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Sorry, skeptics: Arctic ice is still melting quickly this summer

Sorry, skeptics: Arctic ice is still melting quickly this summer


National Snow and Ice Data CenterClick to embiggen.

First the good news: Arctic ice melt has not been as extreme this summer as during last year’s historic collapse.

The bad news is that the melt has been more extreme this summer than the 20-year average — no surprises there, given the icy clime’s rapid decline.

The Arctic’s August 2013 ice coverage is shown in the image on the right. The black cross shows the North Pole and the magenta outline shows the average ice cover at the same time of year from 1981 to 2010.

“Sea ice continued its late-season summer decline through August at a near-average pace,” wrote the National Snow & Ice Data Center in an update on its website last week. “Open water was observed in the ice cover close to the North Pole, while in the Antarctic, sea ice has been at a record high the past few days.” From the Alaska Dispatch:

[Ted Scambos, a glaciologist with the ice center] said the Arctic this summer was 2 to 3 degrees cooler than average, and the extent of sea ice in August was a “big increase” for a year-to-year jump. The sea ice was about the size of four Alaskas, at 2.35 million square miles, a 45 percent increase from the same time last year.

But that’s about the same size of sea-ice coverage in August 2009, which turned out to be one of the lowest years on record, Scambos said.

It was nothing close to the years before 2002. In fact, the sea-ice extent in August remained nearly 400,000 square miles less than the average between 1981 and 2010, with an amount of ice the size of Colombia in South America missing.

Since no news of sea-ice decline can go announced without some measure of climate-denying absurdity, let’s see what the conga-line of climate-denying ninnies led by the U.K.’s Daily Mail have to say, hmm? Naturally they point to the Arctic-melt data to argue for magical global cooling despite the skyrocketing levels of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere. Let’s consider that claim as we ponder the following graph, shall we?

National Snow and Ice Data CenterClick to embiggen.

Take your time, Daily Mail, we’ll wait.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Climate & Energy

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Sorry, skeptics: Arctic ice is still melting quickly this summer

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Report: The Government is Really, Really Bad at Keeping Records About Chemical Plants

Mother Jones

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In April, a massive explosion ripped apart a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, killing 12 first responders and injuring at least 200 people. This didn’t have to happen—as Mother Jones reporter previously, the disaster was a product of lax regulation and mismanagement at various levels of government, and a company that had taken few steps to protect itself or the community. (The county didn’t even have a fire code.)

Just how bad is the oversight of chemical facilities like West Fertilizer Co.? According to a new report in the Dallas Morning News, 90 percent of the federal government’s chemical safety data is wrong:

A Dallas Morning News analysis of more than 750,000 federal records found pervasive inaccuracies and holes in data on chemical accidents, such as the one in West that killed 15 people and injured more than 300.

In fact, no one at any level of government knows how often serious chemical accidents occur each year in the United States. And there is no plan in place for federal agencies to gather more accurate information.

As a result, the kind of data sharing ordered by President Barack Obama in response to West is unlikely to improve the government’s ability to answer even the most basic questions about chemical safety.

And that’s just the beginning. Give it a read.

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Report: The Government is Really, Really Bad at Keeping Records About Chemical Plants

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More People, More Problems: 4 Ways to Future-Proof Our Cities

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More People, More Problems: 4 Ways to Future-Proof Our Cities

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The Most Damning Part of That Reza Aslan Fox News Interview You’ve Been Hearing About

Mother Jones

On Friday, author and religious scholar Reza Aslan appeared on Fox News. The interview has been getting some attention over the weekend, and it isn’t hard to understand why once you start watching it. The whole thing is worth a look:

Watch the latest video at

Aslan is promoting his recently released nonfiction book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which examines Jesus Christ’s legacy as a political insurgent. The book has generated some controversy and accusations of faith-based bias.

There are a lot of things wrong with the 10-minute Live interview (conducted by Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green), none of which are perpetrated by Aslan. But the most damning part is toward the end, when Green says the following after several minutes of implying that Aslan’s own religious beliefs compromise the objectivity of his work:

I believe that you’ve been on several programs and have never disclosed that you were a Muslim.

