2010 - %3, February

Udall Talks Senate Reform

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 7:47 PM EST

Sen. Tom Udall, a freshman Democrat from New Mexico, has raised some eyebrows with a resolution (pdf) to adopt a new set of rules (and possibly scrap the filibuster) at the start of the 112th Congress.  I spoke with the Senator yesterday about the prospects for reform and what specifically he hoped to accomplish. Among the main points:

 

  • History repeating? Udall, whose "constitutional option" bears the same name as the failed Republican reform in 2005, doesn't believe the Democratic efforts have much in common with  GOP's failed attempt to abolish the filibuster.
  • Will it catch on? Despite low recognition among the general public, Udall believes the reforms will be a winner with his constituents.
  • Don't expect much bombthrowing: Udall expects procedural reform to be a bi-partisan issue, but did not want to get "stuck in the weeds" discussing specific changes.

 

You can read the full piece here.

 

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Update Jenny McCarthy & Co. Hit Back Against Autism Ruling

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 7:39 PM EST

Earlier this week, we and  dozens of other news organizations around the world reported that the esteemed British medical journal Lancet had retracted in its entirety the foundational article of the anti-vax movement, which purported to show a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Not only has Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British physician who wrote the paper and spearheaded the movement been roundly condemned for his theory and the barbaric research that produced it, no other scientist in a decade of well-funded research has been able to reproduce his results. Not one. Ever. Not even close.

Yet, thanks to his fear-mongering, hundreds of thousands of children in developed countries once thought free of diseases like measles and mumps have been sickened after their parents (or their playmates parents, or their neighbors' parents) refused the vaccine. This week alone, there were 99 cases of the mumps reported in New York. That's nearly a quarter of all the mumps cases reported in the entire country in 2008. And because both diseases are highly contagious (in the case of mumps, even vaccinated children are at risk if disease prevalence is high enough) and both flourish in the spring, those numbers are only going to skyrocket. 

After all of this, who comes to Dr. Wakefield's side? Who defends his research to the American public? Celebrity parents Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey of course, who, bless their hearts, have the combined medical expertise of naught. Who, despite its eminent availability at their beloved University of Google, have never apparently heard of the hundreds of thousands of children under five who die of the measles every year or the innumerable studies showing no evidence of a link between vaccination and autism. 

 

Virginia GOP Exploits Blizzard

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 5:51 PM EST

Check out Blue Marble for the latest on environmental politics:

Virginia GOP Uses Blizzard to Spread Climate Lies

It's snowing! The Virginia GOP uses the blizzard as an opportunity to spread global warming misinformation. The only problem? Their new Republican governor admits climate change is a concern.

Politics and the Pika

The Department of Interior denies a request to add the pika to the endangered species list. Here's why the debate is about more than just a cute little critter.

The Underwear Bomber and Climate Legislation

VoteVets, the progressive veterans group, kicked off a $2 million ad campaign in key states linking our dependence on oil from hostile nations to the Christmas Day underwear bomber.

Doing the Math on Green Jobs

"Clean energy jobs" get a lot of lip service from politicians. But legislation in Congress to create them falls far short of its potential.

At the Intersection of Climate Science and Voluptuous Breasts ...

The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change penned a racy new novel. It's no Dynamics of Electrical Energy Supply and Demand: An Economic Analysis, but it has its allure.

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 February 2010

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 3:04 PM EST

As I said in the previous post, I got home just in time to produce Friday catblogging. Which means that all I had time to do was pull out the camera and take a picture of what the cats were doing right at the moment. So here it is. On the left, Domino is staring out the door at the rain wondering if she should go out. She decided not to. On the right, Inkblot is engaged in his second favorite activity: eating. I left loads of food for the furballs while I was gone, but when I got back their food bowls were empty. I can't believe they ate it all. But not only did they eat it all, they were begging for more. So, softy that I am, I gave them some. Starting tonight, though, Daddy's back in town and we're back to the usual measured portions.

Up is Still Up, Down is Still Down

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 2:50 PM EST

I'm back! It was (mostly) dry in San Francisco, but it's raining here in Southern California. This is not the way the world is supposed to work. However, just to prove that the world hasn't been turned completely unpside down, it turns out that Republicans are still Republicans:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary "blanket hold" on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.

....According to the report, Shelby is holding Obama's nominees hostage until a pair of lucrative programs that would send billions in taxpayer dollars to his home state get back on track. The two programs Shelby wants to move forward or else.

And this:

The senator who is shepherding the Obama administration’s package of Wall Street reforms through Congress said on Friday morning that talks with his Republican counterpart had broken down.

