Friday, August 21, 2015

Brace for Impact

More and more it's looking like curtains for civilization as we know it.  Some experts on global warming are now saying we are past the tipping point.  Of course we don't know for certain.  It's possible an unforeseen technological advancement could save us.  One difficulty though is we probably need civilization in order to implement a technological advancement that would save us.  But it is our civilization, which is capitalist with ever expanding consumption, that is killing us.  Civilization is both our demise and our possible savior.

I wonder what future generations will think of us.  They might be tempted to view global warming deniers as super nefarious people.  Maybe they'll see them as mass murderers.  But it's not the case.  They're true believers.  It's just incredible what humans are capable of believing.  Evidence is just not as important as other factors.  One factor I believe is just overwhelming.  Preference.

I think George W Bush genuinely believed Saddam had WMD's.  It was a convenient conclusion because it justified an invasion that had long been desired.  I think Cheney and Wolfowitz really did think Laurie Mylroie was on to something when she claimed Saddam was really the center of global Islamic terror.

I saw an interesting movie recently called Witch Hunt.  You can watch it here.  It's about how an aggressive prosecutor wrongly convicted dozens of people on charges of child molestation/abuse/rape.  It was very interesting and I recommend it.  You watch it and you'll be ticked about the prosecutor and the police interrogators who lead the children to make the incriminating claims.

But one policemen is somewhat unapologetic.  He points out that there was no conspiracy to screw people over.  You're dealing with charges involving kids, so you do what you have to do.  There's not a lot of remorse.

Kind of infuriating but it reinforces what I'm saying about preference.  When you have an incentive to reach a certain conclusion you just do.  For them there was a culture coming from the top down that tough on crime was going to lead to professional success.  People didn't have to be told to bend the rules.  They internalized it.  They believed it.  And they probably go home and sleep like babies.

For profit media of course has owners and advertisers that have preferences.  Billionaire donors to politicians have preferences.  Indulging those preferences is what's going to lead you to more professional success if you are a media personality or a politician.  These people believe what they are saying.  Global warming isn't happening, or if it is it isn't caused by man, or if it is we shouldn't do anything about it.  Yeah, they believe it, despite overwhelming evidence.

The result is we're screwed.  Something like 250 species go extinct per day.  The polar cap will be ice free in a few years, something that has not been true in human history.  At that point the warming is going to accelerate.  Will the deniers admit it at that point?  Probably not.  It's not their preference.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bush, Gog, and Magog

In the video below a NY Times columnist reports on a conversation between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac.  In his efforts to persuade him to bring the French in to support the war effort apparently Bush appealed to these biblical apocalyptic concepts of Gog and Magog.  Humorous for me because this terminology is very natural for me.  It's what I grew up with.  But I can imagine that someone not steeped in it would have been pretty weirded out.  Chirac conluded that Bush was a madman.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ahead Of Their Time

I recently watched an old movie from the 50's that at the time had been denounced by the US House of Representatives as sympathetic to communists.  During production anti-communist vigilantes fired rifle shots at the set.  After being edited in secret only 12 theaters would dare to screen it.  Many of the participants would be blacklisted in Hollywood.  The lead actress would be deported.

The film is called Salt of the Earth and you can watch it here.  Why such an extreme response?  It portrays a strike from a position sympathetic to the union.  It advances a view that men and women should be treated as equals.  It talks openly about the injustice of racism against Mexicans.

It struck me as way ahead of it's time.  These are not the kind of opinions I'm accustomed to seeing in a movie from that era.  But it occurs to me that this may be a bit of a pattern.  We're used to seeing the perspectives of rich people.  In the US that means capitalists.  They own the media, control the politics, and run the movie studios.  When we think back to that era we think of the perspective they preferred because they dominated the communication of the time and controlled the way history was being written.  Racist, sexist, hostile to working people.  I find as I look back and search for the opinions of others, maybe common men and women, the marginalized like the kind of people that would make a movie like this, it's not as much like that.

Take a look at some of the better known socialists and anarchists from times past and just note their positions.  Someone like Eugene Debs maybe.  Here's something of his from 1903 decrying the treatment of the negro and women.  Look into people like Mark Twain, Hellen Keller, Albert Einstein, George Orwell, ML King Jr, and others.  From what I know of them they seem very unlike the dominant men of their era.

