31 August 2014

This is Rich

King Abdullah, the ruler of Saudi Arabia, is warning that ISIS/ISIL/IS will go after the west nest, so they should engage in aggressive military action:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is "rapid" action.

"If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month," he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.

"Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East," said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.
While I am sure that some of the members of ISIS might eventually turn their attentions to the west, but they will be turning their eyes to toward Mecca, Medina, and Riyadh.

They are looking at establishing a Caliphate, and driving out apostasy and corruption as their first order of business, and the House of Saud is a good place to start.

Considering the fact that, until recently, the House of Saud was ISIS's most important patron, I'm thinking that taking the Saudi's advice is not in our best interest.


The Rams just cut Michael Sam. He performed well in the preseason, but the Rams simply had too many defensive linemen:
The St. Louis Rams have released defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft.

Sam, a seventh-round draft choice, had been battling undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks for a final roster spot. Westbrooks was one of nine defensive linemen to make the team.

Sam thanked the Rams for the opportunity in a series of tweets after the team made the announcement.
I still expect him to play for some team this season.

30 August 2014

The More We Know About Pot, the Better it Looks

Note that I do not know the extent of the statistics, but the fact that states with legal marijuana have a 25% lower opioid overdose rate bears further investigation:
States that allow legal use of medical marijuana have lower rates of fatal overdoses from prescription medications.

A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found the 13 states where medical marijuana is legal had 24.8 percent fewer annual opioid overdose mortality rates.

The results indicate alternative treatments may be safer for patients suffering from chronic pain, researchers said.

About 60 percent of all deaths from opioid overdoses happen in patients who have legitimate prescriptions, and the number of patients who are prescribed opioids for non-cancer pain has nearly doubled over the last decade.

Deaths were nearly 20 percent lower in the first year after a state legalized medical marijuana and 33.7 percent lower five years later.
Clearly, the answer to this is to tighten restrictions on opioids, and we need to ditch all those medical marijuana programs.

Our drug policies are wasteful, destructive, and stupid.

Deep Thought

29 August 2014

The Stupid, It Burns Us!!!!!

Rather unsurprising, the source of the stupid is the ultimate neocon legacy hire, William Kristol:
Bill Kristol wants to bomb first and figure it out later. News at ten.

During a Monday interview with Laura Ingraham on the ongoing situation in Iraq, the Weekly Standard founder discussed his desire to forgo national debates and simply bomb ISIS forces immediately.


After mimicking his fellow talking heads who suggest that perhaps it’s best to have a national debate before using military force, Kristol then said: “What’s the harm of bombing [ISIS] at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens? I don’t think there’s much in the way of unanticipated side effects that could be bad there. We could kill a lot of very bad guys.”
Why is this guy not flipping burgers for a living?

Jared Bernstein Calls for Dropping Reserve Currency Status for the Dollar in the New York Times

His argument is rather similar to the one that I have, that the dollar's status as a reserve currency artificially inflates the value of the currency, along with contributing to the excessive financialization of our economy, but the fact that a former Obama staffer is doing it in the Times is significant:
There are few truisms about the world economy, but for decades, one has been the role of the United States dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It’s a core principle of American economic policy. After all, who wouldn’t want their currency to be the one that foreign banks and governments want to hold in reserve?

But new research reveals that what was once a privilege is now a burden, undermining job growth, pumping up budget and trade deficits and inflating financial bubbles. To get the American economy on track, the government needs to drop its commitment to maintaining the dollar’s reserve-currency status.


In 2013, America’s trade deficit was about $475 billion. Its deficit with China alone was $318 billion.

Though Mr. Austin doesn’t say it explicitly, his work shows that, far from being a victim of managed trade, the United States is a willing participant through its efforts to keep the dollar as the world’s most prominent reserve currency.


Note that as long as the dollar is the reserve currency, America’s trade deficit can worsen even when we’re not directly in on the trade. Suppose South Korea runs a surplus with Brazil. By storing its surplus export revenues in Treasury bonds, South Korea nudges up the relative value of the dollar against our competitors’ currencies, and our trade deficit increases, even though the original transaction had nothing to do with the United States.


But while more balanced trade might raise prices, there’s no reason it should persistently increase the inflation rate. We might settle into a norm of 2 to 3 percent inflation, versus the current 1 to 2 percent. But that’s a price worth paying for more and higher-quality jobs, more stable recoveries and a revitalized manufacturing sector. The privilege of having the world’s reserve currency is one America can no longer afford.
It's really nothing new, but the fact that it's Mr. Bernstein and the New York Times does appear to indicate that this idea is gaining currency.

About f%$#ing time.

Europe is About to Go Pear Shaped

Both the Europeans and the Ukrainians are going to have a long ans cold winter.

While it is clear that the hostilities between the Ukraine and Russia would put a crimp in gas supplies, it turns out that the current billing dispute is almost certainly going to be a bigger problem.

You see, the Ukrainian Government has taken the dispute to arbitration, and any deal that they might cut with the Russians could be used against Gazprom in that proceedings:
But let’s not get into that again today. In the slipstream of the talks this weekend in Minsk between Putin and Poroshenko, a precious little detail seems to have escaped the western press entirely. But I think all our fine journalists will soon have to address it.
You may remember that in an earlier phase of the dispute between Ukraine and Russia (not to be confused with the Kiev vs rebels fight), no agreement was reached on the payment of a $4.5 billion gas bill that Russian Gazprom said was overdue from Ukraine’s Naftogaz. And Gazprom demanded pre-payment for any future gas deliveries to Ukraine.

Kiev, instead of paying the bill, claimed Russia had overcharged it for the already delivered gas, by $6 billion, going back to 2010. And brought its argument before the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

Now maybe, just maybe, someone in the Kiev camp should have paused right before that moment, and consulted with their western backers in Brussels and Washington. Perhaps not so much Washington, but Brussels for sure, and Berlin. And Athens. Rome. Prague. Warsaw.
ou see, a pending case before the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce can apparently take 12-15 months to resolve. And perhaps Europe doesn’t have that much time. Which is what Putin hinted at at a press-op he did after the weekend Minsk talks. What it comes down is that even if Russia wanted to accommodate Ukraine, it can’t. On strictly legal terms, nothing political.

What’s more, Gazprom had already paid Naftogaz in advance for the use of Ukraine pipelines, but the payment was returned. And that can have grave consequences not just for Kiev, but for almost all of Europe. Lots of countries get their gas through these pipelines.

