Monday, September 1, 2014

Tea Party's Ted Cruz Is Confident He Will Be The Answer

by Nomad

Apologies for the deceptive headline. I couldn't resist the temptation. In fact, this quote by Ted Cruz is probably more accurate than he intended it to be.

Out of all the silly things that Senator Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz has said, this is perhaps the only thing I can agree with him on. I sincerely hope that we all won't have to wait twenty years to make this forecast a reality.
I think it will be the hardest trivial pursuit question to answer because absolutely will recall who the hell Ted Cruz was. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How Texas Gov. Rick Perry is Recruiting for Armed and Unregulated Militias

by Nomad

After an close call at the Texas border between Border Patrol guards and armed militias, isn't time we should start asking who is in charge? When it comes to leadership, Governor Rick Perry has been an excellent recruiter for armed and dangerous vigilante groups.

The Brownsville Incident
"Land's sakes, that's a good way to get your head blown off!" That's what somebody should have warned one lucky militia member with more bullets than brain matter.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, a US Border Patrol agent near Brownsville Texas mistook a member of an armed militia for an illegal intruder on Friday.
It was apparently a close call.    
Omar Zamora, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday that the agent was chasing several suspects through an area of thick brush near the Rio Grande on Friday afternoon when he came upon a militia member holding a shotgun or rifle.
After the patrol agent fired several rounds, the militia member, reportedly, threw down his weapon immediately (no doubt wetting himself about that time). Fortunately nobody on either side was injured. 
Somebody nearly learned the limits of his Second Amendment rights the hard way.

The identity of the man was not released to the public and it isn't clear whether the Cameron County Sheriff will press criminal charges.  
Zamora did not identify the patrol agent and said it was not clear what organization the militia member belonged to. He was standing on private property at the time of the incident.
Clearly  it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. And the next time state and federal border patrol encounter armed groups, things could easily be tragic.

Border Vigilantes On Call
Indeed, there were unheeded warnings.
Last July, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)  declared that the agency does not "endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences."

According to a Houston Chronicle article, armed militia groups along the Texas border have grown to more than 10 active "teams" from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley,
These groups which included Oathkeepers, Three Percenters and Patriots, began organizing and recruiting as the hysteria began over the influx of immigrant children crossing the border.
Other groups may include
  • Bolinas Border Patrol, 
  • Central Valley Militia,
  • Independent Citizens Militia, 
  • Alpha Team, 
  • Bravo Team, 
  • FOB Harmony, 
  • Operation Secure Our Border: 
  • Laredo Sector, 
  • O'Shanessy's Team, 
  • the 77's and 
  • Camp Geronimo
Clearly this is a problem Governor Rick Perry has not addressed. (Perhaps he is afraid to cross them?)

Barbie Rogers is the founder of the Patriots Information Hotline which has been instrumental in organizing  and finding new members for the militias. According to Rogers, many of the groups are stationed on ranch land with permission from the owners.  

She has called upon the Governor to send even more Texas National guard personnel to defend the border. She also says to Rick Perry that "if cost is an issue" to "call the militia. They will come if you call them."
As one militia leader said:
“We have patriots all across this country who are willing to sacrifice their time, money even quit their jobs to come down and fight for freedom, liberty and national sovereignty.”
Whether Perry knows it or not, he has already called up the armed gangs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kentucky Kickback: How the Olmsted Dam Project Exposed Mitch McConnell's Hypocrisy on Government Spending

by Nomad

Though McConnell now says he is dead set against any more government shutdowns, Kentucky voters have every reason to be a little dubious.

After all, in the last shutdown, Senator McConnell was able to parlay the last one into what one conservative group called a "boondoggle" sticking with an eye-watering $3 billion bill for taxpayers.

Back in October 2013 U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were pitted against each other at the negotiation table, in an attempt to work out some kind of compromise to end the 16-day-long government shutdown. The Republicans had refused to increase the debt ceiling in an attempt to roll back Obamacare- or Affordable Care.

Despite the usual talk about limiting Big Government spending, McConnell managed to slip a provision into the debt ceiling bill on the sly that included nearly $3 billion for a dam project.
A provision in the funding bill includes $2.918 billion in funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to install locks as part of the Olmsted Dam and Lock Authority Project on the Ohio River.
That was in fact an increase in the $1.5 billion funding that Congress had authorized several years earlier.

The Dam that Ran Away
According to an investigation by the St. Louis Post Dospatch, the Olmsted dam project has run way over budget since it was first proposed back in 1988. 
A Post-Dispatch review of thousands of pages of documents and more than two dozen interviews reveal a project plagued by cost overruns, delays and engineering challenges stemming largely from the corps’ stubborn insistence on an innovative construction method that met its match in the unruly Ohio River.
It was originally given a budget of $775 million (that's not accounting for inflation). According to the builders, the price tag has soared to an estimated $ 3.1 billion dollars. (So the McConnell deal in effect doubled the funding.)

This project- if it is ever finished- will be the largest and most expensive inland water navigation installation ever built in the United States. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has called the whole project a "boondoggle’ and in an unusually clever turn of phrase said that it was a case of "one of these things where we're damned if we do, damned if we don't." According to Paul, as expensive as it has become, we have no choice but to plow ahead. 

