Sunday, December 31, 2017

Final Thoughts of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, it's very clear that we have a president with a deteriorating mental condition. His recent interview with Michael Schmidt of the New York Times betrayed an incoherence that hasn't been seen since Woodrow Wilson had his stroke. This is nothing new to me because his behavior is akin to the mentally ill people that follow him (right wing bloggers and right wing blog commenters). They've completely lost the capacity for rational thought.

Charles Pierce from Esquire had the following to say.

In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart. (My father used to give a thumbs up when someone asked him a question. That was one of the strategies he used to make sense of a world that was becoming quite foreign to him.) My guess? That’s part of the reason why it’s always “the failing New York Times,” and his 2016 opponent is “Crooked Hillary."

Agreed. I saw the same thing in my grandmother. Ezra Klein from Vox had this to say...

Over the course of reporting on the Trump White House, I have spoken to people who brief Trump and people who have been briefed by him. I’ve talked to policy experts who have sat in the Oval Office explaining their ideas to the president and to members of Congress who have listened to the president sell his ideas to them. I’ve talked to both Democrats and Republicans who have occupied these roles. In all cases, their judgment of Trump is identical: He is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform — his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard.

Right. Again, this is a sign of mental illness.

At the beginning of December, I wrote about four ways Trump could leave office early. Nikto added in some humorous possibilities. Perhaps both of us were wrong. Given this latest interview, I think it's possible that a mental meltdown could force him from office.

Our president is not well, folks. It's time for him to go.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best TV Show of 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return is the best TV show of 2017. David Lynch is positively astounding. Most of us Twin Peaks fans thought 1992's Fire Walk With Me was the end of the story. Thank God it wasn't because this new 18 hour series on Showtime has become the greatest television show every produced.

My mind took days to process Episode 3. Episode 7 made me feel like I was 24 again in the early 1990s and geeking out to the characters of Twin Peaks with their various idiosyncrasies.

Episode 8 was the single best visual artistic expression I have EVER seen. It left me speechless in so many ways that it's pointless to count.

By the time it ended, I was left wanting more which is clearly what Lynch wanted. Folks, if you haven't watched this series yet, check it out. You can stream the the original series (Twin Peaks) on either Netflix or Hulu. The film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, is available on Amazon for 3 bucks. The new series, Twin Peaks: The Return, is on Showtime and Hulu w/Showtime.

Nearly every show that people love today owes something to Twin Peaks. There would be no Stranger Things, American Horror Story, Man Men, The Sopranos or Orange is the New Black without Twin Peaks. It was TV: Year Zero and this latest series has rewritten the rules once again! 

Here is the first episode of Twin Peaks: The Return which you can watch for free on YouTube.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Best Film of 2017

The best film of 2017 is Wonder Woman (d: Patty Jenkins). This film completely blew me away. Gal Gadot conveyed the perfect balance of the fierceness of an Amazon warrior and the vulnerability of someone new to the world of men. Period pieces are always important as well and Jenkins did a great job of capturing the WWI era. The action was spectacular, the production design was impeccable, and the story was riveting.

Here is a clip from one of my favorite scenes...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Reasons Behind Mass Shootings in the United States

What are the core reasons behind mass shootings in the United States? There are multiple reasons why mass shootings occur in the United States and it's important to note that they all feed off of each other.

First, the current gun regulations are terrible. It’s very easy to obtain weapons that make mass shootings more efficient. People with little or no training can buy a gun at Wal Mart. Mental health history doesn’t matter. Some gun sales and transfers of ownership don’t even require a background check. Many states have very loose gun laws and some now allow guns in schools and churches. 

Second, mass shootings are #trending and have been since the Columbine shooting in 1998. People in the United States believe that they can solve their problems by shooting up some place. I think that many mass shooters want attention and the media certainly gives it to them.

Third, The United States is very rooted in gun culture even though less than a third of its citizens owns guns. Our entertainment (films, video games, television) are very violent. Even our language is gun based. Here are some examples…

“Number one hit—-with a bullet” (music)

“Rogers, out of the shotgun” (football)

“Faster than a speeding bullet (comics, films)

“He went off like a loaded gun” (common phrase)

With so many references to guns, it’s no wonder we don’t have more mass shootings.

Fourth, there is still a stigma in this country regarding mental health. Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook, was severely mentally ill. He was not given adequate treatment and was likely shunned by the people around him. His mom, an ardent 2nd amendment supporter, was ill equipped to deal with his issues. She paid for it with her life. If we addressed the mental health issue by removing the social stigma surrounding visiting a therapist, we’d have less mass shootings. It should be as common as going to the dentist with an equal amount of indifference when someone says they are seeking psychological help.

Fifth, the United States has a gun culture that makes it easier for unbalanced people to obtain weapons. These folks allow their own hubris and emotions about guns to override public safety. They don’t really care if people die in mass shootings. Their first reaction after a mass shooting is “Don’t take my guns!!!” or “More guns in more places” as opposed to “Hey, how can we help? Let’s make it safer out there.” They are enablers to mass shootings and bear a great deal of responsibility for all of the deaths the US has experienced from gun violence. In short, they are domestic terrorists and should be labeled as such by the Department of Homeland Security. Given that we have lost more people to gun violence just in the last 50 years than all of the wars we have ever fought in, they are a danger to public safety.

We address these concerns in a substantive way and we curtail the number of mass shootings in the United States.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Quote of the Day (Fucking Nazi Edition)

“What we’re seeing can only be explained by the Republican right’s broader embrace of authoritarianism, which both predates Trump, accounts for his rise and has in turn been accelerated by his presidency.”

----The Trump-True GOP by Josh Marshall

A good indicator as to who the authoritarian is? It's the assholes that are squawking the most about ___________ making them do __________.

Insert "smug liberal elites" in the first blank and "stuff I don't wanna do" in the next blank.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Infinity of Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve means different things to different people. To me, it's filled with 50 years of amazing memories. Here are a few...

My earliest memories are of my grandfather, Carl, and I looking up his chimney to see if Santa would be able to fit. I also remember the never ending showings of "It's A Wonderful Life" although it was right around this time when I discovered my all time favorite Christmas film, "Holiday Inn." This was Bing Crosby's first performance of "White Christmas."

In my younger childhood, the night before Christmas meant we would get to open up one present usually right after we got home from church. The Christmas Eve service at my church was magical. The singing...the candle marches...the message...all very comforting and amazing. My mom still goes to the same church and I've gone back with her on Christmas Eve from time to time but it's not the same as those years in the 70s and early 80s.

My later childhood saw many a Christmas Eve with our family friend named Tom who passed away in 2015. Tom was a an elder bachelor who sold yachts for a living and made a pretty decent salary. He always wanted to share it with us and his cousins so my sister and I would always get a pile of gifts from him so the one present thing pretty much went out the window.This was in the early 80s so it was games like this.

This was an upgrade to an earlier version that added in the feature of being able to pass. I remember laying in my old bed and playing this game late into the night.

During my senior year in high school (December, 1984) I was asked my our drama teacher to perform a dramatic reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales." I've posted this as a tradition here for years.

When my children were little, I read this story to them. I continue the tradition to this day.

All the Christmases with my children have been stellar. It's been fun to watch them experience all the same things that I did when I was a kid. They are 17 and 15 now so the little kid Christmases are gone but they are replaced with hilarious game playing (usually Philadelphia Rummy) and new traditions like watching Die Hard (yes, it's a Christmas film!).

What traditions and memories will future Christmas Eves bring? Honestly, I can't wait!!

Oh, Look! A UFO!

For every unexplained UFO sighting there are 10,000 like this one:

No, it's not swamp gas, but it's the equivalent: hot gases from burning kerosene propellant.

It's actually  a SpaceX rocket launching satellites into orbit for the Iridium network. You can't see the rocket at all because it's so small and dark compared to the large, bright contrail backlit from the low sun.

