Tag Archives: United States

“Jesus Wept”…and other over-the-top BS backlash

Thank god for one SCOTUS justice who will (sometimes) “cross over” and vote on (gasp!) the law, rather than letting his own personal politics dictate his vote.  Thanks to Justice Kennedy voting with the “liberal” SCOTUS Justices, the Defense of Marriage Act is dead.  In California, a linked SCOTUS decision makes gay marriage effectively alive again in that state.  While four Justices voted for government-sponsored bigotry and discrimination, sanity somehow prevailed.

“Sanity” certainly isn’t a term that you could apply to the reaction to the decision from religious leaders.  A sampling of some of the quotes from the religious nutballs:

  • “Jesus Wept” – Mike Huckabee
  • “Supreme Court Overrules God” – Some Fox “News” loser
  • “Tragic Day for Marriage and our Nation” – Catholic Bishops of the US
  • “Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in the DOMA case takes the entire nation right to the brink of legal same-sex marriage” – Some Baptist loser

GASP!!  The brink of legal same-sex marriage!?!!?  SAY IT ISN’T SO!  Treating all people of the U.S. equally under the law??!?!?  An outrage!!!

I was raised Lutheran, but I’m a full-blown, card-carrying atheist (sorry mom!).  However, I heartily support religious freedom, I heartily support the right to practice your religion and express your religious beliefs, free of both government and private interference.

What I find incredibly annoying and destructive about religion in general is how religious belief is often used as a weapon.  I also find it incredibly annoying and hypocritical how individuals will warp the basic tenets of their religion, all to fit their OWN warped and often hateful views of those who don’t share the same beliefs.  “Jesus Wept”?  Really, Mike Huckabee”?  Bigotry and hatred, wrapped in the cloak of religion…it’s a story that’s been repeated far too often throughout history, often with incredibly destructive results.

We are a nation of laws, with ALL citizens treated equally under the law (in theory, anyway).  I’m sorry, nameless Fox “News” loser who said SCOTUS overruled “god”, but:

  1. I find it shameful that this collection of religious nutballs believe their Christian “god” would actively promote HATRED AND BIGOTRY
  2. The “god” of White American Christians is NOT the “god” of a huge chunk of America.
  3. Some invisible, imaginary, all-powerful “god” is NOT the ruler of the United States.

Despite the quite obvious issues with neutrality and fairness in our political system, despite role of politics in interpreting law, despite the inherent character flaws of the SCOTUS justices, they ARE “god”, as far as the law of the land is concerned.

The religious right in the U.S. loves to turn their noses up at any non-Christian infiltration of religion into government.  Paranoid laws forbidding implementation of Sharia law have been passed in many parts of the U.S., and the religious right routinely decries the role of Islam in the governments of other nations.

Mike Huckabee…nameless Fox “News” loser….U.S. Bishops…nameless Baptist loser…just shut…the…hell..up.  Sanity has prevailed…yesterday was a great day for America.

SCOTUS puts politics over the law

Supreme Court Justices

The most dangerous and powerful politicians in the United States, our Supreme Court Justices. Justice Ginsberg, I can hardly blame you for looking like you don't want to sit with this bunch of jackasses.

I admit I’m delving in dangerous territory here, as I have no background in the law, or matters of the Supreme Court.  However, one thing I have never understood is how Supreme Court Jackasses Justices can be labeled as “Conservative” or “Liberal”.  Isn’t the law above politics?  Shouldn’t the law be interpreted through legal eyes, rather than through the rose-colored glasses of a conservative or the…sky blue (?) glasses of a liberal?

Obviously, the answer is no, given how many 5-4 decisions have been made by the current Court, with the  5 “conservative” Jackasses Justices voting as a bloc.  Today’s decision by the SCOTUS to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act is just another example.  My interpretation?  Once again, the law played 2nd fiddle to politics.

