Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Another Year Shot to Hell

As 2015 draws to a close, it's hard to find anything redemptive about it.

The Iraqi army seems to be largely in control of the rubble that used to be Ramadi, indicating that the carpet bombing approach endorsed by almost all the Republican candidates for president is not too different from the approach being used by the Obama administration.  A couple of Sunni militias seem to have been involved in the "reconquest," but it remains to be seen whether the Abadi government will turn out to be any less sectarian than the Maliki government.

Tamir Rice's murderer has been cleared by a grand jury under the transparently biased guidance of County Prosecutor T. J. McGinty.  Anybody who's watched the intro to "Law and Order" knows that police and prosecutors are as close as two turds in a toilet.  Cases of potential police abuse should always be handled by outside prosecutors — preferably from outside the state.

The Canadians have started admitting the 25,000 Syrian refugees they plan to accept in the coming year.  Uh oh!  Looks like we'll need a border wall to the north as well as to the south!  (Tr*mp, of course, will make the Canadians pay for it.)

I was looking at my very first post to this blog, from January 2008, and found the following:

     Hillary Clinton says, "Just trust me. My experience as First
     Lady means I understand the change you want even better
     than you do, and I promise to deliver.  It'll be just like when
     Bill was President. You'll be back to drinking lattes and
     making paper fortunes in no time flat!"

     Uh huh. She'll just "change" things back to the way they were
     before Dubya and all your dreams will come true. But what if
     you're like me, and the Clinton Administration made you
     nostalgic for the liberalism of the Nixon  Administration?
     And by the way, just what's the chance of Hillary voluntarily
     giving up those new authoritarian powers Bush/Cheney
     usurped for the presidency? (I'd put it just shy of 0.03%.)

I didn't have much hope for "hope and change" either, and I was right.  Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why is he still running?

Many of the few who watched last night's Democratic debate doubtless are asking the same question:  why is Martin O'Malley still running?

Answer: In the event that Hillary happens to explode in an unanticipated blast of Clintonian craziness, the party establishment will have an alternative.  O'Malley is handsome, intelligent, articulate, and not Bernie.

Speaking of business interests, Sanders said "they ain't gonna like me, and Wall Street is gonna like me even less."  O'Malley, on the other hand, would get along just fine.

Friday, December 18, 2015

0.25%

Let's face it: adding a quarter per cent to the Federal Funds Rate is no big deal.  Yes, the greedy bankers, as expected, are raising their prime rates — making some loans more expensive — while letting interest rates on CDs and savings accounts stay the same.  They're increasing prime because they can.  They're leaving the interest they pay low for the same reason: because they can.

Really, though, the change is minimal.  Granted, the increase really wasn't justified by higher inflation, because inflation remains very low.  Some think the Fed was anticipating higher inflation based on possibly higher oil prices in the future, but as long as everywhere in the world except the USofA is stuck in slowdown, oil prices will stay low.  So why the increase in the rate?

Mostly, I believe, as an indicator that the recovery really is happening, and because its impact is beginning to be seen in wages as well as asset values.  If the Fed succeeds in instilling greater confidence, it may be that corporations will begin investing their very substantial profits in expanded production, rather than in mergers, acquisitions, and stock buybacks.

If rate increases come as slowly as Dr. Yellen has suggested, no economic slowdown need be anticipated, and the Fed will begin to regain some of the leverage it needs to respond to future crises.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Another Republican Debate (yawn)

I caught last night's Republican debate.  I meant to skip it, but somehow I didn't.

Jeb Bush overcame his intrinsic good manners and respect for rules by ignoring the moderators and continuing a spirited attack on Tr*mp that went well beyond his "time limit."  I guess he meant to demonstrate he's really not a wussy.  Did it work?  Well, it didn't hurt.  Many of the candidates participated in ganging up on Tr*mp, and to me the Donald appeared slightly shaken.

Rubio and Cruz apparently believe the contest is between the two of them, and may have done each other some damage, but probably not enough to matter even in the short run.  Both Rubio and Cruz supporters will believe their man "won."

Chris Christie tried an amusing new tactic: disparaging Congress, as represented by Rubio and Cruz.  Given the public's low regard for Congress, the new tactic may have been effective.  We'll see.

Rand Paul was sounding a lot more libertarian than in previous debates, which was refreshing.  Ben Carson did damage control, Carly Fiorina suggested privatizing national security, and John Kasich made no particular impression at all.

And, oh yeah, nobody likes Obama.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beau Bergdahl

Whatever the "facts" are concerning Beau Bergdahl's Afghanistan walkabout, it is clear that his case has been politicized to a point where an impartial court martial is impossible.  Since nobody is charging that he cooperated in any way with the Taliban, a reasonable person can conclude that five years of imprisonment — including three years of uncontrollable diarrhea — was ample punishment.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TR*MP

Yes, he's an obscenity.  Even more obscene is the fact that large numbers of Americans like what he has to say — including many who do not support his candidacy, and a good number who never would admit they agree with him.

There is a strong proto-fascist element in the USofA.  Few go so far as to join the neo-Nazi groups (united behind Tr*mp, of course), but xenophobia, racism, and a widespread willingness to sacrifice individual liberties for a feeling of "security" are endemic.

The demagogues, of course, dare not deliver such feelings of security for fear of losing their hold over their trembling followers.  The sheep must continue to believe that the wolf truly is puffing at the door.

What does it take to turn "soft" racism (as recently evidenced by Justice Antonin Scalia) into virulent antagonism?  Whatever it is, Islamist State and Fox News both seem to have found the recipe.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

"The circus is gone, but the clowns stayed."
— Leonid Zakharov, resident of Crimea

A while back, you may recall, Tatar activists blew up the main power lines through which the Crimean Peninsula got most of its electric power from Ukraine.  Ukrainian president Petro Poroschenko has shown scant inclination to remove the Tatar activists from areas around the downed lines so that they might be repaired.

Crimea is a part of Russia once again, but apart from the power crisis, not much has changed.  The same incompetent local officials are still in power, just as corrupt as ever.  Not much has changed in the Ukraine either.  The rebel provinces are still in rebellion, and corruption remains rampant, albeit many of the bribes now are collected by putatively pro-Western officials rather than Russian puppets.  Obama sent Biden to Kiev to complain, indicating that Obama has more important things on his mind.

*  *  *  *  *

Venezuelan elections have gone badly for the Chavistas, and the presidency of the comically incompetent Nicolás Maduro is threatened.  If he survives, and his United Socialist Party maintains significant influence in Venezuelan politics, it will be because the fractious members of the winning Democratic Unity coalition will be fighting too hard over who gets to steal what from the public coffers.

The two most prominent leaders of Democratic Unity, Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles, already were at each other's throats before all the votes were counted.  (López, jailed by the Chavistas for fomenting anti-government riots, was represented in the media by his wife.)  A major obstacle to reconciliation is the low price of oil, significantly limiting government funds available to be looted.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

San Bernadino

The San Bernadino massacre was an interesting combination of an ideologically motivated terrorist attack and a personally motivated case of workplace violence, and it suggests something nobody's really said out loud: they don't "hate our freedom;" they hate us.

The Farooks had a substantial arsenal in their town house, considerably more than they needed to shoot up a social services agency, and it may be that Nicholas Thalasinos, one of the victims, saved many lives by pissing off Syed Rizwan Farook in an argument a couple of days before the incident.  Thalasinos, a Jew (in his official "victim" photo, he's wearing a tallis) with an unlikely Greek name is said to have been extremely pro-Israel and, it seems safe to say, not favorably inclined towards Muslims.  We don't know the specifics of the argument yet, but we can easily imagine its tenor.  Were it not for Thalasinos, the Farooks might have selected a target where many more fatalities would have been possible.

We don't know if Thalasinos was a Republican, but we can be fairly certain he sounded like one.  You don't have to be a Republican to be virulently anti-Muslim these days, and Republican fear mongering cannot be without its effects.  American attitudes towards fellow Americans who are Muslims can only stoke more hatred, and generate more radicalization and criminal activity.  They have good reason to hate us — that is, to hate us back.

I don't believe stricter gun control laws, the Democratic response to domestic terrorism, would make much difference.  California has gun control laws that are as restrictive as any in the country, and it didn't help.  The kind of European-style gun control that might make a difference is politically impossible in the USofA.

As for the Republican approach to terrorism, it's just as hollow as that of the Democrats.  Sending troops to Iraq and Syria to "root out" the Islamist State can only make matters worse, especially since our nominal "ally," Haider al-Abadi, says he would consider it an act of war.  The idea is to have fewer enemies in the Middle East, not more.

Personally, I have no idea what policies the USofA should pursue at this time.  Obama's approach, just trying not to make matters worse, seems to be as good as we can manage at the moment.  Republican efforts to make matters worse as a means to win the 2016 election, sad to say, will not subside no matter what intellectual or moral appeals are made to them.

Given enough time, Islamist terrorism will be replaced by some other seemingly existential threat, but I'll probably be dead by then.  I hope future generations of Americans can do better than mine has.

