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Last year’s weather was weird and wet and hot.

In an announcement Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2015 was the second-hottest year on record for the United States, with an average temperature of 54.4° Fahrenheit, 2.4° over last century’s average. Montana, Florida, Oregon, and Washington had a record warm year. The month of December hit record temperatures 6° above last century’s average.

It was also one of the wettest years on record, coming in third with 4.53 inches of precipitation above average. But rainfall, snow, and sleet were not universally high. While the middle of the country and the Southeast had more precipitation than average, the Northeast and the Western United States—still experiencing epic drought—received less. Oklahoma and Texas broke records, with floods to match. There was some good news though: The area impacted by drought decreased by about 10 percent nationally.

This year, ten weather- and climate-related disasters—reading like a list of plagues: drought, flood, wildfires, and severe storms—cost $1 billion and 155 lives. The U.S. Climate Extremes Index, which keeps tabs on extreme climate events, was at 70 in 2015. 

NOAA will release the full annual report January 13. 

December 08, 2016

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Nigel Farage had an even better 2016 than Donald Trump.

Barring some dramatic turnaround, the Brexit leader and former head of the UK Independent Party has accomplished his longtime goal of ejecting the United Kingdom from the European Union. Moreover, as Thursday’s Bloomberg Businessweek profile makes clear, he’s gone from leading a small, anti-immigration political party—which only recently got a major foothold in British politics—to being a worldwide symbol of what he sees as a populist uprising and white working class backlash.

Farage is now beginning a whole new act in American politics. He appeared at a campaign rally this year with Trump, who, Businessweek’s Joshua Green writes, “adopted Farage as something between a talisman and a mascot” and promised an election result that would be “Brexit times 50.” After delivering on that promise, the president-elect made sure Farage was the first foreign politician he met with and even lobbied on Twitter for Farage to be Britain’s ambassador to the United States.

Now Farage is running around Washington as a right-wing celebrity among Republicans, going to parties, taking selfies with admirers, and pitching members of Congress like Senator Rand Paul on his latest political project: a bilateral trade agreement between America and the United Kingdom. “His ideas will always be listened to seriously in a Trump White House,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, told the magazine.

The best part for Farage is that he has no real responsibilities. He can bask in his newfound influence and celebrity, and promote his agenda—which partly is to promote himself. But unlike Trump, he doesn’t bear the burden of actually having to govern.

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Rest assured: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg says fake news didn’t sway the election.

Facebook, you may have heard, has a fake news problem. That is a problem because Facebook has a stranglehold on news distribution online, which means that Facebook itself is the problem.

A week after Donald Trump’s election, it was revealed that the company had a fix for fake news, but didn’t roll it out, presumably to avoid pissing off lunatics and other people who love posting crazy stuff online. Mark Zuckerberg has since addressed the issue, outlining steps to curb the dissemination of fake news posts. But Zuckerberg has also, as my colleague Sarah Jones notes, refused to take real responsibility for the crisis, saying that “of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic” and that “identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated.”

With the controversy still swirling, Facebook sent celebrity feminism avatar Sheryl Sandberg to the Today Show to calm everyone down. “There have been claims that it swayed the election, and we don’t think it swayed the election,’’ Sandberg told Savannah Guthrie. “But we take that responsibility really seriously. And we’re looking at things, like working with third parties, helping to label false news, doing the things we can do to make it clearer what’s a hoax on Facebook.”

There are a few problems here, however. The first is that Hillary Clinton lost a number of key states by fewer than 100,000 votes. Without evidence, Facebook’s insistence that it did not play a major role in the election should be treated with an enormous amount of skepticism, considering that a lot of Americans get their news from the social network.

Second, Facebook’s market-oriented response to the problem does not ameliorate any of these concerns. “We know that people don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook, and we don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook,” Sandberg told Guthrie. “And so we’re working on it because misinformation is something we take seriously and something we’re going to continue to iterate on the service.” Facebook cares about fake news only because it cares about “user experience,” not because it is invested in nurturing a new kind of public discourse after it disrupted the old kind. This problem won’t go away until Facebook takes that responsibility seriously.

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If Donald Trump keeps being a bully on Twitter, someone’s going to get hurt.

Last night, Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999, was quoted in a CNN segment saying that the president-elect had “lied his ass off” about the deal to save jobs at the Carrier plant in Indiana. According to Jones, only 730 union jobs were being saved (Trump had given the figure of 1,100, but that included non-union jobs that were not going to be out-sourced).

