Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year In Review: Coulda Been Worse

Because, what the hell, everyone else is doing it.

Wars: 1 down, 1 to go, 1 pending
The United States has finally gotten out of Iraq having long ago forgotten why we invaded them in the first place (WMDs, remember?). Iraq is now free to devolve back into the sectarian civil war they have indulged in for decades before occupation. The Afghanistan War continues even though there is no real goal and no real plan.
Will Israel start things by bombing Iran's nuclear facilities and then pass it on to the US troops to do all the actual dying? Will Ahmadinejad get bored with the waiting and start a war by blocking the Strait of Hormuz? Or will a freshly elected Mittster invade to get some love from Republican neo-cons?

Terrorism: OBL is DOA
Bin Laden was killed this year, although having to wait through ten years of failure to get there takes some of the fizz out of the champagne.

Arab Winter
The democracy movement in Egypt has been captured by a military dictatorship that is more brutal than the Mubarak government was. Syria's president is engaged in genocide against Syrians. Tunisia seems to be doing okay; we'll see about Libya.

Unemployment: Inching towards full employment
It used to be that full employment meant that everybody had a job. Then it was decided that having a reservoir of people desperate for work was a good thing (for businesses) so "full employment" was defined as an unemployment rate of 3%.  In recent years that number has been inching up. The current definition of "full employment" (NAIRU) is nine million people (6%) without work.

Republican Politics
The Republican presidential field is the biggest group of stooges in politics since Larry, Moe, and Shemp filmed a two-reeler titled Three Dark Horses.

If it weren't for gays, nobody would be getting married nowadays, meaning most Family Values Republicans are really anti-marriage.

Social Equality: a bad year
The Great Disenfranchisement continues as Republicans set up barriers to prevent the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly from voting. American citizens of Hispanic decent are being deported. A new law allows confinement without trial of American citizens.

It Coulda Been Worse
Republicans could control all levels of government. As it is, they control Congress, the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, and the military.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Merchants of War

No country in the world sells more weapons of war than the United States. In fact, the US manufactures and sells more military hardware to the developing world than every other country in the world combined.
Click image.
Tanks and planes are disposable commodities (the goal being to blow up the other guy's shit), the biggest profits come if you can supply both sides of a conflict.

The US is selling $11 billion worth of jets to wanna-be petty Shi'ite dictator Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq. The US is also selling $29 billion worth of new jets to the petty Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia. Iraq is going to want to play with its new toys. The Saudis are going to want to protect their Sunni brothers in Iraq. The chances the two countries are going to start shooting down each others planes are high. You know what that means?

Profits, Baby!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Who Will Win the Iowa Caucus?

As a rule, the Iowa Caucus is predictive of nothing. Winning means little, losing means less. The most important thing about the caucus is that it weeds out the wastrel candidates who devote too many resources to Iowa and can't compete in the rest of the country.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Virginia GOP Ballot

Republicans have given me an early Christmas present. Only Mitt and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot in Virginia. Most states pretty much allows anyone with a pulse on the ballot (New Hampshire has 33 Republicans on their presidential primary ballot). Virginia is more strict, requiring 10,000 signatures with names from all 13 congressional districts to qualify.

Ten thousand is not an impossible number. I've seen all volunteer efforts gather twice that number in two months. If you are lazy just $50,000 will hire paid troops to gather the signatures.

Conservatives are bouncing between morning the absence of Gingrich and Perry, bemoaning a choice restricted to a Mormon Communist and a neo-Nazi, and weaving conspiracy theories that Romney supporters rigged the system. Reading the comments on RedState are very entertaining.

Gingrich and Perry tried but failed to qualify. All the other Republicans that have been showing up at all those debated didn't even try. Gingrich is whining about how unfair it is while Perry is threatening to sue. It is beyond me how someone thinks they can run an entire country when they can't even negotiate that nation's election rules.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Why They Run: Republicans for President

There are some back stories that explain the motivation of the Republican presidential candidates.

