Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Go ahead, Wayne, blame the 2-year-old

I double dog dare Wayne LaPierre and all the other gun nuts to say, in public, guns don't kill people while reading this story.

Wal-Mart parking lots are extremely violent places in gun nut states like Texas and Florida -- lots of carjackings, domestic assaults, robberies and gang shootings. Funny thing is, despite all the open and concealed carry laws, they are still violent. Dunno if there is a lot of crime in Idaho Wal-Marts but I feel safe at the Maui one.

Dok Zoom rounds up other holiday gun news, with mordant (pun intended) commentary.

UPDATE The Washington Post has a terrific -- that is, it will turn your stomach -- backgrounder on the mother who was shot with her own pacifier, with an O Henry "Gift of the Magi" holiday twist and everything. 

You will be unsurprised to learn that the gun nut grandfather/father-in-law considers the shooting just one of those things but is angry at people who suggest that in  well-regulated society his grandson did not have to kill his mother. Be very sure to follow the link highlighted as "grandstand."

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said. “… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”
But read the whole thing.


Even the people who sell penis substitutes are not stupid enough to want people around them with their PSs loaded and ready to shoot (this is the entrance to a gun store):

And in case you weren't reading the newspapers in 2014, Gary Legum has a partial roundup of what you missed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our racist Republicans

Is Rep. Steve Scalise a racist? Let's rephrase that. Is there any evidence he is not a racist?

This is kind of a bigger deal than the soft racism of most rightwingers. As House majority whip, Scalise is a playah.

Evidence that he is a racist: In 2002 he spoke to EURO, the rebranded Klan in Louisiana. It is difficult to imagine any politically active person in Louisiana (Scalise was a member of the Legislature) being unaware of EURO, which was hardly a reticent group.

Even if he was "young and disorganized."

I have to say that Republicans pick funny ways to defend themselves from charges like this: Our dear leader was disorganized and didn't have a clue what was going on around him.

Maybe Republicans should read newspapers.

The Post story is a classic. Scalise didn't know about what was going on in his own backyard but the minor league baseball team the Iowa Cubs did? (To be fair, the Cubs are owned by a retired newspaper editor, and he reads the papers.)

Even better was the defense by Rep. Steve King (an Iowa Dub):

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a leading conservative in the House, said in an interview Monday that he stood by Scalise and believed that many conservatives in the House’s hard-right bloc would do the same.
“Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners,” King said.
So tax collectors are the moral equivalent of racist agitators? Got it.

Scalise's own defense was even lamer, hard as that is to believe:

In a statement, Scalise’s spokeswoman, Moira Bagley Smith, emphasized that the then-state lawmaker was unaware at the time of the group’s ideology and mission. “He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question,” Smith said. “The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”

The idea that a Catholic would not be a racist is beyond funny, especially in Louisiana.

Also, if you are a guest speaker for a group, you are affiliated with it, even if you don't carry the card. Remember "fellow travelers," "pinkos" and guilt by association? I sure do, and it was rightwingers who used such tactics to ruin the lives of ordinary Americans by the thousands.

UPDATE Little Green Footballs rounds up much more about Scalise's longstanding racism and connections to David Duke. Keep scrolling.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Recycled satire

I said that after the "Sherlock" review RtO wouldn't review any more movies and I'm sticking to that. But I would like to recommend a forgotten movie from the greatest period of Hollywood satire (mid to late '60s) that has resonance today because of the caterwauling of the Cuban fascists and their rightwing friends.

The movie was "Popi" with Alan Arkin  and Rita Moreno and even iMDB is barely aware it exists.

  • Abraham is a Puerto Rican single parent with two boys. He is becoming very worried about them living in their run down neighborhood when one day he notices that Cubans who escape are lionized and given exceptional benefits. He thinks up a plot to have his sons washed ashore as cuban immigrants who will be adopted by rich anglos.
    - Written by John Vogel <>
I think it was the best Hollywood satire of that period (and nearly as good as my favorite film of all, "White Voices," which was Italian and is even more forgotten, although it was prominent enough to be reviewed by Time -- "one long leer," said the reviewer who was a dense as most Time reviewers).

Besides the content, I liked "Popi" because the satire was somewhat restrained, unlike most of the satires of that period like "Dr. Stangelove" and "The Day the Fish Came Out."

When the Cuban fascists moan, think about the lesson of "Popi."

And the other lesson, which you do not get from the movie but is very obvious -- America has always been more welcoming to fascists than to democrats.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Strange tales of outsiders looking in

One of the ideas that forms the underpinnings of RtO derives from a long-ago feature in Le Monde, which is the French equivalent of the New York Times. In the '70s, Le Monde ran a series of full-page profiles of "great cities of the world."

For the United States, it chose Chicago, then the second city. In explaining why they chose Chicago and not some other place, the editors gave several reasons, of which I remember only one, but I have been marveling about it over the past 40-some years: "Unlike American cities like Boston, Chicago was never devastated by a great fire."

(I looked it up, and indeed Boston was devastated by a big fire, but that was in the early 18th century when Boston was, by modern measurements, not even big enough to be a middling county seat.)

Is it possible, I wondered then and wonder now, that my notions about France's second city (Marseille, which I have never visited) are as screwy as Le Monde's notions about Chicago?

My answer was and is, yes.

I keep that in mind with everything I write that is not based on personal observation. Which has not prevented me from forming decided notions about faraway places, but I try to make sure they are based on good sources.

I bring this up because of a New York Times story about how the people who live in Iraq (who really shouldn't be called Iraqis) are splintering their country. RtO has, since its inception and in many ways, doubted that a place called Iraq has any beyond a purely notional existence. This has led me to disagree with people who have had experience of Iraq, like Rory Stewart.

Believe me, when I do that I like to have solid reasons. In the case of Stewart, some of the evidence came right out of his book. (It is remarkable how many people, like Beauregard Bear in Pogo who could write but couldn't read, either don't read or do not understand the books they write.)

One of the joys of reading Stewart is his naïve restatement of the obvious. Early on, he decided that the approach of the Coalition Provisional Authority -- trying to deal with and amalgamate various former underdog factions (few of which had any higher ambition than being overdogs for a while) -- was wrong. Stewart thought the CPA should have worked through the sports leagues, the only organizations in the area that cut across all factions.

Do I have to say that if the only thing you have in common is soccer, you don't have the makings of a nation?
I wrote that in June 2008, very early in the run of RtO. It holds up well, does it not? (That review seems also to have been the first time I advocated, in print anyway, a free and independent Great Kurdistan, a theme I have returned to many times. That looks good, too, all these years later, does it not?)

All this leads up to a startling, if not surprising to me, admission by someone thought to be (by herself and others) a leading observer of Iraq society, Phebe Marr.

Allah knows she has had sufficient time to get it right, having studied Iraq since 1957. Still, she got it wrong:

“It never occurred to me when I wrote this that it would be a question if Iraq stays together,” said Ms. Marr, who is working on a new edition.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What I DON'T want for Christmas

I mean, besides Bill O'Reilly's seasonal attack of the vapors.

I don't want beer-favored soda pop.

Keep it, Santa

I had never heard of this until spotting it among the Christmas candy and packaged plum puddings at a supermarket last week. After carbonated water, the main ingredient is sugar, flavored with hops and malt. It sounds awful.

Wikipedia says it has been around since 1910 and displaces Coca-Cola during the yuletide in Sweden. I have never been to Sweden but I have a Christmas album by the Swedish tenor Christer Sjogren that includes -- I kid you not -- "Green, Green Grass of Home" and "Dixie."

