Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The police ostensibly exist to protect and serve the citizenry. I fail to see how this officer is doing any such thing.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Cashing In From Day Zero

Didn't take long for President Elect Trump to start cashing in on his new-found power for his own personal benefit. Talking Points Memo reports:
For a number of years, Trump and his Argentine partners have been trying to build a major office building in Buenos Aires. The project has been held up by a series of complications tied to financing, importation of building materials and various permitting requirements. 
According to a report out of Argentina, when Argentine President Mauricio Macri called President-Elect Trump to congratulate him on his election, Trump asked Macri to deal with the permitting issues that are currently holding up the project.
It doesn't get more blatant than that. 

On Sunday, VP-Elect Pence had an interview with Fox News' own Chris Wallace who asked about such conflicts of interest. Pence's response
“Well, I can tell you, in a recent interview after the election, the president-elect summed up his view of his interest in his business life with two words. He said, ‘Who cares?'” Pence replied to Wallace.
Bullshit. If he didn't care, he wouldn't have his daughter in meetings with foreign officials while supposedly running the blind trust for his business and having his son-in-law as a senior advisor. 

The Washington Post reports that while foreign diplomats initially avoided the newly opened hotel over fears of backlash if Hillary Clinton won, it is now a hot destination spot for people looking to curry favor with the new president.
Off to a swimming start. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trump's a Disaster and Democrats Had it Coming

That I am disheartened at how the whole election process and results played out is an understatement. From all the ways the DNC violated its supposed neutrality in the Democratic primaries to the hatred and bigotry that Trump has emboldened in his supporters to the lack of introspection and accountability on the part of the Clinton campaign following their loss.

The post mortem analysis seems to center on two primary factors for the election results:
  • The fear of older white people at the changing demographics of the country
  • Increasing income and wealth disparity as a result of economic globalization that Trump exploited in his populist rhetoric
I suspect there is a good amount of the latter fueling the former - economic anxiety manifested by scapegoating already vulnerable and marginalized populations like immigrants, muslims, the LGBTQ community. As a privileged coastal progressive, it is tempting to attribute the motivation of Trump supporters to the very real and ugly racism and xenophobia that Trump abetted and fueled with his rhetoric while dismissing the economic reality that many of his supporters have been left out of the benefits trade deals, deregulation and corporate globalization. Establishment Democrats will undoubtedly try to absolve themselves of their complicity of the election's results without introspection. But the truth is that both Democrats and Republicans have pursued neoliberal economic policies, financial deregulation and corporate globalization in roughly equal measure since the Reagan administration. Certainly the world (and the US) economy as a whole has benefitted greatly as geographic barriers have fallen as a result of trade deals like NAFTA and perhaps to a greater degree, the emergence of the internet as the backbone of commerce and communication. And yet, income inequality has only increased over that same time period (more charts that illustrate this point from Bill Moyers here):

And despite the writing on the wall - in particular the emergence of the occupy movement, Bernie Sanders' rejection of neoliberal policies and his attendant popularity in the primaries, and Trump's paper-thin populist rhetoric that attracted so many left out of the economic recovery (indeed most of the wealth generated in the recovery went to the 1%) - Clinton largely maintained her advocacy for the economic policies that her husband and Obama pursued. Certainly for her to repudiate her own views and activity with respect to trade and financial regulation would rightly be seen as flip-floppy. 

And that gets to the deeper issue that Democrats writ large repeatedly insisted that Clinton was more electable than Sanders (despite all the polls that indicated otherwise), that things are going pretty good and we just need to tweak the dials, that incremental progress is the best way to achieve prosperity. That Democrats would nominate such a disliked candidate with so much political baggage - some of it self inflicted like the private email server, some of it ginned up by hack Republicans like Benghazi despite their own investigations absolving her - while Sanders enjoys the highest favorability rating in Congress and is an icon of civil rights and workers rights demands a wholesale change in Democratic leadership. Of course, we'll never know if Sanders - even if he was more electable - would have won, but it is clear that both Trump and Sanders recognized the plight of many Americans that centrist/establishment Democrats ignored. 

This is why the Democratic party must break free of its corporatism and its adopted faith in trickle down economics and adopt a more progressive agenda that captures the benefits that technology produces while creating jobs to support an aggressive infrastructure maintenance and upgrade program as well as developing a green energy economy. Trump may have won on a 'platform' that rejects corporate lobbyists and supports the little guy, but he's already assembling his transition team chock full of lobbyists. So while Trump pulls a bait and switch on his supporters, Democrats should be ready to reclaim those voters with real solutions for the working class. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Conservatives Fail at Facts: Part Infinity

This picture showed up in my facebook feed today as one of my friends shared it.  First off, this is probably fake.  But in a way that is incidental to the more relevant fact that over 200,000 people 'like' this and it's pernicious overtones of conformity. 

In case you can't read it [sic]:

No wonder this guy is the boss, he is sharp! You can't be any fairer than this guy...

