Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dems Fold Again

Well, the news out of DC is grim as hell, but I cannot claim it's unexpected.

The Democrats are apparently set to bend us over and spread our cheeks for the Republicans, again. And this time, we're not even getting any Astroglide.

You can read the story at The Hill linked above, but the gist of it is $3 Trillion, (yes, Trillion), in cuts to things like Social Security and Medicare, with no additional revenue at all. None, zilch, zip, nada, bupkis. Not even closing any tax loopholes, let alone actually raising taxes rates on the ultra-rich, who are paying less taxes now than at any time in the last 75 years. Oh, no, the Republicans insist that we must not tax the "job creators".

But there's a problem with that label. Over 90% of the new wealth created in the last decade has gone to the uber-rich. Yet, at the same time, the US job market has seen its worst decade since the Great Depression. If the ultra-rich are the job creators, where are the jobs they should have created in the last decade, with all that new money they made? Obviously, those jobs were not created. So, clearly, labeling the ultra-wealthy as "job creators" is total bullshit.

And where is our Fearless Leader in all of this? Wringing his hands and playing the Peevish Professor, or scolding us like "Dad" in some 1950's black and white TV show. Gee, Mr President, I'm really sorry. Can I have a job now, please?

My "wishful thinking" side cannot help but imagine how different this could be if Hilary had won the Democratic nomination back in 2008. The woman is not a saint by any means; if anything she's a ball-busting bitch. But I doubt she'd have gotten herself into this ugly a budget mess in the first place, and if she did, I'm sure she'd have the courage to fight her way out of it.

Gods have mercy, but we are so well and truly screwed.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bug Splat

They call it "bug splat", the splotch of blood, bones, and viscera that marks the site of a successful drone strike. To those manning the consoles in Nevada, it signifies "suspected militants" who have just been "neutralised"; to those on the ground, in most cases, it represents a family that has been shattered, a home destroyed.

So begins a new article on the drone war in Pakistan, by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad.

I do suggest you take the time to read this article. This is a watershed moment in history, I am convinced of that in an overall sense. And this is a very relevant subject.

Here's the gist of it - the USA has killed 2500 Pakistanis with drone strikes. Of that total, thirty-five were actual targets. The rest were all civilians.


Go read it, please.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bullshit Bomb Plot

Oh my, another bomb plot foiled. The world is safe for Democracy again, thanks to the vigilance of your Amerikan Law Enforsement. They can't spell for shit, but they have guns and badges and egos the size of Texas, yeehaw!

OK, to begin, a practical concession to the current environment of "security" paranoia. This scribble is not intended to encourage anyone to make things that go boom, or to teach anyone how. Demolitions is scary shit, even when working with good quality, commercially manufactured ordnance, and I discommend it. Demolitions of the improvised sort are an order of magnitude more unstable, and I strongly discommend it. Period, full stop, end of sentence.

This scribble is intended to highlight certain practical aspects of hypothetical construction of such improvised demolitions, in order to show how law enforcement and their tame media regularly distort the facts of such alleged cases.

There are two main things you need to know.

First, smokeless powder is not an explosive.

Second, the detonators are the issue.

Point One - Gunpowder

The stuff of Hollywood. We all grow up thinking we know what it is. Well, with a helpless shrug of apology to Woody Allen, let me present to you, dear reader, "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Gunpowder, But Were Afraid To Ask". I will keep this short and simple, I promise.

Basically, there are two types of gunpowder.

The original gunpowder is called Black Powder, and was apparently devised by the Chinese, and used as far back as the Three Kingdoms period, circa the 3rd century AD. Black Powder is a mixture of charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter.

Black Powder is a true explosive, albeit what is classified as a "low explosive".

In the mid-to-late 19th century, Smokeless Powder came into use. Smokeless Powder is a form of nitrocellulose; the first variety was made by pouring nitric acid on cotton, and was called guncotton. Later, nitroglycerin was added to the process.

Smokeless Powder is not an explosive.