As a tradition, it beats O'Reilly attacking people for wishing strangers "Happy holidays," but not by much.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cliff Slater was right

New price $500,000,200
Another post cockaroached from my commercial blog at

Honolulu rail transit is going to be a disaster. It is no surprise that the cost overrun is already estimated at $500 million.
Still worse, Honolulu is thinking of plundering TheBus to cover TheRail. Honolulu once had a good bus service. No longer. And raiding the modernization fund will just destroy what’s left of it.
Extending the excise tax surcharge to forever for Oahu is also under consideration.
Expect someone in the Legislature to propose extending it to the Neighbor Islands.
Note to Joe Souki: Do not allow it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mr. President, tear down that pipeline!

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post has a weekly feature on "Who Had the Worst Week in Washington." I don't think much of it; it's part of the inside-the-Beltway self-preening mechanism, and one of the numerous features that make the Post sound more childish than some of its competitors.

But even though I don't read it, as a subscriber to the Post, I know who Cillizza picks, the same way I know which Kardashian is in crisis this week: because I see the headline. Last week, in one of the more embarrassing journalistic pratfalls of 2014, Cillizza declared that Barack Obama had had the worst YEAR in Washington.

Obama then scored his penalty kick right in Putin's breadbasket, reveled in glowing economic reports and jiu-jitsu'ed the Republicans on appointments in the lame duck session of Congress. The opposition?

They managed to irritate the Latino voters, again (and they probably voted to repeal Obamacare though I didn't see that reported, but they do that an average of once a week, so they probably did).

However, I did not come here just to jeer at Chris Cilliza. I came to state what is obvious: The people who really had the worst week in Washington were the fascist lovers in the American rightwing. (Not all rightwingers are fascists but all fascists are rightwingers.)

Rachel Maddow also noted part of it. With her staff she was able to do what would have taken me days and days: Assemble a gallery of love-notes to the man she called "J. Alfred Putin" by various American fascists and fellow travelers. These ranged from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to various blowhards at Fox.

Maddow professes to find the love affair between American rightwingers and Putin puzzling, but she knows a lot of history and I suspect she really isn't all that surprised. After all, she included a photo of Putin with his shirt off, and I am sure she knows which other fascist who was the darling of the American right liked to take off his shirt for the masses.

No, I don't mean Clint Eastwood. This one:

(Digression: I had not thought of this before, but it is odd that that the man who introduced shirts into the vocabulary of politics was so eager to doff his.

(As Barbara Tuchman relates in a hilarious passage in "The Guns of August" about how the chief of staff of the Prussian Army died in his tutu (no, really), there is always a strong strain of suppressed homoeroticism and wishing to be dominated by a masterful, take-charge guy among rightwingers.)

(Query: We know Putin considers himself knowledgeable about history. Did he model his decamisadoismo on Mussolini or is it just a case of like minds thinking alike?)

It is amusing to note that -- as Maddow mentions in passing but does not highlight -- it was the rightwing hero Putin and not the leftwing demon Obama who canceled a pipeline last week. I swear, you can't make this stuff up.

In other news of American fascism, Obama stuck one in the eye of the Cuban fascists by threatening to normalize relations with Cuba. Younger Cuban Americans apparently thought, "About time" if they thought anything at all, but the older ones remained true to their anticommunism.

It is only restating the obvious to note that anyone who fled Cuba after Castro turned it left did not flee the equally antidemocratic but rightist despot Batista. Few -- perhaps none -- of the Cubans who flooded south Florida and poisoned its politics for the past half century were democrats.

They had no problems with fascism.

Curiously, the paladin who chose to snatch up the falling banner of Cuban-American fascism as it was falling toward the ground was Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the very, very few Cuban-Americans without the ancestral fascist taint.

Although Rubio's own version of his family history attempted to link it to the rest of the fascist diaspora, reporters have shown that his parents were apparently not political. They left Cuba during Batista's fascist regime but not to get away from him. They just thought it would be easier to grow rich in America and they were right. But not far right.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Legitimate rape' part deux

You know how they say that all publicity is good publicity (except maybe around Sony Pictures)? Missouri, then, must be in hog heaven, publicity-wise.

“I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed,” Brattin says. “That’s just common sense.”
Brattin later said his use of the phrase "legitimate rape" was in a different sense than one-time Missouri senate candidate Todd Akin's use.

Who knew that the Show-me State was full of such subtle thinkers?

(Also, isn't capitalism the greatest? You cannot push around an American capitalist, even if you are just a shadowy generator of digital pathways. No sirree


The idiot wasn't kidding and he wasn't misinterpreted.

Safety v. risk

Sometimes I worry that RtO is repetitive. I have put up something over 2,000 posts since early in 2008, and I don't have 2,000 ideas, nor do I know about 2,000 things.

When I was a reporter, I didn't worry about redoing stories, because our readership churned so much (what with people moving in and out, dying and growing up) that I figured that any story more than four years old couldn't have been seen by half my current readers. And -- let's be frank -- most of the other half had forgotten it.

Blogging is, or may be, different. I don't know. But I do worry about driving off readers by too much repetition.

But perhaps I worry too much. In the early days of RtO, I wrote a number of posts trying to explain the difference between a "risk" bank and a "safe" bank. The idea is not complicated or deep, but as we learned in October 2008, most bankers don't understand it. (Readers of RtO learned it even earlier, as I had been hammering the idea all summer and predicting the crash. Roubini got famous, I didn't. Readers who heeded my mantra in the summer of 2008 -- conserve cash -- probably saved themselves a lot of grief.)

It has been years since I've written about risk banks and safe banks. (I had actually been lobbying local investors on the subject back before there was an RtO -- even before there was an Internet -- as a method of driving local economic development. But no one with money took it seriously.)

It turns out that the lesson of 2008 was not learned by bankers and not learned by rightwing politicians. Imagine my surprise.

I recommend Dave Hellings' piece in the Kansas City Star. I'll even say his explanation of the difference between a risk bank and a safe bank is clearer than any of my attempts ever were.

A swap is often compared to insurance — or, critics say, a bet. A lender pays a premium to a third party, who must pay the lender back if a loan goes sour.
If that third party misjudges too many loans, though, and too many loans default, he loses the bet and the money runs out, leaving the lender unprotected. In 2008, many swaps designed to insure risky loans collapsed, and lending banks turned to the government for help.

Read more here:
And remember: unregulated markets crash.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Soft power works


From time to time I copy a post from my Kamaaina Loan blog here. Like now. And mainly just to needle the rightwing dimwits who were sure weak-kneed Obama was not warlike enough to earn respect in the rest of the world like, say, Dick Cheney.

Dick Cheney, who around the world doesn't respect him?

It seems pretty obvious from here that Obama's policy of using sanctions -- which never work, right? -- is working. Whether that is an unblemished good thing is an open question but it's a lot cheaper than starting wars and losing them. Now to copy myself:
When asked about the direction gold will take, Big Rich always says, “It will go up, or it will go down, or it will stay the same.” Seldom does it do both so enthusiastically during one 24-hour period than it did Monday and today, however. As Bloomberg News reports:
Gold rebounded from yesterday’s biggest drop this year as investors sought a haven amid turmoil in emerging market economies and falling commodities.
Russia’s ruble plunged to a record low after the country’s largest interest-rate increase in 16 years failed to revive confidence in the currency. The Turkish lira also tumbled to an all-time low.
Your Christmas (or Hanukkah) present is you don’t have many Turkish lira. Lucky you.
(Silver did not get the same kind of love. When nervous people with money look for comfort, they don’t look to silver — usually.)
The New York Times has much more about why gold did the big turnaround. It’s the ruble. It was less than 20 years ago that Russia defaulted, bringing down Long-term Capital Management and its two Nobel prize-winning advisers who didn’t understand that things can change on a dime — or 10 kopecks.
The economic news had another victim not mentioned in the news reports: Obama haters. Remember how they were sure that Obama’s “soft power” tactics were making the United States a pitiful has-been? Well, the five countries that are subject to US (and to some extent international) economic sanctions are all on the verge of economic collapse: Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba.
It might not be a great idea to collapse countries with nuclear weapons, but the sanctions were meant to have an effect and they are having it.
As always, Kamaaina Loan is ready to buy or sell gold for you at whatever the day’s price is. We don’t care about the ruble.
#mauipawn #mauiretail
UPDATE Wednesday

For a moment there, I thought I had found a source ready to credit Obama's foreign policy for its success.  Matt O'Brian's lede was promising:

A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.

