Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sizing things up

Or check out the video here ...

Deep beneath the ground in Geneva, thousands of scientists from all over the world are working together to build the biggest, most complicated machine in the world. It's part of the most ambitious scientific experiment of all time: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. These films reveal the scientific questions at the heart of the experiment and what scientists hope to achieve once the machine is switched on later this year.

Dumb and Dumber

The U.S. Army lowers recruitment standards … again.

By Fred Kaplan / Slate

The Army is lowering recruitment standards to levels not seen in at least two decades, and the implications are severe—not only for the future of the Army, but also for the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

The latest statistics—compiled by the Defense Department. and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Boston-based National Priorities Project—are grim. They show that the percentage of new Army recruits with high-school diplomas has plunged from 94 percent in 2003 to 83.5 percent in 2005 to 70.7 percent in 2007. (The Pentagon's longstanding goal is 90 percent.)

The percentage of what the Army calls "high-quality" recruits—those who have high-school diplomas and who score in the upper 50th percentile on the Armed Forces' aptitude tests—has declined from 56.2 percent in 2005 to 44.6 percent in 2007.

The rest after the click ...

My comment:

So, let me see if I understand the situation. We've "privatized" war by contracting a bunch of it out to private security companies. The Mercenaries Contractors are recruiting from the same pool of possible candidates and offering four times as much money or more (ultimately your tax payer dollars) for basically the same work without the responsibility of being accountable to any pesky rules and regulations (like the Military Code of Justice, the Geneva Conventions, international law, the laws of the country in which they serve or the laws of the United States) other than those the rules and regulations the mercenary contracting outfits feel like enforcing at any given moment. The private security outfits offer short rotations that allow their mercenaries contractors an opportunity to take a break from getting shot at awhile our military extends tours of duty and runs them back to back ... and then we wonder why all the bright ones seem to have something else to do other than serve in the all volunteer army for the love of country.

I wonder what it must be like to be one of our troops stationed in Iraq, seeing a well armored SUV load of mercenaries contractors driving around the Green Zone knowing that the mercenaries contractors are making a lot more money and can pretty much go home to be with their families at will. I bet it's a real morale boost and a sure sign to them that they have all the love and support from the folks back home with all those great "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers.

I bet they take heart knowing that some of the folks back home are willing to keep supporting them in that strange land for the next 100 years. And maybe when it's all over, there'll be a G.I. Bill to help them get their G.E.D. ... if there's any money left over from paying the security contractors.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Stimulus Package, my foot

Let me guess how this is going to work. The last time we got a check from the government as part of an economic stimulus package it was a write off against our taxes for that year. It was deducted from any tax return we might have gotten (or against any taxes we might have been paying at the time). In short, we financed our stimulus package ... personally ... by borrowing from our future money.

Don't plan on your 2008 tax return being of the magnitude its been for the last couple of years.

In the meantime, we're also underwriting new tax breaks for corporations and for the wealthy (also part of this current package)... again. Those breaks will be part of the legacy we're passing on to our children ... because the money eventually has to come from somewhere.

There is no free money ... ever.

The delightful thought of "letting people keep more of their own money" sounds great at first blush ... but the cost of our national infrastructure (roads, dams, educational systems), the military -- including our current wars, and the social programs that help to keep our streets from looking like the beggar laden byways of Bangladesh by providing a safety net for our elderly ... well, those meters are still running.

This advance on your tax return is supposed to be spent at the mall. Buying goods is supposed to be the way out of this financial mess created by cheap and easy credit. So ... you go out and buy a new pair of sneakers (made in China) or a new computer (made in Taiwan) or maybe some clothes (made in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic). Or maybe you decide to spend the money on food like beef (from Argentina) or fruits and vegetables (grown in Mexico). That sure doesn't sound like it's going to stimulate our economy much.

Paying your bills won't help much. You already bought (or committed to buy) that stuff. If you're paying a credit card bill, you're basically ... well, paying against a loan ... paying for the past not the future.

Actually, you can find wine and beer produced in the United States. Maybe the best thing would be to go out, hit a bar and binge. That's my plan, anyway.

In the meantime, the lenders who made all those bad deals will get a bailout that you're gonna pay for. No blame, no responsibility and certainly no penalty for convincing people who never should have taken a loan in the first place that investing in the Ponzi Scheme that's been the American housing market for the last 15 years was a good idea. They get to keep their millions in bonuses. Their deregulated companies get pulled back from the brink of disaster ... with additional tax breaks on top of it all ... and all you're gonna get is an opportunity to buy a T-shirt from Wal-Mart (with your own money, by the way) made by slave labor somewhere out in the world.

