Senate Republicans Agree Climate Change Is Real But Continue To Deny Cause

Climate-vote

With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats are largely limited to symbolic votes. Democrats wanted to attach an amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill which would get Republicans on record with regards to climate change. There was little difficulty in passing an amendment agreeing that climate change is real, and not a hoax. Only one Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, voted no. The catch is that, while they agreed that the climate is changing (a fact which some conservatives do deny), they do not accept the view of 97 percent of climate scientists that human action is the cause.

Senator Brian Schatz introduced a stronger amendment: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real; and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Under the rules of the Senate, this amendment failed with a 50-49 majority. Most Republicans voted against it, but there were a handful of exceptions–full list here.

I’m not sure what all this proved, but next could we have a vote to determine which Republicans don’t believe in evolution, or that the earth is not flat?

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Republican Women Revolting Against GOP Rape Ban But For Wrong Reasons

National Journal reports that the some Republicans oppose their party’s planned legislation to attempt to restrict abortion rights, or as Think Progress puts it,Republicans Introduce An Anti-Abortion Bill So Extreme That GOP Women In Congress Are Revolting.

Republican lawmakers are raising concerns that the party will alienate young voters and women by voting for an antiabortion bill coming to the House floor next week, on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

In a closed-door open-mic session of House Republicans, Rep. Renee Ellmers spoke out against bringing up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, telling the conference that she believes the bill will cost the party support among millennials, according to several sources in the room.

“I have urged leadership to reconsider bringing it up next week.… We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we’re moving forward,” Ellmers said in an interview. “The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

I have previously discussed how the twenty-week ban, in addition to being an unacceptable act of government intrusion in the rights of women to control their own body, is based upon conservative pseudo-science. They base it on false claims that the fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks despite this being scientifically impossible prior to the development of the cerebral cortex. This objection from some Republicans, based upon political expediency as opposed to principle, also demonstrates the hypocrisy of Republicans. If something really was morally wrong, as Republicans claim abortion is at twenty weeks, then it would not be justifiable to oppose the ban because of fear of losing votes.

If conservatives really had a case that abortion is morally wrong, then why should such an act be justifiable based upon who the father is? It would not be the fault of the fetus that the mother was raped. The abortion exclusion also shows just some of the difficulties in enforcing any laws against abortion rights. The proposed legislation would only apply if a woman reports the rape to the police, but this imposes unfair obstacles considering how women who report rape are often treated. Are we getting back to the Todd Akin idea of “legitimate rape” with such requirements? On the other hand, if reporting a rape to the police is the requirement for a legal abortion, this would potentially give motivation for women to falsely claim rape, along with causing increased skepticism among some people when women do report rape, further worsening problems for women who are raped.

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2014 Was Warmest Year On Record

NASA NOAA Climate Change

Two separate analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that 2014 was the warmest year on record:

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

In an independent analysis of the raw data, also released Friday, NOAA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record…

Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), a trend that is largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three decades.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

This is particularly significant as increased temperatures from an El Niño pattern did not play a role:

Several scientists said the most remarkable thing about the 2014 record was that it occurred in a year that did not feature El Niño, a large-scale weather pattern in which the ocean dumps an enormous amount of heat into the atmosphere.

Longstanding claims by climate-change skeptics that global warming has stopped, seized on by politicians in Washington to justify inaction on emissions, depend on a particular starting year: 1998, when an unusually powerful El Niño produced the hottest year of the 20th century.

With the continued heating of the atmosphere and the surface of the ocean, 1998 is now being surpassed every four or five years, with 2014 being the first time that has happened in a year featuring no real El Niño pattern. Gavin A. Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, said the next time a strong El Niño occurs, it is likely to blow away all temperature records.

Climate scientists have been pointing out, even before this year’s data, that right wing climate denialists are wrong in claiming that global warming stopped in 1998:

“Obviously, a single year, even if it is a record, cannot tell us much about climate trends,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “However, the fact that the warmest years on record are 2014, 2010 and 2005 clearly indicates that global warming has not ‘stopped in 1998,’ as some like to falsely claim.”

