Monday Reads: Oh, I wish I was in the land of data …

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Good Morning!

I’m forever aghast at the number of folks that prefer tropes and memes to actually investigating what works and doesn’t work for the economy.  It’s a bit like watching people rush to that wagon where the snake oil salesman promises a miracle cure.  Meanwhile, back here in the land of data, we use the scientific method.  Wishful thinking just doesn’t cure math deficiency.

Of all the myths and falsehoods that Republicans have spread about President Obama, the most pernicious and long-lasting is that the $832 billion stimulus package did not work. Since 2009, Republican lawmakers have inextricably linked the words “failed” and “stimulus,” and last week, five years after passage of the Recovery Act, they dusted off their old playbook again.

“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” wrote Speaker John Boehner. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ ”

The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed. But put simply, it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

And yet Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.

So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.

This may be the singular tragedy of the Obama administration. Five years later, it is clear to all fair-minded economists that the stimulus did work, and that it did enormous good for the economy and for tens of millions of people. But because it fell short of its goals, and was roundly ridiculed by Republicans and inadequately defended by Democrats, who should have trumpeted its success, the president’s stimulus plan is now widely considered a stumble.

There are so many people that would rather look at what’s in front of their nose rather than examine information over time and look for trend and random events.  Did you know that  January 2014 was the 4th warmest on record for our world?

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But it turns out that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this January was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest January on record. It was also the 38th January in a row that boasted temperatures above the average for the 20th century: temperatures were 1.17 degrees above average globally.

You have to go all the way back to 1976 – the year Paul McCartney and Wings made it to #1 with “Silly Love Songs” and Elton John and Kiki Dee followed close on their heels with #2′s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, to find a below average temperature for January.

Think about it: If February’s temperatures are also above average, we will have seen 29 years since the last month of below average temperatures.
And global warming deniers never once mentioned California’s drought. It was as though it was not even happening. But these extremes of weather are predicted by the scientific model. Instead of intelligent discourse, we had Todd Akin (R-MO) claiming back in 2009that regulating CO2 will make the seasons stop,” showing he knows no more about climate science than he does about biology. That same year we saw Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) say that because CO2 is in Coca Cola that it is safe and should not be regulated. More recently, we getTony Perkins asserting there is more evidence that God is behind “hurricanes and storms” than there is for climate change. We get David Barton saying last October that abortion is really to blame for climate change. And we get Glenn Beck claiming those who deny climate change will shortly be sent to internment camps.
In other words, you are not going to get an intelligent debate on climate change from Republicans. And Beck, who is a genre unto himself? Nice a fantasy as this is, it’s not going to happen.

What is going to happen to everyone is going to be much worse than internment if something isn’t done. The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet would mean sea levels rising more than 200 feet. If you want to know what the world will look like then, go to National Geographic and take a look.

Keith Brekhus reported here in January that “the Australian based Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science has released a new study arguing that climate models have underestimated the extent to which the doubling of carbon dioxide will affect global surface temperatures.” What we get in response is the Exxon-funded Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change telling us that CO2 is actually good for us, and that global warming will be beneficial, and that anyway, the fact that the planet is warming and that CO2 emissions are increasing, is not evidence of causation.

When Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says that CO2 is good for plants it is because that is what Exxon and other fossil fuel giants are paying her to say.

trappedIt’s equally interesting that a law denying rights to GLBTs  boils down to a few crazy businesses that don’t want to send wedding accouterments  to gay couples because OMG! Have any of these folks ever read about the abuses that lead to our Constitutional concept of religious liberty? Do they think really think that selling a wedding cake is the same as subjecting oneself to the Inquisition?

The Arizona law seems to apply to services beyond those tied to weddings, but same-sex weddings are the impetus for these bills. Specifically, they are in response to lawsuits against three different Christians who refused to photograph, bake a cake, and sell flowers for same-sex weddings. The backers of these laws claim that a Christian cannot, in good conscience, provide a good or service for a same-sex wedding because it violates the teachings of Christianity.

If these bills become law, we could see same-sex couples being denied service not just by photographers and florists, but also restaurants and hotels and pretty much anyone else who can tie their discrimination to a religious belief.

Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.

Strangely, conservative Christians seem to have little interest in this level of analysis and jump right to complaints about their legal and constitutional rights. It’s not that these rights don’t matter. Rather, they should be a secondary issue for Christians. Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.

Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does.

Okay, and now for something about True Detective.  It’s my latest addiction and I fully confess  that I passed it on to BostonBoomer, my sister, and Doctor Daughter. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT)Screen-Shot-2014-02-21-at-12.00.26-AM

David Haglund: This show gets into your head something fierce. About halfway through this episode, called “Haunted Houses,” Rust’s commanding officer chews out his subordinate for bothering people about the long-since-closed Dora Lange case. My eye flashed to the officer’s nameplate: Leroy Salter (played by Paul Ben-Victor, by the way, also known as Vondas from The Wire). Leroy … that derives from French for “the king.” As in the Yellow King? And what could “salter” mean?

Before I could start Googling surname origins, Rust began spouting his theories about a high-reaching murderous conspiracy and, for the first time (in my book, anyway), they sounded like the mad ravings of a paranoid. I recalled that Satan-themed T-shirt on one of the jailed boys who had sex with Marty’s daughter—a shirt that sported a black star or two—and thought about how sometimes the signifiers of devil worship are just for show. The ground beneath me started to shift.