At least Elon Musk has a sense of humor about it:
I'm not posting this to ridicule people who've seen UFOs. It's to underline the fact that it's very easy to misinterpret what you're seeing if you don't know what the object is, or you're looking at something from a weird angle, or under peculiar lighting conditions, or seeing a familiar object much further or much closer than normal.

The human brain is essentially a pattern recognizer, and it's always trying to match what we're seeing to a known object. If there's no good match, your brain may just pick the closest one, or leave you guessing. Just because you can't explain what you saw doesn't mean you're stupid or lying, it means you just don't know what you saw. That doesn't make it mysterious or a conspiracy.

I'm all for investigating weird phenomena in the sky, but the default assumption every time has to be that it's something like this. That doesn't mean you ignore these sightings, because it could very well be nuclear missile from Korea, or a drone from China or Russia.

But aliens shouldn't even be on the menu of possibilities at this point. It's been 70 years since Roswell, and there's been zero solid evidence of anything except incompetence and lying from officials who were trying to cover something up.

It's too bad the SpaceX rocket isn't a real UFO. But that contrail still looks really cool.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Young People Inspire Me

The main reason why I became a teacher was to inspire and motivate young people to change the world and make it a better place. I'll let you in on a little secret, though. The real "main reason" is that they inspire me.

Every. Single. Day.

Gitanjali Rao is a great example of a young person who inspires me. This young woman from Highlands Ranch, Colorado came up with a more portable way to test water for lead.

“Science allows me to look at approaches to solve the real-world problems out there,” she says in an interview at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, where she’s currently a seventh-grader. Rao was inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan when she came up with the idea that ultimately won her the top prize at the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

I see students like Ms. Rao every day. The things they say, the way they express themselves, and the hope they have for the future is very inspiring indeed!

How Trump Screwed Over Steelworkers

During the 2016 campaign Donald Trump kept repeating how he was going to rebuild America with a huge infrastructure project, restart the steel industry, and stop jobs going overseas.

He's done the exact opposite.
At this sprawling steel mill on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the workers have one number in mind. Not how many tons of steel roll off the line, or how many hours they work, but where they fall on the plant’s seniority list.

In September, ArcelorMittal, which owns the mill, announced that it would lay off 150 of the plant’s 207 workers next year. While the cuts will start with the most junior employees, they will go so deep that even workers with decades of experience will be cast out.
The layoffs have stunned these steelworkers who, just a year ago, greeted President Trump’s election as a new dawn for their industry. Mr. Trump pledged to build roads and bridges, strengthen “Buy America” provisions, protect factories from unfair imports and revive industry, especially steel.

But after a year in office, Mr. Trump has not enacted these policies. And when it comes to steel, his failure to follow through on a promise has had unintended consequences.

Foreign steel makers have rushed to get their product into the United States before tariffs start. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, which tracks shipments, steel imports were 19.4 percent higher in the first 10 months of 2017 than in the same period last year.

That surge of imports has hurt American steel makers, which were already struggling against a glut of cheap Chinese steel. When ArcelorMittal announced the layoffs in Conshohocken, it blamed those imports, as well as low demand for steel for bridges and military equipment.
In other words, when Trump issued hollow threats to impose tariffs on foreign steel during the campaign, his big fat mouth literally cost thousands of Americans their jobs.

It's been a year and the only thing Trump has done was give himself and all the other fat cats a huge tax cut. When are Trump voters going to realize that Putin's toady has been conning them the whole time?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Someone at Apple Needs to Be Thrown in the Slammer

When the new version of the iPhone operating system came out, many users thought that their phones were significantly slower. They believed that Apple intentionally slowed down the older phones to force users to buy new phones. 

Because, face it: at this point in the iPhone's product cycle, new phones aren't that much better than the old ones, so who needs to buy a new one every year?

But Apple's business model depends on customers buying new phones every year -- phones that cost $500 to $1,000. Without repeat customers, Apple's gigantic profits would evaporate very quickly.

So Apple told the customers they were imagining things. But the customers were right! Apple is intentionally slowing down older phones:
The difference was highlighted in a recent Reddit post — and it was quantified in a blog post at Geekbench, the processor bench-marking company.

Older phones operate more quickly if they're using older versions of Apple's iOS operating system, Geekbench found.
Faced with the evidence, Apple has now admitted what they are doing. They claim, however, that they're doing it to reduce strain on the battery to prevent the phone from shutting down.

Now, users could simply buy a new $80 battery and solve the problem completely. But Apple doesn't make much profit on batteries; they'd rather sell a new phone for ten times more.

Devoted Apple customers have long been accused of being saps and suckers for putting up with Apple's high prices and atrocious business practices. The company does have nice products, but they're not that much better than the competition. It's the Apple cachet that they're selling.

Apple is is a particularly rapacious corporation. They have reassigned the Apple IPs to subsidiaries in foreign countries to avoid paying state and federal taxes. They build their phones in factories in Asia where workers are essentially slaves. California has subsidized Apple with billions of dollars of infrastructure and college educations for their engineers. But because of the tax shenanigans, Apple pays California basically nothing in taxes.

Apple has parked hundreds of billions of dollars in profits in overseas banks, repeatedly borrowing billions of dollars to repurchase stock and give shareholders dividends. (Why borrow? Because they can deduct the interest and reduce their tax liability!) The Republican tax bill will be a huge windfall for Apple, and its wealthy shareholders, and will lower Apple's tax burden even further.

And because Trump's tax cut taxes overseas profits at half the rate, it will encourage Apple to move even more design and production overseas. Americans will lose more jobs to foreigners so Apple's CEO can rake in more cash.

What can we learn from this? Corporations have no loyalty to this country or its customers. They overcharge customers for overhyped products, they pay no taxes, and then they screw over the customers with all kinds of rotten gimmicks, like slowing down their phone CPUs.

These people don't deserve a tax cut. They deserve a ten-year jail term for fraud.

2018 Will Be The Year Trump Goes Down

A few months back, a conservative friend of mine and I were discussing the probe into Trump's dealings with Russia. He asserted that nothing much would come of it. When he said it, he looked at me with a slight trace of pity in his face that sort of said to me, "Silly liberal...trying to look for some way to save yourself. How naive." This friend of mine is no Trump fan but he does get his news from Drudge, Fox and the like so it's not surprising that he thinks nothing will come of the Russian probe. They only talk about the Russian connection in terms of how it's fake news or something to do with Hillary Clinton.

Most Americans, however, would disagree. They approve of the job Mueller is doing with his investigation and think that Trump has largely been dishonest. There have been a variety of stories in the last few days on the Trump-Russia connection that have been overshadowed by tax overhaul news. Here are a few...


Short answer: YES

White House Counsel Knew in January Flynn Probably Violated the Law

There is your obstruction of justice. Right fucking there.

Trump -Russia investigation: Steve Bannon asked to testify before House Intelligence Committee

It's going to be entertaining to watch Bannon's ass go down...although after his embarrassing loss in Alabama one could argue that his time is done.

People can’t stop reading a professor’s theory of a Trump-Russia conspiracy — true or not

This one cracks me up mostly for its simplicity. From the post article...

After trying for many years to expand his business empire into Russia, Abramson asserts, Trump visited Moscow in 2013 to personally meet agents of Russian President Vladmir Putin, using his beauty pageant as cover. There, Abramson writes, a secret deal was struck: Putin agreed to open up his country’s rich real estate market to Trump, and Trump agreed to campaign for president while promoting pro-Russian policies. Simple as that. And everything that has happened since — the election hacking, Trump’s improbable win and a special counsel’s investigation into his campaign and administration — follows from that deal, in Abramson’s telling.

Here is the link with ongoing updates from Abramson.

Of course, let's not forget our very own Nikto Gravitas who put up this piece last summer, as he recently reminded me.

The Cast of Characters is Complete

Money laundering is where Trump is actually going to go down. This is going to happen whether the Democrats take back one or both chambers in Congress or not. If the Dems win in the fall of 2018 (and I think they will), it's going to happen very fast.

