Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Monday, October 31, 2011

HCR -- Breast Cancer Awareness, Pink and Silver

By John Ballard

Not gonna make a big deal about it but readers need to have this pair of links. 
You or somebody in your life will face breast cancer and will need to be informed.
These two posts at Maggie Mahar's place are must-read items for anyone facing this diagnosis.

...Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC), the type of cancer that invaded Amy Berman�s body, does not manifest itself as the �lump� that most of us associate with breast tumors: �When it is found, it is almost always in a late III or IV stage � meaning that it has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.� And �it is often missed by mammograms.� A woman may have a �clear mammogram�-- and be diagnosed with IBC a year later.


...the majority of women over 70 who are diagnosed with breast cancer will die of something else before the disease catches up with them. In this way, breast cancer is like prostate cancer: a great many older women will die with the cancer, but not from it, and most would never know they had it --unless someone insisted on a mammogram. This why the College of Physicians believes that the risks of unnecessary treatments outstrip benefits.

?Breast Cancer-- Living with the Disease -- part 1

?Breast Cancer-- Living with the Disease, Part 2

This is not just for women over 70, by the way. And it's not just another sales pitch for palliative care, either. Lots of solid information just to have at your disposal if you aim to be an informed "consumer."

(And that's who we are expected to be, you know. We are consumers first, then patients. And it will continue to be that way unless or until the medical-industrial complex gets "into" real patient-centered, informed healing.)

CVS Homeopathic Products

By John Ballard

This is something of a non-sequitur but if I don't post it I will lose it. 
I don't know how this came up in Google Reader but as the mouse went across the cartoon, this interesting message popped up. I don't subscribe to this site but here it is.
Go figure...
Spooky. Halloween trick, I suppose...

CVS Message



"This is not your father's Republican Party..."

By John Ballard

Last week's meeting of Florida Democrats gives a preview of a 2012 stump speech. 
I caught part of it this morning while at my assignment. Sounds pretty compelling to me.  Barack Obama didn't choose a US Senator as vice-president by accident. If there's anything a US Senator knows what to do and do it well, it's make a good speech. 
Link here to the whole hour.

Moving the Conversation

By BJ Bjornson

I noted a little over a week ago that the Republicans have every incentive to deliberately sabotage the economy in order to improve their own election prospects. Such an idea is hardly new or original, but I did note that at least some part of the conversation was beginning to change.

There are some glimmers of hope, such as the recent headlines linked above. And though it may be more about early campaign rhetoric than anything else, the fact that the Democrats looked poised to force further votes on popular job-creating bills to make the Republicans finally face some heat for their obstruction is definitely the right track to take.

I don�t know how much Occupy Wall Street can take the credit for possibly stiffening some Democratic spines in this continuing battle, or in helping put the focus on jobs rather than the deficit, but I do agree with John Cole�s point some time back that this is the way the Overton Window gets moved. Properly focused, it may just get the incentives of elected officials back into line.

This morning, I read this post by Greg Sargent which notes that the Obama campaign has began making the same kinds of noises about the Republicans efforts to stall the economy, and what it might mean.

As you know, Obama�s newly aggressive populism and (gasp) partisan rhetoric has sparked a good deal of handwringing and complaining from centrist columists (see Brooks, David) and leading GOP officials (see Ryan, Paul), who have been arguing that the new approach is somehow out of bounds or that it risks alienating the middle of the country. Axelrod�s amplification of the charge that the GOP may be tanking the economy on purpose suggests the Obama campaign isn�t taking these objections too seriously.

Indeed, it�s worth asking whether we�re seeing a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Obama team and some Dems � a basic recognition that the old rules don�t apply anymore, that the unprecedented tactics being employed by the opposition require a new kind of response. As Dana Milbank notes, you can see the evidence of this in the unapologetic populism driving Elizabeth Warren�s Senate candidacy, which suggests that �Democrats will no longer play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their opponents disembowel them.�

But this may be about something broader than just a new approach to Republicans. The Occupy Wall Street protests; our political conversation�s intense new focus on inequality and economic justice; and the extraordinary levels of voter anxiety and dissatisafaction with our institutions all seem to suggest that the political landscape is shifting in ways we can�t really appreciate yet. It looks like the Obama campaign is placing its bet on what kind of political response these big changes are demanding.

On that last sentence, there will no doubt be many pixels spilled on how Obama is making a cynical play for votes and that once re-elected he�ll turn around and kowtow to the financial giants once more. And the truth is that they�ll probably be proven entirely right should the Occupy movement fizzle and fade back into the background.

One of the biggest lessons of the last few years is that holding elected officials accountable goes beyond just the ballot box. Say what you will about the legitimacy of the Tea Partiers calling themselves a grassroots movement, their storming of town hall meetings during the ACA debate helped solidify the Republican opposition and strengthen the Blue Dogs' hands in the continuing negotiations. (If you want to understand some of the anger directed towards the �firebaggers� and �professional left�, I�d start by looking at their almost universal lack of effective pushback during that period, instead focusing on attacking the President while the battle was being waged in Congress.)

Note as well the massive protests and recall efforts that accompanied anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, and similar efforts in Ohio and other states, which I would argue were precursors to the Occupy movement, even though they remained quite localized.

Make no mistake, while the wealthy control the media for the most part, a sustained effort by the rest of the population can at the very least change what�s being talked about, from deficits and the confidence fairy to jobs and accountability for those who tanked the economy. And it can boost the arguments of those who are willing to put those issues front and centre and expose those who really don�t care much about them.

Will any real change come as a result? Who knows, there are still some pretty powerful forces opposed to such, and their pockets are deep. All I can say is that without such sustained action, the powers that be will quickly steer the conversation back to their preferred narratives of how they have to cut away the safety net and stop regulating companies that poison our air, water and food to pay for tax cuts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Things Just Get Worse

By BJ Bjornson

This really isn�t much a surprise to anyone paying attention, but it deserves repeating all the same.

The bad news just got worse: A new study finds that reining in greenhouse gas emissions in time to avert serious changes to Earth's climate will be at best extremely difficult. Current goals for reducing emissions fall far short of what would be needed to keep warming below dangerous levels, the study suggests. To succeed, we would most likely have to reverse the rise in emissions immediately and follow through with steep reductions through the century. Starting later would be far more expensive and require unproven technology.

. . .

"The alarming thing is very few scenarios give the kind of future we want," says climate scientist Neil Edwards of The Open University in Milton Keynes, U.K. Both he and Rogelj emphasize the uncertainties inherent in the modeling, especially on the social and technological side, but the message seems clear to Edwards: "What we need is at the cutting edge. We need to be as innovative as we can be in every way." And even then, success is far from guaranteed.

At this point, I don�t see any real prospect of our avoiding a future where the world is different, and maybe far different, place climatically. This is in no small part due to the fact that opposition to climate change (or to the belief that climate change is human-caused, or to the belief that any and all proposals to do so something about it are the wrong way to deal with it, see my previous post), has become a matter of faith and litmus test with one of the two major parties in the U.S. which continues to wield sufficient power to at least block any progress on that front. And said party and the fossil fuel industries that support it have numerous allies elsewhere.

Add to that things like the energy trap, which ensures that any action we take will be immediately more painful than doing nothing and you�ve set yourself up for a future where the dramatic action needed will simply never come until it is far too late.

The sad part of that being, what comes of putting those hard decisions off is going to be a lot more painful in the long run.

