Thursday, January 29, 2015

Deep in the heart of crazy

I spent Thanksgiving through New Years in Texas and Florida, and you lucky readers in Maui cannot really comprehend how ignorant and crazy the people there are. But this may help.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Geniuses harassed by morons

The death today of Charles Townes, one of the men who introduced lasers into our lives, reminds RtO that the malefactors of the national security state did their best to prevent it.

Focus, a site that covers optics and photonics, has the story of Gordon Gould, who eventually shared in the patents on the laser:

Gould needed money to build his laser and proposed the project to the Pentagon. He was exceptionally good at impressing the military scientists, who imagined the laser as a “death ray” and consequently provided him with more funding than he had originally asked for. But there was a problem: Gould had been related to some communist propaganda activities and the Pentagon could not allow a potential Soviet spy to work on a project that had become classified, despite the fact that this was his own project. Gould was neither authorized to know the results of the experiments he proposed, nor given the security clearance to physically enter the building where they were being performed. TRG, the company for which Gould was working, even had to refurbish the building to allow Gould to go to the bathroom without violating security!
Focus does not say so but national security state goons seized Gould's laboratory notebooks and it was decades before he got them back. Wikipedia has more about this, though even it does not relate that the morons of the right seized the notebooks. I suppose Gould should have been glad they didn't kill him to keep his brain away from the commies.

Ironically, or not as the case may be, the commies were just as capable to figuring out light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation as the capitalists and two of them shared the Novel Prize with Townes. 

By the way, the "communist propaganda" was Gould's mildly left political views. But rightwingers do not now and have never believed in liberty of conscience.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lucky we live Maui

Since I live in Maui, where weather forecasts have only slight utility and I don't often look at them, I was unaware until today (hat tip: Little Green Footballs) that there are malicious weather sites that, apparently, bamboozle and frighten the bejabbers out of millions of people.

Why? The story does not really explain why, although the subject running the hoaxes seems to share a number of characteristics with sovereign citizen and Tea Party types.

Nut graf:

 False weather forecasts do real harm to the public as they degrade trust in trained meteorologists who produce valid, accurate forecasts. When the public sees a hoax about a major hurricane or catastrophic blizzard that doesn't exist, the vast majority of readers don't think to corroborate it with other sources and check the validity of the article in question. They take the hoax for face value, blame real meteorologists when it doesn't pan out, and their trust in scientific forecasts drops. Kevin Martin is at the forefront of the hoaxer movement, and his actions are single-handedly responsible for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people receiving false weather information on numerous occasions.
What, people read nonsense on the Internet and swallow it whole? Say it ain't so! (Although, if you recast that paragraph from meteorology to climatology and make the false claim the one that we are having more and bigger storms, then the heartfelt plea on behalf of scientific integrity loses its oomph.)

Well, there are lots of crazy people out there, and while RtO most often points at the rightwing ones, it is well to remember that there are other, even crazier kooks out there.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I went to the post office to mail a box of rocks (no, really). As I left, a respectably dressed man about my age held the door for me, announcing a "free doorman service." He seemed a little unclear on the concept: I could have used a doorman as I walked in with the rocks but didn't need it going out emptyhanded. But the reason became apparent.

He was one of a small group of protesters? activists? patriots? something or other? offering to recruit me to a mighty movement to forestall the coming war between America and the BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, China, India). I hadn't even heard we were going to war.

A label on his placard explained all (well, much): Are they still a thing? Apparently they are.

"I think you're crazy," I told him, and, pointing to the label, "and I know he is."

"You're crazy," he said.

It was a standoff.

As I drove off, I saw his compadre's sidewalk display, with posters indicating that Obama is another Bush (and I thought Jeb was the other one) but offering hope if America would turn to the 3-point program of LaRouche. The first two points escape me, but the third was "nuclear fusion."

Is that still a thing?

It's difficult to label the LaRouche movement. It is fascist in its embrace of the fuhrerprinzip, but unlike conventional fascists not in Catholicism or monarchicalism. So it is not left, but I would not call it rightist either.

