Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Busting Obamacare Myths

Politico has a great piece up about the myths (see: lies) about the Affordable Care Act. It caught my eye because of a little tidbit that came up recently came up in comments about Indiana's rates rising by 72 percent.

Two states are playing starring roles in Republicans’ “Obamacare rate shock” warnings: Ohio, which said its health insurance rates for individuals will go up 88 percent, and Indiana, which estimated its individual rates will rise by 72 percent.

There’s just one problem: Both states’ insurance departments tell POLITICO that people’s premiums won’t necessarily go up by that much.

Neither state was actually talking about premiums — they were talking about the basic cost of providing health insurance.

Neither state tried to distinguish between the four different levels of Obamacare coverage. They just mashed all of the costs together, so a casual customer would have no sense that some plans will be cheaper than others.

What this clearly demonstrates is that when conservatives make an accusation, the rest of the country should just sit back and wait for it to implode. They don't have anything other than adolescent outbursts that are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fox News: Unfair and Unbalanced

When Fox News interviewed Reza Aslan they opened themselves up to a firestorm of ridicule. Aslan, author of Zealot, a scholarly biography of Jesus the man, is a Muslim. Lauren Green, the Fox anchor, insisted that a Muslim could not possibly write a book about Jesus. She and other right-wing critics of Aslan's book, are trying to sell the lie that Aslan is hiding the fact that he's a Muslim (he mentions this on page 2 of the book, which Green apparently did not read).

Apparently Fox thinks Aslan should wear a crescent armband everywhere he goes so that we can tell he's a Muslim. I guess the Persian name didn't clue them in.

Fox ignores the fact that Aslan had once converted to evangelical Christianity, and that his mother and his wife are Christians, and that his brother-in-law is a Christian pastor. Aslan is also a religious scholar with four degrees, one in the New Testament, and fluent in biblical Greek. So he obviously understands Christianity from the inside out. Fox also ignores the fact that Islam reveres Jesus as a holy figure. Many Muslims believe Jesus was born of virgin birth, that he will return near the day of judgment to restore justice and that he had miraculous powers to heal. But they don't believe he is one with God.

But that's true of many Christian sects, which hold views on Christ not all that different from Islam. Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in the Trinity at all. Mormons don't believe that Jesus is God, they believe he is the son of god and one of many gods. The Unification Church, Christian Scientists and certain Pentecostals also reject the Trinity.

Saying that Aslan, a Muslim, cannot write a book about Jesus is like saying that a Christian Old Testament scholar cannot write a book about Moses. Because Moses was a Jew, and Jews have for centuries been persecuted, murdered and castigated as Christ-killers by all of Christendom. In the middle of the last century Christian Germans stood by and watched Hitler commit genocide against Jews, largely because of that antisemitic religious sentiment. The only reason fundamentalist Christians seem to tolerate Jews these day is that the return of the Jews to Jerusalem is a prerequisite for the End Times, when the Antichrist attacks Israel. Yes, Christians want to see Israel restored so that millions of Jews can be killed.

Monotheistic religions are sort of like releases of operating systems. Judaism is Monotheism 1.0. The Pharaoh Akhenaten's worship of the solar deity Aten was Monotheism 1.1. Christianity is Monotheism 2.0, with a little polytheism thrown in with the Trinity. Roman Catholicism is Monotheism 2.1, and Eastern Orthodoxy is Monotheism 2.2. Islam is Monotheism 3.0, with the polytheism taken out again. Protestantism is Monotheism 2.1.5, with the indulgences taken out. There are hundreds of branches of Christianity, with all sorts of heretical beliefs. Mormonism comes in at about Monotheism, with the reintroduction of polygamy and polytheism on a massive scale, then there's Monotheism, which is Mormonism with polygamy taken out again, but all the polytheism.

What's most revealing about the Fox interview with Aslan is the utter rejection of the very possibility of scholarly research. In the minds of the Fox anchors, editors, producers and viewers, it is only possible to write books that are either outright attacks against Jesus or a glowing hagiography praising him. In their minds a Muslim cannot write a fair biography about the life and times of the historical Jesus, just as a Democrat could not possibly write an objective biography of Ronald Reagan (even though millions of Democrats voted for Reagan).

This reveals everything you need to know about Fox News: their motto of "fair and balanced" is completely false. They don't believe it's ever possible to be objective about anything. And the interview with Aslan proves the point: Fox News cannot give a Muslim a fair interview: they're just interested in pushing a false narrative that hews to their preconceived notions that Muslims hate Christians.

This is why they and their viewers reject scientific research that disagrees with their political agenda. Because they are innately incapable of separating their own beliefs and prejudices from facts, they believe it is impossible for others to do so. They feel scientists are constantly attacking them by producing evidence that conservatives are wrong, when the scientists are just reporting the facts they're finding. You can tell this is so because so many scientists frequently report findings that show that their own conclusions were incorrect. Unlike conservatives, most scientists admit it when they're wrong.

This also shows why Fox News is so dangerous: they are constantly selling the false narrative that Christianity and Islam are at war. They want to take the immoral actions of a few Muslim terrorists and besmirch the honor and motives of all Muslims. This is what's so evil about the conservative worldview: everything is a battle to death and no one should be given any quarter.

It can be difficult to keep your beliefs from coloring your language when you write about something. But as long as a writer discloses his personal history and potential conflicts of interest, and includes citations to other works upon which the research is based -- which Aslan does -- the reader will be fully aware of the possible slant and take it into account.

But what's really funny is that all Fox News really did with that hatchet job was make Reza Aslan richer. Zealot had climbed to the #1 spot on by Sunday, and Random House has ordered another 50,000 copies be printed.

Not A Christian Either

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

I guess the new pope isn't a Christian either:)

Yep, They Are Scared, Ted

Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently said that the DC Republicans are scared and actually don't want to defund Obamacare in fear of being beaten up politically. Well, Ted, they are scared because you and your fellow nutbags are doing everything possible to shorten the lifespan of the Republican party and I don't think you realize it.

In looking at the situation honestly in DC right now, House Republicans (and that basically means the hostages the Tea Party are currently holding) don't want the president to succeed. Think of what would happen if all of his policies were passed. Our country would improve. Indeed, it already is, thanks to the ones that have made it through. It has to be a fucking nightmare for them to watch the economy recover and deficits reduced.

