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Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare

by digby

This article in the NY Times explores the burning question of why so many people say they want "compromise" while the politicians in Washington are apparently unable to find any. The reporter consults political scientists and sociologists who say that it isn't the fault of the politicians because they are reflecting the will of their constituents who are living in closed communities and reinforcing each others' biases and beliefs. This evidently leads to some sort of horrible false divide in which only the people who are politically involved --- who are by definition extremist weirdos, apparently -- forcing their leadership to be intractable.

If there was any sign that both sides of the political divide had such a hold on the political process I might believe it. Unfortunately, there is only one Party which cares anything at all what their base thinks so I'm not sure this is an adequate explanation. Indeed, I question the premise entirely. Who says there is no compromise in Washington? All evidence says there's plenty of it, it's just coming almost entirely from one faction of one party. The problem is that Republicans define not getting their way 100% as a sell-out and Democrat define giving away 98% of their position as compromise. That tends to leave people on both sides with a bad taste in their mouths.

The truth is that people disagree in some very fundamental ways about how to govern this country. It isn't superficial trash talk or senseless intransigence. And perhaps when the nation is under stress our political system isn't always flexible enough to deal with that very smoothly, particularly when the system itself has become purposefully clogged by an undemocratic, corrupt influence as it is right now.

In this era we are see-sawing back and forth between the two parties under the stresses of a major national security crisis and now an economic one. People are not happy with either party's responses to them, and rightly so --- because they were unresponsive to reality. In both cases people may not have immediately understood the causes or solutions to what happened, but on some very basic, primitive level they understand that our leaders are only pretending to solve the problems. And quite a few see through the various misdirections to see that our governors are consciously doing the wrong thing.

I'm not letting the people off the hook. There are far too many who say silly things like "keep the government out of my medicare" and "sure it has nothing to so with 9/11 but Saddam Hussein really is a tyrant and we should take him out while we have the chance" but I believe that people can smell that something's rotten in Washington and are reacting to that by retreating and attacking from election to election in one long political stalemate. (At the moment it's looking more like trench warfare, unfortunately.) At some point someone is going to seize the advantage.

And sadly, my guess is that it's unlikely to be the Democrats who are presenting a mushy, purposeless centrist appeal to civility. If this is a war of attrition, the Dems are on the verge of running out of compromises --- once they send SS and Medicare over the top to be gunned down by the other side --- and pretend that running out of ammunition isn't a problem --- there really isn't much left to fight for.

The NY Times article ends with this:

Michael Traugott, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, predicts the negotiations will go down to the last minute, just as they did on thedebt ceiling debate.

And will the panel achieve compromise? “Well,” Mr. Traugott said with a long pause, “it depends on what you mean by compromise.”


Turn Back

Turn back, O Man.
Forswear thy foolish ways

Clifford Bax (1919)

In this week's Sift:

  • One Word Turns the Tea Party Around. Want to transform annoying Tea Party rhetoric into motivating Progressive rhetoric? It's easy: Just replace all occurrences of government withcorporations. Who knew that Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, and Ronald Reagan could make so much sense?
  • Building the Rioters of the Future. Pundits tried very hard to stuff the British riots into some simple box: a crime spree, a revolution, bad parenting, mass insanity. When that failed, they proclaimed the violence a great mystery. But is it really so hard to understand why people with little to lose would loot or burn?
  • After Wisconsin. Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats picked up two seats in staunch Republican districts, but fell short of re-taking the state senate. So was that a win or a loss? And now we move on to Ohio.
  • Noah's Dinosaurs and other short notes. Should a Bible theme park get tax breaks? Is it OK for a county board to begin its meetings by praying to Jesus? How the Republican 2012 field looks after the Ames Straw poll. Global warming in one graphic. Mitt Romney embraces corporate personhood, and the DNC strikes back. What countries are still AAA? Socialist ones, mostly.
  • Last week's most popular post.Voter Suppression 101 had 464 views at last count. Last week's most-clicked link backed up my claim (in Voter Suppression) that the League of Women Voters has stopped registering voters in Florida in response to a voter-suppression law there.
  • This Week's Challenge is only a little self-serving: Figure out how you can draw more attention to the kinds of things you like. If you've mostly been a passive user of social media, figure out how to Like or Link or Retweet. Or sign up at Reddit or Digg or StumbleUpon and start trying to influence the wisdom of crowds.


The Weekly Sift has moved to


    NASA’S Former Chief Scientist Highlights Different Ways to Make an Impact in Technology   [USA Science and Engineering Festival:

    Kathie Olsen Photo.jpgIf there is a piece of advice that Kathie Olsen would give students, it would be this: "Be aware that you're most likely going to be changing your directions and your careers throughout your entire life and you need to be open to it and look forward to the opportunities."