The Voting Rights Act has somehow managed 48 years without the courts striking it down.  In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend it for another 25 years, with the Senate voting 98 – 0 to extend the Act, while the House voted 390-33.   The 15th Amendment, passed after the Civil War, specifically protects the right to vote regardless of race or religion, with Section 2 of the Amendment specifically stating:

- The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

CONGRESS has the power to enforce the 15th Amendment.  CONGRESS voted overwhelmingly to extend the voting rights act for 25 years, in 2006.  The LAW HASN’T CHANGED, yet the Supreme Court today decided Congress was irrelevant.  Congress decided the 15th Amendment was irrelevant.  Congress decided the law was irrelevant.

Instead, the 5 conservative Jackasses Justices voted based on their own personal politics.  Chief Justice Roberts TRIED to provide a legal basis for the ruling, a stance that has garnered a maelstrom of criticism.  The basic premise of the 5 Jackasses Justices’ decision today?  Things have changed!  We saw all kinds of stats today about how more blacks are now “allowed” to vote (never mind that much of that is DUE to the Voting Rights Act).  We saw that (Gasp!) Selma, Alabama now has a black mayor!  UNBELIEVABLE!  A (Gasp!) BLACK man was elected Mayor?  Well dad-gum-it, I guess racism and discrimination are no longer an issue in the United States!

HAVE conditions changed?  Just hours after the Supreme Court Jackasses Justices announced their decision, the Texas Attorney General announced the immediate implementation of one of the strictest voter ID laws in the United States.  In a state where minorities are rapidly gaining political power, the Texas law, designed and passed by Republicans, has one and only one purpose…to limit voting of the poor and minorities, two groups who often vote Democratic, and two groups who are less likely to have the necessary photo ID documents.

Republican politicians across the country have already declared war on voting rights, with laws enacted or under consideration in many “red” states that are designed to limit voter participation, specifically, participation of voting blocs that tend to vote Democratic.

You’re right, Jackass Justice Roberts…”Things Have Changed”.  Thanks to the politically motivated vote of yourself and your 4 amigos, Conservative politicians now have more of a legal mandate to intimidate and discriminate against minority voters.  It’s one hell of a political system we have where the most powerful, and the most dangerous, politicians are hidden behind the robes of Supreme Court Jackasses Justices, and can wield their power for life.

Website – USGS EROS Land-cover Modeling

FORE-SCE Example

Finally. About 8 years after starting work on our own modeling framework and using it to project the Earth's land-cover out into the future, we have our own, official, dedicated USGS website.

Finally.  A website. 

USGS Land-Cover Modeling Website

This will be my 20th year working at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.  OK…USGS EROS for short.  For the first 12 or so years, I primarily worked on the mapping of land cover (what’s on the surface of the Earth, such as “agriculture”, “urban”, Forest”, “wetland”, etc.), and analyzing land-use change, using satellite imagery.  About 8 years ago, we started work on taking the concept forward into the future, projecting what the landscape of the Earth will look like at some future date.  Over the years, I led the development of a new land-cover modeling framework, the “FORE-SCE” model (FOREcasting SCEnarios of land-use change).  FORE-SCE?  Get it?  We’re “FORE-SCE-ing” the future!!

It’s been fun over the last 8 years, and our modeling work has gotten quite a bit of attention.  However, that attention has all come from publications in the literature.  We haven’t had a website!  Until yesterday, when we finally had an official USGS website go active for the modeling work.

USGS Land-cover Modeling Website

Pretty simple so far, but it gives you an idea of what we do, has a few little tools to show “before” and “after” maps of land-cover, and lets you download some of our land-cover projection data that we’ve produced.  Excited to FINALLY have a web presence, a presence I hope to expand in the coming years, particularly with more interactive tools for data exploration and analysis.

Landsat Launch Success! Incredible View!

Landsat 8, separating from the rocket

The view from the Atlas rocket, towards the just released Landsat 8 satellite. Incredible view, and timing, with the sun appearing behind the "crescent Earth" just moments after satellite separation. Click for a larger view.

