Saturday, May 25, 2013

Presidential Commission on Election Administration Launched

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by President Obama after problematic 2012 elections when online this week at  Obama established the commission by executive order on March 28, "to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience." The co-chairs of the commission are Robert Bauer, a general counsel for the Obama campaign, and Benjamin Ginsberg, a national counsel to the Romney campaign.  First up on the new website is the following press release:
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2013 — The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was officially launched today, following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union pledge to identify non-partisan ways to shorten lines at polling places, promote the efficient conduct of elections, and provide better access to the polls for all voters.

The 10-member Commission will submit a final report to the President within six months of its first public meeting, which is expected to be held in Washington in June. Headed by Co-Chairs Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, the Commissioners are experts in election administration, policy and procedures, or leaders from customer service-oriented businesses and industry.

“The President’s expectation is clear,” said Co-Chair Bob Bauer, who served President Obama as White House counsel from December 2009until 2011, and as General Counsel to the President’s re-election committee and to the Democratic National Committee. “The Commission is charged with developing recommendations based on the best information available for administrative practices that afford voters the opportunity to cast ballots without undue delay and improve their overall experience.”

“Waiting in line and facing other unnecessary obstacles to voting is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” said Co-Chair Ben Ginsberg, who served as national counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns in2000 and 2004, and as national counsel to the Romney for President campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “This effort is aimed at assisting state and local election officials in their ongoing work to improve the voter experience under existing election laws. With extensive input from the public and through the broad knowledge and experience each Commissioner brings to the table, we hope to make a contribution to the hard work on improving election administration in which election officials are continuously engaged.”

The Commission was created by Executive Order 13639, Establishment of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Commissioners were appointed by the President. They are:
  • Robert F. Bauer, Co-Chair and member – Partner, Perkins Coie LLP
  • Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Co-Chair and Member – Partner, Patton Boggs LLP
  • Brian Britton, Member – Vice President, Global Park Operations and Planning at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
  • Joe Echevarria, Member – Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte LLP
  • Trey Grayson, Member – Director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Larry Lomax, Member – Clark County (Nevada) Registrar
  • Michele Coleman Mayes, Member – Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for the New York Public Library
  • Ann McGeehan, Member – Assistant General Counsel of the Texas County and District Retirement System
  • Tammy Patrick, Member – Federal Compliance Officer for the Maricopa County (Arizona) Elections Department
  • Christopher Thomas, Member – Director of Elections in the Michigan Department of State
Nathaniel Persily will serve as Senior Research Director for the Commission. He is the Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia Law School, and as of July 1, 2013, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.

The Commission was created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, with staff and support services provided by the U.S. General Services Administration. The Commission will be disbanded 30 days after it presents its final report to the President.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

by Michael Handley

I haven't written about the status of Texas' Voter Photo ID law for some months. Here is a short update.

Recall that last August a panel of three federal judges for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found the law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty. In other words, that federal court wouldn't let Texas enforce its new voter I.D. law. Texas then started the process to appeal that court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court - the Supreme Court has not yet accepted the appeal, pending its decision on an Alabama case.

Sometime before the end of June, the Supreme Court will decide Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, a constitutional challenge to the "Section 5" preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the law’s most important guarantees against racial discrimination in voting. Enacted in 1965 and renewed by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, the preclearance requirement forbids governments with a history of voting discrimination from enforcing racially discriminatory voting changes.

Texas' Voter Photo ID law is on hold pending the the Court's Shelby decision. If the court strikes down Section 5, which many think is likely on a 5-4 split decision, Texas can quickly move to enforce its Voter Photo ID law. If the court upholds Section 5, the Court will then decide to take up the question of whether Texas' Voter Photo ID law is constitutional, next term, which begins in October. Stay tuned for more updates...


Monday, May 20, 2013

Intensity Of Extreme Weather - Climate Change?

By Michael Handley

Updated Monday, May 20,2012 @ 15:48
Heat records for the month of May were crushed in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest last week while Tornadoes as big as a mile wide and fist-sized hail battered states from Texas to the upper Midwest.  (Temperature map right)

Last week, triple-digit readings smashed long-standing May 14 daily records, with a margin as much as 7° at Norfolk, Nebraska.

At Sioux City, Iowa, the 106° high also broke the all-time May maximum temperature record.

