Friday, January 31, 2014

Masters And Servants

If you talked about major news items with your friends or co-workers this week, it's likely you only hit on one of a few topics - the State of The Union, or the upcoming Super Bowl this weekend, or maybe the polar blast that caused a massive mess throughout the South.

Chances are also good that you talked about President Obama's executive action to raise the minimum wage for all new federal contracts. The President wasn't kidding when he said that if Congress - especially the Republicans - aren't going to take action, he'd take some actions himself, and encourage businesses and states to take similar actions. On the issue of increasing the minimum wage, the White House has already been pushing this kind of action for much of the last year - and thirteen states started 2014 doing just that: Raising their own minimum wage.

Everyone from the President, to us, to Will Saletan, has highlighted this week what poll after poll has shown. What Americans really want, more than almost anything else, isn't just a few more pennies in their paychecks. What Americans want is to know that their hard-working labor, of any kind, is going to be rewarded honestly, through a combination of wages, benefits, safety protections, and working conditions.

In other words, the argument against economic inequality in America shouldn't be simply that no American should end up chained to a corporation or institution. Rather, the argument in favor of economic justice should start with the opportunity for everyone to earn a living wage, and grow from there. Economic justice isn't solely about money.

With that fact firmly in mind, we hope you saw a story pointed out to us by sports reporter for The Nation, Dave Zirin. This week, quarterback Kain Coulter and his fellow football players at Northwestern University became the first team in the history of college athletics to begin the process to form a union.

Frankly, we think action like this is long overdue - and we're not the only ones.

Recent Alabama graduate and former quarterback AJ McCarron feels the same - and laid out the basic argument for paying student athletes to Fox Sports this week, in a clear and convincing fashion.

McCarron said, "When I was at Alabama in ’09, I think revenue when we won the national championship that year was like $62 million. And when we won it in New Orleans (in 2011), it was like $78 million. Then when we beat Notre Dame in 2012, it was like $92 million. I mean that’s absurd money. And with players’ jerseys being sold and them not seeing any of that, and then [player's likenesses] being used for video games, I think eventually something’s gotta give and players end up being paid."

As Kain Coulter told ESPN, and as Dave Zirin noted, it's not just about the money.

College players of all kinds today realize that - much like their counterparts in professional sports - they're damaging their bodies, some severely. Meanwhile, colleges and universities rake in millions from the performances of those athletes, while many of those players will be buried in medical bills and student debt for the rest of their lives.

This weekend, our staff members will be watching the Super Bowl, and likely some other great college sports. Those athletes, coaches, and trainers will have invested years, tears, sweat, and blood into performances that will have millions on their feet, and put millions more into the pockets of NFL team owners, advertisers, colleges, and universities.

So many college athletes today are effectively indentured servants who will never see a dime of those millions, chained to their sport in return for a partial payment of their education, at best. That fact should make any American who believes in hard work and just rewards think twice about jeering Kain Coulter and his teammates for joining the union.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gridiron Gridlock Strategies

While we've said many times over the years that politics is not sports, and it should not be considered sports, forgive us if we break that cardinal rule today in our thorough evaluation of President Obama's 2014 State Of The Union address.

Chalk it up to our personal connections with football, or the relatively close nature of the words "gridlock" and "gridiron." You could even chalk it up to the Super Bowl happening this weekend, if that makes you feel better. The fact remains, as we evaluated the President's address from Tuesday night, and the GOP reactions to it over the last day or so, we began to see some similarities that looked an awful lot like football strategies.

With the kinds of thugs and bullies like GOP Rep. Michael Grimm from New York on their "team," you might think Congressional Republicans had an edge in this mythical "Stupid Bowl". After all, for a team that's rigged the "game" of politics from Richard Nixon through the 2000 presidential election right through the gerrymandering of 2010, Republicans have a long and well-known history of trick plays, illegal formations, and roughing up anyone who might get in their way - including the referees, the American voters.

When it comes to the pastime of actually governing, though, we think the strategies President Obama outlined in this year's State Of The Union are the kinds of head down, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust philosophies that the American people would much rather see carried out.

Even while lamenting the non-traditional nature of the strategy, Ryan Cooper of The Plum Line seemed to agree with our analysis of President Obama's multi-faceted strategy. That is, that Obama might be able to break the gridlockracy that's had Washington politics more impassable than Atlanta's highways.

We also agreed with William Saletan's strategy breakdown that pointed out how Obama's new approach also has an added benefit: Highlighting how America's current economic rules are actually failing to reward honest hard work.

President Obama even seems to have avoided the kind of over-exuberance displayed by Richard Sherman two weeks ago, by not tweaking Republicans too hard in the State Of The Union. That lack of smack-talk and refusal to bring up certain subjects initially frustrated many of Obama's supporters Tuesday night. As Jonathan Bernstein noted though, no matter what Americans say, they actually care more about substance and results - and President Obama's 'do what he can without Congress' strategy looks like he may be able to really get some serious results this year, on his own.

As for Republicans and their fractured responses, the only real strategy we can see coming from their actions is an old strategy known as the "prevent defense" - a method of preventing your opponent from scoring points that only works in situations where the team on offense must go for the big play. As anyone familiar with team sports strategies knows, the prevent defense - even if it's successful - can only work for so long.

In the "game" of politics at the national level, we think President Obama's new strategies could really win out for him this year.

For the Republicans, we think it's clear their playbook is empty - and their time may very well be running out.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Time For Action

While we're delaying our full evaluation of the President's State of The Union address - at least until tomorrow - in the spirit of the President's multiple calls to action Tuesday night, we wanted to act today to get out our initial brief evaluation of his annual address. For most of our staff, that meant staying up a bit later than usual, and staying inside where the heat is cranked up against the latest polar vortex that's blasted virtually every state in the lower 48, that sits east of the Rocky Mountains.

With the bitter cold rattling just outside our own windows, we tended to agree with Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast - our political hearts weren't exactly warmed by the President's address. There were positive moments during the address, for example when the President was standing up for the working poor and for equal pay for women. We also loved it when he stood up for campaign finance reform, saying, "It should be the power of our votes, not the size of our bank accounts that drives our democracy."

