Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oh no! There's a slippery slope!

The NRA's war on the ATF, the CDC, and all the American citizens who depend on the government to save them from anarchy, all rests on one basic argument: that reasonable laws invariably lead to more extreme, unreasonable ones.

This is the "slippery slope" "argument."

But "slippery slope" is a metaphor, not an argument. Metaphors can illustrate points. They can't make them. There are incidents without number when a restriction led to even more restriction. There are also incidents without number where a restriction led to a loosening. These things have to be looked at on a case by case basis.

For example, Prohibition didn't lead to having the death sentence for possessing alcohol. Instead it was repealed. Marijuana possession laws were enacted in the last century, and they will almost certainly be repealed in the not too distant future. The voting age was moved from 21 to 18. It hasn't moved from 18 to 10.

There is no such thing as a "slippery slope" except for actual slopes--like on hills--that get slippery when they get wet.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why we fight (for gun control)

Why we fight:

•Charlotte Bacon, 6
•Daniel Barden, 7
•Rachel Davino, 29
•Olivia Engel, 6
•Josephine Gay, 7
•Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
•Dylan Hockley, 6
•Dawn Hocksprungm, 47
•Madeleine Hsu, 6
•Catherine Hubbard, 6
•Chase Kowalski, 7
•Jesse Lewis, 6
•James Mattioli, 6
•Grace McDonnell, 7
•Anne Marie Murphy, 52
•Emilie Parker, 6
•Jack Pinto, 6
•Noah Pozner, 6
•Caroline Previdi, 6
•Jessica Rekos, 6
•Avielle Richman, 6
•Lauren Rousseau, 30
•Mary Sherlach, 56
•Victoria Sotom, 27
•Benjamin Wheeler, 6
•Allison Wyatt, 6

All murdered on December 14, 2012, by a man employing his NRA-certificated training combined with an AR-15 assault rifle firing .223 high velocity rounds with "mankiller" wobble-head bullets, loaded into multiple 30-round extended magazines.

This isn't the typical way people are murdered in America. However, it is typical for massacres, most of which occur in America, & almost none in other advanced countries (the Norwegian massacre of many dozens of young liberals by a right wing extremist being a notable exception). And the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter used the firearm of choice for people who massacre: a semiautomatic assault weapon using .223 high velocity rounds in extended magazines.

Not one of the grieving parents of Newtown has called for banning or confiscating guns. They have called for banning extended magazines, making background checks universal, & coming up with a comprehensive program to stop straw purchasers/gun traffickers. And to reform how we handle crazy people.

Nothing the Sandy Hook Elementary parents want would interfere with lawful gun owners buying & keeping guns for hunting, target practice, and home defense. They WOULD put a crimp in the fantasy commando shtick that's so profitable for the gun makers.

BTW one way to simplify background checks would be a universal biometric database like India is implementing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Second Amendment--originally, a sop to slaveowners

An originalist interpretation of the 2nd Amendment would see it not as conferring an individual right but as a structural limitation on the power of the federal government to restrict the Southern states from forming militias to put down slave rebellions.

"...the Second Amendment was written to assure the South that the militia--the very same militia described in the main body of the Constitution--could be armed even if Congress elected not to arm them or otherwise attempted to "disarm" them.

"From our perspective today, this may seem like a small matter since Congress retained exclusive authority to determine the composition of the militia, and, thus, who could enjoy the right to bear arms.

"However, in the context of the concern and circumstances of the time, it was significant. The Amendment deals with keeping and bearing arms in the militia, subject to federal and state regulation. Therefore, to the extent original intent matters, the hidden history of the Second Amendment strongly supports the collective rights position."

--From the University of California at Davis Law Review article "The hidden history of the Second Amendment" by Carl T. Bogus, Professor of Law at Roger Williams University and author of "Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism." reviewed with admiration by right wing newspaper The Washington Times.

