Monday, September 30, 2013


I've decided to start a regular feature here at Markadelphia in which I showcase a submission from the new contact form. I got this one last night.

Dear Markadelphia,

I live in Idaho and use your site in my class at the college where I teach as a shining example of the drivel peddled by the left. It's a private college so I can say whatever I want to in class without fear of the PC Cops banging down my door. I'm very active in the Tea Party and spend most of spare time volunteering to take our government back from the statists who have overtaken her. 

I don't have time to comment on your site but I wanted to let the three morons who comment on every post you put up that they are being most effectively played by you. They could be using their time like I do and actually making a difference. Blog comments don't make any difference. No one reads them. No one cares. No one is going to change their mind by reading a blog comment. It's quite a little Venus Fly Trap you are running here. While they are wasting their time in comments, you are out teaching hundreds of children every year. 

This will be my only contact with you as I will now turn back my attention to stopping you and your ilk in a more substantive format. 

Fuck you.

Big Jim Slade

Obviously a Kentucky Fried Movie fan and I always love being called a statist and a shining example of blah blah blah but he does make a good point. This would be why I allow open comments:)

Good Words

“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.” ~Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (1771)

You're Not The Boss Of Me!

I've had some pretty interesting emails since I put up the contact form at the right of the page. A common request of late has been for me to explain exactly what the "adolescent power fantasies" tag means. So, without further adieu, here it is.

Conservatives today can be easily explained if you imagine them as 8th grade boys (age 13-14). They hate the government in the same way a teenager hates their parents and the house rules. They are eternally in "You're Not The Boss Of Me!" mode on all the major issues of the day. Take a look at how they react to the budget (they are stealing my hard earned money!), health care (fuck everyone else, I only care about myself), climate change (I'm not going to change my life just because some adults made up some stupid lies to try to force me to do stuff), guns (don't take away my cool toys!), education (stupid liberal teachers telling me what I should and shouldn't do),  or any other issue of the day and it's the same thing: I DON'T WANNA!!!

Like any teenager, they are very distrustful of authority and make overly emotional and ridiculous statements about the federal government....the same government that they are very likely receiving benefits from in more than one way. Again, just like a teenager that doesn't like the house rules and bloviates to his parents in a never ending goal to be contrary.

So, how do you deal with such a mentality? Well, you ignore the adolescent baiting and everything else falls into place after that. The primary goal of any teenager is to get the people they are rebelling against to stoop down to their level. Once that happens, they can play the Cult of Both Sides card and say, "See? Liberals are just as bad." They want the voting public to be confused and angry so they can get away with a bunch of bullshit. Up until the last few years, this has worked quite well. Unfortunately, the issues we face as a nation have become more serious and their solutions (if they even have any), are being revealed for exactly what they are: an ongoing temper tantrum with no concrete action items.

Ultimately, the only real response to the adolescent stomp down the hallway is to remind whomever you are talking to that if they want to stop being treated like a child, then they should stop acting like one.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Good Words

“Manufacturers, who listening to the powerful invitations of a better price for their fabrics, or their labor, of greater cheapness of provisions and raw materials, of an exemption from the chief part of the taxes burdens and restraints, which they endure in the old world, of greater personal independence and consequence, under the operation of a more equal government, and of what is far more precious than mere religious toleration–a perfect equality of religious privileges; would probably flock from Europe to the United States to pursue their own trades or professions, if they were once made sensible of the advantages they would enjoy, and were inspired with an assurance of encouragement and employment, will, with difficulty, be induced to transplant themselves, with a view to becoming cultivators of the land.” ~Alexander Hamilton: Report on the Subject of Manufacturers December 5, 1791

Republican Type #2

The next type of conservative (and the best description of a few of my commenters). I'd add in that these are also "Right Wing Blogger" Republicans.

Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio Republicans: 

This is one of the angriest groups of Republicans. They watch Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio and they think it makes them an expert on politics. The only knowledge they have of politics are parroted talking points without any facts to back them up. When you defeat them in debate, they will resort to calling you names like “liberal,” “commie,” “socialist”; “baby-killer,” etc. They think all liberals are socialists who want to take their money and give it to people who don’t deserve it. 