Mitt Is Still Proving Himself to Daddy
The most telling thing about Mitt Romney is that he has a campaign poster for his father, George, on his campaign bus. Mitt has been running for office for two decades and mostly a failure at it. His father forced the 45 year-old Mitt to run for Senate in 1994, going so far as to move in with his son to hector him. Mitt's inability to find a permanent policy platform shows he has no political motivation to run. His father long ago told Mitt that he wasn't worth shit unless he was President and poor Mitt is still trying to please Daddy.

Paul the Anarchist
Ron Paul has said that the Civil War was wrong because the government had no right to end slavery, although he would not have been against people buying slaves to free them. He has opposed the Civil Rights Act because he believes people should have the right to indulge their race hatred without interference. These opinions has made Paul a hero to neo-Nazis who don't want anarchy so much as an oppressive dictatorship.

Book Tour Campaigns
Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich independently came up with the same brilliant plan to con people into donating money to pay for their book tours by pretending to run for President. Neither expected nor wanted to be declared front runner but it has helped book sales.

Professional Nags
Bachmann and Santorum are just perpetual scolds who want a wider audience for their reproval. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taxing the Rich

Republicans contend that lowering taxes on the rich will create jobs. This chart (from Centers for American Progress) shows job growth (Y-axis) related to the tax rate. Using 60 years of actual data it show that lower taxes tend to depress employment while higher taxes tend to encourage jobs creations.

The reason for this is not simple. Lower top tax rates allows wealth to concentrate unhealthily, creating a feeble economy. Also, the Republican argument against welfare works for the wealthy as well. When oligarchs don't have to work for their riches they tend towards idleness. Higher taxes act as an incentive for the wealthy to work for a vibrant economy so they can pay their taxes and still be stinking rich.

The lie that lower taxes are good for the country dates back to the Laffer Curve. Arthur Laffer started with the notion that a 0% tax rate will raise no taxes and a 100% tax rate won't either since people won't work for nothing. He connected those two data points with the simplest possible Bell Curve, slapped his name on it, and watched Ronald Reagan build an entire religion upon it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Mayan Calendar

It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse. ~ Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The countdown clock begins today. In just 366 days (leap year, you know) the world is coming to an end.
The Mayans were calendar nuts. They had a solar calender (Haab) that consisted of 18 months that were twenty days long plus a five day festival of human sacrifice to make up the difference. They had a lunar calendar (Tzolkin) that had twenty months with 13 days each that matched the human gestation cycle.

Those two calendars were merged into a 52 year cycle that was used for divination. The end of each 52 year cycle was was a time of renewal when household utensils were destroyed and fires extinguished.

Then there is the famous Long Count Calendar. The basic Long Count Calendar Year is 5,125 years duration. Twenty of those achieve a 26,000 year epoch marked by the full precession of the winter solstice alignment with the galactic center. According to the Mayans there are five such epochs totally some 130,000 years.

The last Long Count Calendar Year began on August 11, 3114 BCE and is due to end on December 21, 2012. It marks the end of the fifth (and final) epoch when the sun at winter solstice will again align with the center of the Milky Way.
A Side Note: 26,000 years ago was the height of the last Ice Age. Humans had recently driven Neanderthals into extinction.
What exactly is supposed to happen next year depends on your imagination. Such Mayan writings that have been translated suggest climatic upheaval. Add the Mayans to the Christian belief that the world has just got to end any day now (Really, it's just gotta!) and Republican certainty that armageddon is better than four more years of Barack Obama. We have the perfect storm for the End of Days prediction business.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Next Not Romney

Newt Gingrich has worn out his four weeks atop the polls by saying truly insane things like he would arrest judges who disagree with him. Yet the thought of Mitt Romney still fills the mouths of Republican rank and file with partially digested vomit. It's time for a new Golden Boy.
Ta-da! It's Ron Paul's turn leading the polls.

It's fun watching the panic from the Tea Partiers as they lurch from one idiot to another searching for a substitute for Nelson Rockefeller Mitt Romney.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Worst Year Ever: Football Department

You have to be really good to be really bad all year and not get benched.

