The Onion

My favorite news source for the election is The Onion, whose satire shows a greater depth of understanding than the blathering on the average CNN broadcast.
 
Here’s a video about the 430 demographics that will be crucial to the upcoming election:
 
 
And another about politicians attempting to lure "no values" voters:
 
 
The number of acceptable things that a candidate can say now reduced to four:
 
 
And what will decide the upcoming election:
 
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Right person, wrong party

Sarah Palin is what John McCain pretends to be, and I anticipate that leading to some awkwardness.  I haven’t heard anybody comment about it, but McCain did look a little off balance, disheartened and fidgety when his running mate was introduced.  He only met her once prior to the nomination so my guess is that she was a late arrival on the short list and more the choice of his strategists than a personal one- I think he had somebody else in mind.
 
I’m waiting to be convinced about Biden.   I heard all of the babble leading up to the VP nomination about how Obama had to get somebody with greater experience such as Nunn or Biden who served on various committees.   My perception for some time is that the strategists couldn’t see the woods for the trees on that one.  Nobody other than a couple thousand insiders gives a shit about committees, because for that to have any meaning you have to poke around the minutes and see what, if anything, they actually did.   Votes are important and don’t require a lot of research to know about.   The vote to invade Iraq in particular should be a key point in the upcoming election.  A lot of people that should have known better voted to send our boys to die over something that was a transparent hoax even at the time, weapons of mass destruction.   I can understand that, anybody can understand that.  Anybody voting for the invasion, of either party, dropped the ball. 
 
If Joe Biden has actually done anything with his supposed experience, now would be a good time to educate the public.  Experience isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Every place that Reagan went he left soaring debts and deficits behind.  Sometimes experience shows that the person is the wrong person for the job.
 
Then there is the issue of capturing the public imagination.  The names thrown around as potential running mates for Obama have generally been those that had in the past wholly failed to capture the public imagination outside of their region. 
 
That being said, remember Lloyd Bentson.  You don’t necessarily want a V.P. nominee that looks more presidential than the presidential nominee, it may undermine the perception of the stature of the presidential nominee if it looks like the tail is wagging the dog so to speak.
 
Palin seems to be a good choice.  When thinking of Republicans that I would actually trust, the only names that come to mind are Ron Paul, Chuck Hagel and Sarah Palin, with Mike Huckabee with an asterisk because I think that his evangelical leanings occasionally get the better of his judgment.  
 
I would rather have seen an Obama-Palin vs McCain-Biden ticket myself.  
 
Of course there are a lot of things that I’d like to see that will probably never happen, like Ron Paul as attorney general.  That he is not a lawyer may be a benefit.  US attorney generals since and including Bobby Kennedy have tended to look for ways to bend and arguably break the law rather than uphold it and it would be nice to have somebody in that position that would rabidly uphold the constitution for a change. 
 
Will Palin make any difference?  Maybe, she is photogenic and popular.  But ultimately Paul, Hagel, Palin and Huckabee can’t save a Republican Party that has become morally and ethically bankrupt and even apart from the moral and ethical issues has proven hopelessly inept. 
 
 

Georgia the bad guy in present conflict

Georgia sends troops in to an area that had declared independence 15 years ago and starts ethnic cleansing and now we hear a lot of whining about a counter-attack against Georgia by Russia.  Russia’s counterattack was a lot more restrained than what I would have done. 
 
One of the reasons that I’m particularly annoyed with the US war on Iraq was that I was hoping for a precedent where the next country to mount a war of aggression like Iraq invading Kuwait or Georgia invading South Ossetia would be melted into radioactive glass.   Now that the US had a second war on Iraq that was a pure war of aggression with the greed of certain factions associated with the Republican party as the primary motivator it is impossible to consistently set such a precedent that wanton aggression will not be tolerated. 
 
That Georgia is a democracy is an aggravating rather than mitigating circumstance.   One of the warning flags that a democracy is close to its’ end state and at risk of sliding in to tyranny is when the democracy starts to look for other countries to invade.  The track record of democracies of respecting the rights of people that are not citizens of that particular democracy is usually appalling and imperialist invasions are common. 
 
For an example of a historical self destruction of a democracy I’d recommend the chapter on the defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse in 413 in Edward S. Creasy’s "Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World".  Athens was a democracy that got greedy so it invaded Syracuse.   Political interference in the war led to it being executed improperly which led ultimately to a loss because the lead general was elected on the basis of popularity and was unsuitable to the position.  The Athenian force got destroyed and that was the end of Athens as the leading world power. 
 
I expect historians 100 years from now to compare the Athenian invasion of Syracuse with the US invasion of Iraq as roughly equivalent acts of stupidity.  The US forces may make it out but the economic consequences of the war combined with the political consequences will have the effect that the status of world leader will be passed from the US to somebody else. 

