Republicans pass a bill banning scientists from advising on their own research

Congressional climate wars were dominated last week by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

Here’s the lie:

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice…

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

Just in case you wondered what the next couple of years will be like with the looniest members of Bedlam in charge of the branch of government charged with advancing our economy, our freedoms and liberty via legislation.

“Hello, is there anybody in there?
“Just nod if you can hear me,
“is there anyone at home?”

Thanks, Mike

Republican policy on immigration is — NO! You expected different?


Obama’s advantage is that he has an immigration policy. Republicans don’t.

There’s one way President Obama’s executive action on immigration has been a boon to Republicans. Instead of coming up with their own immigration policy, the’ve been able to just unite against Obama’s. But fury isn’t a policy. And, as is clear, fury isn’t going to stop Obama’s policy.

But there is a simple way out of this immigration mess for Republicans: pass a bill that President Obama can sign.

Not a bill, mind you, that Obama necessarily wants to sign. It doesn’t even have to be a bill Obama does sign. It can be a bill Obama will loathe. Republicans can propose the most militarized border this side of the DMZ. They can erase the Senate bill’s path to citizenship. They can electrify the fence. They can wall unauthorized immigrants off from social services. Hell, they can even pass a bill authorizing funds to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US.

But one way or another, Republicans need to decide what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country now. They need to take away Obama’s single strongest argument — that this is a crisis, and that congressional Republicans don’t have an answer and won’t let anyone else come up with one.

Republicans aren’t just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party — they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve — or at least propose solutions — to the nation’s problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama’s immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security…

“To those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said on Thursday…

Obama has one solid advantage right now…at least he wants to solve the problem. Republicans remain stuck into their legislative mantra for the last six years – stop Obama from solving the problem. Any problem. That’s not a winning position. 2016 is six years closer and all the Republicans have achieved for these last six years is demonstrating to all Americans how little they care about problem-solving other than earning their paycheck as pimps for Big Oil, Big Coal – and saying “NO” to everything else.

Obama and Xi pledge cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions

China and the US have unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions, as the leaders of the two countries met for talks in Beijing.

US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26%-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

China has cut carbon intensity for nine years in a row.

The two countries also agreed to reduce the possibility of military accidents in the air and sea…

In case you didn’t notice, only one of those two countries is stacking up military forces in air and on the sea – next to the other.

The two countries together produce about 45% of the world’s carbon dioxide…

President Obama’s offer is based on cuts in carbon emissions from coal power (a policy the Republicans threaten to reverse).

China’s offer to peak emissions is a long-awaited decision. Its emissions trajectory is now similar to Europe and the USA, just further behind because it still has so many people in poverty.

Scientists will fear this agreement is not yet strong enough. But it does show leadership – and it sends a powerful signal to financiers that investing in dirty fuels for the future is becoming a risk.

Except, not for the next two years at least. The Party of NO is now in a position to try to turn back what little has been done.

In September, China told a United Nations summit on climate change that it would soon set a peak for carbon emissions and that it would make its economy more carbon efficient by 2020.

China had previously aimed to reduce its carbon intensity, which meant reducing the amount of emissions per dollar of economic output. This meant that with its rapidly growing economy, its emissions could still rise.

Wednesday’s pledge is the first time it has agreed to set a ceiling, albeit an undefined one, on overall emissions.

China can speak for themselves and their actions speak much louder than editorial content in the NY TIMES. As an American citizen, I’m concerned with what my nation does – or in the case of any political topic requiring commitment at least 6th grade science, what my nation does not do.

Americans aren’t educated. Our politicians reject education and science – aside from lip service. As the recent mid-terms proved, our nation not only does not vote in their own self-interest, they don’t vote.

I think my cynicism is justified.

Who is missing from this picture?


Sec of Health, Sylvia Burwell; President Obama; CDC Director, Dr. Thomas FriedenREUTERS/Larry Downing

Who is missing? There ain’t any Surgeon General. That’s the person who would coordinate the federal contribution to confronting the Ebola threat to public health. Congressional Republicans have stopped the appointment of any one to that office for over a year.

