SocraticGadfly: 8/26/12 - 9/2/12

August 31, 2012

How feds could trump state voter ID laws

Yes, Texas's voter ID law has also gotten a smackdown in appeals court yesterday, but that's not going to either stop AG Greg Abbott from appealing to the Supreme Court, with a possible win there, or if that fails, the Texas Legislature to draft something just slightly less onerous next year.

But per friend Leo Lincourt, who cites a letter to the editor in Fort Wayne, Ind., about voter ID there, and the dangers of not renewing a driver's license on time, I got to thinking.

And here's a tentative possible solution.

Federal photo ID Medicaid cards!

Yes, it's state administered, but it's a federal program. True, folks like Tricky Ricky Perry might try to go so far as to use this as an excuse to opt out of even current abysmal Medicaid service providing, but there'd be other sticks of heavier hitting if he tried.

Or since states now have debit-type cards for food stamps, like the Lone Star Card here in Texas, which get federal funds, require a photo on there and force states to accept.

I think that, based on the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution, even though Chief Justice Roberts' majority swing vote on the Obamacare ruling trimmed its sails, you could force states to do this on legal grounds.

August 28, 2012

Jed Clampett, #BeverlyHillbillies, fracking style

Jed Clampett/Forbes
The reality of the natural-gas fracking world continues to hit in the hills at the edge of Appalachia, for folks like Mike and Nancy Leighton, where methane from a natural gas fracking job literally made water bubble out of their water well.
"I said, 'I'll be down in 15 minutes.' I wanted to see the race," Leighton said. But as the horses were racing, Leighton's well was overflowing. Typically, there's between 80 to 100 feet of head space between the top of the well and its water supply. But when Leighton went outside, the water was bubbling over the top.

Down the road, Ted and Gale Franklin's water well had gone dry. When water started coming out later that week, the liquid was "black as coal," according to Gale.

Since then, both families have been dealing with methane-contaminated water supplies, as well as dozens of mysterious, flammable gas puddles bubbling up on their properties.
When I read about such unfortunates, I start thinking about the Beverly Hillbillies theme song and wanting to riff on it:

Come and listen to a story about Chesapeake Gas
Some rich billionaires, with money out their ass,
Then one day it was frackin on a well,
And up through the ground came a bubblin hell.

Methane that is, bridge fuel, Ponzi schemes.

Well the first thing you know Leightons breathe dead air,
Kinfolk said "Hey, move away from there"
Said "Californy is the place you ought to be"
Mike and Nancy longed to move to Beverly.

Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.

But one thing the kinfolks didn't know at all,
The Leightons didn't have another spot to fall.
They all possessed just the land of this locality
But the mineral rights had been sold by a legatee!

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Texas 'discriminatory' redistricting gets court smackdown

And, now we know why the Texas GOP wanted to separate the earlier redistricting ruling on interim redistricting from Voting Rights Act issues. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals says the redistricting maps don't pass muster, not at all. In fact, the court's full opinion mentions "retrogression" and "discriminatory intent."

For example, in discussing Congressional redistricting:
(W)e agree that the plan was enacted with discriminatory purpose.
Indeed. The court goes on to cite specific instances, with folks like Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green.

But, assuming that SCOTUS doesn't intervene, the new Congressional, state House and state Senate seats will remain in place for two years, and it will be harder to eject first-time newcomers from places like the conservative-driven U.S. House District 25.

That said, though it was a borderline correct call SCOTUS did intervene over the San Antonio district court panel's original ruling in the interim redistricting, and also forced it to delink from Voting Rights Act preclearance issues.

Anyway, as I said months ago, due to that delinkage, this ruling today may be a fairly hollow victory for Democrats, minorities and electoral justice. But wingnuts like Greg Abbott won't settle for partial wins.

Beyond that, the loser is the Texas taxpayer whom the Texas GOP falsely claims to love. Because of this ruling, if it stands, next year's Legislature will have to start over from ground zero. The interim maps cannot be used as a starting point. And, the GOP is probably likely to try to get away with something again, especially if Romney is elected. So, we'll waste more taxpayer money on more court battles, more state redistricting experts, etc.

Update: I may, just may, have spoken too soon on the interim maps issue. At National Journal, Michael Li says the San Antonio court, time-pressed as it might be, could indeed decide to take today's ruling into account.

Update, Aug. 30: And, what's no surprise, either, Texas voter ID law has also gotten a smackdown in appeals court.

August 27, 2012

What does the new polar ice low mean?

The sharp shrinkage of Arctic ice is evident versus the yellow average./NBC
If you haven't heard, the ice level in the Arctic Ocean set a record for new low, and we still have two weeks or more left until peak melt, going by past years.

Here's some likely fallout.

First, this is going to increase the push for "Northwest Passage" commercial shipping. In turn, the soot from marine diesel in the summer will further accelerate ice melt. And, that itself will be a vicious circle of feedback in the summer, in ways that may not yet be fully known to the degree Arctic currents change.

Second, that push will possibly exacerbate international tensions. Canada has made quite clear that it will keep a strict watch on border issues for ships attempting the passage, including against the Colossus of the South, the US of A.

Third, Canada, the US, Russia for sure,  possibly Norway and possibly Greenland and/or Denmark, are all going to look to further expand Arctic oil exploration, which we really don't need for multiple reasons. Add in wrangling over continental shelf issues, highlighted by Russia planting its flag, via submarine, on the North Pole seabed, and this could get dicey.

Fourth, as noted above, this will likely affect currents at some point. I'm no scientist, so I don't know how, and certainly don't know whether western Europe would be plunged into a short-term winter freeze. But, other things could be affected, like fish stocks in the Grand Banks, which aren't fantastic right now anyway.