Friday, October 31, 2014

Since 1968...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Real Health Problem Isn't Ebola, It's No Sick Time for Minimum-Wage Workers

Everyone in Maine is shaking in their boots because Kaci Hickox went on a bike ride. Hickox, a nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa, is fighting the state-imposed quarantine in court, saying that it violates her constitutional rights.

The fear is overblown. She is displaying no symptoms (fever, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from bodily orifices), and Ebola is not contagious until you are showing symptoms.

So far, no Americans have been infected by Ebola except health care workers who deal directly with Ebola patients. And all the Americans who have caught Ebola have survived (though one doctor is still in the hospital in New York).

This year Ebola has infected 13,000 people in West Africa and 5,000 have died. The death rate appears to be so high in Africa because they don't have the ability to keep sick patients alive long enough for their immune systems to beat the disease on their own. Americans aren't dying of the disease because our hospitals can provide that basic level of care (though the religiously-affiliated hospital in Texas where two nurses were infected was obviously not competent to care for Ebola patients).

Ebola sure does sound scary when you hear the numbers coming out of Africa. But when you look at Ebola in the US, it's much less contagious than many other diseases that infect millions of Americans annually, including flu, pneumonia, measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, tuberculosis and hepatitis A, B and C.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans die from these diseases every year. Some will leave you physically impaired or sterile even if they don't kill you.

Flu alone kills as many as 50,000 people a year in the United States -- 10 times more than have died of Ebola in the world in the last year. But people go in to work with the flu all the time. Why? Because they don't have a choice: they work in low-wage jobs without any benefits -- in particular, sick leave. If they don't work, they don't get paid, and they can't pay the rent or feed their kids.

It's especially bad for people who work in minimum-wage service jobs -- cooks, dish washers, cashiers, waiters, maids, day care attendants, home care attendants -- exactly the people who are most likely to spread disease to the largest number of people.

Hickox isn't demanding to go to a U2 concert or a rave. She just doesn't want to be imprisoned when she is displaying zero symptoms. If she should be locked up for a month on the off chance that she has Ebola, then why shouldn't every American be forced to into quarantine when they (or their children) actually have diseases like flu, chicken pox, mumps and measles, which are much more infectious than Ebola and can have just as serious consequences?

The real health problem here isn't Ebola: it's the lack of sick days for minimum-wage workers. If you're sick -- with a cold, the flu, or Ebola -- you shouldn't be infecting your customers and coworkers.

Companies don't want to give workers sick time because they're afraid workers will abuse it. But that forces honest workers to stay on the job when they're sick. And the rest of America suffers from unnecessary exposure to contagious diseases: millions of decent folks get sick for fear that a few jerks will game the system.

The medical workers who go to Africa to help stem the tide of Ebola are heroes. They shouldn't be treated like pariahs, though they should severely restrict their travel and social contacts during the incubation period.

They should also be compensated monetarily for any losses they might suffer during this period of isolation. And everyone in America should have that same right when they're sick with any contagious disease.

That would make all of us healthier and happier.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mitt Romney on the 2014 Elections

So, Mitt Romney was on Morning Joe this AM talking about the 2014 elections. His message?

If the Republicans win back the Senate, then gridlock will end in Washington and bills can start being passed again. What exactly is holding them back now? President Obama? He's still going to be president for the next two years so what will be different?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

In Defense of Obama

Even on a bad day, Paul Krugman single-handedly blows out several bowels a day but his recent piece in Rolling Stone is guaranteed to cause much mouth foaming. The title, "In Defense of Obama," says it all. Here is the executive summary...

Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it's working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it's much more effective than you'd think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.  

Amen. Check out the full article, folks!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Good Words

As she has since she stepped onto the national stage six years ago, Palin is the ultimate avatar of base Republican culture since she views herself as an eternal victim, with all the grievance and resentment that entails. 

So now, liberals, the media, Democrats, apparently anyone who thinks Palin is a buffoon of almost world historic proportions (which gets you to something like 80% of the country) are all abominable hypocrites for 'laughing' at what is now fairly preposterously portrayed as a violent assault against a woman. If you listen to the police interviews, which occurred just as the brawl had barely ended, all the witnesses beside Bristol said she attacked the homeowner. Indeed, even Bristol's younger sister Willow backed up the these other witnesses' account. She just said Bristol missed with her punches.

--Josh Marshall 

Ultimate avatar indeed. This is exactly why conservatives blow a bowel about the so-called victim culture. They are the ultimate self-loathers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Election 2014 Update

Today, I am wondering what percentage of Americans are unaware that there is an election in a week and half. I have a question out on Quora  about it so we'll see what kind of responses I get.

Meanwhile, Democrats are pulling out what remains of the hair at all of the latest polls. Colorado and Iowa are shifting to the R column with Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana seemingly out of reach. The only good news for the Dems is Georgia is now shifting their way. David Perdue is running a really bad campaign so that's no surprise. And Greg Orman is now making noises that he will caucus with the Democrats or, at least, do things they like.

