Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Earth: Game Over?

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/24

We're in the middle of a sixth mass extinction, and this will be the first one—and possibly the last—we will witness as human beings.

by John Feffer

Video games usually provide you with multiple lives. If you step on a landmine or get hit by an assassin, you get another chance. Even if such virtual reincarnation is not built into the rules of the game, you can always reboot and start over again. You can try again hundreds of times until you get it right. This formula applies to first-person shooter games as well as simulation exercises like SimEarth.

The real Earth offers a similar kind of reboot. Catastrophe has hit our planet at least five times, as Elizabeth Kolbert explains in her new book, The Sixth Extinction. During each of these preceding wipeouts, the planet recovered, though many of the life forms residing in the seas or on land were not so fortunate (“many” is actually an understatement—more than 99 percent of all species died out in these cataclysms). As Kolbert points out, we are in the middle of a sixth such world-altering event, and this will be the first—and possibly the last—extinction that we will witness as human beings. The planet and its hardier denizens may soldier on, but for us it will be game over.

A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth—the author of the manifesto Uncivilizationconfesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. “You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years,” he says, “and every single thing had gotten worse.” He’s heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.

Survivalism: it’s not just for right-wing wackos any more.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out how to avert disaster. The United Nations recently released another in its series of reports on climate change. This one tries to put a price tag on what we need to do over the next 15-20 years to stop the global mercury from rising.

To implement the recommendations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), governments must dramatically increase their investments in low-carbon energy sources. Each year, governments will have to spend an additional $147 billion on such renewable sources of energy as solar and wind power. On top of that, governments need to put $336 billion each year into greater energy efficiency in public and private infrastructure. If we follow all the IPCC recommendations, we can expect to save about $30 billion from eliminating subsidies to industries in the dirty energy sectors.

That still leaves an annual bill of more than $450 billion. This is probably a lowball figure, given the commitment that the industrialized world has made to help the developing world continue to grow economically without expanding its carbon footprint. This figure aclimatlso doesn’t cover current climate change costs associated with extreme weather events, droughts in food-growing areas, the preservation of coastal areas, and other catastrophes in the making. The bill for upgrading U.S. infrastructure alone will run into hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

If you’re planning to remodel your kitchen, you’re supposed to get a couple of different estimates. So, with a task as large as saving the world, it’s probably wise to check in with a couple other sources.

But those looking for salvation on the cheap are going to be disappointed. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization connected to the OECD, estimates that the world needs to invest a trillion dollars into clean energy—every year between now and 2050. Then there was the Stern Commission report on the economics of climate change that came out in 2006. At the time, Nicholas Stern estimated that stabilizing the current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would require an investment of 1 percent of global GDP, which at the time was a little more than $300 billion. He revised that up to about $600 billion a couple years later, though nowadays he’s talking more in the trillion-dollar range as well.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/24

How Piketty's Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasies

From Alternet:   http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-pikettys-bombshell-book-blows-libertarian-fantasies

Sorry, Ayn Rand. Your fiction has been exposed as, well, fiction.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore April 27, 2014

Libertarians have always been flummoxed by inequality, tending either to deny that it’s a problem or pretend that the invisible hand of the market will wave a magic wand to cure it. Then everybody gets properly rewarded for what he or she does with brains and effort, and things are peachy keen.
Except that they aren’t, as exhaustively demonstrated by French economist Thomas Piketty, whose 700-page treatise on the long-term trends in inequality, Capital In the 21st Century, has blown up libertarian fantasies one by one.

To understand the libertarian view of inequality, let’s turn to Milton Friedman, one of America's most famous and influential makers of free market mythology. Friedman decreed that economic policy should focus on freedom, and not equality.

If we could do that, he promised, we’d not only get freedom and efficiency, but more equality as a natural byproduct. Libertarians who took the lessons from his books, like Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Free to Choose (1980), bought into the notion that capitalism naturally led to less inequality.

Basically, the lessons boiled down to this: Some degree of inequality is both unavoidable and desirable in a free market, and income inequality in the U.S. isn’t very pronounced, anyway. Libertarians starting with these ideas tend to reject any government intervention meant to decrease inequality, claiming that such plans make people lazy and that they don’t work, anyway. Things like progressive income taxes, minimum wage laws and social safety nets make most libertarians very unhappy.

Uncle Milty put it like this:
“A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.… On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.”
Well, that turns out to be spectacularly, jaw-droppingly, head-scratchingly wrong. The U.S. is now a stunningly unequal society, with wealth piling up at the top so fast that an entire movement, Occupy Wall Street, sprung up to decry it with the catchphrase “We are the 99%.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/how-pikettys-bombshell-book-blows-libertarian-fantasies

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Donald Sterling Banned for Life - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver bans clippers owner!


