May 28, 2011

Steny Hoyer hypocrisy alert - with #TPM abetting

Per Talking Points Memo, House Minority Whip Hoyer rightly notes that much of the U.S. deficit is due to tax cuts and wars. He/TPM publisher Josh Marshall even have a nice graph of this:

But, what Hoyer doesn't admit, and Marshall (conveniently?) refuses to tell us, is that Hoyer voted FOR the Iraq War, and just six months ago, voted FOR extending all Bush tax cuts.

Texas budget official; time for school suits against Perry?

With the Texas Legislature officially passing a new state budget that, from the start of the current legislative cycle, officially said "eff you" to school districts in the state (among other entities), will we see lawsuits by Texas school districts?

After all, the Rick Perry-sponsored franchise tax revisions are what led us to this point in the first place. And, as bad as they are, to the degree they did help schools, they were in response to previous legal activity against the state.
The shortfall was a result of a business tax that has consistently failed to generate expected revenues and a slump in sales tax receipts. Many commentators said it wouldn't bring in the revenue Perry claimed it would when he drafted its parameters in 2006. And, per the linked story, both Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said they *refused* to consider addressing this issue - five years later.

For public schools, the budget is at least $4 billion short of what districts would be owed for basic operations under current funding formulas. To accommodate the lower spending, the Legislature also is working on a companion measure that would change the formulas so the reduced funding levels are legal.
Note that? Unless the Lege makes the current cuts slashes legal, they ARE ILLEGAL! Can anybody say "ex post facto budgeting"?

Please, Rick, run for president. Even though I would still vote Green, I'd love to see the grudge match between you and Obama (if you made it past the primaries), with the "Texas miracle" getting torn to shreds by public scrutiny.

More about the myth behind that "miracle" here at Salon.

Wouldn't you love to have the Silver Fox, Barbara Bush, quoted against Perry?
Our schools are in crises: We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rates. An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma. We rank 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average math SAT scores. We rank 33rd in the nation on teacher salaries.
Not crisIS, either, for old Barb, but crisES.

And, that op-ed column by her was in early February, before school districts found out they were going to get this stiffed by the state.

Paul Ryan kidnaps Joe Nocera's brain

How else to explain Nocera's paean to Ryan, even with caveats, about his wisdom on Medicare in light of the NY-26 Congressional special election?

Nocera buries his nutgraf as the last one:
It would be nice if we could treat the Ryan plan not as an object of derision but as a launching off point for a serious debate. That way, maybe for once we could avert a crisis instead of acting shocked when it finally arrives.
Nice? Even if the cost savings of Obamacare are overrated, Ryan's opposed those savings. Ryan would shit bricks on Nocera's desk over the idea of national health insurance regulation, complete with a Washington bureau or agency.

Nocera then refuses to consider Ryan's idea within the larger context of Ryan's Randian political philosophy. And, that's why it is NOT and cannot be, the "launching off point for a serious debate."

Well, so far, Nocera's yet to measure up to the moderate but not too high standards of his NYT columnist predecessor, Frank Rich.

Charles Blow, his colleague, gets it much more nearly right, when he says:
This is not to say that Medicare isn’t in crisis. It is. But, we don’t have to gut it to save it.
But, Ryan wants to gut it. After sucking the brains out of people like Nocera.

May 27, 2011

Jaguar-nabber off the hook, almost scat-free

I'm surprised, but charges against Janay Brun in the case of the death of Arizona jaguar Macho B have been dropped.
(The dismissal happened) in return for her admission that she was involved in an attempt to capture jaguar Macho B without "authorization or permission."

Brun, a research technician, had already admitted placing female jaguar scat at the site where Macho B was captured, at the orders of Emil McCain, a prominent large-cat biologist.
At least something halfway close to justice seems to have been done; contrary to my earlier fears, the feds didn't shit on Brun. That said, it's said that Thorton Smith, whom I suspect of more than just a moderate cover-up, is immune from prosecution.

I don't think America is 25 percent gay/lesbian

However, that's the estimate of the average American, Gallup says.

I'm not surprised lesser educated think that, but the young? Maybe that's because in that age group, so many more gays and lesbians are out that it leads to overestimates.

And the distribution is interesting, too: not a bell curve, but an exponential curve to the right.

I don't get why Dems and liberals have higher estimates. Perhaps the old Kinsey numbers, plus some of the same things that I noted about younger respondents, are factors. But, it shows that the "reality based community" meme is selective at best and not true at most.

