SocraticGadfly: 4/21/13 - 4/28/13

April 27, 2013

Obama surrenders on sequester and GOP knows it

Hey, Obamiacs, want to try defending his actions on the sequester, especially after the "cave" on smaller city air traffic controllers?

With the GOP crowing, you know you can't. Once again, Dear Leader and his self-believed mellifluous Kumbaya voice gets his 11-dimensional chess playing skills handed to him on a 12-dimensional board.

Add this to two years of 11-dimensional failure of playing with himself on the Bush Obama tax cuts, the Catfood Commission he appointed, and the admission by even some Democrats that Obamacare's headed for being a train wreck unless Dear Leader intervenes and fast.

Once again, "Soft bigotry of low expectations" when compared with Shrub. Nothing else.

Right now, if we double kindly give W. a double-gentleman's D, in wake of the Bush Library opening, Dear Leader gets at best a gentleman's C.

And, well in advance of 2016, you know the answer: Vote Green.

Especially because Dear Leader is about to get punked again by the GOP.

April 26, 2013

#GohmertPyle forgot to mention "205 members" of Muslim Brotherhood

Other than that mild slip, Texas' top wingnut (sorry, Ted Cruz, you're still No. 2), Rep. Louie Gohmert, aka Gohmert Pyle, has officially entered Tailgunner Joe McCarthy territory.

Out of his mouth, the Mooslim Brotherhood is the new communism. I'm just "disappointed" he didn't say something like "205 members," unlike his  mentor's Wheeling, W.Va., speech, in saying the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the Obama Administration.

Courtesy of World Nut Daily:
“It’s very clear to everyone but this administration that radical Islam is at war against us. I’m hoping either this administration will wake up, or a new one will come in at the next election before irreparable damage is done,” Gohmert said. “This administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.”
A thought or two, not wanting to go too far down the Gohmert Pyle rabbit hole.

An Eric Cantor doesn't fully believe all of his economic rhetoric, I don't think. Even somebody a bit more nutbar, like either Steve or Peter King, doesn't fully believe all of their rhetoric. Hell, even Cruz might not believe 10 percent of what he says.

But, does Gohmert Pyle possibly believe everything he says?

Pretty soon, I do expect him to start waving a blank sheet or two of paper that's an alleged "list of Mooslim subversives." Then, to demand the executive branch start administering loyalty oaths to all Mooslims.

And, no, sadly, I'm not joking. I expect him to propose something like that, soon enough. And, to reignite the birther issue, by asking if Obama was "palling around" with the Mooslim Brotherhood via his real father, in his real birthplace of Kenya, bordering Mooslim radical-land Somalia.

And now, Larry Klayman has joined Gohmert Pyle in nutbar-land by speculating about Mooslim terrarism in West, as a possible cause of the explosion there, while hinting that, yes, Obama might be covering this all up. Makes one wonder if, in the House, Gohmert Pyle and others won't try to add loyalty oaths to any immigration reform, or "reform," legislation.

And the #Biogenesis beat goes on - #ARod in more hot water

Turns out Anthony Bosch was allegedly getting all that medical-chemical help for Biogenesis, his south Florida apparent doping lab ... wait for it ... via forged scrips.

Gee, shock me.

ESPN says that's part of what new docs in this case have uncovered.

Other revelations? Alex Rodriguez specifically linked by name to human growth hormone. No wonder, according to former employees from Biogenesis who have told Major League Baseball that A-Fraud tried to buy documents from the lab that would implicate him.

First, does this surprise you? In any of several ways?

A-Rod thinks that he can throw enough money at the situation to take care of it. Also, unlike Barry Bonds, apparently, either there or elsewhere, he doesn't have anybody who will go to the mat for him.

That said, it's not just about A-Rod this time:
The two people said that the investigators were told by the ex-employees and others that documents said to be from the clinic had been put up for sale by various people and that Rodriguez had arranged for an intermediary to purchase at least some of them. 

That, in turn, led Major League Baseball to conclude that other players linked to the clinic would also attempt to buy documents to conceal incriminating evidence and accelerated baseball’s efforts to purchase as many documents as it could.
That said, why talk to MLB? Because it has no legal powers, unlike the feds, MLB can't get one lab employee to "roll" to save his or her hide, either.

Right now, it appears A-Fraud is the only "name" player ... named! Others listed by name are all small fry.

