Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Can A Spider Bite Be THIS Bad?

Here in Colorado Springs we have two species of venomous spider: the Black Widow (a nest of which just had to be cleaned out- obliterated yesterday along with a wasp nest under our front step) and the Brown Recluse.  The latter little bastards' infamous reputations arrive by virtue of their bites - which release a particularly toxic flesh -eating venom.
A Brown Recluse Spider
On the two occasions I've been confronted by the little beasties - in our family room - I have not hesitated to smash them up and rapidly dispose of them. Wifey is highly grateful because in general I like to keep spiders around as useful contributors to keeping the real pests (e.g. ants, small beetles etc.) at bay. I tell her they fit in the ecological niche here, but she always responds "It's my house not theirs!" Ah well.

Anyway, imagine a poor London barrister on a flight who gets bitten by one of the little bastards. Well this is exactly what happened to Jonathon Hogg, 40, who said he felt a "small, sharp pain" while on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha.


Within hours, and after alighting from the plane he was in hospital with a pustulating wound that looked more like it came from a zombie bite - lacerated, blown out periphery and plenty of pus oozing on the inner part. Those with strong stomachs can see the wound at the bottom of this link with the full story.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/11898986/Barrister-sues-airline-after-nearly-losing-his-leg-when-bitten-by-flesh-eating-spider.html



Needless to say, the sight of that suppurating wound has given me a whole new respect for the Brown Recluse. Now, before I put on a slipper, I check it two or three times to make sure no unwanted 'passengers' are around!


On the depressing side, as climate change intensifies, the geographical expanse of these vermin is likely to increase.

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Obama -ites Need to Grow Up And Work With Putin - Not Against Him!


"Jeebus, do I really got to shake this thug's hand! Drat!"

The news in The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal is that the meeting of Obama with Vladimir Putin Monday did not go well. This was regarding what to do about the nest of terrorist vipers (ISIS or ISIL)  breeding in Syria and undermining that nation, creating havoc and causing millions to flee. (As a reality check, let's also bear in mind nearly 60 percent of the fleeing Syrian refugees are Assad supporters.).

According to the WSJ's account (Monday, A1):

"President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin clashed publicly over how to resolve the conflict in Syria, in a showdown in front of the rest of the world's leaders that added uncertainty to the burgeoning crisis in the Middle East"

Then:

"The U.S. and Russian leaders traded barbs in dueling speeches to the United Nations General Assembly then later clinked champagne glasses at a luncheon."

Left unsaid is that Mr. Putin had by far the more powerful "ammo" packed into his speech, compared to Obama. This was in respect to his mention that the Pentagon had admitted $500m in weapons and equipment had been handed over to Al Qaeda by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. See e.g.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/09/26/us-backed-syrian-rebels-handed-over-equipment-al-qaeda-affiliate-military-admits

This could no doubt also have fallen into the hands of ISIS. The point is, it means the Obama plan to somehow create a Syrian opposition "counter force" to Bashar al Assad is a failure. It can't work and won't work.  Like it or not, Assad's gov't is the one with UN representation and is the legitimate one.

Putin also made it clear to Obama and the U.S. that Russia has a vested interest in fighting ISIS too, given "2,000 Russians have left for Syria to join ISIS" and he told Charlie Rose in a powerful interview on '60 Minutes' that he'd prefer to fight them in Syria.  As one administration official put it regarding the meeting between Obama and Putin:

"This was not a situation where either of them was seeking to score points".

Which is good, because it must be 'all hands on deck' to fight the ISIS vermin. Of course, the WSJ's editorial minions screeched their usual hysteria about Putin seeking to form a coalition against the Islamic State (which is a damned GOOD idea) but which they portray on "Russian and Iranian terms" adding "which means supporting Bashar al Assad's regime against all opponents".

So? What is the alternative? There is none! The real threat (as disclosed in the previous link) is sending lethal weapons to the jihadis in Syria seeking to overthrow Assad- only to have them fall into the hands of ISIS and al Qaeda..  Hence, this misbegotten U.S. mission as Putin notes, must end and all the anti-ISIS forces must get on the same page. ISIS must be eliminated first - THEN we can talk about replacing Assad in the future in an electoral transition.

Meanwhile this morning, the Saudi Prime Minister-  in an interview with Nora O'Donnell on CBS-  was outraged...outraged, that the Russians were entering the Syrian fray. Yet this mealy-mouthed wimp,  presiding over a backward nation that still delivers 1,000 lashes to females who violate their primitive laws,  had no answers himself. Other than to suggest the existing coalition of ten nations had to work harder so why didn't the Russians just join them? Well, mayhap because the Russians also see the need for more than remote air strikes.  In addition, these Saudi rats (from which the 9/11 hijackers hailed) haven't delivered a dime for the refugee camps or taken any of them in - so fuck their 'holier than thou', officious attitude. The only reason the U.S. remains chummy with their lot of regressive slime is because it still needs Saudi light sweet crude to deliver the energy 'bang' the degraded fracked crap (kerogen)  can't.

 Any sober realist will assure you there's not even a semi-legit alternative to take the place of Assad now which could also provide stable governance. (And we saw how it played out in Iraq when a Shia U.S. puppet gov't was put in charge - directly paving the way for the spawning of the Sunni ISIS.)  To believe so, as Obama and his bud David Cameron appear to, is to be drinking the Neolib dreamer kool aid. For more on this please do read the FT article below (sign up for the free limited access if you have to!):

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/96bf7e48-6041-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html#axzz3mSz73FXD

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/margaret-kimberley/64096/putin-trumps-obama-at-the-u-n


Excerpt:

Presidents Obama and Putin both made their respective cases before the United Nations General Assembly at its annual meeting. Obama’s speech was an apologia for imperialism and American aggressions. He repeated the lies which no one except uninformed Americans believe....

The world ought to fear pax Americana, not a Russian military presence in Syria. There cannot be true peace and stability unless nations and peoples are left to their own devices. The helping hand of United States democracy is anything but. It is a recipe for disaster and requires forceful opposition. If Russia can be a reliable counterforce the whole world will benefit, even if Barack Obama frowns before the cameras.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

George Will - The One with "Fact Free Flamboyance"

Some would say WaPo columnist George Will is a media tool. Maybe, but let us at least concede that he is a knot head.  I already illustrated this in one extensive post I wrote concerning his claim of a "global warming pause", e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2013/06/george-will-no-warming-for-last-16.html 

In a recent diatribe('Francis' Fact-free Flamboyance'. Washington Post, Sept. 18) Will writes:

"Supporters of Francis have bought newspaper and broadcast advertisements to disseminate some of his woolly sentiments that have the intellectual tone of fortune cookies. One example: “People occasionally forgive, but nature never does.” The Vatican’s majesty does not disguise the vacuity of this. Is Francis intimating that environmental damage is irreversible? He neglects what technology has accomplished regarding London’s air (see Page 1 of Dickens’s “Bleak House”) and other matters.  "

Is he serious? The "vacuity"? Is Will unable to process pastoral language and translate it into plain English? The Pope clearly meant that in many cases, as in the damage done via global warming - because of the specific parameters (e.g. CO2 molecules with a lifetime of 100 years and large forcing component) there is no means of dialing it back.  We are being confronted by an ultimate entropic process especially if the Earth is subjected to a continuous positive feedback cycle involving a lowered albedo (reflectance of solar energy).  Sure technology has accomplished a lot, no one denies that and the reduction of smog in places like LA is an example, but in global warming we are dealing with an entirely different 'critter' and no techno-fixes will easily remedy it, see e.g.
http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2009/11/dont-trust-economists-with-climate.html


Will, undeterred and high on his pompous horse goes on:


In his June encyclical and elsewhere, Francis lectures about our responsibilities, but neglects the duty to be as intelligent as one can be. This man who says “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions” proceeds as though everything about which he declaims is settled, from imperiled plankton to air conditioning being among humanity’s “harmful habits.”  The church that thought it was settled science that Galileo was heretical should be attentive to all evidence.  Francis deplores “compulsive consumerism,” a sin to which the 1.3 billion persons without even electricity can only aspire.


