Lazy Saturday Reads

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Good Afternoon!!

I thought I’d put the “morning reads” up a little later to give you time to check out JJ’s cartoon posts. So . . . let’s see what’s happening out there today.

Well . . . Paul Volker was in Boston on Thursday night, and he talked to some richie-rich guys about income inequality. From The Boston Globe:

Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Boston investment executives, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker asked some tough questions about income inequality in America. He called the earnings gap one of the economy’s greatest challenges.

“What accounts for this? What justifies it?’’ an animated Volcker asked. He argued that the trend started in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, with the spread of stock option compensation creating vast wealth and risk-taking.

During that period, he said, the link between pay and performance got “entirely out of whack.’’

The elder statesman of Fed watchers and author of the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank reform package after the financial crisis — was speaking before the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual market dinner…

Good for him. Whether it will do any good is questionable, but these people need to hear about what they are doing to 99% of Americans.

Tom Wesselmann-StillLifeNo.35_1963

Just for the hell of it, I looked around for some more recent news articles about income inequality. There wasn’t a lot out there, but I did find a few interesting reads.

At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik writes: Income inequality begins to hit business in the pocketbook. He argues that business is noticing that middle-class customers are disappearing.

The consumer market is beginning to look like a sandwich without meat in the middle–there are enough wealthy customers to keep the luxury market humming along, and a growing demand for cheap no-name and other bargain products.

The phenomenon has been reported by Matthew Yglesias of Slate.com and more recently by Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times. As we reported here and here, it’s been building for years. But it really picked up steam after the last recession, when the imbalance in income between the top 1% and everyone else has really taken off.

Most economists view the stranglehold of the wealthy on U.S. income and wealth as a problem–it leads to slower overall growth and more volatility. As economist Jared Bernstein has observed, it also promotes the creation of asset and credit bubbles, which have a tendency to burst, taking the rest of the economy with them.

The most important analysis of the economic impact of inequality has come from Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis. In a paper published last month, they ask two questions: “First, did rising inequality contribute in an important way to the unsustainable increase in household leverage that triggered the collapse in consumer demand and the Great Recession? Second, has the rise in inequality become a drag on demand growth…that has held back recovery?”

Their answer to both questions is yes. In simpler terms, rising inequality before the recession prompted U.S. households to borrow more to keep up their spending; when the debt frenzy ended (because of the bursting of the housing bubble) the economy crashed. Since then, the demand drag caused by the effect of inequality on the bottom 95% has held back recovery. The impact of inequality on the recovery, compared with previous recoveries, is shown in this stunning graph from their paper.

But Hiltzik notes that many oblivious pundits continue to deny the effects of the top 1% controlling most of the wealth.

still-life-5-Tom-Wesselmann

At The News Virginian, Jason Stanford finds some “good news” in the fact that most Republicans now agree that income inequality is a problem. 

Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.

The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.

OK, so Republicans see the problem, but they want to address it with the same old tired trickle-down non-solutions. I’m not really sure that qualifies as good news. Better than nothing, I guess.

At the Akron Beacon Journal, Rick Armon writes about “an American success story.” Thanks to government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not as many seniors are living in poverty as they did in the past.

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, at least one group of Americans is much better off today: senior citizens.

The percentage of seniors nationwide living below the poverty line has plummeted from 27 percent to 9 percent today, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of census data….

Today, there are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty, compared with 5.2 million in 1969, when the 1970 census was conducted.

The reasons are pretty simple, experts say: It’s a combination of Social Security, pensions, 401(k) programs and Medicare that has kept more elderly people from slipping into poverty.

Armon says those figures may be a little too optimistic (read the details at the link); but still, it’s progress.

Tom Wesselman

Yesterday everyone was talking about Asst. Sec. of State Victoria Nuland’s bugged phone call  with the US ambassador to Ukraine in which she uttered the words “fuck the EU,” apparently using an unencrypted cell phone. Someone posted portions of the call to Youtube, and the U.S. has accused Russia of tapping Nuland’s phone. Read all the gossipy details at BBC News.

Of course Russia is accusing the U.S. of “meddling” in the Ukraine crisis. From The New York Times:

KIEV, Ukraine — The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats.

An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.

The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.

There’s a lot more background on the Ukraine situation in the NYT article.

still-life-11-Tom-Wesselmann

If the problems in Ukraine weren’t enough, anti-government protests have now broken out in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. The Guardian reports:

Thousands of Bosnian protesters took to the streets in the centre of Sarajevo on Friday, setting fire to the presidency building and hurling rocks and stones at police as fury at the country’s political and economic stagnation spread rapidly around the country.

As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.

At one point in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories….

The scenes in Sarajevo were similarly fraught on Friday night, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters….

The protests have bubbled up out of long-simmering discontent at a sluggish economy, mismanagement, corruption and unemployment, which is rising irresistibly towards 30%. Bosnia has been hamstrung by political infighting and deadlock between its three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in the near 20 years since its three-year civil war ended in 1995. The economy has suffered as a result, and the population remains deeply sceptical of a political class widely believed to be ruling in the interests of the elite, not the people.

Ě—0

There continues to be plenty of surveillance news–both about NSA, and more recently about Russia’s intelligence agencies and their security measures activities around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This article from The Moscow Times by Andrei Soldatov provides a good overview: FSB Makes Eavesdropping an Olympic Event. In NSA news, Glenn Greenwald and friends have stepped up their publishing activities in the run-up to the unveiling of their First Look news site, planned for Monday. I’ll just share a couple of items with you.

A little more than a week ago Greenwald worked with CBC reporters to “break” a story about alleged spying  by Canada’s equivalent of NSA on airport passengers that supposedly continued for days after they left the airport. As usual, the report was deeply flawed, as explained by Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency: Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect.

On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers – something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts.”

However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.

Read all the gory details at the Aid’s blog.

Then yesterday, Greenwald–in collaboration with NBC News–released a truly bizarre article, Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’, that reveals methods and sources for the GCHQ’s efforts to arrest malicious hackers, criminals, and terrorists, and to prevent nuclear proliferation. You have to wonder why NBC news thought those efforts were somehow wrong or illegal. I’m running out of space, so I’ll let Bob Cesca explain the problems with this story.

There’s one sentence in the new Glenn Greenwald revelation for NBC News that renders everything that follows mostly irrelevant. It’s the lede. And not even the entire lede — just the first part of it.

British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers…

The only sane reaction to this news should be, “Great!” We don’t really need to know anything else. But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from spilling the beans on operations that target such poor helpless victims as malicious hackers, the Taliban, Iran and, yes, terrorists dealing in loose nukes.

See more examples at The Daily Banter. Cesca sums up:

Regardless, what we’re looking at here is another leak from Greenwald & Company that tips off some of our most dangerous enemies including and especially the looming threat of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. These leaks have been published yet again under the banner of the public interest, but it’s difficult to see any public interest in an operation expressly aimed at those who even the article admits are our “enemies.”

