Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is it the "Obamaquestor" ?

"The House passed the Budget Control Act on August 1, 2011 by a vote of 269–161. 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted for it, while 66 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted against it. House Speaker Boehner then announced that he got "98% of what I wanted" in the deal..." (Wikipedia)

That's the bill that set up the sequestration, to be triggered if both parties couldn't come to an agreement, on 1/1/13. A bill passed on that day delayed/mitigated some aspects of the sequestration. An even bigger majority of Senate Republicans voted for that as well, along with nearly 1 out of 3 House Republicans.

Hardly a pure Democratic scheme--according to the Republican Speaker of the House and just tallying up the vote counts.

As for its being inconsequential due to only reducing added spending....

"Economists predict the sequestration will contribute significant economic headwinds that will slow the recovery of the U.S. labor market. In February 2012 the CBO reported, 'In the absence of sequestration, CBO estimates, GDP growth would be about 0.6 percentage points faster during [the 2013] calendar year, and the equivalent of about 750,000 more full-time jobs would be created or retained by the fourth quarter.'"

But I guess to a Republican, losing out on 750,000 jobs and having the nation's credit rating downgraded and overall economy hobbled by 24% is just ducky, as long as the deficit is reduced. Even though no rational economist thinks cutting spending in a recession is a good idea (just as not cutting spending once you're out of a recession is also not a good idea)--as the sad example of Europe's countries that adopted austerity measures has proven.

It is not managing the economy to spend wildly--or to cut spending wildly. Nearly every big businesses borrows money when it needs to, but doesn't spend the loaned money on luxuries. It invests in manufacturing, infrastructure, training etc.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Ex-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor regrets her vote installing Bush II as Prez. Me too.

The REAL question is whether there are lessons from Bush V. gore that are relevant to the next election?

The answer is yes, regardless of whether you think Gore really won or Bush did.

That is, if you love your country more than your love your political party.

Lesson 1: Many American states--very much including Florida--mandate that elections be run by partisan politicians. I don't care whether those partisan politicians are in my party or the other--you can't have one side running elections. It delegitimizes the vote in the eyes of all the losing side and those on the winning side who have principles other than tribalism.

Lesson 2: Voting technology needs to be standardized across the states. The two parties are so evenly matched in many states that election results sometimes fall within the margin of error of the voting systems being used, leading to protracted litigation and, again, the deligitimization of election results in the eyes of many voters.

Lesson 3: The only way to resolve claims of voter fraud by one side and voter suppression by the other is to adopt nationwide voting rules based on a biometric ID database. That would nip both sides' complaints in the bud. And national suffrage rules should eliminate the lifetime bans on voting by ex-felons in some states--mainly Southern ones, mainly disenfranchising blacks.

Lesson 4: The only way to prevent special interest groups and the ultra-rich from skewing election results is strict public financing of elections, as the other rich countries do. This would save the American taxpayer many, many times the cost of publicly financing elections.

Sandra Day O'Connor was one of our best Supreme Court justices, and certainly one of our most reasonable. We all make mistakes, and it's a crying shame that this rare mistake of hers was so huge--huge not necessarily because Gore really won, but because the Supreme Court's intervention guaranteed that the issue will never be settled.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Killer explosions: West, Texas vs. Boston

When that West, Texas fertilizer plant blew up it killed more people than the vicious Boston terrorist bombers did. It wounded more people. And it destroyed more property.

Now if this accident were just that--an unavoidable accident--then it doesn't make sense to compare them. But what if--as seems already to be the case--the West, Texas owners and management turn out to be as guilty of criminal negligence as the owner of the 8 story building in Dacca, Bangladesh, that collapsed yesterday with 2,000 people in it? (The building in Dacca was erected without regard to even Bangladeshi building codes, and it started cracking the day before, but the bosses ignored the warning signs. As was easy for them to do, since nothing will happen to them.)

If your wife is killed by a terrorist who wanted to kill her, or is killed by a fertilizer plant owner whose desire for profit outweighed any concern for your wife's safety--why should the penalties for each crime be different? In each case your wife is just as dead--and dead as a result of human wickedness.