(And in the interest of “full disclosure”—a term Green uses to justify her supposed outing of Aslan as a covert Muslim—I have interviewed Aslan on the subject of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, a man Aslan said belonged “in an insane asylum.” I failed to disclose in that blog post that Aslan is a Muslim; I did, however, note that he is of Iranian descent. Mother Jones has also chatted with Aslan here.)

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The Most Damning Part of That Reza Aslan Fox News Interview You’ve Been Hearing About

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New York Says Obamacare is Going to Cut Rates in Half for People Who Buy Their Own Insurance

Mother Jones

On Wednesday morning, just as the GOP had settled into its apoplectic doomsaying over the Obama administration’s announcement that it was delaying the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires large employers to offer insurance to their employees or pay a fine, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that rates for New Yorkers who buy their own insurance are poised to fall by an average of 50 percent with the implementation of the new law.

New York typifies the kind of healthcare mess that the law was designed to fix. As it stands now, only 17,000 New Yorkers buy their own insurance, compared to a whopping 2.6 million who have remained uninsured in the face of the state’s towering premiums for folks who don’t get insurance through their employer. With less than 80 days until the rollout of the healthcare insurance exchanges—a major piece of the law that will allow uninsured Americans to buy federally subsidized coverage—the news out of New York is exactly the kind of win that the administration needed.

The New York Times has more:

State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.

Supporters of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, credited the drop in rates to the online purchasing exchanges the law created, which they say are spurring competition among insurers that are anticipating an influx of new customers. The law requires that an exchange be started in every state.

“Health insurance has suddenly become affordable in New York,” said Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president for health initiatives with the Community Service Society of New York. “It’s not bargain-basement prices, but we’re going from Bergdorf’s to Filene’s here.”

“The extraordinary decline in New York’s insurance rates for individual consumers demonstrates the profound promise of the Affordable Care Act,” she added…

The plans to be offered on the exchanges all meet certain basic requirements, as laid out in the law, but are in four categories from most generous to least: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. An individual with annual income of $17,000 will pay about $55 a month for a silver plan, state regulators said. A person with a $20,000 income will pay about $85 a month for a silver plan, while someone earning $25,000 will pay about $145 a month for a silver plan.

The least expensive plans, some offered by newcomers to the market, may not offer wide access to hospitals and doctors, experts said.

State officials estimate that about 615,000 uninsured individuals will sign up for insurance using the exchanges in the first year, and about three quarters of them will be eligible for subsidies on top of the lower rates. If those estimates pan out, it will eliminate one of the biggest threats to the law—that nobody would sign up. States from Kentucky to Oregon have been running ads encouraging people to sign up for the exchanges, and although some Republican governors have been fighting tooth and nail against implementing the law, even when doing so will cost their states billions, successes like New York and California might force them to knuckle under.

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New York Says Obamacare is Going to Cut Rates in Half for People Who Buy Their Own Insurance

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Google Says You Shouldn’t Use Google Technique to Interview People

Mother Jones

The New York Times has an intriguing interview today with Laszlo Block, Google’s head of HR senior vice president of people operations. He says that most job interviews are basically a waste of time: Google has gathered mountains of data and discovered that there’s “zero relationship” between how job candidates are scored by hiring managers and how well they eventually do on the job. Also: GPA and test scores are pretty much useless if you’ve been out of school more than a few years. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve never understood why anyone would care even slightly about that stuff once you’ve got some real-world job experience to evaluate.

But what about those famous Google brainteasers? Those are great, right? Not so much:

On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.

Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.

Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.

Actually, this advice has been conventional wisdom for quite a while among people who know what they’re talking about. But it’s hard! And no one likes to do it. Most people are convinced that they have a mystical ability to evaluate others just by chatting with them and “sizing them up.” Well, guess what? You probably don’t. And you especially don’t in the very formalized setting of a job interview.