So, something is indeed going to come from the Russian investigation. I'm just sad and frustrated that conservatives will think it's fake news purely out of spite for liberals.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My Response to a Green Party Supporter

No, I don't get the complaints about the two party system and I think that it's largely adolescent nonsense put forth by people who can't accept the fact that a big reason why the Greens don't get anywhere is that PEOPLE DON'T LIKE THEIR IDEAS. Blaming the two parties and whining about unfairness is a total cop out. It reminds me of the 15 year old living in their parents basement who complains about the rules but yet benefits from them every single fucking day.

Did Dr. King whine about unfairness and the deck being stacked against him? No, he did not. He just put in the time, managed the complexities and got the hard work done. You have unfettered access to the internet and millions of people waiting to notice you. Make them notice you. If they don't, that's on you, not the Democrats or the Republicans. This is why I challenge you and others who think like you to actually come up with policy points that work and have a track record of working on the issues we face. Complaining about the two parties and caterwauling about plurality doesn't solve the continued problem of racism. Keep running for office and encourage other like minded individuals to do the same. Run with the party for which you have the best chance to win.

In the final analysis, I'm a functionalist, not a Democrat or a Republican. Who has the best ideas to solve the problems we face? For me, it's mostly the Democrats are nearly every issue save education and drugs. I look at which party will get me most of what I want and I support that party. I also factor in who has the best chance of winning. Most importantly, I'm an adult who accepts that I'm not going to get everything I want because that's life. And the only person I blame when things don't go my way is me. Not "evil corporate America" or the government or the two party system.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Seven Dirty Words

Comedian George Carlin made his mark on society with his classic 1972 routine, "Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on Television." If you've never seen it, it's worth watching: 

Boy, did that guy have smooth delivery.

For the most part, the ban on these words still holds on broadcast television. On network shows like Colbert's Late Show they not only mute the sound when the Seven Words are used, they also pixelate the speaker's mouth -- just in case deaf lip readers are watching.

On "pay" cable channels like HBO and Showtime anything goes: you can be as vile as you like. Basic cable, however, has pretty much hewed to the broadcast TV rules.

But the times, they are a-changing. The Daily Show for the most part still censors the Seven Words, though in Jon Stewart's epic "Bullshit is Everywhere" monologue from 2015 the censor passed it unscathed on American television. Because it was the entire point.

And if you watch Mr. Robot on USA or Happy on SYFY, you'll notice that this year they have completely abandoned censoring. In Mr. Robot a flat-affect Rami Malek says "shit" all the time to his imaginary friend (which is the audience), and in Happy a manic Chris Melloni can say "fuck" as much as he likes to his daughter's flying blue unicorn imaginary friend.

Hmm. Maybe it's okay to say the Seven Words to imaginary friends because they don't really exist, which means you never really said the words.

It is no accident that this is happening during Donald Trump's first year in office, a time of the greatest coarsening of American society. This is the guy who embarrassed newspapers across the nation by forcing them to decide whether they could print the word "pussy" when referring to a woman's vagina or Ted Cruz.

During the campaign Trump used or mouthed the Seven Words at campaign rallies, making people wonder whether his use of such language would make him lose votes in South Carolina. The answer was no: the religious right-wing hypocrites in South Carolina talk like that all the time. They thought it made Trump more authentic and a teller of truths. Which is crap because any dickwad can spout bullshit.

But Trump may have his own set of Seven Dirty Words that the CDC can't use:
The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
It's not clear from various articles whether this was an actual directive from someone in the White House or the cabinet secretary, or whether this was an attempt by a lower level HHS official to avoid controversy in budget proposals by avoiding subjects that tick off conservatives.

Either way, it sets a bad precedent when health policy is set by a bunch of know-nothings who really only care about getting their taxes cut to zero and avoiding prosecution by the special counsel for conspiring with Russia.

Monday, December 18, 2017

How Guns Work in Practice -- At Sarah Palin's House

Gun nuts love to talk about how guns are for protection. But an incident at the home of a "real American" -- Sarah Palin -- shows how useless they can be.

According to Reuters (edited lightly for brevity):
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The elder son of former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has been charged with assault and burglary in a violent confrontation with his father in which the two men struggled over a handgun at his parents’ Alaska home, court records showed on Monday.
According to the criminal complaint and supporting documents, Track Palin, 28, broke through a window of the house in Wasilla, Alaska, and scuffled with his father, Todd Palin, on Saturday night in a clash that stemmed from a family dispute over a truck.

Track Palin, who is now barred by court order from further contact with his parents and two younger siblings who live with them, remained jailed on Monday in lieu of $5,000 bail.

He was charged with a felony count of burglary with attempted injury and a misdemeanor assault count, according to court records.

It was Sarah Palin who called police to report that her elder son was assaulting his father and “freaking out and was on some type of medication,” the police affidavit stated.

Todd Palin later recounted the conflict started when his son called to say he was coming to the house to get a truck, and the father objected, prompting the son to threaten that he was en route “anyway to beat his ass,” the affidavit said.

The father armed himself with a pistol as he waited for his son to arrive, but ultimately, the affidavit said, “Todd decided he was not going to shoot his son” and was disarmed by the younger Palin as the two struggled.

Track Palin told police after his arrest, according to the affidavit, that his father had pointed the gun at him, and that the son goaded his father to shoot him. It said he admitted to drinking a few beers earlier that night.
According to the LA Times, Track also insulted the cops responding to Sarah's 911 call:
Police confronted Track Palin in the residence. He called them "peasants" and told them to lay down their weapons, according to the documents. Eventually, Palin left the house and was placed in handcuffs.
This is the thing about guns: they provide zero protection unless you are willing to kill someone first. Todd Palin made the typical mistake of thinking that pointing a gun at someone will stop them. But it doesn't: if they don't think you'll shoot, or think that you're a bad shot and you'll miss, or they just don't care if you shoot, they will come and take that gun away from you. And now you've armed a maniac or a criminal.

Since 2008, Sarah Palin has been the face of the Republican base. She and her family are prototypical Trump voters: smug, right-wing, arrogant, drunken, ignorant, angry, hate-filled, gun-crazed, drug-addled, premarital fornicating and pregnant (remember Bristol?), immoral, violent and completely apathetic about what happens to people who aren't exactly like them. They are, in a word, losers.

The Sarah Palin Republicans voted en masse for child molester Roy Moore and sexual predator Donald Trump.

When John McCain picked Sarah Palin for his vice president, it was obvious to all that she was stupid and unqualified. He lost in no small part because he chose Palin. But in doing so, McCain opened the door for any idiot to run for president.

And an idiot did: Donald Trump. And the idiot Sarah Palin Republican base voted for him. Now, as McCain stares down death from a malignant brain tumor, he sees his legacy as a war hero and maverick senator dissolve into the man who normalized idiocy and made Trump possible.

For decades Republicans have ridiculed the personal tragedies of blacks and Hispanics, characterizing them as welfare queens and wetbacks. Now Donald Trump, Roy Moore, the Palin family, Trent Franks, Blake Farenthold and all the rest have by their own actions iconified the Republican base as a rabble of losers, teen moms, drunks, rapists, gropers, trailer trash and idiots.

Do Star Wars Movies Have to Be SO Dumb?

Most reviews of the The Last Jedi paint it in a positive light. But a few point out how spectacularly stupid much of the movie is. Let me join the brave few.

The conceit of Star Wars is that people with mystical powers can wield swords in an age of blasters, giant walking tanks, and planet-busting Deathstars. Okay, yeah, it's bogus. We'll forgive them for the silliness of people with laser swords deflecting a hail of blaster bursts fired by dozens of droids and storm troopers, because it's an allegory of good vs. evil, a science fictional retelling of WWII.

In the first three movies the Empire was intent on building the ultimate doomsday weapon, which the heroes destroyed . . . twice.