Think about it for a minute. They have staked their political lives on their fevered and quite irrational belief that the federal government can't succeed at much of anything. If it does, they are fucking done...forever. The bubble will collapse. In fact, it already is and they just want to keep it going a little longer so they can retire to Shady Acres.

Unfortunately they are doing their usual deal and thinking like adolescents: short term. By being as obstinate as they are on a whole host of issues (the budget, energy, immigration, gun safety, health care), they think they are protecting themselves and the country but they are actually holding us back. Thankfully, people are starting to get hip to this and I suspect 2014 is going to be full of surprises.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Where Does Our Stuff Come From?

There are so many good things about the latest cover story in The Christian Science Monitor on globalization that I don't know where to start. Our world is very different these days and this piece really drives that home. I don't see how anyone can have a discussion about the issues facing our country without considering the information in this article.

Seriously, check it out!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Six Reasons

AmericaBlog has a good piece up about why the ACA is going to be good for entrepreneurs. It's important to have this sort of information out there to combat all the propaganda the Right is spewing about how the new health care law is going to destroy America.

The ones that jumped out at me were....

2. Cost containment But there’s so much more. Before Obamacare, if you decided to leave your job – or lost your job – and went to work on your own, you went back to zero with the insurance companies. Let me explain. A good friend decided to move from DC to Arizon. He was paying $250 a month for his HMO here. When he moved to Arizona, the same insurance company, Kaiser Permanente, told him they were upping his monthly premiums to $1200 a month because of various pre-existing conditions. Mind you, it’s the same company. But because he was leaving his job on the Hill, and moving to Arizona to work for himself, he lost his health insurance and had to start over again from scratch, which means paying exorbitant rates because the insurance companies treat you as “new” and basically gouge people who work for themselves.

A much overlooked point. If your work for yourself, you pay an insane amount in health insurance. No longer...

5. No more worries about annual limits I work for myself, and have the best self-employed PPO I could get from Blue Cross when I bought it in 1998 or so. Since that time, my monthly premium has nearly quadrupled. But another interesting thing happened. I found out that I have an annual limit on my prescription drug coverage – CareFirst BCBS will only pay $1500 a year for my prescriptions, and after that I’m on my own. That wasn’t such a big deal when I was younger. But nowadays, even though I don’t have any “grave” conditions, my annual prescription drug costs are far beyond the $1500 that BCBS is willing to pay for (my monthly asthma drugs alone cost around $450). Oh but it gets worse. In the past 15 years or so, when my monthly premiums have gone up 400%, how much do you think BCBS raised my annual $1500 prescription drug limit? Zero. And if I kept this plan for another 20 years, they’d still only pay $1500 a year. That’s criminal. Under Obamacare, annual limits are gone. Sadly, I need to switch to another plan that’s a good $250 a month more if I want to take advantage of Obamacare’s no-annual-limits, but I’m hoping that once the DC exchange kicks in, that price will go down.

Another overlooked point. Everyone on the Right is waiting for rates to go up but completely missing the point that they have always been going up and now will likely go down due to the increase in customers.

It's going to be very interesting to watch this law roll out. It's likely to achieve a moderate degree of success at the very least and then you can say buh-bye to what has been the foundation for the Right in the last five years. What will they do when it doesn't fail? Pretend that it did?

Ah, That Explains It...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Time to Go Kosher

On Thursday there was a story about how Chinese parents spend exorbitant amounts of money the world over trying to buy non-Chinese baby formula for their children. On Friday there was a story about how the FDA plans to put the companies that import food in charge of making sure that they're safe. And last May there was a story about a Chinese company buying out a major pork producer in the United States. The combination of these three stories is very unsettling.

Why are Chinese parents desperately avoiding buying Chinese baby formula, and even foreign baby formula imported by Chinese companies? Because the profit motive in China is so strong, and the regulatory environment so lax, that they dare not trust their babies' lives to the honesty and integrity of Chinese businessmen.

More specifically, in 2008 Chinese baby formula producers boosted the protein content by including toxic melamine to fool the chemical tests. Six babies died and hundreds of thousands became seriously ill. These adulterations have continued despite two people being executed and three receiving life sentences in the scandal.

How has China responded to the parents' attempts at getting pure food for their children?
[... C]ustoms officials in Hong Kong are enforcing a two-can, or four-pound, restriction on travelers taking it out of the territory — with violators facing fines of up to $6,500 and two years in prison.

Officials in Hong Kong are treating baby milk smugglers like criminals who traffic in more illicit kinds of powder. In April, the customs police held a news conference to announce that a two-day “antismuggling operation” had resulted in the breaking up of three “syndicates,” the arrest of 10 people and the seizure of nearly 220 pounds of formula worth $3,500.
The Chinese demand for baby formula has caused shortages in countries from the Netherlands to New Zealand.

And this is all because communist China has become a capitalist paradise. There's almost no government regulation of industry: it's a laissez-faire Randian utopia. The selfish me-first mentality that Libertarians claim is the source of everything that is holy has Chinese parents scrambling across the planet to make sure their babies aren't poisoned.

And now the FDA thinks it's safe to allow companies to take responsibility for the purity of imported food. This is a very bad idea. Just four months ago the biggest American honey packer was caught laundering Chinese honey, saying that it had come from third country. China has been dumping honey on the American market and is notorious for adulterating it with rice syrup, beet sugar and corn syrup.

For years my wife and I are have been avoiding food imported from China -- which can be hard because so many companies lie about the country of origin. We have absolutely no faith that the stuff China produces is safe to eat, just as the Chinese people themselves.

Another thing to note is that nearly all vitamin supplements on the American market are made in China. They've driven all the other suppliers out of  business with low prices. That, combined with the general dubiousness about the efficacy of vitamin supplements in the first place, has caused us to abandon taking vitamins all together. You should get all your nourishment from the food you eat, not pills made in China.

So I'm not particularly happy about the prospect of companies being their own watchdogs, considering that so much of the food they import will come from China. The first thing Walmart will do is spin off the import arms of their business so that they can avoid responsibility if they get a bad batch of food. They'll  cut the "independent importer" loose, let it go bankrupt and sacrifice a few underlings. Then they'll keep on demanding lower and lower prices from their suppliers, which means it'll only be a matter of time before kids start dying all over again.

