SocraticGadfly: 4/26/09 - 5/3/09

May 02, 2009

The Obama online coup vs. real online activism

That’s a subhead, and a great one, about halfway down John Stauber’s column about moving beyond MoveOn, aka Team Obama Cheerleaders, and using the Internet for real progressive change.

The “coup”?
Arguably the most important key to the success of President Barack Obama was his use of the Internet and his ability to harness it for publicizing his campaign, among young voters especially.

Wouldn’t disagree a bit.

Of course, MoveOn co-founder Joan Blades did, and does, plenty of Obama flacking over at Kos, another reason not to read the Orange Monster, though you do get some Obama critiquing there on occasion.

Stauber looks at both MoveOn and Kos and has suggestions for REAL online progressive activism, the next stage.

Polish pianist gets political

In the middle of a U.S. tour, Polish classical pianist Krystian Zimerman said he would no longer tour the U.S. until President Barack Obama stopped following in President Bush’s footsteps on a U.S. missile defense shield in Poland.

Read the full story for more about his past and present political stances and more.

May 01, 2009

Raise revenue AND fund finance-sector regulation

How? A financial transaction tax, Dean Baker says. Just consider it a small federal sales tax. Of course, if the finance sector is like Big Pharma, it will then insist on the right to name federal policemen itself.

Norway: Share the wealth in Arctic

Norway is calling for its fellow Arctic-bordering countries to increase cooperation on oil and gas exploration work and other natural resources development issues.

April 30, 2009

Or, for a third Obama 100 days take, a gentler one

At The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel says his meeting April 28 with the Congressional Progressive Caucus bodes well for the future.
“It was a serious meeting,” CPC Co-Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva said. “It moved quickly, there was a lot of candor from both sides.”

Ahh, Katrina, you know better.

“Serious” is one of the Beltway’s biggest weasel code words.

Besides, immediately after that quote, Grijalva lists a whole number of the caucus’ concerns, starting with healthcare, Iraq and Af-Pak:
“We’ll be revisiting this decision (of more militarization of policy) every week, every month.”

Talk doesn’t mean action, except in vanden Heuvel’s mind:
In the past, Caucus members have had a hard time doing their politics together. This afternoon's meeting with President Obama may signal a new unity that bodes well for the tough fights ahead.

Geez o pete, get a clue.

If you don’t like MY ‘100 days’ assessment of Obama

Try the one by the Center for Constitutional Rights, complete with multiple action alerts.

Oh, and while the ACLU still does a lot of good, ever since its executive director, Anthony Romero, got busted for telling Fortune 500 companies how to comply with the Patriot Act, then he and board of directors supporters went on a purge of dissenting members, I’ve not financially supported the ACLU vs. CCR.

Scorecarding Obama’s first 100 days

Contrary to Ted Sorenson’s hagiography, it’s wayyy too early to pronounce that he’s going to be one of the greatest presidents ever.

Here’s my look:
• Stimulus bill? A B grade. Agreed with Krugman that it could have been higher, especially if he had started with a higher starting point, and if he had gotten Congressional Dems to get their act together.
• TARP, etc? D to D-minus. It’s too early to flunk him in this class, but his first quarter’s grade is poor, and all self-inflicted.
• Torture, the memos? A-minus. Not quite an A, due to some backstory info.
• Torture, the investigation? F. No other grade is possible.
• Foreign relations, most of world? B-plus so far. Maybe edging toward A-minus.
• Foreign relations, Israel and Middle East? C-minus. He’s already gotten rolled once by the Israel lobby.
• Foreign relations, military areas? C-minus. He gets an incomplete, penciled in as a C, for Iraq withdrawal plan and caveats. He gets a D for Afghanistan. More troops, unless it’s twice as many as the Soviet Union, ain’t the answer.
• Civil liberties? Grading on a curve of where a constitutional law prof should be, he gets an F. State secrets, and telco immunity.
• Gay rights? C-minus. He’s done some symbolic gestures, as the story notes, but he already let Secretary of Defense Robert Gates back him away from overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And, his administration was 100 percent silent on the ephochal action of Vermont OK gay marriage by legislative action and not judicial ruling. (Maybe he should be at D-plus.)
• Cabinet? D-plus. Geither gets an F. The Daschle fiasco was just that. And, the proliferation of extraconstitutional czars is worrisome.

