Tuesday, December 31, 2013

To You and Yours


Monday, December 30, 2013

The Ten Most Important Stories of 2013

Some of these will not hit the radar as big stories of the year. For instance, I completely ignore the Edward Snowden saga as basically a footnote to history: he uncovered nothing, merely put it in the shop window, and you’ll notice it’s had all the lift of a lead balloon.

No, these are stories that will affect the news in 2014 and well beyond:

1) Pope Francis – what can you say about a man who upends an entire monolithic bureaucracy as big as the Catholic Church, while inviting dialogue from Islamic tyrants? He’s made the Vatican relevant again, from Twitter to the long-disgruntled American Catholic church.

2) Eight banks hold 90% of the US GDP.

3) A robot who is not a robot. Or is it a human who is not a human? Either way, the Turing Test is in trouble.

4) The same sex marriage battle will open the doors to many unexpected loosenings of other restrictions of the law. I expect marijuana will be legalized by the end of the decade.

5) Africa. The cold war between China and the US will heat up in the coming years. The internal conflicts in Africa are merely the opening salvos.

6) Bill de Blasio. Arguably, the first real liberal since John Lindsay to serve in “the second toughest job in America”. He campaigned on a progressive platform, and his appointments thus far point to maintaining that stance. His biggest obstacle? He has to push reforms through the state legislature, not exactly a hotbed of progressivism. He has Andrew Cuomo’s ear, however, but keep in mind, Cuomo is looking at a 2016 Presidential run.

7) Turkey. The bridge between the Muslim Middle East and the EU got swing-y this year. Keep an eye on this.

8) Likewise, the Ukraine. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that the loosely connected Russian Federation is seeing an uptick in violence ahead of the Olympics in February.

9) Worldwide satellite broadband? It could happen.

10) Cloned or printed, growing organs for transplant is in our immediate future.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Well, it’s the end of yet another year. We’ve lost some great ones, and possibly gained one, and we’ve seen so much strife and anger over doing the Lord’s work and providing medicine to the sick and poor. Sucks, right? Let’s hope 2014 is much better.

2) And here’s a hopeful sign.

3) You may have missed the ship stranded in the Antarctic, but thankfully, the Snow Dragon has not.

4) This week in derp-failure.

5) What’s killing off our national symbol?

6) Considering their voracious appetite, it’s surprising to me that this story isn’t more common.

7) What would a “real Barbie” doll look like? Maybe like this.

8) it turns out that it’s possible that concussions could stir up pancake jar whatsits.

9) Are there no workhouses? Yes. They’re called schools.

10) George Zimmerman may have a job yet. What could possibly go wrong here?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Is And What Can Never Be

So, Edward Snowden has apparently decided to have a freak-out over losing Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Let’s review, shall we?

First, the preening, gloating, self-important popinjay had this to say:

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden said his "mission's already accomplished" and spoke of having “personal satisfaction” at the revelations about U.S. surveillance policies in an interview published Tuesday.

The former intelligence contractor, who exposed extensive details of global electronic surveillance by the U.S. spy agency, said he was not being disloyal to the U.S. or to his former employer.

"I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA," he told The Washington Post. "I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don't realize it."

OK, fair enough. He realizes that he exposed an already public program, and that what happens next is up to the people reading his revelations. Altho that last bit, about working as some sort of dubble-sekrit sooperspi is a bit…disturbing. But I digress…

Next up, Diva Snowden:

Edward Snowden has made two prominent appearances in the last two days. The first in an interview with the Washington Post in which he declared "mission accomplished," by which he means that his leaking of secret NSA documents has started a debate on the propriety of the practices he exposed.

This interpretation of events is indisputable. Whether it was any of his business to do what it took to start the debate is another matter.

But the next day, Snowden delivered a short Christmas Day message on British television, and here he got carried away, to put it kindly:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves -- an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that's a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

So which is it, Snowy? Did you alert us all that the sky is falling or have you suddenly discovered that it was just your nuts?

The debate started. That it’s falling on mainly deaf ears in the world (apart from a few Inspector Reynauds of the world who are shocked, shocked!, to discover there’s spying going on! And who are no doubt taking the hint and covering their own tracks) is something Snowden will have to deal with in his cups.

You can lead a horse to water, after all.

The pure panic in his voice about that child born today nonsense is a tell. There has been no privacy pretty much since the Clinton administration and the rise of the Internet and web. And surprise! It’s not the government we really need to be worried about, which is why Snowden is tilting at windmills here.

Think about it for a moment: governments are accountable to the people they serve, even if it is eventually. No. The privacy we no longer have and can no longer have, is from the multinational conglomerates that actually run the world, run our government, and make decisions affecting our lives and the future of the planet and human society.

You want to do the world a service, Snowy, go after those guys.

If you have the nuts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And So This Is Christmas....

…so what have you done?

For various reasons having to do with my psychology…and you could write a book on it…this season is always a very nasty stressful time for me, but doubly so this year. I find very little to look to as a blessed thing. The year started off with a bad attack of gout (which flared up at least once more during the year), ended with one of the worst allergy attacks I’ve ever suffered, complete with post-nasal drip and insomnia from coughing, and the coda to the entire year is that I have this awful taste in my mouth about nearly everything I can think of.

Including this fucking coffee sitting on my desk. Blech.