George Blanda (1962) - 42 Interceptions
Aaron Rodgers has thrown six interception in 13 Green Bay wins. In the young AFL, one out of ever ten passes Blanda attempted was caught by the defense. But the Houston Oilers still managed to finish first with an 11-3 record. Blanda went on to lead the league in interceptions the next three years as well. He retired at the age of 48 and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Davey O'Brien (1940) - minus 1.8 yards/rush
Quarterbacks are not noted for their running ability (and, no, Tim Tebow is not a quarterback). Back in the day of leather helmets when concussions were unheard of because nobody was stupid enough to use their heads as a weapon, Davey O'Brien was an outstanding passer. He averaged an unheard of 120 yards passing per game. (Drew Brees throws 336 yards per game). Unfortunately, Davey loved to run the ball too. He led his team in carries in 1940 (100 rushes), losing 180 yards in the effort. I'm sure a lot of those would be recorded as sacks nowadays but still. His team had a 1-10 record and he retired at the end of the season to become an FBI agent. Paid better.

Dave Carr (2002) - 76 sacks
This is a record that belongs to an offensive line that included two rookies. Poor Dave Carr was a rookie himself in 2002. Every seventh time he dropped back to pass he was slammed to the turf. And so his suffering never ended, poor Dave Carr played every second of every game. He also fumbled 23 times because sometimes you just have to scream, "Here, chase the ball instead of me!"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should. ~ Jurassic Park
Maybe the scariest news I've come across in years is that a team of scientists have genetically altered the Avian Flu to make it a highly contagious plague virus.
The H5N1 virus is a bird flu that only extremely rarely makes the species jump to infect humans. When it does make the jump it kills half the people it infects.

The scientists asked the question, "how hard can it be to convert H5N1 into a human specific pathogen."  In the process they also accidentally made it an airborne virus with the potential to kill hundreds of millions of people should it ever be released. Now they need to publish their work to get their Nobel Prize.

The scientists are reassuring. They insist they will keep their killer bug under lock and key. Of course once they publish their techniques any microbiologist with a petri dish and a few ferrets can copy their efforts. They insist that the H5 strain is incapable of producing a pandemic because it hasn't in the past. Of course since they have been playing with the genetics all bets are off. They insist they only did this to encourage research into vaccines for H5N1. Of course, having invented the disease they would be the ones to hire to cure it.

Kind of reminds me of the discredited(?) rumors about AIDS being a weaponized simian virus that escaped the labs.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homefront Reinforcements

It was vital to withdraw troops from Iraq by mid-December. With the bowl season upon us and its demands for honor guards and fighter jet flyovers the need for homefront reinforcements was never greater.
The Russian Army already has a cheerleader brigade.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Operation Wetback V2.0

In the 1950's began a program of going door-to-door in border states arresting everyone suspected of being an illegal alien. Hundreds of thousands of Hispanics workers were rounded up and deported to Mexico during Operation Wetback. There was extensive physical abuse as Hispanics were crowded into concentration camps prior to deportation. One example was the deportation ship Mercurio where 500 detainees were jammed onto a boat built to hold 80. Thousands of America-born citizens of Hispanic decent were caught up in the dragnet and deported as well.

That was then, today we haves Operation Secure Communities. This program works with local police to round up Hispanics so they can be fingerprinted and processed for deportation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been swept up including thousands of American citizens. While, officially, the program is supposed to identify alien felons, the only crime a large percentage have committed is DWL (Driving While Latino).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Return of Debtors Prisons

Those who made the laws have apparently supposed, that every deficiency of payment is the crime of the debtor. But the truth is, that the creditor always shares the act, and often more than shares the guilt. ~ Samuel Johnson (1758)
The 21st century Gilded Age has seen the return of many long forgotten ills. Governance is again becoming the exclusive domain of the wealthy. The laws against child labor are under attack. And debtors prisons are returning.

