Monday, March 8, 2010

Peace, Love, and Happiness...

I came across this video via BoingBoing of people in a New York subway line singing along to Hey Jude. It brought a big smile to my face and I really wish I had been there. It also brought up a couple thoughts on what the democratic party could be doing better, which I'll share after the video.

People really want to belong to something, to feel apart of a group, or feel like they are helping to benefit the greater good of human life. Think of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti: people all over the US started text messaging money to the relief effort, democrats and republicans alike. They wanted to be apart of the movement to help those in need, and even something as small as a text message made them feel as if they were apart of that bigger group.

The democrats have not done a good job of maintaining that feeling of togetherness that was so strong when Obama was elected. Over the course of a year the spirit of the democrats has dwindled. Most democrats still believe that expanded healthcare is important, that global warming is one of the most important issues that humans will ever face, that banks and financial institutions should be regulated to better protect the assets of everyone, and that civil liberties and human rights need to be better protected—but most people simply don't feel apart of the effort to make this change anymore. When Obama was running for election people felt that by campaigning and voting for him they were helping the causes that they believed in so strongly, but now the people aren't involved, they have to let congress do all the work and it seems as if no work is getting done. At the very least the ideas that were so ferociously fought for during the election campaign are being diluted into meaningless bills that no longer represent what the people originally wanted.

There is a disconnect from the government. We need to change that. We need a way to make people feel more involved with their government again. Just like the Teabagger party for the republicans, the democrats need something to rally around. If we could organize large demonstrations to show how many people really do support health care reform, and at the same time organize the people who believe global warming is a problem, and bank regulation, etc., imagine the numbers of people that would show up. We need to rally around our core values as democrats and we need it to be very public, and very positive. Think of the huge demonstrations against the Iraq war, they were a rallying point for those of us who felt we couldn't do anything else, and they helped to energize the party; we won majorities in the house and senate in 2006, and a super majority in the senate in 2008 along with the president. When people see that their beliefs are accepted by many other people they feel energized to get up and do something, to voice their opinions and make real change. Now that we see how stagnant our congress is, even with as large a majority as we have, we need to stand up and voice our opinions very publicly to let them know: we are still here, we still believe in the core values of the democratic party, and we want you to do something about it now that you can.

The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts has reinvigorated the democrats in congress because they no longer have their magic 60 senate votes. His election, while overall bad news for democrats, has actually helped the health care reform debate because it has caused people to get passionate again about the party. Again there is that feeling that we need to get out and do something to make sure we don't lose this debate, as well as show the republicans that they cannot stop all legislation through filibuster—more than 3/5ths of the country wants these reforms to happen. It's time we started to show the rest of the people who aren't as enthusiastic yet that their beliefs are still valid, and that there are a lot of other people out there who have the same beliefs. If we can do that then maybe we can even get the reconciliation package to include a public option. It may be too late for a major push for health care reform for this year but there are still lots of other ways that we can improve this country, and getting people excited enough to voice their opinions, to show up to rallies, talk to friends and family, and call or write their senators is the first step to making it all happen.

A simple song like Hey Jude has the power to get people together to sing along and feel apart of something bigger than themselves. Can we as democrats find that note that resonates with the people well enough to bring us all together to fight for what we really believe is the right way forward for America?

Update: More public inspiration from song in the subways of NYC (again via BoingBoing)! In this video: Alice Tan Ridley, the mother of the academy award nominee Gabourey Sidibe from Precious, sings I will Survive.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Selling Reconciliation

Last weeks’ health care summit was a sight to see. Democrats and Republicans discussed their positions on health care and insurance policies at length and in-depth. The main pre-scripted messages of both parties got hammered through (Republicans: “Let’s start over”, and Democrats: “We agree on so many things”), but in the midst of this there was an intelligent, frank conversation that included open, honest and polite disagreement. Anyone who believes that nothing has changed in Washington since President Obama’s election is wrong. This type of conversation never, EVER, would have happened during the Bush years.

However, what was the real impact of this summit? It’s not clear. This summit could be remembered as a turning point in Mr. Obama’s presidency or just another failed attempt at bi-partisanship. How this summit is remembered will depend entirely on whether or not Democrats manage to pass a health care bill. While many Americans claim to care about bi-partisanship, the attempt of bi-partisanship may be forgotten but the effects of a health care bill will live on. Thus, passing a health care bill is the most important thing for Democrats to do. I believe that if Democrats fail to pass health care they will jeopardize their majority in both houses. Furthermore, they will lose the enthusiasm of so many of the young voters who turned out for Mr. Obama a little over a year ago.

I believe that the push for bi-partisanship in the health care summit was genuine. However, at the same time, he was also realistic. In his closing remarks, he acknowledged the position many Republicans are in:

“And the truth of the matter is that politically speaking, there may not be any reason for Republicans to want to do anything. I mean, we can debate what our various constituencies think. I know that -- I don't need a poll to know that most of Republican voters are opposed to this bill and might be opposed to the kind of compromise we could craft. It would be very hard for you politically to do this.”