Friday, November 27, 2015

ISIS? Isis who?

(Sorry, it's another long one — but it had to be.)

The Russians and the Turks are rather upset with each other at the moment, Turkey having shot down a Russian aircraft that was bombing northern Syria.  The Islamist State (as I prefer to call it,) most Americans might be surprised to learn, was not at all involved.

Putin and the Russians support Bashar al-Assad, the Allawite leader of Syria.  Russia has an ongoing deal with Assad which permits Russia to maintain its only military/naval presence in the Middle East.  Turkey under Erdogan is dominated by an authoritarian Sunni Islamist party hostile to Assad and his Allawists, although Erdogan's primary goal in the region is to suppress the Kurds, who have been getting closer to having their own, autonomous state.  To defeat the Kurds, Erdogan has made use of Turkmen rebels, who happened to be be concentrating their own efforts on both Assad and the Kurds, and whom the Russians bombed for being anti-Assad.  The Kurds, of course, have been the only effective US ally in the region.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been restricting most of their bellicosity to Yemen, where they are trying to destroy the Houthi.  The Houthi have some degree of support from Iran, Saudi Arabia's chief rival in the region.  Iran, its Shi'ite proxy Hezbollah, and Russia are cooperating in support of Assad.

So where does IS come in?  Good question.  And where does the USofA come in?  Better question.

IS offends Western sensibilities in a variety of bloodthirsty ways, so the US is necessarily against it.  Inspired by Salafi Islamists from Saudi Arabia, and probably making use of private Saudi seed money, IS has been endeavoring to create and maintain a Sunni extremist caliphate in Iraq and Syria.  Some of our "allies," though, are far more concerned with Assad and Iran than with IS atrocities.  The USofA is providing Saudi Arabia "logistic support" (telling them where to bomb the most civilians?) in Yemen, thereby helping their proxy war against Iran.  In Iraq, however, the Iranians are our chief allies in protecting what was supposed to be our puppet regime.  In reality, though, it's their puppet regime because we let it be dominated by Shi'ites.,

Turkey, a NATO ally, really has nothing in particular against IS, considering how it is keeping the Kurds from establishing an independent state on Turkey's border.  The Turkish border with Syria restricts the IS supply of weapons, war materiel and foreign fighters about as well as a chain link fence obstructs the flow of water.  Bear in mind that Turkey is part of NATO, and supposedly opposed to IS, but since it started bombing in northern Syria, its primary targets have been the US allied Kurds.

In brief, since the USofA opposes both Assad and IS, and since others in the region have mixed feelings about which other groups present the greatest threat to their own self-interests and different historically and geopolitically based affinities and animosities, there are too damned many sides, and every new development creates more ambiguity.

It's a ridiculous time for anybody to want to be president, which sheds a little light on the general ridiculousness of foreign policy discussions in the current campaign.  If we adopt Hillary's "no-fly zone" idea, who do we enlist to help us and who do we keep out?  If we follow Lindsey Graham's prescription and send in ground forces to eradicate the "State" part of IS, it might turn out much more difficult to contend with a stateless enemy.

We're probably leaning on the Turks and the Saudis and the Iranians and the Russians and anybody else who has a real state as hard as we can, but our diplomatic pressure is spread too thin.  Don't blame Obama (this time) — at least he's not actively making it worse.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Clinton Conundrum

Hillary or Billary?

Hillary and Bill have been a political team from the start.  Remember Bill's "two for the price of one" comment?  We can't be sure how much impact Hillary had on Bill's presidency (except for the health insurance screw-up); similarly, we can't be sure how much influence Bill will have should Hillary become president.  Are they ideologically similar — even interchangeable?  Are they ideological at all, or just political?  Will another Clinton administration be, well, another Clinton administration?  Is there any way to know?

At the most recent Democratic debate, when Bernie questioned Hillary about her financial backing from Wall Street, her "9/11" response was laughable at best — but what would be her relationship to the financial industry?  Would it be Robert Rubin redux, or are her recent leftish gestures for real?

When Bill Clinton climbed into bed with Phil Gramm to create the deregulation that brought us the financial crisis of 2008, was Hillary keeping his feet warm?*  Can "today's" Hillary be trusted to represent the interests of the non-billionaire classes?

I think the best we can hope for is that she will opportunistically take some actions to mollify the liberal Democratic base while never going quite far enough to alienate her plutocratic backers.  While I'm doing my best to stay sworn off predictions, and also doing my best to believe in Bernie as hard as children are asked to believe in Tinkerbell, I'm not especially optimistic about post-Obama America.

*  (Phil's wife Wendy certainly was keeping his feet warm.  She is best remembered for deregulatory agitation from the Mercatus Institute at George Mason University, and as an Enron board member.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Here we go again...

One out of over one million emigrants who arrived in Europe recently may have been involved in the IS attack on Paris.  To right-wing European governments like those in Poland and Hungary, that is ample reason to continue denying entrance to refugees.  To right-wing politicians like Marine LePen of France, it is an opportunity to expand their bases of paranoid xenophobes.

Needless to say, the opportunity has not been overlooked by American politicians who pander to our homegrown paranoid xenophobes.  Our current immigration policy is so rigid that only 1800 Syrians have gained asylum in the USofA over the past two years — half of them children, and only three per cent men of "fighting age" — but that's not good enough for most Republicans.  Fifteen Republican governors and all Republican presidential hopefuls are on the anti-refugee bandwagon (Christie: Not even three-year-old orphans!), and nobody should be surprised if some purple-state Democrats join them.

I can't imagine how it feels to be one of the Americans who inspire such panders; one of the rigid right-wingers who feel so afraid all the time, despite the assault rifles in their bedroom closets; who see every "outsider" (including our "African" President) as an existential threat; whose dark fantasies haunt our politics as much as they haunt their own twisted little psyches.

I'm glad I can't imagine it.  I'm sufficiently upset by what's real.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

An Immodest Proposal

Like just about everybody else who isn't an Islamic extremist, I'm upset and angered by yesterday's attacks in Paris.  At times like these, one's thoughts are inclined to turn towards revenge.

Needless to say, it is very difficult, to say the least, to take revenge on a suicide bomber.  Nevertheless, I've had some thoughts on the matter.  Given that the perpetrators of such attacks are motivated by religion, and assuming that such religionists are generally irrational (not to mention dead), and given that they expect rewards in an "afterlife," I've come up with a means to screw with their religiously inspired brains that might have some sort of impact: ritual pollution.

Gather up the remains of the attackers.  Pack them in lard before dumping them into the ocean, where their bodies cannot be recovered and "purefied."  Surely, the stench of pork grease would be so offensive to their medieval concept of Allah that entry into Paradise would be out of the question.  I have other ideas for any captured alive, involving lard as a lubricant and homosexual rapists, but I suspect the "enlightened" Western world would disapprove; on the other hand, given that the CIA has shown itself to be impervious to Western Enlightenment, I suppose we could get around such disapproval if amply motivated.

Outrageous?  You betcha!  More outrageous than murdering random innocents?  I don't think so.  If such a policy dissuades a few angry, misguided young people from strapping on suicide bombs, I think a dose of political incorrectness would be perfectly okay.  Hell, even if it didn't slow the rate of extremist atrocities one bit, it still would make me feel better.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tax policy

This is a long one.  Read it anyway!

Now that we have a decent idea of where all the presidential candidates stand on federal tax policy, it might be a good time to start thinking about whose plan is best for our future.  I've started, albeit I'm not getting too far, because none of the plans makes any sense.

The Republicans all agree that the rich should be paying less, showing that even a dead horse will attract plenty of riders provided those riders are willing to deny that the horse is dead.  The dead horse, in this instance, is supply-side economics, aka "trickle-down."  Over the past thirty or forty years, it's become abundantly clear that cutting top tax rates does absolutely nothing to stimulate economic growth, so the vast increases in government income predicted by Arthur Laffer and his ideological kindred never have, and never shall, manifest themselves.

Economists who base their analysis on data rather than political cupidity agree that all the Republican plans would lead to sharp increases in the federal deficit and debt, something all Republicans claim to oppose.  Oddly enough, the Republican plan that would increase the deficit least is the one from Rand Paul, but only because he wants to create a value added tax (VAT), which is essentially a sales tax broken up over the various stages of production.  The costs, eventually, are paid by the people who purchase the products, so  like the sales taxes we have now, a VAT would be regressive.  Rich people invest large portions of their income, whereas lower income people spend almost every cent they earn.

Excluding VAT, the main difference among Republican candidates is whether they favor continuing progressive taxation or switching to a flat tax.  Carson, Paul, Cruz, and Fiorina all favor the flat tax, whereas Bush, Trump, Kasich, and Rubio would continue to apply different tax rates to different income levels.  (Rubio calls for greater cuts for families with children, along with total elimination of capital gains taxes — yet another giveaway to the very rich — while both he and Cruz would totally eliminate the payroll tax, which funds Social Security and a few other programs the rich can live without.)

