Friday, June 29, 2012

No, It's Not the Most Important Election Ever

One thing that gets my goat is hearing or reading that "this is the most important election in our lifetime." It seems that Republicans have declared every election since 1994 thus. Liberals are even getting into the act.

Every election is kinda important. Bush versus Gore in 2000 was the difference between a decade of continued prosperity and peace and the alternative of depression and an endless series of feckless wars. But we can only realize that in hindsight.
[2012] may be the most important election since the Civil War, and possibly since America's founding. ~ Newt Gingrich
Presidents come and they go. Horrible ones like George Bush can only do so much damage in there short terms. Great ones can only do so much good. No election (okay, maybe 1932) was so important that the very future of democracy was at stake.

That doesn't mean I wouldn't be seriously bummed if Romney's plutocrats gain power and that four to eight years of the ensuing corruption wouldn't be a very bad thing. It's just that the nation would survive. The country survived Richard Nixon's proto-fascism, Harding's open racketeering, Wilson's total medical incapacitation, and Reagan's Alzheimer's.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Get Used to It Kansas

Kansas is hotter than Death Valley. This is your future for the next several centuries. You may, in fact, look back on 2012 as the Cool Old Days.

Health Care Decision

Wiser, or at least higher paid, minds will do real analysis. Here are a few random comments gleaned from the internet.
Circuses can be fun.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Heartless Republicans - the Supremes

John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Joseph Alito all agree that locking children away in prisons without a scintilla of hope of ever seeing freedom again is a grand thing.
The case in question, Miller v. Alabama, states that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, a 14 year-old was an accomplice to a robbery that resulted in murder and was convicted, the law required life without parole. Should there be an allowance that sometime, decades in the future, he might mature into decent human beings?

Thomas, as usual, stayed with his simplistic belief that the moral conscious of the nation was frozen in carbonite in the year 1787. Anything permitted 200 years ago should be allowed today. If children were punished with the whip in 1790 it should be done today too.

Roberts fixates on the word unusual and concludes that any punishment that is common for 40 year-old career criminals cannot possible be cruel when imposed upon a 14 year-old.

Alito enters a fantasy world. He fabricates some fictitious "17½-year-old" fiend as justification for mandatory sentences of life without parole for a real 14 year-old kid. Alito felt so strongly he read his opinion in open court. Scalia, somehow, managed to keep his trap shut.
Thomas still thinks horse thieves should be hung - a 7.4 on the Heartless Scale. Roberts can't tell the difference between adult hardened criminals and children - a 7.6 on the Heartless Scale. Alito earns a little extra for feeling so strongly about imposing additional suffering on the youth of America - give him a 7.9 on the Heartless Scale.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Power to Exclude

As a sovereign, Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory. ~ Antonin Scalia
Scalia in his dissent to the Supreme Court overturning the Arizona immigration law has devised from whole cloth a new constitutional provision that the individual states may expel entire classes of people from their borders.

While he does not state this specifically, the logical extension of his opinion is that the individual states have the sovereign power to exclude homosexuals or Mexicans. Oregon can pass a law forbidding entry to Californians. Texas can expel Jews, if it wishes. Scalia would revive a shitload of 19th century anti-Chinese laws.

The word "exclude" appears only once in the Constitution where it excludes from the Census untaxed Indians. At no point does the Constitution grant a "power to exclude" to the states. Scalia has to reference an 18th century Swiss diplomat to find such a power and even there the power is only available to nation-states and not provinces within a nation.

Scalia makes the insane case that Arizona, and every other state, may have its own immigration policy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Conservative Financial Reasoning

If you allow the poor and middle class to have extra money they will just waste in on frivolous things like food and medical care.

However, giving billionaires an unlimited amount of free money is brilliant because they are so much wiser than peons and would never gamble it away on credit default swaps and building casinos.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Heartless Republicans

They call her Hard Hearted Hannah,
The vamp of Savannah,
The meanest gal in town;
Leather is tough, but Hannah's heart is tougher,
Republicans are competing for role of most leather-hearted, compassionless individual in politics. Two recent entrants are:

Eric Hovde of Wisconsin whined about reading stories about poor people suffering through economic recession when he wanted to read about how their thieving ways are destroying the country. Hovde's outrage at being exposed to "sob stories" is cruel but is not directly designed to kill people so he earns only a 7.3 on the Heartless Scale.

Richard Mourdock of Indiana has proposed that employer provided health services should not have to cover cancer. He contents that employers should have the right to choose what illnesses they cover and if they want watch their employees suffer lingering, painful deaths, well that should be between the boss and his hapless workers. Mourdock doesn't just talk, he would work to insure poor workers die painfully. He earns a 9.0 on the Heartless Scale.