Greenwald has been publishing quite a few leaks about British spying lately. I have to assume that this is his threatened revenge for the Brits detaining David Miranda at Heathrow airport last year. Pretty childish, if you ask me.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific weekend!


Tuesday Reads

Matisse

Good Morning!!

This is going to be another quick post, because my mom is having an emergency that I need to help her with. She lost her internet, TV, and phone, and Comcast is saying they can’t do anything till Friday! She told them she is 88 years old, so maybe they’ll get off their duffs sooner.

Meanwhile, she just has her cell phone and only 100 minutes. She can afford to pay if she goes over, but she’s Great Depression survivor and often panics over “wasting money.”

So let’s see what’s happening in the headlines.

NBC News: Janet Yellen confirmed as first female Fed chair. Another glass ceiling shattered!

Vice chair of the Fed since 2010, Yellen begins her four-year term as leader of the century-old bank on Feb. 1. With the economy rebounding from the depths of the recession but only modestly so far, many economists expect her to focus on how to nurture growth without putting it into overdrive, which could risk fueling inflation….

Under Bernanke, the Fed has driven short-term interest rates down to near zero and flushed money into the economy with huge bond purchases, which it has just started to ease. Yellen, a strong Bernanke ally, has supported those policies and is expected to continue them until concrete signs emerge of sustained improvement of the economy and job market.

In a written statement, President Barack Obama said Yellen’s approval means “the American people will have a fierce champion” who will protect them.

On the other hand,

Lobbyists for the banking and financial services sectors issued statements pledging to work with Yellen. Both industries have led a fight to water down restrictions imposed by Obama’s 2010 law overhauling how the nation’s financial system is regulated.

I hope Dakinikat will weigh in on this later on. My guess is she will pooh pooh the notion that anything is going to suddenly create inflation in this economy.

CNN on the latest media meme: The Polar Vortex.

From Boston to Washington to Atlanta, the polar vortex kept swinging Tuesday, a frozen ice chest hovering over more than 100 million people.

Temperatures in many areas were in the single digits, and well below zero with wind chills.

In the Deep South, hard freeze warnings were in effect from eastern Texas to the Florida Panhandle….

It’s even too cold for polar bears and penguins. At Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Anana — a polar bear who never grew the thick layer of fat that bears in the Arctic do — had to be brought inside Monday. And at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, bald eagles and African penguins, “who are used to temperate climates,” were taken off exhibit until the weather warms up, the facility reported.

And from Think Progress: Everything You Wanted To Know About The ‘Polar Vortex’

the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titledthe explanation.

“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”

In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.

“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.”

Basically, places that are usually cold are warmer and places that are usually warm are getting the cold air. Lots more at the link.

Here’s scary headline for you: Republicans Really Could Win It All This Year, by Larry Sabato. But take it with a grain of salt, because it’s a Politico story.

Another midterm election beckons, and over the next 10 months we’ll see headlines about a thousand supposedly critical developments—the “game changers” and the “tipping points.” But we all know there aren’t a thousand powerful drivers of the vote. I’d argue that three factors are paramount: the president, the economy and the election playing field. And, at least preliminarily, those three factors seem to be pointing toward Republican gains in both houses in the 2014 midterms.

Read all about it at the link. As a side note, Joseph Cannon has a post up about Sabato and his recent book on the JFK assassination. As usual, when Cannon writes about this subject, it’s highly enlightening. Check it out if you like connecting dots.

Here’s a wacky story from Oklahoma that Dakinicat sent me last night: Student Expelled for Casting a Spell.

An Oklahoma high school suspended a

15-year-old student after accusing her of casting a magic spell

that caused a teacher to become sick, lawyers for the student

said on Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on behalf of student Brandi Blackbear, charging that the assistant principal of Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, suspended her for 15 days last December for supposedly casting a spell.

The suit also charged the Tulsa-area Union Public Schools with repeatedly violating Blackbear’s civil rights by seizing notebooks she used to write horror stories and barring her from drawing or wearing signs of the pagan religion Wicca.

“It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” said Timothy Blackbear, Brandi’s father.

WTF?! So what we’re learning is that at least a teacher and presumably members of the administration of a school in Oklahoma believes it is possible to cast magic spells that make people sick? What century is this again?

Angela Merkel has broken her pelvis in a skiing accident. From CNN:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fractured her pelvis in a skiing accident in Switzerland over the holidays, her spokesman told reporters Monday.
Merkel was cross-country skiing when the accident occurred. Spokesman Steffen Seibert did not disclose the date of the incident, but said her injuries are not thought to be serious and it is thought she will make a full recovery.

Merkel, who has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005, will need aid to walk over the next few weeks and will be canceling some of her commitments, Seibert said.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said it will delay its party retreat, originally slated for January 10-11, as a result of her accident.

From The New York Times: JPMorgan Settles With Federal Authorities in Madoff Case

Before Bernard L. Madoff stole billions of dollars from his clients, and before he received a 150-year prison sentence for those crimes, JPMorgan Chase had a chance to warn federal authorities about his Ponzi scheme but never did.

On Tuesday, five years after Mr. Madoff’s arrest set off a panic on Wall Street and Washington, Mr. Madoff’s primary bank received a punishment of its own.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan imposed a $1.7 billion penalty on JPMorgan, striking a criminal settlement deal involving two felony violations. The prosecutors, essentially accusing the nation’s biggest bank of turning a blind eye to Mr. Madoff’s fraud, will force JPMorgan to pay the sum to his victims.

Later on Tuesday, federal regulators are expected to announce their own rebuke of the bank in a civil case. All told, JPMorgan is likely to pay some $2 billion to resolve the Madoff investigations, which will be fully detailed at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Some bankers are going to lose some money and are being embarrassed. It’s something anyway. I’ll end on that positive note.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Saturday Quick Hits

Predictions 2014

Predictions 2014

Good Morning!!

I’m really struggling to get going this morning, so I’m going to start you off with a few cartoons and some quick links. I have another post planned for later on today, and I hope you’ll stop by then.

Right wing “Christian” hate was a dominant characteristic of 2013,

so I guess it’s appropriate that the year is ending with an incredibly disgusting and ludicrous example of what some Americans have become.

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

The New York Times finally weighed in on the disastrous decision of A&E to revoke their suspension of ridiculous hate monger Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

The indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of the A&E Network’s huge ratings hit “Duck Dynasty,” became definite Friday — at zero episodes. The network announced he would not be suspended after all.

A&E released a statement, noteworthy both for its concessions to the Robertson family’s refusal to accept the suspension as well as its timing — at close of business on Friday of a holiday weekend on the slowest week of the year in the entertainment business.

The bottom line: Phil Robertson will resume work on the show when it begins taping new episodes in the spring.