Bring me back from the brink, Willa.

I haven’t had this much fun since Twin Peaks.

I’ve been haunted by this song since I started watching the series.  The music track is as haunting as the imagery and the story line.  It’s chosen by T Bone Burnett who is an artist I’ve had the pleasure to mic and mix.  I love the Train Song By Vashti Bunyan and it’s perfectly placed in the series.

BTW, do you watch “Big Bang Theory”?  I hope you know that  Mayim Bialik who plays Amy Farrah Fowler actually has a doctorate in neuroscience.  You can’t do many advanced degrees without a lot of calculus. I actually started to like math when I went into the part that wasn’t bounded as finite.  Most folks may remember her as Blossom but …

During a red carpet interview at the SAG awards this January, the actress was forced into an awkward situation after Bono’s doppelganger tried to asked her if people assume that she can do advanced math because she plays a smart character on TV. As it turns out, she can do calculus in her sleep because she’s secretly a neuroscientist. And by secretly, I mean she publicly taught for several years, wrote a book about the science of hormones for parenting and has given several public (and very recent) lectures about the importance of investing in STEM careers and research. Oh and she’s also the official spokesperson for Texas Instruments graphing calculators.

She’s a scientist and an actress.

Just one more thing …

I know my fiction from my fact. I’m not so sure that’s true about a lot of policy makers these days of the Republican Persuasion.


Monday Reads: Resolved, to fight the Republican Reality Denial Machine

11344-Collectors_snowglobes_headerGood Morning!

The temperatures will be dropping here in New Orleans much like the rest of the east coast.  We’re actually going to get into temps that I’ve never experienced here.  It may get into the lower 20s and close to the teens.    Needless to say, my house was not built with this in mind. My furnace has really been working over time this month.  Folks in Australia are experiencing record highs.   It helps to think of the airport in Richmond, Australia which hit 110 F on Sunday.

The weather deniers all point to our winter as proof positive that there is no global warming.  Well, Duh, folks!  Look at Summer 2013 in Austrailia which just moved into summer 2014.  The continent has had the  hottest weather on record and they’ve experienced horrible wild fires.  Their hottest days happen in January!   Global warming is about extremes and how the warming shifts patterns around the globe and the poles.

In its annual climate statement report, the bureau highlighted the influence of carbon emissions upon the warming trend, stating: “The Australian region warming is very similar to that seen at the global scale and the past year emphasises that the warming trend continues.

“As summarised in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, recent warming trends have been dominated by the influence of increasing greenhouse gases and the enhanced greenhouse effect.”

The bureau said sea surface temperatures were “unusually warm” in 2013, with preliminary data placing the year at 0.51C above the long-term average. Warming oceans pose a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef, with coral bleaching contributing to the ecosystem losing half of its coral cover in the past 30 years.

Nationally, rainfall was 37mm below the long-term average in 2013, ranking it as the 52nd driest year on record.

In fact, it’s been so hot in Australia they had to put a new color on the map.

As scorching temperatures persist across Australia, the country’s Bureau of Meteorologyadded a new color to its weather forecasting map, extending the range to 54ºC, or 129ºF, from the previous cap of 50ºC, or 122ºF.

The new, deeper purple “dome of heat” swirls above South Australia, indicating temperatures above 50ºC in some areas.

This goes hand-in-hand with increasing republican denial of evolution.   Bill Nye the Science guy is headed to Kentucky to debate scientific fact vs magical thinking.  He’ll never convince a young earth creationist that he’s wrong, but will the publicity perhaps knock some sense into a few school boards?

Science popularizer and TV personality Bill Nye is headed to Kentucky to advocate for the theory of evolution in a debate against Ken Ham, a Christian proponent of creationism and founder of the Creation Museum. The debate is scheduled for Feb. 4 at the museum in Petersburg, KY., according to an announcement Ham posted on Facebook Thursday and a subsequent press release on the event.

While Ham has declined debate requests from “mocking, strident evolutionists,” the statement from Ham’s creationism group Answers in Genesis describes Nye as “a serious advocate for his beliefs, [whose] opinions carry weight in society.”

I’ve always had problems with evolution and atheism being classified as a belief at all, let alone a strident one.  Just because you insist folks believe in untrue things makes you strident?  I guess it’s because if you’re into pushing your agenda and proselytizing, you think that’s the goal of every one.  How is nonbelief a belief?  How is showing people data and facts gleaned through nearly 100 years of scientists using the scientific method and just stating the theories some kind of advocacy?

The Senate is set to take up the extension of long term unemployment benefits. How willing will Republicans be to actually have a discussion on new extensions even though they are low cost compared to the impact on the economy.  This shows that Republicans continue to live in a world of ideology that does not respect the actual data that shows they are truly wrong.

At the same time, a number of Republicans – including leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee – continue to question the need to extend the unemployment insurance (UI) benefits at all.

“Despite a dozen extensions, academic research suggests the program has actually hurt, rather than helped, the job creation that the unemployed need most,” Michelle Dimarob, spokesperson for Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said Friday in a statement.

