Archive for October, 2015

Our American food

October 31, 2015

Hat tip to Hal Bauer

A monster house in southern California

October 31, 2015


An artist named Christine McConnell spent four 12-hour days transforming her parents’ southern California home into this for Halloween.


Why U.S. intervention in Syria is a mistake

October 31, 2015

Click on Mike Whitney for a transcript of this interview.

A homemade dragon mask for Halloween

October 31, 2015


Source: Wintercroft Masks.

Unlike many of my neighbors, I don’t take much trouble over Halloween.  But this looks pretty cool.


DIY Geometric Paper Masks for Halloween by Wintercroft Masks for Bored Panda.

We Organized An Eerie Halloween Photo Shoot Wearing Hand-Made Masks by Wintercroft Masks for Bored Panda.

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/30/2015

October 30, 2015

The Midwife to Chaos and Her Perjury by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Republican attacks on President Obama and the Clintons generally amount to straining at gnats while swallowing camels.  The House Benghazi Committee’s questioning of Hillary Clinton fits this pattern.

She was questioned for 10 hours, nearly continuously, for her alleged neglect of security leading to the murder of an American diplomat in Benghazi, Libya.  But nobody asked her about why she instigated a war against a country that did not threaten the United States, throwing innocent people leading normal lives into bloody anarchy.

And incidentally providing a new recruiting ground for terrorists..

The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military on Washington’s Blog.

China Sea Blues: A Thing Not to Do by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

Just because the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military doesn’t mean we have the world’s best military.  We Americans are complacent because of our wealth, and because we have not faced a serious threat to our existence in 70 years.

Our leaders think we can afford to waste money on high-tech weapons that don’t work, and military interventions that aren’t vital to American security.  Other nations, which have less margin of safety and would be fighting near their own borders, may be a match for us.

FBI Accused of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can’t Be Sued by Christian Farias for The Huffington Post.

Nowadays the Constitution stops where national security and foreign policy begin.


Drifting toward war with China

October 30, 2015

China_pivot_US_troop_deployment_in_Asia_Pacific(306x400)The U.S. government treats China’s claim to the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea as a threat worth the risk of war.

It reminds me of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon debated whether it was worthwhile going to war over Quemoy and Matsu, two tiny islands off the coast of China claimed by Beijing but controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s rump government on Taiwan.

Yet Washington stands by while U.S. manufacturing industry is hollowed out by China, which is a much more real threat to the well-being of Americans.

If China really is a danger to the United States, our priority should be to free ourselves of financial dependence on China, and dependence on Chinese factories for vital electronics components.

But military power takes precedence over American civilian needs, and corporate profits take precedence over all.


Beijing summons U.S. ambassador over warship in the South China Sea by Tom Phillips for The Guardian.

The U.S. Ought to Un-Swivel Its China Pivot by Buddy Bell for Counterpunch.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the South China Sea Worth War? by Patrick J. Buchanan for The American Conservative.

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s.

Switzerland, the other gun culture

October 29, 2015

Swiss citizens, as members of a well-regulated militia, have the right to keep and bear arms.

And, unlike us Americans, they manage not to kill each other in large numbers.

Places you can’t take guns

October 29, 2015

The following is from an article by Scott Keyes for ThinkProgress.

Gun ShowsPerhaps the most surprising conservative venue that bans loaded weapons are gun shows.  Crossroads Gun Show, which tours across the country, explained why even concealed carry permit holders can’t bring loaded weapons into the event: “Safety is our Number One Priority, and a safe environment in the show can only be maintained if there are no loaded guns in the show.”  [snip]

Political ConferencesConservative conferences frequently prohibit guests from bringing firearms. One recent example was the Morning in Nevada PAC’s Inaugural Basque Fry, a sold-out event featuring GOP presidential candidates Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker.  The event’s FAQ page answered the question “Can I bring licensed firearms?” with a simple “No.”

