as the second graph above shows.

There are some temporary factors to the current situation. One is the general economic woes of the eurozone, which are pushing demand downwards and thus prices as well. The other is the temporary higher use of coal-fired power plants, which itself comes from a combination of short term factors:

  • cheap imports from the USA (where coal use has been displaced for a while by cheap gas in power generation) made coal more profitable than gas, and
  • regulatory incentives mean coal plants have (under the (the Large Combustion Plants EU directive) a limited number of hours to run and operators have every reason to use these up quickly, and especially if the plants are profitable, or less unprofitable than gas ones (UK coal plants have the additional incentive that a carbon tax will be imposed on them from April 2013).

These factors have made it possible to claim that Germany was increasing pollution and carbon emissions because of wrongheaded policies (depending on your stance: closing nuclear plants or pushing renewables), but this looks like a temporary arbitrage between coal and gas.

:: ::

The real long term story is that the power spot markets are being completely upended by the increasing penetration of renewable energy. In Germany, new renewables represent around 50% of the overall installed capacity, and already provide close to 20% of all power generation (split in 2012 in 3 almost equal parts between wind (7%), biomass (6%) and solar (5%)), up from almost nothing 15 years ago, and on many days now they provide 50% or more of total output:

Source: Paul Gipe

This reduces demand for mid-load producers and peakers over more and more periods throughout the year. As the graphs below shows, on good days in the warm season the PV capacity almost eliminates altogether the need for intermediate load; in winter, wind takes over (in aggregate, although not with as regular a daily profile):

Source: DoDo on European Tribune


This was the slice of demand served by coal-fired and gas-fired plants and they are simply not being used as much as they used to, and certainly not as much as their owners expected.

And prices are being squeezed down not just for these producers, but for everybody else as well, in particular during the peak day time hours which used to be the most profitable for all power plants (because baseload plants also receive the more expensive peak hour prices even if they did not bid at such prices). This means that existing capacity is less and less profitable - not just the peakers or intermediate plants, but also the nuclear and other baseload workhorses of the system. Thus the few highly publicized plant closures, and the ongoing utility complaints about lost revenues. Moreover there currently is no business case to invest in any kind of power plant (other than renewables under specific revenue regimes), which utilities use to argue against renewable support.

But here's the thing: preventing new renewables will not eliminate the current existing capacity, which means that the economics of the sector will not recover even if no new renewables were built... The wholesale market as it was designed 20 years ago (de facto based on gas-fired plants of various efficiency targeted at different points of the merit order curve setting up the marginal price) is irreversibly broken. The system is now dominated by plants with very low marginal cost of production (but high upfront investment), which means that spot prices are systematically too low for everybody - you can't invest in plants with high upfront investments (like nukes), and you can't invest in plants with high marginal running costs (gas-fired plants) unless you are betting on persistently low gas prices into the future. That may explain the push for shale gas in Europe, but who believes that shale gas will bring low prices? Even in the US prices are trending up again (and forward prices even more so).

:: ::

In the meantime, retail prices have kept on increasing, and the fact that the contribution of the support regime (in Germany, the "EEG-Umlage") to retail prices has become visible has made it a target of lobbyists and thus a political topic, despite the fact that retail prices increases have been caused, to a large extent (and in particular until 2009) by increases in gas prices.

This leads us to an hidden truth: a large fraction of the massive increase in renewable energy production is not paid for by consumers, but by incumbent producers who see their revenues decline as the price they earn per MWh goes down. Utilities, which see their margins on the retail side increase, but have very little renewable energy production capacity of their own are caught between two conflicting trends, with their upstream business losing profitability, but their downstream business earning more. IPPS are suffering, but have less voice. Unsurprisingly, utilities are focusing public attention only on the first part, and are naturally blaming renewables - not hesitating to point fingers at their support regimes as the cause of rising power prices, in the hope that these regimes will be weakened. They claim they are victims of unfair competition from "heavily subsidized" sources which have priority over them and can dump power with no worry for consequences into the network. They use a mix of real arguments and weaker ones to push against renewables:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

