Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year Gone to Pot

This past year has been one of so many developments in American culture that it would be hard to pick any one thing as a signal event in the course of our nation.

From the full implementation of the surprisingly effective Obamacare to the grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, MO, with stopovers at the broad expansion of marriage equality and Ebola outbreaks both in Africa and here, there's a lot to mull over, a lot that will move forward with us into the new year and beyond.

For all the world, it looked like it would be a horrible year for President Obama, despite the success of the ACA. The 2014 mid-term elections were a disaster (sort of. More in a few.) and it looked like an earnest effort to impeach him might gain traction in the House next year, backed by a newly-minted Republican Senate. Democrats and Progressives seemed as tho their work was cut out for them.

And then Obama -- finally -- flexed a little muscle. From immigration reform to the renewal of relations with Cuba, Obama single-handedly salvaged a terrible year and turned it into one of the most successful years of any President in history. Abe Lincoln might have had a more successful year in 1865 if he hadn't been assassinated in April.

We saw the darling of conservatives, Vladimir Putin, be revealed as a thug just ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in his home nation -- which probably didn't diminish him in the eyes of the folks who brought you PNAC.  (Now thankfully dormant) We saw the rise of that creation of George W. Bush, ISIS, in Syria and Iraq, the suspension of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Boko Haram kidnap and terrorize women up and down the continent of Africa, a coup in Thailand, a World Cup in Brazil complete with protests over the wasteful spending, three passenger airliners disappear over the southern seas, and the deaths of icons like Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. Stephen Colbert ended his Comedy Central show.

And that barely scratches the surface.

For my money, the story that will affect America long after the confetti is swept up tonight is, well, pot. Two states implemented the legal recreational use of the drug, and many more signaled they would allow at least medical marijuana (including New York State). Quietly, the Federal government has agreed to allow Native American tribes to grow marijuana on their reservations, and the spending bill passed earlier this month blocks federal funds from being used to prosecute citizens who legally use pot (i.e. for medicinal purposes under their state laws, as well as recreational use). This despite the fact that the same bill tries to overturn a referendum that sought to legalize use in the DC area.

Maine is now set to become the third state to legalize marijuana, and Vermont has already begun a statewide dialogue on it. As we saw with marriage equality, the cascade begins shortly after a handful of states give it a go.

So why do I think this is the story that will have legs long after all the others?

Think about the economics of pot as an illegal drug. I don't mean drug cartels and all that. I mean, prisons.

Specifically, prisons and the populations of non-white males incarcerated for merely smoking a joint as a third strike offense. Think of how many of these men and women will no go free, but more, think about the numbers of them that will be protected going forward from having a criminal record due to overzealous policing -- yet another side effect of illegal pot.

There are kids out there who won't see the inside of a jail cell, have their lives ruined by a criminal record, and forced to work menial jobs because of a criminal record (never mind the drug testing that goes along with employment nowadays). Who can stay in school and get an education. Get a good job and support a family. Improve their lot in life the way conservatives always demand they do: working for a better life.

The economic benefits that will accrue to America from that are nearly unimaginable: the rise of a larger middle class of blacks and Latinos is a big one. Access to mortgages for houses and student loans means a more involved minority community. More minorities teaching classes in school and policing their own communities means more respect for both professions. More involvement and more respect means a bigger voice in the political process, and that means fewer successful attempts at abrogating democracy will be made by old white men.

Pot is not a cure-all for all of society's ills, no. For one thing, DUIs under pot are increasing and its hard to develop tests that determine a legal limit for ingesting grass. That's a problem that will have to be sorted out, one of many.

But it occurs to me that the influx of "new citizens" welcomed into society rather than shunned can't help but be a net good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Thought Experiment

You work for the only business of any substance in town. You make a nice income.

Your boss decides he needs to build a spite fence around a store all the way across town because it threatens his supply of some widget he needs to keep the company going, and he's afraid, terrified, if the price of that widget rises, he'll have to work harder to keep prices in check. Also, employees of another store have been seen shopping in his store, and those guys play rough. He tells you that you have to take a pay cut, because he and his friends will need to spend a lot of money building this defense and putting up a new security system around the shop, and his friends don't work cheap.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

Now, let's say that same boss comes to you and tells you that the janitor, George, is in deep trouble: his family can't afford food or medical care, his wife works two jobs, as does George, but they still can't make ends meet. He tells you that he needs to slice a tiny fraction of everyone's salary to help him stay at this job, because he works hard.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

This is 21st Century America, in a nutshell.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Something to Think About

When you want to think about the stranglehold corporations have on the US economy and her government, ponder this chain of events:

1) In 1896, Henry Ford develops his first automobile engine, the quadricycle, designed to run primarily on ethanol.

1) In 1897, Rudolph Diesel wins a patent in Germany (he was not the first, but he appears to have been the fastest to the office) for the eponymous Diesel engine, designed to run on peanut and other biologic oils. He demonstrated this engine at the 1900 Paris Exposition, winning a prize for the most important innovation at that fair.

2) In 1898, a Russian firm, Branobel, secures a patent to produce a diesel engine that will run on unrefined crude oil.

3) In 1899, Krupp and Sulzer acquire the license to manufacture Diesel's engines, and begin introducing transport vehicles from cargo ships and submarines, to trains and trucks via sublicensees.

4) In 1908, Henry Ford introduces the Model T. It originally used an advanced quadricycle engine.

5) In 1913, Rudolph Diesel dies under very mysterious circumstances while sailing across the English Channel. His body is recovered days later by fishermen. He exhibited, according to witnesses, no signs of undue stress or depression, altho the last entry in his diary was a drawing of a cross.

6) One year later, Standard Oil unveils a petroleum-based diesel fuel and begins immediately mass producing it in response to demand created by World War I and the enormous vehicles that had to be moved around. That same year, the "Free Alcohol" bill, passed by Congress in 1906, is amended, encouraging the development of ethanol-based engines.

7) From 1893 forward, John D Rockefeller, the head honcho of Standard Oil, donates $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League to help get Prohibition passed, thus prevented the manufacture of ethanol. The first Diesel-type engines were designed in 1892 (remember, Rudy was not the first, just the fastest to the patent office). Standard Oil, breaking with industry tradition, does not dump gasoline into rivers after refining crude oil. He uses it to power his machinery. He understands that it's almost pure profit.

8) The Volstead Act is passed by Congress, along with what will be the Eighteenth Amendment creating Prohibition, on October 28, 1919. Prohibition is ratified on January 16, 1920, an astoundingly quick turnaround. All mass production of alcohol, including the non-potable ethanol, ceases in the United States.

9) Henry Ford removes the ethanol (and kerosene) components from his car engines in the 1932 model year by introducing the V8 Flathead engine. 

10) Prohibition is repealed on December 5, 1933. The Eighteenth Amendment is the only Amendment repealed entirely in the Constitution.

What two names leap off the page at you, time and again? Would you call this a timeline of fuel or of a feud?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Quick Update

I realize it's been a while...a very lonnnng while...since I've written an actual piece for this blog. I've been distracted with a project that I'm working on that requires a lot more attention than I thought it would. Please accept my apologies, but once things are in place, it should be a very exciting time for us all.

