When Actions Cross Borders, Whose States Rights Get Gored?

There’s an interesting feud brewing between California and Arkansas that has broad implications for a whole range of laws and state actions (and inactions) across the nation.

Which came first, the chicken or the wine?

Which came first, the chicken or the wine?

This particular brouhaha centers on a decision by the California State Legislature in 2010 to extend a law requiring the relatively humane treatment of chickens to states from which California would be permitted to import eggs. The law in question was passed by votes in 2008. It requires that chickens whose eggs are to be harvested for import to California “be able to stand up, turn around and fully extend their wings.” By way of retaliation, the Arkansas State House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill banning imported wine from California, an action I suspect will have a much broader negative impact on Arkansas wine drinkers than it will on California growers and bottlers.

This little tempest in a henhouse is a small instance of a much larger problem. In reacting to this proposed retaliation, one Arkansas lawmaker asked rhetorically, “Is it chickens tomorrow or cattle on down the road? Is it air quality restrictions?” It was that last one that caught my eye.

I’ve long wondered why states are allowed to set their own standards for air and water quality. Last I checked, air didn’t recognize or stop at state lines. Rivers that course through more than one state provide another example where a state’s actions or inactions could severely harm the rights of those in other states downriver or downwind.

I applaud the California law’s efforts to bring humane treatment to egg-laying chickens. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s within our right to tell another state how to treat animals whose flesh or products might find their way into our state. California might be justified in demanding clear labeling to inform California buyers of the maltreatment (by California standards), but I’m not sure a ban is legal or appropriate.

But I also don’t think it’s appropriate for states to set their own rules and regulations governing the quality of air and water that isn’t confined to their borders.

As I see it, this is yet another place where the right outcome is for the federal government to intervene and impose some basic principles of interstate commerce (which, as I recall, is the Feds’ province) so that all states are required to take into consideration the needs of the citizens of other states. Otherwise, a mishmash of state rules inevitably leads to feuds, trade wars and other unseemliness.

Dawn Orbiting Ceres: First Impressions Promising for Life Signs

The Dawn spacecraft is now safely ensconced in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and the transmission of usable and interesting scientific data and imagery has begun in earnest. This is an enormously exciting event for those of us who are interested in space science and exploration. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt.

Photo of Ceres, largest object in asteroid belt, seen from spacecraft Dawn and showing two bright spots

BRIGHT SPOTS on Ceres appear to be evidence of outgasing, which may suggest water beneath surface

As the Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres a couple of weeks ago, scientists were surprised to observe two bright objects on its surface. As it drew closer and achieved orbit, these bright spots were discovered to be at the base of a crater but they remain visible even when the rim of the crater would be expected to be blocking the view. This results in a tentative but plausible conclusion that the spots are connected to what is called “outgasing,” the process of gases beneath the surface of Ceres emitting plumes of gas. This might well indicate the presence of water on Ceres, one of the basic requirements for the presence of any form of carbon-based life such as we Earthlings are familiar with and naively expect all interplanetary life to resemble.

There’s been a lot in the popular mass media about the mission but if you want to dig into what’s really going on and what it means, I suggest you check out the Lunary and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) Web site. Scientists involved in the mission gave a series of talks yesterday drilling into great detail and sharing a lot of information about the surface, mapping, geology, and other amazingly fascinating stuff.

This is proving to be one of the most important space science missions in our nation’s history of exploration.

What if Al Gore Ran? I Know, But What If? And What if He Asked Warren to Join Him?

AL GORE - Could former Veep take the Dem nomination?

AL GORE – Could former Veep take the Dem nomination?

In a case of dueling leftist media today, Vox’s Ezra Klein is encouraging former VP and almost-should-have-been President Al Gore to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for the office in 2016 at the same time as Luke Brinker at Salon.com is arguing that’s not such a hot idea.

