Study: Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence

 August 26 at 3:35 PM

Marital marijuana?

new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo finds a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among married couples who smoke pot. “Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent IPV [intimate partner violence] perpetration,” the study concludes.

These findings were robust even after controlling for things like demographic variables, behavioral problems, and alcohol use. The authors studied data from 634 couples over nine years of marriage, starting in 1996. Couples were administered regular questionnaires on a variety of issues, including recent drug and alcohol use and instances of physical aggression toward their spouses.

Previous research on the relationship between marijuana use and domestic violence has largely been based on cross-sectional data (that is, data from one point in time), and those findings have been mixed: some studies found links between marijuana use and/or abuse and domestic violence, while others did not. The Buffalo study is one of the few to use data collected over the course of decades to examine the question, putting it on solid methodological ground compared to previous work.
Continue reading Study: Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence

What is: ‘Burning Man’ ?

Why Silicon Valley billionaires are obsessed with Burning Man

Burning Man is located in a temporary 5-square-mile city erected in the bare flatland of the Nevada desert. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, and Tesla’s Elon Musk have all joined their fellow burners in years past, weathering blistering heat and unpredictable sandstorms to enjoy a week of dancing and interactive art.

Burning Man has since become a totem for the Internet industry’s unique culture. Indeed, when Tesla’s Elon Musk was asked about Silicon Valley, HBO’s satirical series on tech culture, he reportedly said, “I really feel like [Director] Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley … If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.”

Silicon Valley billionaires could vacation anywhere in the world. Yet they volunteer to be part of a crazy social experiment with thousands of strangers in the blistering desert.

When I asked Burning Man founder Larry Harvey why the tech elite would vacation in the desert, he rephrased the question. “Why Silicon Valley would be smitten with the idea of an unlimited blank slate to do things that have never been done?”, he laughed, “It doesn’t seem like much of a mystery.”

What does Burning Man’s culture have in common with Silicon Valley?

Black rock city

(Flickr user DCMatt)

Burning Man is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation. The goal is to be expressive and experimental — scientifically, artistically, sexually, or spiritually. For techies, it’s a chance to try out untested gadgets and go nuts with the oddest social experiences imaginable.
Continue reading What is: ‘Burning Man’ ?

Many of us know this already; but …

Author: Robert Reich,
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:55 AM
New study shows Americans have never felt more powerless.

Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. {Actually according to recent polls the 13% recorded in Jan/Feb 2014 has declined to 6% in Aug}.  The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.

A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother?

A new study scheduled to be published in this fall by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page confirms our worst suspicions.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens.

Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, lawmakers respond to the policy demands of wealthy individuals and monied business interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

Before you’re tempted to say “duh,” wait a moment. Gilens’ and Page’s data come from the period 1981 to 2002. This was before the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in “Citizens United,” prior to SuperPACs, and before the Wall Street bailout. So it’s likely to be even worse now.

But did the average citizen ever have much power? The eminent journalist and commentator Walter Lippman argued in his 1922 book “Public Opinion” that the broad public didn’t know or care about public policy. Its consent was “manufactured” by an elite that manipulated it. “It is no longer possible … to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” Lippman concluded.

Yet American democracy seemed robust compared to other nations that in the first half of the twentieth century succumbed to communism or totalitarianism.

Political scientists after World War II hypothesized that even though the voices of individual Americans counted for little, most people belonged to a variety of interest groups and membership organizations – clubs, associations, political parties, unions – to which politicians were responsive. “Interest-group pluralism,” as it was called, thereby channeled the views of individual citizens, and made American democracy function.

What’s more, the political power of big corporations and Wall Street was offset by the power of labor unions, farm cooperatives, retailers, and smaller banks.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith approvingly dubbed it “countervailing power.” These alternative power centers ensured that America’s vast middle and working classes received a significant share of the gains from economic growth. Starting in 1980, something profoundly changed. It wasn’t just that big corporations and wealthy individuals became more politically potent, as Gilens and Page document. It was also that other interest groups began to wither. Grass-roots membership organizations shrank because Americans had less time for them. As wages stagnated, most people had to devote more time to work in order to makes ends meet. That included the time of wives and mothers who began streaming into the paid workforce to prop up family incomes.

At the same time, union membership plunged because corporations began sending jobs abroad and fighting attempts to unionize. (Ronald Reagan helped legitimize these moves when he fired striking air traffic controllers.) Other centers of countervailing power – retailers, farm cooperatives, and local and regional banks – also lost ground to national discount chains, big agribusiness, and Wall Street. Deregulation sealed their fates. Meanwhile, political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents. As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphing from state and local membership organizations into national fund-raising machines.

We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments. These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting. But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy. The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized. We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, our votes, {and our wallets…ed}. 


Faculty churn at charter schools in NYC

Author: Helen Zelon, City Limits
Friday, August 22, 2014 10:32 AM
The high rates of teacher attrition raise questions about whether even the most successful charter schools can maintain quality amid the churn.

High-quality teachers are integral to academic achievement, experts agree, from Finland and Singapore to East New York and Morrisania. Cultivating excellent teachers and retaining them in the profession are paramount goals, shared by a bevy of bedfellows usually at odds in the education-reform debate, from teachers unions to charter-school champions like the Gates, Walton and Broad foundations.

But according to data from the New York State Department of Education, charter schools in New York City lose far more teachers every year than their traditional school counterparts. In some schools, more than half of faculty “turn over” from one school year to the next, according to NYSED school report cards.

Charter advocates at the New York City Charter School Center and at Success Academies, the city’s largest charter network, say that at least some of the turnover is due to movement within school networks—teachers moving up the leadership ladder, for example, or to seed the faculty of new schools, which have opened at a rapid clip in recent years.