I'm even less happy about the prospect of American meatpackers being bought out by Chinese concerns. Chinese companies are notorious for processing diseased animals into food they sell to consumers, dumping thousands of dead animals into the rivers that supply their drinking water, and China is the breeding ground for some of the worst flu outbreaks in recent years. China is also the source for a deadly pig virus that will may kill up to a million piglets in the US and Canada this summer.

I've never been a big fan of pork. But with Chinese companies getting in the American pork industry, there's never been a better time to go kosher.

Can You Believe It? Drivers That Are Too Polite!

Recently I've taken up cycling. No, I'm not a Lance Armstrong wanna-be (who would be, these days?). It's just something that I can do with my wife that gets my heart pumping without a lot of collateral damage.

But when you start a new activity you often develop a whole new set of pet peeves. And my new pet peeve is drivers who are too polite.

Most of the time people complain about drivers who act like idiots and drive like they're the only ones on the roads. They don't know or don't care about the rules of right of way. They are oblivious about stoplights and turn signals. I've almost been creamed by guys like this twice in two months. Drivers of black pickup trucks seem to be the worst offenders.

Those guys are dangerous, but far more frequent are the drivers who are too polite. These drivers see a bike at a trail crossing, so they stop and wait for you to cross. Now, I appreciate their intentions. But most of the time it's misplaced.

If you take a look at the picture on the right, you'll see the signs that are at nearly every intersection of a bike trail and a street in Minnesota. In the foreground is an octagonal red stop sign for the bike trail, and a notice that says "Cross traffic does not stop." In the background is the yellow diamond caution sign for the street that says "Trail Xing." The other day I even saw one of those programmable blinking signs at a trail crossing, reminding bikers that cars don't have to stop for them.

At such crossings (which is most of them) cars on the street have the right of way, and the pedestrians and bicycles on the trail must yield to cars. Cars are under no obligation to stop, though they should be on the alert for idiot bikers who just barrel across the street. But about half the time when I come to such an intersection the drivers seem to think they have to stop for me.

Again, I appreciate the intention. But that "half the time" is the problem. When three or four cars approach the trail crossing, one or two will stop. The others just continue through, as is their right. Which means that I've got to stop anyway. And, a lot of the time, there are cars approaching from further back, whose drivers I can only assume will be irritated by the delay, swerve around the stopped car, and roar by me. Which means I can't go until I see what they do, which means that I -- and the person who stopped for me -- have to wait even longer.

When this happens I wave the driver of the stopped car on, but most of the time they refuse to go. Sometimes there are more cars coming that aren't stopping, so I can't go. Sometimes I'm not ready to cross yet -- I might be waiting for my wife to catch up, or I'm in the wrong gear to get going quickly, or I'm about to take a drink, or check my cell phone, or I just don't want to be rushed. And once I've stopped, the car might as well go ahead because they can accelerate faster than I can.

So if a cyclist waves you on, and you're sure there's nothing else in your way, save yourself and the cars behind you some grief and time, and just exercise your right of way.

Now, there is one time when I really do appreciate a driver stopping: some streets at certain times are extremely busy, and there's never a break in traffic. If you know a bike has been waiting a long time, giving them a chance to cross safely makes you a hero.

But exercising your right of way doesn't make you a villain.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Halliburton's Handslap

Halliburton has pleaded guilty to destroying evidence in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:
In a startling turn in the three-year-old criminal investigation, Halliburton said that on two occasions during the oil spill, it directed employees to destroy or “get rid of” simulations that would have helped clarify how to assign blame for the blowout — and possibly focused more attention on Halliburton’s role. 
They were charged with one count of criminal conduct and will pay a $200,000 fine. Which is how much money they make in 15 minutes.

Executives at Halliburton had a hand in the deaths of 11 people and tried to cover it up. Why isn't anyone going to jail?

This entire affair shows how preposterous the Republican claim that big business can be trusted to act responsibly all on their own, and that regulation and oversight are unnecessary and even harmful. The same Republicans want us to allow a foreign company to build the Keystone XL pipeline straight the the heartland of the United States -- trashing many American's property rights with eminent domain -- to allow Canadian oil to be more easily exported to China.

Execs at big companies -- especially ones that are headquartered in foreign countries -- don't give a damn about America. They just want to squeeze every last drop of oil and gas out of the land and sea at maximum profit, and they don't care that they leave a polluted and desolate wasteland. They know they'll never be held personally responsible for anything they do. In the worst case the company gets slapped with a meaningless fine and they'll get a golden parachute worth tens of millions of dollars and be forced into retirement on some luxurious island tax haven.

The entire purpose of a corporation is to diffuse responsibility so thinly that no one can ever be held personally accountable for their actions. So how can anyone possibly trust that a company like Halliburton will ever do the right thing when they have to choose between doing the right thing and making a ton of money?

I Guess I Must Be A Woman...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Attack of the Zombie Voters

One of the best tools in the Republican arsenal of voter suppression is voter ID laws. These are usually justified by claims of huge numbers of impersonators, illegal immigrants, felons and dead people voting.

The Washington Post looked into one such case: numerous Republican politicians in South Carolina claimed that 900 dead people voted in elections there, and used these "facts" as evidence that voter ID laws were the only solution.

So South Carolina hastily passed a voter ID bill in time for the 2012 election, but the courts delayed its implementation until 2013. Oh, and an investigation was called for. But guess what?
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) conducted an extensive probe, which was completed May 11, 2012. But the final report was just made public this month after a 13-month review by Wilson’s office. In fact, the report was only released after Corey Hutchins of the Columbia (S.C.) Free Times submitted an open records request under the Freedom of Information Act. He received the report the day before the 4th of July holiday — perfect timing for news designed to be buried.
It turns out the claims of 953 votes by dead people actually involved not one election but 74 elections over a seven-year period. 
So SLED’s investigation centered on 207 votes that allegedly were made by dead people in the Nov. 2, 2010 election — when a total of 1,365,480 votes were cast — after officials concluded that that batch constituted a “representative sampling” of the alleged voting irregularities. (Note that the number of alleged dead votes was less than 2/10,000th of all of the votes cast in that election.)

The report confirms what the State Election Commission had found after preliminarily examining some of the allegations: The so-called votes by dead people were the result of clerical errors or mistaken identities.
In other words, zombie voters are just as fictional as the flesh-eating ones.

In addition to numerous clerical errors, the false positives included misidentifying living voters with the same name as deceased (sons with the same names as their dead fathers), bad data matching, scanners that incorrectly attributed a vote to a dead person, people who received absentee ballots who died without voting (not criminal in any sense), and one person whose absentee ballot was counted after they died -- which is exactly what South Carolina law calls for.