Let me say that again. Smokeless Powder is not an explosive.

There are immense quantities of detail which I have omitted for purposes of brevity, but that is the gist of the issue.

Point Two - Detonators Are The Issue.

Every time a story like this breaks, the media breathlessly inform us that "bomb-making materials" were found in the suspect's car/home/backpack/rectum/whatever.

Take a deep breath. You have "bomb-making materials" in your home. So do your neighbours. So does your minister, (rabbi, priest, high priestess, imam, prayer leader, church elder, whatever). "Bomb-making materials" are everywhere. If you don't believe me, root around and find a copy of the old Anarchists Cookbook. Yes, yes, it's verboten reading material these days, but there are still copies floating around out there. FFS, do not, repeat not, try any of the recipes in there, because half of them are likely to blow up in your face, but the point remains the same.

Bomb-making materials are everywhere.

Timmy McVeigh (allegedly) blew up the OKC Federal building with a bomb improvised from lawn fertilizer. In actual point of fact, there were obviously demolitions planted inside the building as well, as attested to by the fact that the broken ends of the concrete beams were rounded rather than jagged, but the point remains, he made a hell of a big boom with explosive improvised from materials you can buy at Home Depot.

The issue is detonators.

It is not possible to improvise an effective and reliable remote detonator, using readily available materials. It cannot be done. The only practical solution is to use commercially produced electrical detonators, what are commonly called "blasting caps".

And those cannot be bought. The only way to obtain them is to steal them, usually from a construction company. And if you're going to break in and steal detonators, why not steal the commercially produced explosives stored nearby (yes, they really do that), at the same time?

So, next time you read another breathless announcement about "bomb-making materials", stop and think about this. Are you getting facts, or a ration of shit?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thor's Day

Ah, what lovely times in which to live!

I'm not even going to rant about the aftermath of the Norwegian Shooter incident, except to say that the discourse in Israel, on the Hebrew language websites, is disgusting. There are far, far too many Israelis saying that the Norwegians "had it coming" for supporting Palestine. Such bigoted, hateful, narrow-mindedness sows the seeds of its own destruction, and when it happens, perhaps the world will say that Israel "had it coming".

Ted Rall points out the creation of another astroturf (fake grassroots) cat's paw organization called Americans Elect. ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"). One is tempted to ask how stupid they think we are, but the probable answer is too painful to contemplate.

Al Jazeera English has an Op-Ed on the "Censorship of War Casualties in the US" which I found to be worth reading. It is a fact that the MSM goes out of its way to avoid showing Mr and Mrs America the blood and gore that is the inevitable by-product of American Imperialism.

Paul Rosenberg has an interesting piece on the New Apostolic Reformation, again at AJE. Oh, those wacky fundamentalists. If they weren't so scary, they would be highly amusing to watch.

And it was pointed out to me today that Obama has a serious problem on his hands. Well, yes, OK, he has a whole basket-full of them, but give the man a break. Middle East diplomacy is hard! Pardon the cheap shot, but I'm still thinking about the administration's comment that bringing peace to the Middle East had turned out to be much more difficult than the President had expected.

I mean, no shit, Sherlock! Just think about the colossal arrogance or colossal ignorance that comment betrayed. There has only been an issue here since 1948. That was during the administration of Harry Truman. Since then, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, and Bush Jr have all wrestled with the issue. Eleven different administrations have tried to bring peace to the Middle East. If you want to be cynical and say that nobody before Nixon tried very hard (or even at all), that's still seven Presidents, seven administrations, that have struggled with this intractable tarbaby of an issue. But Obama thought he was just going to waltz in there and fix it all up in time for the midterms of 2010.

Either the man is stupendously arrogant, or he was just ignorant of foreign affairs to a truly frightening degree. And his grasp of international issues does not seem to be improving with experience.

So, to the current issue. International support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood is snowballing rapidly. It is becoming obvious that the Palestinians will have enough support in the General Assembly to pass their measure with ease this September, barely a month from now. This is going to leave the US playing the dog in the manger by vetoing it in the Security Council.