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SciFi Weekend: Person of Interest; The Flash and Other CW Shows; Agent Carter; Agents of SHIELD; The Returned; Mad Men; Star Talk; Neil Gaiman; Robert Crumb on Charlie Hedbo

Person of Interest Simulations

Often middle episodes of a trilogy can be weak, containing neither the set up or conclusion, but Person of Interest had no difficulty with the second part of their current trilogy. A show which deals with showing different versions of the same scenario might also be risky, but they certainly pulled that off well with If-Then-Else. Many viewers were aware that the episode might deal with the death of a character and they played with viewers in showing Finch get killed early in the episode. While the series has had one major character get killed in the past, it is a safe bet that Finch and Reese are safe, so it was no surprise that Harold’s death (along with a later sequence showing Reese get killed) were only a computer simulation as the Machine looked at every possible strategy.

I particularly enjoyed one way they kept the showing of different scenarios from seeming redundant or boring–the use of generic responses to speed up the dialog:

Reese: “Coolly delivered sadistic warning.”

Fusco: “Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”

Root: “Funny, yet insightful retort.”

Finch: “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.”

Once the scenarios were evaluated, we had the “real” version of events, with a couple of  surprises. While one simulation had Root kiss Fusco, as it was just a simulation, the real version showed a progression in the relationship between Shaw and Root. It was not entirely clear to what degree Shaw kissed root out of romantic interest versus to startle her so that she could sacrifice herself to get the elevator rising.

Person of Interest Shaw Kiss Root

It is notable that the when the final shot was heard we did not see Shaw’s body, and we know that in the absence of a dead body we should never assume a character has really been killed. The previews suggest that at very least Team Machine believes Shaw is alive. Interviews with the producers and cast reveal some spoilers as to whether Shaw is really dead. From TV Guide:

While debate rages about whether or not Shaw is actually dead, she certainly won’t be appearing on POI in the near future. In fact, this entire storyline was crafted after Shahi informed the show’s producers she was expecting twins.

“Our fans think we’re sadists who like killing off our characters. In this case, we had no choice,” executive producer Jonathan Nolan tells TVGuide.com. “Our hands were tied. The circumstances of Shaw’s character and what she does — being a lethal operative who goes around the world and exterminates people and often puts her life in peril — kind of makes her irresponsible as a maternal figure on the show. Sarah was the first person to say, “There’s no way we can write this into the character,” and we agreed.”

So, is Shaw really dead? “You have to stay tuned,” executive producer Greg Plageman says. “The great part of doing a serialized show is that you have people waiting to find out what happens. We’d hate to spoil that for the audience, but there is a little bit of ambiguity about what happens after those elevator doors close.” As for how long that ambiguity will last, Nolan quips, “What’s the earliest you can put two twins on an airplane?”

Regardless of Shaw’s fate, the producers did give fans a huge moment between Shaw and Root (Amy Acker), as the much-‘shipped duo finally locked lips before Shaw’s heroics kicked in. “I directed their first scene together on the show, and it was abundantly clear to me that there was a great deal of chemistry between those two characters,” Nolan says. “So from the beginning, for me, that tension has always been there. We felt like the fans were invested in that relationship. You don’t feel like you can walk away from something like that without giving some kind of consummation.”

Person of Interest Root Elevator

Initially stories I read about Sarah Shahi leaving the show reported an expected two year absence, but Shahi left this more open in an interview with Entertainment Weekly where she talked about her pregnancy and the kiss with Root:

How did you break the news to the producers?
I just kept hitting them, like one after another. At first it was, “Guys, I’m pregnant,” and they were like, “Woah, okay, this is great, how far along are you?” And then: “Hey guys, just went to the doctor, I’m having twins.” “Woah! What! Oh shit!” So the whammies just kept coming for them. They’ve been wonderful about it, and they’re all fathers themselves so they understand what blessings children are, but it did take some adjusting. As far as the show goes, I do 99 percent of my own stunts all the time, so it took a little re-wiring in terms of what was safe for me to do, what was not safe for me to do. There are things that on paper didn’t seem like a stunt. When you’re carrying two human beings inside your belly, sometimes just walking or standing is a stunt.

Was there any conversation about writing the pregnancy into the show?
There were. Even through creatively I didn’t have anything to do with how Shaw goes, I just kept stressing that I wanted to honor her in every way that I could, and I didn’t want them to write me behind a desk. I didn’t want them to lessen Shaw’s abilities in any way because of my physical inabilities. I just kept stressing to them, please please please let’s honor her the right way. I still want to go balls out. Don’t hold back just because I’m pregnant.

What is the right way to honor her?
Her going out the way she did is pretty perfect for her. I always viewed this character as somebody who had a death wish on her. She’s such an adrenaline junkie and she’s got an appetite for violence. She will definitely put herself in that situation. It’s fun for her. If she doesn’t do that, she’s not living. She looked death squarely in the eye. She had a hint of a smile in her eyes. And then it just went to black. I think for her, that was the perfect ending. If Shaw could pick anyway to go, that’s the way she would want to go.