But then he went off to write about something else. That something is worth reading: Russia is caught in a classic liquidity trap.

Individuals, firms and even sectors can get caught that way, but when it happens to a whole national economy (at least under modern conditions), it is almost always the result of national government policy. The Republicans did it to America in the 1920s and again in the 2000s, and as we learned -- or, some of us, didn't learn -- both times, a deflationary spiral is almost impossible to deal with.

That's why you want to accept plenty of perhaps otherwise suboptimal conditions to avoid one.


Paul Krugman has cogent comments (all from an interior Russian perspective, nothing about US policy), but being a city boy he leaves out Russia's intractable problem: food.

Putin, also a city boy, has done nothing about it and perhaps nothing can be done (although I think something could). The tsars couldn't do it, the peasants on their own couldn't and the Bolsheviks couldn't. All at least tried.

The USSR did not fall because Reagan scolded Gorbachev. It failed because it could never devise a workable agricultural policy. It increased grain production enormously -- faster even than its very rapidly growing population -- but it was very costly grain. Eventually, the uncovered costs emptied the Russian fisc.

To some extent Putin did the same with oil. Some years ago, it was freely predicted that Russian petroleum production was going to contract. It did not. But its costs were uneconomic compared with efficient producers.

Oil is a funny thing. For longish periods even inefficient producers can appear to be getting rich. But not indefinitely.

(In a peculiarly Russian wrinkle, too much of the grain was used to make vodka with terrible social consequences. Lucky for Russians, you cannot drink oil.)

A very, very bad week for gun nuts

It was a very, very bad week for America’s gun nuts. And since it was the anniversary of the Newtown slaughter of the innocents, decent Americans were often thinking about gun nuttery.

The gun nuts did not disappoint.

Working backward, I was having a late lunch in a redneck joint (pulled pork, cole slaw, dirty rice and a Diet Dr Pepper, can’t get more redneck than that) yesterday, and the teevee over my head was tuned, of course, to Fox. I couldn’t hear but the screen text read: Hostage Standoff Raises Questions about Australia’s Gun Laws.

Well, actually, no, among decent people the Sydney kidnapping did not raise any questions about Australia’s gun laws, which have resulted in 0 -- that’s zero, nil, nada, not any -- slaughters of innocent children since their passage about 15 years ago -- in response to Australia’s version of Newtown.

It will come as a surprise to no decent person that although three towns near Philadelphia were being searched for a gun nut who had slaughtered six members of his ex-wife’s family, Fox was NOT suggesting: Pennsylvania Manhunt Raises Questions about America’s Gun Laws.

You will not be surprised either to learn that the National Rifle Association had no comment on its website about Pennsylvania Manhunt, only an ad for it “exciting new brand,” NRA Tactical. I can imagine who is going to be excited about that:

Kory Watkins, leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, who this week called for overthrowing the gummint (this was his response to news that a member of his group had murdered her husband and his daughter):

“On Saturday the president of a Texas open-carry group called for like-minded followers to join him in marching on Washington to “arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country” at gunpoint.
“Saying that voting ‘is not working,’ Kory Watkins, president of the Open Carry Tarrant County, wrote on his Facebook page: ‘Have you ever thought we might just need to organize a very large group of our own people. Like 200 from each state so we can march armed to DC take over the city, arrest the bankers, crooked politicians and restore liberty here in our country? I’m not scared. I mean really… and waiting is not working!’ ”
Watkins is sorta famous for dragging his young daughter away from a Sonic because it was “not safe” because Kory Watkins was asked not to carry his semiautomatic penis substitute in.

Do any of the gun nuts who read RtO want to argue that Kory Watkins is the kind of centered, stable personality who should be allowed to go anywhere with his loaded gun? (There are gun nuts reading; you will meet one shortly.)

Well, if Kory Watkins is NOT a raving lunatic, then there should be no safer place in the country than a gun store in Tarrant County. Thus it is hard to explain this news from Ft. Worth:

“Fort Worth police are looking for the person who shot and killed a clerk at a gun store.
“Police say the man was shot multiple times Saturday evening at the Military Gun Supply store and was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Police are trying to identify a person of interest seen in video footage from the store.”

Whenever I call gun nuts gun nuts, one (or more) of them whine. They resent being classed with other crazy people. So let’s finish with a couple of examples (in addition to Kory Watkins) of ammosexuals being NOT CRAZY. First, G. Baker, writing a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle:

“Regarding ‘Want to know what grand jury will decide in Ferguson? Look to Harris County,’. . . the author is implying that a police officer should give thugs of this world th benefit of the doubt. Having police officers in my family, I can tell you that is not how I feel. The suspect doesn’t do exactly as you ask? Shoot.”

And then there is Colin, a reader of RtO, who is also sane and reasonable, as you will quickly see  from reading this paragraph from a longer e-mail:

“Oh and your rants about gun owners, come on. Your so tough the way you talk. I mean living on Maui is such a dangerous place and you do it with out a firearm, how do you manage? How do you think you would fare in Fergusson. They would eat you alive! You would wish you had a gun for protection, I wish you wouldnt so there would be one less of you to spew your word vommit. Hey do you know that more people are bludgeoned to death each year than shot with rifles? Do you know that your government just put out a report that they estimate that between 500,000 and 2,000,000 people have been saved by firearms?? NO you libtards dont want that fact known, it destrpys your narrative. Maybe before you go popping off in your little bubble you realize that their is a real world out there that people are trying to survive in and enjoy the security of having a firearm and that includes police, fire, doctors, lawyers, etc. No your just a big fat stupid libtard popping off his mouth on  a little tiny island of la la land!

“Hey Mele Kalikimaka and go Fuck yourself!!”

As Wayne Lapierre says, an armed society is a polite society.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Malaria is still the king of diseases

From The New York Times:

The World Health Organization reported steep declines in malaria cases and deaths compared with 2000 in a report released early Tuesday, saying the progress was particularly notable in Africa, where the disease is most prevalent. But the W.H.O. coupled the news on malaria with a warning that it could worsen again in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries worst hit by the Ebola virus, which has overwhelmed their public health systems. In its World Malaria Report 2014, the W.H.O. said the malaria mortality rate fell by 47 percent worldwide and by 54 percent in the Africa region between 2000 and 2013. It attributed the improvement largely to advances in diagnostic tests as well as increases in the use of insecticide-treated bed nets and effective drug therapies. Malaria was responsible for about 584,000 deaths worldwide last year. While the scope of Ebola pales in comparison, it is far deadlier. In the W.H.O.’s latest Ebola update, on Monday, it reported 17,800 cases, including 6,331 deaths, since the outbreak began early this year.
Still 100 times more deadly than Ebola fever, even with the improvements. It is  noteworthy, also, that the new, lowered death count is higher than the lower bound of the generally accepted estimates of 500,000-1,000,000.

