Monday, August 31, 2015

A Happy Monday Post

I was all set to blog about people being killed by guns or Charles Krauthammer being an asshole or the Middle East still going to hell. But, I'm just going to say Happy Birthday to Van Morrison. And leave 9 cool French Words.

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. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Good News On the Korean War

Seemingly it's not going to go hot again right off. It's nice to see that somewhere anyway.

After the longest consecutive talks ever held between North and South Korea, the two sides came to an historic agreement early Tuesday defusing tensions that could have ignited a wider armed conflict.

In a climax to nearly non-stop talks at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea agreed to apologize for having set a landmine that severely wounded two South Korean army sergeants. South Korea, at the same time, acceded to the North's demand to stop loud broadcasts of music and news, including those making light of Kim Jong-un, whose status in the North as leader is one of a near-deity.

Never before have the two Koreas come to terms with each other after long talks on such sensitive issues. The three days of talks paved the way for further periodic meetings, including this September when officials will meet to discuss another round of visits by family members separated by the Korean War.

Of course, it's not peaches and cream everywhere. What struck me here is the attitude of the English, Germans and several other European countries. I realize Vladimir Putin is a dick. The Prez gets a lot of crap about not being tough enough towards him, tho. Looking at you, Mr. Wang. 

Germany for instance:

Obstacles might come from the western members of the EU, particularly Germany, and from Brussels itself.

While Duda’s goal is a continuation of Polish foreign policy, his predecessors from the center took their cases to Berlin and Brussels, carving out a more prominent role for Poland on the European stage in doing so.

They were widely credited for bringing Poland out of the cold war mentality of seeing Russia and Germany as enemies. Some fear Duda and his Law and Justice Party, which could gain significantly at polls later this year, are bringing that mentality back.

Germany cites a 1997 agreement with Russia against putting "substantial combat forces" in Central and Eastern Europe.

A pox on both houses, says England:

In a recent report, the European Leadership Network in Britain argued that large-scale military exercises by both Russia and NATO have indeed increased war's likelihood.

And what say you, Hungary and the countries formerly known as Czechoslovakia:

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been seen as ambiguous in their response to Russia, as has Hungary, whose leader has cozied up the most to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Convincing the countries of the eastern flank to speak in one voice and opt for increasing NATO's presence in the region is possible, although it won't be easy,” says Mr. Szatkowski.

C'mon, can't you people get along as well as the Koreas. 

And Today:Guest Letter Writers

Since Wayne Judge and Richard Dudley do such fines jobs in their letters to the editor in today's Post Star, I feel no need to respond to Mr. Wang's letter myself. It really makes me feel like a crank and I'm actually just a gadfly. Judge and Dudley don't address him specifically, but just express support for the agreement overall. It looks as though Congress is going to be unable to override the veto anyway. Of course, we knew that when Schumer came out with his stance.

Wayne Judge:

If I were a resident of Israel, I would rather have a poor Iran deal than face the immediate prospect of another major war where Iran will try to carry out all of its threats to Israel’s existence. If there is no deal, greed will impel our five-nation negotiating partners to drop their sanctions and encourage other UN members to do so as well. Iran will continue its unsupervised nuclear research, and the future of Israel will be at greater immediate risk.

Contrary to Michael Blumberg’s recent commentary in this paper, the unanimous Republican opposition to the deal does not reflect identical pangs of conscience by all their members. The Republican Party was unanimously opposed to an Iran deal before any deal was even reached and the motivation was, and is, blatantly political. If Sen. Schumer’s “conscience” was swayed by his knowledge of the “secret side deals” implied by Blumberg, he should disclose those side deals to the whole nation now. The implication is nonsense. Deep pocket Schumer’s decision was very obviously purely political.

Israel has more than 200 nuclear weapons in its arsenal now and the missiles to deliver them. The leaders of Iran can talk all they want about wiping out Israel, but they must be smart enough to realize that, if the security of Israel is compromised, a war with Israel and the United States will follow and Iran’s existence, not Israel’s, will be at risk.

And Richard Dudley:

A recent letter would have all of us believe that most are against the Iran nuclear deal. Scarcely. In Israel, Efraim Halevy, ex-head of Israel's national intelligence agency, the Mossad, appointed by Netanyahu in 1998, and Ami Ayalon, former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, both support the deal. Amram Mitzna, former major general, former head of Israeli army planning, says: "This agreement is better than no agreement and must not be rejected. If implemented, it will block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon."

