Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In the Land of Stop Lights and Strip Malls

I recently spent some time down in an "ex-urb" of New Orleans, visiting my parents.  The area in which they live is principally white, upper-middle class, and devoutly politically conservative.  The state of Louisiana, in the time my parents have lived there (they moved there in 1992), has gone from having a number of Democratic state-wide office holders (Governor, Senators, US Representatives - which yes aren't "state wide" but do represent a large segment of the state) to having zero Democrats in any state-wide office.  One wonders who they'll blame now, but that's not the point of this post.  The last Democrat, Mary Landrieu fell in December in a special election to a Tea Party Conservative.

During those twenty some-odd years my parents have lived in Louisiana, the state has gone through a bit of a transformation.  The social-welfare reforms of Huey Long have been undone, the tax rates on the upper class slashed to nearly nothing, the corporate tax rates slashed as well.  The current Governor, Bobby Jindal, despite being a Rhodes Scholar, doesn't seem able to articulate a good idea coherently.  To wit, his bomb as the Republican's "counter-point" to President Obama's State of the Union speech a few years ago - a counterpoint speech by Jindal which has destroyed his political "future" such as it was - a future which was never going to really materialize because Jindal is not "lily white", and despite the protestations of my conservative friends, I have simply seen and heard far too many conservatives use the word "nigger" as a racial epithet in my presence (behind closed doors of course) to believe any claims that they aren't manifestly bigoted.  In fact, of the HUNDREDS of conservatives to which I've spoken over the years, less than 10 did not call blacks niggers at one point in the conversation.  No kidding. All that aside, Jindal, like Scot Walker in Wisconsin (another man with no future who doesn't know it) has legal issues, and many of them.  Far more meaningful than any worry about skin-color should be a real worry that Jindal is not lily-white ethically.  He's traded the state's future away to large corporate interests, so much so that LSU had to cut $650 MILLION from it's budget because the state could no longer support the expenses needed to keep the school as a viable, competitive academically oriented university (which it WAS, but no longer will be).  Louisiana has never been high on the list of education metrics, but they've fallen to 47th out of 51 states (and DC), and have the 4th worst poverty rate to go with that wonderful educational performance,  Way to go JINDAL!

In addition, though, the state's infrastructure is falling apart.  The Mandeville to New Orleans causeway across Lake Pontchartrain needs work, the Huey Long Bridge needs work.  Repairs to the levee system after Katrina, while complete, STILL don't bring the system up to the level the original designs called for (to withstand a category 3-4 hurricane).  Baton Rouge, the state's largest city, is teaching kids in quanset huts, 9 years after Katrina.  And, as I experienced driving around in my parent's city, they (those ex-urbs of New Orleans) like SOOOOO many other ex-urbs where conservatives control planning, have become the land of strip malls, poor road planning, and over-controlled traffic systems which use a stop light every 200 yards or so (at every commercial strip mall drive-way) to "break up" traffic.  The area isn't densely populated, but it takes 15-20 minutes to go about a half a mile in the morning or the evening because the local community is beholden to business interests and agreed to put a stop light, including green, right of way arrow, left turn controls at every intersection.  Traffic is a mess.  They don't build new roads or add lanes, because they don't have the revenue to do so.  They don't have mass transit, because that's a "liberal idea" and, they don't have the money to do so.  But they DO implement far too many traffic control points, in the land of "small gov'mint", and so these folks waste dozens to HUNDREDS of hours of their lives each year, waiting to move from one stop light to the next to go to work, or worse, to go shop at any one of ten dozen strip malls, strip malls which look just like every other, which look like every other strip mall anywhere in the US, so much so that you could drop a US citizen into one of these "traffic/culture blights" nearly anywhere in the US, and if there weren't snow on the ground, I'd bet most wouldn't be able tell, at all, where they were.  It is homogeneous monotony of the worst and cheapest form, it's Big Brother culture, where Big Brother is the corporate stooge who maximizes profits by putting in a bland, personality-less box on a street with 100 other personality-less boxes, and then demands the local government put in a stop-light, or worse, the lemmings who live there demand a stop-light, so that they can go get their Chic-Fil-A sandwich while they rail against the destruction of American culture.