“It is time to focus on policies that will actually lead to real economic opportunities for families who are trying to get back on their feet and back into the workplace.”

The comments came as President Obama and congressional Democrats are amplifying their pressure on Boehner to extend the benefits to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their state help.

An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers lost those benefits on Dec. 28, after GOP leaders rejected the Democrats’ efforts to extend the help as part of a bipartisan budget deal.

The debate will intensify next week, with Senate Democrats planning a vote on a three-month renewal.

Sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the proposal would not offset the estimated $6.4 billion in costs, setting the stage for a potential showdown with Boehner and the Republicans if the bill is sent to the House.

Rhode Island and Nevada have the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 9 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We lose money when we do not provide these benefits.

Unemployment benefits are one of the more effective forms of stimulus because the money is badly needed and thus spent right away. The Congressional Budget Office says 200,000 jobs will be lost this year if the benefits are not restored, and this week the damage began.

Big states were obviously the hardest hit, naturally: nearly $65 million came out of the California economy in one week alone, according to the analysis. And of course, states represented by Republicans who oppose the extension each suffered some economic harm. Senator John Cornyn twice blocked a vote on an unemployment insurance extension before the holiday recess, and his home state of Texas lost $21.8 million this week.

Here is a MoJo article about the folks whose unemployment benefits have ended.  This quote sums up much of the problem:“When you Collectors_snowglobe_3apply for a job at 50 people laugh at you. When you apply for a job at 65 people just look at you like you are crazy.”   Read the stories of people behind these statistics.

When Congress reconvenes next week, lawmakers will have to decide whether to extend federal unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million AmericansThese emergency benefits—which Congress let expire shortly after Christmas—are part of a 2008 program that allows workers who have been out of the job for more than six months to receive an emergency extension on their payments up to 47 weeks. If Congress fails to renew these benefits, only a quarter of jobless Americans will be receiving any benefits at all, according to the Huffington Post.

As these charts show, the United States is looking at the worst long-term unemployment crisis since soup kitchen lines peaked during the Great Depression. Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months are often hit with major financial and personal hardship. Around 10 percent must file for bankruptcy, more than half report putting off medical care, and many say they have, “lost self-respect while jobless.” But who are these Americans who have lost their benefits?

The Republicans have peculiar notions about evolution, the unemployed, global warming and poor people among other things.  What do poor people do all day?  Do they really sit around collecting government money while watching their big screen TVS?

Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece by Tim Corley contrasting the habits of the rich with those of the poor. In her response on CNNRachel Held Evans noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation. (Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?)

Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the U.S. — all based on a survey of 361 individuals.

That’s right. To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101″ test.

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Included in 2013 Republican insanity is the continuing increase in abortion restrictions. Most fly in the face of science and common sense.  They are headed to SCOTUS which is probably the plan of the majority of them.

Twenty-two states enacted 70 measures which sought to tighten abortion laws in 2013, according to Guttmacher’s data. The 70 laws accounted for about half of all (141) the provisions nationwide related to reproductive matters. Only 2011 outpaced 2013 in terms of new abortion restrictions.

Some of the legislative battles over abortion last year played out before the national stage. Most visible was a fight in Texas in which state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) launched amarathon filibuster in June to block a bill designed to implement strict new restrictions. The measure later passed as Republicans launched a renewed effort. Still, Davis’s resistance catapulted her onto the national radar. She’s now a candidate for governor.

In June, the U.S. House passed a 20-week abortion ban that went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The strangest things is all the information we actually have– a lot via the bible–which shows that contraception and abortifacients were pretty plentiful and widely accepted. We do have evidence of biblical birth control.

Let’s start with the hot sex! The Song of Songs is a long, sexy, romantic poem that many are surprised to find in the Bible. It is an unusual text in that it makes no mention of God or law, just a young, unmarried couple chasing, and lusting, after one another and eventually, as I and others believe, consummating their relationship. Over the centuries, religious scholars have argued that the poem is a metaphor for divine love. Still, it is pretty hard to ignore the poem’s graphic descriptions of the longings of the flesh.

For example, in chapter 7 the young man says to young woman: “Thy stature is like to a palm-tree, and thy breasts to clusters of il_340x270.519334431_aht7grapes. … ‘I will climb up into the palm-tree, I will take hold of the branches thereof; and let thy breasts be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy countenance like apples;  And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine, that glideth down smoothly for my beloved, moving gently the lips of those that are asleep.”

As Athalya Brenner points out in her book “The Intercourse of Knowledge: On Gendering Desire and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible,” a number of the plants mentioned in the Song of Songs were used by women in the ancient Mediterranean world as contraception and abortifacients. These include pomegranates, wine, myrrh, spikenard and cinnamon. Brenner goes on to argue that since the book makes no mention of procreation as the purpose of sex, the many metaphors comparing sex to “gardens” and “orchards” may also be read as a reference to the forms of birth control that those gardens provided. Indeed, the man in the poem seduces the woman by offering her many of the plants that would have allowed them to have sex without the risk of pregnancy.

Another place in the Bible where contraception may have played a role is in the Book of Esther. This one’s about a beautiful woman named Esther who disguises her Jewish identity to become the queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus. When her cousin discovers an inside plot to kill all Jewish people, Esther intervenes through seduction and eventually saves the Jews.

