09/24/2015 archive

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”.

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The G.O.P.’s Obsession With Planned Parenthood

Congressional Republicans are again playing brinkmanship with the budget – some are even threatening to shut down the government – in order to score ideological and political points. On Tuesday, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, introduced a bill to keep the government running for a few months past the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30 – as long as Democrats agree to cut off money for Planned Parenthood. [..]

Abortions are a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services and tissue donation a very small part. No federal money is spent on abortions at Planned Parenthood; most of its services are for contraception, health screenings, pregnancy tests and prenatal care for low-income women.

The Republican obsession with the group seems to come to this: denying women, especially poor women, the health care they need; pandering for primary votes among Tea Party regulars; and obstructing the budget process and the smooth functioning of government. Quite a record.

Trevor Timm: We need to find a way to help Syria that isn’t ‘add more military’

As the refugee crisis across Europe continues and Syrian civil war drags on, it seems the only “solution” western politicians can muster for the conflict is to send more weapons for various fighters, drop more bombs from the sky and argue for a more entrenched war – actions that will all but guarantee to further descend the region into chaos. [..]

Sadly, the calls for a US military escalation will only get louder, as various Republican war mongers hog the stage during the high-profile Republican campaign. And the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is as hawkish, or more so, than Republicans. Gen. John Allen, the man in charge of the still-undeclared Isis war, supposedly someone who would “push back” against the more uber-militaristic elements in the Obama administration is stepping aside. Who his replacement will be is not known, but you can guess the drumbeat for someone who is even more “aggressive” will get louder by the day.

What is happening in Syria is an absolute tragedy, and one can only hope that the western powers will welcome refugees with open arms, and that a potential negotiated settlement is still somehow possible to at least stop the carnage on one side of the war. But while there are proposals everywhere for more war, no one has explained how adding more military destruction to the equation would actually help.

David Cay Johnston: GM settlement shows Justice isn’t serious about justice

The Obama administration prosecutes fraud by peanut CEO, but not by car or finance executives

Barely a week after the Justice Department announced it would pursue individual wrongdoers in corporate crimes, a policy mocked as just reheated cabbage in the headline of my last column, Justice served up some reheated cabbage.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates declared that the policy was real reform: “We mean it when we say, ‘You have got to cough up the individuals.’ ”

The next week Justice settled with General Motors over faulty ignition switches that killed more than 120 people who lost control of their vehicles, the airbags failing to deploy. GM will pay $900 million, recall 2.6 million cars and offer some money to survivors and families of the dead, most of which were unable to collect damages because of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.

Before the first car with a faulty ignition switch was sold more than decade ago, GM knew that the ignition switches were prone to fail, court papers show.

Yet despite knowing there would be deadly consequences, GM neither changed the design nor warned motorists, a callous disregard for the lives not just of customers but also of everyone else on the road.

Were there individuals named in the GM settlement with Justice? No. Were criminal charges filed for this deadly and long-running conspiracy? No.

Steven W. Thrasher: Disaster capitalism is a permanent state of life for too many Americans

In the United States, disaster has become our most common mode of life. Proof that our daily existence was something other than a simmering, smoldering disaster has been historically held somewhat at bay by the myth that hard work equals some kind of subsistence living. For the more deluded amongst us, this ‘American dream’ even got us to believe we could be something called ‘middle class’. We were deceived.

For those not yet woke, I don’t see how y’all can stay asleep when story after story proves how screwed we are.

The New York Post, no bastion of bleeding heart liberalism, reported on Monday that “Hundreds of full-time city workers are homeless”. These are people who clean our trash and make our city, the heart of American capitalism, safe and livable, including for those who plunder the globe from Wall Street. These are men and women, living in shelters and out of their cars, who have government jobs – the kind of workers conservatives love to paint as greedy, gluttonous pigs.

Sen Bernie Sanders: We Must End For-Profit Prisons

The United States is experiencing a major human tragedy. We have more people in jail than any other country on earth, including Communist China, an authoritarian country four times our size.  The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we incarcerate about a quarter of its prisoners — some 2.2 million people.

