Thursday, June 21, 2012

in other news....

[Kurdish-inhabited areas include large sections of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Armenia]

Headlines in today's Wall Street Journal -

Sanctions for Iran as Talks Fail
     The good news:  Western governments are finally showing some backbone in resisting Iranian nuclear program.
     The bad news:  The sanctions will screw the Iranian poor far more than the rich.

India in Race to Contain Untreatable Tuberculosis
     The bad news:  TB concentrated among the poorest of the poor, usually the Untouchables.
     The good news:  We're not in India

Home Prices Rise, But Not for Everyone
    The good news:  Home prices rose for some.
    The bad news:  Economic stratification in the US continues to worsen.

Charter Schools Fall Short on Disabled
     The good news:  We can afford oil and ethanol subsidies to big corporations..
     The bad news:   We don't have the money to care for disabled children.

Southern Baptists Pick Black Leader
     The bad news:  The Southern Baptist church was founded in 1845 as a secession from the abolitionist tendencies of northern Baptists.
      The good news:  The mo' fo's are so desperate for membership and relevance that they have been forced to stoop to engaging in the justice they have been preaching for over a century and a half.

Sandusky's Wife Contradicts Accusers
     The bad news:  Mrs. Sandusky is going to stand by her man, no matter what.
     The good news:  She is going to divorce him and take him to the cleaners as soon as he is convicted and the appeal fails.

Band-Aids for the Health Law
     The good news:  The US finally has a limited form of national medical insurance.
     The bad news:  What little we have of national medical insurance stands to be scuttled by the Supreme Court, the Guardians of Our Liberties.

Farm Bill Holds Windfall for Insurers
      The good news:  "Farmers" are usually large corporations who don't really need the money.
     The bad news:   Insurers don't exactly need any more of the public's money either.

Clues Emerge on Romney's VP Pick
     The good news:  He won't pick Palin.
     The bad news:  He will pick someone just as right-wing as Palin but not as laughably stupid.

Sides Dig In Over Gun Documents
    The good news:  Government program which resulted in the US arming Mexican mafiosi being unmasked by House Republicans.
     The bad news:  The House Republicans didn't care about the program when the Bush administration began it.

Europe, Weak Economy Add to Pressure on Fed
     The good news:  The Federal Reserve Board has several options to prevent the US economy from falling further into recession.
     The bad news:  In the past none of those options has worked.

Criminal Inquiry Focuses on EPA Email
     The good news:  A lead smelter company which polluted a park in Omaha and caused elevated lead levels in children playing there was fined $187 million by the EPA.
     The bad news:  The lead smelter company is trying to criminalize the EPA actions and get the $187M back.

Egyptian Opposition Finds Unity
     The good news:  The Egyptian opposition is finally united in opposition to what is effectively a military coup..
     The bad news:  The main result of the Arab Spring has come down to a showdown between rule by the military and rule by the Muslim Brotherhood,

Conservatism Propelled Islamist to Presidency's Doorstep
     The good news: The West can now drop the pretense that the Muslim Brotherhood is, or was ever going to be, "moderate".
     The bad news:  I am not going to even try not to say, "I told you so."  Repeatedly.

Mubarak In Hospital Following Stroke
     The bad news:  He was a son of a bitch,.
     The good news:  but he was our son of a bitch.  (Harry Truman describing Chiang-kai-shek)

Pakistan Court Orders Dismissal of Premier, Escalating Power Struggle
      The bad news:  The military regime are sons of bitches.
      The good news:  They're our sons of bitches .  Wait, they aren't even that.  There is no good news from Pakistan.

Associate of Bo Xilai's Wife Arrested
      The good news:  Evil local dictator has been undone.
      The bad news:  Corruption and power struggles are apparently endemic in China.

Activists Issue Plea to Evacuate Civilians in Syria
      The good news:  Syrian rebels are said in the West to be "moderate".
      The bad news:  Is there an echo in here?

Kurds Attack Turkish Post in Escalation
     The good news:  There are 32 million Kurds in the Middle East, 8 times as many as Palestinians..
     The bad news:    More than half of their country is occupied by our allies, Turkey and Iraq.  The rest is occupied by our enemies, Iran and Syria.

Europe Rethinks Approach to Madrid Aid
Cyprus Warns Deadline is Near for Bank Rescue
Confidence Declines in Germany and France
G-20 Leaders Divide Over Euro-Zone Crisis
     The good news:  The European Union and Euro-Zone are a brave and mature attempt to end a thousand years of endless, progressively more destructive, intra-European wars.
     The bad news:  The whole thing may unravel over quarrels about money.

WikiLeaks Founder Tries to Get Asylum
       The good news:  Julian Assange looks and sounds like the kind of privileged sleazeball who would do what he is accused of doing.
       The bad news:  Rape charges immediately after he embarrassed the US and NATO and arguably damaged our security, seems like way too much of a coincidence to be believed.  It reminds me of the trumped-up murder charges frequently brought against labor organizers in the early 20th Century US.

Of these stories, the one that matters is the untreatable TB in India story.  There are 200 million Untouchables in India, most of them close to penniless and living in intensely crowded slums.  The potential catastrophe is so immense as to make even people who don't give a damn lie awake at night.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight

[Romney waves the flag.  The M and O have been reversed in Photoshop but the satire is truer than the original]

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that, according to his FEC filings, Mitt Romney's net worth is between $190 and $250 millions and that his income in 2011 was $21 million.  These numbers show why even most capitalists should vote against Romney.