Sioux City climate records date back to 1889. At both Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, it was the earliest 100° temperature on record, surpassing the previous records of 5/29/1934 and 5/24/1967, respectively.

The temperature extremes were a reflection of a strongly anomalous circulation pattern along a very strong ridge of high pressure that extend from the eastern Pacific to the Great Lakes near the middle of the atmosphere, while a deep low pressure area was located off the Mid Atlantic coast.

Last week, thunderstorms tore through northeastern Texas as the result of the anomalous circulation pattern.  Warm and humid winds blowing from the Gulf of Mexico collided with hot and dry winds from West Texas, resulting in a twisting motion of the lower atmosphere. The National Weather Service in Ft. Worth, Texas issued a report saying 16 tornadoes hit Texas on Wednesday. The tornado that struck Granbury was given the rating of EF-4, with winds estimated between 166 to 200 mph.

A massive storm front swept north through the central United States on Sunday. Nineteen tornadoes touched down hitting parts of Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and local news reports. Hail stones, some as large as baseballs, were reported from Georgia to Minnesota, the NOAA said.

Again Monday afternoon, a mile-wide tornado described by the National Weather Service as “large and deadly” touched down south of Oklahoma City, in the suburb of Moore, causing widespread destruction and fatalities. Two elementary schools were completely destroyed. Those schools are Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Okla.

Scientists have long warned us that climate change would bring more extreme weather patterns, with more frequent and intense weather events. The huge tornado that tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday had winds of up to 200 miles per hour, or more. Early data suggests this tornado may be the strongest tornado ever recorded - ever.  Is CO2-based atmospheric warming a factor in the latest Oklahoma City tornado?  Scientists can't say yes or no, with certainty.

Global warming is making the earth a more dynamic and violent place. The fossil fuels that human civilization burns worldwide dumps more than 35 billion tons of the CO2 green house gas into the atmosphere every year.

As the amount of that green house gas builds in the atmosphere year after year, it traps more and more of the sun’s energy in our narrow envelope of atmosphere. That increasing energy potential is increasingly expressing itself in many ways. We don’t know for sure that any particular tornado comes from climate change; There have always been tornadoes. But we do know that we’re seeing epic levels of thunderstorm activity, of flooding, of drought, of more wide spread EF-4 to EF-5 super tornadoes, of the things that climatologists have been warning us about.

Yet, Republicans continue to avidly reject the scientific evidence for climate change.

The type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are predicted to change as Earth’s climate changes. Changes in some types of extreme events have already been observed, for example, increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and perhaps even tornado swarm events. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are call tornado alley for good reason. But day after day of swarms of a dozen, two dozen or more tornadoes, some as much as a mile wide super tornadoes, seem anomalous, even for tornado alley.

In closing, we may never know whether larger global warming factors were at play in Monday's Oklahoma City storms. All we can do at this moment is react to them and give the people of Oklahoma all the help they need.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

People Know Their Place In A Democracy

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

Friend and fellow blogger, Jihaan Karjeker, just published her review of the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie. Click over to her Oh My Stars blog and read her review. Go ahead and bookmark her site and like her FaceBook page, too.

Star Trek Into Darkness trailer - Release Date: May 17th, 2013

Food Supply Under Assault By Climate Change

NBC News: Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor ~ The U.S. food supply is under unprecedented siege from a blitz of man-made hazards, meaning some of your favorite treats someday may vanish from your plate, experts say.

Warmer and moister air ringing much of the planet – punctuated by droughts in other locales – is threatening the prime ingredients in many daily meals, including the maple syrup on your morning pancakes and the salmon on your evening grill as well as the wine in your glass and the chocolate on your dessert tray, according to four recent studies.

[Corn from last year's harvest lies in a wet field on Iowa farms,while fields remain too wet to plant this year's crop]. The USDA's weekly crop progress report showed that just 12 percent of the nation's cornfields have been sown.  [Like your Cheetos and Doritos, while you got'em!]

At the same time, an unappetizing bacterial outbreak in Florida citrus droves, largely affecting orange trees, is causing fruit to turn bitter. Elsewhere, unappealing fungi strains are curtailing certain coffee yields and devastating some banana plantations, researchers report.

