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Cruel, deliberate, and unusually vicious. It’s us.

1 May 2014

Summary: Today, one of the bloggers that I follow regularly linked to Charles Pierce’s angry opinion piece on the State Of Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett: Barbarians In Oklahoma. Because I’ve recently been under a general anaesthetic for surgery, I was curious and decided on a whim to look up the drugs used in the “lethal injection cocktail.”  Shaken and upset, I hope that my interpretation of the pharmacological effects is wrong. I’m pretty sure I am not.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
— Eighth amendment to the US Constitution

Execution by Firing Squad

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The three drugs
  3. Putting it all together
  4. Death with Dignity
  5. Torture is a crime
  6. About the 8th amendment
  7. For More Information

(1)  Introduction

Let me state for the record that I am not an anesthesiologist or a pharmacologist. I am currently trying to vet this material with a few professionals and am already  gathering feedback that leads me to believe I am not wrong. I may be. If I am wrong, I will publish a suitably public correction/retraction.

(2)  The three drugs

The lethal injection package consists of three drugs given in sequence.

(a) The First Drug

The first drug is a mild hypnotic/disassociative. The subject would feel sleepy and dizzy, but it would not provide an anaesthetic effect. Hypnotics are often used in surgery because they tend to block the formation of long-term memories; subjects appear less likely to suffer PTSD symptoms as a result of surgery if their ability to remember the experience is blocked.

(b) The Second Drug

The second drug is Vecuronium Bromide – basically, Curare. Curare causes rapid and severe paralysis of muscles. The subject remains conscious and the curare does not block pain; it renders the subject unable to move, blink, speak – or breathe. Someone on curare feels as if they are being held down by impossible force, and they begin to strangle as their diaphragm muscles stop functioning.

Read more…

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The NRA feeds our fears, the fast track to political power in America

29 April 2014

Summary: Both Left and Right motivate us by fear. They’re professionals at propaganda and manipulation. They choose fear as a theme for good reason: because it works. We’ve looked at many examples from the Left (see the links in the last section). Today we look at an unusually vivid example from the Right. Our weakness makes us easy to lead. But we can do better. Let’s not let fear so easily guide us. The path to reform starts with each of us, as individuals.

“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”
— Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)

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Another day in America, another mass shooting. Today’s is in Cobb, GA. Six casualties, plus the dead gunman. This does not happen in other developed nations. The NRA’s CEO explains why it happens so often in America.

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Fear by Van Gogh

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Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA

Speaking at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
6 April 2014

Much of this speech is inspiration and strikes home truths; I wish others would echo his call to action in defense of America. Much is factually incorrect (e.g., crime rates have been falling for 2 decades). Much is quite mad. It’s 100% professional-quality fear-mongering, by a powerful organization with a steel grip on an important piece of US public policy

See the video.  Excerpt from the transcript:

Freedom has never needed our defense more than now. Almost everywhere you look, something has gone wrong. You feel it in your heart, you know it in your gut. Something has gone wrong. The core values we believe in, the things we care about most, are changing. Eroding. Our right to speak. Our right to gather. Our right to privacy. The freedom to work, and practice our religion, and raise and protect our families the way we see fit.

… They are core freedoms. The core values that have always defined us as a nation and we feel them — we feel them — slipping away. All across America, everywhere I go, people come up to me and say, “Wayne, I’ve never been worried about this country — until now.” Not with anger, but with sadness in their eyes.

… We fear for the safety of our families — it’s why neighborhood streets that were once filled with bicycles and skateboards, laughter in the air, now sit empty and silent. In virtually every way, for the things we care about most, we feel profound loss.

Read more…

The 1% won a counter-revolution while we played. We forgot that we are the crew of America, not passengers.

28 April 2014

Summary: Now inequality has become too extreme to ignore. Now that the 1% has crushed all opposition, we begin to see the results of their successful counter-revolution. But we do not yet see the battle. Until we understand our past others will build our future. Here’s a first cut doing so.

The Universe was 5 miles long, and 2,000 feet across. Men scoffed at the legends of such things as stars, or the demented idea that the Ship was moving… for the Ship was the Universe, and there could be nothing outside. Then one man found his way into a forgotten room, and saw the stars – and they moved….