In the lastest film the technology seems to have regressed to World War I levels of efficiency. In the opening scene the rebels drop bombs -- not self-propelled cruise missiles that we have right now, today -- on a spacecraft in orbit, apparently depending on gravity to hit their target. This ridiculously stupid conceit is needed so that a character can valiantly pointlessly sacrifice herself and provide a link to another character later on.

Half the movie is spent with the biggest ships in the evil fleet chasing after a couple of rebel ships which are quickly running out of fuel. It's like the German fleet chasing a British frigate across the North Atlantic.

Doesn't the First Order have missiles or nuclear weapons? Even a tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Un has missiles and nuclear weapons. The First Order runs an entire galaxy!

The First Order has hundreds of fighters they can send after the rebels, but they recall them for some lame reason, instead of letting them all perish attempting to shoot the rebels out of the sky. Since when do these guys care if their fighters are destroyed? If the writers didn't want the First Order to use their TIE fighters, they could simply have had the rebels destroy them all.

It's not 1977 anymore. The director doesn't need to dumb down the technology for the mass audience. We are all used to cruise missiles launched from a ship at sea flying for hundreds of miles and zeroing in on Saddam Hussein's bunker and blowing it to smithereens. Why doesn't the First Order have this technology?

Then, in a complete rehash of the Battle of Hoth, the First Order corners the last remaining 10 or 20 rebels in a mine behind a big metal door. Instead of nuking the rebels from orbit with nuclear warheads or some other kind of giant bunker-busting bombs, like the Empire did in Rogue One at least twice, they send a bunch of guys down to the planet with a giant drill, walking tanks and TIE fighters.

And this is just the insult added to the injuries of having characters like Finn hare off on a fool's errand that only backfires in the end. Like a commander not telling a senior officer what she's planning, inciting him to mutiny and screw up the whole plan. Like the idiotic McGuffin at the core of their dilemma: the heroes are mystified that the First Order can somehow track the rebel fleet through hyperspace, when Leia is carrying a beacon that tells Rey and everyone else in the galaxy exactly where the fleet is! Duh!

Yeah, I know nuking the rebels from orbit isn't the story that the director wants to tell. But if you don't want that story, then don't have a gigantic fleet of warships corner your heroes in a mine on a planet. If this movie is about the struggle for Kylo Ren's soul, Rey's spiritual growth and Luke's sacrifice, jettison the excess garbage.

I don't know why the Star Wars movies insist on being so braindead. Other science fiction films and shows like The Expanse are just as interesting without having idiot plots. You can still hit all the beats, do character development and have great special effects without the ridiculously lame setups.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

... Bitcoin Is Also SLOW and EXPENSIVE

The new bitcoin exchange has opened, and the price of bitcoin is closing in on $20,000. The price is still fluctuating wildly, but my guess is that enough suckers investors will bite and drive the price over the magic threshold in the next month.

But is bitcoin really worth anything? It currently has two extremely serious problems that make useless as a practical payment system.

The first is that is is extremely slow. Due to the nature of the blockchain, the system can process only three to seven transactions per second. That's for the whole planet! Credit card companies like VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, etc., process hundreds of thousands of transactions per second in the aggregate.

The second problem is the high transaction fees. The average fee has jumped around from $6 a week ago to to $26 on Friday to $20 on Sunday. You can pay a lower transaction fee if you're willing to wait several hours, but if you want fast turnaround you pay through the nose. This has drug dealers and hit men hopping mad.

Imagine what buying a pizza with bitcoin is like: you place the order, and if you want the pizza now (and who doesn't?), you have to pay a transaction fee that's more than the cost of the pizza. Or you can wait several hours for a lower fee, and get your pizza at midnight, or four AM, or the next day.

Now, a stupid investor will think: who cares? I don't need to exchange bitcoin in a rush! I can wait a few hours to sell my gold bars, what's the big deal with slow bitcoin transactions?

In this day and age, liquidity is everything. The stock market is ruled by computerized trading systems that depend on microsecond to microsecond fluctuations in stock prices. That means that big traders will pay to ram their trades through quickly, jumping to the front of the queue, leaving small fry stuck waiting. If there's enough traffic, you could conceivably wait days. The price of bitcoin could change by a thousand dollars by the time your transaction is processed. Pretty sweet, huh?

There are technical changes that may mitigate these problems, though they sacrifice some of the supposed advantages of bitcoin. But the bitcoin community is extremely fractious, and no one will agree to anything. So there will be a bunch of different solutions implemented by a bunch of different people with varying levels of integrity and competence.

Which means that there are certain to be a lot more spectacular bitcoin system crashes, gigantic heists and bankruptcies.

Shocking UFO Evidence -- NOT!

According to numerous reports, the Pentagon has spent more than $20 million researching "advanced aviation threats," or as most people call them, UFOs.
Called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, it was run out of the Pentagon by former Department of Defense intelligence officer Luis Elizondo. It began in some form in 2007, according to The Washington Post and The New York Times,and officially ended in 2012, though may still be in existence in some capacity, the Times says.
Color me skeptical. I checked out the video, and it seems fishy to me. Take a look for yourself:

The relevant section starts at 1:11. After you watch that, watch a video of someone flying in a real fighter jet, like this one:

Watch how the bogey in the purported UFO video is perfectly centered in the image. It doesn't flicker or waver until the very end, which is highly unlikely if you are tracking a high-speed UFO in a jet making a 20-degree bank. The bogey looks stuck in place, more like an artifact of the recording device. The bank lasts throughout the video is also totally steady, with no jitter and no variation.

Also, the altitude readout is rock steady at 25,010, never varying by a single foot. I'm not a pilot, so I don't know if that's typical for avionics instruments, but it's not typical for automobile speedometers. If you're fighting a 120-knot headwind like the pilots on the video are talking about, it seems highly unlikely that the altitude and airspeed of the pursuit craft would be rock steady. Looking at this video of a commercial aircraft cockpit, the altitude readout when flying a straight-on course -- without banking -- changes constantly, exactly the way the digital speedometer on a car oscillates between 65 and 66, no matter how steady your foot is on the accelerator, due to friction, wind and other factors.

Now, perfect centering of a high-speed UFO on a screen without any jitter is possible, but highly unlikely. And why didn't they film the scene with a regular light camera? IR and UV are great, but you always want to capture images in the visible spectrum for a complete picture of what happened.

To be honest, this video looks like it was cobbled together by someone using an off-the-shelf 3D graphics program, like Maya or Blender. It looks like a fake.

Every time there's shocking UFO footage, there's always some bogus reason why we just can't see the UFO on the screen, behaving in a realistic fashion, the way real objects with real mass behave.

UFO enthusiasts will counter that this is because UFOs are special and don't obey the laws of physics. But it's much more likely that this is because they're not real physical objects. Most of the time they are instrument artifacts or frauds. The rest of the time they're just Terran aircraft in unexpected places doing unexpected things.

If you read the articles closely, you'll also note that the company doing the research is run by a Robert Bigelow, a Nevadan who knows former Nevada senator Harry Reid personally. This smacks of a senator getting a pal a lucrative no-bid $22 million contract. (Bigelow Aerospace isn't totally worthless -- they're flying an inflatable habitat on the International Space Station, an idea certainly worth investigating.)

It's possible that aliens have visited earth and have flown UFOs around. But if so, we clearly have never got a good look at one. Which is basically impossible if they're as common as UFO enthusiasts would have us believe -- because there have been hundreds of thousands to millions of UFO "sightings." Which means the whole UFO narrative is totally off base.

I'm a space enthusiast. I like science fiction. I'd love it if there really were UFOs from other planets buzzing around Earth. It would prove all those conservative religious nut jobs wrong: mankind isn't special and we're not alone in the universe. We'd better start acting like grownups, take care of our planet and stop killing each other senselessly, or the galactic police will come and shut us down like they did in both versions of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

But so far there is still zero credible evidence that there are non-terrestrial UFOs.

The FBI Now Has Trump's Emails

Quora is awesome. The main reason why I dig it so much is that when I'm wondering about a particular issue, I can post a question and a whole bunch of people will leap into action and provide me answers. It's like having my own personal team of researchers.