The network moved to suspend Mr. Robertson on Dec. 18 after comments he made about gay people in a magazine interview. At the time A&E described the comments, which described homosexual acts in crude terms and labeled them a sin, as extremely disappointing and not reflective of the network, which considered itself “champions of the L.G.B.T. community.”

Shame on you, A&E!! And don’t forget the racism, misogyny, pedophilia, religious bigotry, and general overall ignorance in Roberton’s interview. A&E now tacitly supports those “values” as their “core principles.”

Way back in 1968 when I first saw Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey, I never could have imagined that the future of the U.S. would be so pathetic and embarrassing. Sigh . . . We’ve left 2001 far behind us, and this is what has become of the dreams of my generation.

The good news, at least about gay marriage, is that the battle is over and the good guys won.

Josh Marshall:

Since the Supreme Court ruling in June, the writing has been on the wall for banning of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in the United States. Since June the number of states with marriage equality has jumped from 12 to 18. But last week’s lower court decisions in Utah and Ohio leave little doubt that the political fight over gay marriage is now essentially over and that gay marriage will be the law of the land in every state in the country in the pretty near future.

The fact that gay and lesbian couples are now lining up to get married in Utah of all places – arguably the most conservative state in the country – might tell you this on a symbolic level. But the logic that points to the end of the political fight over gay marriage is more concrete, specific and undeniable.

Utah, rightly, got the most attention. But there were two cases last week. The other one in Ohio dealt with a much narrower question: whether the state had to recognize gay marriages in the issuance of death certificates. But both cases rested on the same essential premise: that if the federal government can’t discriminate against gay couples, states – by definition – cannot either.

As Judge Timothy Black put it in the Ohio case: “The question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

The other huge story of the day (which the mainstream media will probably play down) is that more than a million Americans will lose long-term unemployment benefits today.

Here are some links, and so far I haven’t seen any on Google news from the big media outlets.

The Columbus Dispatch: 1.3 million set to lose U.S. jobless benefits

More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm-election year.

Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged yesterday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy might suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.

Voxxi: What you should know about the expiration of unemployment benefits This article lists seven reasons why the decision by Republicans to hurt so many American families will be a disaster. Highly recommended.

11KKTV.com Long-Term Unemployed Face Life Without Emergency Benefits

The federal program, which was expanded in 2008 to provide extra income to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits, lapses Saturday because Congress failed to extend the federal program into 2014. For much of the recession, the government not only offered extended benefits beyond those 26 weeks, but also introduced the EUC program to offer up to 99 weeks of assistance in many states.

In the first six months of 2014, 1.9 million additional Americans will use up their state-funded benefits and find themselves without a federal safety net waiting if the program is not renewed. That number will jump to 3.6 million people. According to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Labor Department, in October the average length of unemployment was 36.1 weeks – two and a half months longer than state benefits will last with no extension. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, roughly one-third of the overall employment rate of 7.3 percent.

“In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today,” the report says.

It’s also been quite a while since anyone was able to receive 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 per week. Over the past two years, the average maximum weeks of available benefits has dropped from 85 to 54, or 36 percent, according to Congressional Research Service data.

That’s just sick. In fact it is so far beyond sick, I don’t even know how to begin to characterize it.

Why are the Republicans doing this?

Christmas GOP and Obama

Christmas GOP and Obama

And don’t forget what’s happening to people on food stamps.

Food Stamps Removed

Food Stamps Removed

I wish I had some cheerful news for you. I’ll look around and try to find some. For now, I’d better get this post published before everyone gives up on me!

Have a great day, and please post any links that have caught your eye in the comment thread.


Friday Nite Lite: Too Dang Busy

Rockwell Kent Christmas Card, wood engraving.

Rockwell Kent Christmas Card, wood engraving.

Good Evening

Aaaarrrrrhhhhh! So many damn things to do this time of year. So instead of complaining, let’s just get to it.

Mr. and Mrs. Perkins Go Gift Shopping 2013 – Political Cartoon by Jen Sorensen, Self-syndicated – 12/10/2013

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen - Mr. and Mrs. Perkins Go Gift Shopping 2013

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune – 12/10/2013

Cartoon by Pat Bagley -

12/8 Mike Luckovich cartoon: Impeach him | Mike Luckovich

luckovich-sunday-120813

World of Spycraft by Political Cartoonist Steve Sack

141501 600 World of Spycraft cartoons

Obama and Raul Castro shake by Political Cartoonist Dave Granlund

141488 600 Obama and Raul Castro shake cartoons

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Mike Smith, Las Vegas Sun – 12/12/2013

Cartoon by Mike Smith -

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer – 12/12/2013

Cartoon by Kevin Siers -

Selfie – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 12/12/2013

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Selfie

Letter Carriers by Political Cartoonist Steve Nease

141644 600 Letter Carriers cartoons

(That is a Canadian Letter Carrier, but the same can be said for its southern relative, Postalus Americanus)

SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER by Political Cartoonist Randy Bish

141621 600 SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER cartoons

POPE v DOPE – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 12/13/2013

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - POPE v DOPE

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette – 12/13/2013

Cartoon by Joe Heller -

12/13 Luckovich cartoon: Neanderthal | Mike Luckovich

121313-toon-luckovich-ed

Ya know, that never gets old!

This is an open thread.

Have a good night y’all!


Sunday Reads: Faults, Fashions and Failures

René Gruau (February 4, 1909 - March 31, 2004)

René Gruau (February 4, 1909 – March 31, 2004)

Good Morning

I hope that those of you trapped beneath the ice and snow, are safe and doing fine. Some of the pictures out of Texas are amazing. I have a house full of munchkins as I write this post (Saturday night) and it is wonderful to hear laughter from my daughter’s room.

So, with that in mind, here is your post for this cold December morning. (Written by a distracted mum, so mind the awkwardness.)

By the way, all the illustrations are by René Gruau (February 4, 1909 – March 31, 2004)

db61c4c953a98b16cf6640008fbe4f07…a renowned fashion illustrator whose exaggerated portrayal of fashion design through painting has had a lasting effect on the fashion industry . Because of Gruau’s inherent skills and creativity, contributed to a change in the entire fashion industry through the new pictures that represented the already popular designs created by designers in the industry. The benefits, including economic stimulation and enhancement of advertising are still vividly presented in the industry today via a new way of fashion illustration, fashion photography. Gruau became one of the best known and favorite artists of the haute couture world during the 1940s and 50s working with Femina, Marie-Claire, L’Officiel, L’Album Du Figaro and an assortment of “high-style” magazines.[3] Gruau’s artwork is recognized and commended internationally in some of Paris and Italy’s most prestigious art museums including the Louvre in Paris and the blank in Italy. in addition to his international fame and recognition, “Gruau’s artwork is known for its timeless and enduring style”.[3]

You can find many more of these beautiful fashion illustrations here: RENE GRUAU

I will have more fashion links later in the post, now let’s get to some “newsy” links.