— Summary of Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein (1951; based on two 1941 short stories), one of the early stories about a generation ship

Phoenix

Somewhere in our future lies the Third Republic

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(1)  A recap of the plot so far

During the long halcyon days of the post-WW2 summer America forgot about economic classes — and their cousin, social mobility. The reforms of the New Deal, the post-WW2 social programs (especially the GI bill, the ample funding to education (from primary to graduate-level), the civil rights legislation, and sustained growth of GDP and wages — all these fertilized the rise of a middle class and modest degree of social mobility. We came to consider that our due as Americans. We came to consider that as America.

All this culminated with the long boom (the debt-fueled expansion from 1982 – 2000, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the late 1990’s tech boom. America was exceptional, a new moment in history. Marx became a comic figure. “The only Marxists live in Berkeley and Albania.”

We forgot the century-long struggle that laid the political foundations for the middle class, a slow low-violence revolution.  That meant we forgot that this was an unnatural state requiring work to maintain. We forgot we were the officers and crew of America, not passengers on the Love Boat.

But not everybody was happy with summer, and the core New Deal and civil rights reforms with made it possible.  They planned a counter-revolution. They had patience, long-vision, and vast resources.

(a)  Starting with Goldwater, the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” slowly returned the antebellum ideologies of racial separatism, States Rights, etc — to break the New Deal coalition, forging an instrument to wage the counter-revolution. There was no plan, just a “run to daylight” strategy of exploiting the internal contradictions and discontents that triumphant liberals had allowed to develop in their coalition.

(b) The Powell Memorandum: Sent by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. on 23 August 1971 (2 months before his nomination to Supreme Court) to Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Titled Attack On American Free Enterprise System, it outlined a strategy for large corporations to rollback much of the New Deal reforms on business and crush the unions (perhaps the key brick in the New Deal coalition and the middle class structure).

(c) The article creating the mythology of tax-cuts as the magic elixir: “Taxes and a Two-Santa Theory“, Jude Wanniski, National Observer, 6 March 1976

(d) In his 14 July 1978 testimony to Congress (9 years before becoming Fed Chairman), Alan Greenspan first described the “starve the beast” strategy: “Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.”

The great New Deal coalition built a new America. But the flower children of the boomer generation forgot that they were in a vessel. They thought they were frolicking in a meadow. Their political activism was limited to groups working to benefit themselves — such as ending the draft, opening the work world to women, rights for gays. Issues the 1%, as a class, don’t care about. Nobody bothered with the boring work of staffing the engine and control rooms, and running the ship.

Read more…

Tell us how we’re doing! Post your suggestions.

27 April 2014

Today we again ask for reader feedback on important aspects of the FM website. Tell us how to do this better. Everything is open to fix. Excerpt for one thing. We’ll continue to annoy both Left and Right, looking for a path to reform America. It’s bad for business in our increasingly tribal society, but such is life.

Listening
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Questions

  1. Daily long posts, or more short posts?
  2. Promo our successful predictions, or just more on?
  3. Add your comments

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(1)  Daily long posts, or more short posts

The FM website does long-form analysis of issues on the cutting edge of the known. They’re usually 1,000 to 2,000 words long (vs typical posts on the web of 200 -400 words). With copious citations (usually links).  Complexes of posts, each a chapter closely examining a sliver of the geopolitical world (from an American perspective). Extensively cross-indexed.

The other side of the operation is the @FabiusMaximus01 twitter feed. Pointers to articles about the themes covered here, often with brief comments on them (1,135 followers).

Short and long. Is this the best way to do this?  Most importantly, should we do more and shorter articles — or stick with the one-per-day long-form articles. Other questions appear below the fold.
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(2)  Second question: do we promote past predictions enough?

Read more…

Why the Left loses: we see their vision of a new America

26 April 2014

Summary: Left and right are engaged in a never-ending struggle not just for control of America’s politics, but for its soul. Since 1980 the Right has been winning, slowly rolling back the essential aspects of the New Deal. Today we have another chapter explaining why the Left loses. Their weakness is self-inflicted. Let’s hope they find it within themselves to change; we need at least one sane wing of the political spectrum.

Yellow Submarine

The Left takes us to their vision of a new world

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Rape Happens Here“, Simon van Zuylen-Wood, Philadelphia Magazine, 24 April 2014 — Opening

For 150 years, leafy, progressive Swarthmore College tried to resolve student conflicts in the best Quaker tradition — peacefully and constructively. Then came 91 complaints of sexual misconduct. In a single year.

