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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

Obamacare: The Hate Can’t Be Cured

Garry Wills

I fear that the president declared a premature victory for the Affordable Care Act when he said that its initial goals were met, it was time to move on to other matters, and the idea of repealing it is no longer feasible. He made the mistake of thinking that facts matter when a cult is involved. Obamacare is now, for many, haloed with hate, to be fought against with all one’s life. Retaining certitude about its essential evil is a matter of self-respect, honor for one’s allies in the cause, and loathing for one’s opponents. It is a religious commitment.

I am reminded of an exchange that took place between the historian Francis Russell and John Dos Passos. In 1920, two Italian anarchists—Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti—were accused of killing a security guard and an employee of a shoe factory during a payroll robbery to finance their political subversions. Their trial, which resulted in murder convictions for both, was manifestly unfair, and it caused an eruption of sympathy and protest on the left.

Celebrities around the world rushed to the two men’s defense. One of the leaders in this movement, who wrote extensively about the case, was the novelist Dos Passos. Nonetheless, the two men were executed in 1927.

But in the 1960s Francis Russell produced new ballistics tests and interviews to prove that one man, Sacco, had killed the two men at the shoe factory; the other, Vanzetti, was innocent. He tried to show this evidence to Dos Passos, who had given up his leftist ideas by that time. Dos Passos told Russell he could not even hear evidence that would unsettle his personal stake in the matter. He had invested too much of his youthful energy and self-esteem in the case to reopen it even for the slightest reconsideration. It would destroy his very identity, which had been tied up in that passionate commitment.



Police can stop vehicles based on anonymous 911 tips, justices rule

Source: LA Times

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court has upheld the authority of police officers to stop cars and question their drivers based on an anonymous tip to a hot line.

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the justices ruled that such stops do not amount to an unreasonable search or seizure, even if the arresting officer did not observe the vehicle speeding or swaying while driving down the highway.

The decision affirmed a ruling of the California courts.

In August 2008, a 911 dispatch team in Mendocino County received a report that a pickup truck had run another vehicle off the road. The caller did not identify himself, but the report included a detailed description of the truck, including its license plate number.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-police-can-stop-cars-based-on-anonymous-911-tips-justices-rule-20140422,0,1123675.story

Today's Antarctic region once as hot as California, Florida

Parts of ancient Antarctica were as warm as today's California coast, and polar regions of the southern Pacific Ocean registered 21st-century Florida heat, according to scientists using a new way to measure past temperatures.

But it wasn't always that way, and the new measurements can help improve climate models used for predicting future climate, according to co-author Hagit Affek of Yale, associate professor of geology & geophysics.

"Quantifying past temperatures helps us understand ancient Antarctica were as warm as today's California coast, and polar regions of the southern Pacific Ocean registered 21st-century Florida heat, according to scientists using a new way to measure past temperatures.

The findings, published the week of April 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore the potential for increased warmth at Earth's poles and the associated risk of melting polar ice and rising sea levels, the researchers said.

Led by scientists at Yale, the study focused on Antarctica during the Eocene epoch, 40-50 million years ago, a period with high concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and consequently a greenhouse climate.



Our Past, Our future....

Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die

For students who borrow on the private market to pay for school, the death of a parent can come with an unexpected, added blow, a federal watchdog warns. Even borrowers who have good payment records can face sudden demands for full, early repayment of those loans, and can be forced into default.

Most people who take out loans to pay for school have minimal income or credit history, so if they borrow from banks or other private lenders, they need co-signers — usually parents or other relatives. Borrowing from the federal government, the largest source of student loans, rarely requires a co-signer.

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

The bureau said that after a co-signer’s death or bankruptcy, some borrowers are placed in default without ever receiving a demand for repayment. The agency did not accuse loan companies of doing anything illegal.



Elizabeth Warren, the fighter

Elizabeth Warren is a freshman Senator from Massachusetts whom some Democrats are talking up as a Presidential candidate -- reason enough for Mark Strassmann to seek her out for some Questions-And Answers:

If you ask many progressives voters from Harlem to Hollywood, they'll say a woman should run for president in two years: Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The Massachusetts Democrat is both revered and reviled; her style is aggressive, and her message is economic populism ("Everyone who works hard and plays by the rule should have a real chance to get ahead."), that Main Street is under siege by Wall Street.