  • one of the true arguments is that the cost of supporting solar PV has become larger than expected and faster than expected. Just 5 years ago, a number of countries had tariffs in the 500-600 EUR/MWh range, and regulators were surprised by the volumes that managed to be installed - and capture the advantageous prices levels. when they dropped the price support for new projects, they were again surprised by how fast the industry was able to match the lower prices through new technology (and a brutal price war). The result has been an amazing drop in the price of solar panels (-80% in just a few years, as shown above), bringing them close to grid parity, and a rather large (multiple GWs in Germany, Italy, Spain) stock of solar PV capacity which is entitled to very high tariffs for many years, at a visible cost to consumers;
  • in some places, the regulatory regime allowed producers to capture the best of both worlds - the higher of the fixed tariff or the market price (whether wholesale or retail), thus preventing the network, and the public, from benefitting from the "cap" that a real fixed tariff would have provided;
  • in Spain, retail power prices were kept artificially low for political reasons), and the the gross cost of the fixed tariffs was not absorbed into the general cost base of the network and instead explicitly imposed on utilities, which used that as an obvious argument against renewables (even though a good part of the price increases were linked to increased gas prices before the merit order effect acted on wholesale prices); the government's U-turn on tariffs, which imposed negative tariff changes on already operational projects, alienated the utilities further (as they had, contrary to what happened in Germany, become significant operators of renewable capacity and lost money in the process) and created a precedent that also scared off lenders and investors and put the sector in disrepute;
  • in Germany, the renewable energy surcharge applies only to retail consumers, and large sections of industrial users (but not all) are exempted. That means that the gross costs is borne by a smaller fraction of the overall consumers, and that some industries are complaining that they are being treated unfairly. Meanwhile, those benefitting from the situation (the bug consumers who benefit from lower wholesale prices and do not pay the surcharge) are staying silent so as to avoid attracting attention (they failed - this quirk is likely to be corrected soon);

But what is not true is that wind has contributed in any meaningful way to retail price increases (most of Germany's wind capacity was installed before 2008 and the EEG component is all but invisible at that date), and not has offshore wind (which is indeed more expensive, but very little of which has been built to date). When you look at average costs, one sees that onshore wind is largely competitive on wholesale markets (and yes, that does take into account grid access and balancing costs - there is enough experience with large wind penetration in various networks to know that it can be done and that it has no meaningful impact on costs), that solar is already competitive against retail prices in many markets (the famous "grid parity"), and that other technologies are somewhere in-between. Offshore wind is still more expensive, but is expected to come down in price by the time it will reach significant capacity:

source: Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge

Note that these average costs of production, always include very political assumptions about the cost of money, and the future price of gas, to apply to such projects. The discount rate (at the time of investment) is the main driver of the cost of wind or nuclear whereas the cost of gas-fired power is only an estimate, based an assumptions about the cost of gas in the next 20 years. And that also means that the price of power from a wind farm or a nuclear plant is largely fixed and known once the plant is built, while the cost of power from a gas-fired plant in the future is essentially unknown. The cost of money is a fundamentally political decision (derived from investors' estimates of macro risks like inflation, of regulatory risks applying to the sector, and technology risk); the consensus on future gas price estimates is also influenced by many factors, including long term projections by public bodies like the IEA, the US EIA or private firms with their various agendas.

As an aside, the more renewables you have in the system, the less it is possible to take out the regulatory support regime, because spot prices tend to go towards zero - which makes investment in renewables (or in any other kind of power generation assets, for that matter) impossible. So "grid parity" is an illusory target, in a sense, because it is a moving target. Technologies with high variable costs (all fossil-fuel plants) cannot compete at any price when there is enough zero-marginal cost capacity in the system, and technologies with high upfront investment costs need comfort about price levels over a long period as they need such prices on a constant basis to amortize the initial investment. This is why the UK government is working on a "contract for differences" (essentially the same thing as a fixed tariff) for new nuclear plants.

:: ::

Altogether, the reality is that the consumers and the utilities is paying for a few expensive years of early solar PV technology (to the tune of a few cents per kWh, ie a few hundred euros per year and per household), and now the utilities are bearing almost in full the further impact on the system: they are no longer making (much) money on their current fleet - not on gas-fired plants, barely on their coal-fired plants, and they don't have much renewable energy capacity. They are stuck with a capital stock (including recent plants), which is increasingly uneconomic in today's markets, caught between high fuel prices and lower power prices. And that is the result of strategies over the past 10-15 years that willfully ignored policies to promote renewables pursued pretty consistently across Europe, and the likely impact they would have on power prices (the infamous "merit order effect" - which I discussed in detail at least 5 years ago, and which was already the topic of academic papers before that).

So it's not like they had no warning and no notice... In a sense, utilities have been consistent: one of their past arguments was that renewables would never reach critical mass and thus were not a serious solution to reduce carbon emissions. And they surely did not take recent investment decisions (mainly to build base-load or mid-load gas-fired plants) with the scenario of heavy renewable penetration in mind, otherwise they would not have been so surprised by the current situation...

:: ::

Utilities do make a legitimate point when they underline that the system still needs their capacity (because renewables are not available on demand, and do not provide the flexibility required in the very short term), and that this needs to be paid for (and, at some point in the future, existing capacity will need to be replaced, and they need to be able to make a business case for that, which is not possible today).