But even so, it’s hard to explain a churn of more than half the veteran faculty, which is the case at 15 percent of charter schools for which the state reports data.

With so much scholarship on developing and holding onto talented teachers, why are New York’s charter schools essentially draining of talent every year, with schools routinely losing a third, half, or, in extreme cases, up to two-thirds of classroom teachers? What happens to schools when faculty lounges have revolving doors? And how do charter leaders and advocates respond?
Continue reading Faculty churn at charter schools in NYC

Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn, How to Ensure a Thriving Caliphate

Posted by Patrick Cockburn at 8:08am, August 21, 2014.

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Think of the new “caliphate” of the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s gift to the world (with a helping hand from the Saudis and other financiers of extremism in the Persian Gulf). How strange that they get so little credit for its rise, for the fact that the outlines of the Middle East, as set up by Europe’s colonial powers in the wake of World War I, are being swept aside in a tide of blood.

Had George and Dick not decided on their “cakewalk” in Iraq, had they not raised the specter of nuclear destruction and claimed that Saddam Hussein’s regime was somehow linked to al-Qaeda and so to the 9/11 attacks, had they not sent tens of thousands of American troops into a burning, looted Baghdad (“stuff happens”), disbanded the Iraqi army, built military bases all over that country, and generally indulged their geopolitical fantasies about dominating the oil heartlands of the planet for eternity, ISIS would have been an unlikely possibility, no matter the ethnic and religious tensions in the region. They essentially launched the drive that broke state power there and created the kind of vacuum that a movement like ISIS was so horrifically well suited to fill.

All in all, it’s a remarkable accomplishment to look back on. In September 2001, when George and Dick launched their “Global War on Terror” to wipe out — so they then claimed — “terrorist networks” in up to 60 countries, or as they preferred to put it, “drain the swamp,” there were scattered bands of jihadis globally, while al-Qaeda had a couple of camps in Afghanistan and a sprinkling of supporters elsewhere. Today, in the wake of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and an air power intervention in Libya, after years of drone (and non-drone) bombing campaigns across the Greater Middle East, jihadist groups are thriving in Yemen and Pakistan, spreading through Africa (along with the U.S. military), and ISIS has taken significant parts of Iraq and Syria right up to the Lebanese border for its own bailiwick and is still expanding murderously, despite a renewed American bombing campaign that may only strengthen that movement in the long run.

Has anyone covered this nightmare better than the world’s least embedded reporter, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent? Not for my money. He’s had the canniest, clearest-eyed view of developments in the region for years now. As it happens, when he publishes a new book on the Middle East (the last time was 2008), he makes one of his rare appearances at TomDispatch. This month, his latest must-read work, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, is out. Today, this website has an excerpt from its first chapter on why the war on terror was such a failure (and why, if Washington was insistent on invading someplace, it probably should have chosen Saudi Arabia). It includes a special introductory section written just for TomDispatch. Thanks go to his publisher, OR Books. Tom

Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed
The Underrated Saudi Connection
By Patrick Cockburn

[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books. The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.

By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Continue reading Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn, How to Ensure a Thriving Caliphate

Poverty, inequality, and deprivation are not inevitable!

Author: Gary Reber
Friday, August 22, 2014 9:49 PM
On August 22, 2014, Dean Paton of Yes Magazine writes:

Inequality and poverty are suddenly hot topics, not only in the United States but also across the globe. Since the early 1980s, there has been a growing underclass in America. At the same time a much smaller class, now called the superrich, built its wealth to levels of opulence not seen since France’s Louis XVI. Despite this, the resulting inequality went mostly unnoticed. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, and the division between the very wealthy and the rest of us came starkly into focus, various people and groups, including the Occupy movement, began insisting more publicly that we tax wealth. But still, helping the poor has been mostly a discussion on the fringes. At last, the terms of public debate have changed, because inequality and poverty now are debated regularly in the mainstream media and across the political spectrum, not solely by labor, by the left, and by others imagining a new economy.

Inserting such a controversial topic into mainstream discourse is French economist Thomas Piketty. His 700-page tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, shocked everyone this year when it made The New York Timesbestseller list and bookstores found themselves backordering an economicsbook for legions of eager readers. Piketty did exhaustive searches of tax records from Great Britain, France, and the United States, going as far back as the late 18th century in France. Using sophisticated computer modeling and analyses, the professor from the Paris School of Economics debunks a long-held assumption—that income from wages will tend to grow at roughly the same rate as wealth—and instead makes a compelling case that, over time, the apparatus of capitalism grows wealth faster than wages. Result: Inequality between the wealthy and everyone else will widen faster and faster; and, without progressive taxation, his data show we’ll return to levels of inequality not seen since America’s Gilded Age.

Piketty, no Marxist, says a solution lies in a “confiscatory” tax on wealth: Tax salaries over $500,000 at 80 percent worldwide, and tax wealth at 15 percent worldwide. Every year.

Unless we can reverse the inequality trends of the past 35 years, Piketty says, the ensuing social chaos will eventually destroy democracy. Unfortunately, not even Piketty sees much chance of all nations on Earth simultaneously enacting his tax plans.

But at least he sparked a widespread discussion. And fortunately, others have been digging deeply, thoughtfully into the same questions, and they have some practical as well as achievable ideas for reversing poverty and inequality trends.


Pulitizer Prize-winner Hedrick Smith authored a pageturner called Who Stole the American Dream? Despite his whodunnit title, Smith reveals the perps long before you finish the book. The former New York Times reporter uses data and real-life stories to build a case against American CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding.