My prediction still stands: 51R, 49 D

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Ebola News the Right Is Ignoring

There's been a lot of shrill paranoid screeching about Ebola, particularly from the right. And it's a serious problem, to be sure. But here's some news that they seem to be ignoring:
  • Four family members that Thomas Eric Duncan lived with for several days have finished their quarantine Ebola-free. 
  • No one who flew on the plane with Duncan was infected.
  • So far, all the Americans who have contracted Ebola have either pulled through completely, or are still alive and in stable condition. With proper and prompt care, it looks like your chance of survival is much better than it is in Africa, where the death rate is forbidding.
  • The lab supervisor on the cruise ship who handled Duncan's Ebola samples tested negative.
  • WHO declared Nigeria to be Ebola-free.
While Ebola is still dangerous, it's clear that those crying doom at every turn are opportunistic weasels trying to exploit a tragic situation for political advantage.

The people who are really in danger of Ebola infection are health care workers who must be in close contact with their patients, and people who handle the dead. The reason Ebola spread so quickly in Africa in the first place was the foolish practice of mourners kissing and touching dead bodies, instead of isolating and cremating them immediately.

Long-held religious traditions and beliefs are responsible for so much death, and not just in Africa...

The domestic mess started when a privately-run religious hospital screwed the pooch and failed to diagnose Thomas Duncan. This wasn't a government screw-up.

Where the CDC did screw up was in trusting that this Presbyterian Hospital in Texas was competent to do the job. The hospital clearly did not have the equipment or the training to handle an Ebola patient. It should have said so up front, instead of making its staff cobble together protective gear from layers of rubber gloves and masks.

How clueless Presbyterian was should have been obvious after hey sent Duncan home after failing to add 1 + 1 (guy from Liberia who carried a woman who died of Ebola + fever) and not getting 2 (Ebola).

Anyone who has watched television coverage of the Ebola outbreak in Africa knows that health care workers should be wearing full Hazmat suits and be sprayed down with formaldehyde and blasted with UV after any contact with Ebola patients.Why Presbyterian didn't get this is a total mystery.

The CDC also screwed up by not asking health care workers to quarantine themselves, and giving them the go-ahead to travel on airplanes and cruise ships. They have corrected this oversight, and it looks like no one was infected. So the it seems the CDC was actually correct in their estimation that the potential for infection was quite low. Allowing the nurses to travel was a PR failure, not serious lapse in judgment.

The Ebola panic is not over. But it's clear that if people just exhibit a little common sense and caution it would be as low-key as the CDC has been saying all along. But I guess expecting people to act rationally is too much.

What this episode has made abundantly clear is that the general public has no clue what real health risks are. You are far more likely to die of the flu than Ebola. Yet millions of Americans categorically refuse to get flu shots.

Children are far more likely to die of whooping cough or measles than Ebola, yet their parents insist that immunizations will give their kids autism.

The right wants to restrict the freedom to travel to Africa. Yet you are far more likely to die of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound or shot by your irate husband than die of Ebola, because of the insistence of the gun lobby that people be able to buy any kind of deadly firearm on demand.

Millions of people die of heart disease, stroke, and obesity- and diabetes-related diseases every year, yet every time someone in government encourages people to exercise more, discourages alcohol use or proposes taxes on sugary drinks, the right screams "Nanny state!"

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year in car accidents because they can't be bothered to wear seat belts.

Get a grip, people.

Ebola According To Fox

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Fusion Breakthrough?

Lockheed's Skunk Works has announced a breakthrough in fusion research. Fusion is what powers the sun. It has the potential to generate electricity from the hydrogen in seawater.

Lockheed claims that they can have a working prototype of a fusion reactor in five years, and commercially available fusion power plants in ten years.

More incredibly, Lockheed claims that the reactor could be as small as seven by 10 feet -- small enough to fit on the back of a truck. A fusion-powered submarine could stay submerged indefinitely, getting its fuel (hydrogen) and air (oxygen) from seawater. A fusion-powered airplane could stay aloft for months.

Fission-powered subs can already stay submerged for months at a time. And practically speaking, aircraft require routine ground maintenance to avoid falling out of the sky. Where fusion is the real game-changer, though, is in generating electricity and spaceflight.

Generating Electricity
Lockheed says its fusion reactor could be plopped into existing 100 MW gas turbine power plant, replacing the methane-burning equipment with a fusion reactor and a heat exchanger.

Current nuclear reactors use fission, in which atoms of heavy elements like uranium are split to produce heat, which generates steam, which spins turbines to make electricity. The atomic bombs dropped on Japan used fission. The hydrogen bombs first detonated in the 1950s were fusion bombs: the intense heat and pressure required to fuse hydrogen atoms were produced by detonating fission devices.

Fission produces a lot of highly radioactive elements, such as plutonium, which need to be sequestered for thousands of years. Fission also produces high-speed neutrons (which is what causes fission reactions to proceed). If there are too many neutrons, the nuclear reaction can run away and detonate like an atomic bomb.