Why Obama and McCain need to talk

Reality sometimes sucks.  Things are going to get really, really bad as we head further into the second economic depression.  Firm actions and tough choices are going to have to be made. 
 
Politicians of all stripes are really good at giving the people fairy stories about how they can get everything they want without sacrifices. 
 
Supply side economics- actually just propaganda to explain why people that already have money should be turned into essentially welfare bums supported by society that has no choice but to make the rich richer- was invented by a right wing ideologue on the back of a napkin.  It was subsequently adopted by Ronald Reagan and was correctly denounced by George Bush Sr. before he turned to the dark side as "Voodoo Economics".    If most people have no money there is no demand.  If there is no demand, there is no economy, it doesn’t matter how well the supply side is doing, and eventually under the pressure of the economy tanking the supply side will suffer serious collapse too. 
 
[This can have more than one cause.  I think that the main reason that Japan’s economy has been mostly stagnant for most of ten years because of the cost of housing.  Two or three generation mortgages?  That means the population is reduced to close to slavery.  If one sector of the economy eats up too much of the money it will choke everything else. ]
 
Voters can easily be taken in by politicians pandering to them.   The risk is that if Obama and McCain both dumb down their campaigns to try to get the most votes they may have hogtied themselves later when they get in to office.  Take all of the nonsense with offshore drilling, for instance.  The proven reserves for the US in potential offshore drilling sites are apparently enough to supply the US for about 7 months before being exhausted.   Corporate raider T Boone Pickens, who is no red, has said that America can’t drill its’ way out of this and he is right in that.  Drilling offshore will have a risk of significant environmental damage without doing much to solve the problem.  I see the potential risk there as more than just from oil pollution.  You pump enormous volumes of material out of some place, and even if you replace the volume of that with something, I see a great potential for the creation of geological instability.  I’m frankly surprised that there are no major geological collapses associated with oil and gas production.
 
Then there is the issue that such development is likely years away and will be far too late to affect the present crisis. 
 
It is possible for politicians of both left and right to lead.  It is not nearly as dangerous as they seem to think it is.   The NDP in Canada was a significant force for many years when it took forward looking positions based on principle and tended to improve conditions for everybody in Canada even when it wasn’t in power because other parties were forced to adopt NDP policies to remain in power.  They were on the left.  Then when their intellectual powerhouse Ed Broadbent stepped down as leader the party contented itself with brazen and anti-intellectual pandering to interest groups that were its’ core with no particular vision or substance, the sort of strategy that most Republican and Democrat strategists think is the only one, and the NDP has been in the toilet ever since and has for the most part ceased to be relevant. 
 
On the right, the Reform Party in Canada also had vision and helped form the agenda for years.  A key portion of their original platform was that the federal debt and deficit were catastrophic and something had to be done about it.  Not long after the start of that campaign, a poll was done and only 1% of voters thought that it was an important issue.  Years later, it was considered a significant issue by many voters to the point where the Liberal Party implemented reforms to promote financial responsibility.   Then the party over the years lost its’ focus and was ultimately subjected to what was essentially a hostile takeover by the Conservative Party.
 
It is possible for politicians to actually lead rather than follow via polls and voters ultimately are likely to respect them for that.  For most of his career Ed Broadbent was the most popular party leader in Canada, and that was because everybody knew where he stood and most trusted him even though he was a socialist.  He would have been president if Canada had the same political structure of the US. 
 
Best of all would be if there are certain actions that will be taken regardless of who is the next US president and the public is made aware of this.  If Obama and McCain act together they can ensure that whoever is successful will have a strong mandate to do what is necessary to fix the US if it can be done and won’t have to change their script to do it. 
 
Some of what may need to be done is to resist the temptation to fix things where that will create bigger problems.   The politicians all lining up to bail out banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are doing the wrong thing, making the problem worse at taxpayers expense.  What they should be doing is returning all of the bogus mortgages to the banks that sent them by legislation.  The bank shareholders that made all of that easy money when the banks were acting irresponsibly get to keep the benefit of the profits but not take the hit with the losses?  That doesn’t make sense.  It isn’t either communism or capitalism, I see it as just thievery.   The proposed solutions so far with bailouts creates a net transfer of wealth towards those who have benefited from the dishonesty of the mortgage transactions.
 
There is that issue and the issue that the bailout at $25 billion won’t be even remotely enough.  Fannie and Freddie had $100 billion in capital leveraged to hold 5 trillion dollars of mortages, about a 50-1 leverage ratio.  A 50-1 ratio of leverage means that losses of 2% will wipe out your entire capital.   
 
The analysts think that the total losses from the mortgage crisis in the US will be about 1 trillion dollars.  About half of the mortgages in the US are held by Fannie and Freddie.  
 
