Daily Archive: 05/14/2015

May 14 2015

Democrats Cave to TPP Fast Track But There is Still the House

Just a day after stopping the fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the Senate Democrats cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring it back for another vote:

Under the agreement, the Senate will hold a series of votes on Thursday on three separate trade measures: two standalone votes on bills that reflect Democrats’ priorities, including one that would crack down on Chinese currency manipulation, and then another vote on a bill that would give Obama so-called “fast-track” negotiating authority.

If that sounds like a bad idea, well it is because neither of those bills has the backing from Republicans to pass in the Senate. In the bright side, the exclusion of protection for labor and regulations on currency an manipulation could doom fast track in the House.

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been able to count on broad and deep support for the trade agenda, which is less about trade and more about smoothing out regulations to benefit multinational corporations. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn’t have that same luxury when it comes to granting so-called fast-track authority to Obama.  [..]

People close to House leadership say Boehner expects to lose, at this point, roughly 50 Republican votes. Lobbyists and staffers on both sides of the issue said they think such a count is highly optimistic, and that House Republicans realistically have around 140 “yes” votes.

House Republicans start with 245 members and, thanks to two vacant seats, need 217 votes for a majority. Lobbyists and House staffers don’t expect more than 20 Democrats to join with Republicans — the number is said to be at 17 as of now — which would put the tally just shy of the number needed, giving Boehner and Obama a fighting chance to get over the top. But if the GOP is indeed only in the 140s and needs to flip 50 undecided or “no” votes between now and the time of the vote, the challenge is a daunting one. Even getting to 170 would leave trade-bill backers well short.

In such a scenario, lobbyists and operatives say, Boehner would elect not to bring the bill to the floor at all, so as not to set an anti-trade precedent and to spare his members a vote that angers the business community with one decision and the tea party with the other. [..]

The customs enforcement bill would toughen up punishments for businesses and countries that cheat trade rules by underpricing goods, and ban imports of goods made with forced child labor. Somewhat more importantly, the currency manipulation measure within the bill would clamp down on countries that seek to make their goods cheaper by devaluing their own currencies. It’s a major priority for Democrats, but by agreeing to hold a vote on it that’s separate from the fast-track bill, it all but guarantees the House will not take it up.

If House GOP leadership chooses to ignore the bills Democrats demanded votes on in the Senate, and they likely will, House Democrats may try to push the issue.

In the end, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Javier Becerra, said Republicans shouldn’t expect Democrats to help them out on trade.

“I don’t believe that Republican leaders should count on Democrats to bail them out of their bill, Becerra said.

The short of it: even if these bills manage to make it to President Obama’s desk, he will veto them and we will be stuck with another economically devastating trade bill. The Democrats meed to wake up.

May 14 2015

Train Wrecks: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

ust about 45 minutes before the tragic train wreck in Philadelphia, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow had this report about the potential for a nuclear disaster, the proximity to nuclear missile sites of rail lines that carry volatile crude oil.

So what does the Republican led House do? They cut funding to Amtrak.

May 14 2015

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Trevor Timm: NSA reform is unavoidable. But it can be undermined if we aren’t careful

Congress now has to reform NSA mass surveillance in the next two weeks – whether they like it or not.

Bolstered by a historic court of appeals opinion from last week that ruled much of NSA’s mass surveillance on Americans illegal, Congress is scrambling to pass a reform bill for the NSA before 1 June, when a key section of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215, will expire unless both houses vote to extend it. Now the only question is how far they’ll go.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is the same law that a three judge panel on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled cannot be used by the NSA to collect every American’s phone records, which is exactly what they had been doing in secret for years before Edward Snowden revealed the program in his very first leak to the Guardian in June 2013.

The court ruling has left Congress reeling, where many thought they might be able to escape without doing much at all; now most members in both parties admit the question is not if the NSA will be constrained but by how much.

Cindy Shaogan: Arctic drilling for ‘extreme oil’ is risky – and letting Shell do the work is reckless

America’s Arctic Ocean belongs to all of us. The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas provide habitat for countless species of wildlife. This is one of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, home to the entire population of US polar bears. Many of America’s most beloved marine creatures thrive here, including whales, walrus, seals and countless birds.

Yet on Monday, the Interior Department decided to conditionally approve Shell’s risky and dangerous plans to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea.