The senator, Christopher J. Dodd, indicated that Democrats would forge ahead with their own bill, after months of talks that had been aimed at reaching a bipartisan consensus.

I am shocked, I tell you, shocked. A leading member of the party that's the scourge of earmarks is blocking all nominees for everything1 unless his earmarks are hustled back onto the fast track, and months of negotiations with the party that insists it's willing to negotiate with Democrats in good faith have broken down because, in fact, they aren't. They aren't, as most of us with three-digit IQs already knew, willing to agree to any financial regulation that has even the slightest chance of actually regulating the behavior that caused the 2008 meltdown.

(And "slightest chance" is all we're talking about here. It's not as if the Democratic version of financial regulation was likely to put much of a dent in Wall Street in the first place.)

But I'll take my good news where can I get it. And here it is: I got home late enough that I really don't have much time to blog this latest bout of GOP hypocrisy and kowtowing. So I won't. Catblogging is coming up next!

1No, that's not a typo. All nominees. For everything.

Virginia GOP Uses Blizzard to Spread Climate Lies

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 1:54 PM EST

Wintry weather is hitting Virginia and Washington, D.C. today, with an expected snowfall of two feet (or more!). This has presented an opportunity for the Virginia GOP to exploit confusion over climate change, with new ads running in the state targeting Reps. Rick Boucher and Tom Periello for supporting cap-and-trade legislation.

The ads mock Boucher and Periello because they "think global warming is a serious problem for Virginia"—so serious they voted to "kill tens of thousands of Virginia jobs just to stop it." The ad features images of falling snow, stuck cars, and weathermen, and urges viewers to call the congressmen "and tell them how much global warming you get this weekend. Maybe they'll come help you shovel."

The willful ignorance about the difference between "weather" and "climate" aside (not to mention the fact that it's supposed to snow in winter), there's perhaps a more important issue here: Virginia's new governor, Bob McDonnell, also thinks climate change is a problem. As Blue Virginia points out, McDonnell recognizes that planet-warming emissions are "a real concern" and "we need to find ways to be able to reduce" them.

Nonetheless, the Virginia GOP sees a blizzard as the perfect time to start the mid-term elections battle with lies and opportunism:

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Charter Schools Segregated (Just Like Public Schools)

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 1:50 PM EST

Charter schools suffer more from de facto segregation than their chronically segregated public school counterparts, claims a study (pdf) from the UCLA Civil Rights Project. The San Francisco Chronicle took the story and ran with it, even trekking across the bridge to the Achieve Academy in Oakland, a charter school with a student population that is 90 percent Latino. 

What the SF critics have failed to point out is that, though segregation is "alive and well" in other districts, the Bay Area actually has the most segregated schools in the state. The other thing they neglected to mention? Achieve Academy is in Fruitvale, one of the most thoroughly Latino neighborhoods in Oakland. I would challenge anyone to find me a public school in Fruitvale that didn't have the exact same student profile. More to the point, that's what draws many charters to neighborhoods like Fruitvale in the first place--minority students under-served by failing public schools.  That doesn't make de facto segregation right, but it does make the Chronicle piece sloppy--unless they attend Berkeley High, Bay Area students are virtually guaranteed  to go to a school where  80 percent of the student body is of the same ethnicity. Even San Francisco's magnet high school, Lowell, is more than 52 percent Chinese, and 70 percent Asian. The difference between 70 and 85 and 90 percent as homogeneous as canned milk is not impressive to me.

By contrast, charters in the Bay Area are merely just as segregated as their California counterparts. Which would probably make them less segregated than Bay Area public schools.  So what's the big deal? It seems, belatedly, that the media's attitude towards charter schools has started to shift. To wit: the recent New Yorker profile of Secretary of Ed Arne Duncan, which spent valuable real estate debating the merits of the movement. Is the blush off the rose? Are unlucky states like California growing bitter watching the Race to the Top money slip them by? Are charters just the next in an eye-grabbing list of controversial topics newspapers have gripped in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, or should we really be worried about a weakened and battered Brown v. Board actually getting weaker? Too bad, SF Chron. I thought we were finally going to see some enterprise reporting. Nice you went over to Oakland though--good for you. 

Which Members of Congress Are On Twitter?

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 12:34 PM EST

Which members of Congress are on Twitter? A lot of them, it turns out. A new report (PDF) by the Congressional Research Service examines the use of Twitter by representatives and senators during August and September of 2009:

The data show that 205 Representatives and Senators are registered with Twitter (as of September 30, 2009) and issued a total of 7,078 "tweets" during the data collection period of August and September 2009. With approximately 38% of House Members and 39% of Senators registered with Twitter, Members sent an average of 116 tweets per day collectively.

