30 July 2014

I Really Die Not Need to Know This

While in the White House, Richard Nixon discussed panda sex. (shudder)

I guess that there is a downside to the most recent release of Nixon tapes.

A Bad Ruling for McDonalds, a Great Ruing for the Rest of Us

The National Labor Relation's board has ruled that the McDonalds corporation bears some of the responsibility for its franchisees working conditions:
The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators — a decision that, if upheld, would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.

Business groups called the decision outrageous. Some legal experts described it as a far-reaching move that could signal the labor board’s willingness to hold many other companies to the same standard of “joint employer,” making businesses that use subcontractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations.

The ruling comes after the labor board’s legal team investigated myriad complaints that fast-food workers brought in the last 20 months, accusing McDonald’s and its franchisees of unfair labor practices.

Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said he found merit in 43 of the 181 claims, accusing McDonald’s restaurants of illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities.

………

The fast-food workers who filed cases asserted that McDonald’s was a joint employer on the grounds that it orders its franchise owners to strictly follow its rules on food, cleanliness and employment practices and that McDonald’s often owns the restaurants that franchisees use.
I am not sure how wide the application of this ruling will be.

McDonald's exerts far more control over the operation of its franchisees than most other companies operating in this manner. Not only, as noted above, does McDonald's have physical ownership of many of the restaurants that its franchisees operate, but:
In the current cases, the fast-food workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union, said that McDonald’s had significant control over its franchisees’ employment practices, noting that it supplies many with software telling them how many employees to use at any given hour. The workers pointed to an instance in which McDonald’s even told a franchise owner that it was paying its employees too much. The average fast-food wage is about $8.90 an hour.
While it is conceivable that a company might want to prevent its franchisees from underpaying its workers to preserve the reputation of the brand, there is no such justification for warnings about overpaying its worker.

This is pretty much a prima facie case that McDonald's is an active co manager of those restaurants.

It appears to me that this level of direction is rare among the various franchise businesses, and I think that, as a result of this decision, it will become ever rarer, so this will likely only have minor impact.

Dear Morning Edition, the Problem is Not the Taliban it is the CIA

Over at NPR, they had a story about how hostility to vaccination efforts in Pakistan is hobbling the Polio eradication program.

The problem is that they finger the Pakistani Taliban as the source of the problem, while soft pedaling the fact that the whole country of Pakistan has been made hostile by the CIA's use of vaccinations in the operation to hund down Osama bin Laden:
The edict by the Islamic militants to ban immunization was in response to the CIA's setting up a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign in Pakistan. The covert operation was part of an attempt by the U.S. spy agency to verify whether Osama bin Laden was holed up in the city of Abbottabad.
A polio vaccination booth in Rawalpindi.

The polio problem in Pakistan right now is a result of the CIA's actions in the country, says , a prominent and moderate cleric in Pakistan. He personally accepts the polio vaccine. He encourages people at his mosque to get their kids vaccinated.

"But there are certain areas in Pakistan where the people resist [the polio vaccine] because the CIA used the polio campaign for intelligence purposes," he says.


Like many Pakistanis, Ur Rehman erroneously says the CIA operation against bin Laden used a polio campaign for cover, even though it actually used a fake hepatitis B campaign. "The one who can use hepatitis for intelligence," he says, "they can use polio for intelligence."
When (and I do mean when) Polio returns to the United States, and kids end up in iron lungs, it will be largely because of this operation.

Yet another reason why the US state security apparatus needs adult supervision.

A Tornado Ate My Homework

This is the lamest excuse ever for not filing a campaign finance report on time, but that is what Mississippi state senator, and Chris McDaniel's campaign manager, is using as an excuse of not filing here paperwork on time.

Is there anything that Chris McDaniels ever did that wasn't a fail?

Fascism is Back in Europe

In the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Fascism had as its philosophical basis the idea that liberal democracy had failed.

Well, the current President of Hungary, Viktor Orban, is making exactly same argument:
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples.

The global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” Orban said on July 26 at a retreat of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Baile Tusnad, Romania.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” Orban said, according to the video of his speech on the government’s website. He listed Russia, Turkey and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”

Orban, who was re-elected in April for a second consecutive four-year term, has clashed with the EU as he amassed more power than any of his predecessors since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, replacing the heads of independent institutions including the courts with allies, tightening control over media and changing election rules to help him retain a constitutional majority in Parliament.