There are two major approaches to fusion for power generation: inertial confinement and magnetic confinement. The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory uses inertial confinement: giant lasers blast a pellet of hydrogen isotopes from all directions to produce high pressure and temperature.

The concept of magnetic confinement gained popular currency with Star Trek's "magnetic bottle," which they said contained antimatter. With fusion, magnetic fields are used to compress hydrogen plasma to very high pressures and temperatures, causing the atoms to fuse.

The sun does this using gravity instead of magnetic fields.

Both inertial and magnetic confinement fusion have been demonstrated in labs, but they have not achieved a sustained reaction, where they generate more energy than they consume.

Depending on exactly which reaction is used, fusion may use isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) and produce harmless helium, or it may produce short-lived radioactive isotopes such as tritium (hydrogen 3). It typically produces neutrons, which have to be trapped to convert their energy to heat.

Magnetic confinement has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for fifty years. This time, Lockheed thinks that by reducing the size of the hardware and increasing the strength of the magnetic field with superconductors they will finally be able to make magnetic confinement work.

Revolutionizing Spaceflight
Rockets work on Newton's Third Law of equal and opposite reaction. They burn fuel, which is ejected out the nozzle, propelling the payload forward. The acceleration you achieve depends on the mass ejected and its velocity: the faster the propellant is ejected (specific impulse), the faster you go.

Hohmann Transfer Orbit
When current spacecraft go to other planets they fire a quick burst from their rocket engines to put themselves in an elliptical orbit (the yellow orbit in the diagram on the right) that starts at earth (the green orbit) and ends at Mars (the red orbit), where another burst of the engines is required to enter orbit around Mars. Chemical rockets cannot fire the whole time because they can't carry enough fuel to accelerate the whole way, because the engine has a low specific impulse.

Because our spacecraft require this "Hohmann transfer orbit," we only launch when the planets are properly aligned. That imposes a launch window that lasts a short time and doesn't recur for months or years.

"Ion" engines with higher specific impulse have been in design for decades. These use electrical fields to accelerate charged particles to speeds much higher than can be obtained by chemical rockets. The high specific impulse allows the ion engine to fire constantly, producing a constant thrust with a modest amount of propellant.

A fusion engine could produce an even higher specific impulse, with the speed of light being the only limit. With such a high specific impulse, it becomes possible to accelerate constantly at high thrust without running out of propellant.

It's within the realm of possibility that a fusion-powered spacecraft could get to the moon in a day by accelerating constantly at 1 g (the acceleration of earth's gravity) to the halfway point, flipping around and decelerating the rest of the way. Getting to Mars would take two to four days, depending on where earth and Mars are in their orbits.

Will It Melt Down or Blow Up Like a Hydrogen Bomb?
Fission reactors can melt down, like Chernobyl in Russia or Fukushima in Japan. They depend on control rods, cooling or other mechanical means to prevent the fission reaction from occurring too quickly. A fission reactor contains tons of uranium. If too many neutrons are being shot through the nuclear fuel, there's a chance of a runaway reaction and an atomic detonation, or more likely, that the fuel will get too hot and melt through the containment vessel.

With fusion, the difficulty is not slowing down the reaction, the problem is sustaining it. The amount of hydrogen in a fusion reactor is quite small. That's because fusion produces so much energy: e = mc2, after all. One gram of hydrogen produces 339 gigajoules of energy, or 94 megawatt-hours. That means a 100 MW fusion reactor would use a couple of grams of hydrogen per hour: that's a couple of ounces a day. (It's also probably a hydrogen isotope -- deuterium and tritium, from heavy water.)

If something goes wrong in a fusion reactor, the magnetic field collapses, and the reaction stops. All that's left is a few ounces of hot hydrogen.

To stop a fusion reaction, you turn of the power. It's like blowing out a candle. The containment vessel does, however, need to be strong enough to contain the hydrogen plasma when the magnetic field drops.

A fusion reactor is probably a lot less dangerous than a fission reactor, but more dangerous than wind and solar because reactor cores become radioactive over time.

Most magnetic confinement fusion reactions under consideration produce neutrons. Something needs to absorb those neutrons, heat up and turn turbines. Over time neutrons will affect the components of the reactor and its shielding, making them brittle and slightly radioactive, just as for existing fission reactors.

Some fusion reactions under consideration produce a radioactive isotope of hydrogen (tritium, or hydrogen 3), which has a half-life of 12.3 years. Tritium and old shielding have to be disposed of, but they're far less dangerous than fission byproducts like plutonium that are radioactive for millennia.

For spaceflight, these fast neutrons are reaction mass: the faster the better.

Is It for Real?
This is hard to say. Scientists have been on the brink of a fusion breakthrough for fifty years. They've used superconducting magnets in the past. Is Lockheed's approach that different? Have they miniaturized the reactor enough to remove the instabilities in the magnetic field that have plagued traditional tokamak designs for decades?

I can't say for sure. But this has the potential to totally change everything about energy production. With cheap, portable fusion reactors coal and natural gas plants will be totally obsolete: fuel for fusion is extracted from seawater. There's no need for miners to die miles beneath the surface of the earth, or for frackers to inject toxic chemicals into the earth.