And of course you can look a lot closer to our current era.  Bernie Sanders was against the Defense of Marriage Act when it was very popular in the US and Hillary was advocating it.  He was against the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, NAFTA, and all the other ridiculous policies that were a lot more popular at the time.  It seems to me that looking back it's the socialists that have been repeatedly right and the right wing wrong.

Urgent issues face the world today.  Issues related to the environment, war, race, economics.  You can align yourselves with the powerful.  But if you do that you may be seen as somewhat backwards in the future.  You may appear to be paranoid in your defense of status quo, as the House Un-American Activities people look today.  Today the FBI has more environmentalists on their list of suspected terrorists than any other group.  The powerful see environmental activism as the threat, just as they saw people advocating for racial and sexual equality as the threat of the past.  You can be on their side.  Or you can be on the side of people that have a tradition of being right and of doing the most to make the world better.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Very Glad Bernie is Running for President

What's tough listening to right wing radio is when they get upset about Hillary's supposed progressive positions.  Hillary wants to raise the minimum wage to $15.  Hillary is a pacifist, she'll gut the defense budget.  She'll regulate Wall St.  When both sides of the debate agree on something it's tough to break through and get people to recognize that no, that's not who she is.  She has a long track record of support for and from Wall St.  Support for war, hostility to unions.  Yet she's trying to pass herself off as a person that actually subscribes to progressive opinions.  In fact she's owned by various corporate boards just as Republicans are controlled by corporate boards (though in a lot of cases it's different corporate boards).

With Bernie you do get a guy that genuinely does care about people first, not the Chamber of Commerce and Wall St.  Even Ann Coulter understands that.  Take a look at where the monetary support for Bernie comes from as contrasted with Hillary.

Can he win?  I don't know.  Can the devastating effects of global warming be stopped?  I don't know.  But what else can you do but push forward based on the assumption that good things can happen?  If you sit back and assume you can't overcome these challenges that you definitely won't.

Here's a really good interview with Bernie that covers a lot of ground.  Maybe prior to 2008 you would expect more people to call his opinions crazy, but it's more getting to the point where you have to call it common sense.  Corruption is legal in the US, and the result is that the US is not a democracy but an oligarchy.  So though even the IMF, despite it's long history of imposing trickle down economics throughout the world, is now admitting that trickle down economics doesn't work, our politicians continue to act on the assumption that it does work.  The US system of for profit health care sucks.  Global warming is real, is caused by man, and needs to be mitigated if we're going to avoid devastating consequences.

Bernie isn't perfect, but he admits these obvious things and really does want to address them.  Hillary will admit them but probably has no intention of dealing with them.  She's Obama 2.0.  Even that is better than the Republicans, who are off the reservation chasing Koch money rather than facing reality.  So I'll prefer a Hillary victory to a Republican one.  But it would be so nice to have an honest progressive rather than a fake one.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Degree of US Responsibility for Islamic Extremism

When the socialist government in Afghanistan asked the Soviet Union to intervene to help repel the Islamic extremists, we all know the response from the US.  Military support for the Islamists.

The elected government in Iran in 1953 was secular.  The CIA overthrew that government for profit.  The current theocracy there is a direct reaction to that.

It's pretty well understood among the most respected sources that ISIS was created by the US.  Not that it was created intentionally, but it was a direct consequence of the US invasion of Iraq and the way the occupation was managed.  ISIS was also provided with military armaments from the US.  The theological roots of ISIS stem from elements in Saudi Arabia, which exist thanks to critical US military support of that regime, which enforces the ultra conservative Wahhabi form of Islam.

Hamas was funded by Israel.  The PLO was regarded as too powerful, so Israel helped nurture the Islamic extremist elements in the Palestinian territories as a divide and conquer strategy.  Hezbollah likewise is a result of Israeli action.  It was formed by Muslim clerics in response to the invasion and occupation of Lebanon in an effort to repel them.