Newsflash, Georgie! The Pope has been attentive to "all evidence" and the preponderance of it discloses we are deep in the midst of global warming driven by increasing CO2 concentrations. Of interest is the paper: 'New Study for Climate Modeling, Analyses and Scenarios' appearing in Eos Transactions of the AGU, Vol. 90, No. 21, 26 May, 2009, page 181). The paper references the new European ENSEMBLES project - which is the first international multiclimate model intercomparison. The intercomparison model, which incorporates ocean warming and CO2 outgassing, shows a peak in the CO2 equivalent concentration in the atmosphere of ~ 535 parts per million by 2045, before eventually stabilizing at around 450 ppm during the 22nd century.


Alarmingly, the former figure is perilously close to the threshold concentration (~ 600 ppm) believed necessary to trigger the runaway greenhouse effect. All the climate models employed in the ENSEMBLES study were improved or extended models from the IPCC sets. A good proxy indicator of the problem is seen in the data for increasing sea ice melt (EOS, Vol. 90, No. 37, 15 September, 2009, p. 322). This graph is shown at the top, as extracted from that paper. The enhanced sea ice melt can be directly traced to warmer ocean temperatures and preceding higher CO2 concentrations.


As for the effects of air conditioning I have already covered that, showing you are as ignorant as you are impetuous, e.g.
http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2015/09/air-conditioning-bane-of-planet.html


Will then blabs, or queries:  And the Earth is becoming “an immense pile of filth”?
Errr... have you seen the vast fracking fields from the air? Have you seen the excavated landscapes where massive giga-tons of soil have had to be extracted for fracking,  leaving giant open scars on the land? E.g.

Then don't talk shit, Georgie Porgy!


Oh, have you also seen the giant waste pits of cast off detritus in nations around the world?  (Including mammoth landfills over flowing with cast off baby diapers, e.g. Pampers, loaded with baby shit).


Will continues:


Matt Ridley, author of “The Rational Optimist,” notes that coal supplanting wood fuel reversed deforestation, and that “fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food.” The capitalist commerce that Francis disdains is the reason the portion of the planet’s population living in “absolute poverty” ($1.25 a day) declined from 53 percent to 17 percent in three decades after 1981.


So then it's okay to reap higher (slightly) living standards at the expense of all the humans depending on the planet? When coal is one of the primary agents driving global warming and leading us to the runaway greenhouse effect? In other words, it's okay to get a slightly better life at the edges now - thanks to coal and fertilizer that releases methane- but don't cry when the human family roasts in super greenhouse heat. This is almost like the arguments of the GMO-ers, patting themselves on the back that GMO foods are the answer to feeding the hungry masses: "Hey, don't knock it! The poor folks get their food and they can worry about stomach and liver tumors, and Alzheimer's disease later!"


And then there's this bit of fossil fuelers' propaganda:


Even in low-income countries, writes economist Indur Goklany, life expectancy increased from between 25 to 30 years in 1900 to 62 years today. Sixty-three percent of fibers are synthetic and derived from fossil fuels; of the rest, 79 percent come from cotton, which requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. “Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels,” he says, “are responsible for at least 60 percent of today’s global food supply.” Without fossil fuels, he says, global cropland would have to increase at least 150 percent — equal to the combined land areas of South America and the European Union — to meet current food demands.


The truth? The biggest scarcity now is water to not only drink but grow crops. Much of the water loss arises from prolonged drought associated with climate change. The real problem then is just that the human population growing in excess of the planet to support it. One of the best indicators for this is provided by the Global Footpoint Network, at:

http://www.footprintnetwork.org/

According to this site, we currently need not one but one and one half EARTHS to sustain our current rate of consumption. This means it requires on average 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the resources humanity uses in one year.


As for the use of nitrogen fertilizers in soils, they are in fact degrading soil quality and hence food output. Those like Will can learn more here:


http://phys.org/news/2015-02-long-term-nitrogen-fertilizer-disrupts-plant-microbe.html


Will again:


Francis grew up around the rancid political culture of Peronist populism, the sterile redistributionism that has reduced his Argentina from the world’s 14th highest per-capita gross domestic product in 1900 to 63rd today. Francis’s agenda for the planet — “global regulatory norms” — would globalize Argentina’s downward mobility.


Sorry, response disqualified on the basis of Will using his own inherently prejudiced right wing positions to attempt to negate those of Francis.


The imperturbable Georgie strikes again:


As the world spurns his church’s teachings about abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage and other matters, Francis jauntily makes his church congruent with the secular religion of “sustainability.” Because this is hostile to growth, it fits Francis’s seeming sympathy for medieval stasis, when his church ruled the roost, economic growth was essentially nonexistent and life expectancy was around 30.


Funny, I thought Will supported all those church teaching positions he lists as "world spurning" - based on his prior conservative Post columns. (e.g. See his diatribes against Planned Parenthood, and Barbara Boxer on abortion). So what's he grousing about now?  You can't on the one hand invoke conservative moral positions "many reject" (but YOU believe in)  then on the other use that as a basis to attack the Pope, criticizing his challenge to the unsustainable growth models advocated by capitalists!


Also, it's a gross error to argue that merely because one doesn't jump on the all possible growth bandwagon one is in favor of a "Medieval" world with life expectancy of 30 years. That is rubbish. The truth is that a sustainable growth pattern is possible and has been articulated by eco-economist Herman Daly.


In 1999, in a sterling paper delivered at Trinity College in Ireland, Daly's topic was Uneconomic Growth: in theory and in fact.

Focusing on the U.S., he laid out the work of Nordhaus and Tobin which seemed to suggest that as long ago as the late 1960’s the welfare costs of growth had exceeded the marginal benefit. He also proposed that the use GDP as a measure of economic benefit and progress was not efficient and so suggested the use of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW).

Daly criticized the fact that when it comes to "counting all the beans in the United States the only cookbook that matters is the Gross Domestic Product or GDP". If the Gross Domestic Product is going up, people say the economy is growing. And if the GDP is falling, they say we're in a recession.

The GDP is supposed to measure the total production and consumption of goods and services in the United States. But the numbers that make up the Gross Domestic Product by and large only capture the monetary transactions we can put a dollar value on. Almost everything else is left out. And that's why some economists have a problem with this influential accounting system.

Ignoring these "externalities" leads us into a fool's paradise where we come to believe things are much better than the GDP numbers show.

For example:

We see the "unemployment rate" declining, but forget that this may well be due to more unemployed dropped from the BLS stats after 6 months.

We look at utility bills, but don't recognize that unlisted in them is the damage to our water, forests, air etc. Those externalities again. How much of a cost to put on forests (which absorb CO2), or clean air? Who knows, but some guestimate is needed.

We look at nursing homes and the number there, and those paid to care for them. But we blithely ignore the more than 12 million people that are cared for by their own families, without remuneration!

We behold productivity increasing but don't realize that has nada to do with work, or labor - but rather corporations reducing their costs (increasing "efficiency") by moving jobs to cheaper places offshore, like Bangalore.

We focus on tax cuts at the "growth end" but forget that there has never been any proof that tax cuts cause job growth. And even if they did, the degenerate effects are ignored - e.g. continued collapse of the infrastructure because no tax dollars are going to maintain it.

When all our water mains have burst, along with the sewer lines, and bridges -roads collapse, will the public works effort finally get onto the GDP radar? Doubtful!

All of these factors can skew the GDP to artificially higher values, once ignored.

Daly noted that the concept of the GDP was developed to help steer the US economy out of the Great Depression, and through World War Two. It was for another time and place, and is no longer relevant to this time and place. It needs to be dunned and ditched in favor of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare.  The problem at root is the concept of “growth” is bogus on its face. Only a congenital moron would continue to pander to unchecked growth in a finite, zero-sum environment or planet – in which wealth created by extracting resources necessarily impoverishes the remaining resource base.