It looks like the EU, and especially Germany, has started to smell – potential – trouble:
EU Suggests Russia, Ukraine Sign Interim Gas Agreement
The E.U. has suggested an interim agreement on the gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine without waiting for a Stockholm arbitrary court decision, E.U. Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said in a news conference following his meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko late Tuesday Two cases are before the Stockholm court, but the hearings will take 12-15 months, which is too long, while Europe needs an interim solution for this winter, Oettinger said In June, Russian gas giant Gazprom switched Ukraine off gas over the unpaid debt and filed a $4.5 billion suit to the Stockholm arbitration court. Later, Kiev reciprocated by sending a suit to the court against Gazprom for making Ukraine overpay $6 billion for gas since 2010, setting too high prices in its contract.
The Russian Legal Information Agency has this:
Putin: Naftogaz Suit Against Gazprom Axes Discount For Ukraine
The fact that Ukraine’s Naftogaz has invoked arbitration proceedings against Gazprom prevents Russia from giving Ukraine a gas price discount, President Vladimir Putin said in Minsk where he met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “We cannot even consider any preference solutions for Ukraine since it pursues arbitration,” Putin said. “Russia’s possible actions in this sphere could be used against it in the court. We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to.” After Gazprom switched to a prepayment system for gas deliveries to Ukraine on June 16, Naftogaz turned to the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. Naftogaz wants Gazprom to cut the price for gas and to get back $6 billion that Ukraine has allegedly overpaid since 2010.
Gazprom in turn is seeking to recover Ukraine’s $4.5 billion debt for gas deliveries. Putin said Russia offered a compromise solution during the talks held before Gazprom switched to the prepayment scheme. “We reduced the price by $100,” Russian President said. Gas talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Union went on from April to mid-June. Kiev said it would not repay its $4.5 billion debt unless Russia agreed to supply gas at a lower price. Russia offered a discount, but Ukraine turned down the offer. Russia then said it would only resume gas supply talks after Ukraine paid off its debt.
More signs of German nerves are here in a piece from the European Council on Foreign Relations – I kid you not, they exist -, along with a nice but curious admission:

Has Germany Sidelined Poland In Ukraine Crisis Negotiations?
As Germany takes over leadership of the European Union’s efforts to solve the Ukrainian crisis, Poland is questioning the motivations and strategies behind Berlin’s new diplomatic activism. The initiatives of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel are being followed closely in Warsaw – and often with mixed feelings. Is Berlin trying to mastermind a compromise with Russia on Moscow’s terms, ignoring Kyiv’s vital interests? And as Poland is increasingly edged out of the conflict resolution process, has Berlin-Warsaw co-operation on EU Ostpolitik broken down?
As an aside, if I were trying to make sure that there wasn't someone actively trying not to be a turd in the punchbowl in negotiations with Russia, I would sideline Poland as well.

The (historically justified) political culture of Poland, and many other former Warsaw Pact nations is such that they are more driven a desire for payback than a realistic evaluation of their long-term interests.
Poland was, along with France and Germany, one of the countries that orchestrated the political shift in Ukraine in February. Since then, Warsaw has played a central role in forging a bolder EU response to Russia’s aggression and in providing meaningful assistance to the Ukrainian government. However, as the conflict has worsened, Warsaw has become less visible as an actor in crisis diplomacy. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski was not invited to join his German, French, Russian, and Ukrainian counterparts in the negotiations on conflict resolution held in Berlin in early July and early August. Before Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to meet at the Customs Union summit in Minsk on 26 August, the idea had been floated of holding another high-level meeting in the “Normandy format” of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine.
Kiev is either so high on the EU, US and NATO support it was promised, or so desperate over its latest battlefield losses, that it goes for all on red, probably thinking, and probably rightly so, that the western press will swallow anything whole. Tyler Durden:
Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Imminent Gas Cut-Off, Russia Denies, Germans Anxious
So much for the Russia-Ukraine talks bringing the two sides together as even Germany’s Steinmeier could only say it’s “hard to say if breakthrough made.” Shortly after talks ended, Ukrainian Premier Yatsenyuk stated unequivocally that “we know about the plans of Russia to cut off transit even in European Union member countries,” followed by some notably heavy-on-the-war-rhetoric comments. The Russians were quick to respond, as the energy ministry was “surprised” by his statements on Ukraine gas transits and blasted that comments were an “attempt at EU disinformation.”
Here’s what Putin said at the press op after the talks:

Answers To Journalists’ Questions Following Working Visit To Belarus
Currently, we are in a deadlock on the gas issue. You see, this is very serious matter for us, for Ukraine and for our European partners. It is no big secret that Gazprom has advanced payment for the transit of our gas to Europe. Ukraine’s Naftogaz has returned that advance payment. The transit of our gas to European consumers was just about suspended. What will happen next? This is a question that awaits a painstaking investigation by our European and Ukrainian partners.
We are fulfilling all the terms of the contract in full. Right now, we cannot even accept any suggestions regarding preferential terms, given that Ukraine has appealed to the Arbitration Court. Any of our actions to provide preferential terms can be used in the court. We were deprived of this opportunity, even if we had wanted it, although we already tried to meet them halfway and reduced the price by $100.
The ball is squarely in the western court. Of course many will think and hope that Russia will give in because it needs the revenue, but the problem with that is it could cost the country too much (admittedly, that’s not the only problem). $6 billion to Ukraine for starters, then potentially many more billions on future deliveries to Kiev, and then there’s the rest of its contracts with two dozen or so European nations.

From a legal point of view, this may not be about what Moscow wants to do anymore, but about what it can. The Arbitration Court case may have tied its hands. And unless Europe wants a cold winter, it must seek a solution. Putin, who holds degrees in both judo AND law, understands this. But he didn’t set this up. Western and Kiev hubris did. Certain people got first too pleased with, and then ahead of, themselves.
BTW, I also learned another reason that the Russians do not like the EU deal, it has the effect of severely curtailing Russian exports to the Ukraine:
Putin pointed to another rather difficult but highly interesting legal ‘technicality’ as well, which involves Ukraine moving closer to the EU economically:

We once again pointed out to our partners – both European and Ukrainian partners – that implementation of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU carries significant risks for the Russian economy. We have shown this in the text of the agreement, directly pointing to specific articles in that agreement. Let me remind you that this concerns nullifying Ukraine’s customs tariffs, technical regulations, and phytosanitary standards.

The standards in Russia and Europe currently do not correspond. But, as you recall, the most classic example is the introduction of EU technical regulations in Ukraine. In that case, we would not be able to supply our goods to Ukraine at all. We have different technical standards. And according to the European Union’s standards, we will not be able to supply our machine-building products there, or any industrial goods. If that happens, we cannot accept Ukrainian agricultural production goods in our territory, because we have different approaches to phytosanitary standards. We feel that many problems would occur.

If we do not achieve any agreements and our concerns are not taken into account, then we will be forced to take measures to protect our economy. And we explained what those measures would be. So our partners must weigh everything and make corresponding decisions.
So, even the EU actions, which were far less bellicose than those of the US State Department, begin to look more and more like a deliberately hostile act, even without considering the traditional Russian paranoia and xenophobia.

I think that Putin considers this a nearly existential threat to Russia, and he is responding accordingly.

H/t naked capitalism.

BTW, just to throw some more fuel on the fire, the Ukrainian PM just announced he will pursue NATO membership:
On Aug. 29, the Ukrainian prime minister said he will pursue NATO membership for his nation by asking parliament to overturn a law banning foreign alliances.

Separately, the NATO secretary general said Russia is undertaking direct military operations designed to destabilize the Ukraine—and that NATO will “fully respect” any change in the Ukraine’s non-aligned status. He made the comments today after an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission held at the Ukraine’s request.


“The Ukrainian government is submitting a bill to parliament on the abolition of the non-aligned status of the Ukrainian state and on the resumption of Ukraine’s course towards NATO membership,” Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said in an announcement.

Ukrainian law forbids the nation from forming alliances that would economically or politically entangle the country with the Russian Federation. Overturning this law would remove any legal barriers from Ukraine joining NATO, a goal which the alliance has said it supports.
This is stupidly and provocative.

We are going to see a war in Europe in the next few years, the only question is whether it will be cold, or hot.


