Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mystery solved !!

One of the great mysteries of modern media:   Donald Trump's hair.

The simple question is:   Why?

Maybe this is the answer.
Donald Trump Caterpillar

The picture on the left is of a "Megalopyge opercularis," also known as a "flannel moth caterpillar."   Unlike it's look-alike, however, the one on the left will transform into a beautiful creature capable of flight.

Perhaps The Donald thinks his weird hairdo/toupee? transforms him into something beautiful.  It doesn't.  It just looks weird.  He should ask for a refund.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Stay out of Syria

Best Buddies Lindsey Graham and John McCain keep calling for us to do something in Syria.   They don't actually advise putting troops on the ground, but their rhetoric probably leads a lot of people to think that's what they're saying.

They should just stop it.

Here's some perspective on it from Time magazine's Fareed Zakaria:
"From  2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country.  Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there.  The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria."
He goes on to say that his point is not to compare atrocities, but to call attention to the similarity of the situations.   Both countries, as was Lebanon too, were ruled by a religious minority;  and, in both countries, that ruling minority was challenged by the people who were in the religious majority.

In Iraq it was a Sunni minority ruling a Shi'ite majority.   In Syria, Assad and the ruling party are of the Alawite minority, which is a Shi'ite subset that makes up 12% of the population, in a country with a Sunni majority.  Zakaria says that, in such situations, the minority regime fights to the end, because it fears for the life of its people once out of power.   There are historical reasons for this fear.   Persecution and even genocide are common among religious factions throughout history.

Zakaria goes on to suggest that an American presence in Syria might make the Assad regime even more desperate -- with his last resort being widespread use of chemical weapons.

Unfortunately, hawks like Graham and McCain -- and their even more conservative colleagues -- seem to have no conception of such complexities.   Thus our debacle in Iraq, where no thought was given by the Bush administration for what would happen after we went in;  there was no conception of the culture or religious enmity among the people and no appreciation for what our presence would bring.   That's how ignorant and arrogant they were.

Ignorance of history and culture, plus jingoistic fervor for exporting our brand of democracy, determined the decisions on Iraq -- to say nothing of the oil interests of leading players.

Let's don't make the same mistakes again.  It's time for President Obama to talk sense to the American people and not let himself be pressured by the ignorance and politics of the opposition.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From the horse's mouth, the truth

The very conservative Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who reached across the partisan divide to sponsor with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) the background check bill that failed, has spilled the beans.  Although it initially seemed to have some chance of passage, in the end only three Republicans voted for their bill.

Later Toomey tried to walk his remarks back a bit, but I put more credibility on the initial statement than the lame excuse.   Here's what he said:
"In the end it didn’t pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
Of course, that comes as no surprise.   Mitch McConnell said it the first day of Obama's administration:   they would do everything possible to make sure he was a one-term president.    Well, the election shows that didn't work, but instead of accepting defeat they've just doubled down on opposing him at every opportunity.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The future of our political/governmental system

As bad as things are in Washington these days with our dysfunctional, hyper-partisan Congress, it may get worse.

A study out of Harvard, assessing attitudes toward government of people under 30 looks rather dismal.   Young people are losing the idealism that usually comes with that age -- and it affects both liberals and conservatives.

President Obama's win in 2008 owes much to the idealistic fervor and dedicated ground work of young people.   Many of them now have lost faith -- not so much in the president as in the possibility of getting anything done.

It seems futile to even hope anymore.   Look at one small example.    We thought that the almost unprecedented vacancies in federal judgeships was due to the Republicans blocking Obama's nominees.   And it is part that.   Obama's nominees who have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee have waited three times as long for hearings, on average, as did Bush's nominees.

But there's another story in this that I was unaware of.  It seems that, by longstanding tradition, the president initiates judicial nominations at the circuit court level;  and senators initiate nominees from their home states for district courts.    In some states with two Republican senators, they have simply refused to put forth any nominees.

In data compiled by the Alliance for Justice, we learn that neither Republican senator from Kansas has put forth a single name for a district court spot that has been vacant for three years and three months.   In Texas, there are seven vacancies on district courts.    Not a single nominee has been suggested by either Republican senator, despite one being vacant for nearly five years and another for three years.

Unless the American people rise up and change the system of unlimited corporate financing, partisan redistricting, and the filibuster, I don't know how things can improve -- unless we get a better class of opposition in Congress.

Reminds me of Georgia Governor Lester Maddox's famous quip in response to a national spotlight on problems in Georgia's prisons:   "The problem with Georgia's prisons is that we need a better class of prisoners."