That’s been the main in-house tactic of the Party of NO ever since the people of the United States elected a non-white president. And re-elected a non-white president. The normal procedures of staffing our federal courts with judges, appointing ambassadors, you name it – have been halted because a crap-cluster of old white Republicans decided they can’t abide a government headed by someone who doesn’t fit the good old boy network.

Obamacare does at least 21 things that you may not know about


Click to enlarge

Obamacare is the law that extends health insurance coverage to millions of Americans.

It is also the law that requires restaurants to post calorie labels, employers to provide adequate break times for breast feeding and starts funding programs meant to train people for adulthood (seriously).

Tucked inside the Affordable Care Act’s 2,000 pages of legislation are hundreds of new programs that have little, if anything, to do expanding insurance coverage. Some are pet favorites of legislators, who tacked a tiny provision into a very large law. Others raise small amounts of revenue to help pay for the insurance expansion. And others are just… weird. There are 21 programs that are, indeed, part of Obamacare.

1. Obamacare makes funds available for “training for adulthood.” True story…

2. And it imposes a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning…

5. Discrimination against plans and providers not offering assisted suicide is explicitly prohibited.

Physician-assisted suicide is an incredibly controversial topic, and different states have different laws about the practice. A federal law in 1997 prohibited federal funds appropriated by Congress from being used to pay for assisted suicide.

Accordingly, the Affordable Care Act contains language prohibiting discrimination against insurance plans and health care providers who refuse to provide physician-assisted suicide. The law appears to be silent on whether insurers discriminate against providers who do offer physician-assisted suicide.

6. The law authorizes funding for grants that target postpartum depression.

The Secretary of HHS is authorized to make grants available for treating individuals who have postpartum depression and psychosis (conditions that occur in women following childbirth). The law also encourages the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct long-term study from 2010-2019 on how pregnancy affects women’s mental health…

7. And it created the Elder Justice Act.

Over 500,000 elderly adults are victims of “elder abuse”—this can take the form of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, as well as neglect, abandonment, and financial exploitation. As the Boomers reach retirement age and the population’s share of elderly individuals grows, so will this problem…

13. Employers are required to provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers.

Employers must provide a reasonable amount of break time — and a private place that isn’t a bathroom — for an employee to express breast milk for up to one year after giving birth. Breastfeeding the first six months, at a minimum, is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Prior to health reform, there was no federal law that protected nursing mothers; state laws on the issue tended to be very general…

19. It’s easier for students going into primary care and nursing to get loans.

There is a shortage of doctors who practice primary care, which has been attributed to the high cost of medical school and the low compensation for primary care physicians (relative to physicians who specialize). Health reform eased several rules that govern federal loans to medical students who commit to practicing primary care…

Loan limitations have been used by the Feds – at the behest of the American Medical Association – for decades to limit the number of doctors in the United States. An outdated guild solution guaranteeing the highest income in the world for doctors. Like any Congressional mandate it is out-of-date and the Party of NO wasn’t about to respond even to requests from the AMA to join the 21st Century.

Obamacare will significantly increase the number of people with health insurance coverage. It does that by overhauling the individual insurance market — where people buy their own policies — and expanding Medicaid, a public program that covers low-income Americans.

Like the best of legislation coming from Washington DC, Obamacare supersedes much of States Rights. That credo being the last resort of reactionaries especially those of the Confederate persuasion. Fools who fear modern practices simply because they aren’t what granddad enjoyed adore States Rights. Racists adore States Rights. Conservative Libertarians adore States Rights – they needn’t update their philosophy to account for any understanding of a changing world beyond Henry Clay and the cheapskates’ standard version of tax avoidance.

House Republican Lamar Smith has conducted more hearings about aliens than climate change

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has a long track record of climate change denial. And under his leadership, the committee has spent more time holding hearings on the existence of extraterrestrial life than it has examining climate science or the repercussions of global climate change.

The House and Senate have held a combined 19 hearings on space exploration during the 113th Congress, according to a report Wednesday in the National Journal. Smith’s committee alone has organized 15 of those hearings, including three that focused on discovering alien life.

Meanwhile, Smith’s committee has held just two hearings dedicated to climate change.