But for sure crazy.

Oops! Democrats can count backwards

The line this a.m. on the talk shows was that Sen. Joni Ernst had avoided the curse of the State of the Union response speech and, while she did not ignite her tinder-dry base, at least avoided embarrassing herself.

The pundits spoke too soon. In fact, Ernst's lie about wearing breadbags over her one pair of shoes was subjected to merciless mockery by the leisured Democrats class, who noted that during Ernst's girlhood the president was not Franklin Roosevelt but -- wait for it! -- R. Reagan.

Few, if any of the mockers, though, had any experience of either living on a farm or living in Iowa during the Reagan paradise. So, as sometimes happens, instead of restating the obvious, I will have to reveal it, de novo as it were.

In fact, the Reagan years were terrible for Iowa farmers and the much more numerous members of the UAW, who were losing their jobs, homes, farms and, too often, their lives (by suicide) during those golden years. (It was a bad time, too, for slaughterhouse workers and residents of small towns generally. But it was a golden opportunity for the gaudier class of con artists. My favorite was the one who claimed to represent a Saudi shiekh who wished to give struggling Iowa farmers loans of a million dollars each -- which did not have to be repaid! -- and the con artist could arrange to deliver this loan for an upfront fee of only $30,000. A good many of those struggling farmers found the money even if they did not love their little girls enough to buy them shoes.)

So, I can believe that the Ernst family could have been under financial stress when she was a schoolgirl. But I cannot simultaneously believe she was also castrating pigs in her one pair of shoes, unless she was wearing bread bags then, too.

Ernst really did step in it. As one commenter said, everywhere she goes from now on, protesters in bread bags will follow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

You read it here first

Ebola subsided rapidly in Liberia, primarily because people change their behavior when experiencing a deadly epidemic that spreads rapidly -- something they do not do with slowly-developing infections like AIDS.

Hysteria about cases increasing either linearly or exponentially in West Africa or rapidly in America or Europe was silly. Knowledge of past epidemics (which could have been obtained by reading RtO) would have damped down the panic.

Unless, of course, there was a political motive for scaring the citizenry.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another rightwing lie

One of the many things that rightwingers believe that isn't so is that the Great Society programs were a failure.

Now, Mitt Romney is not as far right as some in the Republican Party, but he's on board here. In the Washington Post, he is quoted as saying
 As with others in his party, he raised the issue of social mobility and the difficulty of those at the bottom from rising into the middle class. He cited former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty half a century ago. Johnson’s intentions were good, he said, but his policies had not worked. He argued that Republicans must persuade voters that conservative policies can “end the scourge of poverty” in America.
Let's forget for a moment that just two years ago Romney's sympathies for the downtrodden were invisible -- moochers, he thought of them. Takers.

Mitt and I are the same age but have had different experiences. Mitt was a rich kid in the richest part of the Midwest, prep school and all that. I was a  lower middle class kid in the Deep South. I suppose Romney may have passed by poor people, but he never saw them. I did. I lived and worked alongside them. I knew people -- adults -- who had little education raising families on minimum wage jobs (another rightwing lie -- minimum wage jobs were only for schoolkids).

And there were other people that I did not work alongside who were much worse off. They worked for far less than minimum wage, and not often, had next to no education. I could see them. I talked with them sometimes.

There are still people like that, but millions of their children escaped. Went to college. Got hired for good jobs that don't require college, like selling cars. The Great Society was a big success. It did not succeed everywhere with everyone, but all you have to do is walk through an airport terminal  and look at the travelers and you can tell -- if you remember what that scene would have been like 50 years ago -- that the American economic success fable is now reality for many more people than it used to be.

It wasn't trickle down economics that did it. In fact, the residue of intractable poverty in our great cities is due mostly to the offshoring of the steppingstone jobs that launched generations of Americans -- native or immigrant -- toward the suburbs and (for rightwingers) self-satisfied narratives of their own superiority.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An obscure, revealing story of gun nuttery

You haven't seen this story. It did not make the national news, no one got shot and no one was harmed, at least not physically. It will not show up in any statistics regarding gun crime, gun injuries or gun deaths.