This is what is frustrating to me about complaints from conservatives about radical Islam.  Every major radical Islamist presence has it's roots in policies supported by the very conservatives that decry radical Islam.  If we really have a problem with Islamic extremism we should ask ourselves why we allow our government to foster, nurture, and support it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bob Dutko and I talk about Saed Abedeeni

I often see items in my Facebook feed from conservative friends decrying the treatment of Saed Abedeeni, a Christian pastor that's currently being held in prison in Iran.  I find it frustrating.  Sure, it would be great if Saed was released.  I'm all for it.  But for an American war monger like Bob Dutko, who supports imprisoning people indefinitely even though they've not been charged with a crime, and in fact in some cases have been cleared for release, for him to lecture Iran and pretend to tell them that they are morally wrong in imprisoning someone, well it's ridiculous, and I called him up to explain why.  Audio below.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back Of My Mind

It's funny to me how some truths take some time to really sink in.  I'd heard years ago that meat consumption was worse for the planet in terms of global warming then the entire petroleum industry.  This was from a conservative that was trying to downplay the need for concern about global warming.  I guess the argument was that if I'm not talking about meat, which is worse, then global warming isn't a concern?  That doesn't make sense but in any case, maybe that is something I should be talking about.

So that's been in the back of my mind for a while.  Also in the back of my mind is something I think a lot of people have in the back of their mind and don't think about.  Humanity's treatment of animals is a horror show.  There's a movie called Earthlings which shows the violence directed towards animals by humans.  I haven't watched it, I'm not sure I want to put myself through it.  Here's the trailer.  I watched that.  That might be about all I want to try and handle, though maybe I will watch the full movie at some point.  This is beyond bad.

So I've decided to step it up and stop eating meat and dairy.  So far, about two weeks in, I have to say it's been easier than I thought.  I don't really crave it.  The only problem I've had is sometimes the limit on my options has been inconvenient.  We had food brought in for a work meeting and all I could eat was cole slaw and corn bread.  It's not ideal, but tolerable.

I can't say it's done me any good health wise here nearly two weeks in.  Nor can I say it has made me worse off.  From what I read it should be a more healthy way to eat.  The down side is it may cost more (I'll know soon enough) and of course I have to pass on some tasty food.  I can live with that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Our Murder of Journalists and Theirs

From William Blum, a great article on the treatment of our crimes and theirs.  Charlie Hebdo vs Al Jazeera.  And other points.

Similiarly, from Glenn Greenwald, when we burn people alive and when they burn people alive.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

More Environmentally Friendly Cheap Vacation Idea

This past weekend I had a (very) mini vacation that perhaps would be more satisfactory for some of my interlocutors here.  Free flights are fine in terms of starving the profit beast, but there's no doubt they are horrible for the environment.  How about just getting a hotel nearby with a nice pool and some free breakfast?  This was how I spent this last Saturday.  Total cost with food and movie rental was about $30 for the one night.  Not bad for 4 people.

It started with a Marriott Rewards credit card.  They gave me 70K points, which is good for almost 5 nights of lodging, depending on the hotel category, and they additionally gave me a voucher for a free night, and that voucher expires in early February.

So I kept saving it thinking that perhaps an opportunity where I would need it would come up, but nothing did.  So I decided to use it anyway.  Take my wife and kids to my old stomping grounds, Ann Arbor, Michigan where I went to school.  We could wander around campus and take in the views, then back to the hotel for swimming or whatever.

So that's what we did.  The family loved it and are looking forward to more of the same, which is likely since I don't often need a hotel but can easily acquire free nights via credit cards.  Just an idea I thought I'd share.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rah Rah, Vote for Hillary

I watched the state of the union and found that yeah, there's lots of typical war mongering, the US is the greatest BS.  Obama is about "responsible" droning.  Give me a break.  But on the flip side there were a few bones tossed to the progressive wing, maybe more than usual.  Here are a few statements I'm summarizing that jumped out at me:
Are we going to embrace an economy that helps all over the next 15 years?  Or one that helps only the wealthy few?

Are we going to let the powers that be sort us into factions that are turned against one another?

We must treat child care like a national economic priority.  It needs to be more available and more affordable.

Paid sick and maternity leave is something all modern countries provide, except ours.  I'm going to take steps to make it available.  "Send me a bill that allows workers 7 days of paid sick leave."

Employees should get the OT they earned.

We need a higher minimum wage.

We need laws that strengthen unions.

Make community college free.

Make student debt easier to deal with.

Old trade deals haven't lived up to the hype.

We need a free an open internet.

The tax code is rigged to help rich corporations. (Should be uncontroversial, but Republicans don't clap at this line.)

We should tax accumulated wealth.

End the embargo on Cuba and have better relations with them (once again a no brainer that Boehner doesn't like).

Don't pass another round of sanctions on Iran, he will veto it.

He's outraged about potential hacker invasions of privacy, like that of our kids?

"It's time to close Gitmo."

Global warming is happening and must be addressed.

Equal rights for GLBT.