Everyone at USGS EROS (Earth Resource Observation and Science) Center had been looking forward to today for a long time…years in fact.  With the Landsat 5 satellite recently decommissioned after an incredible 28 year run…with Landsat 6 somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific, and with Landsat 7 operating with a crippled instrument, USGS EROS, and Earth Science in general, NEEDED a successful Landsat 8 launch.   Today, we got that successful launch.

The “Landsat Data Continuity Mission”, soon to be dubbed “Landsat 8″ once NASA transitions satellite control to the USGS, launched today from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  Everything has gone flawlessly so far.  No delays in the countdown, great weather, and everything gone perfectly during launch.

Three “goosebump” moments for me today…

1) The final “OK”s from the mission engineers.  One by one, they went through a check of all systems, with each engineer replying with a “Check!!”.  That’s when you knew that after years of planning, you only had a few minutes before actual launch.

2) Actual launch, with multiple views showing the launch from a distance, camera on the rocket, etc.

3) My favorite moment, pictured above…separation of the satellite from the rocket.  The NASA announcer talked about the quiet and tension in the room in the few minutes leading up to this, as satellite separation can be a tricky stage.  Not only does it go flawlessly, but the views from the camera on the rocket, looking towards the satellite as it slowly moves away, were just stunning.  It separated somewhere over Europe, where it was night.  All you could see of the earth was a bright sliver in the distance, like a sliver of a crescent moon.  Then just about 15 seconds after separation, you seen the sun come out from behind the crescent, with the satellite and rocket in the foreground.

AMAZING.  GREAT day for USGS EROS!  Now we just have to hope the satellite checks out as flawlessly as the launch!!

Slate – U.S. Gun Deaths since Sandy Hook

Gun Deaths vs Gun Ownership

From BusinessInsider.com, a graphic showing the obvious, near linear relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths, by country. In the U.S., we have, by far, the highest rate of gun ownership. Other than Mexico, with their ongoing drug war, we also have the highest rate of death by firearm. OK NRA...do you STILL say that gun control laws are ineffective?

From Slate.com, a site that every day has been tracking people killed by guns since the incident at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.  Man…talk about a depressing page, especially since they show little symbols that show the breakdown by age and sex.  Incidents like Sandy Hook obviously make the news, but in terms of total number of U.S. gun deaths, the day Sandy Hook occurred wasn’t shockingly higher than other “normal” days in the U.S.  There were more people killed by guns on Christmas Eve than were killed at Sandy Hook. 

The number of people killed in Great Britain by guns?  Recent yearly numbers have been around 50 or lower.  In the U.S. in recent years? Between 10,000 and 13,000 murders a year with guns.  Even at the low end…on average, more people are murdered by firearms in the U.S. every TWO DAYS than are in Great Britain in a given year. 

But yet, you have the NRA coming out and saying that gun control laws are “ineffective”, that the only way to stop armed people is by putting MORE armed people out on the streets.  Obviously, gun control laws are EXTREMELY effective, as evidence from other countries shows.  It’s one of our greatest failures as a people that Americans value a culture of guns more than they value the very lives of our citizens.

Your Government’s Role in Killing Wildlife

USDA Wildlife Services

"Wildlife Services" sounds pretty innocuous. The truth is pretty ugly however.

I have a friend at work who largely shares my political and social views, with one exception.  He’s much less cynical than I am.  When push comes to shove, I tend to believe that people will choose the path of least resistance or the path that gives them the biggest personal gain, no matter the negative consequences.  My friend is quite a bit rosier regarding the human race.   Every time I start to move in that direction, every time I start to feel my cynicism wearing off a bit, I read a story like this one, forwarded by another friend at work.

