Friday, May 31, 2013

Monsanto's Frankenwheat: It's Alive!

Just two weeks ago Monsanto won its case in the Supreme Court against an Indiana farmer for violating their patents by replanting genetically modified "Roundup Ready" soybeans. These seeds make growing soybeans easier because they allow farmers to indiscriminately spray Monsanto's Roundup herbicide on their fields without worrying about killing their crops.

Now Japan and Korea  have suspended US wheat imports from the Pacific Northwest because a strain of GMO wheat that Roundup cannot kill has been found on an Oregon farm. Monsanto supposedly abandoned nine years ago, but Monsanto's Frankenwheat has come back from the dead. And Europe is now threatening to require all US wheat to be tested before being imported.

Other countries are not so sanguine about the safety of genetically modified crops. America has bought into them big time because we care more about profit more than the possible adverse health effects of consuming large quantities of genetically engineered plants.

The scientific jury is still out on whether such crops are safe -- mainly because companies like Monsanto quash that research immediately, just as many states make it illegal to videotape illegal practices on factory farms. Monsanto has soybean farmers over a barrel: the farmers are convinced they need Monsanto's GMO seeds in order to compete, but they have to buy that expensive patented seed from Monsanto. If they replant the seed they'll get sued like the farmer in Indiana.

While it's still not clear that GMO crops are inherently bad, it is becoming more obvious that  insecticides and herbicides (like Roundup) are not as safe as Monsanto pretends they are. There are potential links between pesticide exposure and neurological conditions such as Parkinsons and autism, ADHD in children, Alzheimers in adults, and immunosuppressive disorders. The herbicide Atrazine has been implicated in the feminization of amphibians and potentially humans.

Monsanto wants us to think that the poison in Roundup just washes away and could never be incorporated into the soybeans themselves, but I have my doubts. It's becoming increasingly obvious that even minute concentrations of environmental toxins are behind many of the once-obscure medical conditions that have become so mysteriously prevalent in recent years. Developing fetuses are extremely sensitive to even the most minute concentrations of chemicals that resemble natural estrogens.

Perhaps farmers in Oregon should file a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating their fields with weeds that cannot be killed, and sue for damages for loss of income because they can't export their crops.

Becoming China's Pigsty

Shuanghui International, a Chinese company, is going to buy Smithfield Foods, the largest American pork producer,  for $4.7 billion. Chinese demand for pork is ratcheting up and they're going to want it as cheap and fast as possible. Which portends disaster on several fronts.

First, corporate corruption in China is endemic. There isn't a week that goes by without a story of a Chinese official going to jail for accepting bribes.

Then there's the Chinese penchant for placing profits above the health and even lives of their customers. It was just 2008 when a Chinese company intentionally put melamine in baby formula to boost its protein content to fool a quality test, sending 50,000 babies to the hospital with kidney damage and killing at least six. Several Chinese corporate executives have been executed for such crimes.

Then there are disease outbreaks. The first case in the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic was in La Gloria, Mexico, near a Smithfield Farms' Mexican subsidiary. Animal husbandry practices in China already make it the perfect breeding ground for diseases like SARS and bird flu. With a Chinese corporation in charge of the largest pork operation in the world the 1918 flu pandemic may soon look like a case of the sniffles.

Then there's the callous Chinese disregard for environmental quality, most obvious in the noxious pall of coal pollution that constantly shrouds Chinese cities like Beijing. Recently a Chinese company dumped thousands of dead pigs into the Huangpu River in Shanghai. American factory farms and slaughterhouses already have a terrible record when it comes to the environment, with massive repeated spills from manure lagoons that kill millions of fish.

The Texas House and Senate recently passed a law that prohibits citizens from using drones. You would think concerns over geeks spying on women sunbathing in their backyards would have prompted this. But no: a Texas slaughterhouse was recently caught dumping pig blood into a creek by a guy playing around with a drone. This resulted in fines from the EPA and indictments from a Dallas County grand jury. And it prompted the Texas legislature to prevent citizens from monitoring the illegal activities of corporations.

There are laws on the books in several states making it illegal to videotape operations on factory farms and in slaughterhouses after a spate of bad publicity and fines levied on businesses that were caught breaking the law by undercover activists. Crazily, these states have made it illegal to record evidence of illegal activities.

Then there is immigration: Smithfield Foods has already been charged numerous times for violation of immigration laws. The vast majority of its slaughterhouse employees are foreign workers. To increase pork production to meet Chinese demand the new owners are going to need more workers. And they're not going to want to pay them very much. So they'll have to import them. Probably from Mexico and Central America. Combine those captive workers with Chinese labor practices like FoxConn's, and we'll have an epidemic of severed fingers, hands and arms from overworked meat packers. The inevitable squalid conditions in these slaughterhouses will become the perfect vector for introducing E. coli infections and communicable diseases into our food supply.

To keep all these problems under control and to get the laws changed to suit their needs the new Chinese owners will have to exert political power. And the Supreme Court's incredibly naive Citizens United decision gives them the perfect vehicle. The tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations at the heart of the IRS scandal provide will allow Chinese corporations to anonymously affect policy and buy influence in American elections.

If Chinese executives have no compunctions about poisoning Chinese babies, do you think they'll give a damn about breaking campaign finance laws in a foreign country where the only punishment their flunkies will face is just a fine and a slap on the wrist?

Executives of multinational corporations have historically shown a callous disregard for the health and welfare of the people in the countries where their foreign operations are conducted. American corporations have acted with impunity in banana republics for centuries, but with incidents such as the BP oil spill the tide has turned against us.

The usual business cheerleaders who tout how wonderful it will be having a new export market neglect to mention that all the profits will be heading to China. Won't it be great when the United States is China's pigsty?

Amelia Earhart Found?

A sonar image may yield the final piece of the puzzle as to what happened to Amelia Earhart over 75 years ago. This image, in the republic of Kiribati, shows an underwater object that is the right shape and size to match the wreckage of the aviator's Electra plane, according to the specialist who analyzed it.

Interestingly, a man named Richard Conroy found the photo in an online forum sponsored by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). I've always been fascinated by this mystery and it would be cool to find out if this is really her plane.

The Bee in My Bonnet

Another National Spelling Bee has come and gone, and the winner is Arvind Mahankali. Like most years, the winner was of Indian descent, and he won by spelling a foreign word (knaidel).

If you can believe it, the Bee elicited an organized protest outside the Grand Hyatt in Washington. The protesters weren't demonstrating against the South Asian lock on spelling bees (kids whose ancestors hail from the subcontinent have won 11 of the past 15 Bees). No, they're protesting spelling itself.

With the slogan "I'm Thru with Through," members of the American Literacy Council stood outside the hotel and denigrated the efforts of thousands of American kids who study etymology and word lists night and day.

To be honest, I've always thought spelling bees were silly, even though I would have probably done well in them (though like everyone I'm occasionally the victim of a stray typo). I disdain computer spell checkers because they don't catch the most egregious and embarrassing spelling error — the homonym, or my main bugaboos — omitted or correctly-spelled extra words resulting from over-editing.

My problem with spelling bees is that the vast majority of their words are not English: they're just imported foreign words, typically used only in obscure scientific or literary circumstances. If you've ever watched  a bee you know what I mean: the first question a contestant asks after being presented with a word is "Language of origin?"