Abortion morality on Lifeboat Earth

re: should moral policy be based on science, not religion?

Every religion espouses a unique set of rules for living. There are Many hundreds of religions with active congregations. It would be impossible to find a subset of rules they all agree with.

Science can encode morality to a degree because of basic principles that are hardwired into the human brain (humans violate those rules every second, but they pay a heavy inner price for doing so). Of course science has its limits, and we're only starting to grasp the nature of consciousness.

The Bible ascribes consciousness to the fetus of John the Baptist, but doesn't say whether that was a special case--he being a prophet and all--and elsewhere gives babies no legal rights until they've survived 30 days out of the womb.

We can say, though, that "life" can't be said to begin at the moment of conception--monozygotic twins and chimeras along disprove that--along with the fact that so many fertilized eggs have zero chance of turning into a born, survivable baby. Even the inception of a heartbeat or brainwaves are arbitrary, with nothing linking these events to what we know as consciousness.

The only sure measure we have is survivability without modern medical care out of the womb. I'd be willing to sign on to that as a measure. Survivability with hi-tech care is morally appalling, since it excludes all those denied such an opportunity.

But for me the overpopulation crisis trumps all these considerations. That's why I say the morality of a land with infinite elbow room, infinite drinkable water, infinite arable land, is different from the morality of the lifeboat. The movie Life of Pi explores this BTW.

India has literally hundreds of millions of "food-insecure" people, many literally starving to death, and their land cannot sustain their current numbers. China does not, though it's close to a water crisis even so. China's morality vs. India's morality illustrates what I'm talking about.


Abortion provider Dr. Gosnell is the anti-abortionistas' red herring

Americans are split on abortion overall but not on the extreme positions: about a quarter of Americans believe, like me, that abortion should be legal in all cases--but only one out of ten Americans believe it should always be illegal.

And that tenth are anything but true to their beliefs. If they were, they'd be clamoring for prosecuting women who get abortions for first degree murder--after all, the abortion providers are just people hired by the women. If a woman hires a hit man to kill her husband, I guarantee you the women will be prosecuted.

And the anti-abortion crowd should be clamoring for having fertility clinics closed and the parents desperately trying to have children prosecuted for first degree murder as well, since nearly all of them choose to have the embryos they don't use "discarded."

This doesn't mean the anti-abortion crowd are hypocrites. They might just be the sort of people who don't think about what they're doing before they do it. Shallow people swayed by sonograms.
Like the Republican congress that tried to "save" Terri Schiavo because they were certain she was alive because of their interpretations of her movements--then it turned out she had no brain left. Ooops.

Likewise these people are certain about the nature of human embryos with no scientific basis at all. Not to mention no biblical basis for their nutty ideas.

Lastly, anti-abortionism totally ignores the fact that humanity is in the throes of an overpopulation crisis. Earth's total population is increasing at the rate of over 140 people per minute. Already a billion humans are starving at any given time. The anti-abortion crowd acts as it the Earth in general and America in particular have infinite resources, or that Science will fix everything.

They still haven't figured out how immoral their "morality" really is here on Lifeboat Earth. In the long run, they're actually "pro-death."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is America the world's murder capitol?

Naw. We're just number 100 from the least murderous. Dozens of countries are worse.

The FBI crime report for 2011 (the most recent available) shows that:

In 2011, the overall murder rate for America was 4.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, a 1.5% decrease when
compared with the rate for the previous year.

Rate in "total cities"                                        5.5
Rate in "metropolitan statistical areas"           4.9
Rate in "Cities outside metropolitan areas"    4.4
Rate in "Nonmetropolitan Counties"              3.2
Rate in cities with a population of 250,000 to 499,999:           11.7 (the highest)
Rate in suburban areas & in cities with under 10K population: 2.9 (the lowest) (lower than in rural areas)

67% with firearms


Now let's compare the lowest rate--2.9 per 100,000 in the 'burbs--with that of other countries:

American suburbs come out the same as Libya and worse than 79 other countries.

Our suburban murder rate is:
--about three times the murder rate of the Western European countries, Australia and New Zealand.
--15 times the murder rate of Hong Kong.
--7 times the rate of Japan.
--3.6 times the rate of Germany and Spain.

