Archive for November, 2012

Obama wouldn’t trust Romney with his kill list

November 29, 2012

Barack Obama draws up secret kill lists of people he deems enemies of the United States, on his own discretion based on secret criteria.  Even the legal rationale for the kill lists is a secret.  But the New York Times reported that in the weeks leading up to the election, the Obama administration began work on a “legal architecture” for deciding who to kill.  The reason: Mitt Romney could not be trusted with this power.

I suppose it is natural that somebody who feels confident he should be trusted to exercise life-and-death power without accountability might not think that anybody else could be trusted with the same power.  But how is it that it only occurred to Obama in the months running up to the election that someday a Republican would occupy the White House and exercise the powers that Obama created?

“Legal architecture” is an Orwellian phrase.  It means the opposite of “code of laws.”  It simply means that the Obama administration will codify its own procedures.  It is hard to see why President Obama thinks a future administration would be bound by those procedures when he himself is not bound by the Constitution.

This would be a great opportunity for the Republican leaders to show themselves to be what they claim to be—defenders of the Constitution against all-powerful government.  Instead of asking Susan Rice why she shouldn’t get her story straight about who was behind the Benghazi attacks, they should ask her whether she recognizes any limit on the power of the government to issue death warrants.

Click on Obama Administration Was Not Willing To Trust Romney with a Secret Kill List for more by Kevin Gosztola on Firedoglake’s The Dissenter.

Click on Obama: a GOP president should have rules limiting the kill list for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis.

Matt Damon stars in anti-fracking movie

November 29, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is supposed to take care of the United States energy problems for the next generation.  Many struggling farm owners in New York and Pennsylvania see it as their economic salvation.  But there is a price to be paid that goes beyond the direct economic cost, in destruction of the land, in danger to the ground water and in greenhouse gas emissions.

Matt Damon stars in a new movie, “Promised Land,” which he also helped write, which makes a case against hydrofracking.  It is due out in December, and should be interesting to see.

Hydraulic fracturing requires drilling a deep vertical well, then drilling a horizontal well out from the side of the vertical well, then setting of an explosive charge to fracture (frack) the underground shale.  Then a mixture of water (hydro) and chemicals is pumped into the crevices in order to force out the gas.  If the seal on the sides of the well is imperfect, gas and chemicals can leak into the ground water.

Even if the seals are always perfect and execution is always perfect, lots of fresh water is used, and it is not in infinite supply.  Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, but in unburned form it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Drilling is hard on the land, and oil rigs are hard on local roads.  Hydraulic fracturing has been associated with minor earthquakes.  There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the process.

For now we in the United States need natural gas, and all the cheap easy-to-get gas has been used up.  We may have to turn to hydrofracking eventually, unless better energy sources are developed in the meantime.  Drilling companies may be in a hurry to get control of the land ahead of other drilling companies.  We the poeple don’t have to be in a hurry to use up our reserves shale gas. The shale gas is not going to go away, and it’s not going to lose its value if we hold off on drilling.  In fact, natural gas prices at present are extremely low and likely to go up in the future..

Click on Shakeshock Media videos for background about hydrofracking and the anti-fracking campaign.

Click on Blog | No Fracking Way for Shaleshock Media’s web log.

Hat tip to Hal Bauer.

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The greatness of Lincoln on film

November 29, 2012

I saw Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln movie during Thanksgiving week, and liked it a lot.   It was well-written, well-acted and well-staged, and so far as I can tell, broadly true to history. The movie focused on a few months in early 1865 when Lincoln pushed the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, through Congress.  It showed the two sides of Lincoln, the cunning politician and the idealistic believer in freedom and democracy.  If Lincoln had been less of either, slavery would not have been abolished when and how it was.

An early scene showed two black Union soldiers talking to someone with his back turned; then the camera revealed the person to be Abraham Lincoln, whose expression of good-humored, kindly shrewdness showed Lincoln as I imagined him.  Daniel Day-Lewis is a splendid actor.  After watching him as Lincoln, it is hard to recall he played Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. 

Tommy Lee Jones was great as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical abolitionist Congressman, who is depicted as a man ahead of his time, as he was, instead of as a dangerous extremist, as he usually is shown.  Sally Field (no longer young and perky) gave a fine performance as the troubled Mary Todd Lincoln, as did David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward.

The movie provides much-needed push-back against revisionists who claim that Abraham Lincoln was a power-hungry opportunist who cared nothing about slavery.  There are two versions of this—a left-wing version that says Lincoln was a servant of capitalism and a right-wing version that says the Civil War was really about state’s rights.