Assuming that all the Republicans (with the possible exception of Carson, who appears more and more to be a genuine ignoramus) recognize that supply-side economics is invalid, we can also assume they all subscribe to Grover Norquist's "starve the beast" plan to shrink government until it is "small enough to drown in the bathtub."  That amounts to a sort of anarchist extremism best described as evil.

As for the Democrats, nothing they say much matters because Republicans will control the well-gerrymandered House at least until the 2020 census, and probably well beyond that unless Democrats figure out how to win state elections in the interim.  Hillary probably would be content to let the tax code remain as it is, while Bernie probably would beat his head against a wall trying to build up public support for genuine income redistribution.

Sadly, the public is unlikely ever to support tax increases for the middle class, which is the only way to genuinely straighten out the budget of the USofA.  Americans might be comfortable with higher taxation if what they get in return seems worth it but, frankly, I don't see how you get there from here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Sports Page

Big sporting news this week!

Well, hearing that the Russians have turned sports cheating into their national passtime is not exactly surprising — and anyway, what's a little doping in sporting circles?  Putin, of course, says the report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (motto: play true, not capitalized) is just another US sponsored cabal designed to demean and belittle Mother Russia (capitalized), and that innately superior Russian athletes don't need performance enhancing drugs.  After all, Putin himself managed to score all those goals in that hockey game without doping!  Okay, there was no goalie, and his opponents were, shall we say, motivated to see him succeed, but what the hell?  Nobody can deny (for many good reasons) he's a real man, and the embodiment of everything wonderful about Russia.

The other sporting news came from the University of Missouri*, where demonstrations by black students and a hunger striker may have, sort of, led to the resignation of the school's president.  Okay, okay, the threatened strike by UM's football team was the clincher.  No, it wasn't just the million dollar cancellation fee UM would have had to pay if it missed its game with Brigham Young, it was something even more important — it was football!  Now if somebody just could sign up the NFL for Black Lives Matter...

*Don't let anybody tell you Missouri is the Midwest.  It's the South.  It's the good ol' barbecue eating down-home racist South.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Ferguson Effect

Due to the proliferation of red light cameras, innocent motorists are slowing down precipitously at intersections, leading to greatly increased instances of rear end collisions.  There is absolutely no evidence to support this conjecture, but it sounds right, so it must be true.

According to FBI Director James Comey and acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg, crime is on the increase because police, unhappily confronted with citizen cell phone cameras, are hesitant to get out of their cars for fear of being recorded in the performance of their duties.  Although there is absolutely no evidence to support this idea, it sounds right, so it must be true.

"Well, you know," one hypothetical police officer possibly might say, "it could look bad if a film of me pushing some old black woman's face down on the sidewalk gets on the internet — but if she stops her walker in a no stopping zone, what am I supposed to do?"

Indeed, what is he supposed to do?  Better to stay in his car and lay low, rather than risk embarrassment.  Better yet, he should resign from the police force and stop collecting a salary for not doing his job.

Crime rates, just like death rates for middle aged white Americans, are up — and both probably are up for the same reason: more and more people are leading lives of desperation.  Crime is up, along with suicide, drug abuse, family violence, and a general loss of hope.

Cameras help to slow the rate at which drivers run red lights, and the rate of deaths arising from such behavior.  Cameras help to reduce the rate of police abuse of ordinary people, and the erosion of all our civil liberties.  Let's keep the cameras rolling.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rubio/Cruz

According to today's Times, Ted Cruz believes the Republican nomination will come down to a showdown between himself and Marco Rubio. He may be right, although I suspect John Kasich also might be in the mix. It's becoming increasingly obvious, even to the Republican base, that Ben Carson is a lovely gentleman, a talented neurosurgeon, and a complete idiot; and that Trump is, well, Trump.

There also is talk about Rubio or Cruz attracting some of the "Hispanic" vote. That won't happen. Back in 1969, Alan Arkin starred in "Popi," a charming film about a Puerto Rican single father who tries to pass off his young sons as Cuban refugees to get them access to the special advantages Cubans received from the US government. Well, screenwriters Tina and Lester Pine certainly got that one right, as non-Cuban Latinos are well aware.  There is not a hell of a lot of sympathy for Uncle Sam's favorites out there in Latino America.

If it really does come down to Cruz vs. Rubio, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  Right now, Cruz has a lot more money, especially from superPACs; but if Jeb! continues to stumble, a lot of his support may go to Rubio.  I also continue to believe that the "guapo factor" (keeping it Latino) could make all the difference.  Rubio is so cute you want to pinch his cheeks; Cruz looks like he'd like to bite off your nose.  Also, as a commentator whose name I can't remember said with regard to Cruz last week, "Everybody hates him."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Weirdnesses


Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee have taken whatever marbles they hadn't already lost and gone home.  Will their speeches for the rubber chicken dinner circuit now be worth more, or less?  Beats me.

So I was watching a Showtime documentary on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints last night, and realized that Warren Jeffs, their charismatic leader currently doing life plus for child molestation, and Ben Carson, currently leading the polls in the Republican Iowa caucuses, sound exactly alikeBefore you let the media get you too excited about Carson winning Iowa, remember that Mike Huckabee won in 2008.  Will Carson, too, win his own show on Fox?  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Catch-up


Russia in Syria
The main question: why?  Is Putin acting for internal Russian consumption, continuing his "strong man" routine?  Is he concerned about losing Russia's naval base?  It's not because he likes Assad — nobody likes Assad.  Maybe he's just decided that since Syria probably is the most fucked-up arena in the world, Russia, hoping to re-establish itself as a "world power," just has to be there.

Initially, it seemed inevitable that Russia only could make the megamess worse, but there is a possibility that Russia might make things better, by sharing some of the responsibility for pumping out the cesspool.  After all, Syria can't get much worse.

Hillary and Benghazi
Yawn.

Migrants
The United States has no valid excuse for admitting so few war refugees, leaving others to shoulder the load.  The idea that we need two years per applicant to filter out potential "terrorists" is nothing but an excuse.  The real motive for the unconscionable rigmarole is xenophobia and racism.

Paul Ryan
Of course.  All the "I don't wanna" was bullshit from word one.  He always had the essential quality: allegiance to the economic policy of soaking the poor to further enrich the rich and pretending it creates "growth."  Despite it's other bizarre obsessions, the Freedom Caucus agrees.

The Primaries
I'm still giving Bernie money, even though it's dead certain now that Hillary will be the Democratic candidate, and that Bernie's pulled her about as far to the left as she's ready to go.

In the meanwhile, the Republican field continues to be a total freak show: Ben Carson!?  He makes Trump seem reasonable (and intelligent) by comparison.  Bush, despite all his money, appears to be dead in the water.  Ted Cruz, who is straight-out evil, is moving up — but he's far too ugly to be elected president.  Rubio, the quintessential opportunist but pretty as a picture, may end up the candidate — and, sadly, he might even win.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Briefly...


The Democratic Debate
All the Democrats gave the impression of being more serious and sane than any of their Republican rivals, which was not hard.  Hillary came across as human, and held her own, especially with a little help from Bernie.  His endorsement of the fact that the Bengazi/email inquisition is purely political may have been the high point of the evening.  Bernie was on the defensive regarding gun control, even though everything he said made perfect sense.  I don't think it hurt him at all.

Palestinians with Knives
Netanyahu can't blame Hamas or any of his other boogeymen for the recent attacks on Israelis by young Palestinians who armed themselves from their kitchen drawers.  None of them even was particularly religious, so it's not "fundamentalist extremism."  The attackers are understandably frustrated to a point of hopelessness by the Israeli apartheid state, and only the rights and privileges of citizenship can make a difference.  The "two-state solution" is dead.

Tamir Rice
I watched the surveillance video, and listened to the 911 call.  Tamir's movements in the video are those of a boy playing a game, so I believe identifying him as a child from the much closer vantage point of the police should have been easy.  On the other hand, the pellet gun looked very real.  Most disturbing to me was the incompetence of the 911 operator, who seemingly failed to process what she was told by the caller, and failed to communicate to the police the caller's clear belief that the suspect was a child and that the gun "probably" was a fake.  I believe the district attorney should give a jury the opportunity to decide if the shooter was at fault.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Draft Louis Gohmert!

Now that Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn himself from consideration for new Speaker of the House, having made the fatal error of saying out loud what everybody knew — that all those Bengazi committees were purely political, aimed at hurting Hillary's electoral chances — the amusingly fratricidal GOP must come up with an alternative.  Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Daniel Webster (R-FL) have absolutely no "establishment" (i.e. more evil than crazy) support, so neither can be elected.

The movement to "draft" Paul Ryan, who previously said he wasn't interested, has picked up a full head of steam, and probably will succeed.  Ryan is conservative enough to satisfy the Freedom Caucus and evil enough to satisfy the establishment; also, he is smart enough to recognize that the post of Speaker has very nearly as much power as the post of President, and Ryan likes power.  Better yet, there are no term limits on the post of Speaker.