How hard can this be to grasp?

Will one more time - unable to surrender his fact free flamboyance:


The saint who is Francis’s namesake supposedly lived in sweet harmony with nature. For most of mankind, however, nature has been, and remains, scarcity, disease and natural — note the adjective — disasters. Our flourishing requires affordable, abundant energy for the production of everything from food to pharmaceuticals. Poverty has probably decreased more in the past two centuries than in the preceding three millennia because of industrialization powered by fossil fuels. Only economic growth has ever produced broad amelioration of poverty, and since growth began in the late 18th century, it has depended on such fuels.



The problem is that first, our planet is not infinite so cannot support the unending growth capitalists and Will fantasize can occur- or needs. Second, we simply cannot excavate ALL the petroleum in the ground to support such growth - or partial major growth. In this last respect there are two numbers that bear special significance as noted by climate scientist Bill McKibben ( UTNE Reader, Jan-Feb, 2014, p. 18):

- 565 gigatons or 565 thousand million tons

- 2, 795 gigatons


The first number represents the peak of humanity's usable carbon budget. It's the most carbon we can afford to pour into the atmosphere without triggering the 2 C temperature increase.  (Note: most experts believe this has already been exceeded and we are well on our way to a 4C increase with all that implies, see e.g.


http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-new-reality-global-mean-temperature.html


The second number is perhaps the most worrisome of all and the one that instills fear into most who know what the future portends if we don't stop our reckless foolishness -including the fracking craze. It represents the total stored reserves of carbon held by coal, gas and oil companies. It was first highlighted and brought to global attention by the Carbon Tracker Initiative - a group of London financial analysts and environmentalists.  It is what the fossil fuel industry plans to exploit in the future by its whole spectrum of methods, whether deep sea drilling, oil shale fracking or natural gas fracking.

It is, in other words, five times more carbon than will already blow a gasket in our world and send it toward runaway greenhouse perdition. Can you picture this scene unfolding everywhere and never ending?:
Tim Holmes

In other words, as the UTNE piece observes:

"Burning those fossil fuels we would enter a world of science fiction dystopia: a rise in sea levels not seen in human history, species extinction, droughts, super storms, heat waves from hell....and consequences you cannot imagine".



Is George Will an unreconstructed  dolt and a knot head? You better believe it!

Monday, September 28, 2015

"Super Blood Moon" Provided A Fantastic Sight


The Super Blood Moon as it appeared to us Sunday night at roughly 8:35 p.m. local time.


It isn't very often that two separate astronomical events occur in conjunction as they did Sunday night. That is,  the coincidence of a maximal area Moon (30 % larger than normal) along with a total lunar eclipse. The maximal area Moon is also called a "super Moon" because of the enhanced diameter and occurs because the Moon is at the point of its orbit called perigee - or the closest point to Earth.


The total lunar eclipse, meanwhile, occurs when the Moon passes completely  through the Earth shadow when Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment. as depicted below:


Note the alignment (top) fixes the Sun at one end (left) and the Moon at the other with Earth in between. The light  from the Sun - on intersecting the Earth -  produces a smaller, darker umbra and a lighter outer shadow cone called the penumbra.  If the lunar transit is such that the Moon (as seen from Earth ) only passes through the penumbra, we have a partial lunar eclipse.

If, on the other hand, the Moon passes through the darker umbra, we have a total lunar eclipse and what is called a "blood Moon" because the lunar surface appears reddish or ochre on account of being seen through the Earth's atmosphere. Thus, we observe the Moon as seen in the photo we took.


As may be inferred from the diagrams, on account of the Earth casting a much larger shadow than the Moon (say when there are solar eclipses) the duration of lunar eclipses is longer, including the total phase. An entire lunar eclipse can last for hours as opposed to minutes for the solar eclipse.


Janice and I were fortunate that the weather was terrific and the sky perfectly clear when we went out at about 8:05 p.m. I had my binoculars (7 x 35mm) and Janice used a digital camera mounted on a tripod to take the photo. We took a series of about 8 photos, and decided the one displayed here had the best resolution.


Of course, though the sight may have even inspired fear in some - there were no supernatural associations to be extrapolated. It was a purely natural event that occurs every 2-3 decades. In cade you missed this one, you won't see another until 2033.

The Problems With Vienna, Austria

After leaving Budapest by dodging the migrant crush that closed Keleti rail station, see e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2015/09/caught-in-midst-of-migrant-crisis-in.html

Our next stop was Vienna, Austria - soon also to be a primary destination of migrants after Angela Merkel welcomed them to come to Germany three weeks ago. Our problem with Vienna was two fold: First, we were only there for 5 days (actually 4 1/2 taking into account a day trip to Bratislava) and so how could we maximize our time? Second, the costs, in juxtaposition to Budapest were shocking.

In Budapest one could get a fairly good meal (grilled pork steak, roast potatoes, salad) for maybe the equivalent of $13 U.S. In Vienna, just one evening's dining of beet soup, bread, and apple strudel dessert came to over 42 euro or nearly $44 U.S. We were wondering how we'd get through our time without going broke!

As far as maximizing our time, we decided that it would be madness to try to "do Vienna" in the limited time as some delirious Americans often try, and instead narrowed our targets on what we both really wanted. Eventually we came to agree on: going to the National Library, going to the Museum of Natural History, and going to Schloss Schonbrunn - both to look around this spectacular place, and to attend an evening dinner and concert. (We also briefly considered going to the Sigmund Freud Museum & Archives, but decided that would be taking on too much   - and besides, Janice wasn't as interested in the origins of Freudian psychology.)

Our aims were arguably limited, but also focused, so they wouldn't wear us out, and that included not putting excessive strains on my injured right foot. (Which slowed my pace considerably).

As for food, we soon discovered a place (Mueller-Beisl) not far from our hotel, that offered reasonably good value for the money.

Shown below are images from our various Vienna  forays.
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Inside the entrance to the National Library.

Outside the Museum of Natural History.
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Exhibit inside the Museum of Natural History
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Grounds of Schonbrunn Palace where we attended a concert.
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Yours truly outside Schloss Schonbrunn.


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End of the concert scene at Schonbrunn.

In the end we could make no claim that we saw even a small fraction of what there was to see, and as a hotel assistant pointed out, we'd "probably need at least two weeks to do Vienna justice". But in the short time we had, and our proximity to the Old Town and "Museum Square"  we felt we did all we could.

The high point was perhaps the dinner and Mozart concert at Schonbrunn castle. The setting was splendid, the dinner superb (although they charged $4 each for water) and the concert one of the best we've attended. The problem with the Museum of Natural History was that while its exhibits were world class we had to be very selective in order to efficiently navigate such an expansive bldg. with thousands of exhibits (the lapidary exhibits alone comprised three rooms with thousands of rocks, ores, etc.) in the single day we had.

One of the oddest aspects of Vienna, as well as the other places we visited,  was the nonchalant way the mail was treated. When I went to mail postcards in Budapest, for example, I was asked by two Hungarians (of whom I'd asked directions to the P.O. since the hotel didn't mail any): 'Why bother when you can just send email with images?". Well, because postcards bear the stamps of the place!  Interestingly, the post office was right next door to our Vienna hotel and I posted them on the Monday after we arrived, Sept. 7th.

Following on from this, I've since learned only 2 of the 8 or so total postcards we sent had been received up to Friday last week, and they were mailed that same Monday.  This makes me wonder when the ones mailed from Prague will arrive.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Profile Of An Upper Middle Class Family Living Beyond Its Means

In previous posts I've called attention to the 'Cult of the Kid' in this country and how in many Middle Class families the kids rule and their desires take precedence over the family's well being including financial, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/03/middle-class-american-parents-need-to.html

Now in the latest MONEY magazine (October, 2015, p. 71) we read of the travails of the Jones family of Folsom, CA.  A family with a combined income of $146,000 /yr. But which can barely make ends meet, "going month to month with little or no money to spend" or "hardly any time to spend on anything else".  The worst part is the parents (Steve and Siobhan - he an Intel engineer, she a teacher) have virtually nothing set aside for retirement, barely $9,500 put away for emergencies, and just $7,000 for college for their four boys - which they estimate will eat up nearly a half million smackeroos based on where these kids want to go.