Gar Alperovitz is a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. Like Smith, Alperovitz asks a question with his book’s title: What Then Must We Do? To be more accurate, he might have called it “Here’s What We’re Already Doing”—to create fresh models that can inspire a new economy. Between 1945 and 1973, Smith notes, U.S. workers’ productivity grew by 96 percent, and they were rewarded with a 94 percent increase in their wages. Between 1973 and 2011, years that parallel a collapse of the middle class, U.S. workers’ productivity grew by 80 percent, yet those evermore-productive employees saw only a 10 percent increase in their wages. Millions who created that wealth were thus pushed into poverty or to its precipice, while those who fancy a neomedieval economic system transferred billions in profits, generated by that labor, upward to themselves.

What makes Alperovitz’s ideas valuable is that he not only lays out an array of alternatives already keeping people from poverty, but solutions we also can build upon to create strategies that, over time, might replace corporate capitalism.

And replacing capitalism no longer is farfetched. In 2013, Alperovitz was invited to address the Academy of Management, a group mostly of corporate advisers and business school professors with 20,000 members worldwide, “and the entire focus of the meeting was: Is capitalism over?—and, if so, where are we going?” Alperovitz pointed out during an extended conversation. “Even these people are now open to new ideas.”

Smith makes a similar point. The American system is now so obviously broken that even some corporate leaders are calling for a “domestic Marshall Plan” to repair our economy. From their thinking and others, he puts forward a proposal to reclaim the American Dream.

Start, he says, by creating a public-private partnership to generate 5 million new jobs rebuilding infrastructure—bridges, highways, and rail corridors. Increase government investment in science and high-technology research to bolster U.S. innovation and spur a manufacturing renaissance.

Make income tax fairer, which will decrease inequality, then fix the corporate tax structure so it promotes American jobs and curtails outsourcing. At the same time, force China to live up to ethical trading principles because that would generate up to 4 million U.S. jobs.

We can cut the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion—not much more than 10 percent of annual military spending—over the next decade, Smith says, and pump the money into this domestic Marshall Plan. We should also refinance millions of homes now “underwater” and strengthen safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The bad news: Much of this new Marshall Plan depends on congressional action, where such ideas have little chance as long as the current gridlock prevails.

“Changing America’s direction will not be easy,” Smith says. “It will happen only if there is a populist, grassroots surge demanding it, like the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s.”

Our political system is as broken as our economic system. But Americans could mobilize to reform electoral politics and reduce the influence of money in elections. And for those who are disenchanted with government, Smith recommends that they take a look at how well it’s working for the mobilized and active financial superclass.
Continue reading Poverty, inequality, and deprivation are not inevitable!

Astrophysics Lessons 201: 16-22 Aug. 2014

Note: All of these articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

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Even Odds

Credit: SDSS/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Credit: SDSS/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

A few (impolite) questions about the ice bucket challenge

huh? a person douses themselves with ice water INSTEAD of donating ?

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The United States Has Unfinished Business in Ukraine and Iraq

Geopolitical Weekly

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By George Friedman

In recent weeks, some of the international system’s unfinished business has revealed itself. We have seen that Ukraine’s fate is not yet settled, and with that, neither is Russia’s relationship with the European Peninsula. In Iraq we learned that the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the creation of a new Iraqi political system did not answer the question of how the three parts of Iraq can live together. Geopolitical situations rarely resolve themselves neatly or permanently.

These events, in the end, pose a difficult question for the United States. For the past 13 years, the United States has been engaged in extensive, multidivisional warfare in two major theaters — and several minor ones — in the Islamic world. The United States is large and powerful enough to endure such extended conflicts, but given that neither conflict ended satisfactorily, the desire to raise the threshold for military involvement makes logical sense.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point sought to raise the bar for military action. However, it was not clear in the speech what Obama meant in practical terms when he said:

“Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Given events in Ukraine and Iraq, the president’s definition of a “nail” in relation to the U.S. military “hammer” becomes important. Military operations that cannot succeed, or can succeed only with such exorbitant effort that they exhaust the combatant, are irrational. Therefore, the first measure of any current strategy in either Ukraine or Iraq is its sheer plausibility. Continue reading The United States Has Unfinished Business in Ukraine and Iraq

America violates the rule of law principle

(in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf – July 2014)

The U.S. Army field manual defines “the rule of law” as follows: “The rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”

Going by that definition, the U.S. government does not operate according to the rule of law. A panel of former executive-branch employees, many of whom served in the U.S. military or the CIA, made this point bluntly in a recent report on drones. “Despite the undoubted good faith of US decision-makers, it would be difficult to conclude that US targeted strikes are consistent with core rule of law norms,” they declared. “From the perspective of many around the world, the U.S. appears to claim, in effect, the legal right to kill any person it determines is a member of al-Qaida or its associated forces, in any state on Earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret evidence, evaluated in a secret process by unknown and largely anonymous individuals—with no public disclosure of which organizations are considered ‘associated forces,’ no means for anyone outside that secret process to raise questions about the criteria or validity of the evidence, and no means for anyone outside that process to identify or remedy mistakes or abuses.”