If Ryan still refuses to run, for some incomprehensible reason, allow me to suggest Louie Gohmert — far and away the most intellectually defective person in Congress.  Gohmert never had an original idea, and just might have to learn to read before he can arrange the order of business for the House.  Gridlock will retain its stranglehold on government, and the USofA will bumble and stumble on.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What's with Hillary?

I imagine many of us are looking forward to the Democratic debate next Tuesday, but I suspect Hillary Clinton may be less enthusiastic than some others.  Just the same, she certainly seems to be getting ready.  First, she came out in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline; then she expressed strong reservations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving herself just the tiniest bit of space to change her opinion when the full text is published.

Clearly, she'd like to enjoy the sort of approbation Bernie Sanders has been receiving from the enthusiastic crowds at his rallies, but I wonder if there's more to it than that.  I wonder if she's finally working at putting some sunlight between herself and her longtime consort and cohort, Bill; and, if so, whether it's reflective of real differences of opinion or just the usual political cupidity.

Back in 2008, I preferred Clinton to Obama, in large part because I thought he was more like Bill than she was, but also because I instinctively distrust glowing, amorphous promises like "hope and change."  True, my own political leanings are very nearly an exact match for Bernie's, but I still can't help hoping that a real liberal might burst forth from Hillary's uncharismatic husk.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Recently...


Another mass murder
As usual, Republicans are blaming crazy people and Democrats are calling for what would be essentially useless gun control measures even if they could be enacted, which they cannot.  The essential problem is that there are entirely too many guns floating around the USofA, and nobody, really, is "cummin' t' take yer guns."  They're just "cummin' t' flap ther gums."  I have no solutions to offer, and neither, I believe, does anybody else.

Russia in Syria
Weren't things already complicated enough?  I guess not.  Russia is bombing anybody opposed to Assad, and Iran, mainly through Hezbollah, is doing what it can to keep Assad in power.  The USofA sort of supports the Free Syrian Army, recently bombed by Russia, and halfheartedly supports the Kurds, currently being bombed by our "ally," Turkey.  Then we've got those five guys fighting IS but not Assad, even though we want Assad to step down.  France is fighting IS in Iraq, but not in Syria.  IS is fighting everybody, and not especially bothered that everybody is fighting everybody else.  You can't tell the players without a scorecard, and the scorecard keeps changing.

Arne Duncan resigns
It's about time, because Obama's Education Secretary has been a disaster, and through his support for charter schools has done as much as any Republican to advance the privatization of public education.  "Race to the Top" did it's bit to advance corporatist "data based" evaluation of schools and teachers, despite the fact that no useful data at all has been available — only scores on tests of no observable value designed by private contractors.  Happily, Duncan will not be replaced: his bureaucratic duties will be assumed by some bureaucratic lackey, and no further damage is likely to be done through the remainder of the Obama presidency.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Crisis in Education

No, this isn't about public schools, it's about another kind of education entirely — the training of foreign military and police forces by the US military and the CIA.  Even when compared to the success rate of your typical inner-city high school, it's a failure.

How many billions of dollars has the USofA spent "training" the Iraqi army and police forces who promptly abandoned their positions, leaving their US supplied weapons behind, when IS took over Ramadi?  How about the half billion or so spent recruiting, training, and arming Syrian "moderates" — 51 of them by best estimates, of whom roughly five still are in the field?  Then, just last week, American trained forces in Afghanistan abandoned Kirkuz to Taliban invaders, despite outnumbering their enemy and being better armed.  To add insult to injury, military spokespersons have persistently reported glowing success for the training programs, even as graduates turn tail and run away.

Some blame the inadequacy of Iraqi and Afghan officer corps, but it's probably just as well that the USofA can't take responsibility for officer training.  Our Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the US Army School of the Americas, has been training Latin American military leaders for many years.  Its graduates are best known for leading military coups against elected governments and some of the worst human rights abuses on record.

So why do we continue to throw good money after bad in the Middle East?  Because "training" seems like a reasonable substitute for boots on the ground.  Given that a reprise of the Bush invasions that got us into the mess in the first place would be understandably unpopular, and that just taking what remains of our marbles and going home is not an option, we seem to be trapped in what economists call the "sunk cost fallacy."  We'll continue to invest more and more into a losing proposition.

Friday, September 25, 2015

People in the News


John Boehner

I could never find it within myself to actively dislike John Boehner, even though I've disagreed with him on almost everything ever since he became Speaker.  Honestly, I've felt pity for him, stuck as he has been in such an untenable position as nominal leader of his divided party.  Maybe it's his inability to control his tear ducts in situations others might not consider all that emotional that appeals to me.  I'm like that too.

Like everybody else, I suppose, I was very surprised when he announced his retirement from the House as of the end of October, but all I can say is, "Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.  You're well out of it."  I wonder if his decision was influenced by his audience with...

Pope Francis

The bloated, bloviating turd who goes by the name of Rush Limbaugh says Francis is a "Marxist."  Was Jesus a "Marxist?"  If so, I guess Francis qualifies as well.  Francis, more than any Pope in my memory (including John XXIII) does his best to emulate the human incarnation of his God.

Yes, Francis is a political force in that we have not yet succeeded, even in "the land of the free [market]," in divorcing politics from morality.  We still want our leaders to do what is good, not just what is best for certain interests with extra millions to spend on election campaigns.  I wonder who gets money from...

Martin Shkreli

Shkreli is the whiz-kid who started managing his own hedge fund straight out of college, but later decided there was more money to be made buying the right to produce lifesaving generic pharmaceuticals and jacking up their prices by vast amounts.  His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, is best known for increasing the price of one pyrimethamine tablet, a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, from $12.50 to $750.  A closed distribution system for the drug keeps other producers of generics from offering any competition.

"I can see how it looks greedy," he said, "but I think there's a lot of altruistic properties to it."  Really?  To me, Shkreli embodies exactly the kind of capitalist evil Pope Francis wants us to end.  Well, at least we all can wave bye-bye to...

Scott Walker

Walker was planning his run for president while he still was in college, and he dropped out early to more quickly pursue his untrammeled ambition. With a lot of help from anti-union fat cats like Kathleen Hendricks and the Koch brothers, he managed to win and retain the governorship of Wisconsin by playing on the envy and resentment many private sector workers feel towards public employees.

Walker's hurry to rise to the top of the heap left him singularly unprepared to compete in presidential politics.  Combined with his mediocre intellect, his unpreparedness made his exit from the Republican primary contest pretty much inevitable.  The donors lost interest, and he was gone.  Hopefully, now, Wisconsin will come to its senses, remember its history of progressivism, and undo the damage he and his cadre have done.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Donald, Carly, and Ben

Given the quality of their politicians, it is understandable that Republicans would want a non-politician as their presidential candidate.  Sadly for them, the three they have on offer are unlikely to be any better than the rest of the incompetents crowding their field.

Government is not a business.  We don't allow it to be a business, because as soon as any government enterprise threatens to make some money, it gets privatized.  Even if it were a business, we still wouldn't want anybody as incompetent as Donald or Carly running it.

Donald inherited $60 million from his father, and now he claims to be worth eight billion, albeit Forbes estimates that four billion probably is more like it.  Had he invested his inheritance in a fund indexed to the S&P 500, he'd be worth twelve billion today.  Actively managing his money, apparently, was a costly mistake.  As for his Atlantic City bankruptcies, he probably should have noticed all the casinos opening in neighboring states because Grover Norquist wouldn't allow them to raise taxes.

As became clear during her Senate run against Barbara Boxer, Carly really did screw up at HP, and her prior efforts at Lucent were not much better.  Her self-declared "successes," like the merger with COMPAQ, had to be undone by her successors to avoid financial disaster.  One successful put-down of Donald Trump does not a presidential candidate make, or the field would be filled with late-night comedians.

As for Ben Carson, a brain surgeon does not have to be a "rocket scientist."  Brain surgery is a manual skill, rather like a higher level of auto mechanics.  Just the fact that a person can separate conjoined twins while believing the universe is 6000 years old should tell us something.

Whoever the Republicans are left with in the end is likely to be more than a little shopworn,  On the Democratic side, though, Hillary also has been subject to more than a little wear and tear.  It's beginning to look like record low voter turnout in 2016.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The second Republican "debate"

If you purchased ad time during CNN's Republican gabfest, one hopes it was during the first hour.  I haven't seen any figures, but I'm pretty sure viewership must have dropped off significantly by hour two, and that only the die-hards stuck around for hour three.  Speaking of ads, it was interesting to note the 501C(3)s that bought time.

Having made her way to the grown-up table, Carly Fiorina must have done herself some good.  She came over as bright and assertive, and her questionable corporate history was largely ignored.  Paul and Kasich may have done themselves some harm by suggesting that the Glorious Republic needs allies to be effective in world affairs.  Others, like Walker and Rubio, were more adept at pandering to the Republican base by asserting, in essence, that the USofA is so "exceptional" it can charge off with drawn saber and win all global conflicts on its own.

I don't think Jeb! made any noteworthy gains last night, but he probably didn't do himself any harm either; and the same probably is true of Ben Carson, who didn't have much to say.  Nevertheless, I suspect whatever gains Fiorina makes will be at the expense of Bush and Carson.