When one reads the article, one beholds it's a classic case of a family living well beyond its means because they have allowed their soccer fanatic boys to "rule the roost" and basically enabled their "passion for soccer" to dictate the priorities of the family pocketbook. Are we supposed to feel sorry for this family? I think not. The only thing I really bemoan is the parents' inability to read the 'riot act' to these brats and tell them if they love soccer- fine- there's large play lots out there so form a neighborhood game and go for it.

Thus, as in my previous post, I have to declare these parents wimps. According to studies disclosed in a 2012 WSJ piece ('A Field Guide to the Middle Class U.S. Family', p. D2, March13), this is the nature of the American middle class now: perpetual wimps - giving in to anything their kiddies want, and worse, sometimes even acting as their slaves. The Jones parents, Steve and Siobhan, certainly appear to be soccer slaves to their 4 boys.

So let's get to particulars. Exactly what are these jokers doing to have dug themselves into such a hole? They're shelling out some $17, 400 a year for "soccer related activities" for their kids to play in an "elite"  Youth Soccer Association. This  includes: "specialized private coaches, $100 cleats, fees alone running $675 a month,  and $6,200 in one year to travel to eight tournaments".

Reading all this it's no wonder these knotheads have nothing left for emergencies, or their sons' future college - or their own retirement.

What to do? MONEY's genius expert recommended "tapping into their home equity" to jump start  college savings, along with "extending the terms of their mortgage". Nothing, not one word about telling the four brats to give up the elite coaching and  soccer league baloney and stick to humble play in their own neighborhoods. (The boys evidently believe, well at least one, he may get a special NCAA  scholarship to college based on his soccer skills, totally ignoring the reality that most of these scholarships "barely cover fees and books"(ibid.).

Have the parents ever sat down with Junior to tune him into reality? Likely not, because the bane of most American Middle Class parents is to prevent any reality from breaking into their kids' lives and disrupting the delusions.

But clearly it's time they did because pandering to the bratskies' passions is not doing this Jones bunch any good, so it's time for tough love.

In our day my brothers and I craved sports too. Hell, we'd go out every chance we got to play sandlot baseball with the neighbor kids.  But we never ever entertained any freaking delusions that we'd one day win college baseball scholarships or ever play in the Minors, far less Major Leagues. Mind you, there were none of these exclusive junior sports associations and clubs back then either - to suck up a family's money and make them believe simple competition was the path to later success.

According to the parents, on justifying their lavish, spendthrift soccer ways:

"They get to mix with quality kids, they're doing something good for them and they're learning life skills that will help them get on in the world."

Please, spare me the drivel. They can mix with 'quality kids' closer to home without traveling all over the damned place via some interleague competitions. They can do "something good" by maybe volunteering in a soup kitchen or mounting clothing drives for the homeless like a lot of other kids. They can learn life skills in sundry other ways that don't require $6,200 a year tabs for taking them to soccer tournaments.

But letting these little fools have the time of their little lives with their soccer fantasies while ruining the family finances and future plans is just plain nuts.

Again, a case of parents spoiling their twerps and you can be sure they will also mutate into 'helicopter parents' when they reach college - if they ever do.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pope Francis Calls Out Greedheads and Power Mongers At UN - Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Image for the news result
Pope Francis called out world leaders at the UN yesterday  morning, calling for an end to the "selfish and boundless thirst for power ...fueling poverty, inequality and destruction of the environment". He nailed it but one had to wonder how many of these leaders were really paying attention or merely pretending to, in an act of formal respect.

He added that: "The unfettered pursuit of money rules and leads to the misuse of natural resources and the exclusion of the weak. . Once capital becomes an idol and guides people's decisions, and greed for money presides over the entire socio-economic system, the service of the common good is left behind."

The Pope particularly referenced the "financial agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises" a potent reference to the IMF, the World Bank and others, In case people may have forgotten, all of these agencies are dedicated to the Neoliberal imperative whose prime directive is to remove security for people worldwide. As Francis noted:

"And these agencies should not subject countries to oppressive lending systems. Far from promoting progress, these subject people to greater poverty, inequality and dependence."

Thus, the agencies' yen to cut pensions in Greece as well as social supports, and to privatize pensions in Barbados and to push for currency devaluation in many other less developed nations (such as already been done in Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad).

The Pope, let's make no mistake, hit one of the prime targets (along with religious fanaticism) for what's wrong with this world.

Francis also referred to "World War III" going on right now,  yet most of us are somnolent, or better, comatose under the haze of Neoliberal puppet media propaganda - especially economic. The barrage on the nightly news has been so effective, that the poorly informed are left with their mouths agape  while those of us who know a thing or two are left to battle newly minted Zombies and attempt to get their brains liberated from the dross.

And, of course, like the Pope we are often attacked for our stance and arguing for a saner world where inequality and financial manipulation are finally wiped out. No surprise there, or that the Neoliberal media - which tolerates no efforts at others competing - viciously attacks Jeremy Corbin in the UK and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the U.S. for their efforts to upend the imperative.

No surprise then that like the brainwashed denizens of Oceania - in the scene where the Über villain Emmanuel Goldstein is depicted on the giant theater screen - the stooges of the Neoliberal state likewise go nuts clamoring for blood and action. Hence, the jubilation of the Tea Party nuts after Boehner resigned, so they believe they can now tear into Obama's legislation even more.   Having lost the ability to critically and logically think, thanks to the bastardized vocabulary of Neolib Newspeak, the brains of these pawns have now been colonized by "Big Brother" to his own ends. Those of us who inveigh against it are the new "Emmanuel Goldsteins".

The people of Oceania were no longer authentic beings in their own right but mere extensions of Big Brother and his will to power, to keep grinding their bodies and state resources up in a never-ending war to attain global domination. So it is with the "Neoliberal Frankenstein" and how it now seeks to grind nation after nation into more fodder for its misbegotten global ends. Ends which elevate and reify a global elite but which denigrate everyone else - offering only "gigs" for jobs. This is exactly what Francis condemned.

In a slashing salon.com piece last year Patrick Smith correctly asserted  that "Neoliberalism is our Frankenstein" and also noted:  "it is profoundly undemocratic, never mind that the English and American variants of democracy are the mulch from which it arises." He also added:  "It is also unrelentingly absolutist because it is intimately related to the myth of America’s providential exception, neoliberalism can tolerate no alternative".  His definition (formal) starts out:

"Neoliberalism denotes the revival since the 1970s, plus or minus, of English liberalism as expounded by Locke in the 17th century and numerous others in the 18th—Adam Smith and his “invisible hand,” most famously. John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian, are notable among 19th century apostles."

But then went into a lengthy discourse comparing early and 18th century forms of  liberalism to the neo-mutant. Let's just cut to the chase here and give Smith's core definition:

"Classical liberalism in its 'neo'  phase denotes not thought but belief, ideological conviction. It is the ideology of radical deregulation, radical corporatization, radical privatization—prisons? water? kindergartens? human health?—maximal profit without regard to consequences, and the radical devaluation of any serious consciousness of the communities in which all individuals are suspended."

I would add to this columnist Jay Bookman's insight from a 1998 Baltimore Sun piece ('The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad'):

“The global economy has been constructed on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative."