Assuming that they just take 50% of that loss above, or $500 billion, that would leave them with a net shortfall of $400 billion.   Further, the quality of the mortgages given to Fannie and Freddie are rumored to be poorer than average, so don’t be surprised if this is really a $600 billion hole that the government is trying to fill with $25 billion.   $25 billion probably won’t keep the doors open until the next president takes office.  It is using a bandaid to try to fix a decapitation.   The politicians want the people to think that they are doing something but all they are doing is stalling.   The country can’t survive this method of handling problems for much longer. 
 
The US [and everybody that is interconnected with it] doesn’t have time for politics as usual.
 
 
 
 

Bin laden’s driver…next his postman, then the guy that sells him hot dogs at the market

I’m still not certain of what Bin Laden’s driver is guilty of.
 
I am certain that the US has no jurisdiction to try it and the trial is illegal.  He was captured in Afghanistan doing nothing that violated their laws, and if he had been it would have been for the Afghans, specifically the Taliban who were at that time the lawful government, to try him.   In very rare cases such as child sex tourism it may be reasonable for a country to try its own citizens for crimes committed in another country but trying citizens of another country for alleged crimes committed in that country is unheard of except for those who have committed true war crimes.
 
In the case of true war crimes, I think it is better to just have the culprit shot summarily rather than make a farce of the judicial system and set a bad precedent.   It is a bad precedent because it leads to thinking like in the present case, the idea that one country can have jurisdiction over what another countries citizens do in their own country.   Afghans probably don’t know it, but their independence has been attacked.   If the man committed a crime in Afghanistan, then he should be tried there under their law. 
 
There is also the issue of the broader implications of arresting somebody whose contribution to hostile activities was negligible.   If somebody sells a terrorist a bunch of bananas that can be considered the crime of assisting the terrorist under the broad scope of the administration’s current rules, and be disappeared and tortured if it is thought that you might know something, whether you do or not.  Of all of the hundreds of people that must interact with people that may have committed war crimes or other crimes, some of them not knowing who they are dealing with, now anybody that has the most tangential connection with a criminal is more open to prosecution or being disappeared even if they do not participate in the criminal activity. 
 
 
Everybody involved in continuing Guantanamo should be given a life sentence without parole at some point for kidnapping and unlawful confinement as those are laws that all of them have broken, and as seriously as possible.  
 
At least the willingness of the jurors and judge to participate in the farce was limited, sentencing the driver to little more than time served.  They tried to let him off lightly and I can’t fault them for that.  It is their job to implement the law until it is struck down, striking down bad law being something that a military judge would probably not feel comfortable doing, and so it would be for an appeals court judge to strike down the law as beyond jurisdiction. 
 
Think of the onus that it puts on people if any association with a criminal, however trivial, can potentially lead to being disappeared or receiving a long sentence.   Prosecutors are often not reasonable people and defence attorneys, judges and juries are needed to keep them in check- which doesn’t always happen.   
 
Logistics staff should never be tried for war crimes.  That is just stupid.  Drivers, food suppliers, people that supply engine parts etc.- it is an abuse of process to even consider putting such people on trial.  
 
Then there is the Geneva Conventions, which I think include something about soldiers having to be uniformed.  Think about the implications of that.  Here is a link that you might want to check out: http://www.americanrevolution.com/AmericanSoldier1786.htm
 
The American revolution really began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and was won in 1781.  The earliest reference that I could quickly find to a uniform was a standardized uniform was approved in 1782 and by 1784 still not all US troops had uniforms, and therefore by present Republican standards these patriots were unlawful combatants.   Probably at the start of the war all of the American revolutionaries would have been unlawful combatants by the present standards.   They were irregular troops to begin with, whatever could be cobbled together, so they would probably be terrorists by present definition too.   Anybody driving George Washington’s cart would be in the same position as Bin Laden’s driver. 
 
You cannot let the issue of whether the cause is good or bad determine whether a given form of behaviour is acceptable.  This leads to arbitrary action and victors justice. 
 
There are certain "rules" of modern warfare, many of which are calculated to make any resistance by a weaker party illegal.  I can’t see any moral foundation for that.  The requirement to be in uniform or be an unlawful combatant is one of the sillier rules.   You can’t defend your home unless in uniform?   No citizens of any country would ever abide by that rule if invaded.  If the US were ever invaded there would be irregular defenders sniping from everywhere and it would be a far bigger mess than Iraq.   Here’s a good rule of thumb- if you would condemn the American revolutionaries by consistently applying the same measure, your reasoning is flawed.   The idea that there is a duty on the weaker party to lose doesn’t belong in any law, let alone international law.
 
And think of the idea that the administration takes the position that if somebody has information that they want, he can be just disappeared to get that information even if he has not committed any act that is an offence that the US has jurisdiction over.   Invention an offence to justify the criminal acts of the abduction and torture is an aggravating rather than mitigating factor. 
 
The driver was properly assisting with certain armed activity and ought to have been a prisoner of war, uniform or not. 