Now, Obama is in re-election mode, utterly and shamelessly. Can he afford to alienate his Democratic base by a Security Council veto of Palestinian hopes, against the clear majority of international opinion, and just hope desperately they have forgiven him by next November? Or will that be the straw that breaks the camel's back, on top of the ugly cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare that he is crying out to give the Republicans? With the economy stalling badly, the real unemployment rate just under 20% and climbing, and jobs nowhere to be found, just how much more can Obama afford to piss-off the Left?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Buchanan Paradox

Al Jazeera English has just posted an interview by Riz Khan, another in his One on One series. The subject of this particular interview is none other than Pat Buchanan.

Pat is an old man these days, being well into his eighth decade, and the years have taken a visible toll. He wanders a bit at times, as old men will, and gets a bit long-winded with stories that could interest only a historian.

But in the 25 minute interview, there are about eight minutes of material that are very worth watching.

For example, drag the slider on the video to 1:40 and listen to Riz Khan ask Pat about the rise of the Neo-Cons, and listen carefully to the answer he gives.

Then drag the slider to 18:20 and listen to Pat answer a question about what caused him to become disillusioned with the Republican Party. He talks again about the end of the cold war and the beginning of the current interventionist foreign policy, and how that was a Neo-Con policy not at all in line with traditional Conservative thinking. Then he talks about the exodus of good jobs, and admits he was wrong about Free Trade. "But American workers cannot be made to compete with workers in Singapore and Malaysia who are making one dollar or two dollars an hour"

In fact, if you have the patience to suffer through a brief bit about the Reform Party bid in 2000, the rest of the interview from that point is worth watching.

There are many people who loathe Pat as simply one more Conservative asshole, but that opinion does the man a serious injustice.

When Pat Buchanan talks about being against an interventionist foreign policy, that's not a typically conservative opinion. In fact, it's very much the opposite.

When he speaks against Free Trade, and against the outsourcing of jobs, and says that US workers cannot be made to compete with the cheap labor markets in Asia, that's not a typically Conservative opinion. In fact, it's very much the opposite.

I disagree vehemently with Pat Buchanan on a very great number off issues. But I do not dismiss him as simply one more Conservative asshole. Like it or not, for better or for worse, he is a unique American.

But he can be an asshole at times.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oslo? OSLO? Why Norway?

An explosion in Oslo, Norway early this morning, (early morning, California time; it was just after 3pm in Oslo), has now been officially confirmed to have been a bomb. At least two people are confirmed to have died, and thus far we have no idea about injuries

There is speculation as to the target; the blast did occur very close to the office of the Prime Minister, but so far no definite idea. Some have mentioned an Islamic activist who is being deported to Iraq. Some have mentioned the recent re-printing of "anti-Islamic" cartoons by a newspaper whose offices are nearby the blast. Others have pointed to Norway's participation in the NATO missions in Libya and Afghanistan. There is always the possibility of a false-flag attack by Mossad, in order to discredit Islam in general, prior to the expected UN showdown in September over a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.

At this point, all we know for certain is that this is the ugliest thing to happen in Norway since World War II.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Year

Well, well, how time flies when you're having fun. It was one year ago today that I published my first blog at; the cross-post at Open Salon came about somewhat later.

Three hundred sixty-five days, and one hundred fifty-three scribbles later, here we are.

In all sincerity, I want to thank my dear old dad, whom we will refer to simply as "George", in order to protect his privacy. Without you pushing me to do this, father of mine, I'd never have gotten started. Thank you, with all my heart.

And so, dear reader, l'll spare you the tedious year-in-retrospect bullshit. But ask yourself, are you better off than you were a year ago? Are we, the human race, better off than we were a year ago?

I don't think so...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sad Times In Africa

In addition to the hideous situation in Somalia, which is spilling over into northern Kenya, (and which has made the news cycle), there is more grim news out of Africa.