The episode in South Carolina is typical of Republican scandal-mongering. Phony up some voting data, misrepresent a tragedy in Benghazi, or solicit a bogus report from IRS inspector general. Cause a huge uproar and shout to the high heavens that there's a terrible conspiracy. Demand immediate action and a thorough investigation.

Then bury the results of the investigation when it turns out that there was never any kind of a scandal in the first place.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Different Trial, a Different Outcome

The story of the old man who shot a 13-year-old black kid in cold blood has ended in a life sentence for the killer. The details are particularly revolting.
John Henry Spooner's home had been burglarized two days before the May 2012 shooting, and he suspected 13-year-old Darius Simmons as the thief. So he confronted the teen, demanded that he return the guns and then shot him in the chest in front of his mother when he denied stealing anything.

Spooner's own home surveillance cameras captured the shooting, and prosecutors aired the footage in court.
His defense:
The defense had argued that the killing might have been reckless but not intentional, and said Spooner didn't mean for the shot to be fatal.

The surveillance footage showed Spooner confronting Darius on a sidewalk, pointing a gun at the boy's chest and firing from a few feet away. Darius turned and fled, and then collapsed and died in the street moments later as his mother cradled him in her arms.

Spooner fired a second shot that missed. He tried to fire a third one but his gun jammed.
The part about the gun jamming instills very little confidence in me about the efficacy of firearms as "protection." What's incredible is that the defense argued that the killing was not intentional: he pulled the trigger three times! And then there's this:
During the trial, race — Spooner is white and Darius was black — was almost never mentioned, except when Spooner referred to his surveillance footage from the day of the burglary. It showed two black teenage males walking near his house from the direction of Darius' home. Their faces are difficult to identify and neither is carrying Spooner's guns. 
Finally — and the reason that the 76-year-old Spooner got life without the possibility of parole — there's the utter lack of remorse when he spoke at sentencing:
"They had to rob the house," he said. "Why'd they do that to me? ... They pushed me over the edge, I guess. I don't know. As far as being sorry, I don't know if I did right or wrong." 
He doesn't know if he did right or wrong? The cops searched the kids' house within hours of the murder and found nothing. The victim was standing on the street with his mom, not currently engaged in any kind of illegal activity or threatening Spooner in any way. How could this man possibly have any doubt about whether killing a 13-year-old child in cold blood was wrong?

This is exactly why the black community is so outraged by the Trayvon Martin killing. Because, in their minds, this is what they think was going through George Zimmerman's mind when he stalked and shot Martin. They believe Spooner and Zimmerman had exactly the same motivations (as indicated by Zimmerman's comment about punks who always get away).

The main difference was that Zimmerman made sure there was no surveillance video and no witnesses.

The net result of this stupid old man's love affair with firearms: he's in jail for the rest of his life, one kid is dead, and two shotguns are out on the streets in the hands of criminals. Spooner's behavior and remarks show that having guns is not about protection: his guns didn't stop his house from being broken into or prevent his shotguns from being stolen.

Having guns is all about revenge and being able to kill the bastards who cross you.

And About Keystone?

I'm not quite sure what to make of the Canadian oil train disaster that caused the deaths of 47 people. Certainly regulations were lax and Canada has stepped up and made moves to fix the problems in transporting hazardous goods. Of course, they don't have irrational adolescents in their country screaming about socialism so that makes it easier.

But what about Keystone? If the northern section of the pipeline is approved, what sort of guarantees do we have that the same thing won't happen here? Do we have regulations that are similar to the ones Canada is implementing? No more one man crews?

I really don't know. That's why I am asking.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Let The Free Market Sort It Out

This is what happens when you let the free market sort itself out.

This industrial dance has been choreographed by Goldman to exploit pricing regulations set up by an overseas commodities exchange, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The back-and-forth lengthens the storage time. And that adds many millions a year to the coffers of Goldman, which owns the warehouses and charges rent to store the metal. It also increases prices paid by manufacturers and consumers across the country.

But wait, though, pricing regulations set up by an overseas commodities exchange?

The inflated aluminum pricing is just one way that Wall Street is flexing its financial muscle and capitalizing on loosened federal regulations to sway a variety of commodities markets, according to financial records, regulatory documents and interviews with people involved in the activities.

Ah, that explains it.

Now this is happening which never would have if Mitt Romney had won the election.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Personal Stories

Here's a piece from links file that I never got around to posting.

Sharing her story seemed like a way to break through her fears and to help others understand. And Nabil Laoudji's Mantle Project offers a unique way to do it: Put storytelling and civic sensibilities together to heal polarization. Mr. Laoudji does this by focusing on a controversial issue and producing performances by average citizens of diverse backgrounds who talk – entertainingly – about the experiences that have shaped their perspective on that issue.

Laoudji took this project to America and used a similar approach to bringing together very different political ideologies. The results were quite fascinating and are detailed in the article.

I've always pushed for more personal stories from people across the political spectrum. Rather than the knee jerk mouth foam, perhaps an individual story about how and why a person thinks the way they do politically. Anyone care to take a stab at it?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bono Speaks!

Very interesting interview with Bono, lead singer of the band U2, regarding Jesus Christ from a couple of years ago. He says many things with which I agree and some that I do not.

My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.

Agreed. Trying to live up to the perfect love that Jesus had for mankind and what he tasked us to do is indeed very difficult.

His next bit is very interesting.

But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Also agree. God is different in the OT than the NT and that's because of Jesus Christ. It's pretty simple when you think about it. Right before this, though, he says this:

There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is.

Christ may have not been the hippie his artistic portrayals make him out to be but he was a man of peace. I don't think that God's love is all that demanding, at least from the standpoint from Him as an authority figure. After all, it is your choice to believe. For me, having faith is the easy part, I guess.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

More Falling Rates

From Reuters...

Many New York state residents who buy health insurance next year will most likely see their premiums cut by half as President Barack Obama's healthcare law creates subsidies that may increase the number of people in this market by the hundreds of thousands.

It's going to be interesting to see how the Right spins this one.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The View from the Other Side

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the George Zimmerman trial. When I saw who the jurors were (six middle-aged women) I knew that Zimmerman would get off. The jury would view him as a nice boy who was doing what he thought was right to protect middle-aged women just like them. They would think that he made an honest mistake that ended in a terrible accident.

