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Hillary Clinton, Front Runner

2015-08-27

I was going to write a piece critical of Hillary Clinton, but just today we have received the word that the State Department has exonerated her in the case of her emails, which as you know were set up on a secured server in the basement of her family home (I’m guessing); she used this one account exclusively for all her phone conversations while she was Secretary of State, and, it is alleged, revealed top secret information while talking on this private email account on a server in her basement.   Those who make these allegations seem to forget that she, as State Department Secretary, was one of the top people involved in making decisions as to what was confidential and what was not.

So despite the fact that she didn’t divorce that lying cheat who got 8 blowjobs from a Congressional aide in the Oval Office and survived an impeachment designed to punish him for saying, “That depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is…”  She has been investigated, mainly by the Republican lower house, for the Benghazi attack that killed the US ambassador and two of his assistants, even though she had nothing to do with the ambassador’s foolish decision not to anticipate trouble on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  The ambassador should have been holed up in a blast-resistant building with the whole embassy security staff, but he wasn’t even in the capital where the biggest embassy was.  That wasn’t Hillary’s fault, I don’t think; the rest of the Benghazi allegations dry up when checked out with facts.

So what else is wrong with Hillary?  She is a 67-year old born in Chicago and has been married since 1975 to William Rodham Clinton, who served as President from January 1993 to January 2001.  The latter part of his second term was enlivened by an impeachment attempt that revealed Mr. Clinton’s association with a young volunteer on his staff, Monica Lewinsky.  The relationship included a series of blow jobs; Monica fellated William until he ejaculated, and she saved a blue dress which had been stained by his semen.  She confessed all her activities to a fellow White House staffer who was secretly planning to reveal all this information to the public at the right time.

Thus, the blue dress with the semen stain was recovered, analyzed, and found to have Bill’s DNA in the stain.  Some of Monica’s confessions to the spy were secretly recorded when they talked on the phone.  The release of all this explosive evidence of Bill’s infidelity to Hillary caused a media frenzy that failed when Mr. Clinton was cleared of the impeachment by a Democratic Senate and finished his term.  Immediately after he left office, he was operated for severe coronary artery stenosis.  The stress of office seems to have had a negative effect on his heart.

In any case, Hillary has gone through all this and stood by her president despite his serial infidelities; after his coronary artery bypass, he was forced to slow down considerably, so she was free to consider other options.  She ran in 2008 and was considered a very strong candidate; she was wise enough to bow out when it appeared that Obama’s political force was overwhelming, which it was, both in 2008 and 2012.  Obama rewarded her with a post as Secretary of State, which she resigned after he was re-elected.  She needed to work full-time on her own presidential campaign again.

No sooner had she made her intentions clear than the Republicans stole the attention of the television reporters by, first, entering some seventeen apparently serious candidates for the nomination fight; this move was especially exciting because Donald Trump was one of the seventeen, in fact the front runner by a wide margin ahead of Jeb Bush, the second.  He used the usual persona that he adopts at press conferences, insulting anyone who disagrees with him or asks difficult questions and even throwing out a correspondent from the hostile cable network LatinoAmerica (not its real name) for asking a question supposedly out of turn.  His popularity is astounding to most good people because he expresses open homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and disregard for the rights of others.  Nonetheless, he showed 25% in the most authoritative pool, way ahead of Bush, at 13%.  He even has strong appeal among those who consider themselves highly religious, which makes no sense unless you acknowledge that there is a willing suspension of disbelief among his audience that allows them to think of him as fighting against established, monopolistic politicians who “don’t care what the people want” and ignore his personal behavior, which is not godly at all.

At any rate, Hillary can be blamed for many things.  She has been in politics for more than 30 years with her husband and he has done his share of bad things.  It should be more important that there are significant policy differences between the Democrats and the Republicans.  At the current time, the Republican Party is closely associated with the rich and would-be rich, white, anti-welfare constituency, while the Democrats have the African-American vote and are associated with more welfare-friendly policies; they also have managed to maneuver themselves into an apparently immigrant-friendly stance, especially when compared to the Republican aspirations, which appear to involve repealing the Constitutional provision that all persons born in the United States are citizens, contained in the Fourteenth Amendment.

