Quick Guide To The New Climate Report: Five Minutes Before Midnight

The Atlantic gave a quick summary of the climate report with a post on What Leading Scientists Want You to Know About Today’s Frightening Climate Report. For those who don’t want to read even this much, here are the key points:

The polar icecaps are melting faster than we thought they would; seas are rising faster than we thought they would; extreme weather events are increasing. Have a nice day! That’s a less than scientifically rigorous summary of the findings of the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this morning in Stockholm.

Appearing exhausted after a nearly two sleepless days fine-tuning the language of the report, co-chair Thomas Stocker called climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” adding that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the past,” and that this trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Pledging further action to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “This isn’t a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn’t a political document produced by politicians… It’s science.”

When I asked him for his headline, Michael Mann, the Director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State (a former IPCC author himself) suggested: “Jury In: Climate Change Real, Caused by Us, and a Threat We Must Deal With.”

It is now 95 percent likely that human spewed heat-trapping gases — rather than natural variability — are the main cause of climate change, according to today’s report. In 2007 the IPCC’s confidence level was 90 percent, and in 2001 it was 66 percent, and just over 50 percent in 1995.

What’s more, things are getting worse more quickly than almost anyone thought would happen a few years back.

“If you look at the early IPCC predictions back from 1990 and what has taken place since, climate change is proceeding faster than we expected,” Mann told me by email. Mann helped develop the famous hockey-stick graph, which Al Gore used in his film “An Inconvenient Truth” to dramatize the sharp rise in temperatures in recent times.

Mann cites the decline of Arctic sea ice to explain : “Given the current trajectory, we’re on track for ice-free summer conditions in the Arctic in a matter of a decade or two… There is a similar story with the continental ice sheets, which are losing ice — and contributing to sea level rise — at a faster rate than the [earlier IPCC] models had predicted.”

But there is a lot that we still don’t understand. Reuters noted in a sneak preview of IPCC draft which was leaked in August that, while the broad global trends are clear, climate scientists were “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.”

There are some possibilities that are deliberately left out of the IPCC projections, because we simply don’t have enough data yet to model them. Jason Box, a visiting scholar at the Byrd Polar Research Center told me in an email interview that: “The scary elephant in the closet is terrestrial and oceanic methane release triggered by warming.” The IPCC projections don’t include the possibility — some scientists say likelihood — that huge quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas thirty times as potent as CO2) will eventually be released from thawing permafrost and undersea methane hydrate reserves. Box said that the threshhold “when humans lose control of potential management of the problem, may be sooner than expected.”

Box, whose work has been instrumental in documenting the rapid deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, also believes that the latest IPCC predictions (of a maximum just under three foot ocean rise by the end of the century) may turn out to be wildly optimistic, if the Greenland ice sheet breaks up. “We are heading into uncharted territory” he said. “We are creating a different climate than the Earth has ever seen.”

The head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, speaks for the scientific consensus when he says that time is fast running out to avoid the catastrophic collapse of the natural systems on which human life depends. What he recently told a group of climate scientist could be the most chilling headline of all for the U.N. report:

“We have five minutes before midnight.”

Andrew Sullivan has further reactions to the report.

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Quote of the Day

“So former President George W. Bush had to go into the hospital, had a little heart surgery and he’s OK, but he blames it all on the fatty foods served by White House butler Forest Whitaker.”

“Doctors told him to avoid any heavy exertion, so that means no reading. He had a little touch of coronary artery disease. One of his arteries was clogged with old Al Gore ballots.” –David Letterman on George W. Bush’s recent stent insertion.

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Sandra Day O’Connor Finally Express Regret Over Her Vote on Bush v. Gore

The Bush years were a disgrace to the United States, including repeated violations of civil liberties, abuses of power, and incompetent governing. If those who defended the American system of democract against the abuses of the Bush years were to look back and choose one moment which was particularly upsetting, the two which would undoubtedly receive the most consideration would be going to war against Iraq based upon lies and the Supreme Court decision which placed Bush in power. Of course all the abuses of the Bush years were made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

If the Supreme Court had respected the democratic system, or at least took a consistent view on states’ rights, the outcome isn’t entirely clear. The partial recount which Gore was seeking before the Supreme Court intervened would have still resulted in George Bush winning, but a full recount of Florida would have given the state to Gore. (There were additional problems in Florida such as voters intending to vote for Gore but mistakenly voting for Pat Buchanan due to the format of the ballot, but there was no conceivable remedy for this).  Regardless of what the outcome would have been, the Supreme Court was wrong to interfere with recounts in Florida.

Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted with the 5-4 majority to circumvent democracy, told that Chicago Tribune that the decision may have been wrong:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hasn’t given much thought to which was the most important case she helped decide during her 25 years on the bench. But she has no doubt which was the most controversial.

It was Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount and decided the 2000 presidential election.

Looking back, O’Connor said, she isn’t sure the high court should have taken the case.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” O’Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.'”

The case, she said, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation.”

“Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision,” she said. “It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

O’Connor, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was the first woman to serve on the high court. Though she tended to side with the conservatives, O’Connor was known as the court’s swing vote. Her vote in the 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision effectively gave Republican George W. Bush a victory over his Democratic opponent, then-Vice President Al Gore.

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Yes, Propaganda Does Make A Difference

Howard Krutz calls on Obama and Gore to stop whining about the right wing media:

Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?

Sure, ultimately Obama is more powerful when it comes to going to war than Fox is, and Obama was able to win reelection because less than half the country believe the misinformation coming out of Fox and talk radio. That doesn’t alter the fact that having a propaganda network disguised as news does cause a substantial number of people to believe many things which are not true.

How many people vote for Republicans based upon blatantly untrue arguments such as that Republicans support small government or fiscal responsibility? How much more difficulty is it to bring about economic recovery when so many voters are misled by Republican Voodoo Economics? How much harder is it to deal with problems such as Climate Change and health care reform when so many people are fooled by right wing misinformation?

Would we have gone to war in Iraq if not for untrue Republican  propaganda claiming that Saddam threatened us with WMD and was involved in 9/11?  How many votes are affected by falsehoods such as that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist? While Obama did win. would Kerry have won if not for the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars?

How many people are voting for Republicans, against their interests and the interests of the country, based upon fear and hatred instilled by right wing propaganda? Yes, this is not the same as having an army, navy, and nuclear weapons. but that doesn’t mean that the right wing noise machine is not a terrible weapon for evil.

Kurtz argues that “MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.” First this isn’t entirely true as MSNBC does have conservatives on the network, and MSNBC’s liberals have been known to criticize Obama, not being essentially a part of the party apparatus as Fox is. Beyond this, while MSNBC does frequently correct the misinformation presented by Fox or Rush Limbaugh, this does not reduce the damage caused by the right wing propagandists. Not many fans of Rush Limbaugh turn on MSNBC and change their views once exposed to the facts.

Kurtz has a strange rational for why the right wing media exists:

What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Much of the media (although no longer The Washington Post and broadcast networks) do lean towards the left socially and culturally, meaning they are more likely to  support the values of American liberty and Democracy while opposing the authoritarian mindset of the right. As Kurtz admits, they strive for fairness. How does this provide justification for the right wing in responding with media outlets which intentionally promote falsehoods disguised as news? It is difficult to measure which has more weight, but, as I pointed out above, their comparative influences does not diminish the harm done by the propaganda outlets of the right.

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Quote of the Day

“It has been two days, and Florida still hasn’t finished counting all the votes from Tuesday night’s election. Of course, it’s gonna be weird when they’re finally done and they’re like, ‘The winner is – Al Gore?'” –Jimmy Fallon

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Where We Stand In The Final Weekend Of Campaign 2012

The polls are looking favorable for Obama going into the final weekend before the election.

From the battleground states:

Colorado: Obama 46%, Romney 46% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Colorado: Obama 50%, Romney 46% (Public Policy Polling)

Colorado: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Denver Post/SurveyUSA)

Florida: Obama 48%, Romney 46% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Iowa: Obama 49%, Romney 45% (Gravis)

Michigan: Obama 52%, Romney 47% (Rasmussen)

Michigan: Obama 52%, Romney 46% (Public Policy Polling)

Nevada: Obama 50%, Romney 44% (Mellman)

New Hampshire: Obama 50%, Romney 44% (New England College)

New Hampshire: Obama 50%, Romney 49% (Gravis)

Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 47% (CNN/ORC)

Ohio: Obama 49%, Romney 49% (Rasmussen)

Ohio: Obama 47%, Romney 45% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Ohio: Obama 50%, Romney 46% (We Ask America)

Virginia: Obama 48%, Romney 45% (Reuters/Ipsos)

Virginia: Obama 49%, Romney 48% (We Ask America)

Wisconsin: Obama 52%, Romney 45% (We Ask America)

Daily Tracking Polls:

ABC News/Washington Post: Obama 49%, Romney 48%

Public Policy Polling: Obama 49%, Romney 48%

Purple Strategies: Obama 47%, Romney 46%

Rasmussen: Obama 48%, Romney 48%

Reuters/Ipsos: Obama 46%, Romney 46%

Rasmussen typically has a two point Republican bias. Still, just showing a tie has Dick Morris backing off on his predictions which I discussed earlier this week.