Fusion plants will probably not be cheap initially, especially compared to wind and solar which are already becoming cheaper than coal and gas. Extracting deuterium and tritium from seawater will probably start out to be expensive and get cheaper over time, but will probably always be more expensive than free energy from the wind and sun.

Fusion is not a panacea because there is still the problem of disposing of radioactive reactor cores. But these are minor problems compared to radioactive waste from fission plants, and the CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels.

That does make fusion plants good candidates to pick up the slack when wind and solar generation are slack.

And having the technology in our back pockets that allows us to go to the stars is probably the best insurance plan the human race can get.

Good Words

From a recent question on Quora...

The issue isn't Obama's performance. The issue is the effectiveness of conservative propaganda. Day in and day out they refuse to cooperate with him in government. I think the reason for this is that conservatives did everything they could to club Clinton in every illegitimate way. But they did their jobs as legislators. Clinton was still successful.

Then we had Bush. It may be that the conservative agenda is just so bad, so unworkable that it made Bush look like a guy attempting to put America in the dumper. Just from looking at its difficult to tell whether he was attempting to crash the economy in order to downsize it or was just completely lame. Certainly here in Kansas we're ready to call call conservative politics a failure.

Under Obama the question remains open whether its the conservative agenda to downsize government by creating economic catastrophe. They have certainly floated the idea during the debt ceiling debate.

Regardless, they needed to rehabilitate the Republican party after the Bush catastrophe. They couldn't repeat the mistake they made by cooperating with Clinton. The Republican party needed Obama to be a failure.

Their only chance at that was to refuse to cooperate with anything and mobilize the conservative propaganda machine to start criticising him. They have criticised him for their lack of cooperation. They have created issues both legislative and policy then criticised him for their lack of ability.

This continual... habitual... oppressive... Soviet like... spin and nonsense is simply taking its toll on the psychology of America. You are being co-opted by the bad guys that are corrupting our government if you pile on Obama repeating the nonsense of conservative propagandists. 

Look for the reasonable answer. Its not -Obama is dumb, inept and untalented. He is smart, educated, able and talented and if you start there, look at his accomplishments and ask what the problem is... you will conclude something different.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Job Killing Regulation or a Baby-Saving Law?

In 2013 Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. This is exactly the kind of law that conservatives bitch about when they yammer on and on about job-killing regulation.

But Bloomberg didn't sign the law just to irritate conservatives. He did it to protect women like Angelica Valencia, who was fired in August from her job at a potato-packing plant when she was three months pregnant.

She had a miscarriage (a spontaneous abortion) last year, and her doctor said she was at high risk for another one if she worked more than eight hours a day. At age 39 Valencia doesn't have a whole lot of time to wait to have kids. It's now or never.

Valencia made $8.70 an hour. Her husband drives a bus. They needed the income from the job just to pay the rent, and with a kid on the way they needed it that much more.

But the company didn't give a damn. Valencia was unaware of the law that should have protected her, so she let the company fire her.

Conservatives say they value family above all else, but they clearly believe that corporate profits are more important than family values, the health of employees, and the lives of the unborn. Where's the anti-abortion crowd here? They should be blasting companies that force pregnant women to work long hours under severe conditions.

How can conservatives possibly defend a company that refuses to grant women light duty during a pregnancy, knowing that it will likely cause a spontaneous abortion?

And you can't blame the woman. She wanted to keep her job and pay her own way. The article doesn't say whether Valencia was fired and eligible for unemployment compensation. Did the company say her termination was "for cause" and weasel out of paying umemployment? Did they expect her to go on welfare?

Some might argue that the company had her safety at heart, and didn't want her to work out of concern for the life of the child. But their response to the doctor's letter was:
“Unfortunately, we as a company are not able to allow you to continue work,” wrote Mr. Ferla, who warned that her high-risk pregnancy could put her “at risk” in a work environment that was fast-paced, very physical and involves machinery.

“Please understand we need a ‘full duty release' from the doctor,” he added, if she wanted to continue to work.
No: the company clearly did not care about her or the baby. They just wanted that letter from the doctor to avoid legal responsibility should the baby die.

And it's not just overwork that causes miscarriage. Certain chemicals will cause spontaneous abortion, including heavy metals (such as mercury released into the air from burning coal -- this is why coal plants are shutting down), organic solvents (paint thinners, dry cleaning fluid), numerous petrochemicals, and various drugs and gases used in medicine and dentistry. Many of these chemicals cause birth defects and cancer as well. Research and regulation are required to protect pregnant women -- and everyone else -- from exposure to these dangerous substances.

Some companies treat their employees fairly and help them start families. They make accommodations for pregnant women, and help them once the children are born. But a lot of companies don't. Shouldn't the law level the playing field, and reward companies that do right by their employees and, incidentally, the taxpayers?

That's what regulations are for: to protect Americans from bad employers, polluters, incompetent doctors and lawyers, usurers and scam artists.