(I believe this may become a regular feature.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Euro Problem is German Paranoia

There are several reasons the Euro is troubled.
  • Greece should never have joined in the first place because they would never have the discipline to play by Euro rules. Same with Italy.
  • "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link" and Greece's link was made of cracked pewter.
  • Bankers are corrupt animals who saw a single currency as an opportunity to defraud several countries simultaneously. 
  • Nothing good came out of an economic idea forged during the heady days of the stock market bubble.
But the biggest reason is that Germany is so terrified of inflation they would rather see an entire continent wallow in hyper-unemployment than concede a millimeter on strict austerity.

German Hyperinflation
In the United States we think of the Great Depression as the worst an economy can get. In Germany they look a decade earlier, to the years after the end of World War I.

During a short, three year span the value of a German Mark fell by ten trillion percent*. It is an inconceivable rate of inflation. The chart I'm showing uses a logarithmic scale because a simple 1:1 graph would be several miles high.

Enough money to buy a large business in 1920 would have been insufficient to buy a loaf of bread by November, 1923. A postage stamp that cost four Marks in 1920 cost fifty billion Marks in 1923. Stores changed their prices hourly because the value of the Mark was dropping so quickly.

The Great Depression (aka Hitler's Good Years) was a bed of roses compared to the inflation years. To Germans, unemployment can be solved with a little productive fascism but inflation in the unholy terror. So it is that Germany continues to insist on draconian austerity when the simpler solution of a little additional government debt is the rational alternative.

*It may be a hundred trillion percent, the fact is this number is so astronomical I can't be sure.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Worst Decade Prediction 3 - the Dark Decade

The previous two predictions will likely happen within 80 years or so - the Great Depression was 80 years ago so there is a certain symmetry. The Dark Decade may begin tomorrow or not happen for another 200,000 years.

Dark Decade - Super Volcano Eruption
Lake Toba
A lot has been written about possible asteroid impact but they only happen every twenty or thirty million years. Supervolcano eruptions are ten times more frequent. The last super massive volcanic eruption was only 26,000 years ago in New Zealand, the Oruanui eruption at Lake Taupo.

Some 70,000 years ago Lake Toba erupted with such force it nearly wiped out the human race. Ejecting 2,800 cubic kilometers of matter into the atmosphere, the volcano plunged the world into a six to ten year volcanic winter.
Vallex Caldera, New Mexico

Advocated of American Exceptionalism will be proud to know that half of the identified supervolcanos on earth are located in the United States. The baby of the three, the Valles Caldera, is just twelve miles in diameter. California's Long Valley Caldera is a much more impressive. It was 760,000 years ago that an eruption sent 600 square kilometers of ash into the air.
Yellowstone Valley

But the granddaddy of American supervolcanos is Yellowstone. The whole of Yellowstone Valley is one giant volcanic crater. When it last exploded, 640,000 years ago, it made the Long Valley eruption look like a squirt and that was a mild eruption by Yellowstone standards. Twice it has blasted forth with a force to rival the Toba eruption mentioned earlier.
If Yellowstone erupts it will not be an extinction level event but it will be a civilization ending event. The bulk of the United States will be smothered in ash. Those not killed in the initial blast, everyone within 100 miles of the epicenter, or choked to death by the ash cloud, will be thrown back into the stone age. The rest of the world will fair little better. The sun will be blanketed for years. Crops will die. People will be frozen to death by summer snowstorms on the equator.

On the bright side, a Yellowstone eruption will cure global warming in an instant.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Worst Decade to Come 2 - the Flood Decade

In all likelihood the floods will follow the killer heat, figure the 2080s or 2090s. It may well happen within the lifespan of people born today. We saw a clear prediction of this future in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina flooded 80% of the city of New Orleans.

All the future great floods will probably not happen in a single decade, they will probably stretch out over the course of a century. But one decade may well stand out as the worst.

Doomed Nations
The Maldives
The first to go will be the island nation of the Maldives.  With a highest point only eight feet above sea level even conservative projections of sea level rises has the nation totally disappearing this century. Add in the storm surge of a couple of powerful typhoons and the Maldives will cease to exist a great deal sooner.
With 150 million people, Bangladesh is the eight most populous nation on Earth. It is also one of the poorest. Sitting on the Ganges-Bramaputra River Delta where it empties into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is quite literally between the devil and the deep blue sea. Most of the nation is less than 40 feet above sea level. Monsoonal flooding and Indian Ocean typhoons continually threaten floods from all sides.