Just so.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government violates “rule of law” norms in other areas too. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not operate with “procedural and legal transparency.” The Office of Legal Counsel adopts highly contestable yet totally secret interpretations of statutes that dramatically affect policy outcomes. Citizens and corporations are served with secret court orders and often feel confused about whether they are even permitted to consult with counsel. Laws against revealing classified information are not enforced equally—powerful actors routinely leak official secrets with impunity, while whistleblowers and dissidents are aggressively persecuted for the mere “mishandling” of state secrets. The director of national intelligence committed perjury without consequence. President Obama has blatantly violated a duly ratified, legally binding treaty that requires him to investigate and prosecute acts of torture. He also violated the War Powers Resolution by participating in the military overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi without securing the approval of Congress. And he won’t even clarify exactly what groups he considers us to be at war with! Continue reading America violates the rule of law principle

Pope Francis’s Radical Environmentalism

(via The Atlantic by Tara Isabella Burton – July 11, 2014

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This past weekend, Pope Francis did something that was quietly revolutionary. In a talk at the Italian university of Molise, Francis characterized concerns about the environment as “one of the greatest challenges of our time”—a challenge that is theological, as well as political, in nature. “When I look at … so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can [no] longer give life,” he reflected, citing South American forests in particular. “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth. … This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.” And the pontiff isn’t stopping there; he’s reportedly planning to issue an encyclical, or papal letter, about man’s relationship with the environment.

It’s easy to be glib about Francis’s remarks—few people see the chopping-down of the Amazonian rainforests as an encouraging development. And a pope championing environmental protection isn’t entirely new; after all, The Guardian dubbed Benedict XVI the “first green pontiff” for his work in this area. But by characterizing the destruction of the environment not merely as a sin, but rather as our sin—the major sin, he suggests, of modern times—the pope is doing more than condemning public inaction on environmental issues. By staking out a fiercely pro-environmentalist position, while limiting his discourse about hot-button issues like homosexuality, Francis is using his pulpit to actively shape public discourse about the nature of creation (indeed, environmental issues were part of his first papal mass). In so doing, he is implicitly endorsing a strikingly positive vision of the individual’s relationship with the created world, and with it a profoundly optimistic vision of what it means to be human—and incarnate—overall, opening the door for a radical shift in emphasis, though not doctrine, when it comes to the Catholic Church’s view of mankind. Continue reading Pope Francis’s Radical Environmentalism

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


AP Photo / Patrick Semansky
 A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

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

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

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

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

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

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

Marketing, math, and millennials

(via The Ad Contrarian – June 2014)

Math And Millennials

Us ad hacks have a problem. We don’t understand math.

The result is that we’re easily impressed, mislead, and bullied by sneaky or irrelevant data, meaningless charts, fast talking metrics monkeys, and cement-head marketing mavens who know even less than we do..

Here’s an example.

Someone recently sent me one of those articles about the brilliance of auto makers shifting to online media to attract the precious Millennials. The piece featured this fact…

“Millennials, defined as 18 to 30 year olds, make up 40 percent of the total available car buying population…”

Wow! We better get our millennial strategy going pronto, right?

Not so fast.

While they may make up 40% of the total available (that’s the sneaky weasel word) car buying population, they make up a tiny percent of the actual car buying population.

In fact, the last stats I saw were that 18-34 year olds buy about 12% of new cars. So 18-30 year olds have to be less than 10% of actual car buyers.

Let’s go to the blackboard.

If 18-30 year olds are 40% of the available population but only 10% of actual buyers, that means they index at 25. That is, they buy 25% of what they would be expected to buy if they bought proportionately to their population.

Meanwhile, if people over 30 represent 60% of the availablebuyers and buy 90% of the actual cars, they index at 150. That means they buy 1.5 times as many cars as they should in a normal distribution.

So if this guy’s numbers are correct, a person over 30 is six times as likely to buy a new car as someone under 30.

Still excited about that Millennial strategy, amigo?

The Ad Contrarian on “the consumer is in charge”

The Consumer Is In Charge. Of What?

(via The Ad Contrarian Blog – July 29th, 2014)

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“The Consumer Is In Charge” says Kaiser Permanente CIO

“Consumers and their demands are in charge of business” says Frito-Lay’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

“Today, the customer is in charge,” said SrVP for marketing at Wal-Mart Stores, 

One of the inescapable clichés of modern marketing is that “the consumer is in charge.”

It’s virtually impossible to talk with anyone in the marketing industry for any period of time without hearing this trite lump of nothing.

There are three things horribly wrong with it:

1. It assumes that there was a time in the past in which the consumer wasn’t in charge of making buying decisions. I’d love to know when that was.

2. It assumes the usual bullshit about the web having “changed everything.” For a nice chuckle about this lovely bit of stupidity, I refer you to one of my favorite all-time classics of marketing doubletalk.

3. Most depressingly, it shows a remarkable and frightening lack of understanding about what’s really going on in the world.

Today, we going to focus on item #3.

Among the most disturbing aspects of economics and society today is the alarming degree to which a handful of companies control what we see, hear, and buy. Never before in my lifetime has so much power been consolidated into the hands of so few entities. Never before have the choices for consumers been so concentrated.
Continue reading The Ad Contrarian on “the consumer is in charge”

Don’t accept B.S. from climate change deniers

NCDC Releases June 2014 Global Report

June 2014 Global Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles Map

According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for June 2014 was the highest for June since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 38th consecutive June and 352nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for June was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985.

Most of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures, with record warmth across part of southeastern Greenland, parts of northern South America, areas in eastern and central Africa, and sections of southern and southeastern Asia. Similar to May, scattered sections across every major ocean basin were also record warm. Notably, large parts of the western equatorial and northeastern Pacific Ocean and most of the Indian Ocean were record warm or much warmer than average for the month. A few areas in North America, Far East Russia, and small parts of central and northeastern Europe were cooler or much cooler than average.

This monthly summary from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, the business sector, academia, and the public to support informed decision making.