South Africa is preparing a mass expulsion of between 1 million and 2 million Zimbabwean refugees. Now, to refresh your memory, those Zimbabweans fled across the border to South Africa because their nation has been reduced to a basket case by 30 years of dictatorship under a man named Mugabe. More specifically, they fled a cholera epidemic, government violence against political opponents, and an inflation rate that ran into five digits. Yes, I'm serious.

Zimbabwe, where to begin. Zimbabwe is one of the most promising nations in sub-Saharan Africa, and all of that promise has been squandered, murdered, bastardized, prostituted, and sold down the river. Zimbabwe was once a major exporter of food to its neighbours. Today, Zimbabwe is a major importer of food. Zimbabwe once had the best educational system on the African continent. Even today, after thirty years of neglect, 90% of all Zimbabweans over age fifteen are literate in English. Yes, the official language of Zimbabwe is English.

It's enough to make you scream for the sheer criminal waste of human potential.

And further north in Kenya, the government has just carved a big chunk off the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage site, in order to make room for a uranium mining project.

Now, let's think about this. A game preserve, a place where a small fragment of East Africa's rapidly vanishing wildlife is given a home relatively safe from poachers and bulldozers. And they're going to carve a chunk off of that for a massively polluting, incredibly toxic uranium mining complex.

Granted, there are other problems closer to home. Granted, as a 99er, I have umpteen bazillion things to worry about, and which have more to do with how well I eat next month, and whether I can keep lights, water, and internet turned on for another 30 days. But in the end, I am only one person. If I fall over dead five minutes from now, the planet will keep spinning and life will go on and the species will survive. But if we irretrievably fuXX0r our planet, the species Homo sapiens will not survive.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

South China Sea, Part V

It's been a month since I last mentioned the subject of the South China Sea, and there have been a few new developments, so I suppose it's that time again. Though I must say the degree of apparent interest in this topic here in the US has been underwhelming to non-existent.

China at the moment is playing it very soft on the subject of the South China Sea, because they have other more pressing subjects to pursue. Specifically, they are busy making friends in Europe by establishing stronger economic ties and offering financial support. Europe's bankers, who essentially run the EU, will not forget this support at a time of crisis. And China is also busy applying heavy pressure behind the scenes to get Washington to hammer out a budget deal and raise the debt ceiling. China has invested very heavily in US government debt, and would take a huge loss if Uncle Sam should default.

Behind the scenes, however, the Chinese have been as busy as the proverbial beaver.

This month, July 2011, will see China deploy to the Spratly Islands region the biggest oil exploration, drilling and support rig in existence, a rig constructed at an investment of 8 Billion US dollars.

July 2011 will also see the official launch by the Chinese Navy of its first aircraft carrier, and there is a long tale of deception behind that. Back in 1998, the Chinese bought an unfinished aircraft carrier from the Ukraine, saying that they intended to make a floating casino out of it. The carrier, named Varyag, was a leftover from the USSR, and Ukraine had no use for it. In a truly epic voyage, which deserves a post of its own, the Chinese then towed the Varyag to China, where it has been in drydock ever since. This month, the completed aircraft carrier will be launched, with no casino facilities. Now, let it be understood that this is not a fleet carrier like those used by the US Navy. It is in fact a smaller "ski jump" design of the type once employed by European navies.

And speaking of European navies and aircraft carriers, there are three different Chinese consortia bidding on the former HMS Ark Royal. The story this time is that it will be converted into "the world's largest floating exhibition platform for high-end appliances". I can't even keep a straight face while typing that. Come on, guys, can't you at least cook up a halfway-credible cover story? Not all of us are complete and total idiots...

Olivia Chung's story on the Ark Royal sale in Asia Times Online

Retired US diplomat David Brown has raised another interesting point about the South China Sea area, (we have got to make up a handy acronym for that), namely the existence of Methane Hydrates in vast quantities under the sea. When heated, these Methane Hydrates release methane, or natural gas. Biting my tongue here.