The right’s Piketty nightmare: Coming of age in the era of Post-Exceptionalism

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/04/24/the_rights_piketty_nightmare_coming_of_age_in_the_era_of_post_exceptionalism/

If conservatives want to ignore his warnings about inequality, we're not the only ones who'll suffer. They will too

Thursday, Apr 24, 2014

For most Americans, reports of our yawning, fast-expanding wealth gap only confirm what we’ve already seen and experienced in our own lives. If your job or industry has evaporated due to technological change or automation, if you’ve watched your factory position get shipped oversees (oftentimes offered, in one final bit of cruel irony, to train your foreign replacements first), if you’ve graduated from college or grad school in the past decade, only to find a nation with far too many applicants and far too few positions — reports on the existence of two Americas, one for the “haves” and one for the “have-nots” will not surprise you.

We are living in the Age of Post-Exceptional America.

An unavoidable fact of life in modern America, our growing inequality of income and wealth has eroded this nation’s middle class and its economy, like a cavity or a tumor. Crucially, this disruptive inequality continues to expand, as confirmed by an increasingly large body of research from sources as varied as an obscure French economist (turned bestselling author) to the front page of the New York Times.

In the Times, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy report on new data from the “Luxembourg Income Study Database,” which shows that America’s middle class — long the wealthiest in the world — has been surpassed by the middle classes of much of Western Europe and Canada. Basically, they explain, while Wall Street booms and corporate profits soar, the wealth of average Americans is stagnant or fading. As Leonhardt and Quealy put it,
The findings are striking because the most commonly cited economic statistics — such as per capita gross domestic product — continue to show that the United States has maintained its lead as the world’s richest large country. But those numbers are averages, which do not capture the distribution of income. With a big share of recent income gains in this country flowing to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, most Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.
The authors are careful to note that their research only goes to 2010, but there’s no reason to think that these trends haven’t continued in the years since — or that they won’t continue in the future.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/04/24/the_rights_piketty_nightmare_coming_of_age_in_the_era_of_post_exceptionalism/

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How have these corporations colonised our public life?

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/08/corporations-public-life-unilever

Our politicians have delegated power to global giants engineering a world of conformity and consumerism

The Guardian, Monday 7 April 2014

How do you engineer a bland, depoliticised world, a consensus built around consumption and endless growth, a dream world of materialism and debt and atomisation, in which all relations can be prefixed with a dollar sign, in which we cease to fight for change? You delegate your powers to companies whose profits depend on this model.

Power is shifting: to places in which we have no voice or vote. Domestic policies are forged by special advisers and spin doctors, by panels and advisory committees stuffed with lobbyists. The self-hating state withdraws its own authority to regulate and direct. Simultaneously, the democratic vacuum at the heart of global governance is being filled, without anything resembling consent, by international bureaucrats and corporate executives. The NGOs permitted – often as an afterthought – to join them intelligibly represent neither civil society nor electorates. (And please spare me that guff about consumer democracy or shareholder democracy: in both cases some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to press for change.)

To me, the giant consumer goods company Unilever, with which I clashed over the issue of palm oil a few days ago, symbolises these shifting relationships. I can think of no entity that has done more to blur the lines between the role of the private sector and the role of the public sector. If you blotted out its name while reading its web pages, you could mistake it for an agency of the United Nations.
It seems to have representation almost everywhere. Its people inhabit (to name a few) the British government's Ecosystem Markets Task Force and Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the World Food Programme, the Global Green Growth Forum, the UN's Scaling Up Nutrition programme, its Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Global Compact and the UN High Level Panel on global development.

Sometimes Unilever uses this power well. Its efforts to reduce its own use of energy and water and its production of waste, and to project these changes beyond its own walls, look credible and impressive. Sometimes its initiatives look to me like self-serving bullshit.

Its "Dove self-esteem project", for instance, claims to be "helping millions of young people to improve their self-esteem through educational programmes". One of its educational videos maintains that beauty "couldn't be more critical to your happiness", which is surely the belief that trashes young people's self-esteem in the first place. But of course you can recover it by plastering yourself with Dove-branded gloop: Unilever reports that 82% of women in Canada who are aware of its project "would be more likely to purchase Dove".

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/08/corporations-public-life-unilever

Florida City About To Make It Illegal For Homeless People To Have Possessions In Public

From Think Progress:  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/21/3428899/fort-lauderdale-criminalize-homelessness/

By Scott Keyes

A backpack. Spare clothes. A notebook. Some keepsake photos. Crackers.