The Southern leaders in fact only cared about state’s rights as a means of defending slavery.  They used the power of the federal government to override Northern states that harbored fugitive slaves.  It is true that Lincoln did not run for President as an abolitionist.  A Thaddeus Stevens could not have been elected.  Lincoln’s platform was to stop the spread of slavery into parts of the nation where it did not then exist.  This, he claimed, would lead to the gradual extinction of slavery.  The Southern leaders agreed.  They thought Lincoln such a threat that they led their states out of the Union.

Lincoln wrote a famous letter to Horace Greeley, saying his priority was to save the Union by any means necessary, whether that meant freeing the slaves, leaving them in bondage or freeing some and not freeing others.  This was a correct priority.   Emancipation of the slaves would have been meaningless if the Southern whites has established an independent slave nation.  But when he wrote this letter, the Emancipation Proclamation was in a desk drawer, awaiting a Union victory for Lincoln to issue it.

Critics of Lincoln said the Emancipation Proclamation, which referred only to slaves in areas then in rebellion, did not free a single slave.  This isn’t so.  Many slaves fled behind Union lines to freedom.  The Emancipation Proclamation was based on Lincoln’s claim of wartime authority to confiscate enemy property.  He did not have the authority under law to emancipate slaves generally on his own decision.  This required a Constitutional amendment, which, as the movie shows, he introduced in due course.

Emancipation of the slaves had political and strategic benefits.  It deprived the South of its work force and its moral claims.  Black troops added to the Union strength.  But it had its costs.  Northern whites were divided on this issue.  Southern whites were motivated to fight to the bitter end because emancipation meant an end to their way of life.  Without emancipation, the Confederates might have surrendered before Sherman’s march through Georgia and the rest of the physical devastation of the South.  Or a compromise peace might have been negotiated, as the movie indicates, and the war ended sooner, but with slavery intact.

Click on Lincoln: A More Authentic Wonderment for an appreciation of the movie in the New York Review of Books.

Click on Fact-Checking ‘Lincoln’: Lincoln’s Mostly Accurate, His Advisers Aren’t for historical background in The Atlantic.

Privatizing and outsourcing public education

November 28, 2012

This brief video describes K12Inc., a company whose goal is to privatize public schools and replace teachers with video monitors, resulting in cheaper teaching and profits for the owners. It is backed by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing organization which writes model legislation for state governments.

Click on Brave New Foundation for more videos.

Hat tip to Diane Ravich’s Blog.

Benjamin Franklin on immigration

November 27, 2012

My friend Bill Elwell e-mailed me this quote from a letter by Benjamin Franklin on German immigration into Pennsylvania:

franklin-benjaminThose who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation . . . and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain. . . . Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it. . . . I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties. . . . In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

Benjamin Franklin was a great man and in most respects a wise man, but he badly misjudged my Ebersole, Doub, Snyder and Secrist forebears, including Johann Ebersole, my direct ancestor in the male line who, according to family tradition, came to the British colonies from the Palatinate in Germany and served in the Continental Army under George Washington.

Franklin’s view of immigration was a minority view.  Americans of his day welcomed hardworking newcomers.  One of the complaints against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was that he “…has endeavored to prevent the Population of these States for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migration hither…”   There were no restrictions on immigration into the United States until 1882.

Immigration legislation is a complicated issue about which reasonable people can differ, but I can’t feel anything but sympathy for people who come to this country seeking refuge from tyrants and an opportunity to better themselves.

Obama time-travels to traditional America

November 26, 2012

BillO'Reilly'sNightmare

I only wish that President Obama were the threat to the “white establishment” that Bill O’Reilly thinks he is.

Click on Tom the Dancing Bug for more Ruben Bolling cartoons.

Good advice from Friedrich Nietzsche

November 25, 2012

Becoming too friendly with monsters can be dangerous, too, as the full story shows.

Click on Ernie & the Nietzsche Monster to read it on the simonandfinn web log.

Upton Sinclair on Christmas shopping

November 24, 2012

The above video shows Wal-Mart customers fighting over telephones that were on sale Friday with the start of the Christmas shopping season.  They probably weren’t typical, but neither were they unusual.  Click on Wal-Mart’s Black Friday 2012 for more examples.  I don’t know who coined the term “Black Friday” for the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, but I’m sure it must have been a department store employee.

Long before there were Black Friday sales, the reformer Upton Sinclair had this to say about the shopping season.