Fur lined coat by Christian Dior, illustrated by Rene Gruau, Sept. 1947

Fur lined coat by Christian Dior, illustrated by Rene Gruau, Sept. 1947

There is some disturbing policy news out of Japan, Japan’s controversial new state secrets law condemned as ‘the largest ever threat to democracy in postwar Japan’ by Nobel academics | The Raw Story

Japan’s controversial new state secrets law was condemned Saturday as “the largest ever threat to democracy in postwar Japan” by a group of academics, including two Nobel prize winners, reports said.

On Friday Japan’s parliament adopted a new law handing out stiffer penalties for those who spill state secrets, despite a public outcry over fears the legislation was draconian and would impinge on press freedom and the public’s right to know.

In a strongly worded attack on the new law, a group of 31 academics, including Nobel Prize winners Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, accused the Japanese government of threatening “the fundamental human rights and pacifist principles” established by the country’s constitution.

The controversial bill, proposed by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was approved by the Senate on Friday evening, a few days after it was passed in the lower house.

The Senate vote in favour was expected as the coalition government led by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holds a majority of seats there.

The opposition raised motions to stop the law but each move was rejected by the LDP members and their allies.

ecbfca7e86759bf5f3aec18f230d6af0 René Gruau February 4, 1909 - March 31, 2004Sounds like Japan has their own form of “GOP” like assholes in control, and they are making a mess of things.

The scholars’ statement — which Kyodo said was also endorsed by a further 3,150 academics — condemned the country’s ruling bloc of behaving in a way that was “reminiscent of the prewar government that wrested away freedom of thought and freedom of the press” by pushing the law through both Japan’s legislative chambers.

Shirakawa was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2000 while Maskawa won the prestigious award for physics in 2008. The Kyodo report did not name any of the other academics who signed the statement.

The law allows government ministers to designate as a state secret information related to defence, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.

Abe has argued that the measure is necessary to plug a notoriously leaky government machine, which prevents its chief ally the United States from sharing intelligence.

But critics say the categories are so vague that almost anything could fit the definition. They worry that information that is embarrassing to governing politicians or to their patrons could easily be hidden from public view.

They point to the way that Tokyo withheld news of the severity of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, and say a state that already operates largely behind closed doors will become even more secretive.

That problem is exacerbated by a relatively weak institutional press.

Oh yeah, weak press? Hmmm, that does sound familiar. But ours is weak because of who “sponsors” it…

6370cad63893b416dc8e81fcfb81f373 René Gruau February 4, 1909 - March 31, 2004Those convicted of leaking “state secrets” could get long prison terms, up to ten years…and anyone encouraging someone to spill the beans…they could get up to five years in prison, the language so vague….it may even include journalist and lawyers.

And talking about Japan: Largest Fault Slip Ever Recorded Generated Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that unleashed the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan was triggered by the largest fault slip ever recorded, the journal Science reported Thursday.

By measuring the frictional heat produced by the fault slip during the earthquake, researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and other organizations found that friction along the Tohoku fault was remarkably low when the earthquake struck on March 11, 2011.

“The Tohoku fault is more slippery than anyone expected,” said Emily Brodsky, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz. Brodsky acted as co-author for three papers on the Tohoku earthquake published in the journal Science this week.

The scientist say the fault is slippery as a banana peel.

Researcher Patrick Fulton, first author of the paper focusing on temperature measurements, concurred.

“The large slip at shallow depths contributed to the tsunami that caused so much damage in Japan. Usually, these earthquakes don’t rupture all the way to the surface,” he said.

Fulton said that the low resistance to slip along the Tohoku fault can help explain the staggering 165-foot displacement, or movement, that occurred to the seafloor during the earthquake. That low friction, he said, was exacerbated by an abundance of weak, slippery clay material in the fault zone.

Read more at the link…it is an interesting read.

69d44649ebc5a5ff7e7ab476273125eb René Gruau February 4, 1909 - March 31, 2004Back at home, this little tidbit of news due to an asshole out of California: Global Hawk Air Force Budget Cuts – Business Insider

A $114 million contract to build three more Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned surveillance aircraft was announced back in September, despite the Air Force not even wanting them.

Facing budget cuts and wanting to save some cash (about $2.5 billion over five years), the Air Force was planning to stop buying the pricey — and rather unreliable — drones and mothball the remainder of the fleet in favor of the battle-tested and accomplished U2 spy plane.

“The Block 30 [Global Hawk aircraft] is not operationally effective,” the Pentagon’s top testing official had declared in a blunt May 2011 report, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

But the Pentagon was no match for forces on Capitol Hill, as an article written by W.J. Hennigan in the Los Angeles Times points out:

“Northrop responded sharply, saying the U-2 “places pilots in danger, has limited flight duration and provides limited sensor capacity.”

In the end, the Air Force didn’t win that skirmish. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), whose congressional district includes Palmdale, jumped in to rescue the project. Congress restored the funding, and last month Northrop received a $114-million contract to build three more drones, saving thousands of jobs.”

e92d7e333fae1aebcb25d52bf5912709Go and read all the money that was put into military programs the military did not want. And then…read this op/ed from the LA Times: The saddest Christmas wish lists ever

I was standing in line at the post office when a sign caught my eye: “Operation Santa 2013.” According to the poster, “answering letters to Santa has been a holiday custom for over 100 years.” Those who wanted to participate could choose one of the many letters to Santa received by the post office and write back as Santa, sending the gift requested.

How cute, I thought. Kids request presents from “Santa” and they actually arrive.

I remember walking to the mailbox with my own letters to Santa as a child. One of my mother’s favorite Christmas stories was how, when I was 4, I mistakenly threw my peanut butter sandwich into the mailbox instead of my letter. Santa brought me a whole jar of peanut butter that year.

I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to write letters to Santa. Now they are too old for Santa Claus and I miss him, so Operation Santa seemed perfect for me.

Bright and early on Dec. 3, the first day the program got underway, I drove to the main Los Angeles post office at Gage and Central to choose my letter. I walked into a large, decorated room where Cleo, the “elf in charge,” was waiting. I expected letters full of misspelled words and little-kid grammar, asking for Legos and Barbies, skateboards and My Little Pony. I knew there’d be those who asked for phones or IPads or Xboxes, or other things out of my price range, but I figured I could find some little boy who still wanted a fire engine.

What I found were pleas from parents. A mother out of work said her family would eat, but there wouldn’t be any presents. A dad wrote that his kids needed school supplies. Parents with two kids, three kids, maybe more, were hoping for help with what they couldn’t provide. A dad just out of prison wanted to make Christmas special for the kids he hadn’t seen for so long. A disabled grandmother asked for a church dress for her granddaughter.