By the way, Hillary is 67, which for a woman is not old at all; women usually live five to ten years longer than men.  Finally, the polls have consistently had her winning the presidential contest “if it were held today” for the last six months.  Currently, she is leading Jeb Bush by five percentage points. However, her lead has narrowed in recent months, possibly due to the consistent negative press about her use of a private email server; it will be interesting to see how many people are mollified by the State Department’s exoneration today.  It is also interesting that there has been virtually no news at all about her with the exception of stories about the emails.  She leads Trump by four percentage points, and here again her lead has narrowed, although the trend has stabilized with her four point lead intact.

Southern New England’s Worst Year in History for River Herring Raises Concerns at Sea

2015-08-26

Here’s a scary news item from the Pew Charitable Trust.  River herring, a species related to the oceanic version, spend their lives at sea before returning to rivers to spawn.  They are not sought as food fish but are caught as “by-catch” when trawlers pick up the oceanic version.  There are supposed to be limits on “by-catch” but they are not enforced, or even monitored in most cases.  Despite efforts to improve river habitat, the population of river herring crashed by about 90% this year:

Fisheries officials and watershed conservation groups have tallied the spring migratory runs of river herring, and in parts of southern New England, 2015 likely will go down as a particularly terrible year for these critically important forage fish. Reports from across Connecticut and Rhode Island show the number of migrating fish declining dramatically compared with recent years, leading one prominent biologist to call this year “the worst in history” in his state.

Consider a few examples from Rhode Island. Last year, more than 102,000 river herring passed through Gilbert Stuart Brook in North Kingstown. This year, that number dropped to about 11,000.

via Southern New England’s Worst Year in History for River Herring Raises Concerns at Sea. (published August 18, 2015)

The explanation for the crash is given as the excessive “by-catch” which is estimated in the article at increasing by about 350,000 fish, or nearly four times the fish returning to all the major Rhode Island streams.

Normally, as pressure on fish by fishermen increases, the large species are eliminated first; then smaller and smaller fish are caught and endangered.  In this case, it seems that a small fish has been nearly wiped out even before the larger ones are gone.  This is an ecological catastrophe of the first magnitude.

Donald Trump is a Malignant Narcissist

2015-08-25

Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist.  He even has characteristics that compare favorably with Adolf Hitler.  There.  I said it.  Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.  If enough people ignore him, thinking he’ll go away, well, he won’t go away.  He’ll be responsible for World War Three.

Here, for example, are the main points of his (anti-) immigration plan: 1) build a wall at the Mexican border 2) deport all twelve million illegal aliens.  When asked about the cost (a guesstimate is 400 to 600 billion dollars) he merely repeats his lies that Mexican illegal immigrants are responsible for crime, specifically rape (in fact, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than non-illegal immigrants, primarily because their motivation for being here is to make money to send home, and crime is inconsistent with regular work hours.)

His misogyny and racism are famous.  His connections to organized crime are not so well-known.  For example, did you know that Trump Towers (his signature apartment building) is 58 stories of reinforced concrete rather than the more sensible structural steel?  Why, you ask?  Well, it seems that there is this Mob-run concrete company that he favors.  He has used this company repeatedly on other construction projects, so it’s not as if he just made an ignorant mistake on this one.

Did you know that one of his four business bankruptcies is his Trump Casino?  After being rated worst in a famous magazine review of almost 500 popular companies in 1999, his casino went bankrupt.  How does a casino go bankrupt?  There has to be really stunning mismanagement or fraud involved, because last time I checked, there was no shortage of idiots willing to throw away their money on rigged games of chance.

Then there is the question of his net worth.  Is it four billion, ten billion, or minus 250 million?  Take one guess.  It’s not a positive number, despite his loud and repeated claims.  He gets his famous business skill by bluffing other people into taking risks for him: a typical con man. A large part of his figuring for his net worth involves his self-evaluation of the business value of his name.

I could go on, but just one more item: his income taxes.  His net income was claimed to be a negative number for several years in a row, avoiding the need to pay any of those pesky federal income taxes.  How can a guy who retains a convicted cocaine dealer as a helicopter pilot have a negative income?  It’s not hard when you’re Donald Trump.