Nobody likes those bad baby butchers over at Planned Parenthood, and nobody much likes John Roberts either, who betrayed right-wing ideology by saving Obamacare.  Huckabee and Cruz wouldn't mind circumventing the Supreme Court so that Kim Davis and various bakers and florists can legitimately discriminate against gays.  (By this point, the discussion was getting really tiresome.)

Trump, the man most of America tuned in to watch, seemed more red-faced than usual.  He may have tried to exercise some self-restraint early on, but unable to defend his "policies" (because he really doesn't have any), he got back to snarkiness in short order.  Will he start to fall behind in polling data?  Maybe, but I don't think this debate was the turning point the Republican establishment hoped to see.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis

It occasionally happens that I agree with Lindsey Graham, and this is one of those times.  He says that if Kim Davis feels she cannot carry out the responsibilities of County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, she should resign.  (Personally, I don't mind if she uses up her vacation days while she's in jail — it's the kind of thing vacation days are for.)

Her mother was county clerk for thirty-seven years, and Kim Davis worked under her mother.  Her son works in the office now, and probably expects to be elected to his mother's job when she's ready to retire.  That's small town politics.  It's extremely likely she ran unopposed, or against some token Republican candidate.  (Yes, Kim Davis is a Democrat.)

Some states are enacting legislation which would allow public officials to refuse to perform their duties when those duties conflict with their religious convictions.  We can be quite certain that such laws will be invalidated by Federal courts, but the process is likely to drag on and on, and get pretty boring before it's over.

Catholic judges can't refuse to issue divorce decrees, and Muslim postal workers can't refuse to deliver copies of Playboy because the centerfold isn't wearing a hijab.  As Donald Trump says, this is a nation of laws.  I hope Ms. Davis enjoys her moment of celebrity, but the chief significance of this particular instance of conscientious objection is that it is further splitting the Republican party.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Briefly...


The Fed
Face it: the potential increase in the Federal Funds Rate of one quarter of one per cent is purely symbolic.  While it may "roil" the markets, it will have virtually no impact on the real economy.  Assuming you're not a hedge fund manager, you really shouldn't give a damn.

The Iran Deal
Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany made it perfectly clear that they would not maintain sanctions on Iran if the USofA failed to approve the deal, so all the opposition came down to Republicans determined to foil every Obama initiative and Democrats sucking up to AIPAC.  Thank you Barbara Mikulsky for finally dampening the bullshit, and screw you both, Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez.

"Female Viagra"
Flibanserin, aka Addyí™, is not "female Viagra."  Viagra is just a boner pill, which allows older men with declining sex drive to fake it.  Flibanserin actually increases libido in some women willing to risk a long list of possible side effects.  Women don't need a Viagra-like drug because they already are quite capable of faking it without medical assistance.  If Valeant actually intends to pay Sprout Pharma a billion bucks for the rights to flibanserin, I'd sell my Valeant stock ASAP. 

Trump v. Sanders
Now wouldn't that be amusing, in a scary sort of way!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

More on the refugee crisis

Okay, my post of a couple of weeks ago, in which I suggested the Greeks piss off the Germans by shipping masses of refugees directly to Bremerhaven, had more to do with annoyance at Schäuble's economic persecution of Greece than with the actual refugee crisis — and I have to give the Germans credit for accepting more refugees than any other European country, over the loud and frequently violent objections of their neo-Nazis and other xenophobes who would be cheering for the Donald if they were Americans.  The truth, though, is that Germany needs immigrants, and needs them very badly.

The average German woman today has 1.4 children, far below the number required for population replacement.  The German population is aging rapidly, and it is unlikely that young Germans will be able to maintain the admirable welfare state that provides their elders comfort and dignity if the trend continues.  There is no reason to believe the trend will not continue.

Syrian arrivals have the strongest claim to refugee status.  They are not economic migrants, but are fleeing years of brutal war.  Also, they are the products of a business oriented, entrepreneurial culture, and can make real contributions to German society.  Granted, there are obstacles to assimilating darker complected, Arabic speaking immigrants, many of whom are Muslim.  It will be worth the effort, though, even if it means transforming, to an extent, what it means to be German.

Another country that could use an influx of Syrians is the United States which, so far, has accepted scarcely more than one thousand refugees from a war US foreign policy helped to kindle.  I'm not sure how many of the Greek cruise liners are suitable for transatlantic crossings, but I wouldn't mind seeing a bunch of them arrive at the ports of New York, Norfolk, and Savannah.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Things fall apart?

China is not well known for its economists, despite having the world's second largest economy.  There are those inclined to blame the Chinese for the current round of economic turmoil, but really, it's a bum rap.  They're just caught up, like the rest of us, in a worldwide, probably inevitable fuckup.

China blooms with new housing complexes in various states of completion, most of which seem likely to crumble into decay before ever being occupied because the Chinese can't afford to buy them.  They were built (and continue to be built, in some areas) to provide employment for those losing jobs in the export industries that were the engine for China's rapid growth over the past few decades.

China's exports have suffered partly because of competitors who can pay even lower wages than Chinese manufacturers, but more because of decreased demand for cheap manufactured goods in the West.  It seems that the consumers of cheap manufactured goods just don't have as much money as they did in the past, and the Westerners with lots of money are too few in number to buy much — even if they were interested in cheap Chinese goods, which they're not.

Still, all that money accumulated in the bankrolls of the few had to go somewhere, and genuinely safe investments (like US bonds) were paying bupkis.  The result was a roughly seven per cent rise in US stock prices — which started to look a lot like bubble territory.  Another result was a rush to buy quite risky dollar denominated debt from developing countries.

Well, in recent days, stocks have lost almost everything they gained in the run-up, and those third-world borrowers look a lot like they're getting ready to default, no longer able to sell raw materials to contracting Chinese industry.  By the way, the main investors in that developing nation debt were mutual funds, so retirees depending on returns from such funds for survival may wish to start shopping for discounted cat food — just watch out for the stuff from China, which may not be especially safe.

I could go into a lot more detail, but you're already bored, so I'll just summarize:  the massive transfer of wealth from workers to oligarchs has fucked up the entire world.

Here's one thing I can say for China, though — Xi is going after the Chinese oligarchs and slapping them down for being the corrupt reptiles they are.  There is no reason to believe that our own oligarchs are any less corrupt or reptilian — but there's nobody in a position to swat them.  Pity.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sexual Slavery

Having been a daily consumer of a vast amount of news reporting for half a century or so, I'm not easily horrified, but an article in the New York Times recently pushed my horror button about as hard as it's ever been pushed.  You should read the entire article, but, in brief, it describes how Islamist State has made the rape of Yazidi girls as young as 12 into a religious virtue.

First, the young warrior buys his sex slave from IS higher-ups.  (The Koran, it seems, fully endorses the enslavement of "heretics," especially apparent polytheists like the Yazidi.)  He is obliged to recite specific prayers before he rapes the girl, and others afterwards.  Thus, not only is the rape not sinful, it is transformed into a kind of religious duty.

Soldiers have been raping captured women and girls for millennia.  Often, rape is seen as serving the military purpose of demoralizing the enemy, while adding some extra motivation for the foot soldiers putting their own lives at risk.  Why do I find the religious component introduced by IS especially distasteful?  I'm not sure.

I suppose that IS fighters are meant to think of themselves as "holy warriors," pure in body and mind.  That sense of moral superiority might be threatened if they were left to run around raping whoever happened to be available, like your average soldier in your average war.  Ritualizing the inevitable rape keeps them "pure," and worthy of service to Allah and whoever is claiming to be caliph at the moment.  If they never doubt their purity, and eventual entrance into Paradise, they are better fighters.

Needless to say, selling sex slaves also generates some extra cash for the organization.  Do IS leaders actually believe what they're telling the rank and file?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Probably.  Humanity is an extremely fucked-up species, and organized religion is Exhibit A.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The European Refugee Crisis

Here's an idea.  Thousands of Syrian refugees have been showing up on the Greek island of Kos.  Greece, pretty much broke, can't afford to absorb them.  (By the way, they've been showing up from Turkey, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Erdogan is arranging the boats to move them to Greece.)  The Greeks are sending a cruise ship to Kos, where the refugees will be processed.

It occurs to me that, once they're aboard the cruise ship, there's nothing to stop the ship from leaving port.  It can transport the refugees to a wealthier country, one that can afford to give them the services they need.  I'm suggesting Germany.

What will the Germans do if a cruise ship full of refugees arrives off the coast of Bremerhaven?  Will they sink it?  Not likely.  They'll just refuse to let it make port.  That's when the Greeks get out the rubber boats, and land the refugees on shore.

Merkel, of course, would be very unhappy — but she and her countrymen, who have been shafting Greece for years, deserve it.  This scenario won't happen, of course, but it's fun to think about.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The "Debate"

Q: Why is Barack Obama the worst president in the history of the United States, and why would Hillary Clinton be even worse?