Dear Employees:
As the CEO of this organization, I have resigned myself to the fact that Barrack Obama is our President and that our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way.  To compensate for these increases, our prices would have to increase by about 10%.  But, since we cannot increase our prices right now due to the dismal state of the economy, we will have to lay off sixty of our employees instead.  This has really been bothering me since I believe we are all family here and I didn't know how to choose who would have to go.  So, this is what I did.  I walked through our parking lots and found
sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go.  I can't think of a more fair way to approach this problem.  They voted for change... So I gave it to them.
I will see the rest of our at the annual company picnic." 

 Let's take this point by point:

"...our taxes and government fees will increase in a BIG way."

Corporate tax rates are at historical lows; there really isn't any way around this.  In fact, according to the Wall St. Journal, the effective corporate tax rate in 2011 fell to 12.1%, which is the lowest since before World War I.  

See that spike in 1987? Reagan must have been a socialist!

In addition, Obama, in the run-up to the 'fiscal-cliff', supported reducing the top marginal corporate tax rate of 35% to 25%.  That didn't happen, so the top marginal corporate tax rate is still at 35% today.  In other words: nothing has changed.

So, it should be very obvious that taxes for this guy's company shouldn't have increased in a "BIG way".  Maybe his accounting department is just incompetent.

"...due to the dismal state of the economy"

It would be nice to know what metric he is using to make this assertion, but assuming this letter was fairly recent to the May 2013 facebook posting, we can make several statements that don't bear out this claim:

Since Obama took office, the S&P 500 more than doubled:

..and the jobless rate has fallen to the lowest point in 5 years.  Oh and let's not forget who was in charge in the run-up to and during the great real-estate and financial bubble of 2008 that put the economy in such lousy shape when Obama took office.

So again, I'm very interested in knowing what about the economy is "dismal".  And what a jerk for not even backing up this claim, which is the basis for firing 60 people.

"I walked through our parking lots and found sixty 'Obama' bumper stickers on our employees' cars and have decided these folks will be the ones to let go."

How capricious and vindictive.  If you really have to shed staff, it might be wise to keep the top performers and let go of those with questionable performance. I can hear conservatives now snarkily quipping how Obama supporters would obviously be the lowest performers.  But this "CEO" doesn't even pretend to be making rational and fair business decisions; this is his convenient way of punishing those with an ideology that differs from his. 

And that is the real point of what disturbs me about this - so many people apparently think an acceptable way to deal with others with different ideas is to purge them.  This seems to be a common thread for conservatives these days given their antipathy to non-white voters, women,  and non-Christians.  Essentially, whether real or not, this purported layoff letter in many ways represents a modern conservatives utopia where everyone looks and thinks like them so that their insularity isn't questioned. Quite an utopia. 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Random Bible Verse of the Day: Genesis 1:1

It's been a while since I did a Random Bible Verse of the Day post, and now I'm feeling shameful and unfit for a loving, benevolent Dog.  Let's get back on the crazy train of popular Bible verses to see what pablum the masses are lapping up these days.

Hmm well we've hit the #1 verse (John 3:16), #2 (Jeremiah 29:11),  and #3 (Romans 8:28).  I'm going to skip #4 because its so banal and move right to #5.   Genesis 1 verse 1, come on down!
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Really, this is the fifth most popular verse?  I mean in one sense, given that it is the very first of the Bible its kinda weird that it isn't higher.  But the content itself is so lacking in content that you have to wonder what is it about this verse that is so popular.

But of course, we all know why this is such a popular verse.  It's a comforting reminder to those that don't like the implications of the fact of evolution that their god is behind everything.  In a way, its purpose is to affirm the existence of a god and that this god has agency.  And a god with agency is critical to the attendant myths of original sin and Jesus the savior of human sin.

This notion is the very foundation of any religion.  And not even for religion, but most if not all cultures have some creation story as a means of attempting to explain its place in the cosmos.  Its no surprise that such stories focus on humans, but perhaps the ubiquitous obsession with where we fit in the universe is, even in those cultures that deny it, a tacit recognition of our insignificance relative to the vastness of space.

In my former life as a moderate Christian, I never really thought much or drew much inspiration from this verse.  So I wonder, if on a day-to-day basis, believers feel the need to re-read this to comfort themselves...

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Stupidity of a Syria Strike

The Obama Administration really wants to bomb Syria, ostensibly for its use of chemical weapons against its own people.  And of course a good number of Congress people want to bomb Syria as well for reasons ranging from loyalty to Obama on the left to good old fashioned imperialism on the right.

And then there are the citizens that see this issue as a proxy for conservatives versus liberals, rather than a policy decision that should be weight by the costs and benefits.
“I thought he didn’t like Democrats. Why is he all of a sudden backing the president?” she said.
Of course, such partisanship is endemic to Obama era conservatives.  Obamacare being a carbon copy of Romney care doesn't make a bit of difference to them, only their ability to identify with the politician personally.

But this is getting away from the purpose of this post.  So despite the public being overwhelmingly against bombing Syria, Congress may still vote in favor of it.  And even if it doesn't pass Congress, Obama may still go forward with it.