Overall grade? To riff on our previous president’s collegiate career, a “gentleman’s C.”

National Parks definitely need more money

Staffing levels are getting ridiculous.

Yesterday, before I flew out here to California, I called Yosemite's main number, trying to get to talk to a ranger about trail conditions in general and, in particular, if the cables to the summit of Half Dome had, perhaps, been set up a week or two earlier than is normal, due to the generally dry to very dry Californian winter.

Went through the phone menu... got the "talk to a ranger" option.
And, after 8-10 rings, and no pick-up,sent back to the main menu.

Swine flu – WHO says deaths highly overstated

The World Health Organization says it has only officially confirmed “seven swine flu deaths, all in Mexico.

Given that one death’s already been confirmed here in Texas, and the U.S. in general has some sort of medical clue on such things, WHO seems to be “spinning” as much as anything.

April 29, 2009

Utah Gov: GOP can’t ‘just say no’

We’re not in Nancy Reaganland anymore is the message of the Republican governor of one of the nation’s most conservative states. Jon Huntsman wants positive proposals (are you listening, “tea partiers”?) and not just “grousing and complaining.”
It would do us all a whole lot of good if we actually started engaging directly in finding compromises and common ground and shared solutions.

Odds are tea partiers are still holding their breath and pouting right now.

Obama already weaseling on Iraq ‘withdrawal’

Per the New York Times, in a story getting little airplay with swine flu fears the U.S. and Iraq are supposed to start negotiating exceptions to the June 30 deadline for American troops to start withdrawing from Iraqi cities.

It’s pretty clear the U.S. Army’s brass hats want to stay in Mosul, Iraqi government be damned.

And, in the ultimate weaseling, Camp Victory is considered to not be a part of any city – but that weaseling is bipartisan between both countries’ armies.

Gear up the Badr Brigades?

Anyway, this is why the MSLBs are slipping, IMO. None of the bigs among "liberal" blogs has covered this in any real way.

New Hampshire and Maine moving closer to gay marriage

And both, like neighbor Vermont, will do it via the legislative route, if things keep going forward.

The New Hampshire bill, just passed by the state Senate, throws a sop to the Religious Right by distinguishing between civil and religious marriages. The state House has already passed a similar bill, but without the marriage distinction, so this will have to go to conference committee.

In Maine, a bicameral judiciary committee has given its okey-dokey to a gay-marriage bill.

Now, are Congressional Dems getting the stones up to resist the GOP-Religious Right anti-gay marriage amendment firestorm that's coming?

And, for that matter, are Obama and Biden ready to change THEIR tunes about gay marriage vs. civil unions if two more states OK gay marriage via the legislative route? Because that will be the bottom line.

Oh, and what if married gay ppl want in the military? DADT is going to be under yet more pressure, too.

Beyond that, given that many surveys show sexual orientation diversity is good for metropolitan development, a quality white-collar workforce and more, seems like New England states may be engaging in a little economic recovery.

Swine flu – Texas postpones high school athletics

Baseball playoffs have been pushed back a week and the regional round of track meets has been cancelled on action of the University Interscholastic League. Unless you’re going to vaccinate state-level athletes or something, seems like an overreaction. A big overreaction.

If the swine flu is really THAT serious, cancellation would be the only reasonable route.

Wonder how much posturing by Lil Ricky Perry was behind this? And, will Mr. Tea Douche Bag ask for more, and more, and more, and more, and more, federal help?

Update: Of course, UIL is now doing a partial rethink.

GM to whack 1,200 dealerships ASAP

The Morning News claims Texas may not be as badly hurt as some states, due to Texas’ size, the large territories of some dealers and the strong sales here. That’ in context of GM’s ultimate plan to whack 2,600 dealers by the end of next year.

OTOH, as central and east Texas’ larger cities develop more exurbs connected to them, if tenuously, some of those dealers may be big enough to push some small-town dealers out.

Swap Michelle Bachmann for Rick Perry?