Sure, there are bad regulations. Some have become outdated due to technological and social changes. Some were written by companies themselves and passed by their cronies in government to make it harder for competitors. Some were enacted in ignorance or ideology. These should be revised free from political and business interference.

The government grants companies corporate charters to absolve corporate officers of personal responsibility for corporate activities. The government in turn has the responsibility to regulate those activities to provide a level playing field for all corporations and to ensure the safety and well-being of the American people. And their unborn children.

Conservatives claim to be all about responsibility. Well, companies need to take responsibility for their employees and their products. Those responsibilities need to be clearly stated.

That's all regulations are.

Bad Move, Alison

I'm perplexed by Alison Grimes' refusal to say who she voted for in 2012. It's petty, childish, and most cowardly. More importantly, it signals the end of her candidacy as a Senator in Kentucky.

What she should have done is say, "Yes, I voted for him and yes I support some of the policies for which he stands like raising the minimum wage. However, I do not support his continued attack on the coal industry and would like to go to Washington to convince him to cease and desist." Obviously, they would have tied her to Barack Obama but so what? As I have said many times, put him on the ballot and let him kick the GOP's ass a third time.

Speaking of Barack Obama, I'm pretty amused by the hysteria over his "low" approval ratings. RCP average has him at 42 percent which is 4 points above his lowest single rating (38 percent, Sept 2014). Compare this to the last 8 presidents and their lowest approval ratings.

• George W. Bush: 25 percent in October 2008.
• Bill Clinton: 37 percent in May 1993.
• George H.W. Bush:29 percent in July 1992.
• Ronald Reagan: 35 percent in January 1983.
• Jimmy Carter: 28 percent in June 1979.
• Gerald Ford: 37 percent in March 1975.
• Richard Nixon: 24 percent in August 1974
• Lyndon Johnson: 35 percent in 1968.
Doesn't really look all that bad now, does it?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Democrats Have Already Won

Even though the election is two and half weeks away, the Democrats have already won.

Consider for a moment what happens if the GOP takes back the Senate (which I think they will). They will have one of two options. They can continue to behave like 12 year old boys, be stubborn and immovable, have temper tantrums, and play to their base with Obama hating. Or they can compromise and take credit for doing things they didn't want to give the president a full win on. Either way, the Democrats win.

If Republicans take the first route, they are fucked in 2016. Higher voter turnout will erase any victories gained this year with the GOP having to defend 24 of the 34 seats up for reelection in two years. The House will see losses as well. And, with a likely Hillary Clinton candidacy, the Democrats will see even higher voter enthusiasm as we could potentially elect our first woman president.

If Republicans take the second route, the country benefits and we actually get some things done we needed to get done six years ago.

Sally Kohn echoes much of this sentiment in a recent piece over at CNN. The fact that the Senate is still a contest does not bode well for the future of the GOP. Republicans tap dancing around the ACA is fucking hilarious. Even more funny is how desperate they seem.

Wasn't this election supposed to be about Obamacare? No, that didn't work. So Republicans tried to make the midterms about Benghazi. No luck there either. Now they're just generally fear-mongering around ISIS and Ebola and hoping that would work. But the constantly shifting Republican shell game shows how little substantive traction conservatives have with average voters outside their highly gerrymandered House districts. 

Every time they open their mouths, Republican candidates show that they habitually bash President Obama to distract from the impression that they have neither the intention nor ability to help solve urgent problems facing the country.


On the point of traction with average voters...

Economic equality and reproductive freedom are basic priorities for women voters, a group that Republicans already had a tough time winning over. The GOP even commissioned its own poll that found women voters are "barely receptive" to Republican ideas and think the party is "intolerant" and "stuck in the past." By their own deeds, not to mention rhetoric, Republicans just keep reinforcing their war on women and driving voters away.

With all of this, I say the GOP picks option two after they take back the Senate.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Media Hysteria

Voter ID Laws Backfire Across The Country

Take a look at this story from my local newspaper.

Less anticipated, however, was the robust and sometimes creative backlash that has followed from Democrats and their allies, who are launching a spirited counteroffensive that strategists say could end up benefiting party turnout on Election Day.

Uh oh...:)

So, where, pray tell, is this happening?

In Wisconsin, a photo ID law signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker led the mayor of liberal Madison to urge voting this November as an “act of defiance.” He wants city vans to take seniors to have their photos taken in time to vote.

North Carolina’s new voting laws, approved last year by the first GOP-led state Legislature since Reconstruction, spurred the NAACP to stage large-scale voter registration rallies that may explain why new Democratic registrations in some key counties are growing faster than new Republican registrations. 

And in Georgia, Democrats turned the court’s decision into an unexpected opportunity. After justices set aside the provision that required the state to obtain federal approval before changing voting rules, Democratic-led counties realized they had the authority to expand early voting in their districts. So polls will be open around Atlanta for the first time on Sundays.

I wonder if conservatives really knew what they were doing by supporting Voter ID laws. A couple of key losses in swing states because of this backlash would be exactly what they deserve.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jose, Can You See?

