Daily Archive: 12/12/2011

Dec 12 2011

America’s Descent Into Fascism

Well worth the 50 minutes.

Conversations with History: Glenn Greenwald

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Glenn Greenwald for a discussion of his new book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some.” Greenwald traces his intellectual odyssey; analyzes the relationship between principle, power, and law; and describes the erosion of the rule of law in the United States. Highlighting the degree to which the legal system frees the powerful from accountability while harshly treating the powerless, Greenwald describes the origins of the current system, its repudiation of American ideals, and the mechanisms which sustain it. He then analyzes the media’s abdication of its role as watchdog role. He concludes with a survey of the the record of the Obama administration in fulfilling its mandate, argues for an alternative politics, and offers advice for students as they prepare for the future. Series: “Conversations with History”

h/t Michael Kwiatkowski @ Progressive Independence

Dec 12 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: Depression and Democracy

It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.

On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it’s important not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unemployment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn’t be dismissed just because there’s no Hitler in sight.

Robert Reich: The Remarkable Political Stupidity of Wall Street

Wall Street is its own worst enemy. It should have welcomed new financial regulation as a means of restoring public trust. Instead, it’s busily shredding new regulations and making the public more distrustful than ever.

The Street’s biggest lobbying groups have just filed a lawsuit against the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, seeking to overturn its new rule limiting speculative trading.

For years Wall Street has speculated like mad in futures markets – food, oil, other commodities – causing prices to fluctuate wildly. The Street makes bundles from these gyrations, but they have raised costs for consumers.

In other words, a small portion of what you and I pay for food and energy has been going into the pockets of Wall Street. It’s just another hidden redistribution from the middle class and poor to the rich.

Alexander Cockburn: Barack Obama Plays the Teddy Roosevelt Card a Little Late

When in doubt, wheel on Teddy Roosevelt. It’s article one in every Democratic president’s playbook. Roosevelt was president from 1901 to 1909. He was manly; he ranched in North Dakota and explored the Amazon. He was a rabid imperialist, charging up San Juan Hill and sending the Great White Fleet round the world. And he loved the wilderness – so long as it was suitably cleansed of Indians. “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians,” he wrote in “The Winning of the West,” “but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

When necessary, he could play the populist rabble-rouser’s card, flaying the corporations, railing against “the malefactors of great wealth.” But on Roosevelt’s watch modern corporate America came of age.

Williams Rivers Pitt: Short Tales From Bizarro World: The GOP Primaries Edition

Bahwitabah da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy said the boogie said up jumped the Mitty…

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. You see, I was perusing the New York Daily News and came across this little gem about Mitt Romney choosing the Kid Rock song “Born Free” as his 2012 campaign anthem. “The patriotic pick,” reported the Daily News, “comes as Romney tries to shake the image that he’s a buttoned up elitist who has little in common with the average American.”

Mitt Romney and Kid Rock. Throw them together with Fred Phelps and the ghost of Lee Atwater, and you’d have the most phenomenally deranged golf foursome in the history of the universe.

Michelle Chen: Embarrassment of Riches: Conflict Diamond Regulation Breaks Down

The holiday season is a time of material pleasures, but it’s also a time to take stock of how our social values tend to be at odds with the objects we most prize.

While countless American shoppers splurge this month-probably to delude ourselves momentarily that we can still afford to indulge-the social cost of one luxury item has exposed a global crisis. The human rights group Global Witness has abandoned the Kimberly Process, the international regulatory framework aimed at restricting trafficking in “conflict diamonds.” The group argues that the process, which it helped create, is broken and ridden with loopholes.

Bill Keller: The Good Newt

At least on one issue – immigration – Newt Gingrich gets it.

Immigration is a subject that brings out the best and the worst in Americans.

As taught to my fourth-grade daughter this semester, the story of the peopling of America encourages us to celebrate our identity as the land of e pluribus unum. It reminds us of the tolerance required to coexist in a culture of many cultures. It honors the courage to uproot your life so your children can have a better one.