George W. Bush Presidential LibraryThough Bush was a strong proponent of gun rights, his presidential library in Dallas demands that all visitors leave their firearms at home.  According to a sign posted outside, guns are prohibited “For the security of our visitors, staff and facility.”


Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric on guns

October 29, 2015

Beverly Mann asked a good question on the Angry Bear web log.

Why does Clinton keep getting away with saying that gun manufacturers are the only industry that is immune from being held accountable for criminal acts by purchasers of their products?  Almost NO manufacturers are, by law, accountable for criminal acts by purchasers of their products.  Someone should ask her to name one that is.

Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist

Genocide of Burma’s Muslim minority?

October 28, 2015

Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack.

The excellent investigative documentary shows what happens when political leaders use religion to solidify their power by promoting nationalism and ethnic hatred.

Five candidates’ economic policies reviewed

October 28, 2015

The Street, an on-line business news site, has published a series of reports on the economic policies of some of the candidates and their possible impact on stock prices and business profits.

I’m more interested in the possible impact on wages, jobs and overall prosperity, but these articles contain good information and fair comment.   The various writers aren’t all that impressed with any of the candidates.


If Jeb Bush Becomes President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Tobias Burns for The Street.

If Ted Cruz Were President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Ross Kenneth Urken for The Street.

If Ex-HP Chief Carly Fiorina Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Carleton English for The Street.

If Socialist Candidate Bernie Sanders Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

If Donald Trump Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

A conspiracy theory of conspiracy theories

October 28, 2015

I’m not one for conspiracy theories.  One reason is that they divert attention from the proven bad things we already know about.

Sometimes it seems to me that there is a conspiracy to spread bogus conspiracy theories in order to divert attention from the actual existing conspiracies.

Whether or not there are unanswered questions about the 9/11 attacks, there are plenty of such questions about the anthrax attacks that came a week later.  Yet the anthrax attacks are virtually forgotten.

And whether or not the assassination of President Kennedy was the result of a conspiracy, it seems obvious to me that the killings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and of Malcolm X were conspiracies.  Yet while there is a whole Kennedy assassination industry, there is little interest in the King and Malcolm X assassinations.

When the 9/11 attacks took place, my thought was that a tiny group of criminal conspirators had got lucky.   I saw nothing improbable in a bunch of fanatics taking control of airplanes and flying them into buildings, but I also saw no reason to expect this to happen on a regular basis.

Bruce Ivins

Bruce Ivins

It was the anthrax attacks, coming a week later, that made me think my nation was under siege.  I thought this was going to be what the United States was going to be in for—constant attacks, each one radically different from the other.

At the same time, the identity of the targets seemed strange.   The anthrax attacks consisted of mailing of powders mixed with spores of anthrax bacteria to ABC, CBS and NBC News, the New York Post, and the National Enquirer, and two Democratic Senators, Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, and Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee.

Why would Muslim terrorists single out these particular individuals?  These are targets you would pick if you were trying to stampede public opinion into committing to a “war on terror”.

Initial reports speculated that the anthrax was made in a supposed germ warfare laboratory under the control of Saddam Hussein.   In 2002, the Department of Justice named Steven J. Hatfill, a virologist, as a “person of interst” in the case, but he was never charged.   Then suspicion shifted by Bruce E. Ivins, a researcher at Fort Detrick, who committed suicide before the FBI was ready to prosecute.

Maybe Ivins really was the culprit, and maybe he acted alone.  I don’t know enough to argue otherwise.  All I know is that there wasn’t enough proof to put him on trial.

There also are unanswered questions about the assassinations of Dr. King and Malcolm X.


Bernie Sanders and Ronald Reagan agree

October 27, 2015

Hat tip for the video to my expatriate friend Jack.

This video shows how Bernie Sanderss stated views on corporate tax loopholes, Social Security and gun ownership are much the same as Ronald Reagan’s.

It is a measure of how much the spectrum of opinion has shifted over the past 30 or so years.  For Ronald Reagan, closing corporate tax loopholes, preserving Social Security and background checks for gun owners were matters of common sense that conservatives did not challenge.