The NRA's prime target: NRA members

The biggest victims of NRA propaganda are its own members, which the NRA spends a fortune on propagandizing with the notion that guns = freedom... = power...= virility.

The average NRA member is an aging white man who has seen his world become more & more insecure. Job insecurity. Cultural insecurity. America no longer looks & acts like him outside his rural redoubts. And a black man is President--a thumb in the eye of every redneck.

The NRA's fever dream-solution is more guns. Has to be more guns, because fewer & fewer Americans own any guns. Young men play 1st person shooter videogames instead. Educated men & women know better. And firearms last a long, long time; it's not like owners' current guns are wearing out.

Hence assault weapons. Sexy! Hold one & you're a Commando on a Vital Mission. Never mind that they're inferior for hunting & home defense. They're the world's best fantasy weapon to hold off the hordes or drug-crazed blacks about to invade your compound in Idaho any minute now. That or the UN's black helicopters come to take away your guns.

Reality is less fun.

"A 1998 study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that found that 'every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.'

"Pistol owners' fantasy of blowing away home-invading bad guys or street toughs holding up liquor stores is a myth debunked by the data showing that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense."

Scientific American magazine, published since 1845. won the 2011 National Magazine Award for General Excellence. A third of its 4m readers have postgrad degrees. 

The liberal media!

From the viewpoint of a right wing extremist, a moderate is a left wing extremist, and vice versa.

Thus in Berkeley California, Democrats are seen as no different than Republicans.

The myth of the "liberal media bias" is part and parcel of this.

It's certainly true that most reporters are Democrats. You might wonder why this is so BTW. However, all these Democrats now work for giant multinational conglomerates that own the major newspapers and broadcast networks.

And those conglomerates, as a whole, don't care about "liberal" or "conservative." They care about profits. So they chase scandal.

The place where I've seen the most liberal bias in the media is over illegal immigration, where you see lots of sob stories about angelic illegals and none about criminal illegals.

But in general the corporate bosses aren't about to see their profits sacrificed for reporters' values that they don't even share.

Even MSNBC became liberal as a conscious corporate marketing decision--market segmentation. And there, they have been steadily replacing the more strident leftist voices with more reasoned ones (Ed Schultz and Cenk Uigur out; Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes in).

There's a liberal media, but it's not the Washington Post etc. It's Huffington, Daily Kos, Mother Jones etc. And those are certainly liberal.

Lastly, the mainstream media mostly has been reduced to quoting both sides on major issues and not fulfilling their duty as "declarers of fact." That job has been surrendered to a handful of nonpartisan factchecking groups like and

Those show that both sides lie all the time. Which also shows that neither of these sites are controlled by either wing. I find the right wing lies generally more egregious, but that's a matter of opinion. Look at them to see the actual facts, then judge it yourself.

If you live by the sword...

The NRA has a demographic problem no amount of it brilliantly Fascist propaganda can cure: its hard core is aging. Those huge gun sales are going to present gun owners building arsenals, while fewer and fewer households have guns in them, and fewer and fewer Americans practice hunting. The new sales are mostly for home defense against the gun nuts' fantasy of heavily armed black drug gangs assaulting their compounds, despite the statistical unlikelihood of that happening to any of them.

Turns out the real weapon defeating the NRA is....first person shooter videogames. That's what young men generally prefer to the hassle of a real weapon. They can duel with simulated humans in elaborately detailed commando scenarios--and they never have to clean their virtual firearms...or store them in a gun safe...or pay the big bucks for them.

Remember, though, I'm not arguing for them--just observing what's actually happening.

The remaining gun zealots are highly motivated, of course, though this article avoids the real secret of gun glamour: most gun owners have experienced a progressive lessening of economic security; the majority of Americans have become more and more different from them in both appearance and iifestyle; modern society's issues and functions are too complex for them to understand...and all these changes are emasculating.