Though they may not have a home in which to secure their stuff, homeless people still have possessions like everyone else.

Yet the city of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is on the cusp of passing a new regulation that would make it illegal for anyone to store their personal things on public property. Specifically, it would empower police to confiscate any personal possessions stored on public property, provided they have given the homeless person 24-hours notice. If the homeless people wish to retrieve their items, they must pay the city “reasonable charges for storage and removal of the items,” though that fee is waived if the person is able to demonstrate he or she cannot afford to pay. The city may dispose of any possessions not retrieved within 30 days. One of the driving factors behind the measure, according to the legislation, is the city’s “interest in aesthetics.”

Last week, the City Commission gave unanimous preliminary approval to the measure, despite overwhelming opposition from local residents who testified.

One woman, Gazol Tajalli, told Commissioners that is “insanity that we are even here discussing whether an individual can put on the ground the few objects that they own.” Another citizen, Rev. Gail Tapscott of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Lauderdale, criticized some of the Commissioners for “demoniz[ing]” the homeless.

Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, chastised Ft. Lauderdale’s approach. “Maintaining city streets is a legitimate concern, but simply punishing homeless people for leaving their possessions in public places is not an effective or humane way to address it,” she told ThinkProgress. “Instead, city and business leaders should work with advocates and homeless people to develop alternative short and long term solutions, such as public storage options for homeless people and affordable housing.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, “The commission’s actions were backed by business leaders who said they were looking for some controls on a situation that scares away customers and makes visitors uncomfortable.” The commission is also considering other initiatives targeting the homeless, including stiffer penalties for urinating or defecating in public, prohibitions on panhandling at intersections or sleeping in public, and restrictions on charity groups that hand out food to the homeless.

Continue reading at:  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/21/3428899/fort-lauderdale-criminalize-homelessness/

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Let This Earth Day Be The Last

It's Game Over Time.  We are now in The End of the World As We Know It mode.  Think those weird winters and extra hot summers, the drought in California are an aberration...  Think again.

People should have listened to Paul Ehrlich when "The Population Bomb" was published in the late 1960s.  Or read "The Limits of Growth" when it was published in 1972.

It is officially too late now.  We are over the 400ppm and will soon hit unthinkable levels.  We will see ocean rise and the deaths of millions of people.

As well as the end of capitalism as we know it.

We will live far simpler lives with out the plenty of the past.

Earth Day was so nice and so feel good.  The marketing people loved it.

OTOH the media labeled people actually trying to do something, people like Earth First, Sea Shepherd, and ELF as eco-terrorists.  All the while ignoring the real eco-terrorists, the people who rape mother earth for the profit of the already obscenely rich.

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/179375/let-earth-day-be-last#

Wen Stephenson on April 22, 2014
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.”
   —Frederick Douglass, 1857
Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.
* * *
But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?

Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.

Because, I’m sorry, this is not a test. This is really happening. The Arctic and the glaciers are melting. 

The great forests are dying and burning. The oceans are rising and acidifying. The storms, the floods—the droughts and heat waves—are intensifying. The breadbaskets are parched and drying. And all of it faster and sooner than scientists predicted. The window in which to act is closing before our eyes.

Read the rest of this article at:  http://www.thenation.com/blog/179375/let-earth-day-be-last#

Chelsea Manning: A Statement on My Legal Name Change

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chelsea-manning/a-statement-on-my-legal-name-change_b_5199874.html

Chelsea Manning


Today is an exciting day. A judge in the state of Kansas has officially ordered my name to be changed from "Bradley Edward Manning" to "Chelsea Elizabeth Manning." I've been working for months for this change, and waiting for years.

It's worth noting that both in mail and in person, I've often been asked, "Why are you changing your name?" The answer couldn't be simpler: because it's a far better, richer, and more honest reflection of who I am and always have been: a woman named Chelsea.

But there is another question I've been asked nearly as much: "Why are you making this request of the Leavenworth district court?" This is a more complicated question, but the short answer is simple: because I have to.

Unfortunately, the trans* community faces three major obstacles to living a normal life in America: identity documentation, gender-segregated institutions, and access to health care. And I've only just jumped through the first one of these hurdles.

In our current society it's the most banal things, such as showing an ID card, going to the bathroom, and receiving trans-related health care, that keep us from having the means to live better, more productive, and safer lives. Unfortunately, there are many laws and procedures that often don't consider trans* people, or even outright prevent them from doing the sort of simple, day-to-day things that others take for granted.

