Tagged: politicians

Attention Grayheads — Congressional Voting Records


Workingclass men and women built this land. We deserve the fruits of our labor.

This week, the Alliance for Retired Americans released its annual report detailing the voting record of every U.S. Representative and Senator on issues important to current and future retirees. The voting record looks at ten key votes in both the Senate and the House and assigns a “Pro-Retiree” score for each member of Congress. Scores reflect a member’s level of support for retirees and older Americans.

This year, votes examined include whether to:

Privatize Medicare and create a voucher-like system in its place;

Turn Medicaid into a block grant system, which would undercut its ability to provide care for millions of older Americans;

Raise the minimum wage; and

Increase the debt ceiling and keep the government open…

In total, 49 members of the Senate and 135 members of the House received perfect scores of 100 percent. 34 Senators and 122 House members received zeros. Of those members of the Senate who have declared their candidacy for President, Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rand Paul (R-KY) scored zero while Bernie Sanders (I-VT) scored 100%.

I hope my peers break the mold of American ignorance and vote in their own general interest instead of believing what politicians say – versus what they actually do.

There’s an interactive map at the ARA site so you can check up on your own state.

Michele Bachmann inspired Factcheck.org to discredit lies about science

Four years ago, Michele Bachmann slammed Rick Perry—then the governor of Texas—for his executive order mandating HPV vaccinations. “I’m a mom of three children,” Bachmann said during a GOP presidential debate. “And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.”

Bachmann, who at the time was a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, expanded on her allegations the next day. “I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate,” she said on the Today show. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects.”

Bachmann’s suggestion that the HPV vaccine is dangerous was completely false. “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement,” explained the American Academy of Pediatrics…

Enter Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which operates the nonpartisan Factcheck.org. Founded in 2003, Factcheck was one of the first websites devoted to refuting misleading assertions about US politics. Last month, Factcheck launched Scicheck, a new project that evaluates the scientific claims made by politicians. In just a few weeks, Scicheck has countered inaccurate statements about issues ranging from climate change to the economic impact of the Human Genome Project.

On this weeks’ episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, I asked Jamieson what inspired her organization to focus on scientific issues. She credits Bachmann.

“When Michele Bachmann in the last election made an allegation about the effects of…a vaccine, in public space on national television…the journalists in the real context didn’t know how to respond to the statement as clearly as they ought to,” explains Jamieson. “The time to contextualize is immediately. That should have been shot down immediately…”

That just may be counting on the ignorant to counter the stupid.

But Jamieson is keenly aware that it isn’t enough to simply rebut inaccurate claims in real time. One of the key challenges facing science communication is that voters frequently get their news from highly ideological media outlets that sometimes misrepresent the scientific consensus on controversial issues. This has contributed to substantial gaps between what the general public thinks and what scientists think on a wide range of issues, from evolution to the safety of genetically modified foods.

I love showing crap statements from idjits like Bachmann to friends and family who are Recovering Republicans. Just to remind them why they left the Party.

Yes, I can remember when educated conservatives had a role and a voice in both of the two parties we’re allowed. That’s because I’m very old cranky geek.

Are we approaching EOL? The end-of-life for the Rio Grande?


Click to enlargeLaura Paskus

PILAR, NM — From his cabin on the Rio Grande, river runner Steve Harris watches the flows of the river ebb and peak throughout the year. When the water runs clear, he glimpses northern pike below the surface. In winter, bald eagles nest along the river. And throughout the year, foxes and beavers, bears and badgers traipse through the yard.

“This is my retreat to go back to after foraying out into the water wars,” he says, only half-joking. “Uncle Steve” has been running the Rio Grande, in one place or another, for about 35 years. And he’s been defending the river about that long, too.

As drought has intensified over the past few years, however, trying to protect what’s left of the river has gotten harder and harder…

That’s a chronic problem: For instance, as New Mexico reinitiates a statewide water-planning process dating back to the 1980s, officials have said they’re not incorporating the effects of climate change into the equation.

Yet less precipitation and higher temperatures seem to be colliding with the river’s future…

The push-up dam outside Harris’s cabin is the first diversion structure on the Rio Grande in New Mexico. It diverts water into a small acequia that sustains a few acres of pasture and a garden in the village. “Once you get below here, the river’s been diverted to some degree or another,” he says, ticking off the biggest dams and reservoirs downstream: Cochiti, Elephant Butte and Caballo. “And on this same river, if we drove a thousand miles downstream, it would be dry.”

Traveling through an arid landscape susceptible to drought, the Rio Grande has often flowed in fits and starts. But until its waters were tamed in the 20th century—by dams, canals and increasingly sophisticated irrigation ditches—the river would also overflow its banks and swell across the wide floodplain.