………

Orban, who has fueled employment with public works projects, said this weekend that he wants to replace welfare societies with a “workfare” state. He has earlier said more centralized control was needed to confront multinational companies such as banks and energy firms, to escape from “debt slavery,” and to protect Hungarians from becoming a “colony” of the EU.

Orban said his “illiberal democracy” won’t deny the “fundamental values” of liberalism, such as “freedom.”
Am I the only one who think that Hungary in 2014 is looking a lot like Italy in 1924.

Not good.

When juxtaposed with the ECB working too hard at fighting imaginary inflation, though not to the extremes taken the German central bank in the 1930s, it's not tough to imagine Europe at war again before I die.

GDP Up in 2nd Quarter

GDP grew at a 4% annual rate in the 2nd quarter:
The United States economy rebounded strongly in the second quarter of the year, shaking off the negative effects of an unusually harsh winter and stirring hopes that it might finally be establishing a solid enough footing to put the lingering effects of the recession squarely in the past.

The Commerce Department, in its initial estimate for April, May and June, reported on Wednesday that the economy grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4 percent, surpassing expectations.

During the first quarter, output shrank at a rate of 2.1 percent, less than had been reported. The department had earlier said that first-quarter output fell 2.9 percent.
A lot of the growth is increases in inventory, and averaging the two, we are still looking at about an anemic 2% annual growth rate.

Meh.

Anyone Remember the Free PVTA Buses in the 1980s?

For those of you did not go to UMass, Amherst, Hampshire, Smith, or Mount Holyoke, or did not live in the 5 College area at that time, may be unaware that the local bus service, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), specifically, the UMass Transit System, had free buses.

The free fares are a bit more limited now, probably because of the increasing tight budgets at UMass, but it continues.

There were a lot of students who didn't own cars, and some of those students didn't die, because of this service.

I started to think of the PVTA buses, when I read this essay suggesting that we should make mass transit free:
In March, when a cloud of particle pollution settled across Western Europe, Paris took a radical approach. The Ile-de-France region introduced alternate driving days (odd-number plates one day; evens the next) and eliminated fares on local trams, buses, trains and subways.

Traffic dropped by nearly 20 percent in Paris; congestion on the Périphérique ring road fell by 30 percent at rush hour; large-particle pollution fell by 6 percent. Measured by the impact on the roadways, the emergency measures worked as intended.

And on the rails? Unfortunately, the open-gate policy meant that the transportation authority didn’t count how many travelers boarded trains, subways, buses and trams during the fare-free days. The city performed a huge experiment in transportation policy, and nobody bothered to watch.

It doesn’t matter much in context. We can’t expect the traffic-choked French capital to make a habit of such initiatives. Alternate driving days are an intolerable hassle for car-dependent commuters; lost fares and the provision of supplementary service to the tune of 600,000 seats on the Métro, the tramway and suburban rail system cost the region nearly $3.5 million per day. Fares cover nearly half the operating costs of the RATP, the state-owned transit operator, so eliminating them would put a tremendous hole in the annual budget.

And yet, Paris would have been a valuable case study. The consequences of eliminating transit fares remain surprisingly obscure. Can a fare-free policy transform a regional transportation picture? Can it pay for itself? Or is it merely a publicity gimmick that inflicts needless financial woes on local transit agencies?

Many people reject the idea out of hand, saying free rides are a problem, not a solution. But “free” transit, of course, is only as free as public libraries, parks and highways, which is to say that the financial burden is merely transferred from individual riders to a municipal general fund, a sales tax or local businesses and property owners. A free ride policy represents the culmination of a long shift from thinking of transit as a business sector — one that was quite profitable in its heyday — to considering it an indispensable public service.

………

For bigger cities, the principal motivation for scrapping fares is not to save money but to increase ridership, and harvest the associated positive externalities: less traffic and pollution, more parking and mobility. In the handful of American cities where such programs have been tried on a short-term basis, the ridership surges have been huge. When Topeka made transit free for May of 1988, ridership rose 98 percent. When Austin made transit free for the fall of 1990, ridership increased by 75 percent. A similar experiment in Asheville, in 2006, recorded a passenger surge of 60 percent.
I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of free fares, but I am kind of surprised that UMass Transit wasn't mentioned.  It's been going on for somewhere around 40 years.