Take the recent acquisition of Trump transition team emails from the General Services Administration (GSA). I wondered if the emails were obtained illegally as Trump's lawyers and Fox News have been asserting. Quora, what say you? 

-If proper warrants were obtained and/or if federal regulations were followed I’d say no. Seeing how Robert Mueller conducts business I believe he has nothing to worry about. It seems really comical and hypocritical for the current administration to claim its emails are “private and privileged.” Especially after beating the drum for Clinton emails and asking Wikileaks to produce them to gain an advantage in a presidential campaign. If you have done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide. This is how you really drain the swamp.

-The Trump transition team, like all previous transition teams is provided with facilities, IT (phones, faxes, computers, email etc..) and things like offices and furniture by the GSA, a federal agency. During the transition, the President Elect and his/her staff are provided with email addresses that end in and the President Elect doesn’t have “Executive Privelage”..yet so the team’s communications aren’t “protected” as confidential.

-No. The Trump transition-team emails the General Services Administration (GSA) provided to investigators were housed on GSA servers. The Trump transition team used GSA office space and computer facilities, including government email, during the transition. Transition team members signed waivers acknowledging that their government-provided email was subject to routine monitoring and auditing. They had no expectation of privacy. Yes, Transition lawyers are crying foul now. That's their job. They don't have a case. The Trump administration knows very well, however, that if they say something forcefully enough, lots of people will choose to believe them.

Answer: NO.

Did they honestly think that THEIR emails wouldn't be under scrutiny?

Friday, December 15, 2017

He Knows As Much About The Law As Right Wing Bloggers And Commenters

Buying Space Votes in Alabama

I was riding home from the new Star Wars movie today when Ira Flatow and Annalee Newitz were discussing Donald Trump's announcement that he is directing NASA to send Americans back to the moon, and eventually Mars. As Newitz said, such an initiative is meaningless without significant funding, and since Trump's tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthy will blow a gigantic hole in the budget, it will certainly come to nothing, just as George Bush's moonshot initiative did.

I was puzzled and dismayed when Trump announced the policy. Puzzled because it makes absolutely no sense for someone as stupid, callow and selfish as Donald Trump to care about the space program. And Donald Trump is spectacularly stupid: one of the pronouncements he made last February was that he wanted the first test flight of NASA's heavy lift rocket -- the biggest rocket ever -- to be manned.

This man is a total idiot. Doesn't he remember Apollo 1? No, of course not. During the 1960's he was too busy fighting his personal Vietnam, banging every woman in New York with a pulse. He couldn't be bothered to notice that three American astronauts had died in a fire atop an untested Saturn V in 1967.

You just don't put human beings on an untested rocket. It needlessly complicates an already complex mission, but it's also immoral and a public relations nightmare.

So, why the announcement? Maybe it's his phallic fantasy: after taunting Kim Jong Un with "Little Rocket Man," perhaps Trump's motivation was his desire to be Big Rocket Man. As he signed the document, Trump was thinking, "My rocket's bigger than your rocket!"

I was dismayed because his endorsement discredits the manned space program. Trump praising NASA automatically puts it on the liberal shit list, just when space was coming back in vogue with the help of Elon Musk. Musk has revitalized support for space exploration among liberals with his reusable rockets, electric cars, solar panels, and hyperloop mass transit.

But, listening to Flatow and Newitz talking, I suddenly realized that the real reason Trump had announced the NASA initiative was totally cynical. It was made on Monday, the day before the senate election in Alabama.

Alabama has a lot of highly educated people who work at NASA and related space technology companies in and around Huntsville. Polling told Republicans that support for Roy Moore was very soft among wealthy, college-educated engineers and technicians who work in the space industry.

Trump was not-so-subtly trying to buy votes for Roy Moore from space industry workers by making the announcement the day before the election. But they wouldn't have it: Doug Jones beat child molester Roy Moore with a coalition of blacks, women and college-educated white suburbanites and city-dwellers.

So, remember this: Donald Trump never does anything for anyone. If he supports you or your cause, he's just working an angle: it's only temporary because he needs you for something in the next couple of days or weeks. After that he'll throw you overboard. Just ask the dozens of people who've left his administration after less than a year, including Anthony Scaramucci, James Comey, Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Omarosa Manigault Newman -- the list goes on and on, and gets longer every day.

Since Alabama voters defied Trump, I'm predicting that he will punish the state: NASA's budget -- and Huntsville's in particular -- will suffer for it. Trump's just that kind of guy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Why Doug Jones Won

CNN has a great piece up on how exactly Doug Jones won the Alabama senate seat last night. Essentially, it's this: when Democrats turn out to vote, they win. It's just that simple.

Jones was a great candidate who ran as an unapologetic liberal. When the Dems don't half ass and moderate it, they can win...even in deep red Alabama. No doubt, Moore was a terrible candidate but that was only one of many factors. Democrats will now be fully energized and we can expect to see more quality candidates running even in districts where previous beliefs have said they would not win.

Like my co-blogger, I thought Moore would win merely on the abortion issue alone. I was quite happy last night to be wrong. It's safe to say now that there is a lot of energy on the ground now for Democrats given last night's results and the results last November in Virginia and New Jersey. If this carries into next year, Trump is fucked. One or both houses will be taken back and he will be impeached and thrown out of office (if it doesn't happen sooner).

Jones stands an excellent chance of holding on to his seat when it comes up again in 2020. Since the GOP seems to now be fully engaged in a civil war, who knows what kind of candidate they will put up? It will also be a presidential year so more Democrats will turn out.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The polls were accurate. Jones won within the margin of error.

How Did Roy Moore Lose?

I was certain that Roy Moore would win the Alabama Senate election by 10 or 20 points. Donald Trump won Alabama by 30%, and he came out strong for Moore in the final days of the campaign. Polls indicated a tight race, with Moore gaining momentum as election day approached. Even Steve Bannon showed up to spew his brand of vitriol and hatred.

It shouldn't be surprising that Moore lost. After all, he stands credibly accused of molesting several teenage girls when he was a thirty-something D.A., while his opponent put the murderers of several teenage girls in prison.

Doug Jones won on the strength of a good turnout by black voters and whites in big cities and suburbs, as well as a lack of enthusiasm by Republicans. More than 20,000 write-in votes were cast -- almost two percent of the total.

But it wasn't just the allegations of child molestation that sunk Moore. It was his long record of lawlessness, intransigence, wistful longing for the good old days of slavery, and homophobia.

Moore went into hiding for the last few weeks of the campaign. He assumed that the voter suppression tactics of the Alabama secretary of state, John Merrill, would hold down black turnout:
“If you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege,” Republican John Merrill said in an interview with documentary filmmaker Brian Jenkins. Jenkins had asked why he opposed automatically registering Alabamians when they reach voting age, and his response sizzled with anger toward people who “think they deserve the right because they’ve turned 18.” So he made a pledge: “As long as I’m secretary of state of Alabama, you’re going to have to show some initiative to become a registered voter in this state.”
Jones won because Senate races are statewide, by pure majority vote: there's no electoral college and no possibility of gerrymandering, as is the case for House seats.

Moore may have also been banking on Russian social media efforts to sway voters. In a video from last summer Moore says the United States is a focus of evil in the world and admires Putin's morality: "Well, then maybe Putin is right. Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know."

Putin has had dozens of journalists, opposition politicians and antidoping officials murdered. He has doled out lucrative government businesses to his lackeys and uses the Russian mafia to further Russia's goals abroad. But he's against gay marriage, so he's okay in Roy Moore's book!

Then, just before the election, Moore and his wife, Kayla, made an appearance in which she insisted her husband doesn't hate Jews and wasn't racist: he has a Jewish attorney, he hired a black marshal for the Alabama Supreme Court and they have black friends!

Was she really so clueless that she thought saying these things means you're not racist? Or was this calculated to send a message to the racists affirming exactly how racist he is?

