Monday, April 25, 2011

Last Call

To my extreme disappointment, Boss Hogg is not running for President of Hazzard County the United States.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) announced on Monday that he will not seek the presidency in 2012, saying that his supporters "deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required."

"I will not be a candidate for president next year," Barbour wrote in a statement. "This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided."

Barbour was on the short list for potential 2012 candidates, but got into a bit of trouble in the past few months for, among other things, praising the Civil Rights-era white supremacist group the Citizens Council.

His wife recently said the thought of Barbour running for president "horrifies me."

Not me, Obama probably would have won all fifty states against him.

Including Mississippi.  Would have made my year.  Oh well, the GOP will just have to find somebody else ridiculous to lose to Obama run for President.  Luckily, they have plenty of ridiculous to choose from!

Libya, Syria, What's The Difference?

Libya?  The international community lined up to "protect civilians" from a ruthless dictator.  Syria?  Well, the dictator is happily killing women and children, but we don't dare get involved.  Reuters' Paul Taylor:

There are strategic, political and practical reasons behind divergent Western responses to events in Syria, Libya and Yemen, after the initially hesitant Western embrace of democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt.

"All of these situations are different," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on BBC television when questioned about apparent inconsistency.

"So we mustn't think that just because we're doing certain things in Libya, that we would be able or willing to do those things in other countries of the Arab world."

Hague said that in Libya, there was a direct appeal for help from the opposition and the Arab League had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution and to take action for a no fly zone. Western governments say they prevented an imminent massacre that Gaddafi had threatened to unleash in Benghazi.

Gaddafi had lost control of more than a third of his country and his armed forces were brittle and poorly equipped.

By contrast, Syria has a well-trained army with Russian missiles and combat aircraft, and suspected chemical weapons, making any Western military intervention utterly implausible.

There's also the little matter of Libya's 1.5 million barrels a day in oil exports...compared to Syria's paltry 150,000 or so.  So Syrians will continue to be murdered in the bloody crackdown there, now featuring tanks being used on protesters.  But there's not enough oil for us to get involved, no sir.  Iran would certainly use any military action against Syria as justification for a greater regional war...and it's a war they would win.

Libya?  Low-hanging fruit, I guess.

A Future Imperfect

Via Steve M. comes this piece from the New York Crank, reflecting on what happens if the American middle class throws in the towel:  America as a true Banana Republic.

This is how it is these days in most of Mexico, most of Nicaragua, much of El Salvador – in fact in every one of the impoverished Latin American nations where the top few have all the money and power while the people at the bottom struggle desperately to survive. Here’s travel authority Rick Steves talking about it:

The saddest thing about visiting Managua and San Salvador is experiencing the fear caused by the violence that comes with extreme poverty in a big city. Every major hotel and nearly every business has an armed guard. It's unwise to walk around after dark, especially with a big camera. While you're unlikely to be hurt, the risk is that groups of young thugs might just rob you at knifepoint. I found that, rather than whole safe neighborhoods, there were mostly small islands of safety around malls and fancy hotels. A wealthy tourist (and nearly all tourists here are wealthy, in relative terms) happily pays triple for a taxi that works with the hotels so you know you're safe. You generally hop from one safe zone to another by cab.

The future of super wealth in this country will be a future filled with fear of kidnapping. Fear that gangsters will surround your car and shoot your driver, drag you into a truck, chop off your thumb and send it to your family to show that they are truly sincere about wanting all the cash your relatives can put their hands on.

If it's not you who gets kidnapped, then it will be your son. Or your daughter. Or your wife.

Believe me, the “kidnapping tax” rate will be higher than any income tax that any Democrat has ever called for.

Depressing.  But we're not too far out from this here in the US.  The problem with class wars is that eventually they always turn into wars of attrition, and one side always has the advantage in sheer numbers. You can only keep the plebes fighting amongst themselves for so long before they realize that there's nothing left to fight over.  Literally.

And that's when the pitchforks come out.

Making Them Pay For Medicare

Democrats are hitting back hard this week on Republicans who voted for the Ryan Unicorn Plan to privatize Medicare and remove the social safety net guarantee of care with new ads targeting the House GOP:

In a significant escalation of the progressive campaign to make Republicans pay a political price for voting to end Medicare, the progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change will run broadcast TV ads in the districts of Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Chip Cravaack (R-MN), and Paul Ryan (R-WI).

"What are House Republicans thinking asking millions of seniors, the less fortunate and the disabled to make more sacrifices and the richest among us to make less," says AUC executive Tom McMahon in a statement.
If Republicans have their way, there would be no more guaranteed Medicare benefits for America's seniors, only a guarantee of paying more and more out of pocket for less care after being left to the mercy to the private insurance industry. There would only be a guarantee that millions of Americans would lose their jobs - only a guarantee that America's poor and disabled will live sicker and die younger while millionaires get another tax break they don't need and the nation cannot afford. This is not a path to prosperity, only a path to bankrupting seniors so Paris Hilton and BP can have another tax break. And there's nothing courageous about that.