In an article in the scholarly journal Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Joseph Prouser points out that the King’s potential wives were all required to anoint themselves with myrrh oil and aromatic herbs for one full year – which is a pretty long time for what some read as just a beauty treatment. Myrrh was a known contraceptive at the time, cited in the writings of Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek physician who was an expert on gynecology and midwifery. He explained that when used in a pessary, myrrh oil would work as an abortifacient, preventing the implantation of fertilized eggs. The aromatic herbs may have also had contraceptive properties.

Oh, well, it really isn’t about anything but controlling and limiting every one that isn’t a rich white male, isn’t it?

Here’s one quick news update:  Liz Cheney has dropped her bid to be Wyoming’s Senator.

Liz Cheney, whose upstart bid to unseat Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi sparked a round of warfare in the Republican Party and even within her own family, is dropping out of the Senate primary, sources told CNN late Sunday.

Cheney, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, began telling associates of her decision over the weekend and could make an official announcement about the race as early as Monday.

Cheney’s surprising decision to jump into the race, an announcement made in a YouTube video last summer, roiled Republican politics in the Wyoming, a state Dick Cheney represented in Congress for five terms before moving up the Republican food chain in Washington.

Enzi was a low-key presence in Washington who was elected in 1996 and, with few blemishes, amassed a conservative voting record in the Senate. He expressed public annoyance at Cheney’s decision to mount a primary challenge. A number of his Senate colleagues quickly rallied to his side and pledged support for his re-election bid.

There was little public polling of the race, but two partisan polls released last year showed Enzi with a wide lead, an assessment mostly shared by GOP insiders watching the race.

There’s some interesting gossip involved that suggests it was more than bad poll numbers.

Two GOP sources said that a problematic recent incident involving a close member of Cheney’s family prompted her to reconsider the race, among other factors.

Maybe she decided screwing her sister and her sister’s family over wasn’t worth it.  Who knows?
So, I thought it might be a good exercise to look at some New Year’s Resolutions of people that I admire very much.  First, here’s the 1942 resolutions of Woody Guthrie.

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You can see resolutions of Jonathan Swift, Susan Sontag, and Marilyn Monroe too.  Here’s one of my favorites of Sontag from 1972.

Kindness, kindness, kindness.

I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.

This comes from Marilyn’s list made in 1955.

l — keep looking around me — only much more so —observing — but not only myself but others and everything — take things (it) for what they (it’s) are worth

y — must make strong effort to work on current problems and phobias that out of my past has arisen — making much much much more more more more more effort in my analisis. And be there always on time — no excuses for being ever late.

w — if possible — take at least one class at university — in literature –

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

deevolution of repubs


Monday Reads: If They Could Turn Back Time

soft-watchGood Morning!

Well, another Monday is here.  It’s my turn once again to offer up the reads for the day before starting my usual Monday “student time”.    Time sure stands still when you’re trying to come to terms with challenging stuff.

There’s an interview in Saturday’s NYT with the wonderful Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  I have no idea how this woman stays on at SCOTUS with all those nutty men, but she does and she says she is staying put. She doesn’t think its her time to retire.

In wide-ranging remarks in her chambers on Friday that touched on affirmative action, abortion and same-sex marriage, Justice Ginsburg said she had made a mistake in joining a 2009 opinion that laid the groundwork for the court’s decision in June effectively striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent decision, she said, was “stunning in terms of activism.”

Unless they have a book to sell, Supreme Court justices rarely give interviews. Justice Ginsburg has given several this summer, perhaps in reaction to calls from some liberals that she step down in time for President Obama to name her successor.

On Friday, she said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.

“There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.

Were Mr. Obama to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor, it would presumably be a one-for-one liberal swap that would not alter the court’s ideological balance. But if a Republican president is elected in 2016 and gets to name her successor, the court would be fundamentally reshaped.

Here’s some research on wormholes that is very weird and intriguing. It is all about spacetime.

Wormholes! I feel like we haven’t talked about them since the ’90s. Basically, wormholes are theoretical objects that connect two different points in space. They’re allowed as possible solutions to Einstein’s equations for general relativity—indeed, Einstein and his colleague Nathan Rosen first discovered wormholes, which is why they’re also called Einstein-Rosen bridges. Unfortunately, wormholes aren’t perfect—Einstein’s equations also imply that nothing with nonnegative energy (that is to say: nothing that we know of) can traverse a wormhole, so they’re not going to make for useful intergalactic portals anytime soon.

Maldacena and Susskind, following Van Raamsdonk, posit that any time two quantum particles are entangled, they’re connected by a wormhole. They then go on to say that the wormhole connection between particles inside a black hole (the infalling virtual particles) and the particles outside of a black hole (the Hawking radiation) soothes out the entanglement problems enough so that we can avoid the firewall at the event horizon.

Note that this requires a profound rethinking of the fundamental stuff of the universe. Entanglement, a deeply quantum phenomenon, is fundamentally wound into to the geometry of the universe. Or, to flip it around, quantum weirdness may be stuff that creates the substrate of spacetime.melting clock

The Sunday news programs continue to have discussions on what will happen to voting rights now that the Supreme Court decision has muddied the waters.  Cokie Roberts calls the changes “downright evil”. Can the Republicans turn back the clock on Civil Rights?

