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Re: London attack. Not that you weren't told so, is it Mar. 23rd, 2017 @ 10:02 am

And to think that Polish plumbers, Romanian hookers and Bulgarian pickpockets were supposed to be the main threat against the peace and prosperity of Her Majesty's minions! Wasn't that the main idea behind the Brexit? To regain sovereign control of the British borders and protect Mother Britannia against threats to the Fatherland coming from outside - mainly other EU citizens (read: East Europeans, a.k.a. "New Europeans")?

Well, GUESS WHAT. You Brexiters have been tossing the wrong scarecrow at the gullible public all the while. It's not the plumbers, hookers and pickpockets sucking on Mother Britannia's welfare teet and stealing your jobs that no British person would ever think of taking anyway, that are the threat. It's "lone wolves" like this guy who killed so many people yesterday. Home-grown terrorists who looked just like ordinary people until a few months ago, but then got radicalized under influence from the Internet. People who are second and third generation British citizens already.

So yeah. Do get your Brexit. Shut your gates to the dreaded Polish plumber, Romanian hooker and Bulgarian pickpocket. And keep telling yourselves that this would make you safe. Idiots.
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All that Twitter jazz Mar. 22nd, 2017 @ 05:39 pm
Twitter psychology re POTUS, from a UCBerkeley cognitive scientist, author @GeorgeLakoff

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All that being nice and all, I think what we are missing here is there is a good chance that Trump is not an aberration and instead a fruit of our time.

(1) An information revolution pushed quickly now by the Internet and recently satellite cable allows the emergence and separation of ideological communities.

(2) Information content is more and more individually tailored. Marketers work to provide content that supports an individual's biases in order to obtain traffic and a positive market context.

(3) The nature of man in confusing conditions prefers authoritarian modes. Humanity's millennia long history gives us religions of simple, unchanging life perspectives (authoritarian conditions), a natural human tendency against the overload and fast evolution of the information revolution. ISIS is not some strange, alien phenomenon. We are ISIS in different shades and hues.

We think that if all those other people would just learn and understand properly that a good portion of the madness being experienced would fade away. Yes, we must beat Trump, but beating Trump will be the easy part. The hard problem is how we are going to deal with a humanity that is becoming progressively out-of-sync with an evolving stability required in our modern time.

Trump's not the problem, he's a symptom of the problem.

Meet the new master of the Middle East Mar. 21st, 2017 @ 10:11 am

There are indications that Russia is planning a military intervention in Libya. On March 13, Russian special units and drones were spotted in the Egyptian coastal town of Sidi Barrani, just 100 km east of the Libyan territory that's controlled by the Russia-supported Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

If Russia is really working to change the balance of powers in Libya as they did in Syria, Turkey's positions in the Eastern Mediterreanean will be threatened (not to mention America's). Establishing a military presence there is aimed to stabilise the Sisi regime in Egypt against the Islamists. That's in line with the traditional Russian policy since the Soviet times when they were in alliance with Egypt. Now they're conducting joint military exercises, and Russia is actively helping Egypt to guard its vulnerable western border.

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The Shambling Mound's Eighth Week Mar. 20th, 2017 @ 10:47 pm
The shambling and lurching made it through the eighth week with what has become the usual levels of deception, horror, and mania. Is it sheer incompetence? Is it the a ploy to exhaust his opoonents? Is it a new entertainment show for those on distant shores and less affected by such events? As these things are not actually in contradiction, perhaps all are true.

Starting with the response to the February employment reports, the response from the White House would have led George Orwell scrambling to find new material for totalitarian double-speak. Somehow, Lord Dampnut claimed that it was his policies that resulted in good employment and wage figures - a dubious claim at best. Sean Spicer quickly jumped into the fray with the utterly absurd claim that previous job reports were phony, but that they are "very real now". Those are words that will come back to haunt him.

The reverse Robin Hood health-care plan limped its way towards disaster early in the week with the Congress Budget Office concluding that if passed, 14 million additional Americans will be uninsured by 2018. The fact that the the plan would reduce taxes for the wealthy by $883 billion whilst cutting Medicaid by $880 billion, has not gone unnoticed. So much for "insurance for everybody", as Lord Dampnut promised. Who knew it could be so complicated?

If you care about the environment it was not a great week with an intention to rescind protection of groundwater from the negative effects of fracking was revealed, and on the flipside, regulations designed to workers and communities from chemical related accidents has been put on hold.