Considered a relic of the Victorian Age and Dickensian novels, it has long been illegal to imprison someone because of an inability to pay his debts. Not any more. The tricks are endless:

At least in the old days there were separate debtors prisons where poor unfortunates were held together and could care for each other; families were even allowed to stay together. In these modern times, people whose only crime is debt are tossed into the general prison population with hardened thugs and rapists.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tebowmania and Other Jokes

Finders Keepers
Iran is keeping the CIA drone that dropped in on them a few days ago, which undoubtedly breaches some schoolyard international espionage rule. Iran says it stole the drone while the US claims the toy crashed. But if you look at the pristine condition of the drone it is clear it had the softest of soft landings. The CIA drone program is known to be riddled with computer viruses. It is probable Iran succeeded in hacking the drone's Windows 95 software.

There are only two possible explanations for the series of bizarre comebacks that the Denver Broncos have had the last two months. One is that there really is a God who has decided to show his power through a series of pigskin miracles. Much more likely is that the NFL is rigging the games to create a compelling storyline for the season. Don't get me started on the Tebowing phenomena except to note it is certainly Satanic. (God couldn't save those starving children because he was watching a football game.)

Republicans Cut Welfare for Millionaires
Not all welfare, mind you. Millionaires will still get their tax breaks, subsidies, and outright gifts. Cutting corporate welfare is going too far. But Sen. Mitch McConnell is pledging to eliminate foodstamps for millionaires.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Failing Euro Romance

With me it's all er nuthin'.
Is it all er nuthin' with you?
It cain't be "in between"
It cain't be "now and then"
No half and half romance will do!
~ Oklahoma!
The problem with Europe is mostly corrupt bankers. European bankers realized that they could profit in the same manner their Yank counterparts did a few years ago. So they are now successfully threatening to destroy whole countries unless they are given free money.

Beyond that is the inherent instability of the Eurozone structure where the currency was united while the political systems remained totally separate. Each individual country sought to exploit the system to their individual benefit.

Greece needed cash. In the old days they would devalue their currency but locked into the Euro they needed more creative ways (conveniently provided by Goldman Sachs conmen). German bankers needed no risk/high yield investments. Pre-Euro they would have had to finance some North Sea wildcatters. In the Eurozone they could buy high priced Greek junk bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the German Central Bank.

When each country had its own currency, stability was achieved by each drachma and lira finding its own level. Now, stability requires united action where union does not exist.

The half and half Euro romance was doomed in the same way that Ado Annie was destined to leave Will for the next sweet talking man to wander by.
I'm just a girl who cain't say no,
I'm in a terrible fix
I always say "come on, let's go!"
Jist when I orta say nix.
It's scary how the global financial crisis is most crisply described with the lyrics from a 1943 Broadway musical.
Greece (l) and Goldman Sachs banker (r)

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Last Time a Congressional Committee Subpoenaed Former Senator

The Jon Corzine fraud scheme ("I simply do not know where the money is") that made $1.2 billion disappear without a trace has led to the observation that the last time a former senator has been subpoenaed to testify before Congress was over 100 years ago.

What happened to the money is easy. It was stolen by MF Global bankers to place bets on the futures market trying to win back the money lost in previous bets. Only the gamblers lost that money too.

The more interest question is what happened that last time. 

1908 Electric Boat Scandal
Two former senators, Marion and Matthew Butler (not related), were hauled before a Congressional committee to explain their actions. There were being accused of unscrupulous practice of wining and dining senators to win Navy contracts to build submarines. In other words, what was a scandal in 1908 (former congressmen lobbying their colleagues to gain an unfair advantage, influence peddling) is now such a common practice that many people run for Senate just to get the high paying lobbyist jobs later.

They were an odd couple. Marion was a progressive who wanted the Federal government to nationalize the railroads. He lost his Senate seat when the white supremacy movement swept out North Carolina reformers in 1900.