The rising sea will wash across great swaths of South Florida. Salt water will contaminate the well fields. Roads and farmland and low-lying neighborhoods will be inundated. The soil will no longer absorb the kind of heavy rainfalls that drenched South Florida last weekend. Septic tanks will fail. Drainage canals won�t drain. Sewers will back up. Intense storms will pummel the beachfront. Mighty rainfalls, in between droughts, will bring more floods.

The economic losses and the mitigation costs associated with the effects of global warming over the next few decades will be overwhelming. It will cost a medium-sized town like Pompano Beach hundreds of millions just to salvage its water and sewage systems.

Think adaptation, in the personal rather than evolutionary sense, because we�re heading for a changed climate whether you like it or not.

OWS -- Jeffrey Sachs Speaks, October 7

By John Ballard

Thanks to Fareed Zakaria for the transcript. The people's microphone has a somewhat liturgical quality about it, but it becomes tedious pretty quick.  Go to the link for a video and full falvor of the original. If you need more, YouTube has Part Two.
In future years this will be an original source document when the history of Occupy is recorded.
Jeffrey Sachs is already well-known.
Here is part of what he says.

In 1981 a very strange thing happened. A man was elected. He came the first day of office and he said "Government is not the solution. It is the problem." Now a man who believes that should not be our President. He should have stayed on TV and left us alone. We need presidents who believe that government is the solution for all of us. But what Ronald Reagan did was he cut the taxes at the top and cut the benefits below and put our country on the path of inequality.

Now here's the sad news. It is not news to you because you figured it out before everybody else. It wasn't just Ronald Reagan. It wasn't just the Republicans. It was both the Republicans and the Democratic Party. They figured if they cut taxes for the rich, the rich would give them campaign contributions, and they could all live happily ever after. They could all live happily ever after. Not us. They are the 1%. We're the 99%.

This has gone on for 30 years now. The corporate lobbies have owned our government - even Barack Obama, who I supported and I voted for and I want to succeed. He's having dinner with rich people all the time, but he's not having dinner with the 99%. If you have to pay $35,800 a plate, the 99% are going to go hungry. Every week, President Obama is having a campaign dinner. $35,800 per plate. Who do you think he's meeting? Who do you think he's listening to? The 1%. We need to elect a government for the 99%.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keep Those Goalposts Moving

By BJ Bjornson

Starting from Krugman�s post:

What I found myself thinking about, however, is the way the inequality debate illustrates some typical features of many debates these days: the way the right has a sort of multi-layer defense in depth, which involves not only denying facts but then, in a pinch, denying the fact that you denied those facts.

Think about climate change. You have various right-wingers simultaneously (a) denying that global warming is happening (b) denying that anyone denies that global warming is happening, but denying that humans are responsible (c) denying that anyone denies that humans are causing global warming, insisting that the real argument is about the appropriate response.

I�m not sure there are three levels (yet) on inequality, but we definitely have (a) right-wingers denying that inequality is rising and (b) denying that anyone is denying the rise in inequality, but attacking any proposal to limit that rise.

You might ask, how is it possible to take such mutually contradictory positions? And the answer is, it�s very easy if confusing the debate is your job.

Emphasis mine.  I can assure Mr. Krugman that he is far from the only person who has noticed this, and climate change and inequality are far from the only two topics where this dynamic plays out. What is even more annoying, is that this clearly defective logic not only gets a pass in the mainstream media, but winds up dominating the debate for the most part. As DougJ puts it:

I defy you to name even one issue where this dynamic�multiple layers of conservative denialism, with a creamy name-calling filling, topped with the icy frosting of neo-liberal contrarianism and general smart-assery�doesn�t effectively dominate the national discourse.

Let me know if you find one.

Quiz: What portion of America lives in poverty?

Posted by John Ballard

GPS current events quiz.
Not as easy as you think.  I had to guess several and still missed a couple. 


OWS -- CBO Report Underscores the Main Point

By John Ballard

Another post made the point but this one won't hurt.
Repetition is a tried and true teaching technique.

The study that shows why Occupy Wall Street struck a nerve by Eugene Robinson


The right maintains that inequality is the wrong measure. To argue about how the income pie should be sliced is �class warfare,� and what we should do instead is give the private sector the right incentives to make the pie bigger. This way, according to conservative doctrine, everyone�s slice gets bigger � even if some slices grow faster than others.

Indeed, the CBO report says that even the poorest households saw at least a little income growth. Why is it any of their business that the high-earners in the top 1 percent saw astronomical income growth? Isn�t this just sour grapes?

No, for two reasons. First, the system is rigged. Wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over public policy because of the often decisive role that money plays in elections. If the rich and powerful act in their self-interest, as conservative ideologues believe we all should do, then the rich and powerful�s share of income will continue to soar.

Second, and more broadly, the real issue is what kind of nation we want to be. Thomas Jefferson�s �All men are created equal� is properly understood as calling for equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. But the more we become a nation of rich and poor, the less we can pretend to be offering the same opportunities to every American. As polarization increases, mobility declines. The whole point of the American Dream is that it is available to everyone, not just those who awaken from their slumbers on down-filled pillows and 800-thread-count sheets.

So it does matter that as the pie grows, the various slices do not grow in proportion. We�re not characters in one of those lumbering, interminable, nonsensical Ayn Rand novels. We believe in individual initiative and the free market, but we also believe that nationhood necessarily involves a commitment to our fellow citizens, an acknowledgment that we�re engaged in a common enterprise. We believe that opportunity should be more than just an empty word.

I like that language. As polarization increases, mobility declines.
Upward mobility today is far more difficult than it was just a few years ago. Ask any new college graduate facing thousands of dollars in student loans. Or ask someone who has watched his parents spend down to qualify for Medicaid, a lifetime of savings and accumulated assets vanishing almost overnight.. Or the laid-off employee in his or her fifties -- with twenty or more years of faithful service to the same company -- seeking employment in a job market crowded with smart, young competitors.   

Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of outcomes.

Libya Rising -- Snapshots by Holly Pickett

By John Ballard

I became a Holly Pickett fan during the Egyptian excitement. I forget now who made the original recommendation, but whoever it was knew a treasure when he or she found it. She's new to Twitter. Her profile reflects only 215 messages. But I'm impressed already. 

Photojournalist Holly Pickett grew up in Butte, Montana. She earned degrees in journalism and history from the University of Montana in Missoula.

Holly was a staff photographer at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., from 2002 - 2007. She participated in the Missouri Photo Workshop in 2003. In early 2008 she moved to Cairo, Egypt, to pursue a freelance career. She was a 2008 Arthur F. Burns Fellow at the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, Germany.

Holly has worked in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Jordan, Oman, Gaza, Morocco and all over Egypt.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek, Stern, NPR.org, Elle, The Times (London), Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, The National (Abu Dhabi), USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, The Australian, and Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

I tried to use the new Storify format to capture yesterday's tweets in story form, but couldn't figure our how to navigate. (No way to clear an unwanted timeline or arrange messages chronologically. Better than before but still not user-friendly. 

So again I used Chirpstory to capture this snapshot. 

Encountered real, live Gaddafi supporters for the first time in #Sirte yesterday. I didn't receive a visa for Tripoli and the Rixos. 

It was the first time I encountered fervent supporters. I asked what could bring peace to Libya and they said only Gaddafi. #Nuts.

They should be allowed to express their opinions in the new #Libya. They were understandably upset at the destruction in #Sirte.

But I find it unsettling that they still support #Gaddafi, even after he's dead. 42 years of privilege and propaganda blinded them?

Some people were hostile toward me, a Western journalist. I am perceived as siding with the revolutionaries and helping to destroy #Sirte.