Read it in full; you’ll find astonishing stories on every page. It’s a story of crazy by both students and administrators (and I wonder about the writer as well). Dumb (often inexplicable) behavior by all, including apparent amnesia about the existence of police, intense “claims of victimization” by all sides, elevation of personal feelings over facts, use of campus disciplinary machinery to punish heterodox ideology, and confused thinking (e.g., what is rape, beyond feeling “scared, powerless, and traumatized”?).

It’s another story of modern America’s inability to handle a problem adequately managed by the other developed nations. We’re exceptional!

More about this article:

  1. Read the comments, many from students at Swarthmore.
  2. Note that one-third of 91 complaints of misconduct (from harassment to rape) in 2013 concerned incidents from previous years. So the number of complaints of 2013 incidents were roughly equivalent to 7% of Swarthmore’s women students (Swarthmore has 1,600 students, 51% women).
  3. See the statement in the next section by Swarthmore’s police chief about rape reports and convictions (the author didn’t quote either the campus or local police).

Read more…

Students, cheerleaders, & lawyers all exploited as they scramble for the few opportunities in New America

25 April 2014

Summary: One astonishing aspect of the structural changes reshaping America is how fiercely we work to avoid seeing them. Such as the transformation of employment. Breaking unions was the first and essential step. Now comes the larger changes: shifting jobs from full time with benefits and job security into temporary, insecure, part-time, no-benefits — at lower wages.

Here we see four snapshots of this structural change in the power relationships of employers and workers — as people become increasingly desperate for opportunities. We close our eyes to these changes, since seeing the 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old would upset the even tenor of our lives.

Buffalo Jills

Buffalo Jills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on 9 August 2012. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

“To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return -– that is what really gladdens Satan’s heart.”
— C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)

Contents

  1. Cheerleaders mistreated for profit
  2. Internships: opportunities for the affluent
  3. Entry level positions for lawyers
  4. For More Information

(1)  Cheerleaders mistreated for profit

Cheerleaders for professional sports teams pay much of their own expenses, work long hours, and earn a pittance — all in the service of fabulously profitable sports businesses.

The Cheerleaders Rise Up: NFL cheerleaders are putting down their pom-poms and demanding a better deal“, Amanda Hess, Slate, 23 April 2014 — Excerpt:

In 2014, the cheerleaders revolted.

This January, rookie NFL cheerleader Lacy T. kicked things off when she filed a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, alleging that the team fails to pay its Raiderettes minimum wage, withholds their pay until the end of the season, imposes illegal fines for minor infractions (like gaining 5 pounds), and forces cheerleaders to pay their own business expenses (everything from false eyelashes to monthly salon visits).

Within a month, Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman had filed a similar suit against her team, claiming that the Ben-Gals are paid just $2.85 an hour for their work on the sidelines.

And Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed suit against their own team, alleging that the Buffalo Jills were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive). The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders take home just $105 to $1,800 for an entire season on the job.

Read more…

Status report on the US economy: stand by for the boom!

24 April 2014

Summary:  It’s time for another look at the US economy. Economists have lots of enthusiasm. Lots of bad news, blamed on the severe winter that hit much (but not all) of America. Has the data warmed up? Is it Springtime in America?

Springtime In America

Content

  1. Stand by for the boom!
  2. About housing, a driver of the recovery
  3. The Architecture Billings Index
  4. Chicago Fed’s National Activity Index
  5. World trade volume
  6. For More Information

(1)  Stand by for the boom!

Every year since the crash economists forecast decent growth next year (2% – 2.5%) and ~3% growth in 3 years. But late last year economists varied the script: they forecast 3.1% growth in 2015 and 2016 — but also strong growth next year. They forecast that the US economy would accelerate to escape velocity. They cheered for the “Red, White, and Boom”.  See the Fed’s Survey of Professional Forecasters, 14 February 2014:

Groundhog

Looks wonderful out there!

  1. 2014: Q12.0%
  2. 2014: Q23.0%
  3. 2014: Q32.8%
  4. 2014: Q42.7%
  5. 2013:1.9%
  6. 2014:2.8%
  7. 2015:3.1%
  8. 2016:3.1%

It’s April. How’s that 2014 boom running? Although estimates for Q1 have fallen from 2.5% in December to 2% now, but hope remains for faster growth in the rest of the year. Previously we looked at the strong automobile sales, fueled by easy credit to increasingly sub-prime households. This looks to run for a while longer. Here we examine some other economic indicators.