The story is about the Wildlife Services program at the U.S. Department of agriculture.  If you’re an animal lover, be prepared to be disgusted.  I’m already disgusted with how people treat wildlife.  After all I live in South Dakota, where the State Bird is an introduced species whose ONLY purpose for people here is as something you can shoot at.  But it’s one thing for red-necked South Dakotans to be out popping off wildlife.  It’s another for the Federal Government to be doing it, especially when so much collateral damage is being done, as shown in this article.

I’m amazed at the political clout a few large land owners in the West have regarding wildlife issues.  In South Dakota, the prairie dog has seemingly been labeled as public enemy #1…largely due to the efforts of a VERY few ranchers who claim prairie dogs cause immense damage to grazing lands.  A VERY few private citizens have somehow twisted the system to their advantage, so much so that prairie dogs are being poisoned on a lot of PUBLIC land in the state, if an adjacent land owner requests “control” of the species.   “Public” land in general is managed in South Dakota for seemingly one purpose…for the COMPLETE exploitation of whatever “resources” may be found on that land.  Parks?  National Grasslands?  Conservation and wildlife are DEFINITELY a secondary consideration in South Dakota.   Grazing trumps wildlife in every case.  In state and other parks, it’s the use of the area for camping, hunting, cross-country skiing, or any other human activity that is far and away more important than the actual habitat or wildlife in that park.

This story about the Wildlife Services part of USDA is simply an example of the same mindset, but at a Federal level.  Endangered species?  Completely harmless species?  People’s PETS, for god’s sake?   It’s a pretty disgusting picture of what Wildlife Services does, all supposedly for the sake of “protecting” people from that nasty harmful wildlife.

$$$$$ trumps wildlife…it’s a message that sadly continues to gain traction in the U.S.    And again…my cynacism and complete lack of faith in humanity is restored.

And despite my status as a Federal employee and as someone who has strongly DEFENDED government in the past…with recent experiences I’ve personally had, and with many of the recent news stories, I’m having a hard time maintaining that support of government.

YEAAAAH BABY!! USA! USA! We’re Number Five in the World!

Old Sparky - Nebraska

Old Sparky, Nebraska's long-time method of execution. We can be proud, America! WE INVENTED the use of the electric chair to kill people!! But now, we're MUCH more civilized, as the use of the electric chair is in decline, as lethal injection is now the favored method to kill people. Give us another 240 years as a Nation, and maybe we'll reach the point where we're as civilized as the rest of Western democracies, where capital punishment isn't used at all.

YEAAAH Baby!!  We’re the United States of America, Damnit!!  We’re not at the bottom of the pack in ANYTHING!  We’re number 5 in the world, and movin’ on up!!  Given the direction the U.S. is going, I have NO doubt we can move up in the rankings!!  USA!  USA!  USA!!!

So to what am I referring?  Last year, we were fifth in the world in the number of people who were executed.  We are the ONLY member of the G-8 developed nations to execute anyone last year.  We are the only WESTERN DEMOCRACY that conducted executions last year.  When it comes to executing people, we are right up at the top with the likes of China, Yemen, North Korea, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.  GREAT company to keep, in terms of countries known for horrible records on human rights.

Good ol’ American hypocrisy.  We talk a good talk, claiming that we stand for freedom, civility, and human rights.  But, we’re also barbarians in the eyes of the world’s civilized democracies, given our love of the death penalty.  We also “bend the rules” however we see fit, such as detaining “enemy combatants”, even American citizens, without charge or legal representation, if it suits our perceived needs at the moment.   Thanks to our right-wing Supreme Court, as of this week, we’re also a nation where you can be humiliated and strip-searched for something as minor as a failure to leash your dog or pay a parking ticket (yes, those are real cases where “criminals” have been strip-searched).

We’re a Nation where the professed conservative, Christian Right has ranted and raved about America’s (lack of) morality, where these same “pro-life” forces can somehow simultaneously oppose abortion rights, yet whole-heartedly and often quite vociferously support executions, praise our leaders when we bomb the hell out of any other Nation that irks us (or threatens our precious oil supplies), or even support the use of violence as a way to  back up their “pro-life” message.  We’re a Nation where providing health care for any American in need is less important than maintaining tax breaks for the richest (and often most corrupt) of Americans.  We’re a Nation where we evidently measure our own ”morality” not by our actions, but by our (very hypocritical) words.