@StopWarCrimes I listened to them with as much respect and concern as anyone else. They have a right to express themselves.

When I asked how Libyans could live together peacefully? "Only Gaddafi can bring peace." Maybe they were in shock?

I also met a couple of #Sirte families living in Mauritania, a part of town previously occupied by African guest workers.

One guy offered to show us his home in the destroyed area District 2, #Sirte. It was the last neighborhood to fall to rebels.

District 2 is where Col. #Gaddafi was believed to be in hiding up to the day he and the convoy made a run for it.

We went to the man's house. A live shell was in his garage. He pointed to the home next door which had been destroyed by fire.

We were invited to visit the burned home by the woman who lived there. She was married to a #Gaddafi and had 4 children, big house.

The house was burned to a crisp, and the top floor was mere rubble covered by a roof. Rebels had written "Zenga, zenga" on the wall.

...back to the woman whose house was burned and "zenga zenga" written on the wall: her husband was high in #Gaddafi security dept.

This according to the man who used to be her neighbor and brought me to Dist. 2 to see his destroyed house.

He said the woman's husband gave all the neighbors weapons to fight against the rebels. The husband is now hiding somewhere.

He said he was afraid of this family, his neighbors. When rebel forces entered #Sirte, he and his wife and kids fled. 


It goes without saying that one of the biggest challenges facing any legitimate authority in the emergent post-Qadaffi Libya will be how best to represent that portion of the population who truly believes that their leader was not the person they thought he was. Many, especially the older generation, will simply have to pass on before Qadaffi's shadow no longer darkens the Libyan political landscape. And even then tribal resentments will remain among the next generations. Anyone in America who doubts this reality has not lived in the South. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Giving Up on 2012 (Updated)

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Update: Here is the entire Will column: Mitt Romney, the pretzel candidate.

I'ts even more damning than the snippet below.

It is CW that Mitt Romney is the choice of the Republican establishment.  As opposed to the clown show that is the rest of the Republican candidates he is the only one who might actually beat Obama.  Now there is no one who is more Republican establishment than George Will so I was surprised to see he had a Romney hit piece:

Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable, he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate: Republican successes down the ticket will depend on the energies of the tea party and other conservatives, who will be deflated by a nominee whose blurry profile in caution communicates only calculated trimming. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from �data� ... Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for THIS?

Now of course everything he says is true but why is he saying it?  Is it because the Republican establishment willing  to let thy Tea Party their way in 2012  and get soundly beaten.  This might give the Republican establishment a chance to get their party back. 

HCR -- Long Term Care, Ticking Bomb

By John Ballard

Those of us watching the healthcare reform carnival reached the eye-rolling stage some time ago. It's hard to believe that so many otherwise intelligent people -- I'm thinking not only of elected representatives but members of their staffs as well -- are so obtuse as they go through the HCR kabuki theatre performance. When  it comes to crony capitalism, the military, prison and petroleum industrial complexes have nothing on the medical community. Nothing illustrates the point better than Medicaid, the polite word for American welfare system. 

My guess is that even now, half a decade into a national conversation about medical care, a majority of Americans still don't know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. I'm putting up this post by way of doing my part in spreading the word -- the so-called Obamacare legislation actually did little to "bend the cost curve" for medical care in general and virtually nothing to address the biggest challenge of all -- how will the costs of long-term care be addressed. 

The CLASS Act portion of PPACA was pitiful enough but even that has been deemed unworkable

Now the Kaiser people have published yet another warning that we are headed for a train wreck. 

I haven't the patience to summarize the details here but readers are urged to please pay attention to what isn't happening. The first link below provides a good overview. 
Following that is a link to the Kaiser report.

?Medicaid And Long-Term Care: An Unsustainable Union 

This Kaiser Family Foundation brief about the nation�s ballooning spending on long-term care insurance is particularly pertinent in the aftermath of the administration�s decision to abandon the Affordable Care Act�s CLASS program. To be clear, CLASS was never designed as an alternative to comprehensive insurance � it offered only a modest benefit, but advocates hoped that the program could serve as a first step towards a more serious (and sustainable) government investment in long-term care....

?Medicaid and the Uninsured -- Medicaid�s Long-Term Care Users: Spending Patterns Across Institutional and Community-based Settings  (Thirty-plus pages, pdf)

  • Medicaid long-term care users accounted for 6 percent of the Medicaid population in 2007, but nearly half of total Medicaid spending 

  • Among those using long-term services and supports, the average annual spending per Medicaid beneficiary was $43,296 compared to just $3,694 for Medicaid beneficiaries who did not use long-term care services 

  • One-third of elderly Medicaid beneficiaries used long-term services and supports, but they accounted for 87 percent of all Medicaid spending on the elderly 

  • Sixteen percent of Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities used long-term services and supports, but they accounted for fifty-eight percent of all Medicaid spending on people with disabilities 

  • Dual eligibles accounted for over two-thirds of Medicaid enrollees who used longterm services and supports and a similar share of spending 

  • A total of 404,400 children and 1.3 million adults under age 65 used long-term services and supports


Take another look at that last bullet point. That's our poor people whose families cannot take care of their needs. I had no idea that the number of children needing long-term care was approaching half a million. 
They will not be in private settings.
They will not be in assisted living facilities.
They will not even be at home ( which would be much less expensive) because their families haven't the means to care for them and outside assistance caring for them at home is out of the question. 


Not directly related but central to the core of the challenge we face as a nation, this comment by the Capitol Steps helps us laugh to keep from crying. Not just retirement plans but savings of all types are now being tapped as the unemployed population grows increasingly desparate to pay for everyday needs. 

Politicians prate about jobs, jobs, jobs... but there are not enough. The idea that jobs are related taxes is totally crazy. If that were the case the so-called "Bush Tax Cuts" would have by now produced a shortage of available candidates, not the other way around.
The reason there are too few jobs is that there is too little demand.
Demand for goods and services is not related to taxes.
Demand is related to how much money consumers and other businesses have to buy those goods and services. 

I heard Congressman Mica make the amazing assertion on Washington Journal this morning (talking about how stimulus spending is of little or no value) that no one wants to buy pieces of a bridge. He seemed oblivious to the fact that every dollar used to build a bridge is one more dollar priming a dry pump we call the economy. The workers being paid to build and paint a bridge, highway or whatever are not likely to put their wages in some dark corner for a rainy day. They will use them for stuff they need. it is stupidly short-sighted to argue that stimulus money goes nowhere after a project is completed. 

America is eating the seed corn and no one is paying attention. 


Compensating for something?

By BJ Bjornson

Something a little lighter to take you into the weekend.

This is a pretty silly argument, but it strikes me as part of an ongoing pattern of Conservatives looking for symbolic rather than practical ways to burnish Canada�s image.

A Conservative senator is urging the country to dump the iconic beaver in favour of the polar bear as an official emblem of Canada, saying the rodent has had its day.

. . .

�A country�s symbols are not constant and can change over time as long as they reflect the ethos of the people and the spirit of the nation.�

The senator said the polar bear is more noble and rugged.

�The polar bear is the world�s largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada�s most majestic and splendid mammal,� she said, noting it �survives in the harshest climate and terrain in the world.�

Personally, I�m for keeping the beaver. Not only is it the only other terrestrial mammal I�m aware of to build a structure visible from space, it is also far more likely to survive in the significantly warmer world that is rapidly destroying the polar bears� habitat. Something the Conservatives are doing nothing to prevent, if not outright looking to accelerate, and just may be another thing this little symbolic gesture is looking to compensate for.