Most of the dead are babies and infants in areas without doctors, clinics or modern medicine. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Open carry? Hell, yeah!

What could possibly go wrong?

Open Carry Tarrant County (that's Fort Worth) have recently been the poster children of Gun Nut Nation. Who can forget the self-shot video in which a leader of OCTC dragged his daughter away from a Sonic drive-in because (in his words) "it's not safe" because Sonic asked them not to bring their firearms? (I cannot find a link to the video because I am not going to waste a lot of time on them.)

You know where else is not safe? The homes of Open Carry Tarrant County members.

 The suspect has been involved in area open-carry activities and has this quotation on her Facebook page: “Sometimes removing some people out of your life makes room for better people.” Her profile photo shows her aiming a gun.
Plenty of room in  her life now that's she's blown away her husband and his daughter.

OCTC's Facebook page has nothing to say about it.

Numbers of people have already stated the obvious, so no  need for RtO this time: It takes only a moment for a good guy (gal in this case) with a gun to become a bad gal with a gun.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, you could, but your version would probably not be as rich in irony, stupidity and evil.

Read more here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Go ahead and cheat. It's legal

The 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals says so.  Nut graf:

“Although the government might like the law to be different, nothing in the law requires a symmetry of information in the nation’s securities markets,” the appellate court wrote, an apparent acknowledgement of the unfairness of trading stocks.

Remember when George Bush and the Republicans wanted to destroy Social Security and give all your pension money to those guys? Now you know why.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A humanitarian lesson

If you are not a subscriber to the New York Times and you've used up your free monthly views (Does the Times still have those? I am a subscriber, so I don't know), you should get one of the 99-cent teaser signups just to read this.

This is the funniest, saddest, weirdest news story of the year. Nut graf:

Cliff Sloan, the State Department envoy who negotiates detainee transfers, expressed gratitude to Mr. Mujica in a statement. Several other South American countries, including Brazil, Chile and Colombia, motivated by news of the Uruguay deal, had opened talks about potentially taking in some low-level detainees as well, but were watching would what happen.

“We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries,” Mr. Sloan said. “The support we are receiving from our friends and allies is critical to achieving our shared goal of closing Guantánamo.”
So Uruguay, which must be about 149th in the ISIL hit list, is sticking up its head to take some low-level jihadis (or not, who knows?) off our hands. I hope they don't get bombed for their trouble.

Next time some 100% 'Murrican yammers on about how we are the greatest, most helpful country that ever was, you might mention to her that Uruguay took in Guantanamo prisoners when the Congress (largely but not entirely the Republican part) is so terrified that it will not allow any of them to be brought into the United States in chains for trial.

This despite the fact that the several terrorism suspects who have been brought in for trial have successfully been tried. Leonie Brinkema, who presided over several of those trials, is a smallish, gray-haired woman, and she is not afraid to judge terror suspects. (I recall her saying as much at a judicial conference in Kaanapali, back in my reporting days; it seems a long time ago.)

But there is no more pitiful, quivering puddle of self-staining fear than an open-carrying, Second Amendment-lovin', kill-'em'-all-and-let-God-sort-them-out coward than a superpatriot.

FUN FACT: Can you name all the countries that the benevolent United States has not yet invaded?

NOT SO FUN ANSWER:    “Andorra, Bhutan and Liechtenstein – those are the only three of the United Nations-recognized 194 nations that the U.S. has not invaded,” says Christopher Kelly, co-author with British historian Stuart Laycock of “America Invades,”, a global tour of Americans’ military impact around the world.

(I cannot confirm that and suspect that they are using a broad definition of invade, but it's right to a first approximation.)

Recall that the landing on the moon, which some (but not RtO) have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of, was achieved only because America welcomed in hundreds of Nazi murderers (in Operation Paperclip).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The party of family values

Common scold
If the Republicans are the party of family values, as they claim, why do they not embrace the Obamas? There has not been a First Family that displayed the homelitic, Readers Digest and Norman Rockwell style of family attributes in the White House since . . .  well, since ever.

To outward appearances, Mr. and Mrs. Obama are deeply in love, and also a matched team in furthering his career. The daughters, Malia and Sasha, seem to be polite, good students, warmly attached to mom and dad. Possibly Malia, who is around 13, throws tantrums over wanting to go steady and screams at Michelle, “You never loved me!” in the privacy of the family quarters, but it seems unlikely.

We may contrast this almost-too-perfect script from a Frank Capra movie with the train wrecks of domesticity the GOP has served up over the years. While I heard of no blemishes on the family image of the Romneys (aside from the dubious business morality of the pater familias), take the Palins, puh-leeze: Nobody but nobody ever worked the family values-scam harder than the floozy Sarah Palin with her floozy daughter, drunken son and all-round battlin’, griftin‘ mob of sanctimonious phonies.

Then there was horndog McCain, nobody’s model of marital fidelity. And before that the Bush IIs, with their drunken lout of a father who could not hold a job and their out-of-control drunken daughters.

The Bush Is were scandal-free but not very close. When Bush I needed a family portrait for political purposes, he could not get his children to gather for the photographer, so he created a clumsy forgery.

And who can forget the Reagans, paragons of all old-fashioned virtues, except for Ron Jr. working out his daddy issues on the teevee and Patti working out her daddy issues by taking off all her clothes and making soft porn films.I do not usually pay attention to the domestic affairs of political leaders. It does not have to affect their ability to operate -- FDR’s sham marriage and the misadventures of his sons did not prevent him from being the most effective president of the 20th century. (With Nixon, the dynamic apparently ran in the other direction; his political life made his wife’s life miserable. One wonders whether a loving and supportive wife would have buffed out some of the vindictive hatefulness in the man, but probably it wouldn’t have. Sociopaths are resistant to love.) But an otherwise trivial event blew up over the last week that really makes the question -- why don’t the Republicans admire the fine family values of the Obamas? -- insistent.
Dressed for church

A minor league, but entirely typical, Republican operative, Elizabeth Lauten, launched a weird attack on the behavior and appearance of Sasha and Malia at the pardoning of the turkeys. Lauten probably didn’t have that many readers but the Internet is a multiplier.

And her remarks were truly weird. She criticized the girls for dressing like they were going to a bar. In fact, as anyone can see, they were dressed either for church or the mall. Or maybe school. You might imagine that Lauten hasn’t ever been to a bar, but as we will see, that is not so.

More subjective was her rant that the girls seemed bored and showed a lack of respect. Lack of respect for a turkey pardoning? Say it ain’t so!

I watched the entire 5-minute film of the event on Post TV and while it did not show any eyerolling, the camera wasn’t on the girls most of the time. I have no trouble imagining that two girls, 13 and 16, rolled their eyes at some of the president’s corny jokes. “Come on, Dad!”

Or that they were bored. So what?

Lauten later removed her post but the Internet never forgets.

Subsequent to her apology and resignation, she scrubbed her FB page, but the Internet is not only retentive but cruel.

It turns out that when Elizabeth Lauten was Sasha’s age she was robbing Belk’s although unlike Mike Brown, she was not shot to death for it. And she does know what the inside of a bar looks like. Her own Twitter feed had a picture of her blowing a longneck.

Stay classy, Elizabeth.

It will come as no surprise that the Republicans, instead of trying to put Elizabeth Lauten as far behind them as possible, could not refrain from complaining that Democrats did worse, although they could not show any instance of it.

So, back to the original question: Why doesn’t the party of family values embrace the wonderful family values of the Obamas?