But the gun gives them instant masculinity, and assault weapons give them even more, since assault weapons shift the self-pleasuring fantasy from Mighty Hunter to Invincible Commando on an Important Mission--exactly how the Adam Lanzas of the world see themselves BTW.

These people will never change.

But they will die out, slowly but surely. Hard to mount a fierce campaign against a congressman who dares to disagree with the NRA in the slightest when the protestors have to use walkers...

Lastly, the NRA's take no prisoners tactics are making more and more Americans heartily despite them. If/when we do get the upper hand...they will get no mercy (legislatively speaking, natch).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Does "Republican" = racist?

Not all Republicans are racists, and not all racists are Republican--but the Republican Party got a huge infusion of such people when the Dixiecrats went Republican en masse after Congress under Lyndon Johnson got civil rights legislation passed that had some teeth in it.

A CBS poll taken before the 2008 election showed this:

"72% of those who live in the West say most people they know would vote for a black person for president. 66% in the Northeast and 64% in the Midwest agree. But the figure is lowest in the South, where just 54% say most people they know would vote for an African-American for president. 33% there say most people they know would not."

I'd guess that more people are racist than will admit it to a pollster, so these figure should be regarded as a low estimate.

And to such people--roughly a quarter of the nation, but a much higher percentage of Republicans--President Obama's election was their Nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe"--how they refer to Israel becoming a nation).

It is this group--perhaps very roughly half of Republicans--that regards a black man in the White House as a thumb in their eye.

It is this group that desperately needs the President to fail because he's black, no matter how much their efforts to make him fail harm the country.

This also means that the other half of Republicans are not racially biased against him, though of course they still wanted Romney to win and mostly voted for Romney.

However, it's hard for this group to accuse half of their own party of Racism, no matter how rabid the Republican racists act. So mostly they wring their hands and wish the Teanderthals would shut up--because they know the damage this is doing to their party in the long run. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The real IRS scandal

The irony with the IRA scandal, is that if they actually were operating as Democratic partisans they would have cracked down hard on all the liberal organizations getting 501(c).

The reason is money:

"Of the 21 organizations that received rulings from the IRS after January 1, 2010, and filed FEC reports in 2010 or 2012, 13 were conservative. They outspent the liberal groups in that category by a factor of nearly 34-to-1, the Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows. "

Sacrificing 1 tax free liberal dollar in exchange for 34 tax free right wing dollars would have been a good deal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Should newspapers charge for online content?

Yes, if they're major national/international newspapers with high quality original content.

And if the pricing is appropriate to the online world rather than the old physical newspaper delivered to your doorstep world.

The Washington Post is planning to implement what's called a "paywall" this summer, and they've floated the idea of charging $180/year for online subscriptions, requiring them for readers who want to access more than 20 articles per month.

Here's what I wrote their ombudsman-equivalent:

There are 2 ways of looking at a paywall: improving the newspaper's revenue & improving the reader's experience.

1. Improving the newspaper's revenue

Looks like the Washington Post is thinking of pricing access compared to getting home delivery--hence the idea floated by WaPo of charging $180/year. However, most of the WaPo's potential online subscribers are not considering this as an alternative to home delivery--we're all over the country & already have local newspapers.

We are not going to pay $180/year for just the national content of the WaPo. I doubt most of us would pay more than a tenth of that. I predict the WaPo will wind up stepping over dollars to pick up nickels if it pursues such an ill-considered pricing policy. It will make far, far more money off cheap per-user pricing than by limiting its online active readership to a relative handful of affluent local subscribers.

At the very least you should consider a low price for potential subscribers who live outside the physical newspaper's distribution area, & therefore have no need or use for its local content.

Another group excluded by high pricing is retired people living on a fixed income.

2. Improving the reader's experience

News/opinion consumption has become an interactive phenomenon. Readers want to have their say, and so the comment threads of articles have become significant in a way that old-school newspapermen might not realize.