I hate coding HTML...

Friday, December 05, 2014


As you may know, one of the responses on social media like Twitter and Facebook to the tragic grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, as well as to the countless stories of police abuse of power specifically against black men and boys, is for white people to contrast the treatment by cops.

The theme is for a white person to post their worst crime that they got away with, then attach the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite.

For blacks, a similar trope of #AliveWhileBlack calls for a person to post the most dangerous encounter with either the cops or a white person that they survived.

It seems sophomoric, particularly as most of the white folks end up posting things like shoplifting or driving while drunk, even getting pulled over by the cops and being sent on their way with just a ticket or worse, a warning.

As I was writing mine up (which was a little harder to figure out. I ended up settling on smuggling Cuban cigars into the States, altho there was all that public sex,) the realization of the power of this hashtag meme hit me:

See, I could smoke a joint in public. I could walk around stoned or drunk out of my gourd. I could steal a Playboy from a newsstand, or smuggle a cigar in my coat, or duck down an alley because I really had to pee, and I could do all this in front of the cops and you know what? I'd never be suspected of committing any kind of crime, and moreover, never even be subject to arrest much less a potential date with death.

My brothers and sisters of colors can't say that, they don't have that guarantee that even if they "behave themselves" -- which I'm betting they hear as "Be good little darkies," because how patronizing is it for white folks to tell black folks how to live? -- that even if they are model citizens and speak slowly and carefully and in modulated tones to a cop, they won't be arrested. They won't be thrown into a chokehold.

There's no guarantee they won't be shot. If the African American or Latino version of me ducks down an alley and a cop sees him, the cop isn't thinking that the guy just needs to pee really badly, and he's going to follow that Carl, and bad things are going to happen.

If a cop sees me standing there, back to the street, legs wide, he's going to assume I'm taking a leak and turn away, because the devil you don't know. If he sees the darker version of me, he's going to look down and see if there's something worth investigating, and even if he decides there's nothing more than an urgent call of nature, he may still decide to primp his statistics and arrest the guy.

If I'm driving too fast, the cop will pull me over and while he won't be completely relaxed until he's reached my car and ascertained I'm just a moron -- and yes, I've had cops yell at me to remain in my vehicle or keep my hands in view -- if this happens to the minority Me, he's not even going to relax once he's got my license and registration in hand.

It's a stunning realization once you start to put it in perspective, this imbalance in treatment by law enforcement officers. And here's the thing that I really want to stress: these are not random cops who are deciding to let me go while harassing a black man or Latino. In some instances, they really are all but KKK members (I know, I've dealt with a few NYPD brass who with a straight face will call black and Latinos "thugs and gang-bangers.") In most instances, these are the good guys who swear they aren't racist but who have had an institutional racism drummed into their heads from day one that a dark skinned man is scary and even subhuman.

The worst part is, they're right, they aren't really racist until they are out on the streets "To protect and serve". They forget the second part of that and are overzealous in the first. And that has to stop. And that's going to take all of us to read those hashtags and realize we have to link arms and stand up.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bernie Sanders Speaks Truth. Sort Of.

I love Bernie Sanders. I want to have his babby. 

However, I think he needs to step back from this. His agenda is too easily co-opted by moderates and conservatives. It's a nice counterculture statement of values, to be sure, but in the current environment completely unworkable. 

I've been thinking about Ferguson and the rioting and protests across the country.  

And then I found this quote from MLK, Jr: 

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than justice

When people riot for politics, when people organize for politics, they inevitably have either been subdued (Occupy) or placated (the Rodney King outrage) by some sop tossed towards them to make it a little less painful to be subdued.  

And then I remember that the Boston Tea Party was not regarded highly by colonial Americans. Indeed, until we achieved independence, the entire Revolution dangled on a thread in terms of public support. But it succeeded because it was outrageous to think it would.  

I love Bernie Sanders. I don't think he's right on this, at least with this current nation.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I know, I've been one poor correspondent, and I've been too too hard to find, but that doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind...

2014 was a tough year for everyone. I feel grateful and fortunate that I skated past a lot of crap but what I did endure was enough for two years.

I'm still not working but I have enough to live on. I haven't really pursued a job but then I've been working on other projects around my world.

I'm grateful to the Smithsonian for using seven of my photographs this year. I'm grateful to the Ocean Conservancy for using one to promote sustainable fisheries. I'm grateful to my old employer for being more than fair with me on my way out the door, and for the friends I made while in his employ.

I'm grateful for my health and my extended family, which grew a little this year in the Old Country. I'm grateful for those closest to me who helped me bridge the gap from miserable job to the quietude of self-employment. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have stopped out and gotten some of the kruft out of my personal life: you know, the kipple that builds up because you get home from a job too tired to fix this, paint that, build the other.

I'm grateful for the advice I've been gifted with and the motivations put in front of me. We all need a carrot or a stick and I'm pleased to say that I've eaten more carrots than splinters.

And finally, I'm grateful for you, gentle reader. Often, I'll see echoes of something I've written in some of the strangest places and I know that, while I have a tiny readership, you are influential. I feel good about you and about this blog.

Thank you, all. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Why Dems Lose Midterms

The preliminary numbers are in, and voter turnout was at a record low nationwide.

Conventional wisdom says that each party, Republican and Democrat, can count on roughly 45% of the vote, no matter what. The last ten percent is what you need to win an election.

First, I think the percentages have expanded a bit. I think Dems and Republicans can regularly count, other things being equal, on about 47, maybe 48% in every election.

So if 100% of the voting population (let's call it 200,000,000 just to make this easy) shows up, Republicans and Democrats can count on....carry the one...94,000,000 votes each. The battle for power then takes place over 12,000,000 votes.

If 50% of the population votes, the battle is over 6 million. If 40%, then 5 million, and so on.

As I said, that's conventional wisdom and with other things being equal. And those may hold true, given recent evidence, in Presidential elections.

After all, Democrats have won the past three Presidential vacancies on popular vote, with Al Gore capturing more votes than President Bush in 2000. Mind you, only 50-60% of the eligible population has bothered voting in those elections, as well as 1996, 2004, and 2012.

So you'd think midterms would just be Presidential elections writ small: in a 40% population, the battle should be over 5 million votes and races should be pretty close. But it's not.

You see, the drop off in population is assumed to be equal for both sides: the excuses transcend party affiliation -- too busy, family commitments, it's just the "local races".

That's pretty simplistic thinking, however. For one thing, Republicans tends to skew older, which means more are retired and living off Social Security with plenty of time on their hands. They aren't struggling to make a mortgage payment or to get the kids to and from school on time. Voting is, in fact, a small vacation from the day-to-day drudgery of listening to right wing talk radio all day.

In 2010, the voting demographics were such that roughly 65% of the voters were over 45. In 2014, that rate was also 65%. But in 2012, the rate was down to 54%, with young adult voters, between 29 and 45, grasping a 3-5% larger share of the vote. Young voters, 18-29, saw a spike in 2012 to almost 20%, up from the low teens in off-years.