I Just Threw Up In My Mouth

Watching Maddow, and she said, "Rand Paul, the Republican Party Frontrunner for the Republican Nomination in 2016."

President Aqua Buddha ……… Shudder.

Headline of the Day

Catastrophically Wrong Forecaster Dick Morris Is Reinventing Himself As A Financial Expert

Courtesy of Media Matters.

29 July 2014

Well, This is Prize

It turns out that the NRA's chief counsel, and close confident of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, is a murderer:
Shortly before dark on the evening of April 17, 1963, Robert J. Dowlut went looking for a gun inside the city cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Making his way through the headstones, he stopped in front of the abandoned Studebaker family mausoleum. He knelt by the front right corner of the blocky gray monument and lifted a stone from the damp ground. Then, as one of the two police detectives accompanying him later testified, the 17-year-old "used his hands and did some digging." He unearthed a revolver and ammunition. As Dowlut would later tell a judge, the detectives then took the gun, "jammed it in my hand," and photographed him. "They were real happy."

Two days earlier, a woman named Anna Marie Yocum had been murdered in her South Bend home. An autopsy determined she had been shot three times, once through the chest and twice in the back, likely at close range as she'd either fled or fallen down the stairs from her apartment. Two .45-caliber bullets had pierced her heart.

………

The following morning, Dowlut was charged with first-degree murder. A year and a half later, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. Before the judge handed down a life sentence, he asked the defendant if there was any reason why he shouldn't be put away. Dowlut replied, "I am not guilty." A day later, the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City registered Dowlut, now 19, as prisoner number 33848.

Less than six years later, Robert Dowlut would be a free man—his murder conviction thrown out by the Indiana Supreme Court because of a flawed police investigation. The court ordered a new trial, but one never took place. Dowlut would return to the Army and go on to earn college and law degrees. Then he would embark on a career that put him at the epicenter of the movement to transform America's gun laws.

Today, the 68-year-old Dowlut is the general counsel of the National Rifle Association. As the NRA's top lawyer, he has been a key architect of the gun lobby's campaign to define the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment. He helped oversee the NRA's effort to strike down Chicago's handgun ban in the 2010 Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago, and he is the longtime secretary of the organization's Civil Rights Defense Fund, which has spent millions assisting gun owners in court and sponsoring gun rights researchers. Dowlut's journal articles have been cited by federal judges and are quoted by pro-gun activists. Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the NRA's lobbying operation, has praised him as "a longtime distinguished Second Amendment scholar." Dowlut's behind-the-scenes legal work may have done as much to tighten the NRA's grip on gun policy as its blustery talking heads and provocative PR campaigns.
BTW, it's not just this guy, but also Harlon Carter, installed after the Cincinnati Coup at the NRA as Executive VP, who also murdered someone.

It really is remarkable just how much the intersection between groups "NRA leadership" and "law abiding citizens" is a null set.

If Mario Cuomo were Dead, He'd Be Spinning in His Grave

I am not a big fan of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (See my post F%$# Andrew Cuomo)

Well, in addition to his fervent retreat from anything resembling economic liberalism, unless it is of the Neoliberal variety, we now know that he's a corrupt hypocrite.

In the small change category, we have the fact that while he was a "crusading" Attorney General, his primary adviser for mortgage fraud by the banksters was a lobbyist for the mortgage banksters:
In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.

The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.


Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo's gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.

Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo's investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.

Cuomo's office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser's clients a year into his term as attorney general.

In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as "wide-ranging" came to little, even as he held one of the country's most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.
(emphasis mine)

Not surprising, though the story of how the denial of a Freedom of Information Act accidentally let the cat out of the bag to Pro Publica is prize.

The bigger story is how Cuomo set up an anti-corruption commission, and then shut it down when it began to point in his diriection:
With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.

The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.

Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,” she wrote.

The pulled-back subpoena was the most flagrant example of how the commission, established with great ceremony by Mr. Cuomo in July 2013, was hobbled almost from the outset by demands from the governor’s office.

………

While the governor now maintains he had every right to monitor and direct the work of a commission he had created, many commissioners and investigators saw the demands as politically motivated interference that hamstrung an undertaking that the governor had publicly vowed would be independent.

………

But a three-month examination by The New York Times found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.

Ultimately, Mr. Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission halfway through what he had indicated would be an 18-month life. And now, as the Democratic governor seeks a second term in November, federal prosecutors are investigating the roles of Mr. Cuomo and his aides in the panel’s shutdown and are pursuing its unfinished business.