Since most languages have much more regular spelling rules than English, that single piece of information can be a dead giveaway, even if you don't know the word. That's particularly true for languages such as Spanish and Italian, but it's also true for German and even French. So the spelling bee isn't so much a test of English spelling proficiency, but spelling in any language English has co-opted, which is all of them.

But there's a problem: when words come from languages that don't use the Latin alphabet, such as Russian, Chinese or Japanese, what's the "correct" spelling? There are at least 10 different ways to romanize Chinese. Russian can be romanized in several different ways, depending on the native language of the person who does it. We always spell Tchaikovsky with a T, but we do so because we took the French spelling — the "proper" English transliteration should be Chaikovsky. And you still see it occasionally spelled the German way: Tschaikowskij. To make things even more confusing, Russians usually pronounce it Chikovsky.

The Russian word указ is usually spelled ukase in English, but that's a French transliteration of a Russian word: the English should be ukaz.

And so it was that this year's bee opened with with a Russian word: glasnost. (Glasnost was the policy of openness introduced by Mikhail Gorbachov [1] that ultimately brought the downfall of the Soviet Union.) And here's where that transliteration problem comes in: the spelling proffered by the Bee is wrong [2].

Which brings us back to the spelling reform advocates. The problems with reforming English spelling are threefold.

First is assimilation of foreign words: we literally have millions of them. Reforming English spelling to mangle words of foreign origin such as derailleur, menage à trois and Weltschmerz into duhrayler, menahzh a twah and veltshmairts is just plain silly: no two people will decide on the same spelling.

Second is an issue with language in general: pronunciation changes over time. In words like thought and through the "silent" letters used to be pronounced. You get an inkling of the original pronunciations by comparing them to their modern German counterparts dachten and durch. This process isn't going to stop just because we reformed spelling. Pronunciation will continue to evolve, ultimately rendering the phonetic spellings the reformers want us to adopt just as lacking as our current orthography.

Third is the problem of differences in pronunciation across dialects (which is just the end result of the second problem). The spelling reformers want to spell English the way it's pronounced: but whose pronunciation should we use? Take the phrase Today is a good day to die. Listening to certain Australians you'll hear To die is a good die to doi. Or compare the Midwestern, Boston and Georgia pronunciations of car, or the Eastern and Southwestern American pronunciations of pen and pencil.

If we abandon current English orthography and have everyone spell it the way they say it, written English would degenerate into mutually unintelligible dialects, creoles and pidgins. No one would spell things the same way because everyone pronounces things differently.  I'm not just making dire predictions: it's the natural course of language development. All the Germanic languages started from a common protolanguage that evolved over the centuries into English, German, Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and several languages that have since died out, such as Gothic and Norn.

The benefit of standard spelling is that it provides a lingua franca that everyone understands. It also pushes speakers back to a common pronunciation. There's a definite tendency for people to pronounce words the way they're spelled. For example, the t in often was dropped over the centuries, but many modern speakers have reinserted it because, seeing it spelled that way, they think it's proper to pronounce the t. Words like waistcoat and mainsail were so commonly used that they became slurred and the "proper" pronunciation became weskit and mainsl. Modern readers, encountering these words long after they've fallen out of common usage, pronounce them as they're spelled.

With increased literacy it seems that the rate of language evolution decreases. We can still read  Shakespeare's plays 400 years after they were written (understanding his literary and social references is another story...). But the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from 1138, a mere 300 years before Shakespeare, looks like gibberish: "... ] flemden þe king æt te Standard  ] sloghen suithe micel of his genge." [3]

With the popularity of global mass media like popular music, summer blockbuster movies and the Internet it seems that the rate of language evolution should slow even more, as differences between regions are smoothed over quickly and may never have a chance to develop in the first place.

But then you consider the influence of popular cultural phenomena like hip hop music on English, and you realize that instantaneous global communication may actually accelerate language evolution. But at least we'll all be in on it.

[1] Gorbachov's name is almost always transliterated incorrectly. In Russian newspapers it's usually spelled Горбачев, but the actual spelling is Горбачёв (in the olden days Russian typesetters apparently didn't have enough lead to make a separate letter for the e with two dots). The ё is usually pronounced "yo" (Yo!), but after a ч you don't pronounce the "y" part. So, for some stupid reason the people who transliterated Russian names for American publications used Gorbachev, rather than the actual pronunciation of Gorbachov, which means most Americans pronounce his name incorrectly.

[2] In Russian glasnost is spelled "гласность". If you look carefully, you'll notice that the Russian has one extra letter compared to the English. That extra letter is the "soft sign," which means the final t is "palatized." Russian differentiates palatized consonants in cases where English treats them the same. Palatization in English is usually just part of your accent. For example, an American from the Midwest will pronounce the word "tune" as toon (an unpalatized t) while an educated Briton will pronounce it tyoon (with a palatized t). Americans usually palatize the first n in union (yoonyun), while many Britons don't palatize it, pronouncing it yoo-nee-un.

Thus, the "proper" English transliteration of гласность should be glasnost' (the apostrophe designates the soft sign). The official bee spelling omits the soft sign, surely as grievous an error as spelling derailleur derailer! Yes, that's ridiculously nitpicky. But the whole point of a spelling bee is to be as nitpicky as possible!

Another of the words in the first round of the Bee was perestroika (перестройка), which could just as easily be spelled perestroyka using the standard transliteration of the letter "й".

[3] "... and routed the king at the Standard, and slew very many of his gang"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fuck This. Let's just sabotage it!!

Now that the Right has finally given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, I guess it's time for out and out sabotage.

While opposition to the health care program is nothing new, the tactics are changing. Rather than focusing on repealing the law in Congress and the courts, two avenues that have failed so far, the groups are aiming to prevent the cornerstone of the legislation, the insurance exchanges, from succeeding. Their goal is to limit enrollments, drive up costs, and make it easier to roll back all or part of the law later.

It's a good thing they are being mature about it.

No More Asterisk

I think it is now safe to say that our economy has turned the corner and we are doing quite well.

Surging stock prices and steady home-price increases have allowed Americans to regain the $16 trillion in wealth they lost to the Great Recession. Higher wealth tends to embolden people to spend more. Some economists have said the increase in home prices alone could boost consumer spending enough to offset a Social Security tax increase that has reduced paychecks for most Americans this year. 

The Conference Board survey said consumers are also more optimistic about the next six months. That should translate into greater consumer spending, substantial growth in hiring and faster economic growth in the second half of 2013, says Thomas Feltmate, an economist with TD Economics.

The difference this time is that there are so many indicators pointing towards positivity that there really isn't an  asterisk on this news. I wonder how all of this will be spun inside of the bubble.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Well, There Goes Two Talking Points

Unexpected Health Insurance Rate Shock-California Obamacare Insurance Exchange Announces Premium

“One reason for the misplaced expectations may be that actuaries have been making worst-case assumptions, even as insurers—eyeing the prospects of so many new customers—have been calculating that it’s worth bidding low in order to gobble up market share. This would help explain why premium bids in several other states have proven similarly reasonable. “The premiums and participation in California, Oregon, Washington and other states show that insurers want to compete for the new enrollees in this market,” Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said via e-mail. “The premiums have not skyrocketed and the insurers that serve this market now are continuing. The rates look like what we would expect for decent coverage offered to a standard population.”

RatesBig Three automakers, reinvented, eye consumers worldwide

Their evolution has been "transformative, like nothing that ever occurred in the past for the American auto industry," says Mike Smith, a labor historian at Wayne State University in Detroit. "American automobile workers and companies are more efficient than they have ever been during any time in history."