Shlomo Ben-Ami, former minister of Israeli Foreign Affairs and Internal Security, says: “It creates a solid framework to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons for the next 10 to 15 years – and that is a very positive development.”

Chuck Freilich, former deputy Israeli national security adviser, says: “This is the agreement that was reached – and despite its faults, it is not a bad one. Crucially, it will contribute to Israel’s security.”

The list could go on and on long, long past my 300 word limit. 

In this country, Sander M. Levin, the longest serving Jewish member of the House and five Jewish senators support the deal. Hawk John Brennan CIA head has said, “I for one am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here. Those that say this deal provides a pathway to Iran developing a nuclear bomb are being wholly disingenuous."

Sen. Gillibrand, who serves on the Armed Services Committee and has the inside track, supports the deal. 

The same people who lied us into the Iraq War are against this agreement and are for war; the same people eager to send other peoples’ children to die in yet another stupid, pointless, needless, trillion dollar war. Don’t let it happen.

Thanks fellas! That's an easy post. That's OK, tho. It's cool today and I got yard work to do. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest Essay From a Wangnut

Sorry. I couldn't resist being juvenile. Anyway, my local paper deemed to waste valuable column inches with this tripe.

On September 11, 2007, a 240-millimeter rocket thundered like a freight train over Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, Iraq, narrowly missing the building I was in and landing with an ear-splitting explosion about 300 meters in front of the Al Faw Palace, home of Multi-National Force — Iraq.
The impact caused over a dozen casualties, including American soldiers. As for myself, other than coughing up plaster dust for a while, I was fine.

Within days, news of the attack was on national media and most importantly, the identity of the weapon supplier was a headline. Not only did Iran provide large caliber rockets, but they also provided devilish little devices called “explosively formed projectiles” which gave the standard roadside bomb a whole new potency. They, too, killed many of our soldiers and maimed others for life.

Less than five years later, our president, in the interest of “legacy,” has inked a deal with the Iranian leadership which he believes will delay their acquisition of a nuclear weapon for 15 years. Whether this is an example of naivety, poor judgment, an inability to negotiate or a combination of the three remains to be seen.

Fundamental to negotiation is good faith and trust. Looking at the events of the past decade, I find it hard to believe that there is any basis for trust, especially with the stakes so high.

For the past six years, being an American ally has not exactly been a guarantee of protection, safety, or even a seat at the table. America’s foes have been brazen during the Obama administration. 

Vladimir Putin has retaken the Crimea at the expense of Ukraine. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad put the lie to Obama’s “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons. No wonder ISIS operates so brazenly.

The worst anyone can expect from the United States is the strategic equivalent of a rap on the knuckles these days, unless of course, the offender is an American ally. Then the penalties seem to be more consequential.

In the President’s recent speech pushing support for the Iran deal, he stated that the choice was between his deal and war. This sort of patronizing rhetoric presents a false choice. We have, and have always had, options short of war, if only we had leaders with the creativity and tenacity of purpose to execute them.

Israel, which still has a kinship and ties to the United States that no other nation in the region has, has no right to exist, according to the Iranians. Israel was born of genocide in Europe and has every reason to take such threats with grave seriousness. Iran will be ostensibly “delayed” in their acquisition of a nuclear weapon through, among other provisions, an inspection regimen that provides the Iranians 24 days’ notice before inspectors arrive at specified locations. What possible reason could we have for agreeing to such a provision except for weak-kneed rationalizations that “it will still be difficult for them to have a covert program”?

The one who has the willingness to walk away from the table has the upper hand in any negotiation. 

The only possible reason is that we went into these negotiations with the end in sight — a sign-at-all-costs agreement, in the interest of legacy. And if we turn out to have miscalculated, our President’s legacy will be a nuclear Iran.

Lance Allen Wang is a retired Army Infantry Lieutenant Colonel and Iraq veteran who lives in Eagle Bridge. He’s a past commander of the American Legion Post No. 634 in Cambridge.

Yes, the wingnut is strong in this one. I'm considering a letter to the editor, but I hate writing them. OTOH, I hate reading wingnut tripe in my morning paper. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What Party Am I (and What Pet Should I Get)

I saw the what party am I suggestion during my search and liked it. And there's a new Seuss book out! Just in case I do run for Congress next year, I need a party. Ooh, maybe the Seuss party. Just for general lunacy, I'd consider the New Party and The Rent's Too Damn High Party. And, of course, the Greens, but that's too crazy for me. I looked at the Pirate Party, too. It's copyrights and shit like that, though. I wanted real pirates. Aargh, maties!