FDR 1936 vs BHO 2012

As President Barack Obama gets ever closer to an official start date for his 2012 presidential campaign and its alleged goal of $1 billion in fundraising, here's some food for thought:

What a difference 75 years makes, eh?

Will GOP put its illegal alien money where its mouth is?

It's clear to me, and probably to many Americans whose overall political views span across part and philosophical labels, that if the country really wants to stop illegal immigration, it needs to hit employers in the wallet.

Well, Arizona has had a such a law on the books, signed into law by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2007. Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave it the official imprimatur.

The rhetorical question of my header is no idle one.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which, unlike local affiliates, hugely represents Big Biz, not Main Street, has never liked the bill. Proof? Right here, from the battle over the Legal Arizona Workers Act:
Robin S. Conrad, a lawyer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s litigation unit, said in a statement that “the decision does not give states or local governments a blank check to pass any and every immigration law” and that only state laws consistent with the federal one were permissible. The Chamber of Commerce was a plaintiff in the suit.
What's the over-under on how long it takes the U.S. Chamber breaks out the federal lobbying big guns to try to get Congress to reform the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act? I'd say about a week.

I'd also say that on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, the timing is "great," because it sets up tea party individuals (real ones, not astroturfers) vs. Big Biz campaign contributions for a battle royale, at least potentially, within the GOP primary campaign. In town hall type settings, and not astroturfed Faux News debates, GOP candidates WILL get asked about this.

Beyond that, as I said, illegal immigration cuts across the spectrum of politics. About five years ago, when The Nation ran a fluff piece, and a long one at that, on this issue, about one-third of the readers, going by letters to the editor, strongly called it out.

Happy 100th, HHH

Better to celebrate Hubert Humphrey's birth centennial than Ronald Reagan's. Rick Perlstein wonders why the anniversary is largely being ignored.

In a word, Rick: Vietnam.

In two words vs. one word: "real liberalism" (overall) vs. "neoliberalism."

The real tragedy, more than him losing to Nixon in 1968? Him losing the nomination to Jimmy Carter in 1976, then Carter eulogizing "Hubert Horatio Hornblower" four years later.

Krugman is right that period, 1974-76 or so, marks the start of neoliberalism and the real start of increasing wage inequality.

May 26, 2011

Anti-environmental wingnut news briefs

First at bat? New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce will be claiming the desert pupfish supports Obamacare and socialism, after lying by trying to claim the endangered species kept Border Patrol agents from doing their job.

Second? Please don't try to tell me Arizona Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Paul Gosar actually care about the Navajos and Hopis in their district. Rather, in "caring" about the Navajo Generating Station, they care about cheap water for laws and golf courses in Phoenix, then for Peabody Coal.

Labor must be ready to make long-term break from Dems

Union and social organizer Amy Dean puts this at the bottom of her great column saluting AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for telling the Democratic Party not to take organized labor for granted.

It needs to be higher, right after her telling Trumka and other union leaders that they need to have action to match rhetoric.

But, it's still good, no matter the location:
Third, we have to be prepared to carry out a new political strategy from more than one election cycle. ...

To carry out a long-term strategy, we have to be prepared to give up our current illusion of influence. Too often, we are charmed by access. We are invited to sit on White House roundtables, or we are impressed that top officials will answer our calls. But what has this gotten us? If anyone has doubt about why simply electing more Democrats will not be enough for the labor movement to thrive - let alone survive - they need only to look at the track record under our past three Democratic presidents. Pro-union legislation and labor law reform failed under President Carter. It was never seriously considered under President Clinton. And EFCA was dead on arrival under President Obama.

We cannot keep making excuses for elected officials, saying that the "political will" necessary for them to do their jobs was not present. Political will begins with us. If we want a different result in the future, we must begin to do politics differently. And that means getting serious about putting force behind our declarations of independence.
Amen to all of this.

It exactly parallels the message Gang Green environmental groups need to heed about the current state of the Democratic Party and the often anti-environmental stances and actions of President Obama, as blogged here.

But, there's still something missing. And that is a failure to make an explicit call to arms for third-party voting.

Dean has a more in-depth piece on what labor can do at In These Times, but, it too has the same "missingness."

Amy, you can do even better.

You should know, and I think somewhere, you do know, that if push comes to shove, you need to shove. Period.

Like dirtier urban air? You've LOVE Obama

That's the latest olive branch semi-conservative President Barack Obama is extending to Big Oil and its ilk.

In the name of being more "business friendly" (but less lungs friendly) and eliminate allegedly "too burdensome" regulations, Team Obama wants to eliminate urban gas station vapor-trapping regulations.

Yep, those bellows on fuel nozzles at big city gas stations, already in place for a decade or more in larger urban areas, could be gone.

