Monday, May 30, 2016

The Panama Papers, and the Iranian Kaaba Blues

"The Revolution Will be Digitized" - John Doe

Panama Papers at the ICIJ

Since the release of the Panama Papers, the repercussions have rippled out around the globe. Some countries are chasing down their citizens that were revealed to have secret accounts in the Cayman Island banks and shell corporations listed in the papers. The best source for this is at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists website, and I have provided the link above. The whole database is supposed to be available, but all I could find I were articles. There are over 370 reporters in 79 countries who are members and they all participated in writing up stories based on the database.

In the immediate aftermath, Iceland's prime minister had stepped down, so had a Spanish government minister. It also revealed that several of Vladimir Putin's friends had transferred over $2 billion through offshore companies, and he tried to bluff it out by saying that it is all a plot by the United States to smear the good name of his country. (oh, I can't wait for the exchanges between Putin and Donald Trump...). The scams ran the gamut, from mining contracts in Sierra Leone, to the European soccer associations, to the international art market with the recent multi-million dollars sales of paintings and sculptures. Here in the US, we have three states, Delaware, Wyoming, and Nevada that allow the registration of fake companies with hidden ownership, and to not pay state taxes. There is talk in Washington to change that and fix the loopholes, but we all know that if our billionaires can finance and affect national politics, there is no way that they will allow their secret stashes to see the light of day...

The scary part is the 11 million documents represent about 5% of the shell corporations created, and finally, the rest of the money laundering scams may be revealed. Or not... From a poor person's perspective, it would be nice to see every billionaire and politician's dirty laundry, but we can't even get Donald Trump to release his income tax returns...


"Too much time has been lost, and it is now too late to organize the pilgrimage"

In religious news, Iran has forbidden its citizens from traveling to Saudi Arabia for this year's pilgrimage to Mecca. Last year there were stampedes, where, curiously, mostly Iranians died. Saudi officials admitted to 700 deaths, while Iranian officials claimed there were over 4,500. The two governments have been sniping at each other ever since, and an agreement guaranteeing pilgrim's safety this year, fell through. Since last Saturday, several websites owned by Iranian agencies have been hacked, with indications pointing back to Saudi originations.

The two countries have been on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, and represent the age-old division between Sunnis and Shiites. To any non-Muslim studying their history, this division seems silly and petty, but it has taken on epic proportions that will never be resolved either peacefully or violently...

While I'm at it, I may as well commit total blasphemy: I still don't see the logical link between a piece of meteorite from outer space and how it relates to the Muslim religion. It seems to be more of a link to our superstitious past than something intrinsically holy. What makes it a religious object is that millions of people over time have touched it with reverence, and that repeated reverence creates a blessing... Wikipedia describes the Kaaba Stone as: "The Black Stone of Mecca, or Kaaba Stone, is a Muslim relic, which according to Islamic tradition dates back to the time of Adam and Eve. It is the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba, the ancient sacred stone building towards which Muslims pray, in the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia."

I'm all for pilgrimages to shrines and holy sites, many provide a sense of peace that you cannot find in the real world, the ones that haven't been destroyed by ISIS and the Chinese...


Friday, May 27, 2016

Hillary's Emails and Supervirus

Since I started up my blog again, I've been trying to clean up my links to other sites and add new ones. It's sad to find out how many blogs that were active two years ago are no longer around. Of course, hardly anyone still reads blogs that don't have video or make salacious claims like Gawker. I guess that I will start experimenting with video, but I am hesitant to use things made by other people, except for the wonderful photos found on the internet...


"It demonstrates an arrogant autocracy that is breathtaking." - Tom Krebsbach

Let's begin with the brouhaha brought up over Hillary's email server, and the latest report issued by the State Department's inspector general. Conservatives are going apeshit over this, claiming it proves that she is not fit to be president, because of her flouting of the rules and lack of transparency. I don't get the argument, except that they get to use real descriptive phrase like the quote above. I don't recall any past president that was totally transparent, the closest has been Barack Obama, with his obsession with drones and deportation of immigrants... Oh yeah, then there is Zelig and the Invisible Man, but neither are interested in politics.

The rules that are in place now concerning email servers were put in place after Hillary left the State Department. At the time, government computer systems were woefully outdated and had major flaws. Plus, there was no guarantee of security because every amateur hacker and government spy agencies in the world were trying to hack into the US government, many met with success... I certainly would not want to trust a government server with my private email, but, yeah, she should have worked with the State Department security wonks to come up with a solution that made everyone happy. Her big mistake was not including them, making them become petty and vindictive...

The inspector general at the time is the person responsible for informing the new Secretary of State what the current rules are, and it's obvious that he did not do his duty. That the current report is issued by the inspector general's office claiming their innocence in all of this doesn't pass the smell test.

In looking at the candidate's experience, we have Bernie Sanders, who has been a professional politician  all of his life, and Donald Trump, who has never been elected or worked for anyone besides himself. Hillary has been active in state politics, was a lawyer, was wife to a US  president, was elected as a state senator, worked as the US Secretary of State, and has traveled many more miles around the globe working for our country's interests that either of the other two guys. I find areas where I totally disagree with her policies, but she does take a more incremental and pragmatic approach to change. I may not like that, but it better suites the needs of our country. To paraphrase the words of that great philosopher, M Jagger: "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might get what you need..."