Sinclair, Upton_Beall_Jr

Upton Sinclair

Many friends of mine regard the Christmas season as, not exactly an ordeal but a stressful time they have to get through, rather than a time of rejoicing, let along a Christian religious feast.  What went wrong?  Was it when Santa Claus and his presents displaced the baby Jesus in the manger as the central Christmas figure?

Or is there something about Black Friday and the Christmas shopping scene that I misunderstand?

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Stories of kindness and gratitude

November 24, 2012

The following is from a blog entitled Friko’s World.

The sweetest and most gratifying ‘thank you’ I remember, came from two men on two separate occasions; a frail, elderly, man and a strong and healthy looking boy, probably no more than eighteen years old.  I hadn’t been in the UK long when I came across the first man. Waiting to cross a busy road, I noticed him hesitating at the kerb; several times he put a foot out to step into the road, only to pull it back again as cars sped by.  I simply took his arm and said “Let me help you”, no fuss, no introductions, no question.  I was very young.  He thanked me fulsomely, wheezing as he tried to catch his breath, his voice as frail as his body.  I was about to leave him on the pavement opposite and continue on my way when he asked “where do you come from?”  I told him “Germany”, and “why?”  “You’re only young”, he said, you won’t know much about the war.  A bomb did this to me, I got this weak chest from being buried.  And now here you are, helping me, and you are German.”  I was at a loss what to say to him.  “Sorry,” was all I managed.  “It’s not your fault,” he said, “it’s a long time ago now and we must all try to forgive and not let it happen again.”  And “Thank you again for your kindness.”

The young man was a beggar on London’s Embankment, no doubt one of the thousands of homeless, parentless youngsters who had been ‘released’ from children’s homes into ‘Care in the Community’ at eighteen.  He had a pleasantly cheeky grin on his face, as he held out his hand, which made me dig in my pocket for a coin.  As I dropped it into his hand, he looked at it closely, and the grin grew into the sunniest, brightest smile, transforming his whole face.  “Thank you, lady,” he beamed. I was a little surprised, it hadn’t been that big a gift.  I was with a friend, we moved on, making for a drink at the nearby pub; the place was crowded and while we were still queueing for service at the bar, the young man came rushing in, one hand in a fist held high above his head, shouting happily “I have enough money for a pint, I’ll have a pint, please.”  I was as happy as he was to know that I had made such bliss possible and have rarely given a gift that has met with such instant reward.

There is one more story where kindness met with the opposite of gratitude.  Again, a man and crossing a very busy road were involved. I was making my way to a staggered Pelican crossing, with railings and an island in the middle, outside a major London station, when a blind man waved his white stick at me.  “Help me across, won’t you,” he demanded.  “Of course,” I said and took his arm. “The official crossing is no more than five yards this way, I’m just about to use it myself,” I said, and “I’ll take you there”.  “I know about the crossing”, he said, ” I don’t want the crossing, I want to cross in this direction.”  “Are you sure,” I said, “this is a dangerous road and I’d feel so much safer using the Pelican crossing.”  He pulled his arm out of mine.  “Stupid woman,” he said, “I’ll go without you then.”  He almost, but not quite, stamped his foot, assuming I’d give in. I didn’t.  I turned my back and left him to it.

via Friko’s World: Gratitude.

For another of Friko’s posts about kindness and gratitude, click on Thank You, America.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s turkey recipes

November 22, 2012
F.  Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters.  Shake.

2. Turkey à la Francais: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat.  Proceed as with cottage pudding.

3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water.  Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator.  When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat.  In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.

4. Turkey Mongole: Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton, from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed.  Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.

5. Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc.  Blow up with a bicycle pump.  Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it.  Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.

7. Turkey à la Crême: Prepare the crême a day in advance.  Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace.  Wrap in fly paper and serve.

8. Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it.  Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around.  Only then is it ready for hash.  To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it!  Hash it well!  Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

9. Feathered Turkey: To prepare this, a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compel anyone to eat it.  Broil the feathers and stuff with sage-brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up.  Then sit down and simmer.  The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat.)

10. Turkey à la Maryland: Take a plump turkey to a barber’s and have him shaved, or if a female bird, given a facial and a water wave.  Then, before killing him, stuff with old newspapers and put him to roost.  He can then be served hot or raw, usually with a thick gravy of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol. … …

11. Turkey Remnant: This is one of the most useful recipes for, though not, “chic,” it tells what to do with the turkey after the holiday, and how to extract the most value from it.  Take the remnants, or, if they have been consumed, take the various plates on which the turkey or its parts have rested and stew them for two hours in milk of magnesia.  Stuff with moth-balls.

