Friday Reads

Good Morning!

Bill Moyers & Company covers one of my hair-on-fire topics this week.  I’ve written a lot about ALEC before and how it tends to pen some of the worst laws in the land. So, what’s ALEC been up to recently now that it’s role in voter suppression and defunding planned parenthood has been held up to the light?  Moyers & Company will broadcast the report today on PBS so be sure to look for it.

A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.” In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it.

This raw story article on a 1,000 year old Buddha statue from Tibet that was taken from its home by the NAZIs and has been discovered to be made of the remains of a meteorite reads like something from an Indiana Jones script.  It caught my eye earlier this week so I thought I’d share it with you.

Backed by SS chief Heinrich Himmler and heading a team whose members are all believed to have been SS, Schaefer roamed Tibet in 1938-9 to search for the origins of Aryanism, the notion of racial superiority that underpinned Nazism.

Weighing 10.6 kilos (23.3 pounds), the statue features the Buddhist god Vaisravana seated, with the palm of his right hand outstretched and pointing downwards.

Chemical analysis shows that the rock from which it was carved came from a meteorite.

The rock survived a long trip through the Solar System and the destructive friction with the atmosphere when it collided with Earth.

It is a particularly rare kind of meteorite called an ataxite, which has iron and high contents of nickel, according to the study, published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

“The statue was chiseled from an iron meteorite, from a fragment of the Chinga meteorite which crashed into the border areas between Mongolia and Siberia about 15,000 years ago,” said investigator Elmar Buchner of Stuttgart University.

“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before.”

The exact dating of the carving cannot be established accurately, but its style links it to the pre-Buddhist Bon culture of the 11th century.

Vaisravana was the Buddhist god-king of the North, also known as Jambhala in Tibet.

I’d just like to mention that the “god” description really isn’t apt here but, oh well. Jambhala was a god in the Hindu tradition, however, so I suppose it kind’ve carries on over but it’s not like you’ think. However, the findings are interesting.

Feminists in the Ukraine are banding together to stop Human Trafficking.  Here’s some information on that movement.

At first sight, few people would mark the group of topless young women protesting in the streets of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as outspoken advocates or feminists. Garlands of flowers adorn their waist-length hair, strategically thrown forward to cover their bare breasts. But the black graffiti-style slogans that cover their arms and bellies make it crystal clear: “Ukraine is not a brothel” and “Women Power”.

Founded in Kiev in 2008 by a group of university students, FEMEN quickly became famous for their topless protests against prostitution, sex tourism and sexism, which is still rife in Ukraine today. The group has been in the news a lot lately with protests in Milan, Istanbul and Moscow and most recently to bring attention to the sloppy investigation and suspected nepotism surrounding the horrifying rape of eighteen-year-old Oksana Makar by three Ukrainian young men. The attack left Makar with burn wounds across more than half of her body. Surgeons had to amputate her arm and both feet in an attempt to save her life, but Makar was unable to pull through, dying from heart failure a little more than two weeks following her attack.

Oksana Mahar’s case is indicative of a much larger problem: women are often treated as a mere commodity in Ukraine’s patriarchal society – a fact that is exacerbated by the difficult economic climate, and human trafficking, especially for sex work, remains a serious problem. Evidence exists from a variety of sources of the widespread and increasing nature of the problem: it is estimated that 420,000 women have been trafficked out of the country in the last few years alone.

Ever heard of a fractal kitty?

For decades, scientists have been trying to solve a tough question: if the Internet runs out of cat pictures, can we generate more using advanced mathematics?* A paper posted on the arxiv earlier this month by mathematicians Kathryn Lindsey and the late William Thurstoncalms fears about “peak cat.” In the paper, they describe a method of approximating the outline of a cat or other object using the Julia sets of polynomials.

Outspoken Sheila Bair is telling tales on Timothy Geithner and the 2007 bank bailouts.  She says the bailouts were ‘skewed’ to help Citigroup.

Former financial regulator Sheila Bair says that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was primarily concerned with shoring up Citigroup and other banks in his response to the financial crisis, rather than holding those banks accountable.