We also thought it was bold and correct of the President to call out the anti-science climate change deniers last night. He solidly knocked them back when he stated clearly, "The debate is settled — Climate change is a FACT." As the President confirmed, and as we've long agreed with, the questions on the issue have long since moved from the existence of climate change to the effects of climate change.

That's been obvious in the Midwest and Eastern half of our nation this winter, where one of those effects of rapid climate change has been a massive increase in the use of fuel to heat our homes and businesses. With multiple arctic blasts hitting repeatedly over the past few weeks, there's been a significantly increased demand for fuel to keep us warm, like propane and natural gas. That high demand has turned into a real monster for the pocketbooks of many.

Thanks to the President taking action a few years ago though, with his "All Of The Above" energy strategy, America has more fuel than we once did - and that likely held prices down further than we realize.

That point - that Americans are tired of pointless actions coming from Washington, DC - came through loud and clear when President Obama slammed the Republicans in Congress for wasting more than 40 sessions voting against Obamacare.

In fact, while there are many more things we would have liked to have heard from President Obama, that he's finally ready to act whenever and wherever he can - even if Congress won't get off their fat collective ass - was probably the single best reminder of how much he's already done without their help.

The President pushing Congress to pass Obamacare was a major action during his tenure so far, one that's proving more successful every day. Efforts like the 'Race to the Top' program have been action. The "All of the Above" energy strategy that President Obama has championed for years now? That's been action too. The President even hammered home the fact that he'll act without Congress by announcing before the State of The Union address, that he'll raise the base minimum wage for all future federal contract employees.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' official GOP response - one of four responses from the highly divided Republican Party - was filled with vague promises of plans and standard GOP platitudes, with no specific solutions for action.

The message the President delivered last night was clear: If Congress doesn't act, he will. We just hope he goes all the way this time. We know Congress - especially Republicans in Congress - are going to continue to act like monsters and bullies for any American they disagree with, unless we dump most of them from office this fall.

As we've said for many long years, and as the President echoed our mantra last night, "Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy." As the President noted, this is no longer time for debate.

It's time Americans acted, to do the hard thing, and elect a Congress this fall that's actually willing to do their jobs for us, the American people.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adding Up The Concerns Of Americans

While millions of Americans are gearing up this week for a major television event, we highly doubt most of them are talking about the State of the Union address, like the political junkies and wonks we know.

As evidenced by the latest Pew Poll, we know that the State of the Union address - the SOTU -  isn't exactly the most important thing on the minds of most Americans right now. In fact, thanks to the push for more data-driven analysis in the media from people like Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, media organizations are doing far more polling today than they once did, though some are less ethical than others.

We only wished that media organizations paid more attention to what that polling data says.

If you looked at the news media for this first month of 2014, you'd see a great deal of stories about the scandals of major Republican politicians - and those are somewhat important stories. You'd also see an enormous and growing number of stories about another not-unimportant subject, the safety concerns surrounding athletes and fans at the Sochi Olympics in Russia. You'd also likely see more than a few stories about jobs & income inequality, a topic that - according to that same Pew Poll - is on the top of most American's minds today.

What you likely haven't seen too much of - or if you did, you just ignored it - is a topic President Obama addressed in his SOTU speech last year. Sadly, like so many other topics, Congress simply let the subject bleed to death last year.

The subject, of course, is the continuing flood of senseless gun violence and deaths in America.

From Wakefield Elementary and Purdue University, to Liberty Tech High School, there's been an average of one school shooting every two days so far this year. If one happens again today, that macabre statistic will continue. If you add in other mass shootings, like the multiple deaths at the mall in Maryland last weekend, the number of mass shooting events in America has tripled in just the last four years.

As we've referenced many times since we first published it, there are five major components to gun violence, including gun safety laws, economic inequality, corrupt political financing, media ethics, and mental health care. As we noted earlier today, data-driven analysis is making a postive change in journalism, and Obamacare is making significant strides in making mental health care available. We sincerely hope that in his adress tonight, President Obama will make a very agressive push to tackle jobs, inequality, & the economy, as well as tackle our nation's corrupt political financing this next year. As another legitimate poll from ABC & the Washington Post proved this week, Americans are well aware that Congress - especially the Republicans in Congress - can't be trusted to do much of anything.

The one part of solving our nation's gun violence problem, then, that Americans and our government still haven't really touched upon is gun safety. As evidenced by the shooting at the mall in Baltimore this past weekend, performing ultra-simplified partial background checks on some of the guns and some of the people, some of the time simply won't work. We're also well aware universal background checks won't prevent every act of gun violence. As backed up by the statistics from the Bureau of Justice, an average of 230,000 guns are stolen from law-abiding gun owners in America every year.

That said, unlike the fears surrounding the Sochi Olympics that so many media organizations are desperately clinging to, gun safety legislation is something Americans and their government can actually do something about, if we want to enough. Further, as the Pew poll confirms, defending America from terrorism - including domestic terrorism - is one of the most important concerns American citizens have today.

That Congress refuses to tackle a problem so important to so many Americans, and would rather let the problem lay there, simply doesn't add up to us.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Knocking Their Block Off

As America enters 'State of The Union' week, there's a general rule that news often gets kind of weird in the political media - and last weekend was no exception to that rule.

While former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee began the weekend doubling down on misogyny, another former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, poked fun at himself and President Obama as he slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress were dragging out tired and weak hostage threats on the debt ceiling, even as top Senate Democrat Patty Murray called their bluff. Meanwhile, the White House is actually having it's first ever  "Big Block of Cheese Day" this week - and if you don't know what that means, we'll explain it to you on Wednesday.

In this cacophony of unusual news, two very key stories from Irin Carmon and Greg Sargent really drove home how Republicans might be about to get their clocks cleaned in the 2014 and 2016 elections. Those stories highlighted critical differences between the political left and right that President Obama will likely feature in his State of The Union address Tuesday night.

In fact, President Obama already highlighted one of those issues last week, in another address - though as Ms. Carmon pointed out this weekend, you probably missed it.

Last Wednesday, President Obama gave an address on sexual assault and noted that Americans could and should do more to prevent it. While his speech wasn't solely about women, the President did speak about women, men, those in the LGBT community, and how safety and security from sexual assault should be the default level of expectation for all Americans. As Irin noted, the President didn't reference the "hook-up culture" or excuse anyone's actions. What he noted is that Americans have a tough task ahead of us in combatting sexual assault, but that Americans deserve that basic level of security from one another - and that together, we can and should make great strides towards that kind of security.