………

Mr. Cuomo said early on that the commission would be “totally independent” and free to pursue wrongdoing anywhere in state government, including in his own office. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he said last August.

In a 13-page statement responding to The Times’s questions, Mr. Cuomo’s office defended its handling of the commission. It said the commission was created by and reported to the governor, and therefore he could not be accused of interfering with it.

While he allowed the commission the independence to investigate whatever it wanted, the governor’s office said, it would have been a conflict for a panel he created to investigate his own administration.
That last bit is, dare I say it, Nixonian in its phrasing.

Read the whole article, it's pretty long, and you cannot help but come away with the impression that Cuomo quashed an investigation because it came too close to him and his.

Rather unsurprisingly, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York has expressed similar concerns:
Federal prosecutors investigating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s shutdown of an anticorruption commission have subpoenaed the assistant to its former executive director to testify before a grand jury in Manhattan, suggesting that the criminal inquiry has moved to a new stage, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

Federal agents served the subpoena on the assistant, Heather Green, on Wednesday morning, appearing at her doorstep before 7 a.m., the people said. Ms. Green, who is not believed to be a target of the inquiry, worked as an executive assistant to the anticorruption panel’s former executive director, Regina Calcaterra, until Mr. Cuomo announced he was disbanding the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, on March 29.

The subpoena, according to two people who have seen it or been briefed on its contents, asked for documents and correspondence, including any communications with Mr. Cuomo and his senior aides. It also directed Ms. Green to appear July 28 to testify before a grand jury in Manhattan, the people said.

Separately, Mylan L. Denerstein, counsel to the governor, has agreed to be interviewed in early August by federal prosecutors about her involvement with the panel, one of the people said.

Mr. Cuomo created the Moreland Commission in July 2013, saying he wanted to root out corruption and reform state laws that for decades have enabled it. But he abruptly shuttered the panel in March after striking a deal with legislative leaders that netted only modest reforms.

The governor said at the time that in exchange for terminating the panel’s work, he had won tougher laws on bribery and corruption and improved enforcement of election law. But the action angered Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Bharara appeared on a radio show days later and, in an unusual move, sharply criticized Mr. Cuomo’s decision, saying his actions made it appear as though the governor had bargained away corruption cases as part of a political deal.
(emphasis mine)

Cuomo's opponent in the Democratic primary, Zephyr Teachout (her birth name, her parents are very bad people) has gone from demanding answers to calling for his resignation.

Political realities being what they are, Ms. Teachout has no chance of winning, and Cuomo is likely to win the general by at least 20 points, we will almost certainly see 4 more years of his conservative f%$#ery, but I think that he is now officially out of the running for President 2016, and hopefully forever.

If You Are Going to Piss on Art Modell's Grave, Take Your Penis Out

An irate Cleveland Browns fan urinated on Art Modell's grave.

The writer at the above link objects to this, because he feels it generates sympathy for Art Modell, the worst NFL team owner ever.

I disagree.

Why?
  • When the Colts moved to Indianapolis, Modell trademarked "Baltimore Browns.
  • For the nest 10 years, he blocked an expansion franchise from opening in Baltimore.
  • He repeatedly turned down Cleveland's offer for a new stadium before we announced his intention to move, and then blamed Cleveland repeatedly for "having to leave"
That being said, while I understand the need for some stealth, so I do not object to his showing up in a Raven's jersey, and then taking it off to reveal a Brown's Jersey*, but I do object to his method of urination: he used a catheter tube that ran down the leg of his pants to surreptitiously pee.

This      is      Wrong

If you are going to piss on someone's grave, you have to whip out your penis.

The brandishing of genitalia is an essential part of disrespect, as can clearly be observed when watching the behavior of Baboons and Soccer Hooligans.

If you war going with the whole catheter thing, you might as well just bring it in a F%$#ing jar.

It wasn't like they weren't going to catch you, you posted the vid to YouTube, and you are now facing up to 2 years in jail, so half measures just do not make sense.