I was overwhelmed. Many of the letters — even the ones from kids — asked for groceries and shoes, clothing and shampoo. One child wrote: “Please bring my mommy some food. She’s been good this year.”

2644c4a9d02166b511a38f2f881886f0The rest is heartbreaking….especially for me, because my good friend Jessica is one of those mommas who is having a difficult time this year getting a few gifts for her two boys. Seeing her on Facebook looking for “barter or trade” items makes me so sad.

Elf Cleo sat beside me at the table checking in a new batch of letters. She told me 90% of the Santa requests sent to the post office never get answered. Many are written at homeless shelters and city food banks and after-school programs. (I found one letter in which a young teenager asked for gifts for the shelter workers.) Cleo said that every once in a while a family’s gift comes back unopened, marked address unknown. She wonders: Have they moved into a shelter? A car? Onto the street?

I read a lot of letters, and I felt worse and worse. I didn’t know how to choose. The single dad who needed diapers? The 17-year-old asking for a backpack for her little sister? I believe in holiday magic, but there just didn’t seem to be enough of it to go around.

After you read the rest of that op/ed, take a look at this: What If Your Income Grew As Fast As the 1 Percent’s? Try Our Calculator | Mother Jones

The richest 1 percent of Americans have seen their average income jump more than 270 percent over the past five decades. Meanwhile, the average income of the least wealthy 90 percent of Americans grew an anemic 22 percent during that time. (Those figures are based on inflation-adjusted real dollars.)

So how much would you be earning today if the phenomenal income growth at the very top of the income scale had trickled down to most Americans? Use this calculator to find out.

355e0d9096b5052db00f789a294db74eAll you crime newsy people will eat up this next juicy link: Why Couldn’t Worst Crime Lab Employee Get Fired? — Daily Intelligencer

That’s the question an exhaustive new report on a particularly incompetent lab worker at the office of New York’s medical examiner. Over two years, the office has been looking into how she mislabeled evidence (mixing up suspect and victim’s names), ignored or missed DNA samples, failed to test evidence, and couldn’t understand basic concepts for testimony. But even though her supervisors knew about “myriad failures,” they didn’t fire her. The only news in this story that instills confidence in the city’s forensics lab: She left on her own in 2011.

Which is connected to a New York Times story here: The City Is Not Handling Its DNA Evidence Too Well

and here: Report Details the Extent of a Crime Lab Technician’s Errors in Handling Evidence

Alright, now for the fashion links. Orchid…that is the new hot color for 2014! Actually it is officially called “Radiant Orchid” but that link goes to an AP article so you will need to read about the “creativity” of the color purple on your own.

Rene Gruau Les Girls

Rene Gruau Les Girls

Well, for me…talking creativity in fashion? How about iconic? Marilyn Monroe’s Magician–the One and Only Travilla | GlamAmor

Whenever I want to illustrate the power of costume design, the person I always turn to is the legendary William (“Billy”) Travilla.  I can usually convince any crowd with two simple words:  Marilyn Monroe.  As of 1952, Travilla was responsible for her fashion on film, which included iconic work in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Seven Year Itch (1955).  He designed for her offscreen as well.  In short, as the world continues to obsess over the style of Marilyn Monroe, we are all also celebrating the talent of Travilla.

Though perhaps best known for his work in the 1950s, his career stretched from film in the 1940s to television of the 1980s where he helped shape the style of the decade in shows such as Dallas and KnotsLanding. As a result, there is a nearly endless list of celebrities who absolutely adored him.  Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Loretta Young, Ann-Margret, Faye Dunaway, Debbie Reynolds, Joanne Woodward, Mitzi Gaynor, Diahann Carrol, Sharon Tate…this is only the beginning.  As biographer and Travilla Foundation founder Kimberley Ashley observes, “Many celebrities of the golden era of Hollywood depended upon the Travilla touch for their career success.  He touched their lives with his silver screen alchemy.”

Oooo, love that quote, those last three words drip with perfect illusion. Just go to GlamAmor blog and read the rest. Enjoy it!

bf3645c296d1b500010e0fd32ee87db7Then take a look at this: 17 Times The Fashion Was The Best Part Of The Movie

Forget the plot — some movies are best remembered for the costumes.

At least, that’s how we feel. We appreciate a well-directed film with good cinematography as much as the next film buffs, but some movies capture a style era so perfectly, we can’t help but leave inspired to emulate the characters. Below, we’ve rounded the films with fashion we’ll never forget… even if we can’t remember anything else about them.

And what is fashion without scent? A Whiff on the Wild Side: Confessions of a Vintage Perfume Addict That is an excerpt of a book on perfumes, it even has some of the reviews of old vintage scents.  Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume: Barbara Herman

Another book link for you, this time a discussion of an anthology: Why Writers Love New York City (and Then Leave It) – Marie-Helene Westgate – The Atlantic

In the new anthology Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, contributors share the experience of moving to New York in pursuit of the writing life. In essay after essay, writers describe their experiences moving to New York from Long Island, New Jersey, California, and overseas. Anyone from anywhere can come to New York City in pursuit of fame, riches, and romance, and as a result, Goodbye to All That captures New York’s uniquely nuanced, overlapping landscape of cultures and geographies that for millions feels at once deeply personal and communal.

But while something deeper also reveals itself in the pages: Some thread of pure accident runs through the story of each writer’s dream of making it in the big city.

9724a76138f5e2711314732765c7459fAfter you read that interview piece, if the book seems interesting, find it here: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York: Sari Botton

Did you know that the Neanderthals used to decorate their caves? Well, not in the way we do…but: New evidence suggests Neanderthals organized their living spaces

Scientists have found that Neanderthals organized their living spaces in ways that would be familiar to modern humans, a discovery that once again shows similarities between these two close cousins.

The findings, published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, indicate that Neanderthals butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their shelters.

“There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans,” said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and lead author of the study. “But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space.”

Go figure.

5d68e77fac27dec4a1d7efbc5fe851e7And if that does not make you think twice about things and mans place in the animal kingdom, maybe this will: Honeybees Can Recognize Individual Human Faces: Scientific American

The ability to tell individual faces apart was long thought to be exclusive to large-brained mammals. But in recent years a number of studies have shown that, in fact, some wasps can facially recognize one another. And honeybees can learn human faces, too. In their article in the December issue of Scientific American, biologists Elizabeth Tibbetts of the University of Michigan and Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Melbourne describe these findings and what they reveal about the neural requirements for seemingly complex cognitive tasks.

Shit. They can learn human faces? Damn, does that mean that the military could train honeybees to become assassins? Think about it. Mercenary “Killer Bees” that are trained to go after a specific target’s face. Hey, that would make a great Roland Emmerich movie eh?