In a similar nature, Greg Sargent wrote about the way many Americans look at poverty and inequality, and how two recent polls from Pew Research and CBS News note how the majority of Americans and the Tea Party extremists look at poverty and inequality differently. As Greg pointed out, the polls prove that the majority of Americans see that the income gap is growing, and that virtually all Americans - except the right-wing extremists - want the government to help fight that massive economic inequality.

Indeed, on issues from unemployment insurance benefits to the minimum wage, while old-fashioned Republicans generally see some benefit in the government giving a hand up, the Tea Party extremists want to continue acting like brash braggarts, insisting that they don't need no help from nobody.

The differences between the two approaches to government on these two subjects, highlighted by Irin and Greg should be clear. The majority of Americans, including President Obama, believe that - together - Americans can still tackle major policy issues and make progress. The shrinking minority of terrified extremists on the far right, and the paranoid plutocrats who keep trying to exploit that fear both still insist that if we follow any sensible policies of working together, it might be the end of America or worse and they insist that having our government give anyone in need any help might rob them of their individual right to failure.

We hope that tomorrow night President Obama follows the lead of many of the women across America who are fed up with a Republican Party being driven by its right-wing extremists.

It's time to hit them square in the face with the truth: Americans want to work together - and we're tired of the bloviating, paranoid, ignorant buffoons from the far right blocking the way towards progress for everyone else.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Walling Themselves Off

In light of the issues surrounding women highlighted in the latest edition of The Shriver Report - that we focused on Thursday - and in the wake of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we had a hope that maybe we'd see a different reaction this week from Republicans, in how they talked about and thought about women.

We might as well have asked for Santa to bring us late Christmas presents of unicorns and flying cars.

The new book from GOP Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, that says women must be submissive to their husbands for a good marriage was a sign that maybe Republicans hadn't really learned their lessons about women from the 2012 elections. The brain-dead pregnant woman in Texas, being kept alive against her and her family's will under the state of Texas' macabre "pro-life" laws was another big sign. The blatantly misogynistic attacks against Texas state Democratic Senator Wendy Davis added to the other signs, though we did have the thought maybe it was just the crazies in the state of Texas that were the problem.

We even had some hope, initially, that our Republican friends might show some equality of thought in their words and actions at the Republican National Committee meetings this week. Indeed, as we'd heard rumored, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the highest ranking woman in the House, was tapped to give the official GOP response to the President's State of The Union address next week.

However, when we read the news yesterday, two more Republicans confirmed what we've feared about the GOP since their solid defeat in 2012: The only ideas about women that Republicans learned from the 2012 election cycle are that the GOP hasn't yet made women's burdens heavy enough, and they haven't built tall enough barriers to legal rights women already have.

Our hypothesis about the Republican Party was confirmed Thursday morning when we read that Nebraska state Sen. Bill Kintner has once again proposed another totally unnecessary TRAP law bill in his state's Legislature, in yet another underhanded attempt to undermine the legal rights of Nebraska women to have a medical abortion, if they choose to.

Thursday afternoon, the GOP's position on women was hammered home again, when radio talk show host Mike Huckabee gave a headline address at the Republican National Committee meeting. He attempted to attack Democrats and their positions towards women, but in doing so, revealed his own position - and that of many Republicans - that women only need birth control because they can't control their libidos.

Even after getting drubbed in 2012 because of their misogynist tendencies, Republican extremists are quite obviously working hard to rebuild a wall around their anti-choice, anti-women's rights ideas once again.

Frankly, we hope this time, those extremists are completely successful at building their ideological walled castle of their dreams. Maybe then the rest of us can separate the few remaining sane Republicans from the idiots behind the wall.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Time To Close The Gap

Yesterday was the forty-first anniversary of the iconic Roe vs. Wade decision that allowed women to finally have the rights already guaranteed to every American by the Fourth Amendment. Those rights, among others, include the rights to both privacy and control over what happens with one's own body. Aside from the generic story about the anniversary, or the random story about anti-choice protestors, there wasn't really much media coverage of the day compared to past years - which somehow doesn't entirely surprise us this year.

As Will Saletan of Slate wrote yesterday, in multiple polls over the last year, most Americans agree: in most cases citizens believe abortion should be legal. Digging further into the polls Saletan cites, most Americans also appear to agree with Hillary Clinton's often-cited position on the issue: That it should be safe, legal, and rare, and that everything from adoption to contraception should be used to limit the number of potential abortions.

While a small group of hardheaded fools still refuse to accept the facts, the poll numbers Saletan cites reflect the reality that - effectively - issue has been decided. So it's little wonder to us that Wednesday's anniversary passed quietly, for the most part. However, as journalist Irin Carmon made clear in an online discussion Wednesday, no one should think the fight for women to retain control over their own bodies is over.

There's an even bigger story about women in America that most of the media has also missed this month, and it's about women and income inequality in America. You might even say there's a canyon between where women in America stand economically, and where the rest of the income distribution is in our society today.

The latest edition of The Shriver Report was released earlier this month, and focuses on many different subjects in lives of American women, including a significant amount of detail on women and poverty in America. Currently, two-thirds of American women consider themselves the primary breadwinner in their household. Yet, one in three American women live at or near the poverty line.

The geography of the gender wage gap isn't uniform for every city and state in America, but the male-female pay gap in America has effectively stalled out since about the year 2000, and women are still earning about 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in America. America may finally have a woman at the head of the Federal Reserve, but there's only one Janet Yellen, while there are millions of other American women working just as hard, yet only getting 3/4 the pay of men.

While there are many different policies that could help level the playing field, the biggest single move to both attack poverty and raise the wages of female workers would be to raise the minimum wage to a living level - at least $10.10 per hour. Since one-third of American women are already at or near the poverty line, raising the minimum wage to a living wage would also raise the base standard of living for most of those women.

As the Shriver Report details, we also need to change the policies which contributed to the severe economic inequality that's allowed the top one-tenth of one percent to take nearly all the income gains since the year 2000.

As the weather continues to make it less than pleasant in much of America to get outside, we invite you to stay inside & read the report. Check out the details. Then find out which politicians support your daughters, sisters, mothers, and female friends - and support them this year.

