Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Last Call

I don't see how affirmative action as admission criteria in colleges and universities will survive this case being heard by SCOTUS.  Fisher v. Texas may very well be the beginning of the end for affirmative action in general.  This issue was last heard nine years ago and survived a 5-4 ruling.  With the Roberts court now, this seems grim.

The court’s membership has changed since 2003, most notably for these purposes with the appointment of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who replaced Justice O’Connor in 2006. Justice Alito has voted with the court’s more conservative justices in decisions hostile to the use of racial classifications by the government. 

“There thus seem five votes — Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito — to overrule Grutter and hold that affirmative action programs are unconstitutional,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in a recent book, “The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.” 

Justice Kennedy has never really backed affirmative action.  He is unlikely to start now, but even if you believe that somehow he'll have a change of heart...

Justice Elena Kagan disqualified herself from hearing the case, presumably because she had worked on it as solicitor general. Arguments in the case will be heard during the court’s next term, which starts in October. 

This might be it, folks.  The only issue is how broad or narrow the eventual ruling will be here.  This court has already balanced the scales of campaign free speech through unlimited donations.  What they will do if they see affirmative action as a greater evil than discrimination is anyone's guess.

Greek Fire, Part 53

Felix Salmon weighs in on the Greek bailout, and why it will do nothing to put out the unquenchable Greek Fire:

Oh, and in case you forgot, this whole plan is also contingent on a bunch of things which are outside the Troika’s control, including a successful bond exchange. The terms of the deal, for Greek bondholders, are tough: there’s a nominal haircut of 53.5%, which means that you get 46.5 cents of new debt for every dollar of existing bonds that you hold. The new debt will be a mixture of EFSF obligations and new Greek bonds; the new Greek debt will pay just 3% interest through 2020, and 3.75% until maturity in 2042.

The plan assumes that 95% of bondholders will accept this deal, which seems optimistic to me. Bondholders are by their nature a fractious and contrarian bunch, and Greece is not saying that it’s going to default on holdouts. As a result, bondholders have to guess what might happen if they fail to tender into the exchange: they might get defaulted on and receive nothing; they might get paid out in full; or they might get defaulted on while being offered, for the second time, the same exchange they’re being offered right now. Some of them, especially the ones holding English-law bonds, might well be tempted to hold on to at least some of their bonds, just to see what happens.

More to the point, the plan assumes that Greece’s politicians will stick to what they’ve agreed, and start selling off huge chunks of their country’s patrimony while at the same time imposing enormous budget cuts. Needless to say, there is no indication that Greece’s politicians are willing or able to do this, nor that Greece’s population will put up with such a thing. It could easily all fall apart within months; the chances of it gliding to success and a 120% debt-to-GDP ratio in 2020 have got to be de minimis.

So at most the EU has bought several months, possibly even into next year.  That's the best-case scenario.  the worst-case scenario is of course a massive uprising in Greece, the collapse of the government, and then Somebody Will Have To Do Something.  I'm not even sure if that collapse thing can be prevented at this point.  Portugal is teetering on insolvency, Spain is about to go ballistic with 20%+ unemployment, Ireland's economy is dead, the UK is being killed by austerity, and France and Germany are about out of options.

But most of all, Greece is now fully behind a brutal austerity regime.  The Greek people are the factor now, and how long their patience is.  I don't think it will last much longer.  They will eventually take to the streets in massive numbers and say "No more."  There will come a time when the Greek government will go down.

It may take Europe with it.  And that may take us down with them.

Coming Clean Under A Hard Rain

Cue the "abyss staring back" and "ends justify the means" soul-searching on the case of HuffPo's Peter Gleick admitting to less than forthright methods to obtaining the right's game plan on pushing climate change denial in schools.

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.
Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.
I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts -- often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated -- to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

Of course, pearls a-clutch'd at the Gray Lady, Andrew Revkin:

One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family).
The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the “rational public debate” that he wrote — correctly — is so desperately needed.

Let's keep in mind that the far broader tragedy is that the lack of "rational public debate" with the climate change denial side existed for years before Gleick, with a massive, multi-billion dollar effort to convince the world that setting the place on fire is fine and that science itself is suspect.  As bad as Gleick's admitted actions are, he'll face the consequences for it.  He's owned up to what he's done and is now presumably ready to deal with the results of his actions.

That's far more than I can say for the folks who are trying to push ignorance and cynicism as "critical thinking in the classroom."  Sadly, the result of this will be the right yelling PETER GLEICK ARGUMENT OVER WE WIN as victory shorthand at every climatologist, published paper, data compilation, graph, chart, scientific conference, public testimony and collected journal showing of the slow demise of our environment, so in that respect Revkin is at least somewhat correct.

The effort to paint Gleick's misconduct as ultimately damning the entire preponderance of evidence in favor of man-made climate change will be overwhelming in the days and months ahead.  What Gleick did does not "call into question the validity of the science" no matter how badly the deniers want to think it magically does, any more than the "Climategate" emails did last year.  Resistance to such an effort has to begin here and now.  Journalists who should know better however will probably not be able to resist the temptation.  What Gleick did was wrong, but it doesn't make the deniers right.

Heroes Abound

When a residential burglar fired a gun at Jay Leone last month, he was initially too angry to realize he had been shot in the head, he testified Friday.

"To tell you the truth, I never felt a thing," said Leone, 90, of Greenbrae. "I said, 'F—- you, you son of a bitch, now it's my turn.'"

Whereupon he shot five bullets at the suspect from his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson snubnose revolver, hitting the burglar three times in the abdomen. A scuffle ensued between the wounded men.

"Then he took the gun and put it to my head — click!" said Leone, who knew there were no bullets left in the gun. "And that was the end of that. He ran away."