"How can it be," she told Strassmann, "that if you're just big enough and you commit big enough crimes, that there's no one out there who wants to hold you accountable? This is the consequence, again, of too much concentration of money and power."

Warren has written a new book, her tenth: "A Fighting Chance" comes out this week. It's a plea for economic fairness, especially for America's beleaguered middle class, wrapped inside her life story.

"This is my life's work," she said. "For more than 25 years now I've been working on trying to sound the alarm on what's happening to America's middle class."



American homes harbor antibiotic-resistant "superbug" MRSA

An antibiotic-resistant "superbug," long a problem in health-care settings, is now taking up residence in people's homes, a new U.S. study finds.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA, was once mainly confined to places like hospitals and nursing homes, where it can cause severe conditions such as pneumonia and bloodstream infections.

But since the late 1980s, MRSA has also hit the wider community, where it usually causes skin infections, some of them potentially life-threatening. The bug is spread by skin-to-skin contact or through sharing supplies such as towels or razors. And certain groups are at increased risk, including athletes in contact sports and people living in cramped quarters, such as military barracks or prisons.

But in the new study, researchers found that such communal spaces are not the only major MRSA "reservoirs" out there.

"What our findings show is it's also endemic in households," said lead researcher Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.


60 percent of Japanese support whale hunt

Sixty percent of Japanese people support the country's whaling program, but only 14 percent eat whale meat, a new poll shows.

The survey comes less than a month after the United Nations' top court ruled the annual mission to the Southern Ocean by Japanese whaling vessels was a commercial hunt masquerading as science in a bid to skirt an international ban.

A weekend opinion poll conducted by the liberal Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed that 60 percent of 1756 voters supported the "research" whaling program, against 23 percent who opposed it.

Asked how often they ate whale meat, however, only 4 percent said they eat "sometimes" and another 10 percent said they eat it "fairly infrequently".

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/60-percent-of-Japanese-support-whale-hunt/tabid/1160/articleID/341092/Default.aspx

Why Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination, and Perjury Are No Longer Punished in Washington

How the mighty have fallen. Once known as "Obama's favorite general," James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside US Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history—the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran's nuclear program. A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public. It was considered a serious breach of national security. On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a US district judge who told him that his "criminal act" was "a very serious one" and had been "committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass." It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president's ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains—as yet—a grim Washington fairy tale. There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president's "favorite general" (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that's all. He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term. Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to "an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information." He stood before US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009.

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence—the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state. Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America's national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that's leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.



The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

Middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.



The Republican Party's Plan to Retake the Senate Is Falling Apart


The Washington consensus right now is that Republicans are slight favorites to take control of the Senate in the midterms. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver put the odds at 60 percent. Other prognosticators agree. That may be true right now, but there are signs that the calculus could change in the coming months. Democrats may be in better shape than anyone realizes.

That doesn't mean Democrats are in good shape. They still face a number of structural disadvantages this fall, as Talking Point Memo’s Sahil Kapur documented in February. The party is defending 21 seats, compared to just 15 for Republicans, including ones in red states such as Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Democratic senators Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, for instance, are both from deep-red states—Landrieu's Louisiana went for Romney by 17 points, Pryor's Arkansas by 24 points—that don’t like Obamacare. Outside conservative groups, like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, are already spending millions of dollars on attack ads against the Democratic incumbents.

Further complicating matters, Democratic turnout historically drops in midterm elections. Democrats also face the “sixth year curse,” which holds that the party of the president struggles during his second-term midterms. Only Bill Clinton gained seats, thanks to a strong economy and overzealous impeachment trial in Newt Gingrich's House. In 2006, George W. Bush lost 30 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson lost 47 in the House and four in the Senate. Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman all lost seats in both houses during their sixth years.

Thus, regardless of the public’s support, or lack thereof, of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats face an uphill battle this year. But could they pull a miracle upset and actually increase their majority? RealClearPolitics' Sean Trende, the best conservative prognosticator out there, laid out that unlikely scenario in a piece last week: “The way this could occur is fairly straightforward: The Affordable Care Act improves; there’s no massive rate shock for premiums in September or October; and the economy slowly gains ground. This should propel President Obama’s job approval upward, lifting the collective Democratic boat.”


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