UPDATE: I'm just going to tack on this link to info at the New York elections site. A little how to guide.

Persons wishing to run for elective office may be nominated either by a political party or through the filing of an independent nominating petition. Party members may also circulate petitions to create the opportunity to write in the name of an unspecified person for an office in which there is no contest for the party endorsement. The current political parties are the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Working Families, Independence and Green parties. Any person who is not nominated by one of these parties must file an independent nominating petition. The requirements for all petitions are contained in Article 6 of the Election Law.

And somewhat off-topic, here is the Green Party platform. A slightly different version than I had previously found. Much more intensive and not much to disagree with. If only they didn't have insane candidates. 

Revisiting the $15 per Hour Minimum Wage

I don't want to say I'm against raising the minimum to $15. That might get me re-branded as a faux liberal. Would like to see how that figure was arrived at. I have found any of several articles calling for the rise, but can't find many that have a justification for that figure.

This article points out what I see as a problem with the idea in general.

Raising the minimum wage carries a different significance depending on where you live. A dollar goes a lot further in the South than it does in New England, as my colleague Niraj Chokshi explained earlier this month

From the link above:

A dollar buys the most in Mississippi, where prices are generally about 13 percent below the U.S. average. It buys the least in D.C. and Hawaii, where prices are nearly 18 percent and just over 16 percent above the national average, respectively.

So, if I was going to call for an increase in the minimum wage, I believe I would have it adjusted to the region. Certainly those in DC and Hawaii may need $15 an hour to survive. In Ole Miss, maybe not. 

The map above shows the real purchasing power of $15 in every state. In Honolulu, the priciest urban area in the United States, a $15 minimum wage is only worth about $12.24; in rural West Virginia, meanwhile, where prices are lower than anywhere else in the country, $15 is worth closer to $20. The only place where $15 is actually worth $15 is Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to Pew.

The writer of the WashPo piece mentions regional pay floors and there is a prez candidate who has given a sensible response. Surprise, it's a Democrat.

At the moment, there is at least one aspiring presidential candidate who seems to agree. Democratic presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton has said she supports a $15 minimum—just not for everyone. "I think part of the reason that the Congress and very strong Democratic supporters of increasing the minimum wage are trying to debate and determine what’s the national floor is because there are different economic environments," Clinton said in a town hall in New Hampshire last month. "What you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Letter to Chuckles the Neoclown

My local paper has the unfortunate poor taste to run Charles Krauthammer's column. I know. Barf. Right? Anyway, this is a response to his latest missive against Dear Leader's plan to arm the Iranians. Oh wait, that was Ron Reagan. I didn't want the link that long, but I'm simple-minded. Anyway, the letter.

I'd like to respond to Charles Krauthammer's dismissal of the Iran nuclear agreement. He states that two out of three Americans oppose the deal, as support for his position. Let's just note that in March 2003 nearly two of three supported going to war in Iraq. The wisdom of the masses seems easily swayed by propaganda and fear mongering, the realm of the punditocracy.

Recently, three dozen retired generals and admirals wrote to the Washington Post. They write that the agreement is "the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." The Israeli Defense Forces just released an overview of its strategic doctrine that barely mentions Iran. They're certainly not on the same page as Prime Minister Netanyahu. Many in Israeli intelligence reportedly feel the agreement will do what it's designed to do: keep Iran from nuclear weapons for at least a decade.

In any case, if the accord is rejected by Congress, what are the effects? It already has the blessing of our partners: England, France, Germany, Russia and China, plus the U.N. They're not going back to the table; they've already made moves to resume trade. Are unilateral sanctions going to hurt anyone other than U.S. manufacturers and farmers?

As one of three voices crying in the wilderness, I'd urge Congresswoman Stefanik to "listen to the generals" and not to AIPAC.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Another Plank In My Platform:Minimum Wage Increase and Work Week Decrease

The platform thing comes from a notion I have about running for Congress from NY's 21st. How realistic that notion is, who knows? Likely, not very. Makes a nice meme.

Going to get this down quick and come back to it. For now, here goes. There has been a call for a $15 per hour minimum wage. I don't know if that is reasonable or not. My call is for a min wage of $13.65 per hour. This is a healthy increase over the present minimum. I'm also in favor of reducing the work week to 32 hours. Any work over that would result in time and a half being paid. Therefore, a 40 hour work week would lead to the same pay as 40 hours at $15.

I'm back and thanks to a link from Shaw, I can at least make an attempt at discussing what a fair minimum wage would look like by comparing ours with other developed countries.