Oh, god, politics may not matter, now that a virus has been discovered that is impervious to all antibiotics. There is no cure. We are doomed... It reminds me of the beginning to Tom  Robbin's book, Another Roadside Attraction, where he muses that Armageddon will be fought by the two things that we fail to eradicate: cockroaches and the venereal disease virus. Well, he got the virus part right, and cockroaches can be killed by a simple solution of boric acid, so what will be the next contender in our age of comic book villains and heroes???



Saturday, May 21, 2016

"It's None of Your Business"



"The entire mythology of the N.R.A. and its supporters is based on the idea that if a person is armed, he or she will be capable of shooting accurately. That the big problem is lack of gun availability, not gun owners who are sloppy, inept and occasionally psychotic." - Gail Collins


Almost every comedian and late night host in America is hoping that Donald Trump wins the presidential election because that means at least four years of solid satirical material... Just about every time he opens his blustery mouth some gem pops out that, when it is fact-checked, turns out to be wrong.

Yesterday he was talking before the NRA, bragging that he has a gun permit, and if anyone tried to assault him, boy, would they get a big surprise. Last summer, when he was asked by an NBC news correspondent if he ever practiced shooting that gun, he responded: "It's none of your business."

Over the past few months, he has been asked when he is going to finally release his tax returns, he has  answered that he can't because he is being audited. When an official from the IRS pointed out that an audit does not prevent someone from sharing their returns, The Donald said that it is none of our business... What deep, dark secrets could they possibly reveal? That he is not as rich as he boasts he is? We already know that. That he doesn't give much money to charities like he boasts he does? We already assumed that. Oh, what could the answer be?

The last super-rich businessman to run for president, Mit Romney, also had problems and dragged his feet in releasing his returns. Even The Bern hasn't released his. By contrast, both of the Clintons have released theirs ever since the 1970's...




And, in other gun related news: "George Zimmerman said he has sold the gun he used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 for $250,000, television stations in Orlando and Las Vegas reported on Friday.

His offer to sell the Kel-Tec PF9 9mm handgun on UnitedGunGroup.com drew praise from gun rights supporters and scorn from critics who accused him of seeking to profit from the 17-year-old's death.

On his own website that day, Zimmerman said the auction had "raised funds for several worthy causes." He has said he would use proceeds to counter violence against law enforcement officers by the group Black Lives Matter and to fight Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's "anti-firearm rhetoric."

What a bunch of bullshit, the marksmanship of a true amateur. George, we know you never intended to share your tacky profits, and I hope you don't shoot another kid the next time you feel the need to be in the news...



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trump's Strategy Against Hillary

"It's hard to trust someone until you know them, and it is hard to know someone until you meet them." - Lamar Alexander

"I met him for 30 seconds in 2012." - Paul Ryan



As The Donald tries to make friends with political lifers and staunch conservatives, his campaign strategists have decided that he should continue the negative attacks on Hillary Clinton. If you keep repeating lies long enough a portion of the public will gobble it up like Big Macs and fries, and swear that it was a nutritious meal...

According to Patrick Healy in the New York Times, during the presidential debates this fall, Mr Trump will try to throw her husband's infidelities in her face to humiliate her, saying that she enabled him by staying with him (this is a strategy that can easily backfire because Donald has had his share of extra-marital affairs), she is responsible for the security lapses at Benghazi, Libya, and finally, that she has been a corrupt politician all along.

These debates could easily devolve into a nasty game of He Said/She Said that Donald's campaign is hoping the results will lower Hillary's favorable ratings in the innumerable polls. I think her best strategy for this is to assume the role of a mother dealing with her out of control son. It's clear that Donald never had the parental supervision to set boundaries when he was a child, so she should come to the first debate prepared with a few props.

Each time that Donald utters one of his nasty comments or lies, she should reach into her lectern and pull out a bar of soap, walk over to Donald and place it on his lectern, with the admonishment that he is going to wash his mouth out with soap until he learns to behave better... It's not at the level that Elizabeth Warren attacked Donald and made him back down, but it might be just as effective.

Then again, I am relishing the Twitter war that could emerge the first time Donald calls Vladimir Putin a loser, who looks better with his shirt on...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tired of the Vicious Right-Wing Sniping



“I just really believe that the Republican Party has been conned here, and this guy is not a reliable conservative Republican.”  - Lindsey Graham

"Donald Trump is a bully who has a single play in his playbook -- offensive lies thrown at anyone who calls him out." - Elizabeth Warren


After The Donald was dissed by Paul Ryan, which made it cool for a few other squeamish Republican senators, he turned his ire towards Hillary Clinton. Mostly, all of the Republican candidates, pundits, and Fox News personalities have been following along with the GOP playbook that tells them what to say about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, using emotionally charged phrases designed to create a negative impression. The bullshit runs so deep that it is frustrating listening to a conservative spokesperson. I keep hoping that they would stop talking about emails and Benghazi because it's been proven over and over that there is no there there... But they keep on saying the same crap in the theory that if you repeat it long enough people might actually begin to believe it. And it does work, just go to any mall and start asking folks what they believe and to justify those beliefs in some logical manner... Myself, I just start talking to my Libertarian neighbors for some delightful crazy talk. (Which brings up watching an interview with Jesse Ventura, who said that he, too, might run for President on the Libertarian ticket. But only if they allowed him to run without joining the Libertarian Party, so he could claim to be truly an outsider. I mentioned this to my nephew, and his reaction was Yeah Jesse!)