Now I am waiting on the military to assist me in accessing health care. In August I requested that the military provide me with a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care for trans health. They quickly evaluated me and informed me that they had come up with a proposed treatment plan. However, I have not yet seen their treatment plan, and in over eight months I have not received any response as to whether the plan will be approved or disapproved, or whether it follows the guidelines of qualified health professionals.

I'm optimistic that things can -- and certainly will -- change for the better. There are so many people in America today who are open and willing to discuss trans-related issues. Hopefully today's name change, while so meaningful to me personally, can also raise awareness of the fact that we trans* people exist everywhere in America today, and that we must jump through hurdles every day just for being who we are. If I'm successful in obtaining access to trans health care, not only will it be something I have wanted for a long time myself, but it will open the door for many people, both inside and outside the military, to request the right to live more open, fulfilled lives.

Thank you,
Chelsea Manning

Rand Paul criticizing Ronald Reagan


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External

From The Nation:  http://www.thenation.com/article/179460/change-within-obstacles-we-face-are-not-just-external#

The climate crisis has such bad timing, confronting it not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.

Naomi Klein April 21, 2014
This is a story about bad timing.

One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.

The migration patterns of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now often arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier too, which means that in some areas they are less plentiful when the chicks hatch, threatening a number of health and fertility impacts. Similarly, in West Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they have relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temperatures. That is leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation, reproduction and feeding their young, a mismatch that has been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.

Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homo sapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behavior in order to protect life on earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions, just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Confronting these various structural barriers to the next economy is the critical work of any serious climate movement. But it’s not the only task at hand. We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real—let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.

Continue reading at:  http://www.thenation.com/article/179460/change-within-obstacles-we-face-are-not-just-external#

It’s the End of the World as We Know It . . . and He Feels Fine

From The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/magazine/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-he-feels-fine.html?ref=magazine&_r=1

Late one night last August, on the chalk downlands of southern England, Paul Kingsnorth stood in a field beside an old-growth forest, two yurts and a composting toilet. Kingsnorth is 41, tall, slim and energetic, with sweeping brown hair and a sparse beard. He wears rimless glasses and a silver stud in his ear, and he talks with great ardor, often apologizing for having said too much or for having said it too strongly.

On this occasion, Kingsnorth was silent. It was the final night of Uncivilization, an outdoor festival run by the Dark Mountain Project, a loose network of ecologically minded artists and writers, and he was standing with several dozen others waiting for the festival’s midnight ritual to begin. Kingsnorth, a founder of the group, had already taken part in several sessions that day, including one on contemporary nature writing; a panel about the iniquities of mainstream psychiatric care; and a reading from his most recent book, “The Wake,” a novel set in the 11th century and written in a “shadow language” — a mash-up of Old and modern English. He had also helped his two young children assemble a train set while trying to encapsulate his views on climate change and environmental degradation in what Kingsnorth describes as an era of global disruption. The “human machine,” as he sometimes puts it, has grown to such a size that breakdown is inevitable. What, then, do we do?

In the clearing, above a pyre, someone had erected a tall wicker sculpture in the shape of a tree, with dense gnarls and hanging hoops. Four men in masks knelt at the sculpture’s base, at cardinal compass points. When midnight struck, a fifth man, his head shaved smooth and wearing a kimono, began to walk slowly around them. As he passed the masked figures, each ignited a yellow flare, until finally, his circuit complete, the bald man set the sculpture on fire. For a couple of minutes, it was quiet. Then as the wicker blazed, a soft chant passed through the crowd, the words only gradually becoming clear: “We are gathered. We are gathered. We are gathered.”

After that came disorder. A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: “Come! Let’s play!” The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood.
The next morning over breakfast, Dougie Strang, a Scottish artist and performer who is on Dark Mountain’s steering committee, asked if I’d been there. When he left, at 3 a.m., he said, people were writhing in the mud and singing, in harmony, the children’s song “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” (“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.”) “Wasn’t it amazing?” he said, grinning. “It really went mental. I think we actually achieved uncivilization.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/magazine/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-he-feels-fine.html?ref=magazine&_r=1

No More Petitions, They are a Waste of Time

Signing petitions is one of those things.

Has signing an on line petition from Care2 or Change.org ever actually changed anything? Ever?

Signing petitions is an act of masturbation.  It feels good but accomplishes nothing else.

Last week a bunch of people who should know better formed a mob to attack Andrea James and Calpernia Addams.

What the fuck was that all about?

Who cares other than the marketing firms that buy copies of these petitions to send begging letters or sell products?