The worst thing isn't even what she said: it's the creepy smile Moore wore the whole time. He looks like he's sneaking up on a teenage girl to cop a feel.

I am frankly amazed and heartened that Moore lost the election in Alabama. Maybe Republicans in congress will get the message. Maybe they'll start an investigation of Trump's sex crimes: they tried impeaching Bill Clinton for less.

But it's not all hopeful: almost half the voters, more than 670,000 people, thought it was appropriate to send a child molester to the U.S. Senate instead of a civil rights lawyer.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Polls Are Usually Accurate

Conservatives hate polls. It's probably because they are fact based numbers and we all know that facts have a liberal bias. Conservatives don't want to face reality and want to play in the emotional end of the pool, chucking all logic right out the window.

Take the 2016 presidential election. Conservatives think that all the polls were wrong and Trump beat all those smug elites who talk about facts and stuff. The problem is that the polls were quite accurate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by around 3%. Trump won all the states he was supposed to win by the margins that were detailed in the polls and he picked off three (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) that were within the margin of error. Sure, the projections were wrong but not the polls. The final projection by Nate Silver gave Trump a 30% chance of victory. That's just a little bit less than 1 in 3 which is how it all played out.

So, because I'm someone who looks at polls and recognizes their scientific accuracy, I say that Roy Moore is going to win the Alabama senate race tomorrow. He's been up in the last several polls of likely voters (the only type of poll that matters) and is in a state that just doesn't have enough Democrats. He's also running against an unapologetic Democrat who supports abortion rights and gun control. Moore is running in a special election which means that the turnout demographic is going to be older and whiter. That means more conservative.

As I have said for many years here at Zombie Politics, conservatives are very tribal and want to beat liberals. They don't care who wins, even it's a monster like Roy Moore. If a member of the Nazi party from the 1930s ran against Jones, conservatives would be goose stepping their way to vote for the guy.

Since it's clear that conservatives have lost all capacity for rational thought, all efforts should be focused on getting out more voters and burying these psychotics at the polls. The headline for Wednesday morning.

Republicans elect accused child molester. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Three More Republicans with Spines

It's just two days till the special senate election in Alabama. Voters will choose between a civil rights lawyer and a child molester.

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon went to Dixie to rally support for the child molester, Roy Moore.

I'm not sure why Alabamans should listen to these guys. Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker, wannabe Hollywood producer, online computer game gold farmer, and media elite. Donald Trump is a smarmy billionaire New York real estate mogul and reality TV star (on NBC, a fake news network!) with connections to the Russian mob, who admitted screwing over hundreds of people when he paid out millions of dollars to those he lied to in the Trump University case.

Bannon called the Alabama election a war. And it is a war. A war for the soul of the Republican Party. For decades the Republicans have coyly courted racists and misogynists with racist dog whistles and hyperbolic anti-abortion rhetoric.

But with Donald Trump condoning neo-Nazis, openly endorsing the apartheid rhetoric of the alt-right, and bragging about sexual assault, the majority of Republicans have abandoned any pretense of Christian morality. It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

There are some Republicans who have resisted the racism and the sexism of Donald Trump. Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and Mitt Romney can be counted among them. Three more have distinguished themselves in the past two days.

In an opinion piece on the New York Times Peter Wehner, a fellow of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote that he has stopped calling himself an evangelical Republican. The hypocrisy of Roy Moore and evangelicals who voted en masse for Donald Trump has finally pushed him over the line.

Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia expressed her distaste for Roy Moore on Fox News. She notes that if Moore wins, he'll likely face a Senate ethics committee. And given the recent resignations of John Conyers, Al Franken and Trent Franks, it is quite likely that Moore will not be seated.

Finally, Alabama's senior senator, Richard Shelby, denounced Moore on CNN:
“I didn't vote for Roy Moore,” Shelby said. “I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.”

Shelby encouraged fellow Alabama voters to do as he did on his absentee ballot: to write in the name of another Republican for the office. Jones's chances of victory would be significantly boosted if large numbers of Republicans abandon Moore in favor of various write-in candidates. Shelby declined to name which Republican got his vote.

“The state of Alabama deserves better,” he said.
There's another risk factor here for Republicans: so far nine women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers as young as 14. How many more are out there? How many were paid hush money and are holding their tongues because of an NDA? If there's a Senate investigation, the FBI will be involved, and who knows what dirt they'll dig up.

The election Tuesday will show whether the people of Alabama value tribal loyalty over honesty, morality and integrity.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Bitcoin's Wild Ride

What is money worth? When it was tangible and made from rare metals such as gold or silver, people felt it had an intrinsic value. Yet you can't eat gold. Silver won't keep the rain off you or keep you warm. These precious metals are very useful in electronics, though we toss tons and tons of old cellphones and TVs into landfills without extracting the metal. 

When money started being printed on paper it was originally backed by precious metals held by governments: the pound sterling was a pound of sterling silver in 775 AD. But over time the intrinsic value of paper money essentially became zero -- though you can burn it to keep yourself warm.

Most of our money is no longer tangible: our paychecks are not even checks anymore -- they're automatically deposited to our bank accounts. We use automatic transfers to pay our mortgages, utility bills, property taxes. We use credit cards or our cellphones to buy food, clothing and all the other necessities of life.

What makes gold and silver valuable? Scarcity and greed. They are also durable: precious metals won't freeze or burn in a fire. They tend to hold their value over time.

The latest currency fad is bitcoin. In recent days the value of bitcoin has fluctuated wildly:
In a hectic day on Thursday, bitcoin leapt from below $16,000 to $19,500 in less than an hour on the U.S.-based GDAX, one of the biggest exchanges globally, while it was still changing hands at about $15,900 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp. Some market watchers attributed the lurch higher to the coming launch of bitcoin futures on major exchanges.

Having then climbed to $16,666 on Bitstamp at around 0200 GMT on Friday, it tumbled to $13,482 by around 1200 GMT - a slide of more than 19 percent. It was last down 8.2 percent at $15,232.32 on BitStamp.

Bitcoin is a "cryptocurrency" that has no intrinsic value. It is not a metal, or precious gemstone, or even paper. It exists only as a string of binary digits, typically stored on a flash drive. If you lose that flash drive, or encrypt it and forget the key, or the flash drive becomes corrupt (which could happen in 10 years), or someone steals it, the bitcoin that was on it is gone forever.
Bitcoin is scarce because it is "mined" by running a computer algorithm that cranks out a series of numbers. The raw materials used are CPU seconds and electricity, and it takes a lot of electricity. The electricity used to mine bitcoin could power all of Ireland. That's about 1% of all the power used by the internet.

Bitcoin scarcity is further increased by the virtue that there is a finite number of bitcoin that can ever be created. In the minds of crazed and greedy investors, this makes bitcoin perfect: it's like using Picasso or da Vinci paintings as a unit of currency. Gold is less valuable because we can always mine more -- and when we run out here, we can find more in the solar system. Somewhere out there in the asteroid belt is a rock with more gold in it than mankind has mined in all of history.

Up this point bitcoin has been the province of hackers and criminals -- heroin dealers, forgers, prostitutes, hit men -- who lurk on the dark net. But almost every other day there's another story about someone being hacked and losing millions of dollars worth of bitcoin, or another bitcoin currency exchange going bankrupt.

Bitcoin has become so volatile that many companies are no longer accepting it as a form of payment: it's value is fluctuating crazily and the processing fees for converting it into real money make it useless.

Bitcoin supporters love it because they think it's anonymous, it uses a fancy distributed blockchain that eschews centralized control, and doesn't have the backing of any government.

But the anonymity is illusory: to use bitcoin to buy anything, you have to convert it to real money or find a seller who will accept it in exchange for a physical object or service that will eventually find its way to you. These transactions are all ultimately trackable. So, unless you're using bitcoin to hire anonymous hitmen to murder people you don't know, the anonymity is overrated.

