Monday, June 30, 2014

Campaign finance redux

In a June 19th, 2008 oped this blogger suggested greatly raising the limits on potential campaign donations while massively strengthening disclosure and transparency with regard to the donations. Well, that's exactly where the law has been going as well, courtesy of a number of Supreme Court rulings...

"'... Earlier this spring, the Supreme Court delivered yet another blow to campaign finance regulation. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court invalidated the federal “aggregate limits” — or statutory restrictions on the amount any single individual can contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and committees combined. This decision was the latest in a string of decisions handed down by the Roberts Court removing restrictions on the flow of money into politics. 

McCutcheon is likely to drive significantly more money into the coffers of federal candidates, political parties, and other political committees. While the overall limit on the amount any individual could donate to such entities in a single election cycle was $123,200 prior to McCutcheon, wealthy individuals may now be able to contribute over $3.5 million in a single cycle... 

But less noted in the aftermath of McCutcheon was the fact that the Court went out of its way to affirm the constitutionality of campaign finance disclosure. The Chief Justice’s opinion asserted that disclosure “offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information” and in addition provides “robust protections against corruption.” Indeed, every member of the current Court but Justice Thomas has now signaled strong approval of disclosure..."

The article then goes on to ask if current forms of disclosure are sufficient to meet the Chief Justice's assertion, before deciding that the current reporting/disclosure system need reform. They suggest a number of changes, including standardizing disclosure forms. As did this blogger back in 2002!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Great quotes - caliphate

"... the shaykh (sheikh), the mujāhid, the scholar who practices what he preaches, the worshipper, the leader, the warrior, the reviver, descendent from the family of the Prophet, the slave of Allah, Ibrāhīm Ibn ‘Awwād Ibn Ibrāhīm Ibn ‘Alī Ibn Muhammad al-Badr i al-Hāshimī al-Husayn ī al-Qurashī by lineage, as-Sāmurrā’ī by birth and upbringing, al-Baghdādī by residence and scholarship. And he has accepted the bay’ah (pledge of allegiance). Thus, he is the imam and khalīfah for the Muslims everywhere..."

- ISIS, dropping the second 'IS' (Iraq and al-Sham) to proclaim themselves the Islamic state and the new caliphate, with Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Abdel Mu’min Ali Al Badri’ – Abu Da’a a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the head honcho (to whom everyone else needs to swear allegiance...).  

And what is the caliphate? Well, in their own words:

"... Here the flag of the Islamic State, the flag of tawhīd (monotheism), rises and flutters. Its shade covers land from Aleppo to Diyala. Beneath it, the walls of the tawāghīt (rulers claiming the rights of Allah) have been demolished, their flags have fallen, and their borders have been destroyed. Their soldiers are either killed, imprisoned, or defeated. The Muslims are honored. The kuffār (infidels) are disgraced. Ahlus-Sunnah (the Sunnis) are masters and are esteemed. The people of bid’ah (heresy) are humiliated. The hudūd (Sharia penalties) are implemented – the hudūd of Allah – all of them. The frontlines are defended. Crosses and graves are demolished. Prisoners are released by the edge of the sword. The people in the lands of the State move about for their livelihood and journeys, feeling safe regarding their lives and wealth. Wulāt (plural of wālīor “governors”) and judges have been appointed. Jizyah (a tax imposed on kuffār) has been enforced. Fay’ (money taken from the kuffār without battle) and zakat (obligatory alms) have been collected. Courts have been established to resolve disputes and complaints. Evil has been removed. Lessons and classes have been held in the masājid (plural of masjid) and, by the grace of Allah, the religion has become completely for Allah. There only remained one matter, a wājib kifā’ī (collective obligation) that the ummah sins by abandoning. It is a forgotten obligation. The ummah has not tasted honor since they lost it. It is a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim believer. It is a hope that flutters in the heart .."of every mujahid muwahhid (monotheist). It is the khilāfah (caliphate). It is the khilāfah – the abandoned obligation of the era.." 

And some poetry tossed in for good measure:

We took it forcibly at the point of a blade.
             We brought it back conquered and compelled.
We established it in defiance of many.
             And the people’s necks were violently struck,
With bombings, explosions, and destruction,
             And soldiers that do not see hardship as being difficult,
And lions that are thirsty in battle,
             Having greedily drunk the blood of kufr.
Our khilāfah has indeed returned with certainty
             And likewise our state, becoming a firm structure.
And the breasts of the believers have been healed,
             While the hearts of kufr have been filled with terror.