Frankly, I like the idea. A lot. It might be the one thing that could lure me back into the Democratic Party fold for another run at getting a Progressive agenda adopted. Klein’s arguments are pretty persuasive, though, like Brinker, I think he glosses over the central issue of income inequality as if it were a minor nuisance simply because (apparently) Gore hasn’t been outspoken on the subject. Brinker’s obviously a supporter of Elizabeth Warren, whose positions and proposals on that subject are decidedly progressive.

But what if Gore ran, picked Warren as his VP, gave her portfolio over the economics of inequality, and focused his energies on the existential global crisis? And what if he made a commitment up front to serve only one term, yielding then to a fully qualified and vetted Warren in 2020?

Now that could get my pulse pounding again. That could draw me back into the Presidential fray on the Democratic side of the ledger rather than continuing my long-term change strategy of backing the Green Party candidate, whoever that turns out to be. (Please let it be Jill Stein!)

I doubt this is even remotely possible. First, I suspect Gore sees himself as having more influence now than he’d ever have as President. Second, he probably wonders whether he could be elected even in an era when it’s common political lore in DC that the Democrats own the White House and the GOP owns the Congress for the foreseeable future. And Gore is not without his own baggage (including inexplicably inconsistent behavior on the environmental front and an unpleasant divorce from a popular woman). But I suspect he is electable and bringing Warren onto the ticket would almost certainly clinch the nomination for him. If, as some have suggested (yeah, I’m looking at you, Peggy Noonan!), Hillary Clinton really doesn’t want to run as much as it sometimes seems she does, then Gore’s entry into the fray would give her great political cover for bowing out, particularly if Warren is on the ticket.

Of course, at the end of the discussion, it’s up to HRC. If she wants the nomination, she’ll almost certainly get it. And if she gets it, she’ll almost certainly win. And if she gets it, I’ll certainly stay Green. Because there is no issue or combination if issues of more consequence than the climate and on that topic alone, Ms. Clinton is a complete bust.


Peggy Noonan’s Take on HRC Candidacy May Be Prescient

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, not my favorite writer or a particularly reliable source for what Democrats are doing or thinking, suspects the fight may have gone out of Hillary Clinton before she’s officially announced her candidacy for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination.

In a particularly thoughtful piece that seems to have a bit more personal insight into Hillary than I’ve seen in most of the other speculation surrounding her email scandal, Noonan says:

Maybe she isn’t really hungry enough for the presidency anymore. And maybe she doesn’t have illusions anymore. She’s funded by Wall Street. Her opponent will be funded by Wall Street.

Maybe she’s of two minds about what she wants. But it’s not really hunger that’s propelling her now, its Newton’s law of inertia: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Last week when this news broke, I suggested strongly that we might be seeing the end of HRC’s run at the White House. The “scandal” has all the smell and taste and warp and woof of what the American people don’t want right now: entitlement, arrogance and above-the-law behavior.

Noonan, who is certainly both better connected to and more knowledgeable about HRC’s campaign than I will ever be, seems to have come to much the same conclusion.

At a minimum, I think Clinton’s missteps — among which I count her horrible press conference performance — may have opened the door sufficiently widely to encourage other Democrats to seek the nomination rather than simply coronating her. And ultimately that would operate in the best interest of the Democratic Party and perhaps, depending on who walks through that door, to the Progressive wing which I believe holds the keys to the White House in 2016.


I’ll See Your Piece of Toast and Raise You One Dwarf Planet

Every once in a while you hear a weird story about the face of Jesus or  Mary or Dwight Eisenhower showing up on a piece of toast or a washcloth or some other insensate object.

President Barack Obama has done them one better. His face — or rather half of it — shows up in some animated imaging from the dwarf planet Ceres which is the subject of the latest NASA mission called Dawn.

UFO followers believe they have discovered the “watermark” of Obama’s pensive countenance in a NASA animation which you can see here. (Depending on your tolerance for hyper-bizarre conspiracy theories you may want to skip the ‘story’ that accompanies that image.)

Of course those same people believe that two bright spots of illumination spotted on Ceres a couple of weeks ago by the explorer craft are beacons guiding UFO’s to an underground base, so….


Counting on HRC to “Restore the Party’s Luster”? You’re Joking, Right?