Have you been watching the stock market lately? (chuckle) Aren't you glad that we collectively didn't let Republicans "privatize" your Social Security account?

You haven't been hearing much about that lately, have you. Funny they're not bringing it up in the debates. Wonder why ...

The Illusion of the Bush Economy's Growth is Revealed

from Huffington Post by Hale "Bonddad" Stewart

Ever since I have been writing about the economy (about 4 years) I have focused on the mammoth increase in US debt during this expansion. It has led me to question the underlying vitality of this expansion as a whole. Events of the last six months indicate the markets are also asking the same question right now, although in a somewhat different way.

In effect, the economic dominoes are starting to fall. Ultra-low interest rates which inflated asset prices and allowed an explosion of debt are starting to seriously bite as a financial system is burdened with too much bad debt on its books. In addition, the market is starting to realize that asset prices -- namely housing -- were ephemeral and will have to drop. In effect, the entire economy is going through a process of reevaluating "the greatest story never told" and are discovering it wasn't that good a deal to begin with.

The rest after the click ...

My comment:

What's so hard to understand about "you can't borrow yourself rich."

What should Rudy 9ui11iani do after he drops out of the race?

If he really wants to be a 9/11 hero, then Rudy should devote his time, money, and name to getting every single 9/11 rescue worker the proper health care benefits and support they deserve.

More here ...

Getting suckered by the media

Or here ... after the click.

... the way empires end

Chalmers Johnson - author

or find the video here ...

I should have taken notes

I watched the better part of the Republican Boca Raton, Florida debate last night. It was an eye roller from my point of view.

Just to hit on a couple of high points ...

Fair Tax Sales Tax

On it's face, it sounds like a lovely idea -- a sales tax to substitute for the Federal Income Tax. My goodness, that sure sounds fair. People who spend more would be taxed more and those who spend less would be taxed less. However, there are a couple of issues that get glossed over every time a similar scheme gets promoted as the latest and greatest bright idea.

One of the issue that gets ignored (and one that's near and dear to my heart) involved retirement savings. What happens to all that income that got income-taxed over the years on it's way into some sort of savings vehicle when the Fair Tax hits? Do I pay taxes on it again as I spend it? Is that fair?

And then there's the encouragement of a black-market economy that is the natural spin off of any sales tax based scheme. Current sales taxes across the country fall between 5% and 8%. However, the Fair Tax proposals all focus on a tax rate of between 15% and 30%. That's pretty serious money. It encourages everyone in this country to look for black market options to avoid the tax and reap some savings. In order to maintain revenues required to run government city, state and the federal government are forced to ratchet up the sales tax ... which, in turn, further encourages businesses and individuals to find off-the-books means of doing business.

With a substantial segment of the economy suddenly off the books, what happens to all those regulations we enacted through our representatives in Congress designed to protect us from the abuses of corporations? How do we enforce regulations against things like lead paint, for example, if the goods are sold in an illegal market? How do we deal with the regulations regarding food and drug production is substantial quantities of product are sold through alternative economy channels? This sounds like an economic cluster-fuck to me, fraught with serious and uncountable negative unintended consequences.

Mike Huckabee makes the Fair Tax sound lovely. But he’s glossing over objections raised by a host of critics who say that the Fair Tax is unfeasible and unworkable.

Politifact has a nice summary of the downsides of the not-so-Fair Tax proposal.

Bill Clinton was responsible for military reductions.

Except that the Peace Dividend reductions STARTED under Bush I (with a Democratic Congress) and continued into the Clinton administration (with a Republican Congress). An honest assessment would have to be that it was a bipartisan effort. To put the full responsibility for it on Clinton ignores significant fact based realities and is a denial of the Republican role in the effort. Of course, if we weren't involved in a pre-emptive war with no end in sight and initiated under false pretenses, a broken military wouldn't be an issue, would it? It wouldn't be broken. It wasn't the bipartisan Peace Dividend reductions of the 80s and 90s that are responsible for our broken military. It was the ill conceived adventure undertaken by the current Republican administration that broke the military. To blame Clinton disingenuously ignores a little war that isn't going well, that was not only ill conceived but was also ill planed, ill manned, ill administered, and has weakened our country in a thousand ways ... not just militarily. Denial is not a monopoly of the right ... but they seem to be working overtime to make high art of it.

Those on the right like to paint themselves as strong on National Defense. So, if that's the case, do you feel safer now than you did in 2000?