Random chart - surgical complications

Source: In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but not Scrutiny

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Random picture - "drone memo" author

Also known as the "drone memo" this 41-page memo sets out the justification for the elimination of (American citizen) al-Awlaki. Presumably there is a similar memo for the elimination of his teenaged son, also killed in a drone attack while . "... at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives..." Or perhaps there is no memo for the son, it might be sufficient that he made the fatal mistake of not having "... a more responsible father..."

The Drone That Killed My Grandson

Random charts - health care costs

Source: Behind the numbers 2015 PwC's Health Research Institute (HRI)

PwC's Health Research Institute (HRI) forecasts that medical costs will rise 6.8% in 2015, a tick above 2014's projected increase of 6.5%. Go to the report for more.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Random pictures - ridiculousness


Good grief, the outfits.... And I'm not talking about the Duchess of Cambridge's... 

And from the latter: "... Looking the very picture of noble obesiance and honourable tradition in his Daz-white lace jabot and smart scarlet court dress, 13–year-old Viscount Aithrie, HM The Queen's current Page of Honour was back on duty yesterday — serving his Monarch at The Order of the Garter Ceremony yesterday. Lord Aithrie (son of the Earl of Hopetoun and grandson of the Marquess of Linlithgow) was the poor chap who made headlines two weeks ago when he fainted during his previous engagement at the State Opening of Parliament.." 

Wow, brings this to mind: 

Random pictures - globes


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Random chart - confidence in news media

"... Across newspapers, TV, and Internet, confidence no higher than 22%... Confidence in newspapers has declined by more than half since its 1979 peak of 51%, while TV news has seen confidence ebb from its high of 46% in 1993, the first year that Gallup asked this question. Gallup's only previous measure of Internet news was in 1999, when confidence was 21%, little different from today..."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Great quotes - hard up

"... We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard -- and it's been amazing to me -- he's worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts, which was, you know, he had to make double the money because of obviously taxes and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members..." 

- Hilary Clinton, see Hillary Clinton Defends High-Dollar Speaking Fees  Those darn taxes!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Random charts - ISIS

"... an examination of its history through its own documents indicates that the group has been far more ambitious and effective than United States officials judged as they were winding down the American involvement in the war.

The Sunni extremist group, while renowned for the mayhem it has inflicted, has set clear goals for carving out and governing a caliphate, an Islamic religious state, that spans Sunni-dominated sections of Iraq and Syria. It has published voluminously, even issuing annual reports, to document its progress in achieving its goals..."

Yet it was a surprise when it happened!?! Strange, was no one paying attention? Well actually, they were: "... In congressional testimony in February, a top army intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, said the group, “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014....”

Random charts - Ukraine?

Source: Most Americans Paying Close Attention to Crisis in Ukraine

Monday, June 9, 2014

Great quotes - Walid Beg

"I say that the guns should be directed toward the Israeli enemy"

- Walid Jumblatt opining on Hezbollah:
"...  The decision by Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group to join the civil war in neighboring Syria and fight along President Bashar Assad's forces was a historic and moral "mistake" toward the Syrian people, a leading Lebanese politician has said... Instead of fighting in Syria, he said Hezbollah should have focused on archenemy Israel..."

Some previous Walid Beg quotes:
Great quotes - Walid Beg encore - Mar 27th, 2013
Great quotes Nov 27th, 2010
Great quotes - Oct 10th, 2010
Great quotes - Jan 10th, 2010
Great quotes - Jul 29th, 2009
Taking it back... - Oct 28th, 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Vulture update....

 Photo credit: Radio Sai

Previous blog entries mentioning vultures:

Update - May 25th, 2011
Quick update - Dec 17th, 2009
Science and side effects... - Oct 29th, 2008

Earlier blog entries, see above, discussed the die-off of vultures in India and the consequences, from the proliferation of packs of wild dogs to the difficulties faced by Parsees in their burial practices... Well, apparently vultures and eagles in Europe are now dying from the same causes. And Bombay's Parsees are still struggling with the dearth of vultures...

When Dinshaw Tamboly was about eight years old, he attended a Parsi funeral for the first time. His grandfather had passed away and his body was taken to Doongerwadi, Mumbai’s Towers of Silence, as the community’s traditional funeral site is known...  

