Chamber of Commerce strikes back

Well, the Chamber of Commerce faction of the Republican party has wisely gotten it’s act together and declared no more Sharron Angle’s, Richard Murdouck’s, and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin Tea Party types are going to lose them winnable US Senate seats.  Nice piece on this in 538:

Over the past few years, conservative outsiders, many of whom were members of the tea party, ran over the establishment in a number of key Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate. In 2010, tea-party-aligned candidates won in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Wisconsin and Utah. In doing so, they almost certainly cost Republicans the Senate seat in Delaware, and probably in Colorado and Nevada. Two years later, the process was repeated in Indiana and Missouri.

In choosing less presentable candidates for the general electorate, the GOP may have forfeited Senate control…

But, just as we would expect, the pattern doesn’t seem to be happening. Establishment Republicans look to be in good shape in many states where a more conservative candidate could cost the party a seat.

[bunch of different state analyses]

The races noted above could change, though in most of them, the movement has been toward the establishment or static. It’s also important to mention that being endorsed by the establishment doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate is more moderate, but the two often go hand in hand. It tends to mean that a candidate is considered to be more electable.

The point is, Republican voters don’t appear to be making the same choices they did in 2010. They seem to be following historical precedence and becoming more pragmatic. That suggests that the normal political rules are holding, which might increase the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate in November.

We’re seeing this right here in NC where the Chamber is running adds for Thom Tillis–easily the most electable on November– and the Republican Governor just gave his endorsement:

 — In a highly unusual move for a sitting governor, Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday offered a ringing endorsement of state House Speaker Thom Tillis in next week’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

The governor delivered his endorsement at a campaign event at which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Tillis…

Tillis is backed by GOP strategist Karl Rove and his group American Crossroads, as well as by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But despite their support, he has struggled until recently to break out of a crowded primary field. Seven other GOP candidates are vying for the nomination.

Two recent polls, however, show Tillis reaching the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a primary runoff. National Republicans are hoping to avoid that scenario, fearing it could weaken the eventual winner in the November contest against incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan…

NC State political science professor Steven Greene said McCrory’s move may signal “a new era that reflects the divisions in the Republican Party.”

“After some clearly bad outcomes for them in Senate races in other states,” like Indiana and Missouri, Greene said, “the Chamber of Commerce types in the GOP appear to be increasingly unwilling to leave things to chance and allow a Tea Party candidate with far worse general election prospects to be nominated.”

If I were Kay Hagan’s campaign, I’d put all my money into Greg Brannon, but the best evidence is that, with the help of the business establishment, Tillis is pulling away.


Pass more gas

Nice NPR story on how passing gas is a good sign that your microbiome is doing it’s job.  And that’s a good thing with wide-ranging health benefits:

So all this got us wondering: Could passing gas, in some instances, be a sign that our gut microbes are busy keeping us healthy?

Absolutely, says Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“Eating foods that cause gas is the only way for the microbes in the gut to get nutrients,” he says. “If we didn’t feed them carbohydrates, it would be harder for them to live in our gut.”

And we need to keep these colon-dwelling critters content, Kashyap says. When they gobble up food — and create gas — they also make molecules that boost the immune system, protect the lining of the intestine and prevent infections…  [emphasis mine]

All these microbes are gas-making fools. They eat up unused food in your large intestine, like fiber and other carbohydrates we don’t digest, and churn out a bunch of gases as waste.

But that’s not all they make. They also produce a slew of molecules (called short chain fatty acids) that may promote the growth of other beneficial bacteria and archaea.

And the more fiber you feed these friendly inhabitants, the more types of species appear, studies have found. This bump in microbial diversity has been linked to a slimmer waistline.

“Undigested carbohydrates allow the whole ecosystem to thrive and flourish,” Kashyap says.

As for me, I’m busy passing gas and eagerly awaiting the results of my very own gut microbiome.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of an island in the middle of Tumuch Lake, British Columbia

Island in the Sky

Photograph by Shane Kalyn

“There is an ethereal, otherworldly feeling to this photograph, as this little island in the middle of Tumuch Lake in northern British Columbia appears as if it’s floating in the clouds,” says Shane Kalyn, who submitted this photo to the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. “To bring us back to Earth, a fish has left a ripple in the water on the left-hand side of the shot. The scene was amazing to witness, let alone be lucky enough to photograph—totally the right place at the right time.”

The Democrats’ big electoral college advantage in 2016

Nice post by Ben Highton over at the Monkey Cage looking at the structural advantage the electoral college appears to give the Democrats in 2016.  Short version, a bunch of math/statistics (all based on very defensible assumptions) suggests that in a 50-50 election, the Democratic candidate would have a greater than 83% chance of winning the electoral college.  This also means that even coming somewhat short of 50-50, a Democrat would still have a decent chance.  Here’s some on Highton’s analysis:

To make predictions for 2016, I analyzed how the popular vote margin (the Democratic minus the Republican percentage of the vote) compared to the national vote in every state from 1992 through 2012.  I examined the states individually to detect any long-term trends.  For example, while Oklahoma was already significantly more Republican than the nation in 1992, it steadily became even more Republican over time.