And the list of half truths goes on and on (if you've ever been involved in a divorce, you've had some lessons in half-truths - and I would imagine that understanding would make you a little wary of those you use them):

Hillary Clinton wants to "wave the white flag of surrender and set a date for withdrawal."

"The average American is working through the month of May just to pay off the government."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

For the Love of God!

A controversial church described as a "hate group" has said it will protest at Heath Ledger's memorial service because he played a gay character in Brokeback Mountain.

The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church - which has previously said they wished a million people had been killed in the London terror attacks in 2005 - issued a statement saying the Australian actor was "now in hell".

"WBC will picket this pervert's funeral, in religious protest," the group said.

"God hates the sordid, tacky bucket of slime seasoned with vomit known as Brokeback Mountain and He hates all persons having anything whatsoever to do with it.

"Heath Ledger is now in Hell, and has begun serving his eternal sentence there."

The demonstrations will target memorial services held in the US, not those in Australia, according to church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper.

"You cannot live in defiance of God," she told Fox News.

The rest after the click ...

Economic Stimulus Package on the way

It is rumored that Matthew Lesko has been tapped to write details of the desperately needed Economic Stimulus Package.

Taking responsibility

Bush then:

“I believe it is the job of a President to confront problems, not pass them on to future Presidents and future generations.”

Bush now:

The White House confirmed Wednesday that its new budget next month will not request a full year’s funding for the war in Iraq, leaving the next president and Congress to confront major cost questions soon after taking office in 2009.

My comment: I guess that explains it. Aren't you just thrilled by this era brought to you by "values voters".

Where Is Lysistrata Now That We Need Her?

Lysistrata brought an end to the Peloponnesian War by persuading Greek women to withhold sex until the men signed a peace treaty. (The women also seized the Athenian treasury-no money for the war.) Lysistrata, of course, was a fictional heroine in a comedy written by a man and performed by an all-male cast for an all-male audience. Nevertheless, her story has inspired women to work for peace throughout the centuries and twelve women peacemakers have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Their true stories are also inspiring and tell us that even if we aren't prepared to give up sex, and even though each of us has different resources, skills, responsibilities, and personalities, each of us can champion peace. After all, not one of the women winners of the Peace Prize could have been expected to become a heroine. Who are the twelve? What did they do? What can we do?

Another take on the war.

Thought for the day

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
-- Douglas Adams

Towel Day :: A tribute to Douglas Adams (1952-2001

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Juju at the Bottom of the Sea

or watch the video here ...

Letter to the Editor

from The New York Times

Re “Debunking the Reagan Myth” (column, Jan. 21):

Paul Krugman is right on the mark. Conservatives have made an entire mythology surrounding Ronald Reagan. He is falsely credited by conservatives with everything from brilliant economic policies to ending the cold war.

Today we are hearing many conservatives lamenting that conservatism has lost its way. The truth is that conservatives had their way. In six years of unified control of the levers of power, they did more damage than is imaginable. It could take us a generation to regain our former prestige and clout.

Conservatism failed in the 1890s, again in the 1920s, again in the 1980s, and again at the beginning of the 21st century. That is the message Democrats need to hammer home at every possible occasion.

Conservatives failed because conservatism is a failed ideology. The greatest periods of American history all rejected conservatism in favor of the ideals our nation was founded on.

War Card / Score Card - the Drumbeat of Lies

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.

It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.

More after the click ...

My Comment:

All highly documented including a month by month graph showing the number of official public statements of untruths in the run-up to war. In my opinion, worth reading.

To those on the right who do lip service to the idea of "personal responsibility" I would say that "responsibility" and "accountability" are two aspects of the same idea as in: You are responsible therefore you must be accountable. Given the magnitude of the consequences of a war that has cost us all so greatly (in lives, in resources, in international prestige and credibility), why the reluctance to hold accountable the people responsible for those costs to those who are paying the price? Is that mantra of "responsibility" merely a talking point to be rolled out when its convenient like attacking "welfare queen" straw men?

Where is all that moral indignation that was expressed at such a deafening volume when a Democratic president lied to congress about a personal incident? Someone please explain to me why that lie and its national and international implications was so much worse, so much more damaging than these lies and their consequences.

Priorities keep on keepin' on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mitt Romney Defends Himself Against Allegations Of Tolerance

Mitt Romney Defends Himself Against Allegations Of Tolerance

Who is Bigfoot?

Alright, Mormonism is weird…but did you know there are some church 'scholars' who think Bigfoot is actually Cain?