In U.S. dollars, we see Germany at $10.79/hour, France at $12.10/hour and Australia at $14.81/hour. But, taking purchasing power parity into account, which factors in the cost of living in these countries, brings France's min wage down to $10.60/hour and Australia's down to $10.20/hour. PPP for Germany was not available, but I would suspect it is in the same range. Looking at this, I have to wonder how reasonable a $15/hour min wage for the US is. I do want to note that the minimums for these two countries is not much higher than the $10.10/hour that was pushed by Aaron Woolf (bless his heart) and many other Dems in the last election.

Following through as I did above with 32 hours at $10.50 straight time and 8 hours at time and a half would lead to an effective pay rate of $11.55/hour. So, just based on what I see of these other nations which are at least more progressive than we are, the $10.50ish number is probably a reasonable goal. I would certainly like to know how or where the goal of $15/hour came from.

On to the work week decrease.

My attempt is to influence employers to make the 32 hour week the standard. Benefits from the article and those I see are:

1) Less stress on employees leading to fewer disability claims and less absenteeism.

2) Hopefully a reduction in unemployment and not an attempt by employers to get more production out of fewer work hours.

3) Flexibility for employer and employee as to duties, hours worked and so on. The extra day off per week would certainly be useful for scheduling appointments and so forth.

4) Energy savings from 20% fewer trips to work and possibly from companies operating on a 4-day week as a standard, as opposed to a 5-day week.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I've Got Good Deals and Bad Deals For You

First, the bad deal, though it's not so described.

“I’ll tell you, taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal,” the former Florida governor told a crowd of roughly 200 people who attended a forum on national security at St. Ambrose College.

And here's a bit of bad news to go with the bad deal. One of the major war criminals from George W.s administration is back, and he's giving advice to Jeb!

Things got worse in his speech Friday, where he volunteered that “Paul Wolfowitz is giving some advice.” Wolfowitz, the scowling face of the smug neocons.

This Paul Wolfowitz

It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.

Yep, hard to imagine. 

Here's the good deal. Though once again, not so described. It must be backassward day.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is unabashed about his opposition to President Obama’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to Cuba. 

Fuck it. It's the weekend and no one wants to hear anymore from Marco Rubio. Let's hear what a realist has to say. Take it, Mr. President.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said about Cuba during a visit to Kingston, Jamaica, in April. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”

And during an April interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the president expressed a belief that America is powerful enough to risk modifying the foreign policy status quo.

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing ... people don’t seem to understand,” the president said.

“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.

Despite Rubio wanting to give the sanctions another 50 years to work, I like Obama's logic. It's Cuba. It's hardly a threat to us and never has been and, really, we can adjust the policies. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Peter Beinart Day

First up, I do remember Beinart as a big supporter of George Bush's misadventure in Iraq, so I'm happy to see him writing this here.

I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that means supporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.

Of course, some neo-cons never change their tune. They're always singing about Munich and Chamberlain.

 When it comes to Iran, the debate is almost entirely a la carte. It’s as if there are no relevant precedents (except, perhaps, Munich). Again and again, pundits who championed the invasion of Iraq—people like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer—appear on television advocating the same worldview they advocated in 2002 and 2003, and get to pretend that nothing has happened over the last 15 years to throw that worldview into question. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which championed the invasion of Iraq (which is not to suggest, as some have, that AIPAC caused it), can mount a mammoth lobbying campaign against the Iran deal without being asked why, given its track record, anyone should listen to it this time. 

And here the only question is "Good God, why don't they?"

If Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Benjamin Netanyahu knew that before denouncing the Iran deal they’d be required to account for their views on Iraq, they might not show up in the green room. If they did, their television appearances would take a radically different course from the course they generally take today.

Speaking of the Reich, here's a Beinart article stating that Iran actually is not equivalent to Nazi Germany. Democrats are also not equivalent to Republicans, but that's another topic for another day.

 The Iranian regime has been in power for 36 years. It governs a Jewish population of between 10,000 and 25,000. Life for Iranian Jews is not easy. They cannot express any sympathy for Israel. Indeed, they must go out of their way to reject Zionism lest they confirm regime suspicions about their loyalty. And those suspicions sometimes descend into outright persecution,as happened in 1999 in the city of Shiraz, when 13 Jews were imprisoned for several years on charges of spying for Israel.

But while Iran’s Jews are not free, neither is their government trying to kill them. Three and a half decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran boasts perhaps 60 functioning synagogues, along with multiple kosher butchers and Jewish schools. The regime recently erected a monument to Jews who died fighting in the Iran-Iraq War. When former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, the leader of Iran’s Jewish community publicly reprimanded him. Perhaps most tellingly, a substantial Jewish community remains in Iran, despite being allowed to leave.