This redubbed video of a Scott Walker campaign ad is hilarious. Even more hilarious, it makes more sense than the original.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Second Amendment Trumps the First in Utah

Anita Sarkeesian, a critic of the way women are portrayed in video games, was  forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University after the university could not guarantee her safety:
Tim Vitale, the spokesman, said that the school police told Ms. Sarkeesian that, under Utah law, they could not prevent attendees from bringing concealed weapons to the event. 
In Utah the rights of video game addicts to commit a massacre outweigh the rights of a woman to speak in public without fear of being killed like some sex object in a video game.
On Monday evening, members of the administration at Utah State University received an e-mail warning that a massacre would be carried out against attendees of the event.

“This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” said the e-mail, which bore the name Marc Lepine, who killed 14 women in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989 before taking his own life.
Now, to see how ridiculously idiotic this situation is, imagine what the reaction of school officials would be if Ann Coulter were the woman speaking, and a misogynist Muslim calling himself Osama bin Laden sent an email threatening to commit a massacre during the speech to "silence that harridan."

Homeland Security would be all over it. They would spare no expense to track down the author of the email. If no suspects were apprehended, and Coulter had the guts to proceed with the speech this is how things would go down.

There would be a large police and FBI presence. Coulter would wear Kevlar and stand behind a bulletproof screen. If some "Muslim-looking" people showed up the FBI would arrest them on the spot, especially if they had weapons. But if by some miracle the FBI didn't arrest them, and let them into the auditorium with their weapons, they would certainly segregate them from the rest of the audience, perhaps even isolating them in a bullet-proof glass enclosure so they couldn't shoot anyone.

And if they didn't isolate suspected Muslims with weapons and allowed them to freely mingle with the crowd, and they suddenly started firing on the crowd during the speech, a small group of gunmen could easily kill dozens or hundreds of people. The cops couldn't even fire on them for fear of hitting human shields. Sure, a bunch of right-wing gun nuts would also show up and "guard" each armed Muslim, but since bad guys shoot first they're sitting ducks. And as as soon as one shot was fired, everyone would start shooting, and you'd have hundreds of friendly fire deaths.

I therefore submit that a Utah university president would never allow misogynist Muslims the opportunity to assassinate Ann Coulter. They wouldn't cite Utah law, they would say that they would do anything to protect their students. And we would all applaud them for saving society from the scourge of Islamic terrorism.

Yet Utah State University is perfectly willing to give misogynist gamers the opportunity to assassinate Anita Sarkeesian and anyone who would listen to her.

Conservatives seem to think there's some intrinsic difference between a Muslim terrorist who blows himself up at a marketplace, and a gun-loving American narcissist who murders twenty school children and then commits suicide. They're both terrorists, they're both criminals, and they're both alienated from society and want to strike out and hurt people in a blaze of delusional glory.

The petty details of what motivates them are irrelevant: the underlying psychopathy is the same. Islamic terrorism is no more heinous than school shootings.

Dead is dead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is The World Becoming More Peaceful?

Yes, it is.

Pinker points out that during World War II, the human population lost 300 of every 100,000 people each year. During the Korean War it was in the 20s, before dropping into the teens during the Vietnam era. In the 1980s and 1990s, it fell into the single digits. For most of the 21st century it’s been below one war death per 100,000 people per year. 

There has been an uptick globally as a result of the civil war in Syria, doubling from 0.5 per 100,000 to 1. But Pinker says “you can’t compare 1 with 15 or 25 or 300.” Everywhere else in the world, the stats are still trending downward. The same is true for homicides.

Pretty fucking cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Suddenly, South Dakota

It looks like the race for the Senate seat in South Dakota isn't as much of a slam dunk for the Republicans originally thought.

According to the Survey USA/KOTA/KSFY/Aberdeen American News poll taken between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, Rounds is only leading independent Larry Pressler 35-32 percent among likely voters. (Pressler is a former GOP senator who has not said how he would caucus if elected.) Not far behind is Democrat Rick Weiland, with 28 percent.

Add in the fact that the Democrats are now going to spend $1 million dollars in the cheap advertising market there and suddenly the GOP is playing defense. This story could also have an impact on Rounds.

No doubt, this year's elections are going to be interesting. A common theme that I have noticed among the Democrats is a fear based strategy with the express intent of getting people out to vote. When the media speaks of Republican waves based on certain polls, the Democrats send out emails and voter registration goes up in the battleground states.

Take, for example, the Quinnipiac poll from mid September that showed Republican challenger Bob Beauprez 10 points ahead of John Hickenlooper in the Colorado governor's race. The Democrats made a lot of hay out of that one and now take a look at the polls. Hickenlooper has led in every one except the Fox poll in which they are tied. Of course, no one really took the Quinnipiac poll seriously anyway so this could be just a normal readjustment.

It's also important to note the number of likely voters when looking at these polls. RCP shows how many LVs there are with each poll. The CBS poll, for example, has nearly 1700 likely voters while the Fox poll has only 700. Obviously, the CBS poll is more accurate with a greater number of LVs.

