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Progress?

January 31st, 2013 Comments off
The good news: despite NRA opposition, it looks like there may be consensus on closing background check “loopholes” (actually, more like “gaping open chasms”). The bad news: conservatives insist that the right of every citizen to possess a high-powered semi-automatic military-style assault weapon with 100-round drum-type magazines. Despite no one having put forth any reasonable explanation as to what legitimate use one would have for such a weapon. One right-wing activist tried:
“Young women are speaking out as to why AR-15 weapons are their weapon of choice,” Trotter explained. “The guns are accurate. They have good handling. They're light. They're easy for women to hold.” She added: “And most importantly, their appearance. An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon, and the peace of mind that a woman has as she's facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home, with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened, violent criminals.” “And if we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting women at a great disadvantage, more so than men, because they do not have the same type of physical strength and opportunity to defend themselves in a hand-to-hand struggle. They're not criminals, they're moms, they're young women. And they're not used to violent confrontations.”
Riiiiight. Because what woman hasn't had to protect her babies from a pack of violent attackers in her home? Happens all the time. What you don't need is a handgun; after all, what if there are seven armed rapists going after you and you only have a six-shooter? What then, Mr. gun-banning smarty-pants? No, in this time when gangs of armed murdering rapists routinely break into homes and mothers have no choice but to fend them off with military-style assault weapons, banning such weapons would be insanity.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Evangelicals and the Double Standard of Religious Freedom

January 30th, 2013 Comments off
It should be no surprise when a poll finds that Christian Evangelicals have a double standard on religious freedom. Even when it is an evangelical polling organization. More than any other group in the poll—Non-evangelical born-agains, “Notional” Christians (apparently Chistians who do not live up to the standards of the evangelical pollsters), Other Faiths, and “Skeptics”—evangelicals religious freedom has diminished because America has moved away from traditional Christian values, and that gays are chiefly at fault for it. And—here's the hypocritical part—although they believe as heartily as anyone else that “true religious freedom” means citizens are able to “believe and practice the core commitments and values” of their faith, they also believe that one set of values—theirs—should be given preference, and indeed “dominate” the country. In other words, everyone should be free to believe what they want, so long as it is what the evangelicals proscribe. This is exactly in line with what I have noted before: that not only is the “war on Christianity” an imaginary phantom, it is Christians themselves who oppress the freedom of belief of others:
What is truly hypocritical is the fact that Christianists are the only ones who actually try to deny others the right to freedom of belief and legal expression. They openly discriminate against people who believe differently from them. They refuse to serve atheists or Muslims in their businesses. They clamor to take down atheist billboards and actually fight to prevent Islamic mosques from being opened, even in remote rural areas with no one else around. They're the ones that howl in protest when any other religion aside from Christianity gets to deliver an invocation or inaugural prayer. They vote down anyone who is not Cristian from getting into public office. Even Gingrich himself has said he would not allow anyone who is non-religious to even serve in government, and you know he would shut out most non-Christians in the same way. And the Christian claim to persecution? Despite being the dominant religion with their beliefs almost everywhere, including on the currency, in prayers before public sessions, in the Pledge of Allegiance and nearly all other public oaths, etc. etc.--the persecution against them is horrific because they don't get to slather their religion in every last nook and cranny of society. Not because they're actually being shut out, but because they are not allowed to dominate everywhere.
These people do not desire religious freedom for anyone but themselves. What they desire would be more accurately described as “religious primacy.” I have said before that they do not recognize the fact that the policy of separation of church and state is to protect religious freedom, but more and more I realize that they recognize this, and oppose the wall of separation precisely because it prevents them from asserting religious control over the country. Precisely what the founders feared, and precisely the reason many of the original colonists came to America in the first place:
The very Pilgrims who came across on the Mayflower, the ones celebrated by Christians in America to this day (with a public national holiday, no less), came seeking relief and respite from religious laws in England, such as the Act of Uniformity which required everyone in the country to attend government-mandated prayers–this the result of the marriage of church and state. The exact same type of marriage that Santorum and others protest is their God-given right.
I would wager that these self-same evangelicals celebrate the Pilgrims as symbols of their own “persecution,” whilst campaigning to create the same religious authority that caused the Pilgrims to flee in the first place.

Categories: Religion Tags:

The Revisionaries

January 30th, 2013 3 comments
Looks like a good PBS documentary coming up about the extremists in Texas taking over the school board and trying to force textbooks to cram in all manner of revisions based upon fundamentalist and right-wing ideological dogma. Called The Revisionaries, it focuses on a power Texas had to force changes in education nationwide—but the website points out has since significantly decreased after Texas switched from a statewide textbook review to one relegated to individual districts. Thank God. Check local listings for broadcast times.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

Recycled BlogD 2008: The Ten Commandments: A Moral Guide?

January 28th, 2013 3 comments
Haven't done the “Recycled” bit in a while, and this one rolled up on the “This Day Past Years” list. I think it holds up pretty well, and always will. Christians make a big deal about the Ten Commandments, how they're a great moral guide and in fact are the basis of our legal system, claims which I find to be completely unsupportable. I really do believe that the Ten Commandments hold people back. An excellent example is when you hear idiots say they would have given up Anne Frank to the Nazis because of the commandment about not bearing false witness:
Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life—keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.
Yeah, the Nazis would probably find her, and if not, she'd perish in another 60 or 70 years anyway. Why risk breaking a commandment? Give her up when they ask for her. “Jawohl, mein Kapitän! Die Juden sind im dachboden. Ich bin ein guter, ehrlicher christlich!” Almost as bad, someone having to agonize through a mass of readings and convoluted interpretation to arrive at the obvious conclusion that one should not give up Anne Frank to the Nazis. In my mind, if your morals are in order, you don't even have to think twice about that. Of course you don't give up the little girl to be slaughtered by genocidal maniacs, you idiot. For crying out loud. Instead, we see Christians having to go through convolutions in order to arrive at the most obvious of moral conclusions, sometimes even arriving at the horrifically wrong decision. The ten commandments have not served here, they have led its adherents astray, made them fret about angering God. What frightens me is that such people could live with themselves after cooperating with the Nazis, maybe even believing they had acted righteously and would be rewarded in heaven for sending a family of Jews to Auschwitz. No, the Ten Commandments are not a terrific moral compass. Too blunt, too incomplete. It does not help that you have to rife through everything else in scriptures to find supporting points in an ocean of possible cross-references and examples. What we need is a small book distilled down to some key essentials. Short, easy to read and remember, and far better at guiding people when true moral dilemmas present themselves. In the end, however, simple common sense and human compassion should prevail. The post from five years ago:
On last week's Bill Maher, the conservative guest on the show made the old “ten commandments” argument: “Who's gonna argue [against the idea] that the ten commandments are a pretty good way to lead your life, and if more people did do that, the world would be a better place?” Indeed, many Christians talk about the ten commandments like they are morality embodied in ten lines. If children's morals are lagging, then post the ten commandments in their school room, and it'll make a difference. Our entire legal and moral codes are based upon the ten commandments, we are told. However, the ten commandments don't really live up to their billing--not if you take a closer look at them and think about it a little. The first five commandments are very simple to summarize: respect and obey authority, especially the church. The first four in particular are all about establishing the church as the ultimate authority, none others, and you better take them seriously:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Do not have any other gods before Me You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy Honor your father and your mother
The first four are, in short, “don't disrespect God (or by extension the church in general) in word or action.” The last is about obeying parents, which in essence says to respect authority--and let's not forget the form of address required when addressing church authorities. Still, how do any of these address morality? The first four simply establish the authority of the church; that's no moral guide. At best, it tells the user to follow the church, and obey it. The fifth commandment says to obey your real parents or the church-as-parents. It is, in essence, suggesting simply to replace your own moral judgment with that of another. This is not morality, it is submission. It does not teach you about right and wrong; on the contrary, it tells you to leave those matters to someone else. The last five commandments are where the more “morality-based” directives lie:
You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
So what moral directives are there here? Don't kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. Look at the first four of those: don't kill, sleep with another's spouse, steal, or lie. What kind of moral guides are these? Sound ones, most would agree--but general ones, to be sure. Here's the question, though: do they serve as a special moral guidance, one which you can base an entire moral system upon, as people claim they do? I would argue not, based upon the fact that these four things would be so obvious to any member of almost any society of any time period that they would go without saying (though many societies would have their usual exceptions). In other words, the ten commandments are wholly unnecessary to establish these moral rules. I mean, think about it: before Moses came down the mountain, did people think these things were moral? Upon seeing Moses come down, did everyone peer at the tablets and exclaim, “Oh, thou shalt not steal! Dang, all these years I thought that stealing was moral!” So how do these commandments set down a moral code by “establishing” rules that are already apparent and obvious?
2013 edit: Check out Babylonian law, including the Code of Hammurabi, predating the ten commandments. It has all the moral codes in place as much as a millennium before. These moral codes had existed for centuries; they were already well-known.