Okay, they didn't ask that question — but Fox being Fox, there were questions galore inviting the contenders to dump on Democrats.  ClintonObama and ObamaClinton were condensed into single words.  The audience ate it up, of course.

Every candidate got a totally predictable "gotcha" question, by and large answered by totally predictable talking points.  Jeb Bush drew some audience disapproval for his failure to heartily endorse his brother's invasion of Iraq.  (Where do they get those people?)  Ben Carson deflected criticism of his abysmal knowledge of foreign policy by saying how smart he is.  John Kasich impressed me somewhat by actually defending his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio.

Donald Trump was asked about his contributions to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, and his answer was Trumpily brilliant.  First, he pointed out that he'd also contributed to every candidate on the stage.  (One, possibly Ted Cruz but it was hard to tell, whined "Not me!  Not me!")  Then Trump went on to explain that he'd merely been buying influence, not too subtly implying that all politicians are for sale.  Unstated, but understood, was that Trump is so rich he can't be bought.

Unfortunately, Trump didn't get to speak often enough to turn the alleged "debate" into the laughfest I anticipated, but there was one interesting go-round between Rand Paul and Chris Christie on the subject of government spying on citizens.  Christie, supporting the police state, was better received by the yahoos in attendance.

I don't believe that anybody "broke out" of the pack in this first unpacking of the clown car, but Trump, as Trumpy as ever, certainly didn't do himself any harm — despite the clear efforts of Fox to discredit him.  I won't be at all surprised if his poll numbers are up today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Corporate Welfare?

The Export-Import Bank, according to far-right Republicans, is corporate welfare.  Well, if the Ex-Im Bank really were corporate welfare, would it be turning a profit?  Since when does welfare generate income for the government?  Ex-Im provides loan guarantees for foreign buyers who purchase American products, and the bank has been managed well enough so that loans very rarely go into default.  Hence, the insurance premiums Ex-Im collects always have exceeded payouts.

Eliminating the bank will result in fewer exports, further expanding America's negative balance of trade, and encouraging American companies to move manufacturing to countries that will offer loan guarantees.  (Boeing, the Bank's biggest customer, is threatening to do just that.)

Speaking of government enterprises that generate income, those same right-wingnuts who want to end the Export-Import Bank also want to re-privatize Fannie and Freddie, which currently are earning, on average, about $15 billion a year — money that goes straight into the Treasury.  As I've said in the past, why in hell should we nationalize all the losers and privatize the winners?

Fannie and Freddie were government enterprises until the Lyndon Johnson administration, and were privatized mostly to generate some fast cash to fight the Vietnam War.  During the housing bubble, Fannie and Freddie's shareholders demanded a chunk of the fast cash the banks were scooping in by buying up and securitizing high-risk mortgages, so many of which went unpaid.  The good sense Fannie and Freddy had shown in the past was thrown out the window.

Taken over and bailed out by government in response to the crisis of 2008, Fannie and Freddie were returned to responsible management.  Continuing under responsible (government) management, there is no reason they should not continue to generate profits and, in the event of another housing collapse, not be hurt so badly as to need another expensive bailout.

Let's see...  What else might we like to nationalize?  People who hate paying taxes should be happy if their government finds ways to turn a profit.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Great Syrian Fuck-up

How fortunate are the Republican legislators, presidential candidates, and pundits who can sit back comfortably and rattle their sabers while the Obama administration muddles around hopelessly in Syria and Iraq!  A grand fuck-up it is, and so it shall be, barring, say, Divine Intervention, or something equally unlikely.

Remember those "moderate" rebels we were going to train, and who were going to beat back the assorted Islamists who have nothing in common save hating our guts?  According to today's Times, there are exactly 54 of them, and their leader and his lieutenant just were kidnapped by Al Nusra.  Then, in order to get Erdogan to let us use Turkish airfields to bomb what I shall henceforth call "the Islamist State" (aka all that other stuff), the Obamites have to sort of ignore the fact that the Turks are not especially attacking IS targets, but reserving their firepower for the Kurds, previously the most effective force against IS.

One reason we have been so unsuccessful in recruiting anti-IS fighters is that we refuse to go after the Assad regime, presumably because Assad is fighting IS.  Well, Mr. President, the PKK aligned militias under bombardment by Turkey are fighting IS too, Turkey wants Assad overthrown, Assad has committed war crimes, and nobody is supporting him but Iran.  Oh, wait!  I forgot that the Iranians are not quite so bad as they used to be.

Personally, I believe that the Kurds, PKK affiliated or not, are the only ones in the region worthy of support, and I sincerely hope they manage to carve out an independent Kurdistan from the shit gumbo the USofA is haplessly wading through in the Middle East.  I understand that Turkey has to remain in NATO for various geopolitical reasons, but maybe it's time for another secularist military coup over there.  Where's the goddamned CIA when you need it?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland may or may not have committed suicide in her cell, but either way, she was killed by racism.  Specifically, she was killed by Brian Encinia, the white highway cop who harassed her, threatened her, roughed her up, and arrested her.  His punishment, most likely, will be loss of his job.  Big deal.

From the dashboard video of Encinia's cruiser, and his interaction with Bland, it's not difficult to reconstruct what led up to their confrontation.  Bland was doing the speed limit, always a good idea if you happen to be "Driving While Black."  (We can be sure she was traveling at precisely the speed limit because Encinia did not charge her with speeding.)  Seeing a black female with out-of-state plates, Encinia played the tailgate game — pulling up dangerously close behind her.  This is a favorite game of highway cops, and if you've been driving for any length of time, it's probably been played on you.  You pull over to the right, and hope he just goes on by.

Sadly, Bland neglected to signal.  It's understandable, because one tends to panic a bit under the circumstances, especially if one is a black female with out-of-state plates.  If she'd signaled, ninety-nine to one he'd have found some other pretense for hassling her.  He asks if she's upset.  Of course she's upset, you racist, misogynous, fascist asshole!  You want her to be upset.

We all know what happened until she moved out of the range of the dashboard camera.  The next thing we see is a cell phone video of Bland, handcuffed and on the ground, with Encinia holding her down.  He claims she kicked him, and that's why she was jailed on $5000 bail.  The only evidence of her "assault on an officer" is Encinia's word.

All cops lie.  Bad cops lie a hell of a lot.  What happened off-camera is anybody's guess.  What happened on-camera, though, is egregious, like when Encinia threatened to "light her up" with his Taser.  Unfortunately, police work attracts far too many individuals with personality disorders like Encinia's.  We can't just eliminate the so-called "bad apples," because then the barrel probably would be half-empty.  The culture of policing has to change.

You can't answer "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter" until black lives stop mattering so much less than white lives — until black lives are no longer habitually pushed aside or tossed away.  There continues to be a significant advantage in being a white male, and it's time we white males admitted as much. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Odds and Ends

Pluto
While I'm not terribly interested in outer space, I felt a burst of sympathetic joy for the teams of scientists working on the Pluto project.  What a great day that must have been for them when the first images arrived back on Earth!

Abdulazeez
Like a lot of other severely depressed young people, I suspect Mohammod Abdulazeez was already suicidal when he attacked the military base and recruiting station in Chattanooga.  How convenient for him that his religion offered him redemption for his "sins" (alcohol abuse and bad debts) if he took it upon himself to become a martyr!

Chelsea Manning
Yes, now that he's a lame duck, Obama is willing to take some of the political risks that terrified him before the Republicans swept the midterm elections, but I'm still not all that impressed.  It's very, very unlikely that when he issues his post-election pardons prior to leaving office he will add Chelsea Manning to his list, but it surely would lift him up in my esteem.

Polygamy
Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, it may be time to take a good look at arguments for polygamy.  The legalities are harder to work out due to the economic ramifications of polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage — how to figure out tax liabilities and child support responsibilities, for example — but logically, polygamy should be the next marital civil rights frontier.  Currently, many Americans practice serial polygamy — having multiple spouses, only not at the same time — and there are "traditional" polygamous (usually polygynous) households making a go of it.  Legal polygamy, at this point in our cultural evolution, deserves serious consideration.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Iran Deal

As long-term readers know, I couldn't care less if Iran becomes a nuclear power.  There are lots of nuclear powers in the world today, and none of them has used its bomb.  Even though it's well over half a century old, mutually assured destruction (MAD) still works.  India and Pakistan may rattle their silos from time to time, but they never launch.  Even if Israel didn't have enough nuclear weapons to vaporize all their antagonists in the region, Iran still would not risk using a nuke.  Hell, even Israel won't use its nuclear weapons unilaterally.

So, what's the benefit of a nuclear treaty with Iran?  More than anything, it brings the Iranians closer to the rest of the world.  By comparison with their neighbors, Iranians are better educated, less religiously fanatical, and much better disposed towards democracy.  After all, it was the democratic election of Hassan Rouhani that made the nuclear agreement possible.

Reintegrating Iran into the world economy will make it more responsive to external influence.  Alleviating the hardships suffered by average Iranians under sanctions will lessen the influence of the Revolutionary Guard and other right-wing elements.  Further sanctions will not work (see Cuba), and the only other alternative is war, which also will not work (see Iraq.)