Unsurprisingly, race drives much of the political polarization in America.

via AlterNet – Aug. 15th, 2014
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According to a recent Pew Research Foundation report, liberals and conservatives live in different worlds. The report depicts a society where finding common ground to confront shared problems is all but impossible. Pew’s research provides empirical evidence for the common-sense notion that America’s political culture is broken.

The report details how those on the Left and the Right do not talk with one another, have separate social networks, different values, consume different news media, live in neighborhoods with politically like-minded people, and possess different attitudes about America’s changing ethnic and racial demographics.

The report notes that “far more liberals than conservatives think it is important that a community have racial and ethnic diversity (76% vs. 20%). At the same time, conservatives are more likely than liberals to attach importance to living in a place where many people share their religious faith (57% vs. 17% of liberals).”

Most importantly, the Left and the Right cannot agree on basic facts about the nature of empirical reality. Movement conservatives are immersed in a fantasy land of mythological thinking on a range of issues from global warming and science to the economy and foreign policy.

Liberals and conservatives are also unable to agree on the nature of the common good and the role to be played by the social compact in American life.

As Pew’s new report suggests, how can a society come together to solve its problems if its members cannot agree on basic facts?

While little discussed in the report, attitudes about race and the color line are central fissures in polarized America. The oft-discussed “browning of America,” and the country’s changing demographics, are a source of anxiety for many white Americans. The ahistorical claim (whiteness is an expanding and adaptive racial category; there are “white” people today who would not have been considered white in the earlier parts of the 20th and 19th centuries) that in the near future white people will no longer be a majority group in the United States is a potent tool for white conservatives to mobilize their base through division and fear.

A sophisticated and nuanced understanding of American politics requires that one grapple with white supremacy’s enduring power to shape the political terrain of the United States. Extreme political polarization is a reflection of how the Republican and Democratic parties have positioned themselves on questions of race and social equality. The Democratic Party is identified as the party of “racial minorities.” The Republican Party is almost exclusively white. Consequently, both organizations have crafted political strategies which they believe best leverage their voting public.

The Democratic Party is more inclusive and seeks to maintain and expand its support among people of color. The Republican Party has chosen from the Southern Strategy of the late 1960s onward, to use white identity politics, and a mix of overt and covert racist appeals, to mobilize white voters.

The Tea Party, the most powerful faction in the GOP, is a typical example of that process: its members are more racially resentful, have higher levels of white racial animus than “mainstream” conservatives, and are beginning to think of their political interests in explicitly racial terms.

And because the Republican Party is increasingly dependent on a shrinking base of older white conservatives voters, its leaders have decided to pursue a strategy of voter suppression, harassment and intimidation to limit access to the franchise by non-whites as a way of gaining an electoral advantage.

Racial attitudes and partisanship are deeply intertwined: together they have created the highly polarized American public.

The election of Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president, has been the political equivalent of pouring gasoline on dynamite. Obama is both black and a Democrat. He is the public face and leader of the Democratic Party. This is a perfect storm for white racial animus and extreme partisanship by the white right and the Tea Party GOP.

Hofstader’s famous “paranoid style in American politics” has combined with white supremacy and a right-wing propaganda machine to create a state of derangement among conservatives where the madness of birtherism, their Benghazi fetish-obsession, “death panels,” the Tea Party GOP’s embrace of the neoconfederacy and the American swastika (i.e. the Confederate flag), talk of secession and nullification, right-wing domestic terrorism, and an unprecedented lawsuit by Speaker of the House John Boehner against a sitting President, are accepted as normal politics.
Continue reading Unsurprisingly, race drives much of the political polarization in America.

How John Oliver Torpedoed the Reassuring Tropes of Fake News

The “Last Week Tonight” host isn’t interested in offering a balm for tough times. He wants you to pay attention.

via Salon – Aug. 15th, 2014
* * * *

It’s been something of a shock — and a joyous one — to see how quickly John Oliver’s HBO program, “Last Week Tonight,” has gone from an awkward up-and-comer to an outright hit.

Not only is the program wildly popular with critics in the big markets, it’s being hailed in plenty of smaller regional venues. It’s pretty safe to say that landing an extended rave in the Auburn Citizen — circulation 10,000 — means you’ve broken out of the New York City media bubble.

The significance of the show’s surging popularity goes beyond its various laudable, and widely lauded, elements (the more diverse writer’s room, the commercial-free format, and so on). What the success of “Last Week Tonight” suggests, on a deeper level, is that American television viewers may finally be tired of the frantic bombast generated by the Stimulation Media.

What’s more, after years of making do with the therapeutic jibes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, they are finding in Oliver a figure more interested in making sense of the world than in making them laugh.

This is not to say Oliver isn’t funny. He and his writers and guests have come up with some uproarious bits, most recently an infomercial supplied by comedian Sarah Silverman urging Americans in dire financial straits to do anything other than borrow money from a predatory payday loan firm. “People will pay you to pee on them,” she confides. “That’s true. Doodies too! Doodies are more. Like double.” But a bit like this is not the point of the show. It’s merely the scatological kicker to a much larger story, one about the rapacity of an industry dedicated to exploiting our most economically vulnerable citizens.

Oliver spent more than 15 minutes detailing what payday loans are, how the industry targets desperate consumers with misleading ads, conceals its draconian fees and dodges regulation. It was a tour de force of explanatory journalism. After eviscerating the obvious targets, Oliver even took aim at those consumers who fail to use common sense in dealing with their debt. Everyone involved had to shoulder some blame.

This was precisely the kind of story that would never appear on a fake news show. First, because it’s not part of the idiotic news cycle that most of those shows wind up aping (i.e., there’s no “hook”). And second, because it happens to be about the segment of our population most underrepresented in the media: poor people.
Continue reading How John Oliver Torpedoed the Reassuring Tropes of Fake News

Militarization of the police force

To Terrify and Occupy
How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders. They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic. He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

 The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars’ worth, and one legal handgun — the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.
Continue reading Militarization of the police force

Huzzah !!!