In a roundtable discussion on ‘This Week’, ABC News’ Cokie Roberts reflected on the progress in our country 50 years after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.

“Growing up in the Deep South in the era of Jim Crow, the difference is dramatic… It’s a great testament to the fact that when you do something like pass a voting rights bill. That makes a difference.”

Still, Robert’s expressed concern over recent legislation on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In June the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of this law, which spurred contentious debates on race and equal opportunity. Critics of the ruling call it a regression. Proponents argue that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is outdated.

Robert’s said, “What’s going on about voting rights is downright evil because it is something that really needs to keep going forward not backward.”

 Former SOS Colin Powell was also on air Sunday.  He continues to be one of the few reasonable Republicans left that finds his way to the airwaves even though his status has been greatly diminished by claims of WMDS in Iraq. Bet he wishes he coul go back in time and change that!!  Where’s the spacetime continuum when a General needs one?

“These kinds of procedures that are being put in place to slow the process down and make it likely that fewer Hispanics and African Americans might vote I think are going to backfire, because these people are going to come out and do what they have to to vote, and I encourage that,” Powell said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Following the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans in states like Texas and North Carolina are advancing legislation that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls.

“They claim that there’s widespread abuse and voter fraud, but nothing substantiates that,” Powell said. “There isn’t widespread abuse.”

A Republican who has been increasingly critical of his party in recent years, Powell endorsed President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

He said the GOP’s moves on voting access would in particular damage the party’s effort to appeal to the growing minority populations it will need to win national elections in the future. “This is not the way to do it,” Powell said.

He said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act.

“I would have preferred that they did not reach such a conclusion, but they did, and I can see why they reached such a conclusion,” Powell said.

Meanwhile, Bobby JIndal continues to write some of the weirdest, disjointed op-eds around.  This one is ironic given the current challenge to his prized Louisiana School voucher program that appears to be enabling re-segregation of schools. Remember, this is an op ed on racism as you read this weird, theocratic screed.  He seems to yearn for a more simpler time.  Simple, say, as his mind.

 When I look at America, I see a country that increasingly has lost its way in terms of morality. As a Christian, as I look at American culture over the past half century, I don’t like a lot of what I see. Divorce is through the roof, pornography is everywhere, sexual predators are on the loose and on the Internet, our abortion rate is higher than almost every First World country, vulgarity and profanity are mainstream and commonplace. In general, our culture has become coarser, and I regret that.

Which reminds me,  Jindal thinks all this fuss about the Keystone Pipeline is “alarmist” and “anti-scientific”.  Here’s a local op-ed that gives him the what-for.

It is time to stop being mad at Gov. Bobby Jindal. He’s just too funny.

He was out of state again last week, but we are long past feeling neglected while he pursues his White House dream. He can forget that for sure; a politician is heading for the exit when his most earnest speeches are greeted with laughter.

If Jindal did not bring the house down when he denounced Democrats as “extremist and unscientific,” it can only have been because he was far from home and his audience was unaware of his own efforts to spread ignorance and superstition. When his remarks were reported in this country, we were in stitches.

Jindal was in Canada, promising to “fight like heck” for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil all the way to Texas if President Barack Obama, who has been considering it for five years, gives his approval. This was not exactly Daniel in the lions’ den; Jindal was speaking at the Oilmen’s Business Forum Luncheon in Alberta.

If the oilmen had reason to welcome Jindal’s views on the pipeline, however, it is a safe bet that they have been exposed to enough geology to conclude the earth has been around for quite a long time. They wouldn’t have much use for Louisiana high school graduates who had been told tales of Adam and Eve in science class.

Sitting there while Jindal claimed to be on the side of science in the pipeline row, the oilmen would have been incredulous if you told them he promoted new-earth indoctrination. Why, they would have said, next you’ll be telling us he believes in demonic possession. Well …

Jindal has also termed global warming “conjecture” and “alarmism,” a comforting view that is much less common among scientists.

Jindal’s speech was otherwise the same, hackneyed fare; the “blind” ideologues of the “radical left” are blocking the pipeline because they want energy to “remain expensive.” They want the government to “tell Americans to live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars, set their thermostats higher in the summer and lower in the winter.” They want “negative growth,” while Republicans stand for prosperity and jobs..

This simple dichotomy leaves only one question answered. Why would anyone, anywhere, ever vote Democrat?

The analysis, in truth, is so shabby that Jindal is clearly not cut out for the intellectual rigor required of, say, a scientist. Jindal’s blithe assumption that the pipeline would reduce energy prices in America is highly debatable, while he is flat wrong to deny that companies plan to re-export pipeline oil for a quick profit.

Really, nothing is safe from Republicans these days.  Hide your wives and daughters!  HIde your groceries too!

Which 14 cities are running out of time due to Global Warming?  The number one endangered city is Miami, Florida. Boston is number 3.  You don’t get to New Orleans until number 7.  Read on.