The real cutting edge of morality lies not with the obvious rules, it lies in the complex moral situations. If killing one innocent person will save the lives of twenty other innocent persons, is it moral to kill the one? Is it moral to steal food if it is the only way to feed a starving child? May one lie if it saves a life? These commandments are far too blunt and dull a tool to address the questions with which people truly need moral guidance. That leaves the last one: coveting. This is the one which makes the most sense to me--it essentially warns one not to envy others, which is good moral advice, and something which is not so obvious. Of course, this particular commandment is soiled by the reference to a neighbor's slaves, which essentially puts god's seal of approval on the ownership of human beings. Something which, in my opinion, has done as much damage as suppressing envy could alleviate. In the end, I think the ten commandments are really a lot less valuable as a moral guide than they are cracked up to be. In fact, I would point more to a passage from the Qur'an as a far better moral guide, though it too has its limitations:
Worship only God Be kind, honorable and humble to one's parents Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure Do not engage in 'mercy killings' [of children] for fear of starvation Do not commit adultery Do not kill unjustly Care for orphaned children Keep one's promises Be honest and fair in one's interactions Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs
Here, we get the “worship god” directive, and the mercy killings of children which addresses a different time and culture (well, admittedly, some places on Earth today might still need to address this, but hopefully not many). But the other commandments set rules and principles that are much more far-reaching in terms of what moral situations they cover. Certainly, a lot of fundamentalists could learn from the last one on that list. One might argue that the ten commandments simply are the standard-bearer for the morality expressed in the entire bible; that, to find one's moral guidance, read the whole bible and take value from all the lessons enclosed. The problem with that is that one could extract a lot of very bad moral guidance from reading all the bible. What should one make, for example, of these passages?
Happy shall they be who take your little ones And dash them against the rock! –Psalms 137:8-9 Their infants also will be dashed in pieces before their eyes. Their houses will be ransacked, and their wives raped. … Their bows will dash the young men in pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb. Their eyes will not spare children. –Isaiah 13:15-18 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? […] Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. –Numbers 31:7-18
The obvious answer to that is to discriminate as you read, to weed out the bad parts. There are several problems with that; the first problem which comes to mind is the parts of the Bible which are bad but not clearly so. Surely one would see Moses' order to kill male children and take the young girls as slaves and know immediately that one should not adopt this as a moral guide. (Well, most people would, at least.) But what about moral directives in the bible which either are bad but not clearly so, or which play to pre-existing prejudices, like the ones against homosexuality? Not to mention that, ultimately, when trying to sell the bible as the ultimate moral guide, it does not help when you have to tell people to ignore a great deal of clearly immoral and even barbaric stuff that is liberally mixed into the text. And then there's the readability issue. How many people have you heard say they gave up when they got to all the “begats”? Even if you're able to skip over such parts, that's an awful lot of reading to do. I wonder if anyone has extracted all the parts they believe contain the useful moral parts? And I wonder how long such an extract would be. In short, why rely on a moral guide when one must labor so hard to get through it and wind up with so much horrific baggage at the end? Why not simply extract the valuable lessons and leave the bad stuff behind? Would that not be a better road to building morality? In fact, that is pretty much what Thomas Jefferson did--he thought that the ethical teachings of Jesus were beyond compare, but loathed the parts of the bible which he thought contributed to dogma and superstition--so he edited the bible and kept the parts he thought were valuable. But, returning to the idea of the short-list moral guide, what rules would be far more useful than the ten commandments? It's not hard to make a list that's a lot better, but what would be the optimal list of ten moral rules that would truly lead lead one through moral crises and help establish a solid personal moral code? Here is an impromptu attempt at such a list:
Forgive others their wrongs and focus more on the wrongs you have committed Show compassion, sympathy, and kindness at every opportunity Know that others have different views and try to understand them Help others when they need and will accept help; be willing to sacrifice for others Do not be arrogant Use reason: seek knowledge, question information given to you, and think for yourself; always allow for the possibility that you may be wrong Reign in your fear, anger, envy, greed, and jealousy; recognize them and do not act on them Take responsibility for your actions, and do not use the actions of others to excuse yourself Always try to work for the greater good, but first, do no harm If you must judge others, judge them by their actions alone
See anything wrong with the list above? Have any other ideas? When it comes down to it, there's no reason to limit it to just ten.
In hindsight, I think that list of ten is pretty good. In the case of Anne Frank, we have some adherents to the ten commandments saying, “Well, we shouldn't bear false witness, so give the Nazis what they want.” If you followed the list above, the 2nd, 3rd, and 9th all tell you, “Protect those people even if it costs you.” Seriously, this list is far better. Sorry if that offends you, but I think it's pretty obvious.

Categories: Recycled BlogD Tags:

Descent into Absurdity

January 27th, 2013 3 comments
Wow. After Republicans use every dirty word in the book against Democrats, and attempt to vilify every word in liberalism that's not dirty, they get all offended at Obama for name-calling. What unspeakable name did Obama call them? “Right-wing.” Yes, the party of “political correctness is fascism” is now seriously offended at being called “right-wing.” Which means that Fox News and the vast majority of those in the conservative media must have Tourette's Syndrome. And no, I am not making any of this up. This comes directly from David Avella, President of GOPAC. He appeared on Bill Maher and acted like the president was being so unreasonable and insulting. His words:
AVELLA: The president also talked about not making absolutism for principle, substitute spectacle for politics, and treat name-calling as reasoned debate. This is a week before he sit and name-called and made critical of Republicans in his last press conference! So which Barack Obama are we going to get? MAHER: What did he call them? What name did he call them? AVELLA: Oh, he talked about “right-wing Republicans,”... MAHER: That's a name-call? “Right wing”? AVELLA: Sure. MAHER: “Right wing” is a name-calling now? AVELLA: It is a name-calling.
Words fail me.