The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again, live, 1978:

28 August 2014

The Talibaptists in the UK Challenge the Doctor

Seriously?  They filed complaints about Dr. Who?

The controversial “lesbian-lizard” kiss in Saturday’s Doctor Who episode will not be investigated by the media regulator, which said it “did not discriminate between scenes involving opposite sex and same-sex couples”.

Six people complained to Ofcom after Saturday’s series opener, Peter Capaldi’s first full episode as the Doctor, in which lizard woman Madame Vastra kissed her human wife, Jenny Flint.

The pair, played by Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart, shared a kiss as they were forced to hold their breath as they hid from killer droids, prompting complaints from some viewers that it was “gratuitous” and “unnecessary”.

A spokeman for Ofcom said: “Ofcom can confirm it received six complaints about a kiss broadcast in an episode of Doctor Who on Saturday 23 August.

“Having assessed the complaints, we can confirm that they do not raise issues warranting further investigation. Our rules do not discriminate between scenes involving opposite sex and same sex couples.”
What a bunch of f%$#ing wankers.

Oh, Snap!

It looks like the situation in the Ukraine is in the process of spinning out of control:
World powers have called a succession of emergency meetings to step up the international response to Russia after Kiev accused Moscow of a de facto invasion and of opening up a second front in the conflict in eastern Europe.

The UN security council was meeting in emergency session, the US national security council convened at the White House, and Nato and EU leaders will consider their response on Friday, amid signs that hundreds of Russian soldiers are actively involved in the insurrection against Kiev's rule in Ukraine.

Russia denies that any of its troops are in eastern Ukraine. But on Thursday Nato said it estimated there were now more than 1,000 Russian soldiers fighting there. The organisation released satellite images that it said showed Russian armoured vehicles and artillery had been crossing into Ukraine for at least a week.
The Russians have offered a rather unconvincing denial that they sent troops, but it's pretty clear that the Russians are aggressively supporting the rebels in any case.

Hoodoodanode that it would all go pear shaped when the State Department decided it wanted another color revolution.

The illogic of waste, Mr. Spock.

F%$# Me. I Agree with Rand Paul

He just accused Hillary Clinton of being ridiculously bellicose:
Sen. Rand Paul is redoubling his efforts to paint Hillary Clinton as a hawk whose policies are dangerous for the United States.

The Kentucky Republican and 2016 hopeful took to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal to launch his latest broadside against the former secretary of state, saying her proposed foreign policy of arming the Syrian rebels would have emboldened Islamic militant group ISIS.

"To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn't get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS," he wrote in a piece published online Wednesday.

Paul added: "Those who say we should have done more to arm the Syrian rebel groups have it backward. Mrs. Clinton was also eager to shoot first in Syria before asking some important questions. Her successor John Kerry was no better, calling the failure to strike Syria a 'Munich moment.'"
And let us not forget our little adventure in Nulandistan (the Ukraine) that seems to be blowing up right now.

He's right. The only difference between the Neocons, like Richard Pearle and Paul Wolfowitz, and the Liberal Interventionists, like Hillary Clinton and Samantha Powers, is purely one of their vocabulary, their policy prescriptions are similarly short-sighted, and the results are similarly catastrophic.

For Once, Labor Beats the Asset Strippers in Management

Arthur T. Demoulas will be buying out the other side of the family for the Market Basket grocery chain:
After the intervention of two governors and an enormous public outcry, the chaos that has paralyzed the Market Basket supermarket chain ended Wednesday night with a deal between the two warring factions of the Demoulas family, the company said in a statement.

The deal approved by the chain’s board essentially meets the sole demand of the workers who have been staging huge public rallies for six weeks: that Arthur T. Demoulas, who was president until June, be reinstated to lead the company.

His cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and his allies agreed to sell their 50.5 percent stake in the company to Arthur T. Demoulas and his allies, who own 49.5 percent, according to the statement.

As part of the deal, Arthur T. Demoulas will return immediately “with day-to-day operational authority,” according to the statement. But he will not technically become chief executive until the deal is finalized over the next several months.

The current co-chief executives, Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, who were installed by Arthur S. Demoulas, will “remain in place” until the deal closes, the announcement said.

It was the firing of Arthur T. Demoulas and the installation of Ms. Thornton and Mr. Gooch that touched off protests by employees in mid-July. The deal includes a set of penalties and incentives intended to get Arthur T. Demoulas to finalize the transaction by the end of February.

The settlement would end one of the strangest labor actions in American business history, one that disrupted a low-price grocery chain that attracted two million shoppers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. And perhaps most surprising, it ends with the sole demand of the workers, from top management to the lowliest clerks, being met.
Basically the good Arthur, Arthur T., was given the boot, and the evil Arthur, Arthur S., brought in some MBA types to do their magic:
After a long family feud, the majority stockholders fired their cousin, longtime CEO Arthur T DeMoulas. He had built the business on low prices, high wages, and ZERO company debt- All employees get profit sharing and a livable wage, and many have been with the company 20, 30, even 50 years.

Arthur T. was replaced with the former president of Radio Shack, with an evident goal of strip mining the wealth from the company--raising prices, cutting benefits, loading up with debt, and selling off real estate--in order to pay out higher stock dividends to the controlling shareholders.

The employees revolted. Top executives walked off the job and picketed in front of headquarters. Employees from managers to baggers are using their vacation time to protest outside stores. 68 out of 71 managers have pledged to quit unless Artie T is reinstated or allowed to purchase the remaining 51% of the family-owned company. Deliveries have stopped and twitter is full of photos of completely bare shelves. The board has responded with termination letters and threats.
In case you think that this was a fever dream, it should be noted that, at the start of this conflict,"The board voted to distribute $250 million to family shareholders, an action opposed by Arthur T."

The 50.5% stake was purchased for $1.6 giving a market value of $3.2 billion (probably less; it appears that Arthur T. probably overpayed a bit.), and they wanted to make a payout of nearly 10% of the value of the company to shareholders.

You know how it works:
  • New management.
  • Financial engineering generating cash from monetizing assets.  (i.e. eating your seed corn)
  • Raiding the retirement fund
  • Destroy the lives of the employees.
  • The suits get golden parachutes.
For once, it got stopped.  The good guys won.

I will note that the culture of business in the United States is profoundly dysfunctional.

Normally, My Commenting Fashion is Like My Commenting on Menstrual Cramps, But ………

I think that I can call this a major fashion fail:
Spanish clothing retailer Zara pulled a baby T-shirt from its web store Wednesday after social media users pointed out that its horizontal stripes and yellow star resembled a concentration camp prisoner's uniform.

An Israeli writer at 972 Magazine was the first to notice that the white-and-blue striped shirt, which featured a yellow star reading "SHERIFF" on one side, looked like the uniforms Jewish prisoners were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

Zara apologized to outraged Twitter users for the resemblance, explaining in several languages that the shirt was inspired by classic Western films and that it was no long available in stores.
Gee, you think that there might be some issues with that shirt?

Tweet of the Day

I love British humor.

27 August 2014

There is Hope for the Democrats in November

It appears that the more that people hate Congress, the more likely they are to vote:
Could voter disdain for Congress motivate more people to turn out this November? Could be.

A new Gallup study suggests that in recent elections, disapproval of Congress’ job performance meant higher turnout. Currently, Gallup’s congressional job approval is 13 percent, with 19 percent of registered voters saying members of Congress deserve re-election.