The last link for you today is a follow-up on a story from long ago. How An Abused Lion, Tiger And Bear Became An Unlikely Family (PHOTOS)

Baloo the bear, Leo the lion, and Shere Khan the tiger (all three known as BLT) were brought together as 2-month-old cubs and have grown up as a family.

The trio was originally owned by a drug dealer who didn’t properly care for them, leading to neglect, poor health and severe injuries.

In 2001, Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit that cares for animals in need, came to the rescue, and took them to Locust Grove, Georgia, where they were treated for injuries.

blt

“We could have separated them,” Diane Smith, assistant director of the Noah’s Ark Zoo told the Telegraph. “But since they came as a kind of family, the zoo decided to keep them together.”

I wrote about these three buddies when I started blogging for Sky Dancing years ago. Well, it turns out the fence around their little home need some improvements.

…the government passed new federal regulations requiring big cat enclosures to have 16 foot fences put up, which would take effect in October of this year. Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan’s fence was only 8 feet high. If these regulations weren’t met, the three animals would have to split up.

Rebuilding the fence would cost $489,000.

With October slowly approaching, The Sanctuary entered a contest to help raise money. On August 15, CrowdRise, an online fundraising site, teamed up with RYOT, a social news platform to announce a challenge called #STARTARYOT, according to ncronline.com. They offered $75,000 to the nonprofit that raised the most money in five weeks.

On Oct. 10, they had announced that Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary had won. They even received an extra $10,000 for attracting the most unique visitors during the last week of the challenge.

Additionally, they were able to raise $362,269 through crowd-funding. The installment company even agreed to discount the price of the new fence.

And once more, all is right in the BLT-land.

blt

Innit that great! There are lots of more photos at the link…go see the three amigos together. So dang cute!

That is my post for today. Stay warm and happy!


Tuesday Reads: Are Things Really As Bad As I Think?

morning coffee book

Good Morning!!

I don’t even know where to begin this morning. I wish I could write a coherent diatribe like the one Dakinikat wrote yesterday, but I can’t do it. I have a sense that things are very wrong, but I can’t explain the feeling in any rational way.

As we head into the holiday season, I feel as if the country is leaderless. The public focus of the Obama administration and the media is on the glitches in a website; and yet in the background are terrible problems that are building  and growing more and more intractable as our political “leadership” fiddles with nonsensical issues like Obamacare and Benghazi.

As Dakinikat noted yesterday, there is a problem of growing poverty and income inequality become institutionalized and normalized. There is the issue of gun violence and our total failure to respond to it with any kind of rational regulations on guns. There is the devolution of education in the U.S., and of course there is the continuing attack on women’s autonomy and Democratic politicians seeming willingness to use women’s bodies as bargaining chips. Finally there are the already institutionalized problems of racism and hatred of immigrants. What have I missed?

As our real problem grow, it seems the American political and media classes, either don’t notice because as part of the wealthy 1% they simply aren’t affected, or because they’ve got theirs and they just don’t care about the mass of people who are struggling to survive in a poisonous system. And because of the obsessive focus on the end-of-year holidays, nothing will happen in Washington until we hit the next debt limit and our “leaders” mobilize briefly to kick the can of our economic and social problems down the road once again and so they can return to their focus on minutiae.

Is there any solution to the political and economic stagnation we find ourselves in? Is the situation really as surreal as it feels to me on this Tuesday morning? Am I nuts?

Anyway, here a some of the stories leading the news at the moment.

Jeff Bezos tells Amazon customers to expect home delivery by drones. NBC News reports:

Amazon.com hopes to deliver small packages to your home in just 30 minutes by unmanned drones within five years, chief executive Jeff Bezos said Sunday.

In an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Bezos was actually less optimistic than what his company said in its online announcement, which declared that tiny robot aircraft could be landing on front porches as soon as 2015.

Bezos said Amazon already had the technology in place and had even flown a working prototype, which he showed off in a video the company published Sunday:

He promised “half-hour delivery, and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver.”

The rest of the work, Bezos said, is in quality control and getting the plan OK’d by the Federal Aviation Administration — something technology experts said was unlikely on Bezos’ time frame.

So basically, this is just a silly idea that has no chance of actually  happening anytime soon. But the media sees it as more urgent than poverty, income inequality, and people getting killed with guns day in and day out.

From the Washington Post: U.S. students lag around average on international science, math and reading test.

Scores in math, reading and science posted by 15-year-olds in the United States were flat while their counterparts elsewhere — particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian provinces or countries — soared ahead, according to results of a well-regarded international exam released Tuesday.

While U.S. teenagers scored slightly above average in reading, their scores were average in science and below average in math, compared to 64 other countries and economies that participated in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which was administered last fall. That pattern has not changed much since PISA was first administered in 2000.

Gee, I wonder why this is happening? It seems like something that should concern our “leaders.”

The test scores offer fresh evidence for those who argue that the United States is losing ground to competitors in the global market and others who say a decade’s worth of school reform has done little to improve educational outcomes.

“While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top — focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools — has failed to improve the quality of American public education,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. The AFT released a video on Monday in which it implored the public not to blame teachers, the unions, parents or students for poor PISA results.

But were intentions really good? Check out these years-old headlines on profiteers (including the Bush family) who cleaned up after passage of the Orwellianly titled “No Child Left Behind” law was passed.

Bush Profiteers Collect Billions from No Child Left Behind (Project Censored: The News That Didn’t Make The News, March 30, 2007)

Bush’s Family Profits From `No Child’ Act (LA Times, Oct. 22, 2006)

No Bush Left Behind (Bloomerg Businessweek, Oct. 15, 2006)

There are plenty more headlines where those came from.

And yet, nearly a decade later, we’re stuck with that awful law and the damage it has done to our public education system. Why have Democrats done nothing to reverse it? Most likely because they too profit from the continuing privatization of education.

What about the latest media narrative on Obama care?

From the Washington Post: Health-care enrollment on Web plagued by bugs:

The enrollment records for a significant portion of the Americans who have chosen health plans through the online federal insurance marketplace contain errors — generated by the computer system — that mean they might not get the coverage they’re expecting next month.

The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.

The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies. The errors have been accumulating since HealthCare.gov opened two months ago, even as the Obama administration has been working to make it easier for consumers to sign up for coverage, the government and industry officials said.

Figuring out how to clean up the backlog of errors and prevent similar ones in the future is emerging as the new imperative if the federal insurance exchange is to work as intended. The problems were the subject of a meeting Monday between administration officials and a new “Payer Exchange Performance Team” made up of insurance industry leaders.

Okay, but what is with the bizarre impatience about some computer glitches from a media that couldn’t care less about institutionalized poverty, racism, and gun violence? And then there’s the Obama administration’s defensive response, as reported by USA Today: Obama to launch new health care law campaign

President Obama and his aides will seek to rally public support for his embattled health care plan in the coming weeks, starting with a White House event Tuesday.