The Coup D’état Is In Progress

January 26th, 2013 2 comments
As I have referenced over the past week or so, Republicans are in the process of what appears to be a political coup d'état. While it may actually follow the letter of the law, it without any doubt completely perverts the spirit of the law. Faced with a party bent on radical extremism in a country with a population growing ever more liberal, they seem to believe it is more fitting to subvert the constitution and steal elections rather than to actually come around to reason on a policy or two. Here is how it works:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
That's Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution. They key phrase: “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” In theory, one can suppose that electors can be chosen any way the legislature wants, even if it defies the actual votes of the people in that state. This is where the letter can be exploited to corrupt the spirit of the law as well as the spirit of the nation. And that perversion is exactly what Republicans are beginning to carry out this day. Not plan for in the future, not consider as a possibility: they are doing this as we speak. The exploit is as follows: change the way states assign electoral votes so that gerrymandering allows a losing candidate to win more electoral votes, just as it does with House representatives. Most states currently have a winner-take-all approach to the electoral college; if a candidate wins a majority of a state's votes, then all votes are counted towards that candidate. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, buck this trend, distributing electoral votes by district, with the two senatorial votes going to the winner of the state's popular vote. If districts in a state are fairly drawn, then this plan is not much better or worse than the winner-take-all strategy, just with opposing votes given to the other candidate in smaller chunks. However, there's a way this system can be abused: the gerrymander. If you stack the deck, as Republicans have been doing furiously in many states for the past decade or so, then the number of opposing votes given to the other candidate is maximized, and instead of less than half a state's votes going to the candidate not voted for, a potentially much larger number could be subverted. And since this plan is to only institute this system in key states where Democrats often win but Republicans control the state government, it would not balance out over the whole country. Taking it even further, the latest GOP plan is to have the two electoral votes based on Senate seats in these states go to the candidate who wins the most districts, actually magnifying the effect of the gerrymander. Look at the chart below. The plan at the far right is the one Republicans are trying to enact in battleground states where they control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. Electoral Vote Dist If this plan had been in effect last year, in the six key states listed above, Obama would have won by 5% of the popular vote in these states, 52% to 47%, but he would have lost the electoral vote, 30% to 70%—a 40% margin! One could argue that winner-take-all subverted 48% of the votes, an even greater amount. However, this ignores the larger picture. These are only states where Obama won. Add the states where Romney was the winner, and things balance out somewhat. For all its flaws, winner-take-all is a more random system, is more or less impervious to corruption, and has worked fairly well over time in that only twice has a president won the electoral college while losing the popular vote. And that's the key point: in our country, we all support the idea wherein the candidate with the most votes wins. That's the basic assumption. The new Republican plan topples that system. Look at Michigan; Romney wins less than 45% of the votes, but gets 69% of the electors. In Ohio, he wins 48% of the vote, but gets 78% of the electors. With the new Republican plan in effect, Republican candidates would start winning presidential elections almost no matter how many votes they won or lost. It would take what is now considered a landslide to overcome this stacked deck. It would be a violation of our principles because it is specifically designed to overcome the popular vote in favor of one party. Obviously, a system of assigning electoral votes designed to win one party an election no matter what is a clear corruption of Democracy. One problem: gerrymandering is a long-standing tradition of legal corruption which acts as the camel's nose under the tent. Going back to the 18th century, gerrymandering has been limited (it cannot, for example, be used to intentionally deprive racial groups of due representation), but is generally allowed freely for purely partisan purposes.
While the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional and could be challenged in court, it set such a high standard of proof that it made legal challenges of such districts extremely difficult. Since then, the Court has remained divided on whether there is any viable way to set a judicial standard for what makes a given district an illegal gerrymander.
While it is possible that a Supreme Court challenge could upset plans to subvert the electoral college, it is not likely, especially with so many conservatives whose judicial philosophy is centered around ignoring the spirit of the law in favor of interpreting the letter to best suit their political leanings. Like the filibuster, gerrymandering is a system that has been tolerated because it had never been abused to the point of being a ludicrous mockery of our system of government; but like the filibuster, Republicans have seized on it as a tool to corrupt on the largest of scales. So, why don't we just do what is fair, and change the system so that gerrymandering is illegal, states' districts are drawn by random assignment, and a president is chosen by the popular vote? Because it would take a constitutional amendment to make such a change, and Republicans would easily block it. Republicans would find some sham reason to object, and since it would require 2/3rds majorities in both houses to even get an amendment started, the idea would die right there. Another route to amendment has never been used, and would be just as hopeless: legislatures in 2/3rds of the states would have to call a Constitutional Convention, then pass a proposed amendment, and then 3/4ths of all states would have to approve. Again, Republicans would kill such a movement in its cradle, as they control too many state legislatures. So, there is no constitutional route to stopping this and imposing fairness, and the Supreme Court is most likely going to add its stamp of approval to the virtual coup d'état. It is happening now. Virginia is the first to move, with the plan already moving through the legislature. While there is a glimmer of hope as one Republican in the legislature is against the idea, this will not matter long; Republicans in Virginia managed to ram through a non-majority, non-census-cycle gerrymander, meaning in two years, Republicans will have a clear path anyway. The Republican governor has hinted he would not go along with it, but Republican governors opposing their party's moves in other states have caved in and gone ahead with stridently partisan moves before (e.g., the Michigan law designed to gut unions). Even if it does not pass in Virginia, Republicans in Pennsylvania have already started moving on their own version, and conservatives in Ohio and Wisconsin are showing signs of moving as well. RNC head Reince Priebus is behind the measures. With Democrats being weak-kneed and ineffectual, the only thing with a hope of stopping this is the occasional Republican with the slightest shred of moral fiber challenging their political interests. In other words, we're screwed. It is entirely possible that in 2016, Hillary Clinton faces someone like Marco Rubio, wins by 10 million votes—and loses the election. Any conservative who is in favor of this clearly has no respect for Democracy, no respect for the spirit and values our nation is founded upon, and favors winning by any means possible over the voice of the people at large. Which is pretty exactly where most conservatives these days appear to stand. There's a word for a system of governing where the voice of the people is ignored, and one faction grabs power and imposes their will upon the majority. It is, ironically, the same system that conservatives have been screaming insanely against for the past several years. And they are getting very close to implementing it.

Personalized Annoyance

January 25th, 2013 Comments off
Doing my usual morning routine, I could not help noticing a loudspeaker going outside. For a while, I thought it was the usual annoyance: a recycle/secondhand shop truck making the rounds, promising all kinds of stuff about what they'll take off your hands for free (until you actually try to give them something and it turns out you pay through the nose). But then I noticed that it was going on for a long time. And it was not changing in volume, as you would expect in a moving vehicle. Nor was it talking about what you could throw away. Finally, I decided to check it out. It was a politician. I had no idea there was an election. I don't think there is one. Nor was this guy on a truck. He was standing in front of my house speaking into a bullhorn. I have seen this before in large apartment and condominium complexes, where hundreds or even thousands of people live. But in front of my house? There were maybe a dozen residences where people could understand the idiot from inside their homes. We're on a small street. Almost no traffic. It's almost like the guy figured, “Hey, let's go annoy that foreigner and his immediate neighbors!” I have never felt so close to buying a bullhorn, finding out where that politician lives, and going on a 20-minute tirade in front of his house about how politicians are pointless irritants in this society. But yeah, I know… compared to what politicians in the states are doing, this guy was a mosquito next to a case of flesh-eating bacteria. Still, an annoyance is an annoyance.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:

Senate Democrats Are Still Mostly Weak-Kneed Imbeciles

January 25th, 2013 4 comments
Why? Because they caved in on filibuster reform. They allowed Republicans to continue the 60-vote supermajority rule without cost. Complete. Fracking. Idiots. What are they thinking? What do they think they have accomplished? They have just guaranteed that Democrats will be able to accomplish less than nothing for the next several years. With filibuster reform, they would have been able to get important presidential nominees passed, instead of just low-level positions they made room for here. They would have been able to pass legislation and at least force the House to face it. And were it possible for Democrats to take the House in the midterms—not likely but still possible—real progress could have been made. Vital progress. What, do they think Republicans will be nice and not obstruct any more? Idiots. Do they believe that if they lose the majority in the Senate, then Republicans will let them use the filibuster? On anything? What's a word stronger than “idiots”? Imbeciles? Schmucks? Chumps? Dumbasses? Nothing in the thesaurus seems to do justice. If Republicans take control, the first thing they will do is make damned sure that Democrats can't pull the same crap that the GOP has been getting away with and will continue to get away with. Democrats win nothing by being weak now. Not a thing. In Virginia, a single Democrat goes to the Inaugural and Republicans ram through a non-census gerrymander. In Virginia and other key states, Republicans are gearing up to go nuclear on the gerrymander and rig the electoral votes so that even if a Democrat wins a striking majority of votes in the state, the Republican candidate will still win most of the electoral votes. In short, they are now planning, overtly and outright, to literally steal the next few presidential elections—and you jackasses believe that they will play nice and fair with the filibuster? Oh, you poor, brainless, pinheaded…. There are no words. You have failed us. Maybe there would not be much you could have done even with filibuster reform, but at least there was a glimmer of a chance. Now you have pretty much caved in and told the Republicans, “Go ahead, roll right over us. We're stupid. We'll let you.” Am I over-reacting? Maybe. But like I said, if nothing else, this is at the very least symbolic. Republicans are destroying this country. And Democrats are letting them.

Categories: Weak-Kneed Democrats Tags:

Oh Really.