Trump responded with two petulant tweets attacking Jones and the union:

Trump has more than 17 million Twitter followers, and some of them took Trump’s words as a call to harass Jones in real life. As The Washington Post reports:

Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

The incoming president of the United States is using social media to launch personal attacks against private citizens that have criticized him. This behavior, one of the many ways that Trump is violating the norms that govern his office, could lead to real violence.

December 07, 2016

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Joe Biden is the only person enjoying Trump’s transition.

While most everyone else, including the president-elect, seems to be in a foul mood amid the formation of a new cabinet, the outgoing vice president is having a ball, engaging in multiple consecutive days of trolling. Last night, he joked about making an improbable third run for the presidency against Trump in 2020—at which point Biden will be 77 years old. “I mean, hell, Donald Trump’s gonna be 74. I’ll be 77 and in better shape,” he told Stephen Colbert. “I mean, what the hell?”

Biden was even more provocative on Capitol Hill Monday, saying, “I’m going to run,” while also adding, for good measure, “What the hell, man.”

“I’m not committing not to run,” he told reporters. “I’m not committing to anything.”

No one’s quite sure what Biden’s playing at here, but maybe he’s simply resolved to enjoy himself in his final days in office. As I’ve previously argued, his legacy is better off if he doesn’t ever seek the White House again, but floating the idea is certainly one way to make sure he’s not forgotten in the administration’s waning days.

When NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell pressed him on a run as he walked into a meeting with House Democrats Tuesday, Biden smiled and joked, “I’m going to announce right now.”

Know who else was Time’s Person of the Year?

Bono. But also Hitler, in 1938, as was pointed out repeatedly on Wednesday. Remember, the Person of the Year isn’t necessarily heroic or even admirable. Time simply bestows the distinction on “the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year.”

Some, however, are noting some similarities between Trump’s Person of the Year cover and a separate Time cover of Hitler from April 14, 1941. Coincidence?

Donald Trump saved Christmas!

At least, that’s how reporter-grabber and professional mad person Corey Lewandowski sees it:

Lewandowski is not exactly known for his sense of humor—he can charitably be described as “intense”—but it is tempting to say that he’s joking here. (You can’t ever tell if Lewandowski is joking because his blood is 85 percent Monster energy drink and that has an effect on the nerves.) Lewandowski goes on to say that America will need immigrants by the time Trump is done because he’ll be creating so many jobs, seemingly ignoring the fact that the unemployment rate is at its lowest point in a decade. Elsewhere in the interview he claims that Trump will have done more in four years than Obama did in eight years. Lewandowski and his boss have one thing in common: a love of hyperbole.

But with all of the fuss over more important issues (racism, conflicts of interest, Pizzagate), we’ve forgotten that Trump’s anti-Happy Holidays position is among his strangest and longest-held, even if he isn’t particularly consistent on that front. However, Trump’s attraction to “Merry Christmas” was never based on his religious belief, it was based on it being a (practically audible) dog whistle to those who believe that America is being threatened by multiculturalism. Lewandowski declaring victory over the SJWs who won’t write “Trump” on a coffee cup carries a separate message: He’s telling his followers—white people—that “we” won.

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Is Ohio about to ban abortion?

It’s close. Both chambers of the state legislature have now passed the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion after doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat. If Gov. John Kasich signs it, or allows it to become law by refusing to act, Ohio women will find it virtually impossible to access abortion. 

Via WCMH-TV Columbus:

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said the move would block access to abortion before most women even know they’re pregnant. “This bill would effectively outlaw abortion and criminalize physicians that provide this care to their patients,” said Kellie Copeland, the group’s executive director.

The Heartbeat Bill has existed in different iterations since it was originally introduced during Ohio’s 2011-2012 legislative session. But its supporters always had the same goal: banning abortion. “This is just flat out the right thing to do,” its current sponsor, state Rep. Kris Jordan (R), told the press. “It affords the most important liberty of all—the opportunity to live.”

The Heartbeat Bill does not provide an exception for rape or incest. It’s so extreme it even divided Ohio’s pro-life activists. Ohio Right to Life has refused to endorse the bill in any of its iterations, citing its probable unconstitutionality. Kasich refused to sign its earlier versions for similar reasons.  

But the situation is different now. Jordan and his fellow extremists have attached it as an amendment to a child-welfare bill, and that puts Kasich in a difficult position. If he fails to act in 10 days, it automatically becomes law. Donald Trump is also president, and Republicans control both chambers of Congress. A conservative replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia could give the Heartbeat Bill a fighting chance if it ever reaches the nation’s highest court.