The proposals to reorganise the executive branch with perhaps the deepest cuts ever proposed, correlated with the release of a budget blueprint. In a nutshell, it's good if you're already well-off or a corporation with even further tax cuts. If you're poor, you're pretty well doomed with big cuts for science, research, agriculture, health, housing, energy etc. The question has to be asked - is this the most destructive budget that has ever been proposed?

A new round of sabre-rattling concluded the week with Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, now saying that "strategic patience" with North Korea had ended and now military options were "on the table". With no sense of irony, Lord Dampnut has accused the Kim Jon-Un of "acting very, very badly". Oh, and a swipe a China for not doing enough about North Korea as well. I am sure sober minds know what the result of military conflict with North Korea would be.

That's not how NATO works, asshole Mar. 20th, 2017 @ 10:47 am
Donald Trump says Germany owes US and Nato 'vast sums of money' for defence

What a pile of utter bullshit. Especially given the fact that 90% of all NATO actions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world have been in direct defense of US interests (oil, gas, gold, trade routes and markets, disobedient foreign leaders, etc etc). So who owes what to whom, actually?

Besides, the requirement to invest 2% of the GDP for defense was introduced just a couple of years ago - how could anyone have accumulated "lots of debt" for that time? Especially a country like Germany, who's been among those who've kept their discipline as per that requirement, and have consistently complied with it? Germany has contributed to NATO in every way possible, they've been at the front line countering one of the greatest geopolitical dangers for the West, Putin's Russia (well, not so dangerous according to their Manchurian candidate, Trump and his associates). Not to mention dealing with the influx of refugees, which the US has refused to contribute to.

And finally, how are you going to make America "great" again by alienating all your allies? Look, if America so much insists to succumb to self-isolation, I'm sure other countries are going to take the responsibility and fill that void if it comes to that. And Germany would be somewhere around the top of that list. It's hard times like these where real friends become apparent, and under Trump, America is failing big time.

I don't know how tolerant that US public has become to "alternative facts" for the two months since this moron's inauguration, but the rest of the world is quickly losing patience already.

It's not just about climate Mar. 19th, 2017 @ 01:15 pm
One thing sticks out now when the subsidiary organisations to the UN are now asking for urgent humanitarian aid to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. These are exactly the countries whose corrupt cynical politicians have almost nothing in common with democracy. They routinely violate human rights and start ethnic and religious conflicts. As for Somalia, it has stopped being a real country a long time ago. That country is consistently ranked at the very bottom in the corruption index. South Sudan, while drowning in oil, has millions of refugees as its main export, in the wake of the bloodbath that is the ethnic conflict there. And the previously promising new player Eritrea has become the African version of North Korea: encapsulated, sealed, shut down to the rest of the world, and ruled by a clique that amasses wealth from drug, arms and human trafficking.

But no other country underlines the connection between bad governance and hunger as much as Ethiopia. This strategically important country in the Horn of Africa is the motherland of coffee. The Blue Nile and the two rainy seasons are a perfect condition for having record agricultural output, and the country has Africa's second largest labour force. But instead of prosperity, Ethiopia has suffered famine crises since the 70s, and refugee floods, and massacred protesters, and opposition activists spending a lifetime behind bars. When nearly 85 people live off rural, agricultural lifestyle, and the authoritarian government bans land ownership and gives out seeds for the crops only to trusted party members, this is a sure recipe for a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. But this obviously isn't discouraging a number of Western governments from pouring loads of cash onto countries like Ethiopia, with no strings attached.

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20 ways to break Europe Mar. 18th, 2017 @ 12:03 am
Generalizations insideCollapse )

Friday LOL. The Lord Dampnut test Mar. 17th, 2017 @ 02:37 pm
Talking of the Beast... I mean, the most evil dark lord the world has ever seen (maybe)... how many points can you score on this test, eh?

A few of these made me pause, I admit. What about you? ;)

About that 560 euro safety net Mar. 16th, 2017 @ 11:30 am
As I wrote a while ago, Finland has started a bold experiment: they'll be granting 2000 random unemployed Finnish people with a guaranteed minimum income until the end of 2018 (the monthly amount has been set at 560 euro now). So what are the results as of today, a couple months later? Let's see.

The liberal-conservative government has started this experiment not out of curiosity, or love for experimentation, but out of necessity. Because Finland still hasn't completely shaken off the economic crisis, unemployment is high, the labor market is still in a process of restructuring, and the welfare system remains too complicated and inflexible. So the government decided to try this thing with the guaranteed minimum income. It's supposed to help close the big income gaps among the population, and incentivize people to take a job - initially any job, even if it's not highly paid, or even a part-time job. Of course the best-case scenario would be if the recipients of this guaranteed base income launched their own businesses. So, until the end of next year, these 2000 unemployed Finnish citizens of age 25-58 will be receiving 560 euro a month, and anyone who wishes could apply for extra income without deductions.