January 24th, 2013 3 comments
I've mentioned before about conservative projection, whereupon right-wingers will have a certain quality or perform a certain act to an extreme, and then accuse their opponents of exactly that. John Boehner:
And given what we heard yesterday about the president's vision for his second term, it's pretty clear to me that he knows he can't do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans. So we're expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal - to just shove us into the dustbin of history. I've been in these spots before. I remember November of '06, January of '07 -- we've been through these periods before. And you know, our members get down, our supporters get down.
Republicans have savaged liberals over the years. They have viciously attacked the Democratic support bases. If you are a social or political group which provides any substantial backing for the Democratic Party, the GOP will demonize your reputation and work night and day to destroy you as a group. Unions have been brutally decimated by conservatives. Teachers have been made into pariahs. Groups like ACORN, which tried to raise voter registration in poorer communities, was literally obliterated. The list goes on. If you are a significant supporter of Democrats, you go on the hit list, and it is not a metaphorical one: the Republicans will destroy you. Conservatives have vilified Democratic causes. Reproductive rights was transformed into near-demonic support for murdering babies in the form of the “partial-birth abortion.” Equal rights for non-white male groups were depicted as “special privileges.” Secularism and fairness in religious belief was drawn as a “war on Christianity.” Racism was said to not even exist in our “color-blind” society, where the real evil was Affirmative Action, which somehow made life hell for poor white males. Minorities were told that not only should they not complain about racism, but that they should feel devalued and ashamed if there was even the slightest chance that they received favor through some form of Affirmative Action at any point in their lives. Republicans have pulled every trick in the book to destroy Democratic voting rights and efforts. While they make completely baseless accusations of Democratic fraud after their own thorough investigations revealed nothing, they attempt to bring back Jim Crow laws even more destructive than ever to block Democratic voting. They resort to all manner of fraud, from voter caging to bogus felons lists. They attack Democratic voter registration organizations and shut them down. They gerrymander the crap out of states, even outside of census cycles, and are now set upon ramming through electoral vote distribution based on gerrymandered districts so that a Democratic candidate for president could win a state like Pennsylvania by 10% of the vote but get only 5 of 16 electoral votes for that state, and would still lose the national election even if they won the popular vote by 10 million ballots. Politically, they leave only scorched earth. They now besmirch any form of compromise. Complete and utter obstruction is their policy when out of power, and ramming everything through wile leaving the other party in the dark is their policy when in power. If even their own policies become adopted by the other side, they suddenly turn and call them vile. For Christ's sake, conservatives have even done their best to make Democratic names into slurs. The campaign to smear the word “liberal” worked so well that many liberals now avoid the word and use “progressive” instead. To this day, conservatives refuse to utter the modifier “Democratic” and instead childishly say things like “the Democrat Party,” in an attempt to disassociate the party from its core values, while pushing the “DemocRAT” slur they so smugly adore. All of this while their extremist PR arm, Fox News, works 24/7 to ludicrously defame and condemn anything Democratic or liberal, aided by bastions of “news” outfits, think tanks, bloggers, and action groups.
After all of that, Boehner says that Obama is out to annihilate the Republican Party… why? Because Obama outlined a strong agenda in his second inaugural speech? That doesn't just break irony. It vaporizes it. It reaches back into time and makes sure that irony died as an infant. It is so far beyond irony that it would take the light from irony two billion years to reach it. And yet: conservatives will take this statement seriously. The Republican Party is dying not because the president wants to get rid of them—something which, sadly, he has more or less done the opposite of—the GOP is dying because it is becoming so extreme that it is making extremists shake their heads in dismay. It is dying because their supporters are dying while the groups they vilify are growing.

Arguing From Both Sides of Their Factoids

January 20th, 2013 9 comments
In writing the last post, I re-read the definitive posting I made on gun control back in 2006 and the comments, which ranged into late 2007. The last comment I made held a point which I had forgotten about over time, but which points out a very subtle and ironic flaw in two major arguments made by gun advocates. Gun advocates say that gun control or even gun bans are not effective; that with such laws, criminals are still able to get all the guns they need. Gun advocates also argue that if a dictatorship establishes itself in our country, they will institute restrictive gun control or gun bans, and these will be so effective that we will be defenseless against said dictator. See the slight flaw in the reasoning? It's actually quite similar to the arguments made by conservatives about taxing the wealthy: when you try to raise their taxes, the argument is that they don't have enough money to make a difference. But when they want to lower their taxes, the argument is that they are paying the lion's share of the nation's tax revenue. These kinds of inconsistencies betray either the lack of logic or reasoning in creating the argument, and/or a fundamental dishonesty when it comes to making the point.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

No Kidding?

January 20th, 2013 1 comment
A few gun stats noted in the Washington Monthly:
— According to the CDC, having a gun in your home is associated with triple the risk of homicide and nearly fivefold the risk of suicide. — The Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) has found that suicide attempts using a gun are far more likely to be fatal than such attempts using any other method. HICRC also reports that the availability of more guns is associated with more accidental deaths.
As if to prove the point, yesterday was “Gun Appreciation Day,” and TPM points out a little twist of irony: five people were sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds from at least three accidental discharges at gun shows commemorating the event. The next article at TPM has a very appropriate note in a letter from a reader, making a point about a gun control requirement I have long supported but which was left out of Obama's package:
Over Christmas, the family was talking to my brother in law —a sheriff in rural Maine, a hunter, an NRA member —about the possibility of limiting guns, and the “defense argument” —that we all need guns to defend ourselves. He looked at me and said he definitely did not want me to carry! Then he made the serious point, that using guns to defend oneself or others takes both skill and emotional training. This is not something that just anyone can do. He could not imagine arming school teachers. And he noted, from 20 years as a sheriff, most gun deaths are from stupidity (accidents of various kinds) or family anger (and the human stupidity that encourages).
What we need: mandatory gun training, testing, and licensing. Because even if you are a clear and clean law-abiding citizen, if you do not know how to properly store, maintain, and use your arms, then you are statistically a far greater threat to yourself and those around you than is any burglar or phantom dictator. A gun should be denied to you not just if you are a criminal or mentally incompetent; it should also be denied to you if you are incapable of using it with at least nominally safe skills. Nobody denies that we all have the right to travel, and part of that is the right to own a car. But we also all agree that if you are a menace with that car, if you are untrained or untrainable, if you cannot operate it safely, then you have no right to get behind the wheel of one. Guns, unlike cars, are designed to kill people. That is their primary purpose. And right now, it is 100% legal in many if not most places in this country to acquire, keep, and use a gun with no training or testing whatsoever. That is completely insane. Which is why I advocate a national training and testing requirement just as we have for motor vehicles. It makes eminent sense.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Political Culture of War

January 19th, 2013 2 comments
Republicans are trying a new strategy: Democrats must agree to our budget plans, or else we with withhold everyone's pay. There are arguments about the plan's constitutionality, but that's not the issue for me. The issue I think is more important is that the tactic is being used in an abusive manner—literally, for extortion. Just as they have used other tactics, like shutdowns and defaulting on the debt. Democrats agreed to a pay stoppage a few years back, but that was supported by both parties, and was a fairness issue—if no government workers got paid during a shutdown, then members of Congress would be no different. The current plan is different, in that it is being used to extort. Nothing new for Republicans, this has been so for almost 20 years since the government shutdown under the Clinton administration. The idea of Congress is very simple: if an idea is good enough for half the members to approve, it gets passed. In order to make such deals happen, both houses must agree. Congress was always intended to be a place where compromises took place in the name of fairness and equity, in the best interests of the people and the nation. Conservatives have taken a flamethrower to that concept. Screw the people. Screw the nation. Give us what we want, or else we'll burn it all down. Republicans, unhappy at losing any battle, have defied the system, defied the very concept of Democracy itself. They have made any law they dislike have to pass a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate. In order to get their way, they have started holding hostage everything they can get their hands on, constitutionally or not. If there's something important to the nation that they can destroy, they'll hold a gun to its head unless they get what they want. And unlike a criminal hostage-taker, they don't get arrested and removed from the equation; instead, they get to keep taking the same hostage time and time again, and then released back out to do it all over again. It's the same in the states, with votes. Can't win an election? Then win state houses enough to gerrymander the hell out of those states. Too many Democrats voting? Then limit voting hours and voting resources at times and places they vote. Still losing? Then bring back Jim Crow, bigger and better than ever—pass laws that target Democratic voters under fraudulent pretexts and throw obstacles in their way. Still not winning? Hey, we can game the electoral system, changing how key states apportion their votes in the most extremely convoluted ways so that even if we lose the popular vote by a wide margin, we can still will more electoral votes. Make it so Democrats have to win by 10 million votes to eke out a victory electorally. For Republicans, it is not about majority rule. It's not about what the people want. And Democracy? Fuck Democracy. It's about what Republicans want, and how they can get it. Bend the rules, twist the rules, break the rules, whatever works for them. Even the pretexts are falling away as Republicans openly gloat about subverting the vote. For Republicans, governing is war, and you win by whatever means necessary.