The differential is roughly comparable to the number of American homicides committed with guns.

Of course all this is unfair. Most other countries have cities, suburbs, and countryside as well--especially the rich countries.

So let's compare the murder rates by country. Our rate--using 2010 figures like Wikipedia does--puts us as more murderous than 100 other countries. Our neighbors-in-murder-rate include Thailand, Cuba, and Belarus. Russia is twice as bad. South Africa is 6.6 times worse. The most murderous country on Earth, Honduras, is 19 times worse than us.

On the other hand, countries safer than us include all other rich countries plus even countries like India, Turkey, Chile, Taiwan, and China.

And America is six times more murderous than rich countries like Germany and Spain.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Biden said women should use shotguns for home defense--was this stupid?

The gun crowd had a big laugh about Joe Biden's advice for women to use shotguns for home defense.

The gun crowd mocked Biden, talked about how stupid he is about guns, and posted YouTube videos showing women being knocked on their butts when they try to fire their boyfriends' shotguns.

But anyone who knows anything about shotguns knows that the average woman can find a shotgun she can handle, and adjust it to fit her dimensions and strength. Which makes the statements of these gun nuts both sexist and ignorant about guns, which they claim to be experts about..

Or maybe they actually know better but figure you don't, so they can get away with lying to the rest of us.

True, most women can't handle a standard 12 gauge shotgun. So what? Who said all shotguns are 12 gauge models sized for men? Biden didn't.

The problem for most women is that most shotguns are designed for men's dimensions and strength. But a 20 gauge shotgun has less recoil while still having plenty of stopping power for home defense. A semiautomatic shotgun has less recoil for whatever gauge it is, because part of the gas expansion got to reloading the next shell instead of recoil--and it enables the user to get off more shots quickly.

There are also lower-power loads for shells, and even smaller-gauge shotguns-- 28 gauge and even .410s. Those have less stopping power, but most crooks are not going to be standing there evaluating the stopping power of a given shotgun. Most will be hightailing it out of there once they find themselves staring down the big barrel of a shotgun.

As for dimensions, you adjust the gun's cast, pitch, length of pull, drop at the comb, and drop at heel, to make it fit the different dimensions of most women.

For more information about women shooting with shotguns, read the article "Women and shotguns" in that noted Commyewnist online publication Shotgunlife.com:

Bottom line for people who aren't gun owners: don't trust ANYTHING the gun nut crowd says about guns. I've found that they don't hesitate to lie to non-gun owners about firearms.

Update on the marathon bomber(s)

Turns out I was right about who the bomber(s) were--not American leftists or rightists.

As I write this one of the perps is dead, the other being hunted. I hope we capture the second one alive so we can better understand how an apparently normal, rather secular immigrant becomes radicalized and murderous.

And then try, convict and execute him. Wanting to understand the enemy does not correlate with being soft on crime. It has to do with not being stupid on crime.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's worth saying about the Boston Marathon bombing at this point?

Nobody but the bomber(s) knows who did this, at this point. Still, we know some things.

First, the bomber intended to kill and maim as many people as possible--and a pretty random assortment of people at that, since this wasn't a political event. That doesn't guarantee that this was a terrorist event, but it makes it more likely.

It doesn't guarantee that this was a terrorist event because it's at least possible that the bomber was simply a lone psychopath who wanted revenge for a lifetime of rejection and frustration. As the Newtown shooter showed, just because someone is a psychopath doesn't mean they're stupid, or that they can't plan out something carefully over a period of time.

It also shows that the bomber isn't suicidal--or he'd have shown up with an AR-15 and started shooting until he got shot or got cornered and shot himself. This bomber doesn't want to get caught. Which almost certainly means he plans to do this again.

But the absence of some kind of communiqué implies a diffuse motive. Acts of terrorism designed to change government policy are rarely self-evident as to the policy changes the bomber wants, unless the intended target makes it obvious.

Thus a bombing of Exxon's headquarters or an abortion clinic or a federal IRS office are all pretty self-explanatory. But unless the bomber has it in for marathon runners and their supporters, the Boston event isn't one of these. In Iraq, bombings have often been designed to undermine people's belief that the government can protect them. But it would take a lot more bombings by this bomber to even start to convey that idea.