It's time America eliminated our national gender wage gap. Long past time, really.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reflecting A Theme

It's funny how weather sometimes reflects the mood of a nation, or even a specific region of the country.

For the northeastern United States on Tuesday, that kind of manifestation was on display as stormy conditions - both in politics and in weather - dominated the headlines. As heavy snow fell across the region, recently replaced former Republican Virginia Gov. McDonnell and his wife were indicted on federal criminal changes. Further north, in New Jersey, embattled Governor Chris Christie was being sworn in for a second term amidst his own swirling scandals.

It would be journalistic malpractice not to note that four years ago this week, both McDonnell and Christie came to power in their states, as the rise of the Tea Party extremists began.

Four years later the future of the Republican Party, on a national level, looks like a mirror Gov. Christie might have smashed in anger.

For his part, Governor Christie tried to remain positive on Tuesday, sounding a few notes of optimism in his second inaugural address. As we noted yesterday though, and as we've noted many times before, when people show you who they are, you should believe them - especially if you listened to the rest of Gov. Christie's speech.

The line that stood out to us in his address, and really clarified who Gov. Christie is, was also astounding in its hubris. "I will make this government truly work for those who pay for it," Christie said at one point in his inaugural address. While we realize he was referring to the taxpayers of his state, that Christie himself, or his speechwriters, allowed that phrase to make it into the final draft of his address, displays the two problems Christie's other scandals have already highlighted.

Either Chris Christie's been a clueless manager all along, who doesn't know what kinds of major actions his closest staff members have been taking. Or the Governor is a consummate liar who thinks that "winning at any cost" is a perfectly legitimate political strategy.

At least so far, it doesn't appear that Virginia's newest former governor, Bob McDonnell, and his wife, had the same strategy as Christie. Unlike his New Jersey counterpart, McDonnell's version of quid pro quo appears to have been one that included fast cars, new clothes, and lots of golf accessories - items that could earn both the former Virginia governor and his wife time in prison for many years to come.

That four years ago, both McDonnell and Christie were being discussed as potential future presidential candidates and leaders for the Republican Party is no surprise. As Dana Milbank pointed out in the Washington Post on Tuesday, the extremely corrupt corporate purchase of political power that also began four years ago this week, with the Citizens United ruling, never really went away.

It was just obscured temporarily for a few years by the ideological blizzard of the extremist tea partiers.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Menu For Disaster

Even as the growing Chris Christie scandals continue to dominate national headlines, secondary stories about inequality and corruption are combining with the Christie saga to draw a serious and worrying trend.

For example, the West Virginia corporation responsible for the recent chemical spill that left hundreds of thousands without access to clean water just filed for bankruptcy, apparently as a ploy to fund another corporation owned by the same wealthy but corrupt people. Apparently in America today, if you're a corporation, wrecking the ability to use one of the basic resources of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans for more than a week is just another way to finance your next selfish, destructive venture.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the MLK holiday, a report by Oxfam that shows the richest 85 people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people on Earth, and the rush of Americans that finally have health care insurance thanks to Obamacare and Medicaid, the negative pattern we're seeing is clear to us.

It might not be clear to everyone, however.

That's why, in situations like this, it's helpful to have the example of someone like Nebraska's Governor Dave Heineman - a political leader who wants to believe a study that says he should get a $3.5 million taxpayer-financed new plane. Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 of Heineman's constituents still don't have health care under Medicaid, thanks to him ignoring another equally legitimate study.

That this same Republican governor is also attempting to bully the legislature into using Nebraska's cash reserve for tax cuts for wealthy landowners (with a little bit for the rest of us) shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with similar behavior patterns. It should be noted that Gov. Heineman approached the Nebraska legislature with a similar tax-cutting proposal last year, and after a thorough study, the Legislature - including many members of his own party - effectively told the governor to go pound sand.

Indeed, if Nebraska ends up this summer suffering the kind of drought already affecting California, Nebraska will need all the money currently in its cash reserve, along with a whole lot more. The drought from 2012 cost Nebraska farmers and the state's economy hundreds of millions of dollars - and the official seasonal drought outlook for half of Nebraska is already predicting the early part of this year to be dry.

As we and others have said more than once, when people show you who they are, believe them. What our political leaders in America, and especially in the Republican Party, are showing us in New Jersey, and in more subtle ways in Nebraska, should now be obvious to most people.

When it comes to the already rich and powerful, many of these folks believe that our collective society's resources are exclusively theirs, to be used, abused, and selfishly hoarded. Meanwhile, facts and studies prove those resources, if used judiciously, honestly, and truly conservatively, can provide benefits like health care to most people, without worrying about running out of money.

But many of those in power would prefer the poor and working classes simply get lost.

Is it any wonder then, that in the latest Gallup poll on economic inequality, 67% of Americans are angry with how our nation is distributing our wealth, from the poor and working class to those selfish fools who are already more than wealthy enough.

It's long past time for those feasting on the benefits provided by the rest of us to be excused from the public trough.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Reining In The Guard Dogs

As today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many Americans have the day off from their regular jobs, as part of a national day of service. For those people who took off from work early on Friday, to try and capitalize on the three day weekend, it's likely they missed President Obama's NSA reform speech on Friday. So as part of our service to you, our readers, today, we're recapping the President's address from Friday, where he proposed several reforms to the NSA.

To say both the speech and the major reforms the President proposed have had a mixed reception would be the understatement of the year - and we're saying that knowing there are still eleven-plus months of 2014 ahead of us.

Just as Dana Liebelson of Mother Jones and Peter Grier of the Christian Science Monitor predicted, neither the security hawks or the civil libertarians were happy with the President's proposed reforms. As Greg Sargent clearly outlined though, the reforms are a good first step - but the fundamental argument between privacy and security remains unresolved.

President Obama effectively said as much in his address, noting the conflict between security and privacy.

As all of our staff members are currently or have been pet owners at one time, we tend to think of the NSA and other U.S. security services a bit like guard dogs. As an owner of a guard dog, you want the animal occasionally to come off as the biggest, meanest animal in existence, in order to scare away potential trouble.

Of course, then the problem becomes the same one the U.S. has now - how do you effectively control a beast like that?