It may not mean much to most people or most cities, but you need to understand that New Orleans is different, it is special, it's a place with a unique vibe, a unique charm.  A little dingey to be sure, and unfortunately more than a little dangerous now with the advent of drugs and a loss of middle class jobs in the city, but still, there are few places in the USA where you can go to a restaurant, be assured of a good meal, go next door and hear GREAT music, and if you don't like that place, go to the next door or the next or the next, and do that for 100 nights and STILL not have seen everything.  It's a slow, lazy, comfortable town with unique architecture, a unique dialect and a unique style, or well, it was.  Thanks to the likes of Jindal and the all-to-compliant ex-urb white sychophants, it will soon no longer be such.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Bad Pennies award for Senatorial Hypocrisy goes to Tom Coburn


and then, this:

Another Bad Pennies Award for 2014: Andrew Tahmooressi, Montel Williams, and the NRA

I'm glad Andrew Tahmooressi is home, but he should never have been permitted to have those guns in the first place that got him arrested in Mexico.

Tahmooressi was never some heroic veteran victim, he was always an actual danger like a grenade about to go off without warning.

Conservatives called him a hero, and railed against Obama for not having him instantly release -- and unrealistic expectation.  NO president has ever accomplished such a release any more rapidly than the Obama administration did.

Montel Williams did a lot of grandstanding and crying.........ignoring that in fact the President WAS actively in contact with the Mexican government, in addition to those he appointed and directed to do so.  Of course, the president is under no obligation to inform talk show hosts of his activities, especially when those are more effective behind the scenes than in front of cameras.

In point of fact, contrary to Williams' and Andrew Tahmooressi's mother Jill's testimony, there is NO evidence that Andrew Tahmooressi was EVER mistreated in ANY way, as verified by those who visited him periodically on behalf of the U.S. government, and per Tahmooressi's own attorneys.

Bit we routinely see conservatives play fast and loose with the facts of events like this one.

What Williams did NOT explain were the reasons why Tahmooressi got in trouble -- and it was NOT due to any 'accidental crossings into Mexico'.  Nor has Williams ever addressed the dangers Andrew Tahmooressi posed to himself and others with his collection of firearms and large quantities of ammunition.

From Understanding Combat PTSD:

"On a wider scale, it is very common for individuals with PTSD to get
into fights, drive aggressively, become angry at insignificant things, and drastically
overreact to any sort of challenge.

PARANOIA – In Iraq, a paranoid soldier is a soldier who stays alive. Every item in his environment, from a pothole to a child carrying a backpack, must be regarded as a potential threat. When that same soldier, whose mind has been changed by PTSD, returns home, he is often unable to shut off his vigilant behavior. Veterans will often almost constantly “patrol” their homes to check for intruders, insist that they sit with their backs to a wall and facing the door so that they can analyze every person who enters a room, or even drive off the road in order to avoid discarded trash (because this often indicated an Improvised Explosive Device or IED in combat).

POOR COPING SKILLS - Due to the physical and mental changes Veteran with PTSD has, they are often unable to cope in what most people would consider “normal” circumstances. They are easily overwhelmed by too much noise, too many people, too many changes, or too much stimuli of any sort. Dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and all of its symptoms takes most of their energy and concentration. Anything else, especially something that is unexpected, can cause a violent reaction or simply cause the Veteran to shut down. "

PTSD causes physical changes to the brain; it is not purely emotional or psychological.

"Physical Changes

HIPPOCAMPUS - The hippocampus is a section of our brain that plays an important part in short-term memory and the regulation of our emotions. Researchers, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI’s), have been able to determine that the hippocampus of veterans with PTSD has actually suffered damage. They believe this damage may be under stress.

PREFRONTAL CORTEX – Our Prefrontal Cortex helps us decide how we experience and react to an emotion and resolve conflicts. It also tells our brain when a threat has passed.
People with PTSD have altered blood flow to this area of their brain (the more change in flow, the more severe the symptoms of PTSD). This decrease in function causes their brain to sort of be stuck in a permanent fear mode, because it doesn’t relay the “all clear” message."