Let's crunch numbers just a bit more: the percentage of older voters who voted Democratic versus Republican was essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2014. Republicans actually lost voters below 45 (about a percent net drop), particularly voters with families and children who may be supporting elderly know, the ones voting Republican?

What does all this mean? Simply put, it means that despite the Democrats excellent GOTV messaging and efforts, despite the social media presence that Democrats have, Republicans were simply able to move more voters to the polls from their base than Democrats were.

This suggests to me that conventional wisdom falls apart in midterm elections, that it's not about persuading uncommitted voters but in persuading your base to get riled up enough to vote.

Yes, riled up. This is the key to Republican victory and yes, it's a goddamn cynical way to run a campaign, but think about it for a moment.

The last six years has been about tarring and feathering Barack Obama, minimizing his accomplishments while maximizing any potential "scandals" into full blown crises.

Birth certificate. Benghazi. ISIS. Ebola. The Grand Deal on the budget blowing up and creating the shutdown (yes, that's on Boehner, but facts don't matter here, only perception), Sandy Hook and the subsequent ineffectiveness to pass gun control legislation somehow proving simultaneously that Tyrant Obama was coming for your guns but was still a weak leader (again, facts and perceptions don't match), the IRS "scandal" (again, Republicans tasked the IRS with the investigation, then triggered the trap), the NSA tapping phones.

And of course, Obamacare coming to take your Medicare away.

I want you to think about Yelp for a moment. Or YouTube. Or even your local paper. Who comments most on these sites? Who writes those Letters to the Editor?

Angry people. More correctly, frightened people.

Fear and anger motivate people more than persuasion and coaxing. The Democrats are starting to see that -- think about all those DNC emails you had streaming into your mailbox constantly, pleading for funds because OMG! We're going out of business! -- but we don't play that game particularly well.

It's hard to play a game of fear when you have the solutions in place already.

Too, this game is going to start showing diminishing returns for Republicans as well: angry white people are dying off, which is why you're seeing them make real attempts to reach out to minorities like Mia Love, literally a token attempt to make nice with the African American community. And women.

(Side note: did you ever imagine these five words appearing side by side in a sentence? "Black woman Republican from Utah"?)

They've done this before, of course, trotting out their "diversity platform" at the 2012 national convention, only to have the cameras turn to a predominantly...ok, ALL white audience. It sees like they rounded up every dark face in the hall, including janitors and ticket takers, and stood them up in front of the John Birch Society.

But I digress: it should be chilling to the DNC, the DCCC and the DSCC that Mia Love won her election this time around (it was her second try). She's young, attractive and precisely the kind of figurehead Republicans need to bring some youth to the party. She's in Utah, which will negate some of her opportunities to appear on camera regularly but she'll be pushed hard by the party to bring a fresh face to the image.

We may not have a lock on minority youth going forward, one of our base stanchions.

Democrats have four years to come up with a better plan than "We don't apologize for the amazing things we've accomplished, but please don't punish us for them!" The DCCC and DSCC in particular have to come up with leadership that's going to investigate thoroughly how to motivate our base, because our base disappears on us in between Presidential elections.

I think we're safe in 2016 so long as our candidate is a good one, a woman preferably (women really let us down in 2014) because that would energize the base the way Barack Obama did in 2008 (and in truth, Hillary would have, too). There's a lot of energy out there for a woman President and we ought to take advantage of that. We'll pick up a lot of Republican Senate seats that were captured in the 2010 midterms (see? There it is again) by Republicans who drove angry voters to the polls.

Senators like Ayotte (NH), Rubio (FL) and Toomey (PA) are in the sights, of course, as well as Kirk (IL) and Johnson (WI) who may end up getting beaten by Russ Feingold in a rematch. Even John McCain's seat is in play as the Latino population of Arizona has reached a point where they will be players in voting. There are 12 seats the Republicans are vulnerable in right now, and they have to defend an additional 13. Democrats only hold ten or so seats in that cycle, so they have cash to burn.

It's 2018 that becomes a challenge, mostly because (and its early, I know) Dems have an awful lot of seats in play -- 20 -- five of which could be deemed toss ups right now along with two Republican seats. Many of those seats were won in Obama's re-election landslide.

So how to get Democrats to the polls? There's the rub.

That issue could conceivably take care of itself over the next two years. Republicans have a knack for overdoing things -- remember privatizing Social Security? Bush's political capital? -- and driving our voters to the polls for us, and 2014 saw the election of a fresh crop of batshit insane Republicans, some of whom are even now Senators (a body that for the most part had remained immune to the Teabaggers, save Ted Cruz and maybe Rand Paul).

But that's not going to last until 2018, particularly if 2016 absolves Republicans of owning the mess they will create until then.

We don't do anger well. And we don't have bogeymen. Republicans have those people -- altho they seem to be open to making them our people now. Or they have those other people. Or terrorists. Or liberals. We don't do fear well either.

We do hypocrisy well but that doesn't drive people to get out and vote unless its such undeniable hypocrisy that you can't ignore it. That was 2006. Republicans were going to lose seats anyway as always happens in the midterms for the party in the White House, but they lost them in such massive fashion you'd think Dems would rule forever. That was in large part because of scandal after scandal after scandal bringing down Republicans left and right.

One thing I think might work is, rather than running from our record, getting out there and drumming it like a rented bass drum. We do good work, and one complaint that seems to stick in the electorate is "Both sides do it!"

Both sides work for the corporatocracy (partly true but reversible for the Dems). Both sides are corrupt (definitely true). Both sides try to hurt the little guy.

Demonstrably false but if we don't talk about the issues, about the work on the issues, Democrats will continue to lose the narrative.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Two Years' Vacation

A couple of points to be made about last night's midterm elections.

1) The election map last night was singularly antithetical to Democrats. To put it in terms conservatives understand, we were playing in their ballpark.  Of the seats in play last night, an aggregate 46% voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Many of the seats the Democrats defended (and lost) last night were taken in the 2008 Obamaslide and naturally reverted back to better reflect the redness of the underlying midterm electorate. Which brings me to point 2.

2) In 2016, the map reverses. That election, before we even know who the candidates are, will see at least five or six seats that conservatives picked up in the 2010 reactionary midterm elections go blue again. Having 52 only (literally, only) seats now guarantees a minority status by 2017 as most of the states where Republicans gained seats in 2010 were carried -- and in big numbers, including Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Illinois -- by Obama in 2012. Democrats will only be defending 10 seats, while Republicans will defend 24, meaning resources and money are stretched thin in a year that will see a) a Presidential election suck up more resources and b) a larger turnout which always...always...means Democratic victories. Which brings me to point 3.

3) Voter turnout in midterm elections usually lag turnout in Presidential elections by about twenty percent nationwide. While numbers are far from final, preliminary data suggests that trend probably continued in 2014. That Democrats were competitive in states like North Carolina with such low voter turnout means that Republicans are far from dominant. They're dominant in the way an NBA player would be against the girls' junior varsity captain: they sort of had everything set up the right way this time around.

So the watchwords for the next two years are "filibuster" and "veto". Expect a lot of right wing whining about both, and about Obama's golf game.

What? You thought they didn't read the maps? This is why they made such a big issue about it this year, to set up the next two years. In fact, Obama demonstrated to me a singular vision in avoiding the campaign trail. In 2016, he can look like a kingmaker.

The conservative strategy of nickel-and-diming the President succeeded to a degree. It was not as successful as they believe but it was more successful than it should have been. Democrats should have been out in front of him, taking the heat off him, especially these last two years. They weren't. This could not have but contributed to his lack of enthusiasm for them.

Now, back to filibusters and vetoes. First, understand that McConnell will do nothing about them. He can't. Not because he doesn't want to (altho he might not) and not because his base doesn't want him to (they do) but because without a Republican President, there's no point in changing a rule you'll benefit from two years down the road.

But suppose he does decide to trigger the nuke. Obama vetoes any bill that comes up the pipe. It goes back for an overturn. It might pass the House, but the Senate requires a 2/3 majority, too. 67 votes is simply not happening.

The likely outcome? A government shutdown over Obamacare. Again. Because shutdowns worked soooooo well the last two times for Republicans. They'll become an even more distant smear on the rearview mirror of America.

The other area of concern is the Supreme Court. Ginsburg is feeling her age, and its long been rumored she wants too retire. Likewise, Breyer. Here I think cooler heads will prevail and as long as the President doesn't want to upset the ideological apple cart (and John Roberts appears comfortable with the other eight justices, and I suspect he'll have some sway here), he and McConnell can horse trade.

Keep in mind, then, that the 2016 election looms large in the Court, and Scalia and Kennedy are both 78. I doubt they want to see 85 in chambers.

The takeaway from last night's election, however, is something I've hinted at and discussed in broad strokes but something America should contemplate as the far larger flaw in our process: turnout.

Nate Silver called last night's election the least important election in decades, and he's probably right at a national level. But as John Oliver noted, legislation is not being done at the Federal level at all. It's being left to the state and local governments, and this is where the money of the Kochs and Adelsons has been the most pernicious (remember gerrymandering? ALEC? Those are happening in state and municipals leges all around the country).

You see, it doesn't matter that there's gridlock at the top. That is precisely what the Kochs of the world want. Right now they are enjoying tremendous financial rewards given to them by the political party stupid enough to sell the birthright of a nation to them. They have lower taxes, a nonexistent regulatory body, and the ability to buy and trade people. Literally, buy and sell people.

The only way to stop them, the only way to take back our country, is to turn up and vote. Why else do you think the Kochs (NB. By "Kochs" I now expand the term to mean billionaires bent on destroying America) and their minions are putting up roadblocks to voting? It's the only way, the only way, they can maintain their hegemony long enough to siphon the nation dry and move on before they die.

As the saying goes, if the 99% voted, it wouldn't matter what the 1% wanted.

Here's why: the corporatists can count on about a third of the vote to go their way, without any persuasion needed and a third of the vote to go against them as unpersuadable. In an off year, that's roughly 60 million of 90 million votes in aggregate they don't have to buy (I know the percentage split slightly differs in minions/opponents but in aggregate, its about the same).

Now imagine if 240 million people suddenly showed up to vote. Now you're talking about persuading not an additional 30 million but 80 million. and now you have to not only advertise on the local news shows and FOX but on sports networks and prime time television as many more of these don't vote because they work a couple of jobs and raise families and study for classes. You have to make a real effort and the cost/benefit ratio gets skewed against you.

There's only so much campaign money to go around, no matter how many billions you have banked.

And the other benefit of a 99% turnout: politicians wouldn't be able to pander to their base and expect them to lift the wagon over the tougher waters. They wouldn't be able to blame those people for our ills because  those people can and will actually punish them at the polls now. They wouldn't be able to smear another candidate for hoaxed behavior because, guess what? We'd be talking about the issues that matter and any politician who tried to deflect the conversation would find themselves quickly losing ground. 60% of the voting population is turned off because of "politics as usual" but if those 60% voted, it would no longer be politics as usual.

This is something liberals need to focus on: not the GOTV every two years or so, but a long term commitment to persuading people that its in their best interest to vote early and vote often, at least in the course of their lifetimes.

See, we win when they vote. It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Real Ebola Epidemic

Let's look at some facts.

1) The current Ebola outbreak began last December in southern Guinea, when a 2 year old boy contracted the disease, likely from a fruit bat or perhaps consuming bushmeat (monkey), altho no one can be certain. Since December 2013, 5,000 people have died from the disease, nearly all of them in west Africa.

2) On March 24, 2014, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) opened up a treatment facility in Guinea. At that point, 59 people had died, and a further 30 or so had contracted the disease. Shortly after, MSF began soliciting volunteer healthcare professionals to work in their ever-expanding facilities. Generally, a volunteer will serve about 8 weeks on a tour. This means that dozens if not hundreds of people have been to the hot zone and returned without incident.

3) Indeed, the first case of Ebola appearing on American soil was Dr. Kent Brantly, followed quickly by Nancy Writebol, both contracting the disease in Liberia this fall, both treated and recovered. Since then, three other Americans have been evacuated to the States and have recovered. None infected anyone else. This includes the freelance photographer Ashoka Mukpo, who worked closely with an NBC news crew that included Dr, Nancy Snyderman (more about her later).

4) The first death from Ebola on US soil occurred in the case of Thomas Eric Duncan.  Not only was his case fatal (and mishandled all around) but he managed to infect two nurses caring for him: Nina Pham and Amber Vinson. Both have recovered.

5) A fourth diagnosed case of Ebola on American soil (Duncan, Pham and Vinson being the first three) occurred this past weekend when Dr. Craig Spencer returned from Guinea and became ill, but not before appearing in public, taking public transportation and engaging in some social activities, including bowling. He may even have sweated a little.

And now we get to the real epidemic over Ebola. You'll notice that for the better part of a year, doctors and nurses had traveled to and from the outbreak with nary a peep from anyone.

And then came Ken Brantly, and it seemed as tho spontaneously our own hot zone had sprung up. Despite the fact that evacuation protocols for a known Ebola case had been put into motion, despite the fact that we've handled worse epidemic outbreaks on American soil (hantavirus springs to mind) and contained diseases, the handwringing fem the diaper-clad set began, fomented in large part by the true epidemic of 2014, FOX News.

The fact that Dr. Nancy Snyderman, upon learning that her cameraman, Mukpo, had contracted the disease promised to self-quarantine for 21 days and then very publicly breaking her own promise, didn't help. FOX, sensing a chance to get a leg up on a competitor, made hay while the sun shined on Dr. Snyderman.

Turning the heat on the panic up a lot. You see, Snyderman returned in early October, just days after the Duncan case was blared around the headlines, including his transmission to Nina Pham.

Never mind that Snyderman didn't contract the disease. Never mind that Duncan didn't infect his family, with whom he shared close contact for the better part of a week. We now had a transmitted case of Ebola on American soil and a celebrity doctor flouting her own rules (and to be sure, perhaps she shouldn't have made a promise she wasn't going to keep.)

The panic that these two incidents created should have been a wake up call to MSF to alter their guidelines for returning volunteers to be acutely aware of the very real epidemic of panic that had been whipped up in the States. By all accounts, for instance, Dr. Spencer followed the guidelines existing at the time for monitoring, except that he rationalized a sluggish feeling as jet lag as opposed to getting to a hospital or doctor immediately.