Smoking Guns

January 18th, 2013 1 comment
In Talking Points Memo, there was an article about gun vs. non-gun culture. It touched on a story about a couple of 22-year-old men who decided to “educate” people in a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon unused to seeing guns by openly carrying assault weapons through the town. The sight of two young men carrying assault weapons down peaceful suburban streets generated a rash of 911 calls from frightened residents, and sent at least one school into lockdown—this coming less than a month after the Newtown incident. Neither man was arrested because they had “concealed handgun licenses,” though how this covered the open display of assault rifles escapes me. Their purpose was, purportedly, to demonstrate their Second Amendment rights, and seemed unconcerned that they were upsetting people. Josh Marshall wrote a piece on the incident, naturally not painting the two young men in the best light. Someone wrote to Marshall about how his story on the incident rankled them; they felt it was a slanted piece that demonized gun owners:
My point is that regardless of how we feel about the law, that it was legal for them to do what they did but the tone I read was illustrating criminal behavior. I liken it to people obnoxiously purposely coughing and giving the stink eye to others who are smoking outside, well away from a door, in an allowed smoking area. Obviously less severe but an example of frankly, being pissy about others’ non criminal choices.
To say that Marshall's story is like a non-smoker finding people smoking in their designated area and coughing obnoxiously as a means of objection is pretty far off the mark. In this case in particular, the two young Oregonians were not like smokers enjoying a drag outside and away from doors. That would be like gun owners shooting at a gun range, not 22-year-olds walking down residential streets with assault rifles. They were the ones going out of their way to be pissy about other's attitudes about guns. Smokers in a designated smoking area are not “educating” others about smoking rights, or anything else. This brought to mind a rather interesting comparison, because I do see similarities in attitudes between the two cultures, pro-gun and pro-smoking: the sense that smokers and gun owners can assert their freedoms without regard for the rights or concerns of others; the sense that people who object to this are being unreasonable; and a cultural sense of resentment at being persecuted, marked by a conflation of rash impositions and reasonable objections. A great deal of this has to do with perceptions, as well as with what one considers a normal or neutral state of affairs—what I call the “neutral space.” The reaction of the pro-gun reader to Marshall's objections to the Oregon story was starkly indicative of the difference in perception: what is the natural or neutral state of things? For smokers and gun owners, it seems to be, “I get to do my thing wherever I want and you just have to be cool with that.” The more militant smokers are like this; they do not see a space where no one is doing anything as a fair and neutral starting point; they see a room where they are smoking as a fair and neutral starting point, from which any objection you make is an imposition upon them which crosses the line of fairness. Secondhand smoke, to them, is little different from clear air, at least in the context of what one can fairly expect and have no objection to. To them, secondhand smoke is a non-issue; to the non-smoker, it is the entire issue. The more militant gun owners, in this sense, are the same way: a fair and neutral starting point is that I get to have guns and carry them around, and you just have to be cool with that. Anything less free than that concerning gun “keeping and bearing” is an unfair imposition on them. For these people, your rights and concerns about safety are a non-issue; they may as well simply not exist. The non-gun person, however, has this threat to their safety, and the safety of their children and others around them, suddenly thrust upon them in the form of seeing an unknown person bearing a weapon designed to kill people entering their space. They may not react well to being told that there is nothing they can do about this. The second similarity, stemming from this, is the perception of who is being unreasonable when there is a conflict. The concept of the neutral space is at the root of this. In smoking culture, since “doing what you want” is considered the neutral space, someone who demands to breathe clean air is being unreasonable. The smoker does not see their act as an invasive one, so when they are told to stop smoking, they see that as the invasive act. You are butting into my business. I may be biased about this myself, but I cannot see how that attitude is reasonable. If you and I are in a confined space, the social norm is that we do not carry out any act which imposes on the other. Or perhaps stated more pertinently, we do not carry out the initial act of imposition. If we are in a doctor's waiting room, and I start making annoying noises and you ask me to stop, who is imposing upon whom first? If we are sitting in adjacent seats on an airplane, and I keep shifting around so my arms and side keep nudging and brushing against you and you ask me to stop, who is being unreasonable? If we are in an elevator and I let rip a particularly gruesome fart and you give me a dirty look, do I have the right to be offended? In the smoking context, smokers—at least the militant ones—do not see what they do as the initial act of imposition; they see their actions as a natural right which others are required to accept as the normal state of affairs. They ignore the initial neutral space, they disregard the fact that they are imposing an unpleasantness on others first, and are annoyed when they are asked to stop. So it is with the militant gun owners. They ignore the clear context of militia in regards to the entire Second Amendment “keep and bear arms” right, and literally read it as a right to not just possess weapons, but to carry them wherever they damn well please. Thus we have two men in Oregon who believe that they are doing a public service when, just weeks after the entire nation is horrified by a young man bearing an assault rifle killing 20 young children, they themselves bear the same or similar weapons and walk past residential homes and schools. They felt that they were making an important statement about their freedoms; they did not see the context or viewpoints of others as being relevant. The neutral space—one which assumes a right to keep and bear arms—is one where arms are normally kept safe and locked up at home or other establishments, and used in specific contexts in designated areas. Not to walk around scaring the living crap out of parents soon after a severe national trauma. The third similarity is a perception of resentment and sense of persecution from within the “using” cultures, who focus, often markedly, how put-upon they are. There is the tendency to superimpose the most egregious of objections made by critics onto every instance of criticism, no matter how subdued or polite. As an example of this in smoking culture, I recall one job I had at a language school in Japan where the common teaching area was smoke-free, but the common teachers' preparation area was not smoke-free. Between every lesson I was constantly subjected to 10 or 20 minutes of heavy cigarette smoke. Appealing to management was unproductive: they were all smokers as well. I didn't even want to ban smoking; all I wanted was one table within the room where smokers would not puff away so we non-smokers could at least have a mild refuge from the worst of the smoke. The boss unhelpfully told me I could get this, but only if every smoker in the office agreed. I started by asking one of the smokers this, someone I had never confronted or complained to. I sat down and explained to him that the smoke was a difficulty professionally for me, as I had to speak all day, and between lessons, the smoke was making my throat raw. I asked politely (and those who know me in an office context know that my default mode is to be deferential and polite) if he would agree, and that he would decide himself which table could be smoke-free, just one of five or six tables in the room. He smiled, exhaled a long, leisurely stream of smoke, and said, “Fuck off.” It was pretty clear that he was enjoying retribution, not against me, but against everyone who he felt had annoyed him about his habit or had kept him from enjoying it where he pleased. Gun owners seem to have the same sense of persecution, and indulge in the same general reaction to any objections from others. I see it when I debate guns with them, in which I support the right to keep and bear arms but debate whether the right stems from the second or the ninth amendment, and they react as if I think there is no right to keep and bear arms at all; or when I suggest gun control measures, making clear that under such measures, people could still have houses filled with guns, but they instantly assume I am promoting gun bans and confiscation—no matter how clearly I state otherwise. I sense they are not confronting my arguments, that in fact, they may not even be paying much attention to what I am saying at all, but instead feel that they are debating everyone who they felt had infringed on their rights; that whomever suggests any restrictions on guns may as well be the same person who wants to ban guns. The conflation in the Talking Points Memo story of the Oregon men (armed with assault rifles walking by homes and schools in the wake of a mass school shooting) with smokers (trying to get a brief break in a remote and restricted area and yet still being accosted by asinine non-smokers) is an excellent example of this. It might even be that the gun “enthusiasts,” who now possess incredible freedoms compared to cigarette smokers, see similarities between smoking and guns as well—in that they fear guns will be treated as smoking is treated, where the practice in question will be demonized, those indulging will be seen as pariahs, and the enjoyment of their favorite pastime will be restricted to spaces away from others.

Categories: Health Issues, Social Issues Tags:

Irrational Enthusiasm

January 17th, 2013 7 comments
Before Obama announced his plan, New York already passed a tightening of gun laws. Predictably, people with little sense acted irrationally:
“It's ridiculous. It’s absolutely — how to put it nicely — it’s Prince Andrew Cuomo’s bid for the White House,” said Jim Hanley, who was waiting to buy another handgun. “I want to do it before the right is taken away. Andrew Cuomo and Barack Hussein Obama are two best gun salesmen in the history of the world.”
So, what provisions prompted Hanley to buy another handgun?
Signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, the New York legislation tightens a ban on assault-style rifles, calls for background checks on ammunition purchases, outlaws large-capacity magazines and tries to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people deemed to be a threat.
Therefore he believes his right to own a handgun will be stripped from him. Okeydokey. This disconnect between fact and reality is somewhat emblematic of the gun “enthusiasts.” Fight for decades to win an inch, finally gain a centimeter, and the gun crowd starts shouting about how you've taken a mile and are quickly approaching infinity. I've gotten the same reaction countless times when I have discussed guns on the Internet. I can start my statement with a whole paragraph about how I believe there is an individual right to keep and bear arms, how I would never suggest a gun ban, and how the measures I wish to introduce would allow any law-abiding citizen to own a large number of guns. Then I lay down a set of reasonable gun control proposals with rationales for each. Inevitably, the response from gun advocates begins, “You should never ban guns because….”
Chris Thiel of North Tonawanda has a pistol permit and belongs to a pistol league but doesn’t own a pistol. He described himself as a hobbyist and said he’s been thinking about buying an AR-15. “Say this goes through and another tragedy happens and in New York state,” he said. “You’ve got to do more then? When does it end?”
Hopefully it ends with your having to go to a gun range to enjoy your hobby rather than 20 more children being slaughtered. Or is going to a club too high a price to pay for other people's lives? Here's one way to see it: a person owns a car, but feels that it is unreasonable to force them to do any maintenance on it. They ignore many warning signs, a lot of minor problems, and let things accumulate. Finally, they are driving through a school zone and their brakes fail because they didn't check the brake fluid and a leak drained it. The car goes out of control and runs down a crowd of schoolchildren. You may feel that just punishing the cretin is OK, but I would think that the parents of the dead children might not be so comforted by the late action. The people, stunned by the horrible incident, approve passing a law that requires car owners to undergo regular brake maintenance to find such problems before such an incident happens again. However, car enthusiasts are livid. “It's ridiculous,” they complain. “How long before the right to drive my car is taken away?” one driver asks. “Say this goes through and another tragedy happens because of some other aspect of car maintenance,” another driver says. “You’ve got to do more then? When does it end?” Seen in any other context, the arguments of the gun crowd would appear as ludicrous even to them as it does to the rest of us. Nor is it any comfort that the people furiously buying weapons are paranoid and stupid. Just as a law requiring brake maintenance is not a harbinger of a total ban on driving cars, neither are New York's laws—nor laws that go a great deal further—a harbinger of the loss of the right to keep and bear arms. Face it: if you think you need a Bushmaster, and if you live in the United states and are not on duty in Afghanistan, you're an ass. Your losing your ability to wield your toy and only be forced to register it is not a violation of your rights. It is, in fact, a violation of the rights to those around you, because your freedoms do not extend to actions that put your neighbors' safety and even their lives at stake for an unnecessary bang-bang toy. And that's at the heart of this issue: virtually right we have is limited if it potentially infringes on the safety of others. You have the right to free speech, but not if it wrongly harms others, as in slander or reckless endangerment. You have the right to be protected from search and seizure, except where a court finds reason to void that right for public safety. The gun advocates, however, seem to believe that they are exempt. We make everyone go through a long and difficult process to get a driver's license, but a shorter and easier process to certify a person to use a gun—a tool specifically designed to kill people—somehow is an unbearable price to pay and must be stopped. How would you feel about an 18-year-old driving a car around your neighborhood without a day of training? And the assault rifle? Well, why stop there? Why not allow hand grenades? Nerve gas? Or, if you want to weasel about how it's only projectile weapons in question, then how about RPGs? Howitzers? The assault rifle belongs in the same category: it's a military weapon, and has no place in our neighborhoods. It's time for people who own guns to stop being whiny, selfish pricks and start cooperating with completely reasonable public safety measures.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Fwoomp

January 14th, 2013 2 comments
When I woke up this morning at about 9:00 a.m., it was raining hard. Big puddles of water outside. Very wet. About a half hour later, the rain turned to snow, as predicted in the weather forecast. Within an hour, there was more than an inch of snow on the ground. I took Ponta for a walk, and it was already white everywhere you looked. By now, 3:00 p.m., it must be more than 6 inches. We have to go outside every hour and shake the snow off our small cypress goldcrest trees or else they'll be crushed under the weight. This is the view from our door, just a few minutes ago when I went to do the shaking: Snow01 The neighbors are also keeping busy, shoveling and keeping the card cleared. Snow02 The snow accumulation is pretty amazing—we are really getting socked here. Snow03 You just know this stuff is going to stick on on the ground for another few weeks... Train lines in the area are severely affected, and road traffic is jammed. On the JR, Chuo, Sobu, Saikyo, Keiyo, Joban, Nambu—all lines completely shut down. Up to 40 or 50 cm is expected today.
Soon after I posted that, the snow stopped—but not the precipitation. Nothing worse than rain after a snow...

Categories: Hibarigaoka Tags:

Are You a Conservative?