Doomed Cities
Many of the great cities of the world face a flooded future.
New Orleans
Half of the city is already at or below sea level. The levees that keep the land dry also is causing subsidence. Add in sea level rise and it is predicted that one of the most historic cities in the United States will cease to exist this century.
The worst flood in Venice history was a just six feet above sea level. That could become a daily occurrence by the end of the century. Add in a flooding Po River and Adriatic storm surge and no amount of engineering jiggerypokery will save this great city. In fact, a six foot rise in the sea level will flood the entire Italian coast north of Ravenna.
Miami is a disaster in waiting. Just a three foot sea level rise will consume most of the city. Add in a 20-foot storm surge from an Atlantic hurricane and there is nothing humanity can do to keep Miami from a watery doom.

The Dutch have waged war against the sea for centuries. If human engineering can defeat the rising oceans the test will be Rotterdam. Parts of Rotterdam are already 20 feet below sea level and only kept dry by Dutch engineers. Even a three foot rise in the oceans will flood half of the Netherlands if nothing is done.

New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Bangkok, Lagos, and Jakarta are all on the list of vulnerable cities for future flooding. This website lets you look at what even small sea level rises will do.

But there is even a worse decade out there in our future. Tomorrow, the Dark Decade.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Worst Decade To Come - The Fire Decade

We've had shitty decades in the past but the worst may yet be to come.

The Fire Decade
We've already seen sparks of this decade to come. Greece's economic problems are in large part due to the massive wildfires they suffered from in 2007, 2009, and 2010. In 2010, 700 square miles of Russian landscape was burned by wildfires. Massive wildfires have become commonplace in the American West.

The Russian fires were set ablaze by a killer heatwave. Over 50,000 Russians were killed by temperatures 12 degrees F above normal. In 2003, a heatwave in Western Europe killed over 70,000. In 1995, 700 people in Chicago were killed by a five-day heatwave.

Yet, this is only prologue. As global temperatures increase with the increase in atmospheric CO2 they will not increase in a nice, steady, predictable manner. At some point in the future, regional temperatures will spike. It could be as early as the 2050s. A strong solar maximum coupled with a multi-year El Nino will inevitably send summertime temperatures soaring into uncharted ranges. Incredibly high temperatures, think August highs over 120 degrees F in New York City and London, will kill thousands. The heat will spark massive wildfires with the accompanying droughts limiting the ability to fight the fires. Smoke and ash will cool things for a few months only to see the high temperatures return with a vengeance the following summer. Continue the cycle for several consecutive years and we'll see regional climates in many places that will make Hell look inviting.

Tomorrow, another worst decade prediction. The Flood Decade.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Ego Problem

David Brooks of the New York Times has written an opinion piece criticizing all America for not being sufficiently obsequious.
David Brooks, in his dreams.
According to Brooks, America has a "Follower Problem." By that he means the peasantry is too opinionated and too willing to think ill of their betters just because those betters are lying, stealing scoundrels. This nation would be a better place, Brooks believes, if America became a nation of sheep.
[Y]ou have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.
Brooks uses as an example older monuments compared to our modern statues. Brooks says that the Jefferson Memorial (whose design emulates an ancient temple to Roman gods) and the Lincoln Memorial properly elevates our leaders to divine status.
The Lincoln Memorial copied the statue of Zeus at Olympia.
Modern monuments are too common and human for Brooks' taste.

Brooks wants Americans to worship George Bush as a god walking among us. He thinks we should be grateful for the leadership of the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan and not bother our pretty little heads with their crimes. And Brooks counts himself among the elite to be idolized.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Too Many Cops?

Is Mitt Romney right that we have too many police, too many firemen, and too many teachers?

If you are an oligarch living in a gated community or hire your own private security force then you have to agree that being taxed to pay for government police is redundant. However, for most people police are a comforting presence. In fact, you hope your city has enough extra money to invest in crime prevention which is far better than getting a 911 busy signal after you've been mugged.

Again, oligarchs have begun turning to private fire services. It allows for fire fighting resources to be focused on rich, upscale communities without wasting money putting out blazes in the rundown homes of poor folk.

Even before the modern Gilded Age we live in today, the rich preferred their system of private schools to the public education system. Private schools trumpet their small class size (Mitt Romney sent his children to a private school with an average class size of twelve.). For the children of the oligarchs small class size is a vital consideration. However, these same oligarchs contend that for the general hoi-polloi who attend public schools big classes don't matter. They have funded research claiming that classrooms filled with thirty, forty, even sixty students are just peachy.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Quarky Fudge Factors

I got a kick out of the story that the Large Hadron Collider (you know, that device that was going to suck us all into a man-made black hole and collapse the universe) is getting knocked askew by the moon.