For anti-NSA activists like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and writer Glenn Greenwald, it's no surprise they hated the President's speech and thought his reforms don't go nearly far enough. For pro-NSA politicians, including some members of Congress, the reforms the President suggested go too far. Not surprisingly, lawmakers from both major parties who were unhappy with Obama's reforms had plenty of complaints, but virtually no realistic suggestions on how to do things better.

In short, the major changes the President suggested include a public advocate role before the FISA Court, one of the major reforms initially suggested by President Obama's own reform commission. Obama also noted that spying on other world leaders is something every nation - even our allies - does, yet said he would rein in some of the surveillance our U.S. agencies do overseas. He also proposed having Congress create new policy safeguards for our U.S. surveillance activities overseas.

Finally, the President also noted that while phone call metadata collection - where someone records the phone numbers and length of the call - will continue, the number of calls catalogued will be significantly fewer. Further, the President called for a third-party agency, that is neither the NSA or the phone companies, to keep and hold the metadata - another action that will require Congress to get off their lazy asses and help solve the problem.

For what it's worth, some lawmakers from both parties did praise the President over the weekend for tackling this no-win situation, even in the midst of all the growling from both the pro- and anti-NSA camps.

We still think Greg Sargent's take on the NSA reforms hits it right on the head: It's a good start to reforming our problematic "guard dogs." That said, even with all the new reforms, we aren't going to feel comfortable, knowing the NSA and others like it will continue to stick their noses in places they don't belong.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jumping Off On An Idea

As the week winds to a close, much of the legitimate news media is still focused on the slow-motion drive off a cliff that is Gov. Chris Christie's political career. Although that story is still important, after some careful consideration, we noticed another thread winding through the news today, off the beaten path, that we thought warranted a more serious look.

While the bipartisan budget bill was far from the most progressive budget ever, on Thursday afternoon, the bill passed both the House and Senate, and went to the desk of President Obama to sign. That action is just one example of a Federal government that - after five years of perpetual Republican obstructionism - finally appears to be showing some movement again.

Even while some Republicans remain obsessed with skewed narratives about topics like Benghazi that make them feel better but aren't factually true - as Brian Beutler highlighted on Thursday - other Republicans have begun dealing with the electoral realities facing them in 2014 and 2016.

Take the newest proposal for fixing the Voting Rights Act, that the Supreme Court broke last year. Led by a bipartisan yet progressive-leaning group from both sides of Capitol Hill, a fix for the VRA was introduced Thursday that would once again strongly protect the right to vote for all Americans.

On the issue of immigration, the long push by immigrant's rights groups also seems to have finally begun to have some effect, as a growing number of GOP leaders seem to be finally accepting immigration reform as an issue they can no longer avoid. As Greg Sargent has been saying for more than a year now, if Republicans want immigration reform to happen, Democrats will be ready to pass it any time.

Even the issue of economic inequality - which still includes massive amounts of work - has seen some progress. While not as rosy a picture as Ben White paints, Wall Street regulation that Democrats in Congress and President Obama passed into law has begun to rein in some of the worst excesses of the financial moguls. Further, as Greg Sargent also noted, President Obama is even seriously considering executive action to raise the minimum wage nationwide, if Congress won't act.

On the issue of our twisted American health insurance system, a great deal of progress has been made over the last five years. On the state level, as Josh Marshall observed, Republicans are still doing everything they can to sabotage Obamacare. Still, as well-known right-wing pundit Erick Erickson admitted Thursday, a growing number of Republicans are beginning to acknowledge - finally and publicly - that they've lost their long, pointless war against the Affordable Care Act.

Small progress on multiple policy areas doesn't mean every problem in America is repaired. There is still a great deal of work to do on all the topics we mentioned, as well as other major issues like government secrecy, foreign policy, international trade, and climate change, to name a few. Some of the same forces that are currently destroying the GOP are also still a danger for the political left - like the kind of false framing that says the Democratic Party is divided into only two groups, liberals and corporate Democrats. [There are actually THREE major groups on the left: Progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Liberals like filmmaker Michael Moore, and Corporate Democrats like Rahm Immanuel.]

After we take a look at the full picture of American politics, though, the thread that's clear to us is that after five years of leadership under President Obama, America is moving in a more progressive direction.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is trying desperately to throw themselves out of the metaphorical car that Chris Christie is driving over the cliff - and they have nowhere to go but down.

Maybe 2014 won't be such a bad year to be a Democrat after all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Village Idiots Have Returned

Between the ongoing 'Bridgegate' scandal of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the mass destruction of water supplies in West Virginia, and the Republicans in the U.S. Senate shafting more than a million Americans by not extending unemployment insurance, our attention has been a bit distracted over the last day or so.

Those stories have somewhat crowded out other critical domestic news, such as the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, DC killing internet neutrality, or the House passing its part of the $1.1 trillion federal budget bill. You also might have missed some critically important foreign news stories, like the "Imprison The Gays" law in Nigeria, the ongoing war in Syria, or the tentative and early stages of the nuclear peace deal with Iran.

While all these stories have been competing for our attention, the political clowns and bullies from our home state of Nebraska have also been pulling some significant focus of attention from our staff over the last day or so.

We've never been in favor of the kind of bill proposal Nebraska state Sen. Mark Christensen introduced Tuesday, to arm school teachers with concealed handguns. We thought it was a clownish approach to school security when Sen. Christiansen proposed a similar bill in 2011. After both Antoinette Tuff in Georgia in August of 2013, and John Masterson in New Mexico this week both stopped school shooters without being personally armed, our point is validated that schools do not need more guns to stop gun violence.

Sadly, we doubt any facts on this issue will prevent Sen. Christiansen from shooting his mouth off about the topic, on his way to another likely failure of his proposed legislation.

Returning to previously failed ideas seems to be a hallmark of Nebraska's political class of clowns and fake tough-guys.

In that vein, Nebraska's little bully of a Governor, Dave Heineman, was the perfect example of this personality defect as he gave his State of the State address on Wednesday. Regardless of the report that was just released last year - after months of study by the Tax Modernization Committee - that said the state of Nebraska should NOT give a deep tax cut, Governor Heineman is now insisting that Nebraska lawmakers ignore the facts of that study and toss a tax cut to the kinds of folks he likes best.