Still, this belief is based on hundreds of centuries of evolved human nature. I don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

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Google Says You Shouldn’t Use Google Technique to Interview People

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Climate hawk Markey wins primary, moves one step closer to Senate

Climate hawk Markey wins primary, moves one step closer to Senate

Martha Coakley campaignMarkey, one step closer to the U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ed Markey handily won the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ special election to fill the Senate seat recently vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry. In June’s general election, Markey will go up against Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez, an ex-Navy SEAL, son of Colombian immigrants, successful businessman, and political outsider who has never held office.

Markey, one of the most passionate environmentalists in Congress, coauthored the big climate bill that passed the House in 2009 but failed in the Senate. A 20-term House veteran, he ran on his long liberal track record, but he also got a boost from green backers. The League of Conservation Voters spent nearly $850,000 in support of his campaign. Meanwhile, San Francisco rich-guy do-gooder Tom Steyer spent more than $400,000 on “online ads and microtargeting,” according to Mother Jones; many of those ads attacked Markey’s primary opponent, South Boston “conservative” Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, for his support of the Keystone XL pipeline. And it doesn’t look like Steyer plans on closing his pocketbook after this early victory, MoJo reports:

Steyer says he will use his fortune, estimated at $1.4 billion, to drag the issue of climate change into the spotlight in American politics and to combat the influence of climate change deniers and the oil lobby. He’s taking a similar approach to the climate issue that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg takes on gun control: supporting candidates who see things his way and attacking those who do not. “Really, what we’re trying to do is to make a point that people who make good decisions on this should be rewarded, and people should be aware that if they do the wrong thing, the American voters are watching and they will be punished,” Steyer told the Hill.

Long active in California politics, the Markey-Lynch race was Steyer’s first big foray as an outside spender into a marquee Congressional race. …

Steyer has yet to say if he’ll go after Gabriel Gomez in the general election. But he’s one for one so far, and given every indication he plans to spend a lot more money in the months and years ahead.

Markey is now the favorite to win Kerry’s Senate seat. Gomez wears “his lack of Washington politics as a badge of honor,” says Mother Jones, and “cast himself as the new face of the Republican Party.” But despite Americans’ hunger for change in Congress, it’s hard to imagine a deep-blue state like Massachusetts picking a Mitt Romney-esque transplant from the business world over a trusted longtime representative. Still, after Republican Scott Brown’s unexpected win in a 2010 special election, no one’s taking anything for granted.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that in an early April poll, 51 percent of voters picked Markey and 36 percent favored Gomez in a matchup between the two candidates. After Elizabeth Warren’s high-profile defeat of Brown last November, Massachusetts could have a powerfully progressive team in the Senate if Markey wins.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Climate hawk Markey wins primary, moves one step closer to Senate

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Liberal Super-PAC’s First 2014 Target: Michele Bachmann

Mother Jones

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CREDO Super-PAC, the group that spent nearly $3 million to oust five conservative congressmen in 2012, has announced its first target of the 2014 midterms: Tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The super-PAC says it will spend at least $500,000 to boot Bachmann out of office.

CREDO Super-PAC, an offshoot of the progressive phone company CREDO Mobile, knows Bachmann all too well. In 2012, the super-PAC named Bachmann one of the “Tea Party Ten” lawmakers that it set out to defeat. But Bachmann’s opponent, Democrat Jim Graves, and the outside groups hoping to oust her fell just short: She won by a few thousand votes. When I interviewed Becky Bond, the politically geeky president of CREDO Super-PAC, after the elections, she told me her biggest regret was the Bachmann race. “If we could do it again, we would’ve taken her on earlier and she would’ve lost,” Bond said.

That explains why CREDO Super-PAC is launching its anti-Bachmann campaign 18 months before the 2014 elections. In its announcement, CREDO says it will use the same data-driven, grassroots-centric strategy to oust Bachmann as it did in 2012. As I’ve written before, CREDO is something of an outlier on the super-PAC landscape: While most super-PACs poured millions of dollars into TV, radio, and Internet ads, in many cases to little effect, CREDO opened field offices in ten congressional districts, hired organizers, signed up volunteers, and used political data to inform their work.