Astrophysics Lessons: 1-11 Aug 2014

Note: This series of articles were all written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

* * * *

Blood Ore


Our encounter with: The Snake !!

In the original post:

Big Game Hunters – Killed a Copperhead tonight!

My girl: Maggie and I went out for our nightly walk, and along the road Maggie began barking and circling around something in the road – turned out to be a copperhead, something more than 2′. She kept circling it, and I whipped out my trusty slingshot, and hit it with three 12mm steel balls from about 10-12 feet. Dead !

Of course Judy thought otherwise, but I assure you my girl Maggie and I dispatched the snake permanently!

See More

Big Game Hunters - Killed a Copperhead tonight!</p>
<p>My girl: Maggie and I went out for our nightly walk, and along the road Maggie began barking and circling around something in the road - turned out to be a copperhead, something more than 2'. She kept circling it, and I whipped out my trusty slingshot, and hit it with three 12mm steel balls from about 10-12 feet. Dead !</p>
<p>Of course Judy thought otherwise, but I assure you my girl Maggie and I dispatched the snake permanently!</p>
<p>Not quite up there with Sheri & Robert; but this was at night, and this was a snake....dispatched with a slingshot!</p>
<p>Maggie and I are available for photos and interviews as deemed appropriate!

LikeLike ·  · 

…and then the follow up…

re: “Big Game Hunters Kill Copperhead”

In response to the doubts about this earth-shattering episode expressed by my former friends, I hereby provide proof of Maggie and my heroic encounter with THE SNAKE !

Sheesh…as I told the President this morning at the Prayer Breakfast: “I would never make up stuff that didn’t really happen”

re: "Big Game Hunters Kill Copperhead"</p>
<p>In response to the doubts about this earth-shattering episode expressed by my former friends, I hereby provide proof of Maggie and my heroic encounter with THE SNAKE !</p>
<p> I told the President this morning at the Prayer Breakfast: "I would never make up stuff that didn't really happen"

LikeLike ·  · 


Richard Pressl Bizmarts – Business Equipment Resellers Waleska, GA, USA, 30183 (770)345-4663

Frontline special: Losing Iraq

Aug. 8th, 2014: Frontline offers a comprehensive review of our country’s experience with Iraq: 2003-Present.

The 90 minute episode provides the answers to everyone’s basic questions – and substantiates the horrendous results that America engendered by invading Iraq.

The killing will continue at least until the region is divided into tribal-sectarian states…which could take generations. 

Wanton death and destruction by the military in occupied lands

In Gaza, dispute over civilian vs combatant deaths

Posted Friday, Aug. 08, 2014

Mideast Gaza Civilians Vs Combatants

View photos - Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

In the grisly math of the Israel-Hamas war, conflicting counts of combatants and civilians killed in Gaza are emerging — with the ratio perhaps more important to shaping international opinion of the month long conflict than any final toll.

The U.N. and rights groups operating in Gaza say about three-quarters of the around 1,900 Palestinians killed were civilians, including 450 children, with many perishing in strikes that killed several family members at a time.

Israel estimates that between 40-50 percent of those killed in Gaza were fighters. While the overall count is not in great dispute, those doing tallies use different methods and standards to make that all important determination of who is a civilian.

The U.N. and human rights groups rely on witness accounts and community contacts of field researchers to distinguish civilians from combatants. Mahmoud AbuRahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights said his researchers require at least two sources and count on their local ties to determine if someone was a combatant or civilian.

For its part, Israel has said it uses its own intelligence reports to determine who among the dead belonged to Hamas or other militant groups. The ratio of civilians to combatants could be used by either side to promote their narrative of what took place in the conflict.

Israel faces growing international criticism over the large number of civilians killed in Gaza, with President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon both saying Israel could do much more to prevent harm to noncombatants. Ban said this week that “the massive deaths and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world.”
Continue reading Wanton death and destruction by the military in occupied lands

It’s never really “finished”

Who Knewed? The Blue Nude

Lillian Hellman popularized the term in the second volume of her memoir; in the opening scene of Julia, taken from Hellman’s book, Jane Fonda explained the meaning of the term: pentimento. On some canvases oil paint turns transparent over time, and from beneath emerges another figure or a whole painting. A cat has become a vase of flowers; peaches on lace, a little girl. “That is called pentimento,” wrote Hellman, “because the painter ‘repented,’ changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.”

Beneath a Caravaggio or Rembrandt masterpiece, conservators have often detected many earlier attempts at composition, with the hand positioned here instead or the head cocked another way or a character in different costume, all rough drafts leading to the final portrait. Recently, conservators discovered another pentimento, in Picasso’s “The Blue Room.” Picasso painted it when he was 19 and in his “Blue Period.” The painting is a scene in his Paris studio, a woman standing in a shallow tub, leaning to wash her right thigh, as light streams through the window. She is caught in an innocent, contemplative moment, unaware we are watching. Underneath lies another painting, Pentimento Man, a grumpy, bearded, middle-aged, bowtied guy with a bad comb over, his head slumped on a long index finger, his expression excruciatingly bored.

Picasso had a sense of humor, so maybe he placed the voyeur underneath, as though he’s gazing at the hindquarters of the nude woman. That rascal, Picasso. A more logical explanation: just short of starving, Picasso could hardly afford food, so how could he afford new canvas? When he got a better idea, he painted over an old one. NPR’s Scott Simon noted that grumpy old Pentimento Man still has not been identified, but “he helped remind us how failure and genius can be revealed in the same frame.”