Economic Policy Institute and The State of Working America–The Recession Isn’t Over

2015-08-24

For an interesting, and different, view of what is happening to the economy, try this website created by the Economic Policy Institute, called The State of Working America:

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit Washington, D.C. think tank, was created in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers. EPI was the first—and remains the premier—think tank focusing on the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans and their families.

For example, there is the chart showing what percentage of the population of the US is actually working (as opposed to the “unemployment rate”, which only measures what percentage of the population is actively looking for work)– this chart, running from 1948 to the present, shows that the working percentage peaked in February 2000 at 64.6% (in June 1948, 57% of the working-age population was actually working) and bottomed out in September 2003 at 62%.  The rate rose again to 63.3% in January 2007, dropped more dramatically to 58.3% in December 2009, then increased to 59.4% in May 2015; it is now at 59.2% as of August.  Clearly, if we look only at the latest drop of about 5% since January 2007, we have not yet improved to that level, only adding 1%; if we look at the rate since Clinton left office of 64.4% in January 2001, we are still lacking 5%, out of a 6% drop.  If we look at the rates since 1948, we are within 1.5% of the low of 57% then.

Therefore, if we want to have something close to a historical high of 64.6% fifteen years ago, we have a long way to go.  If we just want to get back to eight years ago, we still have a long way to go.  We can conclude that the recession is not over, not by a long shot.  The official “unemployment rate” shows a skewed picture: at 5.3%, we are within 1% of the historic low of 4.4% in October 2006 and nearly recovered from the historic high of 9.8% in September 2009.

Put another way, if we compare the number of potential new jobs with those required to keep up with the growth in population, we see a shortfall of 2.9 million (of a total of 145 million.)  At its nadir, the shortfall of jobs was about 10 million in 2009.  The previous recession had a shortfall of about 3 million jobs at its nadir in 2003-4.  Thus, we can say that the current recession is not over and is now at a level reflected by the worst of the previous recession.

Charts for all of these numbers and many more are available at the website; they show that the current recession, much worse than the last recession (although not as bad as the “normal” state of affairs in 1948), is not over and we have a long way to go.  This state of affairs is true for even highly employed people like those with advanced degrees; the unemployment rate for these highly trained people has gone from 1.7% to 2.4%, while the corresponding rate for those with less than a high school degree has gone from 10.3% to 11.9%.

Another interesting chart shows that, unlike all previous recessions, the number of public sector employees has actually decreased since the start of the most recent recession.  Apparently, the state and federal governments have reduced their number of employees despite the improvement in the state of the economy; in all previous recessions, the number of public employees has increased at a higher rate than the number of private employees.  This is probably due to the fact that there has been no new budget for the federal government since Obama was elected, due to the obstruction by the Republican Congress of the normal budgetary process (the federal budget has been on “automatic”, meaning it hasn’t even kept pace with inflation).  In addition, state governments have shed employees because the revenues at the state level have been dramatically reduced in almost every state.  This is a contradiction of the appropriate behavior of governments during recessions, in which the government is supposed to engage in deficit spending to make up for the loss in private spending.  The Republicans don’t believe in this “appropriate” Keynesian behavior, despite the fact that it has been proven successful in the Great Depression and WW II.  Republicans don’t believe in facts or fact-based behavior, preferring religious and fear-based behavior.  If you liked the Dark Ages, you’ll love the Republican attitude, because it is heading us in the direction of a new Dark Age.

Islamic State (ISIS) Practices Systematic Sexual Slavery on Yazidis, and Uses This as a Recruiting Tool

2015-08-14

An article in the New York Times (NYT) (find it here) goes into considerable detail, with multiple eyewitness  and victim accounts, on the system of sexual slavery that the Islamic State (ISIS) leaders have developed.  Their only victims so far, it appears, have been the Yazidis, but accounts of the perpetrators’ theological justifications for these acts suggest that they would do the same with victim populations of any ethnicity, given their complete control over them.

Eyewitness accounts describe the ISIS fighters’ behavior after they captured and disarmed groups of Yazidis: the men would be examined by pulling their shirts up, and any who had armpit hair would be led off to be shot in a ditch.  The women were divided into groups based on their age and menstrual status: those who were less than 10 years old or so would be kept with the male children; the girls and women who were at least near menarche and premenopausal would be classified and eventually sold off or given to a fighter; the older women would go with the children, or if there were a lot of them, they might be shot too.