And there is Henry Giroux's insight on Neoliberalism:

"As an ideology, it casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality, construes profit-making as the arbiter and essence of democracy, consuming as the only operable form of citizenship, and upholds the irrational belief that the market can both solve all problems and serve as a model for structuring all social relations. "
Thus we see where the yen to cut social insurance arises, and why profit and enormous wealth is amplified for the richest, and  also how  the wealthier nations  especially benefit by placing desperate or unstable ones in regimes of adversely structured debt. This is exactly why the West's Neolibs are determined to make Ukraine part of the Neoliberal imperative and orbit. And also why they've arrogantly refused thus far to cooperate with Putin and Russia (as well as Assad)  to rein in the radical jihadi rebels and ISIS vermin seeking to wreck the rest of that forlorn country and send its remaining 11.5 million into permanent refugee flight.
 It follows from this that the true liberal must inveigh against this mission and that means siding with Russia and Putin (who will be giving a '60 Minutes' interview Sunday that I advise everyone to watch for a great example of a rational man). "Siding" at least to the extent that we agree the Ukraine outcome ends essentially in a draw - translated to mean neither in the West's orbit or Russia's but a separate buffer state. (This was advocated by Ret. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson two years ago.)

It further means that we agree Syria be returned to stability and a stable government - even if we may not like that government. Tough shit! In our history we have tolerated tyrants before - think of Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti, or Manuel Noriega in Panama, or Fulgencio Batista in Cuba - and we can do so now if it means lessening the refugee chaos and migrant crisis.

But this may be difficult given as Smith writes:
"I was astonished many times as a correspondent to see how readily foreign leaders and their finance ministries drank the Anglo-American Kool-Aid. Here I single out Continental Europe as especially disappointing. A long social-democratic tradition notwithstanding, almost all European leaders—and every last technocrat in Brussels—went down like sticks of butter when neoliberals at State, Treasury and in the think tanks launched the post-Berlin Wall campaign."

Thus, the Europeans have now become puppets of the U.S. which let's face it, is the primary force bearer - the 'cop of the world' - enjoined to enforce Neolib standards. Hence, the threat to send lethal weapons to the Ukrainians - just as they have kept arming the jihadis in Syria seeking to overthrow Assad. But which any sober realist will assure you can never happen - and also never lead to an alternative rebel governance. For more on this please do read the FT article below (sign up for the free limited access if you have to!):

Again, what it's about is the Neoliberal imperative,  to convert nations into dependent debt slavery states and their citizens into slaves for the Neoliberals.  How accomplished? Well, via the draconian conditions required by the World Bank and the IMF: the privatization of numerous state-held assets, including airports, rails and even pensions. Also,  divestment of the most profitable of these first.  Leaving the governments impecunious, essentially beggars beholden to the Neoliberal empire.

If you consider yourself to have any skin at all in this ongoing war, you need to back Vladimir Putin and Russia as bulwarks against Neoliberal advance. If not, then you are part of the problem not the solution and if the whole world turns into a slave state for the richest, you must share the blame for the "boundless thirst for power and money" that the Pope vehemently condemned.

See also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/thom-hartmann/64016/the-pope-says-greed-is-not-good

And:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f7cd3f4c-6472-11e5-9846-de406ccb37f2.html#axzz3mtG3qQGY

  

Friday, September 25, 2015

DOH! The Pope Was NOT Speaking As A "Leftist" - But As A HUMAN!


Pope Francis arrives at the House to address congress yesterday morning.

"We on this continent do not fear foreigners because we were once foreigners too." - Pope Francis in his address to congress.

Leave it to the Neoliberal -leaning NY Times to come away with exactly the wrong message in its reporting of Pope Francis' address to congress, painting it as "tilting to the left". The author wrote:

He called for the mightiest nation in history on Thursday to break out of its cycle of polarization and paralysis to finally use its power to heal the “open wounds” of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution.

Taking a rostrum never before occupied by the bishop of Rome, the pontiff issued a vigorous call to action on issues largely favored by liberals, including a powerful defense of immigration, an endorsement of environmental legislation, a blistering condemnation of the arms trade and a plea to abolish the death penalty.

But the Pope's whole point was for the nation to escape polarized political perceptions, whereupon the NY Times columnist injects them! He portrays the Pope's positions as "one largely favored by liberals". Ok, let's get it straight - all those positions really fell under his invitation to adhere to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Is that a "liberal" line? Of course not! The Pope's whole emphasis reinforced that it was a HUMAN line of approach!

If the conservatives are not with the rest of us on those positions then the question to ask is: Why aren't they?  It means they are the outliers or aberrations of humanity. What's wrong with their brains, or perhaps, what's wrong with acceptance of the Golden Rule? (Ok, mayhap most conservos really go by "Do to others before they do to you!" Which would be in line with all the anti-human, hostility meme the Pope inveighed against.)  This is the thinking that promotes me-firstism, exceptionalism, wars, greed and inequality - as well as xenophobia and barring newcomers to one's land because they are somehow untrustworthy or  inferior..

Fortunately, not all conservatives have their heads up their behinds. For example. Wall Street Journal columnist William A. Galston ('The Refugees Test Obama's Moral Leadership', Sept. 23, p. A11) concedes the refugee crisis is a moral issue as well as a leadership  test. He puts the two together under "moral leadership".  In his article he compares Hungary's leader Viktor Orban to those fascists forming the Arrow Cross Party in WWII. He also adds: "America cannot stand by. Sins of commission during George W. Bush's presidency contributed to this crisis".  And "We cannot say this is Europe's problem alone. Nor can we make a token contribution and walk away."

He goes on to note that a group of national security, international humanitarian and human rights appointees from both Democratic and Republican administrations have urged Obama to support the admission of "at least 100,000 Syrian refugees on an expedited basis" and further argues "This should be the floor of the U.S. effort not the ceiling"

Most notably, Mr. Galston wants Obama to bring the matter up at the upcoming conference for world leaders at the UN next week. He pins it as a sign of moral leadership for the President - in contrast to the knuckle dragging, anti-humans that want to "bar the doors to ragheads" - some of whom even now are mocking the deaths of 717 Muslims near Mecca.

What does Mr. Galston know that xenophobic conservatives don't? Or does he have a higher IQ? Or perhaps, and this is my bet, he has a more developed moral conscience and is fully able to apply the Golden Rule (which he does noting in the article his own Jewish background on the eve of Yom Kippur.)

While the Pope didn't explicitly tell the congress how many Syrians and other Middle East refugees to take (maybe for fear too many Reepo heads would explode) he did leave no doubt it's a lot - citing the Golden Rule and also the fact this is nation built from immigrants. OK, they may not have been Middle Eastern in origin but they were immigrants and the Pope's message bade us to not pick "sides" and exalt one form of immigrant over the other, say by calling the new wave "ragheads". Indeed, his message was explicitly NOT to pass judgment on fellow humans of whatever origin given we are all in this together on one world. We either learn to live together or we perish together, it's that simple.

"Ragheads" itself is a disgusting, dehumanizing epithet  as bad as "gooks", which only appeals to the basest nativist instincts and which definitely is not consonant with the Golden Rule. It is more at home with nativist paranoia, hate and Islamophobia.

The Rule also applies to our treatment of those enmeshed in poverty at home. Thus,  Francis beseeched a nation that generates a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth to not let money drive its decisions at the expense of humanity. “Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one, the greatest common good,”

Also words for the Business Elites:  "While business is a noble vocation it must be an essential part of its service to the common good.” Uh, that's common good, not personal good.

Speaking of which, let's recall that the Golden Rule is not Christian in origin. It is, in fact, the fundamental tenet of Hammurabi’s Code  which recognizes a communitarian moral order. In effect, the Rule's authors believed if people rigorously followed this tenet there'd be little or no greed, theft, or even war. Why would a person want some hellish end for another that he doesn't want for himself?

The Pope's message was to get back to that wholly HUMAN frame of reference and exclude the artificial one based on personal aggrandizement, personal priority, material consumption and grabbing more than you need.

In like manner,  the Rule applies to immigration, and accepting the "stranger" from other lands yearning to breathe free. It says in effect, "If you were in the typical Syrian refugee's position, what would you want for yourself, for others?" Well, you'd want a safe, secure place such as you are seeking.