If great artists can’t get their creations right the first time, what makes the rest of us think we have to? All of our writing – articles and books, reports and briefs, memoranda and proposals – should start as grumpy old Pentimento Men, and as we transform them on the way to our final draft, they will evolve into lovely figures captured in contemplative moments. Every article, book, and Tip I write begins as a grumpy old man. Or a cat, or a peach. Continue reading It’s never really “finished”

Corporate inversions: an update

Wonkbook: What you need to know about Obama’s possible inversion intervention

Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara (@pkollipara). To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Correction: Yesterday’s Wonkbook improperly stated the number of Americans who appear on a U.S. government database of known or suspected terrorists. That number is 25,000 Americans or legal residents. 

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 9.8 million. That’s the number of people who changed their racial or ethnic identity on Census forms in some way between 2000 and 2010.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: This chart shows how consumers are skimping on spending as though the recession never ended.

Wonkbook’s Top 5 Stories: (1) Inversion intervention; (2) wrapping up the Africa summit; (3) drug dilemmas dissected; (4) legal marijuana fallout; and (5) our robot overlords or coworkers?

1. Top story: The Obama administration’s possible tax inversion interventionAdministration may take action against companies that incorporate overseas to lower taxes. “About three weeks after Secretary Jacob J. Lew said officials had scoured ‘obscure provisions’ and determined that Treasury couldn’t act on its own, the department said yesterday it had begun exploring its options. In an inversion, a company moves its legal address outside the U.S. to lower its tax bill, typically by buying a smaller company….Treasury’s statement puts companies on notice for possible new rules, even as Lew continues to push for legislation. It also alters the prospects for at least eight U.S. companies with pending inversions as well as dozens of others that have carried out the transactions and might become subject to limits on their American operations.” Richard Rubin in Bloomberg.

Explainer: These are the companies abandoning the U.S. to dodge taxes. Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Why it’s tough for Congress to act: Every loophole has its lover. “Businesses complain that the high federal tax rate of 35 percent on corporations is what propels them to exploit every opportunity to shave their tax bill. And Washington is listening: Lowering that nominal rate in exchange for pruning the crop of special-interest deductions is a principle embraced by President Obama and Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the truth, explains Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat…is that ‘businesses all want to get rid of the other guy’s tax deductions — and reduce rates.’” Patricia Cohen in The New York Times.

Obama aides let firm use inversions as part of auto bailout. “While executives continue to run Delphi Automotive Plc from a Detroit suburb, the paper headquarters in England potentially reduces the company’s U.S. tax bill by as much as $110 million a year….The Delphi case also highlights how little attention the administration paid to the tax avoidance technique until recently. Only this year did Obama include a measure in his annual budget proposal to prevent some tax-driven address changes….Thanks to gaps in a Congressional ban on contracts with inverted companies, his administration continues to award more than $1 billion annually in government business to more than a dozen corporate expats.” Zachary R. Mider in Bloomberg.

One way the effort might work: ‘earnings stripping.’ “When a U.S. company acquires a foreign firm, and decides to domicile overseas in a low-tax country like Ireland, it will often load the U.S. subsidiary up with debt that is ‘owed’ to the foreign headquarters. Interest payments on this debt can often be deducted from taxable income. If the debt is considered ‘excessive,’ the practice is known as “earnings stripping.’…The Obama White House has already proposed that Congress pass a law that would effectively end such… arrangements, but Congress hasn’t acted. The Treasury Department could instead decide to act unilaterally to prohibit the practice, effectively by amending 163(j) in the tax code.” Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

Foreign firms are pushing back. “Talk of cracking down on U.S. corporations that move offshore is making some other companies nervous — notably, foreign-owned concerns, which are warning of cuts to their U.S. employment or investment if they’re caught in the cross hairs….Foreign firms’ concerns could complicate efforts to move against inversions. They could also encourage policy makers to adopt relatively narrow restrictions that would leave the U.S. vulnerable to tax avoidance.” John D. McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

Why did Walgreen’s back down from its inversion move? “Walgreen Chief Executive Officer Greg Wasson said the company…ultimately could not overcome concerns about ‘the potential consumer backlash and political ramifications’ if the Internal Revenue Service challenged the move. The U.S. Treasury, too, is exploring methods to discourage such inversions by U.S. companies. Walgreen also faced the significant risk of lost business with the U.S. government, Wasson noted, given the company’s heavy reliance on reimbursements from Medicare. For many analysts, however, the company’s decision to remain based in the U.S. was overshadowed by a weak outlook for much of the next two years.” Justin Bachman in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Is the inversion wave just beginning? “So far this year, about a dozen U.S. companies…have merged with foreign firms and shifted their headquarters offshore to avoid U.S. taxes, analysts say. Dozens of additional deals are in the works, according to administration and congressional officials, and other companies are quietly contemplating the move. Last month, CVS Caremark chief executive Larry Merlo met with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and urged him to act to stop the rash of expatriations. Otherwise, Schumer said that Merlo warned him, CVS ‘might be forced to do it, too,’ to duck a total tax bill expected this year to approach 40 percent.” Lori Montgomery in The Washington Post.

The biggest winners in the inversion wave: lawyers. “Shayndi Raice of The Wall Street Journal has a story…on ‘How Tax Inversions Became the Hottest Trend in M&A.’…Raice explains that tax and M&A lawyers from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a giant New York firm, took a bike trip to Southern France in 2010, when merger activity — and hence legal fees — had fallen off. The lawyers were looking for ways to boost business. And they hit upon one….The Skadden, Arps lawyers came back from their bike tour and started pitching bankers at J.P Morgan Chase & Co, Deutsche Bank and Perella Weinberg Partners, Raice reports. And those banks started pitching the idea to clients in Europe.” Yuval Rosenberg in The Fiscal Times.

