Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reason #78: Microwaves, and/or Rules Pertaining Thereto

In addition to moving his jobs plan through Congress bit by bit, Obama has also been exploring his options for getting things done that don't require Congressional approval.

One such effort is getting the National Labor Relations Board (who knew?) to pass something called the Microwave Rule, which shortens the amount of time workers have to wait between forming a union and voting to join said union from 30 days to 10 days, which in turn gives employers less time to get in the way of said union formation.

I've never been able to grasp the whole union issue too thoroughly (why the hell it's called the Microwave Rule, for example), but while I do recognize that some unions are big and unwieldy and not necessarily helping, this appears to be a fair thing for them to want, so I'm glad it passed the NLRB (about 10 minutes ago, from the looks of it).

And Republicans are said to be enraged about it, which is probably the best evidence of all that it's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reason #77: The Soul of Wit

There are lots of reasons to lament Congressman Barney Frank's decision not to run for re-election next year, after over thirty years in office. If I felt like hedging a bit, I could talk about the potential of the Dodd-Frank bill, though much of that has yet to be fulfilled. I could go for the civil-rights angle and talk about his position as one of the most prominent openly gay public officials, going all the way back to his coming out in 1987. At the very least, I could tout the simple fact that he's interested in leaving Congress, rather than clinging to power as long as possible, as evidence of his solid character.

But instead, with a nod to the unfortunate, and highly disappointing, departure of Anthony Weiner from the antional stage, I just want to point out how funny Barney Frank is, and how much I'll miss that specific element upon his retirement from office.

Luckily, HuffPo saved me some work and compiled a showcase of nine of his greatest moments, including my personal favorite, asking a constituent "on which planet do you spend most of your time?"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reason #76: Being the Bigger Man... Eventually

Emma Sullivan is probably a moron.

That was my immediate reaction to the news that the 18-year-old Topeka high school student told her governor, Sam Brownback, that he sucked. Like, totally in person and everything.

This happened at some kind of Youth in Government bullshit that Sullivan attended with the governor last week, and the only reason I know about it at all is because she followed up her comment, the exact wording of which is unclear to me, by bragging about it on Twitter alongside the hashtag #heblowsalot.

Unfortunately for her, Brownback's people saw the tweet (OMG!) and told on her, which led to an hour or so in the principle's office and an apology request from the school district.

While Brownback is a Republican and it's entirely possible that this girl has informed opinions on the man that I would actually agree with, if her actual comments were anything even close to "you suck", then she's certainly not doing anyone any good.

What I do appreciate is that cooler heads quickly prevailed and both the district and Brownback himself have decided that the whole mess was probably an overreaction - plus, y'know, that whole First Amendment thing.

For the record, Sullivan has declined to write an apology. That, I respect.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reason #75: Mars, Bitches

Recent expeditions to Mars have discovered what seems to be methane in the atmosphere. Earth's methane comes largely, but not exclusively, from cow farts and other similarly delightful biological processes, and doesn't stick around for long once created, so finding it in the barely-extant Martian atmosphere would be a big sign not just that life has existed on Mars in the past, but that it's still there somewhere.

The evidence so far is controversial, naturally, so launching tomorrow from Cape Canaveral is the Mars Science Laboratory, carrying with it the new rover Curiosity, which is specifically designed to detect methane.

If it does so upon its arrival next August, that would appear to be the most significant evidence yet (aside from, y'know, the water) that for all Mars' wasteland-like qualities, there are still microorganisms, at the very least, quite literally farting around up there.

(Side Note - I'm hesitant to go so far as to declare Space Fridays a thing now, but I've managed to keep it up for three weeks running so far, and I'm going to do my best to keep it that way. Just so's ya know.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Reason #74: Typos

Anyone who knows me in person knows that spelling is, to me, serious business. It's one thing to be realistic about one's own grammatical imperfections, but it's quite another to refuse to learn from them; to think that it doesn't really matter.