No Shit, Bob

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole says he doesn't believe he could make it in the modern Republican Party. 

"I doubt it," he said in an interview aired on "Fox News Sunday" when asked if his generation of Republican leaders could make it in today's GOP. "Reagan couldn't have made it. Certainly, Nixon couldn't have made it, cause he had ideas. We might've made it, but I doubt it." 

Dole, a wounded World War II veteran from Kansas and icon of the party, said he believes it needs to rethink the direction it's heading in. 

"They ought to put a sign on the National Committee doors that says 'Closed for repairs,' until New Year's Day next year," he said. "And spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas."

How many elections are they going to lose before they get this message? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Real Gun Walkers

As I was reading this morning's Times over breakfast, this piece on the gun industry made me realize why the gun community, especially the manufacturers, go into anaphylactic shock when the subject of Operation: Fast and Furious comes up. It's because their entire raison d'etre is one giant gun walking operation.

Think about it for a minute. The gun manufacturers know that their guns are used in violent crimes so they went out and bought protection for themselves from the federal government. The gun community knows that there are a giant collection of criminals and terribly irresponsible people in this country whose gun use results in the death of thousands. This simple fact is the result of a continued and persistent drive to loosen gun laws or, at the very least, prevent new ones from being made.

They are partly responsible for incidents that occur every day in this country because they allow guns to get into the hands of criminals just as the Justice Department did in 2009. Their loudly stated beliefs clearly shows that they are doing this on purpose.

So, the next time you hear someone from the gun community caterwauling about walked guns and the federal government, tell them that they are simply doing what they always do...heading off at the pass.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

They're Thinking, "Uh, Oh..."

From The New York Times:
Republican lawmakers on Sunday criticized President Obama’s vision for winding down the war on terrorism, using talk show appearances to accuse him of misunderstanding the threat in a way that will embolden unfriendly nations.

“We show this lack of resolve, talking about the war being over,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “What do you think the Iranians are thinking? At the end of the day, this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine.”
Republicans haven't learned one damned thing in the last 22 years: they are still being duped by the Iranians and the terrorists. What motivated bin Laden to blow up American embassies and fly planes into American buildings? The massively unpopular presence of US military forces in Saudi Arabia, left there after the 1991 Gulf War, which ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

What motivated the Tsarnaev brothers to bomb the Boston Marathon? The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What motivated the underwear bomber? A desire for religious jihad to protest the continued killings of Muslims in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In all of these cases, terrorists attacked the United States because they felt that we were fighting unjust wars against Muslims or maintaining an unnecessary military presence in their countries. Did we need to station troops in Saudi Arabia, even though we knew our bases there were wildly unpopular with Saudis? No: George W. Bush very quietly pulled them out in 2003. Many of them went to Kuwait, where there was actual public support for their presence as protection against Saddam.

After 9/11 pretty much the entire world was on America's side, and applauded our invasion of Afghanistan. But W. blew all that good will, first by letting bin Laden escape at Tora Bora through incompetent management of the initial phases of the war there, and then by being duped by Iranian agents like Ahmad Chalabi and the infamous Curveball, who gave Bush phony stories of WMDs in Iraq.

The Iranians manipulated the Bush administration into invading Iraq, thereby eliminating their greatest enemy, Saddam Hussein, and saddling the United States with two simultaneous wars that will ultimately cost this nation $2 trillion. The Iraq war proved to be the greatest recruiting tool Al Qaeda ever had. And today Iraq is ruled by a Shiite regime friendly to Iran.

Bush and the Republicans let the Iranians lead them around by the nose. Bush should have finished bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 instead of immediately distracting himself with Iraq and letting bin Laden escape to live in luxury with his wives outside Abottabad in Pakistan.

We should have got in, got 'er done, and got out, instead of letting the Afghan war drag out into the longest war in the history of this nation. It should have been obvious from the get-go that a long war is unwinnable: the Soviet Union's 10-year long invasion of Afghanistan was probably the greatest contributor to its breakdown.

Had we not invaded Iraq in 2003 terrorist attacks in the US, Spain, Britain -- and Boston -- would never have occurred. Thousands of American military personnel would not have died. Hundreds of thousands would not have suffered horrible mutilations and PTSD.

Had we pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia after clobbering Saddam in 1991 bin Laden would not have attacked us on 9/11.

If we had not been caught up in Afghanistan and Iraq the North Koreans might not have dared develop nuclear weapons because the wars so severely limited America's options. Indeed, without Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and invasion of Iraq, it's quite possible that the North Koreans and the Iranians would not have felt they were going to be invaded next, and wouldn't have felt an urgent need to go nuclear.

Again and again, in their desire to appear strong and resolute and to project power into places where we were simply not wanted or were not specifically needed for our long-term goals, Republicans have only caused foreigners to needlessly hate this country. By frittering away trillions of dollars on pointless and very public wars against "terrorism," Republicans have elevated terrorist criminals like bin Laden to Muslim war heroes and martyrs.

If we weren't fighting giant wars killing lots of Muslims, Middle Eastern governments might find it a lot easier to cooperate with us on catching terrorists who have killed far more Muslims than they have Americans. The NSA, CIA and the FBI should be quietly hunting down these dogs, capturing them with as little "collateral damage" as possible. Then we should very publicly try them like the spineless murderers they are. But when American conservatives dignify these criminals as "jihadis" -- a derogatory term in the minds of Fox News viewers, but a badge of honor to Muslims -- they are only falling into the terrorists' propaganda trap.

So to answer Graham's question: after Obama's speech the Iranians are probably thinking, "Uh, oh... Looks like the bull isn't going to be lead around by the nose anymore."

Adultery Schmultery

I guess adultery is OK now:)

Pat Robertson, the network's 83-year-old founder, was not condoning adultery when he answered a viewer's quesion on "The 700 Club" this week, the network said. 

The viewer said she was having difficulty forgiving her husband for cheating. Robertson said the “secret” was to “stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man. OK.” 

Robertson went on to suggest the woman focus on why she had married her husband and whether he provided for her needs and those of their children, adding, “Is he handsome? Start focusing on these things and essentially fall in love all over again.” 

“Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. And what you want to do is make a home so wonderful he doesn’t want to wander.”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oh Really?

Meet the group the IRS actually denied: Democrats!

In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant to have its status denied happens to be a progressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Although the group did no electoral work, and didn’t participate in independent expenditure campaign activity either, its partisan status apparently disqualified it from being categorized as working for the “common good.”

How Far Should They Go?

A recent piece in the New York Times echoes what I said yesterday.

With the House set on Friday to convene the first of its hearings into the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, the lessons learned from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, which cost Republicans in elections in 1998, have been on display in recent days. Republicans took obvious pains to balance their investigatory zeal with a promise to stay committed to a legislative agenda.

“Our job is to legislate, and we’re trying to legislate things that will help create jobs in our country,” Mr. Boehner said. “But we also have a responsibility, under the Constitution, to provide oversight of the executive branch of government.”

It's going to be interesting to see if they can control themselves.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Scandals Redux

Now that all the dust has settled down from the "big" three scandals things have pretty much played out like I predicted. Conservatives don't really give a shit about the AP phone tapping flap because they hate the media anyway. Hasn't the media always been comprised of traitors and always been a threat to national security? Yes. Yes they have.So no mas on the AP shizzle.