We face an extremely grim near future between the rise of the oligarchs, end stage capitalism and eco collapse.

The time for meaningless gestures is long past.  The time for thinking those meaningless gestures create change is over, dead, no longer relevant.

Now is the time of existential moral crisis. To be or not to be? To slip into total nihilism or to take up arms and continue to struggle in the face of hopelessness.

I'm glad I am old.  Age is the great leveler.  Knowing I have lived many more years than the number I have yet to live is liberating.

Happy Earth Day. We Just Reached Another Scary Climate Change Milestone

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/carbon-dioxide-climate-change_n_5187844.html

Kate Sheppard

In May 2013, it was big news when, for the first time, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. Now, researchers say that number has been consistently above 400 for the last month.

"This is higher than it's been in millions of years," said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory.
Parts per million, or ppm, is a measure of the ratio of carbon dioxide to other gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is just one type of greenhouse gas that has been found to trap heat, but it is the primary one emitted from human activities and it lingers in the atmosphere for a very long time

There is typically seasonal fluctuation in the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, according to scientists who track the levels. That explains why, after hitting 400 for the first time in recorded history last May, the levels declined soon after. But they hit 400 ppm again in mid-March, and have stayed above that level for all of April.

Continue reading at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/carbon-dioxide-climate-change_n_5187844.html

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

Tell me again why we should let assholes like Bloomberg convince us to confiscate people's guns.  I love the totalitarian state the oligarchs have created.  One where they dangle puppets and divisive issues to distract us from our ever increasing enslavement.

All the talking heads, who are paid shills out to convince us to be at each others throats over bullshit "issues" while they transfer all the wealth and property to their control.

From Talking Points Memo:  http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

Brendan James


Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means "The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

"Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."

Michael Lewis: 'Wall Street has gone insane'

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/apr/16/michael-lewis-flash-boys-wall-street-insane

Flash Boys, an expos̩ of the murky world of 'rigged' high-frequency trading, has sold 130,000 copies in its first week and is already being turned into a film. Its author, Michael Lewis, explains why the story is so compelling Рand why our brightest minds make the most dangerous bankers

The Guardian, Wednesday 16 April 2014

On a sliding scale of difficulty, writing a general-interest book about high-frequency trading is slightly harder than making baseball statistics interesting, but easier than animating the role played by quantitative analysis in the 2007 financial collapse. "Collateralised debt obligations," says Michael Lewis, who has written about all three, "are impossible to describe. There's nothing harder. However, trying to show a reader how a market moves? How stock prices move? You can already see them tuning out."

That was the concern when he wrote Flash Boys, an investigation into what he calls the "rigged" underbelly of Wall Street trading. In the event, the book has sold a staggering 130,000 copies in the US in its first week of publication. (By comparison, The Big Short, his biggest seller to date, sold 60,000 in its first week.)

Lewis has been on every talk show and financial news panel in the land, arguing with, among others, Bill O'Brien, the president of the Bats Global Markets stock exchange, about whether or not he and his cohorts are ripping off their customers. If the 53-year-old started off angry, opposition to the book has sharpened his stance into a moral crusade. "I find this story really upsetting," he says over lunch in LA, where his publicity tour just ended. "The idea that the smartest, richest elites of society find this an acceptable activity. This predatory activity."

If it's emotional for Lewis, then the responses have been emotional too, given how unequivocal his accusations are. The cornerstone of Flash Boys is a discovery made by an obscure Canadian banker, Brad Katsuyama, who noticed that whenever he tried to execute a trade, the stock price moved before the order went through. A long and tortured investigation revealed that the variable speeds at which trading information travels down fibre-optic cables to the exchanges was being exploited by brokers and high-frequency traders – so-called for the volume of trades they make – to jump the queue, buy the stocks in question and sell them back at a higher price to the person who expressed the original interest.

"Someone out there was using the fact that stock market orders arrived at different times at different exchanges to front-run [orders]," writes Lewis. It was a side-effect of automated trading and a tough thing for bankers to wrap their heads around, let alone laypeople. In plain English, as a colleague of Katsuyama's put it: "My role was to walk around and say to clients, 'Don't you understand you're being fucked?'"

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/apr/16/michael-lewis-flash-boys-wall-street-insane

Paul Krugman: We live in the most unequal society ever, and it’s only getting worse

From Raw Story:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/17/paul-krugman-we-live-in-the-most-unequal-society-ever-and-its-only-getting-worse/

By Travis Gettys Thursday, April 17, 2014

Americans may be living in the most unequal society that has ever existed, said economist Paul Krugman.