*It was Lyle Alzedo's Jersey, but Alzedo only played about ⅓ of his career at Cleveland. He should have gone with someone who spent their entire career at the Browns, like Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Gary Collins, Ozzie Newsome, or Lou "The Toe" Groza.
Full disclosure, my father pissed on Huey Long's grave while in Louisiana.
I believe that some quantity of alcohol was involved.
This is not the weirdest thing that my dad has done.  While he was in the Navy, he was a Corpsman, he was also ordered to function as an HMO for the local brothels around the Navy base at Yokosuka, Japan, because of his CO deal with the fact that, "The base had the highest VD rate in the Pacific Theater." §
§Well, actually, he wasn't ordered to be an HMO for the local brothels, he was just told to, "Fix it", and that his CO, "Didn't want to hear anything more about it." Implicit in this was the unspoken thought that my dad could use the supplies of Penicillin, but that if he got caught, the CO knew nothing of it. Ah, the military life.  (He was not caught, and left with an honorable discharge)

God Bless the Satanists*

The Satanic Temple has demanded an exemption from state laws restricting abortion using the Hobby Lobby case as precedent:
The Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed some for-profit companies to claim a religious exemption to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, has sparked a heated debate over the definition of religious liberty and its role in modern society. At this point, even a Satantic cult has decided to weigh in.

The Satanic Temple — a faith community that describes itself as facilitating “the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty” — has launched a new campaign seeking a religious exemption to certain anti-abortion laws that attempt to dissuade women from ending a pregnancy. The group says they have deeply held beliefs about bodily autonomy and scientific accuracy, and those beliefs are violated by state-level “informed consent” laws that rely on misleading information about abortion risks.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Satanists point out, it strengthens their own quest to opt out of laws related to women’s health care that go against their religious liberty. “Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement.
Truth be told, their case is actually far stronger than Hobby Lobby's because they are objecting to forced state speech, which is far more significant from a constitutional perspective than an incidental requirement that a company provide full insurance coverage.

Well played.

*Yes, I know that will piss off Satanists, but what the hell!
Oops.

28 July 2014

The Demon Sheep Lady? Seriously?


No, Really, Carly paid to make this ad
Carly Fiorina is looking at running for President:
Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in California in 2010, is diving back into electoral politics.

For now, her work is focused on pushing back against Democrats' claim of a Republican-led "war on women" in the 2014 midterms. But her recent moves in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire have convinced some she's eyeing a bigger prize come 2016.

Fiorina slipped into the Granite State last week to promote her new political group, dubbed UP for "Unlocking Potential." Its mission is to engage women with new messages and combat the gaping gender gap that's hobbling Republicans in races up and down the ballot. In addition to headlining a breakfast last Thursday for more than 200 GOP activists in the business and political spheres, Fiorina attended a GOP gala the night before honoring Joe McQuaid, the conservative publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state's largest and most influential newspaper.

Jim Merrill, a top adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 New Hampshire campaign, is interpreting the largely under-the-radar moves as a sign of someone that's at least pondering a White House bid.

"I thought of it as a testing-the-waters exercise and she got a great response," Merrill says. “It was very clear to me she's someone taking the temperature of New Hampshire.”

It wasn't Fiorina's first trip to New Hampshire this year, either. She was the keynote speaker at the Northeastern Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua in March, when she declared, "The highest calling of leadership and of our nation is to change the order of things. It is time."
Carly Fiorina, who came to prominence as a senior executive responsible for sales at Lucent, where she was touted as a success, but it all imploded into a morass of shady accounting and fraud shortly after she left.

Then became CEO at HP, where her purchase of Compaq (and DEC, which had been purchased by Compaq) turned out to be largely a disaster, and when she was fired, employees at multiple locations of HP spontaneously singing "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead."

Finally, we have her "Demon Sheep" Senate campaign. (See the attached vid)

Damn!  The Republicans have a wicked thin bench for 2016!

A Couple of Interesting Perspectives on the War in Gaza

First comes the Yorkshire Ranter, who looks at the conflict, and draws some conclusions and their effects.

First is the explanation of why Hamas is using such an ineffective weapon system in their rockets, which cause damage only by happenstance.

The Ranter (IMNSHO correctly) explains that the rocket fire is suppressive fire, not firing for effect:
You could imagine that this is the physical expression of a sort of generalised venting of rage – randomly tossing ineffective bangs over the wall. But you’d be wrong both in the sense that it trivialises the rocketry’s effect on Israelis, and that it denies Palestinians’ agency and competence.