Those who refer to potential Syrian immigration as a "Trojan horse" are also operating under severe negative ideation and fear, which as the Pope noted yesterday  - will limit one's ability to reach out. It hampers one's generosity, reducing it to a survivalist meme that will countenance nothing for strangers who one dismisses as less than human. It is in reality an inducement to the Brutal Rule: Do to others before they can do to you..

But look, if this Rule dominated our history we'd never have become the nation we are today. NO way!. We'd be just like the nations from which the refugees are fleeing. Fear and hostility would rule and we'd not have become a union that transcended its individual, separate parts.

Those who want to ditch the "ragheads" or prevent allowing them to find refuge here, need to bear that in mind.

See also:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/pope-francis-to-address-divided-congress-in-washington-on-thursday/2015/09/23/971b0a9e-6260-11e5-b38e-06883aacba64_story.html

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How Corporations Are Inflating the Equity Asset Bubble By Share Buybacks


In a previous post (Sept. 9) I noted:

"Right now those in the stock market, especially in equities, are riding a huge asset bubble. The bubble has two components that are perilous but which too few - high on the nose candy of their share prices - ignore. One is the very excess price of equities, or more exactly, the high price to earnings (P/E) ratio of most of them. "


This ought to be of concern for us all, especially as Martin Feldstein has noted the role of such  mispriced assets in feeding the current asset bubble.  And one huge contributor has been the practice of stock buybacks by big corporations - which artificially inflates their share prices and P/E ratios. Columnist Jonathan Clements in a WSJ piece last year observed:

"Many companies were big buyers of their own stock before the 2007-09 market decline, only to scuttle their buyback programs during the market crash. In recent years with share prices up sharply they have begun to voraciously buy back."

And why not, because they are then reaping the bounty of their own high share prices? Buy backs also make management's stock options more valuable - so what better way to compensate the Street's honchos?  Strangely, all this has selectively blinded investors to the lack of dividends. As Robert Arnott, quoted by Clements, stated:

"Dividends are reliable, You cut them at your own peril - but you can cut a buyback and hardly anyone notices."

Why? Why aren't the little guys more aware of how they're being shafted?  Because generally they're happy just to see higher share value, unaware of the risk being taken in enabling mispriced assets.

This has been abetted by the Fed's ginormous QE (quantitative easing) program - purchasing over $4 trillion in the bond market. Now we know corporations have been taking advantage of this strategy to use bond sales for buybacks.

As noted in The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 22, p. C2):

"U.S. companies are increasingly using the bond market for the benefit of shareholders, a move that is starting to raise alarm among some debt investors.

Proceeds from some of the largest bond sales, including those from Microsoft Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Oracle Corp., were earmarked for share repurchases...

Buybacks can boost stock prices by reducing the number of shares available. Some analysts warn that the tactic risks eroding corporate financial health by diverting cash that can be used to fund debt repayments and make investments that can boost corporate earnings power over time."

Thus share buybacks are in fact undermining corporate health for short term gain, even as they fuel the ongoing equity asset bubble to absurd proportions. This is now made worse as the Fed, instead of raising interest rates to temper borrowers' insanity,  has dispensed yet more borrower's crack. As Feldstein has also noted, while these same investors may have realized the rapid increase in share prices are a bubble waiting to pop - they still invested "on the mistaken belief they would know when to pull out".  But they were deluded, as the 2007- 08 financial meltdown showed.

To her credit, as the WSJ piece notes, Hillary Clinton has called for "greater disclosure of buybacks amid concerns they come at the expense of longer term investment"

She is spot on and the WSJ  points out that companies are effectively transferring capital from bondholders to shareholders without investing to expand their business. This cannot be right, and it shows again how the Fed's nose candy QE bond buying program is actually backfiring on bond buyers.

Hopefully, at its next meeting the Fed will do the right thing and raise rates. I'd like to see at least a raise of 50 basis points, not merely 25.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Will The Repukes Behave Themselves for the Pope's Congressional Address? Or Act Like 'Pukes?


Pope Francis addressing the White House gathering this morning, warning that "climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to future generations." He also emphasized his own immigrant origins.

As Pope Francis received a rock star welcome in Washington this morning, on his way to the White House, many of us turn our minds to his congressional address tomorrow and how that will be received - especially by Republicans. Already one GOOP has vowed to "boycott" the address - immature brat that he is - and also Okie Jim Inhofe has already made disparaging remarks about the Pope and his previous pronouncements on climate change.

The 'pukes are also skittish about Francis' previous stands against run amuck capitalism calling him a "leftist" and other nonsense, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2013/11/bravo-to-pope-francis-for-warning-of.html

Most of them don't grasp that the Pope's visit is based on his pastoral message, which is really addressed to the nation's 70 million Catholics but could also have meaning for many others -including those of us who are hardcore secularists, or even Muslims and evangelicals. A "pastoral" message is based on the question "What would Jesus do?" as pointed out by Monsignor Anthony Figueredo on CBS this morning. He noted, however, the pastoral can impinge on the political. Thus, we are obliged to act as stewards of the planet because it is "God's work". In a similar way, we are obliged to share its resources and not greedily shut the less fortunate out, recalling Christ's words: "Whatever ye do for these the least of my brethren that ye also do unto me."

In addition, this message applies to the refugee crisis now confronting the world. And we know Francis' stand here is to unambiguously help these teeming masses of destitute people yearning to breathe free. Indeed, 3 weeks ago while we were in Europe we heard Francis (over the BBC) ask every Catholic religious community and monastery in Europe to take in a refugee family - as well as parishioners.

The 'skinny' is that the Pope's main message tomorrow in his congressional address will be to ask the United States to do much more, perhaps to take in as many as a million or more Syrian and other refugees. This is  given the U.S.A.'s  much greater diversity of resources - far more than Europe -which will already have taken in over 1 million by year's end. Also, he'd be aware of the U.S. role in starting Mideast occupations and wars that prepared the way for al Qaeda and ISIS and the Syrian Civil War driving these millions far from their homes.

This is a message we fear the "raghead haters" amongst the Repukes will not wish to hear. They are, after all, stokers of anti-immigrant fever and rampant xenopbobia and are even too cowardly to call out Islamophobes as Trump's recent performance in NH showed.  So many of us are wondering what will the gathered Repukes do if the Pope brings this issue up.

Will they give him a "Bronx cheer", or will they yelp out "Liar!" or "No way!" like one R-moron did during an Obama State of the Union address? We don't know. We do know many of them are Tea Party adherents and boors, and know nothing of propriety - which most of them deem ?irrelevant?.

But the Pope will likely put it to them, many self-proclaimed "Christians": "What would Jesus do?"

Would their self-described Lord and master shut these people out?  Would he call them "ragheads" and tell them to "Go somewhere else". Hardly! And if they truly believe that they have no clue of what Christ's message in the scriptures was or how it is to be fulfilled. They are hollow men (and women) only given to subscribing to the outer forms of Christianity but not its deep message and substance.

Let us hope the Republicans behave themselves tomorrow and no matter what the Pope proposes including "welcoming the stranger with empathy and an open heart" - they receive it with civility and propriety and not as craven boors.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Monitored by the Feds" For Proposing a Humanitarian Solution? Don't Be Stupid!

"Syrians meet any standard for recognition as refugees with a 'well-founded fear of persecution', under the terms of the UN convention on refugees. Helping Syrians is a clear moral duty.- The Economist, Sept. 12, p. 13.

It appears my conservo blogger pal has his knickers in a twist again over my proposal that the U.S. bear equal responsibility for the current migrant-refugee crisis, by allowing at least 2m refugees into the U.S. - fleeing from wars and destruction the U.S. started. What part of "fair" doesn't this guy grasp? Ok, let's even factor in his obvious Islamic-Muslim paranoia and methinks hostility, but if HIS family were in the same predicament as these Syrians - run from their bombed out homes, chased to primitive camps with no resources WTF would HE do? Sit there and cry?