The New York Times columnist and Princeton University professor said Thursday there is zero evidence to suggest extreme inequality is good for economic growth but plenty to suggest it’s not.
“Nobody wants us to become Cuba (but) the question is, do we have to have levels of inequality that are getting close to being the highest levels anywhere, ever,” Krugman told Bloomberg News. “We’re really starting to set new records here. Is that a good thing for anybody?”

The Nobel Prize winner said this troubling trend began around 1980, when President Ronald Reagan was elected and began implementing supply-side economic policies that promised more wealth for everyone if tax burdens were lifted for the rich.

“The fact of the matter is, since inequality began soaring, around 1980, the bottom half of America has pretty much been left behind,” Krugman said. “There has not been a rising tide that raised all boats.”

But he said American political leadership had throughout history set corrective paths whenever wealth became too unbalanced.

“If we could have modern politicians speaking forthrightly about the danger of high concentration of wealth, as Teddy Roosevelt did in 1910, we would be a long toward a good solution for this,” 
Krugman said, “and I guess I believe that America has a tremendous redemptive capacity and ability to take a look and say, ‘OK, in the end, what are our ideals? What do we want our society to look like?’”

Continue reading at:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/17/paul-krugman-we-live-in-the-most-unequal-society-ever-and-its-only-getting-worse/

Why Economist Thomas Piketty Has Scared the Pants Off the American Right

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/why-economist-thomas-piketty-has-scared-pants-american-right

If you call rigorous economic research on inequality a Communist plot, will it go away?

By Lynn Stuart Parramore April 21, 2014

Thomas Piketty is no radical. His 700-page book Capital in the 21st Century is certainly not some kind of screed filled with calls for class warfare. In fact, the wonky and mild-mannered French economist opens his tome with a description of his typical Gen X abhorrence of what he calls the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism." He is in no way, shape, or form a Marxist. As fellow-economist James K. Galbraith has underscored in his review of the book, Piketty "explicitly (and rather caustically) rejects the Marxist view" of economics.

But he does do something that gives right-wingers in America the willies. He writes calmly and reasonably about economic inequality, and concludes, to the alarm of conservatives, that there is no magical force that drives capitalist societies toward shared prosperity. Quite the opposite. He warns that if we don't do something about it, we may end up with a society that is more top-heavy than anything that has come before — something even worse than the Gilded Age.

For this, in America, you get branded a crazed Communist by the right. In this past weekend's New York Times, Ross Douthat sounds the alarm in an op-ed ominously tited " Marx Rises Again." The columnist hints that he and his fellow pundits have only pretended to read the book but nevertheless feel comfortable making statements like "Yes, that’s right: Karl Marx is back from the dead" about Piketty. The National Review's James Pethokoukis joins in the games with a silly article called " The New Marxism" in which he repeats the nonsense that Piketty is some sort of Marxist apologist.
For Douthat and his tribe, the proposition that unfettered capitalism marches toward gross inequality is not a conclusion based on carefully collected data, strenuous research and a sweeping view of history. It has to be a Communist plot.

The very heft of Piketty's book is terrifying to the Douthats, and no wonder they don't dare to read it, because if they did, they would find chart after chart, data set after data set, and hundreds of years worth of economic history scrutinized.

Income and wealth inequality have not been comprehensively studied to date, which has to do with the paucity of historical data and the difficulties of making comparisons between countries and populations when there are so many variables. Piketty's contribution is to painstakingly comb over the available data and illuminate trends that would leave no reasonable person in doubt of the fact that capitalism's inherent dynamics create inequality, and that only our express intervention, in the form of things like a global wealth tax, investment in skills and training, and the diffusion of knowledge can lead us to a different outcome.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/economy/why-economist-thomas-piketty-has-scared-pants-american-right

The 1% wants to ban sleeping in cars – because it hurts their 'quality of life'

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/15/ban-sleeping-in-cars-homeless-silicon-valley

Depriving the homeless of their last shelter is Silicon Valley at its worst – especially when rich cities aren't doing anything to end homelessness

theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 April 2014

Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor ... by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.

This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California's Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial "homeless capital of America", where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called "quality of life" laws. But they certainly don't protect the quality of life of the poor.

To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a "magnet" for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.

Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.

Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/15/ban-sleeping-in-cars-homeless-silicon-valley

The Koch brothers are going after solar panels

The King has spoken.  Is it time to over throw the oligarchs yet?