That he then took a very public form of transportation -- the NYC subway -- and engaged in some socializing after two months in the bush made his case almost automatically a scare headline.

And we Americans will panic at the drop of a hat. Just ask any ammosexual: after six years of Obama's presidency, they still have all their guns (and many more) but swear they will be taken away.

We really are children. Colleges have revoked acceptances of African students, Syracuse University barred an appearance by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who had returned -- three weeks earlier and Ebola free -- from the region, and Harvard has imposed stern limits on students and faculty from traveling to West Africa. A school in Cleveland was shut down and disinfected after it was learned a staffer was on the same flight as nurse Vinson. Parents in Mississippi, which suffers from a far worse epidemic of ignorance, threatened to keep their kids out of school after it was discovered the principal had traveled to Zambia, 3,000 miles from the nearest Ebola outbreak.  A Maine teacher was put on 21 day paid leave just for visiting Dallas for a conference.

And then there's this...

Panic will kill more Americans than this disease. Mark my words.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Peek Inside the Conservative Mind

WARNING: Below, you will be exposed to toxic thinking and noxious conclusions from right-wing partisans. A Level Four HazMat suit is recommended. The CDC will NOT be available for protection. You have been warned. Proceed with caution. Should you experience nausea, vomiting, tearing eyes, a rise in blood pressure SHUT DOWN YOUR BROWSER IMMEDIATELY and seek expert medical attention from Doctors Jack Daniels or Jim Beam.

The Ebola crisis is, in point of fact, a manufactured crisis. Media outlets, tired of covering insipid and meaningless political horse races found a sexy and dangerous news item and not only ran with it, but decided to tie it into the politics of the day.

The prevailing wisdom, of course, is this crisis reflects badly on the CDC. I suppose when you push a false narrative, it has to. After all, the CDC is supposed to be on top of "crises" like these, and handle them with aplomb.

Tell that to the 20,000 AIDS victims who died before the CDC even got their boots on back under Reagan.

In point of fact, the real enemy of the American people is, not surprisingly, the GOP, and Texans specifically. It's no surprise that this outbreak occurred in the state least able to handle an outbreak. Texas has great hospitals -- the heart transplant was practically perfected in Houston -- and clearly there's enough oil money down there to import the finest doctors who want a live of luxury.

Before we get into this too deeply, let's take a look at the timeline of the outbreak:

On September 15, Thomas Eric Duncan becomes exposed to the Ebola virus when he accompanies a pregnant friend to a hospital in Liberia, who believes she is miscarrying. According to the cab driver, they tried four hospitals. None would see her (this echoes later in the tale. You'd like to think the States would be different...). The next day, the friend dies.

On September 19, Duncan leaves Liberia to visit family in Texas. He cannot fly directly to the States, so he flies to Brussels, then DC, then Dallas. He is not symptomatic. Much has been made by the lunatic reactionary fringe of the fact that Duncan "knew" he had the virus, as he quit his job on September 4, and arranging a visa to the US, but that's patently untrue. The visa was of long standing and his girlfriend had moved here long before the contact.

That Ebola was an unmanageable problem in Liberia may have contributed to his decision to leave, but there is no evidence that Duncan even saw a doctor prior to Dallas, much less received a diagnosis. Indeed, all reputable sources point to the September 15 trip as the first time he even sets foot in a hospital and that was for his neighbor.

On September 24, Duncan is symptomatic: fever, and nausea. Two days later, he decides to go to the emergency room, since a) he has no insurance and b) Ronald Reagan mandated that no emergency room may turn away a patient without treatment.

At Texas Presbyterian, Duncan tells a nurse he recently arrived from Liberia but that information does not get passed along because, Texas (In NYC, by contrast, emergency rooms routinely have maps of the world that staff can refer to on which disease outbreaks by nation are charted.) Conservatives have gotten this part wrong endlessly, preferring to point to one interview where the TPH staff said no one was aware of his recent travels. Malpractice suit number one.

TPH, suspecting a low grade virus, send him home with a prescription for antibiotics. Antibiotics, it should be pointed out, are completely ineffective against any virus. Malpractice suit number two.

Two days later, on September 28, EMTs are dispatched to Duncan's home who bring him to the hospital. None of the EMTs have developed Ebola symptoms, we should note. And they would have had less reason to suspect Ebola than the hospital staff. Protocols were followed.

It's not until September 29 that the CDC receives even the most cursory notification of a possible Ebola case, when a relative of Duncan's calls them. He gets shuffled about, and the CDC has not confirmed this phone call, although the State Department, to whom the relative was referred, does acknowledge receiving a call, but that the relative and others who State interviewed denied that Duncan was exposed to Ebola (possibly fearing deportation, or at the very least, quarantine, I suspect).

September 30, four days after the first hospital visit, Duncan tests positive for Ebola. Up to 20 people would have come in contact with him prior to protocols being put in place. The hospital executives have admitted that the initial response to Duncan's case was pathetically, almost laughably, bad.

As you now know, two nurses contracted Ebola from Duncan. One, Nina Pham, was symptomatic as of October 12. It's possible that she came into contact with Duncan's bodily fluids before the protocols would have been triggered, as Ebola may, and I stress may, not have been diagnosed yet (altho the mind wobbles at how you don't put full hazmat gear on for a vomiting patient, no matter what the condition).

Also on October 12, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins orders a watch list of people who came into contact with Duncan be created.

Yet, a moron, one Amber Vinson, gets on a plane the very next day from Cleveland back to Dallas. Malpractice suit number three.

Stories vary about whether the CDC okayed her travel. Vinson and her partisans have suggested the CDC cleared her. The CDC, however, maintains they tried to persuade her not to travel but ultimately relented for her return to Dallas, for reasons unknown.

Mind you, the responsibility for Vinson self-quarantining would have been TPH's and the Dallas department of health, not the CDC. Dallas authorities had already quarantined the Duncan family. The Jenkins order suggests they could have done the same as they identified potential patients.

But it's the CDC's fault. Of course. Because they are the Federal government run by the black guy in public housing.

Never mind that the combined budget for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health were cut 44% in the budget deal last year that re-opened the Federal government.

(And a side note: if this had happened in 2013 under the shutdown, the Republicans would have been revealed as the treasonous bastards they are, since the CDC would have been completely prevented from doing anything except maybe issuing warnings.)

Never mind that we still don't have a Surgeon General, who might have been able to move more quickly on this matter and certainly brought more resources to bear to deal with this problem, because the NRA has vetoed the most recent candidate.

And never mind that the last time the Feds imposed a mandatory quarantine on ANYone, they ended up getting sued (altho a judge threw the case out.)

This is not an epidemic. This is not even an outbreak. We may still see a few more cases in the States, but for the most part, by October 1, the disease was back under control. It's more like a wildfire than a flu. But you'd hardly know that watching the conservative media like FOX News or CNN.