Of course not, he'd try to seek out a place for safety! Thus, the "krauts", as he calls them,  are doing the right thing by admitting people driven out of their homes by wars the West started! This is a humanitarian response not "stupid" or "lamebrain" as he portrays it.  And if HE and his family were in a similar situation, irrespective of his religious beliefs, he'd want to find succor and safety as well. He'd certainly not be so stupid or ignorant as to think he could find his safe path on his own, by his own steam - given the conditions!

But what really pisses me off is how he actually makes the claim that we who propose an equitable sharing of these refugees - legitimate ones, not just economic migrants - are "ISIS sympathizers" and "ought to be monitored by the Feds". Here I believe his paranoia has gone off the rails into whacko land, especially when he proclaims "even one raghead is too many".  Here's a memo to him and others: If that is so then don't launch wars in their countries and expect not to have to clean up after!

Because one proposes an equitable sharing of responsibility - especially when one's own nation incepted the wars that have driven these people to flee for their lives-  does NOT make him an "ISIS sympathizer". This is hysterical, unreasoned balderdash that has no place in any serious discussion or in any serious blog. It is the stuff of extremist xenophobia. But then, as the Trump -driven madness has shown, this Islamophobic hysteria on the Right is now infecting many nativists (already up in arms against Mexicans) - especially the base of the Repub party which has always stoked "fear of the stranger". (As The Economist observed in its Sept. 12 issue.)  Heck. they've even forgotten Yeshua's own words  "Whatever ye do for these the least of my brethren that ye also do unto me".

Besides,  even the Pope, when he addresses congress in 2 days, will likely call for the U.S.  - as the richest nation on Earth- to do its part in this crisis. He will call for taking in many more Syrians - especially  - given they are the direct victims of our policies in that country, supporting jihadi and other rebels to try to take down Assad.

People are Muslims, or Syrians by accidents of birth - through no fault of their own. Barring them from humanitarian rescues or aid because of an accident of birth is insane. Also, barring them because of ISIS - the very ones destroying their hopes for a life in Syria - is insane. 

My blogger pal can call this "stupid" or "lamebrain" all he wants but it's the right thing to do and he knows it. He can twist it any way he wants by using false reports of "ISIS infiltrators" in Europe - when there is NO evidence for such apart from FAUX News baloney - but that will not change the moral obligation.

One hopes he can soon get out of his xenophobic stupor, but perhaps that is asking too much.


See  also:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/marjorie-cohn/63959/the-u-s-has-a-duty-to-the-tempest-tost-syrians


U.S. Needs To Take In At Least Two Million Refugees - And One Million from Syria!


Syrian boy cries amidst refugee crush to leave Tovarnik, Croatia

"Syrians meet any standard for recognition as refugees with a well-founded 'fear of persecution', under the terms of the UN convention on refugees of 1951. Helping Syrians is a clear moral duty." - The Economist, Sept. 12, p. 13.

The news on the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal ('U.S. To Raise Refugee Limit') was ludicrous to say the least. As reported, and as the European Union is flooded by up to one million Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi refugees now - the U.S. in its magnanimous heart - will raise its quota to 100,000 from 70,000 now. According to the piece:

"Mr. Kerry said that in fiscal year 2016 which starts in October, the U.S. would accept some 85,000 refugees including 10,000 Syrians the White House proposed earlier this month".

Whoopee Do! 10,000 Syrians when Germany is on a path to accept possibly 1 million with only one sixth the population of the U.S. and fewer resources., This is disgraceful!

Look, since the U.S. had a major hand in driving all these people (up to 4 million) out from their homes because of arming Syrian rebels to take down Bashar al Assad, it certainly has a bigger responsibility to take at least as many as the Europeans, (Islamophobes like Trump be damned)

Columnist Michael Ignatieff, writing in the International Ed. of the New York Times ('This Isn't a European Problem', Sept. 7, p. 10), put it thusly:

"The Syrian War has created about 4 million refugees. The United States has taken in about 1,500 of them. The United States and its allies are at war with the Islamic State in Syria - fine, everyone agrees they are a threat- but don't we have some responsibility toward the refugees fleeing the combat? If we've been arming Syrian rebels (against Assad), shouldn't we also be helping the people trying to get out of their way? If we've failed to broker peace in Syria, can't we help the people who can't wait for peace any longer?"

Indeed.  And he goes on to note the forces driving the refugees to flee the camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon - including their filth and squalor and lack of basic food - with funding having already been cut severely in some cases and repealed in others. (The World Food Program was recently forced to slash food allocations for refugees in Lebanon to $13. 50 per person per month. Try to process that!)

As he notes:

"Now the refugees have decided that if the international community won't help them - if neither the United States or Russia is going to force the war to an end - they won't wait any longer. They are coming our way. Blaming the Europeans is an alibi and the rest of our excuses, like they 'don't have the right papers' are sickening."

Again, right on. Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat is also clear when he makes the ":plausible proposition" (op.cit., p. 11) that:

"the world's powers, the United States chief among them, had a responsibility to prevent the Syrian war from developing and to protects its victims once it did",

Adding:

"And since our various Syrian forays: clandestine aid to rebels, airstrikes (then held back), explicit aid to rebels - look like failures at the moment, we're partially implicated in the continuing catastrophe".

That means, if one accepts the proposition of plausible culpability, the U.S. must accept at least as much responsibility as its NATO-EU allies to take refugees in. It means we can't just smugly look on at the European situation and make token gestures while we wash our hands under the worn out excuse "well, we can't do it or dem t'errorists will sneak in".  The Germans - also faced with that line of thought - knew they had a greater humanitarian duty and have accepted up to 800,000 refugees already.

The U.S., having fomented a Pax Americana war to not only overthrow Assad, but demolish ISIS, has a similar responsibility, You can't just help tear the shit out of a country - reduce it to rubble - then tell its fleeing victims to go suck salt. (The U.S. has, of this writing, donated $419m to help the refugees but this is a 'drop in the bucket' when well over $10b is needed given some 4 million are in camps.)

The need for the U.S. to offer more help becomes more evident when one realizes what's happening now in Europe is only the first phase of a massive migration-refugee wave likely to add millions more each year. Some articles in the same NY Times Int'l editions have forecast nearly all the 11 million displaced Syrians will be soon on the move, not to mention over 1m Afghans who see no future in their bombed out nation, and 2m Iraqis who are unable to have a life because of the ISIS vermin (who entered after we meddled in Iraq and removed the one secular force inhibiting Muslim factionalism)

Bottom line, the U.S. can't look on and pat itself on the back for taking in a mere 100,000 refugees and only 10,000 Syrians - when it had a major hand in stirring up the original Mideast shit storm by invading Iraq in 2003  Europe simply will not be able to absorb all the millions, and as one Syrian refugee put it (ibid.) "we are coming and nothing can stop us".

Thus, to fully acknowledge our role in creating the "catastrophe" as Douthat puts it, we are morally obliged to take in at least the same number of Syrians the Germans will, and 1m more Afghans and Iraqis.

We cannot, in good and decent conscience, look on as these millions (most of them middle class people who've had their homes, neighborhoods bombed out) either perish in frantic efforts to reach safety or return in defeat to their homelands to be slaughtered by the ISIS bugs. We did as much for the fleeing Cubans in the 1960s- 80s so we can do as much now for the fleeing Syrians and others!


See also:
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/marjorie-cohn/63959/the-u-s-has-a-duty-to-the-tempest-tost-Syrians



and:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/96bf7e48-6041-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html#axzz3mSz73FXD




Monday, September 21, 2015

How The Hell Can ANY Vet Be For Ben Carson - When He Wants To Eliminate the Dept. Of Veterans Affairs?

This is a real head scratching question, and it frankly boggles my mind. It has been known for some time that the new right wing token African American "Messiah" - Ben Carson - wants to eliminate the Veterans Administration, on which many vets depend for their health care. It even got headlines in the 'Military Times', e.g.