From Salon: http://www.salon.com/2014/04/21/the_koch_brothers_are_going_after_solar_panels/

The Oligarch solar blowback has arrived in full force



Homeowners and businesses that wish to generate their own cheap, renewable energy now have a force of conservative political might to contend with, and the Koch brothers are leading the charge. The L.A. Times, to its credit, found the positive spin to put on this: Little old solar “has now grown big enough to have enemies.”

The escalating battle centers over two ways traditional utilities have found to counter the rapidly growing solar market: demanding a share of the power generated by renewables and opposing net metering, which allows solar panel users to sell the extra electricity they generate back to the grid — and without which solar might no longer be affordable. The Times reports on the conservative heavyweights making a fossil fuel-powered effort to make those things happen:
The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation’s largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.
…The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates.
“State governments are starting to wake up,” Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources.
“These green energy mandates are bad policy,” said Hanson, adding that the group was hopeful Kansas would be the first of many dominoes to fall.
The group’s campaign in that state compared the green energy mandate to Obamacare, featuring ominous images of Kathleen Sebelius, the outgoing secretary of Health and Human Services, who was Kansas’ governor when the state adopted the requirement.
Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/04/21/the_koch_brothers_are_going_after_solar_panels/

Monday, April 21, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stephen Cohen on Russia Ukraine Crisis


As a Woman, a Feminist and an Atheist I Support Ayaan Hirsi Ali

To speak specifically of our problem with the Muslim world, we are meandering into a genuine clash of civilizations, and we’re deluding ourselves with euphemisms. We’re talking about Islam being a religion of peace that’s been hijacked by extremists. If ever there were a religion that’s not a religion of peace, it is Islam. – Sam Harris
Recently Brandeis University withdrew an honorary degree promised Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an atheist feminist born in Somali. She documented the horrors of her life under Islam in her best selling book, “Infidel“.

To describe what she wrote regarding growing up female under Islam as a criticism is to do her book an injustice for she documented the monstrous evil of Islamic misogyny that shows itself in the form of female genital mutilation, child marriages and Sharia.

Too often Liberals and Conservatives alike treat the abuse of women as a minor issue.  Too many in academia wear their cultural sensitivity as though it were a matter of pride and a sign of superiority when in point of fact it merely makes them enablers of atrocities.

It is one thing to oppose discrimination against and the persecution of Middle Eastern and other Muslim peoples.  The persecution of classes of people no matter what the basis of that categorization is wrong, it denies individuals their human rights including their right to dignity.

At the same time it is perfectly acceptable to condemn an ideology that perpetuates evil.

That is what Ayaan Hirsi Ali does.

In turn the left acted in a manner that is identical to that of the Christo-Fascist right.  Just as atheists who come from a Christian back ground are accused by Christians of being bigots and Christophobes so too is Ayaan Hirsi Ali accused of being a bigot and Islamophobe.

I sometimes wonder what part of the atheist phrase, “No gods, no masters!” is so hard for the peddlers of various forms of magic invisible misogynistic sky daddy based faiths to understand.

To be an atheist is to view all religions as compendiums of various superstitious beliefs.

It doesn’t much matter what name is given to the magic invisible misogynist in the sky.

What matters more is what the apologists for those various religions are supporting when they condemn those who point out the evils of said religions.

From Newsday: Opinion: Brandeis betrays its educational mission
Brandeis University has withdrawn the honorary degree promised Ayaan Hirsi Ali after realizing that Ali has criticized Islam in the past. In fact, criticizing Islam was the focus of her best-selling memoir Infidel. The petition to reject her was written by a barely literate undergrad peeved that the university would honor someone who is “an outright Islamophobic.” Oh dear. Views are Islamophobic. People are Islamophobes.
Really…

Islamophobe…

What an appropriate charge for a woman pointing out the misogyny that is so ingrained in Islam and Islamic law that women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive cars.  Or how Wahhabism has forced women in to burqas and other coverings.

Or pointing out her own experiences.

Now I know Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become a darling of the right wing in America, a position she would have never obtained had she been attacking the misogyny found in Fundamentalist Christianity.

However considering the voracious attacks leveled upon her from the left one has to wonder if she would have gone there had the progressive feminist movement embraced her.

As to the truth or falseness of her charges I offer the following:

From The American Humanist Association: Saudi Arabia’s New Law Defines Atheism as “Terrorism”, Bans All Criticism of Government
Humanist and secular organizations, as well as civil liberties and human rights groups around the world, have responded with outrage to the news that a new law in Saudi Arabia equates “atheism” with “terrorism”.

The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing criminalizes as “terrorism” all free expression on a vast range of topics, including advocacy of “atheist thought”, criticism of Islam as it is understood by the state, and any expression deemed to “insult the reputation of the state”.