Romney "earned" between 8.4% and 11% return on his money last year.   Federal and corporate bonds pay between 1 and 2%.  The S&P500 is an index which represents the bulk of the corporate wealth in the US.  It began 2011 at 1,257 and ended 2011 at --- at --- at --- 1,257.  The net capital appreciation for the stock market in general was zero, nothing, nada, zippity-doo-dah, rien, zilch, bubkes.   No capital gain at all.

Yet Mitt came up with between 8 and 11% return.  Actually more, since he presumably started the year with between $170 million and $230 million.  But why quibble about a few dozen million here and there?

Most of the debate, OK all of the debate, has been that as between rich people and working people, between the 1% and the 99%, that the game is rigged in favor of the 1%.  The most public and remediable abuse being that the 1% pay a lower percentage in taxes than the 99%.

But there in Romney's numbers is a demonstration that the game is rigged even between the 0.9% who are rich and the 0.1% who are far richer.  While the capitalists who own the corporations were earning nothing on their investments or 1% on their bond portfolios, far richer capitalists like Romney were getting handsome returns.  And at whose expense?

Romney and his supporters would have us believe that Romney did so well because he is a some kind of genius.  I have heard him speak and you have heard him speak.  I think that lays to rest the idea that he is a genius.   I see no way not to conclude that either Romney and other particularly rich people have been amazingly lucky years after year, or that they have been competing against other capitalists on something other than a level playing field 

One indication of what the problem might be is the missing three letters - SEC.  When is the last time one has so much as heard of the Securities and Exchange Commission?  Not even heard of it doing anything, but heard of it at all?   The SEC has vanished even from the pages of the Wall Street Journal.  

The task Congress set the SEC was to regulate the investment markets to prevent the most egregious abuses against investors.  The purpose of the SEC was to protect capitalists both from small-time frauds, and from big-time corporate looters.  But the Republicans in Congress, with tacit Democratic assent, have cut SEC's budget year after year.   SEC is all but gone now.   Small capitalists, 0.9% of the 1%, have no protection from the endless chicaneries of the securities markets and of chicaners like Romney.  

Here we see why those who are more than merely rich are said to be filthy rich.  Romney demonstrate what the filth is.  Filth is when those who have doubly rigged the game in their favor, first in favor of the 1% and then in favor of the 0.1%, not only get away with it, but even have the gall to piously preach about how they deserve the money they did not work to get.  Schemed to get, yes.  Worked to produce, no.

Even the capitalist 0.9% of the 1% should reject Romney as their candidate.  Romney is the enemy of all working people and also of most capitalists, and still stands a good chance of being elected President of our country.  What does that tell you about the condition of our democracy?

A Modest Proposal

Friday, June 01, 2012

Eclipses, Tech, Shopping, and Surprises

[Sky Walk screen shot]

My nephew Steve Wilhelm and I drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park last weekend for the annular eclipse. Aside from all the other reportage about the drive (pleasant), the park (beautiful), the snow (lots of it), the people (fun and friendly), and the annular eclipse (delightful), there was a moment when Steve wowed me with an application on his iPad. It is called 'Star Walk'. 

Steve held his iPad up to the sky and Star Walk showed what stars were in the sky behind and around the iPad. It uses a combination of GPS and motion sensors to detect where it is and what position it is being held in. It uses those to show where on the celestial sphere it is pointed. It doesn't care about the earth being in the way and will show the stars in the sky on the other side of the planet just as easily if one holds it facing down. If you want to know what stars are in the sky over Australia and you have some sense of what direction Australia is, you can do that. In addition to the stars, it also shows the planets, the moon, comets, the constellations, and artificial satellites. It stores the data in its memory between updates, so it doesn't need access to broadband or wi-fi to work. Which is good because while it works fine in a city, it would be outstanding out of town where vastly more stars and constellations are visible for it to identify. 

My Tech-Toy Lust Meter instantly shot over to BUY NOW. Upon returning to the city I soon started shopping for iPads - models, memory, phone connectivity, prices, and so on. I had already figured that since Star Walk relies on motion and position sensors that it would not work on a laptop since it doesn't have those. But I saw a little ad about 'Alternatives to' and clicked on it. An iPhone is sort of a little iPad, maybe it would work on that, I wondered but started to wonder whether an iPhone would be any cheaper than an iPad. Probably not. 

Before I finished wondering these wonderings, the link took me to Android alternatives. Hey, I started to wonder, my Verizon phone runs Android right? Maybe I could get a cool new phone from Verizon and not have to change carriers and not have to (get to?) buy an iPad? The Android version of 'Star Walk' is called 'Sky Map'. I hunted it down online and found that it was compatible with the several-years-old cellphone I already have.  Great! I said.  

I just had to download it.  I spent a while locating and figuring out how to use the Android Store.  And then some time pawing through the ill-organized mass of app's available.  But I found it.  It was free, a good price.  I immediately attempted to download it.  But I couldn't.  Because it was already on my phone.  

The morals to be drawn here are three.  One is to check your smartphone or iPhone or iPad to see if you already have Star Walk or Sky Map.  If you don't, consider getting it.  Two is that this narishkeit foolish spinning one's wheels may well be how you too will someday spend your retirement.  I forget what the third was but it seemed clear when I started this paragraph.