The key to the predictions for 2016 is taking these long-term trends into account…

As suggested above, the key to the Democratic advantage are the trends underway in some key states.  While Oklahoma has moved significantly in the Republican direction, it was already strongly Republican.  But, consider the 10 states whose 2012 presidential margin was within five points of the national margin.  In five of them (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania) the trends are modest in size and hard to separate from random noise.  In Colorado, a more significant trend in the Democrats’ favor appears underway, but it has been uneven, which makes predictions for Colorado in 2016 more uncertain.  In the remaining four states (Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin), the trends are clearer, more substantial, and all favor the Democrats.

Or, another way to think about this is that why red states are getting more red– which of course does nothing in an electoral college context–a number of purple states are moving towards the blue part of the spectrum.

Y’all know I hate the electoral college and I still do.  But heck, if it is going to be biased I’ll take bias towards Democrats.  If a Democrat actually wins the election while a Republican takes a plurality of the vote I’d suggest the Republicans will not longer put up with it and we’d actually see an end to the electoral college.

World’s deadliest

Love this infographic in the Post:


Photo of the day

Sad and compelling gallery of the devastation from recent tornadoes in southern US:

A mattress, stuck in a tree, after a tornado passed through Vilonia, Arkansas, on April 28, 2014.(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Anti-GMO = anti-capitalism?

Interesting blog post at the New Yorker about a debate on GMO foods between Michael Pollan and Pamela Roland– a plant geneticist and advocate of GMO foods.  Here’s Roland’s take, which not suprisingly, I find pretty compelling (and I generally count myself as a Michael Pollan fan):

Ronald strongly disagrees with Pollan’s view that G.M.O. crops, broadly, are failing. She cited examples such as Bt cotton that have cut the amount of chemical insecticides applied to crops globally by millions of pounds a year. “The U.S.D.A. just reported a tenfold reduction in the use of insecticides as a result of the engineered Bt trait,” Ronald said. She also cited an example ofpapayas that were genetically engineered to resist ring-spot virus and helped to save the Hawaiian papaya industry. “It’s a shame to demonize an entire technology because of Roundup Ready,” she told Pollan and Patel when they began a debate after she had given an hourlong PowerPoint presentation.

Ronald’s own experiments in genetic engineering have seen notable success. In 2006, Ronald and her colleagues isolated the gene used by the International Rice Research Institute to produce “scuba rice,” a strain of flood-tolerant rice that can grow in submerged fields; four million subsistence farmers have since grown this rice in Bangladesh and India. Just last month, Ronald and her collaborators published the results of a successful five-year effort to develop genetically engineered bananas resistant to Xanthomonas wilt disease, which has decimated millions of acres of banana crops in East Africa. The world is filling with ever more people, Ronald reasons, and we need ever more food from the same amount of land. She argues that genetic engineering will play a critical role in protecting finite soil and water resources, staving off crop diseases, and responding to the pressures of climate change.

Short version: sure there are some costs and potentially serious ones, but the benefits can be really quite substantial and we shouldn’t forget that in the efforts to demonize Monsanto as the face of all GMO.  But what really caught my attention was this:

One ominous metaphor was by far the most prevalent among the students with whom I spoke after Ronald’s lecture: “G.M.O.s have come to represent the corporate control of our food system,” Mikel Shybut, a twenty-five-year-old Ph.D. student in plant and microbial biology, told me. Shybut stressed that he and his peers had little concern about the human-health impacts of G.M.O.s. He said that he believed in “the promise and power of genetic engineering,” but only insofar as they are “used for people, not for profit.”

Oh, come on now.  It’s called capitalism.  If you want people to innovate they are going to do it for profit.  Sure, its’ great if your invention helps reduce human suffering, but that invention is going to be way more likely if someone has a financial incentive to create it.  Sure, maybe GSK is a profit-hungry big Pharma company.  They also invented Lamictal, the anti-seizure drug that basically keeps my son alive with a high quality of life.  I doubt they would have done so without being motivated by profit.  Or medical device manufacturers.  Or my trusty 1998 Toyota Corolla still going strong.  Or a million other things that we’ve come to expect in our modern world.

Now, just how you regulate that capitalism is a matter of substantial disagreement, and you know I’m on the more regulation side.  But once you argue that new technologies should not  be “used for profit” it’s just a losing battle.

I find this concluding portion about Pollan interesting as well:

Pollan echoed this sentiment, and agreed that the technology itself may not fundamentally pose a greater health threat than other forms of plant breeding. “I haven’t read anything to convince me that there are inherent problems with the technology. I think most of the problems arise from the way we’re choosing to apply it, what we’re using it for, and how we’re framing the problems that it is being used to solve,” he said.

You know he may very well be right.  But I think that means we need to work that much harder to use GMO technology responsibly and to make sure that society is thinking about the issues in sensible ways.  But to me, that means you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and simply oppose GMO food.

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