From failing to finish a few bike rides that I challenged myself on to failing to sell my book (which is in its second draft) to an agent, to facing an enormous challenge at work in the form of my new boss (aka Bag of Salted Rat Dicks), this year has been so bad that I’ve been able to find the positive in it.

Wait. What?

Yes, the positive. It’s been so bad that I’ve put it behind me (actually weeks ago) and mapped out 2014 already, from leaving my job, to being more forceful about making my own way in the world, earning money for me and not for some other shmuck with a checkbook, to taking care of my health.

I am, in the words of Danny Glover, getting too old for this shit.

See, I’ve always been a little maladjusted to the working world, but maladjustment is appropriate when the world is unjust, and lately, the working world has become grossly unjust. I look around me, and I see friends of mine, of my age – good people, hard-working and experienced – getting the pink slip left and right. In the past, I’d be all “There but for the grace of God,” but I realize through my tears of goodbyes and guilt over not being let go (did I mention I’m maladjusted to the working world? I’m maladjusted. Usually it’s me going away.) through my tears that I’m envious a little.

There’s a trust, an unspoken contract, in work that says that if I or you take a job, we agree to work for a given amount of money for a given amount of time and that we will give our best effort. In return, we ask, we contract for, that employer to give us their best effort.

And it seems for decades now, but in particular now to people of a certain age, that effort is lacking on the boss’s part. In a blindly capitalist system, our experience, our value, to the enterprise would be immeasurable, and our compensations both material and not would reflect that.

But we’re treated like children, and watch our salaries be frozen or cut and our bonuses fritter away, if indeed we ever get any. Meanwhile, we’re asked to pay more towards our health insurance (Obamacare, thank God, will help here) and to pitch in more of our precious free time to avoid having to hire someone who will simply end up replacing us should we balk or dare to age at all.

So WTF is the point?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sport As Politics

Don’t let anyone tell you that sports isn’t political. Sports is always political.

1) Pussy Riot released – As I reported last week, Russia passed a political amnesty bill to deflect some of the stickier human rights issues that folks would raise during the Sochi Olympics. One could imagine the protests athletes would have staged. This is just one less issue they can raise.

2) Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks – Again, I believe that this release occurred in large part as a way to deflect attention from Putin’s putsches more than from the human rights violations. After all, Khodorkovsky publicly criticized corruption in the country. He financed liberal parties and opposition candidates - much to the displeasure of then President Vladimir Putin. In February 2003, he and Khodorkovsky had a heated televised debate. A few months later, he was arrested. It would be as if George Soros was arrested.

But given what he has said over the weekend, there are human rights elements that cannot be ignored.

3) Dennis Rodman is coaching a North Korean basketball team ahead of an exhibition on Kim Jong Un’s birthday. It seems likely his team will win, given Kim’s predilection for having things go his way.

4) A billionaire will get a new arena. Paid almost entirely by Michigan taxpayers. In bankrupt Detroit.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) I’ve stayed quiet about the whole Duck Dynasty thing because, frankly, it doesn’t interest me: a bunch of publicity-hungry morons willing to sell their souls for a shot at a TV show that’s watched by millions of other soulless morons who aren’t worth the very air they breathe holds little attraction for me. Less so that a loud-mouthed idiot said something to a magazine that should have come as no surprise (Hello! Redneck!) to anyone.

But now, the story has taken on a dimension that does intrigue me. It’s now come down to a twin-barrel argument, a power play on one hand and a “free speech” issue on the other.

Let me dismiss the easy one: one side or the other will blink. My guess is A&E will cancel the show outright, and the DD folks will sign a deal with CMT or some other redneck network that features yahoos whose last lines will usually be “Hold my beer, will ya?”

The free speech issue is a pretty easy one to dismantle too. Yes, Phil Robertson has every right to be as stupid, ignorant and pig-headed as he wants, and I support his right to be a total asshole.

I don’t have to pay for him to have a podium from which to speak, however. My cable (actually, dish) payment each month goes in part to funding his lifestyle, and feeding his ego. This is why A&E was right to suspend him: he will cost them money.

So if the rest of the Wyatt Family want to stomp off in protest, there’s the door. Use it. That’s a freedom I completely support.

2) Scott Brown is a hairy chested carpetbagger.

3) This could turn into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.

4) The scary part of this story is that people outside of Manhattan are now being forced to come to grips with this problem.

5) Following up my story from yesterday, Putin has freed another prisoner who’s time was well overdue.

6) “I’ll do everything I can to regain your trust…except resign

7) Well, that explains how those pictures of me ended up online…

8) Oh, Daily Caller…never change. Idiots.

9) Robots…it had to be robots…

10) Finally, for my friends who celebrate, please enjoy a monstrously great Christmas and I hope you can find peace in your day. For my friends who do not, enjoy the Peking duck!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Imma Guess the Olympics Has Claimed Another Victory

Now if we can only get Putin to change his mind about teh gheys:

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's parliament on Wednesday passed an amnesty bill that will likely apply to the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship detained after an Arctic protest, but it wasn't immediately clear if and when the activists would be allowed to leave the country.

The amnesty, which also would likely free the two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band, has been largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights records ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February. But opposition lawmakers argued it doesn't go nearly far enough and the complicated legislation appeared to leave many questions open.

The State Duma on Wednesday voted 446-0 in favor of the carefully tailored bill, which mostly applies to those who haven't committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors and women with small children. Lawmakers said they expect about 2,000 people to be released from jail.