Now, mix in the atmospheric misfortunes sapping two mainstays of American farming — corn and cows. Heavier than normal spring rains have put the corn crop far behind schedule: Only 28 percent of corn fields have been planted this year compared with 85 percent at this time in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, drought in the Southeastern plains and a poor hay yield have culled the U.S. cattle and calf herd [especially in Texas] to its lowest level since 1952, propelling the wholesale price of a USDA cut of choice beef to a new high on May 3 — $201.68 per 100 pounds, eclipsing the old mark of $201.18 from October 2003, the USDA reports.

“We are in the midst of dramatic assault on the security of the food supply,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The group promotes ecological research into the nexus of diet, food production, environment and human health.

Read the full Bill Briggs article @ NBC News:

Climate Change Denial Conspiracy

Some downplay and deny that there is organized climate change denial in U.S. politics. But what the deniers have accomplished in this country is unique in the world, going far beyond the spread of disinformation. They have convinced more than half of America that there is no climate change and that there is no consensus among scientists that global warming is happening. They have also allowed fossil fuel interests to “capture” almost an entire political party.
National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.”

More than 97% of 4,000 international scientific papers analyzed in a peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, were found to acknowledge human-caused global warming.  [Full text PDF (501 KB) - Video]

A recent Yale study found that only 42 percent of Americans believe that most scientists think global warming is happening. A full 33 percent of respondents are convinced that there remains "widespread disagreement" among scientists on this question. Among the 10,000 individual climate scientists worldwide who have expressed a position on human caused global warming in peer-reviewed literature, 98.4 percent endorsed the consensus that humanity dumping CO2 into the atmosphere continue to accelerate global warming and climate change.
Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State call it the “climate change denial machine” in their book chapter, “Organized Climate Change Denial,” for the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.

In a note, the authors explain: The actions of those who consistently seek to deny the seriousness of climate change make the terms “denial” and “denier” more accurate than “skepticism” and “skeptic,” particularly since all scientists tend to be skeptics.

On page 147 of their book the authors chart key components of the climate change denial machine that together work to feed the American public misinformation that climate science is “all one contrived phony mess," as Texas Gov. Perry puts it.

Here is the conclusion of Organized Climate Change Denial:”:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Earth Under Water, Hell On Earth Or Both?

by Michael Handley

Human civilization has pushed atmospheric CO2 levels to near 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised its May 9, 2013 reading at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, saying it remained fractions of a point below the level of 400 ppm, at 399.89 ppm.

The last time concentrations of Earth's main greenhouse gas reached this mark, during the Pliocene era 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, the planet was about 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. The Arctic was 14°F warmer allowing horses and camels to graze in lush savannas that grew at those ancient high latitudes. The Arctic and West Antarctic ice sheets did not exist and sea levels during the mid-Pliocine were about 82 feet higher than today — levels that today would inundate major cities around the world!

The first decade of the 21st century contained nine of the 10 warmest years on record. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization compares the 2001-2010 decade with the 12 that came before it in a chart that makes it hard to argue that the planet isn’t warming.

Today, with the warming atmosphere, Arctic sea ice is melting much, much faster than even the best climate models had projected. The reason is most likely for faster loss of arctic ice is unmodeled amplifying feed backs in the CO2 cycles, plus recent Paleoclimate research suggests CO2 may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models. “Future warming likely to be on high side of climate projections,” according to a November paper in Science.  On our current emissions path, CO2 levels will continue to rise to as much as 650–970 ppm by the year 2100 -- levels last seen when the Earth was and average 29°F hotter and dinosaurs walked the earth. A 29°F rise in temperature would melt all the ice on earth, even in Antarctica, increasing sea levels by 250 feet over just decades.

More than 97% of 4,000 international scientific papers analyzed in peer-reviewed study, published  in the journal Environmental Research Letters, were found to acknowledge human-caused global warming.  [Full text PDF (501 KB) - Video]  President Obama even tweeted the study to his 31,000,000 followers.
97% global warming consensus meets resistance from scientific denialism - The robust climate change consensus faces resistance from conspiracy theories, cherry picking, and misrepresentations.

Media Still Overlooks 90% Of Global Warming, Washington Post Still Won’t Fact Check Columnists.
A new study led by Clark University and involving the University Colorado Boulder found that all glacial regions lost mass from 2003 to 2009, with the biggest ice losses occurring in Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes and the Himalayas. The glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic sheets lost an average of roughly 260 billion metric tons of ice annually during the study period. "Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it," said CU-Boulder Professor Tad Pfeffer, a study co-author. But Greenland's inland ice sheet is now beginning to melt, too. Greenland's ice sheet saw melting across nearly all of its surface last summer due to higher than normal temperatures.