The latent strength of the Republican Party

October 27, 2015


Democrats like to think that the political tide is running their way.  African-Americans and Hispanics are a growing proportion of the population.  Young people are more liberal than older people.  Public opinion is slowing shifting toward a liberal position on gay marriage and abortion rights.

But this may not translate into political power, at least not anytime soon.  The map above shows which political parties control state legislatures, before and after the 2014 elections.  The map below also shows how Republicans won most 2014 elections for governor, senator and representative.

I would have thought that the manifest failure of Sam Brownback in Kansas, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana would have caused voters to turn against the Republican Party, but this didn’t happen.


The reason is, as Matthew Yglesias pointed out in a recent article, is that the Republicans are more united as a political party, and more pro-active, than the Democrats.

Republicans have unified control of 25 states. Along with the usual set of tax cuts for high-income individuals and business-friendly regulations, the result has been:

  • An unprecedented wave of restrictions on abortion rights
  • The spread of union-hostile “right to work” laws into the Great Lakes states
  • New curbs on voting rights, to further tilt the electorate in a richer, whiter, older direction
  • Large-scale layoffs of teachers and other public sector workers who are likely to support Democrats

Source: Vox

He said the Republicans are likely to control the House of Representatives for the indefinite future.  The distribution of voters, with Democrats more concentrated in cities, favors the Republicans to begin with.  Control of state legislatures enables the Republicans to gerrymander districts so as to give them an even greater advantage.

There are two sources of political power in the United States, money power and people power.  The Republicans have both.  No matter how much certain Democrats cater to big business, the Republicans will always be able to out-do them.  But the National Rifle Association, the right-to-life movement and other conservative causes give the Republicans grass-roots support as well.

As Yglesias pointed out, there is no state, not even Vermont, in which corporate business is not influential.  And, I would add, no politician, not even Bernie Sanders, who could or wants to eliminate business as a factor in American politics.

Organized labor, on the other hand, is strong only in certain states, and the Republican Party has a feasible strategy for eliminating labor.

Yglesias went on to say:

Winning a presidential election would give Republicans the overwhelming preponderance of political power in the United States — a level of dominance not achieved since the Democrats during the Great Depression, but with a much more ideologically coherent coalition.

Nothing lasts forever in American politics, but a hyper-empowered conservative movement would have a significant ability to entrench its position by passing a national right-to-work law and further altering campaign finance rules beyond the Citizens United status quo.

Source: Vox

The Republicans, and the conservative movement within the Republican Party, got to where they are through decades of effort.  It’s unlikely that it will be reversed overnight.  It will take a concerted effort such as Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy on a permanent basis.

Democrats base their hopes on Republican failure.  But that will only give them temporary victories.  The political party that achieves a lasting majority will be the party that advocates policies that will achieve peace and prosperity, convinces the public the policies will work, and makes a good-faith effort to implement the policies.


Democrats are in denial.  Their party is actually in deep trouble by Matthew Yglesias for Vox.

Courageous Malaysian cartoonist risks prison

October 27, 2015


A courageous Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkifee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, who draws using the name Zumar, faces a possible 43 years in prison for sedition.

His offense was to charge that Malaysia’s judiciary is controlled by the government, and that Malaysia is ruled not by Prime Minister Najib Razak, but his wife Rusmah Mansur.

He is in Britain for an exhibition of his cartoons, but he will return to Malaysia to face charges.  That takes a lot of guts.


Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.

Zunar: Cartoonist arrives in Britain as he faces 43 years in Malaysian prison for ‘sedition’ by Ian Burrell for The Independent.

Malaysian cartoonist faces 43 years in prison by Index on Censorship.

Norman Rockwell on the right to know

October 26, 2015


This Norman Rockwell painting appeared in Look magazine in 1968.

Here is the caption:

We are the governed, but we govern too.  Assume our love of country, for it is only the simplest of self-love.  Worry little about our strength, for we have our history to show for it.