The women who were sold off were first photographed sitting in a chair fully clothed except for any covering over their hair.  Then the photographs were distributed and the women chosen based on their appearance. Women were also evaluated at the warehouses where they were held in special viewing rooms.  Those who were taken were expected to accede to their owner’s every demand as well as performing household chores.  The men routinely forced sex on children younger than 12; an eyewitness described the pain, bleeding, and infection that these young victims suffered.

The women described buses that were assigned to pick them up and distribute them to their next holding location or final placement, buildings that were repurposed as holding areas, arrangements for food and clothing, and other details.  The plan was elaborate and had been researched in advance.  The Yazidis were chosen because their religion is considered by ISIS scholars as being polytheistic, and thus ineligible to pay the tax prescribed in the Koran.  The religious questions that allow them to make these decisions are vague and open to interpretation, to say the least.

The motivation behind this behavior is that the Muslim men who are becoming adherents of ISIS are completely bereft of any exposure to the opposite sex other than their mothers and sisters.  There is no dating and nearly no social interaction between young men and young women, even with supervision or chaperoning.  The average Muslim man in most of these societies is a virgin when he marries unless he has been to a big city and had relations with a prostitute (I don’t have proof of this but there is also no reference whatever to premarital sex.)

In this atmosphere, a young man who could freely and without concern about committing a sin, have sexual relations with a woman, however inadequate, would be highly motivated to enter into such a relationship.  The practice, as sanctioned and organized by ISIS higher-ups, is a potent tool for recruitment.  Individuals recruited by these means would be likely to be sociopathic and make good fighters.

Reagan, Bush, and the National Debt: How They Increased it to Unheard-of Levels

2015-08-12

Ronald Reagan campaigned partly on the assertions that the national debt was “the highest ever” and “out of control.”  The national debt at the time he was elected was about 33% of the gross domestic product (GDP); this was the lowest proportion of GDP in 50 years, and could only be described truthfully as “the highest ever” if one ignored inflation and the relationship of debt to GDP.  The national debt was not “out of control” until he got his hands on it.  He presided over a nearly 190% increase in the national debt as a proportion of GDP, from approximately $1 trillion to $2.9 trillion.

Reagan performed this magic by dramatically reducing taxes on the wealthy in his first year in office.  The deficit increased so rapidly that he was forced to slightly scale back his tax reductions later.  His excuse for this maneuver was the notion that cutting taxes on the wealthy would inspire them to increase their income so greatly that total tax collections would actually increase.  There was no sane precedent for this notion, and George HW Bush famously called it “voodoo economics” when he campaigned against Reagan (before he was selected as the vice presidential candidate.)

The notion that lowering taxes would increase tax receipts was based on the idea that the wealthy would work harder and produce more income if a larger percentage of their income was left to them after taxes.  This is known as the “Laffer curve.”  The notion that if you tax the wealthy too much, they will “goof off” (not work as hard), is essentially this: why bother to work as hard when you only get to keep 50% of your income after taxes than when you get to keep 85% of your income after taxes?  The problem is that the wealthy are struggling to spend even a fraction of the money they are getting, and usually add the surplus to their savings or brokerage accounts.

Before Reagan, the national debt had been dramatically increased during WW II to allow for arming the rest of the free world and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.  At the end of the war, the national debt was 120% of the GDP.  After the war, a booming economy and relatively high taxes allowed us to pay down the debt while at the same time increasing our GDP steadily.  Before the war, our economy had been in the doldrums and had not recovered from the Great Depression.  Deficit spending, on disposable items like bombs and bullets, primed maximum employment and increasing wages, with notable prosperity as a result.

Reagan’s deficit spending, by contrast to WW II spending, had only marginal beneficial effects on the economy.  This was because the deficit was created by tax cuts that resulted in a loss of government revenue rather than spending on tangible items which transferred revenue to the producers of those items.  After Reagan, GHW Bush continued the deficit spending by not raising taxes to previous levels; in his single term, the first Bush increased the deficit a further 54%, from $2.9 trillion to $4 trillion.  The economy continued to function marginally, and income inequality increased.