I agree that the jury had no choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty under Florida law. But as two-thirds of the jury firmly believed, I also think that George Zimmerman was guilty of needlessly killing Trayvon Martin. The problem is, Florida doesn't have a law that they could charge for the crime that Zimmerman committed. In many other states it would have been an open-and-shut case of negligent homicide: Zimmerman instigated the entire confrontation, ignored the 911 operator's cautions instead of waiting for the police, and killed a kid whose only crime was walking while wearing a hoodie.

Florida law allows armed vigilantes to roam the streets, pumped with the false courage that comes from the barrel of a gun. Florida law explicitly allows people to stalk, confront and threaten innocent pedestrians with firearms, and then shoot them when things go south and they suddenly fear for their own lives. In Florida gun rights trump all others, even the right to life.

The trial was all about George Zimmerman's fear and apprehension. But as the president pointed out today, someone else may have felt fear: Zimmerman's victim, Trayvon Martin. We know that George Zimmerman feared for his life when he described to the police how Martin struck his head on the sidewalk.

What we couldn't hear was Trayvon's description of what he felt when that "creepy-ass cracker" was stalking him on that dark rainy day. We don't know what Trayvon saw when Zimmerman get out of his car and approached the boy. All we have is the killer's word that he didn't draw his weapon until Martin attacked him.

Based on other cases in Florida where people used guns to threaten others (20 years for firing a warning shot), it's very possible that had Trayvon survived to tell us of the fear he felt from Zimmerman's stalking, Zimmerman would have gone to jail for a very long time. But because Zimmerman killed Trayvon, preventing the boy from testifying, a killer got off. Florida law is completely screwed up.

What truly astonishes me is how so many people blithely talk about the hoodie and how it represents something terrible and ominous, something that only hoodlums and gangsters wear.

In the past year I have walked through my neighborhood on a cold or rainy day wearing a raincoat or a sweatshirt with the hood up dozens of times. Many of the people I pass -- including middle-aged ladies -- are also wearing hoods. The entire point of the hood is to keep your head warm and dry. But the number of times in my entire life I have driven through my neighborhood squinting at pedestrians through steamed-up windows while packing a pistol is exactly zero. I am therefore in much greater danger from idiots like George Zimmerman than I am from kids like Trayvon Martin. I therefore have utterly no sympathy for Zimmerman.

I can sympathize with the middle-aged jury ladies worried about their houses getting broken into: a dozen years ago while we were at the movies some punks kicked in our front door and stole a 15-year-old stereo system (they also rifled the drawers of our nightstand, obviously looking for guns and money). It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. They couldn't have gotten more than a couple hundred bucks for the stereo. But it cost us more than $2,000 to replace the front door and frame.

The burglars who broke into my house obviously had a car, because they got away with two very bulky speakers, a CD player and a receiver. They were apparently cruising the neighborhood looking for dark houses to rob.

So a guy like George Zimmerman slowly cruising down the street checking out the neighborhood looks a lot more suspicious to me than a kid walking in the rain wearing a hood and carrying iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

Why Republicans are for Voter ID

A Pennsylvania Republican baldly admits the true purpose of the voter ID law:

Be Careful What You Wish For

When a corporation files for bankruptcy, it's the culmination of a series of unfortunate events that was likely caused by some sort of government over regulation. When a city like Detroit files for bankruptcy, it's a "win" for the Right and their minions in the blogsphere. Why? Well, it goes something like this.

Detroit is a city that has largely employed liberal polices.
Detroit has just gone bankrupt.
Employing liberal policies means every city every where will go bankrupt.

Indeed, the very definition of a logical fallacy. This is all they have. By this logic, San Francisco should be in deep, deep shit. The opposite, of course, is true. The city attracts the 4th most foreign tourists of any city in the world, ranking 35th out of 100 worldwide. Juxtaposed with the millions brought in by tourism are the 30 international financial institutions, seven Fortune 500 companies, and a large support infrastructure of professional services—including law, public relations, architecture and design. Liberal policies there certainly are not affecting that city in an adverse way. Or New York, for that matter. We don't see Wall Street relocating to a red state any time soon, right?

Once you get past the adolescent game of "See? I told you!!" it's easy to see that Detroit has gone bankrupt for a number of reasons, none of which have to do with liberal policies. The city's woes have piled up for generations. In the 1950s, its population grew to 1.8 million people, many of whom were lured by plentiful, well-paying auto jobs. Later that decade, Detroit began to decline as developers started building suburbs that lured away workers and businesses. Then beginning in the late 1960s, auto companies began opening plants in other cities. Property values and tax revenue fell, and police couldn't control crime. In later years, the rise of autos imported from Japan started to cut the size of the U.S. auto industry.

By the time the auto industry melted down in 2009, only a few factories from GM and Chrysler were left. GM is the only one with headquarters in Detroit, though it has huge research and testing centers with thousands of jobs outside the city. Detroit lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010. Today, the population struggles to stay above 700,000.Detroit lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010. Today, the population struggles to stay above 700,000.

Add in the usual amount of corruption that goes on in big cities and it's easy to see how Detroit has fallen so far. Cory Williams over at AP has an interesting piece told from the perspective a primary source. The over riding diagnosis is severe mismanagement of public funds and a decided lack of even basic fundamental services. Of course, it's much more than that.

Detroit is a metaphor for globalization. It represents how the spread of free market capitalism around the world ended up eroding it here at home. It was the epicenter of the Golden Age of American Manufacturing at the heart of the Rust Belt. The various factors above brought about its fall and the main lesson to heed from this devolution is that if we want the world to be a democratic place rooted in free markets and liberal economic theory in practice, we must be careful what we wish for.

Because we got it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Willingly In A Prison

In the suburban town where I coach tennis, there is an infamous gated community called Blackstone. I say infamous because most everyone around the seven country metro area of the Twin Cities knows that's where some of the richest people in the state make their home.

There is a security check in when you drive in and 20 foot high stone walls around the several mile area of land that Blackstone envelops. There is a massive country club where the wealthy are served by those lucky few who are granted access as loyal servants to the many whims of the community. Some people have fairly large swaths of land while others have "simple" homes with "ordinary" back yards. Many people in the Twin Cities consider it a Shangri-La worthy of envy and a place they can someday live themselves.

I am not one of those people.