We are only three weeks out, folks, and things are likely to get more exciting. I'm still at 51-49, GOP favor, for the Senate...the House staying more or less the same...and somewhere between 3-5 GOP governors getting the boot.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Friday, October 10, 2014

Shit Your Pants!

100% Renewable

Burlington Vermont is now running on 100% renewable energy and I think that's pretty fucking cool. It's especially wonderful when you consider that the state of Vermont is planning on becoming the first state to be 100% renewable.

I wonder how many more states will follow suit...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Cure for Diabetes on the Horizon?

The long-sought advance could eventually lead to new ways to help millions of people with diabetes.

Right now, many people with diabetes have to regularly check the level of sugar in their blood and inject themselves with insulin to keep the sugar in their blood in check. It's an imperfect treatment.

"This is kind of a life-support for diabetics," says Doug Melton, a stem-cell researcher at Harvard Medical School. "It doesn't cure the disease and leads to devastating complications of the disease."

People with poorly controlled diabetes can suffer complications such as blindness, amputations and heart attacks.
If this result holds up under further study, it could be a real cure for diabetes. The implications for the nation's health and the cost of health care is huge. Diabetes cost an estimated $245 billion in 2012, including direct medical costs associated with diabetes and indirect costs such as lost productivity.

But the cost in human misery is incalculable. I have a sister-in-law whose son developed type I diabetes in elementary school. For the next several years her entire life revolved around measuring his blood sugar, planning out everything that that he would eat, and fretting every time he was late coming home from school that he had lapsed into a diabetic coma and lay dying alone.

But, incredibly, there are people who oppose this research:
"If, like me, someone considers the human embryo to be imbued with the same sorts of dignity that the rest of us have, then in fact this is morally problematic," says Daniel Sulmasy, a doctor and bioethicist at the University of Chicago. "It's the destruction of an individual unique human life for the sole purpose of helping other persons."
Embryos are alive, and they contain human DNA, but they are not people: once they have been prepared for in vitro fertilization and frozen, they are just a cluster of cells. Using embryonic cells from these sources to cure diabetes is no less ethical than transplanting the heart from a brain-dead victim of a car accident, or using cadaver ligaments to fix a torn ACL, or cadaver corneas to restore vision in the blind.

If the sentiment that unique human lives should not be destroyed for helping other persons were consistently employed, opponents of embryonic stem cell research might have some moral integrity. But most of the detractors also favor the death penalty, in which a unique human life is destroyed for petty revenge, and want anyone to be free to buy a handgun on demand and to shoot anyone they think might hurt them, and if they mistakenly kill an innocent person believe the shooter should suffer no consequences.

In any case, this will not be the final step in researching a cure for diabetes:
Melton thinks he can also make insulin cells using another kind of stem cell known as an induced pluripotent stem cell, which doesn't destroy any embryos. He's trying to figure out if it works as well, and hopes to start testing his insulin cells in people with diabetes within three years.
The goal for scientists is to figure out how switch a patient's own cells into such a pluripotent stem cell, which means no embryos would be involved. But scientists first have to figure out how stem cells differentiate into insulin cells naturally before they can coax adult cells back into stem cells.

Where do the stem cells whose dignity people like Sulmasy want to protect come from? Embryos that are left over after in vitro fertilization procedures. Embryos that would otherwise have to be destroyed are this very moment piling up by the hundreds of thousands in liquid nitrogen vats at in vitro fertilization clinics.

Does it really make more sense to incinerate those leftover cells, or to use a few of them to find a cure that save millions of people from debilitating and deadly diseases?

Train Your Wife

Could These Three Governors Be Going Bye Bye In A Month?

Take a look at these three governors...

They are Sam Brownback (Kansas), Rick Scott (Florida) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin). While everyone is hyper focused on the Senate and Republican "waves," I think that these three guys are all going to lose their jobs in a month. All of them have employed conservative policies in in their states and they haven't really gone over very well. Their opponents are ahead of them in most of the polls and their constituents are not happy at all.

So, if there is a wave of conservatism sweeping the nation, why are there guys in such trouble?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Obama's Numbers


The accompanying article really shows how looking at just one of these numbers isn't a barometer for measuring his success. So, what does it say when looking at all of the data?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Blank Jobs Plan

From a recent John Boehner tweet...

Largely accurate except there should be at least one point written which states "Against Barack Obama's plan."

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Decline in Poverty

In 2013, poverty declined in the United States and it went down faster for children which is very good news.

It was the first meaningful decline in poverty for children since 2000, and for the overall population since 2006.The declines are due largely to an improving job market, which has lifted the living standards not only for the newly employed but also for their children.

“Every child in this country matters. So while it is significant that child poverty decreased in this single year, the real takeaway is that it demonstrates poverty is not unsolvable,” Hannah Matthews of CLASP, a nonprofit group seeking to improve conditions for low-income people, wrote after the Census Bureau released the new numbers.

Obviously, there is a great deal of room for improvement but this news is most welcome!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Saturday, October 04, 2014

How Far They Have Come...