Tell me about that big kiss between Root and Shaw. Was that purely for the fans?
It’s funny because that was Amy’s first girl-on-girl kiss, whereas I’m incredibly experienced because of The L Word. I’m a veteran at the girl-on-girl! And Amy was kind of getting kissed all over that episode, between me and Fusco. Although I think she’d rather me than Fusco.

But yeah, to be honest, I felt like it was more for the fans. The one thing that the producers and I did kind of disagree on was they felt like Shaw knew she was going to die. She’s against ten Samaritan operatives, there’s no way she’s getting out of this alive, and that kiss was a goodbye kiss. Whereas I didn’t see it like that. I don’t think Shaw goes into any situation going, okay, I’m going to die today. I feel like the stronger choice is to struggle to live, and so I felt like that kiss was just like, “Oh, shut the f–k up already, Root!” I felt like it was more trying to calm down a pestering child, if anything. “Okay, fine, I’ll give you what you want, now be quiet.” Just one of those moments. But again, I also felt like it was more for the fans than anything….

So, the million dollar question once more: Is Shaw gone for good?
This episode is the second episode in a three-part series, and that is going to be the question moving on. That is what the team is going to have to figure out. Is she alive? Did Samaritan capture her? Where is she? The rule in TV is if you don’t see a body, then they’re not dead.

If hypothetically you did return and Shaw wasn’t dead, do you have an idea of your own timeline?
As far as my own timeline, it’s one of those things where you say that you’re having twins and you automatically see the fear of God in people’s eyes. Most people know what it’s like to handle one baby. There’s not a lot of sleep that involves just one baby. Then you add another baby to that equation and it’s just like doomsday. It’s going to be me for the next, like, two years. So to be honest, I have no idea. I’m trying not to think about stuff like that. But there’s no way—I’ve never had experience in this department before, so I can’t say at all, no clue.

SpoilerTV has a spoiler-free advance look at part three in this trilogy, Control-Alt-Delete, which does include the return of Camryn Manheim as Control.

Flash-TV-Reverse-Flash-Theories

There have been a number of teasers on Arrow and The Flash coming out of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Among items of interest, it does appear that Tom Cavenagh’s character is the Reverse-Flash, as was suggested before the holiday hiatus, but he might not be the only Reverse-Flash:

Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg hinted that another person may be involved in the Reverse Flash mythology — namely Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). Fans have speculated that Eddie (whose name resembles Eobard Thawne, one of the aliases of Reverse-Flash in the comic books on which the series is based) will emerge as Reverse Flash in the series.

“His name is not an accident,” Kreisberg said Sunday. “Eddie’s connection to the Reverse Flash lore is going to pay off big time in the back half of the year.”

The DC universe will also be growing on CW. This includes another spin-off based on The Atom and there are plans for an animated series about Vixen taking place in the same universe.

The DC v. Marvel rivalry didn’t interfere with this discussion between writers and producers of both the DC and Marvel based television shows in this interview at The Hollywood Reporter. It was confirmed in this interview that a crossover between Supergirl (on CBS) with the CW shows is a distinct possibility.

CW has announced the renewal of multiple shows including Arrow, The Flash, The 100, and Jane the Virgin.

While the DC cinematic universe will be kept separate from the television universe, there will be overlap in characters between the movies. Viola Davis is rumored to have been offered the part of Amanda Waller in the Suicide Squad movie, with her character to also appear in other DC movies.  There are also rumors (and a denial) that Batman V. Superman will be split into two parts.

Agent Carter Poster

Agent Carter started out much stronger than Agents of SHIELD, hopefully indicating that Marvel has learned its lesson and will be doing a better job with its future television shows. Although set in the 1940’s, there were plenty of references to the Marvel universe. Besides frequently mentioning Captain America and including Tony Stark’s father, there were multiple other references. What Culture provides a list of 10 Easter Eggs.

Edward James Olmos of Battlestar Galactica will be appearing in a major role on Agents of SHIELD. Reportedly his character will have “massive repercussions” for SHIELD.

A date has finally been announced for the next Marvel television show. Netflix will be releasing Daredevil on April 10. The other planned Marvel shows on Netflix will be released approximately one year apart, with Jessica Jones, staring Krysten Ritter,  next in 2016.