The Ogallala Aquifer

By BJ Bjornson

I hadn�t heard of Charles Pierce until a couple of days ago when he was referenced a couple of times over at Balloon Juice, but I am glad that I�ve started reading him.  There is an excellent, if somewhat long read on his blog now regarding an issue that I�ve seen mentioned every now and again, and which will become far more important in the very near future, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Under the high plains of the midwest, there is a resource called the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a subsystem of a huge underground mega-system called the High Plains Aquifer. It is made of permeable layers of sand, sandstone, and gravel within which are contained billions and billions of gallons of water. The nature of the aquifer geology makes the water easy to pump. The system covers 174,000 square miles beneath eight different states, ranging north-south from North Dakota to Texas, and from Nebraska in the east all the way west to parts of New Mexico. Nebraska depends most vitally on the water found in the aquifer. And there are two concerns about the aquifer that ought to be serious concerns in our politics, but that aren't. One of them isn't being treated as a concern at all. The other is not being treated seriously, but instead as a slogan and one more litmus test by the Republican presidential candidates, and as some sort of nuisance complaint by a Democratic administration that appears to be falling down on the job.

The first problem is that portions of the aquifer are running dry. The second is that Trans-Canada, the Canadian oil giant, wants to run a pipeline through a portion of the aquifer in Nebraska. How you feel about that depends entirely on how much you trust oil companies these days, because your State Department appears to be taking a dive on the question, and your Environmental Protection Agency is dodging it entirely.

Make no mistake. You screw with the Ogallala Aquifer and you screw with this nation's heartbeat. Twenty percent of the irrigated farmland in the United States depends upon it. Pumping the water from it is all that has kept the Dust Bowl from coming back, year after year. Any damage to it fundamentally changes the lives of the people who depend on it, their personal economies, the overall national economy, and what we can grow to feed ourselves. Absent the aquifer, and the nation's breadbasket goes back to being a prairie, vast grasslands that the people who first crossed them referred to as a desert. You end up with dry-land corn and some dry-land wheat. And the aquifer is far easier to empty than it is to fill. The technology to fully exploit it has existed only since the 1950's, and portions of it are already dangerously low. It won't be fully recharged until the next Ice Age.

The whole thing is worth reading, and it is worth remembering that this is a subset of a much larger problem that�s becoming more common everywhere.  Water is only renewable to the extent that you don�t take more out a system than can be replenished by it, and in far too many cases, we�ve been doing just that, not just for drinking and bathing, but to cool our power plants and water our lawns (okay, no lawns where I live, but you know, in general).  Even worse is how it gets used for things like fracking and processing bitumen from the tar sands, which doesn�t just suck up the water resources available, but contaminates it so it can�t be recycled for other uses later.

This is already the source of actual armed conflict in many places, and it is an issue that will only spread as climate change shifts rainfall patterns.

OWS -- New Photo Meme

By BJ Bjornson

Via the Lousy Canuck, this shot from another Marine hits you right in the gut.


Last I heard, Scott Olsen is in stable condition. Hopefully he makes it out of this without permanent injury.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The rich are not like us

By BJ Bjornson

I think I may have stumbled upon the reason the whole Occupy movement has grown into something of an international phenomenon.

Silvio Berlusconi, gave nearly three million euros in cash as gifts to his female admirers, and spent an additional 337,000 euros on jewelry that he gave to them, bank records showed, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The documents, which were obtained by La Republica, showed that between January 2007 and June 2008, the Italian prime minister, a billionaire, paid out 17 million euros to his friends, and associates. These included political allies, personal staff, and his brother, who is the editor of Il Giornale, a right wing Italian newspaper.

It�s good to be on the top, or close to the guy who is. The news for ordinary Italians, on the other hand, doesn�t appear to be quite so rosy.

The news comes on the tail of Belusconi's hastily prepared reform package to European leaders in Brussels. The package is expected to hit ordinary Italians hardest, but will also make it easier for employees in Italy to be fired. The retirement age will be raised from 65 to 67.

I can�t imagine why anyone would be angry at something like that, can you?

A Financial Transaction Fee Is Waaaay Overdue

By John Ballard

Sometimes my mind wanders as I'm waiting at the gas pump. My credit card has a magical magnetic strip with numbers that identify me in a flash. A brain in the pump gives an order and my tank starts to fill. The numbers swirl past and as the flow comes to a stop the slightest pressure of my fingers can spend nickles and dimes faster than a slot machine can spit them out. All those numbers... all the electricity... all the switches...
Someday, I wonder, isn't it reasonable to expect one of those numbers to get lost?
Lights burn out and my PC messes up with predictable regularity.
How come credit card records are perfect?
Years go by and I keep waiting...hoping that one of these days I might get a tank of gas at no charge cuz the equipment dropped a number.
But no, the bill always comes with uncanny accuracy.  

(Staples now has copy machines that accept my credit card to make copies for five cents apiece. Can you believe I have seen a line item on my credit card statement for $.05 for making a copy? To me that's as amazing as nanobots looking for germs in my blood. Smart pills have been around over a year that electronically tell when and if they have been used.)

All this is to make a simple point.

A financial transaction fee is possible, reasonable, feasible, and long overdue.

We aren't talking big money, folks. The amount under discussion is in the range of fractions of a penny on the dollar. Tracking it is as straightforward in todays world as keeping track of a FedEx package. Easier, actually, since no trucks or drivrers are involved. It's more like the credit card company keeping up with my gas bill.
And for the average person it's one helluva lot less trouble than the junk fees and baggage fees charged by airlines. Or those five buck charges for checking accounts that everybody is complaining about.

(Incidentally, no one knew or complained about the transaction fees banks were getting every time a consumer swiped a credit or ATM card. The merchant simply paid the fee and recovered the fee by charging customers. How do you think the merchant pays rent or electricity? Think about it. Any charge to the merchant is a charge to customers.) 

Readers who may not be familiar with the idea are urged to do some homework. I only learned of the idea less than a year ago. Like the cap on Social Security payroll taxes on high income earners, a Financial Speculation Tax, also called Financial Transaction Tax, has been a well-kept open secret. No need to trouble the lumpen, you know. They aren't smart enough to know about such things anyway. (Pity the poor bright-eyed Congressional staff novice naive enough to bring up such an idea in a brainstorming session.)

Here are links to get started.

?Financial transaction tax, the Wikipedia article

A financial transaction tax is a tax placed on a specific type (or types) of financial transaction for a specific purpose (or purposes). This term has been most commonly associated with the financial sector, as opposed to consumption taxes paid by consumers. However, it is not a taxing of the financial institutions themselves. Instead, it is charged only on the specific transactions that are designated as taxable.

If an institution never carries out the taxable transaction, then it will never be taxed on that transaction. Furthermore, if it carries out only one such transaction, then it will only be taxed for that one transaction. As such, this tax is neither a financial activities tax, nor a "bank tax,"for example. This clarification is important in discussions about using a financial transaction tax as a tool to selectively discourage excessive speculation without discouraging any other activity (as John Maynard Keynes originally envisioned it in 1936).

There are several types of financial transaction taxes. Each has its own purpose. Some have been implemented, and some remain unimplemented concepts. Concepts are found in various organizations and regions around the world. Some are domestic and meant to be used within one nation; whereas some are multinational.

?Occupy Wall Street's 'Robin Hood Tax' A Tough Sell At G20 (Forbes. Need I tell you more?)

