Friday, August 28, 2015

The Economy Under Obama

This article is courtesy of Rational Nation at Shaw's place.

Clearly, the economy has improved since the horrors of economic crisis first hit America. Unemployment is now at 5.5% from its peak of 10% in late 2009. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ continue to reach record high numbers. The federal deficit has shrunk from 12.1% of GDPin FY 2009 to just 2.4% in FY 2014. And finally, the US economy grew at 2.4% last year, (including 5% in Q3 of 2014) the highest growth rate since the beginning of The Great Recession. 

And there is much more that I'm too lazy to cut up into little pieces and paste here. Will say the piece was fawning enough for me to break out the Obamessiah label.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Be Kind

Occasionally there is one of the CSM homilies that inspires me. I particularly liked this one because I've made an effort to be less of an asshole both on and off-line.

You could say that a large part of current culture is built around poking fun at others. Sure, social commentary and lighthearted joking have their place. A comedian impersonates the mannerisms of a famous politician or celebrity; a father teases a son or daughter about his or her golf score. Laughter ensues. Some of this is meant in good fun. 

There is, however, a darker kind of humor that often plays off of the insecurities of others – think YouTube videos of “epic fails,” videos mocking those who are attempting to display a talent. And then there are those nasty online comments. While it can sometimes seem that acerbic wit and biting remarks have become the norm, most of us remain uncomfortable with deriving pleasure from the misfortunes and embarrassment of others. That’s a good thing, because mockery or ridicule, even if it is meant in fun, can be very hurtful.

Personally, I like the "throwing the money-changers out of the temple Jesus."

I’ve found it so useful to follow Christ Jesus as the ultimate example when I’m looking to see how to model my own thoughts and behavior. Jesus’ words were never designed to injure or condemn. Jesus was bold at times and didn’t mince words, but he saw people for who they were, as spiritual, whole, the reflection of divine Love, and this brought transformation to countless lives. Jesus showed us that, as God’s reflection, we are each empowered by God’s own goodness and it’s natural to express this good. 

So boldness is cool. 

Anything that clouds our perceptions of others and prevents us from discerning and celebrating the beauty, artistry, creativity, intelligence, and joy that are God-given should not be given a mental home.

Now, does all this mean we need to be bland, humorless, and apt to enjoy only a cornier brand of humor? Or that we become stoic and unable to understand nuance in comedy? I don’t think so. 

But it does mean that we can go forward with a greater alertness in recognizing that mockery does not need to hold a cherished place in our society. Examples of rejecting the “mean” in favor of the good are cropping up. Let’s water those seedlings and let them grow. 

Snarky without being cruel. It's a fine line we bloggers walk.

Chas. Pierce shows how it's done.

When the ratfking stops because it has turned into rat-necrophilia, which is icky and which we don't allow here in the shebeen, it really is time for Big Chicken to decide to spend more time with his family.

Big Chicken is totally a term of affection. Who doesn't like chicken?

Power From the People

Interesting article on the future of energy production in the US and probably the world as well. I've previously read that there is a lot of small scale production in Africa, in part because they never had a large infrastructure to start with.

Energy in the 21st century is slowly but surely shifting from centralized, emissions-heavy generation to decentralized, cleaner generation. The US government hopes to nudge that transition along by incentivizing businesses and homeowners to play a larger role in producing and consuming electricity.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Outsourcing a Post

Great letter in today's Post Star. It's the best reason to buy the paper. Thank you Bernice Mennis.

Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun, redefines “pro-life.” “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. Why would I think that? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

As part of that conversation, I offer my thoughts on pro-life: Respecting all life, recognizing our connection and interdependence. Increasing, not privatizing Social Security, easily made solvent by removing the $125,000 cap for payments. Expanding Medicare to include eyes, ears, teeth, saving money through competitive bidding for pharmaceuticals, now outlawed. Promoting voting rights, not blocking by claiming (nonexistent) voter fraud. Supporting worldwide programs promoting women’s reproductive health and choices (and helping control unsustainable population growth), Planned Parenthood, contraception, sex education. Supporting increases in minimum wages and retraining those needing new skills. Supporting, not defunding and selling to highest drilling bidders, our common lands — parks, forests, wilderness where we walk, swim, hike and fish.