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More on this Erdogan guy Mar. 15th, 2017 @ 10:46 am
Herkese merhaba! Greetings, all! I'mma occupy you with this Turkish issue once more. The Sultan keeps being on top of the news these days, so I figured I could tune in as well, what with living just next door to him, and being able to personally smell the scent coming out of his smelly ass.

See, Erdogan was, at least on paper, democratically elected. Sure, the election was partly rigged, in that he had conveniently removed most of the serious opposition to himself well in advance. Still, he wasn't supposed to be a dictator - at least not of the Kim type. Let's not succumb to populist temptations and media propaganda and try to view things a bit more impartially (which admittedly is not that easy, given the emotional charge of the current political situation). Erdogan is not exactly Satan, he may have some redeeming qualities, like his pragmatism (which may've remained in the past, granted - but more about that a bit further down). The one thing that sticks out about him is his determination, I'll have to give him that.

Also, he was, at least initially, a genuine reformist. By the way, and this is a little-known fact particularly in the West, he actually initially expanded women's rights - and for a time, the freedom of the press as well. As shocking as it may sound to those who've only been fed what the Western media deign to serve to us all. He also led Turkey towards the EU, he created a middle class where none existed, and he vastly improved the social system of his society. Those are all things that have hugely contributed to his success at home, and to his popularity. During his rule, the Turkish economy grew and expanded almost exponentially for many years in a row, where it had always lingered in the backstage before. We shouldn't ignore any of this if we want proper context about Turkey. Because when I'm reading most analyses these days, they all seem to have converged around the notion that he's a malevolent despot who's leading his country towards collapse.

And that`s where the good stuff endsCollapse )

South Korea at a crossroads Mar. 14th, 2017 @ 12:00 am
First, some context:

3 die in protests after South Korean president removed from office

China plans to increase number of Marine Corps from 20,000 to 100,000 to boost global presence

What's the connection, you may ask. Well, do bear with me. See, three people have died in the riots in Seoul that followed the verdict of the Constitutional court that confirmed the removal of president Park Geun-hye because of big abuse of power. There were protests for and against her on the streets around the court, and the drama eventually boiled over into clashes with the police forces. Hence the casualties. Both crying and jubilant people filled the news reports coming from various correspondents covering the events. Even foreign journalists were mildly hurt amidst all the chaos.

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The Dutch Trump? Mar. 13th, 2017 @ 11:44 am

There are elections coming up in the Netherlands. And everyone's talking about Geert Wilders and his Party of Freedom, the xenophobic chauvinistic populists who've been poisoning the political discourse there for years. According to the latest polls, Wilders and his cohort are most likely going to end up the second biggest party after the ruling VVD (conservative liberals). Even if Wilders does get a slight edge and finishes first, he'd still need a coalition partner to make a government, unless he somehow gets 50%+ of the votes, which is unlikely.

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West Australian Election 2017: Bring your gauges Mar. 12th, 2017 @ 10:50 am
The results of the West Australian state election last night are certainly quite dramatic with the incoming Labor government gaining over 10% of the vote in a two-party preferred basis and on-track to increase their parliamentary representation from 21 to 40 or more. As impressive as the change might be, it certainly was also predicted and various opinion pollsters can be quite pleased with their predicted results with Newspoll, ReachTel, and Galaxy all predicting a 54-46 TPP result.

Commentators, especially from the conservative camp, have been very quick to try to explain what went wrong. The outgoing Premier, Colin Barnett, expressed what is a favourite talking point:"time was probably against us", and there is a bit of truth in the statement. Except for the most incompetent, a government typically will receive an improvement in their second term, and experience a modest swing against them in their third term. But surely any conservative who is honest with themselves, would know that this would account only for a few percent. The sheer size of the swing does not constitute a lackadaisical "let's let the other side have a go".

Others will hone in on election campaign itself, and certainly this has a more significant influence. Running a campaign can be a tricky business with the potential for conflict between the leader's office, the party office, MPs going off script, and having to keep party members and volunteers enthusiastic and supportive. From all accounts, the campaign run by Mark McGowan and Labor was far superior to that of the Liberals, many of whom are busy writing checklists of what went wrong. Doubtless those lists will include the much maligned preference deal with the extreme right One Nation Party. A month ago, it was considered a masterstroke that would lead to the Barnett government winning a fourth term as ON was polling at 13% (they received around 4.5%). But tainted with ON's odorous extremism, and with massive infighting within that party, it turned out to be an enormous liability; lie with dogs and you'll get fleas. In addition, relations between the Liberals and their supposed partners the Nationals, were extremely fractious. For their part the Nationals who proposed large increases in resource taxes, did not lose votes. Combine these effects, and tick off another few percent.