The problem is that the comment threads on topics that affect corporate profits or major political advantage have been rendered useless because they're infested by paid shills using persona management software, with one shill having up to 70 online identities. These shills would not have to pay a subscription fee because they could just manipulate their identities. You can read about it here:

Find a solution that blocks astroturfers or pricing becomes irrelevant.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Criminalizing abortion works about as well as Prohibition did.

The anti-abortion movement--you know, the people who flatter themselves by calling their movement "pro-life"--really comes out of the woodwork with cases like Dr. Gosnell's.

This is a strange bunch. First, although they showcase the clinics they set up to compete with Planned Parenthood, their overwhelming focus is on criminalizing abortion.

But only where it's convenient, and with little actual effect. The number of abortions didn't change significantly after Roe V. Wade legalized abortion within limits, nor did they get safer for the most part, because an abortion is, medically, a minor procedure with low risk for the pregnant female. It doesn't require surgery or taking potentially dangerous drugs whether it's done legally or otherwise. It's only dangerous when people resort to folk remedies.

By "only where it's convenient" I mean that even with Dr. Gosnell, he was just the hired hand. The girls and women who came to him hired him to abort their fetuses. If that's murder, then the pregnant females are guilty of capital murder, and Dr. Gosnell was just their assistant.

Yet if you look down comment threads on articles about Dr. Gosness you don't see a single anti-abortion activist calling for these females to prosecuted for premeditated murder. Nor do any call for banning in vitro fertilization and prosecuting those women--desperate to become pregnant--again for capital murder, since in vitro fertilization involves fertilizing many eggs but then destroying most of them.

This isn't just hypocritical--it's grossly sexist. Those women. They're just mushy-brained females who only do what big strong men tell them to do.

It's as if we've been teleported to a fundamentalist Muslim village in rural Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

What we see here is most anti-abortion activists being tightly focused on getting revenge on the men that women hire to do abortions instead of doing things that would actually reduce abortions, starting with proper sex ed & providing contraceptives to one & all.

Dr. Gosnell the baby killer vs. the Pro Lifers

What we see in "Pro-life" comments about articles about Dr. Gosnell is the luxury of moral posturing without regard to real world consequence.

It's so inconvenient to see how often idealistic policy turns into horrors as it plays out.

Consider China vs. India. China implemented its One Child policy--including forced abortion for miscreants--in 1979. India tried something of the sort but, being a democracy, was forced to give in to the opposition of people like the anti-abortion crusaders you see on this thread.

Today the consequences--and contrasts--are stark. Individual Chinese hate having to obey the policy. Selective abortion of female fetuses has produced millions of excess males. But nobody's starving.

India now has hundreds of millions more people than China. In "pro-life" India, 7,000 Indians die of starvation every day, including more than 5,000 babies below the age of one--babies who never knew a moment of living without suffering. In a land where mothers saw their children's legs off to make them better beggars. Or simply abandon them, as the heartbreaking film "Salaam Bombay" shows.

In the real world Dr.Gosnell was a piker compared to India's "Pro-Lifers."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Does the guy who imprisoned three females for a decade deserve to die?

I have nothing against revenge per se. Unless going after it interferes with public safety. Public safety is the first duty of government to its citizens--not getting revenge on people who harm citizens, after the fact.

The best cure is prevention, after all.

Legal eagles claim that our legal system is not about either revenge or public safety, but about justice. Whatever that is. But they're kidding.

Because whatever our legal system says, revenge is obviously the main focus of many elected district attorneys: it plays well with voters. Voters also like the idea of prisons as revenge factories with no rehabilitation programs, virtually no job prospects if and when they get out, extra revenge on men who committed a crime while being black.

Not to mention the fact that voters also oppose spending money on public defenders, such that most have impossible jobs that only permit them to negotiate plea bargains--not to actually try to exonerate the accused.

So you can argue that the current penal system is theoretically devoted to justice but in practice it only honors that principle with rich people who can afford competent representation. For all else it's revenge-o-rama all the way, every day.