Here's the nugget:
The Environmental Protection Agency will eliminate requirements in some states for vapor recovery systems at gas stations, which are "redundant" because of improved air pollution controls in vehicles, saving $67 million annually.
Last time I checked, fuel pumps don't drive anywhere. Last time I checked, we'd added millions of new drivers to the road since the first vapor-control devices were required. Last time I checked, putting any additional petrochemical vapors in the air would not just be an air pollution problem but might add to global warming particulates, at least indirectly.

More proof that Obama's not even a neoliberal? Where his not-at-all liberal "tipping point" guru is presenting this:
Cass Sunstein, the White House regulatory chief, planned to describe the changes later Thursday morning in remarks to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Meanwhile, the intensely political Obama is clearly trying to have his neolib cake with conservative frosting, and eat it politically, too:
Most proposals announced Thursday are not final and will be updated to reflect public comment, the White House said. That process is expected to last into the summer, said lobbyists who had been told about the plan.
So, he'll see how loud environmentalists scream versus how much pre-informed lobbyists contribute to his campaign. Got it?

Now, you people who say "Ooohhhh, we could get a Republican president if all good liberals don't vote for Obama"? What do we have right now?

Brain-conjoined Siamese twins: Two minds or one?

A fascinating story about Krista and Tatiana Hogan, craniopagus siamese twins, connected at their heads, where their skulls merge under a mass of shaggy brown bangs.

As the story asks, do they have two minds or one? Judging by how one twin responds to sensory inputs the other receives, maybe we shouldn't quite say "one mind," but maybe "one and a half"?

Of course, if one believes in the existence of immaterial souls, Siamese twins like this pose a bit of a quandary, to say the least. I've not seen fractional souls ever proposed.

That said, my "one and a half minds" isn't meant to be taken literally. But, by showing minds can overlap in this way, it's meant to stir thought.

May 25, 2011

Pujols: Pressing?

While Albert Pujols isn't below the Mendoza Line, he's below his personal equivalent thereof, which leads to the big question: Is he "pressing" with this being a contract year?

And, does that reflect other psychological issues, as Bob Klapitch wonders?
“I don’t know, you wonder if (Pujols) is one of those guys who needs comfort and security to perform,” one major league executive said. “The way he’s going, he might’ve been better off taking the (Cardinals) offer that was in front of him.”
Pujols says, don't worry, it's just a mechanical issue:
“I know my swing. I'm trying to find my swing and trust my swing," Pujols told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently. "I'm going to hit the ball out of the ballpark 40 times a year because I'm strong enough and I put a good quality swing on it. But if I go out there and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark with every swing or worry that I haven't hit a ball out in 19, 20 games, then, believe me, that's ridiculous. That's how you hit .150 or .200."
But Jayson Stark says that's exactly the problem - he's trying to crush everything.
When a man who has been a gapper machine stops hitting doubles, it sends a clear message -- that he's stopped driving the baseball the other way and that he's spinning out, trying to pull everything, especially those breaking balls away.
That explains the lack of walks and the double-play grounders.

Maybe it's not all about "security," but it's clear that he's pressing, that this is NOT a mechanical issue. But, who can tell Pujols that?

His agent, Dan Lozano? I've never heard of Pujols having a retained sports psychologist. But, until he recognizes this and loosens up, I don't care how hot Lance Berkman is; pitchers who know he's chasing breaking balls low and away will keep throwing them to him.

Wetzel wrong on Lance Armstrong's inspiration value

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel is usually right on the money. But, his claim that Lance Armstrong's doping, if true, doesn't affect his inspirational value as a cancer survivor? Not so true.

Even if he didn't exaggerate a bit about the severity of his cancer, the "narriative" of his recovery is still clouded.

Inspirational enough, and more realistic, would have been a return to competitive cycling, climaxed perhaps by a top-10 finish in a Tour de France.

Otherwise, yes, even allowing for the higher use of PEDs in cycling, Armstrong, with his "holier than thou" stance that Wetzel nails, is a white Barry Bonds with a smaller head, at least in part.

The "Livestrong" and everything else ... how much is all of this now "hollowed out," as in a hollow mockery?

May 24, 2011

Peak Oil: Saudis to reopen original oil field

It can't be for symbolic reasons that Saudi Aramco is reopening the long-shut Dammam field, opened in 1938 and shut years ago.

And, if it was economically unfeasible in 2008, when oil prices were even higher than now, then why now? Are the Saudis losing more and more easy production? Are they expecting that much of a ramp-up in Chinese demand? A bit of both?