I read this highly improbable sentence in the New York Times this morning:

As Hillary Rodham Clinton prepares to run for president again, amid much criticism, Democrats across the board are counting on her to restore the party’s luster.

Huh? Seriously??

This statement makes several really silly assumptions, to wit:

First, that the Democratic Party has any luster to restore.

Second, that HRC, with all her historical baggage and current negative image perceptions, could restore any such luster.

Third, that assuming she wasn’t part of the ancient history of the Party, her current bona fides are tarnished at best.

And, last but not least, that the Democratic Party is aware of any lack of luster in need of restoration.

Go, Greens! :-D

China Says it Will Decide if the Dalai Lama Reincarnates

In an amazing and amusing act of pure hubris, the Chinese government has announced that it and it alone will decide whether the 14th Dalai Lama will reincarnate when he dies and pick his successor. So a country which specifically espouses atheism presumes to tell God how to handle the death of one of His earthly leaders?

Wow. Now that’s what I call ridiculous!

As Chris Buckley explains the Chinese thinking in the New York Times:

Party functionaries were incensed by the exiled Dalai Lama’s recent speculation that he might end his spiritual lineage and not reincarnate. That would confound the Chinese government’s plans to engineer a succession that would produce a putative 15th Dalai Lama who accepts China’s presence and policies in Tibet.

Robert Barnett, director of the modern Tibetan studies program at Columbia University, told the Times, “I don’t think the Dalai Lama would mind if you saw this through the prism of Monty Python. But he is reminding the Chinese that, from his perspective and the perspective of probably nearly all Tibetans, the Chinese don’t really have a credible role in deciding these things.”

No kidding!

This makes the Chinese government look even sillier than it normally does. I didn’t think that was possible.

Let’s Hear it for the ‘Nones’!

Good piece on HuffPo today about the possibility that both Democrats and Republicans could make some real gains in upcoming elections by pitching a values message to those people in the voting public who characterize themselves religiously as “none”. (Which leads to an interesting play on words when we refer to them collectively as “nones”.) :-)

The nones, of which I am a dues-paying member (well, I would be if we had dues), are a substantial demographic, accounting for 20-33% of the electorate depending how you define them and whether you look at the younger end of the age range or the totality of it. Having just turned 70, I’m at the upper, upper end of that particular scale.

We are not motivated by party labels or affiliation or history (thus my 2014 switch from a lifelong Democrat to a Green) but rather by the understanding that it may be possible but is a bad idea to divorce politics from personal values. We understand budgets are moral documents, that how you choose to deal with global climate change and income inequality and the death penalty will be based not on your political label, no matter how much you protest that it will be, but on your personal values. Note, this is not a discussion about “family values”, whatever that turns out to mean to any one individual. Even “family values” are held by individuals and are thus individual in nature.

It happens that most of us nones are also progressives. That is due, at least in part, to the fact that we have chosen to investigate for ourselves the religious teachings and traditions of our parents and grandparents and sometimes found them wanting. It is also in part due to the fact that change is anathema to conservatives while it is embraced by progressives. But there are some positions that conservatives take with which we nones can and often do align. Those members of the conservative movement such as Rand Paul, e.g., who dislike the idea that America should go to war at the drop of a hat and become the world’s policeman, are people with whom we can identify, at least on that one issue.

But many nones would embrace a more conservative political label if it were more viable today. If, that is, the Republican Party hadn’t become the TEApublican Party and many (most?) of its prominent elected officials lost their moral compass in a sea of re-election fears. In fact, it would not surprise me if by tapping into the nones who are inclined to adopt some key conservative (but still rational) policies, the GOP could regain its status as a legitimate and badly needed alternative party.

Progressives who view some of the extremist views of the Democratic Party as a bit too big a reach might also help reign in some of its policies to be more accountable on the basis of meaningful personal values.

There is less difference every election between mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats. This is in part what has created the right-wing backlash that takes the form of the Tea Party (a “party” that doesn’t actually exist, isn’t on any ballots, has no stated candidates and takes no independent positions). And it is what has given rise to an increasingly viable splinter party group on the Left including the Greens and the Socialists.