Likely, those people include the already incredibly wealthy and astoundingly ignorant scion of the family that created TD Ameritrade, Pete Ricketts. Ricketts, who is attempting to buy his way into the Governor's mansion this year, also received the kiss of death/political endorsement of Wisconsin's extremist teabagger governor, Scott Walker, on Wednesday - effectively sealing his fate one way or another.

With all of these crazy stories, and even crazier politicians, it's a wonder our editor Amy even had time to give birth on Wednesday afternoon to a healthy five pound, twelve ounce baby girl.

Congratulations Amy & Eric. You take care of your girls at home - we'll keep an eye on the clown show while you're away.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pouring Out Responsibility

While most of the media is still focused on the Chris Christie scandal, we think it's critically important today to look not just at the issue of Gov. Christie's alleged malfeasance, but at several other major issues that all have the same problem: A severe lack of accountability.

Gov. Christie hasn't done himself any favors in that department, and he didn't help himself on Tuesday during his New Jersey 'State of the State' address. Right from the beginning, Gov. Christie used the non-committal, "Mistakes were clearly made" framing, while also saying his office would "…cooperate with all inquiries to ensure this breach of trust won't happen again."

It's important to note that Gov. Christie didn't say a similar screw-up wouldn't happen again. Just that no one else would break his trust and get caught again. That distinction is important, as Christie is already being caught in further lies about how well he knew certain people involved with the bridge scandal, or which now-former Christie aides were loyal team players.

In short, what New Jerseyans are suffering under is a severe lack of accountability from Gov. Christie's office - something more than 300,000 residents of West Virginia can relate to.

As Ana Marie Cox noted on Monday, much of the media has given grudging, if slight coverage to the equally important story of the chemical spill in West Virginia. The very real physical need of water to remain potable for hundreds of thousands, and not become some kind of deadly poison that could eat a hole through your kitchen table is generally more important than if a couple thousand people get stuck in traffic near Manhattan for a few hours.

Of course, West Virginians also would have helped their own cause if they'd actually followed multiple recommendations to add oversight, holding corporations like Freedom Industries responsible through inspections and effective regulations.

Many in the media have also been culpable in hiding the failures of both private industry and government. The perfect example of this is the failure of Congress to extend unemployment insurance.

Greg Sargent, Jonathan Cohn, and Steve Benen all made it clear that Americans who've been out of work long-term, through no fault of their own, were abandoned by Republicans on Tuesday. To make it clear: Those Americans weren't abandoned by Congress, or their government as a whole - just by GOP lawmakers. That fact, sadly, is an uncomfortable one that more than a few colleagues at places like 'The Hill' and 'Politico' attempted to run away from, with non-committal stories about "jobless aid" failing as a casualty of Congressional bickering.

The facts are clear, however, in all three of these cases.

Republicans in the Senate, led by the petty Sen. Mitch McConnell, abandoned their fellow Americans yesterday. West Virginians also made their own poisoned river over the last twenty years - with serious help from corporations tied to Koch industries and the Koch family.

As for Gov. Christie, it's obvious where the responsibility for his problems came from. It's also obvious the buck never stops with him.

It just stops, in a non-committal way.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

No Surprises Here

For all the headlines we've seen over the last 24 hours, decrying New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, or the Supreme Court, or the West Virginia chemical spill, or even the makeup of Obamacare enrollees, we have to note our relative lack of surprise at any of those stories. Even the silence among Congressional Democrats on the new Iranian sanctions bill floating around Capitol Hill, that Greg Sargent pointed out on Monday, doesn't entirely surprise us.

The fact is, 2014 is an election year, and for members of both parties up and down the ticket, virtually everything is going to be focused on getting elected, re-elected, or positioned for a higher office.

The news that some politicians are going to act like spineless, invertebrate, slugs  - especially in an election year - should be the non-event of the season.

Take Gov. Christie's ongoing Bridgegate scandal. For a man with a long history of being a bully, it's now apparent he was throwing his metaphorical weight around, canceling meetings with mayors who disagreed with him. Christie generally being, well… a bully hasn't really surprised many folks. A Pew poll taken since last Thursday shows that the opinion of Chris Christie by most Americans remains largely unchanged since this scandal took over the front pages of most newspaper and news websites - likely because Americans already thought Christie was a typical, mean, slightly corrupt New Jersey politician.

The chemical spill in West Virginia shouldn't be much of a surprise to Americans, either. Yes, as Ana Marie Cox noted in The Guardian on Monday, the West Virginia disaster is a more important story than the Christie scandal in many ways. That said, as Sally Kohn pointed out in The Daily Beast, as more public delivery and safety systems have been privatized, and regulations have been weakened, more of these man-made disasters have been popping up all over the nation, from Texas, to North Dakota, and beyond.

The type of enrollees already signed up for Obamacare also shouldn't surprise anyone. Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff notes that one in four Obamacare enrollees are currently young adults, a number that's below the optimal target. However, as Jonathan Cohn from The New Republic spotlighted, just like with Romneycare in Massachusetts, younger people are waiting until the last minute before they get their enrollment completed.

What looks to be happening at the Supreme Court isn't much of a surprise either, given the high Court's current right-wing majority. That the Court looks likely to try to limit the power of the presidency under Mr. Obama, when they seemed perfectly fine with George W. Bush's multiple overreaches of executive power isn't much of a surprise.

Even the latest literary release coming out that reveals Fox News chief Roger Ailes to be a classless slug, to the book from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that most of the media didn't actually read and just blasted through their own partisan lens, none of the headlines we saw over the last day or so really surprised us.

Maybe we're jaded after Paul's fantastic vacation, or maybe we're dulled in anticipation of our editor Amy's new baby.

Maybe it's just that the slugs, thugs, bullies, and criminals are all exactly who we expected them to be.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Real Cost Of Quality Journalism

As another week begins, in the wake of another awards show last night, we thought about some of our colleagues in the media who really deserve awards, but won't likely ever get the kind of recognition you may have seen featured at the Golden Globes last night.

It's not easy being a journalist today, either in the U.S. or abroad. The wars abroad, especially the civil war in Syria, killed 70 journalists last year. That number doesn't even include those journalists jailed for simply doing their jobs, in places like Egypt. Domestically, Congress is still so bogged down with Republican obstructionism even K Street lobbyists are looking for side jobs. Both corporate media and politicians are also disgustingly beholden to ideological zealots like the Koch Brothers, making corruption in both politics and private business harder than ever for journalists to uncover.