In the previous regime, where power prices were determined by gas prices, it was possible to pay for the flexibility in the form of price spikes that gave the right signal for mid-load and peaker gas-fired (or oil-fired, or hydro) plants to be used, and their frequency of use was relatively predictable over a year, allowing for a sound business model to be implemented. Now, with plenty of renewables, the price signal is completely different. There are many more periods of very low prices when renewables flood the system (and this is particularly the case in places with lots of solar, as it is available during the day, ie when demand is stronger and thus prices used to be higher). This has two consequences: gas-fired plants get much less use than in the past (and less than their business plans expected), and baseload plants like nukes or big coal-fired plants get lower prices during periods when they were cashing in more money. The latter earn less money (but still run); the former now run a lot less than expected , which has income implications but also consequences for gas consumption and storage - patterns of use become very different, moving from the usual "once a day" pattern (a few hour at peak demand times), to short bursts several times a day (as renewables drop out), or very long periods of use over multiple days when renewables are not available at all.

Given that the penetration of renewables will continue to change every year, it has become really hard to identify the business model to use for flexible plants - and even harder to know what it will be in 1, 5 or 10 years from now. These flexible plants will be needed, at least to some extent, and they need to be paid for, and that cannot really happen with today's regulatory regime (and as noted above, stopping support regimes for renewables won't change that now: the existing stock of wind and solar is already big enough in several countries to keep the current market arrangements broken). One solution, thankfully being considered in several markets, and which already exists in places like California, is to put in place a capacity market, where plants make themselves available for rapid changes in output, without actually producing anything most of the time, and get paid for that availability: ie a market for MW in addition to the market for MWh.

:: ::

The politics of this transition are messy. You can have articles saying (without any real argument) that "Too much green energy is bad for Britain at the very same time that you have record cold weather, with critical weakness in the gas supply infrastructure and wind actually coming to the rescue... (in the UK last March).

People are presenting capacity markets as another subsidy to renewables, whereas system security has always required a significant margin of unused capacity for safety: power demand varies from 1 to 2 or one to 3 every day, peaks can be more or less intense depending on weather, and even large plants can go offline on a scheduled or unscheduled basis. That safety margin was simply paid for in a different way, either by imposing capacity buffers on utilities, or through spot price peaks that were high enough to pay in a few hours for the peaker plants which are otherwise idle most of the time. There's naturally a lot of talk that policies to develop renewable have failed, being costly (only partly true, as shown above, and increasingly less so as time goes by), ineffective at reducing carbon emissions (not true, each MWh of renewable energy has, by and large, replaced a MWh generated previously by fossil fuel plants) and damaging to the system (obviously not the case). But the cat is out of the bag: once renewable energy reaches a critical mass, its impact on power systems is pretty much irreversible and no amount of lobbying by utilities is going to get them their previous business model back: wind turbines and solar panels are there and they will keep on cranking out zero-marginal-cost MWh for a very, very long time...

So utilities would be well advised to focus their lobbying on fixes to the system that actually solve problems (like capacity markets, or maybe new rules on grid access for "must-run plants), and to not cut the tree on which they are sitting (killing the support regime for offshore wind, the only sector in renewables which is "utility-scale" and where they have been able to take a leading share, and the only sector of the power sector where they can actually make money these days...)(I note here again, for full disclosure, that I work in the offshore wind sector and appreciate that this may sound rather self-interested).

The politics of power prices are rather volatile, and people have little sympathy for the big utilities, which are typically seen as profiteers anyway, so the focus on the high retail prices could end up damaging them more than it impacts renewable energy producers. Energy is a rather complex topic, not really suited for soundbites, and it is easy to confuse people or say outright lies without getting caught right away. But, by and large, Germans still support the Energiewende - both the move away from nuclear and the support for renewable energy - and are willing to pay for it. And for areas like Bremerhaven, all the manufacturing activity linked to wind and offshore wind is rather welcome.

:: ::

In summary:

  • Renewable energy is reaching the scale where it has an impact on the overall system; the effects are irreversible, and highly damaging to incumbents;
  • The net cost to get there has been relatively low, and largely paid for by utilities, which have constantly underestimated the ongoing changes, even as they were both (wrongly) dismissing them and (relatively ineffectively) fighting them;
  • there are legitimate worries about the way to maintain the fleet of flexible plants that was required in the past and will continue to be needed in the new paradigm, but can no longer pay its way under current market arrangements; the solution is not to fight renewables (it won't make the existing fleet go away) but to ensure that the right services (MW on demand) are properly remunerated;
  • the shale gas revolution will have a limited impact in this context (it had almost none in Europe, other than via some cheap coal exports from the US for a short period), and does not change the economics of gas-fired plants to the point that they can be competitive in a system dominated by renewable energy production capacity;
  • more generally, the future for gas suppliers is bleaker than for gas turbine manufacturers - there will be a need for a lot of gas-fired plants but they won't be burning a lot of gas (they will be selling MW rather than MWh);
  • overall, a future with high renewable penetration is not only possible but increasingly likely, and it's a good thing.

Part of the wind power series.

Wed 27 January, 2010

12:21 Image of the Day» LiveScience.com
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