That's general information; here is information specific to Tahmooressi, from the LA Times:
"Tahmooressi’s mother, Jill Tahmooressi, has been campaigning in the media for American officials to secure her son’s release. A nurse, she told Vice News that her son needs specialized treatment. She said she had observed signs of paranoia in him, and that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at the Veterans Affairs facility in La Jolla on March 12. She said he is “hypervigilant” and in 2013, suffered from “hunter-prey syndrome; he was the prey.”

Yeah -- THAT's NOT the kind of person you want driving around with multiple firearms and a lot of ammunition, ready to go off on some minor random provocation. It also appears that on the multiple OTHER occasions that Tahmooressi went across the border into Mexico he ALSO had those weapons with him; it was not a one-time accidental error.

And yet we have the NRA fighting AGAINST efforts to save the lives of veterans with PTSD who pose a danger to themselves and others, because to the NRA there is no one who should not be armed to the teeth at all times.

"According to Vice News, Tahmooressi entered Mexico with a 5.56mm rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .45-caliber pistol, as well as more than 400 rounds of ammunition. The chief Mexican customs officer at the San Ysidro crossing told Vice that the guns, all loaded, were "just wrapped up in his belongings" rather than locked away and unloaded as required by California law. Vice also reported that "the rifle was found behind the driver’s seat, the shotgun on the passenger seat, and the pistol was in the driver-side door pocket, along with several cartridges.

It's pretty hard to accidentally end up in Mexico. Especially with guns. There are big signs on the U.S. side telling travelers that guns are illegal in Mexico. There’s plenty of warning that the border is approaching. ...he [Tahmooressi] admitted that he lied to Mexican officials about how many times he'd crossed the border.

And Tahmooressi apparently, knowing that it was illegal to do so, took those same guns into Mexico on those previous occasions.

There is also a question about Tahmooressi having a problem with illegal drug use, and possibly selling and distributing illegal drugs through his connections in Mexico.

If this guy is getting effective treatment for his problems, GOOD.

But he should forfeit his right to own guns in the present and future, and not only because of his PTSD, from which he may very well recover. People who suffer from PTSD should not be armed, but they should get their firearms rights returned to them when diagnosed as cured/recovered.

People who knowingly take firearms into other countries -- and from Mexico where the actual legality of his possession of those weapons is not clear -- they should not have firearms. They have demonstrated they are neither responsible, nor law abiding.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Festivus

A belated happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Kwanza to all of our readers.

For a smile as the pressure of last minute preparation for various celebrations bears down on us:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Massacre of the Innocents.

Today's lesson comes from Matthew 2:16–18: The Massacre of the Innocents.
When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
It is part of the Narrative of the Birth of Christ, yet this incident is only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew and later Christian authorities who use this gospel as a source.  It is repeated each year with the singing of the Coventry Carol, which came from that City's Mystery Play:
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Some people have doubted this was an actual historical event since it is only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew.  Some people see this as being a contrived feature of the Gospels to show that Jesus was the Messiah by fulfilling the prophecy of being called out of Egypt.

Today is the anniversary of a mass shooting where 20 small children were shot.  This incident was well reported and documented, yet there are some who would deny that it happened.

Unfortunately, this is only one incident where children fall victim to firearms violence.  It seems that children are shot both intentionally and accidentally on a daily basis in the States.

There are those who would twist an archaic passage in the US Constitution which deals with an obscure institution, the Militia, which some would like to say would cause this to be an unintentional consequence of a "right" to own weapons outside the context of that institution.  This is despite the Constitution's purposes of  "insuring domestic tranquility" and "promoting the general welfare" as well as saying that people should not "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".

Instead, we see people acting like Herod and countenancing a new slaughter of the innocents.  For what purpose?

Unlike the unborn, these are not speculative lives: they are persons who were living, breathing, and playing.  They had parents who wanted to bring them into this world. They would have had futures had there not been the easy access to firearms which leads to these new massacres of the innocents on a daily basis. 