12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four.  Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours.  Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest.  The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

13. For Weddings or Funerals:  Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride’s cake.  Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer.  Now we are ready to begin.  Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place.  As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive.  The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men’s side pockets.

via Lists of Note.

Why did the turkey cross the road?

November 22, 2012

turkey_bookmarks_jokes_320

Q. Why do turkeys go “gobble gobble”?

A. Because they have terrible table manners.

turkeyjokeQ, What’s big and green and goes “gobble gobble”?

A. Turkeysaurus Rex

Q. What’s inside a genie’s turkey?

A. Three wishbones.

Q. Why did the turkey cross the road?

A. The chicken gets major holidays off.

Q. What happened when the turkey got into a fight?

A. He got the stuffing knocked out of him.

Q. What does Godzilla eat on Thanksgiving?

A. Squash.

Q. What do mathematicians do on Thanksgiving?

A. Count their blessings.

Q. What always comes at the end of Thanksgiving?

A. The letter G.

via Making Light.

Thanksgiving 2012

November 21, 2012

thankful

If the only prayer we ever said was “thank you,” it would still be enough.
    ==Meister Eckhart

If you think about reasons to be thankful and grateful, you cease to make yourself unhappy by feeling frustrated, resentful or worried about things that don’t matter.

If you click on What I Am Grateful For and read other people’s reasons for thankfulness, you may find reasons for thankfulness and gratitude about your own life.

“This is Israel winning…”

November 21, 2012

Jim Henley wrote a couple of posts for his Unqualified Offerings web log some two and a half years ago about the situation in Gaza which are, unfortunately, just as relevant now as when they were written.

He thinks that the Israeli government’s goal is to achieve the war aims of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, which is to make the boundaries of Israel the boundaries of the old Palestine Mandate, and to make conditions on the West Bank and Gaza so intolerable that the Palestinian Arab population will “self-deport.”  Everything that the government of Israel is doing brings it closer to that goal, he says.

Click on This Is Israel Winning Part One and This Is Israel Winning Part Two to read Jim Henley’s two posts from May, 2010,.

Click on Beneath the Layers of Gaza for his current thinking.

Conservatives analyze the election’s meaning

November 20, 2012

Click on The Liberal Gloat for Ross Douthat’s argument that Democratic victories in the current election reflect social and economic problems for which liberals lack good answers.

Click on The Insecurity Election for Paul Krugman’s rebuttal.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

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November 20, 2012

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Clarissa's Blog

A nuclear power is waging an endless war on a tiny area that wants to gain its freedom from the big and powerful neighbor. There is a forced and cruel displacement of people from the lands they have inhabited forever, a genocide. The nuclear power is using anti-Muslim sentiments to consolidate the persecution of the people who fight for independence. The inhabitants of the small area are using terrorism to defend their right to independence, bringing their acts of terror into the very heart of the powerful conqueror. The appalling poverty plagues the people who have almost lost all hope for having a state of their own. The land has been destroyed by endless war.

Of course, you must have realized by now that I’m talking about Russia and Chechnya, right?

As the recent flare-up of the conflict between Israel and Palestine intensifies, everybody is plastering their Facebook pages, blogs…

View original post 143 more words

Small thanks 2012

November 20, 2012

rockwell_thanksgiving11

This is an update of a post which I wrote in November, 2010.

I have many things for which to be thankful.  I have food, clothing and shelter, and no reason to fear going without.  I had parents who loved me, set a good example for me and provided for my material needs.  I have never been without friends.  I have good health for somebody my age (75).  I live in a free country under the rule of law.  I live in an age when the great mass of my fellow citizens can devote themselves to other things besides working to survive.  And I am thankful for the gift of life itself.

But this post is not about these things.  It is about small, easy-to-overlook things I am thankful for.

I am thankful for automobiles that don’t rust out.  Road salt is less of a problem now than 30 years ago, but the plastic body of my Saturn doesn’t rust anyhow.

I am thankful for automobiles that always start in the winter.  I can remember when this was a big issue.  I would run my car in neutral when I got home, and before I tried to start the car, in hope of recharging the battery enough to get a good start.  Now, with alternators as standard equipment, that recharging takes care of itself.  I am thankful for automobiles that get good traction on ice-covered and snow-covered streets, for right-side rear view mirrors and for rear-window defrosters.  I am thankful for idiot bells that let me know when I am getting out of the car with my lights still on or my key still in the ignition; this idiot needs the reminder.