With Michelle Bachmann’s latest lunacy, this time over swine flu, evolutionary biology blogger P.Z. Myers, aka Pharyngula, says the Minnesota Congresswoman makes it hard for progressives in the Great White North to be snooty snooty about Texans. I’ve offered to swap him straight up, Bachman for Lil Ricky Perry, at No. 6 in comments. We’ll see what sort of response I get.

Can Specter win the PA Dem primary?

Since Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter swapped parties because he knew he couldn’t win the GOP primary, and couldn’t win as an independent, Jon Chait asks the bottom-line question.

I agree with Chait.

I think Specter will have a tough problem in the Democratic primary. Being pro-choice isn’t a big deal, as Bob Casey showed. Being anti-union, as Specter has often showed, in a Rust Belt or northeastern or middle Atlantic state? THAT matters.

Enjoy your last 20 months in office, Arlen.

Swine flu – first Texas death

Well, it looks like the first non-Mexican swine flu death has hit just north of the border.

An autism gene! ? ! ?

No, there’s not just one, or even close to it, but the discovery of the first autism genetic link is huge, huge, huge!

First, even though it’s only common to about 15 percent of purported autism cases, it will improve diagnosis. That includes lessening MISdiagnosis.

And that, with today’s autism hysteria, is far and away from a small issue.

As I’ve blogged before, it’s quite possible a change in psychiatry’s bible, the DSM, basically “invented” Asperger’s syndrome, by changing “schizoid disorder of childhood” in DSM-III to Asperger’s in DSM-IV. Then, if Asperger’s has been “updiagnosed” to autism, especially by alt/pseudomedical practitioners seeking to sell a cure, there’s part, at least of your “autism” explosion. Finding this gene, if it holds up, and even more, if others are found, will combat such things.

Second, speaking of autism hysteria, an autism gene shoves conspiracy mongering, anti-medicine inanity, etc., right in the face of the anti-vaccine crowd.

Third, as the mutation affects nerve synapses, it would seem to be the “right,” explanatorily speaking, kind of mutation.

Now, that all said, this genetic mutation is not at all exclusive to people with autism.

And, this may be a blind alley. I’m thinking this could be a primo example of why medical research needs to tighten the incredible looseness of its p-values. No, not to the same as physics. Of course not. But, even a p-value of 3 percent, instead of 5 percent, would exclude semi-bad medical research while being highly unlikely to delay any lifesaving findings.

April 28, 2009

FAA knew NYC flyover could cause panic – time for some firings

And, it sent the backup Air Force One buzzing the city anyway. And threatened federal sanctions if anybody in the Big Apple leaked the info.

And, for a price of $60K/hr for AF One backstop, NOT counting the F-16 escorts.

Appeals court: CIA torture victims can sue

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said five men who alleged CIA torture can sue the government, alleged “national security” claims be damned.

And, with that, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan goes back to U.S. District Court in San Francisco to continue the civil trial process.

Greenwald has in-depth analysis of the ruling. The government can appeal this to the full Ninth Circuit, even while the discovery process at the district level looks at individual documents.

The big thing he notes is that the panel said the state secrets privilege is applicable to specific aspects of a case and cannot be used as a sort of civil pleadings prior restraint.

Chrysler dodges bankruptcy bullet? UAW makes dumb move?

Facing a Thursday deadline for Chrysler to restructure or likely get cut off from the government teat, its largest lenders agreed to a major debt restructuring.

Meanwhile, the Ram could getmajority union ownership as part of its larger restructuring.

I personally think it’s a dumb idea; Chrysler has even less to offer in the way of non-gas guzzlers than does GM. The employee work tasks/definitions restructure may help, but that doesn’t totally address the timeframe needed to turn around a crappy brand outside trucks. (Even there, Dodges are among the biggest gas guzzlers.)

And, all in exchange for just one UAW health trust fund seat on Chrysler’s board? I guess the UAW is both easy AND cheap.

Swine flu update – cases grow in NYC; new Mexican measures

New York City is now up to 45 confirmed cases, with many, many more suspected.

Mexico City has banned sit-down restaurant dining; only take-out sales are now allowed.

In my part of Texas, after a Mexico City has press release yesterday (PDF), Dallas County Health and Human Services is distributing a “tips” letter for parents via all county school districts.