Most climate scientists don't think that the Antarctica and Greenland icecaps will thaw yet this century. Many studies since 2007, including by the World Bank, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a report for the Arctic Council, put the upper limit of sea surface rise at about six feet by the year 2100. However, when 97 percent of Greenland’s ice experienced at least some melting in July 2012, scientists began wondering if it was a one-time phenomenon. Now a new study in Geophysical Research Letters indicates it is a sign of things to come and by 2025, there is a 50-50 chance of it happening annually. Some climate scientists have started to wonder whether Widespread Greenland Melting Is To Become The Norm In Next Two Decades.   Miami, As We Know It Today, Is Doomed by Sea Rise; It’s Not A Question Of If. It’s A Question Of When.

Imagine sea levels rising 82 feet higher, and more, than today... Eminent climatologists think a "Great Flood" is inevitable if current CO2 emission rates continue.

Based on research by NASA astro-biologist and paleontologist Professor Peter Ward and a group of respected American climatologists, the Earth Under Water video is an eye-opening documentary.

This BBC documentary uses scientific evidence past and present, archive footage, location photography and CGI to explore the terrifying consequences should the atmosphere's CO2 levels treble over the next 100 to 300 years, as predicted.

Step by step, the BBC documentary paints a chilling picture of the world as the sea levels rise, unraveling the science behind this cataclysm, revealing when it could strike and what its impact would be on humanity. The film also questions experts and politicians about what measures can be taken now to stop the current rise of CO2 emissions, and explores how extreme engineering will buy us time. But the message of this film is stark, spelling out in graphic detail the Earth's apocalyptic future that we have been avoiding.

God Won't Save Us From Climate Catastrophe

A nanny God, who will with a miracle grant us amnesty from our folly -- that's not aligned with either history or the text of the Bible," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) declared in a Senate floor speech after an unnamed senator said God would protect the Earth from climate change. Listen to his full speech on the Senate floor.

“I was recently at a Senate hearing where I heard a member of our Senate community say, ‘God won’t allow us to ruin our planet,’” said Sen. Whitehouse  in a Senate floor speech on climate change Wednesday. “Maybe that is why we do nothing.” "If we believe in an all-powerful God, then we must then believe that God gave us this earth, and we must in turn believe that God gave us its laws of gravity, of chemistry, of physics." "We must also believe that God gave us our human powers of intellect and reason. He gives us these powers so that we his children can learn and understand earth's natural laws." "We learn these natural laws, and we apply them to build and create, and we prosper." “So why then, when we ignore his plain, natural laws, when we ignore the obvious conclusions to be drawn by our God-given intellect and reason, why then would God, the tidy-up God, drop in and spare us?” “Why would he allow an innocent child to burn its hand when it touches the hot stove but protect us from this lesson? Why would he allow a badly engineered bridge or building to fall, killing innocent people, but protect us from this mistake?” “We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies.” “Where in the Bible are we assured of safety if we do? I see no assurances of that.” ~ Whitehouse said.

Hell On Earth In Texas And The Great Plains

by Michael Handley

In the coming decades, climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated.

Those are some of the conclusions contained in the Midwest chapter of a draft report released early this year by the federal government that assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region in the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The weekly report of the U.S. Drought Monitor released for May 7, 2013 didn't  show much improvement for a profoundly parched Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has watched first hand the ravages of a warming climate, first as Texas agriculture commissioner, then as governor.

However, Perry and Republicans in the state legislature argue that climate science is a made up liberal lie.  Perry said it's “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight” in his book, Fed Up.

Republicans dismiss worsening killer droughts and record heat seen in 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, with July 2011 Texas’ hottest in history, so far. Last year, Texas suffered through another historic dry spell . Large sections of the state continue to experience long-term exceptional or extreme drought. These prolonged, dry conditions put a strain on water supplies for all uses.

Texas has only received 68 percent of its normal rainfall, and reservoirs are at their lowest levels since 1990. The state temperature has increased on average by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and so that impacts drought through evaporation and loss of water from the ground and reservoirs.