According to David Brown's article-

A 2007 Chinese report estimated that the methane hydrate deposits found so far in the South China Sea may hold as much exploitable energy as 10 billion tons of oil.

I confess that one made me scratch my head a little. Oil is usually measured in barrels, no? Well, it turns out that's mostly an American thing. There can be 6 to 8 barrels of oil in a ton of oil, depending on density. And whose ton we're talking about. But let's use the lower figure.

The equivalent of Ten Billion tons of oil. Six barrels per ton. Sixty Billion barrels of oil, equivalent.

And I think we now understand why the Chinese want the South China Sea so badly.

David Brown's Folly And The South China Sea, also in Asia Times Online

Friday, July 15, 2011

New Golden Gate Bridge, Made In China

The New Golden Gate Bridge, Made In China

Yes, sadly enough, I'm serious. The replacement for the old Golden Gate Bridge, to stretch across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, is being made in China.

The claim is that the state of California has saved "millions" in labor costs by building the bridge in Shanghai. But let's think about that. If those millions had been paid to California workers, what would have been different?

They'd have paid income tax, to both Federal and California governments.
They'd have paid Social Security taxes on that money.
They'd have spent that money here in California.
The follow-on effects would have generated more millions in economic activity.
And we'd have an American-made bridge.

So, given that all of this is painfully obvious, my questions are as follows.

Why hasn't the mainstream media reported on this?
Who was bribed to make this happen?
Who profits from this boondoggle, other than the Chinese?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hidden Lies In June Jobs Report

So, you've seen the June jobs report by now. According to the Obama administration's official figures, only a net 18,000 jobs were added in June. In evaluating that, remember that we need to add 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep up with new workers entering the workforce, before we can even start making any headway on putting the unemployed back to work.

Well, that 18,000 is a lie. The truth is that the net number of jobs added was negative. The economy actually lost 157,000 jobs. Yes. The truth is not +18K but rather -157K.

Let's look at the deceits employed to make that appallingly negative number look at least a little positive.

First, the administration chose to add a totally imaginary 131,000 to that number. Their explanation is that they "believe" this many new jobs were created by newly formed companies, and therefore they are invisible. They have no evidence of this, not a thing to base it on, they just pulled a number out of their collective ass because they felt like it.

But that still left them with a net loss of 26,000 jobs, and they couldn't have that. So they moved 44,000 jobs from May to June. That's right, they just arbitrarily adjusted the May report downwards by 44,000, and moved those jobs into June instead, in order to get themselves the positive number they felt they needed. To quote John Crudele, "It's like moving the fences at Citi Field so the Mets players can hit more home runs. It might make Jose Reyes feel better, but it doesn't actually make him more powerful."

Read the rest of the Crudele's report here.

I can't wait to see how the Obamapologists spin this one-

"He had to do it, there was no choice!" or
"The Republicans forced him to!" or even
"Bush did it too, you know" or maybe that tired old standby
"You just don't understand economics"

As if that wasn't bad enough, the U-6 unemployment rate, the number that really matters, increased from 15.8% to 16.2%, and that number doesn't even include the six million 99ers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One Wife Not Enough

Ah, marriage, domestic bliss. Hey, what are you laughing about?

Two stories here.

Michelle Bachmann, the Great White Hope of the Clueless Right, has signed a 14-point pledge, (hey, she can count to 14, that makes her smarter than Sarah Palin), eschewing things like "polygamy, adultery, and polyandry", along with a few minor points like homosexuality, (no Bachmann-Palin slash fanfic), and Sharia Islam. Just, you know, in case she felt the urge to suddenly recite the Shahadah...

And it's interesting that she didn't include polygyny.

You can check the links above, but here's a summary.

Polygyny is a man with two or more wives, in which there is no direct marriage bond between the wives. This is what Islam endorses. This is typical of the patriarchs in the Old Testament of the Christian bible. This is also what Fundamentalist Mormons practice, although neither LDS nor RLDS endorse it.