To us nones, what really matters isn’t the detail of every policy you stand for, every vote you make. It’s the fundamental principles and values by which you live. As we begin to flex our spiritual-political muscles in coming months and years, we will become a force to be reckoned with. And that will mark the time when America begins to return to some sense of civility and respectability and governance, a situation in which a viable two (or multi-) party system is vital.

Top 10 Emerging Technology List Offers a Surprise or Two

The prestigious World Economic Forum has released its current list of the top 10 trending technologies that it thinks will have the greatest impact on civilization and economics in coming decades. For the most part, the list is fairly predictable to anyone who has been paying attention to news developments. But it does contain a surprise or two even for us tech news junkies.

I’ll leave it to you to read the whole story and the full list at the link above if you’re interested. I’d just like to offer a few brief comments on some of those that I found either surprising or most interesting.

The idea of “sense and avoid” drones is scary and feels like a net negative. The idea of self-flying unmanned aircraft buzzing around the air freely is not only a solution in search of a problem, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Intel apparently demonstrated a “multicopter” that uses a very powerful miniaturized camera and motion detection system. They flew it around on a stage where it successfully avoided running into people I can only hope were paid a lot of money to try to get in its way.This one just seems like bad tech to me.

Two of the technologies were particularly interesting for their implications for health care, which is one of the next huge industries. (Yeah, even more huge than it already is!) Digitizing your genome and letting you carry it with you on a USB drive and then bringing to bear extremely precise genetic engineering technology to interpret and alter appropriately? The stuff of the science fiction of my youth! The precise ability to alter single genes using focused technology rather than bacteria promises to make these processes more efficient and safer.

The most exciting tech I read about in the piece was something I’d barely heard of: neuromorphic technology. This involves the creation and design of chips that map more closely to the ways the human brain is organized to process and store information. From the article: “[N]euromorphic chips can be more energy efficient and powerful, combining data-storage and data-processing components into the same interconnected modules. In this sense, the system copies the networked neurons that, in their billions, make up the human brain.” I can see applying neural net technology to neuromorphic chips to create enormous leaps and breakthroughs in computer processing as well as in exploring and understanding the human brain.

What an exciting time to be alive!

Can HRC Survive the Email Scandal?

Americans will put up with a lot from their elected public officials. But one thing that they have traditionally been particularly angry about is when those officials try to conduct business in secret. When the regime of Bush the Younger was ending, the scandal of millions of missing emails nearly brought about impeachment proceedings.

Now Democratic Presidential candidate in every sense of the word other than “official” Hillary Clinton has a huge secret email scandal, one that is far bigger than the one that plagued the Bush White House.

hillary_clintonApparently, while she served as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she used only her personal email account to transact State Department business. That put tens of thousands of emails beyond the ready reach of the public, media, and investigators. Faced with a recent Congressional demand for records related to the non-scandal-that-won’t-die Benghazi, Clinton’s aides went through those emails and turned over something like 300 emails related to those attacks. Earlier, at the request of the State Department, her team turned over about 50,000 pages of emails that had been stashed in her private account.

I’m a little bewildered, not so much at the Machiavellian machination itself as at her apparent belief that she could get away with it despite her long-time plan to seek the White House her husband occupied. I mean, did she think nobody would notice?

This smacks of above-the-law hubris that may set new breathtaking records in American political annals. And frankly it’s a scandal from which I’m not at all certain she can recover, regardless of her popularity, fund-raising, historical connection to the Presidency and the Democratic Party, and money. This revelation adds a significant burden to an already baggage-laden candidacy.

In an era of filthy dirty politics, attack-dog strategies and a 24/7 news cycle featuring tons of right-wing fanatics and Faux News, this new story will dominate the headlines for weeks to come. HRC has always been good at damage control and she may find a way yet to spin this, but I’m inclined to believe that we may have just seen the beginning of a precipitous decline in her political fortunes.

As a lifelong Democrat-turned-Green and supporter of Progressive causes, I can’t find a tear to shed.