If it were strictly up to the media minders at places like Fox, or some of the other right-wing media outlets, they'd keep the general public buried in nonsense, like the new book by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, or the latest hickup in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act - and not the serious corruption involved in two very major stories over the last week.

That's why we're incredibly grateful to ethical local journalists, and the ethical national journalists that followed the lead of the local reporters on both "Bridgegate" - the ongoing corruption scandal of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie - and the ongoing chemical disaster in West Virginia that's kept 300,000 Americans without any clean, useable water for nearly a week.

Gov. Christie's scandal, as we noted twice last week, is not only terrifying, politically. It's also nearly impossible to believe he didn't have some knowledge of what was going on. What should terrify Republicans even more is that as flawed as Christie's corruption scandal may show him to be, he is still considered the leading candidate for the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential race.

A similar kind of corruption has also become evident in the massive chemical spill in West Virginia. West Virginia officials knew about the very real danger of the coal mining chemicals Freedom Industries corporation was storing right next to the river that supplies drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians, yet they did nothing. Both local and national media outlets have asked the same very valid question: Why wasn't there a plan - and why wasn't West Virginia better prepared for such a spill?

That kind of hidden disaster, by the way, is the exact reason so many Nebraskans have absolutely no desire to have the northern leg of the Keystone pipeline driven through Nebraska - a fact we've made clear multiple times before. When - and it will be 'when' and not 'if' - that pipeline has a leak, it could poison the primary water source for hundreds of thousands of Americans throughout the Midwest, including the farmers who feed the millions of Americans across the nation.

Neither of these very real scandals would have been exposed without the efforts of quality journalists, who likely won't be featured on a major televised awards show anytime soon.

So later today, when one corporate media website or another tries to gin up interest or clicks hyping some fake fight between celebrities at the Golden Globes, or jumping up and down about the latest minor problem with Obamacare, remember who showed you the real scandals this past week. Then buy a copy of your local newspaper, or pay that small fee to browse your favorite news outlet online, willingly.

The cost of not paying real journalists is being buried in lies by those who are corrupt.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Resolving To Be Positive

As another frustrating week filled with arrogant political bullies like Gov. Chris Christie, maddeningly selfish Republicans in Congress, and crazy commenters from all over the political spectrum comes to a close, we thought it might be good to step back and get a little perspective today.

This week, our Editor-In-Chief, Paul Fell, had a great birthday present, in his extended holiday vacation. Next week, our Copy Editor, Amy, will begin her sabbatical as she gives birth to her second child. In short, some very important and positive things are going on outside of the pixels you read here every weekday.

Frankly, most Americans could use to concentrate on more of those kinds of positive experiences in life - a fact we were reminded of yesterday by Guardian writer Jill Filipovic, courtesy of Ryan Cooper over at Greg Sargent's Plum Line.

Filipovic wrote a short column about her New Years resolution for 2014 - an idea initially that might make most experienced members of the media click right past her column. As Ryan Cooper pointed out, and as Filipovic thoroughly reminded us, we could all use to be a bit more kind, generous, and humble online - especially in our political discussions.

The dialogue over extending long-term unemployment insurance going on in Congress is a perfect example of a discussion that needs a bit more generosity. After Sen. Reid and Democrats offered Senate Republicans what the Republicans had said they wanted? Republicans refused the Democrats offer, placing the jobless bill into a procedural black hole, while yanking hope away from more than a million Americans.

Gov. Chris Christie was generating his own kind of frustrating discussions yesterday, after giving a 108 minute press conference, reminiscent of a scene from the TV show "The West Wing." In that press conference, Christie repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing of the traffic blockade ordered by someone in his administration last September, in Fort Lee, just across the Hudson from Manhattan.

In a different, less-connected time, maybe there are those who would have believed the governor. After all, just over two weeks ago, Gov. Christie claimed his staff had given him a "full briefing" on what some are now calling "Bridgegate."

In today's world though, we simply can't believe the Governor that easily. There are just too many questions, ones like those Josh Barro of Business Insider asked - which were some of the exact same questions our own staff had. For example, how could Christie not know what was going on at the George Washington bridge? The traffic jam was right before the 9/11 anniversary, on the busiest bridge in the world, leading directly from New Jersey into Manhattan. It also went on for FOUR days. In our hyper-connected modern world, how does a person in Gov. Christie's position NOT know a problem like that is going on? It's hard for us to believe Gov. Christie isn't either a very disconnected manager of people or a very incompetent storyteller.

Either way, in light of Ms. Filipovic's suggestion, we've resolved not to be as harsh in our language today about either Gov. Christie or the Republicans in Congress as otherwise we might have been.

For the sake of those like the screaming tea partiers, Congressional Republicans,  or Gov. Christie, people who disagree with us might hope that we succeed far into this year with our collective New Year's resolution for comity.

Just don't bet on us succeeding.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christie's Full Stop

Far too often in the media today, when real news gets a little slow, fake controversies - non-troversies, as we sometimes call them - seem to flood our 24/7 media landscape.

We were treated to an example of this kind of non-troversy last week, when most of the propagandists on the political right went after MSNBC TV host Melissa Harris-Perry. Two of her guests made a joke about Mitt Romney's adopted grandchild, and the non-troversy backed up from there, causing fake outrage to block out some of the other more important news last week, like a traffic jam blocking more important traffic from getting through.

In truth, when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow first began covering the scandal of Governor Chris Christie and the traffic jam on the George Washington bridge - one of the busiest bridges in the world, just north of Manhattan - we honestly thought her producers may have been trying to create another one of those non-troversies.

After the most recent developments in the Christie scandal on Wednesday, however, we've realized two very important things.

The first thing we realized is that, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is one of the most bombastic, loud, obnoxious, direct, mean politicians in America today, the Tea Party still apparently doesn't think he's crazy enough for them to support. After all - Christie hugged President Obama after Hurricane Sandy, and most Tea Partiers still think that's a mortal sin.

The second thing we realized is that, once again, Ms. Maddow has some of the best producers in the media industry - and that this story about Gov. Christie using state resources to inflict a personal political payback isn't just a nonsense non-troversy.