I am thankful for left turn lanes on expressways, for left turn signals on traffic lights and for automobile turn signals replacing hand signals.   I am grateful to snowplow operators in Rochester who keep the roads clear in the worst of conditions.

I am thankful for affordable airplane travel, which makes it possible for me to good see my brother in California or my good friend in Texas in only half a day.  This is easy to take for granted, but I can remember when airplane travel was a luxury and middle-class people traveled by train, and crossed the ocean by ship.

I am thankful for luggage with wheels.  I can remember walking through airports and, before that, train stations carrying suitcases that felt like they would pull my arms out of their sockets.

I am thankful for ballpoint pens that don’t leak over my shirts when I accidentally put them in the washer.

I am thankful bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders provide chairs so I can sit and read.  They don’t lose money by allowing me to read their books free; I spend more there than I otherwise would.

I am thankful for painless dentistry.  As a boy, I once had a tooth extracted without anesthetic.  The dentist used what looked like a pair of pliers.  He pulled and pulled and pulled, then had to stop and catch his breath before going back and finally getting it out.

I am thankful for plastic bottles shaped with grips.

I am thankful for thermostats.  My parents had a coal furnace, and we had to be constantly thinking not letting the fire go out, but also banking the furnace so as not to waste coal.  One of my chores, since both of my parents worked outside the home, was to go right home when school let out and shovel fresh coal in the furnace.  Now I have a gas furnace that doesn’t have to be monitored at all, and a thermostat which I can turn up or down when I feel too hot or too cold.

I am thankful for hot water heaters.  I can remember when the only way to take a warm bath was to heat a kettle on a stove, and pour the boiling water into a tub of cold water.

I am thankful for search engines since as Google that allow me to find information in two minutes that I would have had to spend an afternoon in library to get, if I could find it at all.  I am thankful for web hosts such as WordPress that allow me to have my own web log, free of charge and without needing to be computer-savvy.  I am thankful for being able to communicate with friends in distant places through e-mail.  Not to mention spam filters which free me from having to continually purge my e-mail and web log comments.

I am thankful for cable television which enables me to receive broadcasts from places other than the city I live in.  And I am thankful for YouTube and Internet television which enables me to see broadcasts that my local cable carrier does not carry.

I am thankful for direct-dial long-distance telephone service.  I can talk to people in distant states and even foreign countries at an affordable price and without having to deal with an operator.  And for telephone answering machines.

When I was a boy, telephone service was like Internet service today.  Most people had it, but a large minority didn’t.  And not all telephone users had private telephone lines.  Basic telephone service in those days consisted of a party line, networking a number of households; the phones of everybody on the line rang on every call, but you were supposed to recognize the distinctive ring of your own line and not listen in to others’ calls.

Microwave ovens are a great boon to a lazy cook like me.  I do almost all my cooking nowadays, which consists mostly of frozen dinners, in the microwave.  But I also am thankful for farmers’ markets, where I can buy fresh vegetables and fruit directly from the farm.  I am grateful for trail mix and Granola.   I am thankful for ethnic restaurants, which give me a taste of the world’s cuisines without me having to leave my native city.

I am thankful for unit pricing, which enables me to compare prices of what I buy at the supermarket.  Otherwise I would need a calculator to figure out what is the better bargain, and even then I might not be able to do it.

What am I overlooking?

What am I taking for granted?

Canada’s Arctic oil rush

November 19, 2012

This Al Jazeera English special gives a good picture of Canada’s drive to exploit the oil of its warming Arctic region, an oil rush that is duplicated in Russia, Alaska, Norway, Greenland and other Arctic lands.

The drive, together with hydrofracking — hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas — are North America’s best hope of postponing Peak Oil, the day when oil production reaches its peak and starts running down.

The Nunavut territory carved out of Canada’s Northwest Territories, which is inhabited mainly by the native Inuit peoples, could be the next Texas or Kuwait.   I had always thought that the creation of Nunavut was a great act of generosity in the part of the Canadian government, but according to this documentary, the Inuit gave up their claims to ownership of the land in return for self-government of the territory.  This might not be a good bargain for them, particularly if there is an oil rush and they find themselves a minority in their area.

Click on Nunavut wiki for a Wikipedia article on Canada’s newest Arctic territory.

Click on Nunavik wiki for a Wikipedia article on a proposal for an autonomous Inuit-majority region in Arctic Quebec.