The problem with this type of Republican’s views: 

They have no idea what they are talking about. Usually they’re just repeating things they’ve heard from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. They think that liberals want to take away their freedoms and they clearly don’t know what the word “liberal” means, or what liberals have contributed to our country and our freedoms. They think President Obama is comparable to Hitler for passing healthcare reform. They accuse you of watching MSNBC if you don’t agree with them. They call you a sheep but expect you to blindly believe everything they tell you, without question. 

What to remember when debating them: 

Keep demanding facts from them to back up their assertions until they break down and call you any of the aforementioned names. Ask them to name specific freedoms that liberals have taken away from them. They have a tendency to become violent so watch their hands if you are debating them face to face.

Children and Guns

Absolutely fantastic piece in the Times today about children and guns. Very illustrative about how statistics lie.

A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities. The killings of Lucas, Cassie and Alex, for instance, were not recorded as accidents. Nor were more than half of the 259 accidental firearm deaths of children under age 15 identified by The Times in eight states where records were available.

Of course, this more or less ends the whole "Gun Free Zone" debate as well. Lift the perfectly legal ban on guns (see: Scalia, Heller, 54-55) in certain areas and you see more incidents like those described in this story. Compare the number of people (not just kids) that die in gun full zones with those that die in gun free zones. Discussion over.

The facts are very simple. There are many people in this country that are simply irresponsible and do not honor their right to bear arms appropriately. That's why we shouldn't let anyone who wants to carry a gun do so in a school, for example. Or even have a firearm to begin with if they are a convicted criminal or mentally ill.

This would be why I've told my kids that when we go to a house where there are firearms present (sadly, a few of my relatives) to be extra alert and vigilant for arrogant, gun owning parents who think they have trained their children just fine. They haven't. Their hubris (combined with heavy drinking and mental illness as is the case in a few of these homes) is exactly what causes accidents like these to happen.

Blessed Are The Poor?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cheerleading California

Bill Maher tells quite a different story from all the griping I hear from conservatives about California. I wonder why. Could it be that the things he says in this video are true? Crap. Now what? Quick! Time to make up some bullshit!

Republican Type #1

Matthew Desmond over at Addicting Info has put up an hilarious typography of conservatives and how to debate them. Here is the first one.

The Educated Republicans:

These are the rarest of all Republicans. Occasionally you will run into one in public or in a public forum online. These Republicans can be the most difficult to deal with. They have learned everything there is to know about their position… from a Republican perspective. They’ve educated themselves on all the reasons why their position is correct, and are not concerned with anything that contradicts their beliefs. 

The problem with this type of Republican’s views: 

Anyone with the Internet and five minutes can find something that thoroughly discredits their version of the “facts.” Even when confronted with contradictory facts, they continue to fall back on their original arguments; try to change the subject to something they are more comfortable talking about, or start expressing opinions with no factual merit. 

What to remember when debating them: Keep them on-topic. Don’t let them ignore your counterpoints and then change the subject on you. They’re masters of that, but if you can keep them on topic, eventually they will just start expressing opinions to which you can say “do you have any facts to back that up?”

Good Words

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” ~Benjamin Franklin, letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

IPCC Report Findings

The IPCC released its fifth assessment yesterday and, as expected, found that it is extremely likely (95 percent) that humans are causing climate change. It's key findings:

— Global warming is "unequivocal," and since the 1950's it's "extremely likely" that human activities have been the dominant cause of the temperature rise.

— Concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason behind a 40 percent increase in C02 concentrations since the industrial revolution.

 — Global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3 to 4.8 degrees C, or 0.5-8.6 F, by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.

 — Most aspects of climate change will continue for many centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped.

 — Sea levels are expected to rise a further 10-32 inches (26-82 centimeters) by the end of the century.

 — The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass over the past two decades. Glaciers have continued to melt almost all over the world. Arctic sea ice has shrunk and spring snow cover has continued to decrease, and it is "very likely" that this will continue.