Pope Frances’encyclical, “On the Care of Our Common Home” speaks of man-made climate change “as a global problem with grave implications,” of economic policies contributing to poverty and the “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems.” He says, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.” He and I “beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” who are truly pro-life.

Defunding ISIS

I had wrongly assumed that the terrorist group ISIS received much of their funding from rich Sunni countries as al-Qaeda does. Or maybe I'm wrongly assuming that as well. In any case:

The extremist Islamist group that controls more than a third of both Syria and Iraq is awash in cash, experts in terrorist financing say.

The following all add up to bountiful IS coffers, they say, potentially for years to come: extortion and “taxation” of the populations it controls; illicit oil sales; ransom; seizure of bank deposits in the lands it has conquered – as much as $1 billion when it captured Mosul, Iraq, a year ago; and now the sale of small antiquities on a voracious international market.

I'm leaving the quiz in so no one forgets to take it, especially me. 

Now I hear the Right mindlessly say that the Obama Administration is doing nothing to fight ISIS. Of course, what that means is that not enough stuff is blowing up. Or you could just fight smarter, not harder.  

When the Obama administration last year announced its strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, it identified the group’s finances as one of five areas the new anti-IS coalition would focus on.

But what the beheading of Khaled al-Asaad and the fresh attention it brought to illicit antiquities sales told experts is that IS remains adept at diversifying its financial resources – and is managing to adjust to the squeezes that the outside world has put on some of its revenue streams.

“We know from experience that ISIS is not likely to just sit there and watch itself wither on the vine. It has shown it can adapt, and it has lots of opportunities,” says Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow and expert in counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, using an alternative acronym for IS.

“Antiquities is an example of that,” says Mr. Levitt, who has followed the group’s financing since he was a Treasury Department official a decade ago looking at the finances of Al Qaeda in Iraq, IS’s precursor. “For a long time they were not focusing on this stuff,” he adds, “and now it’s become very important to them.”

There may be some hope of squeezing them financially.

Yet as successful as IS has been at exploiting the financial resources of the territories it controls, experts and intelligence officials point out that all is not rosy on the extremist group’s ledger sheets.

Oil revenues, once estimated at as much as $1 million a day, are down, in some cases considerably – primarily as a result of airstrikes by the anti-IS coalition. The United States has taken out many of the mobile oil-refining units that the group deployed to turn crude oil from seized oil fields into marketable products to sell outside its territories.

And some of the other income sources like extortion and ransom that the group has relied on in Syria and Iraq are what officials following the group’s finances call “mature” – meaning that those sources are close to tapped out and cannot be relied upon long-term.

“After a while you can no longer squeeze blood from a turnip,” says Mr. Clarke of RAND. For example, IS levies a “jizya” tax on non-Muslim “infidels” such as Christians in some areas rather than expelling or killing them. But those groups’ resources are not bottomless and are drying up, experts say.

What the US success in cutting IS’s oil revenues has demonstrated is that there are things the international forces arrayed against IS can do to dent the group’s revenue streams.
Next month, President Obama will hold a summit of the anti-IS coalition countries on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. One item on the agenda will be new ways of “degrading” the group’s finances.

Coalition leaders are expected to take up the problem of antiquities smuggling and sales, say some officials following the coalition’s actions, especially given the heightened attention to the issue. Syrian antiquities are showing up on the London antiques market with growing frequency, with individual items fetching up to $1 million, according to reports.

The US Congress is also zeroing in on the role of antiquities in replenishing IS coffers. Recently a bipartisan group of senators proposed legislation, modeled on a bill already passed in the House, that would give the administration the authority it needs to be able to restrict the importation of artifacts smuggled out of Syria.

The one bright spot that officials working to counter IS finances see is that much of the group’s revenue sources within the territories it controls are not renewable. What that means, they say, is that unless IS is able to conquer new territories and take control of new populations, the terrorist group’s finances are likely to deteriorate.

“As the sources of ISIL’s wealth – notably the money stolen from banks and revenues from oil sales – are either no longer replenished or diminish over time, we expect ISIL will increasingly struggle to finance its operations,” said Jennifer Fowler, Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, speaking earlier this year at a Washington forum and also using another acronym for IS.