And the IRS flap was greeted by people with a resounding ho hum. The president's approval rating has remained about the same...a little lower of a little higher depending on which outfit you are looking at. It's pretty clear at this point that the IRS was put in a really crappy position by Citizen's United and then went off the rails after that. Had Citizen's not turned out the way it did, the targeting of Tea Party groups would likely have not happened as there would not have been as much pressure to root out the tax dodgers (side note: I'll have post about Apple coming in the next few days).

Benghazi, of course, is still going strong inside the bubble even with people outside of the bubble not really caring about it all. Clearly, this is all the Right has to stop a Hillary Clinton presidency so they are getting an early jump. It continues to amaze me how tone deaf conservatives are on the priorities of voters. This simple fact was summer up recently in my Honors Civics class when students in all three blocks wondered why DC was talking so much about scandals and not actually governing. Even the libertarian kids find the continued personal attacks on the president and Democrats to be counter productive and have wondered to me many times if Republicans simply want to keep losing election after election.

Voters want to see action on immigration, the budget, and jobs. Some Republicans are getting this message and don't want to see a repeat of 1998. But far too many want to "win." That's why I say, keep it up, dudes! We'll take back a few more seats in the House and hold the Senate in 2014 followed by a Hillary Clinton presidency and full control of both houses in 2016 at this rate.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is It Time For Graphene?

I ran across this piece a few weeks ago and thought it time to share it as I'm still not really in the mood to talk about politics all that much.

Graphene is the thinnest material in the world, basically a sheet or layer of carbon only one atom in thickness, which has led it to be described as the world's first two-dimensional material. It's transparent, yet it's a superb conductor of heat and electricity. It's stretchy and flexible, yet it's harder than a diamond and hundreds of times stronger than steel. And it's so cheap and easy to make that a smart high school student probably could create a sample of graphene.

Well, that's cool but what could it do?

Among the few ideas being suggested for potential uses of graphene are flexible electronics, such as a cellphone that you could fold or roll up into a tube or a piece of clothing or a even a potato chip bag that could function as a digital device. Rust-proof metal coatings, medical sensors, seawater desalination, even a potential replacement for silicon in semiconductors are among the ideas being considered as graphene applications.

Wow. A cellphone you could roll up....crazy!

There is no doubt in my mind that, in the next 25 years, we are going to see some of the most amazing and awe inspiring innovations the world has ever seen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Was the IRS Scandal Just "Stop and Frisk" for Rich White Guys?

The two-month-long Stop and Frisk trial in New York is winding down:
Plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York claim the New York Police Department, its supervisors and its union pressured police officers to stop, question and frisk hundreds of thousands of people each year, even establishing quotas. They argue that 88 percent of the stops involved blacks and Hispanics, mostly men, and were in fact a form of racial profiling.
This idea of profiling is not limited to stopping black and Hispanic men on the street. Conservatives like Ann Coulter think random searches of airline passengers are ludicrous. They're convinced we should stop wasting time searching random passengers and concentrate on ethnic profiling, which means going after any young men who look vaguely "Muslim," whatever that is.

So in the conservative mind, the New York cops were just doing their jobs: catching the bad guys.

It's therefore ironic that conservatives are outraged. The IRS was just conducting their own form of profiling. The people in the Cincinnati determinations office claim they had no partisan motivations whatsoever. The claim is plausible. They were overworked and doing a terribly boring job that no one in the IRS wants to do. Naturally they're going to take some shortcuts.

Just like beat cops "know" that blacks with droopy pants and Hispanics with loads of tats are carrying illegal drugs and guns, isn't it completely possible that IRS employees think they "know" that angry white conservatives constantly screaming about taxes are trying to cheat the IRS? Their profiling may have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with prior experience.

Think about it. If it was your job to ferret out non-profit tax cheats and you saw an application from a liberal group clamoring to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and then one from a Tea Party group that's bitching mightily about taxes, which one do you think is more likely to be a tax-evasion scam for wealthy billionaires spreading anonymous propaganda to get their guys elected?

Non-profit social welfare groups are supposed to promote social welfare issues, not get involved with electoral races. But many of these conservative groups, including the American Future Fund and the Government Integrity Fund, explicitly stated on their IRS applications that they would not spend money  politics and then immediately ran political ads in favor of specific candidates. Is it any surprise that the IRS would then view similar groups with suspicion?

The IRS's singling out of "Tea Party" and "9/12" named organizations was just as wrong as the actions of cops who harass men on the street based on their skin color. But so far the IRS case appears to be nothing more than misguided profiling, a concept that conservatives wholeheartedly endorse when applied to Muslims, blacks and Latinos.

So, when Ann Coulter starts expressing sympathy for the thousands of minority men minding their own business getting hassled, beat up and jailed by cops trying to fill out a quota, I'll start expressing sympathy for all those poor billionaires and corporations who were subjected to filling out more forms and answering more questions in order to anonymously buy tax-free TV ads for their political minions.

What We Do

"We had to pull a car off a teacher and she had three little kids underneath her," one first responder, in tears, told KFOR. "Good job, teach." 

"I was on top of six kids," one sixth grade teacher said, working her way across the rubble. "I was lying on top. All of mine are OK." 

Teachers helped tear through several feet of rubble to rescue sobbing students, some of them injured.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Senator Tweedledum and Senator Tweedledee

Yesterday Oklahoma got hammered by a mile-wide F4 tornado. Hundreds of homes, businesses, hospitals and schools were destroyed. There's confusion over the actual death toll, but hundreds are injured and dozens are dead, including many children.

Oklahoma's junior senator, Tom Coburn, wants "offsets" for any federal aid sent to Oklahoma. That is, he wants to take money directly away from other Americans and send it to his state to pay for tornado damage.

Human-induced climate change caused by excess CO2 in the atmosphere has increased the intensity and frequency of severe weather like hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms that have been hammering the country -- in recent years we've been getting tornadoes as early in January and February. The hurricane season has been starting earlier and lasting longer. Then there are the persistent droughts and constantly recurring floods and wildfires. The insurance industry knows just how real climate change is: they foot a lot of the bill. But the taxpayers pay the rest.

Yet Oklahoma's senior senator, James Inhofe, has been leading a jihad against climate scientists, claiming that global warming is a hoax. He and other shills of the petroleum industry have been trying to destroy the EPA, the National Weather Service and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Inhofe, Coburn and other Republicans in Washington have been gutting funding for climate research, including climate-tracking satellites.

Those same satellites are needed to predict and track severe weather like hurricanes and tornadoes. In their lust to deny scientists data that proves the reality of climate change, Republicans are destroying the very agencies that can help to save the lives of the people Inhofe and Coburn represent.

Oklahoma is in the heart of Tornado Alley. It's also the number five oil producer in the country. Inhofe and Coburn want the rest of the country to pay for damage they've suffered. I'm okay with that. But burning all that oil has a lot to do with the uptick in severe weather disasters and drought in Oklahoma and across the country.

Senator Tweedledum and Senator Tweedledee need to acknowledge the part their oil industry plays in climate disasters, and they need to fund the research, the equipment, the policies and the personnel needed to predict and mitigate those disasters in the future.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Barely Any Words

I don't have many words after seeing the recent scenes in Oklahoma City. I will say that I am sick and tired of seeing stories on the news about kids being killed in a school and I don't really feel like posting much for the next couple of days.

Honestly, after this, I can find little comfort in anything...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What Happens When You Raise Taxes?