I've always been amused by the Right and their continued insistence that the only reason why liberals are teed off at the rich  is jealousy. It must be, right? Wrong. Because (projection) the Right are actually the ones that want to live in places like Blackstone. In fact, that's what they want to turn our entire country into...a gated community.

They want a huge fence that runs along our southern border that doesn't let in the undesireables (interestingly, there doesn't seem to be much call for a northern border fence. I wonder why that is...:)). The irrational, frightened old people in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas want protection, damnit! Just like the people of Sanford, Florida wanted George Zimmerman on the case. In fact, it seems they want more than that.

They want to be willingly put in a prison.

That's what I see when I drive by Blackstone from time to time on my way to a tennis lesson. The walls are so high that you don't get a view of the outside world...just the pale stone. I suppose they could look up to the sky if they really wanted to but I just don't get it. Sure, they can come and go as they please but when they are hanging out at home, they are surrounded by giant walls.  I have the same level of puzzlement when it comes to building a wall around our country. By trying to keep people out, we are actually keeping ourselves in.

But that's just the problem with those who do not support the immigration bill that was passed by the Senate. They are those paranoid old people around the country who want to feel safe in the gigantic, gated community. Only a certain type of person is allowed and very few fit the bill.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Illegal Foreign Land Grab?

There is a myth out there that basically states the Right is all for the Keystone Pipleline expansion and the left is all against it. It's simply not true. There are many people who feel that the approval of the pipeline will amount to government failure to protect eminent domain. Michael Bishop is one of them.

My name is Michael Bishop and I am a landowner in Douglass, TX in Nacogdoches County. I have been fighting TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline for almost five years now and, except for a handful of good Americans, was told there was no interest in eminent domain cases or that I “couldn’t win a case against TransCanada.”

There are many landowners like Bishop. No one is listening to them.

What I find further disturbing during my research in the cases I have filed against TransCanada, the Texas Railroad Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is the level of corruption I have uncovered and witnessed in our judiciary and legislative representatives. Sadly, this allegation goes all the way to the White House. During my fight against this illegal foreign land grab, I have seen many good people in Texas and other states destroyed by the actions of TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, and their dreams (along with mine) for the future of their children and grandchildren shattered by greed, lies, propaganda and bullying tactics of a private, foreign corporation that has the complete and overwhelming support of these corrupt local leaders, politicians and judges. It is time for change.

Wow. Doesn't exactly sound like your typical Texan portrayed in the media...except maybe the anti-government part. One would think they would be all pro oil on everything (at least, that's what the right wing blogsphere tells me) but clearly they aren't.  It's also sort of amusing, in a hypocritical way, that some on the Right are all for a foreign country taking American land for their own profit.

The rest of his letter raise many interesting points that haven't hit the mainstream media. I'd like to see his view get some more attention as we debate whether or not this project go forward.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What is Prejudice?


Can't think of a better video to sum up my thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

End Game for Ender's Game?

I first heard of Orson Scott Card in 1977. That fall an acquaintance of mine came into the office of the magazine I worked on in college and announced that he'd had his first story published in the August 1977 issue of the science fiction magazine Analog. It was a novelette called "Ender's Game."

I congratulated my friend, who we'll call "Plucky." I remembered the story and had been unimpressed: it was a kid story, and I hated kid stories. It was typical adolescent wish fulfillment, which I found uninteresting and unmemorable. Not wanting to offend, I wracked my brain to find something inoffensive to say and came up with, "Wasn't that published under the name Orson Scott Card?"

Yes, Plucky said, and he launched into the story of how he came up with the pseudonym. He'd met with Ben Bova (the editor of the magazine at the time) in the Analog offices in New York. Bova reached into a desk drawer and pulled out some cards and pieced the name together. Voila! Instant pen name.

Several months later the nominations for the 1978 Hugo Awards were published in Locus magazine, along with pictures of the authors. It turned out Plucky had lied about the whole thing: he wasn't Orson Scott Card. When I mentioned this story to others who knew him they said, "That's why his nickname is Plucky."

"Ender's Game" didn't win the Hugo that year. But the novelization did in 1986. It was optioned by various movie studios, and finally Ender's Game is a major motion picture, starring Harrison Ford, to be released this fall.

Which has caused Orson Scott Card to reappear on my radar. It turns out that Card is a Mormon and staunch opponent of gay marriage. He's been railing against homosexuality for years. And now people who object to Card's never-ending vilification of the gay and lesbian community are calling for a boycott of his movie. Card's response:
By Monday evening, Mr. Card was issuing a public plea for tolerance of his views — “with the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot,” he noted in a statement to the Entertainment Weekly Web site — in response to a planned boycott that had burst into prominence only the day before, when The Huffington Post published an article about a Web site called
Card sure does have a lot of gall. In an impassioned diatribe against gay marriage, abortion, no-fault divorce, adultery, and RICO laws applied to anti-abortion terrorists, he wrote in 2008:
Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.
It sure does sound like Card was calling for the violent overthrow of the government should gay marriage be legalized. It was just fine for Card and the Mormons to spend millions of dollars to write their intolerance of gays and lesbians into the California constitution. But now that Card stands to lose millions of dollars if the movie flops, he pleads for tolerance of his reactionary views. Because five geezers in Washington made the very core of his moral and religious beliefs moot.

But everything about the Mormon high-horse about homosexuality rankles: a major pillar of Card's Deseret diatribe was his impassioned defense of monogamy. But the very basis of the Mormon faith is polygamy. Many Mormons still practice polygamy, with some taking child brides and going to jail for it. There are even TV shows about it.

Polygamy is required to maximize the number of descendants males can have so that they can achieve maximum godhood. More descendants = more power. The Mormon Church was forced to redact all that when the big bad federal government made polygamy illegal. But that's why Mormons have scoured genealogical records the world over for people to baptize, going so far as to posthumously baptize Jews killed in concentration camps. Why? So that Mormons can get their own planets to be gods of. According to the Mormons, God was just a regular Joe from a planet named Kolob. We can all be gods (well, at least us men) if we knock up enough women. Screwing your way to godhood!

Now that sounds like the plot of another award-winning science fiction adolescent wish-fulfillment novel.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Will He Get Any Credit?

Through the first eight months of the budget year, the deficit has totaled $509.8 billion, according to the Treasury Department. That's nearly $400 billion lower than the same period last year.In fact, the federal government on Thursday reported a rare surplus of $116.5 billion in June, the largest for a single month in five years. The gain kept the nation on track for its lowest annual deficit in five years. I guess that's what happens when reduced spending and increase taxes. Huh...