Bair went on a media tour on Tuesday topromote her new book, “Bull by the Horns,” about the government’s response to the financial crisis, which she experienced firsthand as a top financial regulator. Bair criticized Geithner in the book, and she aired some of that criticism in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

“He was in constant communication with [Citigroup CEO] Vikram Pandit throughout that whole process, and I felt like he and Vikram were figuring out what they were going to do and then trying to jam it on me,” said Bair, who served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) between 2006 and 2011. “I do think that a lot of the policy decisions that were made were made through the prism of what Citigroup needed.”

Bair said that most big banks did not need the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the government’s bank bailout in 2008, but the government forced TARP on all of them partly because Citigroup needed it. “It worked horrible reputational damage on everyone,” Bair said of TARP.

Some TARP defenders say granting TARP funds across the board was necessary to avoid a loss of trust in specific banks. Citigroup was one of the more vulnerable banks during the financial crisis, since it held a large number of toxic mortgage-backed securities. The government gave Citigroup multiple bailouts.

“He viewed these institutions as entities that needed to be taken care of,” Bair said of Geithner, adding he thought the banks “needed to be taken care of and that this was just a big systemic event, and we needed to protect them — whereas I wanted them to have accountability. They had caused this.”

“If you view the banks themselves as victims just of the larger crisis, then you’re going to just try to help them however you can, and I think that was his guiding philosophy,” she added.

Thankfully, Giethner is not going to be there for a second Obama term.  It can’t come soon enough for me.  Any guesses as to which bank he’ll eventually land?

When do these guys jeopardize their infernal tax breaks?  What exactly does it take?  A Raw Story article reports that one Catholic bishop says that ‘Voting for Obama jeopardizes the ‘eternal salvation of your own soul’.

A Catholic bishop from Springfield, Illinois is warning that the stakes for the 2012 election are even higher than most people think because voting for President Barack Obama could damn “you own soul” to hell.

In a column and video posted by the official newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and obtained by Right Wing Watch on Wednesday, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki called out the Democratic Party for temporarily removing God from their platform, supporting abortion and recognizing that “gay rights are human rights.”

“There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils,” the bishop explained. “My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding ‘political’ and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins.”

“So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin,” Paprocki added. “One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils.”

Evidently, torture isn’t an intrinsic evil compared to using birth control or being in a loving same sex relationship.  It’s reported that Romney favors going back to the old Cheney/Rumsfield extraordinary “interview” techniques.

In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in theArmy Field Manual. Even as he embraced a hawkish approach to other counterterrorism issues — like drone strikes, military commissions, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act — Mr. Obama has stuck to that strict no-torture policy.

By contrast, Mr. Romney’s advisers have privately urged him to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives,” according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

While the memo is a policy proposal drafted by Mr. Romney’s advisers in September 2011, and not a final decision by him, its detailed analysis dovetails with his rare and limited public comments about interrogation.

“We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now,” he said at a news conference in Charleston, S.C., in December.

The campaign policy paper does not specify which techniques Mr. Romney should approve, saying more study was needed because Mr. Obama had “permanently damaged” the value of some by releasing memorandums detailing Bush-era techniques in April 2009.

Revisions to new jobs numbers makes our economy look healthier than previously thought.  This, coupled with the increased home prices, can give us a little lift on the future of the US economy.  It also makes Romney’s economic arguments look weak. The economy has produced enough jobs to give Obama a net job growth for his term.  This even counts the worst of the Dubya Bush recession years.

So the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning that it is revising its jobs count, to include an additional 386,000 nonfarm jobs that were created from March of 2011 to March of 2012.

Jobs numbers are only one metric for measuring economic improvement, so we shouldn’t overstate their significance. This new finding, however, does matter politically in a few key ways. First, as Justin Wolfers points out, the added jobs means that there has no longer been a “net” loss of jobs on Obama’s watch. As you know, Romney has been saying for a very long time now that the “net” jobs lost on Obama’s watch proves his policies failed. That’s a bogus metric, because it factors in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in each of the first few months of Obama’s term, before those policies went into effect.

But putting that aside, net jobs were now actually gained on Obama’s watch. So, in theory at least, Romney has been deprived of one of the talking points that has been central to his candidacy for a year now. That talking point was crucial for Romney, because it enabled him to make the (nonsensical) case that Obama destroyed jobs overall.

Okay, that’s a little this and that for today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?