I can think of only one possible reason: the Obamas are black.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The real deal on immigration

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post has written a lucid, thoughtful, well-informed and entirely wrong-headed column on immigration.  It's so thoughtful you should read it anyway.

But let's state the obvious: The immigration situation -- I will not call it a problem, because to the people who matter, it isn't one -- was created by American business practices. American business managers -- enough to count -- don't want any changes to a situation that provides them with plenty of cheap, abusable workers. And easily exploitable customers.

It isn't a party issue. Exploiting bosses are as likely to be Democrats as Republicans.

If you know your American history, you will recall that the influx of cheap, abusable workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused endless anguish among the WASP elite who ran things in  those days. They worried -- and they were correct -- that it would change America in ways that would dethrone them. But they needed cheap labor, and business' desire for cheap, easily controlled labor has always been paramount. That's why business liked -- and still likes -- slavery, as we saw in Germany and Japan not long ago and can still find in places like Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic.

But, some readers will object, what about the restrictive immigration laws of 1924? Business was never riding higher; if you are right, Harry, how did that pass?

Because it allowed sufficient cheap workers to come in. Half a million Germans, fleeing violence and depression, supplied industry with its workers. (Almost all returned to Germany after Hitler created jobs, so we had to kill them, but our corporations benefitted from their labor in the meantime.) Green card exceptions supplied western and Midwestern agriculture. The losers were Southern farmers, but before the loss of black workers to the North and Midwest became acute, the Great Crash drove the ex-sharecroppers back.

A lot of people are making easy money off our so-called broken immigration system. I recently came across a copy of "Autos USAdos" magazine, published weekly in Houston. It is similar to the Maui Bulletin in that it advertises cars, except they are all used cars, and the free weekly is 200 pages, on slick paper in full color.

With around 20 cars per page, that's 4,000 cars. If the magazine helps sell 200 of those cars a week, that's around $2 million-plus per week.

There are "especiales de contado" -- cash deals. (None over $10,000, to avoid having to make money-laundering reports to the feds.)  But financing is available, too: "no seguro social, no licencia, no credito" -- no problemo. Others say, "sin papeles, sin aseguranza." Some will take pesos.

No problemo indeed. CarTex advertises "5 minutos y estas aprobado!"

I guess those guys didn't take any lessons from the liar loan epidemic of the early 2000s. And why should they? Easy money.

I haven't seen one of those contracts, but you can bet the fees are outrageous.

When Emma Lazarus saw Lady Liberty raising her lamp beside a "golden door," it was golden all right, but not for the immigrant.

UPDATE: And at the other end of the political spectrum from thoughtful and well-informed, we have the Tea Party.  But a Palin v. McCain Senate race would be fun.

I note the absence in all the antiObama screeching of any discussion of how to deal with visa overstayers, who make up 40% of illegal immigrants. (Even Obama spoke only of making the Mexican border more like the Berlin Wall, although it is true that his approach would apply to sneakers-in however they got here; while it is possible that his gesture toward more border security was an insincere sop to the Tea Party racists who are interested only in keeping brown people out. In any case, I could have told him that gesture would earn him no credit so he could have saved his breath.)

The Times says, blandly:

What started five years ago as a groundswell of conservatives committed to curtailing the reach of the federal government, cutting the deficit and countering the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party has become largely an anti-immigration overhaul movement.

That implies that the movement's members now are the same as the ones who started it; but the TP was quickly taken over by Bircher/racists; and the original gold bugs, who are still there, have been swamped.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Into the mouths of babes

RtO has had harsh things to say about gun nuts -- who are, after all, all gun owners, so far as outsiders can tell -- and all of them were deserved. But nothing I can say is as damning as what the gun nuts themselves say, when the deal goes down, as it does once an hour or more.

It begins with a very nice man that you would want living next door, Jon Holzworth. He did this:

Jon Holzworth, of Lake Stevens, said he is not a big advocate of open carry. “I’d rather people not know I carry, because I don’t want people to judge me based on the fact that I own a firearm,” he said.
But he showed up Wednesday with a gun on his hip, “because we’re here at this meeting to protest the protesters for not supporting Starbucks.”
Curiously, for someone who doesn't want people to judge him because he owns a firearm, he has this notice on his door:

Notice the image of a pistol hanging from the sign

 And this on his car:

And, soon to be ironic, this:

According to Flock the NRA, Holzworth had this to say about tots and guns:

Teach your children young I say, and you will have a child that RESPECTS and is SAFE with a firearm

How young? He doesn't say, but sheriff's investigators say he left his 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old alone in a locked room with a firearm. What could possibly go wrong?

The 4-year-old shot Holzworth's son in the mouth. The loudmouth daddy seems not to have been available to reporters, but the family that shoots together shoots off its mouth together.

Brother-in-law PJ Thayer, also a professional gun nut, drags a (probably reluctant) God into it:

"We believe it was point blank shooting in the mouth, straight back into his face, that bullet stopped before it went to his brain," Uncle PJ Thayer said. "I have no question God's hand was on my nephew. A handgun at point blank range on a three year's old skull, there's gotta' be something at work there and we're confident there was."
And all the other thousands of toddlers shot to death in this country, God didn't give a hoot for them.

Uncle PJ has more confidence in gun owners than RtO does:

"I'm a concealed gun owner myself, but it's either on my person or it's in a safe. There's no way a child can get a hold of it," Thayer said. "I just would like to tell people that if you have a weapon in your house, if it's not on your person, it needs to be locked up."
Thayer said his sister, Michael's mom, wasn't around at the time of the shooting.
"She wasn't home, she left her son in the care of his dad," Thayer said. "This would have never happened if she was home."
I will bet money that a search of Uncle PJ's house will turn up a loaded firearm, probably on the nightstand, and probably another close to the front door, and another close to the back door.

Because gun nuts are frightened. Not that they might shoot a neighbor after mistaking him for a prowler (see "We don't call 911" sign), or that someone might get shot inside their home. They are frightened of "others," froghtened to go unarmed into a coffee shop.

Because, as Jon Holzworth says, "Everyone shoots." He apparently blames "our cowardly Congress," although what Congress has done so cravenly, other than quiver anytime anyone mentions reasonable regulation of guns, is hard to say. I'm guessing failing to enact firearms regulation is not what Holzworth had in mind.

Anyway, Holzworth is right about one thing: everybody shoots somebody And you can't start 'em too young. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review 336: Zarafa

ZARAFA: A Giraffe’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris, by Michael Allin. 215 pages, illustrated. Walker

“Zarafa” is supposed to be one of those books bout a popular fad that either illuminates an age or provides a talented writer a launching point for extended but not necessarily tightly connected ruminations about a time. An Anna Nicole Smith for the 1830s, perhaps.

Unfortunately, the most that Michael Allin achieves is to be loosely connected.

The Romans imported hundreds, maybe thousands of giraffes to be slaughtered in the arenas, but for 1,500 years only a few more ever arrived. When Mohammed Ali decided to curry favor with France in 1826 with a gift giraffe, there had not been a live one in France for 350 years.

The cast of characters is promising -- various confidence artists, scientists, adventurers and the occasional writer like Stendhal, although Stendhal missed seeing the giraffe on his first attempt and Allin never bothers to say whether he made another. Nevertheless, Stendhal and the giraffe shared Paris for a while, so in he goes.

To say that “Zarafa” is unfocused is too kind. Nevertheless, we learn this and that about giraffes and one giraffe in particular. It is hardly worth the effort, especially since the book contains a number of niggling errors.

The strangest thing we learn -- by omission, since Allin never addresses it -- is that while the giraffe was a sensation, at least as much as the first pandas were in the United States, and charming and beloved by all, the French never gave her a name.