In case you'd missed it, a story surfaced recently about the small town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, located just on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan. The story implicated some top appointees of Gov. Christie in a scandal in which those appointees - potentially at the behest of Gov. Christie - created a massive traffic jam as political retribution to Fort Lee's mayor. Not only did the traffic disaster disrupt business for nearly a week - but it delayed emergency service workers, leading to the death of a 91-year-old woman, thanks to the gridlocked bridge.

In short, the bridge blockade is the kind of blatant abuse of power that some Americans might associate with the days of Tammany Hall, or the days of the original Mayor Daley in Chicago. Or, as Jon Stewart noted last night on The Daily Show, the kind of first-rate political corruption that New Jersey is legendary for.

That the e-mail correspondence now coming out surrounding the story heavily suggests that Gov. Christie may have called for his appointees to take political payback is scary enough. When you add in the fact that some very astute political pundits believe New Jersey Gov. Christie is one of the best chances the GOP has to win the Presidency in 2016, the story becomes absolutely terrifying.

Pulling off the kind of abuse of power Chris Christie now appears to have been involved with takes an enormous amount of chutzpah. It takes a special kind of evil insanity to do something like that and not end up getting convicted later - for example, like Dick Cheney did with Iraq.

From the Tea Partiers we know, Christie's just not crazy enough - or the right kind of crazy - to win their support for a 2016 run for the presidency.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hanging By A Thread

While most of America continued to freeze on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate saw a small but measurable political thaw on the issue of extending unemployment insurance for over a million Americans.

As Greg Sargent noted, Tuesday's Senate vote was a small but surprising step forward but there's still a very long way to go. Chris Cillizza agreed with Sargent: Six Republicans voting to join with Democrats in moving the bill forward was a shocker, even if the vote was only to allow the Senate to debate the bill, and wasn't a vote over the actual bill itself.

Still, considering the Republicans in this Congress, we'll take almost any action even resembling good governing practices. Suggestions by some of the more extreme Republican members of Congress, to some of their own constituents who still can't find a job after a long and fruitless search, have effectively boiled down to "go find a set of rafters and an ugly tie."

Some Republicans in the House have become so detached from the concerns of the millions of suffering, unemployed Americans who want jobs, that their own Republican House leadership had to send out a memo this week coaching GOP House members on how to talk - and how NOT to talk - about unemployment. Still, that memo is small progress.

Greg Sargent also noted another sign of progress on Tuesday that a growing number of Republicans in Congress seem to be softening their approach to the unemployed with a more realistic and less disgusting position than "go hang." Those Republicans now seem to have finally changed their tune from insisting the unemployment insurance extension isn't necessary to accepting they'll need to find a way to pay for it.

For those progressive and liberal Democrats who have a decent memory, this pattern of refusal followed by acceptance should ring a bell, as Republicans and Democrats danced similar steps four years ago, when Congress let unemployment insurance lapse around the holiday season in 2010.

Then, like now, some pundits were saying Republicans had never refused to extend unemployment insurance when the unemployment rate was in it's current position. Of course, as Arthur Delany of the Huffington Post reported back then, and as we noted at the time, Republicans have indeed been convinced to extend UI before, when Democrats were able to push them into finding money in the budget for it.

So the problem is obviously not that Republicans can't be convinced to help their fellow Americans.

As Josh Barro noted yesterday in Business Insider, the real problem is that modern Republicans don't actually have an anti-poverty agenda. In fact, as Barro notes further, Republicans don't currently have any realistic plans that would address the major economic issues facing the majority of Americans.

Even if they did have ideas, as Danny Vinik points out, the extremism of the screaming far right has painted the current Republican Party into a corner, and politically emasculated them to the point where they couldn't help struggling poor and middle-class Americans even if they wanted to.

That some few Republicans - at least six in the Senate - are even willing to try to buck their party to help those desperately struggling Americans is at least a small sign of progress.

For now, that small success is what Americans have to hang their political hopes on.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Frozen In Place

While the Senate appeared almost frozen in place at times on Monday, at least they showed up and did some work, voting to make Janet Yellin the first female head of the Fed. Many other places across the nation were already in a state of closure on Monday, like the city of Indianapolis, which made it illegal to drive anywhere unless it was an emergency. JetBlue airlines grounded flights for 17 hours at four of the busiest airports in America on Monday, and firefighters lost a battle with a house fire in Iowa after their hoses froze.

In short, thanks to a phenomenon known as a 'polar vortex,' much of America became frozen in place yesterday and today as the temperatures across most of the United States are colder right now than any of us have seen in several decades - and that isn't even counting the brutal wind chills.

Not surprisingly, the Fightin' 101st Keyboard Kommandos of the Climate Change Denier Brigades scurried to their 'battle posts' online, throughout the right-wing corporate-controlled media, to denounce and poke fun at both scientists and reality. By their "reasoning" (for lack of a better term), the fact that much of North America is bitterly cold right now negates the possibility that the overall temperature of the planet has been on a constant warming trend for decades. Their oversimplified view of the world also conveniently ignores that while North Americans are freezing our backsides off, Australia is experiencing a record summer heat wave. In other words, local weather and worldwide climate aren't the same thing.

As many science-savvy members of the media - including Jason Samenow of the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang - reminded the nation Monday, the polar vortex in no way disproves climate change. In fact, as Eric Holthaus covered in both Quartz and The Daily Beast on Monday, global climate change can actually make both cold snaps and heat waves even worse.

As the world's overall average temperature rises, areas that were once cooler will become warmer - and when they do, their warmer-than-usual temperature will cause the jet stream to slow down. That slowing down is like an area rug bunching up at the edge of a threshold - higher peaks of heat and moisture are pushed closer together with deep valleys of cold dry air. This leads to peaks of unusually warm weather, followed by crashes into valleys of unusually cold weather - just as much of the country  has been experiencing right now.

Whether or not you or anyone believes in the science of climate change, the great - and also horrible - thing about science is that it doesn't care what your personal beliefs are, or what deity you worship. Science is exactly the same for everyone, animals and humans alike, and the facts that science support don't change that.

We might tell you to pass that simple fact on to a climate change denier you know - but we have a feeling the simple of truth of that statement might freeze up their willfully ignorant little minds.

Stay warm and safe, whatever you believe. Frostbite, like both polar bears and science, doesn't care what you believe in either.