Matthew made his bones during the 1876 race riot known as the Hamburg Massacre where a black militia protecting the mostly black town of Hamburg, South Carolina was attacked by large mob of well armed whites (they even had cannon). One militiaman was killed during the fighting, others were captured and executed. The subsequent rape, pillage, and arson wiped the town of Hamburg off the face of the earth. Matthew went to the US Senate the next year on, basically, the KKK ticket.
The image on the monument reads "Niggers Reformed at Hamburg, SC"

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Paper? You Can't Get No Stinking Papers

The People's Republic of Wisconsin requires citizens to show a photo ID to vote.
Wisconsin voting line, perhaps.
  • To get a photo ID you need to provide a birth certificate. 
  • To get a birth certificate (according to the form) you need to provide a photo ID.
According to Wisconsin Commissar of State Security the instructions on the form need not be followed except, of course, when they must be followed. The goal is not to prevent people from voting but to prevent the "wrong people" from voting.

The definition of "wrong people" is simple - students, the elderly, liberals, and anyone who doesn't love Comrade Governor Scott Walker.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Solid Gold Medicine

O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us. ~ Robbie Burns
The Guardian has a fascinating article about a Brit's adventure in the US medical system. Basically, the Republicans are right that American medicine is the best in the world. The problem is that it is also the most venal system on the face of the earth.

For 99% of people and cases American solid gold medicine is no better than your standard chrome-plated doctoring available in the rest of the industrial world. Except in the United States everything is a la carte and nothing is affordable. As a result, for most insured Americans health insurance is the biggest single expense in their lives. More expensive than owning a car, more expensive than owning a home. And for tens of millions of Americans, any kind of health care is financially impossible.

There are a few rare cases when the American system will save a life where British and French doctors would fail. There are far more examples where Americans are priced out of simple, chrome-plated procedures leading to extensive years of suffering and early deaths. And for tens of millions of Americans effective health care is financially impossible.
People die in America because people die in America. ~ Rick Santorum on the American health care system
Then, there are the insurance companies that do everything possible to deny medical procedures to people who have paid dearly for their insurance.

A Personal Story
A couple years ago my father had a severe case of food poisoning. You know the drill - projectile vomiting and projectile diarrhea. I took him to the emergency room. In most other countries my father would have gotten IV fluids, stool and blood tests would have been done to eliminate other possible causes and he would have gone home after a few hours.

In that American hospital he got all of that and more. They performed x-rays, sonograms, and more. They looked and looked until they found "an anomaly." They had no idea what the anomaly was but decided he had to be hospitalized for more tests. And they did more tests. And still more. He recovered from the food poisoning in a day but they kept him in the hospital for nearly a week because they wanted him conveniently close for all that testing. They even considered exploratory surgery as they tried to solve the mystery of the anomaly.

Finally, they released him (in part because we rebelled at the idea of cutting him open "on spec") with a working theory that the anomaly was probably scar tissue from a three decades old operation.

It took him longer to recover from the enforced confinement in a hospital than it did for the original food poisoning.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hot Teachers

Where did Rick Santorum go to school?
Santorum then said that if same sex marriage was legalized then “their sexual activity” would be seen as “equal” to heterosexual relationships and it would be taught in schools. ~ Source
The only place where "sexual activity" is routinely taught in schools is badly made porn.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Newt's Turn

Republicans don't want Mitt Romney. The reason there has been a succession of clowns and misfits leading the Republican field is that the rank and file is insanely desperate for anyone other than Mitt.
  • Really, in what sane universe would anyone think Michele Bachmann or Donald Trump was presidential material?
Romney's juggernaut includes an opposition research team of legendary proportions. Cain's bimbo parade and Perry's "Niggerhead" were not accidents or the work of diligent journalists. Romney has probably hired half the PIs on the planet to dig into anyone who has even an unreasonable chance to steal the nomination from Romney.
  • When potential rational candidates like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie drop out without even trying I have to wonder what backdoor threats were issued.
Now it is Newt's turn. The flood of mud to pour on Newt over the next month will be epic (not that he doesn't deserve it). And, like all the previous Mitt-led smear campaigns this year, it will be eminently entertaining.