But it proves, beyond argument, that there is no such thing as a responsible gun owner.

It happened in Tomball (which the locals call Tom-ball, not Tomb-all) Texas Saturday, but it started somewhat earlier (this account derives from the report by Cindy Horswell in the Houston Chronicle, which does not say exactly when the initial event occurred).

That was an uncommon medical event: a 28-year-old man had a big stroke and was placed on life support at a hospital in Tomball. Doctors had no hope he could recover.

On Saturday, the man's father, George Pickering, angry about the nursing care his son was getting (it is not clear whether this anger was justified but it seems other members of his family did not share his opinion), pulled a gun and threatened to kill a nurse.

"According to witnesses, Pickering was standing by his ill son's bedside with another adult son, his ex-wife and a nurse when everything spun out of control without warning.
"Pickering, who is unemployed, allegedly pulled out a 9 mm handgun, waved it around and yelled, 'I'll kill all of you,' Hammond said.
" 'He was very distraught. As you well know, people handle stress differently. You never can say what it will take to hit such a serious trigger mechanism,' Hammond said."
No, you can't but doesn't having a gun handy improve the moment? And, no, I don't think police investigator Hammond was making a pun.

The son "jumped" his father and got the gun out of the room. The ex-wife (it is not clear whether she is the mother of the brothers) and the nurse left when Pickering said, "You don't think that's the only weapon I got."

Indeed not. Police checked records, discovered that Pickering had numerous gun permits and was known  to keep guns "all over his Pinehurst home." So they rolled the SWAT team and locked down the hospital, which could not have been good for the patients, especially the ones in the critical care unit where Pickering stood them off for four hours. All those very sick people were moved, and for the four hours nobody in Tomball who needed hospital care could get it.

(It is not clear that if Pickering had had the same number of guns but had not bothered to get permits -- something easy to achieve -- and create records that the police would have reacted so strongly. On Monday, when the Legislature opened its session in Austin, gun nuts who oppose any system of permitting threatened lawmakers and demonstrated how using a 3-D printer could create an untraceable gun, which they consider a very good thing.)

It is possible to have some sympathy for George Pickering, a father who cared about his son, and wanted to do something for him (although it sounds as if that was not possible). He did not know how to help, but he was true to the gun nut creed -- when in doubt, pull it out. But it is not possible to argue that the Second Amendment improved his options, is it?

A hundred thousand times a year in America, the gun option is chosen over every other option. 30,000 times, someone dies, and in thousands of other instances someone is injured. Even when no one is physically hurt, people are terrorized.

In only a couple of dozen instances is the gun option better than some other available option. A well-regulated society would do something about it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The real estate spending curve

When I was working as a business reporter, I used to joke that (because of high costs) most people did not own their homes on Maui, but that (because of the ohana provision) everybody who did own a house owned two houses.

It was a somewhat bitter joke. The ohana law did not work out as intended, and you could argue it two ways: It encouraged middling-income Mauians who would not otherwise have become real estate developers to provide a large number of (for Maui) relatively accessible rentals, automatically mixing income classes so that we did not end up with segregation-by-bank account; or that it shifted tax and zoning advantages to the haves so that they could fatten their bank accounts on the have-nots, at the same time making it nearly impossible for ordinary working people with more than 2 children to find adequate housing.

One thing for sure, the ohana law did generate housing, which is more than you can say for the employee housing ordinance or the various iterations of the housing and finance authority.

And Maui does not have anything like the tent cities of Waianae or Thomas Square.

I bring this up because of a New York Times story about unoccupied real estate in New York City, and especially Manhattan, where the world's timorous capitalists are salting away multimillion-dollar boltholes against the time when their fellow countrymen decide to get rid of their kleptocrats.