Romney could still win, but would have to out-perform the polls by over two percent to have a chance. The Denver Post has nine electoral college predictions–showing different combinations of states which lead to an Obama victory.

Supporters of each party are looking for ways in which their party could out-perform the polls (with Obama merely needing to match the polls at this point). Both parties have argued that early voting is helping them. The problem for the Republicans is that much of their early voting is occurring in southern states which will go Republican regardless of when people vote. The real question is not who is getting the most early votes, but whether Democrats will increase their total turnout with early voting. Polls of all registered voters typically show the Democrats doing five points better than polls of likely voters. If the Democrats can narrow this gap they can boost the numbers above.

Back in 2004 liberal blogs were counting on the Incumbent Rule to give Kerry the victory. The basic idea is that if the incumbent is running at under 50 percent, the majority of undecided voters will break for the challenger (already knowing the incumbent), giving a challenger who is close behind the victory. That didn’t work for Kerry, and it doesn’t look like this will work for Romney.

Other factors might also alter the results compared to the polls. The Libertarian Party, along with the Constitution Party in Virginia, might take a small number of votes away from Romney. I don’t see the Green Party as being a threat to Obama this year as Nader was to Al Gore in 2000. The Constitution Party’s candidate, Virgil Goode, is from Virginia and has the potential of taking enough votes from Romney to give Obama the state in a close race, while Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson might be a spoiler in some western battle ground states.

There is speculation that the polls might be under-counting Latino votes, possibly enabling Obama to do several points better in some states, as Harry Reid did when running for reelection two years ago.

Under counting cell phone users might also play a part. Polls using robocalls are legally not allowed to call cell phone, underestimating younger voters who are more likely to vote Democratic (assuming they do show up to vote). Polls not using cell phones do try to adjust their numbers but at least one Democratic pollster believes that Obama is actually  doing much better than the polls show.

These factors favor Obama, and there is one more trend which helps Obama. He had the far better week, denying Romney the chance to regain the momentum he held after the first debate.  Besides just dominating the news, he benefits from comments from Chris Christie, the endorsement from Michael Bloomberg, and the report of an increase in jobs created. There is very little time left for something to happen to change the trajectory of the race.


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Eliot Spitzer To Replace Keith Olbermann at Current TV

It hardly comes as a surprise that Current TV has fired Keith Olbermann. Olbermann has a long history of difficulty with employers, and there had been reports of conflicts this winter with regards to anchoring primary coverage. Current has hired Eliot Spitzer to start tomorrow, denying Olbermann a chance to say sign off on air. Spitzer’s show on CNN only lasted nine months.

Current has issued the following statement:

To the Viewers of Current:

We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet.  We are more committed to those goals today than ever before.

Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.

We are moving ahead by honoring Current’s values. Current has a fundamental obligation to deliver news programming with a progressive perspective that our viewers can count on being available daily — especially now, during the presidential election campaign. Current exists because our audience desires the kind of perspective, insight and commentary that is not easily found elsewhere in this time of big media consolidation.

As we move toward this summer’s political conventions and the general election in the fall, Current is making significant new additions to our broadcasts. We have just debuted six hours of new programming each weekday with Bill Press (“Full Court Press” at 6 am ET/3 am PT) and Stephanie Miller (“Talking Liberally” at 9 am ET/6 pm PT).

We’re very excited to announce that beginning tonight, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will host “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer,” at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT. Eliot is a veteran public servant and an astute observer of the issues of the day. He has important opinions and insights and he relishes the kind of constructive discourse that our viewers will appreciate this election year. We are confident that our viewers will be able to count on Gov. Spitzer to deliver critical information on a daily basis.

All of these additions to Current’s lineup are aimed at achieving one simple goal — the goal that has always been central to Current’s mission: To tell stories no one else will tell, to speak truth to power, and to influence the conversation of democracy on behalf of those whose voices are too seldom heard. We, and everyone at Current, want to thank our viewers for their continued steadfast support.


Al Gore & Joel Hyatt
Current’s Founders

Olbermann has been responding on Twitter, including the longer version via TwitLonger:

I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV.
Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.
It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain. http://nyti.ms/HueZsa
In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.