There is really no way around it: Thanks to climate changesea levels are rising. A huge question on the minds of many is, what does this mean for America? Will sea walls and city planning protect major metropolises, or are we bound to lose some national gems? Unfortunately, the latter is a significant possibility. Read on for 14 U.S. cities that could be devastated over the next century due to rising tides.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list this morning?  Because, now it’s your time.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

There are so many ways that my city and state are being used as an incubator for unholy ideas that it’s not even funny.  I’ve got a series of rather depressing links this morning.  However, I think we should all think about the common thread here.  Didn’t many of our immigrant ancestors come here hoping that this new country would not fall prey to an aristocratic group of assholes who inherit stuff just because of the privilege of birth? Do these news items strike you as something you’d read about in a country founded on the idea of government by the people instead of government over the people? Let’s begin our search for the ways plutocracy is changing our lives.

Our public school system in New Orleans has been decimated and turned into one big charter school education experiment.  Part of the “detritus” that the state washed out with the Katrina waters were our teachers. They were just some of the folks that were thrown over when a natural disaster was turned into a way to turn a purple state red.   They’re getting their day in court.  Will they really get Justice? A recent court decision has given many fired teachers some back pay. But, justice runs deeper than a few dollars to teachers.  What about the children set adrift in libertarian, for profit incubators that cherry pick the best and leave the rest far behind?

But aside from recompense for “disaster leave,” New Orleans public schools will remain adrift in a flood of drastic reforms. After Katrina, the city became an incubator for non-unionized charter schoolsand “experimental” restructuring plans.

But rather than “saving” New Orleans schools from failure, the overhaul has aggravated divides between black and white, wealthy and poor, by pushing schools to operate more like corporations.

Maynard Sanders at the Bankstreet College of Education wrote last year about the New Orleans Recovery School District as a case study in de facto segregation between “selective schools” and those serving poor students of color. Often, he added, the charters that many have hailed as an emblem of progress “are run like private schools by self-appointed boards without any parent, community, or teacher representation… There is no transparency in charter school operations, finances or hiring while they receive public money and operate rent free in public school buildings.”

One major plank of the agenda for restructuring New Orleans schools–which reflects national reform trends promoted by the Obama administration–is “decentralization” of the system and the expansion of “choice” of schools across districts. But critics say a decentralized school system can become dangerously fractured, and choice is constrained by feudal social barriers.

Here’s proof that it’s just not enough to elect any woman to an office.  Jan Brewer—the throwback governor of Arizona–is at it again.  She’s asking SCOTUS to overturn a ruling allowing benefits for same sex partners.  Republicans are routinely asking courts to remove rights from citizens and assign them a lesser-than status.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) has requested that the Supreme Court overturn a ruling that allows state employees to keep their same-sex partners on their benefits, including health insurance.

Brewer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on July 2, requesting that the high court overturn the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s September 2011 ruling in Diaz vs. Brewer. The pushback comes three months after the Ninth Circuit denied a request by Arizona state lawyers to re-hear the case with an 11-judge panel.

Last September, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling prevented Arizona from implementing a law that would have barred state employees’ same-sex partners from remaining on their health plans. The ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision to place a preliminary injunction on the law.

Black Americans will likely suffer long term consequences for the financial damage caused by the subprime crisis. Think of all the billions of dollars spent on bailing out banks while huge numbers of families have lost the hope of ever owning their own home again.  Will property ownership once again be the province of the aristocrats?

For blacks, the picture since the recession has been particularly grim. They disproportionately held subprime mortgages during the housing boom and are facing foreclosure in outsize numbers. That is raising fears among consumer advocates, academics and federal regulators that the credit scores of black Americans have been systematically damaged, haunting their financial futures.

The private companies that calculate credit scores say they do not consider race in their formulas. Lenders also say it is not a factor when deciding who qualifies for a loan; federal laws prohibit the practice. Still, studies have shown a persistent gap between the credit scores of white and black Americans, and many worry that it is only getting wider.

The impact of strict voter ID laws pushed by ALEC and Republicans is having an impact and could block thousands from voting. It’s all about vote suppression and electing Romney. No better way to ensure your interests are enshrined in law than through disenfranchisement of minorities, the elderly, and the poor, is there?

The numbers suggest that the legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent. Thousands more votes could be in jeopardy for this November, when more states with larger populations are looking to have similar rules in place.

More than two dozen states have some form of ID requirement, and 11 of those passed new rules over the past two years largely at the urging of Republicans who say they want to prevent fraud.

Democrats and voting rights groups fear that ID laws could suppress votes among people who may not typically have a driver’s license, and disproportionately affect the elderly, poor and minorities. While the number of votes is a small percentage of the overall total, they have the potential to sway a close election. Remember that the 2000 presidential race was decided by a 537-vote margin in Florida.

A Republican leader in Pennsylvania said recently that the state’s new ID law would allow Romney to win the state over President Barack Obama.

Supporters of the laws cite anecdotal cases of fraud as a reason that states need to do more to secure elections, but fraud appears to be rare. As part of its effort to build support for voter ID laws, the Republican National Lawyers Association last year published a report that identified some 400 election fraud prosecutions over a decade across the entire country. That’s not even one per state per year.

ID laws would not have prevented many of those cases because they involved vote-buying schemes in local elections or people who falsified voter registrations.