Obama will promote the effort in a speech while surrounded by people who have benefited from the new law, according to an addition to the White House schedule.

The Affordable Care Act has come under heavy political attack since its rollout in October. Problems have included a malfunctioning website and the cancellations of polices that do not meet new federal standards.

In the coming days, Obama and aides will highlight what they call successful aspects of the law. They include provisions that prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions, and allow young people to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.

A few writers have tried to look at the “Obamacare crisis” slightly more rationally than the mainstream corporate media.

Here’s Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: As Healthcare.gov Bugs Are Fixed, the ‘Obama’s Katrina’ Script Continues To Be Shredded.

It’s been 11 days since The National Journal‘s Ron Fournier wrote that Obamacare is President Obama’s Katrina. Oh, and it’s also his Iraq, Fournier wrote. Obama’s Katrina and Iraq. Both.

Since then, however, the Healthcare.gov website has been vastly improved and many of the bugs initially reported have been fixed, according to the administration late Sunday.

Back on November 20, Fournier made sure to provide himself with an escape hatch, though, noting that Healthcare.gov isn’t the same in terms of the actual events during and after Katrina, or throughout the Iraq War. Instead, Fournier wrote, the similarities had more to do with incompetence in the execution of a major policy initiative.

Yeah, so incompetence that lasted literally for years in both Iraq and New Orleans, leading to massive body counts on both fronts, is the same as a glitchy website launch. Okeedokee. Roger that. In reality, yes, both administrations made mistakes, but those mistakes were vastly different in terms of magnitude — not to mention that the Bush administration’s response to its mistakes was to, well, make even more mistakes. Again, foryears.

On the other hand, the Obama administration realized there were problems with the website and rushed to address those errors. Within two months most of those problems have been resolved, and, bonus, no one died.

For more rational perspective, read the rest of the post at the link.

I particularly like this uncharacteristically long post by TBogg at Raw Story: Are-We-There-Yet?-American [sic] just wants to go home because we aren’t there yet. Here’s just a taste:

You may remember that about a month ago, which is four score and seven years ago to the iPhone generation for whom a Japandroids download that takes over 20 seconds is an eternity times infinity, that the Great Socialism Project That Will Stomp America Flat (aka Obamacareor Communism) had some internet user problems which is why there are absolutely no healthcare services available in America right now so you should just rub some dirt on your burst appendix, suck it up,  and quit yer bellyaching. In an effort to fix what wasn’t working, the Obama White House brought in some better quality nerds who, fortified with 5 Hour Energy IV drips, promised to get it up and working by Dec 1 or GTFO.

Please go read the rest.

Charles Pierce also had a few choice words for Ron Fournier and the rest of the Obama-hating press.

Ace reporter Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has another scoop for y’all. There is absolutely no fking way on god’s green and pleasant earth that this Obama fellow will be elected president again. He has blown his chance for that third term, and probably the fourth and fifth as well. Ron would like the Pulitzer committee to leave the medallion on the doorstep. Watch out, Obama. The Horsemen ride at daybreak! [....]

I heard my friend Eric Boehlert on the radio this morning, warning us that the traditional end-of-the-year retrospectives are likely to sing in close harmony on the theme of the collapsing Obama administration, even though his poll numbers are pretty much where they’ve been for a couple of years now, and even though the Republicans in Congress continue to have the approval ratings of skin disease. I think he’s right, and I think Fournier, who’s been a tool so long they ought to sell him at Home Depot, is just trying to get a jump on things here.

More hilarity at the link.

And what’s with the efforts to deny that racism exists? From Raw Story: Black female professor reprimanded for pointing out existence of structural racism to white male students.

A faculty member at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Shannon Gibney, received a formal reprimand for her handling of a discussion about structural racism in her Introduction to Mass Communication course.

According to Gibney in an interview with City College News, a white male student asked her, “Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?”

She claims she was shocked, because “[h]is whole demeanor was very defensive. He was taking it personally. I tried to explain, of course, in a reasonable manner — as reasonable as I could given the fact that I was being interrupted and put on the spot in the middle of class — that this is unfortunately the context of 21st century America.”

Gibney says another white male student followed the first, saying “Yeah, I don’t get this either. It’s like people are trying to say that white men are always the villains, the bad guys. Why do we have to say this?”

When Gibney attempted, again, to inform the students that they were mistaking a systemic critique for a personal attack, the students continued to argue. Eventually, she told them that “if you’re really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” This is exactly what they did.

This probably has something to do with our f’d up education system too . . . . As far as I can tell, critical thinking has been banned.

Okay, I’ve ranted long enough. What interesting news have you been reading? Let us know in the comment thread.


Saturday Reads

reading the news

Good Morning!!

There’s a little breaking news this morning. The Guardian reports: China scrambles fighter jets towards US and Japan planes in disputed air zone.

China scrambled fighter jets to investigate US and Japanese aircraft flying through its new air defence zone over the East China Sea on Friday as the regional clamour over the disputed airspace escalated.

The ministry of defence announced the move, which is the first time China is known to have sent military aircraft into the zone alongside foreign flights, stepping up its response to the challenge after its unilateral establishment of the zone. It previously said it had monitored US, Japanese and South Korean aircraft and had flown routine patrols in the area on Thursday.

The ministry’s statement said two US reconnaissance aircraft and 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes had entered the zone.

The airforce “monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types”, defence ministry spokesman Shen Jinke told the official China News Service.

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times,

Even as China scrambled fighter jets to enforce its newly declared air defense zone, the Obama administration said on Friday that it was advising American commercial airlines to comply with China’s demands to be notified in advance of flights through the area.

While the United States continued to defy China by sending military planes into the zone unannounced, administration officials said they had made the decision to urge civilian planes to adhere to Beijing’s new rules in part because they worried about an unintended confrontation.

Although the officials made clear that the administration rejects China’s unilateral declaration of control of the airspace over a large area of the East China Sea, the guidance to the airlines could be interpreted in the region as a concession in the battle of wills with China.

“The U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” notice requirements “issued by foreign countries,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that that “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements.”

Just what we need, a fight with China….

We may shoot first

Meanwhile North Korea is still holding Merrill Newman an 85-year old American who fought in Korea as a young man and had arranged a trip to visit the places he remembered. From Reuters, via the Times of India:

SEOUL: North Korea said on Saturday it had arrested US citizen Merrill E Newman for “hostile acts” against the state and accused him of being “a criminal” who was involved in the killing of civilians during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Newman “masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

North Korea apparently forced the elderly man to make a confession and apologize on video.

In a separate dispatch, KCNA carried what it said was a statement of apology by Newman, made after being detained.

“During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the U.N. Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command,” it said.

The unit appears to refer to one of the special operations units of partisan, or irregular, fighters acting against the North.

