Sunday, January 1, 2012

Last Call

Things are getting weird in North Korea, even by standards of recent weird North Korean behavior.

North Korea called on its people to rally behind new leader Kim Jong-un and protect him as "human shields" while working to solve the "burning issue" of food shortages by upholding the policies of his late father, Kim Jong-il.

The North's three main state newspapers said in a policy-setting editorial traditionally published on New Year's Day that Kim Jong-un has legitimacy to carry on the revolutionary battle initiated by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and developed by his father, the iron-fisted ruler who died two weeks ago.

"Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of our Party and our people, is the banner of victory and glory of Songun (military-first) Korea and the eternal centre of its unity," the 5,000-word editorial carried by the North's state KCNA news agency said.

Asserting that the inexperienced young Kim, in his late 20s, is "precisely" identical to his father, the editorial said "the whole Party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un unto death."

Human bulwarks?  Really?  I guess there's no danger of the Powers That Be here deciding Lil' Kim is the wrong guy anytime soon.  PS, THIS is what real "Dear Leader" and "cultist" stuff actually looks like, for the record.

Iran, So Far Away, Part 4

There is something in the NDAA bill that we all actually should be concerned about, even more than the sturm und drang over detainment...and that's the fact the law does contain strict financial sanctions of not only Iran's central bank, but any country that deals with Iran's central bank as well.

President Barack Obama signed into law on Saturday a defense funding bill that imposes sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran's central bank, while allowing for exemptions to avoid upsetting energy markets.

The sanctions target both private and government-controlled banks - including central banks - and would take hold after a two- to six-month warning period, depending on the transactions, a senior Obama administration official said.

Under the law, the president can move to exempt institutions in a country that has significantly reduced its dealings with Iran and in situations where a waiver is in the U.S. national security interest or otherwise necessary for energy market stability. He would need to notify Congress and waivers would be temporary, but could be extended.

Sanctioned institutions would be frozen out of U.S. financial markets.

"Our intent is to implement this law in a timed and phased approach so that we avoid repercussions to the oil market and ensure that this damages Iran and not the rest of the world," the senior U.S. official told Reuters.

Iran's central bank is the main conduit for Tehran's oil revenues.

Now, this is a major ratcheting up of international financial pressure on Iran.  Unless the President issues a waiver to the country/central bank or commercial bank in question, they are frozen out of the US financial system.  And it's pretty clear that in order to earn a waiver, these countries and banks have to significantly reduce their financial transactions with Iran's central bank.  Oil is exempt, so far, but Iran imports and exports plenty of other things, and two of Iran's biggest trading partners are Russia and China.

You see now where the trouble is starting.  Iran has already responded.

Iran announced a nuclear fuel breakthrough and test-fired a new radar-evading medium-range missile in the Gulf on Sunday, moves that could further antagonize the West at a time when Tehran is trying to avert harsh new sanctions on its oil industry.

That's the bad news.  The good news:

At the same time, it signaled on Saturday that it was ready to resume stalled international talks on its nuclear programme.

It says the programme is completely peaceful and, in what Iranian media described as an engineering breakthrough, state television said Iran had successfully produced and tested its own uranium fuel rods for use in its nuclear power plants.

The rods were made in Iran and inserted into the core of Tehran's nuclear research reactor, the television reported.

So Iran is now willing to come to the table, even as it fires off a test missile and claims it can make nuclear fuel rods.  And if you're thinking the folks running against President Obama have any intent of talk rather than war, you'd be mistaken.

Republican Rick Santorum says that if he’s elected president, he would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities unless they were opened for international arms inspectors.

Santorum says President Barack Obama hasn’t done enough to prevent the Iranian government from building a nuclear weapon and has risked turning the U.S. into a “paper tiger.”

Santorum tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would tell Iranian leaders that either they open up those facilities, begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors — or the U.S. would attack them.

In the hands of President Obama, these sanctions are a tough weapon, more "smart power".  In the hands of someone like Rick Santorum, we'll be at war before the end of 2013.  Also note that it was President Obama who fought for and received the waiver changes to the Iran sanctions.  Again, if you think there's zero difference between the GOP and POTUS, judge their actions.

Birds! Birds!

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Thousands of dead blackbirds rained down on a town in central Arkansas last New Year's Eve after revelers set off fireworks that spooked them from their roost, and officials were reporting a similar occurrence Saturday as 2012 approached.

Police in Beebe said dozens of blackbirds had fallen dead, prompting officers to ban residents from shooting fireworks Saturday night. It wasn't immediately clear if fireworks were again to blame, but authorities weren't taking a chance.
Later in the article scientists hypothesize that the fireworks sent the birds into a panic, causing them to dive-bomb and hit random objects, killing them.  There's just a few problems with that:

Earlier in 2011, this same thing happened.  They could not tell if the trauma came from striking an object or falling to the ground.  But there were no fireworks.

There were fireworks all around the country, so why just here?  Are we supposed to believe that there is some special sort of reaction in this small area?

It still doesn't explain the fish that died by the tens of thousands, and that happened at the same time.

I totally understand wanting to get the right answer here.  But let's try to do that, instead of slapping half-assed solutions on the problem and calling it solved, shall we?  I don't have high hopes for scientific standards in Arkansas overall, but even if you set the bar low this is ridiculous.

Starting 2012 Off Right

Those darned Canadians, their life is so peaceful that even minor mishaps seem blown out of proportion.