Voters may feel they can effect change, since in 1994, 2006 and 2010 control of the House of Representatives changed parties.

“There has been a clear pattern of turnout being on the higher end of the midterm year range when Americans were less approving of Congress,” said Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones in the Gallup study.
If this is true, then the Dems will definitely hold onto the Senate, because high turnout favors Dems, and this Congress rates 100% voter turnout.

Word of the Day

Nulandistan: The current mess that is the Ukraine.

Moon of Alabama coined this term to reference the damage that US State Department official Victoria Nuland has done to the region.

A Very Good Point on the Issue of Palestinian Statehood

Journalist Matti Friedman makes the interesting point that most of the coverage completely ignores the idea that there exists any Palestinian agency:
A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.”
Let me be clear, Mr. Friedman is clearly hawkish on this matter, but I think that this argument has a lot of validity to it.

I would also argue that it is not just the press that buys into this lack of agency, so do many Israelis and Palestinians, which explains why so much of the negotiation process seem to be more about playing to an outside audience than actually talking with each other.

Stupid Uber Tricks

It has been revealed that Uber has been mounting a sophisticated program of industrial sabotage against their rival Lyft:

Uber is arming teams of independent contractors with burner phones and credit cards as part of its sophisticated effort to undermine Lyft and other competitors. Interviews with current and former contractors, along with internal documents obtained by The Verge, outline the company’s evolving methods. Using contractors it calls "brand ambassadors," Uber requests rides from Lyft and other competitors, recruits their drivers, and takes multiple precautions to avoid detection. The effort, which Uber appears to be rolling out nationally, has already resulted in thousands of canceled Lyft rides and made it more difficult for its rival to gain a foothold in new markets. Uber calls the program "SLOG," and it’s a previously unreported aspect of the company’s ruthless efforts to undermine its competitors.

Together, the interviews and documents show the lengths to which Uber will go to halt its rivals’ momentum. The San Francisco startup has raised $1.5 billion in venture capital, giving it an enormous war chest with which to battle Lyft and others. While the company’s cutthroat nature is well documented, emails from Uber managers offer new insight into the shifting tactics it uses to siphon drivers away from competitors without getting caught. It also demonstrates the strong interest Uber has taken in crushing Lyft, its biggest rival in ridesharing, which is in the midst of a national expansion.
This kind of crap is why Uber, Lyft, and their ilk need to be required to actually have employees with hack licenses drive their cars.

What happens if Uber, a company that employs price gouging as a significant portion of its business model, actually becomes the 800 pound gorilla in the commercial personal transport market?

It won't be pretty, it will make Comcast look like Mother Theresa.

The Daily Show was On Fire Last Night

I was looking forward to getting my Daily Show fix after a 2 week hiatus, and they did not disappoint.

Needless to say, the commentary on the police brutality in Ferguson, (top vid) and his video with Michael Che, where the latter unsuccessfully tries to find a place where a black man hasn't been shot (bottom vid), are amazing.

Just watch.

The US State Security Apparatus has Dropped Even the Pretense of Cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Their Torture Report

Because they have put a defense attorney who represented some of the CIA torturers in charge of making the CIA's redactions in the torture report:
The background of a key negotiator in the battle over a Senate report on the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques widely denounced as torture has sparked concerns about the Obama administration’s objectivity in handling the study’s public release.

Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is a former defense lawyer who represented several CIA officials in matters relating to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Now he’s in a key position to determine what parts of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report will be made public.

Litt’s involvement doesn’t appear to be an ethics issue, at least by the legal definition. But experts say that while it may be acceptable on paper, his involvement in the review should have been a red flag.
Seeing as how Obama has seriously drunk the CIA's Koolaid, the only way that the torture report will see the light of day in any meaningful way is if the Senate votes to declassify it on their own, which they are authorized to do by statute.

Pass the Popcorn

Pass the Popcorn
In 2012, Michelle Bachmann accused the Ron Paul Presidential campaign of bribing Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson for his changing his endorsement from her to the Libertarian stalwart.

Well, it turns out to be true.

Sorenson has pled guilty to taking at least $25,000.00 to switch his endorsement.

While this bit of of corruption may not seem significant beyond an indication that the Iowa caucuses are too corrupt and thus should lose their first in the nation status, there is actually more to this.

Specifically, it appears that Ron Paul's 2012 campaign manager, Jesse Benton, is hip deep in this.

How is is significant today that the campaign manager for an iconoclast's 2012 campaign is implicated in  bribery scandal?

Here's how:
Neither Lori Pyeatt, Ron Paul’s granddaughter and the treasurer of his 2012 presidential campaign, nor Jesse Benton, who was Paul’s campaign manager (and is now manager of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign), had responded to requests for comment at the time this post was published.
(emphasis mine)

So Mitch McConnell's campaign manager is implicated in a bribery scandal, and what's more, it appears that he might be rolling over to prosecutors:
It isn’t clear if the investigation is continuing, but Sorenson has been granted immunity from further prosecution on federal and state charges, as has his wife, according to the plea agreement. OpenSecrets.org has learned that two grand juries have been investigating the events in Iowa, one focused on the Paul campaign and one on Bachmann’s. Last August, OpenSecrets.org published a copy of a memo written by Aaron Dorr, the head of the Iowa Gun Owners, in which he outlined Sorenson’s demands to switch his endorsement. Included in the emails surrounding the negotiations were several top Paul campaign officials, including Benton.
(Again, emphasis mine)

So Sorenson is singing to the feds like a canary, and Mitch McConnell's (soon to be former?) campaign manager is clearly in the prosecutor's cross-hairs.

26 August 2014

Cease Fire in Gaza

So Hamas picks up some more anti-Israel political cred, and Israel mows the lawn, and nothing really changes:
After 50 days of fighting that took some 2,200 lives, leveled large areas of the Gaza Strip and paralyzed Israel’s south for the summer, Israeli and Palestinian leaders reached an open-ended cease-fire agreement on Tuesday that promised only limited change to conditions in Gaza and left unresolved the broader issues underpinning the conflict.

Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that dominates Gaza, declared victory even though it had abandoned most of its demands, ultimately accepting an Egyptian-brokered deal that differs little from one proffered on the battle’s seventh day. In effect, the deal put both sides back where they were at the end of eight days of fighting in 2012, with terms that called for easing but not lifting Israeli restrictions on travel, trade and fishing in Gaza.
It's the world's most depressing remake of Groundhog Day.

Investment Banker is New Economy Minister In France

Francois Holland makes the worst possible choice:
After a day and a half of protracted negotiations following the forced exit of three rebels from his cabinet, the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, on Tuesday night appointed a new economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker on the right of the Socialist party.

As President François Hollande struggled to overcome a political crisis sparked by leftwing dissidents who campaigned against the Socialist government's austerity policies, Valls also announced that finance minister Michel Sapin, a close ally of Hollande, was being put in charge of overseeing public accounts. Macron is close to Sapin and Hollande, which should ensure that the government in future speaks with one voice on economic policy.

Five months after putting Valls in charge of a "fighting" government, Hollande had demanded "clarity" and "coherence" following the surprise resignation of the cabinet, including the economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg.

Valls has vowed to pursue the government's three-year economic plan providing for an easing of the tax burden on businesses and 50 billion euros in spending cuts.
(Emphasis mine)

A disastrous wrong policy with disastrous bad optics.

Hollande is imploding faster than Nicolas Sarkosy.