The Robin Hood tax, sort of like a Tobin tax, was proposed by Germany as a means to raise revenue for countries hit hard by the 2008 housing and credit markets crash. Yet, the estimated 1% transaction tax would have to be global in nature for it to work, and countries as diverse as the UK and Russia are against it.

The tax is being proposed for members of the EU only, but there is a push to make it global.

?Bloomberg Doesn't Like Financial Speculation Taxes and Is Prepared To Make Stuff Up to Make Its Case by Dean Baker. Business Insider

?Baker is co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy and Research which has a raft of additional links.

?#OccupyWallStreet: The Real Tea Party also by Dean Baker, US News.

Many people have forgotten that the Tea Party movement had its origins in the anti-TARP protests in the fall of 2008. Millions of people across the country were outraged that the government was going to loan hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks that had brought themselves and the country to the brink of ruin through their own greed and incompetence. Just as these people feared, the bailouts saved the banks, leaving their high-flying executives largely unharmed, but did little to get the economy back on its feet.

[Read a timeline of the Occupy Wall Street protests.]

This led to enormous anger that was harnessed by right-wing politicians to go after the government, but the sentiment was always misdirected. While the right wingers want the Tea Partyers to support their efforts to roll back government social programs, large majorities of Tea Partyers actually support key programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even unemployment benefits. If these programs are protected, and the military budget is not cut (the right wingers oppose military cuts), there is not much left in terms of "government waste" for the Tea Partyers to attack. This leaves an incoherent movement.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

The Occupy Wall Street crew picks up on the Tea Party anger directed at the use of the government to make the rich even richer. While it does not have a coherent program or list of demands at this point, the vast majority of the Occupiers understand that there is something seriously wrong in this country. The government is pursuing policies that are making those at the top very rich, while offering little for the vast majority of the population.


This chart is not directly relevant to any financial transaction fees unless you look at the extreme right column. 
Notice that the numbers are the Income Cetegory Minimums in each column.
Not medians.
Not averages.
That's why the lowest Quintile has all zeros. That's where folks fall at -- not near -- the bottom. 

That term "middle class" is carelessly used to refer to the middle three of the five quintiles. 

The History Of Wage Inequality In One Gigantic Chart 
(Click to Enlarge)


Next time you hear someone say the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have no clear agenda or plan, tell them to get their head out of their butt and do a little homework.

OWS -- Immunity and Impunity in Elite America

By BJ Bjornson

A very worthwhile read from Glenn Greenwald on the reason behind the Occupy protests. It isn�t the inequality so much as it is the lack of legitimacy that underwrites the inequality from Wall Street.

We should not, so the thinking went, begrudge the multimillionaire living behind his 15-foot walls for his success; we should admire him. Corporate bosses deserved not our resentment but our gratitude. It was in our own interest not to demand more in taxes from the wealthiest but less, as their enhanced wealth - their pocket change - would trickle down in various ways to all of us.

This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It�s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality as legitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimising anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law - that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all - has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.

. . .

It is now clearly understood that, rather than apply the law equally to all, Wall Street tycoons have engaged in egregious criminality - acts which destroyed the economic security of millions of people around the world - without experiencing the slightest legal repercussions. Giant financial institutions were caught red-handed engaging in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose on people�s homes and the reaction of the political class, led by the Obama administration, was to shield them from meaningful consequences. Rather than submit on an equal basis to the rules, through an oligarchical, democracy-subverting control of the political process, they now control the process of writing those rules and how they are applied.

For a more pointed recitation of much the same point, may I recommend Matt Taibbi�s Wall Street Isn�t Winning - It�s Cheating.

This is the basic response to make to those claiming that the rich deserve all that extra income they�ve been hoarding over the last three decades. Quite simply, no they don't. Winning a rigged game doesn't make you deserving. Having said rigged game blow up in your face and getting the government make it all better for you so you continue rigging new games makes you even less so. Anyone who doesn't understand that is probably already working for Wall Street.

Do We Care?

By BJ Bjornson

Every now and again I get reminded just how much I would hate to be in President Obama�s shoes. It isn�t the big things usually, like the fact that he gets covered more negatively than the entire pack of WTFs running to oppose him, or the fact that the media treats his opponents as though they have anything constructive to add to the conversation. That kind of stuff just makes me happy that I�m not living in the U.S.

No, for me it is usually a story like this one from McClatchy, questioning whether or not Obama tried hard enough to keep U.S. troops serving in Iraq past the end of this year. Now, Obama was elected in part due to his consistency on claiming Iraq was an expensive and dangerous waste of time and critical resources (resources that he wanted to use in Afghanistan, but whatever), and there is a huge majority in the U.S. that has been wanting the troops out of Iraq for quite some time.

Now ordinarily given such starting points, the question someone would be asking is, why are we even trying to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? Unfortunately, the idea that the U.S. should maintain military bases everywhere on the globe where they once landed troops, even if mistakenly, is so ingrained that not only does the question of why on earth the U.S. would want to maintain an expensive and likely counterproductive presence in Iraq not get asked, but the White House now has to work on claiming that they did really, really try and go back on Obama�s election promise and against the wishes of the majority of the voting public to keep U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

Honestly, there�s no way that can�t suck.  Can't we just be happy that, however it was accomplished, the American military will no longer be sending soldiers into harm's way in Iraq rather than writing an attack piece over how terrible it is that the President didn't appear to work harder to continue their ultimately worthless presence going.

Apparently we can't, which is why I'll never envy the man.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OWS -- Scott Olsen's Story, Oakland

By John Ballard

Last night's events in Oakland are old news now, but Marine veteran Scott Olsen remains in the hospital.

==> Iraq veteran in critical condition after getting hit with police projectile during Occupy Oakland demonstration

OAKLAND -- A 24-year old Marine Corps corporal and Iraqi war veteran remained in critical condition at Highland Hospital on Wednesday night with head wounds and brain swelling after being injured in Tuesday's Occupy Oakland confrontation.

Friends say he was hit in the head with a police projectile during the protest in downtown Oakland late Tuesday night.

Scott Thomas Olsen, 24, of Onalaska, Wisc., was admitted to Highland after he was hit on the head above his right eye during clashes with police, said hospital spokesman Curt Olsen, who is not related to the veteran.

"It's absolutely unconscionable that our citizens are going overseas to protect other citizens just to come back and have our own police hurt them," said Joshua Shepherd, a six-year Navy veteran and friend of Scott Olsen's.

Fellow protesters brought him in after he failed to respond to basic questions. Doctors at the hospital said that Olsen had brain swelling and placed him under immediate supervision.

"He survived two tours in Iraq," said Adele Carpenter, a friend of Olsen's and a member of the Civilian Soldier Alliance. "This struggle has high stakes, I really respect the fact that Scott was standing up for what he believes in. He's really passionate about social justice causes."

Olsen appears to be the first serious injury nationwide of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to virtually every major American city -- and several smaller ones

==>  Iraq Veterans Against the War -- Press Release: Marine Veteran Critically Injured at Occupy Oakland March

==> Latest round of Occupy Oakland protests to be closely watched By Michael Martinez, CNN

[Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science at the University of Michigan] said the Oakland police action -- closing down the encampment -- may have been a mistake.

"One of the things that I've been impressed with the Occupy movement is there hasn't been any violence" against people or property, Heaney said. "It's impressive because the people at the heart of this movement are self-identified anarchists. The Occupy movement is organized by anarchist principles of decentralized movement."

Until this week, the movement had been disciplined -- then the Oakland police eliminated the encampment outside City Hall, Heaney said.