In America, we’re a people who act as if we’re the worlds moral authority, as if we’re the Nation that has “got it right”.  Look at the actual evidence, however, and in many ways we ARE Yemen…North Korea…China…or Iran.  Why should Iran or China pay any attention to our whining about human rights, given our own record?

Yet Another 5-4 SCOTUS Decision – Strip Searches

Roberts Supreme Court

Years from now, the Roberts-led Supreme Court will be the one remembered for forever changing our legal system to one based on politics more than law.

Another day, another 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. This time, it was regarding the legality of strip searches for even the most minor of legal issues.  The 5-4 vote gave the OK for jailers to strip search basically ANYONE who is in their custody.  The case arose when a man who was arrested by mistake, for a very minor violation of not paying a fine.  The man remained in jail for an entire week, and TWICE was strip-searched while in jail.  It was then found out the state records saying he had an outstanding fine were incorrect. 

It’s bad enough that an innocent man was mistakenly jailed for a very minor offense and was kept in jail for a week.  But strip-searching a man for (supposedly) not paying a fine?  The jackass conservative judges on the Supreme Court stated strip searches were justified, given that “People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.”  Uh…OK.  “People” in general can be devious and dangerous…does that mean it would be OK for the police to randomly strip search anyone they come across, just because they MIGHT be “devious and dangerous”? 

After 9-11 and the Bush administration, we’ve already set the abhorrent precedent that it’s OK to incarcerate people for YEARS, without charge, and without ANY legal representation or hearing to defend themselves.  There are human beings who have been in Guantanamo for a decade now, without ever being offered the chance to legally defend themselves.  This ruling further leads us down the path where basic human rights and civil liberties are completely ignored in the U.S. 

The story itself is maddening, but the reason I started this post wasn’t even so much the ruling itself, but because of 1) the complete hypocrisy from the conservative judges on the bench, and 2) that yet again, we have a SCOTUS decision that’s perfectly split between “conservative” and “liberal” judges.  Republicans bitch and moan about government interference in people’s lives…but yet they seem to have NO problem with the infringement on basic human rights and dignity in a case like this.  Republicans act indignant about ObamaCare, saying government has gone “too far” and intruded into peoples’ lives, but they have NO problem having a completely innocent man being jailed and twice strip-searched, just because he MIGHT have been a criminal.  Given the comments that Roberts and others made last week during the ObamaCare arguments, don’t you think they’d feel just a wee bit hypocritical for giving a thumbs up to an even bigger intrusion of government into peoples’ lives?

If you want to talk about government intrusion into peoples’ lives, perhaps the conservative justices on the Supreme Court should look at THEMSELVES and how they seem personally determined to turn the U.S. into a right-wing utopia.  It’s completely laughable how Republicans have railed against “activist judges” on the left, when the 5 conservatives on the Roberts court seem hell-bent on rewriting the laws of the Nation to reflect their OWN PERSONAL CONSERVATIVE BIASES.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post today had a great column on the “stealthy coup” that right-wingers are staging within the Republican Party, a coup that seems to have extended to the right-wing activist judges on the Supreme Court.  There’s also a nice story on Slate.com about the Roberts court.  They correctly point out that the Roberts joke of a Supreme Court is threatening to take our entire legal system down a path where politics trumps law.  They also make a great point, that Democrats have a great opportunity to make right-wing judges, including the Roberts Supreme Court, a major campaign issue this year.

What the articles fail to point out though is the complete stupidity of the American public.  Americans are too focused on the price of gas going up a nickel or who is going to win American Idol to pay any attention to how their very freedoms are under threat from a right-wing Republican Party.

Good day to be a scientist!!