The German promulgated austerity fetish is going to give France a president le Pen.

New York Times Declines to Endorse Andrew Cuomo

I still think that Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu are unbelievably long shots, and that the putative Republican nominee is pretty much the only in 'Phant in New York willing to be that embarrassed in a state wide campaign, but the fact that the New York Times has refused to endorse him for reelection is a pretty big deal:
More than four years ago, while announcing his campaign for governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo stood in front of the Tweed Courthouse in downtown Manhattan and said Albany’s antics “could make Boss Tweed blush.”

New York had had enough corruption, he said, and he was going to put a stop to it. “Job 1 is going to be to clean up Albany,” he said, “and make the government work for the people.”

Mr. Cuomo became governor on that platform and recorded several impressive achievements, but he failed to perform Job 1. The state government remains as subservient to big money as ever, and Mr. Cuomo resisted and even shut down opportunities to fix it. Because he broke his most important promise, we have decided not to make an endorsement for the Democratic primary on Sept. 9.

His opponent in the primary is Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School who is a national expert on political corruption and an advocate of precisely the kind of transparency and political reform that Albany needs. Her description of Mr. Cuomo as part of a broken system “where public servants just end up serving the wealthy” is exactly on point, but we decline to endorse her because she has not shown the breadth of interests and experience needed to govern a big and diverse state.

Why endorse no candidate in a major state primary? Here’s how we see it: Realistically, Governor Cuomo is likely to win the primary, thanks to vastly greater resources and name recognition. And he’ll probably win a second term in November against a conservative Republican opponent. In part, that’s because issues like campaign finance rarely have been a strong motivator for most voters. Nonetheless, those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout. Despite our reservations about her, that impulse could send a powerful message to the governor and the many other entrenched incumbents in Albany that a shake-up is overdue.
So basically, the Times is disgusted by Andrew Cuomo, and they wanted to endorse Ms. Teachout, but she's too much of a long shot for them.

The primary is in 2 weeks, September 9, and I am with Ryan Cooper when he says, "It's time for Democrats and progressives to get rid of this toad."
The bottom line is that Andrew Cuomo is the worst kind of backstabbing, triangulating "centrist" in the wretched No Labels mold. Better for liberals to beat now, or at least make his victory as unimpressive as possible, before we have to beat him in a presidential primary down the line.
Needless to say, the Zephyr/Wu ticket is on my Act Blue Page

James Woods, Democrat for Congress, Who Mails Condoms to Pro-Lifers

The condom

His letter
Abortion criminalizers mail a questionnaire to a Democratic congressional candidate, and he mails them back condoms stamped "Prevent Abortion." How can you not love that?
In response to a letter-writing campaign promoted by an anti-abortion organization, Democratic congressional candidate James Woods is mailing back condoms -- campaign condoms.

The form-letters sent to Woods, who's running for the Congressional District 5 seat currently occupied by Republican Congressman Matt Salmon, asked him to sign a pledge to fully support the "sanctity of life" in a candidate survey from the National Pro-Life Alliance.

"Woods did return the survey, but stood in opposition to the entire platform of the Alliance," Woods' spokeswoman Seráh Blain tells New Times.

The people who mailed this letter to Woods will also be getting some protection in the mail from the Woods campaign headquarters. Woods' campaign also included a letter explaining why he's not going to support the platform of the National Pro-Life Alliance.
This is epic beyond my capacity for to express.

He's a long shot candidate, and he's unopposed in the primary, and he's blind, and he's an atheist, and I'm putting him on Matthew Saroff's Act Blue Page.

Give him money, or you make bunny cry.

Word of the Day

Manufactroversy: A portmanteau of, "manufactured controversy," typically referring to an effort to create the impression of uncertainty when the facts are unequivocal. Examples are things like the lethality/addictive characteristics of tobacco, the anti-global warming fraudsters, and the anti-vaccine crowd.

It's a wonderful word, almost as sublime as the word, "Snollygoster."

25 August 2014

It is Like Goatse* for Star Trek

Interestingly enough, this is from a "Gen" Star Trek (The Original Series) fanzine from the late 1970s, and you can still find copies on eBay.

Had to be an amazing labor of love, because you would have to pay for a 4-color press to do that cover art, and that would have been some serious bank.

What the f%$# were they thinking with the artwork?

*If you do not know what Goatse is, Do Not Google It!!!! That which is seen cannot be unseen.
Not containing sexual content, basically what you might find on broadcast TV.

Open Carry This!

Local Coverage
In an eerie echo of the actions that led Ronald Reagan to sign into California law what was then the most restrictive gun law in the United States, the the Huey Newton gun club is staging open carry demonstrations:
A Texas gun club named after one of the founders of the Black Panthers Party marched in Dallas on Wednesday to protest against police brutality, KTXA-TV reported.

Around two dozen members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club carried rifles and red, black and green flags as they marched through the city’s south side, sometimes chanting in support of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9.

“If they don’t get these killer cops and corrupt cops under control,” a member identifying himself as Commander Drew X was quoted as saying. “What happened in Ferguson is going to be nationwide.”

The club’s leader, Huey Freeman, said Wednesday’s march would be the first step in a campaign of “civilian patrols” through the area. The state’s open carry law allows “long gun” owners to display them unless it is meant “to cause alarm.”

“We believe we can police ourselves and bring security to our community, ridding our community of black-on-black crime, violence, police terror, etcetera, etcetera,” Freeman told KXAS-TV.
Needless to say, I do not approve of open carry protests, but I do find a bit of schadenfreude in the the undoubted freakout that is going on in Dallas about black men open carrying.

While on the Subject of Right Wing Governors Facing Criminal Investigations………

It turns out that Scott Walker was illegally coordinating with 3rd party groups:
Gov. Scott Walker prodded outside groups and individuals to funnel millions of dollars into Wisconsin Club for Growth — a pro-Walker group directed by his campaign adviser — during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012, according to court documents unsealed for a short time Friday afternoon.

The documents form much of the basis for prosecutors' theory that Walker's campaign and conservative groups illegally cooperated to help him and other Republicans. Walker and the groups deny they broke any laws, noting two judges have sided with them.

Among the funds that flowed into the Wisconsin Club for Growth was $700,000 from a company trying to build a massive open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin. Soon after the 2012 recall and general elections, Walker and Republicans eased environmental regulations, helping the firm.

"The Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth," said an April 28, 2011, email from Kate Doner, a Walker campaign consultant, to R.J. Johnson, an adviser to Walker's campaign and the advocacy group. "Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure."

In the email, Doner wrote to Johnson that Walker wanted Wisconsin Club for Growth exclusively to coordinate campaign themes. "As the Governor discussed ... he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging," she wrote.

Walker's campaign has paid Doner's fundraising firm $1.26 million since 2011, including more than $70,000 in his latest spending report.

The hundreds of pages of documents that became available Friday afternoon also showed Walker's team sought to solicit funds for the Wisconsin Club for Growth from an array of nationally known donors to fend off his 2012 recall. Real esate developer Donald Trump, industrialist billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson were all targets.


Mining company Gogebic Taconite LLC's $700,000 contribution to the Wisconsin Club for Growth was not publicly known until Friday.


Gogebic first announced its plans in November 2010. By mid 2011, the company said that it wouldn't move forward until Wisconsin changed iron mine laws to give more certainty to the regulatory process.