"People are going to respond to that in a not-peaceful way," Heaney said. "Either they (law enforcement officials) expected that this would be the response or they were incompetent not to expect this response.

"When you engage in (more than) 100 unjustifiable arrests, basically what you do is give credibility to the people you're trying to stop," Heaney said. "The smarter strategy on the part of police is to ignore them and it would eventually burn out and people would go home."

Oakland police said about 300 protesters were gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza, the park in front of City Hall, and began throwing rocks and bottles at officers about 10 p.m. Tuesday after police told the demonstrators to disperse.

MSM catches up on Somalia

By BJ Bjornson

This story from the Telegraph has a familiar ring.

To the northwest, Somaliland was the first to declare its independence from what was the sovereign state of Somalia, within months of the collapse of the last national administration 20 years ago.

. . .

To its east, Puntland is aiming to follow suit. . . .

Himan and Heeb, Galmudug and areas of north-western Galgaduud are now all busy declaring independence and electing provincial rulers.

To the south, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, a militia allied to the Transitional Federal Government but operating unilaterally is taking increasing territory from al-Shabaab.

And close to the Kenyan border, the latest area to break off is Azania, also known as Jubaland.

The article ends by noting that while these proto-states pretty much mean the end of any attempts to re-unify the Somali state, they are also probably the best chance for real local stability and a counter to the radical al-Shabab.

The reason it sounds familiar is because Dave was pointing that out right here two and a half years ago.

The US's best interests are served by seeing pockets of stability form and sustain themselves so that global interconnections can be made, and multi-issue linkages are possible. These pockets of stability may or may not be in the form of traditional states of the Westphalian model, but they are valuable none the less. These pockets are often a recognition of reality on the ground; local elites, networks and tribal connections as well as sometimes being the strongest group of thugs around who have fairly limited objectives can be sources of needed stability from which proto-states can emerge to better reflect ongoing realities. . . .

The same applies for Somalia and other failed or failing states --- working with the reality that there really is no such thing as a unified Somali state with an effective central government but there are regional pockets of stability that are effectively serving as limited proto-states will be far more successful in accomplishing the limited political/economic goals of the United States (smooth flow of global trade, sidelining of radical Islamists who have the capacity and intent for global strikes) then attempting to re-create a unified Somali state.

The biggest danger at the moment is that the Kenyan invasion will disrupt or otherwise delegitimize the recently forming southern pockets of stability.

Whatever its source, the instability in Somalia is making the effects of the famine there even worse, as aid agencies find it more difficult to provide aid, and the recent spate of kidnappings is only going to increase the pressure.

Somali gunmen have kidnapped three employees of the Danish Demining Group working in northern Somalia, according to officials, the latest in a series of abductions in the nation.

. . .

The nothern-autonomous province of Puntland is generally considered more stable than the rest of Somalia, which is a battleground between disparate armed groups and the weak UN-backed government in the capital.

Somalia is one of the world�s most dangerous regions for aid workers. It is also home to a number of pirate gangs who earn a living by seizing boats, but who have recently been accused of capturing hostages on land as well.

It would appear that the best case scenario at this point would be for Kenya�s punitive expedition to end before it causes further disruption to the already tenuous situation in southern Somalia and hope that the forming proto-states can establish sufficient stability in the aftermath that some semblance of security returns to the country and aid and other economic activity can return.

For the U.S., and the West in general, the best option is to stay the hell out of the way. It was in no small part the fact that the U.S. was pouring aid towards its local warlord proxies back in 2006 that helped spawn al-Shabab�s more moderate precursor Islamic Courts Union�s takeover of southern Somalia before the Ethiopian invasion, which radicalized the Islamists and led to today�s more fragmented and dangerous environment. Too much recent history for any aid to be taken at face value and not risk a backlash.

As Dave said in �09, minimalism should be the watchword for this, but we�ll have to see if it will be.

OWS -- "Everybody Knows"

By John Ballard

Over the last twenty-four hours I have heard or read three stories in the media (CNN, ABC, CBS) reporting income disparities in America, usually tying the story with the Occupy stories also getting covered. 
Thanks to CBO for a timely, much needed report.  (About fifty pages, pdf.) 
It does make one wonder what took so long.

Several not-so-insignificant details continue to go missing in the reportage. 

  • Income is not the same as net worth. The top One Percent of "income recipients" in addition to that income also own a disproportionately large part of the wealth (net worth) of the country. 

  • Income taxes are levied on twelve months of reportable income (after credits and deductions) NOT NET WORTH.  Many people complaining the loudest behave as though someone was taking part of their net worth but that portion of their wealth is not affected by income taxes other than reducing additional worth.. 

  • Payroll taxes and income taxes are two different realities.  Every time I hear again that misleading, inane line that half the population pays no income tax I want to yell Damn right! They barely earned enough to pay living expenses but they already paid payroll taxes from the first dollar they earned and not one dime of that is "deductible."

  • The Social Security tax cap is the best kept secret in America.  I have met very few wage earners who realize that their bosses and executive types stop seeing Social Security deductions on their check stubs before the end of the year because they are earning over the cap. 


Readers will discover their own media examples.  This is one I particularly like since it reminded me of Leonard Cohen.

?The dukes and earls in America�s Great Tower of Bulls**t are starting to blink a little.  
by Ian Fraser    That great headline is lifted from a Taibbi quote, incidentally. 

There may be a good few Maoists, Trotskyists, Anarcho-Syndicalists and even the odd deluded benefit scrounger among them, but it is simply wrong to characterize the Occupy Wall Street protestors who are camping out in 1,500 cities worldwide as wanting to overthrow capitalism, in the same way the sans-culottes toppled France's Ancien R�me in 1789 or that the Tahrir Square protesters toppled Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak.

The movement is more nuanced than that. As I tried to explain in yesterday's blog, 'Democracy for sale', what the protesters really want is political and financial reform. They want to replace the corroded crony capitalism that has predominated in the West since the 1980s -- as well as the corrupt political and financial system, rigged in favour of the rich and powerful, that underpins it -- with a saner version of capitalism and a more inclusive democracy. The investment banker who blogs under the pseudonym The Epicurean Dealmaker summed it up well in a tweet on October 17.

"@EpicureanDeal I suspect most Americans sympathetic to #OWS want capitalism *back*, not Marxism. Right now we have socialism for corporations."

He was referring to the fact that, under the current distorted model of capitalism, some large corporations and most financial institutions are able to privatize their gains whilst socializing their losses. In the absence of any Schumpeterian "creative destruction" the whole system became corrupted.

I'm sure readers here are already in the choir, but if you need another sermon, go read the rest of what he has to say. This part inspired me. 
So what is it that the Occupy protesters are trying to to achieve again? Well, in case you need reminding, I suggest you listen to 'Everybody Knows' by Leonard Cohen.


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets Everybody wants a box of chocolates And a long stem rose Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby Everybody knows that you really do Everybody knows that youve been faithful Ah give or take a night or two Everybody knows youve been discreet But there were so many people you just had to meet Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows Thats how it goes Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows Thats how it goes Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it's now or never
Everybody knows that it's me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when youve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe's still pickin cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But theres gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what youve been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows

Slash and Burn Politics

By BJ Bjornson

I should preface this post by noting that I was opposed to Canada�s long gun registry when it was introduced. Not that I am an opponent of gun control in general or anything, but the registry as it was proposed seemed a far too expensive program with nowhere near enough benefits to justify it. The rather remarkable cost overruns and issues with its implementation did nothing to change my mind on that point. For the first several years of its life, the long gun registry was little more than a costly boondoggle we could have done without.