Well, that's all great.  But the cynic in me wonders, where was all this talk when Obama had an actual chance of achieving any of it?  He had both houses of Congress.  Now he has neither.  Are the Republicans going to embrace an economy that serves all?  Fix the tax code to reign in corporations?  Increase the minimum wage?  Deal with global warming?

Let's remember, it was Obama's FBI that worked with local law enforcement to crush Occupy, designating them a "terrorist organization". Obama represents wealth and power. He didn't oppose them when he had a chance of doing it successfully, so why the rhetoric now? I assume it's to deliver a good performance for the Democratic party in 2016. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't vote for the D's. But I think we are being played.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Slacker Revolutionaries - Free Travel

For me I want radical change in society, but I'm not real keen on getting my skull cracked by cops for expressing that view.  If you're like me, consider other means of enacting change.  Starve the profit beast.  Learn to get what you want without spending money.

One thing that appeals to me is backing off on travel.  Do you know big the travel industry is?  $7 trillion freaking dollars.  Per year.  For perspective, the coffee industry is $8 billion.  So travel is out of hand.  We're spending crazy money on it.

The best solution is to just stop it.  Stay home on vacation.  But then the real world interferes.  Maybe your wife isn't as crazy as you are and wants to be somewhat normal.  Kids aren't buying off.  Maybe there's a wedding across the country and you are going one way or another.

My solution is to plan ahead and do it free.  Nobody profits from your travel.  Sure, airline workers have to do the work that gets you there, but they are paid wages, not profit.  Same for hotel staff.

Here's how it's done, and I'm telling you I literally do this, and have been doing it for years.  Take as just one example an American Airlines credit card.  They always have a promotion going that is something like this.  Spend $3K within 3 months and you get 50K miles.  That's two tickets in the continental US.  Right now you could also get a US Airways card that gives you 50K miles after a single purchase, though in this case there is an annual fee of $89 the first year.  Since AA and US Airways are merging this year you could have 100K miles in short order.  That's 4 free plane tickets in the continental US.

As I said, this is how I travel, but I haven't used a US Airways card to this point.  I just sign up for an AA card, get the bonus miles, cancel the card, wait a bit, then do it again for more miles.  It's easy.

What you might be thinking at this point is "Jon, I thought you wanted us to spend less.  Now you're telling me to spend $3K.  Which is it?"  Not to worry.  You don't actually have to spend the money.  You can employ some tricks that credit card manipulators use, which we call "manufactured spend."

A terrific way is with something called the Target Red Card (the prepaid version).  This is basically a reloadable debit card, but you can go online with your card and pay any bill.  Like your mortgage, your car payment, etc.  And yes, you can pay your credit card bill.

So suppose you want to reach a $3K minimum spend on an AA card.  You go to Target with your Red Card and tell the cashier you want to load $2500 (that's the daily limit, monthly limit is $5K).  Do it again some time later in the month.  Now you've performed the purchase on your AA card that met your minimum spend requirement.  You have a $5K balance on your AA card.  When your bill comes due, log in on the Target Red Card page and pay the bill.  You haven't spent a penny.  And now you fly free.

So you can get your plane tickets from Detroit to LA, but now what?  You're going to need a car, and car rental isn't free.  Is it?  Well of course it is.  Get a Barclay Arrival travel card.  After you hit the $3K minimum spend you'll have over $400 worth of travel credit you can redeem.  Renting cars is one way to spend that credit, and there are other ways.

Hotels?  Get a Hyatt card for 2 free nights (I did this the last time I went to New York).  Or get an IHG card.  Or a Marriot card.  Or all of them so you're ready in the future.

Remember also that if you're married your wife can get a card of her own.  Double the bonus.

While I'm at it why don't I just mention that there's one airline that offers points redeemable for things like amazon gift cards.  Southwest Airlines.  This is pretty much how I paid for Christmas this year.  Other cards are very similar.  For instance I anticipated some restaurant expenses, so I got a Citi Thank You card, with points redeemable for restaurants that we tend to visit.  Those visits for me are free.  Citi gave me $500 worth of points which I used to acquire various cards (though there is a $99 annual fee that was not waived).

And there are so many other possibilities with credit card rewards.  Take advantage, travel free, get gift cards.  Starve the beast.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Inner Che

Readers know I'm not a fan of the system I'm a part of.  The capitalist system that I benefit from.  This is the root of the major problems facing the world.  This drive for profit is what drives the wars, the environmental devastation, and so many other individual problems.