There are many ways that we must go forward to address this tragedy.  One of them is to end the existence of the private for-profit prison industry which now makes millions from the incarceration of Americans.  These private prisons interfere with the administration of justice. And they’re driving inmate populations skyward by corrupting the political process.

No one, in my view, should be allowed to profit from putting more people behind bars — whether they’re inmates in jail or immigrants held in detention centers. In fact, I believe that private prisons shouldn’t be allowed to exist at all, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to eliminate them.

Jeffrey Sachs: Rational Drug Pricing

Drug pricing has taken center stage in U.S. politics, and it’s high time that it should. The soaring prices for drugs like Sovaldi ($1,000 a pill) and the recent hike of Deraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill after the supplier was bought by a shady hedge-fund manager, have caused white-hot fury in the public. Corporate lobbyists and their friends in the media spout free-market platitudes about why the sky-high prices are necessary to promote innovation. It’s time for a serious understanding of the policy issues.

Drug pricing is not like the pricing of apples and oranges, clothing, or furniture that well and good should be left to the marketplace. There are two major reasons. First, the main cost of drug production is not the cost of manufacturing the tablet but the cost of producing the knowledge embedded in the tablet. Second, there is often a life-and-death stake in access to the drug, so society should take steps to ensure that the drug is affordable and accessible. [..]

Second, the government grants patent rights for drug discovery. A patent gives a 20-year exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention, effectively a 20-year monopoly. This allows companies to boost their prices, earn monopoly profits, and thereby recoup the costs of the R&D that went into the drug discovery.

The Breakfast Club (2015 Ig Nobels)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgIt’s kind of a parody of the Nobel Prize, the stated goal is to make you laugh, then think.

We’re brought up with this concept of the Scientist as a sort of Warrior/Priest battling space alien buggy things (or making them) and inventing wizzy bang death rays and such, clad in their mystic lab coat ($21 in any Work Clothing/Uniform catalog).  Well, maybe not personally, usually there’s a whole puddle of corpses before the climax of the story when the Scientist is destroyed by his creation (or nemisis) so the hero can get the girl who’s been emotionally conflicted (or mind controlled) up to his timely demise.  The End.

Science is nothing at all like that and is in fact mostly about measuring things and writing down numbers.

Let’s say you’re a swashbuckling Archeologist.  You’ll be stuck in a jungle or desert sure, but you’ll spend all day every day digging, measuring, writing and for every hour in the field you’ll have to work 20 or more to figure out what exactly you found.

Let alone what it means, about which you’re almost sure to be totally, completely wrong.

And that’s if you’re a Lion Tamer, if you’re an Accountant you’ll work your entire lifetime on some quirky subject that nobody understands or appreciates.  Better love it, you’ll be spending a looong time with it.

The thing about the Ig Nobels is that they are, for the most part, genuine typical science.  The subjects may seem odd and funny (see 4 penised Echidnas below.  Relax, only 2 ejaculate at a time) but like the Golden Fleece the projects generally relate to larger and more important goals of which the named research is only a small part.

For instance unboiling eggs, that is so silly.

The chemistry prize went to American and Australian researchers who managed to partially unboil an egg with a vortex fluid device, a high speed machine that converts unfolded proteins into folded proteins.

Their results, published in ChemBioChem, show that the team was able to refold proteins thousands of times faster than previous methods. In theory, the device has far greater application than resetting eggs: it could do everything from revolutionize the manufacturing of cancer treatments to overhaul the industrial production of cheese.

Yup.  So remember that as you consider the 2015 winners.

2015 Ig Nobel prizes: dinosaur-like chickens and bee-stings to the penis

by Alan Yuhas, The Guardian

Thursday 17 September 2015 23.31 EDT

Entomologist Justin Schmidt and Cornell researcher Michael Smith jointly won for their painstaking experiments charting how painful insect stings are, and where the stings hurt worst. Smith pressed bees up against different parts of his body until the insects stung him, five stings a day, a total of 25 different locations, for 38 days. He rated the pain one to 10, and published.