The deficit reached a record $1.41 trillion in budget year 2009, which began four months before Obama took office.The president promised that he would cut the deficit n half during his first term. That didn't happen largely because of the economic downward spiral as well as GOP adolescent foot stomping and stubbornness (we can't let him succeed.....wahhhhhh!!). But now he has achieved his goal and fulfilled his promise.

I wonder if he will get any credit for it....

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Great Photo

For those of you who are old enough to remember...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dynamite Hill

I was at a Fourth of July picnic when, out of the blue, two middle-aged middle-class whites just started talking about how they didn't understand why blacks think society owes them so much. They thought that blacks should just suck it up and work harder to make a better life. One of the conversationalists is an unabashed liberal on most issues, and the other an archconservative.

I pointed out that poverty and lack of education are the real causes of social immobility. American slaves were bought and sold like cattle, frequently forbidden to learn to read, to marry, and even keep their own children. It takes generations to overcome that kind of history. When blacks finally got schools, they were separate and vastly inferior (something that still hasn't been satisfactorily addressed). And these days poor whites, especially in the south, are falling prey to out-of-wedlock childbirth, divorce and other historically black social disorders at ever increasing rates. Poverty and ignorance, not ethnicity, keeps people down.

A couple days later I heard a story about "Dynamite Hill" on the radio. This was a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. From the 1940s to the 1960s blacks who did better would buy houses on the "wrong" side of the street. They were greeted by bullets and bombs.

So, when blacks in Birmingham did exactly what my white friends insisted they should do -- work hard, earn more and improve their lives -- they were greeted by terrorist death threats.

Some of that ended 50 years ago with voting rights and affirmative action legislation (which was just overturned by the Supreme Court). But just because you outlaw legal discrimination doesn't mean that the people who threw the bombs had changed their hearts and minds.

The people who committed those acts of terrorism did so with the tacit consent of the police. In many cases they were the police. Since then blacks have lived among people who had once tried to kill them. How easy was it for them to get jobs from those people at decent wages? To get a loan from a bank run by a bomber? To buy a house through a real estate agency owned by one of the shooters? To get fair treatment at a traffic stop from the cop who looked the other way when white men threw bombs through their front window?

Most of those terrorists are dead now, fifty years on. But their sons and grandsons have inherited their businesses. How many have also inherited their fathers' hatred and racism?

White Southerners are still carping about the Civil War (they call it the War of Northern Aggression), which ended almost 150 years ago. Yet somehow my friends think blacks should forget the institutionalized racism and police-condoned terrorism that occurred within their own lifetimes, at exactly the same time the hard-won legal protections of the civil rights era are being completely dismantled by the Supreme Court.

At Least It Makes Sense To Them

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

You Are Not That Conservative (or liberal for that matter)

Tom Jacobs has a great piece over at Pacific Standard that analyzes a recent study on just how conservative and liberal people are these days.

In three experiments described in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers found “a systematic bias among young adults to perceive themselves as somewhat more conservative than they actually are.”

And the reasoning behind this is simply that the word "conservative" brands better than the world liberal. I've often thought this because when you really start asking people, who self-identify as conservative, where they stand on issues, they really aren't that far right at all. They just don't like the word liberal and are embarrassed to label themselves as such. This is largely due to the immensely successful job the Right has done at negatively marketing that word.

In the first group, “liberal Democrats significantly overestimated their liberalism,” the researchers report. “However, moderate Democrats, Independents, and Republicans significantly underestimated their liberalism.” A very similar pattern was found in the other groups, with an underestimation of one’s liberalism “more pronounced” among self-described conservatives.

Here is the quiz that was taken. How did you do?

Monday, July 08, 2013

Back To Benghazi

You don't hear much about Benghazi these days as all of the so-called "scandals" have fizzled (except inside the bubble, of course, where they are alive and well). In fact, I think most people missed this book when it came out last February as it didn't fit in with all the established narratives. From the review...

They also state that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton learned of the situation too late to do anything about it. I’ve dealt with the State Department and Department of Defense bureaucracies long enough to believe that. They also point out that the consulate in Benghazi was not a true consulate, but a temporary facility. Again, I buy that at face value. In addition, the unselfish heroism of CIA contractors in giving their lives to attempt to save other Americans is not disputable. They were true American heroes. The controversy is that the contractors initiated the rescue mission from the CIA compound despite the guidance of the CIA boss. 

Apparently the book lays quite a bit of the blame over security failures at the feet of the CIA. This is likely why we have not heard much about went wrong at the compound and who was responsible for both the attack and the intelligence. The CIA is very secretive to begin with and are not very keen to mea culpa.

It might be years before we find out what exactly was going on at Benghazi and with the new revelations that Ambassador Stevens may have turned down calls for extra security himself, it may even be more muddy.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Saturday, July 06, 2013

To Keystone or Not Keystone

President Obama's recent remarks on climate change contained a comment about the heavily politicized Keystone Pipeline project that many found surprising. Mr. Obama said he would approve the remaining portion of the 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries only if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. He added that the pipeline’s net effects on the climate would be “absolutely critical” to his decision whether to allow it to proceed.

What's interesting about the debate over this project is that it doesn't really take the usually left-right argument. There are people on the left that support it for the increase in jobs as well as people who are against it for environmental concerns. There are people on the right that support it for oil profits as well as people that are against it for reasons of eminent domain. It's a mixed bag.

It's also important to note that the State Department’s most recent environmental assessment of Keystone concluded that the pipeline would not result in a major increase in carbon emissions. The report said that the oil would be extracted whether the pipeline was built or not, and that it could be transported by other, more carbon-intensive means like trucks or rail cars in the absence of Keystone.

Critics say that is an unrealistic conclusion, citing studies saying Canada does not currently have the rail or highway capacity to move the 830,000 barrels of oil a day that Keystone XL is designed to carry. Factcheck has a great piece on how this surplus in oil will actually be a surplus on top of surplus. Just because we build more mailboxes doesn't mean we are going to get more mail.

Given all of this, it's easy to see that there is much to weigh here before making a final decision. I don't envy the president and think it prudent to not rush in like an (ahem) adolescent and support this just CUZ IT'S OIL AND MONEY AND SHIT, FUCKERS!! At the same time, I don't think having a knee jerk reaction against does anyone any good either.