Exhibit A: This year's Board of Apportionment and Taxation election in Derby, Connecticut was a real barn burner. One man, James J. Butler, got 1,526 whole votes. This is interesting for a few reasons - one being that there are more than 1,500 off-year voters in Derby, Connecticut, another being that more than 1,500 people anywhere know what the fuck a Board of Apportionment and Taxation is and can be bothered to vote on it.

But most interesting is the fact that James J. Butler wasn't running - his father, James R. Butler, was. But the ballot spelled his name wrong. Naturally, government spokesbeings are thus far inclined to swear in the guy who didn't run and doesn't want the job. Also naturally, said guy has offered no official comment on the mess other than to call the city incompetent.

Speaking as a Junior myself, while there's no excusing the city's hand in this, could there be a better argument for more creative child naming? Especially when you and your son have the same freaking birthday?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reason #73: Budget Hero

There's an interactive flash game online called Budget Hero (created by American Public Media, which is funded in part by the CPB and NEA), in which people can actually see for themselves how different budgetary decisions affect the future economy. I know what you're thinking, and oh yes - it's every bit as exciting as it sounds.

Not only can you pick and choose different policies (and see well-researched, nonpartisan pros and cons for each) from health insurance mandates to eliminating school lunch programs, but you get to choose specific priorities, like wellness or security, and the game will tell you the effects your decisions are having on those areas specifically, on top of their overall budgetary effect.

The goal is to keep the economy churning (and the debt under control) for as long as possible before everything goes to hell, but tellingly, it doesn't seem to be possible to literally "win" the game - they appear to define success based on whether one's grandchildren are still around when the cannibal horde shows up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reason #72: Keeping the Pressure Up

Not two seconds after the supercommittee (Super Committee?) officially shit the bed yesterday, Republicans began making noise about backing out of the automatic cuts that were scheduled to go through if they failed to find a better deal - those being $600 billion in defense spending and $600 billion in domestic spending over ten years (I've said my piece on the whole "over ten years" thing already).

Amazingly, yet perhaps unsurprisingly, Obama quickly popped up to state that no, you don't get off that easy. Since none of the aforementioned cuts are supposed to go into effect for a year or so anyway, Obama made it clear that he will gleefully veto any legislative attempt to neuter the original cuts - which were, after all, already inscribed into law when the supercommittee was created in the first damn place.

(Side Note - almost forgot to give a shout out to Randall at He profiled WIEPT a couple weeks ago and it meant a lot to me. If you're looking for more interesting stuff to read here on Blogger and elsewhere, definitely give him a look.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reason #71: Following Through

One of the things I'm enjoying about this blog as the months tick by is the opportunity to revisit things from time to time as they progress through the workings of government. For example: the legislative measure granting tax credits to employers who hire veterans (and even bigger tax credits to those who hire disabled veterans) was signed into law today, after passing the Senate 95-0 and the House 422-0, astonishing no one so much as myself.

This is the first piece of legislation out of Obama's ginormous jobs package to actually get through, so while it's sort of an optimistic moment in and of itself, mostly we've just succeeded in establishing where the line is for just how obstructionist the Republicans are willing to get.

Maybe this is a good strategy, actually - handing out tax breaks based solely on how absurdly sympathetic someone is. We know Newt Gingrich, for one, would love to start hiring more children.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reason #70: I Can See My House From Up Here

Above is a series of time-lapse videos compiled from actual photographs taken by NASA on board the International Space Station. This is the greatest thing that has ever been done, and if it were the only thing NASA had ever accomplished in its entire 53-year history, it would still be worth it.

Watch it in HD and full-screen mode or I will come to your house and beat you with a pipe.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reason #69: Heh... "69"...

Even though the state of California successfully passed Proposition 8, its anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, the governor and attorney general have refused to defend it against the legal challenges that have since come up. After being tied up in state courts for--I dunno, like 57 years now, the California Supreme Court has at long last ruled that the initiative's proponents have the legal right to defend it in place of the state government.