Susie takes on George Will at C&L.  He evidently thinks all this heat is just typical balmy summer weather and wants us all to get over it.  Yes, we’re all just whining about the weather and it’s all in our little heads.  Read her classy zing!

This is how broken, distorted and hackish our public political dialogue has become: George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist (his record for coasting on that one accomplishment continues), actually responds to concerns about the national’s killer heat wave with “it’s summer, get over it!”

Not only is this disingenuous, it’s an outright lie. Will knows better (for one thing, in his world, “summer” is a verb, not a noun) but just doesn’t care. His job is to rubber stamp whatever comes out of the right-wing noise machine, no matter how absurd, far-fetched, or (most importantly) harmful. George Will gets his money no matter what, and that’s all he cares about …

Meanwhile, Romney donors are proving as enlightened as ever.  Where else but in the Hamptons?

A money manager in a green Jeep said it was time for Romney to “up his game and be more reactive.” So far, said the donor (who would not give his name because he said it would hurt his business), Romney has had a “very timid offense.”

A New York City donor a few cars back, who also would not give her name, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

Gee.  I wonder whose child got into the ivies because of legacy slots instead of brains this year?  Look Mavis!  It’s the Upper Class Twit of the Year show! Can they walk along the straight line without falling over? Don’t forget to kick the beggar!

Speaking of Louisiana, here’s Bobby Jindal’s plantation economy at work.

It is time to banish the idea that forced labor and sweatshop exploitation are problems of bygone eras or distant countries. These conditions exist within America’s borders. On June 29, Wal-Mart said it had suspended one of its seafood suppliers in Louisiana for violating its workplace standards. The action came as an advocacy group for foreign guest workers announced that it had uncovered appalling abuses at the company, C. J.’s Seafood, and at a dozen other Wal-Mart suppliers too.

The workers said the company forced them to work 16- to 24-hour days, and 80-hour weeks, at illegally low rates, sometimes locked in the plant, peeling crayfish until their hands felt dead. Some were threatened with beatings. Federal agencies and Wal-Mart are investigating the charges; C. J.’s Seafood did not respond to The Times’s request for comment.

These workers are not unauthorized immigrants toiling off the books. They came here legally under the H-2B program, which grants visas to low-skilled seasonal workers in industries that supposedly cannot find enough Americans to do the job. The program has been dogged by charges of wage abuses, fraud and involuntary servitude, including in investigations by the Government Accountability Office.

New rules protecting workers’ rights were supposed to have taken effect in April, but have been blocked after business owners sued the Department of Labor and a group of senators from both parties shamefully voted to deny the department funding to enforce them.

Under the rules, employers would be barred from confiscating immigration documents and blacklisting workers who complained about working conditions and consulted with unions. Employers would have to try harder to hire Americans and cover migrants’ transportation costs and visa fees. Though the new rules do not go far enough (they should allow workers to change jobs if employers abuse them), they are a crucial step forward.

So, those are my suggestions this morning.  I really didn’t set out to weave this story but rather noticed it evolve as I looked for things.  Doesn’t it look like we’re devolving into a lesser country? What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

We passed an ominous milestone recently. Have we crossed the Rubicon with climate change?

Monitoring stations in the Arctic have confirmed atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements exceeding 400 parts per million (ppm), far past the acknowledged safe limit of 350 ppm.

Global levels of carbon dioxide—the most prevalent heat-trapping gas—are around 395 ppm, but Arctic levels signal where global trends are headed, and scientists are confident that levels will soon eclipse this ominous milestone worldwide.

According to the Washington Post, Jim Butler, the global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado, said “The fact that it’s 400 is significant. It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”

Preceding the Industrial Revolution, global levels of carbon dioxide were believed to be around 275 ppm. The meteoric rise in carbon pollution is mainly attributed to fossil fuel dependence, such as burning coal and oil for gasoline. Forest depletion and oceanic biodiversity loss complicate matters by diminishing nature’s ability to absorb and repurpose carbon dioxide.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, former Vice President Al Gore wrote via email, “The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders—with a few honorable exceptions—are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis. History will not understand or forgive them.”

The UK Guardian reports that 28 top US corporations are working hard to block any action meant to prevent or stop climate change.

An analysis of 28 Standard & Poor 500 publicly traded companies by researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists exposed a sharp disconnect in some cases between PR message and less visible activities, with companies quietly lobbying against climate policy or funding groups which work to discredit climate science.

The findings are in line with the recent expose of the Heartland Institute. Over the years, the ultra-conservative organisation devoted to discrediting climate science received funds from a long list of companies which had public commitments to sustainability.

The disconnect in this instance was especially stark in the researchers’ analysis of oil giants ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, and the electricity company DTE energy.

But even General Electric Company, which ranks climate change as a pillar of its corporate policy on its website, had supported trade groups and thinktanks that misrepresent climate science, the researchers found.

Caterpillar Inc, despite its public commitment to sustainability, also worked behind the scenes to block action on climate change. The company spent more than $16m (£10.3m) on lobbying during the study, with nearly five times as much of that spent lobbying to block climate action than on pro-environmental policies.

Other big corporate players were fairly consistent with their public image. Nike and NRG Energy Inc lobbied in support of climate change policy and supported conservation groups.