January 13th, 2013 2 comments
Five years ago, I put up a post titled, “Are You a Democrat?” I asked questions which I felt demonstrated values held by those on the left. The list still holds true, which I take to support the idea that they are indeed representative of principles and values of liberals, and not just for-the-moment causes or rationalizations. For fun, I thought I would re-post it—in reverse—and ask the questions if they were to point in the opposite direction. While it is true that the two extremes are not always polar opposites, reversing these questions is a fairly good yardstick. Here they are, followed by clarifications and elaborations below:
  • Do you favor going into debt instead of paying for what you get? Do you prefer perpetually maintaining your debts as opposed to paying them off?
  • Do you support only the parts of the Constitution you find appealing?
  • Do you believe that people who have more should support society less?
  • Should people with certain talents and background be treated better than others beyond basic remuneration?
  • Do you believe it is the role of society to tell people what they can and cannot do in their private matters?
  • Do you agree with the idea that everyone in society should fend for themselves, as opposed to everyone supporting each other?
  • Do you favor waiting for something bad to happen and paying greatly for it over paying a lower but immediate cost for preparation and prevention?
  • If you feel certain that a man is guilty, but cannot definitively prove it, would you punish him even though it means there is a chance you are punishing an innocent man?
  • If treatment for a crime works better than punishment, would you favor punishment instead of treatment anyway?
  • Do you respect people more for being effective than for being honest?
  • Do you believe that true patriotism means never criticizing your own country even when it is clearly wrong, or denying that it ever commits a wrong?
  • Could you support the statement “America is better than everyone else in the world” over the statement “America is as good as anyone else in the world ”?
  • Do you believe that your leaders should be average Joes instead of intelligent, people who excel at their work?
  • Would you rather hear news that makes you feel good rather than the truth? Do you feel confident that you are always right on important issues?
I know a lot of conservatives would see this as an unfair or inaccurate portrayal of their values, but that would be more an artifact of their own internal inconsistencies. Inconsistencies between what they say and what they do, sometimes between what they say and other things they say, and all to often, between what they believe and what instead is real. Do you favor going into debt instead of paying for what you get? Do you prefer perpetually maintaining your debts as opposed to paying them off? Conservatives paint themselves as deficit hawks who hate spending. The problem is, they primarily act this way only when the other party is in power, or when it comes to programs they do not support. However, they consistently spend more and tax less, a policy push that was prominent under Reagan and skyrocketed under Bush 43—a policy which is a certainty to create deficits. The Bush years are absolute proof: given a budget surplus, they incurred massive spending increases and revenue decreases, leaving the nation $5 trillion more in debt than when Bush arrived, and the yearly deficit at the level of $1 trillion per year and rising fast. Conservatives say that they hate debt—but only when a Democrat is in the White House. When they hold the presidency, debt is not important, or is even useful. Nowadays you will hear many Republicans say that they were against the deficits racked up by Bush, were against the pork and uncontrolled spending by fellow Republicans, and spoke out against it. Funny how we never heard them during the years they claimed to be speaking out, nor did any of their words sway their fellow conservatives one bit. In the end, despite what conservatives say, what they do is more important—and what they do is to borrow and spend, in ever more massive amounts. As for perpetually maintaining that debt, remember that when we were just beginning to get budget surpluses and so could pay off our national debt, conservatives argued that a surplus meant taxes were higher than they needed to be, and therefore we should cut taxes. In short, never pay down the debt you have accrued. Do you support only the parts of the Constitution you find appealing? This should be self-evident. Total dismissal of the Ninth Amendment, disparagement of the fourth through eighth, and the virtual enshrinement of their specific interpretation of the second. The ninth is dismissed because it grants the right to personal privacy, a right that conservatives do not wish to be recognized. William Rehnquist himself defined a strict constructionist as someone who will “generally not be favorably inclined toward claims of either criminal defendants or civil rights plaintiffs.” And the Second Amendment, clearly an outdated “historical document” if there ever was one, obviously refers to militia and not personal ownership (although personal rights to keep and bear arms are, ironically, guaranteed under the Ninth Amendment). I could go on—in particular in regards to how the First Amendment is considered—but I think the point is clear. Do you believe that people who have more should support society less? Do I even have to explain this? Recent events make this painfully clear. Should people with certain talents and background be treated better than others beyond basic remuneration? This is a bit tougher, as it overlaps universally accepted areas of meritocracy, and what one might define “better treatment” to mean. However, the question is not posed to mean whether you agree or disagree about people getting a better salary if their talents or efforts justify it; I think everyone agrees that this should be the case, no matter what the nutballs on Fox & Friends seem to think. What I mean in this question regards what could be called a “level playing field.” If your background is that of a poor family, should your education, at the very least K-12, be less than that of someone from a wealthy family? Should your baseline health care be significantly worse? Should the opportunities you are presented—not what you do with them, but just the doors that are opened for you—be less? Should people of equal talent be forced to work harder and perform better in order to receive equal benefit? If you are a conservative, this is what your stand on the policies generally says. Wealthy families get to have a first-rate education while poor families get crap; people who cannot afford private insurance deserve to die alone and cold in the street; people with connections deserve them, no matter how much they hinge on accidents of birth or other forms of discrimination; and women, minorities, gays, and other groups discriminated against deserve no “special rights” to protection that white males do not need because they are not even remotely set back by such discrimination. Again, you may mouth approval of equal treatment, but when it comes to what you will actually approve and support, reality differs greatly with the platitudes. Do you believe it is the role of society to tell people what they can and cannot do in their private matters? For all of the right-wing talk about individual liberty and freedom, and how conservatives just want to be left alone, this sentiment only applies to them when it is something that they want to do, like owning guns and not paying taxes. When it comes to anything else, including things that do no harm to anybody, they make every effort to push their way into the lives of others and tell them what to do. Their views on sexuality allow them to tell you who you can have sex with, how, and whether or not you are allowed to wed. Their beliefs on when life begins allows them to dictate whether you can have an abortion or even take a day-after pill. Their ideas about the value of life allow them to tell you that you have to suffer horribly for months or years with an incurable illness which has robbed you of any meaningful existence, destroying your family and your own dignity as you go, as they decide whether you have the right to put a merciful end to your life. Their values of what drugs are dangerous allows them to drink and smoke as much as they want, but allows them to tell you that you'll go to jail for smoking marijuana. But if they begin to stockpile military grade weapons with no safeguards in their house next to where your kids play, you have no right to tell them anything, no matter what the threat to your children's safety. Do you agree with the idea that everyone in society should fend for themselves, as opposed to everyone supporting each other? Again, recent events make this painfully clear. Do you favor waiting for something bad to happen and paying greatly for it over paying a lower but immediate cost for preparation and prevention? Again, there is a void between what is said and perhaps believed, and what comes to pass. If it is an imaginary threat of nuclear war, you will feel your answer to this is “no,” but in practice, it has led to paying greatly rather than otherwise. When it comes to providing a quality education, maintaining strong infrastructure, deploying preventative medicine, and a host of other wise and profitable long-term investments, the answer is a definitive, “Hell yes we shouldn't pay for that stuff!” “Let the private sector do all the work,” you'll say, and they won't, and we'll pay the price. In general, conservatives are all too often short-sighted in such matters, preferring immediate gratification in the short run rather than building vital foundations in the long run. If you feel that a man is guilty, but cannot prove it, would you punish him even though it means there is a chance you are punishing an innocent man? This is another of the fuzzy ones, as “proof” is often conflated with guilty verdicts. This refers in part to those who would feel it better to be safe than sorry, and/or to convict on faith rather than fact. In a larger sense, this question is intended to refer to the death penalty as well as recent “national security” policies which ensnare innocents in a panicked rush for security or justice, and the fact that conservatives usually seem to prefer to sacrifice the archetypal innocent man lest, not one hundred, but even one guilty man go free. If treatment for a crime works better than punishment, would you favor punishment instead of treatment anyway? Again, do I really need to go in to this. Not just recent events, but the events of the past half century make this one rather clear-cut. Conservatives see treatment as coddling, as unnecessary spending (again a reference to pound-foolish avoidance of prevention), a dodge for people to milk the system, or simply as a way for liberals to avoid blaming people for their own actions. Any and all of these are easier than actually recognizing what has been proven again and again, as it would then lead to the next step of actually acting on it. Do you respect people more for being effective than for being honest? Then why did you vote for Mitt Romney? Not the best example though; he was neither effective nor honest. This question actually came out of the debacle of the Bush administration and the recent decades where conservatives prefer lying bastards who can get the job done over honest people who do what is right instead of what is popular. I have heard more than one conservative state a direct preference for the former over the latter, and certainly conservative behavior in general bears this out. Do you believe that true patriotism means never criticizing your own country even when it is clearly wrong, or denying that it ever commits a wrong? Once more, need I even explain? Conservatives hate any American who suggests America has done wrong (except when it's about Democrats they happen to despise). Bombing Hiroshima, going to war in Vietnam and Iraq, covert meddling in politics in the Middle East and Central America, the genocide of American aboriginals, so forth and so on. The entire swagger about “American Exceptionalism” and “Apology Tours” make their stand on this clear. Could you support the statement “America is better than everyone else in the world” over the statement “America is as good as anyone else in the world ”? This is an extension of the point above. Again, it should be obvious. Do you believe that your leaders should be average Joes instead of intelligent people who excel at their work? There are some fascinating contradictions here. First, they sneer at those they call “elites,” a term which should indicate actual intellect and capability. What they mean, of course, is the definition wherein the “elite” are “a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power.” Does that describe Obama? Biden? Clinton? Carter? Mondale? Dukakis? Kerry maybe, but most Democrats? Nope. How about Romney? McCain? Bush? Recent GOP candidates and presidents have not just been elites, they have been extreme elites. Conservatives claim to detest “elitists,” and yet they vote for them over and over again. Mitt Romney was the epitome of an elitist, both Bushes were elites (the first literally and the second by association), and even Reagan was a rich movie actor—if he were liberal, they'd use his Hollywood connections to vilify him as elitist. In contrast, Obama, Clinton, and Carter all had very humble roots. You'd have to go all the way back to Kennedy to find an elected Democratic president who could be called an “elitist.” Here we see an interesting contrast: GOP candidates tend to be far more rich, entitled, and elitist, but Republican voters always claim they want the man they vote for to be an ordinary person they'd feel comfortable having a beer with. In a more specific sense, conservatives paint those they call elite as people who think they know better than anyone else. That, however, describes pretty much everyone, including themselves. Nevertheless, conservatives usually loathe the idea of highly intelligent, capable leaders. Would you rather hear news that makes you feel good rather than the truth? Do you feel confident that you are always right on important issues? Do I even need to mention Fox News? Not that this is the entirety of the extent that conservatives feel this way, but it stands as an exceptionally clear example of it. Regarding faith as more important than reason and facts is another. Self-doubt is hardly endemic among right-wingers.
Finally, there is one last question, not in the list, which would really nail you down as a conservative: Will you, upon reading this list of questions, ignore it, dismiss it, argue not the list but rather set up straw men, or attack only the least persuasive point within the list, instead of either answering each point honestly and in detail with reasonable logic and cited basis in fact, or, heaven forbid, regarding this list seriously to reflect on your values? Or, instead of that, I might just as easily have asked, “Did you quit reading long before you got to this question?”

People Kill People

January 12th, 2013 1 comment
Bernard Harcourt at the University of Chicago Law School makes an excellent point in the culture wars on the ownership of guns. He notes that the NRA, along with many pro-gun advocates, stand on the idea that guns are not the problem because “guns don't kill people; people kill people.” If this is true, then so is this statement: Gun control doesn't kill people; people kill people. The pro-gun argument about guns not killing people is that guns are “instrumentalities,” and as such, “are not to be blamed for what people do wrongly with them.” The pro-gun argument is that gun control is dangerous, that it will lead to deaths and even exterminations, and as such, should be banned—but that guns themselves, although dangerous, should not be banned because people, not what the do or do not wield, are the core problem. You can see the inconsistency. That said, the pro-gun crowd, like many of their conservative brethren, has not always been factually or logically oriented.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

The Rich Don’t Have Enough?

January 11th, 2013 1 comment
Great article in Common Dreams about taxes. It's not about raising taxes, but rather collecting the taxes that are already in place. Every year, this is how much could be collected were it not for special exemptions and other avoidance techniques, used primarily by the rich:
  • $1.25 Trillion: special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes;
  • $450 billion: the 17% of taxes being under-reported and/or unpaid;
  • $250 billion: money hidden in tax havens by people like Mitt Romney;
  • $250 billion: corporate tax avoidance has cut their payments from 22.5% to 10%;
  • $300 billion: getting rid of the cap on payroll taxes.
The article adds $100 billion lost if the estate tax is repealed, but since it has not been repealed, I do not include this. The total comes to $2.5 trillion a year, more than double the current deficit. It would be sheer idiocy to suggest that somehow these exemptions pay for themselves by more than a small fraction. True, some of this is distasteful and some not feasible; we could not magically collect all unreported taxes, and many of the deductions are badly needed by the middle class. However, even if only half of these were achieved, collecting what could be realistically found and ending special exemptions mostly for the rich would instantly eliminate the deficit, and even give us a start on paying down the debt. Not that it will ever happen, of course. We do, after all, have to pay respect and homage to the insanely ludicrous fantasy that making rich people pay taxes will stop them from trying to make money. Sadly, that theory is so deeply ingrained that the recent Republican presidential candidate actually campaigned on cutting tax rates for rich people nearly to zero. He wanted to slash corporate taxes, have no taxes on capital gains at all, and eliminate the estate tax. And nearly half the country voted for him.