The missteps here are many, and kudos to the CDC for admitting they could have been quicker on the draw -- they could have -- but the bulk of the evidence suggests the problem lies in Texas: in it's poor healthcare system, lack of universal health insurance, and "damn the rules, I'll do what I want" rugged individualism.

Also, the fact that Duncan was not white may have played a role in his treatment at the hospital. I would like to think not, but I'll keep an open mind because this is Texas, after all.

All this occurs over a backdrop of precisely one Ebola death, the fellow who brought it here, and two additional confirmed cases.

Keep in mind that in the same time frame that this "crisis" has unfolded, there have been a thousand deaths by gun in this country.

THAT'S a crisis.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living for a Human Being

The cool inky darkness of a late September morning slipped past me like motor oil as I plunged my pedals earthward, propelling myself up the moderate incline of the bridge to another borough.

I hate riding this bridge, yet it is a lifeline to most of the cycling events in New York City. This bridge has dual anxieties: at once, it is both a lonely ride this early in the morning, yet a ride to be terrified to share the roadway on. The bike and pedestrian path is very narrow and at its pinnacle, there's a very short fence. It would not take much to fall hundreds of feet into the icy maelstrom below.

This bridge, it creeps me out every time I cross it. Cross it, I must. It seems pointless to ride a subway for an hour to get to a starting line when a ten minute bike ride through Harlem serves the same purpose.

I'm lit up like a Christmas tree when I ride this time of the morning, in an hour that I can count on the fingers of one hand. It's quiet. It's peaceful. I ride slowly, deliberately feeling each millisecond of each pedal stroke, assessing how my legs feel. Sometimes, the bridge wins and I end up walking my bike part way across, a function of too much too soon before I've warmed up. Most times, my bike wins.

The noise and vibrations of the roadway transcend to the bike path, as the bridge is a major trucking thoroughfare. Sometimes, the chain link fences along the roadway will rattle as if a gangbanger dragged a 2x4 along the metal wires, a function of heavy wheels and metal bridge joints in the road bed.

And did I mention the stairs? There are stairs to climb or descend, depending on your point of view.

This year, I've had three bikes.

(You may recall a post from a few months back about my accident. That bike, Shadowfax, was totaled, so I replaced that boy with a new girl.) The blue girl, Tiamat, has not been on a ride yet. I only just purchased her and I've been busy with other things.

I made a choice this year to do the "touristycle" thing: all the NYC rides that attract people from all around the world: the Gran Fondo and Five Boro Bike tour, Escape New York and yes, the City Century.

In their own ways, each of these beat me, or more to the point, I let them beat me. The accident didn't help, to be sure. It's a little disconcerting when I realize how close I came to being dead, and never even saw it coming until it happened. I heard a screech, felt something smack me on the ass, and next thing I know, I've got a new bike. A split second, maybe a hundredth of a second, was all that stood between me and a grave. That threw me off any momentum I had built training to that point. That was what? The end of June? 

But more than that, I learned this year that I didn't even know myself that well. 

Its funny. I pride myself on my "nosce te ipsum", knowing myself. And I suppose I should have known that, once in these events, I would go flat out. That's who I am: I have two speeds -- full out, and fuller outer. 

So I burned out. I cracked hard on some hills. I finished them all but I forgot the first rule of riding which is to ride within yourself.

On the Fondo, I found myself racing the sweep wagon, the vehicle that organizers will send out along the route at a pace that should coincide with the slowest possible speed a rider can finish in the allotted time. That was a little embarrassing, particularly as it caught me just ahead of the finish line, but I guess they figured by the time they stopped me and loaded my bike, I could have been across the line on my own steam. My legs were jelly when it passed me, but when it passed me, I found the few strands of muscle fiber left and cranked my way over the finish.

But there was a lot more to the season than just these rides. I made several training rides that I'm very proud of, including the ride that saw my bike destroyed (if I had finished that ride cleanly, it would have topped out somewhere north of 85 miles and would have positioned me perfectly for a century). I did some other tours and rides that I completed, not just finished, in style. Beer at the finish is a powerful incentive. 

I saw some beautiful sunrises, and took some awesome photos. I met and chatted with hundreds of people, many of whom I've seen from time to time out on their bikes, too. I had a lot going on in my life, and though cycling has always been a way to put those aside, this year it almost became an encumbrance: gearing up, watching weather reports, maintaining my bikes, figuring out routes (that one, especially after the accident, was troubling). 

It's October now. The oily darkness smears across the sky earlier and lingers later now. I'll still ride, probably into December, but it will be once, maybe twice a week. I'll revel in the freedom even if it now means keeping one eye and one ear cocked to the rear.

And dream of next year.       

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Wages of Capitalism

Winston Churchill once famously said of Democracy, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." Oddly, he also said, "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

I say "oddly," because of Naomi Klein and her new book, This Changes Everything.

In it, Klein points out the inherent contradiction that capitalism will somehow solve a problem that capitalism created and that the ultimate solution to climate change will only come when a critical mass of people around the globe realize that the problem with capitalism is, well, it's capitalism. It's an economic system that relies on the basest of human urges to fuel it, thus guaranteeing its success at destroying civilization.

I suspect that there are going to be a series of books by Klein exploring this aspect of capitalism in other areas, but let me outline some of them for you.

1) Capitalism versus religion and morality -- This should pretty much be self-explanatory, of course. Religion is about the masses, and by definition, the masses tend to be poor. In a self-styled Christian society in particular, capitalism is going to be anathema to the message of religion.

But there are aspects of this conflict that need to be addressed. Like democracy, greed warps religion. Just look at Sunday television in any backwater flyover area. Watch the megachurches that care less about the soul of the viewer or audience and more about the pocketbook of the preacher. Capitalism has realized there's money to be made in religion, money that flows to the corporatocracy.

After all, those Sunday church shows, you don't think they're on because they generate ratings for the cable company, do you? They pay for air time, and pay a lot of money. Pastors like Joel Osteen and John Hagee have to instill fear (or desperate hope in Osteen's case) in their parishioners in order to get donations to afford those fees that ratchet up with each new contract. They are infomercials for God and the reason you see so many of them on so many channels is they make a lot of money for the television provider, and no other reason.

This is also why so many churches -- and not just megachurches but your local parish, too -- have abandoned all pretext of a separation of church and state and gone straight for the gut of Barack Obama: they need fear to get donations so they can afford to stay in business.

This isn't religion: this is capitalism turning religion into professional wrestling.

There's a built in army of sheep ready to devour this on their way to the slaughterhouse, too. In one respect, Marx was right that religion is the opiate of the people. It does make things a bit easier to accept your lot in life here when you have the carrot of everlasting happiness dangling in front of you while the mass beats your mule-ass with the stick of eternal damnation.

It makes it easy to scare people when they're already terrified. Just ask FOX News.

But even if you're an atheist, capitalism is anathema to a polite society. It encourages crime. It's right there in the speech that Gordon Gecko gives in Wall Street: " good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

2) Capitalism versus liberty -- I found it really ironic that a roar and cry went up when it was revealed that the US government was engaged in domestic spying on potentially all its citizens.

After all, we have already been paying for the privilege of that spying for decades now, but to a capitalist construct of a private corporation. Internet cookies are the prime example. but your credit card info has been recorded, data churned and analyzed so that marketers have gotten really good at not only guessing what you'd be interested in buying, but how and where you plan on using it.