The Congressional Budget Office said the unanticipated $203 billion cut to the current-year shortfall -- a 24 percent drop from just three months ago -- comes from higher-than-expected individual and corporate tax payments and $95 billion in expected dividend payments from mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.   

The $845 billion in red ink in February would have put the deficit at 5.4 percent of economic output. The new projection would put the deficit at 4 percent of gross domestic production. The deficit was 7 percent of the budget in 2012 and 10.1 percent in 2009.

I'm confused. I thought that raising taxes and bailing out Fannie and Freddie would make things worse.

An Example of Good Parenting

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Eternal Free Market

Conservatives may think that climate change is a plot to take away their freedoms but their is one very large and influential group of Americans that know just how serious climate change is...the insurance industry.

And the industry expects the situation will get worse. “Numerous studies assume a rise in summer drought periods in North America in the future and an increasing probability of severe cyclones relatively far north along the U.S. East Coast in the long term,” said Peter Höppe, who heads Geo Risks Research at the reinsurance giant Munich Re. “The rise in sea level caused by climate change will further increase the risk of storm surge.” Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming. 

“Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told me last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.”

Yes...scientific thought:)

Friday, May 17, 2013

How Many Times Does this Have to Happen?

A story in the Denver Post about a woman who shot herself in the head with her own assault rifle epitomizes why the NRA's position on guns make us "safer" is so silly:
Adair and her husband, Dana "Shane" Adair, 40, were drinking beer in the garage with three other people — described as housemates — when Anastasia went into the home to get her recently purchased rifle to show it off, Toldness said.

Witnesses told investigators Anastasia Adair was coming downstairs back into the garage and was handing the rifle to Dana Adair when she slipped or stumbled. The rifle discharged and she was hit in the head. Dana Adair was close enough to his wife that he caught her as she fell.
Another incident in Colorado occurred just days before, when a school employee shot a kid in the parking lot of a school:
About an hour after school let out for the day, the student was getting a ride home from a school employee who also works a second job as an armed security officer, according to police. The employee was trying to put his gun into the glove box of the car when the weapon fired, hitting the student in the leg.
This happens several times a day. Your average kid is at much higher risk of getting shot by their dad, their friends, a security guard dropping trow in the john, or by a random drive-by in front of their house targeting someone else than they are of being shot by the likes of Adam Lanza. More guns in schools won't make kids safer -- every time someone touches a gun there's a small but non-zero chance they'll screw up and shoot themselves and or an innocent bystander.

The obvious conclusion is that way too many people who own guns are oblivious and incompetent dolts. This is exemplified by the ammunition shortage that has hit several police departments recently.

Apparently people are hoarding ammo because they've been listening to NRA propaganda. They're afraid that Obama's going to take away their ammunition TOMORROW!!!

This is utter nonsense. If they had a brain they'd know that the GOP controls the House of Representatives, and there's no way that any kind of legislation controlling ammunition could even reach the House floor until 2015, and that's only if wildly liberal Democrats staged victories in every state south of the Mason Dixon line in 2014. And that would happen only if known Al Qaeda terrorists committed half a dozen mass shootings across the country with guns and ammo bought at gun shows that flout the background check process.

The honest truth is Obama is not interested in forcing members of his party to take votes on even the most mild gun control reforms beyond beefed-up background checks, for fear of losing ground in the House in the 2014 midterms. So gun-lovers rejoice: as long as Obama is in office there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that any meaningful nationwide gun control legislation will pass. You've won!

Meanwhile, gun manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank as the people being duped by NRA propaganda are crying all the way to the hospital. And the cemetery.


A lot of people are fretting about the way the president is handling the raft of scandals that have hit him this week. The fact is, Obama's scandals are peanuts compared to W's scandals, not to mention Watergate and Iran-Contra.

Benghazi: four men died because terrorists attacked an American consulate in Libya. Security wasn't up to snuff in part because the Republican-controlled House had stiffed the State Department for years, preferring to spend more money on bombs than on diplomacy. Republicans apparently got the result they were aiming for: they brought a scandal down upon Obama by getting four Americans killed by hamstringing State's budget. Release of emails leading up to the talking points show that there was confusion and disagreement between State and CIA, but no master plan from the administration.

Contrast this with 9/11: 3,000 Americans died in New York just a month after the damning "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." memo hit Bush's desk and was roundly ignored because he was on vacation. In seven bloody years 5,000 American soldiers died in a pointless war in Iraq, started on a pack of lies sold by Bush and the neocons, who were either duped by Iranian agents like Ahmed Chalabi, or complicit with them. Dozens of American diplomats were killed on Bush's watch in incidents nearly identical to Benghazi.

The real difference? The Bush administration was eager to instantly blame "terrorists," rather than ascertain actual responsibility and plan a response before opening their yaps.

The IRS scandal: apparently some IRS employees took shortcuts, subjecting conservative groups to more questions and longer waits based on their names. This occurred after it was painfully obvious many of these so-called "non-profit social welfare" groups were patterned after Karl Rove's organization and were just fronts for billionaire trying to get taxpayers to foot the bill for their propaganda. The most salient fact is this: no Tea Party groups were denied tax-exempt status. However, the IRS did deny a Democratic group such status.

Obama has (correctly) condemned the Cleveland office's actions and fired the interim IRS director. Maybe if Republicans had let Obama appoint a real director this wouldn't have happened. It's like they're trying to sabotage the administration by preventing them from getting properly staffed and organized.

Contrast this with the Bush administration's handling of the firing of US attorneys. Certain Bush appointees were fired by Alberto Gonzalez because they weren't working hard enough to sabotage registration of voters from certain ethnic groups. The firings eventually resulted in Gonzalez' resignation. But the Bush administration never admitted any wrongdoing.

Republicans have long used the IRS to attack their enemies, going back to at least Nixon.  During the Bush administration the IRS harassed the NAACP, Greenpeace and even a California minister for speaking against the Iraq war.

The real problem here is with the Supreme Court's fallacious Citizens United decision. None of these groups should be tax-exempt. If they are trying to influence elections they should -- be they conservative or liberal -- pay taxes and reveal all their donors. Unless we have that kind of transparency we can never be sure that foreigners aren't buying American elections -- and that's a very serious concern with guys like Sheldon Adelson's mountains of Chinese cash towering over us.

The very existence of the IRS scandal shows how monumentally naive (to be kind), monumentally stupid (to be honest), and monumentally greedy (to be cynical) the Citizens United decision was. Why greedy? One of the very first Tea Party organizations to cash in on this scam was formed by Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.

The only reason Benghazi gained any traction at all is that the Obama administration has been nearly scandal-free for five years. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Fox News has been trying to shock its viewers to life with Benghazi lightning, but many of the inarticulate creatures on the Fox slab don't even know what country Benghazi is in.

The IRS scandal is much juicier and fits into the scary big government anti-tax motif, so now Republicans have been saved from running out of ridiculous things to be outraged by. Huzzah! Let's celebrate by wasting another couple million dollars of Congressional man-hours to vote to repeal Obamacare for the 37th (literally) time!

Whew! It was beginning to look like they'd have to go back to birth certificates and Saul Alinsky.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Born This Way?

Just after Minnesota became the next state to legalize gay marriage, a story about a child who was born with two sets of genitalia appeared that puts another spin on the same-sex marriage debate:
A South Carolina couple is suing the state's Department of Social Services, a hospital, a medical school and individual hospital employees, alleging that a "medically unnecessary" genital removal surgery violated their adopted intersex child's constitutional rights.