Sorry Mike Huckabee, not an oven or oven door in sight. Watch kids! This is how you cut and paste like a doctor of political science. 

While Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas, it has not done everything in its power to help them kill Israelis. Not even close. To the contrary, the regime’s apparent fear of Israeli retaliation generally has led it to exhibit the very restraint that Huckabee, Cruz, and Netanyahu insist it would not show once it has the bomb.

Consider a few examples. In his book Unthinkable, the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack notes that although Iran likely has biological weapons, it has not given them to Hezbollah. In 1982, when Lebanese Shia leaders asked Iran to send troops to repel Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the then-supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, refused. In 1996, Iran pressured Hezbollah to agree to a ceasefire with Israel. And as Trita Parsi notes in his indispensable book on Iranian-Israeli relations, Treacherous Alliance, Israel’s then-defense minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, even praised Tehran for its efforts to return Israeli soldiers that Hezbollah had captured. In 2001, according to Parsi, leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad vented frustration that Iran was not offering them greater assistance during the Second Intifada. And in 2003, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran offered the United States a grand bargain that included an offer to cut ties to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and pressure Hezbollah to shut down its military wing if the United States ended sanctions and restored diplomatic ties.

Great countries need great enemies, so Iran had to be built into the new Goliath. 

As Parsi argues convincingly, Israeli claims about Iran’s genocidal intent only began more than a decade after the Islamic Republic was established. They occurred not in response to any change in Tehran’s rhetoric or behavior, but in response to a fundamental shift in the strategic landscape. In the 1980s, Israeli anxieties had centered on Saddam’s Iraq, which was geographically closer to Israel and with Soviet help had built the world’s fourth-largest army. But in the early 1990s, Saddam’s power collapsed. Iraq lost its major patron when the U.S.S.R. fell, was humiliated in the Gulf War, and became the subject of global sanctions. It was only then that Israeli leaders began describing Iran as the primary danger—a perception that grew after the United States toppled Saddam in 2003, creating a political vacuum that pro-Iranian forces filled. In the words of retired Israeli Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, “Nothing special happened with Iran, but because Iraq was removed, Iran started to play a greater role in the threat perception of Israel.”

Netanyahu is not alone in his propaganda against the Iranians, but he does have many who disagree with him.

But while Netanyahu has responded to this shift by describing Iran’s leaders as Nazis (an analogy he previously reserved for Palestinians), many in the Israeli security establishment have not. In their view, Iran has grown in power, which makes it a more potent adversary. But it is today no more genocidal than it was when Israel assisted it during the Iran-Iraq War. Contrary to Netanyahu, top Israeli security officials don’t believe Iran’s leaders are so fanatically determined to kill Jews that they would launch a nuclear attack that could bring about their own destruction. Meir Dagan, who ran Israel’s external spy agency, the Mossad, from 2002 to 2011, has called the Iranian regime “rational.” Benny Gantz, who led the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015, has said “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” Dan Halutz, who led the IDF from 2005 to 2007, believes that “Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential one.” He is joined in that view by another former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, who earlier this year argued that “we are not in a Holocaust situation. … I do not believe there is an existential threat to Israel” from Iran.

Moving onto the success of the surge which is such a prominent theme on the Right. That story is necessary for the resurrection of the neo-cons who are harder to kill than vampires and just as blood thirsty.

As George W. Bush’s administration drew to an end, the brand of ambitious, expensive, Manichaean, militaristic foreign policy commonly dubbed “neoconservative” seemed on the verge of collapse. In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group, which included such Republican eminences as James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Ed Meese, and Alan Simpson, repudiated Bush’s core approach to the Middle East. The group not only called for the withdrawal from Iraq by early 2008 of all U.S. combat troops not necessary for force protection. It also proposed that the United States begin a “diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions,” with the government of Iran, which Bush had included in his “axis of evil,” and that it make the Arab-Israeli peace process, long scorned by hawks, a priority. Other prominent Republicans defected too. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon called the president’s Iraq policy “absurd” if not “criminal.” George Will, the dean of conservative columnists, deemed neoconservatism a “spectacularly misnamed radicalism” that true conservatives should disdain.

How short are people's memories in this country? Turn off the fuckin' Duck Dynasty!