Peabody Energy Corporation, which produces coal, was ranked the most obstructionist of any of the companies. It spent more than $33m to lobby Congress against environmental measures and supporting trade groups and think tanks which spread disinformation about climate science, the researchers found.

“The thing we found most surprising in doing this research is just how all 28 companies expressed concern about climate change,” said Francesca Grifo who heads the UCS scientific integrity programme. “But when we took a deeper look we found that a lot of the actions they took weren’t connected to the messages.”

The result of the disconnect was growing confusion about climate science, the researchers said. That made it more difficult to push for environmental protections.

Republicans continue to chip away at abortion rights. The House is zeroing in on “sex selection” abortions.  These are not a big issue in this country but could be a big issue for Republicans because the rhetoric almost always centers on Asian countries in a way that’s offensive to Americans of Asian heritage.

Republicans long ago lost African American voters. They are well on their way to losing Latinos. And if Trent Franks prevails, they may lose Asian Americans, too.

The Arizona Republican’s latest antiabortion salvo to be taken up by the House had a benign name — the Prenatal Non­discrimination Act — and a premise with which just about everybody agrees: that a woman shouldn’t abort a fetus simply because she wants to have a boy rather than a girl.

The problem with Franks’s proposal is that it’s not entirely clear there is a problem. Sex-selection abortion is a huge tragedy in parts of Asia, but to the extent it’s happening in this country, it’s mostly among Asian immigrants.

For Franks, who previously tried to pass legislation limiting abortions among African Americans and residents of the District of Columbia, it was the latest attempt to protect racial minorities from themselves.

“The practice of sex selection is demonstrably increasing here in the United States, especially but not exclusively in the Asian immigrant community,” he announced on the House floor Wednesday afternoon. He quoted a study finding that male births “for Chinese, Asian Indians and Koreans clearly exceeded biological variation.”

The Bill even has one of those weird Republican names like offensive missiles called “peace keepers.”  It’s called PRENDA or Prenatal NonDiscrimination Act.

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, was defeated in a 246-168 vote. While that’s a clear majority of the House, Republicans called up the bill under a suspension of House rules, which limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. In this case, it would have required more support from Democrats.

Twenty Democrats voted for the bill, while seven Republicans opposed it. The bill would have needed 30 more yeas to pass.
Suspension votes are normally used for noncontroversial bills, but the GOP-backed measure was clearly controversial. Republicans have occasionally put controversial bills on the suspension calendar in order to highlight that Democrats oppose certain policies.

Boehner said he will try again later.  So much for the Republican lies about being all about the jobs.

Just when you think the state Republican groups can’t get more extreme you find out something like this item in Pennsylvania.

Republicans in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania have elected Steve Smith, a lifelong white supremacist with close ties to neo-Nazi groups and groups like Aryan Nations, to the county’s GOP Committee.

The elections, which took place in late April, were certified by the committee two weeks ago, and Smith notified supporters of his victory last week by posting a message to the online forum White News Now.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented Smith’s participation with known skinhead organizations like Keystone State Skinheads, (now Keystone United) which he co-founded in 2001. And his racist activism extends far beyond violent rhetoric as well, into actual violence:

In March 2003, he and two other KSS members were arrested in Scranton for beating up Antoni Williams, a black man, using stones and chunks of pavement. Smith pleaded guilty to terrorist threats and ethnic intimidation and received a 60-day sentence and probation.

Smith is also an active member of local Tea Party groups, a network that he used to gain support for his bid for the committee seat. According to the SPLC, Smith referred to the Tea Party as “fertile grounds for our activists.”

Our economy continues to have some of the highest poverty rates in the developed world.  Seven million kids and mothers are in poverty. Georgetown Law Professor and advisor to the Kennedys and Bill Clinton explains why this is so devastating to our country’s future as well.

Peter Edelman: Extreme poverty means having an income of less than half the poverty line. That’s less than $9,000 a year for a family of three. The stunning fact is that in 2010, there were 20.5 million people who had incomes that low. And perhaps even more disturbing — 6 million people have no income other than food stamps (SNAP). That means an income at one third of the poverty line or less than $6,000 a year for a family of three. You can’t live on that.

So, these are people who are really in extreme trouble. In fact, many of them will get out of extreme poverty fairly quickly, and that makes it even more inexcusable not to have a basic safety net for them when their income dips so low. How do they survive? We don’t really know. They obviously have to have the support in one way or another of family and friends– if they have such networks. They sleep on couches, they move around a lot. If they can find casual work to get a little extra money, they do. But they are in a very tough place. The percentage of people in extreme poverty has doubled since 1976, so it is getting worse.

Public benefits, which are not counted in official poverty figures insofar as they’re not paid in cash, make the situation a little better, but not much. The fact that there could be 6 million people who only have food stamps is because of another fact: that welfare –Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) —  is basically unavailable in many states in the country. In Wyoming, for example, 4% of poor children in the entire state — that’s 644 people including the mothers — receive cash assistance. In 19 states, fewer than 20% of poor children are receiving cash assistance. So that’s how you can have 6 million people living only on food stamps. About 7 million of those in extreme poverty are mothers and children. We can only imagine the damage that this does to the children. It really is a crisis, and very few people are aware of it.

So those are the stories that I’m following this week.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?