(Other reports have stated that some districts in Europe -- one many Americans will have heard of is Mayfair -- are virtually empty, with all the apartments awaiting their Russian and Nigerian owners to come and hide out. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. During the London Blitz, George Orwell noted that although tens and hundreds of thousands of working class people had been bombed out in the East End [where the Luftwaffe targeted the Docklands] the mansions of the West End stood empty, their plutocratic owners either in the service or hiding out at their Downton Abbeys, but refusing to allow dirty Cockneys to sleep in them. England being England in those presocialist days, the Cockneys were required to sleep "rough," as the English say.)

Nut graf:

As for the data that has been uncovered, “it reflects the increasing level of income inequality in the city, that you can buy a relatively expensive condo and not have to occupy it all the time,” Mr. Beveridge said. “Housing has a strange spending curve. If you are poor, you spend a high proportion of your money on housing. Then as you get up into the middle class, people pay off their mortgages and you don’t see as much spending on housing. Then as you get really wealthy, the rich spend a lot on housing, but they do it by having a lot of homes.”

The global warming briar patch

Don't throw me in there!

It has been a long time since RtO has visited the question of global warming. In one sense nothing has changed -- claims about the amount of warming since the late 19th c. remain bogus because nobody knows what the temperature was then.

Some things more contemporary are not changing either, at least not in the way the alarmists promised.

More and worse storms. No hurricane has come ashore in Florida since Wilma in 2005.

Changes to growing seasons causing losses in agriculture. Let's see what the AP has to say today:

Farmers set corn and soybean records last year, harvesting the largest crops ever, thanks to a cool summer that made for mostly favorable conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday. Farmers harvested 14.2 billion bushels of corn, 3 percent more than in 2013, and 3.97 billion bushels of soybeans, up 18 percent.

UPDATE In further global warming news, it is snowing in Arabia and some Muslims have been condemned for making snowmen and snowcamels.

And, no, this is not a joke on any level.

SECOND UPDATE It turns out we don't know how much sea levels have risen, and for exactly the same reasons we don't know how much temperatures have risen:

Given that observers have been taking measurements at harbors for centuries, using devices called tide gauges, it might seem a simple problem to figure out how much the ocean has been rising. It is anything but simple, though: The tide-gauge record is plagued by gaps; the land to which many of the gauges are attached has itself moved over time; and factors like wind and ocean currents can cause variability of the sea level in particular locales. Moreover, the early harbor measurements were concentrated in Europe and the United States, leaving much of the world a blank.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Damn you, Texas

Here I was looking forward to a hilarious year-and-a-half watching Republican presidential contenders make fools of themselves, but Texas has already knocked two of the funniest out of the blocks.

The always wacky Ben Carson turns out to be a politician selling snake oil -- sure, they all do, but he sells the veritable stuff for a Texas patent medicine company.

And Mr. Fiscal Responsibility, Rick Perry, is now engulfed in a patronage/corruption/friends scandal that isn't getting much ink outside Houston and Austin, where the Chronicle and the American-Statesman are picking the last shreds of reputation off his bleaching bones. (You'll have to pay to read it in those papers, but here's a taste of the mess from Lubbock.)

Looking at petroleum two ways

The Washington Post and the New York Times have two good stories about oil today. The Post considers where prices will move. The Times considers whether banks are overextended in loans to awl bidnesses.

I would say that the next big move will be occasioned by an event, probably political, that is unforeseeable, at least in details and timing. (One commenter at the Post proposed political instability in either Saudi Arabia or Nigeria, both good guesses but hardly sure things.)

It certainly makes the caterwauling of the rightwingers about the Keystone XL pipeline sound like the mewling and puking of ignorant babes, but what else is new? You won't find too many of the Keystone boosters demanding more investment in the undersized Guthrie chokepoint, which makes a bigger pipeline pretty much pointless.

Whether the pipeline is a good business idea or not, the rightwing claims about its importance have been ridiculous. Obama's energy policy -- pretty much, let the markets decide -- has worked well for consumers, has it not? Damned socialist.

Nevertheless, I am holding on to most of my petroleum and oil services stocks, even though they are taking a beating. But I am a buy-and-hold guy when it comes to capital investments, not a flipper.