Today, hawkishness is the hottest thing on the American right. With the exception of Rand Paul, the GOP presidential contenders are vying to take the most aggressive stance against Iran and the Islamic State, or ISIS. The most celebrated freshman Republican senator is Tom Cotton, who gained fame with a letter to Iran’s leaders warning that the United States might not abide by a nuclear deal. According to recent polls, GOP voters now see national security as more important than either cultural issues or the economy. More than three-quarters of Republicans want American ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq, and a plurality says that stopping Iran’s nuclear program requires an immediate military strike.

Cutting to the chase: the surge was a military success that did not lead to the necessary political success. But of course, most on the Right are more interested in things that go boom than they are in negotiated deals. 

The surge was not intended merely to reduce violence. Reducing violence was a means to a larger goal: political reconciliation. Only when Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government would the country be safe from civil war. As a senior administration official told journalists the day Bush announced the surge, “The purpose of all this is to get the violence in Baghdad down, get control of the situation and the sectarian violence, because now, without it, the reconciliation that everybody knows in the long term is the key to getting security in the country—the reconciliation will not happen.”

But although the violence went down, the reconciliation never occurred. 

Anyway, my scissors are getting dull and my only real goal is to bookmark this for my own future reference. Anyone stopping by feel free to go read all.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lots of Links on the Middle East

Despite the United States, Iraq seems to maybe be cobbling together a government.

Iraq’s parliament has passed the most sweeping political reforms in the country’s post-Saddam history, prompting euphoria over the ability of peaceful public protests to bring about meaningful change.

In the midst of a sweltering summer, public protests in Baghdad, Basra, and other cities over corruption and a lack of services have provided Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a mandate to cut across sectarian and political lines and push through the drastic changes.

Demands for change by Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sealed the deal, allowing quick cabinet approval and an unprecedented unanimous vote Tuesday in Iraq’s fractious parliament.

The reforms would eliminate multiple positions of vice president and deputy prime minister traditionally negotiated between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds as well as other senior posts for political appointees. Up to a dozen government ministries would also be cut.

Then there is the effort to bring peace, or at least less war, to Syria. 

More than two dozen people were killed in airstrikes in and around the Syrian capital Damascus early Wednesday, casting doubt on an already shaky premise of an Iranian-led peace initiative. 

The attacks — a combination of rebel shelling and government airstrikes — came just hours before the scheduled arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. He was expected to speak about Iran’s prospective four-point peace plan for ending Syria’s grinding four-year civil war, which is said to include a cease-fire and “national unity government,” the Associated Press reports

Recent negotiations aimed at achieving the cease-fire in Zabadani, which lies northwest of Damascus, and in the northern villages of Foua and Kfarya were seen as consistent with an evolving Iran-backed plan to contract the territory controlled by Assad to manageable dimensions, The Christian Science Monitor has reported.

Assad will soon control just Damascus. Or possibly the ground he stands on. 

The group United Against A Nuclear Iran lost its president

When the bipartisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran decided last week to mobilize opposition against the nuclear deal with Tehran, their president, Gary Samore stepped down, The New York Times reported.

Mr. Samore, a former nuclear adviser to President Obama, initially felt “chances of a successful negotiation were dim. But after the framework of an accord was announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April, he praised it as a good step,” The Times noted. “I think President Obama’s strategy succeeded,” he told the Times.

And as Shaw points out at Progressive Eruptions, we need to listen to the generals. 

Three dozen retired generals and admirals released an open letter Tuesday supporting the Iran nuclear deal and urging Congress to do the same.

Calling the agreement “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” the letter said that gaining international support for military action against Iran, should that ever become necessary, “would only be possible if we have first given the diplomatic path a chance.”

And hating on Iran creates strange bedfellows: Israelis and Saudis embracing on enemy of my enemy basis. 

For now, any peace feelers are based on what Israel and Saudi Arabia jointly oppose, not what they might gain in benefits from friendly relations. And that list only gets longer.

For starters, they do not like the Iran nuclear deal based on their concern that it might embolden Iran and its militant proxies in the Middle East, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to rebels in Yemen. But they also worry about a collapse of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the rise of Islamic State and other jihadi groups. And preventing Hamas in Gaza from starting another war with Israel is also in their interest.

Ain't love grand?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Man or Woman:People Who Do This Are Awesome

Inspiring awe. Yes, that's what they do.

Lurking beneath the Yellow River running through these parts are venomous cottonmouths and alligators roughly the length of a VW bus. That’s not to mention palm snakes with razor-sharp teeth, coral snakes and, for good measure, biting flies and ravenous quicksand. 