Now, you can opt out of that spying, to a limited degree: don't shop online, don't use a credit card, don't join Facebook or Twitter, don't use an EZPass or a Metrocard, but you can't erase your image from all the private security cameras set up around the nation. You can't stop facial recognition software from identifying you when you're at a register, about to hand over a few bucks to buy a CD (remember, you can't download off iTunes).

You can't prevent your emails from being sifted (Gmail is notorious for that) for data and information. You can block cookies, but you can't stop your computer from sending out information to software and hardware providers for diagnostics.

All this is data and information that someone will pay a lot of money for in order to market to you. You're not free. You've never been free. It's all an illusion.

3) Capitalism versus democracy -- let's get right to the nub of Churchill's dichotomy. Democracy is a great form of government in that it's not the absolute worst. It has some very deep flaws that are systemic, mostly centering around the fact that the majority decides things.

That's fair, of course, in a society where information is perfect and cannot be bought and sold -- and there's your hint.

The Founders tried in their quaint little 18th Century manner to prevent that from happening, building checks and balances into the Constitution that preserved the rights of the minority to live in peace when most of their fellow Americans disagreed with them.

The Founders could never have foreseen a rapacious plutocracy that has greater devotion to their bank accounts than to the nation as a whole -- remember, this is a group of plutocrats who vowed their lives and fortunes to this new nation. They assumed anyone who came after would likewise feel the same sense of patriotism, or at least deep gratitude towards the nation that allowed them to "build that."

After all, if I can move billions of dollars oversees with the tap of an Enter key for a greater return than I can get at home, why would I care if that keystroke denies people outside my gates food or education or safety? Why would I bother even fixing the problems here since they don't affect me at all? My money, safely in China where people have it even worse off, is making more money there than it can here, and I can spend some of it to inoculate myself from the troubles outside my gate.

And that inoculation doesn't end with a higher fence or more security guards. It demands that I be pro-active and start expanding my buffers from society at large, because I sense the resentment around me. So maybe I buy a school board first, in order to make sure my children and grandchildren get the kind of schooling they should. And since I pay taxes, I should have a greater say in that education (buh bye democracy!) Next, there's the city council, since they maintain my water and sewer pipes, and in exchange I pay a high property tax. I ought to get a bigger say in how those taxes are spent (usually on education, but also on services like trash pickup and social services for people less fortunate than I. You know, "takers")

It used to be "one man, one vote" -- and even that was predicated on both gender and race, as well as property ownership (one of the great flaws of the Founders was limiting democracy at all).

It has gone from "one man, one vote," to "one dollar, one vote." And that is because of capitalism and its inherent pandering to the greed of people.

There's another quote in Wall Street that I'll end with. Also by Gordon Gecko. Keep in mind this takes place in the late 80s when you read it: "The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?"

And now keep in mind that movie is at the top of the hundred best list for nearly every stockbroker over the past thirty years. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I, Too, Have Often Tried to Fuck Trees

I ran across this item at Addicting Info today:
A community made up of American ex-pats deep in the South American hills of Chile – far away from America’s annoying taxes, healthcare mandate, and legal abortions — was supposed to be a libertarian paradise of rugged individualism. Instead it cost many of the people who bought into it almost everything, and now is buried under lawsuits — a reminder that everything that glitters is not inflation-proof, Ron Paul-backed gold. 
It seems pretty obvious that basing one’s society on a single work of (poorly written) fiction is folly, but for many adherents of Ayn Rand and her seminal book of Objectivist allegorical grandstanding, Atlas Shrugged isn’t just any book. It’s about as close to the Bible that many libertarians have — apart from the Bible, of course. It’s influenced an astounding number of conservative public figures — from Ron Paul to Rand Paul to Ronald Reagan. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Rand-loving running mate and probable 2016 presidential contender, said it was his favorite book growing up.
I don't think I have to analyze the immediate idiocy involved, do I? You didn't build that means that, well, you couldn't build it.

But let me personalize the tale of woe for you:
GGC is an environmentally protected area and it would take the political movement of heaven and earth to allow a community based on small lots to be officially approved. I had the opportunity to ask a question of the salesman who showed my husband and me “our property.” I claimed it because I fell head over heels for the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. I felt an instant connection as though the two of us were old souls who had found each other. I could believe it, I could see it… waking up each morning and having coffee under that tree, telling it about my plans for the day.
Never mind the splinters implied, focus on that first sentence. Galt's Gulch Chile advertised lots as small as 1.5 acres (for $48,500. Remember, this is Chile, not California) but were prevented from selling them because...government regulation. In Chile.

And did that stop the shysters at GGC? Nope. They knowingly sold 1.5 acre lots on a piece of land zoned for nothing smaller than 10 acre subdivisions.

And now, your moment of Zen:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Imagine if ITN or The Guardian were to write an article, "Why is Alabama breeding so many racists?" and you'll understand why this is just a stupid article for NBC to publish. Bad form, chaps. Bad form.
2) So far, I've ducked this whole ice bucket challenge thing, but here's my idea: I'm going to write a check on camera to the ALS charity of my choice, then issue my challenge to three people to post check-writing videos. While ALS is a worthy cause (my dad was diagnosed with it along with about a million other conditions before he finally died of what they called "multi system atrophy," which essentially means "We don't know what the fuck he had but it was serious!") it's sucking the air out of the charitable universe and really, and for a genetic disorder that might affect as few as 30,000 Americans. I'd rather see this kind of effort made for breast cancer or gun control.
In fact, come to think of it, I'll write my check to the Brady folks.
3) The reason Ferguson has such a powerful hold over our attention span boils down to this: Ferguson is a micro-laboratory representative of what is happening nationwide, I think. Despite a significant minority population, blacks and Hispanics don't have a real say in anything that governs them. For a nation built upon "No taxation without representation," this sticks mightily in our craw.
4) On that note:

5) Damn. I picked Florida as the "Last State Standing"...
6) Now, you might think this is good news for global warming but in fact, it's terrible news. At the bottom of the Atlantic lies a layer of ice with vast quantities of methane trapped within. That warms up, the methane bubbles up and it's goodbye Greenland!
7) Reefs talk to fish? Who knew!
8) It's not just legal weed that has the West getting higher.
9) Florida, ladies and gentlemen.
10) Oh my.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Disconnect

According to a study released Monday by Feeding America, 1 in 7 households in the United States now rely on food banks.
Ridge is typical of millions of Americans who rely on food banks to survive: She is in poor health and lives on disability payments as she undergoes chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. But as a nationwide study released Monday by the nonprofit group Feeding America makes clear, the number of people who rely on food pantries, soup kitchens, school lunch programs, senior citizens' Meals on Wheels deliveries, or other food initiatives to supplement their daily diet is a complex and growing mosaic that cuts across the nation's demographic lines. 
About one in seven Americans—more than 46 million people—rely on such programs to get by, according to the study, which involved confidential surveys of more than 60,000 recipients of food aid from groups affiliated with Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks that distribute donated food to programs in all 50 states. 
The ranks of the hungry include 12 million children and 7 million seniors, plus millions more among the working poor, military families, the unemployed, and young college graduates. Those in each group said their reliance on food aid stemmed from a daily struggle to put healthy and nutritious food on the table when all that many can afford is inexpensive processed food that fuels a cycle of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
14% of Americans. 40% of those the most vulnerable citizens in the country: the young and the elderly. And mind you, these are food banks, which people rely on to fill in the gaps in their public assistance. Here's a mind-boggling statistic: 86% of people on "food stamps" exhaust their monthly stipend within the first three weeks of the month.