And because we are strong, there are others who have hope.  But watch closely from now on, for those of us who stand here mean to watch those we put in the seats of power.

And listen to us, you who lead, for we are listening harder for the truth that you have not always offered us.

Your voice must be ours, and ours speaks of cities that are not safe, and of wars we do not want, of poor in a land of plenty, and of a world that will not take the shape our arms would give it.

We are not fierce, and the truth will not frighten us.  Trust us, for we have given you our trust.  We are the governed, remember, but we govern too.


The real surge in Afghanistan

October 25, 2015

Opium-Afghanistan-chartSource: United Nations Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014.

The United Nations estimates that Afghan farmers produce an estimated 90 percent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for heroin, and production is steadily rising.

Much of it is in provinces controlled by the Taliban rebels.  They tax farmers, based on their potential revenue from growing opium, and most farmers have no practical alternative to raising opium, even if they wanted one.

American sources, however, claim that more than 90 percent of U.S. heroin originates in Latin America.   Most of the heroin made from Afghan opium goes to Europe.

U.S. efforts to eradicate opium production or encourage legal crops have been of little avail.  Jonah Blank, an Afghanistan expert for the RAND Corporation, said it isn’t practical to conduct a counter-insurgency campaign and an anti-narcotics campaign at the same time (which is probably true), and the counter-insurgency campaign is more important.

Back in 2000, the Taliban announced a ban on opium poppy farming as contrary to Islam, and this actually took effect in 2001.  This created great hardship and even starvation.  Although Secretary of State Colin Powell announced $43 million emergency aid to help them out, the Taliban leaders were reportedly disappointed about the lack of a positive response from world leaders.  All this changed after Sept. 11, 2001.


The Real Afghanistan Surge Is In Heroin Production And Tripled Opium Cultivation Since the US Military Arrived by Meryl Naas, M.D., for her blog (via naked capitalism).  Excellent article with many useful links.

As Heroin Use Grows In U.S., Poppy Crops Thrive in Afghanistan by Elizabeth Chuck for NBC News.

Afghanistan Is Home to 400,000 Football Fields Worth of Opium by Lucy Westcott for Newsweek.

Taliban’s Ban On Poppy A Success, U.S. Aides Say by Barbara Crossette for the New York Times in 2001.

Why change is hard

October 25, 2015


Who will fight America’s wars?

October 24, 2015

When I was growing up, most American men had served or expected to serve in the armed forces.

In my home county, Washington County, Maryland, nobody was drafted because voluntary enlistments filled the draft quota.  But I enlisted anyway because I would have felt ashamed not to.

My enlistment was during the peacetime years of 1956 through 1958.   Probably if there had been a war going on at the time, I would have waited to see if the Army wanted me.

The armed forces were regarded as the employer of last resort.   Virtually any healthy young American man could enlist.

draft20151024_USM988I read an on-line article in The Economist that shows how much things have changed.  During the Korean Conflict, 70 percent of draft-age American men served in the armed forces.  During the Vietnam Conflict, the figure was 43 percent.   But now, according to The Economist, only 30 percent of draft-age American men are eligible to serve.

Among the 21 million draft-age American men, 9.5 million would be disqualified because they lack high-school diplomas or could not pass an elementary intelligence test.  Another 7 million would be disqualified for such reasons as being too fat, or criminal records, or tattoos on their faces and hands.

That leaves 4.5 million, of whom only 390,000 are interested in enlisting.

This fact makes a lot of things fall into place.  It explains why the armed forces no longer resist enlisting women, or gay men.  It explains why President Obama bases U.S. military strategy on drones and missiles, and elite Special Ops teams, and arming foreign fighters.

The whole basis of small-r republican government, going back to Rome, is that the men who fight for a society have the right to voice in how it is governed.   When the responsibility to fight is delegated to a small minority, how secure is our republic?  Then again, as Roman history showed, men who are willing to die to defend a republic are not necessarily willing to die to create an empire.