Saudi Arabia is a current and recently-elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Details of the law

Article 1 of the “terrorism” law prohibits “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.” The law was introduced by royal decree without judicial oversight.

Domestic “terrorism” is defined in the decree as “any act” (expressly including non-violent acts) which among other things is intended to “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the security of society”. The terms are very broad, and and could be used to prosecute any criticism of the state, its king or officials, or the state conception of Islam.

The provisions of the “terrorism” law define and outlaw numerous acts and forms of expression as “terrorism”, including:
  • “Calling for atheist thought in any form”;
  • any disloyalty “to the country’s rulers”, or anyone “who swears allegiance to any party, organization, current [of thought], group, or individual inside or outside [the kingdom]“;
  • anyone who aids, affiliates, or holds “sympathy” with any “terrorist” organization as defined by the act, which “includes participation in audio, written, or visual media; social media in its audio, written, or visual forms; internet websites; or circulating their contents in any form”;
  • contact with groups or individuals who are “hostile to the kingdom”
  • and the article on “Seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion” prohibits all protest, without qualification as to its message or intent, by outlawing “calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form”.
From Care2: Brunei is Gearing Up to Start Stoning People to Death

by April 16, 2014
Brunei wants to stone more people to death, and it’s about to bring into force a new penal code provision that would allow it to do just that.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced in October of 2013 that he would move Brunei, a predominantly Muslim country, toward adopting Islamic Sharia law within the next six months. While Sharia was previously implemented for what are essentially family court disputes, the country officially had secular laws though many of those laws gave great deference to Sharia anyway.

At the time of announcing this change, the Sultan said that Sharia law would only be applied to Muslims. However, the United Nations and international human rights bodies feel that the law change will likely affect all of Brunei’s citizens, if not immediately then over time.

Making it a Crime to be Gay or to Insult Islam

The penal code change would make consensual same-sex sexual encounters a crime punishable by stoning. Homosexual “acts,” and by extension homosexuality, have long been a crime in Brunei. At the moment, though, someone convicted under the penal code can only serve a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Homosexuals are not the only group to be targeted by this law change, however. The revised penal code would proscribe the death penalty for the following (not an exhaustive list but one designed to give a good overview):
  • adultery
  • rape
  • murder
  • insulting any verses of the Quran and/or the Hadith
  • blasphemy
  • declaring that you are not a Muslim (apostasy)
While a lot of media attention has focused on how this penal code change would impact gay people, and for good reason, the penal code also seems particularly malignant to women’s rights, something that the International Commission of Jurists has already noted. Writing in commentary made back in January while the change was still being considered, the ICJ said that because of how a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam privileges men, women would therefore be “more [at] risk of receiving this penalty because they are most likely to be found guilty of adultery or having engaged in extra-marital sexual relations.”

From The Guardian UK: Egypt’s gay community fears government crackdown

Recent series of raids and long jail terms fan fears that gay people may be new target of authoritarian government

in Cairo
The Guardian, Thursday 17 April 2014

Egypt‘s gay community fears it is the latest target of the country’s authoritarian government following a series of recent raids on gay people.

Activists interviewed by the Guardian said they had documented up to nine raids across the country since October 2013 – an unusually high rate of arrests. Most significantly, at least seven raids have seen people arrested at home rather than at parties or known meeting places, raising concerns that the community is facing the start of a targeted crackdown.

The latest and most concerning raid saw four men seized from their east Cairo apartment on 1 April within hours of signing the lease, according to activists. Within a week, the four were given jail terms of up to eight years – sentences unusual for both their length and the speed at which they were handed down.

Interviewees warned against exaggerating the oppression levelled at what is a flourishing underground gay community. But almost all agreed the recent arrests had frightened and perplexed many of its members. One experienced activist, who identified himself as Mohamed A, said: “It has struck fear within many of us. I could be sitting with a couple of friends [at home], and these arrests could happen at any moment.”

While homosexuality is technically legal in Egypt, citizens suspected of being gay have long been the target of sporadic detentions – with those arrested often convicted of debauchery or insulting public morals. But some activists claim the recent arrests, which began at a gay meeting-place in a poor Cairo suburb last October, are happening at a faster rate than at any point since 2004.
Considering the horrific behavior on the part of so many Muslims in the name of their faith I have a hard time believing atheist infidels like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and  Salman Rushdie are simply Islamophobes meriting the condemnation of all correct thinking progressive people.  Actually I tend to see them as highly courageous people standing up to a force filled with numerous fanatics, who would consider murdering them an act of faith.