Repeat And Spread This Every Day Until The Election

From a recent Facebook post...

After the 2008 elections the Republicans were one more Election Day loss away from ceasing to be a viable national party. They had lost the '06 & '08 elections so badly that they became desperate. Out of that desperation came the strategy to oppose anything that Democrats in general and POTUS Obama in particular favored. 

This desperate strategy was hatched on the night of POTUS Obama's first inauguration and it was hoped that it would gum up the works of government to the point where enough people who were captivated and enthusiastic about the Obama presidency would become disenchanted by the lack of substantial progress on the most problematic issues, sit out future elections and stay out of the political process. Again, this was/is a strategy borne out of desperation but it was designed with some very deep-seeded traits (like the short attention spans of and instant gratification mindset of so many Americans) in mind too, particularly turning budding progressives off to the entire political process. Sorry to say that this desperate strategy worked better than the Republicans could have ever hoped, especially in the 2010 mid-term elections, when voter turnout nationwide plummeted to 40%. 

Liberal talking heads like filmmaker Michael Moore were so turned off by the lack of progress on key issues like financial reform and the lack of either single-payer healthcare or the public option being part of the final ACA that they actually encouraged progressives to not vote in 2010.

Republicans had nothing to lose by becoming professional obstuctionists as long as it succeeded in turning people (most of whom would probably vote for Democrats) off to the entire political process. The Republicans KNOW their base WILL turn out to vote as long as they continue obstructing and advocating what most of us consider policies and strategies that are off a cliff crazy. Despite the continuing high number of absolutely crazy policies advocated by Republicans, despite Republican pols continuing to disparage women, African-Americans, Latinos, gay-Americans, working class Americans of both genders and all ethnic backgrounds, despite the lack of even cloaking their ties to and obedience to corporate masters, the Republicans are looking at a very realistic chance of increasing their majority in the House of Representatives and gaining the majority in the US Senate.

Never seen anything like it in my life. It's like the more mean-spirited Republicans become the better their prospects become for the midterm elections. And this success is primarily (overwhelmingly) due to progressives (liberals) sulking and staying away from the process. 

Well, if progressives stay away from this year's elections ... quite possibly the most important midterm election in modern history ... and the Republicans win the day on Nov. 4, they should no longer wonder why things are so gummed up, why corporate interests win out on every issue or problem, why politics is such a filthy, cutthroat business because if they want to know who's fault it is, the first thing progressives who didn't vote should do is go look in a mirror.

This is exactly the message that needs to be repeated over and over again between now and election day.

President Obama Still Not Destroying The Economy

Unemployment rate drops to 5.9% as job growth rebounds

The economy added a robust 248,000 net new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percentage point to 5.9%, the lowest since July 2008, the Labor Department said. Job growth in July and August also was revised upward by a total of 69,000. That included lifting August's disappointing initial estimate of 142,000 net new jobs to 180,000.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Increasing Inequality

Check this out...

So, right around the time regulations started to loosen up in the late 1970s, things seemed to switch quite a bit, didn't they? When the economy grows, Pavlina R. Tcherneva illustrates quite cleary who benefits.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Buzz In The Tiny World Of Poll Nerds

I've been pretty amused by the Twitter war that has blown up between forecasters Sam Wang and Nate Silver. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the blogsphere (especially the right wing blogsphere) and social media need guys like Silver and Wang to thump their digital chests and pwn someone in comments (hmm...Silver and Wang...sounds like a gay porn title:))

In my view, Wang has been too optimistic about the Democrats' chances in taking over the Senate, although his latest model is line with my current prediction as well (51 R, 49 D). Yet, it's important to remember that Silver's model shows the Republicans with a 59.3 percent chance of winning the Senate and the Democrats with a 40.7 of holding on to the Senate. People look at this and say, "Oh, well the GOP are ahead so they will win." That's not how it works in statistics. Wang should know this when he admonishes Silver for being "wrong" about Montana and North Dakota. Silver wasn't wrong. Even though the odds favored the GOP in those races, they still lost. That's what happens sometimes.

The Republicans have been pretty smart this election cycle and kept the real nutters off the ballot. Their candidates have just enough Tea Party in them to pass muster and nowhere near the level of sheer moonbattery to drive midterm voters away. But they have to be careful.

Once the 2014 election is over, the 2016 election officially begins. The tables are going to be turned 180 degrees and the GOP is going to have to defend 24 seats to the Dems 10. If they spend two years acting like children and stonewalling the president, they'll lose the Senate, several seats in the House, and any chance of winning the White House. At half of the approval rating of the president, they will have zero wiggle room to have tantrums. Their future as a party depends on their willingness to compromise because their base is very old and the Democrats' base is young.

That's why I chuckle when I hear this year's GOP candidates say they are going to take it to the president and force their agenda down his throat. Yeah, like that's going to play well in 2016. No, sorry, I predict that if they do win back the Senate, they are going to cave on some issues...just like they always have before...and piss off their "no compromise" base.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Best Album Cover Ever!