Here's a Bigfoot theory I haven't heard before. Apparently there are some in the Mormon church who hypothesize that Bigfoot may actually be Cain, condemned to walk the earth forever. Matt Bowman provides some scholarly elaboration on this theory on the Mormon Mentality blog.

This is all spun out from an early church leader's tall tale of encountering a hairy giant.

(Source ...)

The devilish church practice of exorcism

Johann Hari: The Independent (UK)

Last year, I met a drawn, defeated 14-year old girl who had been possessed by Satan, until he and his Armies of Evil were tortured out of her.

That is how her priest explained it to me. That is how she explained it to me.

They spoke as if it was all as obvious as her scars. Clarice was a tiny girl wrapped in a big white woollen cardigan. In a church in the middle of Congo's carnage she explained how she had chosen to let the demons enter her when she was twelve.

Since then, Satan had forced her to make her mother fall, breaking her leg.

Satan had forced her to jinx her father, making it impossible for him to get a job. Satan had forced her to kill her little sister, by giving her a deadly fever.

Her Pentecostalist priest, Papa Enoch Boonga, told me with pride how he had driven the demons out. They starved Clarice for four days, whipped her and threatened to burn her, until finally she "confessed."

Then they forced her to admit to everything she had done, and performed a long exorcism ceremony. They only believed it was working when her little body began to judder and howl and curse. I ask Clarice quietly if she really believed she had done all these things. "Yes," she said. "I do." And so we sigh lazily: another example of African primitivism. But no. Exorcism, even of children, is being aggressively promoted today by one of the most powerful men in the Western world, Pope Benedict XVI, in only slightly watered-down form. Presidents and Prime Ministers fawn over this man.

More after the click ...

My comment:

My only question is why is it unsophisticated, unenlightened primitivism when it's in Africa but sophisticated, enlightened religion when it's in Rome? I submit that it's unsophisticated, unenlightened superstition in both places and that Papa Enoch Boonga and il Papa Benidicto XVI have far more in common with each other than they have differences.

A bogus 'study' of Iraqi deaths

from the Boston Globe via The Week Magazine

It was a study with a 'jaw-dropping' conclusion, said Jeff Jacoby, and yet the media swallowed it whole. Two years ago, British medical journal The Lancet published a study estimating that 655,000 Iraqis died in the first three years after the U.S. invasion. The Pentagon and conservative pundits questioned the study's validity, pointing out that its casualty total was 10 times larger than the Iraqi government's. The press, though, trumpeted the startling finding "because it served the interests of those eager to discredit the war as a moral catastrophe." Now we know the study was, in fact. litle more than propoganda. after carefully analyzing the data and the "motives of the "scientists," National Journal last week found that The Lancet report was riddled with grave flaws." Left-wing billionaire activist George Soros provided most of the funding for the study, which was conducted by two authors who were avowed opponents of the war. The biased researcher's data and methods, the magazine found, smell of outright fabrication. "Will the debunking be trumpeted as loudly and clearly as the original report? Don't hold your breath."

My comment:

I have to admit, I bought the story (and here) and even referenced it a couple times in my blog (1) (2) (3).

The numbers were incorrect as a measure of Iraqi deaths but, the situation puts me in mind of a phenomenon I experienced throughout a career of corporate positions spanning several decades. If the numbers in your assumptions didn't agree with what management believed the numbers to be your brilliant idea was discounted out of hand. I suppose there is some good in the procedure, but it killed some pretty valid thoughts. So, for the record, let me first express my regret that the numbers don't exactly jibe with other sources and second, express my opposition to the war on the basis of assumptions that don't rely expressly on the numbers:
  • Pre-emptive war is morally and ethically wrong. Our fight in Afghanistan has some moral and ethical foundation. We were attacked. The attack on us originated in Afghanistan. The people who perpetrated the attack on us are still at large in Afghanistan and in the Afghan border region with Pakistan. Our presence in Afghanistan is in defense of country and in retaliation for and attack on us.
  • Our presence in Iraq was prompted by cooked intelligence that reported the presence of WMDs (which proved to be non-existent) and on a presumption of ties between Saddam Husein and al Qaeda (which have also proved to be non-existent). That we are engaged in a war brought on by deliberate falsehoods (if I'd told them, they'd be called lies) compounds the moral and ethical wrong of the pre-emptive nature of the war in Iraq.
  • A military win in Iraq is impossible. Among other things, we've lost track of who the enemy is and, in fact, the vast majority of the Iraqi people have become "the enemy" simply because they don't want us there ... in their country. It can be forcefully argued that most of the people we are killing in Iraq were not our enemies until we arrived.
Though the numbers represented in the bogus "study" may be inaccurate, discrediting them does not constitute a positive argument to justify our presence in Iraq.