Monday, April 29, 2013

More on why Lindsey Graham is wrong

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tends to shoot off his mouth;  hence he is a frequent guest on Sunday morning talk shows.   He often tends to be wrong, even -- or especially -- when it's about national security issues.   As a former military lawyer, he thinks this gives him credibility;  but his hysterical hawkishness undermines that.

His latest screed was insisting that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be held as an enemy combatant, even though he is a naturalized American citizen and has no known connection with any organized terrorist or nationalistic group.  Lindsey is simply wrong on this:  he's playing national security politics, trying to discredit Obama, by trying to paint him as insufficiently warrior-like on national security.    Never mind the Constitutional rights of citizens.

Jay Bookman has a good perspective on this in his Sunday AJC column.    Pointing out that we have had a series of bombing attacks from home-grown, alienated, "lone wolf" citizens who have sought and identified with some ideology but who were not part of any organized, foreign conspiracy.

He cites:  Timothy McVeigh and the paranoid militia movement;  Eric Rudolph and Christian identity theology;  the Fort Hood shooter and Islamic extremism, while also being an active U. S. military officer;  another Islamic extremist attacked a Sikh temple (hardly a symbol of America);  and Ted Kaczynski was motivated by neo-Luddism.

Bookman rightly links the Tsarnaev brothers with this group as lone-wolf alienated young men who may bomb American sites -- but it is their alienation, not their ideology, that we should focus on as the cause.   In this sense, are they so different from the Columbine kids, the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter, and many others?

I think we can consider the surviving Tsarnaev brother as primarily following his older brother rather than acting out of his own alienation.   To outward appearances, he was not alienated.    But Tameran Tsarnaev was -- and here's how that matters.

He had a promising career as a Golden Gloves New England champion boxer.  He lived the life of swagger and fancy clothes (white fur and snakeskin shoes).   But then they changed the Golden Gloves rules and banned non-citizens from competing in the national championship.   So he gave boxing up, dropped out of the social life he had enjoyed and turned to religion.   He got married, and his wife converted to Islam.  He claimed he didn't have a single American friend.  Yes, he got more involved in Islam religious practice and in radical ideology on the internet.

But that seems to have occurred primarily after he was rejected by the "land of opportunity" because he did not belong.  And, we should add, he was here legally and had applied for citizenship.

Bookman does not carry it this far, but I will raise the question:   are these alienated lone wolves so different, then, from the organized Islamic terrorist groups?   Is it perhaps a difference of scale and organization, where the jihadist movement depends on harnassing just such alienation and resentment over being rejected and humiliated?

Western invasion and exploitation of Islamic countries has a history long before Iraq.   Look what we did to overthrow the democratically elected socialist government in Iran.   Look at the plight of the Palestinians.   Look at the occupation of Libya by the French, etc., etc.  Look at the drone strikes that kill civilians in Pakistan and elsewhere.

They do not hate us because of our freedom, as our conservative "patriots" prefer to think.   They hate us because of what we have done, and are doing, to them and their countries.

We should keep that in mind.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Do we have too much regulation, as Republicans claim?

Because of the Boston bomb attack, the other big story that week got less news coverage.   The fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas killed 14 people (10 of them first firefighters and other first responders) and wounded 200 more.   It also destroyed a nearby school, homes and businesses.

It was the explosion of stored chemicals that made it so devastating.   Now we're learning that fertilizer manufacturing plants are dangerous places and are supposed to be regulated.  And here is the scandal of the failure of our government regulatory system.

Ammonium hyrdoxide, used in making fertilizer, is the culprit here.   It is dangerous because it causes explosions like this.   I learned today (from MSNBC) that the West Fertilizer had 1300 times the minimum amount of the chemical that can be kept in storage without having to be registered and regulated.   They had not done this.

A likely reason is that they would have been required to have a storage facility with blast walls to prevent just such an explosion.   And that costs money.   In addition, I learned that, because OSHA is so underfunded (guess who tries to kill regulation by cutting funding?), this plant had not been inspected since 1985.  As the reporter put it, "It has not been inspected in my lifetime."

This sounds like criminal negligence, at least, on the part of the owners.

Now, think about this.   There are probably many other plants just like this around the country -- other disasters waiting to happen.

MSNBC's interviewee also said that 4,600 people lose their lives every year in workplace accidents:   that's 13 every day.   Not to be crass about it, but that's more lives lost every year than in the 9/11 bombing plus the Boston bombing combined.   But will Congress do anything to increase regulatory laws and then fund OSHA?

Don't hold your breath.    Remember, Romney campaigned on cutting regulations that hamper business.  That's one thing both wings of the Republican party agree on.