There can be only one and, in the end, Mitt Romney will be the most thoroughly despised Republican candidate for president since Richard Nixon. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

San Diego's Inferiority Complex

Ever since I was a child, San Diego has suffered with the thought it was Los Angeles' snot-nosed kid sister (Baja LA, if you will). Even as the region grew from a sleepy little navy town to a major metropolis it has always felt dwarfed by the great city to the north. (I'm sure Trenton feels the same way about Philadelphia.)

Sure, the San Diego Zoo is world famous and even Angelenos don't know where the LA Zoo is. And Sea World swallowed LA's Marineland of the Pacific back in the 1980's like a stray anchovy.

But, LA's college football teams are better than the San Diego Chargers. Malibu has better beaches than La Jolla. LA has a galaxy of stars in Hollywood while San Diego's biggest celebrity is a giant fish.
Technically, Shamu is a mammal.

The Getty Museum alone has more fine art than every museum and art gallery in San Diego. LA has world class graffiti that actually sells for thousands of dollars while San Diego is still in the pre-neanderthal spray painting lame initials on walls stage.

All of that is to explain San Diego's recent passion for public art. The stated goal is something on par with the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House. They want a photo op that people will travel around the world to gawk at. And, they want some big piece of shit that just screams "We're better than you, suck on this LA!"

One try was "The Kiss" (actual title "Ultimate Surrender" sounds like a lesbian nude wrestling league). A photo realistic rendition of a famous Life Magazine picture at the end of World War II (taken in New York) that stands a grotesque 25 feet tall. It is impossible in a photograph to show the disgusting kitschiness of this work. It was only supposed to be on loan to San Diego until 2010 but it is still there because no one else in the freaking world will take it.
Most visitors try to peek up her skirt.
A failed attempt at iconic art was to bridge the main road to the downtown convention center. Called "Pleasure Point," the sculpture was to use junk boats in a jumble that looked more like "Marina After Hurricane" than anything pleasant. The public attitude (generally WTF!!!) killed the project but a smaller version hovers over the entrance to to San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.
It takes guts just to walk under this.
The latest plan to make the world forget the Pyramids is a couple of sail-like structures. At 500 feet, "Wings of Freedom" would be the tallest buildings in earthquake prone San Diego. Unlike the Sydney Opera House (where they preform operas) or the Eiffel Tower that offers a unique view of Paris, This sculpture would do nothing more than sit there collection sea gull poop.
The original plan was for an amphitheater but that was deemed too expensive. So the current idea is a useless lump of metal that will cost half as much as something useful.

Friday, December 02, 2011

People's Republic of Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker, facing recall, is determined to quell protests in his state. Hence his new decree:
Groups of four or more people must obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings and apply for those permits at least 72 hours in advance. (source)
So now, your average family of four requires a permit before touring the state capitol. If you and a buddy bump into a couple friends in the Rotunda you now face having your friendly chat broken up by Capitol Police for lacking the proper permits.

"Four or more" is the standard phrase used to ban public meetings in a dictatorship.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Mark Twain Explains the News

Newt Surges
Gingrich has this big, fat polling lead in Florida. Since March, the Florida polls have had the following people in front: Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herm Cain. Florida polls are less accurate than reading tea leaves.

Mark Twain Explains Republican polling trends.
H'aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town? ~ Huckleberry Finn
Bachmann on Science
Michele B. says that not teaching creationism in schools is censorship (because, of course, everybody hates censorship). So is not teaching alchemy and not teaching astrology. Students should be taught the theory of a flat earth and round earth equally and allowed to decided for themselves.

Mark Twain Explains
Newt's Grey Legions
TPM has a stupid article about how Gingrich' strongest support comes from the elderly. Ah, duh. So did McCain's. So has every Republican since Teddy Roosevelt.

Mark Twain Explains
All Republicans are insane, but only the Democrats and the Mugwumps can perceive it.