Those floods could wreak havoc on settlements and inundate farmland. But they also nurtured native fish species, gave birth to the cottonwood forests and helped push the river toward the sea. Today, the river is constricted and controlled, sucked dry by the demands of irrigators and cities and prevented from navigating new channels.

As drought continues and climate change ramps up, the “Big River” is on its way to being the first of many climate casualties in New Mexico. And unless we all reconnect to Rio Grande—recognize its importance as a living river—our grandchildren might not know it as a force of nature…

The numbers are sobering. But they shouldn’t take anyone by surprise. Climate scientists have long been warning that the southwestern United States will experience warmer temperatures.

Authors of the National Climate Assessment’s 2013 report noted that in the Southwest, the period since 1950 has been warmer than any period of comparable length in at least 600 years and that recent flows in the four major drainage basins of the Southwest, including the Rio Grande, have been lower than their 20th century averages. The report predicts continued warming, a decrease in late-season snowpack and continued declines in river flows and soil moisture.

From the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the New Mexico Environment Department, everyone has been issuing warnings about New Mexico’s water future.

During the Bill Richardson administration, the New Mexico Environment Department released a report detailing the potential effects of climate change on water resources, infrastructure, agriculture, natural systems, outdoor recreation tourism, environmental quality and health, low-income communities and communities of color and Native American communities.

Now, we’re starting the new year with the second term of a Republican governor owned lock-stock-and-two-loaded-barrels by the Oil Patch Boys. She cares more about engineering a gerrymandered electorate with a predictably complex photo ID system that satisfies both Homeland Insecurity and the Koch Bros.

Lip service is about as close as New Mexicans can get to acknowledgement of climate change from Governor Susana. Especially since she’s probably hoping to be the first Hispanic woman vice-presidential candidate.

The Democrats who remain in charge of the State Senate aren’t likely to be any more courageous than their cousins in Congress.

RTFA, though. It offers a detailed and well-described look along the course of the Rio and its decline.

The most bogus health claims of 2014

Every day seems to turn up opportunities to abuse science in new and perverse ways, especially when it comes to health. You open a newspaper or news site, and you read about a health claim making the rounds: a diet that will give you the energy of a teenager, an exercise routine that will elongate your legs, a policy that will protect Americans from scary viruses…

In the interest of the correcting the record, we rounded up the most egregious abuses of health science in 2014…

1) We can stop Ebola by cutting off West Africa and locking up health workers


Kaci Hickox at her home in MaineSpencer Platt/Getty Images

The Ebola epidemic was the biggest health story of the year and arguably one of the most important global news stories. But almost as soon as the virus turned up on American soil — in a Liberian man who has since died — dubious claims about travel restrictions started to go around. In particular, there were politicians who argued that travel bans and quarantines were needed to protect Americans from Ebola…

Governors in a number of states, including, New York and New Jersey, called for 21-day quarantines of health workers…

The trouble with trying to muzzle the virus through travel bans and quarantines is — as every single public health researcher and official noted — we have seen time and again that they don’t work. That’s why science-minded men and women were monolithically opposed to these measures.

Luckily, the great travel ban and quarantine caper coincided with a mid-term election in November and then quickly disappeared as soon as the ballots were cast.

4) Gwyneth Paltrow: water has feelings and you can add length to your legs

Gwyneth Paltrow is also not exactly known for doling out evidence-based wisdom. But she brought her ignominiously bad science to a new level in a May 2014 edition of her newsletter goop:

I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter. I have long had Dr. Emoto’s coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.

In the newsletter, a supposed health guru named Habib Sadeghi also wrote:

Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto performed some of the most fascinating experiments on the effect that words have on energy in the 1990’s…In his experiments, Emoto poured pure water into vials labeled with negative phrases like “I hate you” or “fear.” After 24 hours, the water was frozen, and no longer crystallized under the microscope: It yielded gray, misshapen clumps instead of beautiful lace-like crystals. In contrast, Emoto placed labels that said things like “I Love You,” or “Peace” on vials of polluted water, and after 24 hours, they produced gleaming, perfectly hexagonal crystals.

You don’t need me to explain why this is total crap. It’s flat out ridiculous, and one of the worst assaults on science from a public figure who should know better.

RTFA for more details about each of these – and several more.

Dr.Oz, Congress, vaccines causing promiscuity, gluten, e-cigarettes are characteristic of Americans believing crap, inventing crap to believe, believing crap that crap sellers produce to get people most of all to buy their crap – and on and on.

I don’t know how Julia Belluz held the article down to anything less than book length.

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

image

The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

Cartoon of the Day

fortyoneshots
Click to enlarge

The lies, the rationales, the bullshit reasons offered up by coppers who know they’re absolutely in the wrong – never change. Quite literally, I have been hearing this crap for over 60 years. I have been on the streets confronting the delusions of fairness and equity that everyone knows we’re supposed to have – even back in the day of Jim Crow laws around this hypocritical nation – since I was a teenager.