Click on Nunatsiavut wiki for a Wikipedia article for a report on an autonomous Inuit-majority region in Arctic Laborador

Vladimir Estragon on “The Master”

November 18, 2012

I saw the movie “The Master” the other night.   Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the part of a cult leader whose ideas have a family resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard of the Church of Scientology.  I admired his performance and the performance of the other actors.  I was persuaded that someone like him could persuade people to accept a version of reality in which it made sense to say, “You’re either in this for a billion years, or not at all.” But, even so, I didn’t know quite what to make of the movie.   My friend who uses the name “Vladimir Estragon” on the Internet has an interpretation.

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Rolling Jubilee: A people’s bailout

November 17, 2012

rolling-jubilee-31

An offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement has launched a practical movement to help debtors.  It is called the Rolling Jubilee, named for the 50-year Jubilee decreed in the Book of Leviticus, in which all debts are forgiven and all Hebrew slaves freed.

Banks and other creditors sell off bad debt to collection agencies for pennies on the dollar, who try to get their investment back by hounding the debtors unmercifully.  Supporters of the Rolling Jubilee buy up that debt, and forgive it.

So far the Rolling Jubilee program has raised about $330,000 and managed to cancel more $6 million worth of debt.  I don’t know of any other form of charitable giving that is so highly leveraged.

I must confess that six months I wondered about the future of the Occupy movement.   I liked what I saw of the Occupy Rochester people.  I gave them an old sleeping bag and some books for their library, and my church, which adjoins the public park where they were camping out, invited them in for supper one night a week.  But they seemed to me to be bogged down in their internal processes, and overly focused creating a model for an ideal anarchist society and in defending their right to camp out in public parks.  Still, with their slogan, “We Are the 99 Percent,” they got journalists to talking about the issue of concentration of wealth.

But the Occupy supporters did good work, along with other groups, in organizing help for victims of Tropical Storm Sandy.  If you’re trying to build a grass-roots movement among poor people, this is the way to do it—to be their friend all the time, and respond to their concerns rather than expecting them to support yours.  The old-time political machines understood this; modern political parties do not. And Occupy’s networked organization, based on anarchist principles, may have been more effective than a hierarchical organization would have been.

The Rolling Jubilee will do a lot of good, although it will not in and of itself solve the U.S. debt problem.   In fact, the nation’s moneylenders may try to put a stop to it before it can get started.   A group called American Homeowner Preservation tried to buy up defaulted mortgages, then allow the former owner to live in the house and pay rent, or take out a new mortgage based on the house’s lowered value.  Banks and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association wouldn’t cooperate.  Although they didn’t lose financially, they objected on general principles to foreclosed debtors being able to stay in their houses.   This was “moral hazard,” they said.

David Graeber, one of the original Occupy Wall Street members, says this reflects an assumption that needs to be challenged.  I agree.  If you borrow money, you are obligated to make a good-faith effort to pay it back, but the obligation to repay debt at compound interest is not the highest moral obligation.  Your moral obligation to provide for your loved ones comes before your obligation to moneylenders.  You are responsible for your own actions, but you are not responsible for the economic crash.  In fact, many of the individuals whose actions brought on the financial crash are the ones now trying to squeeze money out of unemployed students and underwater homeowners.  Strike Debt will have accomplished much if it gets us to questioning our assumptions about debt.

Click on Rolling Jubilee for Strike Debt’s home page.

Click on The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual for a link to Strike Debt’s free on-line book, which informs debtors of their legal rights, suggests survival strategies and explains what’s wrong with the system.  I haven’t read it the whole way through, but what I’ve read is good information.

Click on Local Churches Partner With Occupy Sandy In Grass-Roots Relief Efforts for a report on the Occupy movement’s role in helping victims of Tropical Storm Sandy.

Hat tip to Making Light.

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Candidate Romney’s management fiasco

November 17, 2012

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Mitt Romney campaigned for President as a successful businessman who would be a capable manager of government.  But the Republican get-out-the-vote effort on election day was crippled by a management fiasco called Project Orca.

Poll watchers of the two political parties maintain “strike lists”—lists of registered voters of their parties, whose names are stricken from the list when they vote, so that party workers can concentrate on getting those who haven’t voted yet to the polls.  Project Orca was intended to make this process more efficient by digitizing it.

A Romney campaign worker named John Ekdahl described the fiasco on his blog.