The bomber is probably a lone individual. The bombs used were neither highly sophisticated nor primitive--somewhere in between. The bomb recipe used it easily available online, and a moderately technically competent individual could build one. And if the bombs could have been placed higher up (they were placed on the ground), more people would have been killed rather than just having their legs maimed or blown off. If a group had been planning this and carrying it out, I suspect they'd have been able to kill a lot more people just from better logistics and placement. Likewise the second bomb went off too soon compared to the first one--a bit later and it would have hit more emergency personnel, impeding efforts to save the victims of the first blast more than having it go off just a few seconds after the first one.

These indicate a lack of professionalism in this attack, perverse as it is to use such a word in connection to with terrorist attacks.

If this was political terrorism--or psycho terrorism with a political angle--it seems more likely to be Islamofascist rather than American Left wing or Right wing. American Leftists are far more likely to attack banks, corporations, and other obvious targets of left wing ire. Right wingers are far more likely to attack social targets like abortion clinics or government targets if they're right wing militia nuts--the kind who regard the federal government as a foreign occupying force.

I don't see how a marathon finish line scene would be a logical target for American leftists or rightists. However, it would make a fine target for jihadis who have declared war against all Americans, and who don't regard innocent civilians as acceptable collateral damage, but instead regard them as the actual targets.

However, after the Oklahoma bombing my first thought was jihadis, and of course that was wrong. After the Atlanta bombing law enforcement authorities ruined the life of a security guard who was actually a hero in the event, in their efforts to offer up a perp to the public.

It took a long time to find the actual perpetrator, who very much didn't want to be found. Ditto the Unabomber. So nobody should be surprised if the current case takes a long time--even in this age of ubiquitous cellphones with cameras and security cameras.

And when we do, don't be surprised if it turns out the bomber is technically sane. Studies of suicide bombers captured before they could complete their missions revealed that they were quite sane. Just in the grip of an ideology.

After all, it's sane for an individual to sacrifice himself for his family, his tribe, his nation. Every year our military hands out posthumous medals for such people. If you watched the "martyr videos" of the London subway bombers, it was obvious that they were sane. Just ideologues who had come to believe that only by such extreme measures could they protect their people, as they saw the situation.

So when people call this bombing "senseless" I think that's off the mark. Nobody just sits in a room and says to himself "Let's see. I could watch a Gilligan's Island rerun or build a bomb. I'll flip a coin." And later, nobody says to themselves "Shall I set off this bomb in a cornfield or in a bank or at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I'll flip a couple of coins."

Being able to see your enemy's viewpoint enables you to oppose him far more effectively. Refusing to think that your enemy has a viewpoint, or that the viewpoint is "pure evil"--a common right wing fallacy--just makes the job harder.

Nor does trying to understand a mortal enemy mean going soft on the perp when you catch him. I support the death penalty for such people--Colonel Hassan for example--as long as there isn't the slightest doubt as to his guilt, as is the case with Hassan.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What should determine a congressman's vote? The will of the people?

Congressmen serve at least half a dozen masters: (1) the individuals who bankroll their campaigns; (2) the party they belong to, which can determine whether they get primaried or not, and which may demand that they sacrifice the interests of their constituents in some instances for overall Party demands; (3) the welfare of the voters in their district, (5) the wishes of the voters in their district, and (6) the congressman's personal principles. 
And what determines the wishes of voters in a congressman's district? What if they've been the target of a clever, lavishly funded propaganda campaign by special interests who exploit those voters' fears and prejudices? 
In Nazi Germany, I'm sure a majority of voters believed everything bad was all the fault of the Jews. Here, today, for example, a majority of Republican voters still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. They didn't just think that up. They were victimize by Republican demagoguery. 
And today a majority of American voters don't accept the fact that we're in the midst of dangerous global climate changes caused by human activity. They don't accept this because Exxon and the Koch brothers and other major petrochemical firms have spent a huge amount of money (from a non-billionaire viewpoint) in getting people to believe that. 
It isn't in their best interests to believe that. And their Congressman has a moral obligation to help convince them otherwise and to vote himself accordingly.  
With guns, here again a small group of immensely wealthy men involved in gun manufacturing and sales have spent a whole lotta money propagandizing people about guns, leading them to believe all sorts of patent falsehoods about guns and gun violence.  
A Congressman will feel immense pressure to cave in to the wishes of his patrons and his propagandized, badly misled voters. To think it's moral for him to cave in to this is, well, anything but moral.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The NRA disrespects the 2nd Amendment. That's right. Disrespects it.