Eighty. Six. Percent. So we're not talking about an abuse problem. We're talking about a starvation problem. In America. In the 21st Century.

We're talking about people dropping dead in the streets and on the roads of America. We're talking about a hidden Great Depression that the media has managed to avoid really covering because the stock market is doing so well.

We're talking about working class people, mostly employed, trying to get by and eat enough so they don't lose their jobs to health issues.

In 2008, in response to an alarming rise of 24% in people who were suffering the euphemistic "food insecurity," Congress passed emergency legislation to supplement the food assistance programs.

Last year, Republicans repealed that act of "kindness". This year, 46 million people are starving.

Conservatives suck.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Greetings from Bonaire!

Sorry for the silence lately, but these little fellows have been keeping me busy.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Today, I Am the Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth

No, I’m not dying…well, not yet. A series of events have conflued and I am able to take an extended sabbatical from all forms of wage-earning to pursue some things in my personal and artistic life. I anticipate at least a month off, but more likely, I will be off work until the end of the year.

It’s a beautiful opportunity to write, shoot photos, dive and vacation, and release some of the stress that working some 40 years (since sophomore year of college) has built into my body. Mostly, I get to clean up the rat hole I live in and ride my bike to boot.

I’m excited and terrified, at the same moment. This is now on me. I don’t have a boss to complain about – the Bag of Salted Rat Dicks was fired, altho his tenure will outlast mine, but only by dint of some legal wrangling on his part – and while I don’t have a routine, I have to put one into place until I’m comfortable being busy doin’ nothin’, as the old Beach Boys tune put it.

As events have unfolded over the past four months, it seems more and more likely that I picked the perfect opportunity to walk out, because my suspicion is I would eventually have been carried out on my shield.

I paid attention, and the world told me what to do, is the message.

I’ll still be blogging, perhaps even more frequently and at more places. One cannot tell these things in advance. My first adventure awaits in two weeks, and then the looking glass is entered upon my return.

Wish me luck, gang!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Russia Will Only Get Worse. Maybe.

Putin is on the horns of a dilemna. For the first time since the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Russia faces a severe economic crisis – after enjoying years of relative prosperity – and she has a warmongering chief executive. This is a nexus of events that will shape and define Russia for at least the next decade.

Today, it just got worse:

LONDON — An international tribunal in The Hague has awarded the shareholders of the now-defunct Yukos oil company about $50 billion, in ruling on claims that the Russian government illegally seized the company from one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs.

“We are thrilled with this decision, although we know it is not the end of the road,” said Tim Osborne, director of GML, the holding company created by the Yukos founder Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky.

[…] The verdict could increase pressure on Russia at a time when its economy is already under threat after the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on a selection of Russian individuals and companies over its support for separatists in Ukraine.

There could also be implications for Rosneft, the state-controlled Russian oil company that acquired the most important Yukos oil assets in 2007, and for the British oil giant BP, which owns close to 20 percent of Rosneft.

Now, of course, Putin is free to ignore The Hague ruling and it’s business as usual. Except Russia’s credit rating will be at risk. And it gives the West leverage over Putin and Russia at a time when he can afford neither.

You’ll notice that, while Putin pardoned Khodorovsky, there was no attempt made to restore the company to private control.

And Rosneft itself, while reporting higher earnings, has seen its oil production start to slip. There’s not $50 billion in cash reserves, I’m sure.

Politically, what does this mean? It could mean that Putin will turn his gimlet eye towards former Soviet states that produce oil and gas, and invasion and insurrections the kind that we’ve seen in Ukraine.

This would include, presumably, Uzbekistan (which has the 11th largest natural gas reserves in the world), Turkmenistan (the world’s second largest gas fields), and even Estonia, which while it doesn’t have significant energy reserves per se, does have large shale deposits, which could mean fracking, in which case, Estonia is fracked.

Conversely, if Putin is approached by cooler heads – you know, like the guy in the Oval Office – and delicately offered a way out of the problem, then the Ukraine situation itself might be resolved quietly and more important, quickly.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) How desperate is Vladimir Putin to draw attention away from his failed economy? This desperate.

2) Who would think Norway would be a terror target?

3) Conservatives suck. And are real fucking idiots.

4) Apparently, the mohel took a little too much off the top.

5) Huh huh. He said “assphage”. Huh huh.

6) We ducked a bullet, gang.

7) Oh, this is not going to play well with Climate Denialists…

8) Y’know, I almost feel for the NY state Republican party. Almost.

9) Attention to my readers who have Time Warner Cable: I highly recommend DISH Networks. But stay away from DirecTV. They’re owned by Murdoch too.

10) Finally, Jello? Maybe?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Compassion In Action

Read this story and tell me where the logical fallacies comes in.

Done? OK, let’s get to work:

Saying that Eric Garner was overweight at 350-400 pounds and battling asthma, many posters on the sites TheeRant and said the Staten Island father and husband brought his death last Thursday upon himself. They said his health contributed to his cardiac arrest, and that their interpretation of an eyewitness video of Garner's altercation with police last Thursday was that he resisted arrest.

Police said they suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes when they approached him on a sidewalk. He told them he'd done nothing wrong. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

[…] On, one person wrote, "Mayor you killed our effectiveness on the street, when you killed Stop and Frisk. Because of a few bleeding heart liberals and a few ethnic groups who believe they are the only ones being stopped. You shut down the whole system. Because now all those baggy … pants you see walking around are probably locked and loaded."

Another referred to a video tape of Garner's altercation with police that went viral. On the tape, Garner is heard saying eight times "I can't breathe" as police press his head into the sidewalk.

"If you can talk you can breathe! A strong and deadly choke hold would not allow a person to talk," the poster wrote.

Here are the things I want to look at:

a) If he’s 350-400 pounds, then you have to assume a chokehold is a life-threatening event. Period. It’s a fairly safe assumption that the suspect has cardiovascular problems and cutting off his air, even partially could kill him. As a professional police officer, paid and trained to protect the public and to call for medical assistance when necessary, this should be ingrained into your thought process.

b) You can talk if you’re choking. If you are not getting enough air into your lungs, that’s not unlike, in fact, it’s almost exactly like, COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Only not chronic. And the only disease is in the mind of the frikkin’ idiot who put the victim into a chokehold that is specifically outlawed by the NYPD code of conduct. But there are plenty of emphysema and asthma patients who can talk in short bursts as they inhale enough air to support speech. Basically, this victim was dying and in dying, you find a way to exert extraordinary effort to do things that normally are not likely to occur.

What the police officer did in this instance goes beyond shameful all the way to criminal.