Surely disappointing to former Milwaukee Brewers owner, now commissioner, Bud "Bud" Selig,
there's nothing new on Lyin Braun, also known as Ryan Braun, also called the Hebrew Hammer, aka Juices Maccabee. Earlier, the trail on him was getting thicker but there's been no recent "movement."

The Hebrew Hammer will get hammered. Juices Maccabeus will strike out. Lyin Braun will be tripped up.

But, Bud's going to have to get stronger evidence; Lyin Braun's attorneys will surely rip into paid testimony.

April 25, 2013

#WestTX, Westboro Baptist, the First Amendment and liberals

Betty Phelps, daughter-in-law of pastor Fred Phelps and a member
of the Westboro Baptist Church, demonstrates outside the Supreme
Court while justices hear oral arguments in Snyder v. Phelps,
which tests the limits of the First Amendment, October 6, 2010
in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images)
Once again, the family (let's not even use the word "members") of Westboro Baptist Church has threatened to make a collective ass of itself through funeral protests. This time, the family is talking about protests at funerals for first responders and other victims of the West Fertilizer Co.'s plant explosion in the town of that name, just north of Waco.

And, once again, people, including public officials who swear an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" seem to be overreacting.

I cite McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara.
"Make no mistake about it," McNamara said. "Any attempt by any group or organization to disrupt the funerals of any of our victims of this tragedy will be dealt with swiftly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
First, "disrupt" is in the eye of the speaker. It's not a legal term, unless one is loosely using it to refer to disturbing the peace.

Second, if WBC, as per the usual, gets an appropriate protest permit from the city of West or the city of Waco (depending on where they're at; I'm not sure if West itself has a funeral home) and follows the legal restrictions of that permit, they are perfectly within their rights. Indeed, the Supreme Court said so, by an 8-1 vote where Sam Alito, even more visibly than usual for a justice, let his emotions overrule his legal mind.

Beyond that, it's not just the good sheriff (who needs to get his peace officer's license completed, if he wants to do something) that's whiffing on this.

A lot of folks, from what I've seen, of both generally conservative and generally liberal stripes, want to muzzle the Westboro Baptist family.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

We still have a First Amendment in place, which has FOUR freedoms, not just one or two.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Everybody knows the first two, even if the Religious Right screws up the first one and many both inside and outside the mainstream media thinks the second one gives the press a privileged stance.

But, most people forget the third and the fourth. Or don't even learn them in the first place.

Folks, the Westboro Baptist family not only has the right to say, or yell, what it wants, as individuals, but, as a group, with the appropriate permit, has the right to make placards and march up and down on a sidewalk.

Period. End of story.

Besides, per a Tweet noted in this story, the Westboro Baptist family, like stereotypical Jehovah's Witnesses (or Alawites in Syria) LIKES the "persecution."

If only, in the cases of future tragedy, the general public would read the Constitution, and elected officials would do their proper duty with as close to zero noise and grandstanding as possible, we'd be better off and the Westboro family would move on down the road sooner.

I added "liberals" at the end of the story because, in this particular case, liberals, (and "outside the tent" groups like Gnu Atheists who may allegedly be liberal and who see this as a cheap way to attack religion) should know better.

Repression of civil liberties is generally associated with rightist impulses in the United States. No good liberal should ever, EVER support the First Amendment being folded, spindled or mutilated in this way.

April 23, 2013

RIP, Dr. Sidney Freedman

If you're a true, deep M*A*S*H aficionado, as I am, beyond the regular characters, you can't forget semi-regular supporting character Dr. Sidney Freedman, played by Allan Arbus, who died last week at the age of 95.

Freedman, a down-to-earth "shrink" with a tongue-in-cheek 1950s period Freudianist angle on his work, was of course the perfect foil for the collective and individual neuroses of the 4077th.

It seems hard to believe that, per Hollywood Reporter, he appeared in just 12 episodes over the show's 13 seasons.  It also seems hard to believe that he was 95 when he died, which means he was 65 when M*A*S*H ended, which means ...

M*A*S*H ended a full 30 years ago.

So, as we fondly remember Sidney, and Allan Arbus, let's remember what's probably his best line from those 12 episodes:
"Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice - pull down your pants and slide on the ice."
You said it, Sidney.

Meanwhile, maybe Allan Arbus was the oldest, but the picture below, from NPR's story about his death, shows indeed that M*A*S*H ended a full 30 years ago.

Allan Arbus on the left, with fellow M.A.S.H. stars Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Burt Metcalfe, Alan Alda,
Kellye Nakahara Wallet and Wayne Rogers at an awards ceremony in 2009. Getty Images via NPR

Meanwhile, a bit of M*A*S*H trivia. Have you been to most the places where the characters grew up?