And the Congressional Budget Office isn't even capable of forecasting what a strike would cost with so few details as to the scope of the attack even though Secretary of State Kerry has said it would be "unbelievably small and limited".  Thanks for the details.  Though according to defense and national security sources for the DailyMail, a 90-day engagement could cost between $5-21 billion.

So let's stop there. $5-21 billion dollars.  For what?  That's the cost. Now tell me the benefit.  From reading the transcript of Obama's address on Sept. 10th there were two mentions of the specific outcomes from a strike (I noticed that he was rather short on the negative outcomes that would result):

  • "The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use."
  • "This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities."

Both essentially the same.  So my questions are:

So what exactly would the US be striking?  His chemical weapons facilities?  That would seem to be the obvious target.  But has any evidence been presented that we know where these facilities are?  We were told that we knew that Iraq had WMDs and where they were.  Turns out they didn't exist, or, at least, were never found.

Why should we believe any evidence that is presented?  As Ed Brayton points out:
Almost to the day that the allegations were made that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons outside Damascus, Foreign Policy magazine published a report that included declassified CIA documents that showed that our government had helped Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in 1988 and had then launched a propaganda campaign to blame it on Iran (a mostly successful campaign, by the way). The Vietnam War was justified by LBJ by the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was completely fabricated. So our government has a history of lying to justify going to war and a history of lying specifically about who is responsible for using chemical weapons. So even if it’s true that Assad used the chemical weapons, and even if the evidence actually did support that, we have absolutely no reason to believe them when they say they have that evidence.
And what is the risk of a) civilian casualties (best, worst, and probable scenarios of death tolls would be useful, but acknowledging any potential death toll would damage the case for it should!), and b) that the target isn't sufficiently disabled, and c) that there are more unknown facilities that wouldn't be affected?

And what happens after the strike?
"And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism."
And if your political solutions don't work?  Will you be politically liable to perform an even stronger strike?  How many casualties are you willing to inflict on Syria before you can declare victory?

How will you define success?  When Assad is 'deterred' from using chemical weapons?  How will you actually measure that deterrence?  What if he just moves on to other methods of killing?

The only way I can see any success being claimed is if Assad and his opponents peacefully resolve their differences.  Otherwise the conflict will continue with no end in sight.  So how military action achieve that goal?

Obama makes an appeal to the rule of law (oh, how laughable from you Mr. Obama) and the use of chemical weapons to kill people.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but why are chemical weapons explicitly prohibited?  Because they are not an humane enough method to kill?  Please tell me the most humane way to inflict mass casualties.  If Assad had been killing people using other means, such as - I don't know...drones, I wonder if Obama would be so smugly indignant.

Obama asserts:
Because what happened to those people -- to those children -- is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security. 
Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilian
If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran -- which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon, or to take a more peaceful path. 
This is pure conjecture of a doomsday fantasy.  And again, why the focus on chemical weapons?  Even with Obama's 'precision' drone strikes it is estimated that we, the USA, defenders of democracy and all that is good, have killed more than 400 civilians.  So we're really not that far behind Syria's chemical weapon use that is estimated, by the Administration, to have killed 1,400 people.

Obama does acknowledge this skeptics, in part saying, "And I know Americans want all of us in Washington -- especially me -- to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class."

Yep, that sounds like good advice.  I wonder what the return on investment is for $5-$21 billion invested in eduction, science and medicine?  And further, what is the ROI on dropping $5-21 billion worth of bombs on another country?

This graphic can't be posted enough.  Never forget:

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Juicy, Oblivious Irony

The continued exposure of the US Security State and the blatant Constitutional subversion as revealed by Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald highlights not only the abuses explicitly exposed, but also the hypocrisy of Official Washington from mainstream 'journalists' to the Obama administration.

One facet of that hypocrisy smacked me in the face this morning while reading a Yahoo news article when I read this passage [emphasis added]:
The government's forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden's apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.
Two obvious points - 1) the administration simultaneously abhors leaks and will pursues the source and ruin their lives for exposing illegal activity, and yet is itself the source of unauthorized leaks of 'sensitive developments'.   Does anyone expect that the administration will pursue legal action against this anonymous official?  Of course not.  Because, as Glenn Greenwald has said many times:
The US government itself has constantly used this tactic: aggressively targeting those who disclose embarrassing or incriminating information about the government in the name of protecting the sanctity of classified information, while simultaneously leaking classified information prolifically when doing so advances their political interests.
So it comes down to this - the legality of the leaks or the crimes they are exposing is irrelevant; all that matters is the extent to which the leak furthers their political interests.

Obvious point #2 - Apparently they government hypocrisy was completely lost on the AP reporters that filed the Yahoo piece, Adam Goldman and Kimberly Dozier.  Epic fail.  Or... perhaps more likely, they realized this contradiction, but being Responsible Journalists they didn't want to upset the administration lest they lose their anonymous official source.  As long as they keep getting fed 'newsworthy' information from the administration, they're happy to not point out the obvious hypocrisy of such unofficial official leaks.