This is pretty hard hitting stuff here and it's good to see the Dems go on the offensive.  They need to keep the pressure on Rep. Ryan and friends, and hang this vote around each one of the Republicans in the House for the next 18 months.

More of this, please.

StupidiNews: Tabloid Edition

Mel Gibson doesn't care if he ever acts again.  That makes about five billion of us, but thanks for the acknowledgement.  He's one of a few stars who are so far gone they don't even see the real world anymore (see Charlie and Lindsay below).

Right on cue, Charlie Sheen shows more signs of collapse.  Denise Richards says it makes her sad.  That's about as thoughtful as she gets, so take that as a sign of the (ahem) depth of her concern.

Game over: The Game was denied access to Canada.  While nobody in the U.S. seems to care, Canada took the time to investigate The Game and decide the alleged gang ties and other suspected criminal activity just wasn't worth the show.

Lindsay Lohan claims to be a victim of a witch hunt.  She said it with a straight face, which has been her best acting of late.  Perhaps refraining from walking out of stores with merchandise or using rehab like an artist retreat would also help.

The Science Of Music

Paul Simon has contributed to a major scientific advance.  While you let that soak into your brain, take a second to read this article for the full story about a scientific measurement of music and understanding how it causes us to react to subtle changes in the melody or timing.

The results are contributing to a greater understanding of how the brain works and of the importance of music in human development, communication and cognition, and even as a potential therapeutic tool.
Research is showing, for example, that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.
And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns.

When you think about it, Pandora's Music Genome Project has similar principles that lets it predict what songs you may like based on your ranking of certain songs.  I've used the service for years, and they are creepy accurate when it comes to breaking down what you like in music.  It's not only led me to new artists but has helped me explore genres like jazz that can be intimidating to newcomers.

The computer age has let us do some amazing things.  Maybe as a signature of our time we will also contribute a new understanding of music.  It would be awesome to think that we could be on the brink of a discovery that lets us advance music theory to a new level.

How Long Can You Tread Water, Cincy?

With six days to go April 2011 may go down as the wettest month on record for Cincinnati.  And not just the wettest April (which we passed yesterday), but the rainiest month of all time.  It's getting mighty inconvenient out there.

Rains continue to fall on the Tri-State, adding water to already swollen rivers and creeks and putting the month of April 2011 on the record as the wettest April in Cincinnati History.

Right now, the Ohio River stands at about 54.9 feet. flood stage is 52 feet.   The Ohio is expected to crest tomorrow at 2 a.m. at 56 feet, and then fall to 53 feet on Wednesday.  The Licking River at Falmouth is at 30.8 feet now, and will crest at 33.5 at 8 p.m. tonight, about a half foot above flood stage.

Sandbags are becoming a familiar site at the Covington Landing. As the river has risen over the weekend, water is now covering the Serpentine Wall on the Ohio side. Floodgates remain in place at Mehring Way and Harriett and at Mehring and Carr Street. Those were installed last Thursday in preparation for the flooding.  Several roads remain closed due to high water but early Monday morning, officials added a new closure-the ramp from State Route 32 West to 125 East and the ramp from 125 West to 32 East in Newtown are both closed.

At Coney Island the flooding forced Cirque Du Soleil to cancel its performances over the weekend. The show's organizers hope to be back on stage performing tomorrow.

High water is also forcing some students out of their classrooms. The parking lot of Riverview East Academy on Kellogg Avenue is under water. Therefore, students will be roaming the halls of Burton Elementary today. Buses will pick the students up at their normal times. Walkers and car riders can meet at the ball field on Stanley Avenue to get to school. This is the second time students have had to be relocated due to flooding.  

We're at 10.86 inches through yesterday, the all time record is 13.68 inches...and we're expecting rain all week.  More and more extreme weather records are falling here in the last few years but of's all in your head if you think global climate change has anything to do with it...


The Smartest Econo-Moose In The Room

The winger logic this morning goes something like this:

  1. The NY Times notes that ordinary Americans have not really benefited much from Helicopter Ben's QE2 program.
  2. Therefore, this is proof that QE2 has failed.
  3. Sarah Palin said QE2 would fail.
  4. Therefore, given 2 and 3, Sarah Palin is the smartest person on Earth.

No, really.

    She did this back in November in a speech at Phoenix, which the Wall Street Journal, in a laudatory editorial at the time, characterized as zeroing in on the connection between a weak dollar and rising prices for oil and food. “We don’t want temporary, artificial economic growth brought at the expense of permanently higher inflation which will erode the value of our incomes and our savings,” the Journal quoted Mrs. Palin as saying. “We want a stable dollar combined with real economic reform. It's the only way we can get our economy back on the right track.” Now here is the New York Times quoting a raft of economists who have reached the conclusion that Mrs. Palin’s warning was right down the line.