Who will fight the next war? from The Economist (via naked capitalism)

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/24/2015

October 24, 2015

Anxious Hours in Pivotland: Where’s My Sailthrough? by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Neither South Korea nor Australia support the U.S.-Japanese opposition to Chinese efforts to claim islands in the South China Sea.  The Chinese Navy meanwhile made a point about freedom of the seas by sailing through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Or at least greatly strengthened her bid for the Democratic nomination.  The Benghazi hearings made Republicans look like fools and showed Clinton as someone who is a match for them.

Are Canadian progressives showing Americans the way? by Miles Corak for Economics for public policy (via Economist’s View)

America’s Civilian Killings Are No Accident by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, had many precedents.

What Is life? by Matthew Francis for Mosaic.  (via Barry Ritholtz)

If humans encountered extraterrestrial life, would we know it when we saw it?


Moon over Australia

October 24, 2015

Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/23/2015

October 23, 2015

Iceland Just Jailed Dozens of Corrupt Bankers for 74 Years, the Opposite of What America Does by Jay Syrmopoulos of the Free Thought Project (via AlterNet)

Iceland sentences 26 bankers to a combined 74 years in prison by gjohnsit for Daily Kos (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Icelandic courts have sentenced 26 bankers to prison terms for two to five years each—a total of 74 years—for financial fraud and manipulation leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

The important precedent here, and the great contrast with the United States, is that Iceland prosecuted individuals, not banks.  An organization structure cannot commit crimes, any more than a bank building can commit crimes.   It is the individuals within the structure who have criminal responsibility.

JADE: A Global Witness Investigation Into Myanmar’s Big “State Secret” (hat tip to Jack)

High-quality jade is the most valuable product of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  But the government and people of the country get little benefit from it.  Instead the trade is controlled by military elites, corporate cronies and U.S.-sanctioned drug lords.

Nawal El Saadawi: ‘Do you feel you are liberated?  I feel I am not’ by Rachel Cooke for The Guardian (Hat tip to Jack)

An interview with the formidable 83-year-old Egyptian author, freethinker, feminist, medical doctor and campaigner against female genital mutilation.


Optimism or pessimism?

October 23, 2015

Click to enlarge.

I schedule and sometimes lead a Sunday morning discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY.  One Sunday the discussion leader made the case for that, although there were very serious problems in the world, some things are getting better.

One of the members of the group angrily disagreed.  He said that although some things are getting better, there are very serious problems in the world.

The world has in fact become a better place in some ways.  That doesn’t mean it will automatically become a better place in all ways, but it is reason to resist hopelessness.


It’s a cold hard fact: Our world is becoming a better place by Max Roser, creator of Our World in Data.

50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period of World History by Morgan Housel for The Motley Fool (via Barry Ritholtz)

Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.


Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.


The passing scene – links & comments 10/21/2015

October 21, 2015

The Secret to Winning the Nobel Peace Prize: Keep the U.S. military out by Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch.

Tunisia was the one country where the Arab Spring movement succeeded.  Four Tunisian organizations devoted to human rights deservedly won the latest Nobel Peace Prize.

Tunisia was the one country in which the U.S. government did not interfere, either militarily or politically, and it is the one country where the Arab Spring movement resulted in a stable, democratic government.

Rebecca Gordon, after reviewing U.S. policy in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, concludes that this is not a coincidence.  There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Obama Just Signed a Blank Check for Endless War in Afghanistan by John Nichols for The Nation.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, says it’s time to repeal the open-ended 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and have Congress decide whether to continue military intervention in Afghanistan and other countries.

How Credit Scores Treat People Like Numbers by Frank Pasquale for The Atlantic.

I commented on how Chinese credit card companies and maybe the Chinese government are linking all kinds of human behaviors to credit scores, and how this can be a subtle means of suppressing nonconformity.  Well, it seems the same thing is going on in the United States—maybe not with that conscious intent, but with the same result.