Carlton Cuse is busy working with A&E, although not on original ideas.  One of his shows, Bates Motel, starts its third season on March 9. In addition he has a second show premiering with the network on the same day. He is doing an American adaptation of the French series, The Returned. This has the same basic premise as ABC’s Resurrection with people returning from the dead, but it is a totally different story. The American adaptation will also diverge from the French version after the sixth episode, and the second season will be entirely new as the French version only ran for a single season.

When Amazon included a show from Chris Carter, The After, in their pilots, there was mixed reaction. Some were excited, hoping for great things from the creator of The X-Files, while others remain wary of Carter after the way The X-Files deteriorated over the years. We will not find out whether he learned from his past mistakes on this series as Amazon has decided not to pick it up.

Mad Men Bar

AMC announced that the final episodes of Mad Men will start on April 5. Matthew Weiner has discussed the finale saying, “The last seven episodes, I would say each one of them feels like a finale in the show.”

Following an era filled with very polarizing finales, from Lost to How I Met Your Mother, Weiner says he is very cognizant of finding a balance between giving the audience what they want and best serving the overall story. “I’m extremely interested in what the audience thinks, so much so that I’m trying not to confound them, not frustrate and irritate them,” Weiner said. “I don’t want them to walk away angry. But I don’t want to pander to them. This sounds patronizing, but as the person telling the story, sometimes people have to be protected from what they want to see happen and the story has to have its own organic thing. You can’t just give them everything that they want. That said, part of entertainment can be catharsis. Bad things happening are considered a good thing in entertainment.”

Tonight Girls returns and there is the debut of a new comedy on HBO entitled Togetherness. The advance hype for the show has been making a big deal out of Amanda Peet appearing topless considering she is 42 years old. Personally I find seeing Amanda Peet topless, regardless of her age, to be far more desirable than to see more nudity from Lena Dunham.

Neil deGrasse Tyson will be returning to television in a weekly late night talk show entitled Star Talk.

neil-gaiman-trigger-warning

Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out entitled Trigger Warning which includes a Doctor Who short story. It is not clear if this is the same story which was previously only available in an ebook collection for the 50th anniversary.

Speaking of books and ebooks, Time and Financial Times are reporting that ebooks are going “out of fashion” but, even if they are correct, I question how they came to this conclusion. First they cite declining sales for ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. I see three flaws in using sales of these devices to be a meaningful measure of reading ebooks. First of all, while some might upgrade to the newest versions, many people might still be using an ebook reader which was purchased over a year ago and have no reason to buy a new ebook reader. Secondly, tablets have come down in price so much that many people might be using tablets as opposed to dedicated ebook readers. Thirdly, as screens on cell phones have increased in size and screen resolution has increased, cell phones have become much better for reading ebooks. Personally I find myself using my phone more than ebook readers since upgrading to an LG G3.

Their second argument is an increase in sales of physical books, but increased sales of physical books could just as likely mean more people are getting ebooks as mean less are. It could be a sign of an overall increase in reading and book sales, with different people buying more of one or the other along with some of us who buy both. Generally when I read a book I’ll obtain both a hard cover copy for my library and to read when at home along with an ebook copy to have it available for either when away from home or to read on my phone or tablet in night mode should I awaken in the middle of the night and decide to read for a little while.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb gives a

The New York Observer interviewed American cartoonist Robert Crumb, who moved to France in 1991, about the recent killings at Charlie Hebdo:

Charlie Hebdo, they print so many insulting cartoons about Muslim extremists, you know, geez, they just kept at it, you know…but that wasn’t the only people they insulted, they insulted everybody. The Pope, the President of the country, everybody! They were merciless, to everybody. It was a really funny magazine. They just didn’t hold back towards anybody. You know, they didn’t let anybody off the hook, which was good.

What was your reaction inside when you first heard about it?

I had the same reaction I had when 9/11 happened.  I thought, “Jesus Christ, things are really going to turn ugly now.” That kind of thing, just like 9/11, it gives the government the excuse to crack down, to become very much more, like, you know, “Homeland Security” oriented.  And the right wing gets like this kind of like fodder for its arguments. The right wing here is very down on the Arabs. And France has an Arab population that’s like, 5 Million, something like that – huge population of Muslims in this country, most of whom just want to mind their own business and don’t want to be bothered. Those kinds of extremists are a very small minority. We have friends here who are from that background, you know, Moroccan or Algerian. And they just don’t want any trouble, and their kids are mostly even more moderate than they are.

Is there anything in the US in our history that comes anywhere near this tradition – the Hedbo tradition? If so, what would it be?