Polyandry is a woman with two or more husbands, in which there is no direct marriage bond between the husbands. This is rare.

Polygamy is a marriage with more than two partners, in which each partner is married to each of the others. In the USA, we usually call this group marriage.

Meanwhile, back in Jordan, land of the last Hashemite king, the "Committee For Supporting Polygamy" has been launched to promote polygyny, although they call it polygamy. Confused yet? No? Well then, read on by all means. It only gets better. "Spinsterhood," says the founder, "is a dangerous social phenomenon that, if unabated through marriage, would lead to social and ethical degeneration."

Now, those of you who read this blog regularly, know by now that I am a staunch opponent of Islamophobia. I'm no Arab-basher. And I grant you that my North American perspective on society is not well-suited to judge social phenomena in the Middle East. But...

Back to the story. It seems that in Jordan, the number of unmarried women over thirty is 15 times what it was in 1981.

Now, if you want to hear a calm, reasonable Jordanian, from a charity that pays for weddings for those who cannot afford them, explain why he thinks "polygamy" (polyandry, dammit) is not a good idea, read the story and watch the video. The gentleman in question comes on about 1:15

So, the other man, at the beginning of the video, who just married his third wife. Islam allows him a total of four, do you think we could get him to marry Michelle Bachmann?

There exist a number of related posts on polyandry among the Jewish community over at the Mostly Kosher blog, much to my surprise. Life educates us every day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Porn Crazy On A Bitter 4th

Happy 4th of July, we say.

Just what's so fucking happy about it?

At least 20 million Americans are unemployed. At least 10 million more are underemployed. At least 7 million of the unemployed, the 99ers, have completely exhausted their unemployment benefits, and have nothing at all, since they still cannot find a job.

14% of the population of the USA is now receiving Food Stamps.

And meanwhile, we are on track to break the barrier of Four Trillion US dollars spent thus far on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Oh, but don't worry, it's only about 3 and a half Trillion so far.

Our constitutional rights have been raped away by the bitterly misnamed Patriot Act. The President has murdered Habeas Corpus. And the US Supreme Court is dominated by reactionaries who have declared corporations to have the same rights as people.

The Gulf of Mexico is dying, we still haven't been told the brutal truth about radiation leakage from the Fukushima plant in Japan, and our President is the most painfully inadequate eunuch to sit his unworthy fundament in the Oval Office since Warren G Harding.

Oh, but hey, Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Then again, (gasp!) perhaps my brain has been re-wired by pornography. That is the breathtakingly unoriginal assertion of Naomi Wolf in a recent article at AJE.

If you really have nothing better to do than read her regurgitated drivel, you will find that it's a tired recycling of old and discredited theories from the grossly-misnamed "War on Drugs", just re-targeted on pr0n instead. "They need more and more powerful drugs to get them off" has become, "They need more and more hardcore porn to get them off".

Oh, and to justify that breathless exclamation about "rewiring the male brain", she then solemnly invokes the word "dopamine", ooooooooh, Naomi, that's science! The whole article is a series of sloppy assertions, pseudo-validated by phrases like "we now know" and "there is an increasing body of evidence to support". And yet, not once in the whole article does she cite a single reference to back up any of these assertions. In fact the only reference in the whole article, and a half-assed one at that, is in support of a passing reference to the alleged effects of porn upon women.

If dear Naomi knew anything at all about pr0n, she'd know that while addictive personalities and those who have been raised in a sexually-repressive atmosphere may go crazy with it, most men simply get incredibly bored with it in fairly short order.

In short, this is nothing more than a socio-political hit piece, targeting 49% of the human race.

If you want to argue against porn, there are far more credible ways to approach the subject. My mother, late in her life, changed her position on pr0n, and decided that she was against it, simply upon the pragmatic grounds that, (in her opinion), it leads men to have unreasonable expectations of women. Now, you may or may not agree with that, but we can at least discuss the assertion, although it doesn't do anything to address the First Amendment aspects of the debate.