Categories: Taxes Tags:

Guns and Hitler

January 10th, 2013 12 comments
Ever since I started debating gun control on Usenet forums in the early 90's, one argument has been standard: Hitler took away his people's guns, like all dictators take away their people's guns. Gun bans open the door to dictators like Hitler taking over the country. In part of his insanely angry explosion at Piers Morgan, Alex Jones nearly screamed, “Hitler took the guns!” Umm, no. Actually, He gave them back. After the end of World War I, guns were heavily restricted. In 1938, Hitler changed gun laws in Germany to relax gun control laws—dropping restrictions on long guns and ammunition, expanding the number of people who needed no permits, lowering the minimum age for ownership, and extending permit periods. The same law prohibited Jews from owning firearms—the one point gun advocates focus on—but the law in general, contrary to how it is painted by people like Jones, made guns more freely available. Nor would have things been any significantly different had Jews not been excluded. Not to mention the fact that Hitler came to power politically, and that personal firearm ownership was not even remotely an issue in his ascension. Had the Germans been fully armed during that period, Hitler would not have been stopped. And while the gun nuts talk about Stalin taking the guns, the fact remains that when the Bolsheviks took power, they were armed. In fact, unlike many successful modern revolutions, many of the dictators came to power by way of armed force. Meaning that the presence of guns does not prevent dictators from taking power, which is the central theme in the gun advocates' rants. Nor does any of this necessarily translate into our current situation. The fact of the matter is, if America does fall into a dictatorship, it will likely be with the full-fledged support of people who own guns. Witness the Bush administration, in which many civil liberties were rolled back in a manner far more concomitant to dictatorships than any gun control. A national warrantless wiretapping program? Curtailment of legal safeguards whenever any claim, however bogus, of “national security” was invoked? “Rendition” of people to foreign countries to be tortured? Little of this set off alarm bells in the gun crowd; in fact, since Bush was considered no threat to gun ownership, gun advocates tended to be perfectly fine with, even enthusiastic about such measures. The fact is, an American dictator would not fret about arms much. Tyrants worry far less about guns than they do communications and freedom of movement. Controlling communications is the number one priority—and yet you see none of these gun nuts worrying about communications much. Nor do they fret about car ownership, despite that being heavily regulated and controlled by the government. Which brings us to what should be obvious: this is not about fear of incipient dictatorship. It's a ruse, or at most a deluded fantasy. The one thing it is not is a relevant issue.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

The Republican Ideology: Do Not Give, But Take All You Can

January 6th, 2013 1 comment
Guess what? 67 Republican House members voted against federal aid for Hurricane Sandy. Appropriately called “a bunch of jackasses” by former New York Senator Al D’Amato, these pearls of human compassion come predominantly from states that have gotten far more than their share of federal assistance, and many are absolute experts at begging for disaster aid. The states most heavily represented in the GOP anti-aid block are Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Arizona has made 8 major disaster declarations for FEMA aid over the past ten years, and has requested aid from FEMA on more than 30 other occasions over the same time period. Georgia, which also made many major disaster and other declarations to FEMA, received $300 million in federal mortgage relief aid, and kept 95% of it, as they have similarly tucked away hundreds of millions of federal dollars which were supposed to have been spent on highway projects. North Carolina must have forgotten that it begged for and got federal aid after Hurricane Irene hit, while South Carolina, which receives $1.35 per tax dollar paid and has begged for federal relief for droughts and other disasters, has also tucked away hundreds of millions of federal aid dollars intended for mortgage aid. Tennessee, still the proud home of the Tennessee Valley Authority, gets $12 billion a year in federal spending, ranking 7th per capita, and 12th in federal aid received by state, and has made 12 major disaster declarations to FEMA in just the past three years alone. Texas, meanwhile, received billions in federal aid after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and blasted the federal government for a slow response. In fact, Texas tops the national list of FEMA disaster applications, with a total of 332. Not long ago, Republican senators tried to block a larger overall bill for Sandy relief:
…since 1989, states represented by senators who voted against the package have been among the biggest beneficiaries of a similar pot of money: the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which nationwide has provided at least $8 billion to help states recovering from disasters prepare to face future catastrophe.
Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo, meanwhile, who voted against aid for Sandy because it was not “paid for,” just 6 months ago cheered federal aid being granted to his own district in response to Hurricane Isaac. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, Colorado, begged the feds for extra FEMA spending following a summer fire in 2012—just two months after he tried to pass legislation limiting the aid, and six months before denying it to Sandy victims. Many are trying to claim that Democrats loaded the bill up with “pork,” a demonstrably false claim. Here is a list of the 67 who voted “no,” by state, with contact phone numbers:
Mo Brooks (Ala.) (202) 225-4801 Trent Franks (Ariz.) (202) 225-4576 Paul Gosar (Ariz.) (202) 225-2315 Matt Salmon (Ariz.) (202) 225-2635 David Schweikert (Ariz.) (202) 225-2190 Tom Cotton (Ark.) (202) 225-3772 Tom McClintock (Calif.) (202) 225-2511 Ed Royce (Calif.) (202) 225-4111 Doug Lamborn (Colo.) (202) 225-4422 Ron DeSantis (Fla.) (202) 225-2706 Ted Yoho (Fla.) (202) 225-5744 Doug Collins (Ga.) (202) 225-9893 Tom Graves (Ga.) (202) 225-5211 Paul Broun (Ga.) (202) 225-4101 Tom Price (Ga.) (202) 225-4501 Rob Woodall (Ga.) (202) 225-4272 Randy Hultgren (Ill.) (202) 225-2976 Marlin Stutzman (Ind.) (202) 225-4436 Todd Rokita (Ind.) (202) 225-5037 Lynn Jenkins (Kan.) (202) 225-6601 Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) (202) 225-2715 Mike Pompeo (Kan.) (202) 225-6216 Kevin Yoder (Kan.) (202) 225-2865 Garland Barr (Ky.) (202) 225-4706 Thomas Massie (Ky.) (202) 225-3465 John Fleming (La.) (202) 225-2777 Andy Harris (Md.) (202) 225-5311 Justin Amash (Mich.) (202) 225-3831 Dan Benishek (Mich.) (202) 225-4735 Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.) (202) 225-8171 Steven Palazzo (Miss.) (202) 225-5772 Sam Graves (Mo.) (202) 225-7041 Steve Daines (Mont.) (202) 225-3211 Steve Pearce (N.M.) (202) 225-2365 George Holding (N.C.) (202) 225-3032 Richard Hudson (N.C.) (202) 225-3715 Mark Meadows (N.C.) (202) 225-6401 Virginia Foxx (N.C.) (202) 225-2071 Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) (202) 225-3164 Jim Jordan (Ohio)(202) 225-2676 Steve Chabot (Ohio) (202) 225-2216 Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) (202) 225-2701 Jim Bridenstine (Okla.) (202) 225-2211 Keith Rothfus (Pa.) (202) 225-2065 Scott Perry (Pa.) (202) 225-2565 Jeff Duncan (S.C.) (202) 225-5301 Joe Wilson (S.C.) (202) 225-2452 Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) (202) 225-5501 Trey Gowdy (S.C.) (202) 225-6030 Louie Gohmert (Texas) (202) 225-3035 Michael Conaway (Texas) (202) 225-3605 Randy Neugebauer (Texas) (202) 225-4005 Mac Thornberry (Texas) (202) 225-3706 Randy Weber (Texas) (202) 225-2831 Roger Williams (Texas) (202) 225-9896 Bill Flores (Texas) (202) 225-6105 Kenny Marchant (Texas) (202) 225-6605 Phil Roe (Tenn.)(202) 225-6356 Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) (202) 225-2811 Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.) (202) 225-6831 John Duncan (Tenn.) (202) 225-5435 Stephen Fincher (Tenn.) (202) 225-4714 Bob Goodlatte (Va.) (202) 225-5431 Tom Petri (Wis.) (202) 225-2476 Paul Ryan (Wis.) (202) 225-3031 Sean Duffy (Wis.) (202) 225-3365 Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) (202) 225-5101