Newman, who had been visiting North Korea as a tourist, has been held in Pyongyang since officials took him off an Air Koryo plane that was scheduled to leave the country on October 26.

I really feel for Newman and his family. His wife must be frantic. The Daily Mail has photos and more details on the “apology.”

A video has been released by the North Korean government showing detained American veteran Merrill Newman, 85, admitting to being ‘guilty’ of crimes including killing innocent civilians when he was a soldier in the Korean War.

Newman, who has not been heard from since he was detained on October 26, is seen reading a four-page hand-scribbled letter on camera in an undisclosed location in the video released on Saturday.

The veteran from California looks uneasy in the video, and with shaking hands apologizes for what he supposedly did 60 years ago.

‘I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me,’ he reads.

There’s much much more on the public humiliation of this poor man. I hope he wasn’t tortured. Watch the video at the link if you want. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I just kept thinking of my Dad who was a WWII veteran. I would really like to know what the U.S. is doing to get Newman out of North Korea. It could be time for another rescue trip by Bill Clinton. 

woman-reading-newspaper

CNN is out with a new poll that found lots of Americans are unhappy with the way things are going in the U.S. these days.

[A] CNN/ORC International survey released Friday also indicates that less than a quarter of the public says that economic conditions are improving, while nearly four in ten say the nation’s economy is getting worse.

Forty-one percent of those questioned in the poll say things are going well in the country today, down nine percentage points from April, and the lowest that number has been in CNN polling since February 2012. Fifty-nine percent say things are going badly, up nine points from April.

Well, that isn’t too surprising, since the economy has been just awful for the vast majority of Americans for a very long time now. Good to know that more than half of the people polled have noticed something is off.

Besides an obvious partisan divide, which contributes to a urban-rural gap, the survey also indicates a difference of opinion between younger and older Americans.

“There’s a slight generational divide, with 46% of those under age 50 saying things are going well. That number drops to 36% for those 50 and older,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

So either older people are paying closer attention, or they can remember the pre-Reagan days when there was less income inequality; while younger people can’t recall a time when the economy was doing well.

It’s likely some of the negativity Americans are feeling is a reaction to the media’s constant trashing of the Affordable Care Act AKA “Obamacare.” This morning Reuters is reporting the the federal health care website–which was supposed to be fixed by today–is still experiencing problems and has been temporarily shut down.

Just hours before the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to get the insurance shopping website working for the “vast majority” of its users by Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it was taking down the website for an 11-hour period that would end at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday.

It was unclear whether the extended shutdown of the website – about seven hours longer than on typical day – represented a major setback to the Obama administration’s high-stakes scramble to fix the portal that it hopes eventually will enroll about 7 million uninsured and under-insured Americans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

At the very least, the shutdown suggested that nine weeks after the website’s disastrous launch on October 1 prevented most applicants from enrolling in coverage and ignited one of the biggest crises of Obama’s administration, U.S. officials are nervous over whether Americans will see enough progress in the website to be satisfied….

After weeks of round-the-clock upgrades of software and hardware, Obama officials said they were poised to successfully double its capacity by this weekend, to be able to handle 50,000 insurance shoppers at one time.

Paul Krugman defends the program based on a “dramatic” reduction in health-care costs that no one else in the media can be bothered to report.

Much of the Beltway establishment scoffed at the promise of cost savings. The prevalent attitude in Washington is that reform isn’t real unless the little people suffer; serious savings are supposed to come from things like raising the Medicare age (which the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded would, in fact, hardly save any money) and throwing millions of Americans off Medicaid. True, a 2011 letter signed by hundreds of health and labor economists pointed out that “the Affordable Care Act contains essentially every cost-containment provision policy analysts have considered effective in reducing the rate of medical spending.” But such expert views were largely ignored.

So, how’s it going? The health exchanges are off to a famously rocky start, but many, though by no means all, of the cost-control measures have already kicked in. Has the curve been bent?

The answer, amazingly, is yes. In fact, the slowdown in health costs has been dramatic….

Since 2010, when the act was passed, real health spending per capita — that is, total spending adjusted for overall inflation and population growth — has risen less than a third as rapidly as its long-term average. Real spending per Medicare recipient hasn’t risen at all; real spending per Medicaid beneficiary has actually fallen slightly.

Read the rest at the link.

debbie harry reads

Edward Snowden is still in the news, and there’s talk of making him “person of the year.”  That would mean lots more money and attention for Glenn Greenwald. The latest link doesn’t seem that exciting to me–but what do I know? From The National Post: NSA tracked online sex activities of suspected terrorists, latest Edward Snowden leaked documents reveal.

LONDON — The American spy agency NSA tracked the online sexual habits of suspected terrorists in an attempt to expose them as hypocrites.

Details of the exercise emerged Wednesday in the latest leak of classified documents by the leaker Edward Snowden.

The spy agency identified six targets, all of whom were Muslim, as examples of how electronic surveillance could be used to gather potentially embarrassing information on individuals, such as evidence of visits to pornography sites.

One of the six “globally resonating foreign radicalizers” is believed to be a U.S. resident while the others live outside America. None of the targets, whose names have been redacted, is accused of being involved in terrorist plots.

I guess I should be all upset about this, but for some reason I’m a lot more freaked out by breadlines in NYC, the ongoing war against women, and the possibility of Republicans taking over the Senate and/or the White House.

A little more worrying is the possibility that the Greenwald/Snowden cult might decide to release the names of U.S. and U.K. intelligence agents. The Daily Telegraph: NSA terror over ‘doomsday’ cache of secrets stashed in online cloud by Edward Snowden 

U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a ‘doomsday’ cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters….

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden’s ‘insurance policy’ against arrest or physical harm.

U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public.

Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.

Ironically, Snowden himself is living under the thumb of Russian security services, according to a recent story at al Jazeera. 

After a dramatic arrival and a prolonged confinement at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the United States government on espionage charges, has quietly vanished into a life of seclusion.

Nobody seems to know exactly where one of the most wanted and famous men in the world lives, who protects him or how he spends his days — beyond learning Russian and reading Dostoyevsky. Such glimpses into his life have been offered to the public by his Russian lawyer and de facto spokesman, Anatoly Kucherena.

Kucherena is a on the board of the FSB, Russia’s powerful intelligence agency.

“We know at this point that he’s not free,” said Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian scholar who has written extensively about the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Felshtinsky, who believes the FSB controls Snowden, called the American exile a “Christmas gift” for President Vladimir Putin’s “public relations war” with the United States….

“He’s always going to be monitored and watched,” said Peter Savodnik, a journalist and author of a recently published book about another famous American defector who grew tired of his Soviet exile: Lee Harvey Oswald. “If he doesn’t already want to leave, he’s going to want to leave very soon.”

Good luck with that.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following? Even if you’re just lazing around enjoying the final hours of the long weekend, please leave a comment or two and let us know what’s happening where you are.