It’s too easy to point to the fact that they very, very rarely kill anyone and argue that in fact they are a bit puny and the Israelis should just man up and show some stiff upper lip rather than calling in artillery on the nearest school for the disabled. I have myself given in to the temptation before. The point isn’t destruction so much as suppression, the effect created by the fact of being under fire. And what they want to suppress is essentially the Israeli economy.

Remember that GDP is a flow concept – loaves out of a bakery, cars off a production line – not a stock concept like Scrooge McDuck’s treasure. Israeli GDP in 2013 was $286.8bn at purchasing power parity. We can usefully think of this as $32.6 million GDP per hour. While an air warning RED is in force, it is a good guess that economic activity is basically zero. Not quite, of course, the electricity is on, the phone network is up, and the government sector is more than busy. But as a rule, if you’re in an air raid shelter you’re not at work or doing much else than worrying. The Iron Dome close-in weapons system is a major commitment of complicated technology, a diversion of social resources, so the cost of air defence has to be offset against that. And the warning system, which MIT’s Ted Postol credits with protecting the population much more than Iron Dome, does so at the cost of putting more people under warning for longer.

So, you can see why they would go for range first. During this wave of conflict, the percentage of Israeli territory under warning has been as high as 75%, or $24.6m of foregone GDP per hour. A tiny commitment of additional materials per rocket provides a much bigger effect. Also, range requires “bigger” but not “better”, at least until the structural integrity constraints of the rocket are reached. A rocket is a container of propellant, so increasing its volume doesn’t require a proportionately greater quantity of materials. Another important reason to go bigger first is that it makes it possible to launch from anywhere in the Gaza Strip.
It should be noted in war, much of the weapons firing is suppressive fire, and as a suppressive weapon, the rockets are very effective, particularly since they are so cheap.

Rather than being an incoherent expression of rage, it is actually a relatively sophisticated, and rather effective, tactic.

His second, and far more troubling observation has to do with the rather non controversial conclusion that conflict and violence has the effect of radicalizing both societies.

My concern primarily has to do with the effect on Israeli society:
Here’s the point on the Israeli side. Palestinian rocket range and the vote for the Israeli extreme-right are strongly correlated; each ward to come under threat reports an increase of between 2 and 6 percentage points in the extreme-right vote (being the 95% confidence intervals). 
Something that has occurred during this conflict, which I have not observed before, is the hightened level of violence by Israeli Jews against Israeli Arab violence, including the lynching of Mohammed Abu Khdeir (burnt alive) simply for being Arab.

There is an element in Palestinian society that believes that they can eventually make the Israelis break, and I fear than they can eventually make the Israelis snap, and they go the route of Slobodan Milošević.

This worry leads directly to a commentary by noted Atheist Sam Harris, who maintains that Israel has the moral high ground in this conflict, even while he objects both to a religious based state, and religion in general, as an absurdity.


Basically, he engages in a thought experiment, where he tries to imagine what each side would do should they have the such overwhelming power that there would be no limits to their actions, and then he realizes that Israel is already in this position:
The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say “O Muslim, there’s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.” This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of the Palestinians. [Note: Yes, I know that not every Palestinian supports Hamas, but enough do to have brought them to power. Hamas is not a fringe group.]

The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews. 

And this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies. And this is something I discussed in The End of Faith. To see this moral difference, you have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it. 

What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question, because they can do more or less anything they want. The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? Well, it means that, when they drop a bomb on a beach and kill four Palestinian children, as happened last week, this is almost certainly an accident. They’re not targeting children. They could target as many children as they want. Every time a Palestinian child dies, Israel edges ever closer to becoming an international pariah. So the Israelis take great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants.  [Note: The word “so” in the previous sentence was regrettable and misleading. I didn’t mean to suggest that safeguarding its reputation abroad would be the only (or even primary) reason for Israel to avoid killing children. However, the point stands: Even if you want to attribute the basest motives to Israel, it is clearly in her self-interest not to kill Palestinian children.]

Now, is it possible that some Israeli soldiers go berserk under pressure and wind up shooting into crowds of rock-throwing children? Of course. You will always find some soldiers acting this way in the middle of a war. But we know that this isn’t the general intent of Israel. We know the Israelis do not want to kill non-combatants, because they could kill as many as they want, and they’re not doing it. 