As it is practiced in our politics, the subject often dredges up darker feelings: tribalism, xenophobia, envy, a pull-up-the-ladder stinginess. This is not new. The English and Dutch colonists resented the immigrant waves of Irish and Germans, who resented the later waves of Italians and Poles and Jews. Polls show that Americans only halfheartedly support immigration, and less than halfheartedly in hard times.

Thomas Edsall: Let’s Not Talk About Inequality

Conservatism’s strength, its stress on the value of individual responsibility, is also its central weakness.

The right’s claim that liberalism creates a deterrent to personal initiative and generates an ethos of dependency has resonated powerfully among white swing voters crucial to the ascendance of the Republican Party over the last four decades.

As the aftereffects of the financial collapse of 2008 continue to batter the nation with high unemployment and low growth, however, the conservative message has run into headwinds.

Dec 12 2011

On This Day In History December 12

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 12 is the 346th day of the year (347th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 19 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1787, Pennsylvania becomes the second state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 46 to 23. Pennsylvania was the first large state to ratify, as well as the first state to endure a serious Anti-Federalist challenge to ratification.

Pennsylvania drafted the most radical of the state constitutions during the War for Independence. By excluding Quakers and all other pacifists unwilling to take oaths of allegiance to the Revolutionary cause, a fervently anti-British and anti-Indian Scots-Irish faction had seized power for the first time in the remarkably diverse state. Only when pacifists were again able to exercise the franchise in peacetime was it conceivable that the more conservative U.S. Constitution might pass in Pennsylvania. Large states had the most to lose by joining a strengthened union. James Wilson’s genius in describing the nature of layered sovereignty in a federal republic, using the solar system as an analogy, was invaluable in convincing Pennsylvanians to ratify. Anti-Federalists found themselves in the hypocritical position of criticizing the federal Constitution for failing to codify the freedom of religious practice they had actively denied their fellow citizens during the War for Independence.

Dec 12 2011

When You Don’t Fight

The politically motivated decision to block the sale of Plan B Emergency Contraception to under seventeen year old women without a prescription by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that was blessed by President Obama has outraged women’s groups, doctors and, yes, the FDA.

Amanda Marcotte expressed her views on Obama using politics to trump science, common sense and good parenting:

No one wants 11-year-olds to have sex, of course, but that concern shouldn’t play a role in this. In a press release addressing Sebelius’s decision, the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research institute that studies sexual health, noted that fewer than 1 percent of 11-year-olds are sexually active, but almost half of teenage girls are having sex by age 17. There’s no evidence to suggest that making Plan B available to all teenagers will somehow push younger teenagers to start having sex in greater numbers. If Sebelius actually had concerns about the effect of this drug on the behavior of younger teenagers, she could have looked to Canada, where Plan B is sold over the counter without age restrictions, with no discernible outbreaks of promiscuity in junior high school. Meanwhile, the United States still has a teen birth rate three times that of Canada’s, which easy access to Plan B could help curb.

Over the past decade, more than 70 medical organizations, the bulk of the FDA’s review committees, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research have all endorsed selling Plan B over the counter with no age restrictions. The only person left standing against the switch is a career politician with a background of lobbying on the behalf of trial lawyers, whose job depends on her boss getting re-elected. Sebelius’s claim that she’s standing up for better science instead of pandering to American fears about teenage sexuality sounds hollow. As hollow as all those Republicans who flaunt the experts to deny climate change.

Why Obama’s ‘Plan B’ Decision Is Wrong


Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has stunned the women’s health community by halting the implementation of over-the-counter sales of the Plan B morning after emergency contraceptive pill to girls under the age of 17. Now, President Obama has come out saying that – as a father of two girls – he supports Sebelius’ common sense move. But was it a common sense move, Mr. President? Offering Plan B over the counter would have helped stem the tide of teenage pregnancies in America. Sure, Plan B is currently available to younger girls with a prescription, but many girls won’t or can’t get to a doctor in the first 72 hours after having unprotected sex. And sometimes those who do are running into activist doctors who refuse to write a prescription or activist pharmacists who won’t fill it, leaving girls out in the cold having to face a much more invasive abortion to terminate a potential pregnancy. And it’s not like plan B is a dangerous drug, it’s simply got a stronger dose of the hormone progestin than what’s found in regular birth control. If it’s a safety issue, there are far more dangerous things a 13 year old girl could walk into Rite Aid and buy. Any fear that the wider availability of the pill would increase sexual promiscuity ignores the fact that the pill isn’t cheap, plus a lot of stores would keep them in those locked cabinets with the condoms so kids couldn’t easily steal them.