I think it’s fair to speculate that Putin is trying to inoculate his administration ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year, as those tend to be a focus on the host nation’s politics, and to deflect some of the ugliness over not only the atrocious human rights record with respect to the LGBT community, but his slap in the face at America by allowing Edward Snowden asylum.

Of course, with Putin, there’s always another level to go to before you get the complete story:

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to provide Ukraine with more than $15 billion in aid is much more than a show of support for embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. It is a political masterstroke that undermines the Ukrainian opposition and gives Russia more control over its neighbor than ever before.

And of course, all this happened ahead of the US announcement of their Sochi delegation. I like Obama’s strategy here: if he went or he sent an administration official, it would signal to the world that we don’t take Russia’s oppression seriously. By sending an undeniably world-famous pair of athletes in Billy Jean King – openly gay—and gold medal figure skater Brian Boitano – well, there are rumours… -- along with Caitlin Cahow and Janet Napolitano, we send a diverse and important team of representatives and while it’s a distinct snub, it’s hard to argue that Obama or Biden should go.

It’s sad that politics and sport have to commingle in this fashion, but it’s hard to segregate sports from politics in any circumstance but particularly when it comes to American Exceptionalism.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red Light, Green Light, 1, 2, 3...

So it seems that the historic bi-partisan budget deal in the House last week – historic, in that it’s been years since we didn’t just pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government –  is falling on enough deaf ears in the Senate to be a problem:

The prospect that the budget would clear the cloture hurdle brightened Monday, when three GOP senators -- Orrin Hatch of Utah, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia -- announced that they would vote yes. A fourth, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, expressed his support on Sunday. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona also said they would vote in favor of cloture last week. 

But unlike in the House, where Speaker John Boehner aggressively battled conservative groups trying to kill the bill, GOP leaders in the Senate are signaling opposition, or at least resistance, to the package.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not said which way he will vote Tuesday, but he is widely expected to oppose the measure. Similarly, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas announced his opposition Monday morning on his campaign's website -- a step his Senate office was unwilling to take. It was later deleted after reporters from The Associated Press asked for confirmation of a Cornyn quote that appeared on the Internet site Breitbart.com.

"Senator Cornyn opposes this budget deal because it breaks previously set spending caps and goes in the 'wrong direction' with regards to entitlement spending," according to the post. His Senate spokeswoman, Kate Martin, would only say that Cornyn would take "a close look" at the measure and is "concerned" that it reverses some of the spending cuts won in a hard-fought 2011 budget pact.

Interesting. It appears that hard-line conservatives in the Senate have drawn a line in the sand. The political implications of this are larger than the legislative implications (the bill overcomes any filibuster and becomes law, with minor amendments).

For one thing, the Republican nominee-apparent, Paul Ryan (by dint of running as the Veep candidate with Mitt Romney) was one of the driving forces behind this deal. The thinking on his part had to include a calculation of the national political implications of being out in front of a bi-partisan budget bill ahead of an election that will likely feature Chris Christie, who’s main attraction is his ability to bring Democrats on-board with his agenda.

A defeat of the bill would hamper Ryan in ways that can’t even begin to be described, well beyond the public embarrassment of the exercise. Ryan has effectively run up against the other part of the political equation here: the fact that the Teabaggers have threatened to primary Republicans by the bushel if they don’t genuflect more to the right wing of the party. Senators in red states can’t afford that, since many of them already will have a fight on their hands – you can gerrymander districts, but it’s hard to gerrymander an entire state – in the general election with the backlash from the government shutdown and the general perception that they aren’t working for us, but for special interests and their own grip on power.

A primary fight could devastate campaign coffers, particularly if the likes of Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers decide to get involved. This is not a guarantee, however. Adelson seemed frustrated with the 2012 results of his spending and the Kochs have already pined for what they have ignited.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell already faces a primary challenge ahead of his encounter with what appears to be an Alison Lundergan Grimes candidacy, who polls extremely well in her state and already has funding pouring into her campaign. He can’t afford this risk, but he also can’t afford to stand up against a bill the House Speaker pushed on him.

So right now, we’re watching an huge game of “Red Light Green Light” on Capitol Hill: Senators running up to mics, only to freeze right after they speak. A sound bite for the campaign, and a vote to move the country forward, however haltingly.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) House Republicans (!) have brokered a bi-partisan budget deal proposed by Paul Ryan (!!).

2) In related news, John Boehner has put down the scotch and started drinking Everclear. I guess this sort of makes moderate Republicans and the rest of the American people Boehner's trophy wife, now that the Teabaggers have slipped into self-parody.

3) The Speaker's race year ought to be a boozy. I mean, doozy.

4) OhthankGod…

5) As nauseating and reprehensible as I find the man in general, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has done some really good things for the people of New York, particularly the rich and middle class white folks. But this fight, I think, transcends his legacy to be one of the best things he took up for all of us.

6) ♪ You better not shit, you better not pee, better not spit, I'm telling you why, SantaCon is coming to town. ♫

7) "Shaken, not stirred," for a reason.

8) NOTE to South Africa: the mimed blow job might have been a tell.

9) This was a term I hoped would never make the leap from perjorative to legal defense.

10) Speaking of "Affluenza," the party guests AND the owner of this mansion both seem to have terminal cases.

 

 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ubuntu

I think Barack Obama took a swing and a miss in his eulogy of Nelson Mandela this morning. In a rare moment, I believe he misread his audience.