He continued:

So the question that I'm going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time we could actually resolve something?

And if we can't, then I think we've got to go ahead and some make decisions, and then that's what elections are for.”

And of course, by “decisions” Mr. Obama was talking about reconciliation. The house just needs to pass the Senate bill, and then with a simple majority the Senate can accept changes through the reconciliation process.

Last year, both the House and the Senate passed health care bills. At this point, the House and Senate leaders would get together, come to some compromise, and then the compromised bill would come back to the House and the Senate and both would have to vote to pass the agreed upon bill. With the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it became clear to everyone that this could no longer happen. Senator Brown vowed to be the 41st vote needed to filibuster the health care bill.

This election was made possible by a great number of events, but as discussed in this blog before, a MAIN issue was that the Democrats just didn’t sell their health care bill well. Polls continue to show that people support the individual aspects of the democrat’s health care bill, but claim not to support the bill itself (

Having the President’s version of health care reform out will help democrats sell this better since there will be one bill that the democrats can talk about. But more important than selling the health care bill now, will be selling it once it is passed. So how do we get there?

The Democrats need to sell reconciliation. Selling reconciliation is necessary to get Democrats to use reconciliation. And the sell should be this: The Senate already passed the health care bill. If it is true that the public option is being dropped then the changes to the Senate Bill will be minor. In fact, most of the changes would be minor improvements to the healthcare bill – all of which could easily be sold to the public (like dropping the “Nebraska Deal”). Reconciliation will not be used to push through legislation that didn’t get a 60 vote majority. It won’t be used to push non-health care legislation through (like education reform, or non-healthcare related tax increases or cuts). Reconciliation will simply be used to finalize a bill already passed by the Senate.

Global Warming: Caused by Humans

I spent a long time poring over articles and trying to compile a list of relevant scientific data that shows the overwhelming evidence that man-made global warming is happening, and I wanted to represent it in such a way that non-science geeks like myself could understand. But as it turns out I’m not the first to try and do this—big surprise! After finding the below video about global warming science, via MyDD, I decided to forgo researching anymore and decided maybe I should go into the science a little bit. This video has it all, please enjoy:

I would like to clarify one point in greater detail that the video just didn’t have time to go into, and that is the idea that greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere are derived from human use of fossil fuel. In the video they mention that the isotopes of carbon that are detected in the air indicate that the large increase of CO2 in our atmosphere over the last hundred years or so originate from fossil fuel rather than from volcanic eruptions or any other natural process: "the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas, has a different chemical signature than living animals and plants". I would like to go into some more detail here and turn the conversation a bit more towards the science behind how we know where the carbon comes from.

There are three main types of carbon, carbon-12, carbon-13, and carbon-14 that are all present naturally in our atmosphere and we breathe them in with every single breath. Carbon-14 is very important for figuring out the age of materials that are up to about 70,000 years old but since fossil fuels come from the dinosaur ages, starting about 65 million years ago, we will forget about carbon-14 for now. Carbon-12 is by far the most abundant (98%) type of carbon in the atmosphere (and universe) and this is because it is the most stable form of carbon. There is much less carbon-13 in the atmosphere but there is enough to be easily detectable. The only difference between carbon-12 and carbon-13 is that carbon-13 has one more neutron in it’s nucleus (12 + 1, amazing!) which makes it slightly heavier than carbon-12 and why they can be distinguished using a technique called mass spectrometry. The mass difference between the two types of carbon is very import for understanding where the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from.

During photosynthesis a plant takes in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and with the help of sunlight converts it into sugar that it can use for energy. Most of the CO2 molecules contain carbon-12, because it is the most abundant, but a small percentage contains carbon-13. Well, it turns out that, through very complex physics, that plants tend to prefer the lighter, more abundant carbon-12 than they do the slightly heavier carbon-13. So if you take a plant and analyze the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 you will find that there is a higher ratio of carbon-12 in the plant than there is in the air. As we know, fossil fuels are simply plants that died many millions of years ago and their rotting remains slowly turned into what we know as oil. Oil has the same ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 that plants do. If we then take a look back through history by measuring the amount of carbon-13 found in tree rings and ice core samples we find that the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 has been about the same for nearly 10,000 years. However, within the last 100 years there has been a very significant increase in carbon-12. This increase indicates that the fossil fuels are being burned and released into the atmosphere thus increasing the carbon-12 content without affecting the carbon-13 content, thus changing the ratio that has stayed constant for so many thousands of years. There is no other explanation than fossil fuel burning for the increase in carbon-12 in the atmosphere in the last 100 years because, as far as we know, there is no other significant source of CO2 that contains a higher ratio of carbon-12 to -13 than that from plant or fossil fuel burning.

This still leaves the question as to how much CO2 can actually increase the temperature of the planet. At this point however it is unequivocal that humans are the main cause of the increase in CO2 to the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning.