Contributors

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Words

From a recent comment thread on Quora regarding certain characteristics of conservative commenters...

Don't waste your time on THIS Charles. He is nothing but a mess of diversions, misdirections, equivocations, and outright denial. All of these points have been made before, but make absolutely no difference upon his ability to consider the impact of usage, intentions, or anything else that doesn't fit his narrative. I expect to see a "I know you are, but what am I?" Or "I'm rubber, you're glue..." response to this from him.

Sounds most familiar:)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not Such A Budget Buster

It looks like the predictions of impending doom and economic disaster for Medicare were blown all out of proportion.

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare’s 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak — combined. It’s equal to about one-fifth of the expected Pentagon budget in 2019. Widely discussed policy changes, like raising the estate tax, would generate just a tiny fraction of the budget savings relative to the recent changes in Medicare’s spending estimates.

Check out the graph they provide. Pretty cool.

So, why did this happen?

Even as more people are getting access to health insurance, the costs of caring for individual patients is growing at a super-slow rate. That means that health care, which has eaten into salary gains for years and driven up debt and bankruptcies, may be starting to stabilize as a share of national spending.

Also...

..some are because of cuts in health care spending passed by Congress. The Affordable Care Act, in particular, made significant reductions to Medicare’s spending on hospitals and private Medicare plans, to help subsidize insurance coverage for low- and middle-income Americans. The Budget Control Act, which Congress passed in 2011, also made some across-the-board cuts to Medicare spending.

Further...

...much of the recent reductions come from changes in behavior among doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients. Medicare beneficiaries are using fewer high-cost health care services than in the past — taking fewer brand-name drugs, for example, or spending less time in the hospital. The C.B.O.'s economists call these changes “technical changes,” and they dominate the downward revisions since 2010.

Well, there goes that talking point:)



Friday, August 29, 2014

Meat


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Can't Resist Being Greedy Around Election time

Looks like Mitch McConnell had some fun at a recent Koch Brothers retreat.



They just tend to get so greedy, don't they?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Statistics that Lie and Statistics that Don't

The Washington Post is running an opinion piece by Joel Shults, a retired university police chief, who tries to minimize the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson with "facts." Here's an example of one of his "facts:"
No gun doesn’t mean no threat. FBI murder statistics consistently show that more people are beaten to death with hands and feet each year than are killed by assault rifles. In Missouri, nearly a third of the 386 murders that occurred in 2011 were committed without firearms. A person’s size doesn’t mean that they are aggressive, but one’s stature is clearly a factor in a fight.
The highlighted sentence is a carefully crafted statistical lie, intended to make you think that beatings kill more people than guns. This is a common tactic with gun people: cite some number and imply that it applies to all guns. If you go to the very page of murder statistics that he references, you get the following numbers (removing all years but 2012 for brevity and computing percentages; other years have similar percentages):



The percentage of homicide victims by all types of gunshot in 2012 by firearms was 69%. The percentage of victims killed by all beatings (include pushing) was 5.3%. That is, firearms killed 13 times more people than beatings.

Why obscure these facts by claiming that more people died from beatings than assault rifles? Assault rifles aren't even called out as a category in the statistics, so the numbers cited don't even support Shults's claim (13.76% of the firearms used had no type stated, and could have been assault weapons, for example).

But there are other statistics that are more relevant to this story that Shults does not mention. 

Ferguson has more than double the number of police warrants issued per capita than the next closest city in Missouri, more than 1,500 per 1,000 people in the town. That's more than five to 10 times the rate in most of Missouri. That means that the cops stop every resident in Ferguson one and a half times a year. Except we all know it isn't every resident, it's the young black male ones.

The mess in Ferguson started because this cop was hassling two black kids walking in the street. This constant harassment is what black men and boys have to put up with every day of their lives.

CNN has a side-by-side comparison of both sides' version of the events that led to Michael Brown's death. In the kids' version, the cop swore at them for walking in the street, almost ran them down with his car, slammed his car door into them, pulled his gun on them, then shot Michael Brown.

In the cop's version, Brown punched him, so the cop pulled his gun, then Brown tried to take the gun, so the cop shot him to prevent Brown getting the gun.

I think both sides are lying about what precipitated the shooting. The cop was needlessly hassling the kids, and the kids were stupidly sassy. It looks like the cop caused the whole thing by being a dick about two kids who didn't get out of his way fast enough. But we'll never find out for sure.

In any case, Shults's point about beating deaths is completely irrelevant in this context: the cop wasn't afraid of a beating. He claims he was afraid that Brown would take his gun. The very weapon that is supposed to "protect" him was the thing he was most afraid would kill him.

The warrant statistics make it clear that Ferguson's cops are targeting the black community with intimidation and force. The cop in question, Darren Wilson, started out on the police force of Jennings, a nearby town, which also had a majority white police force with very similar history of conflict with the majority black population:
Yet Officer Wilson’s formative experiences in policing came in a department that wrestled historically with issues of racial tension, mismanagement and turmoil. During Officer Wilson’s brief tenure, another officer was fired for a wrongful shooting, and a lieutenant was accused of stealing federal funds. In 2011, in the wake of federal and state investigations into the misuse of grant money, the department closed, and the city entered into a contract to be policed by the county. The department was found to have used grant money to pay overtime for D.W.I. checkpoints that never took place. 
That is, Wilson learned the ropes from a bunch of corrupt and racist cops who all got fired when the department got shut down by the city council.

Across the country police departments justify the sort of harassment the cops in Ferguson practice by saying that it keeps crime down: "broken windows" policing targets economically deprived neighborhoods, where the slightest infraction gets you arrested and thrown in jail. In cities like New York stop-and-frisk policies explicitly target black and Hispanic youth for drugs searches, even though whites use drugs at almost the same rate (blacks were 11% and whites were 9% in 2013).

But even that small 2% difference could easily be explained by other statistics: people with college educations use drugs at half the rate as high-school dropouts. Blacks in general are poorer, have less education, partly because they live in bad neighborhoods with crummier schools and have a much higher drop-out rate.

What the crowds in Ferguson are protesting is incessant police harassment of blacks that masquerades as "broken windows policing." The cops respond by saying they're just going where the crime is.

But if you buy that argument, then you should also buy the argument that the IRS should only audit rich white people who contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns because that's who's committing all the tax evasion and influence peddling.

The Batshit Ideology Claims Another Victim

I woke up this morning to this story and to say that I am outraged and thoroughly disgusted would be the understatement of the fucking millennium.

A 9-year-old girl at a shooting range outside Las Vegas accidentally killed an instructor on Monday morning when she lost control of the Uzi he was showing her how to use.

Here is the video...



A NINE YEAR OLD? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!??

What was Charles Vacca thinking? What were her parents thinking? Well, they were thinking this...



The image above is from Mr. Vacca's Facebook page. Juxtaposing this with the Chris Kyle shooting, can we now recognize that these people are a danger to themselves and others?

Because of this FUCKING BATSHIT ideology, this little girl is going to have to live the rest of her life with this horror on her conscience. The responsibility for this incident lies completely with the Gun Cult. Fuck you, assholes!!! Your adolescent fever dreams are presently causing the dystopic future you are worried about.

Do you know what would be really great? Just leave. Get the fuck out of our country and go live in Somalia where there are plenty of guns and no government.

Because that's exactly where you fucking belong.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For All Of You Comcast Fans...

The 242 Dilemma

A recent question on Quora echoed what I have been writing about here for quite some time. How exactly do Republicans overcome the "242" dilemma? The solid blue states add up to 242 which means the Democrats are always 28 EVs away from winning the presidential election. What that means for 2016 is that even without a Hillary Clinton campaign, all the Democrats have to do is set up camp in Florida and Ohio and win ONE of them. They could send surrogates to Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico. and New Hampshire and erode the numbers for the GOP further.

For the past six presidential elections, the Democrats have won 370, 379, 266, 251, 365, and 332 votes. That's an average of 327 EVs. The Republicans have won 168, 159, 271, 286, 173, 206. That's an average of 210 electoral votes for the GOP. What lesson should conservatives learn from this math?

Time to change. You are a dying party.

Good Words

Quite a few to choose from Jonathan Kay's recent piece

There is a fine line between responsible gun-rights advocacy and America’s GOP-enabled Yosemite Sam gun-cult carnival — and I feel comfortable drawing that line around the diaper section of my local big-box store.

...for these Canadians, guns are tools, not objects of psycho-sexual religious veneration. There is no Canadian equivalent of Charlton Heston, who declared at the NRA’s 2000 annual meeting that “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blue steel, something that gives the most common man the most uncommon of freedoms … When ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument, that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty.” 

To a Canadian shooter, a gun is something used to kill gophers. To his American equivalent of the Heston school, it’s a sort of giant wand for killing Voldemort.

No shit.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hey Criminals! Here's a Gun!!

Kill someone in Georgia lately? Molest a child there as well? Well, rest easy, friend. You can get your right back to own a gun! 

William Alvin Bishop paid for his crime – aggravated child molestation – with nine years in prison. But when he got out, he still wasn’t free. Because he is on Georgia’s sex offender registry, Bishop must notify his local sheriff of any change of address, which then is posted online with his photograph. He cannot live or work within 1,000 feet of a school, a church, a day-care center – any place where, in the expansive language of the state’s sex offender law, “minors congregate.”

He may, however, own a gun. 

Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles restored Bishop’s constitutional right to bear arms in 2012 despite the serious nature of his crime and his documented threat of additional violence. He is among a growing number of violent offenders who have received pardons that restore gun rights in recent years – and one of the seven from the sex offender registry.

Ground stood!

Thank goodness that Bishop's right to own a gun was preserved because you never know when he might need it against the federal government.

One Of Our Parties Is Insane


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The American Right


Good Words

I think it is far past time I put some quotes up here from conservatives...

"Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose." - George Will 

"A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'." - William F. Buckley, Jr.

"A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy." - Benjamin Disraeli 

"Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future." - Benjamin Disraeli

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blogging Comes Back To Haunt HIm

Check this out.

Ah, the sweet sound of a butterfly emerging from his bubble...I mean cocoon...sorry...

It's not like MN-01 was really in play anyway but I found this story amusing on a number of levels. First, there was this...

“On behalf of all red-blooded American men: THANK YOU SENATOR McCAIN, SARAH’S HOT!” he wrote.

How old is Jim Hagedorn? Because he sounds like he's (ahem) an adolescent.

There's also this...

In a 2002 “masterpiece analysis,”...

In a 2008 “masterpiece analysis,”...

Gee, this sounds awfully familiar. The egos on these people..I suppose that's what comes with massive insecurity and the stereotypical inferiority complex.

And I'm SURE that his remarks on gays, women, and American Indians were COMPLETELY satirical...

Friday, August 22, 2014

The American Taliban


Angry Old White People!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Cold-Hearted Bastard

The press has been having a field day with the president golfing after delivering remarks on the execution of journalist James Foley by the ISIL. Doesn't he have any feelings!!???!! I suppose if I were advising the president I would have suggested some quiet time with his family...perhaps reading a book.

Yet his golfing and laughing with friends, not giving in to their demands for cash as EU nations do, and continuing to bomb the crap out of ISIL positions in northern Iraq completely decimates the idea that he is weak. In fact, he looks pretty much like he is a cold-hearted bastard.

What sort of a message does that send to ISIL?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is Russia's Takeover of Ukraine About to Fail?

If there was ever any doubt that the people behind the insurgency in Ukraine were Russians who took their marching orders from Vladimir Putin, those doubts have now been put to rest.

The New York Times reports that as the rebellion in the Donetsk "People's Republic" has been slowly collapsing, Putin has pulled the Russians who were leading the insurgency out of the country. These leaders weren't Ukrainians of Russian descent, or Ukrainians who spoke Russian as their first language, but actual Russian citizens and members of the Russian military and FSB (the successor to the KGB).

Why yank the Russians commanders? Perhaps to lend more credibility to the "Ukrainianness" of the insurrection. But more to the point, if the Ukrainian government were to capture the Russian commanders when the insurgency is defeated, they might have some very embarrassing things to tell the world about Mr. Putin's and the Russian government's involvement in the war. This may be a hopeful sign: it may mean that Russia is abandoning the rebels.

They have replaced these Russians with Ukrainians who have less-than-stellar qualifications, including the new deputy defense minister, Fyodor Berezin, who before the rebellion was a science fiction author and purchaser of janitorial supplies for a university.

The Russians who have stepped down include Igor Strelkov (actually, Igor Girkin, the man who initially claimed credit for downing the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine), a Russian citizen and FSB colonel who was behind the takeover of Crimea; Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian citizen, who resigned as the Donetsk prime minister; Valery Bolotov, a Russian citizen, who resigned as the Luhansk prime minister; and Igor Bezler, a citizen of Crimea who was a member of the Russian army. The lone remaining Russian in the command structure is Vladimir Antyufeyev, a reputed spy who was apparently left behind to keep an eye on the Ukrainians.

And they need close watching:
Separatist fighters have taken to carousing drunkenly at night and wearing civilian clothes. This month, three of them crashed a car into the curb outside the Ramada hotel. On Saturday, two separatists again crashed at the same spot, rolling their vehicle and scattering broken glass and bullets on the street. On Tuesday, a drunken rebel, improbably, again crashed at that location, severely injuring four civilians.

As bystanders watched horrified, the drunken gunman, who was not wounded, drew a pistol and proceeded to kick one of the injured civilians, berating him for causing the accident.

As for Mr. Berezin, he seems to think he's living in a science fiction novel:
“Reality became scarier than science fiction,” he said in an interview over iced tea at the Havana Banana bar, a favorite rebel haunt. “I live in my books now. I fell right into the middle of my books.”
This brought to mind another man who thinks we're living in a science fiction novel written by a Russian: Paul Ryan.
In 2009, in a multi-part video series posted to Facebook, Paul Ryan said that “what’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand [who emigrated from the Soviet Union and worked as a Hollywood screen writer] did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”

Incredibly, Ryan said this right after the financial meltdown in which immoral and unethical Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers nearly destroyed the world economy. But in a world where finance laws were crafted by Ayn Rand sycophants, most of the worst offenders have escaped prosecution.

I don't know which vision of the future is more depressing: Berezin's Parallel Cataclysm, in which the Soviet Union took over the world in an alternate dimension, or Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, in which unbridled selfishness and greed are portrayed as the apotheosis of human achievement.

I just wish these guys could actually go to these alternate dimensions, and stop trying to screw up this one with their crazy notions.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Killing Four Birds with One Stone?

Algae Systems' Pilot Plant
A Nevada company thinks that it may be able to reduce the country's carbon footprint, create a new source of fertilizer that doesn't rely on fossil fuels, purify waste water from municipal sewer systems and make the United States a moral and economic leader in the fight against climate change:
[Algae Systems] has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.
How does it work?
At its heart is a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system that heats the algae and other solids in the sewage to more than 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch, turning out a liquid that resembles crude oil from a well.
There's nothing magical or new about this: this is exactly how the crude oil and natural gas were formed that we're drilling out of the ground. Scientists have been piloting processes like this for years.

But there is a sticking point. The energy required to form crude oil naturally was "free:" it came from the sun and geological processes over millions of years. Whether Algae System's process can fulfill its promise depends on where they get the energy to raise the temperature and pressure.

If the process uses power generated by wind and solar, the liquid fuel produced would be carbon neutral. It could not only run vehicles, but also electrical generators that can feed electricity into the grid during the night and when the wind isn't blowing. Burning this oil wouldn't contribute to climate change, unlike the oil and natural gas drilled from the ground whose carbon was sequestered millions of years ago.

Photovoltaic power is getting cheap really fast, and there are many opportunities for installations. The rooftop of one Ikea store in Bloomington, Minnesota, generates a megawatt of electricity. There are thousands of Ikeas, Walmarts, Targets, Kohls and other stores that have big flat roofs that soak up lots of sun, all in cities that use lots of electricity. Cheap solar panels have the potential to generate a lot of electricity during peak times: the hottest part of the day, when everyone cranks up the AC.

If this pans out, wherever we have cities on large bodies of water we can generate crude oil. That's good all the way around: the majority of Americans live near some coast. Shipping oil long distances on rails or in pipelines is energy intensive and dangerous.

Geology has made states like Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma, Louisiana and North Dakota economic winners by happenstance of oil deposits. With this algae technology geography may have a similar influence: all the states on the ocean or the Great Lakes -- remember the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie that poisoned Toledo's water this summer -- have the potential to become energy independent.

Better yet, if American companies develop and license this technology to other countries we can not only improve our balance of trade, we can undercut regimes like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran, whose vast oil wealth exerts a corrupting influence on their own internal politics as well as the rest of the world.

Complex and Unique

With the recent passing of new guns laws in the state of Massachusetts, I find myself in a reflective mood. The first question that comes to mind is would these laws be applicable to the rest of the country? Let's take a look.

The new law stiffens penalties for some gun-based crimes, creates a Web-based portal within the state Executive Office of Public Safety to allow for real-time background checks in private gun sales and calls for the creation of a firearms trafficking unit within the state police.

It also gives local police chiefs the right to go to court to try to deny firearms identification cards needed to buy rifles or shotguns to people they feel are unsuitable to have access to the weapons.

Another part of the law mandates Massachusetts join the National Instant Background Check System, which requires the state to transmit information about substance abuse or mental health commitments to a federal database that police can use to review firearms applications.

Certainly these are all good refinements and will likely prevent some gun violence. But Massachusetts ranks 33rd out of 50 states (and the District of Columbia) in gun murders per rate of 100,000 people according to the US Census taken in 2010 (1.8). In looking at the list, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Missouri, Maryland, and South Carolina have far worse murder rates and are clearly in need of a change.

Of course, the nature of that change and what it should entail is where the debates always begin. The problems in those states can likely be linked to the urban centers of each of them and not the rural areas. I know for a fact that the town in which I was born (Columbia, MO) has really gone down hill in terms of crime in the last decade. St Louis is pretty awful as well.

Thinking about all of this has led me to a conclusion on how we can best address the issue of gun violence in our country. Obviously, there are some basic things that can be done at a federal level and I have discussed them before. Real time background checks for private gun sales via a Web based portal is a great idea. The federal government should pick up the tab for this and offer it for free to each state.

Yet, the majority of the changes should happen at the state level. Is it really fair to ask Vermont or North Dakota to adhere to any new federal regulations when their gun violence rate is so low? More importantly, what are they doing that their rate is so low? Just a lack of people? If that's the case, why is Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa so low? My home state has more people than South Carolina. Why is Vermont so low and neighboring Delaware so high?

Local crime varies from state to state and must be taken into account. That's why it has always frustrated me when gun rights people point to Illinois and shriek, "See? They have tough gun laws but still have a high rate of violence." The violence in Chicago has no correlation with gun legislation. It has to do with the complexities of the area.

What these numbers show is that there is no easy or quick fix. Each state has to be examined for its own, unique complexity. Any new changes to existing gun laws have to speak to this uniqueness and complexity.


Symbiotic Violence

The violence in Israel and Gaza seems senseless, but there is a cruel logic to it. For years the right wing leaders of Israel have put the screws to Gaza, instituting a blockade that has turned the city of nearly two million into a ghetto that almost resembles a concentration camp.

Israel's leaders claim this is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling in missiles and materiel that they use to attack Israel. Yet Hamas smuggled in thousands of missiles anyway. This harsh punishment of the general population for the actions of a small number of Hamas terrorists increases support for Hamas among Palestinians, because they feel that at least Hamas is doing something to fight Israeli oppression.

Hamas's missile barrages against Israel in turn increase support for the right-wing leaders who put the blockade on Gaza that incited the missile attacks in the first place.

Hamas and the Israeli right wing are thus locked in a symbiotic embrace of violence. The two sides gain power by egging each other on and hurting the innocent people in the middle. Every time moderate Palestinians make a conciliatory gesture, the right-wing Israeli housing minister annexes more land in the West Bank or clamps down on Gaza. Every time Israel makes some overture to peace, Hamas lobs more missiles at civilians in Tel Aviv or kidnaps an Israeli teenager or soldier.

Every Hamas attack requires some form of Israeli retribution, which begets another Hamas revenge attack, which incites more Israeli vengeance. Because the Palestinians and Israelis immediately allow violence to derail the peace process, there is no peace process: any kook can sabotage with a single act of terrorism or oppression.

And now we're seeing this same sort of mindset in the United States. In Ferguson, Missouri, the police force is 6% black while the town is 63% black. Eighty-six percent of traffic stops are made on blacks, and 92% of arrests are made on blacks. Similar statistics hold throughout the country, especially arrests for possession of marijuana and other trivial crimes.

Statistics like this make many blacks in the United States feel like they are prisoners in their own cities, ruled by white police forces that regularly use intimidation, brutality and guns to keep blacks in line.

I believe, though, that most white cops try mightily to prevent racism from coloring their judgment. And I know that most blacks in Ferguson are peaceful -- though righteously angry at the treatment blacks regularly receive at the hands of law enforcement.

But a few bad cops and a few black rabble rousers play off each other to make the situation in Ferguson deteriorate into the same sort of mess. It's starting to look a whole lot like Israel and Gaza.

Ferguson, MO
Many police departments now have serious military equipment, including ATVs, ballistic armor, machine guns; they employ military tactics, including SWAT teams that burst into homes and apartments without knocking, as if they were assaulting Osama bin Laden's compound. The streets of Ferguson are almost indistinguishable from the streets of Gaza.

Gaza
Now Governor Jay Nixon has called out the National Guard in Ferguson. The same National Guard that has been deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What is this country coming to?

Because we have the National Guard, there is no need to militarize our police forces.  Turning cops into soldiers is a grave error: as a matter of policy, the military can shoot first and ask questions later. Police forces that adopt that mindset are simply murderers.

This is the legacy of our national overreaction to 9/11. Americans have been hamstrung by fear, allowing themselves to abandon all dignity in airports, letting the NSA to run roughshod over our privacy, wasting hundreds billions of dollars on security and weapons that only increase our sense of fear and allow police to visit indignity and violence on the less fortunate in society.

We can't forget what happened on 9/11, but we have to break that horrible day's grasp on our souls. We can't keep saying "9/11" every time someone wants to take another one of our freedoms away.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Words

From a question on Quora...

I worked in public schools for many years and am a graduate of public schools in the most conservative region of the country. I have yet to observe anything like indoctrination of any kind. 

I'm really not sure how these urban legends or political mythologies start. I don't know any teachers who have time to brainwash children. Most appear to be very busy managing classes, teaching lessons and doing required paperwork. 

Anybody who went into the classroom thinking there are all these young minds into which ideologies can simply be poured would find out very quickly that kids have the ability to think for themselves and come to the school with the cultural values they learn at home.

Yep.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Benghazi Update

The only sound I have heard lately on Benghazi has been crickets and now we see why.  The House Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded the following:

-- Intelligence agencies were "warned about an increased threat environment, but did not have specific tactical warning of an attack before it happened." 

 -- "A mixed group of individuals, including those associated with al Qaeda, (Moammar) Khadafy loyalists and other Libyan militias, participated in the attack." 

 -- "There was no 'stand-down order' given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, no illegal activity or illegal arms transfers occurring by U.S. personnel in Benghazi, and no American was left behind." 

 -- The administration's process for developing "talking points" was "flawed, but the talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis."

This was a committee made up of 12 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

So where does this leave Rep. Trey Gowdy's Benghazi Select Committee? Apparently not open to the public, according to its chairperson.

But when it became clear that he intended to lead the inquiry behind closed doors, far from the spotlight, the requests soon fell silent. “If you want to get on the news, then go rob a bank,” Gowdy, R-S.C., said, recounting his message to several Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill, dashing their hopes of being featured in what they assumed would be high-profile televised hearings. “It’s going to be a professional investigation, despite folks who may want to see it be something else,” Gowdy told ABC News. “They’re going to be disappointed.”

Disappointed is putting it mildly. The clean up on bowels blown has already begun, hence the silence of late on Benghazi.

My prediction is that they will end up at the same conclusion as the Intelligence committee. What a waste of taxpayer dollars...so much for caring about frivolous, government spending.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Enron All Over Again?

Remember Enron, the company that went bankrupt after gaming the electricity distribution system in California, screwing rate payers out of billions of dollars? Enron, the company that invented illegal strategies for shuttling electrical power in and out of California to take advantage of the state's deregulated electricity market, which was supposed to make things "more efficient?" Enron, the company whose traders gave those illegal schemes names like Fat Boy, Death Star and Get Shorty?

Enron, the company whose chief strategy officer, J. Clifford Baxter, was found dead, shot in the head, in his Mercedes-Benz in the middle of the road in suburban Houston, with a revolver and a suicide note? Baxter had complained to a whistleblower about Enron's bookkeeping tactics, and had resigned "to spend more time with his family." Baxter was potentially the star witness against other Enron execs. And then he wound up dead in the middle of the road with a bullet in his head.

Enron, the company whose traders were recorded saying things like:
Employee 1: "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?

Employee 2: "Yeah, Grandma Millie man.

Employee 1: "Yeah, now she wants her f-----g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a—for f-----g $250 a megawatt hour."
and
"Just cut 'em off. They're so f----d. They should just bring back f-----g horses and carriages, f-----g lamps, f-----g kerosene lamps."
Enron, the company that got Arnold Schwarzenegger elected governor by getting Californians so mad at Governor Gray Davis's inability to control Enron's rapacious behavior they tossed him out on his ear in a recall election?

Enron is dead and gone, as is its CEO and chairman, Ken Lay, who died in 2006 on vacation while still appealing his conviction for fraud, trying mightily to squirm out of a 45-year prison sentence.

But Enron's spiritual successors are alive and kicking. Companies like DC Energy are making a fortune on the electricity market by buying up contracts that pay off big during times of high demand. But DC Energy does not own any power plants, or power lines, or have anything at all to do with generating and distributing electricity. It's just an investment firm, buying and selling contracts. How is this possible?

Several years the electrical grid was deregulated to eliminate old monopolies and make more competitive markets. This was supposed to spur investment in better infrastructure and help companies balance loads. Instead, investment companies like DC Energy and Louis Dreyfus Energy got into the act, buying up contracts that were originally intended for companies that actually generate electricity be able to hedge their bets to avoid rate spikes and brownouts.

These contracts are creating perverse incentives in the electricity market: when there's congestion, they get rich. Really rich. Louis Dreyfus was caught doing manipulating electricity prices in 2009, and paid $7.4 million to settle these allegations. But no one went to jail, or even admitted fault.

When investment companies like DC Energy buy these contracts -- rather than companies who could use profits from those contracts to invest in more electrical generation and distribution capacity to reduce congestion -- all that money, paid by you and Grandma Millie, goes into the black hole of Wall Street.

These companies hire "quants," scientists and engineers versed in physics and math, who analyze demand and the grid to determine where congestion is most likely to occur. Then they buy the contracts for those times and places and make a killing at the expense of the local businesses and families that buy high-priced electricity from distant power plants.

DC Energy doesn't use that information to make the grid work more efficiently and prevent brownouts and huge rate spikes, which was the whole point of deregulation: they do it to cash in on other people's misery.

If you think you've heard the term "quant" before, you probably have. Quants engineered the 2008 financial meltdown, by applying their mathematical models to the toxic mortgage derivatives in another get-rich-quick scheme.

These scam artists will dress their scheme as somehow making the market more efficient. That might be true if power companies were taking the profit and using it balance their losses and improve capacity. But DC Energy is just a middle-man taking advantage of a shortage, gambling that they'll be able to buy electricity somewhere else more cheaply than what they promised to sell it for. They're taking the profits that real power companies would use to invest in eliminating physical bottlenecks and increasing efficiency in the real world of power generation. Not some obscure "marketplace efficiency" that exists only in economics text books.

By hijacking these profits, leeches like DC Energy are actively preventing improvements in the grid, and guaranteeing that our electrical distribution system will never be fixed.

The quants' previous scams resulted in the meltdown of our entire financial system. If we aren't careful, they'll melt down our entire electrical grid this time around.

Pissing Red White and Blue


Cooler Heads In Missouri

It seems like cooler heads are prevailing in Ferguson, Missouri as police and elected officials are finally having the right response.

The image to the left is State Trooper Captain Ron Johnson who is now in charge of maintaining law and order in Ferguson. Why this didn't happen sooner illustrates what a complete failure there was on the part of St Louis county police and the state government. Governor Nixon should have done this immediately after the looting had ceased.

I've also been most heartened to see people across the political spectrum questioning the militarization of the police department. Going all "Fallujah shock troops" as the county police did was ridiculous. It may have been needed for the looting and rioting but not for the peaceful protests. Check out this photo...


















This is Tyson Manker, a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, greeting another protester in Ferguson, Mo., yesterday.

"I have a problem with weapons of war now being used at home on peaceful protesters," said Manker.

Amen and Semper Fi!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Other Shoe Drops

The right wing has been flooding the media with vitriol after the suicide of Robin Williams: Rush Limbaugh blamed his leftist world view, Fox News host Shepard Smith called Williams a liberal coward, and so on. Of course, they jumped on this immediately without waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now that shoe has dropped: Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, revealed that Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. If you're not familiar with Parkinson's (my father-in-law, my aunt's father and our neighbor all had it), it is an incurable disease that involves the loss of motor control neurons in the brain, which causes constant tremors that affect manual dexterity, speech, and walking. Sometimes dementia results, as it did with our neighbor.

Other celebrities have had Parkinson's: Michael J. Fox is the most well-known, but Linda Ronstadt's singing career was ended by the disease. Yes, many people have gone on to lead fulfilling lives after getting a diagnosis of some terrible neurological disorder: Stephen Hawking had a career as one of the leading physicists of the age after contracting ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.

But Robin Williams' forte was not physics, mathematics and cosmology; it was comedy, comedy that was based on the quick delivery of flights of fancy and spot-on imitation and mimicry. Something that a Parkinson's sufferer simply cannot manage.

And it's not like liberal comics have cornered the market on tragic suicide. Suicide is common in the conservative world. Take, for example, the son of Oral Roberts, Ronald, who committed suicide in 1982 by shooting himself in the heart six months after coming out as gay. Or Matthew Warren, the son of Rick Warren, reverend of the Saddleback Valley Community Church, who committed suicide some years after telling his father, "Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?" There were unconfirmed rumors Matthew was gay. Or Marie Osmond's son, Michael Blosil, committed suicide in 2010, and again there were rumors he was gay (he was a student at a fashion institute). Or Isaac Hunter, a reverend at a megachurch in Florida, who committed suicide after admitting an affair.

Or Jesse Ryan Loskarn, former chief of staff for Lamarr Alexander, who committed suicide this year after being arrested for watching child porn. In his suicide note he said he was drawn to videos that repeated the abuse he suffered at the hands of family members as a child.

Or Mark Mayfield, the attorney and Tea Party operative who committed suicide a month ago after being charged with conspiring to film Thad Cochran's bedridden wife in a nursing home: his Tea-Party hijinks led directly to his death by his own hand. After Mayfield's death the press was filled with paeans to his wonderfulness; did any conservatives call him cowardly for giving up the fight for what he believed in?

It's impossible to count the number of gay teenagers who have committed suicide. Many of them are depressed because they are different and felt alienated, constantly taunted by other kids who are egged on by the incessant drumbeat from conservatives who say that gays are going to hell and will burn in torment forever. Do gay teens commit suicide because they are depressed, or are they depressed because of the intolerance and hatred conservatives constantly spew?

It's clear that neither the right nor the left has a monopoly on suicide. Many people who survive their first suicide attempt never try again. Sure, if you really want to kill yourself, you'll eventually succeed. But there's a caveat: suicides by gunshot are easy, relatively clean (for the victim), and are more successful than other methods. The easy availability of guns among the right makes it more likely that they'll succeed the first time: liberals have to rely on less reliable methods such as sleeping pills and hanging.

If Tea Party darling Mark Mayfield hadn't had a gun at hand in his moment of despair, might he still be alive today?

Two-thirds of all firearms deaths are by suicide. More importantly, you are far more likely to commit suicide with your gun than you are to kill someone else in self-defense: in 2010 there were 230 justifiable homicides and 19,392 suicides committed with firearms. That means you -- or someone in your family -- are 84 times more likely to intentionally kill yourselves with your gun than an assailant.

Now, are you sure you want that gun in your nightstand where your depressed child knows you keep it?

If They Gunned Me Down, Which Picture Would They Use?

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last weekend, a social media trend has started called "If They Gunned Me Down, Which Picture Would They Use?" Here is an example on tumblr.

I've basically said the same thing in the past about Trayvon Martin. If he was wearing a suit and carrying a Bible, he would still be alive today and George Zimmerman wouldn't have given him a second look. But because he fit the image of how the "liberal media" portray hoodlums, a suspicion arose based purely on cultural prejudice.

Take a look at the photos in the above link and ask yourselves honestly...what image would the media use?


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Can someone please give Rush Limbaugh some attention?

Rush Limbaugh: Robin Williams killed himself because of a ‘political leftist’ attitude

He is really feeling his relevance slip away more and more these days...

Wacky, Ideological Nonsense

I recently posted the following question on Quora:

What are some opinions of President Obama's analysis of the current state of the Republican party, saying it is supported by "a lot of wacky ideological nonsense?"

The president's quote comes from an interview he did recently with Thomas Friedman in which he said:

If you look at the Democratic consensus, it’s a pretty common-sense mainstream consensus. It’s not a lot of wacky ideological nonsense. And by the way, it generally is fact-based and reason-based. You know, we’re not denying science, we’re not denying climate change, we’re not pretending that somehow having a whole bunch of uninsured people is the American way.

As one can see from the number of views and responses on my question, the quote has generated a lot of interest. But is the president correct?

Well, I've also recently asked another question on Quora.

In looking at current conservative leaders, pundits, and supporters, which few, as a collection, best represent the Republican party today?

Here are the people listed in the responses.

Ted Cruz
Rick Perry
Michele Bachmann
Rand Paul
Chris Christie
Paul Ryan
Jeb Bush
Marco Rubio
Bill Whittle
The Koch Brothers

I'd say that's a pretty good representation of the Republican party and conservatives today.

Now, the only two names on the list that think climate change is due to carbon emissions are Jeb Bush and the Koch Brothers (even though they pretend to not believe in climate change). Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Marco Rubio all believe the earth is 6,000 years old. Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, the Koch Brothers, and Bill Whittle full embrace Ayn Rand's ideology, believing that the United States is slowly destroying itself (any day now!) due to the federal government.  Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Marco Rubio all think that as well but for religious/apocalyptic reasons. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are exceptions to this but both are vilified for being RINOS.

So, the president is indeed correct in his assessment and it's not just opinion. The Republican party today is being driven by lunatics who once populated the short wave radio set and now have their own little bubble of unreality known as the right wing blogsphere. One need only go to townhall,com, brietbart.com, dailycaller.com or even Fox News to see multiple examples of "wacky, ideological nonsense." Speaking of which..



Can anyone explain to me exactly what the fuck she is talking about?

Death Panels Are Real

In what has to be the finest example of irony seen in quite some time, this recent report from health affairs.org illustrates how Republican governors, by opting out of the Medicaid expansion, have essentially fulfilled Sarah Palin's prediction of "death panels."

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to opt out of Medicaid expansion will have adverse health and financial consequences. Based on recent data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, we predict that many low-income women will forego recommended breast and cervical cancer screening; diabetics will forego medications, and all low-income adults will face a greater likelihood of depression, catastrophic medical expenses, and death.

Wow. It doesn't get any more direct than that.

The report is filled with facts and data (liberal lies and deceit for those of you who reside inside the bubble) that show the exact number of people that are going to be affected in each state that has opted out. It also shows how they will be affected.

I wonder how voters in these states are going to feel about this...hmm...maybe I need to revise my prediction of the demise of the Republican party to an earlier time than I originally thought...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Wrong War

This quote from Quora on the Right's love affair with guns comes close to the nub of the truth, but misses it:
You'll fight your government just like we fought the Redcoats.
These people don't want guns to re-fight the Revolutionary War. They want guns to re-fight the Civil War.

Only the most obnoxiously racist white supremacists dare utter this aloud, but many of these gun-toting whites think they need guns to fight a race war, which is sure to come because the government keeps prosecuting men who have the stones to shoot black teenagers walking down the street in hoodies, or 13-year-old black kids who they think stole their stuff, or drunken black girls pounding on their front door.

It started in the 1940s with the Dixiecrats, then continued with Brown vs. Board of education in the 1950s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 further alienated Southern whites from the Democratic Party. The Southern Strategy of playing to white racist fears gave Nixon the White House in 1968. Up till the 1970s the NRA was for gun control: 
In November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy with an Italian military surplus rifle that Owsald bought from a mail-order ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. In congressional hearings that soon followed, NRA Executive Vice-President Frankin Orth supported a ban in mail-order sales, saying, “We do think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

But no new federal gun control laws came until 1968. The assassinations of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were the tipping point, coming after several summers of race-related riots in American cities. The nation’s white political elite feared that violence was too prevalent and there were too many people—especially urban Black nationalists—with access to guns. In May 1967, two dozen Black Panther Party members walked into the California Statehouse carrying rifles to protest a gun-control bill, prompting then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to comment, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”
But by then it was clear that whites weren't going to be able to get away with official institutions that oppressed blacks anymore: equality was inevitable (though apparently subject to Zeno's paradox). White men would have to take the power into their own hands. And for these people, guns are power. In 1977 the Second Amendment perverts took over the NRA and forced out the reasonable men who knew that more guns just mean more death.

Today it's not so much just the blacks, but women and immigrants too, especially Latinos. You hear it over and over: this country is being "invaded," we have to save America for real Americans; you know the drill.

The people today who fly the Confederate flag glorify the traitors who tried to destroy the Union in order to keep the corrupt and evil institution of slavery alive. Dressing it up as defending "states' rights" is just a lie.

The thing is, no one in the Confederacy was free. Just as in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, the Confederacy required even white citizens to carry domestic passports:
Judith McGuire, a resident of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, reported in her diary on a trip along the valley turnpike during which a Confederate picket stopped her stagecoach. When the soldier asked the passengers to present their travel passes, McGuire quietly complied, but one of her fellow travelers exploded in rage: “Passes! Passes for white folks! I have never heard of such a thing. I ain’t got no pass … we ain’t niggers to get passes.” (Emphasis in original.)
Conservative white men feel they are losing political and economic power to women, blacks and Latinos. A gun restores that lost feeling of power.

But the real problem is not that blacks and women and Latinos are taking over. It's that conservative white men, especially in the South, are undereducated and having difficulty adapting to changing times. The economic inequality resulting from globalization that sent well-paying blue-collar jobs -- jobs that white men relied on -- is putting white men on the same level as the people they once looked down upon. The conversion to a high-tech economy, the automation of farming and industry, and the loss of mining jobs due to depleted resources such as coal and iron ore have further eroded the economic security of white men.

So, even though in reality white men still have much more power than blacks or women or Latinos, they see it slipping away because they're standing in place while these other groups are slowly advancing. And the most prominent symbol of the decline of the white man? A black man was elected president! Twice!!! White men are doomed!

Blacks, women and Latinos are not the enemy. The enemy is economic inequality stemming from corporations and the wealthy having too much political power, and using that political power to tilt economic, industrial and tax policy in their favor. Just because these corporate honchos are old, male and white doesn't mean they view average white guys as equals: they view them as suckers to be led around by the nose, easily convinced to support policies that undermine their own best interests by pressing the hot buttons of race (in the guise of immigration), guns and abortion.

These corporate guys are, after all, the same ones who sent all those decent manufacturing jobs to Mexico and China in the first place. And you can't blame it all on globalization: somehow Germany has managed to remain an industrial and export powerhouse, even though they have to deal with competition from China, unions, six weeks of mandatory vacation, and had to absorb the collapsed and corrupt communist economy of East Germany.

And they even have a woman running the country! Dooom!

Good Words

From a question on Quora...

Some advocate for it because they believe it's essential to self-defense. Let's leave that aside, and the people who want to own guns for hunting. Do some conservatives believe it's important on the grounds that it enables an armed revolt against the US government? Yes. Look at the responses here. Now read the text of the 2nd amendment. It connects the right to the security of the State. Not rebellion against it, which is rather its opposite. People here will howl that, well, it doesn't say it's not about fighting the State! 

These are usually the same people that pride themselves on being strict "constructionists" and hewing to the plain meaning of the text. This interpretation is a fantastical stretch not supported by commentary from the founding fathers. It's important to think about why this odd idea persists. It is not just people sort of disagreeing about something reasonable people can disagree about. It's because it plays into a certain fantasy fulfillment for a certain demographic in our country. You're a patriot. You'll fight your government just like we fought the Redcoats. 

Tired of these liberals making all these rules you have heard from someone who heard from someone are illegal? Relax, you're the salt of the earth, what made this country great, and you can always start shooting. I have literally heard these words come out of the mouths of advocates. These people aren't homicidal. They actually think their backs are against a wall, since they've experienced nothing of the sort. That the relatively awfully peaceful and prosperous America of the past 20 years is somehow just about as bad as the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia. 

It's childish and deluded. Lots of people are childish and deluded on all points of the political spectrum. These people differ in that they have talked themselves into the idea that lethal weapons are just fine to use to settle disagreements. It's not that these 'patriots' are afraid they'll have to use their guns one day. It's that they're afraid they'll never get the chance. The tragedy is it stems from some good, self-sacrificing principle -- I'd go to war to fight and die for something right if necessary. For someone in the rural US, sliding further behind as the 21st century powers forward, this patriot narrative must be so powerfully seductive. For me, building the US forward into the future, it is not at all seductive. 

This doesn't make this view of the 2nd amendment understandable or permissible. It makes it scary. These people have literally staked the meaning of their lives on killing people they disagree with.

Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why Picking Sides in the Middle East Is Hard -- and Pointless

Remember last year when John McCain was stomping around the world insisting that the United States help the Syrian rebels and attack Syria, this very instant? Flash forward a year later, and the Syrian rebels, now calling themselves ISIS, have swept into Iraq, murdering thousands of innocents based solely on their religion. Now John McCain is stomping around the world insisting that we attack ISIS, this very instant.

Tea Party and Libertarian websites are now claiming that McCain was consorting last year with the very ISIS terrorists he's now advocating we attack. Not long after these photos were taken it was discovered that the terrorists McCain was palling around with  were "bad rebels" that were holding Lebanese Shiites hostage.

Now, I'll be the first to criticize John McCain for his buffoonish impulse to get the United States to butt into every conflict around the planet: from the ISIS invasion of Iraq most recently, to the Russia-backed rebellion in Ukraine and Crimea, to Egypt, to the Syrian revolution, to the Libya revolution, to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

But I can't claim to know whether the Syrian rebels John McCain met with were good guys or bad guys. Obviously, neither can John McCain.

That's why we don't just pick sides, rush in and start dropping bombs every time John McCain says so. It's very difficult to know who the good guys and the bad guys are when we have utterly no idea who any of them really are, or what their history is. And even if we think we do, they wind up switching sides on us. If we had supplied those Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft weapons when McCain said we should, they would now be using them against the U.S. aircraft that are now bombing their mortar emplacements to protect Yazidi civilians and Kurdistan. Unfortunately, they may still be using U.S. weapons because ISIS may have captured some when the Iraqi army cut and ran.

George Bush had the same problem of knowing who the good guys were when he invaded Iraq. He took the word of Ahmed Chalabi about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that Chalabi was an Iranian agent and had lied about everything. The main reason that ISIS is able to invade Iraq is that the Iraqi government that George W. Bush installed is run by an Iranian puppet, Nouri al-Maliki, who has used his power to oppress Sunnis in Iraq. He appointed Shiite loyalists to lead the army instead of competent officers, and used the army to attack Sunnis. When ISIS invaded the Sunnis did nothing, and the Iraqi army fled in disarray. The Sunnis don't like ISIS any more than they like Maliki, but they figure they'll be able to eject a small number of foreign terrorists, as they did during the "Surge," once the Shiite Iraqi army has been ejected.

Remember George Bush's "Surge" in Iraq to stop Al Qaeda? The reason that succeeded was not because we increased our troop levels, but because Bush reversed course on the Sunnis who had once been allied with Saddam. Instead of treating them like enemies, we used their hatred of Al Qaeda (whom they viewed as foreign terrorists trying to take over their country) and made allies of them.

However, the Maliki government trashed all that after the United States left Iraq, by denying Sunnis any real say in the Iraqi government and persecuting them. And why did the U.S. leave Iraq? Because George Bush signed an agreement that said we would: the Iraqis were tired of an American occupation and our meddling in their internal affairs. Barack Obama was obliged to abide by Bush's agreement, no matter how much John McCain blustered.

We knew there was a distinct possibility that the majority Shiites would oppress the minority Sunnis after we left, but it's impossible to use force to make people behave reasonably -- unless you stay there and babysit them for 50 or 60 years, like we did in Europe and Japan. Can we really afford to occupy every country in the Middle East?

Pretty much the same thing happened in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. The U.S. allied itself with several groups, including the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's nascent Al Qaeda, to force the Soviets out. After the Soviets left, we let the Taliban have a free hand and they imposed an oppressive theocracy on Afghanistan. Was Afghanistan better off under the Soviets or the Taliban? At least the Soviets would have kept Al Qaeda out.

We crossed bin Laden by stationing troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War to eject Saddam from Kuwait, and thus inspired him to hate us and spawned 9/11. I'm not saying 9/11 was our fault, I'm just saying that no good deed goes unpunished in the Middle East. Time and again we knowingly allied ourselves with bad guys to deal with a more pressing problem, and it always comes back to bite us in the end.

This is why invading Middle Eastern countries has such poor outcomes. Many of the people who live there aren't united by any concept of national identity: they don't consider themselves Iraqi, or Afghan, or Syrian. Instead, they are motivated by religious identity or extreme ideology -- Sunni, Shiite, Alawite, Wahabi, Christian -- or by ethnicity -- Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, Arab, Pashtun -- or even by local tribal association.

As such, all alliances are viewed as temporary, merely to gain their splinter group an advantage toward their ultimate goal of exacting retribution for grievances that have been boiling over for centuries and millennia.

This is why the United States cannot successfully pick sides in the Middle East. There is no loyalty to the concepts of equality, justice and freedom, only a fervent devotion to a particular cause or group.

This should serve as an object lesson to Americans. Republicans have been criticizing Maliki for practicing exactly the kind of divisive all-out political warfare the Tea Party has been practicing against Democrats and even fellow Republicans.

We have to stop thinking of ourselves first as conservative or liberal; Tea Party, Democrat, or Republican; Christian, Jew or Muslim; white, Hispanic, or African American. We have to think of ourselves as Americans first and foremost, and acknowledge that other American citizens are just as American as we are.

And then work together to make sure this country doesn't devolve into the same sort of cesspit that Iraq and Syria have become. We have to stop splintering apart, and start coming together.

Until There Is Plurality...

The political world is all in a tizzy today as Hillary Clinton described the president's decision not to support the Syrian rebels early on as a "failure." Let's set aside the fact that her motivations were purely political and likely planned far ahead of time by both her and the White House. What I'm wondering today is this: what action would have been better and why?

The issue here is the massive growth of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in both Syria and Iraq. Many of the president's critics seem to think we could have prevented this from occurring. How, exactly? We tried taking over Iraq and staying there for years and that didn't work. We've been nation building in Afghanistan for nearly 13 years and that hasn't worked. In Libya, we helped the rebels get rid of Gaddafi and that didn't work.

And who exactly we were supposed to arm in Syria? The rebels weren't even soldiers and were made up of doctors, lawyers and ordinary citizens. They wouldn't be able to fight against the power of a state run military. Further, the various factions in Syria (as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya) all hate each other and are mostly enemies of the United States, the one exception being the Kurds in Northern Iraq whom we are now arming and assisting with an air campaign.

In looking at all of this information, a pattern emerges. These turbulent countries are filled with people who don't like each other. Juxtapose this simple fact with the two Arab Spring countries that haven't had any of these issues-Kurdistan and Tunisia. These two countries contain citizens that do like each other and thus, have a desire for plurality. They are also two nations that have zero involvement from the United States which likely also contributes to their sunny disposition.

Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are never going to be stable countries until there is a desire for plurality in each nation. No sole power on earth (especially the United States) can force that on people. We can, of course, protect the innocent and our interests as we are right now in Iraq but until we get the buy in from the world community, there is nothing to be done.

Blaming President Obama for all these problems and calling his policies a failure is ludicrous.

Putting the Investment Lie To Bed

For the past six years, Wall Street has enjoyed one of its longest bull markets (64 months at an increase of 191%). This is fourth on the list behind Dec 1987-March 2000 (150 months, 582%), June 1949-August 1956(87 months, 267%), and Oct 1974-Nov 1980 (75 months, 126%). While the top 7 percent of our country have seen a 28 percent increase in their net worth, the rest of us in the 93 percent have lost 4 percent of our net worth. The gap between the top one percent of earners and everyone else is the widest its been since 1928.

According to conservative ideology, all of this wealth at the top should pay off in our economy in the form of investments, right? We should be seeing massive job increases and a ton of economic growth. We are told, time and again, that wealth increase at the top means better days for everyone else.

Where are the better days?

Apparently, they only exist inside of the right wing bubble because the last six years should illustrate to everyone that this assertion is a complete fucking lie.

Crater Mystery Solved

The craters were a mystery: they started appearing in the Siberian permafrost, one almost a hundred feet across. Some people thought they were from meteors. Others said they were caused by aliens. Still others said they were caused by underground missile explosions.

Residents claimed to see the area smoking, and then there was a bright flash. Others said a celestial body fell there.

Well, now we know. The craters are caused by the explosion of methane gas, freed by the melting of permafrost, which in turn is caused by global warming. Temperatures in the arctic have gone up drastically: for example, Alaska's average temperature has increased 3.4 degrees in the last 50 years, and winter temperatures have increased 6.3 degrees.

Confirmation comes from Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Center of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. The hole was discovered last year, after abnormally hot summers in 2012 and 2013. Plekhanov measured a methane level of almost 10% at the bottom of the crater. The normal atmospheric level of methane is 0.000179%.

This region of Siberia is home to huge natural gas fields. Permafrost, which covers millions of square miles in Alaska, Siberia and Canada, has large deposits of methane hydrates trapped in its ice. As temperatures rise due to global warming, the poles are heating up much faster than the lower latitudes.

This is not a new story: for years scientists have known that arctic lakes are emitting methane; there are lakes in Alaska and Canada that can be set on fire.

The permafrost is melting at an alarming rate, and as it melts, the methane hydrates will melt as well, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. The melting also allows bacteria to feed on the plant material in the thawed permafrost, creating even more methane and CO2.

This is one of the feedback loops that climate scientists have been concerned about. As we warm the planet by entrapping more heat with the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels, we are accelerating the production of greenhouse gases from natural sources.

Methane hydrates are also found at the bottom of polar oceans. The oceans are heating up as well, and if the oceanic methane hydrates melt the problem will get a lot worse a lot faster than any of the climate models are predicting.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Koch Brothers Fail to Buy Tennessee Supreme Court --- This Time

The Koch brothers spent about a million bucks to buy three Supreme Court seats in Tennessee. They failed, but not by much. And they're raring to go again.

This is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's inane rulings that corporations are people and speech is money. The Kochs failed this time, but it's just a matter of time before they and their ilk control the entire judiciary with their millions of dollars.

The Koch's front operation, Americans for Prosperity, is trying to buy elections across the country, from seats in state legislatures from Alaska to Florida, to a levy for the Columbus zoo, to city council races in Iowa. They are trying to stage a corporate takeover of the United States of America.

Thankfully voters in Tennessee saw through this. But only because opponents were able to spend enough money to counter Koch lies.

It's appalling that the conservative members of the Supreme Court are so blinded by their ambition to force their conservative ideology on the country that they are allowing corporations gain control of every facet of government, from the legislatures (with ALEC), to the executive branch and their stranglehold on regulation, and now the judiciary.

The Supreme Court's decisions are the height of foolishness because in the end, corporations are not people: they have no loyalty to this country, and will turn the United States into a corrupt puppet of corporations. If the Kochs have their way, the United States will go the way of China, where every government official is on the take, the air is filled with toxic sludge from coal plants, corporate farms just dump dead pigs in the river, and the food is tainted with feces, toxins and filth.

All in the name of the false "freedom" from those regulations that keep our food, air and water clean.

Even if the Koch brothers were angels with the purest intent, conservatives have to know in their heart of hearts that this is wrong. When corporate money becomes the sole source of power, the people of the United States will lose -- even the conservatives. When the Koch's oil reserves run dry, they won't be the richest kids on the block anymore, and then it'll be tech guys like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jeff Bezos calling the shots. Or Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. Or the cabal of Wall Street bankers who brought us the Great Recession with their unbridled incompetence, greed and gall.

Or worse, Carlos Slim of Mexico, Li Ka-Shing and Lui Che Woo of Hong Kong, and Alisher Usmanov of Russia. Yeah, it'll be illegal. At first. But only until they buy enough politicians and judges to get the laws changed.

Just like the Koch brothers did.

Good Words

From a question on Quora...

Have you read the bible? There's some great inspiration and thought provoking ideas, but if you've read it in it's entirety, you can't really deny it's full of some things that are really terrible ideas, including a man marrying his daughter to her rapist and justification of slavery. We hear talk in this country of living my Biblical principles, but that is dangerously vague. Which ones? Which sects interpretation?

In fact, many aspects of the bible are in direct opposition to the Constitution. I think if the founders of this country wanted or intended us to follow biblical law, they'd have clearly stated so by quoting and referring chapters and verse. Since they clearly did not, then I think it's safe to say that they did not intend for the U.S. to be a Christian theocracy .

Amen.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Stupid People, Large Groups


Friday, August 08, 2014

Contrasting a Democrat and a Republican

John Walsh, up for election to the Senate for Montana, has ended his campaign. Walsh is embroiled in a plagiarism scandal with his master's degree at the Army War College. This allows a non-scandal-plagued Democrat to run instead.

Contrast Walsh with Scott DesJarlais, a Republican from Tennessee who appears to have defeated his primary opponent by the barest of margins:
Pundits expected DesJarlais to get crushed after his campaign funds dried up (his opponent out raised him by $1 million) when everyone learned the sordid details of his personal life. Court documents showed that DesJarlais admitted to at least eight multiple affairs, encouraged abortions and threatened his ex-wife with a gun during a fight. The former practicing physician was also fined and reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for having sex with his patients.
Are Tennessee Republicans the biggest suckers ever, or do they really not give a damn about the things they say are important: a pro-life philosophy, family values and integrity? They had a chance to stand up for what they believed in, and tens of thousands of them voted for a despicable, lying, cheating, abortion-mongering womanizer who threatened to kill his wife. How can they excuse this man's constant lying hypocrisy and sheer immorality? In most states DesJarlais would be in jail for having sex with patients, or would at least have lost his license. But Tennessee merely slapped him on the wrist with a $500 fine.

Even more hypocritically, DesJarlais is undergoing treatment for cancer, while trying to torpedo the health care law and deny health coverage for tens of millions Americans who finally have it under the ACA.

This election shows what Republican "family values" really are, at least in Tennessee: old white men can do whatever they hell they want and screw everyone else.

Well, at least nine women.