At this point most commentators are apparently flummoxed, confused to work out where another several percentage points of swing came from. Of course these are well-paid members of the chattering class, comfortable in their position in the new economy. They never have experienced, or in a very few cases have forgotten, the dire and grinding insecurity that comes with poverty in Western Australia. One commentator, Natalie Mast, (and she erred on One Nation) picked up the role of economic matters; high levels of unemployment, low economic growth, large mortgages, and massive government debt. Having failed to deliver twenty years of high growth, and failed to reduce levels of debt (already high four years ago), the government's plans to privitise the the state electricity utility was not well received.

Ultimately, the most important issue in the election was economic security, and that's what the results show. The Barnett government did not spend wisely in the last term, and was arguably downright profligate. Investment in infrastructure can be very useful, but only when it's needed. Expensive projects releasing land in the inner city is fine and probably has long-term benefits, but not when there's already a 30% vacancy in office and retail space. Expansions to road projects are sometimes welcome but certainly not through environmentally sensitive areas and certainly not with questionable contracts (notably the WA Greens also had a stable result). High unemployment, expensive mortgages, and government debt; for poorer West Australians they would have known all too well that it would only be a matter of time before public services were cut. The situation of course was not helped by the Federal LNP supporting a recent decision to cut penalty rates. The Federal justice minister Michael Keenan has claimed "Penalty rates and federal issues have been no issue in this campaign". Keep telling yourself that Michael; the people of WA know differently.

Fool me twice... Mar. 11th, 2017 @ 05:03 pm
The first 45 days of the new presidency show that despite his promises, he keeps pursuing the same failed interventionist policies that he used to criticize his predecessors for:

U.S. Drone Strikes Have Gone Up 432% Since Trump Took Office

Trump the candidate was very nebulous and misleading about the military operations he would support as president. He used to claim he had been opposed to the Iraq War in 2003, although in reality he supported it. He claimed he had opposed the Libyan intervention in 2011, while in reality he was strongly supportive of it, and even called for sending US troops on the ground.

Still, Trump and his surrogates constantly claim he would support bloody overseas wars much less than "Crooked Hillary". That may or may not be true, but since he became president, he has considered sending more troops to Syria, loosening the rules for air strikes, and increasing the deadly firepower that the US supplies the Syrian rebel groups with (some of them, openly Jihadist).

But there is this one indicator where Trump's foreign policy is clearly showing to be even more interventionist than that of his predecessor's: the approved drone strikes and spec-ops in foreign lands, where the US is waging undeclared, unofficial wars: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia.

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The Shambling Mound's Seventh Week Mar. 11th, 2017 @ 04:25 pm
It was an fascinating week watching the lurchings of the Shambling Mound, Lord Dampnut, with trajectories towards the ridiculous, the improbable, and the unfair dominating the headlines. Never one for shortage of content, Lord Dampnut continues to shake up the United States in a manner that leaves more level minds nonplussed (nota bene: this may mean the opposite to what you think it means - look it up).

Announced via Twitter (where else?) the President brought some weekend amusement by making the utterly baseless accusation that Obama had been wiretapping. This was actually a follow-on from claims the previous week when Obama was blamed by Lord Dampnut for protests against him, but apparently if you say something ridiculous you have to double-down. Or maybe not. Shortly after the director of the FBI suggested that the Justice Department should reject the claim, everything went very silent on the issue. Obviously, the Deep State is to blame.

The next major announcement of the week was Travel Ban 2.0. The two main differences between the first ban - struck down by the courts - and the new ban is that Iraq is no longer on the list of prohibited countries and people from the naughty countries list who already have valid visas are allowed entry. Naturally enough this new order will be subject to the same legal challenge as the last - thus the effort to push the idea it is "not really" a Muslim ban. Severa states have launched legal challenges.

There was also the reverse Robin Hood of the replacement of the Affordable Care Act announced this week. The proposal has three main components; removing the requirement to purchase health insurance in favour of tax credits, phasing out Medicaid expansions, and allowing much aged-based flexibility for rates for insurance companies. If you are young and wealthy, you'll do well out the change; not so much if you're poor and old. The list of opponents, left and right, evidence-based and ideological, is growing.