The time to normalize relations with Iran is now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Greek Debt "Agreement"

Pretty clearly, no "negotiation" took place in Vienna.  The Germans — who, at last, seem to have achieved their WWII goal of taking over Europe — dictated the terms.  Tsipras, faced with the crash of the Greek banking system, had no choice but to agree.

Personally, I believe that immediate "Grexit" is preferable to yet another round of destructive austerity.  Maybe there are enough members of the Greek parliament to say "no," as the Greek people said "no" last week.  Okay, I understand that a substantial majority of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone, but it won't do them any good if they have no euros to spend.

The euro was a bad idea from the beginning, as the British recognized when they opted to stay with the pound.  Not only Greece, but Spain, Portugal, and Italy would enjoy a great deal more economic autonomy if they had their own currencies.  If Europe ever is politically unified, that will be the time for a unified currency.  All the euro has accomplished is to put the bankers in charge.

In the meanwhile, it's time for Greece to cut its losses and default.  The future is grim for Greece no matter what it does, but real recovery will come sooner if Greece has its own currency.

Μην αφήνετε τους Γερμανούς να κατακτήσουν και πάλι στην Ελλάδα. Πες ΟΧΙ!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Trump

I am thoroughly confused by Donald Trump.  It is clear enough what he is doing.  Far less clear is why he is doing it.

Trump is appealing to the racist, nativist component of the Republican base, and his popularity in recent polling indicates that it is a distressingly large group.  If his goal is to be taken as a serious contender for the Republican nomination rather than just a billionaire buffoon, he has been successful.  If his goal is to become President of the United States, his perception of the American public is considerably more negative than my own.

Trump, a real estate developer, almost certainly is a net winner from illegal immigration.  His contractors and subcontractors can offer him lower bids if some of their workers are illegals earning low or even sub-minimum wages.  He is rich enough to be immune from the kinds of "criminals" who may sneak across the Mexican border, just like everybody else in his social set.  Is he guided by some twisted sense of "social responsibility?"  Doubtful.

He may be an asshole, but I find it hard to believe he is a complete idiot.  He must know he is hurting the Republican brand by shouting out the ugly thoughts his competitors are content to merely imply, so party loyalty doesn't come into his calculations.  Is he a secret, Machiavellian Democrat, working to help Hillary Clinton (who accepted his donations in previous elections)?  Again, doubtful.

Some suggest he just enjoys publicity, attention, and doesn't especially care how he gets it.  I call that the "mental illness model" of Donald Trump, and cannot entirely discount it, but I suspect the Trump candidacy goes beyond that.

Trump, who is as rich as he says he is, can afford to place large wagers against long odds — and the odds against him becoming President of the United States are very long indeed.  Just the same, if enough Americans are sufficiently hateful, fearful, and knuckle-draggingly angry to vote for a pompous bag of wind like Trump, he just might win.

What would Trump do if he became the next "Leader of the Free World?"  Has he thought it out that far?

Doubtful.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The NO Vote

The Greeks have soundly defeated eurozone efforts to depose their allegedly "leftist" government by a margin of 61 to 39 percent.  Even though they had no way of knowing the impact of their decision on Greece's future, they clearly understood that banker-imposed austerity policies have been a complete failure, and rejected them.  The next move must come from the "troika," and what that move will be remains to be seen.

Nobody — not even Wolfgang Schäuble — really wants to see Grexit, but serious obstacles stand in the way of the debt relief Greece needs.  Yes, the IMF admits that Greece will be unable to pay its debts, but the ECB and other lenders will resist: after all, one doesn't want to set a bad example for other southern European nations.  If I had to guess which European leader is most upset by the "no" vote, my nominee would be Spain's Mariano Rajoy, whose government already is under pressure from Podemos, the Spanish political movement that bears a close resemblance to Syriza.  Rajoy just might be serving his last term, and a Podemos majority in the Spanish parliament certainly would be disruptive across Europe.

In Greece, things are likely to get worse before they get better, but glimmers of light are just barely perceptible at the end of the debt tunnel — which would not be the case if the shameless European propaganda campaign had succeeded in effecting a "yes" victory.  More austerity can only feed into an endless downward spiral.  Even Grexit offers more hope.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ukraine

Hey!  What's happening in Ukraine, which has been out of the news for a week or so?  Answer: nothing good.  The alleged "cease-fire," you may recall, never even started, and the people of eastern Ukraine still are suffering.

The root of the Ukraine problem was the needless and provocative expansion of NATO into the former Soviet sphere of influence.  What was the point?  Well, it seems likely that western capital, seeking new markets, was hesitant to move into eastern Europe without its private army coming along.  A NATO commitment to the former Soviet republics, no doubt, improved the "business climate."  Ukraine under Yanukovych was looking eastward, and it's hard to believe that the Maidan "revolution" (coup) arose spontaneously.

Granted, the Yanukovych government in Ukraine was thoroughly corrupt — but there's not much evidence that the Poroschenko government is noticeably better.  In the meanwhile, the Ukrainian conflict has provided NATO (read USofA) with ample justification for locating tanks, aircraft, and other weapons in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  It is understandable that the Baltic states feel threatened by Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, but it also is understandable that the Russians feel threatened by the plan to locate NATO missile batteries in Poland.  Are the missiles "purely defensive" (and aimed at Iran), as advertised?  (Can you kill a man with a deer rifle, even though he's not a deer?)

Why would anybody want to be president of the USofA these days?  Socrates probably was right when he posited that anybody who actually wants power shouldn't have it.  Whoever we wind up with, though, will be faced with a world of trouble, in large part created by his or her predecessors.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Catching up

Stuff has been happening, and I've been either too busy or too lazy to blog: hence, some quickies.

Domestic Terrorism
Speaking of catch-up, yesterday the New York Times caught up with my previous post about the greater terrorist threat in the USofA, albeit citing a new source.  Check it out.

Greece
Greece's creditors continue to demand more austerity in exchange for keeping Greece out of default.  Accepting such demands will exacerbate Greece's already drastic economic problems.  Do the creditors really continue to believe in austerity, or are they trying to monkey-wrench the Syriza government?  The latter seems increasingly likely.

Racist Symbology
Symbols are important in the context of human psychology, so it is not surprising that racist Southerners cling to their Confederate banners, statues of John C. Calhoun, and similar bric-a-brac.  Also, it is not surprising that most black Americans want to see the last of such gewgaws.  Still, the First Amendment protects even the most hateful expression, so cowardly Republicans saying "the states should work it out on their own" unwittingly have a point.  (On the other hand, Confederate symbols represent not only racism, but treason against the government of the USofA.  Are the "Sons of the Confederacy" really endorsing treason?)
(Tweet: - Replace with WHITE flag! They DID surrender! Hooray for and !)


Obamacare
Well, the Supremes said we still can have it, and it's better than nothing — but we still must do better.  I don't see any opportunity for a real national health insurance system at any time in the near future, but then I would have said the same, not that many years ago, about...

Same Sex Marriage
Congratulations to the LGBT community!  Granted, the "T"s still need a lot more public acceptance, but the right to marry won't be one of their problems now.

Legal Insanity
Let's face it — none of us can claim to be a paragon of "mental health."  James Holmes is nuts, and so is Dylann Roof, and the same is or was true of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Nidal Malik Hasan, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Adam Lanza, Josef Stalin, Idi Amin, and a bunch of other mass murderers.  Just the same, you can't convince me that any of them were unaware that what they were doing was wrong.  I don't approve of the death penalty, but just the same, a person has to be totally delusional before he meets the criteria for legal insanity, and that's as it should be.  Behavior must have consequences.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Terrorism in the USofA

What constitutes a "terrorist" attack?  Does it have to be specifically planned by a particular ideological group or a "state sponsor of terrorism?"  Apparently not.  Nidal Malik Hasan's rampage at Ft. Hood is generally thought of as "lone wolf" terrorism; and even though IS took responsibility for those two inept jerks who tried to attack the Texas cartoon contest, it seems a lot more likely they acted on their own.

To just about everybody but Fox News, it is clear that Dylann Roof's attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was an act of terrorism, inspired, at least in part, by things he found on the internet.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, most of the terror attacks in the USofA are inspired by far-right militias, neo-nazis, and the "sovereign citizen" movement.  Islamists have some catching up to do.

If you can find another 21-year-old who even can find Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) on a map, much less identify with an apartheid government which was overthrown well before he was born, you've found a very unusual 21-year-old.  Yes, Dylann Roof was inspired by good old, down home South Carolin racism, but it seems indisputable that his ideology was shaped by the internet, which is overflowing with racist militia, neo-nazi, and sovereign citizen crap.  The kid is a terrorist — and he's not alone out there.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fast-track

I was pleasantly surprised when Democrats in the House blocked Obama's route to fast-track trade negotiation authority for the TPP.  Maybe I needn't have been quite so surprised.  After all, what had he ever done for them?