Olympic blood testing and dubious science

 
Tony Robbins has a story about how he once had a test done that showed his growth hormone so high that a doctor initially convinced him that he had a brain tumor.  There was no brain tumor.  Needless to say, if he had been a pro athlete and tested with that level of growth hormone he would have been expelled from his sport, stripped of medals if applicable, etc.
 
Blood tests outside of sports are notoriously unreliable, which is one reason they should not in general be used.   Eat a poppy seed bun and you will test positive for heroin.  
 
Even the body can be fooled by similar chemicals that may have radically different properties.  That is why carbon monoxide poisoning is possible.
 
Natural levels of hormones etc. will vary considerably.  It may be that a person is very good at a sport precisely because his body produces abnormal concentrations of a natural substance that gives a benefit.  In the cases of usual genetic history, there may even be different blood chemistries between certain races and tribes.   Some people may have a genetic mutation advantage that gives an athletic advantage over others. 
 
Further, pro-athletes know the rules and when they appear to be caught by something obvious you have to wonder.  We know, from recent revelations in baseball and elsewhere with prior medal winners that cheats have ways of getting away with not being discovered.  There may be a lot of false positives.
 
With expensive endorsement deals for the successful there is also an incentive to contaminate to remove competition.  With potentially millions on the line there is great incentive to contaminate a competitor.  The smart ones would probably get their own food and drink, but you have to wonder.  Testing should be sophisticated enough to tell between chronic use and if possible through metabolites the time of exposure for a substance like a stimulant where one use is all that is necessary.  If the exposure is long enough before it would cause tiring and potentially be a disadvantage and suggestive of a potential contamination.  Quantity in a system needs to be looked at too as a trace exposure to something can mean all kinds of things.
 
As is typical with weak science, the protestations of accuracy are circular.  The makers of the doping tests do not disclose their testing process.  They then say that the tests must work because few false positives have been proven.  But it is very difficult to show a false positive when you don’t know what the testing process is.  There is no means to show how a false positive would be arrived at.  Even if the results are shown so that they can be testible,  being put in the position of trying to show that a test is wrong on the fly may be difficult and individual athletes that are not yet famous may lack the resources to have their own biological lab show that a given test is junk science on an expedited basis. 
 
Then there is the ad hoc comment that often comes with certain tests, that something is a billion to one.   The test maker has to concede that such figures are a projection which is itself a hypothesis.  Otherwise the natural cross examination question would be, which billion people did you test and how is it that such a large study drew no public attention? Certain forensic tests in criminal law have been discredited although their proponents once made extravagant claims. Claims about such probability have to be based on very rock solid science with independent peer review. 
 
The problem with doping in athletics is created when something like a person’s ability to run fast goes beyond a novelty and becomes a career.  The worst farmer is more important than the best athlete.  When we forget that, things get strange. 
 
August 23 additional note- on the issue of traces of a contaminant in a person’s system there is an issue of what bodily fluids might carry a particular contaminant.   It occurred to me that some contaminants might pass trace quantities during sexual relations.  Athletes are more likely to go to  gyms and they may have a greater exposure to persons who are using enhancements who are not necessarily worried about being tested unless they are sports professionals.  
 
There is also an issue of food contaminants.   Animals are often fed hormones and various chemicals and this is poorly regulated.    Health advocates have been concerned about the use of drugs and hormones on animals for some time, due to potential harm to the consumer, and it also needs to be examined whether, say, eating beef from a cow that was fed hormones to help it recover from an injury might cause the consumer to test positive for hormone enhancements.  It could also happen from drinking milk from a cow.   If that occurred it would mean that random people would be accused and dismissed from their sports for things that they did not know about and had no control over.   It also might never happen at all, but in an atmosphere of psuedo-science I am not satisfied that these risks of injustice have been adequately covered off. 

Favre should go to San Diego

San Diego is missing one key thing, a Superbowl quality quarterback.  The one they’ve got is young yet I think but as yet he’s only above average.  Put Favre there and with him hitting receivers he should open up the field for LT and if everybody stays healthy the team could just run over everybody. 
 
What’s in it for Favre?  Probably the team that he could best improve that has a chance to get a Superbowl.  What’s in it for Green Bay?  They could probably get a couple of good prospects in return  for somebody that might only play another year, and if they were to make the Superbowl next year- unlikely without Favre- they probably don’t care whether they would be facing New England, the Colts or San Diego. 
 
I always find it annoying when stars get pressed for an instant decision after the playoffs about whether it is the last year.  The post playoff snit when a team missed the championship is not the best time for a level headed decision even if that is when it might make the best news.   It would also be nice if the league had some way of accommodating semi-retirement, such as allowing a player to play only home games and playoffs and only take up half a roster spot.   The binary approach where you are in or you are out doesn’t make the best use of resources.