Mark and Pam Crawford say that their child, identified as M.C., is now 8 years old and chooses to identify as a boy, despite doctors deciding that M.C. should be a girl at 16 months old. The couple say that they chose to adopt M.C., who was in state custody at the time of adoption, knowing about the intersex condition.
Intersex conditions occur about one percent of the time according to the Intersex Society of North America. There is a spectrum of intersex conditions, usually caused by genetic errors or minuscule imbalances in hormone levels during fetal development..

This begs the question: are gays and lesbians simply on the subtlest end of the intersex spectrum, in which only the brain is affected?

There's been a good deal of research that shows the brains of gay men more closely resemble straight women, and the brains of lesbians resemble straight men. All fetuses start out essentially neuter (but to all appearances are female) and are differentiated by increasing levels of either testosterone and estrogen. If those levels are out of kilter at specific times during gestation, genital and fetal brain development will be affected. That may result in an intersex or a gay/lesbian child depending on what stage the hormone imbalance occurs at.

Opponents of same-sex marriage insist being gay is a choice and a moral and religious issue. But if people are "born gay" or intersex because of hormone levels in the uterus, they will be hard-wired for a certain sexual orientation. It makes no sense to stigmatize and punish them for a genetic condition that is no more under their control than being nearsighted, being genetically predisposed to breast cancer, having blue eyes -- or dark skin.

Disallowing same-sex marriage is no different than the genetic logic embraced by miscegenation laws that used to prevent blacks and whites from marrying. It's tantamount to racism.

Opponents of gay marriage will immediately object to this. They will insist that this condition is an error and not a badge of honor. Maybe so. But once someone is born this way, there's no way to "fix" it.

The question opponents of gay marriage might ask is what's causing these developmental errors, and if there's anything we can do to prevent them from occurring.

There are many common chemicals, such as BPA, that break down into synthetic estrogens. These have been shown to cause feminization in fish and amphibians, which has raised a great deal of speculation about whether BPA is contributing to the feminization of male humans and shrinking their penises. And maybe making them gay?

BPA is in thousands of products, from plastic bottles, to linings of Coke cans, to cash-register receipts. Perhaps the best thing we can do to stop the "gay plague" is to force companies to prove that the chemicals they use are safe, and to remove them from the market when they're shown to affect fetal development.

Damn. Nothing is worse than having to choose between two firmly held dogmas...

Oh Really?

Interesting piece in the Times yesterday on the origin of the IRS controversy.

Any group claiming tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(4) of the internal revenue code can collect unlimited and undisclosed contributions, and many took in tens of millions. They are not supposed to spend the majority of their money on political activities, but the I.R.S. has rarely stopped the big ones from polluting the political system with unaccountable cash.

Right. So, the initial motivation for this was the Citizen's United decision and the fallout that has come since that time.

So, my question is this: would all this have happened if Citizen's United had not passed and the IRS was not tasked to get tough on the tax cheats?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So Proud!

Dayton signs same-sex marriage law at outdoor ceremony

I am so proud of my state today. See Nikto's story below for more in depth coverage.

Gay Marriage and the Real Job of a Senator

Yesterday the Minnesota Senate passed a gay marriage bill, following the House's vote last week. Governor Mark Dayton is set to sign it tonight. The bill passed the Senate by a 37 to 30 margin, mostly along party lines, with three Democrats voting against it and one Republican voting for it.

Just last November Minnesotans rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage. There had already been a law against it, but Republicans did an end-around the governor and tried to write a discriminatory law into the constitution.

One of the Democrats voting against the marriage bill that just passed was Dan Sparks, from rural Austin:
Sparks, a four-term Democrat, said he voted against the bill to align with his southeastern Senate District 27, which voted about 60 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment last fall. Sparks and nine other rural Senate Democrats hail from districts that voted in favor of the constitutional amendment in November.

“At the end of the day it wasn’t a personal vote for me, it was a vote about representing my district,” Sparks said. “Today I still wasn’t positive after hearing some of the emotional speeches. It was weighing heavy on myself and my family.” Sparks said it was “by far” the most difficult vote he has taken as a senator.
Voters in my district voted against the constitutional amendment by a 3-2 margin, but my senator, David Hann, announced he would vote against it the day before the vote.

The lone Republican who voted for the bill, Branden Peterson, co-sponsored it. Members of his own party vowed to defeat him in the next election. On the floor of the Senate he said:
“I stand here, quite honestly, more uncertain about my future in this place. When I walk out of this chamber today, I know that I’m standing on the side of individual liberty.”
Scott Dibble, of Minneapolis, was a Democratic sponsor of the bill. Most of his constituents supported its passage.

Which of these men did the right thing, and why? It depends on what we think a senator's job is in the first place:
  • A: A senator is an employee of all the people in his district. He should vote the way the majority of his constituents want him to. In that case, Dibble and Sparks did the right thing and Hann and Petersen did the wrong thing.
  • B: A senator is an employee of just the people who voted for him. Sparks may have done the wrong thing (because he's a Democrat, and it's possible the majority of them wanted the bill passed), Petersen did the wrong thing, and Dibble and Hann did the right thing.
  • C: A senator is an employee of his party. Sparks and Petersen did the wrong thing, and Dibble and Hann did the right thing.
  • D: A senator is just a job. Sparks and Dibble did the right thing (because they voted the way the majority of the voters in his district voted, and that may get them reelected). Petersen did the wrong thing. Hann may have done the wrong thing if the constituents in my district voted against the constitutional amendment because they felt gay marriage should be allowed. If those constituents thought it was wrong to hack the constitution every time the legislature can't get their way through the normal legislative process (which was why I've voted all recent amendments), then Hann may have done the right thing.
  • E: A senator is a moral and ethical leader who is supposed to make this country a freer and fairer place, in a truly libertarian sense. Sparks and Hann did the wrong thing, and Dibble and Petersen did the right thing. Because prohibitions against gay marriage are exactly the same as anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriage, which have now all been struck down in all the states.
  • F: A senator is religious leader who is supposed to obey the commandments of whatever religion holds him captive. Sparks may have done the right thing depending on his religion, Petersen probably did the wrong thing (if he's a typical Protestant Republican), and Dibble and Hann did the right thing (assuming their religions support their votes).
  • G: A senator is an employee of the people who paid for their election. Sparks and Petersen did the wrong thing (members of their parties almost certainly contributed the majority of his funds), and Dibble and Hann did the right thing.
Judging by the behavior and rhetoric of Democrats, most of them seem to perceive their job to fall into one or more of A, C, D, and E. Republicans seem to favor B, C, D, F and G. This difference might be at the core of why Republicans seem to think governing should be so easy while Democrats find it so complex.

This makes me wonder if the vast majority of people have ever considered what the job of legislators is supposed to be. They just get mad when someone votes in a way they don't like. But having no common definition of what the hell a politician's job should be may be the reason we're so dissatisfied with their performance.

More Often

With seven million people working for the federal government, I'm surprised that we don't here more stories about government fuck ups and hare brained schemes similar to what we have seen in the last few days with the IRS and the Department of Justice. Honestly, it's fundamental sociology. Anytime you increase the number of people from 2 to 3 in any sort of situation, there are going to problems. Infighting, conspiracies, jealousy, and unlawful competition are just a few of the many problems that arise in any group of people. Imagine what sorts of issues seven million people bring to the table let alone trying to keep track of all of them. Why on earth would anyone want to be president? Simply by design, one would know very little about what goes on yet expected to take all of the blame.