And as for governments: the biggest bitcoin mines are in China, where they use cheap computers and electricity generated by dirty coal-fired power plants. These companies use computers that have custom designed ASICs (computer chips) that implement the mining algorithm in hardware.

American companies, pushed by investors to minimize production costs and increase profits, have for years sold out this country by sending jobs and manufacturing to China. Now these investors are starting to sink billions of real dollars into bitcoin, a completely fake currency that no government backs but which China has a de facto monopoly on.

The prices of gold, silver and diamonds have fluctuated over the years. But at the end of the day, they have some use in the real world. Gold, silver and diamonds can be used in jewelry, electronics, drill bits and saws.

Bitcoin has no intrinsic value: the CPU seconds and electricity used to mine it are gone forever, though the CO2 from burning Chinese coal for that electricity will warm the earth for centuries.

When bitcoin crashes the bits on all those flash drives will be completely and utterly worthless. Though I suppose you can use the flash drive to save all your cat videos.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Al Franken and the Republican Mentality

A majority of Senate Democrats, including most of the women, have called on Senator Al Franken to resign amid allegations of improper sexual advances. It's not surprising, given how many other men have lost their jobs in recent months for similar accusations. Franken will make an announcement tomorrow: it's almost certain he'll resign, as Democrat John Conyers did yesterday for similar reasons.

Franken has acknowledged the veracity of the some of the claims, and apologized for them. But some he denies. Most of Franken's accusers have remained anonymous, so it's really impossible to judge their veracity.

Most Republicans have remained silent on Franken. That's because Donald Trump, Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, and Republican Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas have been accused of far more egregious behavior by dozens of women. Farenthold even used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit.

But Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell also called on Franken to resign, saying, “I do not believe he can effectively serve the people of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate any longer.”

What hypocrisy.

Trump and Moore have both acknowledged on tape the pattern of behavior they are accused of. Trump's and Moore's accusers have stood up publicly and made their names known along with their accusations. These brave women have been attacked by the right-wing slime machine as liars. Some of them are Republicans and Trump voters who have no axe to grind.

The Republican double standard is in full view. Republicans say that when Democrats touch a woman's ass, as Franken is accused of by anonymous accusers, it's a firing offense because Democrats oppose sexual harassment.

But everyone knows that Republicans are sexist dicks who think they own women's bodies. Since the voters who elect those sexist dicks think it's just fine when rich men in power fondle women's breasts, grab women by the pussy, molest fourteen-year-old girls, tell dirty jokes at the office and force female employees to have sex with their bosses, Republicans should be able to get away with that behavior.

Republican voters think these women deserve such treatment for putting themselves in a position where rich and powerful men can get at them: if only they had stayed home, barefoot and pregnant, those horn dogs would never have been able to touch them. By working as actresses, or news anchors, or reporters, or waitresses, or going to dinner with Donald Trump, these women are asking to be assaulted. They knew what they signed up for, as Trump would say.

These are the same Republicans who, just a few years ago, claimed to be "values" voters, who said they believe that character counts, and that morality and virtue are the most important aspects in a leader.

But the truth is out now: Republicans only care about wealth and power. They mouth platitudes about morality and the bible, but they think politicians and the wealthy are like the kings of the Old Testament, or the slave owners of the antebellum South: they have a God-given right to commit rapine and plunder.

They don't even care that their politicians lie and break their promises: Trump says the voice on the Access Hollywood tape isn't his, a year after admitting it was, and Republicans voters just swallow it.

The Republican tax cut working its way through Congress is a huge giveaway to the wealthy, giant corporations and Donald Trump personally. It will screw over the little people, resulting in a tax increase for some middle-income folks immediately and for the entire middle class within 10 years. But Trump jerks off, saying that tax bill will hurt him bigly, and Republicans just swallow it.

Republican voters are captive to a slave mentality. In their minds, if a politician has an (R) by his name and blathers Sunday school nonsense on the campaign trail he can play grab-ass all he wants, forcing himself on anyone he wants, anytime he wants.

The Republican Party has without a doubt proved that it is nothing but a nest of hypocritical, lying vipers, intent only accruing more money and power for the wealthy, subjugating the common man, or rather, the common woman, to their every whim.

The Idiocy of Concealed Carry Reciprocity

Republicans in Congress are currently working on a bill that would allow people with concealed carry permits from one state to carry their weapons anywhere in the country, regardless of local laws. In essence, they want states like Wyoming and Alabama to decide gun policy for New York, Chicago and Baltimore.

There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea. First and foremost, what ever happened to states rights? Republicans used to be against the federal government dictating what states can and can't do. Now they're shoving one state's laws down every other state's throat.

Gun nuts say they need this because it's so hard to figure out what the local laws are. "I'd have to, like, read and stuff!" they whine. Seriously, do these people just roam around the country with a gun jammed in their waistbands, never knowing where they'll wind up next?

Another question is how such a law can be enforced. If a New York cop stops a thug with a gun, and the thug has a concealed carry permit from Georgia, or Wyoming or Idaho in his wallet, how is the cop going to validate that permit? It's just a piece of plastic. You can easily buy fake drivers licenses online, the same will be true with concealed carry permits. Unless those states have a 24-hour hotline to validate concealed carry permits, cops will have to arrest suspects and put them in jail until they can verify the permit is authentic.

Then suppose some state decides to sell concealed permits to anyone in any state to raise cash. Should gangbangers in Chicago stopped by the cops be able to just whip out their Wyoming concealed carry permit for a gun they bought off the internet and skate free?

But why just guns?

It's so hard to figure out what local traffic laws are. How can I know whether Texas allows right turns at red lights? Do I have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, or can I just run them down? Do I have to give bicyclists three feet of leeway, or can I just nudge them off the road? And what about speed limits? Montana has an 80-mph speed limit on the interstate. Shouldn't Montanans be able to go 80 on any interstate in the country?

Why not a national speed limit reciprocity law?

And it's so hard to figure out drug laws. Colorado has legalized marijuana. Shouldn't Coloradans be able to smoke marijuana anywhere in the country? Shouldn't Colorado marijuana shops be able to sell marijuana on the internet to anyone in the country?

Why not a national marijuana reciprocity law?

Prostitution is legal in most Nevada counties. Shouldn't licensed Nevada hookers should be able to ply their trade in any state in the Union?

Why not a national prostitution reciprocity law?

Gambling is illegal in many states. But Nevada allows it, so shouldn't any licensed Nevada casino be able to set up shop in any state they like?

Why not a national gambling reciprocity law?

A lot of states severely restrict abortion. Why shouldn't doctors who have a license to conduct abortions in one state should be able to perform the procedure in accordance with their home state's laws on any patient in any state without regard to local laws?

Why not a national abortion reciprocity law?

The concealed carry reciprocity law is clearly unconstitutional: it denies equal protection under the law. If a Georgian and a New Yorker both walk into LaGuardia airport carrying guns and set off a metal detector, one could be arrested and sent to prison while the other would just get a pat on the back.

States must have the right to enact laws that apply equally and fairly to everyone, regardless of what state they're from. States have a legitimate interest in maintaining their sovereignty -- one of Donald Trump's favorite words. They should be able to say how, when and who can carry deadly weapons within their boundaries.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Corrupt and Criminal Nation Gets Its Comeuppance

The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound. Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.
The 2014 Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia, where the Russians had a complex scheme to scam the antidoping regimen. The lab that checked urine samples had a secret room where the Russians stored clean urine samples taken months before the Olympics, which were exchanged for steroid-tainted samples taken during the competition.

Russia won 33 medals in the 2014 Games, beating the U.S. count of 28. After investigations are complete, most of these Russians stand to lose their medals. The real winners will receive their medals, four years late, in a ceremony at the upcoming Winter Games.

After Sochi the director of the Russian anti-doping program, Grigory Rodchenkov, received an Order of Friendship medal from Vladimir Putin. But in November, 2015 the World Anti-Doping Agency identified Rodchenkov as the mastermind of the state-sponsored Russian doping program. Rodchenkov was fired and fled Russia. He has come clean about the Russian program, exposing Russia's dirty secrets in great detail.