Do go and read it all. There actually is some that I didn't copy and paste. And take the quiz. 

Teach Your Children Well

Not knowing where to start, I'll start with the 4 year old with the loaded gun in church. Thankfully, not mine. But my church is in upstate NY, not North Carolina.

 A 4-year-old boy walked into a bathroom stall and found a loaded handgun after a church service in Holly Ridge on Sunday, Holly Ridge Police Chief John Maiorano said.

The man, Claude Lee Haynes III, 70, received a ticket for child endangerment.

A ticket? Is that also what he would have received if the kid had shot himself or someone else? Why even ask?

Moving south to Georgia and the daily show and tell

Officials in Georgia say an elementary school student suffered minor injuries after being accidentally shot by a third-grade classmate playing with a gun. 

The shooting happened Tuesday morning at Hornsby Elementary School in Augusta. Richmond County School Board spokesman Kaden Jacobs says a student brought the weapon to school and was "playing with the gun inside a desk." She says it discharged accidentally.

Accidents will happen so it's likely no one is going to be charged with anything in this case.

Moving on to Arkansas:

A 14-year-old boy from central Arkansas pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two counts of capital murder in the July 21 shooting deaths of a couple who raised him as their grandson.

Don't think I've been saving these up. They were all from today's news. I'll end with a story from CSM on an incident from a bit further back

By a purely political calculus, the online petition launched this week to outlaw children’s access to automatic weapons has limited prospects. Efforts to rein in the use of automatic weapons by children already failed in two state legislatures last year.

But it matters, some experts and activists say, because of the people behind the petition and their message.

Sponsoring the petition is the family of Charlie Vacca, the instructor killed one year ago by a 9-year-old New Jersey girl in pink shorts when she lost control of an Uzi rifle at a popular Arizona gun range. And the message is no broadside against Americans’ Second Amendment rights, but what the family calls a "common sense" appeal to gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

I have nothing against the average gun owner, the one who would support common sense. The ones whose knees jerk reflexively every time they hear about legislation like this I do have a problem with, though. And I fuckin' hate the NRA. 

 The Vacca family’s petition puts pressure on gun owners, gun control groups say. The shooting’s deeper impact came from a sense of compounded tragedy: One set of kids lost a father, and one girl is faced with the guilt of the accident.

“You are only 9 years old. We think about you. We are worried about you,” one of Vacca’s children, Tylor, said in a videotaped message to the girl last year. “We pray for you, and we wish you peace. Our dad would want the same thing.”

Now, opponents of the petition will have to explain why the right of a 9-year-old to shoot an automatic weapon is so important.

I join them in wishing her peace. That's a terrible thing she will have to live with.

UPDATE: I'll add this piece that was linked to from a story on the shooting in Virginia yesterday. Oh hell, there was probably more than one. It discusses why the time is never right to talk about gun violence.

The Mass Shootings Tracker, a crowd-sourced tally of mass shootings maintained by the GunsAreCool subreddit, shows that we haven't gone more than eight days without a mass shooting in the U.S. since the start of 2015 -- that doesn't leave a lot of time to grieve and regroup between shootings. We've averaged exactly one mass shooting per day since the start of the year. Forty eight days saw more than one mass shooting take place. On 18 days there were at least 3 shootings. On three days this year -- April 18, June 13 and July 15 -- there have been five shootings.

Need to link to Tbogg, too. 

Things I Learn From Charles Pierce

I should have a label for that, but I have too many labels now. Today I learned who William Hogarth was. Thank you, Mr. Pierce.

William Hogarth (/ˈhoʊɡɑrθ/; 10 November 1697 – 26 October 1764) was an English painterprintmaker, pictorial satiristsocial critic, and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art.

His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects". Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as "Hogarthian"

And from the post itself:

This is a truth that has become obscured during this, The Summer Of Trump, as the travelling Hogarth print that is the presidential campaign of The Libidinous Visitor lurched its way across the country, scaring the horses, alarming the burghers, and giving amplification to every dark and ignorant impulse that democracy tries to suppress, including democracy's remarkable history down through history of being one of the easiest marks there is. It doesn't matter now whether he self-destructs tomorrow, or rides this thing all the way to the election and beyond. He has redefined the parameters of the debate in a way not easily remedied.