As a trustee, Tamboly had been given charge of the upkeep of the area, a 54-acre patch of land on the eastern slope of uptown Malabar Hills that is often described as a mini-forest. Despite the rule that no one but corpse-bearers can visit the three wells where cadavers are left for vultures, Tamboly visited them to investigate the matter. “What I saw was horrible,” he says. “There were piles of hundreds of corpses in different stages of decomposition, rotting in the open. When I looked around, there was not a single vulture around,” he says. Asked, the corpse-bearers there told him that rather few vultures ever descended to the wells, leaving corpses uneaten for long periods of time. Other avian visitors such as crows and kites would sometimes fly off with and drop pieces of flesh on the terraces of nearby houses and balconies of buildings...

The issue has created a deep rift within the community. Zoroastrian high priests have strictly forbidden cremation and burial, branding all those who choose or advocate these as ‘renegades’; fire and earth are holy under the tenets of the faith and are not to be defiled..."  Read on.

Random charts - chess


Source: The key to Magnus Carlsen’s success as a chess grandmaster

Random chart - data visualization

Source: Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East 

See also:
Florence Nightingale, datajournalist: information has always been beautiful
The 5 Most Influential Data Visualizations of All Time
2013 Longlist - Data Visualization
The Best Data Visualizations of 2013

Random charts - govt subsidies

Source: The Biggest Beneficiaries of the Ex-Im Bank

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Random chart - death map

Source: You Live in X. Here’s How You’re Going to Die.

GHG reductions - some info

Big news recently on the environmental front, the President announced that the EPA will be promulgating rules to limit the allowable amounts of greenhouse gasses that can be emitted by power plants: So, per USA Today:

"... Taking a historic step to fight climate change, the Obama administration proposed a plan Monday that aims to slash carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30% by 2030 and could accelerate the nation's shift away from coal.  

The Environmental Protection Agency plan, which is President Obama's largest climate effort so far, could help the United States prod other countries like China to pledge similar emissions cuts as part of a new international treaty that's slated for negotiation next year in Paris. The controversial 645-page plan, expected to trigger legal challenges, sets different reduction targets for each state and gives them flexibility in how to achieve them. Yet it aims for a 30% national reduction of heat-trapping CO² emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030 -- an amount that the EPA says is equal to annual emissions from powering more than half of U.S. homes....  

Thwarted by Congress' inability to pass a bill to lower carbon emissions, Obama is pushing his own approach. Last June, he asked the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to limit power plant emissions, which account for the largest share — nearly 40% — of total U.S. emissions. Coal-fired facilities could be hardest hit, because they emit more carbon than other power plants. 

The rule will not take effect for at least two more years. Obama has asked the EPA to finalize it in June 2015 and initially wanted each state to submit its plan by June 2016. The EPA proposal gives states until 2017 or, if they make joint efforts with other states, 2018..."

Predictably this has set off a major squabble in Washington and across the country... This blogger has been reading the news and trying to figure out exactly how much of a cut is being mooted. Per the news snippet above it is "a 30% reduction of emissions from existing power plants by 2030." Or is it really "a 30% national reduction by 2030"? It can hardly be both if emissions from existing power plants only account for "nearly 40%" of the national total!

Another article says: "... Obama also said the proposal will help the U.S. get closer to his goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, a commitment he made in 2009 at a climate change conference in Copenhagen..."

This set this blogger to wondering... a) How do they calculate the amount of "greenhouse gasses"?  b) Why is it that 2005 is chosen as the base year? And other things...

Well, according to the EPA: "...An emissions inventory that identifies and quantifies a country's primary anthropogenic sources and sinks of greenhouse gases is essential for addressing climate change. This inventory adheres to both (1) a comprehensive and detailed set of methodologies for estimating sources and sinks of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, and (2) a common and consistent mechanism that enables Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to compare the relative contribution of different emission sources and greenhouse gases to climate change..." The following graph shows the various factors used to convert multiple greenhouse gasses into CO2 equivalents. In other words HFC-23 or trifluoromethane is over eleven thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide!

As to the choice of 2005 as the base year, this blogger is still in the dark. Perhaps it is because 2005 was (almost) the historical high point of U.S. GHG emissions. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a President set an "ambitious" goal while making sure that 'progress' would be seen to be made during his terms in office, but while leaving the bulk of the effort to a successor!