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Donald Trump has already neutered the deficit hawks in the GOP.

TIME magazine announced its 2016 Person of the Year on Wednesday and it was not at all surprising. Moving away from “you” and “person ruining Germany,” the magazine selected Trump. They also made him sit in a ratty chair.

The accompanying cover story is good. There’s talk about the gulf between Trump and his voters (he’s rich, they’re not); the power of Trump’s gut instinct, which both propelled him to the presidency and will likely be his biggest liability in the White House; and Trump’s total inability to take responsibility for the horrific forces his candidacy has unleashed. Reflecting on Trump’s insistence that crime is out of control, despite a wealth of statistical evidence to the contrary, Michael Scherer distills Trump’s worldview: “The world is zero-sum, full of the irredeemable killers that Obama’s idealism fails to see.”

But Scherer also gets at what may have been the second-most important force driving Trump’s victory: his departure from decades of party orthodoxy. This paragraph is key:

While Trump offered public words of support for the Iraq War at the time, he sees George W. Bush’s great adventure as a disaster now. He rejects wholesale the social conservative campaign to keep transgender people out of the bathrooms they choose, but promises to reward conservative ideologues with a Supreme Court Justice of their liking. And he has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.” The next day, the third-quarter gross-domestic-product estimates would be released, showing an increase of 3.2%, up from 1.4% earlier in the year.

If the unified government that will take over Washington on January 20 has a fault line, this is it. Thanks to polarization, gerrymandering, and dark money, Congress is full of conservative ideologues and Trump has made it clear that he has little patience for ideologues. You can see that Trump is willing to carrot-and-stick it with Congress, giving them a conservative Supreme Court justice—perhaps the biggest prize there is—with the expectation that they will follow his tune when it comes to the economy. Deficit hawks, after all, tend not to be so hawkish when they’re in control. Carping about America’s balance sheet is a political tactic as much as anything else, a clever way of arguing that the other party is irresponsible.

For Republicans, it’s also been a dog whistle—the deficit means “the government is spending too much on nonwhite people”—and Trump’s knack for demagogic scapegoating makes it less relevant than it has been in decades. That dog whistle was key to the Tea Party’s success, and while Trump may differ from that group ideologically, he’s speaking their language when it comes to identity.

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The report that the Pope condemned fake news as a sin is itself a kind of fake news.

This morning, Reuters published a story with the catchy headline, “Pope warns media over ‘sin’ of spreading fake news, smearing politicians.” To go by the headline, you might think the Pope is weighing in on how fake news contributed to the election of Donald Trump. But a closer inspection of Francis’s actual words show they have nothing to do with fake news at all, but rather are a standard warning against slander and scandal-mongering. It’s hardly news for a clergyman to condemn slander, which has been a sin since at least the biblical injunction against bearing false witness.

Tellingly, the Pope condemned even truthful scandal-mongering. As quoted by Reuters, he said, “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into—no offense intended—the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true.” Coprophagia literally meaning eating excrement. The Pope doesn’t seem to care whether that excrement is real or not; he is saying that the love of spreading damaging and hurtful information about other people is morally dubious.

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Thomas Piketty’s latest opus paints a grim picture of income inequality in America.

Piketty and the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have released a study showing that fully one half of the American population has been “completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.” This means that while the economy has nearly doubled in size in that time period, roughly 120 million working adults have seen no income growth, even when you factor in the income transfers they receive from the government. While other studies have shown similar findings, this is considered the most sweeping, revealing “the full impact that tax payments, government spending, noncash benefits, and nontaxable income together have on inequality,” according to The New York Times.

The vast majority of the wealth produced in the last three and a half decades went, of course, to the very rich, who largely made their money through investments, as opposed to salary.

The dynamic on display here, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, at least partly explains the deep economic dissatisfaction that turned 2016 into a change election—despite the fact that President Barack Obama is leaving the economy in ostensibly good shape. The punch line is that Donald Trump’s proposed policies will only broaden inequality in this country: His tax cuts would deprive the government’s coffers of $6.2 trillion in revenue over the course of ten years, according to the Tax Policy Center. This is an almost comically bad proposal. “There have never been any legislative proposals that I’m aware of that would come anywhere near $5 (trillion) to $6 trillion in deficits over a decade,” Len Burman, one of the report’s authors, told The San Francisco Chronicle in October.

Whether Trump will follow through on his wild pledges now that he’s about to take control of the White House is another question. But it’s worth noting that there was only one candidate who was actually going to try to reverse this state of affairs.