In fairness, it’s easy to get caught up in the dignity of the moment, and the fact that nearly 100 world leaders – the single largest gathering in history – were in attendance. It was easy to be somber and reflective. It was easy to point to his struggle and his imprisonment.

Even Obama himself recognized this at one point:

Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.

And yet, much of the front half of his speech was precisely an attempt to chisel in stone Mandela’s legacy to his people and to the world and in so doing, made him and the people of South Africa a portraiture.

And it wasn’t until President Obama began to talk about Ubuntu, the oneness of spirit of humankind, that we began to see a fleshing out of Mandela. He was a wise man, a far better man than this world deserved, and with his existence, he lifted all of us – black, white, American, African, Asian – a little out of the abyss to stand on his shoulders and see a farther horizon.
In that moment in his speech, he began to lift the spirits of people he veered precariously close to sobering up. The people of South Africa, the people of Mvezo, Qunu and Soweto, had come to party, as mourning had passed.

It was interesting to watch as people streamed off buses from all over the nation, and dance into the stadium. I was abruptly reminded of how petty and small Americans can be. We would be somber. We would demand dignity and silence, for our mourning is not the mourning of a death, but the mourning of our dimunition.

As another example, over the weekend there was no “moment of silence” at real football – excuse me, soccer – games around the world. Mandela was warmly, enthusiastically, and lovingly cheered and applauded for an entire minute. It was a “thank you,” not a goodbye, and it made all the difference.

And even that moment of silence, that selfish display of faux sincerity, had some Americans up in arms. We truly are a vain and petty people.

One last warming note before I wrap this up, so I can go out on a high note: it was tremendous to hear the ovation that Barack Obama got from the people of South Africa. I imagine it has been a long time since he’s heard that kind of endorsement of what he means to the world. He certainly would never heard that in South Carolina.

Oh, PS: the handshake. It’s time to normalize relations with Cuba. He could finally earn that Peace Prize.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I May Be Wrong, But...

I think Bibi Netanyahu might have a problem with Nelson Mandela’s legacy:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled plans to attend memorial events for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, citing travel and security costs, Israeli media reported Sunday.

Netanyahu, whose spending habits have recently come under fire, cited costs of about $2 million to travel to South Africa for the memorial, Haaretz reports.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama said Sunday that he won’t travel to South Africa either, AFP reports. It wasn’t immediately clear why, but the Dalai Lama has been visas to visit the country twice since 2009.
$2 million is pretty small beer, when you think about it, so let’s look at this a little more closely, and we discover that Israel had a deep and fruitful relationship with the apartheid government of South Africa.

South Africa was one of the first members to vote in favor of creating the state of Israel and as relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East worsened in subsequent decades, South Africa stood alone, from Egypt to the Cape of Good Hope as being Israel’s only ally on the continent.

In turn, Israel was the last nation standing in support of the apartheid forces in the nation. The rise of Mandela could not have sat well with them. Indeed,it has been rumoured that Israel launched a nuclear development program with the Botha government (possibly culminating in the “Vela incident,” altho no one has ever claimed responsibility for that) and forcing the United States into an uncomfortable position of covering up possible Israel nuclear capabilities. In 1997, Ha’aretz reported that indeed it was a South African weapons test, conducted using Israeli designs.

When Mandela took office, he received offers to visit every nation in the world…except Israel (which he visited anyway in 1999 in conjunction with a visit to the Palestinian territories.) To his death, Mandela was vociferous about his support for a Palestinian state.

And there it is.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

 
The Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, once wrote that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

This is why governments jail "subversives," radicals who oppose the conventional wisdom to such an extent that they might actually foment change. It is far better to keep the populace ignorant. This tactic usually works, for who among us, who among the world of humanity, can say how much change for the good could have come from those who languished in jail?

This tactic usually works, but in one case, the case of Nelson Mandela, it did not. People refused to forget, because the power of his idea, that all people deserve freedom and all people deserve equality, was so enormous that even the regime of apartheid South Africa could not silence him, could not make us forget.

And when he was freed, and memory won out, when all around him counseled war, when all around him counseled him to rage and anger, he would say "Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."

It is hard to fathom that a man who dies at 95 was taken from us too soon, but Mandiba, you will be missed. Your fight has only just begun.
You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher
 Yihla moja, the man is dead.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Infrastructure Demands Action

It’s really sad to read stories like this and then realize they are nearly wholly preventable:

The revelation that a New York City commuter train derailed while barreling into a sharp curve at nearly three times the speed limit is fueling questions about whether automated crash-avoidance technology could have prevented the carnage.

Safety officials have championed what's known as positive train control technology for decades, but the railroad industry has sought to postpone having to install it because of the high cost and technological issues.

Investigators haven't yet determined whether the weekend wreck, which killed four people and injured more than 60 others, was the result of human error or mechanical trouble. But some safety experts said the tragedy might not have happened if Metro-North Railroad had the technology, and a senator said the derailment underscored the need for it.

That Senator, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, may draw up a bill to provide financing for the implementation. After all, Metro-North serves Connecticut, as well, and indeed, other derailments have occurred that positive train control, PTC, could have prevented.

In fact, this is the second derailment on this same stretch of track in 2013.

PTC is not a whole lot different than the radar-like systems on many luxury cars that not only can warn you of trouble ahead or to the side, but can wrest control of the car to prevent an accident, even applying the brakes within what it considers a safe stopping distance.