Zarafa was not her name, it is the Arabic for giraffe.

While "Zarafa" is not a good book for adults, I notice that it has inspired about half a dozen children's books since it was published in 1999.

The people's bankers

From time to time, I repeat a post from my commercial blog, Kamaaina Loan, here. Like now.

I would add that it is time to break up the big banks. It won't hurt. We won't run out of money. When the government broke up Standard Oil, we didn't run out of oil.

Here is the Kamaaina Loan post:

It has been 80 years since the Pecora hearings exposed how big banks work against the public interest. New Deal regulations limited some of the worst depredations and, most importantly, initiated the longest period in history without a financial panic.
Since 1980, the trend has been to regulate less and less, or not at all. In 2008 the country realized the benefits of that policy with a giant crash.
This week the Senate held a hearing on “regulatory capture,” which means the regulators get too cozy with the banks. The New York Times headlined:

New York Fed Chief Faces Withering Criticism at Senate Hearing

So that even what restraints on banks’ antisocial practices remain in law are nullified. One way that happens is through “revolving door” hiring of former regulators by banks they used to oversee, with expectable bad outcomes.
Pawn shops are regulated, too, but there is no revolving door between America’s 12,000 pawn shops and federal and state regulatory agencies.
Just sayin’.
Pawnbrokers are the people’s bankers.
#mauipawn #mauigold

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Off and on over the years, I have considerd writing a piece about the weird stuff that happens in state legislatures. I've never done it, in part because each January the Associated Press always provides a roundup of the sillier legislation passed in the "laboratories of democracy" during the previous year.

That misses such escapades as the Great Ramp Kidnapping in the North Carolina General Assembly, a story RtO may retell someday, but not today.

Another reason I have not done the story is that, although the state assemblies are loaded with some of the loopier citizens of this so-called great republic, for the most part, the assemblies themselves are not quite so crazy. It is harder to find a whole assembly of kooks than to find individual kooks in it.

Still, when a kook rises to speaker, that seems worth noting. Thanks to Wonkette, I became aware of the new leader of the House Republicans in Nevada, who will probably become speaker in January. His name is Ira Hansen, and he is a piece of work.

The Reno News & Review summarizes Hansen's outlook:

one of the most contentious public officials in the state. Hansen doesn’t like blacks, gays, Israel, many Republicans, and most Nevadans—he once wrote that newcomers to the state, who constitute four of every five Nevadans, should accept Nevada as it is or leave.
He revealed this over many years of columns in a Sparks newspaper. Since he often repeated columns, he cannot very well say now that he misspoke, or wrote in haste. Not that he seems likely to take up these favorite excuses when Republicans are -- as they so often are -- accused of deep racism.

Another Sparks newspaper opinionator -- I am guessing, not a Republican, says:

“Alas and alack, I believe Ira is an overt bigot, racist and homophobe. … The Barbwire never forgets, and I’ve got the evidence in Ira’s own words, which I will be publishing as the legislative session approaches. Can achieving high office and political power change the leopard’s spots? I hope so …”
RtO hopes not. We would be poorer for losing an authentic voice of the people. Some people, anyway.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Trust me, I'm an unregulated market

While the big banks were busy cheating their customers by rigging the forex (foreign exchange) markets, somebody was taking them for a billion smackeroos the old-fashioned way.

Bernie Madoff would be proud. And envious. He had to pay Manhattan business lease rents and maintain the semblance of a real business. Much easier to set up a cyber bucket shop and milk the rubes of all their bitcoins and other digital money.
In May and June last year, Mandal and his wife, Wasima, 37, also a physician, invested $30,000 each with Secure, which required customers to use U.S. dollars. The Mandals swapped pounds for $60,000, using a bank. Following instructions from Secure, they then wired the money to banks in Australia and Cyprus to open their accounts.
Logging into the company’s website regularly, they watched as Secure traded the dollar versus the euro. Secure’s website showed that their accounts had soared in value to a total of $245,000 -- a fourfold increase -- in just 10 months.
Mandal says he decided to withdraw some money in March. In an e-mailed response, Secure said he’d have to wait. It cited issues with the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is a Treasury Department rule that applies to U.S. citizens using foreign accounts -- a law that was irrelevant to Mandal, who’s a U.K. citizen. The March 5 e-mail said Mandal would get the money in a few days.
Both these stories are from Bloomberg, which I prefer as a source of crime, er, business news because it goes into so much more detail.

Other than that, not much has changed since I first subscribed to The Wall Street Journal in 1971 (after reading my father's copies sometimes when I was a wee tyke). I soon learned that the most interesting part of the Journal was page 4, where the crime stories ran.

While the daily paper in Norfolk, Virginia, where I then worked, would give play to a stickup of a cab driver that netted $60, day after day the WSJ reported on financial crimes that netted tens, often hundreds of millions of dollars.

And the thieves would seldom go to prison for these heists. If they did, it was 24 months in Danbury (the country club masquerading as a federal lockup for business criminals), while the mugger who stuck up the cabbie would do 5 hard in a state hellhole.

Not too long before I became the business editor at the paper, a couple of upstanding local businessmen who ran a shipyard were convicted of bribing their way into Navy contracts. It was a surprise (not that they were crooks, that they were convicted) and the retiring business editor, Artie Henderson, was stunned when a judge sentenced them to a shortish term in the pen.

"Why put men of that class in prison?" Artie wailed. "Because they are thieves," I said.

He didn't say another word but he was not persuaded. He ate lunch with those guys at the Civitan. Moose, Elks, Rotary, Lions etc. and surely prisons were not made for his friends.

(I had a lot of respect for Artie. As a vet back from World War II he had gotten elected to the Portsmouth City Council and fought a lonely -- eventually successful -- campaign to allow veteran housing in the city, something the country clubbers who had run the town didn't want. But by the time I knew him, Artie was tired and sick and beaten down.

(After his Civitan lunches, he would sleep at his desk, mouth open. Once one of the photographers took a picture of his gaping mouth and taped a print of it on the ceiling over Artie's head. Artie was humiliated. None of the young guys in the newsroom, except me, knew about Artie's brave career. And none of them ever did half what Artie did for his town.)


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our ships just came in -- or did they?

Pasha's MV Jean Anne, modern and mysterious
Wall St. just loves Matson's purchase of the Alaska business of Horizon Lines, and -- presumably -- is OK with Pasha's purchase of the Hawaii operations of Horizon.

Matson's share price was up over 20%, making it a $1.5 billion company, up from a $1B company when it split from A&B. (A&B is now a $2B company, up from $1B at the split, so there.)

Pasha's increased presence in Hawaii can hardly be good for Matson, but what does Wall Street know? Not much in my experience.

What about Pasha's value? You'd have to ask George and I don't think he'd tell you. My impression is that Pasha is one of the biggest businesses in the country if not in the world, but it is privately held (apparently mostly by the Pasha family), so there's one in the eye for those who argue that the financial markets benefit us all by using collective knowledge to allocate capital in the best way.

This is been a load of complete barnyard waste since capital markets first started functioning in a modern way about 400 years ago but the financial marketeers never tire of telling that to us, and lots of people believe them. It is only stating the obvious to say it's bunk.

Usually the evidence is negative -- markets collude to destroy people, work, environments, cultures, nations, you name it. But sometimes the evidence is positive -- when those rare managers who know what they are doing build their businesses without resorting to the "discipline" of the markets.

This appears to be the case with Pasha, as with a few other big, very successful firms, like Cargill, Lykes (until its presiding genius got old and blew his capital on a harebrained corn farm in the jungle) and others you have barely heard of because whatever they do (making money is only one aspect), they don't think it's any of your business.