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2015/08/28/carson-dump-va-reaction/71312038/


So why the hell would any sane and sensible vet even remotely cater to this fool, or indicate a remote support? I don't get it. (Although again, it may be to drag out the token wingnut black again, like they did with Herman Cain in 2012, to try to paint Lefties as "Nazis" or "Klavern types from the KKK".  But it doesn't wash this time because the VA ought to be a precious benefit to every red-blooded vet and cause them to get rid of any notions that "Uncle Ben" is their bosom pal.

According to the Military Times:

"Presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s comments suggesting the  Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.

On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.

“There is a lot of stuff we’re doing that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense.”

Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.

Just a few hours after the remarks, leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars blasted the proposals as harmful to veterans.

“To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day,” VFW National Commander John Biedrzyck said in a statement.

“(VA) provides an irreplaceable service to the nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans, and my organization will not let any candidate for any office suggest anything otherwise.”

Officials at Wounded Warrior Project said they will not endorse or condemn any candidates, but said Carson’s proposal “would not constitute a good path forward” for veterans."

I confess I am at a loss to grasp the Wounded Warriors tepid reaction. If they had any sense and were really for wounded warriors, they'd excoriate this candidate in no uncertain terms.

As I have related to family vets, the benefit they have via the VA is like having another $150k or more saved that the rest of us don't. So why would you support a doofus who wants to take it away?

Trump, aka "the Donna", may be many things - including a spineless, xenophobic demagogue-  but at least he doesn't want to take Vets' VA benefits away!

Will Pope Francis Get A Hero's Welcome From Conservative Catholics? Doubtful!

"The church is not grounded in the human experience. This pope is. This pope has an understanding I've not seen in other popes. He talks like a person who actually knows something about human life". -  William D'Antonio, sociologist at Catholic University, in today's Denver Post (p. 4A)

As Pope Francis' arrival in Washington draws near, a question being bruited about is the form of welcome he will receive from conservatives, especially conservative Catholics. We know the conservative Repukes are up in arms, about his recent attacks on crony capitalism, as well as defending the scientific basis of global warming. Most Repugs' heads are ready to explode over these issues, and it has even draw a few to write pre-emptive columns directed at Francis such as appeared in the Weekend WSJ.

Conservative Catholics are another matter, and the Pope's entire reign so far has many of them in a state of near hysteria. as well as apoplexy. They are especially burned up by several of the Pope's recent proclamations, about the nature of evil as well as his apparent "slacking off" on Catholic sinners - especially those who violate the "pelvic dogmas" (i.e. against masturbation, premarital sex, contraception, adultery etc.)

"Pelvic Morality" was a term used for decades to describe the unhealthy obsession of the Roman Catholic Church with the human pelvic region, including the female vagina, fallopian tubes and ovaries, as well as the male organs, including the seminal vesicles and testes. One philosopher has suggested this obsession dated from the time of St. Augustine (fresh from his Manichean mental domination) and the belief that female carnality was a refuge of demoniality.

Well into the Middle Ages this view persisted, manifesting in the belief (often echoed by Church Fathers such as Aquinas) that sins such a adultery demanded much more severe physical punishment of the female than her offending male counterpart. This was because by her nature she was deemed closer to the demonic hordes. Indeed, a widepsread belief among prelates late into the Enlightenment was that male virtue and mental acumen was easily "ensnared in female wiles and the flesh". Hence, the recommendation of those like Aquinas for the female body to taste the whip when caught out in such things as adultery, or simply fornication before marriage. (See also Ute Ranke-Heinemann's: Eunuchs in the Service of Christ).

On the male side, the Church's pelvic fetishists obsessed over the intrinsic nature of human sperm (spermatocytes) which were viewed as "homunculi" or tiny -miniature humans, at least until the first microscopes with sufficient power showed otherwise. Hence, any mischievous spilling of seed could not be countenanced, lest these miniature humans perished in a pleasure-induced "holocaust". Thus, the fierce proscriptions against masturbation, and the Vatican's pronouncements of being "mortal sins".

Wearing their little brains out, prelates locked away in their ivory towers and behind hallowed halls of ivy also concluded that if any artificial contraception was used - say in the marriage act- it had to become reduced to no more than "mutual masturbation" since the "natural outlet for new life" was impeded. If a married woman did this, then she could be no better than a whore - hence the 2013 recounting by columnist Gail Collins of how a long time friend went to confession, confessed her use of birth control to some old fart padre, and was told in a loud voice: "Then, Missus.....YOU are a WHORE!" No wonder one Catholic is leaving the Church about every twenty minutes!

This obsession by conservo Catholics was reinforced in a recent Denver Post article ('Disruption Among Catholics', Sept. 19, p. 15A)  citing Hofstra University Professor Julie E. Byrne whose specialty is American Catholics. According to her (ibid.):

"The so-called bedroom issues have always been important to conservatives and to Catholic conservatives in particular"

She then agreed that the feeling among the Catholic conservatives is the Church is the last bastion "holding the line" on these sins, so that any divergence or apparent softening of harsh positions is unacceptable The Pope must, MUST declare that even a single masturbation merits eternal hellfire, as much as Hitler might get for killing 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.

Insane? Not really! We already know that proportion and balance are not attributes of the conservative Catholic mind, or conservatives in general. Of course Hell must be the destination for a single sexual sin! It's on a par with committing genocide!

Hence, also the over the top opposition to artificial contraception.(Generally referred to as "mutual masturbation" by Catholic Ethics Professors and priests teaching Catholic morality.)

But there are also statements the Pope has made which have caused implosion of Catholic conservatives' brains, such as:

- Telling a prominent Italian atheist that "everyone has his own idea of good and evil" - not to mention averring even hardcore atheists could reach heaven, e.g.

http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2013/06/is-pope-francis-atheist-nope-but-he-is.html

- Asking 'Who am I to judge?' in relation to a question concerning gay priests

- And then there's the Pope's interview in the October, 2013, Jesuit magazine, 'America', wherein he was asked to name the 'biggest evils" in the world and replied: "Youth unemployment and loneliness".

This so upset blogger Steven Skojec ('OnePeterFive' website) whose head hasn't been the same since, replying (ibid.):

"That's a jarring statement when you're on the front lines of the culture wars looking at the death toll of abortion."

Totally unaware that the Church DID ALLOW abortions to be performed up until the third trimester, and until 1869. John Connery, S.J. a leading historian of the Church’s teaching on abortion, has been quoted as citing a long standing collection of Canon Law that “it was not until 1869 that abortion for any reason became grounds for excommunication” (See, e.g. Anne Druyan and Carl Sagan, PARADE, April 22, 1990).

Meanwhile, Catholic publications have piled on, according to the Post piece. For example, one writer for the Catholic conservative publication 'First Things' "called Francis an ideologue and meddlesome egoist"

Seriously? An egoist? Can we now say this guy is a certifiable jackass?

Then there was the Bulletin from a church in St. Hedwig, Texas which bemoaned his encyclical Laudato Si, writing:

"It's too bad he acquired and used phrases that are scientifically unproven and used by the segment of world leaders that strive to control people by controlling energy issues, usages,"

Hmmm...sounds like a pro-fracker to me, who doesn't have the first clue about how his pet energy "usage" is mangling this nation - from destroying water sources, to polluting air and soil.  I'd also warrant this dope couldn't pass a basic thermal physics test.

Then there is Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke who says it "might be necessary to resist the pope's doctrinal shifts".

Oh really? So you know Catholic doctrine better than the pope and are also infallible?

Then there is blogger Skojec who (un-)graciously spouts (ibid.):

"Popes make mistakes. There are good popes and there are bad popes".

Let's not pretend here. The Pope will get a polite welcome from the conservatives - given it's his first trip to the U.S. - but don't look for these knuckle- headed knuckle draggers to hail him as any kind of hero.