With cost soaring for Olmsted project, Rep. Ed Whitfeld, a Republican from Kentucky, who had ushered through the House of Representatives critical funding for project in 2009, was even more blunt back. By 2011, he was calling the project "a complete failure."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Arkansas, the Ebola Virus, and the License to Lie

by Nomad

When the town of Harrison, Arkansas decided to cancel a planned visit by a delegation from Ghana, was it just ignorance about Ebola or old-fashioned racism?

Lately a lot of people from the Far Right have been making some pretty irresponsible and ignorant remarks about Ebola. It's not just hysteria. Actually, it's a symptom of something worse- an outright betrayal of the public trust. 

Africa and Ebola in Perspective
Sarah Palin might not realize it but Africa is not a country. It is a continent and a mighty large one at that. Africa covers a full six percent of the Earth's total surface area and over 20  percent of the total land area. But then geography - along with any other subject you wish to name- isn't really Palin's forte.  

As the second most populated continent, Africa has a population of around 1 billion people. Depending on who you ask, there are 47 countries on the African continent, (53 if you count some of the islands off the coast.)  Of those 47 nations, only five of them have had reports of the much-discussed, much-feared disease known as Ebola.

As scary as it is, the deaths and the infection rates from the Ebola virus are not very impressive. The disease has up to now claimed more than 1,400 lives and infected over a thousand more across West Africa. 
Dreadful, terrible. And yes, it is better to do something before the situation gets any worse. Now is the time to act.

However, let's compare those Ebola numbers to malaria. Ninety percent of all malarial deaths occur in Sub saharan Africa and according to the World Health Organization,
There were an estimated 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 (uncertainty range: 135 – 287 million) and an estimated 627 000 deaths (uncertainty range: 473 000 – 789 000).
In that year, malaria killed an estimated 482 000 children under five years of age and put. an estimated 3.4 billion people are at risk. Of that number, 1.2 billion live in  high risk areas where more than one malaria case occurs per 1000 population. And your chances of catching malaria are far higher than catching Ebola.

That's not to say that Ebola presents no threat but when it comes to pandemics, there are a lot more nasty things ready to carry you off. Even the boring influenza virus, which most of us deal without much fuss, claims about 250,000 to 500,000 yearly deaths.
So, it is important to put things in their proper perspective.
*   *   *   *
The reason I bring these facts up was because I saw a related story in a local Arkansas newspaper. A proposed tour of Harrison, Arkansas by a delegation from the nation of Ghana was canceled at the last minute due to Ebola fears. The tour was supposed to include a visit to North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, the Harrison School District and North Arkansas College.
The idea was suddenly nixed, (though who actually made that decision the article doesn't specify.)

Never mind that there has been no report of the Ebola virus in Ghana since well, since forever. In the present outbreak, the most severe yet, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and DR Congo have had cases.(Uganda saw cases back in 2012.)

So, what should have been a moment of pride for the local residents and an opportunity to demonstrate the local brand of Arkansas down-home hospitality, turned out to be source of embarrassment. It would have been a good chance to show the less developed countries the things Americans can achieve when we forget our differences and work together.
Instead it was American ignorance on full display.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Key to Happiness and the Death of the American Dream

by Nomad

A recent study on happiness can tell us why Americans are so angry with Washington. It has, the study suggests, been a long time coming.

According to a study highlighted in Psychology Today, researchers from University College London have discovered, after studying more than 18,000 people from all over the world, what really makes people happy. One key factor, they concluded, comes down to what we expect and how strongly we expect it. They were even able to derive an equation to predict the factors that created happiness.

Dr. Robb Rutledge, a cognitive and computational neuroscientist and lead author of the study,
“Life is full of expectations — it would be difficult to make good decisions without knowing, for example, which restaurant you like better. It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower. We find that there is some truth to this: lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness
But, according to Rutlege, that's only half of the story. Sometimes happiness comes solely from the expectation itself. When some people play the lottery, the expectation of winning and the plans of what they would do with the winnings is more than enough to keep people playing week after week. This is true when those expectations are known to be false or based on fantasy.

Using MRI scans, the researchers were even able to track the place in the brain where our happiness originates. They found that setting expectations and receiving the pay off trigger a release of a the pleasure hormone, dopamine, which excited those areas of the brain.
So, the researchers seem to suggest that having high hopes is one way to achieve short term happiness but having realistic expectations is more important to long term happiness. 

The American Dream and the Happiness of Fantasy
The findings on the surface might seem a little obvious. At least the results of the study fits pretty squarely with conventional wisdom about keeping your expectations low.

However, on a social and political level, there are some interesting implications. 
There are things that Americans have tended to believe to the core. One of those articles of faith is the American Dream. Some have argued that that dream is dead. The expectation that life will forever improve, that social mobility is possible if only one works harder and that you too can rise out of poverty by virtue of your ambition and your intelligence, all that is now forever lost. 

If the American Dream is truly dead, then America is going to be a particularly unhappy place to live. Especially for the middle class. The poor have learned from grim experience to expect less and many have been forced to rely on social programs. The rich tend to have their expectations met and can use the system to guarantee it. However, it is the middle class that will not so easily adjust to the downgrading of our dreams.