AGEE PaperIt’s ALWAYS a good day to be a scientist when one of your papers is published in a journal.  Today I had a paper published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment.  The paper describes land-cover modeling that was done in the Great Plains of the United States.  We used our own, home-grown modeling framework, “FORE-SCE” (Forecasting Scenarios of Land-use Change), and projected land-cover change from 2006 out through the year 2100, for 4 different scenarios.

We’re doing the same kind of land-cover modeling for all of the U.S., with a goal of finishing by the end of the year.  The land-cover scenarios we’re producing are being used to look at the impacts of land-cover change on carbon fluxes and other greenhouse gases.  We really have a great team working on this.

Click here to take a look at the paper!   Drop what you’re doing!  Put down that book!  Turn off the TV!  Shut down the computer!  Ignore the family!  This is a paper that’s SURE to keep you riveted to your seat!

GOP Misguided Attempt to Politicize Gas Prices

U.S. Domestic Oil Production

Not that Republicans would ever let little things like "facts" get in the way, but...since early 2009, U.S. oil production has been increasing, the first time annual increases have been noted in over 25 years. In reality, there's little the U.S. government can do to control gas prices, but the GOP might want to think twice about using the term "Drill Baby Drill", when looking at the basic facts about domestic oil production.

Gas prices are on the rise.  Of course that means the GOP sees blood in the water.  Every other line of attack against Obama has been falling apart for the GOP, so why not, right?  Republicans already have a rich history of trying to resonate with voter’s wallets and pocketbooks, by politicizing something that nearly all Americans deal with every day. 

Given Republicans COMPLETE lack of concern for the environment (or our children’s futures…don’t get me started), the mantra of “Drill Baby Drill” comes out from the right EVERY time gas prices creep up a little bit.  EVERY time gas prices creep up, the GOP blames Democrats for overregulation of oil and gas drilling.  The GOP presidential candidates today are spouting the same nonsense that was spouted 4 years ago by McCain and Palin in during the 2008 campaign.   The facts of oil and gas exploration and drilling under Obama don’t support the same old GOP rhetoric, however.

U.S. domestic oil production declined steadily for over 25 years…until early 2009, when U.S. production began to increase.  Hmmm…what happened in early 2009?  Oh yes, that’s right, that’s when Obama took office.  NO, I’m definitely NOT saying there’s a direct correlation.  However, it IS quite laughable to hear Republicans talk about Obama as being some evil mastermind behind rising gas prices, when it is under his administration that domestic oil production has risen for the first time in a generation.

The rise has more to do with technological improvements in oil access, and discoveries of new fields such as in North Dakota, than it does with politics.  In fact, there’s VERY little a sitting U.S. President can do to control oil prices.  U.S. domestic production is a drop in the bucket on the global market.  We could open up the Arctic Slope National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, we could dramatically decrease regulation of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, we could wring EVERY LAST DROP of oil from American lands…and the impact on global markets still wouldn’t significantly alter the prices you pay at the pump.

Global demand for oil is rising, particularly in the booming Asian economies of China and India.  The people and countries of the Middle East seem hell-bent on self-destruction.  These are issues a sitting U.S. President has little control over, and are the MAIN reasons why oil prices have risen so sharply.  

“Drill Baby Drill” may sound like a “winner” to GOP candidates.  Given the utter ignorance of most Americans, “Drill Baby Drill” also WILL resonate on the campaign trail.   But we’re already increasing domestic oil production during the Obama Administration, and prices have continued to rise. 

Just remember, GOP, your turn is coming.  The next time a Republican is in the White House, gas prices will continue to rise.  What will be your excuse then?  Also realize, ignorant American voter, the ONLY thing “Drill Baby Drill” is going to get you are locally devastated environments where your children and MANY subsequent generations won’t even be able to drink the water or breathe the air without serious health consequences. 

Try looking at the actual facts behind U.S. domestic oil production, global oil prices, and the price you pay at the pump, before blaming one party or one president.