 — It's "virtually certain" that the upper ocean has warmed from 1971 to 2010. The ocean will continue to warm this century, with heat penetrating from the surface to the deep ocean.

All of this means we need to take action now to avert the various international stability issues that are going to arise as a result of these facts. Whatever money we invest now in reducing emissions will be paltry compared to how much we are going to spend in the next century on dealing with the fallout.

Naturally, the Church of the Climate Deniers are raging in full mouth foam (complete with tin foil hat) about how they are going to be controlled by some sort of secret cadre of New World Order folks. Sadly, they fail to note the number of new markets this could create, the innovation that will occur (most of which will likely come from our country), and ultimately the amount of money to be made from this technology. That latter is what is finally going to get them to come around.

The link above contains quite a bit of data and research for you scientists to pour over. Check it out!

Good Words

“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” ~James Monroe, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817

Friday, September 27, 2013

Good Words

“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.” ~James Madison; Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, EcclesiasticalEndowments

A Tough Day for Extremists

During a number of interviews on his stateside trip, Hassan Rouhani has made many bold statements regarding the future of Iran and its place in the world. But the one that has everyone buzzing is his description of the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” He went further, calling it “reprehensible and condemnable.”

It's always special when a religious extremist can admit reality. I'm forever holding out hope that our own American Taliban can begin doing that (although I'm certainly not holding my breath). But this admittance is clearly the result of Iran feeling the pressure from the rest of the world in terms of sanctions. Of course, his statements will obviously send the extremists in his own country into full mouth foam. How dare he admit that the Jews were not at fault for something?

And our own moonbats here in the US probably ran screaming to their pillow for a long sob. What is the world coming to when all the bestest bad guys start acting all nice and shit?

Ah well, time to go demonize the liberals again. Look out! They're trying to steal our guns!!

Good Words

“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” ~James Madison, letter, 1822

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The End of the Lying

With the Affordable Care Act set to open the exchanges and, for the most part, fully roll out next week, I thought I would put up a post with several links that essentially dispel all the lying that is going on about the new law. The Right knows that once the law rolls out and begins to work, any last vestiges of their relevance will fall away completely. What will they do when the federal government does something that works for Americans? So, they are being completely dishonest and far too many people are believing the bullshit.

The first place to stop is the White House web site itself, specifically the myths and facts section. There you will find the lies that your weird uncle with titties has been foaming at the mouth over since the law has passed juxtaposed with the actual facts of the new law. Perhaps after seeing reality he might just storm off to purchase his 20th gun and leave you alone. This site also contains a state by state look at the new premiums. Click on your state to see how much lower your premiums are going to be.

Factcheck is also a great source to sift through the BS and see what is really going on with the ACA. Politifact has frequent updates as well. Here is a link to their Top 16 myths about the law.

Wendell Potter, insurance industry whistleblower, has put up a couple of posts recently that are most excellent torpedoes of the false information flying around, courtesy of the Right.

Bill Keller put out a good piece last year on his top five favorite lies.

It might take a little time for these myths to fall away but their demise will be coming soon to a theater near you once the impoverished people in the many red states (the ones that are letting the government run the exchanges) begin to feel the benefits of the law.

Who will be left to listen to their psychotic ideology?

It's Official

Well, it had to happen. Our nation has become so fucking stupid with guns that we now have this.

Iowa grants gun permits to the blind

What's next? Guns for epileptics?

They are going to keep going farther and farther until it gobbles up their asses, aren't they?

Good Words

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” ~James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Good Words

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.” ~James Madison, 1819, Writings, 8:432, quoted from Gene Garman, “Essays In Addition to America’s Real Religion”


Calling All Science BuffS!

If science is something you enjoy learning about but also a tad overwhelming, you should check out Phil Plait's Welcome to Science cartoons. Even if you are not a comic geek like me, these pieces are just plain fun and insightful. Phil is a regular contributor to with his Bad Astronomy posts which I also recommend checking out on a regular basis.

Thanks Ted!