(A commenter claims that one of the "peak oil" blogs has shut down in despair. I haven't checked, because I have always thought that peak oil was a silly idea.)

Crooked lawyers? Say it ain't so!

The NY Times has a story about the New York attorney general going after corrupt practices of buyers of bad consumer debt. If you have consumer debt, it's worth your time (and one of your 10 monthly Times looks if you are not a subscriber) to read.

When I say "going after," I mean candy-assed sweetheart settlements, amounting to mere hundreds of thousands in frauds that appear to total billions. And no hint of sanctions against the lawyers involved for their culpability in perpetrating frauds upon the courts.

Eric Schneiderman is no Eliot Spitzer.
But unlike mortgage foreclosure lawsuits, consumer debt collection cases often play out far from public view, consumer lawyers say, because borrowers seldom show up in court to contest the suits.
As a result, an estimated 95 percent of debt collection lawsuits result in default judgments against borrowers, an automatic victory for the debt buyers that enables them to garnishee consumers’ wages or freeze bank accounts.
That's half true. I've never seen a debtor show up at Circuit Court to contest a credit card collection action. There are typically 3 to 6 in a morning session. (These are usually suits by the lender not by a buyer of bad debt.)

But I've seldom seen anybody show up to contest a real estate foreclosure action either, at least in the years since the Crash of '08.

In either case, very often the borrower has left Maui long before the lender goes to court.

(Style points to the Times copy editor for getting the correct verb -- to garnishee, not to garnish.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lessons unlearned

Barry Eichengreen is one of my favorite writers on economics. His latest sounds like a must-read for rightwingers, who are still in denial about how their policies wrecked the economy in 1929 and again in 2008.

I have little expectation, however, that any will do anything like reading a book that would challenge their faith.

I do quarrel with one statement in this brief New York Times notice (it isn't a review) of 'Hall of Mirrors." This one:

Public pressure on the Fed was, to a startling degree, one-sided. Many conservatives and financial market commentators assailed the central bank for its easy money stance, and there was little in the way of a crusade from the left to try to encourage greater activism by the Fed.
True perhaps in one sense, but that was the message of Paul Krugman, surely the most-read of liberal economists. So it's not as if the advice to repeat the New Deal was not out there (and in RtO, I'm pleased to be able to say).

It is symptomatic of the rightist mood of the nation that a party of rightwing economic delusions formed (the Tea Party) but the attempt to form a left economic movement (Occupy) failed. Possibly that was just a matter of superior organizational impetus on the right -- Occupy was not meant to create a party but might nevertheless, in a different time, have launched one anyway -- but I think it was largely due to the economic ignorance of the voters. 

A polite society

One of the favorite lies of the gun nuts is that mass shootings occur only in gun-control areas. Like all gun nut arguments, it is completely delusional.

More good news.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rightwing takedown

One of the current favorite lies of the rightwing is that the Republicans are and were the party of civil rights and the Democrats are and were the opposite. This is really too stupid to bother to debunk, the political equivalent of flat earth or chemtrails.

Nevertheless, either rightwingers are really stupid or really dishonest, because, as I say, it's one of their favorite memes -- second only, perhaps, to the lie that socialism led to more deaths than any other ideology. (It isn't even in the top 2.)

Gary Legum, the king of snark, has a hilarious (and very well informed) takedown of this meme, and you should file it away for future reference.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Keep whipping infaltion, NOW!

According to Bloomberg News, Europe is in danger of deflation again.

So, austerity isn't working again. How surprisng is that?

Not at all.

The last time the euro area’s inflation rate went negative in 2009, the economy was struggling to recover from the recession that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. This time, the decline was partly driven by sluggish growth and a drop in crude oil prices of about 50 percent in the past year.
RtO has said it many times but it won't hurt to repeat it, because hardly anybdy gets it -- deflation is the worst of ecnomic trends and the one no one knows how to remedy.

Anybody my age grew up hearing endless warnings and laments about inflation, so it is not  so surprising that the word sets off alarm bells even when it is no longer a problem. We have a whole political party -- not, a big one, true -- devoted to inflation alarmism.