Or maybe it's just this guy:

BARRIE, ONT. - Having your foot run over by a shopping cart is not an emergency, a male shopper learned Tuesday.

Police responded to a 911 call around 3 p.m. from a man in distress because, he said, a woman accidently ran over his foot with a shopping cart and he required police assistance.

Police said the woman promptly apologized for the mishap, but the man was unsatisfied with her apology and wanted an officer to speak with her.

I figure most of you are hung over, so I'm keeping it light today.  Happy New Year!

The End-Of-Year Emopants Blowout

Both Glenn Greenwald and Taylor Marsh saw fit to end the year with massive anti-Obama rants where they basically announce openly their opposition to the President for 2012.  Not that their opposition didn't exist before, it's just now official.  First, Double G defends Ron Paul's "effect" on our political discourse:

There are very few political priorities, if there are any, more imperative than having an actual debate on issues of America’s imperialism; the suffocating secrecy of its government; the destruction of civil liberties which uniquely targets Muslims, including American Muslims; the corrupt role of the Fed; corporate control of government institutions by the nation’s oligarchs; its destructive blind support for Israel, and its failed and sadistic Drug War. More than anything, it’s crucial that choice be given to the electorate by subverting the two parties’ full-scale embrace of these hideous programs.

I wish there were someone who did not have Ron Paul’s substantial baggage to achieve this. Before Paul announced his candidacy, I expressed hope in an Out Magazine profile that Gary Johnson would run for President and be the standard-bearer for these views, in the process scrambling bipartisan stasis on these questions. I did that not because I was endorsing his candidacy (as some low-level Democratic Party operative dishonestly tried to claim), but because, as a popular two-term Governor of New Mexico free of Paul’s disturbing history and associations, he seemed to me well-suited to force these debates to be had. But alas, Paul decided to run again, and Johnson — for reasons still very unclear — was forcibly excluded from media debates and rendered a non-person. Since then, Paul’s handling of the very legitimate questions surrounding those rancid newsletters has been disappointing in the extreme, and that has only served to obscure these vital debates and severely dilute the discourse-enhancing benefits of his candidacy.

He spends the rest of the article saying the President Obama is just as bad if not worse overall than Paul, and far worse than Paul on the specific issues that matter to him.  He then proceeds to attack President Obama supporters as evil hypocrites who "don't want to hear" his "truths", accusing them of being stuck in Bush-era binary worldviews but then weasels out of endorsing Paul with constant whining about how nobody but Glenn Greenwald is smart enough to understand his carefully nuanced argument that he's not endorsing Paul, he just wants someone like Paul to win over the hated, evil Obama.  (Apparently that other person is Gary Johnson.)

The projection is apparent in the first hundred words when you realize that it's Greenwald who has adopted the binary worldview, completely choosing to ignore the circumstances and nuance of realpolitik and the other two branches of government to say "You know, if it wasn't for the bigotry, the racism, the utter disregard for the federal government and the supposition that states should have the right to discriminate freely, Ron Paul isn't such a bad guy.  Unlike Obama."  Silly, I know.  But that one issue is enough for Greenwald to search for an alternative to the President...any alternative.

Replace Ron Paul with Hillary Clinton, and "civil liberties" with "women's issues" and you get Taylor Marsh's end of year screed where she declares her vote is now open.

It’s now even considered an extreme position to think women’s individual freedoms are important. On Obama’s conservative Plan B decision, you get replies like “it’s smart politically” or his fans argue from the right using parental rights over individual female freedoms.

Then there’s the reality that most women have more dire issues on their mind, because reproductive health choices are considered by most to be a given. For sexually active young females, poor women and those in rural areas, however, these issues are attached to one another. However, their stories don’t equal the same coverage as the majority of reports about women today.

Women often share the breadwinner role, so their focus is on who is protecting their bottom line.

Recently on MSNBC when they asked voters in Iowa about their choices, a woman said, “I need to take care of my paycheck, that’s why I’m supporting Romney.”

Why should women automatically bet that Pres. Obama will help their bottom line more than Mitt Romney?

Is it enough that the 111th Congress passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Pres. Obama signed? Women of all political persuasions need to expect all 21st century politicians to support economic equality. We should also demand that when it’s found out we aren’t being treated equally we have recourse, which is what Ledbetter is all about. Would any other Democratic president not have signed the Ledbetter Act? To laud something so simple as financial equality for the same job done reveals women are expecting way too little from politicians that depend on our support to politically survive.

And she too falls into the "no real difference" between the parties, as well as pushing for Ron Paul.  They all "hate women" equally, to the point that feminists should strongly consider Mitt Romney for President, and that the "only argument" Obama supporters have is that the Republicans will be worse on the issue.  In a sane world where Marsh sees Republicans doing everything they can to rid the country of abortion altogether, that argument would be enough.

Instead, we get a long morose piece on how the Democrats are no longer worth supporting, and that a feminist is all but washing her hands of voting in 2012, and doesn't really care if the Republicans win in 2012 or not.

And I shake my head, because these arguments are so terrible that I have to conclude that neither Greenwald nor Marsh actually believe them.  At the very least they maintain their "integrity" by convincing us to not vote at all, and will spend 2012 doing so.  And that's the real danger, here.

Who needs Republicans disenfranchising people at the state level when Greenwald and Marsh will do it for free?
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