Arlen Specter now a Dem – sort of; GOP stunned

Does Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter even know his own self?

A month AFTER saying he would vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, damn the union pressure, NOW, he says he’s changing parties and becoming a Democrat Well, sort of, perhaps.

Specter would be the 59th GOP Senator, increasing the move to seat Al Franken from Minnesota as soon as possible.

But, hold the phone. Specter says he’s not a guaranteed 60th vote for closure.

So, if he’s not a guaranteed vote, how much did Majority Leader Harry Reid, et al, “pay” him in terms of committee assignments to switch? The negotiations have been going on for some time.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a fellow moderate, didn’t seem surprised. On the national level, she says, “you haven't certainly heard warm encouraging words of how [the GOP] views moderates. Either you are with us or against us.

“Ultimately we’re heading to having the smallest political tent in history they way things are unfolding. We should have learned from the 2006 election, which I was a party of. I happened to win with 74 percent of the vote in a blue-collar state, but no one asked me, ‘How did you do it?’ Seems to me that would have been the first question that would have come from the Republican Party to find out so we could avoid further losses.”

If she wasn’t surprised, non-moderate top dogs in the GOP Senate structure were totally surprised, including Texas’ often-clueless John Cornyn, the man responsible for getting more GOP senators elected.

Maybe they should have been, especially since switch negotiations had been ongoing, and they had the Jim Jeffords example from the start of this decade.

Specter offers more insight on his switch.
Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

So, why didn’t Specter do the “independent” route, like Jeffords or Joe Lieberman?

Well, for one thing, they did it not too long after being re-elected, not in the face of an election. Jeffords has retired, and Joementum? We’ll see in four years.

As for Specter and the Democratic Party? Former Constitution Center CEO Joe Torsella, the one announced Democrat in the Senate race, said that he would remain in the Democratic primary against Specter for now.

Meanwhile, will somebody besides Pat Toomey enter the GOP primary? Surely. How many somebodies, and how moderate they are, remains to be seen.

New Mexicans can breathe easier

The Environmental Protection Agency has pulled the plug on the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired electric plant.

The EPS found Desert Rock’s would-be operators had rushed the process and didn’t include integrated gasification combined cycle generation as part of a review of best policies.

Flip side is that the Navajo Nation is upset at Anglos, feeling it didn’t get a square deal. And, rightly so, on one level. But, on the other hand, where was “hozho” and the “We Walk in Beauty” from the tribe from the get-go? (Said as someone who grew up in Gallup.)

GM could shrink to 10 pct of peak size

To avoid being dismembered, GM could wind up with just 38,000 employees, or a little less than one-tenth of what it had at peak employment in 1970.

It all won’t matter, though, if the General goes bankrupt without a structured bankruptcy. That looks more and more likely. Bondholders simply won’t sign on the bottom line; reportedly, many have credit-default swap “bets” against GM’s future, anyway.

At the same time, the grousing by both bondholders and GM dealers who may get shut down indicates they still don’t get it.

For all we know, GM or its remnants may, by no later than 2015, have no more employees than Toyota does. In Toyota’s U.S. operations alone.

April 27, 2009

Swine flu – New York Times fluffing Obama

In talking about how a still partially-filled Obama Cabinet underscored the value of parliamentary government, and the need for it here in the U.S. (a theme I noted at the end of my large post on Smithfield Foods being the likely source of the swine flu in Mexico) I cited THIS NYT story, quoting the last graf:
The outbreak in the United States comes before President Obama has his full health team in place. His nominee for health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, nor has the woman he selected to Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner. Mr. Obama has not yet named anyone to run the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health.

I then responded: Why do people who should know better continue to defend the horribly antiquated Constitution of the United States?

Uhh, one SLIGHT problem. The Old Gray Lady has now REMOVED that paragraph.

I can only figure it was to fluff Obama.

Atheist visibility increases

Even to the point that Dallas’ own Metroplex Atheists gets profiled as part of National Journal’s cover story (PDF).

It’s part of a trend of such stories, as the New York Times also exemplifies.

Key to atheists, agnostics, antitheists and other secular humanists raising our activism profile is a new umbrella coalition of secular humanist groups, Secular Coalition of America.