Here’s what CREDO said in its Bachmann announcement:

“What kind of a signal does it send that not only is Rep. Michele Bachmann in Congress, but she’s on the House Intelligence Committee?” asked Becky Bond, president of CREDO Super-PAC. “Bachmann’s bigotry and bizarre political views don’t represent Minnesota values. Bachmann has launched an anti-Muslim witch hunt, actually believes that gay marriage is the biggest problem facing the nation, and has even claimed that Obamacare kills people.

“Bachmann won by a mere 4,000 votes in 2012, and is beatable in 2014. If our volunteers in Minnesota’s 6th district can turn out enough voters, the Tea Party Caucus in Congress will be down yet one more bigoted conspiracy theorist.”

Aside from being a climate denier and promoting hate and bigotry, Rep. Bachmann has been making headlines lately for being embroiled in multiple campaign scandals. Rep. Bachmann is currently under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee for allegedly authorizing improper campaign payments, among a host of other potentially illegal activities.

Instead of spending millions on expensive TV advertising, CREDO Super-PAC will employ a proven campaign model that helped defeat some of the most extreme Tea Party Republicans in 2012, including former Reps. Chip Cravaack and Allen West. CREDO Super PAC will open an office in Minnesota’s 6th congressional district, hire on the ground organizers, and begin mobilizing volunteers to get out the vote against Bachmann. CREDO Super PAC will use cutting-edge research to target a specific universe of voters in MN-06 to help make the difference on Election Day.

Jim Graves, Bachmann’s 2012 opponent, says he will run against her again in 2014.

Right now, Bachmann is in a tight spot. A former aide, Peter Waldron, alleged that Bachmann’s presidential campaign made secret payments to an Iowa state senator in violation of Iowa ethics rules. And Bachmann’s former chief of staff, Andy Parrish, said in an affidavit that Bachmann “knew and approved of” those payments to the state senator, Kent Sorenson. Sorenson has denied the allegations, calling them “totally baseless, without evidence, and a waste of Iowans’ time and money.” An attorney for Bachmann says the congresswoman “followed all applicable laws and ethical rules and instructed those working for her to do the same.”

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Liberal Super-PAC’s First 2014 Target: Michele Bachmann

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Atrios Has a Question

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And I have an answer: because it would have meant raising taxes. St. Grover would not have given his blessing.

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Atrios Has a Question

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Killing American Citizens on American Soil, Take 2

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Does the president have authority to order drone strikes against American citizens on American soil? As Adam Serwer says, the reason Obama has dodged this question in the past is that the answer is probably yes. He just doesn’t want to say so publicly. Today, however, in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the answer is indeed yes:

On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Administration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

Throat clearing about how unlikely and hypothetical the question is….

It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, this is still a bit of a non-answer. The president plainly has the authority to authorize lethal military force on American soil if the country is attacked. I don’t think anybody has ever questioned that. He also has the authority to authorize lethal police force on American soil under much wider circumstances. Waco and Ruby Ridge are examples. In both of these cases, there’s no reason to think that drones would be specifically barred from use even though F-15s and SWAT teams are OK.

But that still leaves open the question most of us really want answered. The problem is that it’s hard to phrase it precisely. What we want to know is whether the president can specifically target a particular American citizen (or group of citizens) for assassination on American soil even when there’s not some kind of hot, real-time incitement (such as an invasion or a standoff). The issue of drones is immaterial here. What we’re interested in is a situation where, say, the president gets information that some sort of bad guy is holed up in a cave in Idaho. Can he order up lethal force? Or is he required to go after him in a way that at least theoretically allows the possibility of surrender?

We still don’t know the answer to that question, and even if I haven’t phrased it quite correctly, I’m pretty sure it’s the question most of us want answered.

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Killing American Citizens on American Soil, Take 2

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