    She should know, because that's how the professional path for this neuroscientist, consulting firm executive and long-time science policy leader for the federal government has unfolded over the past 30 years.

    Had you told Kathy at the time that she completed her training in neuroscience that she would eventually become Chief Scientist for NASA, be confirmed by Congress as assistant director for science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and later confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the National Science Foundation (NSF), she "would have started laughing!"

    Kathie's career path took on an additional twist recently when she left her 20-year career in the federal government to start ScienceWorks, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations succeed in science and engineering research. Kathie serves as managing director of the company.

    "In all these exciting endeavors," she says, "I feel fortunate that I've been able to be a voice for science and technology, helping others to recognize the importance of these fields as foundations for innovation, quality of life and economic vitality."

    What advice would you have for students about pursuing a diverse career path?

    Read more about Kathie here.

    And watch this spirited discussion from the Research Channel between Kathie and former astronaut Mae Jemison.

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    Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


    Another Week of GW News, August 14, 2011 [A Few Things Ill Considered]

    Logging the Onset of The Bottleneck Years

    This weekly posting is brought to you courtesy of H. E. Taylor. Happy reading, I hope you enjoy this week's Global Warming news roundup

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    Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


    The Macroeconomic Effects of Scientific Research [Mike the Mad Biologist]

    One of the points about science funding I've tried to make over the years (we have been blogging a long time, haven't we?) is that the overheads and indirect costs associated with federal grants drive a lot of university decisions--there's a lot of money there. But this funding also has significant macroeconomic effects, especially in research-heavy states like Massachusetts. A local paper, The Boston Courant, describes the effects of the coming NIH cuts, due to the ending of the ARRA and the coming budget cuts, to the Boston economy. I'm quoting extensively from the August 12, 2001 edition, since The Courant isn't found online (italics mine):

    The Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA) is at risk of losing a portion of vital National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding as Congress looks to cut government spending.

    Boston has been the nation's leader in NIH funding for the last 16 years, again topping the list with $2.1 billion in awards last year, the Boston Redevelopment Authority announced this summer... LMA institutions Brigham and Women's , Dana Farber, Beth Israel Deaconess and Children's Hospital received a combined $796.6 million.

    ...However the quantity and quality of LMA institutions and NIH funding "is rather chicken and egg," Swartz-Lloyd said. "The funding is very important... because there is economic development and growth as a result...."

    According to surveys completed two years ago, the LMA employs about 10,000 researchers...

    Keep in mind, that 10,000 figure only refers to direct hires--the multiplier in terms of indirect jobs (e.g., the hospitals hire contractors, employees spend their money, etc.) for NIH funding is over double that amount[link]. Also, remember this doesn't include any of the other Boston hospitals (MGH, Tufts) or universities (Northeastern) which also receive NIH funding. Likewise, Cambridge, across the Charles River, gets a lot of money (so does Worcester, MA). Anyway, I promised you a discussion of money, so back to the article, which does a really good job of describing how indirect funding works:

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    The Status of Science: We Have No-one to Blame but Ourselves [Uncertain Principles]

    Over in Twitter-land, Josh Rosenau re-tweeted a comment from Seattle_JC:

    It is a bad sign when the promotion of science and science education has been reduced to a grassroots movement in this society.

    It's a nice line, but it doesn't entirely make sense. When I hear the term "grass-roots movement," I think of something that has widespread popularity among the public at a low level, with that public support forcing political elites to take notice. Things like organized labor back in the day, or antiwar activism in the Vietnam era.

    That's almost the opposite of how the term is used here. If we had a grass-roots movement in support of science, that would be a Good Thing. What we have, instead is a small and scattered collection of mid-level organizations working against elite opposition and general public apathy. And we have no-one to blame for this situation but ourselves.

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    The hidden rebellion continues by David Atkins

    Digby and Dave Dayen did a great job yesterday covering the hidden anti-corporate rebellion brewing across the nation. It's an interesting story to read, but it makes for even more interesting video.

    For instance, watch below as Republican representative Nan Hayworth (NY-19) gets grilled about her quiet acquiescence to Verizon's tax dodging and job offshoring, even as she defends the notion that America must race to the lowest common denominator in wages and corporate taxes:

    Paging CNN and affiliates. If it's rowdy town halls and angry constituents you're looking for, all you have to do is be there. Of course, it's not the Tea Party, so it doesn't fit the corporatist agenda. But it's compelling television nonetheless.

    Something tells me we won't be seeing the camera crews rolling in, though.

    Neutrinos Disappearing at Daya Bay? [Brookhaven Bits & Bytes]

    This guest post is by Brookhaven Lab physicist Steve Kettell, the Chief Scientist for the U.S. Daya Bay Neutrino Project in southern China. Kettell received his Ph.D. in 1990 from Yale University and is the leader of Brookhaven's Electronic Detector Group.