Doing skepticism and secular humanism right

Daniel Loxton makes Skepticblog a place still worth visiting, with a very good post urging a degree of kindness and nuance to people deluded by Harold Camping's rapture predictions.

The bulk of my comment:
Many people don’t give up old ideas, and, of those who do, it’s often a secular “leap of faith” from inside them as much as anything.

As Steve Gould noted in many ways and forms, life is massively contingent. Nowhere is that more true than inside the individual human psyche, in my opinion.

That then said, though, we never know how we will impinge on another’s internal contingencies and, the soft word is more likely to have an impact. It’s like nuclear fission — too energetic a neutron just bounces off the nucleus; a kind word may have the right “capture cross section.”
That said, how long before P.Z. or Jerry Coyne rip into this?

Bibi's speech: Lies, damned lies, smugness, intransigence

Israel Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was clearly playing to suckers like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he of undercutting Obama's non-change statement on 1967 borders, during Netanyahu's speech to Congress.

Let's start with the most basic of lies: Netanyahu's demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Aabbas recognize Israel's right to exist. Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat, did that LONG ago.

Smugness? Well, when you have somebody as stupid as Harry Reid running the U.S. Senate, it's easy to be smug.

Intransigence? Starting with his statement on borders, that's clear enough.

As for his offer to make "painful compromises," that probably means "I'll stop construction on one West Bank settlement of 50 houses."

And, I love the mainstream media that says there is no "Jewish lobby" manipulating public opinion. The mainstream media that doesn't have Arab commentators, even for an issue like this, on talk shows. That said, the claim is technically tru, only if you ignore the fundamentalist Christan "Amen corner." And, given Mr. Rapture, Harold Camping, ignoring Christian millennialists is something we do at our peril.

Speaking of that Amen corner, Glenn Greenwald snorts derisively at such "American patriots."

Surprisingly, Josh Marshall, whom I have characterized in the past as a semi-Zionist on Middle East issues over his eye-closing on the al-Jazeera leaks, sees through Netanyahu.

And that gets to the crux of the issue. Just as Israel essentially "created" Hamas decades ago, Zionists like Bibi want to yoke Fatah to it all they can, then claim Fatah did this freely, rather than being backed into an Israeli-American corner.

Don't forget that, Josh. You're still a semi-Zionist until you recognize how much a role the U.S. is playing here.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg notes Bibi is becoming as bumbling as stereotypical Palestinians.

And, here's great oversight on how theocrats are gaining more power in Israel, how it's a myth that Israel is so "insecure," and more.

China's Potemkin economy has its own energy crisis

Here's the problem in a nutshell, as the NYT describes it: Coal prices are soaring. Chinese coal-fired power plants are state-owned, or at least state-controlled, yet under a mandate to show a profit. But, Beijing, fearing economic disruption, has kept a VERY tight reign on price hikes.

So, the coal plants have taken drastic action — action they can control. They're rationing generation and power delivery. As in cutting a city of 360,000 down to getting electricity only every third day.

Hypercapitalists will note this shows the limits of a demand economy. But, not necessarily, at least not total limits. The state could, after all, jack up power prices to reflect the market.

What it shows, yet again, in part, is actually the bubbliness of the Chinese pseudomiracle. It shows WHY the government permits and even promotes bubbles — the fear of social unrest, 22 years after Tiananmen Square, is still high in many leaders' minds.

And, there's more fallout.

Also due to price issues, plus production issues, Chinese mines are selling only their crappiest, dirtiest, highest-sulfur coal. Weather and other problems have cut exports from Australia, a major Chinese coal supplier.

And, whether production cuts at factories due to electricity shortages, or price hikes due to realistically-priced electricity, the price of Made in China crapola coming to the U.S. will rise, in addition to rising shipping costs.

Don't expect jobs to move back here, though. Just sulfur compounds wafting across the ocean.

May 23, 2011

Could Kucinich run for Congress again?

Ohio is losing two Congressional seats, and, as I've blogged before, it's clear that his district will be merged, in essence, with a neighboring seat held by a black Democrat deeper in downtown Cleveland.

So, "Dennis the Menace" is thinking of .... moving to Washington state and unning from there.

Per the story, I would have to agree that establishment Dems there, at least, would surely regard him as a carpetbagger, to put it bluntly. But, it might be worth a shot for him. That said, I don't think he's likely to pull it off.

I'd suggest looking to be a fellow at a liberal think tank, or to run a liberal nonprofit.

Some thoughts for soul believers

As Sean Carroll notes, it is technically true (Hume and the problem of induction strike again!) that an immaterial soul exists and is outside the provability bounds, or investigation, of current science.