Ted Cruz is currently providing the nation (and the Democrats in 2014 and 2016) with some fantastic material in his fakebuster on the Senate Floor. He's over 20 hours at this point and his remarks serve as an excellent illustration of how the Right is completely fucking nuts.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good Words

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814,

Good Words

"We have solved by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government, and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving everyone to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason, and the serious convictions of his own inquiries." ~Thomas Jefferson: in a speech to the Virginia Baptists, 1808

Is Bill Gates A Time Traveler?

Well, not really, according to this recent piece at Politico that I have been wanting to point out for awhile.

This week found Gates in the Capitol promoting his plan to combine a 1960s-era oral vaccine with new satellite photography and GPS trackers to eradicate polio finally from the globe. Picking up where the Green Revolution left off in his youth, the 57-year-old Gates talked up new farming methods and genetically modified seeds as an answer for hunger in Africa, whose staple crops were neglected in earlier research. “It’s all about innovation,” Gates told POLITICO. “Now that I am focused on the poorest, in some ways, you could say the innovation is more basic.”

Right. I have no doubt that we are headed for the world Bono envisioned because of advances in technology.

50 years. No more world hunger.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Whence Freedom?

Mark asked a question in another post that can't be answered as a response:
Our freedom comes from God and atheists don't believe in God. So where does freedom come from in their eyes? Perhaps my atheist commenters can answer that question.
You've got it backwards: in many ways god and his representatives are the antithesis of freedom. Freedom isn't a thing in and of itself: it is an absence of constraint, oppression and intimidation. Freedom is the default state of the world. It disappears as man multiplies in number, spreading oppression and restricting other people's actions as their religious prohibitions and quests for dominion over others grow.

Animals in nature are free. A lone man in the wilderness is free. Small family groups of cavemen were free. Hunter gatherers on the African plains were free. It is only when large tribes of men organize together into communities is it necessary to formalize rules of interaction, causing the concept of freedom to arise. These rules preserve order and prevent the exploitation of the innocent by the ruthless. We can be bound voluntarily by rules and still be free. In the past you could just leave if the rules chafed too much. But the primitive version of freedom disappears when you can no longer flee to unoccupied territory.

Rule-based freedom is easily maintained in a homogeneous community, but when different communities collide it falters. It is easy to deny the freedoms of those different from you: the stronger community imposes their rules on the weaker, infringing upon others' freedom for their own gain, be it for land, slavery, or economic gain. When it becomes us versus them it's much easier to deny the freedoms and rights of "them." And nothing is better than religion for separating "us" from "them."

In the American mind freedom and democracy are inextricably linked. But hierarchical monotheistic religions are profoundly undemocratic: the pope in Rome, the ayatollah in Teheran, the archbishop of Canterbury, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church aren't elected by a democratic vote of the faithful. They're chosen behind closed doors by the churches' elites. These organizations are hierarchical and autocratic: the faithful must adhere to their dictates or be excommunicated (or worse). And that's why there are so many different sects: people rebel against the lack of freedom and splinter off.

Another concept that goes hand-in-hand with freedom is equality. Theistic traditions dictate a top-down hierarchical structure: gods, Jesus, Mohammed, Mary, pharaoh, the angels, the saints, the king, the nobility, the priesthood, men, women, animals, the earth. This leads naturally to justifying inequality based on perceived importance to god. It becomes very easy to separate humans into classes who are lower in the hierarchy: Jews, Muslims, pagans, serfs, slaves. It becomes easy, necessary and good to deny the inferior their rights and freedoms and even lives, under the guise of preventing them from committing blasphemous, impious, immoral or illegal acts, stopping them from tempting the righteous into immorality, or simply because they are not the chosen people. It becomes easy to justify wanton destruction of wildlife and habitat as "god's will."

Religion disguised as the will of god has thus been used for millennia to justify slavery, the subordination and degradation of women, persecution of homosexuality, genocide against Jews, Christians, Muslims and pagans, mass murder of both Catholics and Protestants, the burning and drowning of countless "witches" in the Middle Ages, the caste system in India, and so on. Religion has been used to fight those injustices as well -- many abolitionists were devout Christians -- but in the end it's just a matter of how the preachers interpret the dictates of men dead for thousands of years. It's not what god says that matters, but what self-proclaimed keepers of the holy scripture say god says.