Media Decoder pointed out the difference between Olbermann’s audience at Current as compared to MSNBC:

In his forty weeks on Current TV, Mr. Olbermann had an average of 177,000 viewers at 8 p.m., down from the roughly one million that he had each night on MSNBC. Just 57,000 of those viewers on any given night were between the ages of 25 and 54, the coveted advertising demographic for cable news. Still, Mr. Olbermann ranked as the highest-rated program on Current, as Mr. Hyatt acknowledged earlier this month.


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Romney Damaged By Line When Taken Out Of Context

Mitt Romney’s statement “I like to fire people” certainly sounds far worse when taken out of context. It is being compared to John Kerry’s gaffe, “I voted for it before I voted against it.”  Both quotes have quite different meanings when heard in full context. Romney likes to be able to be able to get rid of insurance companies which don’t do the job (failing to acknowledge that this is exactly what he would be able to do with the exchanges which are to be set up under Obama’s health care plan). Kerry was explaining that he did not oppose military spending and that he did vote for the spending in one bill while he voted against it in a subsequent bill due to a change in how it would be funded.

The problem is that Kerry’s line out of context reinforced the attack on him as being a flip-flopper while Romney’s line makes him sound like an evil member of the one percent as opposed to being a jobs creator. This could wind up hurting Romney because of the determination of Newt Gingrich to undermine Romney’s campaign during the primaries. In this way in is somewhat analogous to Al Gore first raising the Willie Horton attack against Michael Dukakis before the Republicans. (On the other hand, Gore did not make the attack in the same manner as the Republicans later did.) It was one thing for conservatives to say Mitt Romney is not conservative enough, potentially helping Romney in a general election campaign. The latest attacks, including taking this line out of context as well as some valid criticism of Romney’s business record, can undermine Romney’s arguments in a general election campaign.

It remains to be seen how severe this line will hurt Romney’s election chances. One thing is clear. If there ever was a chance that Donald Trump would be made Romney’s running mate, this makes such a move far less likely.


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Nader Gives Up On Challenging Obama

Ralph Nader, the man who helped give us George Bush and the Iraq War, has conceded defeat in his activities which would increase the chance of making Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich our next president. The Hill reports that Nader has given up on his attempt to launch a primary challenge against Barack Obama. “I hate to say but it’s over,” Nader told The Hill. One can only hope that this applies to Ralph Nader’s involvement in politics and not only his current activities.

Nader held the naive view that challenging Obama would move the country towards the left. The Hill commented on this fallacy:

Presidential history, however, suggests that a primary challenge would have weakened Obama.

Presidents Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush all faced primary challenges during their reelection campaigns and all lost in the general election. Some political analysts also attribute Vice President Al Gore’s defeat in 2000 to former Sen. Bill Bradley’s primary challenge.

Others have also pointed to Nader’s 2000 bid as a spoiler for Gore. In the swing state of Florida that year, Nader received 97,488 votes. Gore officially lost the Sunshine State by 537 votes.

Nader was also naive enough to be surprised by opposition to his efforts from the White House. The move of the New Hampshire primary to early January is also cited as  interfering with Nader’s efforts, but I doubt they would have been successful even if this was not done.

While some on the left have also considered a challenge to Obama, others realize the folly of such efforts:

While parts of the left are dismayed with Obama, there are many leading progressives who believe a primary challenge would be political suicide.

The co-chairmen of the House Progressive Caucus, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), have both said the Democratic Party needs to be 100 percent behind Obama.

Ellison in September claimed a primary opponent would “undermine our unity, and we need everybody in the same boat.”

Former Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) this week said that Nader “bears a lot of the responsibility for George W. Bush for eight years” and scoffed at the effort to challenge Obama from the left.

Obey told The Hill, “I mean let’s get serious: We have the gravest threat to progressive government that I have seen in all the years I’ve seen in politics.

“And if Obama can’t win in the next election, progressivism will take a huge, huge hit. Anybody who wants to nitpick with him as the nominee of our party is smoking something that isn’t legal. It’s ridiculous. I mean we will rise or fall based on how Obama does.”

The best way to bring about liberal change would be to consolidate the reforms made by Obama and attempt to achieve more in the future. There are no faults in the actions of Barack Obama which would be improved upon by helping a Republican become our next president.

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Quote of the Day

“There’s already controversy with the Iowa caucuses. About a half hour ago, they found eight more votes for Al Gore.” –David Letterman

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