We’ve never had a government that could be counted on at any level, city, state or federal, that voluntarily took up the fight for equal opportunity for all Americans. Yes, there were laws passed after noisy battles in law-making bodies. Politicians pat themselves on the back for getting things done.

What you and I have to remember – and the political hacks, Republican or Democrat, will never admit – is that ordinary folks in the company of hundreds and thousands of our peers pushed and shoved, marched and confronted death and danger for decades to get any movement at all from the heroes who get their paintings on the walls of government. They needed their arms twisted then. They still do.

Marijuana revenue helping schools on projects political hacks won’t fund

image

As marijuana revenues trickle into the state, slow to meet projections, a few Colorado school districts are among the first to see some impact from the state’s new funds.

The state Department of Education’s program to fund capital projects — known as Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, grants — had received more than $1.1 million from marijuana taxes in May when it made the annual award recommendations.

The state also is readying another $2.5 million from pot taxes so interested schools can hire health professionals.

The additional capital project money has been welcomed as the state fund for the BEST grants has been declining and the program reached a cap for the financed grants it could issue through bonds…

The marijuana excise tax — which is 15 percent on unprocessed recreational pot sales on its first sale – — netted about $3 million from January through June 30. The education department receives the funds monthly and will dole out the awards recommendations every May.

Next year, officials estimate the pot contribution to the BEST grants will be about $10 million. But some school officials say there’s a misconception about where the pot money is going.

“I feel like the word on the streets is marijuana funding is going to schools, but certainly it’s not going to schools for operating costs,” said Ryan Elarton, director of business services for the Pueblo district. “And not every district gets it.”

Besides the new marijuana funds, BEST grants have been funded by sources including money from the state land trust and spillover from Powerball profits after funding the Great Outdoors Colorado fund…

From other marijuana revenue appropriated by the legislature, $2.5 million has been set aside to increase the presence of health professionals in schools.

Schools that apply for those grants and win could have that money by January.

It’s hilarious that schools may get back some of the necessities cut by conservative politicians — and they’ll be getting it from profits generated by legal ganja.

The sad part remains that folks trapped in the two-party belief system can’t get any results from simply going to the polls on election day. Frankly, issues like school safety, healthcare for the student population, reasonable curricula dedicated to learning and all that entails — are a natural for independent political organizing. Yes, just like legalizing marijuana.

Then, you’re not required to shove a natural local response to problems into a cookie cutter mold designed by seventeen lobbyists employed by a Congressional action committee.

The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


PHOTOGRAPH BY OMAR TORRES/AFP/GETTY

Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

The Western US is in trouble — we’re running out of water!

domestic water use
Click to enlarge

The American West has been wrestling with drought for the past 15 years. California is now facing its worst dry spell in at least a century. So, not surprisingly, the question of how best to manage America’s scarce freshwater supplies is coming up more frequently.

To that end, the Hamilton Project recently published a helpful primer, “Nine Economic Facts about Water in the United States.” The whole thing’s worth reading, but four maps and charts in particular stuck out. For starters, some of the driest states in the West actually have some of the highest rates of household water use:

1) Household water use is higher in the driest states — thanks to lawn watering

Why do households in arid Utah use so much more water than in, say, Maine? The main factor, the authors note, is outdoor watering for lawns and gardens. “Whereas residents in wetter states in the East can often rely on rainwater for their landscaping, the inhabitants of Western states must rely on sprinklers…”

2) Agriculture remains the biggest water user by far

It’s worth noting, however, that homes typically aren’t the biggest water consumers in the West. In California, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of state water withdrawals. (The state is responsible for roughly one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.)…

3) The driest states are now growing the quickest

The states with the biggest projected increase in population between 2010 and 2040 are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. One thing they all have in common? Low rainfall and relatively scarce water supplies.

4) And water prices vary wildly from region to region

“The price that households pay for water is highly variable across cities,” the report notes, “even when controlling for the volume of water that different households use.”

In most parts of the United States, the price of water doesn’t reflect the infrastructure costs of delivering that water or the environmental damage that excessive water withdrawals can cause. As long as that’s the case, there are few market incentives to change any of that.

Being a democratic Republic we elect folks to take on the responsibility of planning and leading our nation, the states, municipalities. That stopped working well quite a while ago. I’d suggest with the Reagan Administration. You may agree or disagree; but, if you wander through the history of our politics you’ll note that’s a pretty good starting point for serious gerrymandering of electoral districts, the truly dynamic growth of income equality, a qualitative rejection of industrial and economic planning based on sound ecology.

Regardless, RTFA for more details about these four of the nine points covered in the Hamilton Project Report. And, yes, I suggest reading the complete version over here [.pdf].

Additional reading:

1934 Drought was Driest, Most Widespread in Past Millennium, Scientists Find

Scarcity of water in U.S. driving moves to impose price, “market solutions

Thanks, Mike