But what am I really doing about it?  This is about as radical as I'm prepared to be.

What can I say?  Life is just too damn easy.  Got a good job and work with people I like.  I'm white, which, as Louis CK points out, thank God for that shit.  Got a nice house, go on nice vacations.  Company has 401k and all that crap.  We can go skiing, send kids off to piano lessons and what not.

And you know what else?  Fighting seems futile.  Everyone knows about the militarization of the police.  It's crazy.  And in case you don't know, law enforcement was not developed to keep you safe, it was to control people and prevent them from threatening the wealth of the wealthy.  You know what?  They're good at it, and they're getting better by the day.  And they can be brutal.  With impunity.  Watch this video of various cops just savaging defenseless people.

I'm not saying we should stop organizing, but it's an uphill battle.  Look at Occupy.  For a long time it was ignored by the mainstream.  When it got so big that it couldn't be ignored it was ridiculed by the corporate controlled media.  Bunch of urine smelling hippies, clueless, etc.  Despite that it continued, and that's when the muscle came in, with beatings and assaults coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, local police, and the FBI, which designated Occupy a "terrorist threat".  I think the establishment felt even that was too out of hand, too much of a threat, and so militarization of police has accelerated since then.

Not to mention the NSA, the CIA, the military.  They have so much power.  Forget the second amendment.  You just can't match their ability to use force.

But does that mean there is nothing you can do?  No.  I think that you can not only do something, you can do a lot.  You really could destroy the system and strip the exploiters of their power.

What's the root of the problem?  In my opinion it's what I mentioned at the beginning.  The drive for profit.  What if in my own life I just stopped giving them money that led to profit?  And then what if more and more people did this to where the rich were no longer able to sustain themselves based on capitalist exploitation?

You might think it's impossible.  You rely on other businesses to meet your basic needs.  But I think that's partly conditioning.  We've been conditioned to think we can't provide for ourselves.  We have to sell our labor and use the proceeds to acquire the things we need.  But why believe that?  Ancients could provide what they needed for themselves.  Heck, animals do it.  We have tools they didn't and don't have.

We live in an amazing time, with so many technological advancements.  There have been many improvements and developments in energy creation and food creation.  Have you heard of aquaponics?  You can grow a lot of healthy vegetables and fish, and after a little setup time it requires minimal work.  Advances in solar power continue at an exponential pace.  You can provide the bulk of your electric needs right now in a way that separates you from the need to rely on a power company.

Of course it will help to keep your energy needs down, and one way to do that is to live in a house that is small and well insulated.  Maybe something like this.  The owner apparently built that for around $55K.  Not super cheap on a per sq ft basis, but my point is that the energy needs should be low, which means solar power could be enough to keep it running.

What if you manage to locate that house in a walkable/bikable location or a location with good public transportation?  Now your car and gasoline needs come down.

Shelter, food, and transportation are the big ticket items.  If you can get yourself to a near sustainable path on that then you can start working smaller details that can lead to further improvement.  For example 3D printers can be had for as little as $100 and can be used to make all kinds of things a person might need.  Check out this solar oven.  The sun can cook your food.  This cool composting toilet can reduce your energy needs further.

I was inspired in my thinking on this by looking at my budget from last year.  For the first time I tracked my expenses very carefully, and you know what I learned?  I spend a lot of money.  And when I do it I feed the very system I oppose.  I just don't see how force can be used to produce the changes our world needs, but maybe we could starve the system.  If half our population lived in a way where their consumptive needs were radically reduced in this way the system would crumble.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Am Der Stürmer

 The Nazi publication Der Sturmer, edited by Julius Streicher, was notorious for its obscene anti-Semitic caricatures.

Imagine if a pair of Jewish brothers, distraught at the death and destruction that had befallen the Jewish people, barged into the newspaper’s offices and murdered members of its staff.

Would we hold up as martyrs and heroes those who chose to mock the deeply held beliefs of a suffering and despised people; to degrade, demean, insult and humiliate Jews in their hour of trial, when the world they had known was disintegrating around them?

Imagine if a million Berliners turned out to mourn the political pornographers.

Would we applaud this display of solidarity?

Streicher was sentenced to death in the Nuremberg Trial.

It is not reported that many in the enlightened West shed tears.

The above is a question posed by Norman Finkelstein which I have copied here because his link seems sporadic.