On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly.  Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by “packet”.  Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what.  Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf.  Nothing came in the mail.  Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night.  So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer.  Naturally, for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, my printer would not print in black and white with an empty magenta cartridge (No HP, I will never buy another one of your products ever again).  So, at this point I became panicked. I was expected to be at the polls at 6:45AM and nothing was open.  I was thankfully able to find a Kinko’s open until 11PM that was able to print it out and bind it for me, but this is not something I should have had to do.  They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers?  The night before election day?  From what I hear, other people had similar experiences.  In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.

At 6:30AM on Tuesday, I went to the polls.  I was immediately turned away because I didn’t have my poll watcher certificate.  Many, many people had this problem.  The impression I got was this was taken care of because they had “registered me”.  Others were as well.  But apparently, I was supposed to go on my own to a Victory Center to pick it up, but that was never communicated properly.  Outside of the technical problems, this was the single biggest failure of the operation.  They simply didn’t inform people that this was a requirement

Things got worse.

So, I headed back home to see if I could get my certificate.  I called their official help line.  It went unanswered.  I tried their legal line.  Same thing.  I emailed them. No response.  I continued to do this for six straight hours and never got a response.  I even tried to call three local victory centers.  All went straight to voicemail.

While I was home, I took to Twitter and the web to try to find some answers.  From what I saw, these problems were widespread.  People had been kicked from poll watching for having no certificate.  Others never received their pdf packets.  Some were sent the wrong packets from a different area.  Some received their packet, but their usernames and passwords didn’t work.

There is a lot more to Ekdahl’s post, but this gives you the general idea.

So, the end result was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help.  Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc.  We lost by fairly small margins in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado.  If this had worked could it have closed the gap? I sure hope not for my sanity’s sake.

The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters).  Wrap your head around that.

I think Ekdahl is right.  The Republicans would have done better if they had concentrated on getting out the Republican vote instead of their counterproductive effort to limit voting by voters from Democrat-leading groups.

But somebody made money out of Project ORCA, and I doubt that person will suffer any bad consequences as a result of the foul-up.  This kind of thing goes on in the private sector as well.

Click on The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA to read John Ekdahl’s full post.

Click on Trickledown Schadenfreude for more about Romney’s mismanagement of his campaign.

Click on Why Romney Was Surprised to Lose and Financiers Still Aren’t Rocket Scientists for more.

Hat tip to Making Light.

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The Highly Sensitive Person

November 16, 2012

Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist and research psychologist, says that up to 20 percent of the American population are Highly Sensitive People.  That is to say, they are genetically predisposed to be extremely and sometimes overwhelmingly sensitive to sights, sounds and feelings.  She said this is a different from being an introvert, or any of the other psychiatric categories, and is not a mental illness, but HSPs need special coping strategies to get along in life.

I find this very interesting.  I think I am a highly insensitive person.  That is to say, I’m not bothered by minor things that seem to disturb many of the people I know, but I have a below-average appreciation of art and music, and I’m often oblivious to what is going on around me.

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David Brooks’ The Social Animal

November 16, 2012

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Obama: McGovern’s coalition and Nixon’s policies

November 15, 2012

The McGovern political coalition of suburban white liberals, African-Americans, college students, feminists, and environmentalists, which went down to ignominious defeat to Richard M. Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election, delivered a majority vote to Barack Obama in 2008 and again this year.   But what they got is another Nixon administration—expanded war, warrant-less surveillance, prosecution of whistle-blowers, a war on drugs and disregard for the laws, the Constitution and the separation of powers.

McGovern72Senator George McGovern, the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1972, ran on a platform of peace in Vietnam, universal health care, a minimum guaranteed income for the poor and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.  He suffered one of the most overwhelming defeats in American history, losing the electoral vote 520 to 17 and the popular vote 60.7 percent to 37.5 percent.

Like Nixon, Obama inherited a losing war, and, like Nixon, chose to intensify the war before making a reluctant withdrawal.  Like Nixon, he does not support universal health care, but instead pushed through a substitute plan originally designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and later enacted in Massachusetts during the administration of Mitt Romney.  Like Nixon, he talks of the embattled middle class, but never of poor people.

Nixon is infamous for his abuses of power, but Obama goes further than Nixon did in covert action, surveillance without warrants, prosecution of whistle-blowers and assertion of the right to act outside due process of law and the American system of checks and balances.  So as is known Obama does not have a personal enemies list, but he has created the precedent of signing death warrants on his own unchecked authority, and who knows what a future President might do with that authority.

richard-nixon-1Nixon’s greatest positive accomplishment was in making peace with China, in defiance of the sentiments of most of his core supporters.   I don’t think Obama will go to Iran as Nixon went to China.   The way Obama has defied his core supporters has been in bailing out Wall Street and offering to gut Social Security.