Unsurprisingly, member use of Twitter mirrors that of regular people: many registered members don't tweet at all, while a few members are responsible for a big chunk of the tweets. Half of the members of Congress on Twitter sent 20 or fewer tweets during August and September. But "16 Members sent more than 100 tweets," according to the report. Members of the House tweet far more often than Senators, and House Republicans are far more active tweeters than House Democrats. (Senate Republicans tweet slightly more frequently than Senate Democrats.)

The most interesting part of the CRS report focuses on the content of members' tweets. The authors of the study classified all the tweets they looked at into eight categories: position taking, policy statements, media or public relations, district or state, official or congressional action, personal, campaign, and other. Bottom line?

At this time, Twitter largely facilitates a one-way transmission of information from Members to the public. Members use Twitter to convey information about their official actions, press appearances, or policy positions. Given the limited data available thus far, a two-way exchange of information or policy dialogue appears less frequent.

That's also unsurprising, but it's too bad. It would be good for everyone if more Americans thought their representatives were hearing their concerns. Anyway, one more item. While the median representative had 1,297 followers, and the median senator had 3,536, one senator is the undisputed king of congressional twitterers: Sen. John McCain. He has over 1.7 million.

(h/t: Steven Aftergood)

Politics and the Pika

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 12:10 PM EST

The American pika, a tiny mammal that lives in the mountains of the West, does not fare well in temperatures above 78 degrees. It also needs snowpack to stay warm in the winter, meaning that warming could also cause them to freeze to death. Either way, pikas are screwed in a warming world.

The pika is so imperiled that they should be listed as endangered, argued the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice in petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act. But on Friday, Fish and Wildlife declined to list the pika, noting that though populations in the West are declining, those in other areas are not, meaning protection at this point is not warranted.

CBD and Earthjustice argue, however, that the warming temperatures will cause pikas to disappear in 80 percent of their habitats across the United States by the end of the century. "To conclude that this species is not threatened by climate change is an impossible gamble that we can't afford," said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice.

A January 2010 article in the journal Bioscience notes, "There’s enough evidence to say that pikas are going to be among the first mammals to be adversely affected by climate change."

Today's decision was met with anger from those petitioning for an endangered listing. "This is a political decision that ignores science and the law," said Shaye Wolf, a biologist at CBD, in a statement. "Scientific studies clearly show that the pika is disappearing from the American West due to climate change and needs the immediate protections of the Endangered Species Act to help prevent its extinction. The Interior Department has chosen to sit on its hands instead of taking meaningful action to protect our nation’s wildlife from climate change."

Of course, the campaign to list the pika as endangered also has greater political motivations. Once a species is listed as endangered, the government is by law obligated to protect that species. Typical ESA protections would, for instance, make certain habitats of endangered species off limits for development. But in cases where the threat is global climate change caused by emissions from human activity, limiting that threat would require economy-wide action. It would create a greater legal impetus for limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

It's very similar to the case for putting the polar bear on the endangered species list, as their lives are also threatened by the overarching problem of global warming. But the Department of Interior under Bush decided to list as merely "threatened", which doesn't have the same legal ramifications. Obama's DOI Secretary, Ken Salazar, upheld that decision last year, arguing that the Endangered Species Act "is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation’s carbon emissions." Instead, what the polar bear, and now the pika, need is "comprehensive energy and climate strategy that curbs climate change and its impacts." CBD, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace are currently suing over the polar bear listing.

It is true that legislation from Congress is the best way to protect critters (including humans) from the impacts of climate change. But if nothing is done about climate soon, the Western pika and the polar bear may very well be toast.

Obama: Question Time with GOPers was "Fun"

| Fri Feb. 5, 2010 11:02 AM EST

At a Democratic fundraiser on Thursday night, Obama referred to last week's Q&A with House GOPers:

We've got to change the tone of government and politics here in Washington and all across America. I'm not going to give up on that either. You know, the American people are right to be frustrated about a Washington where every day is Election Day -- and the basic theory is, "If you lose I win." Where we're not measuring success by what we're doing for the American people, but how we look in the latest Gallup. No wonder people are frustrated. That’s why I went to the House Republican caucus the other day.  We had a good discussion -- (laughter) -- about the challenges that are facing the American people, our ideas to solve them. That was good for the country. It's good for our democracy.  I had fun.

Just not enough fun to commit to doing it again.

By the way, an informed source tells me that House GOP leader John Boehner is unlikely to say yes to the cross-partisan campaign for more Question Time without the White House agreeing first.  And you can read my response to QT skeptics here.

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