However, the whole affair underscores a positive lesson: One cannot combat a fabrication with another fabrication. Only the truth will do.

He might be on to something

"Abortion is advocated only by persons who have themselves been born."

-- Ronald Reagan

Sunday, January 20, 2008

For all those Reagan worshipers out there

by Hal Stewart

There's been a great deal of back of forth about Clinton and Obama and what they have said about Reagan. Personally, I've missed most of it. Being a stock market person I've been a little preoccupied over the last few weeks. But, I think it's time to chime in on the debate because the underlying facts -- those pesky things -- aren't very flattering to Reagan. In fact, the facts -- again, those pesky annoying things -- indicate that Regan was a complete and total fiscal disaster.

More after the click ...

Thought for the day

True leadership is finding the parade and getting in front.

The Plight of the Small Farmer in America

A man owned a small farm in Indiana.

The Indiana State Wage & Hour Department claimed he was not paying proper wages to his help and sent an agent out to interview him. "I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them," demanded the agent.

"Well," replied the farmer, "there's my farm hand who's been with me for 3 years. I pay him $200 a week plus free room and board. The cook has been here for 18 months, and I pay her $150 per week plus free room and board. Then there's the half-wit who works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board, and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night. He also sleeps with my wife occasionally."

"That's the guy I want to talk to --- the half-wit," says the agent.

"That would be me," replied the farmer.

Getting it wrong ... again

... in its embrace of the notion that relief means letting people keep their own money, the White House’s proposal excludes those who have no money to keep — about 45 million families earning too little to pay income taxes and to qualify for a rebate. Yet these are exactly the people who should be helped, not only because of their dire need but also because they would be most likely to spend quickly whatever assistance they got.

The rest in the New York Times after the click ...

My comment:
Let them eat cake.

In the Quest for Inspiration

Saguaro National Forest at the foot of the Rincon Mountains near Tucson, AZ.

Candy waits patiently in the car while I wander around in the desert, hoping that inspiration will overtake me.

Since we moved, my motivation to make pictures has ebbed to an historic low point.

Pointed Warnings - Ocotillo (Ah-kah-tee'-yo) thorns.

Sonoran Desert Icons - Saguaro and Ocotillo

Family Values: Proud that Working People Can't Make Ends Meet

Conservative Christians and Republicans use the rhetoric of "family values" quite often even though it is a term with no definitive meaning. Voters can invest it with whatever content they want and thereby imagine that the politician is on their side. If we want to know what Republicans think of the term, we should look to what they do and even say in other contexts. How do they give substance of the concept of "family values" and what do they really value themselves?

Everyone can see that America is heading into serious economic trouble which will negatively affect most American families. How do Republicans think that those families can be helped weather the consequences of years of Republican mismanagement, corruption, and lies? By giving even more tax breaks to wealthy corporations! This might sound crazy, but apparently Republicans think that economic hardship is good for families — and even welcomed by them.

This at least was the message from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) when she said "I am so proud to be from the state of Minnesota. We’re the workingest state in the country, and the reason why we are, we have more people that are working longer hours, we have people that are working two jobs." That's right, people who can't get by unless they work a lot of extra hours or even take on a second job are living the American dream — which for them must seem like a nightmare, but it helps provide more money for people like Bachmann, so I guess it's still a dream for her.

More after the click on Jesus's General ...

My comment: Or to phrase it the way Keith Olbermann did, "Our slave labor can build better pyramids than anybody else's save labor."

It's much easier to control people when they're scared, hungry and sick.

Once one accepts that simple fact, it becomes easier to see a pattern that ties together a fear of terrorism, an economy that forces people to work multiple jobs to stay afloat and a strong conservative resistance to universal health care with draconian laws that undermine the civil and human rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

And Mitt has a plan ... a wonderful plan to bring the auto industry back to life and return all those great manufacturing jobs to Michigan. His idea is basically a $20 billion dollar bail-out package for the car companies, coupled with a roll-back of the CAFE Standards so that American automobile companies can get back to making cars that no one wants to buy in the first place. Talk about pipe dreams!

Entertainment dressed up as news

"Never has a symbiotic relationship between politicians and television been as obvious as in the past two weeks. First it was the 24-hour news networks, then the internet, and finally, the major broadcast networks that discovered that primaries, nominations, and elections could serve as the mother's milk of TV. They fill air-time, and the actors work for nothing."

The rest of the thought after the click ...