The most painful parts: the nostril, the upper lip, the shaft of the penis.

Smith was joined onstage by Schmidt, who has also sacrificed various parts of his body for science in his decades specializing in stinging insects. Schmidt’s “sting pain index” rates only on a scale of one to four, but also features the entomologist’s descriptions of 78 sorts of stings, written with the flair of a sommelier in a wine cellar with something to prove.

The bald-faced hornet, for instance, is in Schmidt’s estimation: “rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” Yellowjackets, on the other hand, sting “hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” Both rate a two.

The four-plus-rated bullet ant, in contrast, punishes a victim with “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel”.

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.

On This Day In History September 24

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.

September 24 is the 267th day of the year (268th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 98 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day on 1789, The Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement. That day, President Washington nominated John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson to be associate justices. On September 26, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which their constitutionality was at issue. The high court was also designated to oversee cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice, and maritime jurisdiction. On February 1, 1790, the first session of the U.S. Supreme Court was held in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.

The Daily Late Nightly Show (Clock Boy)

Sonia Saraiya, Salon-

(I)n the first few minutes of Trump’s interview, I found myself realizing why people have become enamored of him, his contradictory and reprehensible views be damned. Trump has a completely different level of confidence and ease in the public eye than any of the other Republican candidates that have wormed their way onto talk shows; he has nothing at all to lose. He is an out-of-touch crank at Thanksgiving dinner who has accidentally alighted onto a few topics that seem to resonate with his listeners, and the validation is intoxicating.

Colbert’s weapon isn’t investigation or blunt questioning. It’s letting ridiculous people be as fully ridiculous as possible, and then turning them over to the national audience. His entire professional philosophy hinges on letting the viewers decide for themselves what to think, because he believes in comedy doing the talking for itself. It’s a clear break from David Letterman-witness this tense interview with Trump from January 2015-but it’s the approach that made Colbert both famous and beloved.

The full interview is available on YouTube in that horrible letterbox format I really hate (14:56), but not at all from CBS who have an awful video page that rarely includes complete clips and only displays whole shows for about 5 days and then you have to pay to view.

In the complete appearance people are making a big deal about this exchange.

“I’m gonna throw you up a big fat meatball for you to hit out of the park right now. This is the last time you ever have to address this question if you hit the ball. Barack Obama – born in the United States?”

“I talk about jobs. I talk about our veterans being horribly treated. I just don’t discuss it anymore.”

“You know that meatball is now being dragged down the steps of the subway by a rat right now.”

I wasn’t that impressed.  Trump didn’t answer but he doesn’t need to.  Substantial majorities (60 – 70% range depending on the poll) of Republicans, not Conservatives, Republicans, think Obama is not a U.S. citizen, a Muslim, or both.

There are a lot of reasons to hate on Obama but those ain’t any of them.

People sieze on that and say- “Racist!” and while they are quite correct in their assessment the reply is- “Yeah. So what?”

Trump, correctly from the standpoint of winning the nomination, doesn’t care about them, he cares about his supporters and, just like the McCain is no hero statement, they won’t be bothered by this at all.  They may in fact admire him more for refusing to back down.

And, were I Trump and confronted with this by types that style themselves mainstream, superior, and elite, I’d simply say- “I don’t talk about it anymore.  Obama is done.  In January 2017 there will be a new President and his name is Trump.”  Cue the balloon dropping applause.

What I did think was more funny and telling is this bit-

How did you score?  The Donald was of course a solid ‘A’.  I was perfect, which I never apologize for.

Stephen’s political guest tonight are Elizabeth Warren and Hugh Evans (Australian humanitarian).  His entertainment guest is Hugh Jackman with musical guest Pearl Jam.

The New Continuity

Women Warriors

If you think women are not as bad ass in combat as men you’ve never faced one.

Tonightly, special guest Ahmed Mohamed who you may know better as ‘Clock Boy’.  This is a HUGE get frankly and perhaps tomorrow I’ll focus on it rather than the Warren unless she’s particularly impressive.

On the panel will be Mike Yard, Naomi Klein, and Derek Waters.