Thus, if god was right to exterminate all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because they pissed him off, then the faithful can justify the Inquisition torturing and killing witches, Christians invading the holy land and murdering Muslims during the Crusades, and Ugandans passing laws that make homosexuality a crime.

Inequality and the right of one group to kill "the other" are integral parts of the most basic texts of monotheism. The promised land of the Israelites was Canaan. How much freedom flowed from god to the Canaanites when he told the Israelites to obtain the promised land by killing the original inhabitants?

We now know that most homosexuality is developmental, not a choice. If your brain developed such that you have an attraction to your own sex, are you really free if god threatens to kill you for doing exactly what god designed you to do? Some Christians deny that's god's intent, but the bible explicitly says homosexuality is wrong. But we have no way to know whether that dictate came from god, or from some prig who didn't like homosexuals, pork and shellfish. This is the core of the problem of religion: there is no logic, there is no rationality, there is no consistency, there isn't even morality: there is only faith that god -- by proxy of his preachers -- is right. Like Nixon, no matter what atrocity god commands he is righteous by definition.

We can't talk about "god's will" as if there was a single god, because there are too many religions that come to too many completely different conclusions -- even in the same denomination. In Christianity alone we have the tribal Hebrew god who commanded his people to commit genocide against the Canaanites, the psychopathic god who mauled 42 children for deriding a bald man, the sadistic god who commands Abraham to kill his own son, the mercantile god who blithely condones slavery, the vengeful god who kills all the men, women and children in two cities, the beneficent god who commands the rich to allow the poor to eat once every seven years, and the universal "turn the other cheek" god of the New Testament.

And then there's free will: god can't make you do anything, can't give you a hint as to whether he really exists or not. It's up to you to accept his existence without any proof. But you have to find the one true faith without a lick of real evidence which one it is, and then live -- or die -- with the consequences. A core tenet of our legal system is the idea that you cannot be bound to a contract entered under duress. This threat of eternal torment drives millions of people into churches. It's extortion in the extreme.

Are people who believe in god really making a free choice? And do they truly believe in god? Or have they simply succumbed to the cynical logic of Pascal's Wager, and profess belief in god under duress, betting that if god doesn't exist they've lost nothing.

Other concepts closely linked to freedom are innocence and guilt. In Anglo-American jurisprudence one is assumed innocent until proved guilty. That is, we should be free unless our proven bad acts make our freedom dangerous to others. One cannot be punished for the independent actions of another, such as a parent.

Protestant theology cuts the heart out of the very concept of innocence with the dogma of original sin. According to Luther we are all filled with evil lust from our mother's wombs, sickness and hereditary sin because Eve (those evil women!) chose to eat from the tree of knowledge.

This dogma presumes that every generation of humanity is guilty of a trivial crime committed by a single woman thousands of years in the past. It is this kind of blind acceptance of guilt by association that leads to misogyny, anti-Semitism (the Jews killed Jesus!) and other ethnic hatreds.

Now, there are religions that don't have a monotheistic god. Some animists, Jains and Buddhists believe in no gods at all, and perceive all living things to be equal in a certain sense. They are concerned with finding inner peace, accepting the fact that suffering is a part of life and coexisting in harmony with the world.

But Western society and the Middle East are monotheistic. Part of the reason is that it's simpler, and it mirrors the way we construct our own societies and fits with our politics, with wise and important people on top who tell us what to do: the pope, the king, the CEO. Most people just want do what's right, so they turn to those who claim to know better. They want straightforward answers to the important questions of life and death -- where we came from and where we're going.

They're looking for certainty in a world that has never had it. They don't turn to religion to find freedom, they are seeking safety and stability, which are frequently at odds with freedom. Humanity has always been wondering at the vastness of the heavens and questing for the truth. We always will. There's a reason that we're still creating religions -- like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism and Scientology -- three thousand years after Moses left Egypt: the old religions have too many injustices and inconsistencies and leave too many questions unanswered.