The LHC is so sensitive lunar gravity deforms the tunnel enough to disrupt the experiments, meaning that technicians have to keep adjusting the proton beams. Which also mean, although scientists won't admit it, that the results depend more on the skill of the technicians than on the physics they are testing. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Is Mitt Romney a Sociopath?

Three stories lead to this question.

The least of these is the story that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car for a vacation trip. Certainly it shows a level of cruelty to an animal that most people find disturbing. Worse is the fact the dog was so terrified it shit itself and Romney just "hosed down" the dog and put it back in its torture chamber. Worst of all is the insane claim that the dog "loved it." Cruelty to animals, insensitive to suffering, insists the victim enjoyed the suffering - three major symptoms of a sociopath.

The second story comes from when he was in boarding school and criminally assaulted a fellow student. Organizing a gang to attack a younger student - clearly the act of a bully - shows the ability to manipulate others. He showed a desire to dominate and humiliate another. Ignoring the cries for help is cruelty to humans. There was a total lack of remorse to the point he claims to not even remember the event. So this incident has four major symptoms of a sociopath.

The third story is about how Romney liked to dress up like a policeman and pretend to be a cop. His "pranks" were to frighten and intimidate people. He would "arrest" women and abandon them without a car. His felonies include impersonating a law enforcement officer and kidnapping. Worst, however, is the creepiness factor. Serial killers and serial rapists like to impersonate policemen. That Romney chose this path for his recreation shows him to be a deeply disturbed individual.

We can add his joy at firing people, the pain he inflicted during his Bain Capital days, and his treatment of his neighbors as criminals to find an adult with a mile wide callousness streak. But does that make him a sociopath?

Of the traits of the sociopath listed here, Mitt Romney displays most of them. He is glib, manipulative, has a grandiose sense of self, and lacks remorse. He is emotionally shallow (robotic) and incapable of common empathy. He was a juvenile delinquent who got away with it because of his family connections. He is authoritarian, secretive, and paranoid. And he really does want to rule the world and will spend a billion dollars to do it.

The answer, I'm afraid, is yes. Mitt Romney is a sociopath and the dangers of electing one to the presidency cannot be overstated.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Great Wisconsin Fizzle

What happened to the Wisconsin Revolution and how did it fizzle so pathetically?
 » Almost all the energy of the capitol protests had dissipated by the time of the recall election.
» Because the protests failed to identify and coalesce around a single charismatic leader.
» Because the Democratic Party old guard co-opted the movement.

Rather than becoming a revolutionary movement to rescue the state from the clutches of a radical destroyer the recall became just another election.

Republicans did their part.

» Republicans poured a shitload of money at the campaign.
» Much of that money was spent to convince Wisconsin citizens that recalls are an illegitimate political tool that should be used only if the governor in question is a convicted serial rapist.
» Democrats failed to make the case that recalls are appropriate whenever a politician breaks the political trust of the electorate and that Walker was the political equal of a serial rapist. They failed at sending this message because the old guard saw the recall as just another election.

At least President Obama didn't bother to tie his reelection wagon to that dying horse.

Monday, June 04, 2012

American Terrorism

The dictionary defines terrorism as, "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes."

Muslim terrorists (al Qaeda) use dedicated human weapons (suicide bombers) to attack soft targets with the intention of punishing or stopping militant actions.

American terrorists (US military) use robots (Predator drones) to attack soft targets with the intention of punishing or stopping militant actions. American terrorists attack funerals to kill mourners, including women and children, under the assumption that some of the men might be "bad guys."

Between the two the Muslim terrorists are on slight higher moral ground (although both wallow in a deep river of sewage). Muslim terrorists are humans who sacrifice their lives to kill other humans, they are at least getting their hands bloody.

American terrorists kill from a distance, using computers. To American terrorists killing humans is a risk free video game with really nifty graphics.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Florida Defiance

Florida Governor Rick Scott's refusal to comply with federal law, and common decency, and continuing his mass disgorgement of minority voters is in the tradition of great Southern governors of the past.

Scott even looks a little like Lester Maddox (r). Maddox, former governor of Georgia (1967-1971), made his reputation by wielding a pickaxe handle to prevent blacks from entering his family restaurant.

Then there is the grand old man of Southern governors, former Alabama Governor George Wallace. His stances on state's rights, opposition to socialism, and defiance of federal authority continues to be rallying cries for conservative politicians.
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever. ~ George Wallace, 1963
Rick Scott fits right in.