The economy is complex beyond understanding. These are just snips, clues to the future.

(2) About housing, a driver of the recovery

The housing sector is expected to be another driver of the recovery. So far the omens look bad, but economists and housing experts remain confident. They’ll remain so until prices rollover, which they eventually will if these trends continue.

The weakness of housing activity has lasted since summer, and its broad geographically. This shows that it does not result from bad weather alone. Let’s review the ugly numbers.

(a) Purchase mortgage applications for week ending April 18: -18% YoY NSA, continuing their year-long decline.

Read more…

Worst case scenarios versus fat tails: a discussion about climate change

23 April 2014

Summary: Threat assessment requires understanding not just of worst case scenarios, but their odds of occurrence. Yesterday’s post looked at the math: A guide into the weird numbers that run our world, describing both financial bubbles & climate change — power laws, Black Swans, and Dragon Kings. If the worst case scenarios come true, we’ll all become too familiar with these terms. Today Professor Judith Curry discusses how can determine the likelihood of one of these scenarios happening. It’s one of the great questions in the public policy debate about climate change.

Fat Tails

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Contents

  1. Worst case scenarios vs fat tails
  2. About Judith Curry
  3. Important things to know about climate change
  4. For More Information
  5. Other worst-case scenarios

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Worst case scenarios versus fat tails

by Judith Curry, at her website Climate Etc
18 April 2014
Posted here under her Creative Commons license

.If we omit discussion of tail risk, are we really telling the whole truth? 

(a)  Kerry Emanuel

This post is motivated by an essay by Kerry Emanuel published at the Climate Change National Forum, entitled Tail Risk vs. Alarmism, which is in part motivated by my previous post AAAS: What we know. Excerpts:

In assessing the event risk component of climate change, we have, I would argue, a strong professional obligation to estimate and portray the entire probability distribution to the best of our ability. This means talking not just about the most probable middle of the distribution, but also the lower probability high-end risk tail, because the outcome function is very high there.

Do we not have a professional obligation to talk about the whole probability distribution, given the tough consequences at the tail of the distribution? I think we do, in spite of the fact that we open ourselves to the accusation of alarmism and thereby risk reducing our credibility. A case could be made that we should keep quiet about tail risk and preserve our credibility as a hedge against the possibility that someday the ability to speak with credibility will be absolutely critical to avoid disaster.

(b)  Uncertainty monster simplification

In my paper Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster, I described 5 ways of coping with the monster. Monster Simplification is particularly relevant here:  Monster simplifiers attempt to transform the monster by subjectively quantifying or simplifying the assessment of uncertainty.

The uncertainty monster paper distinguished between statistical uncertainty and scenario uncertainty:

Read more…

A guide into the weird numbers that run our world, describing both financial bubbles & climate change

22 April 2014

Summary: Two of our greatest challenges in the 21st century are climate change and management of economic crises. They’re similar in that their mathematics are unlike that of the normal life — the routine world of averages, variances, and bell-curve distributions. These phenomena take us deep into the mysteries of science. Before we can predict the future on the basis of the changes we’ve made to our physical and social environments, we must understand the range of changes in the past (extreme weather, financial bubbles, depressions)  — events which will reoccur, eventually, even if the world were to (somehow) remain unchanged. In a sense we must prepare for the past before we prepare for the new futures.

Rather than grapple with these complex matters, our political manipulators seek to paint simple pictures of the world. Oversimplified portraits drawn in fear and greed that make us easy to lead — which give us the illusion of knowledge, feeding our ignorance, blinding us to the wonders of our strange world.

Today we look at two articles describing math essential to understand both financial bubbles and weather. These allow us to understand something about our past so that we can prepare for the future: extreme events dominate history, and will largely frame the future. More about this tomorrow.

Chaoic System

A strange attractor plotting the behavior of a chaotic system. By Nicolas Despez, Wikimedia

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“History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, ‘Why don’t you listen to me?’ and lets fly with a big stick.”
— John W. Campbell Jr., Analog Science Fiction/Fact Magazine (1965)

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher, comment posted to “UK floods in context” at Climate Etc

(A)  Simple definitions of important concepts

(1)  Complex systems: systems with a large number of mutually interacting parts, often open to their environment, which self-organize their internal structure and their dynamics with novel and sometimes surprising macroscopic “emergent” properties. Climate and finance are complex systems.