Leone testified at the preliminary hearing of the suspect, Samuel Joseph Cutrufelli, who is charged with attempted murder, burglary, robbery and firearms offenses by a felon. After the hearing, Judge Paul Haakenson will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial.

I just love these stories. Some jackass picked on a 90-year-old man and got his butt kicked.  That's just happy stuff, and I'm glad to say that at this time it seems Leone will recover, as much as possible after being shot in the damned head.

Burn The Witch!

A 40-year-old woman was burned to death in Nepal for being a witch.  She was doused with kerosene, lit on fire, and died shrieking in agony right in front of her 9-year-old daughter.  How can this still be happening in a modern world?

Ten people, including an 8-year-old boy will be charged with murder. Neighbors say they did not know about the attack in time to save the woman.

According to the people who attacked, she cast a spell and made a relative sick.

I don't know about the relative, but I feel plenty sick.

Just The PolitiFacts, Ma'am, Part 3

Rachel Maddow once again took PolitiFact to task for finding something factually true, and then calling the claim "mostly false".  Considering the target was her MSNBC co-worker Lawrence O' Donnell, you can bet what Rachel's response to that was.

In a promotional spot for his MSNBC program, Lawrence O’Donnell claimed that critics called the original GI Bill “welfare.” PolitiFact analyzed the claim and noted that critics did deride it as a “dole system.” However, two historians PolitiFact contacted said they did not know of any instances where the GI bill was explicitly attacked as “welfare.”

“What’s the dole system, what’s the dole?” Maddow said. “The dole is welfare. That’s what British people call welfare. It’s an English language, slang term everywhere for welfare. So case closed, right? Lawrence’s ad says that critics of the GI bill called it welfare. Politifact finds that they did call it welfare.”

Politifact fact checks historical claim A, finds it to be true, and therefore rates the claim mostly false! They found it to be true, but they rate it mostly false. They print the evidence that it’s true, ‘the bane of the British Empire has been the dole system,’ and right under that they say, ‘we found no evidence of critics referring to the GI bill as welfare.’”

“Dudes, you just published the evidence of critics referring to the GI bill as welfare. It is right there. On the same page,” Maddow added. “What do you think the British dole system is? Do you think it is a pineapple program of some kind? Maybe something to do with bananas?”

And for the third time, Rachel Maddow has PolitiFact dead to rights, caught in the act of finding something to be true said by liberals and noting the evidence of that truth in the claim, but then dismissing it subjectively as "Mostly False".

It's getting old, if not tiresome and purposefully dangerous in the case of PolitiFact's claim that Dems said the GOP ending Medicare as we know it was their "Lie of the Year" in 2011.  Republicans are now using that in ads in order to attack Democrats and "proof" to convince voters that their voucher plan won't hurt anyone at all.

So yes, PolitiFact's mendacity is now being employed by the GOP Noise Machine.  And maybe that's what they wanted all along.

At Least Have The Grace To Oil Up...Again

So last time we talked supply and demand and oil/gasoline prices in the US, there was quite a bit of disagreement about whether or not US demand for gasoline makes any difference in gas prices at the pump at all.  There was agreement that gasoline price increases are pretty elastic (they respond to oil supply cuts and demand increases) but are obnoxiously inelastic when it comes to price decreases (reduced demand doesn't lower the price of gas.)

We've now got evidence that increasing domestic oil production also does not lower the price of gasoline at the pump, because hey, we're producing more oil domestically under this President.

The United States' rapidly declining crude oil supply has made a stunning about-face, shredding federal oil projections and putting energy independence in sight of some analyst forecasts.
After declining to levels not seen since the 1940s, U.S. crude production began rising again in 2009. Drilling rigs have rushed into the nation's oil fields, suggesting a surge in domestic crude is on the horizon.
The number of rigs in U.S. oil fields has more than quad­rupled in the past three years to 1,272, according to the Baker Hughes rig count. Including those in natural gas fields, the United States now has more rigs at work than the entire rest of the world.
"It's staggering," said Marshall Adkins, who directs energy research for the financial services firm Raymond James. "If we continue growing anywhere near that pace and keep squeezing demand out of the system, that puts you in a world where we are not importing oil in 10 years."
There are doubts that energy independence is that close. But many say the booming shale oil fields in Texas and North Dakota and the growth of deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will allow the nation to cut its reliance on oil imports significantly over the next couple of decades.

But wait...Republicans have told us that increasing oil production now will lower gas prices now.  Certainly Johnny Volcano and Moose Lady ran on a platform like this in 2008.  And yet...gas prices are now going up.  People keep forgetting that President Obama has, on several occasions, said he would increase domestic energy production and work to get technologies on the road to decrease consumption.  Certainly one of the very, very minor bright spots in the Great Recession is that it lowered demand for gasoline in the US.

"Drill baby drill"?  Hey, that's what we're doing.  And yet we're facing $4 gas this summer.  Not only do we have decreased demand, we have increased supply brought on line.  But gas prices are still high.  Here's another example of President Obama's policies doing what the Republicans said we should be doing but of course the President not getting any credit for it.  But the big money continues to be put down on long positions.

Hedge funds and other large speculators boosted their net- long position in crude futures to the highest level in nine months, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Managed-money bets that prices will rise, in futures and options combined, outnumbered short positions by 233,889 contracts in the week ended Feb. 14, the Washington-based regulator said in its report on Feb. 17. Net-long positions rose by 28,180 contracts, or 13.7 percent, from a week earlier.

And lo and behold, the long positions are again driving prices up.  But we're told speculation is "a scapegoat".  Well, it's not demand, and now it's not supply.  Either we can't do anything about gas prices by affecting production and demand in the US so the Republicans should shut it, or we need to have a little talk about rampant commodities speculation.

StupidiNews, Fat Tuesday Edition!

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