There's no Crabapple Cove, Maine, and I've never been to Maine at all, so scratch Hawkeye.
Trap? The show says he came from Boston; never been there.
Radar? I've been close to Ottumwa, Iowa, but not quite there.
Henry? I've been to Bloomington, Ill. (And why did Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds tell Alda in advance about the script change to kill Henry, if they weren't going to tell anybody else? Kind of gives credence to why McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers left.)
Potter? I've been to Hannibal, Mo.
Hot Lips? I've been to Fort Ord, Calif.
Frank? I've been to Fort Wayne, Ind.
Charles? Never been to Boston.
B.J.? I've been to Mill Valley, Calif.
Father Mulcahy? I've been to Philly.
Klinger? I've been to Toledo.

Texas Medicaid kabuki clears first hurdle

The House Appropriations Commission, earlier today, passed John Zerwas' HB 3791.

All you need to know about this attempt to put a smiley face on Texas' rejection of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is this:
Rather than expand Medicaid as directed under the Affordable Care Act, under Zerwas’ proposal, Texas would leverage tax revenue collected from premiums on health care plans to pay for the state’s portion of the program’s costs. It would also allow the state to save money by tailoring Medicaid recipients’ benefits, implementing “personal responsibility” cost-sharing measures such as co-pays and deductibles, and prioritizing premium assistance for private market health plans. ...

The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation had a strong hand in helping craft the language of the block grant proposal (within the bill), which would request that the state be allowed to implement sliding scale subsidies for Medicaid recipients to purchase private health coverage. Such a block grant would require an OK from the Obama administration, which political observers believe is unlikely.
That said, the TPPF doesn't like the rest of the bill. Original bill language here.

Why? Because it might actually involve spending more money, among other things. Even if it involves corporate socialism (never forget who the real socialists are in America) for private health care.

That said, let's say it passes the whole House. AND the whole Senate. Including with components TPPF doesn't like

What's Tricky Ricky Perry going to do?

This could be one of those rock-and-hard-place issues for him. It could also bear on whether he's running for re-election in 2014, or for Prez again in 2016. Either his signature or veto could bear on his plans, or already gelling plans could bear on either a signature or a veto.

Signing it would give him another chance to thumb his nose at Dear Leader. But, what if not all parts of his potential base like it?

Good-bye to Texas Lottery? And Texas education?

Per the Austin American-Statesman, this Texas House vote is a surprise indeed. The House side of the Lege voted to sunset the Lottery Commission. (But hold on to your horses; see the bottom.)

Per the vote, it's unclear if killing the commission means killing the Texas Lottery, too. I suppose the actual games could be run through some other agency. Not even mentioned is whether or not this would also kill the multi-state Powerball and MegaMillions games. However, given that the Lottery Commission regulates them all, killing it would seem to kill them, too, unless some new agency is created from scratch.
State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said an unexpected “philosophical aversion” to the lottery emerged with the vote.

“I didn’t perceive this bill being a referendum on the lottery,” he said. But “it certainly materialized that way.”
Indeed. One segment of the GOP, not yet at the point of bringing back Sunday blue laws, apparently started here.

And, elbow-throwing grannies need to be on the alert, also. The House vote, unless overturned by reconsideration, conference with the Senate or whatever, would kill all charitable bingo, too.

Boy, wait until that word gets out.

There's another issue, which Sylvester Turner didn't forget.

And that's the issue that, even though its funds aren't "dedicated" (unlike what was hinted but never promised when the lottery was approved), the state's gaming pays $2.2 billion a year to education.

Given that the Lege failed this year to restore all the cuts it made two years ago, this could be a hard kick.

Meanwhile, the GOP was calling this a tax on poor people. Tis true. Tis also hypocritical, as the Austin Chronicle notes:
Opponents this morning were calling the lottery a tax on poor people (nicely ignoring all the actual retrogressive taxes on poor people, like sales tax and property tax, that the GOP adores).

And, the Chron picks up the ball on the education issue.
Now the various public education committees and the House and Senate budget conferees are left in one hell of a pickle. If the numbers stand, they'll be forced to revise the state's contribution to school finance yet again, and when they already have a ruling from Judge John Dietz saying they chronically underfund public schools already, this could be a catastrophe. 
Yeah, in light of the school districts' lawsuit against the state, this vote is a clusterfuck indeed. Should it stand, it has to be considered as part of the appeal.