What do we know of the Palestinians? What would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel if the power imbalance were reversed? Well, they have told us what they would do. For some reason, Israel’s critics just don’t want to believe the worst about a group like Hamas, even when it declares the worst of itself. We’ve already had a Holocaust and several other genocides in the 20th century. People are capable of committing genocide. When they tell us they intend to commit genocide, we should listen. There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. Would every Palestinian support genocide? Of course not. But vast numbers of them—and of Muslims throughout the world—would. Needless to say, the Palestinians in general, not just Hamas, have a history of targeting innocent noncombatants in the most shocking ways possible. They’ve blown themselves up on buses and in restaurants. They’ve massacred teenagers. They’ve murdered Olympic athletes. They now shoot rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. And again, the charter of their government in Gaza explicitly tells us that they want to annihilate the Jews—not just in Israel but everywhere. [Note: Again, I realize that not all Palestinians support Hamas. Nor am I discounting the degree to which the occupation, along with collateral damage suffered in war, has fueled Palestinian rage. But Palestinian terrorism (and Muslim anti-Semitism) is what has made peaceful coexistence thus far impossible.]
This from a guy who, "I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion."

I do differ with Mr. Harris a bit.

Specifically,. I do not think that it is self evident that the Palestinian leadership sees a Middle East without Jews as their perfect outcome.  Populist movements frequently having its leaders paying lip service to ideologies as a matter of convenience. (See Nelson Mandela and his affiliation with the South African Communist Party, and compare it to his behavior when he actually became President of South Africa)

So, the future proclivities of a Palestinian state are to my mind far more unknown than Sam Harris, though I am not hugely optimistic:  I believe that under the current environment, the chance that any Palestinian peace maker would suffer the same fate as Michael Collins is pretty high.

27 July 2014

And While We are on the Subject of Intelligence Misconduct

It seems that the CIA is spying on the emails of CIA whistle-blowers:
The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.

The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight.

The email related to allegations that the agency’s inspector general, David Buckley, failed to properly investigate CIA retaliation against an agency official who cooperated in the committee’s probe, said the knowledgeable people, who asked not to be further identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Once again, the US state security is completely out of control, and needs to be completely reorganized. (As in firing much of senior staff)

H/t Atrios

Deep Thought

I lost my glasses today.

After about an hour, I put on my old glasses, and made do.

I last remembered having them on before I took a shower, but they could not be found in the bathroom.

Then, later, I looked at the shelf above the towels, which is the logical place to put them.

There they were.

I hate it when I lose something because I have put it in a completely appropriate location.

He Could Always Read the Report from the Well of the Senate

Ron Widen (D-)R) is looking Congressional authority to declassify the CIA torture report:
A senior Senate Democrat is firing a warning shot at the White House against stalling the release of a report about the past use of torture by the U.S. intelligence community.

Sen. Ron Wyden is talking with his colleagues about the possibility of using a seldom-invoked procedure to declassify an Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture in the event the White House does not move ahead quickly.

Speaking with reporters on a variety of subjects Thursday, the Oregon Democrat referred to the Senate’s “Resolution 400″ — the Abraham A. Ribicoff-sponsored resolution that established the Intelligence Committee back in 1976.

Wyden said he was discussing invoking the resolution “in order to move this along if we have to, through the committee process, to get it declassified.”

………

Bringing up Senate Resolution 400 in conversations this week is a reminder from Wyden that the legislative branch would have recourse in the event the Obama administration stonewalls the release, a point made clear in the Senate manual:
“The select committee may, subject to the provisions of this section, disclose publicly any information in the possession of such committee after a determination by such committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure. Whenever committee action is required to disclose any information under this section, the committee shall meet to vote on the matter within five days after any member of the committee requests such a vote. No member of the select committee shall disclose any information, the disclosure of which requires a committee vote, prior to a vote by the committee on the question of the disclosure of such information or after such vote except in accordance with this section.”
Of course he would actually have to get a majority vote in the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is pretty unlikely, which is why I think that invoking the Constitutionally granted Congressional immunity might be the way to go, though this would almost certainly get Wyden tossed of the Intel Committee.

Headline of the Day

Lust in space: Russians lose control of gecko sex satellite

Insert "Sexual Outercourse" joke here.

Avatar, the Last Airbender, the Drinking Game

You take a drink every  time that character says, "Honor".



Needless to say, if you watch this compilation clip, and you are playing the game, you need to line the shots up in advance.

I would also suggest that you have an observer to dial 911 when the inevitable life threatening coma occurs.