Finally, as we know, in a reasonable administration the people appointed are public figures who have a degree of competence in the selected field. Illustrating his own deep knowledge of the subject, the new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, came out with the interesting observation this week that : "Measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact... So no, I would not agree it's [carbon dioxide] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see". Sure, climate scientists might disagree but what do those eggheads know, right? They don't seem to realise that the laws of physics can be changed by ideology.

Friday fun. Describe your idea for a political cartoon Mar. 10th, 2017 @ 12:12 pm
Make it relevant. Something about current events of importance. Just describe how you view a political cartoon you would have loved to author if you could.

My fave one from this week:

Turkey: how bad is it Mar. 9th, 2017 @ 11:37 am
The string of terror attacks and the gradual amping up of authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime may've been perceived as Turkey's main problems, but in truth, their woes are economic first and foremost. Do bear with me.

The Turkish economy has registered a 1.8% slump for the 3rd quarter of last year, and the forecasts are even grimmer for the last quarter. And all of this, after a decade-long growth. Question is, would Erdogan and his almost one-party state have survived politically in the conditions of an impending economic crisis? Very unlikely - if Turkey still had a democracy.

However, the ruling regime has done their best to crush any dissent in recent months, and find new enemies (internal and external) that they could focus people's discontent upon. In the meantime though, the two major rating agencies S&P and Moody's have remained unimpressed, and have downgraded the Turkish debt below the acceptable levels, now placing it at "Junk".

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And they get worked up about Obama wiretapping Trump, duh... Mar. 8th, 2017 @ 11:09 am
WikiLeaks says it releases files on CIA cyber spying tools

"Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Tuesday published what it said were thousands of pages of internal CIA discussions about hacking techniques used over several years, renewing concerns about the security of consumer electronics and embarrassing yet another U.S. intelligence agency.

The discussion transcripts showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple Inc iPhones, Google Inc Android devices and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with sophisticated software.

Friendly note to all of my fellow e-communications users:

ANY device with a camera or microphone can be used to record/transmit images or sounds. This is especially true with surveillance devices and with “open mic” devices that perpetually have their microphones active to receive commands, such as information providers like Apple’s “Siri”, Android’s “Okay Google”, Amazon’s “Alexa”, your SmartTV, etc.

If you elect to use these “convenience” services, then you have effectively forfeited your privacy, and anything you say within the listening area of these devices is no longer confidential. Should you inadvertently say your social security number, banking information, passwords, address, telephone numbers, etc. in casual conversation, chances are that it has been transmitted and recorded without your knowledge. If you imagine that current laws protect your privacy rights — well, good luck with that.

We are in a Brave New World of “networking”, “social media” and “information sharing”. The benefits are truly enormous in terms of connectivity and knowledge access, but they come at a price — the question we all need to ask ourselves is: is that price too steep?

Putin ain't happy Mar. 7th, 2017 @ 10:10 am

Russia's take on Trump: Glee gives way to frustration

Well, that took only a short while, didn't it?

Just about a month or so into this administration, and the presumed Kremlin Candidate has turned out just as untrustworthy from a Putin standpoint as I previously predicted (ha! clairvoyant me, etc).

Sure, even if the Kremlin believes it's too soon to determine the course of their relations with the US from now on, and despite all their denials that they're now growing increasingly discontent and frustrated with the Don's unpredictability, the first signs of cracks are starting to appear. His tweets about Crimea have raised quite a few eyebrows over there.

Mind you, Trump's ascent was never quite seen as a long-term victory by Russians. If you ask anyone there about this, they'd rather give you a cautious answer much to the effect of, "We'll see". And also, "Whatever they say, this is stil America" - meaning, "they're our rivals". Sure, Trump's entire campaign rhetoric may've created the impression that he'd be amicable to comrade Putin and he'd unconditionally cave in to any Russian demands - but the fact that making America great again would inevitably often come into direct conflict with keeping Volodya permanently happy, has begun to kick in rather quickly.

Ultimately, being the pragmatic vodka-junkies that they are, the Russians may've never had any true illusions about Trump's presidency to begin with. In this sense, being "disappointed" by him is an overstatement. So don't take all the glee from his election that you could see around their press.
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Dumping your trash on us, aren't you? Mar. 6th, 2017 @ 12:03 am
It's not just the Two Speeds Europe plan. My focus here is actually on product quality, or rather, the double standard that exists there in the EU:


And it's not just about food. Shampoos, laundry detergents, dishwashing detergents, toothpastes, you name it. They all have inferior quality in Eastern Europe in a comparison with the same brands which are sold in Western Europe. And there is no reasonable justification for this.

Europe's blatant double standardsCollapse )
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