Two other Russians involved with the antidoping program died within two weeks of each other in early 2016. Nikita Kamaev died of of a "heart attack" and Vyacheslav Sinev's cause of death was not specified -- though I'm guessing it was a case of acute lead poisoning that affects so many people who have outlived their usefulness to Vladimir Putin.

Russia is a corrupt oligarchy from top to bottom. It is a kleptocracy run by a man who richly rewards those who do the dirty work for him, but whom he liquidates when their corruption becomes known.

Putin believes the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Republicans have touted that collapse as the greatest achievement of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party. Yet, astonishingly, Republicans like Donald Trump and Dana Rohrabacher shower Putin with praises.

Americans who think that Putin is a man they can deal with are fools, cowards or collaborators. Putin is intent on destroying the United States and the democracies of Europe, using the freedoms of our democracies as weapons against us. Putin is a thug, a murderer, and a war criminal responsible for the downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine and airstrikes on civilians in Syria.

Most every day there's another revelation about the Trump campaign's connections to the Russians -- like the meeting between Donald Jr. and the former Russian F.S.B director Alexander Torshin at -- of all places -- an NRA meeting, just days before he met with the lawyer promising dirt on Clinton.

As of this writing Donald Trump has yet to tweet anything about the IOC decision. But if he calls it a travesty and "fake news" we'll know he got his marching orders from Moscow. Like he always does.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Four Ways Trump Goes Buh-Bye

Yesterday, Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, plead guilty to lying tot he FBI and named Jared Kushner and KT McFarland as two senior people in the Trump campaign as having directed him to do so. This comes on top of the New York Daily news report that President Trump's mental capacity is essentially gone. Michele Goldberg at the New York Times has a report that strengthens this assertion.

At this point, I think we see four clear ways the Trump era comes to an end. Here's my take on the likelihood of each transpiring.

1. Trump is indicted by Robert Mueller for colluding with the Russians to win the election in 2016. 

Right now I give this about a 70% chance of happening. It has gone up significantly since yesterday, obviously. If the Democrats take back either chamber next year, it's over for Trump. I predict that Kushner is going to be the next one to cave.

2. Trump resigns from office because he can't take it anymore.

Trump is a whiny baby just like all internet trolls. Taking his ball and going home has a lot of appeal. But he would be admitting defeat if he quit. He might quit if he feels the heat from Mueller and knows he's fucked, hoping that Pence will pull a Gerry Ford and pardon him. I give it about a 40% chance of happening.

3. Trump is indicted on sexual harassment/assault charges. 

Trump has already admitted that he's done this and nothing has happened. The "liberal" media has been too focused on bringing its own people down to notice that they are being jobbed by the right. It's time for them to focus on Trump and let loose the floodgates of every accuser he has ever had. Trump deserves the Bill Clinton treatment.

It is hard to prove this stuff, though, so I give it only about a 25% chance of happening.

4. Trump is removed from office because he is mentally unwell.

This has the greatest chance of happening. If you take a critical look at this behavior for the last 2+ years, it's obvious. He's batshit nuts. He believes every wackadoodle theory the internet has to offer. At this point, I think there is an 80% chance that the 25th amendment will be invoked at some point, likely by the military members of the cabinet, and that will be it. For example, Trump could order a nuclear strike against North Korea and Mattis, Kelly and McMaster all block him.

It's only a matter of time before one of these four things happen and I'm thinking it will be sometime in 2018 before the midterms.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Trump's Tax Bill Sets Stage for a Repeat of 2008

Remember the crash of 2008?

It got started a few years earlier, when real estate flippers drove up home prices and created the housing bubble. Banks lent money to people who couldn't afford to repay the loans on these overpriced houses, and then those banks rolled those bad loans into complex investment vehicles that no one really understood, but which became worth less than the paper they were printed on when people defaulted on their loans.

The economy imploded. Most of the big banks were bailed out, but millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes and billions of dollars. 

It took several years for the economy to regain some semblance of normality, and many Americans never regained their jobs, homes and livelihoods. The average person has become permanently poorer, while corporations and the richest Americans have drastically increased their net worth.

Donald Trump's tax bill is going to let that happen again. How?

The tax bill is explicitly crafted to reduce Trump's tax bill zero. The tax bill eliminates loopholes for certain kinds of businesses, but not Trump's and Jared Kushner's.

For example:
  • The alternative minimum tax will be eliminated. That was the only reason Trump paid taxes on his 2005 tax return. 
  • The tax rate on pass-through corporations will be reduced significantly. Trump's businesses are all pass-throughs.
  • Rental income, royalty payments and licensing fees get especially favorable treatment. Most of Trump's income comes from these types of arrangements.
  • The tax bill exempts real estate from the limitations of the deductibility of interest payments.
  • The like-kind exchange loophole will be eliminated for everything except real estate.
The last two items will create a boom in the real estate market as the wealthy reorganize their businesses to take advantage of that special treatment. It will allow real estate flippers to repeat the the disaster that drove housing prices into the stratosphere. It will be somewhat different this time around, however.

Since 2008 Americans have been leery of buying houses themselves, and are renting instead. The tax law changes mean even more investors will rush to buy up single-family dwellings to rent them out. They'll also buy up existing rental units to "upgrade" them with fancy granite countertops and stainless steel appliances so they double and triple the rent.

In the end, a few giant corporations (like Jared Kusher's) will wind up owning most single-family dwellings and apartment buildings, pushing more and more average Americans and small businesses out of housing ownership. This will cause the rental market to overheat, and rents will skyrocket. While rents are high, Wall Street will create investment vehicles from these overpriced rental properties and sell them to suckers.

Like banks in recent years, these giant rental corporations will find hundreds of ways to screw renters, much the way Jared Kushner's company in Baltimore screwed over their tenants with excessive fees and ridiculous penalties. Kushner sicced collection agencies on former renters for rent they didn't owe and even using the court system to harass tenants by getting them arrested.

Then, like the last time, it'll collapse when people can't pay the exorbitant rents. It will all come crashing down, and millions will be thrown out of their homes, and lose their jobs and billions of dollars in security deposits.

I'm betting the collapse will be caused by something really stupid, like firms using security deposits as a gigantic illicit slush fund, or drastically overstating the value of the assets through some real estate depreciation gimmick made possible by Trump's tax bill.

And the crash will almost certainly involve a huge stock market "correction" as investors pull out of stocks whose prices were driven sky-high with the promise of giant dividends made possible by Trump's tax cut gimmicks. Many of those stocks will plummet when fickle investors have realized their gains from those stocks, and pull out of them to find the next golden ticket.

During the last bubble the Bush administration was asleep at the switch: regulators ignored all the warning signs of the impending crash. Trump recently appointed Mick Mulvaney to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mulvaney takes over agency with the intent of totally neutering it. This means that nothing will be done to prevent the shenanigans that will cause the bubble, because the people running the government will be profiting from the bubble.

The CFPB was created to prevent another economic disaster by forcing the big banks to have enough assets to cover their loans. It also went after the predatory practices of banks, such as the Wells Fargo debacles, where they opened accounts for customers without their permission and sold them unneeded car insurance. They also went after payday lenders and other financial scams that hurt regular Americans. This will all end with Mulvaney in charge.

Most people are focusing on the inherent unfairness of the tax cut, with huge cuts for the wealthy and corporations and much smaller cuts for real Americans that completely dry up in 10 years -- a scam required to get around Senate rules to avoid a filibuster.

The problems I outlined above will take a few years to manifest, with the economic crash coming in six to eight years, on a timetable similar to the disasters that befell most previous Republican administrations in the 20th century: Coolidge/Hoover (the Depression), Nixon (1974 recession), Reagan (the S&L crisis) and the George W. Bush (2008 collapse).

The only hope we have to avoid a repeat of 2008 is if Democrats take the House in 2018 and the presidency in 2020.