It should be mandatory. It will be necessary if the stated Obama goal of increasing high-speed rail transport is to be achieved, as it will also allow for trains to be run at faster intervals and shorter spacing. The “margin of error” becomes much thinner when you have a computer controlling the whole process. Just ask Amazon.com.

This particular incident occurred as the train entered a curve rated for a top speed of 30 mph at 82 mph, nearly three times the speed limit. The brakes were applied, but not until just five seconds before the derailment. Whether it was human or mechanical failure has yet to be determined. Four people died, tragic enough but it could have been far worse if the train had continued on into the Spuyten Duyvil, a notoriously treacherous split of water. Even if someone managed to escape the wreckage, they would not be safe until they reached dry land.

Infrastructure repairs and preventive measures tend to be expensive and require large capital outlays up-front.

The MTA, the agency who oversees the Metro-North system, is cash-strapped and in debt up to its eyeballs, thanks in large part to a series of mismanaged administrations that have insisted on holding bridge and tunnel tolls – a primary funding mechanism – in check while raising fares on the poor subway riders. This has forced the MTA to acquire large debts to pay operating expenses. It’s a little like borrowing from the bank to feed your family.

This pretty much means that any system upgrade of this nature will involve federal funding of some sort, and that means trying to get it through the Teabaggers. Does anyone see that as a likely probability, even with four people dead?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Bad Economic Data

This statistic is less of a surprise than it appears:

Thanksgiving night shopping looked like a new family tradition this year as stores opened earlier and consumers took advantage of the extra time to spread out their Black Friday shopping.

The Thursday-through-Sunday tally, though, was less buying overall, according to data from several firms.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined brought in an estimated $12.3 billion in sales, according to shopping analytics firm ShopperTrak. Thanksgiving Day traffic grew 27% as nearly one-third of shoppers headed to stores on the holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Many retailers opened earlier than ever, some at 5 or 6 p.m. Kmart opened at 6 a.m.

"Probably the most interesting is the amount of energy the consumer put into Thursday shopping," says Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak. "The retailers did a good job getting them up from the dinner table and into stores."

No, not the influx of shoppers on Thanksgiving Day. That makes a lot of sense to me. Dad and the boys are watching football all day. Opening on Thanksgiving was bound to be seen as a form of counterprogramming, instead of insipid marathons of bad programs on other networks, plus it gets you out of the house for the inevitable “drunk-cle” incidents.

No, that holiday shopping is off, actually down for the vital Christmas rush so far. There’s only so much cheap credit and endless refinancings will contribute to the cash position of Americans. Real jobs, with real wages that reflect the costs of living and the productivity increases that corporate America has seen over the past thirty to forty years, that’s what needed or we’re going to see more and more people leaving the commercial foodchain. Sure, there are going to be blips in the data, years when people feel a little more flush, but we’re entering a generation with the Millennials who have seen their wages stagnate too, and Baby Boomers stay off the retirement rolls longer, forcing a sort of “wrinkled ceiling” on wages and promotions. People will cut back. They have to.

After all, we’ve pulled every trick out of our asses to keep on keeping on: two-income families, with second jobs. Fewer kids. More credit. We the people are out of options, and the only one left to us is to drastically cut back in purchasing power.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Brief Note

Sorry for being so silent this week in blogging. Between my “job” and my cold, I feel like I’m the captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

 

I hope to be back on Friday, full force, full voice.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

My dad stepping on my favorite doll (my sister’s, of course.) A pigeon landing on my head (there are photographs.) Crying when my mom dropped me off at school in 1962.

These are the earliest snippets I have of childhood memories. And then this day, November 22, fifty years ago happened. And I have my first extensive and continuous memory.

The assassination of Kennedy has been compared, rightly, to 9-11: it was a moment, frozen in time, suspended in space, that we will reflect on for the rest of our lives.

In some ways, the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks had a deeper meaning than the assassination. Innocent Americans going about their daily routines, caught up in a tragedy of near-astounding proportions, that could have been you or me. The killing of a President, tho, there can only be one at a time.

And in many ways, the reverberations of the JFK killing ran deeper in the soul of the nation than 9-11 ever could.

We were barely 15 years removed from achieving the pinnacle of world acclaim, helping to defeat the Axis powers in World War II, ramping up a military economy at home that saved millions, maybe tens of millions, from extreme poverty and degradation. The roots of the civil rights movement were only just taking hold across the nation. We began to recognize that there were problems in the nation that we had to unite to address, standing behind a government who wanted only to do good.

At the head of that government stood a young, vibrant, charismatic man. John Kennedy was the very embodiment of America of the early Sixties: dynamic, without limits, a fairy tale prince for a fairy tale land. They called it “Camelot,” and it was an apt description, for the events that transpired this day fifty years ago amounted to the defeat of Arthur by Mordred and his betrayal by Guinevere and Lancelot. It washed the innocence of the Quest right from the eyes of Americans: the belief in the infallibility of American democracy, of American freedom, and of American invincibility.

In those three shots by a disaffected American that tore the very mettle of the intellect of the American government, we were thrust into the present, into modern day America. We became this raging, seething monster, lashing out at even the slightest insult.

We had, not to put too fine a point on it, a national case of PTSD.

You can trace the JFK assassination through so many threads of recent history. The civil rights movement became the centerpiece of the subsequent Johnson administration, as did the “War on Poverty” (even in doing good, we raged and made war.) And both of those echo this day in the dying embers of the raging backlash of conservatives against “the takers” and “those people.”