(2)  Power law distribution: a specific family of statistical distribution appearing as a straight line in a log-log plot. Power laws often have no well-defined mean or variance. Many aspects of nature and society display power-law relationships.

(3)  Black Swan events: Rare, high-impact, and difficult-to-predict events that live in the tails of the probability distribution, beyond the average of history (as in science and finance). Such events are non-computable using standard scientific methods.

(4)  Dragon-kings:  events even beyond the fat tails of the probability distribution. Their extreme outcomes dominate historical results.

For explanations of these things we turn to two articles by Didier Sornette, Prof of Entrepreneurial Risks at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Wikipedia bio).

(B)  The rare but ugly extreme results from complex systems

Probability Distributions in Complex Systems“, Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science (2009) — Excerpt:

A central property of a complex system is the possible occurrence of coherent large-scale collective behaviors with a very rich structure, resulting from the repeated non-linear interactions among its constituents: the whole turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts. Most complex systems around us exhibit rare and sudden transitions, that occur over time intervals that are short compared to the characteristic time scales of their posterior evolution.

Such extreme events express more than anything else the underlying “forces” usually hidden by almost perfect balance and thus provide the potential for a better scientific understanding of complex systems.

These crises have fundamental societal impacts and range from large natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tornadoes, landslides, avalanches, lightning strikes, catastrophic events of environmental degradation, to the failure of engineering structures, crashes in the stock market, social unrest leading to large-scale strikes and upheaval, economic draw-downs on national and global scales, regional power blackouts, traffic gridlock, diseases and epidemics, etc.

There is a growing recognition that progress in most of these disciplines, in many of the pressing issues for our future welfare as well as for the management of our everyday life, will need such a systemic complex system and multidisciplinary approach.

Read more…

The Ukraine anti-semitic flyer: a case study in propaganda

21 April 2014

Summary: The war in the Ukraine is, like many wars during the past few centuries, fought for the moral high ground as much as the physical terrain. Like many conflicts since WW2, it’s fought largely in the shadows by covert agencies of the participants and the great powers. Governments fall by mysterious means, dramatic actions make headlines, statesman make bold statements. But nothing is what it seems. The vignette of the anti-semitic flyer demonstrates these things in miniature, reminding us that journalists paint only the surface of events. We need analysis to see what lies beneath.

Ukraine anti-Semitic leaflet

Ukraine anti-Semitic leaflet

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Contents

  1. The story breaks: evil in Ukraine
  2. Too good to question: US officials embrace the story
  3. The truth slowly emerges
  4. For More Information

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(1)  The story breaks

Donetsk leaflet: Jews must register or face deportation“, Ynet News, 16 April 2014 — Excerpt:

A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine calling for all Jews over 16 years old to register as Jews marred the Jewish community’s Passover festivities Monday (Passover eve), replacing them with feelings of concern. The leaflet demanded the city’s Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportion and see their assets confiscated.

Donetsk, a Ukraine province with 4.3 million people – 10% of Ukraine’s population – and 17,000 Jews, is home to much of the country’s heavy industry, and is thus the biggest prize of the eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists have captured government buildings in the past week.

The leaflet, signed by Chairman of Donetsk’s temporary government Denis Pushilin, was distrbiuted to Jews near the Donetsk synagogue and later in other areas of the city where pro-Russians activists have declared Donetsk as an independent “people’s republic”, defying an ultimatum from Kiev to surrender.

The leaflet was written in Russian and had Russia’s national symbol on it, as well as the Donetsk People’s Republic insignia.

“Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” the flyer began, “due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta,” a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement which fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.”

The leaflet detailed what type of documents the Jewish citizens would need to supply: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

If the message was not made clear enough, the leaflet further stipulated the consequences that would come to those who failed to abide by the new demands: “Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.”

To add insult to injury, the leaflet demanded the Jews pay a registration fee of $50.

(2)  Too good to question: America embraces the story

Although too absurd to believe, the usual suspects ran with the story.  Propaganda moves the American mind, sign of a weak people.

Drudge: Ukraine Jews

Ben Rhodes about Ukraine

(c) Secretary of State John Kerry enthusiastically believes, as he explains at a press conference, 17 April 2014 — Reminding us to believe nothing the government says:

Read more…

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