There are more than 20 major religions in the world. Most of them have splintered into thousands of sects, many of whom are actively trying to kill each other. The Shiites and Sunnis are at each others' throats today in Iraq, and Catholics and Protestants were still killing each other in Europe 20 years ago. Theism breeds so much intolerance and violence that heresy often elicits greater hatred than being an infidel.

So when you look at the current state of the worlds' religions, the confusing miasma of dogma and apologetics, the lack of freedom in theocratic states, and the history of murderous internecine religious warfare, it's obvious that god  provides no straightforward answers and no freedom. Various religions directly sponsor the oppression of women, gays, ethnic minorities, and adherents of other religions. People inspired by monotheistic Middle Eastern gods are no more noble and just than adherents of Eastern mysticism or pagan animist religions.

In discussions of religion believers constantly interject with, "But I don't believe that! That's not what my god says! My religion doesn't do that!" Others argue that you have to separate god from the human institution of religion. How can we claim to know what god says when he never speaks for himself? We only hear what the self-appointed prophets of god claim he says.

And more often than not, they speak against freedom and equality for all.

The Harmful Myth of Collapsing Schools

One of the most cherished tactics of the Right is to find a policy (health care, immigration, budget...whatever), find the flaws, and then blame anyone who isn't exactly aligned with their moonbattery about what to do regarding that issue. It's very convenient because there are always going to be flaws so they will always be able to find something. Nothing is perfect. Well, check that. Inside the bubble, everything they do is perfect despite reality (see: self delusion). Never is this more true than with the issue of education. Everything is terrible, they say, because liberal ideology has taken over and our students are stupid as a result. They point to test scores and other bits of information from the right wing blogsphere that "proves" public education is a failure.

A recent piece in Politico posits the question...what if a big part of our problem is this exact mentality? And not even close to being true besides? As the cartoon below this posts illustrates, we know full well the agenda of the Right. Those on the left that complain about education invariably want more money or power for their particular corner of the world so their intentions aren't all that much better. Yet, as the piece shows, we aren't really doing that bad and we should take reports of our "collapsing schools" with a grain of (actually, a giant boulder of) salt.

Then again, we’re 32nd on just one test. American kids do better relative to the world — though they’re still far from elite — on the PISA science and reading exams. And they do better as well on a different, equally respected, international math test known as TIMSS. On the most recent TIMSS test, from 2011, American eighth-graders handily outscored seven nations that had the edge on the U.S. in the 2009 PISA exam, including Great Britain, Australia — and, yes, Slovenia. Fourth-graders rocked the TIMSS test even more: They came out ahead of a dozen countries that had beaten the U.S. on the PISA exam.

Exactly right. You have to look at more than one test. And how about that ol' China canard?

As for China, it doesn’t participate as an entire nation; only students from three relatively wealthy regions — Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong — are tested. That’s important to note because income correlates with success on standardized tests.

If the entire country was tested (as we are), China's scores would be considerably lower.

Ms. Simon does an excellent job of blowing up several of the myths about the state of our education system. The next time you see a story about how awful our schools are, please kindly refer to this article.

Good Words

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” -Thomas Jefferson: in letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Good Words

“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

How Many?

So, how many quotes are there about homosexuality in the Bible?

Well, according to CARM, there are four. Given that they are one of the many wings of the American Taliban, believers in Republican Jesus, and have a direct line to what God thinks, saying that the Bible "doesn't speak of homosexuality very often" they should know of what the speak, right? So, four....that's 4 mentions of homosexuality.

How many times does the Bible say women should be submissive to their husbands?

That would be 29 times.

So, it seems to me that God places more importance on women submitting to their husbands as they do to Christ than homosexuality. If a woman does not do this, what happens?

This would be a great example of how the Bible is just plain wrong. Women are not second class citizens and should be treated equally (as everyone else is) in the eyes of God. Considering that the Bible was written by (flawed) men at a time long before equal rights, we have to adjust the teachings of the Bible and look past antiquated notions of gender and sex.