    Steve Kettell

    Neutrinos are downright weird!

    Produced in prodigious numbers in the sun, supernovae, nuclear reactors and particle accelerators, neutrinos are extremely hard to detect because they hardly interact with other material at all.

    If we think about photons from the sun hitting blacktop during the summer, it is quite obvious that they interact and that their energy is absorbed by the blacktop (making it hot to the touch).

    But even though 10s of billions of neutrinos pass through each square centimeter of that blacktop per second, most of them do not interact. In fact most pass through the Earth and through much of the universe without interacting with anything.

    In order to study these mysterious particles, we need large detectors, and we have to reduce backgrounds from cosmic rays by placing those detectors deep underground.

    DB near hall.jpg

    The two antineutrino detectors in Daya Bay Hall #1, shown here prior to the pool being filled with ultrapure water. The pool is lined with photomultiplier tubes to track any "stiff" (highly energetic) cosmic rays that make it all the way through the overlying rock. (Courtesy of Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

    Under a mountain in southern China, a new experiment is trying to answer key questions about neutrinos and their impact on the world around us. The Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment started taking data this month, recording interactions of antineutrinos, a neutrino's counterpart with the same mass and opposite spin, as they travel away from powerful reactors of the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group.

    But before I explain Daya Bay in more detail, let me first provide a little background.

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    The Fruit Olympiad [Casaubon’s Book]

    Some parents are soccer parents. Some parents are baseball or gymnastics parents. Some drive constantly to swim, cheer, play volleyball or cricket. My kids do swim, play basketball in winter and pick-up baseball anytime, but our primary family sport is fruit picking.

    Historically speaking, berrying is children's work - one sent the kids out into the woods for the afternoon and if they are not eaten by bears (think _Blueberries for Sal_, _Farmer Boy_, and other classic treatments of the "meet the bear in the woods while berrying") they come back with a pail of berries for canning.

    We, of course, belong to a different era - while we have 19 acres of woods, they won't keep us in berries by ourselves, and at 9, 7 and 5, the younger children are only now old enough to roam them independently.. Our household bushes bear abundantly, but for the most part fail to keep up with the voracious appetite of four small berry predators.

    In addition to picking from our woods and the household berry patches, we go and visit various pick-your-owns. Our favorite, a few towns away in the valley, offers absolutely no amenities of agritourism (why we like it) and lovely views of the rock escarpment near us. It is a place for serious pickers, and the large Polish and Russian immigrant communities in the area make up a big portion of the clientele, along with the locals.

    It is a sport - there's timing (making sure you get there before the fields are picked over, but when enough berries are ripe to make it worth it), strategy (you little people get under those bushes - remember, most people pick standing up) and discipline (our favorite place makes ice cream from its own fruit, but the firm policy is "no work, no treat." There is speed and endurance and all the thrills and chills of sport (although a dearth of dramatic pratfalls, unless Simon is involved).

    Every berry and fruit provides its own skill set. Strawberries are a warm-up fruit - cultivated strawberries are almost too easy, and mostly about getting you going again after winter. They are big and rewarding,even a pre-schooler can fill a quart basket in a short time, and the main thing is just to remember to dress appropriately for red stains on your knees. Think of it as spring training.

    From strawberries, we move to more challenging cherries, the sweet and the sour. Those on very dwarf trees are just a leisurely stroll in the shade, but most of our cherry trees are standards and involves acrobatic high climbing, ladders and at least one child hanging off of something they shouldn't. They are also a race with the birds - who will get them, who will devour first the ripest berries at the peak of the trees?

    Blueberries are next, and blueberries are mostly about endurance. It is July now, and hot - blueberry bushes are too short to provide shade. Blueberries are delicious, but tiny - it takes forever for an impatient child to fill a quart basket. Are we done yet? Blueberries teach discipline. I'll admit, some years, since blueberries tend to fall at the same time as my son's annual swim lessons, not too far from our favorite farm, I go alone and luxuriate in the peace and quiet.

    Then come the bramble bushes, which are true sport - as Hagrid would put it admiringly in the _Harry Potter_ books (one of my sons pointed this out to me) "they can take care of themselves, can't they?"). It is this very vitality and aggressiveness that makes them fun.

    It is true one can find thornless cane fruits, but none of our local sites has them - so one must accustom oneself to being pricked and scratched in the scramble to fill baskets with blackberries and raspberries. Sneaking up on them is a good technique - you see a tempting cluster, and attempt to go over or under or slip around, but they see you coming and thrust out a spiked branch - or worse, with the blackberries, the perfectly ripe berries drop, as you touch them, out of their cluster and to the ground, protected by something like the thorny barrier that grew over Sleeping Beauty's house.