Equally perilous, these environs breed the sort of lingering damp that can work nefarious wonders on feet and wear down hearts and minds with considerable haste. 

It is here in this final phase of Army Ranger School that students must prove once-and-for-all that they have what it takes to lead dog-tired soldiers in the toughest of conditions, as they trudge along sandy boot-swallowing banks with as little food and sleep as most of them have ever been forced to endure, prepared to hunt or be hunted.

Good luck to these women, and the men as well. You're all crazy, but I guess someone has to be.

The inherent hazards of the school have long been a point of pride here. What is new are the two female soldiers within the student ranks, part of the Pentagon’s current experiment involving whether women can – and should – inhabit this predacious world. 

Their performance to date is inspiring many Ranger School instructors, who admit that they had their doubts in the beginning, to come to what they see as an ineluctable conclusion: that their female compatriots can – and should – be here.

Don't Forget the Perseids

Weather permitting, that is. August 11 through 14 will feature the premier meteor showers of the year.

More on the Perseid showers.

Barring cloudy skies, this week’s Perseid meteor shower may be a classic, excellent show.
The shooting star spectacle peaks on the night of Wednesday into Thursday morning, with as many as 90 to 100 shooting stars an hour, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Royal Astronomical Society in the U.K. In the eastern U.S., the most prolific cosmic bombardment will likely be around 4 a.m. Eastern time.

This year’s peak could be phenomenal because the Perseids won’t compete with moon light, since the waning crescent moon sets at 6:44 p.m. on Wednesday. This will create a nice dark, moon-free heaven for meteor observers.

How can you watch? “Look towards the familiar constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus in the northeast,” according to NASA. “They rise soon after sunset, but you’ll want to wait til they are higher in the sky to see the most meteors.”

It helps to be in a dark location, away from the brightest city lights, but here is no need to set up a telescope or binoculars. Arm yourself with a beverage, walk outside and stare at the sky. Beach and rural settings might be a perfect fit for finding shooting stars.

Damn cloudy Thursday AM. Try again tonite.

We Are Dangerously Insane

A graph is worth a 1000 words. 

Granted, that looks bad. It looks worse if you live in any of those red areas, tho.

It's not that more people are gun owners. That is diminishing, but the ones that do must really be stocking up.

Yeah, the gun industry really should have sent royalty checks to Obama. And, of course, with so many of our fellow citizens dying because of guns we want some sensible regulation of them.


Monday, August 10, 2015


I'm watching a friends garden starting this weekend and he grows zucchini, which I'm not a huge fan of. But, I'm going to have to do something with it. Thanks to Hometown blog's paper of record I have 21 recipes to help me deal with what will likely be an onslaught of the green menace.

Avoiding Microbeads

It amazes me on a regular basis how many ways we have found to fuck up the planet. Here's another.

Canada is the latest government to defend itself against a teeny, tiny threat. In recent years, researchers have called out microbeads – 1mm to 5mm orbs of plastic often found in exfoliating cleansers and grittier toothpastes – for perpetrating nearly invisible harm to marine life and their ecosystems.

Last year, the UN Environmental Assemblyestimated that the damage caused by microplastics to marine ecosystems costs around $13 billion annually, and called microbeads “an emerging issue”, emphasizing the threat they pose to the food chain. The miniscule plastic beads are absorbed by algae, which in turn is consumed by fish, who also have been found to confuse the beads for food, and, in turn, develop diseases as a result. Microplastics have also been identified as a threat to larger marine life like the endangered northern right whale, according to the UN report, which is potentially exposed to plastic through filter-feeding.

New York state’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, estimates that roughly 19 tons of microbeads get flushed into New York’s wastewater each year, according to a report titled “Hidden Threat”. The State Assembly approved a proposal from Mr. Schneiderman’s office to ban microbeads, but the bill is stalled in the State Senate.

Not surprising that it's stalled. My state senator is a Tea Party wingnut. Thanks Kathy. The whales thank you, too. I suppose I shouldn't just assume she's against it. If I'm wrong, I'll have my crow well done please.

Here is what is probably a partial list of products containing micro beads. Damn! My Aveeno is on it. 

Another Upside to the Iran Deal

Getting past the negotiations on the Iran deal, and assuming it gets the Tom Cotton seal of approval, means maybe we can get to work on the mess that is Syria. Or we could start small with Yemen.

Approval of a United Nations Security Council resolution on chemical attacks in Syria suggests that conclusion of the Iran nuclear talks last month may have paved the way to renewed diplomatic action on the Middle East’s deadliest conflict.