The truth of the matter is that science and common sense clearly pointed in one direction, but the politics of the situation in an election year pointed in the other. It’s just a shame that the Obama administration chose what’s politically convenient over what’s really best for the nation’s daughters–making sure they don’t put their lives on the slow track by having a baby at age 14, 15, or 16. If you agree with me, help spread this message.

The Food and  Drug Administration approved the Plan B morning after contraceptive pill to be sold over the counter. But on Wednesday the Obama administration overruled the decision. Dr. Susan Wood, former FDA Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health, joined Chris Hayes and his panel to talk about the controversial intervention.

Jon Walker summed up that this is what pro-choice groups and pro-choice women legislators in the House get for not fighting Obama’s alliance with Bart Stupak over restricting access to abortion in the ACA bill and, again, when Republicans prevented the District of Columbia from using city money to pay for abortion:

During the health care reform fight the women’s reproductive rights groups and legislators were basically sold out. President Obama decided to cut a deal with Bart Stupak’s Gang. He assumed that the pro-choice and women legislators in the House and pro-choice groups would just fall in line, and they did with very little fighting. [..]

Today Obama did it again. Obama’s Secretary of HHS, in a blatant, politically motivated move, took the almost unheard of step of going against FDA recommendations regarding Plan B. Science, common sense and women’s reproductive rights were all disregarded in what clearly appears to be an attempt to appease conservatives.

This is what happens when you don’t fight the first time.  This is what happens when there is no political cost for crossing you. People learn that they can walk all over you, and they do so whenever possible.

Dec 12 2011

Pique the Geek 20111211: Would I Lye To You?

Sodium hydroxide, aka lye, is one of the most important basic chemicals used in industry, and until not too long ago, for several home uses.  It can still be found in a few consumer products, but because of its usefulness as a chemical reagent for clandestine preparation of methamphetamine, is hard to get now without a legitimate business reason.  However, I found some at Lowe’s a couple of years ago (under a different label) for opening drains.  I wanted some to show my relatives how to make soap.

A significant amount of this material is still used for making soap, but its uses are so widespread and pervasive that soapmaking is just a small fraction of the applications for this material.  Industrially it is used when a strong, cheap base is needed, because it is amongst the strongest and cheapest, other than perhaps calcium hydroxide (lime), but sodium hydroxide is very soluble in water where calcium hydroxide is not.

Dec 12 2011

Sunday Train: A Streetcar for Broadway (LA)

Nearly a month ago, Yonah Freemark had a post at The Transport Politic entitled, Los Angeles’ Streetcar Plans: Too Duplicative of Existing Services?. He wrote:

Los Angeles has big hopes for its downtown, and, like most of the country’s major cities, it has seen significant population growth in the inner core over the past ten years. Now, to extend this renaissance, the city – also like many others – is planning a streetcar line that would traverse the district from north to south. Last month, it applied for $37.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant dollars, which it hopes to supplement with local and private funds to complete an initial route of between 3 and 5 one-way track miles at a cost of between $106 and $138 million.

Despite the fact that planning for the L.A. streetcar goes back for more than a decade thanks to the work of a public-private local advocacy group, the city will have plenty of competition in its effort to win federal funds. Requests for the third round of TIGER funding outnumbered actual funding available by 27 to 1. With so many projects up for consideration, anything funded by Washington ought to be valuable. But L.A.’s project could benefit from significant improvement.

And then … well, join me over the fold.