You can even trace the Presidency of Barack Obama to that moment when Kennedy’s brain was splattered across the pavement in Dealey Plaza. The potential of a Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren presidency rests in that history. Would these have happened earlier or later had Oswald missed? Who knows? We can only know what has happened.

You can trace it militarily, too. We amped up the Cold War via the Vietnam conflict, creating what Dwight Eisenhower termed “the military-industrial complex,” to prove to the Soviets that we were not weak, despite the flaw of the killing. To this day, we send our youth to die in remote lands fighting for beliefs and ideals stretched to a gossamer-thin membrane to cover the economic folly of 1% of the nation. We have seen four years of peace since 1963: the Carter administration. We felt so exposed by the assassination that we struck out, as the best defense is a good offense.

I was five. I was in first grade. It was late on a Friday afternoon, and we had art class. A convenient excuse for us to make a mess with Tempra paints and for the teacher to pack up for the upcoming weekend, just moments away. I was carrying a tray of paints back to my desk. I was marching up the right-hand aisle of a poorly-lit classroom  in an older school, by the coat closet. You remember those, the ones with the folding wooden doors that always managed to be both splintered and safe at the same instance. I was feet from my desk, when the principal made the announcement, that terrible sentence “The President has been shot and killed.”

She put the microphone up to the radio, maybe it was the TV, and there was Walter Cronkite repeating in his stentorian voice, a bedrock of calm despite his obvious turmoil, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: (reading AP flash) "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

And with that, the nation, the world, was never the same.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

As If Things in the Middle East Weren't Crazy Enough...

A bomb went off by the Iranian consulate in Beirut:

Two explosions, at least one caused by a suicide bomber, rocked Iran's embassy in Lebanon on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people, including an Iranian cultural attaché, and hurling bodies, cars and debris across the street.

A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

Now, here’s the thing: The two bombers were Sunni members of al Qaeda. Lebanon is in a struggle for freedom against Syria and Bashar al-Assad – a Shi’ite – who is backed by Iran, a Shi’ite nation.

We’re going to need a scorecard soon.

This might tend to complicate matters for our talks with Iran, to be certain, particularly if al Qaeda and her affiliates perceive Iran as capitulating to the secular West. There may be more flies in the ointment before this all smoothes over. Remember that al Qaeda has in the past gotten (and likely continues to get) strong financial and logistical support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Again, nations closely aligned with western interests. This is not just about Sunni/Shi’a. This becomes more of a focus on the future of Islam in totality, and which sect gains the upper hand and by extension, gets the candy of dealing with the rest of the world.

And there’s a wild card and likely the only reason Iran is even bothering to discuss its nuclear program: China, which has grown over the past decade to become Iran’s closest strategic partner, giving Iran cover to develop ties in Asia. China’s permanent position on the UN Security Council gives it a fairly dominating position in influencing how the world treats Iran. It’s no coincidence that the moment China expressed even tepid support for sanctions (2010) against Iran that the ayatollahs moderated their language and allowed a moderate presence in the secular government and open demonstrations by liberal Iranian factions.

And Now For Something Competely Different...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Bunch of Creeps

So Liz Cheney, Senate candidate from Wyoming, and sister Mary, an out-of-the-closet lesbian, have begun a war of words over same-sex marriage.

The simmering feud between the daughters of former Vice President Dick Cheney over same sex marriage has reignited on social media. 

Mary Cheney and her wife Heather Poe took to Facebook to express their disappointment after Liz Cheney  - a GOP candidate for Senate in Wyoming - repeated her opposition to same sex marriage during a television interview. 

"Liz - this isn't just an issue on which we disagree - you're just wrong - and on the wrong side of history," Mary Cheney wrote. 

In a separate Facebook post, Heather Poe called her sister-in-law's comments "offensive." 

The Cheney family has struggled with Mary’s lifestyle “choice” for nearly a decade now. In terms of the potential for her marriage, you may recall in 2004 Dick Cheney was about it, and famously responded, “With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everybody.”

Apparently, the apple fell far from the tree.

It’s no secret, I think, that the Cheneys are Machiavellian by nature, with a stubborn inability to change a single opinion even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong. It seems this tendency, valuable in western state politics, could come back to haunt them in their own backyards.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Andy...Lives?

Wow.

 

I did an impromptu street performance with Kaufman one night (I was drunk, he was with his woman), and it is one of my proudest moments ever that I made him stop and laugh at something I did. If you think he was (is?) funny on stage, he was (is?) faster and funnier off. He was (is?) one of the few people on the planet who could make me laugh in person.

 

I hope this is true, but somehow, I seriously doubt he was able to bottle that energy for 30 years as a stay-at-home father. I suspect this may all have been a planned tribute to his genius.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Trouble With Liberals

I was watching FreeSpeechTV this morning.

(Side note: If you don’t get FreeSpeechTV on your television provider, switch to DISH Network, stat. You’re missing out on some amazing programming.)

In the course of a “commercial break” – FSTV does not accept sponsor ads or government assistance in order to stay completely independent. It is wholly supported by viewers like me – I saw in rapid succession public service announcements for marriage equality, a greener earth, and aid to the homeless.

And it started me thinking: those are all noble and worthy causes, which means they’re all pretty much doomed to failure if something doesn’t change in the reality-based community.