The Arctic is under the dual threat of climate change and development. This administration has made a strong commitment to working towards mitigating climate change. Drilling in the Arctic is backtracking on this commitment. Burning the Arctic Ocean’s oil could release an additional 15.8 bn tons of carbon dioxide (pdf) into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to all US transportation emissions over a nine year period. Scientists have warned that we need to keep these reserves in the ground to keep global warming in check.

Robert Reich: What Nike, Obama and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Have in Common

The President is angry at Democrats who won’t support this trade deal.

He should be angry at Republicans who haven’t supported American workers. Their obduracy has worsened the potential impact of the deal.  

Congressional Republicans have refused to raise the minimum wage (whose inflation-adjusted value is now almost 25 percent lower than it was in 1968), expand unemployment benefits, invest in job training, enlarge the Earned Income Tax Credit, improve the nation’s infrastructure, or expand access to public higher education.

They’ve embraced budget austerity that has slowed job and wage growth. And they’ve continued to push “trickle-down” economics – keeping tax rates low for America’s richest, protecting their tax loopholes, and fighting off any attempt to raise taxes on wealthy inheritances to their level before 2000.

Now they – and the president – want a huge trade agreement that protects corporate investors but will lead to even more off-shoring of low-skilled American jobs.

Jeffrey Sachs: Defend Workers and the Environment Before Voting Fast Track

esident Barack Obama is making a full-court press for two new international business agreements, one with Asian-Pacific countries known as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the other with European countries known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). To secure these, he is calling on Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast track,” so that when TPP and TTIP come up for a Congressional vote, they can only be voted up or down, without amendments.

Obama’s advocacy has included a recent report by his Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) on The Economics Benefits of U.S. Trade (pdf), and a visit to Nike headquarters in Oregon. At Nike, Obama portrayed opponents of Fast Track as “just wrong,” trying to preserve the status quo rather than join the 21st century. Yet the Democrats are so far not buying. They know that there is a lot of mischief and even danger lurking in TPP and TTIP as they are currently constituted, as both would give too much power to multinational companies at the expense of workers and regulators.

Ralph Nader: Auto Safety: Past Is Prologue

It doesn’t take a comprehensive examination of American culture to notice the all-too-commonplace glorification of war. Violent war movies and television shows routinely make big bucks for Hollywood. Video games called Call of Duty and Battlefield sell millions of copies each year. Even history books are filled with stories of “great” battles won and lost. There are even devoted Civil War reenactors!

We are quick to recognize and commemorate wars that took enormous amounts of human lives through acts of intentional violence from opposing sides. It is unfortunately quite rare to see the same public attention dedicated to campaigns where preserving human life was the only true objective.

Mary Turck: Stop the blame game over achievement gap

We need to invest in programs that help students learn and succeed, not argue about who’s responsible for failure

Debates about the shortcomings of K-12 education in the United States typically focus on identifying who or what is to blame for the achievement gap – the lower standardized test scores and high school graduation rates among students of color and those living in poverty. Often these discussions are not only misguided but also ignore strategies that lead to success in school, even for children who are living in poverty, discouraged by racism and inequality and stressed by family and community dysfunction. We need to learn from and replicate these initiatives instead of blame and shame schools, teachers and communities for gaps in achievement.

Students from low-income and minority backgrounds live with stress that affects individual learning and classroom behavior. For example, a study designed to identify stress in New York schoolchildren after 9/11 found that “the students’ sense of threat or insecurity stemmed not so much from terrorism as from exposure to violence, inadequate housing, sudden family loss, parents with depression or addictions and so forth.”

May 14 2015

The Breakfast Club (Buzz)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgLots of bad environmental news this week.  I don’t really know much about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) so I’ll let the pieces speak for themselves.

Bees Are Dying and We’ll All Pay for It

Kiona Smith-Strickland, Gizmodo

5/13/15 3:55pm

Bee colonies are still dying, and food may get more expensive as a result.

Beekeepers in the U.S. lost 42.1 percent of their bee colonies between April 2014 and April 2015, according to a recent annual survey. Those losses continue a trend of die offs among bee colonies, which beekeepers say could drastically affect our food supply.

Without bees to pollinate crops, we stand to lose many staple foods that we eat every day, from apples and tomatoes, to onions and berries.



Winter losses tell only part of the story. In fact, U.S. beekeepers lost enough colonies during the last two summers to make up for the improvements in winter losses. Last summer, about 27.4 percent of colonies died out. Large-scale commercial beekeepers, those with more than 50 colonies, seem to be especially prone to losing bee colonies during the summer.