A thorough cost-benefit analysis is the order of the day and I will reserve my judgement until that process plays out.

The Puppet Masters

Friday, July 05, 2013


Worldscope: Brazil

It's interesting to note how protests get started. Sometimes they can be something as innocuous as the closing of a park as in Turkey. Other times they can be something huge like the clear intent of theocracy as in Egypt. With the protests in Brazil, it started as public transit fare increases. Now, it has ballooned into a referendum on corruption, high cost of living, the precarious public transport system, Brazil’s red tape, politicians in general, the absurd amounts of taxpayers’ money being spent to host the FIFA World Cup next year and against more, much more.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff has attempted to placate the protesters across the country (now in well over 300 cities) by offering a plan to curb corruption, invest in public transit, and have a more fiscally responsible government. The people think the steps are nice but they aren't satisfied yet. Her approval rating has sunk 27% points. Further, the people that are protesting overwhelmingly back no political party and are highly educated. Many are young and first time protesters. That means Rousseff is going to have to be more aggressive if she is going to save her government.

It's amazing to me that there are so many places in the world now where people simply are not going to put up with bullshit any longer. I wonder if we will start having more active involvement here in our own country. Can we get off the couch to seriously affect change as they are in these other countries?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy 4th of July!!!

I guess the spirit of freedom is alive and well all over the world today, especially in Egypt. 


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Good Move

The Obama administration has delayed the employer mandate contained the Affordable Care Act for one year in order for smaller businesses to have more time to prepare for the changeover. Even though the adolescents on the Right are calling this a "victory" and are vowing to now repeal the law (the 38th time is the charm:)), I think it's a good move.

It demonstrates that the president is sympathetic to the concerns of small business in a time of economic recovery. This was a legitimate beef with the law. How does an employer of 51 people end up covering everyone without causing problems on his or her margin? Now, they have some more time to sort it out. We are also going to be able to see just how many small businesses that are around this size do not offer health care to their employees. That is also a good thing.

Republicans are vowing to use the ACA as a major talking point in 2014. I hope they do. If I were a voter, I'd wonder what else they were doing aside from voting to repeal Obamacare.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Right-Wing Group Simply Lied on Tax Forms

A right-wing group that ran attack ads simply lied on its IRS forms:
The group that put out the mailer [that attacked Texas Democrat Pete Gallego], A Better America Now, reported to the Federal Election Commission it had spent about $65,000 for the mailer and TV advertising in the hard-fought race to represent Texas’ 23rd district.
But in a tax return recently filed with the IRS, the group claimed it did not spend any money at all on “direct or indirect political campaign activities.”
This group admitted to the left hand of government that it was running political ads, and then lied to the right hand of government and said it wasn't.

Maybe this is why these Tea Party groups got additional scrutiny from the IRS.

Worldscope: Turkey

I've always been fascinated by Turkey. A country with a rich history steeped in a magnificent culture. I think it was the transformation from being the center of all the religious wars in the world to a secular country. Sadly, in 2013, that has now changed.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been moving the country into a more religiously conservative direction since the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power more than a decade ago. What began on May 28th as a simple "occupy" protest against the closing of Gezi Park (a highly symbolic and historic park in Istanbul) has now mushroomed into large protests against current Turkish leaders all over the county with thousands injured due to police overreaction.

Gezi stands as a monument to modernity in Turkey and the plan to demolish it was angered the secularists in the country and is seen as a move backwards. Indeed, the government plans to build an Ottoman style barracks and mosque on the site so it's understandable that the people are upset. Like the Egyptians protesting in Cairo, these young Turks are young, secular-minded women students to football fans, from the urban middle class to "the typical urban poor youth", according to the BBC's Paul Mason, who has been reporting from Istanbul.

I find it very heartening that the people in Turkey and Egypt are not putting up with any sort of shift  to religious conservatism. They want democracy, liberty and freedom and they are getting it, interestingly, with the help of social media. Prime Minister Erdogan has been attempting to shut down Twitter feeds, calling them "a scourge." He, like many other leaders trying exert more control on their people, are stymied by American technology. Love it!

BBC has a nice Q & A on the situation in Turkey. Check it out!

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Rich Getting Richer off the Poor

An article in The New York Times describes how many employers pay workers with payroll cards instead of cash or paper paycheck:
[...] Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.
Not only do these people get screwed for taking their money out, they also get screwed for saving their money!
These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card.
Many of the people who are paid with these cards are at the bottom of the economic ladder: they work part-time for McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, and so on.

The banks get employers to coerce employees into using the cards by giving them kickbacks:
In the case of the New York City Housing Authority, it stands to receive a dollar for every employee it signs up to Citibank’s payroll cards, according to a contract reviewed by The New York Times.
The richest banks in the country are using their economic muscle to bribe employers into participating in a scam to nickel-and-dime the poorest people in the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Just another example of the rich getting richer off the poor.

Worldscope: Egypt

Over the next few days, I'm going to be highlighting areas of the world that have been bustling with activity-both good and bad. First up today is Egypt. Take a glance over in the news feeds to the right of this post and   take note of the latest events. In a nutshell, Egyptians are having buyer's remorse.

The people are not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood and have attacked and looted their headquarters. Eight people died in a night of fighting around the Brotherhood building, where guards fired on youths hurling rocks and fire bombs. A Brotherhood official said two of its members were injured. As of right now, the streets are quiet as another wave of protests gears up.

At issue is the leadership of President Mohamed Morsi. The opposition does not trust the head of the Islamist movement, which critics accuse of using a series of electoral victories to monopolize power. They want a total reset of the rules of a democracy imperfectly worked out over the past two years. Morsi became Egypt's first freely elected president a year ago when he won 51 percent of the vote. But Saad said Morsi has damaged Egypt so much in one year, that it was impossible to wait another three to vote him out of office. "They want to kill us," said another man when asked why he wanted to break into the headquarters. "They're choking us."

This shift towards theocracy is playing out in other areas of the world such as Turkey and the people are not happy about  it. The United States has urged Morsi and his supporters to share power with the secular opposition. Thus far, he has refused and Egypt is essentially right back where it was two years ago-a bloviating strong man wielding the power of the state.

One would think he would learn his lesson after what happened to Hosni Muburak but Morsi has adopted many of the same tactics and discourse. Keep an eye on the headlines over the next few days as the situation in Cairo will likely grow more destabilized.