The company had an early hand in writing a mining bill and continued to play a key role throughout the legislative process. The bill, one of GOP's signature pieces of legislation since Walker's election, was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker in early 2013.
Why hasn't he been indicted yet?

H/t Charlie Pierce, for this update on, "Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest facility formerly known as the state of Wisconsin."

We Are Completely F%$#ed

Three weeks ago, I wrote how warming in the Arctic is producing massive methane plumes as the methane hydrate on the ocean floor melts, well it's also happening off the East Coast of the United States:
Plumes of bubbles streaming from hundreds of newly discovered sea-floor seeps between North Carolina and Massachusetts are likely to contain methane and could be adding as much as 90 tonnes of the planet-warming gas to the atmosphere or overlying waters each year, research published Sunday in Nature Geoscience suggests.

An estimated two-thirds of the emissions emanate from sediments at depths where methane-rich ices may be decomposing due to warming waters along the ocean bottom, the researchers say. Effects of these plumes on climate and ocean chemistry are not yet clear, but could extend well beyond the plumes themselves.


However, many of the sources along the continental slope lie at cold depths in which ices have formed at high pressures within sea-floor sediments, which once trapped methane produced by microbes living there. These ices may now be slowly breaking down because of the warming of overlying waters, says Skarke. At least one previous study2 has hinted that warming waters are destabilizing methane-rich ices at moderate depths farther south along the US Atlantic coast.
This is end of the world stuff.


France's Hollande Doubles Down on Austerity in Futile Attempt to Boost his Prospects

Francois Holland's Economy Minister calls out the German austerity fetish, and in response, he reshuffles his cabinet to give him the boot:
French president François Hollande took the biggest gamble of his two-year-old presidency on Monday by ordering his reformist prime minister to form a new government which will exclude Socialist dissidents demanding an end to economic austerity policies dictated by Germany.

Casting off his characteristic indecision, Hollande agreed to prime minister Manuel Valls's offer to dissolve the cabinet amid a political crisis triggered by the country's outspoken economy minister.

The dissolution of the cabinet allows Hollande to form a new government without dissenting voices.

In a defiant farewell speech at the economy ministry, Arnaud Montebourg, said the austerity drive in France and Europe was a "financial absurdity," and accused Hollande and Valls of ignoring his pleas for a "moderate and balanced" alternative.

Less than an hour after he was called into Valls's office for a 15-minute meeting, Montebourg said austerity-inspired tax increases had undermined purchasing power and has led to the rise of extremist parties.

Montebourg said the "incorrect" austerity policies followed by the European Central Bank and EU member states had "continued to mire the eurozone in recession and soon, deflation". Education minister Benoît Hamon and culture minister Aurélie Filippetti also said that they would not take part in the new government.
Holland has decided that he has to throw in with Angela Merkel's twisted morality play in the desperate hope for his own political survival, his popularity is currently at a Cheneyesque 17% (!) approval rating.

It's not gonna work, austerity will continue to depress economies and stoke the political right.

So the next president of France is either going to be a Gaullist, or Marine Le Pen.*

*I think that I just threw up in my mouth.

Quote of the Day

Make no mistake: this is why conservatives are so enamored of block grants. It's not because they truly believe that states are better able to manage programs for the poor than the federal government. That's frankly laughable. The reason they like block grants is because they know perfectly well that they'll erode over time. That's how you eventually drown the federal government in a bathtub.
Kevin Drum
He makes the observation that the TANF (what used to be called Welfare) block grants have had the effect of creating massive cuts in the program, and then (IMNSHO accurate) generalizes to block grants generally:  Just level fund them, and the program shrinks to meaninglessness.

BTW, f%$# Bill Clinton for shredding the social safety net for unneeded political benefit.  (He would have beaten Bob "Bob Dole" Dole in any case)

Dumbass of the Day

Michael Lind.

It's a completely incoherent analysis of the Rick Perry indictment.

Well, Mr. Lind in particular, and the self described "Radical Centrist" New America Foundation in general.

BTW, as a interesting note, the papers in Texas, from the the Dallas Morning News the flagship newspaper of the journalistic cancer that is A,H, Belo Corporation, to the relatively liberal Austin American-Statesman, have thought that the indictment was justified, and they are the ones who have been following this sh%$.

24 August 2014

South Africa Unveils World's Ugliest Warplane

South Africa’s Paramount Group has announced that its Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft(AHRLAC) has entered flight test. It appears to occupy the niche for austere military and police reconnaissance. It is also really fugly:
South Africa’s Paramount Group announced on 13 August that its AHRLAC [advanced high-performance reconnaissance light aircraft] has entered flight testing; just shy of three years after launching the indigenous project.

“Unique-looking” is probably the nicest way to describe the prototype’s look, although we certainly do like the chosen camouflage scheme (squint a bit and it’s almost a mini OV-10 Bronco with Slovakia’s funky MiG-29 markings; or is that just me?).
It has gone from project launch to first flight fairly quickly, about 3 years, and there are reconnaissance and light strike versions, but it has a face only a mother could love.

Bad Day at the Office

SpaceX's latest booster just blew up shortly after launch:
An experimental reusable rocket made by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. exploded over Texas on Friday, the company announced.

The test booster, known as the F9R and a successor to the Grasshopper rocket, self-destructed several hundred feet over the company’s facility in McGregor after a problem was detected. There were no injuries.

“Three engine F9R Dev1 vehicle auto-terminated during test flight,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted. “No injuries or near injuries. Rockets are tricky.”
There is a reason that it is called "Rocket Science", I guess.

23 August 2014

I Just Saw the First Capaldi Episode

I think that Peter Capaldi will make a fine Dr. Who.

As to the episode, meh, though I've generally found the first post-regeneration episode to be primarily about defining the new Doctor, and not about the plot.

Ironic Headline of the Day

The Insane Terrorist Group We Armed and Supported Now Greater Threat to U.S. than 9/11

Why Ignoring the Marine Insurance Act of 1746 is a Bad Idea, Part MCMXXVII

For those who don't remember, the Marine Insurance Act of 1746 required, "Anyone seeking to collect on an insurance contract to have an interest in the continued existence of the insured property." (Link)

Basically, it means that you cannot purchase insurance on your neighbors home, and collect when you burn it down.

The act was passed because around that time, there was a war between Britain and France, and some people were purchasing insurance on ships, and then send the itinerary and manifest to accomplices in France, who would relay this information to the French navy, who would seize the ship, and the insurance fraudster and his accomplish would divide the spoils.

In 1999, it was decided that the form of insurance known as a Credit Default Swap wasn't insurance, because, well ……… because.

As a result, we have seen an explosion in speculators who insure things, and then blow them up.

Well it now appears that the Vulture funds who pushed Argentina into default may have engaged in this strategy:
So for Elliott an unseemly legal victory may not mean cold cash. Fear of default and/or eagerness to please Argentina may prompt some in the financial community to buy them out at a good price, but a sure thing that is not. Whatever American courts say, for all the reasons above, Argentina will probably not settle. Those bonds bought cheap (according to sources, Elliott spent close to $50 million purchasing about $220 million of old Argentinian bonds in 2008) may have looked to an informed observer beforehand quite unlikely to produce a decent return.

So why bother with an exorbitant legal fight? Well, the CDS route would be one reason. The likelihood of CDS triggering (failure to pay on foreign exchange bonds) would have appeared as very high precisely for all the reasons that make the likelihood of a settlement so low.