Why are bee colonies dying? Several reasons: sometimes they succumb to winter cold, and sometimes a colony falls prey to mites, viruses, or fungi. Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is one of the biggest problems, and it’s actually pretty creepy. Colonies that have succumbed to CCD are eerily deserted. The adult bees are gone, but there aren’t any bodies. It’s likely that the workers died elsewhere, but they left with unhatched young in the brood chamber, ample supplies of food in the hive, and the queen all alone in the hive.

Researchers think CCD is the product of an unfortunate combination of pesticides, parasites, pathogens, and nutritional problems caused by less diversity and availability of sources of pollen and nectar. Any of those causes could also contribute to more ordinary kinds of colony loss.

A Sharp Spike in Honeybee Deaths Deepens a Worrisome Trend

By MICHAEL WINES, The New York Times

MAY 13, 2015

In an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories, about 5,000 beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April. That is well above the 34.2 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and it is the second-highest loss recorded since year-round surveys began in 2010.

Most striking, however, was that honeybee deaths spiked last summer, exceeding winter deaths for the first time. Commercial beekeepers, some of whom rent their hives to farmers during pollination seasons, were hit especially hard, the survey’s authors stated.

“We expect the colonies to die during the winter, because that’s a stressful season,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant entomology professor at the University of Maryland who directs the survey for the bee partnership. “What’s totally shocking to me is that the losses in summer, which should be paradise for bees, exceeded the winter losses.”



Dr. vanEngelsdorp said increasingly poor nutrition could be a factor in the rising summer death rate. Rising crop prices have led farmers to plow and plant millions of acres of land that was once home to wildflowers; since 2007, an Agriculture Department program that pays farmers to put sensitive and erosion-prone lands in a conservation reserve has lost an area roughly equal to half of Indiana, and budget cuts promise to shrink the program further. Dr. vanEngelsdrop and other scientists cite two other factors at work in the rising death rate: a deadly parasite, the varroa mite, and pesticides.

In recent years, some experts have focused on neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides used almost universally on some major crops in the United States. The European Commission has banned the use of three variants of the pesticide on flowering plants, citing risks to bees, and questioned whether they should be used at all.

Honeybees dying, situation ‘unheard of’

By Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post

May 14 at 3:11 AM

Just last year, it seemed there was something to celebrate despite planet Earth’s ongoing honeybee apocalypse: Bee colony losses were down. Not by enough, but they were down.



“One year does not make a trend,” Jeff Pettis, a co-author of the survey who heads the federal government’s bee research laboratory in Beltsville, Md., told the New York Times.

Turns out Pettis was right. VanEngelsdorp and other researchers at the Bee Informed Partnership, affiliated with the Department of Agriculture, just announced more than 40 percent of honeybee hives died this past year, as the Associated Press reported. The number is preliminary, but is the second-highest annual loss recorded to date.

“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” study co-author Keith Delaplane of the University of Georgia told the AP. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”



The state worst affected was Oklahoma, which lost more than 60 percent of its hives. Hawaii escaped relatively unscathed, losing less than 14 percent.

“Most of the major commercial beekeepers get a dark panicked look in their eyes when they discuss these losses and what it means to their businesses,” Pennsylvania State University entomology professor Diana Cox-Foster, who didn’t participate in the survey, said. Her state lost more than 60 percent of its colonies.

The USDA estimated that honeybees add more than $15 billion to the value of the country’s crops per year.

“If losses continue at the 33 percent level, it could threaten the economic viability of the bee pollination industry,” the department said. “Honey bees would not disappear entirely, but the cost of honey bee pollination services would rise, and those increased costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers through higher food costs. Now is the time for research into the cause and treatment of CCD before CCD becomes an agricultural crisis.”

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

May 14 2015

On This Day In History May 14

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.

May 14 is the 134th day of the year (135th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 231 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1796, Edward Jenner, an English country doctor from Gloucestershire, administers the world’s first vaccination as a preventive treatment for smallpox, a disease that had killed millions of people over the centuries.

Edward Anthony Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Jenner is widely credited as the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, and is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Immunology”; his works have been said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.