It's a pity the gun maker's lobby--misleadingly calling itself the NRA--and the one third of its live members (as opposed to the million dead ones they keep on the rolls to make it look larger than it is)--have no respect for the 2nd Amendment, which was interpreted by the Supreme Court's current right wing majority as conferring a right to bear arms for individuals and a right to regulate those arms by governments. That second part is clearly stated in the first half of the 2nd Amendment.

Thus according to Heller the federal government can require the national registration of all firearms, require universal background checks, make straw man purchases a felony, ban unusual and dangerous firearms such as assault weapons, RPGs, flame throwers and machine guns, and more.

Rejecting half of the 2nd Amendment is worse than rejecting all of it, because it couples rights with responsibilities. Rights without responsibilities leads to chaos, just as responsibilities without rights leads to tyranny.

Thus the NRA and its shills are acting like spoiled five year old boys who want all the rights of grown-ups but none of the responsibilities of grown-ups.

They should show some respect for our Constitution. Their disrespect for it is downright unpatriotic. They call themselves conservatives when in fact they're anarchists.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can you serve two masters? When it comes to gun control, Republican pols are having trouble doing so. Hence the filibuster.

Until we get public financing of elections, every politician must serve two kinds of master: voters and patrons.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the gun regulation debate. Especially with universal gun registration, supported by over 90% of voters and even over 2/3 of NRA rank and file members--but opposed by the gun makers, major patrons and congressional job-killers of those who bring down their wrath.

The solution? Prevent a vote. That way the general voting public won't notice that your first loyalty is to your patrons, not your voters. Heck, most Republican districts are so radically gerrymandered you can't lose to a Democrat anyway. So what even Republican voters want doesn't matter all that much.

And of course when one side is being promoted by a multibillion dollar industry and the other by a few grieving parents and a few politicians with a conscience, voters are more apt to hear the blaring bullhorn than a few teary pleas.

In addition, from time immemorial the rich and powerful have always had a core of shock troops--their bully boys--to go out and defend their interests. In Tehran it's the thug militias who go out and club and shoot protesters against the mullahs. Here it's more peaceful but still has that flavor: that is, the million or so gun nuts--not to be confused with most gun owners--the gun nuts who believe they have a right to own military ordnance without the government knowing they do and without any meaningful protections from crooks and psychos having almost equally free access to firearms of all types.

It's an unequal fight. The one positive sign is the growing disenchantment of Republican voters watching even their opinions being flouted flagrantly by the people they voted into office. 

...and a few Republican senators who are manning up and denouncing the threatened filibuster, including John McCain.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Right Wing Media swoons over just-dead Margaret Thatcher--a European Socialist

The RWM (Right Wing Media, from Rush Limbaugh to Instapundit to Drudge to PowerMax) all unite in their adoration for Britain's Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday.

Yet if she had been American and had run for the presidency here, today's Republican Party would have condemned her as a "European-style socialist."

Huh? you say--here's the Prime Minister who famously privatized whole industries, who was notoriously indifferent to the welfare of all the working-class people her policies kicked to the curb. She was, after all, a grocer's daughter who fought her way to the top by being tougher than anyone else.

But even someone as conservative as she was realized that for-profit medicine is a ridiculous idea. She always stoutly supported Britain's socialized medical system. Which was, in fact, socialized medicine. I have to point this out because our RWM has redefined "socialist" as "any form of government regulation, no matter how lightweight."

And the income tax rates she promoted were far, far more progressive than those of Barack Obama.

Moreover, she wasn't much of a social conservative. Once a working scientist with a degree in chemistry, she believed in evolution as all real scientists do. At a time when homosexuality was a crime in Britain she voted to legalize it. And, worst of all (from an American right wing point of view), she supported legalized abortion. So the GOP's Christianist base would have loathed her.