And it isn't although maybe it should be. Living on islands that require marine shippers, it is not a matter of indifference who is running the ships and how.

RtO has nothing against Matson (RtO owns a chunk of Matson stock it bought at a very favorable price, thank you) or Pasha but remains wary.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Talkin' hospital blues

 I prefer to restate the obvious, but sometimes if no one else will make the first move, I feel I have to do it myself. But until  last night, it was always on the blog. Last night for the first time, I testified at a public meeting.

The House Health Committee held a public hearing on the deteriorating financial situation at the hospital. About a hundred people spoke.

Some spoke of the future and some of the present. Only one person spoke of the history of the crisis. Here is what I had to say about that. I have the impression the legislators didn't like it much:

Good evening. My name is Harry Eagar. I am retired now, but for 25 years I was the business reporter at The Maui News. I am going to give you a history lesson and an ethics lesson.

In the early ‘90s Maui Memorial was throwing off substantial surpluses. It needed to reinvest this cash in new medical technologies and expansion to deal with a growing residential and visitor population. It was prevented by an Oahu-centric Legislature that looted this surplus to support deficits at state hospitals in places like Lanai and Kona.

Ethically this was unjustifiable. Hawaii is an island state with several remote, rural localities. It was not the place of the customers of Maui Memorial alone to cover the deficits of the rural hospitals. All of us in the islands are an ohana, and it is the duty of all of us who are more favorably situated to help provide basic public services like roads, schools and hospitals in places where local revenues cannot cover the whole expense. That is, the ethical course would have been to cover the shortfalls from the general fund.

It is easy to understand why the Oahu legislators did not do this. Using the general fund would have meant less money for them to spend on projects in their local areas.

The decision was not only unethical. It was stupid management.

By starving Maui Memorial, it weakened our hospital and eventually eliminated the surpluses that supported the small hospitals. Now you need to find money to support all the hospitals.

The answer is not the fantasy of Dr. Kwon’s so-called free private hospital. Building that would have completed the ruin of Maui Memorial, but there was a service never intended to be provided by Kwon’s project: mental health care.

Again, it would be unethical to deprive a whole island of hospital mental health services. And you have now learned, from the disgust at the closure of Molokini Unit, how unhappy the voters would have been to have learned that Kwon had eliminated mental health hospital care on Maui.

I am skeptical of the prospects of a public-private partnership as a rescue for Maui Memorial. We can easily guess what the private partner would want to do: recommend shutting down unremunerative segments of care. Like hospital mental health services.

For patients, it would be as bad in the long run as a private hospital, it would just take a few years longer for the disaster to occur.

The time is now to cough up the hundreds of millions that were untimely drained from Maui Memorial and take the steps that ought to have been taken two decades ago.

It will probably require new taxes, which I know can be found; and new backbones, which I am less certain of.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dangerous local animals

Guidebooks to Maui usually warn visitors about dangerous animals like tiger sharks, sea urchins or centipedes. But there are bears on Maui and it is a good idea to be wary of them.

Like the bears at Yellowstone National Park they are shaggy, and like the bears at Jellystone Park they talk. They have names like Dreaming Bear, Scheming Bear, Sleeping Bear, Cruising Bear, Conniving Bear, Bobby Bare and Yogi Bear.

Most bears that you have heard of, like grizzly bears, Kodiak bears, Russian brown bears, black bears, Himalayan sun bears, the University of California at Berkeley Bears, polar bears and Boo-Boo Bear, hunt for salmon, seals or joggers or forage for berries, garbage or picnic baskets. The Maui bear preys almost exclusively on Trustafarians.

Earliest picture of Maui bear, made on Vancouver's expedition

You can find these bears in Haiku, Makawao and Kula, shambling forward on their hind feet, big furry heads swaying back and forth, snuffing the air for a scent of a Trust Fund Baby (Simplicius gullibilis).

Their tactic is to appear affectionate and kind to the Trustafarian in order to get close enough to devour him or her. Sometimes the bears even attempt to copulate with them, with results that don’t bear thinking about.

Trustafarians make ideal provender for Maui bears. Even if they are stripped right down to the bone, on the first of the following month they become fat and juicy again.

The local population of Trust Fund Kids puts a limit on the population of Maui bears, which, like centipedes or mosquitoes, are an invasive species. Maui bears often claim to be from Siberia or Mongolia, or sometimes Alaska or Canada, but most of them are really dropouts from continuation school in Fresno.

If you see one outside the East Maui and Upcountry areas where they are ineradicably established, you should report the sighting to the Maui Invasive Species Committee  pest hot line: 643-PEST.

The best defense against a Maui bear is a sound scientific education, but walking away quickly is also effective. Should you be molested by a Maui bear, as a last resort you can try the emergency remedy used with jellyfish stings and piss on it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Made in Maui mob

The changeable weather fooled the camera on my not-that-smart phone but I was trying to show how the Made in Maui fair at MACC was choke people. Food court was smellin' good. The sold-out sign was at the Maui Dee-Lites stand.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The moral dilemmas of genetic ignorance

What are the anti-GMO zealots going to do now, stick with their cancer-causing natural potatoes or accept the anticancer spud?

 The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide is produced when the potato is fried. Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in rodents and is a suspected human carcinogen. The newly designed potato also resists bruising.

How the free market cares for you

I got a recall notice for my wife's van. If I don't follow through, there's a chance somebody could get killed.

There have been ten of millions of recalls this year of cars, plus other recalls of noxious food, dangerous toys etc.

Here is a list of all the recalls of dangerous products that were made by manufacturers before government regulations began requiring them:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ebola fever and the War with Spain

I write this post with some reluctance. As an issue, Ebola fever is being wildly overhyped. It would be better if people got a grip and paid attention to real issues. But people are not getting a grip, and it is the mission of RtO to praise greasy pork and restate the obvious, so here goes.

In 1898, when war with Spain was coming, there was a wave of press hysteria much like the press and (especially) television and radio hysteria we have enjoyed regarding the threat of Ebola coming into America. Back then, mayors of East Coast cities were panicked that the navy of Spain was going to bombard their harbors.

Each mayor demanded that the American navy station a battleship at his port, to protect the citizens. If this sounds exactly like, to take one example among many, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, that's exactly what it was like.

Never mind that if a Spanish fleet showed up, one battleship would not offer much resistance, nor that the proper use of a fleet is as a fleet, a powerful force that can dominate all the waters, not just one port. The American admirals, who were trying to concentrate their fleet somewhere near Cuba, were driven nuts by the amateur naval strategists, just as the communicable disease specialists today are being driven nuts by the instant experts (like Sarah Palin) who only want what's common sense protections for our vulnerable citizens. Lest anybody think I am picking on rightwing creeps (although I am), the Democratic prettyboy governor of New York, Cuomo, has been as bad (although the leftie mayor of New York City, DiBlasio, has demonstrated maturity and judgment that is hard to find elsewhere).

Anyhow, it all blew over and the fearsome Spanish navy was sunk (a topic we will have to return to later for historical revisionism).

Fearsome Spanish battleship, Reina Mercedes, with her sails furled

I still would not have stuck my oar in if two savvy, educated and cosmopolitan RtO readers had not revealed, in comments, that they do not understand the method of transmission of malaria, the greatest killer among infectious diseases of our time (unless it's TB). If two smarties like them don't know any more about infectious disease than that, imagine the level of misinformation among the professional ignoranti, like Limbaugh.

So there. The first step in public health is threat assessment. The CDC correctly evaluated the threat but misjudged, at first, the level of practice necessary to become skilled at dealing with it. Paderewski practiced the piano every day, whether he needed to or not.