This is truly the problem of "big government." Conservatives make the mistake and think that the government acts like a monolith, organized to an evil, Big Brother like perfection. That is completely false. In reality, the government is made up of hundreds of mini-kingdoms who all war with one another and behave in criminal fashion. With these latest two scandals in IRS and the Department of Justice, this fundamental truth will reveal itself.

The IRS story is the one that is really going to hurt, not just the president and the Democrats but the view of the federal government in general (as if it needed any more bad press!) Targeting only conservative groups is simply illegal and shameful. Those involved should be fired as quickly as possible but even then this one is going to linger for a long time.

The AP story will go away fairly quickly because conservatives hate the media and love national security. This whole thing was born out of desire to uncover who was leaking classified information, another thing hated by conservatives (exception: libertarians).We simply don't have enough information at this point to call for Eric Holder's head, although this fact alone would be a highly motivating principle for conservatives to stick around.

The good news for the president? I'd say this is pretty much the end of the non-scandal of Benghazi. That's not really saying much because the IRS story is going to seriously impede the immigration bill, budget talks, and a renewed look at a gun bill. Along with everyone else, I'm interested  to see what information will be uncovered over the next few weeks.

Monday, May 13, 2013

No Shit

A Lesson Learned

The video below completely demolishes every pro gun argument I have ever heard and shows it to be exactly what it is: a paranoid fantasy. 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother Earth

It's Mother's Day and I thought I'd giver a shout out to Mother Earth. Recent data from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration shows that we have now reached the milestone of 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and I'm wondering if people are finally going to start to wake up.

Thankfully, the Department of Defense has been alert for awhile. Here are a few tidbits of what we have to look forward to regarding climate change.

• First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that the Department undertakes. It may have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water. While the effects of climate change alone do not cause conflict, they may act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world. Climate change may also lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response, both within the United States and overseas.

• Second, DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities, and military capabilities. DoD’s operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space, all of which are subject to the effects of climate change.

Grim, indeed and we can already see it happening. Yet the good news is that we can affect change and reverse our course by simply changing the grazing habits of cattle.

When all is said and done, the end result is what counts. Environmentalist Bill McKibben observes, "Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere's oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that's on the same scale as the problem of global warming."

Not only could we stop loading up the atmosphere with CO2 but we could actually put it back in the soil within 50 years. Here is the full TED talk by Dr. Savory

The new milestone of 400ppm in our atmosphere should be the red line in the sand. If we implement these changes along with a gradual shift to renewable energy, the future detailed by the DoD will not come to pass. It's time to start taking care of Mother Earth.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Obsessives

I've been saying for quite some time now that the Right's obsession with the deficit and the debt is detrimental to our economy. Apparently, everyone agrees now that this is the case. By "everyone," I mean the people who live outside of the bubble and actually deal with economic and financial matters on a daily basis.

Example #1

“Fiscal tightening is hurting,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote to clients recently. The investment bank Jefferies wrote of “ongoing fiscal mismanagement” in its midyear report on Tuesday, and noted that while the recovery and expansion would be four years old next month, reduced government spending “has detracted from growth in five of past seven quarters.”

Agreed. The article details how unemployment would likely be around 6.5 percent and quarterly growth between 3 and 4 percent as opposed to the 2 percent we are at right now.

Example #2

The Federal Open Market Committee, which sets policy for the central bank, noted signs of improvement in the private sector last week in a statement. “But fiscal policy is restraining economic growth,” it added, echoing public comments that Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has made for months. In April, the International Monetary Fund said the United States would achieve further growth “in the face of a very strong, indeed overly strong, fiscal consolidation.”

Again, US fiscal policy is restraining growth. One would almost think that the Right doesn't want the president to succeed. Hmm....

Example #3

“Whenever I talk to our customers or clients, they sort of brush off everything that’s related to fiscal policy,” Mr. Daco said. “The view is, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter.’ That’s what I hear a lot.” “What we try to convey is that it does matter,” he said. “It is important in terms of growth. It’s also important in terms of confidence.” He noted that the economy was much stronger than Europe’s largely because the United States initially opted for stimulus measures and allowed deficits to increase when the recession and financial crisis hit five years ago. European governments pursued austerity policies to cut their debts, further stalling economic activity and in turn inflating deficits.

Isn't it time we did away with all this debt and deficit obsessiveness? It's all rooted in emotion anyway. The Right just doesn't like government spending. The only way they would embrace it is if Jesus himself came down and told them it was poor fiscal policy. And even then, I'd have to wonder....

Maybe A Different Spokesman?

In looking at the new NRA President, Jim Porter, one has to wonder why they are sticking with the "old, fat, bigoted paranoid white guy" image considering how that really has not worked in the last few elections.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Likely, a hot item!

The Epitome of Appeal To Fear

Like Mr. Parkman in the video below, when I first saw the ad for the "Obamacare Survival Guide," I could not believe how deeply the Right had fallen into the logical fallacy of Appeal to Fear. Unlike him, however, I spent several minutes laughing my ass off.

Of course, that didn't sit too well with the militant looking individual behind the counter at Firestone where I was getting new tires. He was glued to Fox News (where the ad aired) like a true believer on a Sunday. He glared at me and asked, "What's not true about the ad?" I started to tick off the list and as the facts spilled out, he acted more and more like a 5th grade boy. By the time my new tires were on, he had proceeded to warn me of how Obama was destroying the economy and civil war was imminent.

Oh, and he also told me that Kim Jong-un was going to launch a nuclear missile at the United States. He knew this because he served in the military in South Korea. This was about a month ago and, as of yet, no missile.

Anyway, Mr. Parkman's analysis here is spot on.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Modern-Day Caligulas

The Roman emperor Caligula was notorious for his debauchery: he hosted orgies, turned the palace into a brothel, killed for amusement, and supposedly appointed his horse to the Senate of Rome.

Well, the people of South Carolina have done Caligula one better: they elected a horse's ass to the United States House of Representatives. Tuesday South Carolinians elected Mark Sanford in a special election to replace the congressman who was appointed to fill Jim DeMint's seat in the Senate.

Sanford was almost as notorious as Caligula: he conducted a years-long affair with a South American hottie, spent state money to see her, and told his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really seeing his mistress in Argentina. When caught he blathered about soul mates at press conferences and in TV interviews. His wife divorced him in short order after this most embarrassing and public betrayal, yet he had the gall to ask her to run his campaign when the House seat opened up earlier this year (he said he'd pay her this time!). He violated a court order keeping him off his ex-wife's property multiple times (he just admitted guilt and settled the complaint today). Even the national Republican Congressional Campaign Committee withdrew their support.

In short, Mark Sanford represents everything Republicans claim to hate: he violated the sanctity of his marital vows, he's a liar, a cheat, he stole state money, he shredded every bit of his dignity in the national spotlight, he eviscerated his own manhood with his weepy pronouncements, and he made South Carolina a mockery and the butt of endless jokes.

Dozens of elected officials have resigned from the House of Representatives for far more minor offenses, including numerous Republicans for extra-marital affairs, and even relatively tame offenses such as inappropriate Internet postings like Anthony Weiner tweeting pics of his weiner.