I've already explained my own reservations with the TPP here, so I won't go into them again.  All I can add at this time is that the more that's emerged from the shroud of secrecy, the less I like it — and I was especially pissed off by Obama's overtly personal attacks on Elizabeth Warren.

Now, we have to wait for Hillary, whose "people" must be desperately measuring and weighing public opinion and the views of her corporate backers, since she rarely seems to have opinions or principles of her own.  If Hillary backs Obama, I expect enough votes will swing to saddle us with all the unpleasant surprises certain to be contained within the terms of the TPP.  After all, many current members of Congress won't want to get on the "wrong side" of the "next president."

Sadly, I suspect she'll back the president, taking union support for granted.  The unions won't have much of a choice if she's running against, say, Scott Walker.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Turkish Elections

Turks will be going to the polls this weekend, in an election that is likely to determine the future of their country, and have major consequences for US foreign relations.  Recip Tayip Erdogan, who has become increasingly Putinesque over the past decade, is hoping to win a 60% majority in Parliament, enabling him to change the Turkish constitution and solidify his power.

As a NATO member, Turkey is a vital participant in US Middle East operations.  The US looks to Turkey as a partner in its struggle against ISIS (aka etc. etc.), but that partnership has not been what the US might have expected before Ergogan's Islamist party came to power.  It well may be that Erdogan feels more comfortable with ISIS across the border than the Kurds, and his participation in the war against ISIS has been sorely lacking.

As Iraq fragments into Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurdish sectors, and the likelihood that the Kurds finally will achieve the Kurdish homeland they have aspired to for at least the past century, Erdogan feels increasingly threatened by the PKK and other Kurdish nationalists in Turkey.  Personally, I believe that the Kurds deserve a homeland, including Kurdish Iraq, Kurdish Syria and, ideally, Kurdish Turkey as well.  It is understandable that the Turks are unwilling to see a significant chunk of their country pulled away to become part of greater Kurdistan, but tacit support for ISIS by the Erdogan government can only help to further exacerbate conflict in the Middle East.

It also is in the best interest of the US for the secularists who led Turkey since the days of Ataturk maintain essential political influence.  If the current election gives Erdogan the ability to aggrandize his increasingly autocratic power, we all are losers.

..........
Later:
Great news!  Not only did Erdogan not make his 60%, he lost his parliamentary majority!  Better yet, the biggest gains were by the pro-Kurdish HDP (People's Democratic Party), which made significant outreach to secularists, gays, women, and others not comfortable with Islamism.  Hooray!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Patriot Act

So, the Patriot Act is lapsed.  Sort of.  Minimally.  "Grandfather" clauses permit investigations begun prior to June 1 to continue, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if just a little pre-dating went on while Congress is getting its act together.

It looks like the House's USAFreedom Act (I have no idea what strained title the acronym stands for) is likely to become the new law, and it is an improvement over the old law, albeit imperfect.  There will be some attempts at amendment in the Senate, but since any changes would send the bill back to the House, thereby delaying passage and "threatening our national security" for a while longer, the odds are that no amendments will be approved.  One proposed amendment I rather like would prevent the government from using evidence of crimes unrelated to terrorism from being used in criminal prosecutions.  If a non-terrorist were found, for example, to be engaged in insider trading or selling counterfeit Viagra, that evidence could be suppressed in the defendant's criminal trial.  (Even if the bill is amended, though, that particular amendment is dead in the water.)

Personally, I don't see any problem with "roving" wiretaps, with subpeonas targeting specific human beings rather than specific telephone numbers.  I also see no problem with gathering data on "lone wolves," not that any "lone wolves" (Tamerlan Tsarnaev, for example) have been tracked to date.  As far as I can tell, those so-called "lone wolves" are the only real danger at the moment, and more of them arise from the homegrown "Patriot" and "Christian Identity" movements than from Islamists.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tweets

I broke down and signed up for a twitter account: @vicworld_org. It probably won't last long — there's not much I can say in less than 140 characters.  Here are some recent tweets:

How many more altar boys must be diddled before #Ireland legalizes #abortion?

#Robert_Gates to #Boy_Scouts: eventually, you'll have to accept #gay leaders. (Note: #pedophile quotient will be unchanged.)

How did the #Justice_Department get interested in #FIFA? Is the #NFL worried about competition?

Re: #FIFA scandal - Will money laundering US bankers be prosecuted too?

#Bernie! deserves more major media attention.  #Hillary's move to the left remains suspect.

From my perspective, there never can be too many #Republican #candidates! The more, the loonier!

Congratulations to the people of #El_Salvador on the beatification of my longtime hero, #Oscar_Romero. Thank you, Pope Frank!

#Brelo stood on the hood shooting through the windshield. Is that the action of someone afraid of "great bodily harm"? I don't think so!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On the home front...


Opting Out
Opposition is growing to Arne Duncan's "data based" approach to "saving" American education by obsessively testing schoolchildren and using their scores to "evaluate" teachers and schools.  Hooray for all those parents choosing to "opt out" of the testcapades for their kids. The children of poverty who are supposed to be the chief beneficiaries of the testing regimen will continue to score poorly, no matter how many "failing" schools are closed and no matter how many "incompetent" teachers are fired.  The most important key to educational achievement is the security and predictability of a middle-class lifestyle, a lifestyle denied to more and more children as more and more Americans are pushed out of what used to be the American middle class.

Minimum Wage
More Americans can enjoy "middle-class" lives when more Americans are able to live comfortably on their earnings.  Right now, our low-wage workers — even those lucky enough to have steady, full-time jobs — have to depend on food stamps and Medicaid just to scrape by.  Too many are only one or two unpaid sick days away from financial catastrophe, and they know it.  They and their children need and deserve real security.  Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr is not enough to restore the American middle class, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

As I've said before, raising the minimum wage will not lead to lay-offs, because employers know they maximize profits by employing the smallest work force needed to get the job done.  If forced to pay their workers more, employers must either accept lower profits or raise the prices of their products.  The affluent will scarcely notice any price increases, and better paid workers will have more money to spend.  Only the most poorly conceived and managed businesses will fail.

Democracy
To the extent it exists in the USofA, democracy doesn't work very well.  People struggling to earn a living, or to claw their way to the next level of economic success, don't have a lot of time to peruse the "important issues" that are supposed to determine the outcomes of elections.  Candidates win elections when they have the financing and skills to promulgate sufficiently convincing lies, or to distract our attention from political decisions that actually might have an impact on our lives.

The classic Clinton approach, "polling over principle," is endemic in our current system.  We expect political candidates to say the things we want to hear.  What they actually do once in office is unlikely to have more than cosmetic resemblance to what they say in order to win.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fast-Track and the TPP

I don't know if the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will or will not benefit most Americans, although I suspect that they will be much better for the banks and the multinationals than for you and me.  The reason I'm limited to suspicion is that the terms of the agreement, most of which already have been decided, are secret.  I don't get to see them.  Unless you are a US Senator or one of the corporate leaders and lobbyists who designed the deal, you don't know either.  We commoners are not allowed in on the secret, and when our Senators get to have a peek, they're not allowed to take notes.

What I do understand, just by the nature of such agreements, is that the TPP is likely to have provisions that facilitate violations of our local, state, and federal laws — that is, the ability of business interests to sue governments to overturn laws that the corporations just don't like.  Among those laws might be regulations bearing on health, safety, environmental protection, labor rights, banking, and more.  To me, that sounds like a real danger.

More dangerous than the agreement itself is granting the President six years of fast-track authority to enter into trade deals — that is, the authority to agree to a deal with only 51 votes for approval in the Senate.  If the next president (or, perhaps, the current president) decides to negotiate a treaty that castrates Dodd-Frank, for example, 51 votes would do the trick — not the 60 required to overcome a filibuster.

All the talk about loss of jobs is of little importance — but it's easier for ordinary Americans to understand than the far more virulent threats to regulation of banking, oil exploration and production, food and drug markets, and more.  Fast-track makes the current plutocratic domination of American politics exponentially worse.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Meanwhile, in Texas...

Word is out that Obama is sending the US military to invade Texas and confiscate all the guns.  Some Texans are dense enough to believe this.  Needless to say, one expects America's Stupidest Congressman, Louis Gohmert, to go along with the conspiracy theory, but Texas governor Greg Abbott's assurance that the Texas National Guard would be out there protecting the weaponry leads one to believe that the Texan lunatic fringe must be a lot more lunatic and a lot less fringe than previously supposed.  Ted Cruz, by the way, says he has "no reason to doubt" the US military when it says it has no plans to invade.

Also in Texas, America's two most incompetent amateur terrorists managed to get themselves killed by a traffic cop, despite their body armor and automatic weaponry, while attempting to attack Pamela Geller's "Draw Mohammed" cartoon contest.  What I really can't understand is why Islamic State decided to take the "credit" for their almost laughable failure.  (The only thing that makes it slightly less than laughable is that they managed to shoot a school security guard in the foot.)  Surely, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi can't believe those two clowns will inspire others to try their luck.

I will take this opportunity to announce my new "Draw Pamela Geller" contest.  Please make all submissions as offensive as possible.