But going for revenge interferes with going for public safety.

Take this Castro scumbag who imprisoned, tortured & raped 3 females for a decade. I believe he deserves to die slowly and brutally for what he did. But I'm against killing him, because right now, many other scumbags around the country have imprisoned thousands of innocent people similarly. I say thousands because most of these are sex slaves the public sees as prostitutes. There are real prostitutes, but I'm talking about the involuntary ones. They number in the tens of thousands. Nice middle class people just don't see them. Apart from the ones who go to the bad part of town and pay pimps to rape them (they don't think they're raping them for the most part, I'd guess, but they are).

I don't want these enslaved people to be murdered by their captors. Or maimed. Or imprisoned for longer rather than shorter periods. And so forth.

So if public safety is your goal, you need graduated sanctions that give criminals incentives to not murder their victims, ratcheting up the sanctions for every increment of bad things done to their victims.

Reserve death for murder & nothing else. Not for justice. Not to thwart revenge. For the victims' sake. It's the least we can do for them.

I realize it galls to lighten up on criminal sanctions for heinous crimes. And I agree that the sanctions should be severe if the crime is severe. But not so severe that the criminal believes he has nothing to lose by killing his victims.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Here's the problem with global warming.

Look at it from the point of view of the many voters who identify themselves as conservative, or as independents who lean conservative.

They've got enough problems without global warming sticking its big nose into their business. If man-caused global warming is true, than for sure it's inconvenient as all get out.

If it's true, then doing nothing about it robs our children & theirs of far more than any budget deficit does.

If it's true, then doing something about it when third world countries don't feels unfair, even though our contribution per capita is higher than theirs--though to be sure China is passing us in total emissions, and they've got the smog-choked cities to prove it.

Their public schooling taught them facts but not how to think about facts systematically and empirically. So they generally rely on getting their conclusions from people they trust--pastors and politicians who look like them and sound like them
The voters I'm talking about are, for the most part, honest and responsible themselves. But they're susceptible to being deceived by politicians who tell them they share their values.

And these voters have been massively propagandized by the best in the biz, who work for companies that make bigger profits than many countries and want to keep it that way. Of course conservative voters don't hear it from these companies but through their sock puppets--mostly GOP politicians and conservative commentators.

This campaign has been so effective that most conservative voters believe the fact of dangerous human-caused global warming isn't settled science--that it's a controversial topic among climate experts.

This is exactly as true as the "fact" that cancer researchers were unsure about whether cigarettes cause cancer in, say, 1990.

Propaganda can't make people believe what they don't want to believe, but it's great at getting people to believe what they do want to believe.

Especially when this propaganda campaign has also taught them that everyone who accepts global warming belongs to an enemy tribe.

Even those on comment threads who are astroturfing (i.e. doing this for money) are useful at least in showing us the kind of propaganda that has worked so well on conservative voters--the cherrypicked facts, the biased interpretations, and demonizing of scientists and environmentalists.

People who understand human nature and have disengaged their moral compass are really dangerous.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beward of comment threads being flooded with comments from people doing it for money

Here's a fun game: go down any comment thread about a hot-button topic where big money is at stake, such as climate change, and guess which human-caused-climate change deniers are simply standard-issue anti-science right wing cranks, and which are doing this for money?

To find out more about this form of astroturfing--check out this Guardian article that includes info from an astroturfer with a guilty conscience:

"After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.

"Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments."

Especially in technical areas many if not most honest commenters don't realize that they're duking it out with a pro who's there for the money.

The astroturfers are generally the ones who post long threads full of technical-sounding arguments and lots of links, where if you check out their logic, facts, and links, it's all a steaming pile of, er...malarkey.

I'm guessing these are the kind of guys you know in college who took the easy A classes and got their BA in Communications or some such, and don't have strong political ideas. But they're willing to act like they do if it pays the rent.