In one way, Republicans got it correct. They managed to squeeze under their so-called “big tent” libertarian social conservatives, Bible thumpers and economic royalists, none of whom has a whole lot in common with the others. Yes, there’s some crossover, but the poor white church goer has a lot less in common with the Wall Street banker than he does with the guy down the road on Medicaid and food stamps.

This coalition has held strong for thirty years, only recently beginning to show cracks. It’s been glued together by the electoral successes it has purchased (or stolen), particularly at the grass-roots level, from school boards to county seats, city councils and state legislators.

Liberals tend not to have that particular depth of resource. There is an advantage to inviting the Wall Streeters to your table, I suppose. That meme, of liberals being behind in fundraising, may be changing, tho.

So how do we herd cats here? How do we get people who are passionate about marriage equality on-board with the green movement and assistance to the homeless?

Republicans had a thematic bind to their message. William F Buckley said it best decades ago: the job of conservatism was to “stand athwart the world, yelling ‘Stop!’” the entire conservative wing of the Republican party bought into that, free marketeers worried about “socialism” to the religious right worried about “moral decay”. It was an easy image for them to fall in line with.

Back in liberalism’s heyday, the 60s and 70s, we had some easy pickings to get in line behind. We watched the TeeVee and saw black men and women being terrorized in their own homes, an endless war with countless dead and dying, and the promise of a trip to the moon on the word of a slain President. We saw a war on poverty.

We saw people give a damn. We didn’t need an overarching philosophy. We just did it.

The ground is fertile for a renewal of the liberal America we grew up with. Already, the diversity of the American population threatens to drown old white men in a rainbow sea. Young people are getting involved and they tend to be for progressive policies.

Perhaps all we need to do is to wait. But there’s a danger in that waiting gives conservatism time to re-tool their message, and present it in a palatable persona like a Chris Christie.

We may not have as much time as we’d like.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Climate change deniers have been all up in everyone’s face about how the hurricane season was so moderate this year and so maybe global warming is untrue. Yea. About that…

2) A President who apologizes? Next you’ll tell me one will want to balance the budget!

3) I wonder who will be the first to submit a bill of impeachment on that point.

4) How crazy are Teabaggers? This crazy. Not content with losing the governor’s race in Virginia to one of the most corrupt people in politics, they want to double down on the Cooch.

5) Little noticed in the hoopla about the elections this week, what with Chris Christie punching out the Bouncy Clown the Democrats ran (and who did a whole lot better than anyone could have hoped) and Bill de Blasio kicking the GOP to the curb, was even more bad news for the Republicans: a Green Party candidate for the first time outdrew a Republican opponent. Serpe ran in the City Council 22 district election, won by a heavily favored Democratic machine party candidate, Costas Constantinides, who was running in a predominantly Greek neighborhood as a favorite son. Serpe pulled 15% of the vote. By comparison, no other Green party candidate pulled in ten and many pulled in less than one percent. Republican Daniel Peterson polled 11.2%, possibly because he was invisible for the entire cycle. Serpe is the first Green Party candidate to place second in a race that featured both major parties.

6) You’ve heard of the Six Fingered Man? Here’s the Six Finger asteroid.

7) Speaking of space oddities…

8) And even more space talk.

9) Could we soon have a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Iran?

10) Finally, peeing: ur doin’ it rong.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Next Great War

You may or may not be aware, but World War III has already started. We just haven’t gotten caught up in it. Yet.

To appreciate how Congo descended into this madness, you need to step back more than a hundred years to when King Leopold II of Belgium snatched this huge space in the middle of Africa as his own personal colony. Leopold wanted rubber and ivory, and he started the voracious wholesale assault on Congo’s resources that has dragged on to this day. When the Belgians abruptly granted Congo independence in 1960, insurrections erupted immediately, paving the way for an ambitious young military man, Mobutu Sese Seko, to seize power—and never let go. Mobutu ruled for 32 years, stuffing himself with fresh Parisian cake airlifted into his jungle palaces while Congolese children curled up and starved.

But Mobutu would eventually go down, and when he did, Congo would go down with him. In 1994 Rwanda, next door, imploded in genocide, leaving up to a million dead. Many of the killers fled into eastern Congo, which became a base for destabilizing Rwanda. So Rwanda teamed up with neighboring Uganda and invaded Congo, ousting Mobutu in 1997 and installing their own proxy, Laurent Kabila. They soon grew annoyed with him and invaded again. That second phase of Congo’s war sucked in Chad, Namibia, Angola, Burundi, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—it’s often called Africa’s first world war.

In the ensuing free-for-all, foreign troops and rebel groups seized hundreds of mines. It was like giving an ATM card to a drugged-out kid with a gun. The rebels funded their brutality with diamonds, gold, tin, and tantalum, a hard, gray, corrosion-resistant element used to make electronics. Eastern Congo produces 20 to 50 percent of the world’s tantalum.

While the UN was able to pressure the external forces to withdraw, the mineral wealth of the Congo remains both elusive and plentiful, just ripe for some organized nation to exploit. Like perhaps the United States. Or China.

I’ve noted in the past the fascination China has with sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria.

Nigeria is not immune to the unrest in Africa. If anything, it may be the bullseye for the violence and upheaval. The next great war that engulfs the planet may not pit Muslim against Christian, but the Islamic world against China (who has her own issues with its Islamic minority, the Uighurs). At stake, the economic future of the entire planet, relying as heavily on technology and the promises of technology to come, that requires the minerals and energy under African soil.