BARRO: Inverting the debate. “There is a third option…abolishing the corporate income tax and increasing the tax burden on shareholders. The economists Alan Viard and Eric Toder have a plan to do this; they would offset repeal of the corporate tax by taxing dividends and capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income, and by taxing those gains every year, not just when the stock is sold. The big disadvantage of the Viard-Toder plan is that it would lose revenue….The Viard-Toder plan has a number of advantages; for example, it would end the tax incentives that encourage corporations to finance themselves with debt instead of equity. Another big plus is that it would make inversion pointless.” Josh Barro in The New York Times.

SCOTT: How do you solve this kind of problem? “What is the solution to inversions? There probably isn’t one in the short term. As Sullivan has pointed out before, until the political calculations change on Capitol Hill, which would require significantly more public demand, both anti-inversion and earnings stripping legislation are long shots. So those craving some kind of congressional intervention should root for major, brand-name companies (like Walgreens) to explore or propose inversions. That’s the only way voters will take notice and influence rank-and-file Republicans to actually care about the issue.” Jeremy Scott in Forbes.

GARVER: Corporations aren’t patriots. The tax code is the problem. “For hundreds of years, people have remarked on the futility of expecting corporations to behave as though they have some sort of conscience….So, the Obama administration’s recent push for ‘economic patriotism’ as an antidote to the trend of ‘corporate inversions’…feels like little more than an attempt to wring some political advantage from a problem that can really only be solved through legislation. Specifically, through corporate tax reform.” Rob Garver in The Fiscal Times.

How unpopular are they

(via – Aug. 5th, 2014)

In recent years, Congress’s approval ratings have routinely fallen into the single digits. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, notes that this means Congress is less popular than the Internal Revenue Service, Richard Nixon during Watergate, banks, lawyers, Paris Hilton, and communism:


There’s typically a catch to these numbers: though Congress as an institution is incredibly unpopular (another poll found them to be less popular than lice, traffic jams, and Nickelback), individual members of Congress are typically well-liked by their constituents. In the 2012 election, for instance, 90 percent of congressional incumbents who sought new terms were reelected. To put it simply, people hate Congress but they tend to like their member of Congress. But that’s changing. A July 2014 Washington Post/ABC News poll found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans disapproved of their own member of Congress:

Atheism revisited


Why Aren’t More Americans Atheists?

Turns out it has nothing to do with science. And everything to do with politics.

Many expressed surprise recently when, in one of its periodic surveys of Americans’ views of other faiths, the Pew Research Center found that atheists fare poorly—fully 40 percent of those polled described their views toward atheists as “cold.” Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons—all are viewed more favorably than nonbelievers. Only around 2 percent of Americans identify themselves as atheists, according to Pew, even though religious observance, measured by things like church attendance and daily prayer, has been trending downward for decades.

You might think that America would be fertile ground for the rise of atheism. After all, the United States is the most scientifically advanced society in human existence, and as far as atheism has a history—and it is an oddly uncharted one—it is popularly believed to be of slow, steady scientific advance.

Once upon a time, so the story goes, people believed that the world was young and flat, that God made everything including people in a few, frantically busy days, and that earthquakes and thunderstorms were examples of his furious rage, which you ignored at your peril. Into this sorry state of affairs, emerged a thing called “science” and, despite the best efforts of ignorant, self-serving clerics who wished to keep the people in utmost darkness, “science” proved that none of the above was true. Gradually, wonderfully, the human race matured, with every confident scientific step forward pushing our infantile, crumbling ideas of the divine closer to oblivion. “Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science, as the strangled snakes besides that of Hercules,” as Thomas Huxley, the English biologist known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” memorably put it.
Continue reading Atheism revisited

Foreign Affairs: Israel

Situation Report via Foreign – Aug. 4th, 2014

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

* * * *
Glenn Greenwald reports this morning that the NSA has provided financial assistance, weapons and signals intel to Israel that has enabled attacks on its neighbors – like in Gaza. According to one top-secret NSA document Greenwald reports on in The Intercept blog this morning, the NSA maintains a “far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit, sharing information on access, intercepts, targeting, language and analysis reporting.” That’s probably not hugely surprising, that a powerful arm of the U.S. helps Israel. But at the same time, the U.S. and others are this morning condemning new attacks Israel has mounted on Gaza.

Greenwald: “…the new Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling.” Read Greenwald’s latest, this morning, here.

A missile strike near a U.N. school in Gaza kills 10 and the U.S. calls the attack “disgraceful.”

The NYT’s Steven Erlanger and Fares Akram in Jerusalem: “As Israel began to redeploy significant numbers of its troops away from populated areas of Gaza on Sunday, an Israeli Air Force missile struck near the entrance of a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killing 10 people and wounding 35 others and drawing a new round of international condemnation. The growing civilian death toll has stirred outrage in Europe and large parts of the Arab world and, combined with Sunday’s strike near the Rafah school, prompted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations to call the attack a ‘moral outrage and a criminal act’ and to demand that those responsible for the “gross violation of international humanitarian law” be held accountable.

“…The State Department also condemned in harsh terms what it called ‘today’s disgraceful shelling’ outside the school in Rafah.” More here.
Continue reading Foreign Affairs: Israel

The AFI Top 100 – edited

My top 50 in alphabetical order:


There’s always one on the horizon

Hype Drive

Credit: SPR LTD.

Credit: SPR LTD.