It took a few days and only two tries to get up to speed, so nothing to worry about.

Now, let's examine both issues a little more deeply.

As a matter of fact, the United States Navy in 1898 was thoroughly incompetent and could have defeated only 2 other navies, Spain's and China's. Spain had only 2 modern ships and these had not had their guns mounted. China had good ships (bought from England) but crooked contractors had sold its navy shells filled with charcoal, cement and porcelain instead of gunpowder.

At the Battles of the Yalu (1894), Manila Bay and Santiago (1898), the Chinese and Spanish sailors fought with great courage but no hope. If you suspect the situation was much as it is today with the Iraq government that the United States created and continues to support, you are exactly right.

As to quarantines, it is incorrect to say -- as some of the people trying to douse the Ebola panic are saying -- that they cannot work. Sometimes they have been useful.

In the early 1970s, when cholera was introduced into West Africa (probably from south Russia), the international medical advisers thought that quarantines were hopeless and recommended something rather like the Doctors without Borders responses today: public awareness campaigns, changes in everyday behavior, isolation, treatment, prophylaxis.

The health director of one of the newly independent states set up a quarantine along his border. The white American and European advisers scoffed but the barrier held for seceral weeks, buying enough time for his nation to prepare. (I no longer recall which country that was, but a young American doctor, Pascal James Imperato, told the story in a series of articles in Natural History magazine.)

It does not follow that the quarantines being set up in Maine, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Canada and other backward places make sense today.

UPDATE: This is worth reading. Nut graf:

But why stay here when he was no longer sick? Isolation in a hospital is for sick people; quarantine is for people who have no symptoms but could be incubating a disease.

Silver swoons

From time to time, I post something from my commercial blog, Kamaaina Loan blog, (the one I get paid to write although not by Monsanto) at RtO. Today is one of those times.

Kamaaina Loan blog is not meant to be controversial but I got a chance to take mild swipes at some of my favorite targets: inflation hawks and free market fanatics.

* * *

Wow! Sure didn’t see that coming

At the Kamaaina Loan blog we have been following with amusement and fascination the ups and downs of the gold price over the past few weeks. One minute the price jumps to $1250 and a day or two later it’s under $1200 and then back up again.

Sometimes the moves can be attributed to some pretty obvious doings in the world economy, sometimes the leaps and slides seem practically uncaused. But the price has gyrated around the $1225 that the gurus at Goldman Sachs last year were predicting for this period.

But who anticipated that late last week the Japanese central bank would decide to pump a lot of yen into the deflated Japanese economy, the latest in a series of failed attempts to bring that sector out of deflation? (Although the US Federal Reserve and many other wise heads have been worrying for years about inflation, deflation is the big problem. Economists know how to control inflation but — as the experience of Japan over the past 25 years and of the whole world economy in the ’30s demonstrated — deflation is the really intractable problem.)

The American stock market went crazy, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average spiking to a record high. Just why the transfer of ownership of a small fraction of Japanese equities from private (mostly Japanese) hands to Japan government hands should make American stocks so much more valuable is hard to figure.

But the effect on gold and its poor stepsister silver — once the stock market had reacted — was in line with conventional thinking: both fell off a cliff.

Gold got down to a four-year low and shortly before the market reopened today buyers were offering a mere $1172. Silver cratered. It has been a long while since it broke under $17. Today it is flirting with $15.

Friday, October 31, 2014

At the SHAKA revival

I went to the SHAKA revival at Pukalani last night. I heard many dubious and some disgusting things, but RtO will report only 3 of them.

1. Some Filipino-Americans I know have mentioned strong anti-Filipino bias (some have used the word racism) from SHAKA. I had not encountered any of that myself. Now I have.

2. Again, the allegation -- made without any evidence -- that "every" journalist and public relations person speaking against the initiative has been paid by Monsanto. This seems to be a universal belief at SHAKA. I have heard it many times and, although at least one person (me) has said it isn't true (of me, that I'm sure of), none of the vilifiers has backed down.

This is not the only reason that I have classed SHAKA as the group with the least aloha of anybody on Maui exept meth cooks, but it contributes.

3. I had wondered (in a Facebook comment) whether Lorrin Pang would repeat his claim that the seed companies use "untested" chemicals if he knew I was in the room. He did and stared at me as he said it. Small island.

He elaborated (I won't go into details, he'll be happy to do that if you ask him), and his position boils down to -- no ag chemicals allowed, because of the impossibility of testing them as he believes they should be tested. Odd, coming from a man who used them, successfully, to eliminate dengue on Maui.

I thought I had heard him say, last week in a radio sound bite, that he thought eating GMO food was a threat. I could hardly believe it, and it was only a sound bite, so I filed that away. Turns out, he does believe that.

He then went into a longish discussion of regulation, and I will present a longish report of it. Bear with me (he jumped around a lot at this point and introduced several concepts that I am going to skip over).

He was (I did not at first know where he was going) developing a point that a man can do what he wants on his own property but once it goes outside, especially if he sells it, it comes under regulatory scrutiny. This applies, he said, to "everything" in the way of food or medicine.

Pang must be suffering from irony deficiency anemia, because (to judge by their dress and demeanor) at least a majority of his audience (of something over 100) are the people you see in the "health" store buying untested, unregulated supplements, and using untested quack cures and untested patent medicines. The kind of people who believe the energies in their bodies can become unbalanced and that this is a condition requiring medical treatment. (I kid you not; find the magazine with Pang on the cover and read the ads.)

All this (and more) was leading up to a grand challenge to introducing food altered by recombinent gene methods into the consumption arena, because it has not been -- and according to Pang, cannot be -- tested. His example was the Rainbow papaya.

(Here I must digress. Pang did not explain Rainbow papaya and it was obvious most or all of his audience knew nothing specific about it [or he would not have gotten away with the slick trick I will describe later], but you have to understand the fruit to understand the trick.

(Papaya can be infected by a virus -- ringspot -- that does not make it inedible but does make it so unsightly that it is unsaleable. In a nifty piece of work, a gene that codes for a protein in the coat of the virus is inserted into the papaya itself, which sets up an immune reaction.

(This method does not work for every disease-causing virus, unfortunately, but it does work in papaya. It is as if a gene for part of the AIDS organism were inserted into the mitochondria of human mothers, and their babies were born immune to AIDS, without any side effects. How cool would that be?)

Pang said that eating Rainbow papaya with its built-in ringspot vaccine is the same as getting the vaccine, like getting a flu vaccine shot. He held up a Hawaiian Airlines magazine that happened to have a laudatory article about Rainbow papaya next to an ad for flu vaccine.

The ad, he noted, mentioned signing a waiver and consent form for your flu shot. Do papaya eaters sign a consent form to get the ringspot virus? No, he said.

It was slick, I'll give him that, and the applause indicated it was effective. He had failed to make clear -- and his listeners were too ignorant to spot -- the gaps in his little immorality tale.

The recipient of the ringspot vaccine is not the human but the papaya tree and, yes, it's true, the tree did not sign a consent form. People don't get ringspot disease. In the course of the disease in the fruit, the virus replicates itself millions (perhaps billions) of times before the rings appear, and people eat the virus without effect.

We are not plants.

The Rainbow papaya does contain a virus protein that does not occur in other papayas -- unless they are infected with ringspot, in which case it includes not only that virus protein but all the others and the viral DNA, too.

I may be wrong in thinking that nobody but me saw Pang slide the pea out from under the walnut. During the applause, I noticed a couple of people sitting on their hands and in particular one woman whose face registered what I took to be disgust. If I had had a mirror, I expect mine would have, too.