Yet South Carolinians have just elected a man who has no shred of dignity or shame. The crazy thing is, these people had a choice! Sanford had 16 opponents in the first Republican primary held a few months ago, but he survived that handily and Republican voters picked him in the runoff!

There's been a great deal of debate about Caligula's appointment of his horse to the Senate. Some say he was crazy, but others say he was simply showing his low opinion of the Senate.

Do the people of South Carolina hold the House of Representatives in such low regard that they elected an adulterer, a liar and a cheat? Did they elect him because their moral and ethical standards are as low as his? Did they elect him simply because they heard his name before? Did they elect him out of spite for the rest of the country?

Or did they elect him because he's a good old boy in the Republican money machine and all that talk about morals and ethics and responsibility is just a standard line of BS, and the Republican Party is just another criminal organization like the mafia where the currencies of power are loyalty, intimidation and violence?

My money is on the last.

From now on, any time a Republican starts talking about "character" and "Republican Party" in the same sentence, just saying "Mark Sanford" should shut them right up.

One thing is for sure: Mark Sanford will embarrass South Carolina many times again.

More Benghazi Bluster

The Benghazi attacks have resurfaced again in the political world with the same ol' lines and tired reasoning. The mouth foaming about anti-Muslim videos, not using the word "terror," and not providing additional security remind us, once again, which party really embraces the credo "Do it again, only harder" (see also: the Affordable Care Act). Apparently, the Right needs a reminder again of a few key facts.

First, the attack in Benghazi was not on a US Embassy or a consulate. The official word is that it was a "diplomatic mission." In truth, it was a CIA listening station and that's why it was attacked. If you want to bitch about government secrets, that's fine but that means you can't move to crucify guys like Julian Assanges. There are secrets the government is keeping about this location and they have everything to do with why the word "terror" wasn't used and why additional security was not allowed there. The latter was also hampered by lack of funding, another fact that seems to have been conveniently forgotten.

Second, FORMER, not present, Navy SEALS were killed, along with Ambassador Chris Stevens. These men were private contractors working for the CIA. Be honest about this.

Third, this was an extremely destabilized area of the world, not on US soil. We had another attack on September 11th that was on US soil in which there was none of this "outrage" from the Right. Anyone remember that one? We've also had a few other attacks on consulates over the years that (hmmm...) were met with the sound of crickets.

Fourth, just admit that you're pissed off that the anti-Muslim video was brought into the mix because it reveals the rampant bigotry in your population of red faced miscreants. I love the "IT WASN'T THE VIDEO!!! IT WASN'T THE VIDEO!!!" screeches of desperate insecurity combined with the redirect on the president. Methinks thou protest too much...

I realize the Right is trying to find something to latch onto that will stick with the president but nothing is working. So, they keep going over the same ground because they can't find anything new. About time for another vote to repeal Obamacare, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Charles Ramsey=Greatest Interview In Television History

This is the man that many across the nation are hailing as a hero today. His name is Charles Ramsey and he rescued three women in Cleveland who had been held hostage for more than a decade. Greatest interview EVER!


Miserable and Pathetic

I watched in complete wonder and awe at last weekend's annual NRA convention. I say that because I don't think I have ever seen a collection of more angry, hateful and paranoid people gathered in one place. Everyone is out to get them and they are eternally in a state of conflict. What a miserable and pathetic way to live your life. I'm nearly certain that many of the folks who fought hard for Manchin-Toomey and who still are fighting for changes to our gun laws felt beaten down after seeing the all the chest thumping and mouth foaming going on down in Houston last weekend. To those of you that do, I say this: the NRA is finished.

Their recent gathering demonstrated that they are going all in with one political party. They have more or less given up on the Democrats and have aligned themselves with the nutballs running the GOP today. Ultimately, this will prove to be a fatal error. Why? Because the GOP have a political agenda consisting of one belief: denying President Obama and the Democrats success. We've seen in the last several elections that only being the party of "No" is a loser. You have to stand for something.

The NRA used to stand for something and had broad support in both political parties. Heck, they used to even stand for universal background checks. Take a look at this...

WTF happened? Well, politics, along with business, did. The NRA knows that there are less people that own guns today than they did 20 years ago. They want those people to buy more guns and the only way to get them to do that is use the propaganda of fear, hatred, and anger. What better place to have a captured and ripe audience for this than the GOP in 2013.

The problem is that this demographic is shrinking and the NRA knows it. This is their last gasp to earn enough money to invest and live comfortably on a beach somewhere for the rest of their lives. There aren't very many younger people that own guns or are as fervent about this issue. Further, it's only a matter of time before the political head winds blow them over. The 80-90 percent of Americans who support universal background checks are going to remember this vote next year and in 2016 and it's not going to be good for many senators.

It's going to be even worse for them when another shooting happens, especially if the shooter purchased the guns at a place that would have had to require a background check under the new law. I'm betting that one of the next shootings is going to personal affect the gun community in such a horrific way that the paranoid bullshit will all finally be over.

Here's to hoping I'm wrong because I'm truly sick and tired of a collection of psychotic assholes putting the people I love at greater risk every day simply because they are riding the Randian high of a fevered, adolescent power fantasy that is clearly causing them to see and hear things that do not exist. Truly, we do not need any more senseless death from gun violence, particularly at this time when some of it could be mitigated by simply refining our gun laws.

Take heart, sensible people everywhere who don't see visions of government troops seizing your guns. It's only a matter of time now. Be patient...

Monday, May 06, 2013

Yet Another Terrorist We'll Immediately Forget

The FBI arrested a terrorist in Montevideo, MN, last Friday.
Buford “Bucky” Rogers, 24, of Montevideo, was arrested and charged Friday with being a felon in possession of a firearm after federal authorities found Molotov cocktails, suspected pipe bombs and guns during a search of his mobile home, according to a federal criminal complaint and affidavit.
Authorities believed Rogers was about to attack the Montevideo Police Department.

Why will we forget Bucky? He's a white supremacist. He formed a group called the Black Snake Militia. Some of his Facebook rants include:
“The NWO [New World Order] has taken all your freedoms the right to bear arms freedom of speach freedom of the press ...” read one profanity-punctuated message.

“ever one better get your guns ready cuz there comeing FEMA” and “The war is here tsa agents are doing random cheeks and shooting people for no reson,” read others.
In short, Rogers is parroting all the nonsense the NRA and the Republican Party have been spewing for the last five years.

When two smart Muslim kids kill three people and injure hundreds it's time for a witch hunt. But when crazies like Adam Lanza mow down dozens of kids in a school, or illiterate white supremacist militiamen like Bucky Rogers plan to murder police with pipe bombs, there's absolutely no cause for alarm.

The right in America has a double standard on terrorism. If you're a Muslim or a lefty and you plot mass murder in Boston or New York you're a terrorist. But if you're a Christian, or a right-wing white supremacist, or a tax protestor who parrots everything Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh say, and then plot to blow up a Martin Luther King day parade, an abortion clinic, an IRS office or a police station in Montevideo or Spokane, you're a "wacko bird," as John McCain is wont to say.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked more than one hundred incidents of right-wing terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism between 1995 and 2012. These include attacks on temples, the police, judges, abortion clinics, race-based murders, murders of co-conspirators, IEDs planted along parade routes, and so on.

Much has been made of the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers watched videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, ostensibly motivating them to plan the Boston bombing. But, by the numbers, we should be more worried about the people who are watching Internet videos of Glenn Beck and the president of the NRA.