For those who would say they want to protect the unborn: why do they not wish to also protect the born?   As Sister Joan Chittister pointed out:
I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
I will add that you cannot call yourself pro-life if you tolerate the daily massacres of the living innocents on top of the"pro-birth" attitude mentioned by Sister Joan Chittister.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Next 2014 Bad Penny Award Goes to the NRA

WW I pennies with bullet holes in them
considered 'trench art'

The NRA consistently demonstrates their failed level of limited thinking and lack of moral values in their political and policy positions. They ONLY value guns, to the exclusion of all else, including people, and actual safety - in this case, global safety. They have taken a pro-terrorist position.

In the video from the Daily Show, this is evident in the pro-ivory importation/ pro-terrorist position.

Where is the connection?

Elephant ivory taken by terrorist poachers is funding anti-American and other terrorist acts, including attacks like the one on the shopping mall in Kenya.

As noted by Think Progress:

NRA Campaigns Against The Plan To Save The World’s Elephants

...While many people would make the mistake of assuming that this was about helping save endangered elephants, the NRA understands what the real motivation is. “This is another attempt by this anti-gun Administration to ban firearms based on cosmetics and would render many collections/firearms valueless,” the NRA said in its call to arms. “Any firearm, firearm accessory, or knife that contains ivory, no matter how big or small, would not be able to be sold in the United States, unless it is more than 100 years old. This means if your shotgun has an ivory bead or inlay, your revolver or pistol has ivory grips, your knife has an ivory handle, or if your firearm accessories, such as cleaning tools that contain any ivory, the item would be illegal to sell.”

For that reason, the NRA implores its members to flood the White House and Congress with phone calls and emails to “let them know you oppose the ban on commercial sale and trade of legally owned firearms with ivory components.” That desire to resell old — but not antique — weaponry clearly is more important to the NRA than preventing the looming extinction of the species — which is linked closely to the skyrocketing demand for ivory. “In 2013 alone an estimated 30,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory, more than 80 animals per day,” Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.

The commercial ivory ban is only part of a new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking announced at the same time as the embargo, which prioritizes “strengthening domestic and global enforcement; reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife at home and abroad; and strengthening partnerships with international partners, local communities, NGOs, private industry, and others to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.” In that vein, the United States has been leading the charge in persuading countries around the world to destroy their stockpiles of intercepted ivory, annihilating six tons of it last November. Since then, Togo, China, and France have also followed suit and destroyed seized contraband of their own.

Aside from the conservation concerns, which the NRA doesn’t seem moved by, poaching is increasingly being viewed as a national security issue for the United States. In an interview last year, Robert Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, said ivory had become a “conflict resource.” An Enough Project report from last year also found that Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has begun poaching ivory from elephant tusks to fund the group’s activities, which include abducting children and forcing them into sex slavery.

Conservative values, pro-gun values, are failed values; conservative and pro-gun thinking is failed thinking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tis the season ------for the 2014 PENNIES!

For those of our readers who have forgotten (or never knew), the pennies are our two cents worth, good penny or bad penny, for the preceding year in news.

First penny of the year -- A hooray for President Obama, for finally being the president post-mid year second term elections that we had hoped he would be post 2012.

Hooray for the executive orders, hooray for the status of the economy, hooray for him standing up to and challenging more aggressively the right wing thugs in Congress, and for his handling of racial conflicts, especially police violence related incidents.

And a second good penny to Stephen Colbert, for his ending of the Colbert Report in fabulous style.  To borrow a few lyrics from an old James Bond 007 movie theme:
"Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you're the best

And nobody does it better
Though sometimes I wish someone could
Nobody does it quite the way you do
Why'd you have to be so good?"

(although if anyone can follow Colbert's act, it's Larry Wilmore)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The REAL reason for the season

As we get close upon "Christmas", we will get people whining about the "reason for the season".

Got news for you--it ain't got nothing to do with the Bible or Christianity.

And the holiday doesn't make as much sense in the Southern Hemisphere as it does in the Northern.