Technically, that's a loss for those trying to get rid of Prop 8...but then it gets interesting. Now that the initiative has legal defenders, the federal challenges brought by its opponents can move to federal appeals court. A federal appeals ruling could come "any day now", according to those in the know, but however that ruling goes, it will undoubtedly be itself appealed, which means that...eventually...the Supreme Court will get it.

And once the Supreme Court is forced to rule on gay marriage... well...we'll see, won't we?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reason #68: Please Don't Shoot the White House

While his motives are as yet unknown, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, the man who appears to have shot at (and hit) the White House with an AK-47 on Friday, is rumored to have spent some amount of time in the Occupy DC camp - and, indeed, police scoured the area Friday night while still in the early stages of the manhunt that ended today in Pennsylvania.

I don't know what evidence they had initially that connected him to Occupy, but c'mon - just look at this fucker; he might as well have a "99%" tattoo on his forehead.

I won't go so far as to suggest that was part of any actual pro-Occupy stratagem on his part, because clearly the dude is a nutbar, but assuming the Occupy camps aren't all scattered by the fuzz in the near future, maybe let's put some effort into monitoring the kind of people who are hanging around? I can only imagine the kind of rhetoric that gets tossed around those camps when things get heated, but I can imagine all too well what it could inspire the wrong kind of person to do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reason #67: Pajama Recall

While the reality isn't quite as much fun as that title makes it sound, there were indeed pajama parties in Wisconsin last night to celebrate the midnight launch of a recall effort for Scott Walker, he of that whole collective-bargaining unpleasantness last Spring.

The goal is 540 thousand signatures in 60 days--or about nine thousand per day--just to get the recall on a ballot. No specific individual has stepped forward to challenge Walker yet, but if the signature drive succeeds, an election could be held as soon as March.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reason #66: Take This Job and Occupy It

Because the police raid on Occupy Oakland worked just so darn well the last time, authorities tried it again today. This time, of course, they showed up at 4am, and at a time when many of the protestors were marching on another area nearby. Though it apparently took literally hundreds of police officers, they did succeed this time in taking out the big, scary tents and scattering the remaining occupiers - ultimately arresting 32 of them.

Again: hundreds of cops, 32 arrests.

Nevertheless, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan's top legal adviser, Dan Siegel, called the raid "tragically unnecessary" and resigned pretty much immediately. Siegel had voiced opposition to the infamously violent raid a few weeks ago, and had indeed been urged to resign to prove he meant it. Looks like he was convinced.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reason #65: Dear God What's That Light??

Because I haven't done space in a while, I thought today I'd point out NASA's handy web page devoted specifically to listing all the myriad ways in which the world will not, in fact, end next year.

It starts with the more infamous Mayan calendar stuff (and something about a Sumerian planet called Nibiru that I'd never heard of), then moves on to polar shift (wasn't that 2012's version? Never saw it), meteors, and most recently, rogue solar flares.

While none of the above will seriously jeopardize the return of Mad Men next year, it seems that the sun actually does have an 11-year solar flare cycle, and 2012 is in fact near the peak of this particular cycle, but all that means for us is some fussy electronics and signal interr--- *FZZZZZT*

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reason #64: Have Lungs Will Travel

In July, the EPA instituted something called the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which significantly cuts certain kinds of air pollution based on their tendency to cross state lines and cause health problems in those on the far side of said lines (because killing people in your own state is alright). Naturally, the Republican House would not stand for this, so they passed a bill that would overrule, rule.

The bill got to the Senate today, sponsored by one Rand Paul, where it was trounced, relatively speaking, 56-41. President Obama, of course, had already promised to veto it even if it had made it through the Senate.

There's something to be said for passing a bill you know won't survive for purely philosophical reasons - I don't mean to suggest that that can never be something worth doing. But while Democrats might do that with, say, certain aspects of Obama's jobs package (the veteran tax credit passed today, for example), it's crazy to me that the Republicans are not only supportive of pollution on paper, in an abstract sense, they're actually willing to go to the mat to make strictly symbolic gestures to show just how much they support it.