Several House committees are responsible for addressing U.S. energy and environmental issues. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held only one hearing on climate change, while the House Natural Resources Committee has yet to take up the issue in the 113th Congress.

Numerous sitting members of the House Science Committee have expressed views rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. Committee member James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) has gone so far as to call climate change a “massive international scientific fraud” and evidence of “scientific fascism,” while Paul Broun (R-Ga.), a young Earth creationist, believes the Earth was “created in six days as we know them.”

“You could argue that it makes sense for the House Science Committee to rigorously discuss outer space — after all, it’s right there in the committee’s name,” wrote The National Journal’s Emma Roller, who tallied up the hearing topics. “But you could also argue that when the committee you chair has the word ‘science’ in its name, you may want to discuss the premier scientific debate that’s going on.”

The Party of NO is thorough in that they are also the Party of Know-Nothing.

How tech can — and can’t — solve climate change, extinction

Somewhere around two hundred thousand years ago, a new primate emerges on Earth.

“The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile,” the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her new book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” “They are, however, singularly resourceful.”

It is, of course, us — big-brained, small-browed genetic mutants clever enough to outcompete animals ten times our size and gradually fan out across the globe.

Eventually, humankind invents axes, engines, cities and strip malls. We tear down forests and dig up fuel from the ground.

Other times we excavate out of curiosity, traveling backward in time through the records of bones, fossils and rocks that eventually give up clues to mass tragedies in the ancient past. Huge portions of the world’s creatures disappeared in a geologic blink of the eye.

In fact, five blinks — so far. The reasons aren’t always settled in science, but strong possibilities for the various mass extinctions include a dramatic release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climatic shifts that tipped the globe into prolonged ice ages and a gigantic asteroid strike that kicked up enormous clouds of dust.

The early part of Kolbert’s new book is an exploration of this exploration of the past, telling the stories of scientists who worked to reconstruct this grim timeline of species loss. But mostly it’s scene setting for the real subject of the book, the one telegraphed in the title: The Sixth Extinction.

The salient characteristics of the latest epoch are that we appear to be living through it now — and causing it…

That’s the start. In between the start and finish there’s lots of important science stuff.

It’s not that I have a solution I’m trying to work toward and just haven’t said what it is. I don’t have a solution. It’s possible that massive thinking and massive effort will yield, not a solution, but a much better future than the one we seem to be heading toward.

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists who discovered ozone depleting chemicals and who recently died, had a couple of great lines, including one I quoted in the book. “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world…”

The politics of the discussion is simple enough:

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

The combination of know-nothings, The Party of No, idjits and Cowardly Lions in Congress aren’t even doing that much. RTFA for lots more about the book, what can and can’t be done – you already know who needs to be thrown out of Congress and state legislatures to achieve anything more than political babble.

U.S. Senate passes military sex assault bill 97 – 0

The U.S. Senate voted 97-0 on Monday to pass reforms in how the military handles sexual assault cases, but it probably will be months before the changes become law.

The measure must still be approved by the House of Representatives, where Democratic and Republican aides said it is unlikely to be up for a vote until later in 2014.

Backed by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, the bill includes significant changes such as eliminating the “good soldier” defense allowing a court to reduce the sentences of offenders who have strong military records.

It also strengthens prosecutors’ role in advising commanders on whether to go to court martial. But it falls short of shifting the decision on whether to pursue assault cases from top commanders to independent military prosecutors…

The Senate is bipartisan in being chickenshit!

High-profile military sexual assault cases, some involving defense officials responsible for prosecuting sex crimes, also contributed to charges that the Pentagon has not been serious enough about stopping an epidemic of sexual assaults seen as a “cancer” in the armed forces…

The bill that was passed on Monday is unlikely to go to the House as a standalone measure. Instead it is likely to be included as part of a bill expected later this year that authorizes Pentagon spending.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, offered a tougher bill which would have taken responsibility out of the good ol’ boy network. She couldn’t get enough Dems to support it to press past Senate Republicans.

I don’t know anyone who expects much of anything useful to happen in the House – controlled as it is by Tea Party misogynists and cowardly lion Republicans. They may allow the proposal to be passed back to Senate as an amendment – after the midterm elections in November.