Click on The Obama Realignment for conservative columnist Ross Douthat’s thoughts on the McGovern coalition.

Click on  In the Land of the Free for a British view of the U.S. Presidential election.

How about a hydrofracking severance tax?

November 14, 2012

If we have to have hydrofracking in New York state, there should be a severance tax—that is, a tax on the amount of oil and natural gas produced—just like Texas, Alaska and other oil-producing states have on oil production.

Hydrofracking—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas—is a highly controversial method of energy production which, according to opponents, is destructive to land, a threat to the water supply, and a cause of minor earthquakes.  But according to a report this week of the International Energy Agency, the future of oil and gas production in North America is in hydrofracking.   Natural gas prices in the United States already are falling, due to use of this new technology.

Hydrofracking involves (1) drilling a deep vertical well into gas-bearing or oil-bearing strata of shale, (2) drilling a horizontal well into the shale, (3) setting off an explosive charge to fracture the shale and (4) pumping in water mixed with detergent to force the trapped oil or gas to the surface.  Proponents and industry spokesmen say that, if done correctly, there is no danger of the oil, gas or detergent getting into the water supply.  The shale strata are deep below the water table and the horizontal well should be sealed tight.  They have answers to other objections as well.

The problem, as I see it, is that even if hydrofracking can be done safely, being completely sure that it is would require a degree of regulation that is not feasible.  But if there were a severance tax, there would be money to mitigate or compensate for the damage.  New York is generally regarded as the highest-tax state, based on combined state and local taxes.  This new source of revenue, while it lasts, might allow for reductions in state income taxes and local property taxes.

The drilling companies might then go to states that don’t have severance taxes.  The way to get around this would be for the governors of the hydrofracking states to agree among themselves as to what the severance tax should be.  If they can’t agree, the oil and gas companies would have to come to New York state in the end, after they’ve pumped the other states dry and natural gas prices start to rise again.

Click on Hydrofracking picking up steam for an explanation of the technology and an argument against federal regulation.

Click on Shale Gas Will Be the Next Bubble to Pop for a dissent on the economic benefits of hydrofracking for shale gas.

U.S. to be top oil and gas producer?

November 13, 2012

A couple of years ago, I thought the goal of U.S. energy independence was a pipe dream.  But a report yesterday by the International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will become the world’s largest oil and gas producer in the next five years, and a net oil and gas exporter in less than 20 years.

And how is this to come about?  By hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas, otherwise known as hydrofracking.

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The IEA report forecasts a decline in nuclear power’s share of world energy, and an increase in renewable energy’s share, based on increased government subsidies.  Energy conservation efforts will be stepped up.  But 20 years from now the world still will be dependent on fossil fuels, and demand for energy will be one third higher than it is now.

Rising oil and gas prices will be a burden on the world economy, but less so in the United States than elsewhere.  Natural gas prices in Europe will be five times as high as in the United States in 2030, and gas prices in eastern Asia will be eight times as high.

Although the United States is predicted to be the largest oil and gas producer, Saudi Arabia will continue to be the largest oil exporter, but with Iraq replacing Russia as the No. 2 exporter.  Most of the oil of the Middle East will go to the growing economies of China, India and other Asian countries.

The IEA says carbon dioxide emissions will be at record levels, and 1.3 billion people will be without electricity.

I don’t like the idea of a United States economy dependent on hydrofracking, which is what “unconventional” oil and gas is based on.  Hydrofracking at best is destructive to land and at worst a threat to water supplies.  But in the absence of alternatives, we Americans may not be able to afford to do without it.

Forecasts can be wrong, of course.  I don’t have expert knowledge that would enable me to evaluate the IEA’s report, but it seems plausible.  I think it would be a big mistake to regard a resurgence of the domestic U.S. oil and gas industry as the answer to U.S. economic problems.  We need manufacturing and high technology, not just extractive industries.  If the United States depends on oil and gas alone, this country could wind up as an economic as well as political facsimile of Vladimir Putin’s Russian petro-state.

The New Policies Scenario is based on the assumption that governments will carry out policies they have announced for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out subsidies of fossil fuels.

Click on North America leads in shift in global energy balance for the IEA press release on its latest World Energy Outlook report.

Click on Report Sees U.S. as Top Oil Producer, Overtaking Saudi Arabia, in 5 Years for a New York Times report.