With Russia joining the United States in support of the resolution passed Friday, US diplomats and some regional experts say signs are growing that a door has reopened – if only slightly so far – to finding a political settlement to Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year.

If we can't get any resolution on the Ukraine maybe we can at least get something moving on this bloody conflict.

Russia is showing signs of wanting to get the diplomatic train on Syria moving again. Next week, the Russian government will receive in Moscow both representatives of the Syrian political opposition and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir for talks on ending the Syrian conflict.

Iran is also getting into the act, announcing recently that it would soon present a four-point Syria peace plan to the UN.

Any hopes are just a flicker at the moment.

“We still haven’t got to the position, particularly from the Russian side, that a negotiated solution by all the parties is the needed outcome,” he says. “Nor has the US been willing to countenance that some form of the Assad regime be included in negotiations. Until you bridge that somehow,” he adds, “there’s not much room to move forward.”

Yes, Assad needs to be included. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Schumer's Iran Stance

I considered that maybe Chuck Schumer was taking the position against the Iran deal for political purposes and James Fallows is of that opinion as well. I was confident that Schumer's years in the Senate had given him the ability to count votes.

How can a powerful Democrat’s opposition be a good sign? Because it suggests that Schumer has already calculated that the administration can do without his vote.

Congress would have to override the veto, which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers—and this is what the Democrats, even in their diminished numbers, should still be able to blockwith some votes to spare.

Schumer doesn’t put it this way, but obviously he is hoping that one of those spare votes will be his. His life will be easier in many ways—in minimizing hassle during his upcoming reelection run in New York, and thus maximizing his efforts to help other Democratic candidates so that he has a chance of becoming Senate majority rather than minority leader—if he doesn’t have to spend time explaining away a vote for the deal to his conservative and AIPAC-aligned constituents. If the deal goes through despite Schumer’s opposition, people who support the deal won’t care, and those who oppose it can blame evil Barack rather than valiant Chuck.

Gotta love realpolitik!

More Fallows on Iran in his coverage of the president's defense of the plan. 

The real-world context for Obama’s certainty on these points is his knowledge that in the rest of the world, this agreement is not controversial at all.

Imagine that.

There is practically no other big strategic point on which the U.S., Russia, and China all agree—but they held together on this deal. (“I was surprised that Russia was able to compartmentalize the Iran issue, in light of the severe tensions that we have over Ukraine,” Obama said.) The French, Germans, and British stayed together too, even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye with America on nuclear issues. High-stakes measures don’t often get through the UN Security Council on a 15-0 vote; this deal did.

And the loyal opposition?

The fact that there is a robust debate in Congress is good,” he said in our session. “The fact that the debate sometimes seems unanchored to facts is not so good. ... [We need] to return to some semblance of bipartisanship and soberness when we approach these problems.” (I finished this post while watching the Fox News GOP debate, which gave “semblance of bipartisanship and soberness” new meaning.)

Obama's beliefs on the results of the deal.

Iran is the latest expression of a deep, ancient, powerful culture that’s different than ours. And we don’t know how it’s going to play itself out. But as I said before, it’s not necessary for us to be optimistic in order for us to assess the value of this deal. If you believe that Tehran will not change, and the latest version of the current supreme leader is in charge 10, 15 years from now … you’d still want this deal. In fact, you want this deal even more.

The fantasy, the naiveté, the optimism, is to think that we reject this deal and somehow it all solves itself with a couple of missile strikes—that is not sound foreign policy.

There's too much to pick and choose from so just go read it all and anything else that Fallows has written on Iran or anything else. 

The Downside of Relying on Infowars for Your News

I often bring up the whole "we need guns to protect ourselves from tyranny" thing here because I think it's insane and because I don't like Matt Funiciello. Anyway, here's some fellows that are apparently part of the North Carolina Green Party contingent.

Walter Eugene Litteral, 50, Christopher James Barker, 41, and Christopher Todd Campbell, 30, are accused of stockpiling guns and ammunition, as well as attempting to manufacture pipe bombs and live grenades from military surplus “dummy” grenades, according unsealed criminal complaints released Monday.

They seem to have thought that after the feds seize Texas (?) or whatever it is that government troops are supposed to be doing they're headed for North Carolina. I'm sorry, but I'm not putting in a lot of time trying to find logic in it.

According to the documents, both Litteral and Campbell spoke openly about their opposition to Jade Helm 15, a series of ongoing special forces training missions in several Southwestern states that has drawn suspicion from residents who fear it is part of a planned military takeover.

I wonder what Funiciello's views on Jade Helm are.