That said, once the registry was up and running, the cost of maintaining it is far from onerous and, despite some other issues I�m aware of, seems to have been of considerable value in a lot of cases.

"The long-gun registry has made a significant difference in the safety of women in Canada since its inception in 1995. The rate of spousal homicide by gun has gone down 69 per cent and we attribute most of that to the impact of the gun registry,"

According to the CBC article, and quoting Conservative spokespeople at that, the registry has cost $2 billion total, but operation and maintenance of the registry is less than $22 million/year, since that figure includes the restricted weapons database that is being kept. Basically, almost all of the cost was in the setup and implementation, operating the registry is actually quite cheap. As such, getting rid of it now seems like as much of a waste as its original implementation was, with the added nuisance of the near certainty that some form of the registry will be brought back, again at considerable cost, at some point in the near future. Still, it is no surprise that the Conservatives would be looking to get rid of the registry to keep the Canadian wing of the NRA happy.

What has come as a surprise, and what shows just how pathological the Conservatives are now that they have unquestioned power, is the decision to not just scrap the registry, but to completely destroy all of the records so far collected.

Bloc Quebecois MP Maria Mourani said it makes no sense to get rid of the data that's already been collected and that it shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't value the opinion of Quebec.

"It's not a fair attitude," she said.

Liberals also weighed in on the new bill, calling it an "ideological attack on facts and evidence" and objecting to the government's intention to destroy the database.

�The data collected over the last 16 years must be preserved, so that provinces can salvage this important policing tool,� interim leader Bob Rae said in a statement.

[Public Safety Minister Vic] Toews stood firm on the decision to destroy the records in the database, leaving other jurisdictions on their own if they want their own registries.

"We've made it very clear we will not participate in the recreation of the long-gun registry and therefore the records that have been created under that long gun registry will be destroyed," he said Tuesday.

It isn�t enough for the Conservatives to simply end the registry, they have to take the added step and cost to completely obliterate the 16 years of record gathering already done and purposely hobble any attempts by provincial jurisdictions to continue a version of it, even if the program happens to enjoy widespread support there. (This is, of course, the exact opposite tack to the one conservatives took when the registry was first debuted, when they claimed it was something that should be up to the provinces rather than the federal government.  Much like their southern brethren, "states' rights" only apply when they can't get the federal government to implement their desired policy option.)Pathological is really the only word I can think of that describes it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

mirza9 on Gaddafi

Found on Twitter Beach.
mirza9, Karachi, Pakistan--Journalist. I just wanna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.

People moralizing from afar about how Gaddafi was killed fail to understand what state of mind people are in when fighting in a war.

No human being should be treated like that, but it's easy for us to say since we're not fighting for our lives. #libya #gaddafi

When you're fighting a war against a dictator who has fueled a half century of pent up rage, unfortunately, this is what happens. Grow up.

As unfortunate as it is, Gaddafi lived by the gun and he died by the gun. You moralize only because you can watch it on video at home.

American drones kill militants without trial every week and most are silent. A 'civil war' is fought,brutal dictator killed and it's immoral

I don't think anyone out there condones how Gaddafi was treated when captured. Fact is, that happens when you provoke people for 50 years.

Not about justifying a mob mentality, it's about understanding that it's a fact of such situations. To judge "new Libya" on it is premature.

I'd be proud of Libyan's if they took the moral high ground in Gaddafi capture but they didn't. Bloody revolutions end with blood #France

How about we just start moralizing and judging the "new Libya" when it actually begins to exist. Not judging the country because of one mob.

What you can judge is the Saddam execution which was carried out within an organized and constructed (sham) state legal apparatus.

What you can judge are extra-judicial assassinations without due process in Pakistan's tribal areas. Triggers pulled from suburban America.

Monologue over. :) 

A Closed Circle

By BJ Bjornson

The following video has been doing the rounds today, and I do think it says something when even Pat Robertson realizes the GOP is going too far.:

As TPM puts it:

When Pat Robertson � yes, Pat Robertson � thinks the GOP base is too extreme, it might be time for some party soul searching.

Of course, soul searching isn�t too big on the right these days, and Paul Krugman helpfully explains why.

The key to understanding this, I�d suggest, is that movement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders � although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally � but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

It�s sort of reminiscent of Stalinists going after Trotskyites in the old days: the Trotskyites were left deviationists, and also saboteurs working for the Nazis. Didn�t propagandists feel silly saying all that? Not at all: in their universe, extremism in defense of the larger truth was no vice, and you literally couldn�t go too far.

Many members of the commentariat don�t want to face up to the fact that this is what American politics has become; they cling to the notion that there are gentlemanly elder statesmen on the right who would come to the fore if only Obama said the right words. But the fact is that nobody on that side of the political spectrum wants to or can make deals with the Islamic atheist anti-military warmonger in the White House.

The really fun part is that we�ve easily got months of this to watch before the dust has settled enough for a clear winner to emerge from whoever manages to pose the biggest challenge to Multiple Choice Mitt (currently Cain, but Perry has deep enough pockets he may yet recover from his earlier stumbles).

Sure it�s crazy, but it does make for one hell of a spectator sport, so long as you don't think too much about the fact that there remains a very real chance one of these guys can win.

The Energy Trap

By BJ Bjornson

In a comment to my post regarding electricity use and cars, Bill H. said the following:

Well it doesn't really matter whether a car, electric or internal combustion, uses more or less electricity, but whether it uses more or less energy. Electricity is, for the near future, generated almost entirely with fossil fuel, but even when that eventually is no longer the case, the consumption of energy in any form is detrimental to some degree.

And there is still the matter of the amount of energy and natural resources consumed in manufacturing the car, the type and availability of resources needed to make the energy storage devices for the car, and the disposal of worn out cars and, in particular, expired energy storage devices for the cars.

We don't need to be thinking in terms of cars that use a little bit less energy, we need to make a quantum change in the way we interact with our planet, such as thinking of a way to live without cars at all.

The comment brought to mind this rather excellent post by Tom Murphy on the Energy Trap:

In brief, the idea is that once we enter a decline phase in fossil fuel availability�first in petroleum�our growth-based economic system will struggle to cope with a contraction of its very lifeblood. Fuel prices will skyrocket, some individuals and exporting nations will react by hoarding, and energy scarcity will quickly become the new norm. The invisible hand of the market will slap us silly demanding a new energy infrastructure based on non-fossil solutions. But here�s the rub. The construction of that shiny new infrastructure requires not just money, but�energy. And that�s the very commodity in short supply. Will we really be willing to sacrifice additional energy in the short term�effectively steepening the decline�for a long-term energy plan? It�s a trap!

He proceeds to lay out a pretty good analysis of the issue, and I encourage you to read through it. For my purposes, it is important to note that a major part of the reason for this trap is the significant upfront costs in energy for most renewable sources such as solar and wind. To use solar or wind power, you need to build all of the components and energy storage devices ahead of actually getting any energy out of it, and that upfront cost counts against what you have left over to use.

Best way to avoid having to deal with such an issue would be to invest in those upfront costs while enjoying a surplus, which on the energy front has been the case for most of the last several decades. The only problem being that we haven�t really worked all that hard in preparing for fossil fuels� replacement, and we�re now getting to a point where the trap starts to limit our decisions.

Even more fun from a policy standpoint is the fact that fossil fuels don�t tend to fall into the same kind of trap.