But The Donald went batshit crazy, trying to bait and bring Bill Clinton into the fray, by talking about how Hillary hurt women by not going postal and staying with Bill after he had his affairs. Which is weird coming from someone who is on his third Eastern European wife. If he keeps up the cheap trash talking instead of debating policy and economic ideas, he will alienate every woman in America besides his wife and daughters... But if he does that, he will piss off the right-wingers because he has some liberal ideas floating in that mucky mess. Now that he is the front runner, he doesn't have to spout the National Inquirer type headlines, and can kick back and plan out an effective way to debate Hillary after the Summer.

And if he wins, instead of building a wall along the border with Mexico, he should annex it as part of the US. Suddenly, we will no longer have illegals living here, as they will now be citizens, and we can use our military to deal with the cartels...


Monday, May 9, 2016

A Fracking Good Time

Here in Colorado, fracking is popular, or so the commercials lead us to believe. We are treated to images of happy female farmers using fracking to supplement their incomes, and they don't have to worry about polluting the water table because it's so safe... Unless you live in Canada or Oklahoma.

Canada currently has over 50 wildfires blazing in 620 square miles, with no way to put them all out. It's estimated that it will take months before the fires will be contained. The area is in Alberta's oil sands region, one of the largest reserves in the world, and all fracking has been halted. I guess we should be glad that no wells were directly set on fire, it would make those old Kuwaiti well fires look like a campfire roast; but the region looks like it will take years to rebuild, and it could easily all go up in smoke again next year or the year after next...

I don't really want to pick on Oklahoma, today they are having some gnarly tornadoes, but ya gotta wonder at the sanity of the state's government. Thanks to their aggressive fracking program, there have been over 107 earthquakes last year, before fracking there might have been 3 small tremors per year. If that weren't bad enough, I think that Oklahoma also has that huge sinkhole that is swallowing up a whole town and surrounding area. The town was built over an old salt mine that soon became depleted. The caverns filled up with water, which dissolved the remaining salt, and voila, a giant sucking sinkhole, with videos to be found on youtube...

The problem is a simple one: if you take an enormous amount of stuff out of the ground and have nothing to replace it with something bad will happen. Mines collapse. Major underground rivers have dried up, leaving many once fertile regions in China, Africa, and California, with arid, dusty ground that are no longer able to grow crops.

With all of the recent earthquakes happening in places that haven't had a history with them, I wonder if our Mother Earth isn't trying to shake us humans off the planet, like a dog getting rid of fleas (to paraphrase the great George Carlin)...

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ryan Snubs Trump, Culture Among the Ruins

The game of thrones continues... The GOP chairman Reince Priebus issued a proclamation for all Republicans to fall in behind The Donald, no matter how crass his pandering with taco bowls becomes. Unfortunately, the head of the Republican Convention, a certain Paul Ryan, had other thoughts...

In an interview with CNN, Mr. Ryan said that he wasn't ready to support Donald Trump for President. " I think conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?.. There's a lot of questions that conservatives, I think, are going to want answers to." 

To Mr. Trump's credit, he immediately replied: " Perhaps in the future we can work together and come to an agreement about what is best for the American people..." Who knows, maybe The Donald can drag the GOP into a more modern way of thinking, walls and all...

The problem with Paul Ryan's idea of conservatism, is that it's based on a few books of fiction that he read when he was a teenager, and he hasn't grown and evolved since, just standing around with a stick up his ass, telling us how good it feels...  His brand of economics has proven to be ineffective, even the past chairman of the Federal Reserve publically admitted it, and still Paul Ryan is held up as an intellectual giant among conservatives who have tiny minds as well as tiny hands...



Symphony for the Devils

This was an incredible act of propaganda, a stroke of genius by the Russian who thought it up. I don't know who because Vladimir Putin took all of the credit... Russia sent a symphony orchestra to Palmyra, Syria, to play a concert of classical music by the composers Johan Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, and Valery, to play at the same stone amphitheater where ISIS had filmed the beheading of 25 people. The concert was televised live in Russia and in Syria, only two months after the area had been seceded from the Caliphate.

The Russians are hoping to bolster their role in Syria, holding mock ceremonies of reconciliation in 92 villages, bringing everyone under the gentle, kind leadership of President Assad... I guess the villagers then won't mind when they see the SU-24 fighter bombers flying towards them... Maybe the US should send over the hippie organization Food Not Bombs to help feed the homeless in Aleppo...