This scenario may have seemed plausible, at least more so than expecting Argentina to pay holdouts in full or something close to it. Elliott may have known payment is a long shot, but being a bondholder at least lets it try for a legal solution that could lead to default. That pari passu had been breached would have been a no brainer, for “all” you needed was to show that the country had legally subordinated you versus other creditors, and Argentina did that in 2005 by passing the so-called Lock Law prohibiting itself from making good on the holdouts (this was a key argument to have the courts declare a breach of pari passu; apparently, this kind of explicit de jure discrimination-subordination of creditors is very unusual).

Obtaining ratable payment as a remedy is unusual, though not unprecedented, but may have seemed like good odds in this case given the specific wording of the pari passu clause in question (which seemed to call for equal payments and not just equal rank) and the uniquely uncooperative character of the debtor; from reading the courts´ statements, one can sense that discomfort with the country´s attitude forced the judges´ hands towards a solution that in any other case may have seemed too harsh. Argentina´s behavior presented a unique opportunity to persuade a court to impose ratable payments; discipline for an unruly country.

With hindsight, Argentina was the perfect collaborator to have the CDS trigger: the Lock Law, tirades against holdouts, and contempt for court rulings on the way to its final refusal to settle guarantee that a failure to pay event materialised. For all the Kirchner government rage against speculators, in what would be a delicious paradox, it may have made the vultures rich by triggering the CDS.
This is actually a higher percentage strategy than getting 100¢ on the dollar from Argentina.

They make money, and in the process, they inflict enormous pain on the people of Argentina, and does damage to the US as a venue for sovereign debt.

I'm with Paul Volker when he said only the worthwhile innovation of this generation was the ATM.

Israel Chooses the Stupid

I'm not talking about the Gaza campaign, I'm talking about the Health Ministry banning Fluoridation in drinking water:
Contrary to the advice of public health and dentistry experts in her own ministry and academia, Health Minister Yael German has decided to prohibit the fluoridation of drinking water around the country.

She also issued her decision Sunday in contravention of a letter written exactly two years ago by Prime Minister (and then-official health minister) Binyamin Netanyahu, who told Knesset Interior Committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen that he [Netanyahu] “could not agree to the cessation of fluoridation” of potable water. Netanyahu continued that municipalities had requested to continue their fluoridation of water and that they should be allowed to do so.

The Health Ministry introduced mandatory water fluoridation in 1970 in cities, towns and settlements with over 5,000 residents, and indeed, 70 percent of Israelis have received fluoridated water delivered to their taps. But German opposed it as Meretz-Party mayor of Herzliya and stopped it in her city. Just weeks after entering office as health minister, she declared that she would stop fluoridation and, encountering fierce criticism from critics in leading Israeli schools of public health and dentistry and from her own ministry experts, she wavered and suggested as late as June that fluoridation could be an option instead of being outlawed.

German’s spokesmen said that only Ireland and Israel require fluoridation of drinking water, but her critics responded that everywhere else is it an option open to all local authorities except where barred completely only in Holland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
You know, the Purity of Essence folks really get on my years.

H/t Crooks & Liars.

A Fact of Ferguson that is Finally Getting Mainstream Notice

The fact that more than 20% of the budget of the town of Ferguson comes from tickets and warrants issued by police shows that the police are not there to protect the populace, they are there to extract tribute from them:
Scratch any social crisis, and you're likely to find economics not far below the surface. Via ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis legal-aid nonprofit, we can see how this has worked to create the dismaying spectacle of the breakdown of justice in Ferguson. (H/t Alex Tabarrok, via Kevin Drum.)

According to the group's recent report on the municipal court system in St. Louis County, the Ferguson court is a "chronic offender" in legal and economic harassment of its residents. There's not much of a secret why: the municipality collects some $2.6 million a year in fines and court fees, typically from small-scale infractions like traffic violations. This is the second-largest source of income for that small, fiscally-strapped municipality.


For a low-income community--and for a black community subjected to the racial profiling, as the report documents--these fines can gather force like a boulder rolling downhill. 

Tabarrok points to the report's observation that the Ferguson court processed the equivalent of three warrants and $312 in fines per household in 2013.

"You don't get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate," he notes. "You get numbers like this from [B.S.] arrests for jaywalking" and what the report calls "low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay without a meaningful inquiry into whether an individual has the means to pay."
The reason that the minorities in Ferguson do not see the police as their defenders and their protectors, it's because they aren't.

This arrangement, where peace officers have as their primary function tax collections, is fundamentally pathological and corrupt, and it needs to stop.

University of California Study Reveals the Obvious

Rather unsurprisingly, when protests occur, police frequently provoke violence:
The violence that turns a small-town protest into a fiery national spectacle like the one that has played out this month in Missouri is often unwittingly provoked by police, according to researchers at UC Berkeley.

The research team, which studied clashes between police and activists during the Occupy movement three years ago, found that protests tend to turn violent when officers use aggressive tactics, such as approaching demonstrators in riot gear or lining up in military-like formations.

Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., are a good example, the study's lead researcher said. For nearly two weeks, activists angered by a white police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager have ratcheted up their protests when confronted by heavily armed police forces.

"Everything starts to turn bad when you see a police officer come out of an SUV and he's carrying an AR-15," said Nick Adams, a sociologist and fellow at UC Berkeley's Institute for Data Science who leads the Deciding Force Project. "It just upsets the crowd."

Adams said many law enforcement agencies aren't aware that they set the tone of a protest and end up inflaming it.
I disagree with the last point.

I think that police are very aware that militarized responses encourage protests to turn violent, and that this violence gives a justification to engage in kinetic action to break up the protests.

This has been the norm for police-protest interactions ever since the mid 1800s, when police were used to crush organized labor.

About to Watch the New Doctor

Peter Capaldi.

I hate him right now, but that is the way of the doctor.

I will see how I feel in a few hours.

22 August 2014

Today's Must Read

Charlie Pierce notices something about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, specifically the treatment of the body:
I keep coming back to what seems to me to be the most inhumane thing of all, the inhumane thing that happened before the rage began to rise, and before the backlash began to build, and before the cameras and television lights, and before the tear gas and the stun grenades and the chants and the prayers. I keep coming back to the one image that was there before the international event began, before it became a television show and a symbol in flames and something beyond what it was in the first place. I keep coming back to one simple moment, one ghastly fact. One image, from which all the other images have flowed.

They left the body in the street.

Dictators leave bodies in the street.

Petty local satraps leave bodies in the street.

Warlords leave bodies in the street.

A police officer shot Michael Brown to death. And they left his body in the street. For four hours. Bodies do not lie in the street for four hours. Not in an advanced society. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in small countries where they have perpetual civil war. Bodies lie in the street for four hours on back roads where people fight over the bare necessities of simple living, where they fight over food and water and small, useless parcels of land. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in places in which poor people fight as proxies for rich people in distant places, where they fight as proxies for the men who dig out the diamonds, or who drill out the oil, or who set ancient tribal grudges aflame for modern imperial purposes that are as far from the original grudges as bullets are from bows. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street, as object lessons, or to make a point, or because there isn't the money to take the bodies away and bury them, or because nobody gives a damn whether they are there or not. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street.
4 hours with his body lying in the street, with no effort to cover him.

This cannot be seen as anything but a demonstration of raw power to, and contempt of, the community, by which I mean the people of color in Ferguson, Missouri.