The Bloomberg story is not detailed. Some of Europe's economic problems predate the switch to the euro, continent-wide attempts to force smaller government deficits and other remedies beloved of Tea Partiers and mental inhabitants of the last century generally. Southern Europe is less educated and less modern than northern Europe. It mimics the situation in the United States for the 150 years fter the end of the Civil War. (A situation that continues to drag down the overall American economic performance.)

If tempted to make too close comparisons to other areas, it is also important to recall that Europe's fundamental stimulus and problem has not changed for over 500 years -- it is not a resource extraction area, with the exception of North Sea oil -- an asset in deep discount for the moment.

Bottom line: Keynesianism works better than austerity, at least in modern,highly-ramified economies, and no economy is more modern than Europe's.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Liberal press gives O another tongue bath

You can read it here.

An enduring characteristic of Barack Obama’s presidency has been his determination to implement the ideological agenda with which he arrived in office without regard for conditions in the real world. He imposed timetables for “ending the wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq unlinked to military progress. He insisted on pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, even though the leaders of both sides were manifestly unwilling. He began his second term by seeking a new nuclear arms deal with Vladi­mir Putin, despite abundant evidence that Putin was preparing for confrontation with the West.

Now, six years into his presidency, Obama has launched, as his first significant initiative in Latin America, detente with Cuba. It’s a torch that many liberals have carried for decades. Once again, however, the president has acted with willful disregard for current events.
Uh. Oh, wait. Somebody must have dropped the script and mixed up the pages.

You see, Obama is following the same policy toward Venezuela as George Bush did, but because it's Obama the policy is now shallow, passive and misguided.

The rightwing commenters immediately pile on. See, leftism destroyed Venezuela.

In fact, Venezuela has always been a failed petrostate, since the end of World War II at least. And all US administrations since Eisenhower at least have complacently accepted whatever dictator the army threw up. You see, a strong government is a stable government, as Kissinger so helpfully explained. The United States loves dictators, most of whom are rightists, but a leftist will do.

The Post's Jackson Diehl, supposedly an expert on foreign affairs, writes:
Meanwhile, Maduro has overseen the degeneration of his country’s economic, political and social situation from abysmal to truly disastrous.
In fact, it is not noticeably worse than it was before Chavez. In the '50s, when rightwingers tended to point to Venezuela as a rare Latin American success story (because it held sham elections and paid its international bonds and was not aligned with the USSR), half of Venezuelans were born out of wedlock -- in a nominally Catholic country -- because their parents could not afford a marriage license.

A 1% (or less) did extremely well, and were pointed to as a shining example of how capitalism was good.

My mother, a devoted watcher of Bill O'Reilly and usually a reliable reflector of the rightwing views in her retirement village, was talking to someone the other day who had a son (an American expat) who is abandoning Venezuela after his once-successful career changed direction. The parent said, "Venezuela is becoming a terrible place."

I offered: "It always was."

My mother then surprised me by agreeing. While she tends to accept the nonsense of Fox News uncritically, she does believe her own eyes, and (I did not know this) she's been to Venezuela.

"It was horrible. From the cruise ship, we could see whole mountainsides of garbage. But when we went ashore we passed through the most beautiful houses you have ever seen."

Attagirl, Mom

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ha, ha! rightwing suckas!

Read this and weep.

Breaking up is easy to do

As we start 2015, RtO offers a contrast between American policy in 2 Koran Belt "states."

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the United States has spent trillions and most of whatever (small) credibility it had in the Koran Belt to keep up the shabby pretense that Iraq is a unitary state.

Meanwhile, Libya falls apart and neither the administration nor its usually eager critics seem concerned to keep it together.

It cannot be that one has oil and the other doesn't, always a favorite explanation of incoherence in American policy. Both have plenty of oil.

You might suppose that the Republicans, who evidently consider the attack on the ambassador to Libya the most significant foreign policy event of the past 25 years, would therefore have a basic Libya policy, but they don't.