Underground comics, back in the 70s.  But today, I don’t think there’s anything like that now in the US. The thing about Charlie Hebdo is that it started in 1969. The gang of guys that worked for that magazine, they just kept at that for decades. Those guys are fairly old, you know, older guys most of them. There wasn’t a whole lot of, you know, 20- somethings or 30-somethings in that group. The cartoonists are mostly older guys. There is lots of critique of the left also. They say the left is hypocritical, bullshitters and opportunists, and all that. But generally I would say there’s a leftish sympathy in Charlie Hebdo. But they just came out with that every week. Every week. And people would just look at it and laugh, “Oh, you know those guys, those crazy guys.  They’re outrageous.”

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Republican State Governments Expected To Renew The Culture Wars And Promote Conservative Pseudo-Science On Abortion

Democrats made a tremendous tactical mistake in the 2014 midterms. As the key Senate battles were in red states, Democrats ran as Republican-lite and Obama stayed quiet. As a consequence, turn out was at historic lows as Democratic voters saw no reason to turn out across the country, giving Republicans increased control in both Congress nationally along with in many state governments. (In contrast, once Obama became active after the election, his support shot up in the Gallup poll and multiple other polls).

While many Republicans ran with little talk of their positions on social issues, knowing that doing so might get many more people to turn out to vote against their unpopular views, The Washington Post points out that they plan to pursue conservative goals on social issues now that they are in office:

Renewal of culture wars

A new round of the culture wars is also inevitable in 2015. Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, said she expects that measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will advance in Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia. Missouri, too, is likely to take up some abortion-related bills.

In Tennessee, voters gave the legislature new powers to regulate abortion, and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) has said her chamber will take up three measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics.

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

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Republicans Used Jed Bartlet’s Former Campaign Manager To Skirt Election Laws

Twitter Polling Data

CNN reported this week that the Republicans used coded messages in Twitter accounts to get around campaign finance laws which prohibit coordination between campaigns and outside groups such as Super-PAC’s. Information in fake Twitter accounts allegedly contained internal polling data.

Republican officials deny knowing abut this. Considering the wide range of things which Republican officials know nothing about, including science, math, economics, ethics, the workings of a democratic nation, and most human knowledge acquired since the enlightenment, Republican claims of not knowing something are very difficult to dispute.

The screen grab from one Twitter account used, which has since been deleted, was under the name of Bruno Gianelli. Bruno Ginnelli worked as Jed Bartlet’s campaign manager in 2002. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Gianelli is now working with the Republicans as he did work as a consult to Arnold Vinick’s GOP presidential campaign in 2006. Some might find it surprising that Republicans did watch The West Wing. I’m sure they draw the line at watching MSNBC.

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Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

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Is The Culture War Really Over?

Bill Scher has an article at Politico on How Republicans Lost The Culture War. While it might be premature to say they lost and the war is over, a subject I’ll get into later, he does have some good points as to what went wrong for the Republicans.

Scher makes three main points. First, Republicans stopped being savvy on abortion. Rather than taking the purist position which they actually favor, legislatively the Republicans had concentrated on more narrow victories. Although late term abortions are rare, they made a lot of noise about “partial-birth abortions.”

While Scher sees this as no longer being savvy, I think that the change in Republican tactics was inevitable. They were never satisfied with stopping the rare late term abortions and were bound to ultimately push for what they really want–a complete ban on abortions.

They might have been more open in pursuing this partially due to a misreading of the polls which show Americans to be more ambivalent on Row v. Wade. The problems is that many people in this country don’t really know what Roe v. Wade means, but that doesn’t stop them from saying yes or no to a pollster. However, when the real question is posed, Americans do not want to make abortion illegal, and a majority agrees that women should  have the right to first trimester abortions.  Americans do not want to ban abortions, and imprison either women or the doctors involved.

Misreading the polls might have been a problem for Republicans, and this was compounded by moderate Republicans being forced from the party. The far right wing ideologues who now dominate the GOP would push for their position regardless of how unpopular, just as they push for restrictions on birth control, the second item on Scher’s list–Republicans got weird about birth control. If Americans would not go for Republican opposition to legalized first trimester pregnancies, they certainly did not accept their opposition to forms of birth control which prevent implantation, along with wider attempts to reduce access to contraception.