Smallpox

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu witnessed the Ottoman Empire practice of variolation during her 1716-1718 sojourn in Istanbul, where her husband was the British ambassador. She brought the idea back to Britain. Voltaire, a few years later, recorded that 60% of people caught smallpox, with 20% of the population dying of it. In the years following 1770 there were at least six people in England and Germany (Sevel, Jensen, Jesty 1774, Rendell, Plett 1791) who had successfully tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunization for smallpox in humans. For example, Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty had successfully vaccinated and presumably induced immunity in his wife and two children with cowpox during a smallpox epidemic in 1774, but it was not until Jenner’s work some twenty years later that the procedure became widely understood. Indeed, Jenner may have been aware of Jesty’s procedures and success.

Jenner’s Initial Theory:

The initial source of infection was a disease of horses, called “the grease”, and that this was transferred to cows by farm workers, transformed, and then manifested as cowpox.

Noting the common observation that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, Jenner theorized that the pus in the blisters which milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected the milkmaids from smallpox. He may have had the advantage of hearing stories of Benjamin Jesty and others who deliberately arranged cowpox infection of their families, and then noticed a reduced smallpox risk in those families.

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his hypothesis by inoculating James Phipps, a young boy of 8 years (the son of Jenner’s gardener), with material from the cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom, whose hide hangs on the wall of the library at St George’s medical school (now in Tooting). Blossom’s hide commemorates one of the school’s most renowned alumni. Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner’s first paper on vaccination.

Jenner inoculated Phipps with cowpox pus in both arms on the same day. The inoculation was accomplished by scraping the pus from Nelmes’ blisters onto a piece of wood then transferring this to Phipps’ arms. This produced a fever and some uneasiness but no great illness. Later, he injected Phipps with variolous material, which would have been the routine attempt to produce immunity at that time. No disease had followed. Jenner reported that later the boy was again challenged with variolous material and again showed no sign of infection.

Known:

Smallpox is more dangerous than variolation and cowpox less dangerous than variolation.

Hypothesis:

Infection with cowpox gives immunity to smallpox.

Test:

If variolation after infection with cowpox fails to produce a smallpox infection, immunity to smallpox has been achieved.

Consequence:

Immunity to smallpox can be induced much more safely than by variolation.

Ronald Hopkins states: “Jenner’s unique contribution was not that he inoculated a few persons with cowpox, but that he then proved they were immune to smallpox. Moreover, he demonstrated that the protective cowpox could be effectively inoculated from person to person, not just directly from cattle. In addition he tested his theory on a series of 23 subjects. This aspect of his research method increased the validity of his evidence.

He continued his research and reported it to the Royal Society, who did not publish the initial report. After improvement and further work, he published a report of twenty-three cases. Some of his conclusions were correct, and some erroneous – modern microbiological and microscopic methods would make this easier to repeat. The medical establishment, as cautious then as now, considered his findings for some time before accepting them. Eventually vaccination was accepted, and in 1840 the British government banned variolation – the use of smallpox itself – and provided vaccination – using cowpox – free of charge. (See Vaccination acts). The success of his discovery soon began to spread around Europe and as an example was used en masse in the Spanish Balmis Expedition a three year mission to the Americas led by Dr Francisco Javier de Balmis with the aim of giving thousands the smallpox vaccine. The expedtition was successful and Jenner wrote, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”

Jenner’s continuing work on vaccination prevented his continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament and was granted £10,000 for his work on vaccination. In 1806 he was granted another £20,000 for his continuing work.

Legacy

In 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease. This was the result of coordinated public health efforts by many people, but vaccination was an essential component. And although it was declared eradicated, some samples still remain in laboratories in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, and State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia.

The importance of his work does not stop there. His vaccine also laid the groundwork for modern-day discoveries in immunology, and the field he began may someday lead to cures for arthritis, AIDS, and many other diseases of the time.

May 14 2015

The Daily/Nightly Show (Philistines)

You stop being racist and I’ll stop talking about it.

Commencement Season

Soul Daddy interviews Morgan Freeman

Tonightly it’s ‘Mystery Topic’, but our panelists are Joel McHale, Lola Ogunnaike, and Ahmed Ahmed.

Continuity

Kristen Shaal

This week’s guests-

Reza Aslan will probably be on to talk about Of Kings and Prophets, a new ABC series based on the life of King Saul.  He will be one of the producers.  His last 2 books, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth were critically well received except on Faux and he has a noted celebrity feud with Bill Maher.

Tom Brokaw’s web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.