The next president, Clinton, took a different tack: he raised taxes and tried to balance the budget.  The total national debt increased 41% during his two terms.  By the end of his second term, the budget was nearly balanced.  If he had not had to pay interest on the new debt, it is estimated that he would have paid off all of the remaining debt from WW II; he paid about $2.2 trillion in interest on the debt accrued from before he assumed office.

The second President Bush increased the national debt by a further 72%, primarily by cutting taxes and pursuing an off-the-books war in Iraq.  He was also forced to pay some $800 billion to bail out the banks after the crash of 2007-8.  During his first campaign for office, he promised to “retire nearly $1 trillion in debt over the next four years.  This will be the largest debt reduction achieved by any nation at any time…”  He increased the debt by at least $6.1 trillion, starting in his first year in office.  Much of the increase in debt was interest paid on the previous deficits.

When Obama took office, he inherited an economy in free fall and a nearly $1 trillion yearly deficit.  This shortfall has been dramatically reduced, year by year, and is now estimated at $400 billion a year.  At the same time, jobs have increased every month since 2010, and the unemployment rate has decreased to below 6%.  Unfortunately, part of this percentage decrease has been a result of people dropping out of the workforce, despairing of finding work.  During his terms in office so far, Obama has increased the national debt by 23%.  The debt now represents between  72 and 80% of GDP, depending on how the terms are defined and whose figures you use (see Wikipedia.)

The inescapable conclusion is that Republican contenders for presidential office will lie to get elected (not that Democrats are necessarily any more truthful.)  We must also conclude that the Republican policy of reducing taxes results in deficit spending which does not stimulate the economy, in contrast to deficit spending that is used to produce something (even if that something is blown up or scrapped.)

Thus, we see that, in order to stimulate the economy and improve prosperity (meaning growing incomes and improving income equality), it is necessary to 1) raise taxes on the wealthy and 2) spend some of the money on producing something rather than just paying down the debt.  The obvious thing to produce (or repair) is, based on observation, infrastructure like roads and bridges.

Most of the information in this post was taken from a site called http://zfacts.com/ which has a segment on debt as a percent of GDP: http://zfacts.com/p/318.html as well as a lot of other material I haven’t dived into just yet.

 

Lack of Scientific Controversy Over Reality of Climate Change

2015-08-11

Here is an important review of the scientific literature regarding climate change that was published in 2013 and has not received enough publicity: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article.

The review looked at the whole of the scientific literature from 1991 to 2011, a total of 11944 papers.  66.4 % of the papers expressed no position on climate change.  32.6% of the papers endorsed the reality of climate change.  0.7% rejected the concept of anthropogenic global warming.  0.3% expressed uncertainty about the cause of global warming.   Of the abstracts that expressed an opinion, 97.1% endorsed the consensus view.

When invited to express an opinion, only 35.5% of the authors of these papers stated that they had no position on the subject.  Among self-rated papers that held an opinion, 97.2% endorsed the consensus that climate change is real and is caused by human activity.

These findings contradict the notion that there is any significant scientific disagreement about anthropogenic global warming (AGW.)  Only a vanishingly small proportion of scientific papers and authors refuse to endorse the consensus view that AGW is real.  Virtually all the research that has been done on the subject confirms this consensus and there is no significant disagreement on this matter among scientists.

It has been suggested that communication of the fact that virtually all scientists who have studied the subject agree that AGW is real would sway the attitudes of unconvinced laymen.  This remains to be seen; there is some indication that this fact is not widely known.

One argument that has been introduced that denies the significance of this consensus is the contention that there was also a consensus on other subjects that was equally complete but erroneous, for example, the idea that the earth is flat, or that it is the center of the universe.  This argument is not persuasive in the current era because there is no institution that enforces the “consensus” view anymore.  The problem with those previous consensuses is that they were promulgated by the Catholic Church, which used its considerable power to prevent audible disagreement with its dictates.  There is no comparable institution in today’s world, and freedom of exchange of controversial ideas has progressed to the point at which consensus is now difficult to reach on any subject.

The fact that there is such an overwhelming consensus among scientists who are free to think and write as they like is a powerful argument in favor of the reality of the concepts and facts behind that consensus: human-caused global warming is real and is a significant threat both to our survival as a species and to the health of our planet.

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