Hysterical Republican cries of “baby killers” are even more absurd when applied to a fertilized egg which lacks a central nervous system and consciousness. The Republican position here makes no more sense scientifically than Republican attitudes which deny science regarding evolution and climate change.  This also helps debunk the false Republican frame of making the pertinent question be when life begins. Certainly a fertilized egg is alive, but it also is not deserving of rights which trump the rights of a woman to control her own body. The Republican attitude on contraception only acted to expose their fallacious views regarding abortion, not to mention destroy any false claims they might make for being the supporters of limited government and greater freedom. This seems especially absurd to thinking people as providing easier access to contraception is one obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

His final point is that Republicans bet wrong on gay marriage. Attitudes in this country certainly have changed rapidly. As James Joyner put it, “As we’ve become more educated, appeal to tradition and cries of “We’ve always done it this way!” are simply less persuasive. Ultimately, the arguments for excluding people from marrying others of the same sex were revealed to be provincial at best and simple bigotry at worst.”

However, while liberal Democratic voters might have supported legalization of same-sex marriage, many Democratic leaders were also behind the country on this one. Still, it is Republicans who made a major issue of trying to again intervene in the private lives of individuals, while Democratic leaders were at least ready to get out of the way as the country changed. While Republican have lost on this issue, Democrats also lost the opportunity to win respect by clearly standing for liberal principles before becoming politically safe.

While the country has been becoming more liberal on social issues, and I see this as a gradual process, not a sudden victory, this does not necessarily mean the culture wars are over. This country still consists of those of us who live in the modern world, and a sizable number who continue to reject science and reason and follow conservative ideas.

Fortunately such ideas are diminishing as fewer young support such conservative attitudes, but they are not disappearing entirely. Young people are far more likely to be influenced by the fake news of Jon Stewart than the fake news coming from Fox. Republicans now will have a hard time winning a presidential election if they do not change their views, but with a two party system we cannot exclude the possibility of another conservative Republican president. Democrats have a significant edge in the electoral college, but not a lock.

The presidency is only one branch of government. The Republicans still have the Supreme Court, although they have decided it best to stay out of the marriage issue now that conservatives are clearly on the wrong side of history. Republicans will continue to have an influence in Congress due to structural issues which keep it from being a truly representative democratic institution. Republicans have a tremendous edge in the Senate as the small states receive the same two Senators as the much more populous blue states. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned such a vast difference in population between the large and small states.

Part of the Republican edge in the House comes from gerrymandering, but even without gerrymandering the Republicans benefit from the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, unless districts are made to account for this. Republicans also benefit from a higher turn out by their voters in midterm elections, and they attempt to increase this edge with laws directed towards making it more difficult for minorities and young college students to vote. The right to vote itself might be the next big division between the parties as Republicans continue to pursue voter suppression as a tactic.

Republicans also dominate in a significant portion of the country, primarily but not limited to the deep south. The culture war is bound to continue there, with Republican candidates also seeking to promote their views elsewhere. As Eleanor Clift wrote, the Republican War on Women continues, just more quietly. We might not be hearing comments such as Tod Akin on women’s bodies shutting down in case of legitimate rape, but  have heard plenty of other outrageous statements this year.  Republicans might be trying to be more quiet on social issues, but they are failing, and this certainly isn’t coinciding with a change in their views.  It is also hard to say that the culture war is entirely over when Republicans have been successful in multiple state legislatures to make abortion more difficult, even if the most draconian Republican proposals have failed.

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Republican Tactics Of Fear And Voter Suppression

Republicans, lacking a real agenda or any solutions to problems, are basing their campaign this year on a combination of fear and voter suppression. They are even trying to politicize Ebola with threats that it will cross our borders (along with people of other colors) and even mutate to become airborne to attack us. (Does their belief that Ebola will change into an airborne infection suggest a new found belief in evolution for some?) First Read writes:

…these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme — they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

The New York Times reports:

Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base. And few issues have proven as potent when linked together as border security and the fear of terrorism. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said this week on Fox News that border agents had told him they apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said his statement was “categorically false.”

Fear has always been a centerpiece of Republican strategy. They scare poorly educated white males into fearing that minorities and women will take their money. They scare Republican voters into believing that Democrats will take away their guns and their bibles. More recently they have been concentrating on fear of Obamacare, even if every single one of their predictions of dire consequences has failed to come about.

Republicans rely upon fear to get their supporters to turn out to vote, and resort to voter suppression to try to keep Democrats from voting. As the GAO reported, Republican-supported voter ID laws aimed at voter suppression result in fewer minorities and young people voting. Fortunately the Supreme Court has thrown out voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, but they have also allowed a law to stand in North Carolina.

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Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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