Speaking of education, on the Senate side there's debate on how much to tap from the Rainy Day Fund for education funding.

UPDATE: As of late this afternoon, the bill has cleared the House to keep the Lottery Commission in place after all.

That said, the original vote was 81-65 no. This one is 92-53 yes.

That means that, even by the standards of the Texas Legislature, there's 27 blatant hypocrites in the Texas House of Representatives.

I wonder how many three-, or six-martini lunches facilitated such vote-switching.

#WestTX fertilizer plant and regulatory #fail and lies

It's a sad day in West, Texas. West Fertilizer's plant has exploded, likely killing several people and definitely injuring more than 100. Jobs are lost for months, even it it employed less than 10 people. Some may never come back, even if the plant's owner does rebuild there, which is of course not guaranteed. In a town as small as West, with a population of under 3,000, the loss of jobs like this will have a huge ripple effect, if even just a few. (And that's not counting all the injured losing work time.)

But, none of this had to happen.

The ammonium nitrate fertilizer blew up after a fire started at the plant.

But West Fertilizer told the Environmental Protection Agency there was no fire danger at the plant.
(T)he report, reviewed Wednesday night by The Dallas Morning News, stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.
And, that's simply not true. And, indeed, the EPA fined it $2,600 for not having a risk management plan. State records identify it as a seller, not a manufacturer, which probably contributed to it drawing lesser scrutiny on safety.

Not only was there fire danger, there was an actual fire earlier this year, that forced a school to be evacuated.
A fire at the plant earlier this year caused officials at nearby West Intermediate School to evacuate the campus, but a memo from West ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford shows school officials had no prior warning of it.
Crawford wrote to parents in February that when school officials called 9-1-1, the dispatcher had no knowledge of what turned out to be a controlled burn of pallets and brush on the property. It is not yet known what started Wednesday’s fire that erupted in a massive explosion just before 8 p.m.
Oh, loverly. Dunno who was supposed to alert the school, but that was certainly a failure, even if it was a controlled burn.

And, speaking of failure, from the same story:
A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality inspector in 2007 noted that the plant was near two schools and within 350 feet of a home, but described the impact potential of the plant as “low,” the newspaper reported.
Whether we blame TCEQ more, or the plant's owner more, there's blame a-plenty here.

And, on paper, even in regulation-toothless Texas, this is why regulatory agencies are supposed to exist.

And, Tricky Ricky doesn't like being asked about that.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the regulation side,” Perry said. “You all in California are not very knowledgeable about the energy industry” which, he said, “is a fairly dangerous workplace’ compared to other industries.  He argued that worker injuries and deaths would not be reduced by better safety regulations: “It’s not because of lack of regulations.”
What a lie. California is one of the nation's top five oil producing states. It knows plenty about oilfields and trying to improve oilfield safety.

And, on April 22, Tricky Ricky doubled down on his anti-regulatory attitude.

Somewhat related, the Guardian says OSHA hadn't inspected the plant since 1985.

That said, in a relatively conservative (the county went 62-38 percent for McCain in 2008), small Texas town, how many of its residents believed they had adequate regulatory protection? Or, how many believed the talking points of the likes of Rick Perry that Texas was already overregulated, especially regarding the likes of the EPA?

No, not schadenfreude, of course not. Genuine sadness. But, with a bit of head-shaking.

In general, the conservative mindset, contra Chris Mooney's Republican Brain book, which describes it as normally angst-ridden, tends to dismiss worst-case scenarios when doing regulatory oversight. Like Don Rumsfeld and the Iraq War.

That said, per small bits of speculation in such places, yes, it's (roughly) the 20th anniversary of ... but I do not think this is a revenge blast for David Koresh and the Branch Davidian showdown. Not even close.

LCRA, unlike Greg Abbott, loves nature

Greg Abbott recently appealed a federal district court decision that said the state of Texas must have adequate fresh water flowing down the Guadalupe River into San Antonio Bay for food for the whooping crane.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, despite earlier this year cutting off downstream rice farmers from water releases, is releasing a modest amount of water, down the Colorado, but enough to help sustain the blue sucker, a fish. 

Wait for downstream rice farmers to bitch about this, whether stirred up behind the scenes by Abbott or not.

Texans of Abbott's stripe will continue to face the music on tough environmental decisions the state faces in the future. As I questioned last week, post-West, how many Texans Rick Perry will continue to drag along in his anti-regulatory crusade, similar questions abound here.