    No really, she's a visionary genius.

    Will any of this bring some humility to the Fed and its chairman? It will be something to watch for in his first big press conference Wednesday. No doubt it will be one of the most crowded press conferences in recent memory, and there will be lots to ask about. But one of the questions will be how in tarnation Mrs. Palin figured it out so far ahead of everyone else.

    The usual supplicants are crowing, in awe of Sarah Palin's supreme intellect.  But here's what I said almost six months ago:

    I'm a Keynesian, but I think this is bad Keynesian policy.  It's certainly not the best way to stimulate the economy.  It is the best way for the banks to make a hell of a lot more money to sit on and not invest in workers and capital, and unless the banks loosen credit, there's not going to be anything useful out of this.  It's trying to water your crops by blowing up the reservoir dam. You will get water to the crops, it just might take your farm with it.

    The problem is the more useful ways to stimulate the economy have been summarily rejected, blocked, and killed by the GOP.  That will not improve in the next two years, so the Fed has to step in.

    However this has got to be the most painful way of doing it...short of you know, doing nothing at all.  And we've got nothing else to try

    Investors want to borrow money cheaply and then get a high rate of return for it.  Since interest rates are near zero, investors are borrowing that money from the Fed cheaply and plowing it into commodities:  wheat, corn, oil, silver, gold.  This is bad for consumers as prices for those go up, but they are an excellent rate of return for investors.

    And since the GOP has blocked literally everything else the government can try that would be remotely stimulative, we're left with literally the worst option of the lot.  Surprise, it's not working very well.  It was a long shot at best and all it ended up doing was feeding more Big Casino games that would hurt the American people.  Everyone bet commodities futures would go up...and wow, they did!  Shocking, I's called a "speculative bubble."  The markets loved it.  It did nothing for 90% of America other than make food and gas prices go up.

    Any actual stimulus plan would have been killed in Congress.  When Obama and the Democrats had the chance to do a real stimulus plan, they punted.

    And if figuring out that wasn't going to work real well makes Sarah Palin smart, that makes me Einstein having Socrates' babies.  What would Sarah Palin have done instead?  Well...nobody seems to have an answer for that, least of all Sarah Palin and her supporters. 

    Oh wait, we know exactly what she would have done, cut taxes on the rich and wait for it to trickle down to the rest of us.  We tried that, of course.  It was called The George W. Bush Years.  You see where that got us.  And yet, the fiscally responsible plan is completely ignored by everyone.

    Funny how that works.

    StupidiNews Focus: Gitmo And Mo Leaks In This Place

    The latest raft of WikiLeaks documents involving Gitmo are pretty sobering.

    The documents, more than 750 individual assessments of former and current Guantanamo detainees, show an intelligence operation that was tremendously dependant on informants — both prison camp snitches repeating what they'd heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al Qaida insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.

    Intelligence analysts are at odds with each other over which informants to trust, at times drawing inferences from prisoners' exercise habits. They order DNA tests, tether Taliban suspects to polygraphs, string together tidbits in ways that seemed to defy common sense.

    Guantanamo analysts at times questioned the reliability of some information gleaned from other detainees' interrogations.

    Allegations and information from one Yemeni, no longer at Guantanamo, appears in at least 135 detainees' files, prompting Navy Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, the prison camps commander in August 2008, to include this warning:

    "Any information provided should be adequately verified through other sources before being utilized."
    The same report goes on to praise the captive as an "invaluable intelligence source" for information about al Qaida and Taliban training, operations, personnel and facilities," and warns that he'd be at risk of retaliation if he were released into Yemeni society. He was resettled in Europe by the Obama administration.

    In fact, information from just eight men showed up in forms for at least 235 Guantanamo detainees — some 30 percent of those known to have been held there. 

    It gets worse.  Bush officials rounded up people for no good reason at all, but also a good hundred or so "high risk" detainees have been freed or transferred to other countries.  Some high risk detainees have now become US allies and informants.  One of those released high risk detainees and suspected AQ member is now a Libyan rebel leader.

    The worst part, even when the information from informants was considered suspect or even flat out wrong, the Cheney "One Percent Doctrine" kicked in, and the Bush Pentagon used the information anyway to continue to detain some on the "one percent chance" it might be the break in a major terror case that saved American lives.  One percent was far too generous.

    The crazy part?  Some detainees in Gitmo were originally rounded up because they wore a specific make of Casio wristwatch that the Pentagon suspected may have been a favored bomb timer of AQ operatives.  We arrested people in Afghanistan for wearing the wrong wristwatch and called them terrorists.

    Our Gitmo policy was a mess.  It still is.  Yet we can never, ever close the place or America will be flooded with supervillains who are wearing wristwatches that could kill your entire family.


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