It may not say anything conclusive about what happened that day, but it does fairly clearly tell us that the police force of Ferguson do not see themselves as protectors of the poorer side of town. They see themselves as an occupying force.  (Of course, whole Mosul in Missouri thing that has been going has made this pretty clear anyway. )

That being said, read the rest of Charlie Pierce's post. It is quite good.

I Think that Hamas is in the Process of Completely Losing their Sh%$

It's not been a good few days for Hamas.

Over the past few days, the Israelis have manage to kill 3 Hamas military leaders, and they almost took out Mohammed Deif, the head out of their military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.

In response, Hamas has start executing people accused as collaborators on an industrial scale:
One day after three top Hamas commanders were killed in an Israeli airstrike, at least 18 Palestinians were executed Friday by firing squads in Gaza City, sentenced to death by a “resistance court” for collaborating with Israel during a time of war.


A group calling itself the Palestinian Resistance announced on Hamas-affiliated Web sites that 11 alleged collaborators — nine men and two women — were executed by firing squad Friday morning in the courtyard of an abandoned police headquarters.

Witnesses said seven more men were placed against walls with bags over their heads and shot by men in black Hamas uniforms in front of the Al-Umari mosque, according to local news media reports.

Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Resistance named the alleged collaborators or offered details of the charges against them. They said they were withholding the names to spare their families shame.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that some of the bodies were later dumped at al-Azhar University and the Shifa hospital.

Palestinian militants said the informers were found guilty by local courts, supported by religious clerics, of providing information to Israel that led to the destruction of “resistance houses,” as well as revealing the location of tunnels and rocket launchers.

The executions came a day after Israeli aircraft targeted and killed three senior Hamas commanders who had gathered in a building in Rafah in south Gaza.

The targeted killings were celebrated as a major success in Israel and taken as a punishing blow in Gaza, where the Hamas commanders were well known.

Two days earlier, Israel targeted a house where it believed Mohammed Deif, the top commander of the Hamas military wing, was staying. The Israeli bombardment killed Deif’s wife and two of his children. It is still unclear whether Deif survived the strike.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, one of the founders of the al-Qassam Brigade is now claiming that Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teens. Note that he did this from the relative safety of Turkey, where is in exile, and I would take this with a grain of salt:
A veteran Hamas official has said that the Islamist group was behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank – an incident that was a major trigger for the current brutal war in Gaza.

Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas's military wing, made his comments at a conference in Istanbul, where he lives in exile. A tape of his comments was posted online by conference organisers.

"There was much speculation about this operation; some said it was a conspiracy," al-Arouri said at a meeting of the International Union of Islamic Scholars on Wednesday.

"The popular will was exercised throughout our occupied land, and culminated in the heroic operation by [Hamas's armed wing] the Qassam Brigades in imprisoning the three settlers in Hebron."

His claim has not been supported by any other member of Hamas.


Hugh Lovatt, Israel and Palestine coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that while al-Arouri was a significant Hamas figure – serving as the group's most prominent representative in Turkey – the former militant could have an ulterior motive for making his claim.

"Given the timing I would be very suspicious about his claim. I still don't believe Hamas as an organisation and its upper echelons sanctioned the kidnappings – something that Israeli intelligence also believes," he said.
I think that both of these actions are tied together by the recent reverses suffered by Hamas leadership.

Under such situations, there is an organizational imperative to show agency, and both the executions, and the claim or responsibility, are an attempt to demonstrate that Hamas is in control of the situation.

Both of the acts are counterproductive to Hamas's goals, hence my comment on their losing their sh%$.

In the long run, I do not think that this make a difference though.

The Middle East:  SSDD.

The Twinkie Defense, The Chewbacca Defense, and now the Bitches be Crazy Defense

Dan White got away with murdering George Moscone and Harvey Milk through the Twinkie Defense, Chef got put sentenced to jail, and sprung from jail with the Chewbacca defense, and in the Bob McDonnell bribery case, the defense has become even more ludicrous with the "Bitches be Crazy" defense.

That's right, the former governor of Virginia's defense team has become even more absurd than the minds of Tray Parker and Matt Stone.

His defense is that he didn't take any bribes, it was all his wife, a technically private citizen is unbalanced, and had a crush on the man who bribed the governor, and that he had nothing to do with it. I guess the loan of a Ferrari, and the golf outing worth something in excess of $10,000.00, and thousands of dollars of loans from tobacco based "medicine" mogul Jonnie Williams, were just ……… "stuff"

As Eugene Robinson notes, the technical term for this is "throwing his his wife under the bus."
How far would you go to stay out of jail? Would you publicly humiliate your wife of 38 years, portraying her as some kind of shrieking harridan? Would you put the innermost secrets of your marriage on display, inviting voyeurs to rummage at will?

For Robert McDonnell, the former Virginia governor on trial for alleged corruption, the answers appear to be: “As far as necessary,” “Hey, why not?” and “Sounds like a plan.”

McDonnell’s testimony this week in a federal courtroom in Richmond about his wife’s psychological turmoil has been both cringe-worthy and compelling. It has been clear for some time that McDonnell’s strategy for winning acquittal amounted to what could be called the “crazy wife” defense. But only when he took the stand did it become apparent how thoroughly he intended to humiliate the “soul mate” he still claims to love.

McDonnell disclosed Thursday that he moved out of the family’s home shortly before the trial began. “I knew there was no way I could go home after a day in court and have to rehash the day’s events with my wife,” he testified.

I guess not. Anyone who said such things in public about his or her spouse would be advised to clear out.

McDonnell testified that Maureen McDonnell was so volatile that the entire staff at the governor’s mansion signed a petition threatening to quit if her behavior didn’t improve. “She would yell at me,” he told the court. “She would tell me I was taking staff’s side, that I didn’t know what was really going on over there.”

He said he believed his wife needed professional counseling, though it was unclear whether he tried very hard to convince her to seek it. He spoke of the family’s severe financial problems, which included large credit card bills, and said that “it just seemed like there was too much stuff that she was buying.” Prior testimony has indicated, however, that unwise real estate investments caused most of the problem — and that Robert McDonnell, not Maureen, ran the family finances.
There are also tens of thousands of dollars of loans from the snake oil salesman, but hizonner the governor thought that nothing war wrong with that:
Testifying for the third day in his public corruption trial, former Gov. Bob McDonnell said today he saw nothing inappropriate about $70,000 in loans he negotiated with businessman Jonnie Williams in 2012. \

The loans were extended by the diet supplement maker to a real estate company the governor operated with his sister to manage rental properties they owned in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach. Rents on the properties were falling short of covering expenses, and the McDonnells needed to make up the deficit.

McDonnell said he saw nothing wrong with the loans because Williams hadn’t asked him to do anything on his behalf and his administration hadn’t done the businessman any favors.

Williams testified earlier that he and the governor agreed the loans would be granted on a handshake and kept just between the two of them.

McDonnell today denied that claim. “There was no such discussion with Mr. Williams,” he said.

He said he tried to get the terms of the loans in writing, but that never occurred.

He said he did not disclose the Williams loans on his annual financial disclosure statement because they were corporate loans for which he had no personal liability.
Yeah. Nothing shady here.

Seriously, I half expect the jury to take a page from the original version of the Mel Brooks film The Producers, and announce that, "We find the defendants incredibly guilty."

Dude, you are going to jail.  The decision that you made is to go without a shred of dignity.