Yay pollution!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reason #63: Smart Voting

To recap:

No, John Kasich, you can't cut down on union bargaining rights in Ohio (but you can challenge the constitutionality of Obamacare).

No, Maine Republicans, you can't keep people from registering to vote on Election Day.

No, Russell Pearce, you can't kick off the wave of papers-please laws across the country and get away with it.

And last but not least, no, Mississippi, a miscarriage is not a crime scene.

Plus some other stuff.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reason #62: Rage Voting

No, really. Voting can be a lot of fun.

Like, say your district has a really heated race going on for County Executive, and one guy decides to robocall you four times, twice at work and twice while you're on vacation.

Getting to walk into an actual, physical voting booth and punch in a vote for the other guy, who has no chance of winning, whose first name makes "Barack" look like "Steve", purely out of spite?

It's a delightful time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reason #61: People Eventually Leave the Military

Sometime today, the Senate will hold a test vote on a bill that gives a $5600 tax credit to employers who hire veterans who have been unemployed for more than six months - or $9600 if said veterans are diabled.

The measure, of course, is just one teensy part of the jobs plan that was resoundingly thrashed when presented in toto, so there's every chance that it will itself be a teensy bit thrashed if it gets to the House.

Because, y'know, Obama.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reason #60: Retroactive Medals

More than 60 years after serving in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, the so-called Montford Point Marines, the first black Marines in the American armed service, have at long last been retroactively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

Granted, Montford Point trained 20 thousand black Marines during the forties, and they've been awarded just one gold medal collectively, but as long as that doesn't work out to 5/8 of a medal per person I think we can let it slide.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reason #59: Learning From Last Week...Or Not

Aaaaand now South Carolina is at it. I'm starting to worry that papers-please laws are going to become to this election cycle what gay marriage was to 2004 - bullshit wedge issues that nobody will care about in a few years anyway.

The funny thing is that this time, Obama is challenging it months ahead of time - all they're doing is giving him opportunities to practice for the general election.

Godspeed, rednecks.

(side note - I've been traveling for the last couple days, so the schedule has been a little wonky. My apologies.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reason #58: Drugs Are Bad, M'kay

As I've mentioned before, maybe the strongest, most stark evidence of continuing racism in America is the criminal justice system. And within that problem, the biggest offender may be mandatory minimums - rules that set the least severe sentencing option for those convicted of a given crime.

Most famously are the minimum sentences for crack-related changes (black drug) versus those for powdered cocaine-related charges (white drug), which have for decades involved a 100-to-1 disparity.

In other words, getting caught with 5 grams of crack brings a minimum sentence of 5 years in jail, which is the same minimum sentence you get for 500 grams of cocaine.

The good news is, thanks to last year's Fair Sentencing Act (why it took a year to go into effect I couldn't say), the 100-to-1 disparity has been whittled down to 18-to-1, which still sucks, but hey - it's progress. Especially for the roughly 12 thousand current inmates, who can now request reduced sentences - 1800 of which can be released immediately (or as close to immediately as the government gets).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reason #57: The Department of Motherfuckin' Justice, Bitch

I know the point of this blog is to highlight government actions I support, but it's nice every now and then to find a government action I want to stand up and applaud.

The ongoing drama surrounding Alabama's recent papers-please law has made it seem, to me at least, unlikely that its worst aspect--the removal from public schools of children whose immigration status is questionable--would ever really be implemented all the way.

But just to make sure, the US Department of Justice sent letters on Monday to Alabama's superintendents and school boards stating that under no circumstances is any child to be turned away from a state school, even if they're wearing a sombrero that says "I just snuck across the border and all I got was this lousy hat" on it.

Furthermore, they have two weeks to send statistics on their ESL (English as a Second Language) student populations to the DOJ so they can determine to what extent children may have already withdrawn from school in fear of the new law, in case further legal action against the state is necessary.

The DOJ added, "now get the fuck out of my sight."