There isn't the slightest chance of her being able to get support from today's Republican Party for running for any public office in America, much less the presidency.

The Right Wing Media's lionization of Margaret Thatcher only proves once more that they have no respect for the truth or for history, promptly rewriting and revising both as it suits them.

So when your conservative relatives and workmates stand around lauding the Iron Lady in coming days, point out these matters of record and watch them squirm.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Republicans want death clerks getting between you and your doctor

Seems like every month or so the House GOP majority passes another bill repealing the Affordable Care Act--dozens of times at this point.

The fig leaf of replacing it with anything but the pre-Affordable Care Act status quo was dropped long ago. Now the GOP is all about going back to the Good Old Days.

Well, the Good Old Days featured your health insurance provider being able to cancel your health insurance whenever you turn out to really need it, as decided by some anonymous clerk. The healthcare providers have whole departments who job is to find an excuse to cancel your healthcare insurance the moment it becomes unprofitable for them.

Better yet, once they find that excuse, they also go back and sue you for any benefits you've gotten in the past.

I call those clerks "Death Clerks."

Try calling them that next time you get into it with your hard-right Uncle Harry or your Libertarian co-worker.

The irony is that one reason for Americans paying vastly more for their healthcare with poorer results than any other rich country is around 3/4 trillion dollars each year spent on unnecessary procedurs. The Affordable Care Act provides for looking into this source of waste and fraud--and the Republicans are dead set against it.

The Republicans LOVE waste and fraud, as long as it benefits rich people. They only want to throw the book at middle class and poor people who waste taxpayer money. It's the middle class and below who get these useless procedures--many of which have their own dangers, in fact--but it's the rich who profit from them.

Those are the "death panels" the GOP thundered against. Meanwhile they love the actual Death Clerks who routinely sentenced people to death in the name of healthcare insurance provider profits.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Poison oak and gun control

The NRA says the solution to gun violence is more guns.

America has more guns per capita than any other country,

Therefore America is the safest country on Earth.

Only it's the most dangerous rich country on Earth--by FAR.

Hmm. A paradox.

To we simple minded folk, it seems like telling someone covered with poison oak to scratch it to relieve the itching.
Of course then it iches even more. So you just scratch it even more....and more...and more...

What isn't a paradox is that you can trust the NRA's proposals to ALWAYS involve making and selling more guns. 

The problem you face talking to Uncle Harry the gun nut

If you want to understand what happens when you try to reason with a gun rights zealot, you need to
remember that Gary Larson cartoon "What dogs hear."

It shows a man lecturing his dog about getting into the garbage. Of course all the dog recognizes is his name.
Similarly, in an argument with a gun nut (as opposed to a responsible gun owner), all your arguments sound like to him is "enemy tribesman speaking, therefore is all lies."

Then when he responds, mostly with stuff from the NRA's Fake Fact Factory, to you it sounds mostly like nonsense that anyone could refute with a few minutes' research of nonpartisan fact checking organizations such as factcheck.org and politifact.com.

But the gun guy would reject anything from those sites because it doesn't support his tribe--what we imagine to be the Republican Party, but now reconstituted as a primitive tribe--100% of the time.

The fact that the fact checkers challenge liberals daily for their own exaggerations and misrepresentations means nothing to Republican tribesmen, because everyone and everything is either friend or enemy, and anyone and anything that isn't 100% friend is 100% enemy.

And they don't actually know how to think. They were raised to take in ideas worshipfully, in church. They really have no idea what analytic thinking is. It just looks like defective worshipful thinking to them.

Add to this the fact that they usually know a lot more about guns and how they operate than liberals do. They use their superior knowledge of guns as further proof that no one who doesn't agree with them has anything useful to contribute, and that they're speaking ignorantly.

So you won't even get a foot in the door, metaphorically speaking, unless you educate yourself about guns. It doesn't take long--it ain't rocket science,  folks. And it's worth it just for the confused look they get on their faces when you show you see through their malarkey (they frequently lie about guns to liberals, figuring that they can get away with it).