For resources that do not require substantial up-front cost in the form of infrastructure, the trap does not apply. Fossil fuels tend to be of this sort. The energy required to deliver a barrel of oil or a ton of coal tends to be specific to the delivered unit, and is not dominated by up-front cost. It is similar for tar sands, which requires substantial energy to heat and process the sludge. Even at 5:1 EROEI, filling a 2-unit gap can be achieved by producing 2.5 units of output while losing 0.5 units to investment. Thus it is possible to maintain a steady energy supply. The fact that fossil fuels don�t trap us encourages us to stick with them. But being a finite resource, their attractiveness is the sound of the Siren, luring us to stay on the sinking ship. Or did the Sirens lure sailors from ships?  Either way, fossil fuels are already compatible with our transportation fleet, strengthening the death-grip.

Two things of further note. We are already at peak production of oil, which is why we�re seeing such wild swings in prices with major upswings whenever the economy starts to show signs of life and people start driving and using more energy again. While sinking our resources into new and improved ways of extracting the resource (and continuing the doom that is climate change and just plain old pollution) will help in flattening out the decline, it won�t stop it, and will likely assist in our reaching the peaks of other fossil fuels even faster.

The second point is that the analysis in Tom�s post assumed a constant energy need or usage, at least in respect to fossil fuels. Even at that point, we�re looking at painful shortages if we want to replace the source of that energy with renewables, but the situation is in some respects even worse.

The reality is that we�ve been increasing our energy needs year by year, even despite greater efficiency is our use of said energy. This is mostly due to more people using that energy, as living standards in even the Third World start increasing, but the end result is that the coming crunch will be worse due to the fact that we won�t just be trying to maintain a constant amount of energy for our use, but trying to find a way to continue increasing the energy available.

This is where you run into the reality that such a solution is just plain impossible. As the economist Graeme Maxton noted in a video Ron posted last week, �on a finite planet, the only people who believe we can grow forever are the mad, or economists.�

All of which brings us back to Bill�s point that we need a quantum leap in the way we deal with our planet. We are, and have been for some time, living well beyond our means, pilfering the planet�s inheritance at an astonishing and ever accelerating rate. This holds most obviously with fossil fuels, but also includes nominally renewable resources such as aquifers, forests, fish stocks, and numerous others, and it simply cannot last.

One way or another, we are going to be forced back into balance with nature, either through some incredibly tough choices or our effective self-destruction. Given our history, I wouldn�t put very good odds on the former, which means your best hope is probably something along the lines of John Robb�s resilient communities idea, where you hope you can leverage local surpluses now to create places that can survive the coming disruptions intact.

Any way you look at it, the future isn�t looking to be all that bright a place for humanity.

Somali conflict heats up

By BJ Bjornson

It has been a little over a week since Kenya sent its army across the border into Somalia to battle the Islamist militant group al-Shaba, which controls most of southern Somalia. It also appears that the French, apparently feeling their oats now that the Libyan campaign has pretty much ended, have decided to join in.

Following French shelling of rebel positions in Somalia, Kenyan officials acknowledged a Western partner had joined the fight against al-Shabaab.

The Kenyan military last week launched an offensive against al-Shabaab, al-Qaida's affiliate in Somalia.

The French navy struck several rebel positions inside Somalia last weekend, the Kenyan military said. Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, a spokesman for Kenya's armed forces, was quoted by The New York Times as saying "one of the partners," which the Times said was a reference to the U.S. or French militaries, was behind recent airstrikes in Somalia.

The BBC reports this morning that the French are denying responsibility for the shelling, but are saying that they are providing logistical support to the Kenyans. Hard to say who is being truthful at this stage.

In possible retaliation, there were two explosions reported in the Kenyan capitol of Nairobi, though at this point it remains unclear if al-Shabab was responsible, though such certainly wouldn�t surprise anyone.

Also hard to say just how much U.S. involvement there is in the Kenyan campaign at this point, although the Kenyans don�t appear to be anywhere near the local proxies doing the dirty work for their sponsor like the Ethiopians were when they invaded to take down the Islamic Courts Union in 2007.

The question now is just what the Kenyans plan for this incursion. Is it just a punitive expedition with the object of deterring al-Shabab�s purported activities in Kenya? Or is it something more ambitious?

If we�ve learned anything over the last couple of decades of conflict, it is that the more ambitious the goals, the less likely they are to turn out well for the aggressor. We can only hope the Kenyans remember that before finding themselves drawn into another Somali quagmire.


By Dave Anderson:

I went to a jock high school  During my senior year, we won at least four state titles.  Our crowds were boisterous, obnoxious jerks.  We would identify a few players on the other team and have five hundred people mock them in unison for the entire match.  Our tactics varied as we used class-based, sexuality based, misogny and slut shaming attacks on a regular basis.  The only type of attack that we did not use was ethnic/racial.  This was for two reasons.  First, my school was ethnically and racially diverse so it was often a Domincan, a Cape Verdean, a Puerto Rican and two red-headed Irish Catholics coming up with the chants.  Secondly, we knew that if we went racial, we were getting tossed from the stadium as the school and league administration had no tolerance. 

Last night, I was refereeing a WPIAL soccer play-off game.  The game was at a neutral site, but the white team was from three miles down the road while the blue team was thirty miles down the river.  The crowd was overwhelmingly for the white team.  The crowd started to get into the game and found their player to pick on.  They mocked his shoes.  They mocked his lack of a left foot.  They mocked his unwillingness to play through contact.  They mocked everything about the player. 

And then I heard "Hey #77 is a faggot"...

And within fifteen seconds, the rest of the crowd turned on the idiot who had just said that and hustled him out of the stadium.  And then the crowd started right back on 77's case. 

Minor progress here as that crowd self-policing behavior would never have happened at my high school when I was there. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

OWS -- Robin Hood Tax & Drum Circle Note

By John Ballard

Via Katrina vanden Heuvel we learn of the next direct action from OWS. 

Rise Up and Fight for the Robin Hood Tax!

On October 29th, as the Presidents and Leaders of the Group of 20 Nations meets in France, people across the world will rise up and demand that our G20 leaders immediate impose a 1% #ROBINHOOD tax on all financial transactions and currency trades.


  1. Financial Speculation Tax: This tax, less than one percent, would tax short term and often speculative activity- the sort of thing that helped create the crisis- and generate billions of dollars of revenue. For ordinary investors, the cost would barely be noticeable, but for Wall Street traders� activities, it is estimated that such a tax could generate up to $150 billion a year.

  2. Fairness in Taxation: Not in our nation�s history since before the New Deal have those with the most contributed the least. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations at the heart of America�s greatest economic boom, marginal tax rates were 90% on the wealthiest among us. The marginal tax rates must be raised across the board and tax avoidance like the �carried interest� or �hedge-fund managers�� loophole must be closed. 

  3. Bush Tax cuts for he wealthiest should expire: Over $700 billion dollars in revenue would be generated in the next ten years by allowing these tax cuts to run their course. Income growth over the last thirty years has largely been captured by the top one percent of earners. Tax cuts for the wealthy, as demonstrated above, do not make their way into the economy as a whole and do not create jobs. Everyday people, Wall Street, Big Banks and the wealthy must all pay their fair share for our economic recovery.


In other news

New rule: If you don't know what a
paradiddle is or can't perform one at
varying speeds, stay out of the drum circle.

If you need a tutorial, here is a link to a You Tube instruction video

"What's a drum circle?" 
If you don't already know, you have You Tube homework to do. Notice how old some of these videos are. They've been around for years. But OWS is giving them new life. Think of them as the new frisbee.