But, as he also notes, it's also technically true that the moon, or some part of it at least, could in fact be made of green cheese!

And, he makes the burden heavy by whipping out Dirac's electron interaction equation and then asking soul believers to explain, in the terms of that equation, or if not, by adding scientifically measurable terms to that equation, how a soul could interact with the brain.

That said, one could be an epiphenomenalist. Perhaps Adam Frank, to whom Carroll is replying, is. But, while not logically impossible, nor inductively disprovable in a narrow sense, an epiphenomenalist soul that totally mirrors brain activity while never interacting with it is even more ludicrous than a soul that does. It's not too much to claim that it's impossible for such a critter to have evolved. And a deity that made that sort of soul would be even more ... risible? ... than one who made an immaterial, but interactionist, soul.

That said, it is true that science hasn't come close to investigating everything; it's also true that logically, you can't prove the nonexistence of anything — it's the equivalent of dividing by zero.

But, realistically? ....

Perhaps, as Alva Noe notes, the idea of a soul's existence is incoherent, a thought that a Wittgenstein would have us unask or unthink.

Otherwise, like many religious/philosophical ideas that originated thousands of years ago, it sounds wonderful to a nonrational part of our brains. But, wondrousness and desirability don't make anything more real. Not souls, not pearly gates, not weight-reducing chocolate or other things.

Plus, it's like the conservative Christian story of how non-rebellious angels were "confirmed in their goodness" after Satan's rebellion. Why couldn't the Judeo-Christian god have done that for Adam's progeny? Or, if immaterial souls are so good then, like the angels, why weren't we created with just them?

And, while I'm focusing on Christianity, it's not just it as a religion. It's the metaphysical claims of religion in general. If they're so good, and there's a divinity that does care about us that much, why not give us that at the start?

Claiming we need to "grow" here on earth? Really? That claim is never made as something we need to keep doing, and to keep doing with psychological toil and anguish, in an afterlife.

I think most agnostics, and the majority of atheists, even, would like to see some version of some of the metaphysical promises of organized religion be true. But, again, wondrousness isn't reality-making.

May 22, 2011

Lying for the sake of New Atheism

"Atheists have better sex!"

Sounds like a great recruitment tool, especially for a Gnu Atheist like P.Z. Myers trying to recruit cadres of shock troops to fight the evil religionists.

So, when a survey notes such a fact, or apparently does, Greta Christina writes it up at AlterNet and PZ then blogs about it.

But, not so fast, Mr. Cadre Recruiter.

First, the survey says nothing about sex being better for the irreligious, just that they're less guilty about it. Arguably, that means it's more satisfying, but for someone like a Penitente, or a masochist, guilt may be part of the fun, and I mean that seriously.

And, PZ lied, or at least pulled an advertising fudge of incomplete comparisons, anyway. Atheism doesn't top all religions on sexual satisfaction. Per the bottom of the story — Jews and Unitarians are even more comfortable. Per Twain or whomever, never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. But many Gnus, including PZ, like to lump all religions together.

That then points up yet another issue where this survey is unscientific and badly so.

Jews and Unitarians are known, if even stereotyped, for their political liberalism. The majority of Jews are in the U.S. are either Conservative or Reform, and so, along with Unitarians, are also religiously liberal and nonliteralist.

Mormons, who topped the sexual guilt list, are just the opposite. Ditto in general for Baptists. But, folks like Catholics, Lutherans or Methodists run a gamut of religious and political liberalism.

However, the survey didn't appear to do any differentiation with respondents.

So, what we appear to have is a more liberal attitude on life in general being reflected in sexual guilt or lack thereof.

Finally, by being self-reported, it comes close to some of the Pop Ev Psych that PZ rightly deplores.

So, to sum up, the survey is pretty much crap, as is the trumpeting of it.

Beyond that, in terms of percentage of college graduates, or percentage of people making more than $75,000 a year, secularists, perhaps somewhat more broad a term than atheists, are only right around average. I don't P.Z. wil be trumpeting that one any time soon.

Canada's Harper panders to Israel and Zionists

Gee what a "shock." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes George W. Bush once again, this time rejecting UN resolutions to that end, by saying he cannot support U.S. President Barack Obama's saying that 1967 borders needed to be the basis and starting point for Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

Never mind that Obama's stance is:
A. Nothing really new from the U.S. standpoint and
B. Not substantive anyway, as I've blogged before, because it's full of loopholes.

Are there that many neocons in Canada? Is Harper trying to foster a movement?