Sometimes these people have a moral awakening later in life. Lee Atwater did after he learned he was dying of cancer, and ran around apologizing to the folks he'd screwed over.

Remember the wheeler-dealers at Enron who talked gleefully with each other about the little old ladies they were shafting--along with whole states?

Or the car salesmen who acted like sleazeballs?

That's them.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Great general-purpose JFK quote and its application to gun regulation

John F. Kennedy anticipated the self-flattering mythmaking of the NRA about the Second Amendment when he said:

"For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived, and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

But even though the notion of the 2nd Amendment the NRA peddles is a pernicious myth, it's also now the law of the land, and will be until President Hillary Clinton can replace a couple of right wing justices with moderates.

However, the Supreme Court's right wing majority didn't roll over for the NRA completely. They did agree that like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

Nothing in the Second Amendment should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

And the sorts of weapons protected are those in common use at the time. The government can prohibit the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.

(taken from the Heller decision)

What to tell your Uncle Harry the gun nut about the 2nd Amendment at the next family reunion

James Madison wrote the 2nd Amendment to make it ambiguous on purpose, to make it noble-sounding when in fact it was a compromise demanded under the table by the slave states led by Virginia. The Brits had attempted to confiscate American individual arms, but that wasn't a big deal when the 2nd Amendment was written, because America had been a separate nation for over a dozen years and thus the Brits had no say in who had guns here.

Who did have a say was the South, and the white oligarchs depended on white militias to keep black insurrections in check. But Madison couldn't come out and so this because the non-slave states would go ballistic.

So he had to come up with an ambiguous, pretty-sounding compromise that gave the slave states what they wanted--to keep their boot heels on black necks, while at the same the non-slave states could accept the 2nd Amendment as something all rugged frontiersman-y that fed into American mythmaking.

In other words, things haven't changed much from then to now. Look down this thread and you'll see that white Southern men are still obsessed about black men--particularly the one in the White House.

"plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

(the more it changes, the more it stays the same--Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1808-1890)

For a clear, well-written article about all this see The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, from the UC Davis Law Review, published in 1998.

Is this the Year of Immigration Reform?

Supporting illegal immigration is inconsistent with Democratic Party traditions, which have always stood up for the Little Guy--the Little American Guy.

Well, that guy's wages have been depressed by 5-25% from competition by illegal aliens. This should be a no-brainer. So everything the Democratic Party does to support illegals it does at the direct expense of American workers.

Not middle class knowledge workers, natch. Blue-collar workers. It's one reason why so many of them have fled to the Republican Party.

Not that the Republican Party opposes illegal immigration. Sure, its rank and file do. But the party bosses LOVE illegal immigration, because they use it to drive down wages and bust the unions.
So Republican politicians loudly clamor for getting tough on immigration while quietly ensuring that as many can get in as possible. Look at their behavior during times they controlled the federal government--not their words. Talk is cheap.

The only fly in their soup now is that the voting block of Americans who identify themselves as Mexicans is now so big it can tilt elections. Which leaves the GOP in an untenable position, with its patrons and its rank and file demanding opposite things. Lucky for them Republican voters are easily fooled by patriotic speechifying...

Meanwhile Democratic voters have been bamboozled too. Want to know the cause of all that illegal immigration? Just look at some simple, easily verifiable statistics:

1. Number of Mexicans in Mexico in 1940: 20 million.
2. Number of Mexicans in Mexico in 2000: over 100 million.
3. Percentage of Mexican-derived Americans in 1940: less than 1/2 of 1%.
4. Percentage of Mexican-derived Americans today: over 14%--mostly from previous amnesties, including the offspring of those amnesties.

Illegal immigration from Mexico overwhelmingly stems from population pressure. The Mexican government is simply exporting the result of its failed population policies here. It has nothing to do with us.

Nor must we Democrats support amnesty for illegals just because our party demands that we do. They need the votes, it's true. But they come at a very high price.