As the National Journal story notes, it's the rise of New Atheists like Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Dan Dennett contributing to this surge, not just in the U.S., but other English-speaking countries, too.

Swine flu – GOP blocked more pandemic money; and?

John Nichols has the details. House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey wanted about $900 million in stimulus money for upping pandemic preparations, but Senate GOP moderates blocked it as not being linked to economic recovery.

That said, Susan Collins et al were right, looked at narrowly. The money didn’t really have anything to do with economic recovery. And, while John Nichols is generally quite good, I think he’s riding the partisanship pony a bit too heavy on this one.

Swine flu another example of need for parliamentary govt

The New York Times story explains it succinctly:
The outbreak in the United States comes before President Obama has his full health team in place. His nominee for health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, nor has the woman he selected to Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner. Mr. Obama has not yet named anyone to run the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health.

Why do people who should know better continue to defend the horribly antiquated Constitution of the United States?

And, given our two-party duopoly, while people may be quarantined, CAFO hog farms most certainly will not.

And, since a Smithfield CAFO-type farm in Vera Cruz, Mexico is the likely source for the swine flu outbreak, they obviously NEED to be quarantined.

April 26, 2009

Swine flu – DON’T eat Smithfield Foods pork

Apparently a Smithfield CAFO-type farm in Vera Cruz, Mexico is a likely source (hat tip Grist) for the swine flu outbreak:
Residents [of La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico] believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to ‘flu.’ However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

Oh, this particular farm? According to Smithfield’s website, the Granjas plant “produced” (its words not mine!) 950,000 hogs last year. Holy hog shit, Batman.

Oh, and by the way, the first cases were nearly a month ago and no MSM coverage yet of the Smithfield angle in the U.S.

For your further curiosity, per Los Alamos National Laboratory, 50 days is the vector time for a full-blown outbreak if this isn’t controlled.

Let’s hope President Barack Obama’s public health emergency actually does something, and that it, in the long run, addresses CAFO livestock “production.”

Meanwhile, swine flu is another example of our need for parliamentary government.

The New York Times story explains it succinctly:
The outbreak in the United States comes before President Obama has his full health team in place. His nominee for health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, nor has the woman he selected to Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner. Mr. Obama has not yet named anyone to run the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health.

Why do people who should know better continue to defend the horribly antiquated Constitution of the United States?

And, given our two-party duopoly, while people may be quarantined, CAFO hog farms most certainly will not.

Why didn’t CDC know more about start of Mexican flu?

The Centers for Disease Control is still halfway in the dark about the seriousness of what's happening in Mexico. CANADA knew more about the first stages of the problem than we did, specifically the highly relevant fact that it is caused by a new strain of swine flu.

And, the story doesn’t make clear whether this is Mexico’s fault or the CDC’s, but, given that Canada DID know these details, the first option for blaming is on our side of the border.

So, per the header, why didn’t CDC know more about start of Mexican flu?

Swine flu epidemic coming? And to America?

The World Health Organization has issued a global be aware warning, even as new U.S. cases of the new swine flu were reported in New York City and Kansas, along with cases already in Texas and California.

First, without getting into all the other muck and arguing about illegal immigration, given that Mexico is a hotspot for the new swine flu version, we just got yet another argument for beefing up our southern border. (As if food hygiene from Mexican produce and illegal immigration aren’t two issues in and of themselves.)

AND, this does not help, either. The Centers for Disease Control is still halfway in the dark about the seriousness of what's happening in Mexico. CANADA knew more about the first stages of the problem than we did.

Despite the number of cases in Mexico, WHO opted not to raise its official alert status level, just putting out the “be aware” warning.

If David Broder is agin it, I’m for it – prosecuting torture

The so-called dean of Washington opinionators, David Broder, tells President Barack Obama to stick by his guns and not prosecute torturers, torture abetters, etc.

First, Broder shows he’s as bad at psychology as opinion writing, worrying about the vengeance factor.

Second, he gets facts about Obama wrong:
Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

Guess Mr. Broder’s never heard of a place called Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and the expansion it’s undergoing right now.

Third, Broder claims this is more scapegoating. Really.

Even by Broder’s standards, this is both stupid and platitutdinous both. Read the column for yourself.