And it seems my prediction from 2010 may be coming true. And if you think the US is pissed at Pakistan for allowing the Muslim fundamentalists such free rein with nukes lying around, imagine being just across a mountain range from them. It is not looking good for the world.  

Friday, November 01, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) We’ll get through this, despite the hiccups, we will have universal health insurance.

2) I have a suggestion for the NYPD: stop-and-frisk more white kids, if you’re determined to keep the program. There are many more white kids committing crimes than there are black kids, and who knows? Maybe you’ll be allowed to keep it despite its noxious First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment tramplings?

3) In case you were wondering why shit has gotten so strange lately, the Milky Way huffs fumes.

4) It’s been more than thirty years since AIDS and HIV popped up on the global health radar. We may finally have at least one cracked.

5) Banksy! Come back! Come back, Banksy!

6) Today, Americans officially begin to starve.

7) He plays for the Dallas Stars, keep in mind.

8) NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

9) Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…

10) Finally, someone investigates the phenomenon that is Florida.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

If You Lost Your Health Insurance Because of "Obamacare"...

Blame your insurer for selling you crappy insurance:

The controversy mainly surrounds the minority of Americans who shop individually for insurance – not for people insured through an employer-based plan or a government program such as Medicare.

The White House has said that, technically, the law allows insurance plans that individuals had in 2009 to be grandfathered in under the law, whether or not their coverage meets ACA conditions.

In practice, though, it’s common for insurance companies to change their policies frequently. Once they change, the policies need to comply with ACA standards of acceptable coverage.

So, as Obama argued, many Americans will now be offered stronger insurance coverage. And in a shift from prior law, a policy can’t be denied or jacked up in price based on an individual’s health.

“Junk insurance,” Like this idiot:

On CBS This Morning, Crawford reported that 56-year-old Dianne Barrette received a letter last month “from Blue Cross Blue Shield, informing her that as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. She pays $54 a month. The new plan she’s being offered would run $591 a month, ten times more than what she currently pays.”

[…]First of all, the plan that Barrette paid $54 a month for is barely health insurance at all. It’s part of a subset of insurance that Consumer Reports calls “junk health insurance” (and which even the company that sells it recommends that customers not rely solely upon) and it pays only $50 towards most of the services it covers. That’s it. If Dianne went to the doctor every week for a year, her plan would pay, at most, $2600. Meanwhile, based on average office visit charges, Diane would pay about $5,600.00. She probably doesn’t go to the doctor every week, of course, which means her plan pays a lot less, while her premium buys her a lot less. If she goes to the doctor, say, six times in a year, she’s paid a $648 premium for the privilege of spending another $600 on office visits. The plan also pays up to $15 per prescription, which will get you a few milligrams of most prescription drugs. The one decent deal on her plan is that it covers 100% of in-network lab services.

But many people just want the peace of mind to know that if something really bad happens, they won’t have to worry about being billed into the poorhouse. What if the worst happens, and Dianne needs to be hospitalized due to sudden illness or injury? Well, unless Dianne is suffering complications due to pregnancy, her plan covers nothing. If she’s having complications from pregnancy, it covers fifty bucks. It’s entirely possible that now-healthy Dianne is “happy” with this plan, but the whole idea behind the Affordable Care Act is that the rest of us are not happy having to pick up the tab if Dianne gets a disease, has an accident, or otherwise needs to go to the hospital. Frankly, though, Dianne would be better off saving that $648 and negotiating her office visits on her own.

Ironically, it took FOX News(!) to get the other side of the story out:

Greta [van Susteren] teed up the interview using the same setup as Crawford’s piece, that Barrette is “finding out she will have to pay 10 times as much for health insurance” because “she is losing her current plan to Obamacare.”

“I have a copy of your Florida Blue insurance and it’s about $54 a month,” Greta continued, “and now I understand that under Obamacare, it’s going to go up, at least they said that the policy they would offer you under Florida Blue, would be $591; is that correct?”

Actually, the plan BCBSFL was only one of many plans Dianne has to choose from, 10 of which are cheaper than that $591, and based on her income, she’d only pay around $209 a month, but Greta did cut right to the chase about the quality of her old plan.

“Your $54 a month policy is a pretty, you know, bare bones policy, “Greta said. “Why do you want to keep that one, except for the price? Maybe you can get something better with a subsidy?”

“Well, I know it doesn’t cover lengthy hospital stays,” Barrette replied, adding “It’s perfect for what I want. I get co-pays for doctor visits and prescriptions. So it suffices what I need. Also, the price isn’t too bad either.”

Her $54 plan actually doesn’t have copays for doctor visits and prescriptions. It pays $50 toward covered doctor’s visits, Dianne pays the rest, and $15 toward prescriptions, Dianne pays the rest. As for hospitalization, Greta again went where CBS did not, and actually asked about it.

“Well, does it pay for any hospitalization, the current policy you have?” Greta asked.

“Again, I’m a little confused about it,” Barrette answered. “I have been reading over and over the policies, and it appears that it does cover some outpatient, but when you go through the booklet they sent, it would say refer to this, refer to it but then refer back to… it was very confusing.”

Keep all this in mind when your idiot conservative friends start getting all “But he promissssssssssssssssssed!” about Obamacare. Yes, you can keep your plan if you’re happy with it AND if it meets the criteria established for minimum healthcare coverage under the ACA. But if it doesn’t, the insurance company has to kick you off, just like a bar has to kick you out if its closing time. There’s a law, you see…