    The challenge of it only makes us enjoy it more - you would think that thorns and wasps would not happiness make, but they do. The children's complaints are half-hearted and most of the time, they forget to make any in the joy of the chase, working together to fill pails. In an hour and a half on a picked over field, my boys picked 20 lbs.

    After the cane fruit come the peaches. At our house, the peaches come late - at the end of August - and involve the most beloved of all rituals - going on on the roof to collect the ones that have grown at the top. We have two Reliance peach trees in a protected area above our covered porch, and the while the roof is normally forbidden to my children, on peach harvest day they are simply warned not to fall off, and everyone lays on their bellies, leaning over the side and capturing stray peaches grown too large for their britches.

    Fall raspberries are easier and less aggressive than the summer ones, and while apple picking does involve some tree climbing, particularly in the old remnant orchard we are restoring, it is nothing compared to the cherries, peaches and blackberries - by autumn, fully trained, in the finest fruit-picking shape, you rest on your laurels and ripe apples and pears drop into your hands.

    All of it goes back to the kitchen to be processed and devoured. During the season for each fruit, all of us eat as much of it as we want to - an unimaginable luxury. As many raspberries as you can eat - such a joy, and like bears we store up pleasure for the shortfall to come. The rest is dried or jammed, occasionally frozen or turned into liqueurs. All of us know there will be a long and apply winter before the first spikes of rhubarb and then the glorious first strawberries. That's ok - we love apples and pears and quinces, the fruits of autumn, the ones that keep and make you happy all winter. A winter of apples and pears and occasional citrus is more delightful when a bowl of blackberry-peach sauce flows over your pancakes, when blueberry jam is spread lavishly on your morning toast, and when you can slip a hand into the dried strawberry jar and taste, for a moment, summer gone by, the sunshine and the sport of it built in to every bite.


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    It’s Redistricting Day!

    Redistricting Commission votes on final maps today

    by Brian Leubitz

    "Paying off" is really a loaded phrase.  Sure, the redistricting commission has done a ton of work, and they deserve rich praise for that.  But, as noted last week, it is something of a fool's errand. The districts are too large, and so they are constantly fighting competing interests that ensure few will be really satisfied when the time comes. But, today is the day when the work of the Commission will "pay off."

    Be that as it may, today is the day that the Commission will vote on its final maps.  They have already tentatively approved the last visualization, and it appears that they have the votes for passage.  However, over the last few days, they have been receiving testimony of disgruntled groups.  Some are more serious than others.  Notably, MALDEF has suggest rejection of these maps because they underrepresent the Latino community.  Many other localized, and valid, concerns have been raised.  But, the feeling from the meetings is that the Commissioners feel that this is the best they could do.

    The GOP has been putting public pressure on one of the 3 supportive Republicans to change their vote, but that seems unlikely.  If it is approved, expect to see the GOP quickly file papers for a referendum.  They are terrified that they might lose their superminority in one or both houses of the Legislature.  However, whether they have the money is seriously in doubt.  As of last reports, they had less than a quarter of a million dollars in the bank.  That's not enough to throw a good party, let alone put a measure on the ballot.

    But at some level, there has to be a sense of fatalism to the complaints:

    If it's all just grumbling, then perhaps the lessons of this redistricting process -- the first of its kind in California -- will improve future efforts. The ultimate reality of redistricting is that the lines have to go somewhere; but keeping the criticism at a low level will no doubt help remind voters why they chose the new system in the first place.(John Myers)

    With lines that nearly touch a million, there are going to be some very tough choices.  That is inevitable.  And people will be disappointed.  Peter Schrag, in a brilliant column, over at the California Progress Report points out that pretty much everybody is going to be disappointed in one way or another.  And, despite the potential for Democrats to take 2/3 majorities in each House, it may not be enough:

    But maybe the biggest frustrated expectation in this set of political reforms could be the hope of the left that Democrats may at last get the two or three additional seats in each house to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes without Republican votes.

    Democrats may get the seats, but don't count on the votes. The Republican minority, in rigidly blocking any road to tax increases or, as this year, even a ballot measure giving voters a chance to extend the expiring taxes that the legislature itself approved in prior years, also protected Democrats from the voter backlash against the tax increases that they might have voted for. California Democrats have also voted for corporate tax loopholes.

    If any new competitive districts produce those marginal Democrats, how eager will they be to vote for boosts in the vehicle license fee, the sales tax, or the gas tax? How willing would Gov. Jerry Brown be to sign such tax increases? In his last terms as governor his austere heart was always in thinking small for an era of limits. He stiffed the universities and never trusted big institutions.(Peter Schrag)

    But for today, let's keep an eye on the Redistricting Commission.  They are likely to get a few legal challenges, and perhaps that referendum.  However, the redistricting task is a huge one, and they've done their best in a thoughtful process.  You can watch the meetings live at their website and check out the maps here.  The meeting is today at 9AM in Room 4203 of the State Capitol.


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