Oh, yeah...and how many verses are there on caring for the poor?

Anywhere from 100 to 300, depending upon how specific you want to get.

Religious Bigotry Is Not Freedom

I've been putting up quotes from our founding fathers over the last couple of weeks to illustrate that they did not, in fact, believe that it was OK to be a religious bigot. Having religious freedom does not mean you also get to impede the rights of other people. Essentially, this is what the believers of Republican Jesus think is OK as they happily play the victim card, doing the very same thing they supposedly hate (not to mention employing the fallacies of misleading vividness and appeal to fear).

Yet this recent piece over at HuffPo shows that the atheists out there also get it wrong. The founding fathers were not atheists. They very much believed in God, the grand architect of the universe, and drew much of their inspiration for the core philosophy of this country from John Locke. Locke's Second Treatise of Government was the primary source from which Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence. It stated that individuals are born with the rights of life, liberty and property that come directly from our Creator. Jefferson changed "property" to "pursuit of happiness" but the spirit is still the same. Our freedom comes from God and atheists don't believe in God. So where does freedom come from in their eyes? Perhaps my atheist commenters can answer that question.

The quotes that I have been putting up illustrate this core belief. The people that believe in Republican Jesus have always had trouble understanding nuance (you are either with us or agin us!) so it's very likely that they would disagree with Lockian thought which holds that there is no such thing as original sin, for example. People are born as blank slates given only the rights I listed above. How they live their lives after that comes the choices they make with that freedom. Because of this, Locke was often accused of not being a "true Christian"...just like yours truly.

Yet he was clearly a true Christian because he loathed atheism and warned repeatedly that it could lead to chaos. In many ways, I agree with this philosophy and so did the founding fathers. The morality of Christ is what we base our laws upon in America. That doesn't necessarily makes us a Christian nation as many other religions have this same morality. Locke truly believed that reason and Christianity were intertwined and that fundamental human equality arose from this combination. Since all humans were created free, governments need the consent of the governed to make sure that everyone is treated equally under the law. In short, practicing religious bigotry is not freedom. No one has the right to treat people differently because their religion tell them it's ok. Claiming victimhood, as a few jack wagons have done who are refusing to serve gay people at their place of business, is yet another nauseating example of this. The people who are supportive of such folks have yet to tell me where the line is drawn. Would they be allowed to not serve women who were not submissive to their husbands as the Bible says? Or not serve black people because of racial purity beliefs? As of today, all I hear are crickets on these questions. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

So, the quotes that I am putting from our founding fathers are examples of how religious zealots should never be allowed to hijack our government and curtail our freedom that comes directly from God. My beliefs about God coincide with those prevalent at the height of the Age of Enlightenment. The thinkers of the that time, many of whom were our founding fathers, scoffed at both religious zealots and atheists in the same breath. So do I. Our founding fathers sought to protect religion from government, no doubt a large problem as divine right of kings thinking was still quite prevalent at the time. God and Jesus were for everyone, not just those in the aristocracy. No one was closer to God than anyone else...just as the Bible says. That includes believers in Republican Jesus.

Isn't it ironic, though, that with the American Taliban running around, we now have to protect government from religion?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Good Words

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

Jefferson didn't believe in a limited god either.

Alternate Dimension?

Being a comic book and scifi fan, I often wonder how many other dimensions and realities exists that are parallel to our own. Are there alternate versions of myself or my family and friends? Today, I feel like I have slipped into an alternate dimension with these two headlines.

Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control

Iranian New Year greetings leave Israelis perplexed, pleased

Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? Don't get me wrong...I'm happy but it's jarring after so much bull crap every day to see something as positive as both of these stories.

I supposed I could be a cynic and say the latter headline is just Iran trying to smooth over diplomatic relations with the United States and is representative of recent back channel communications over their nuclear weapons program. Still, though, even with that caveat it's quite shocking to hear something like that from an Iranian leader.

The Pope's comments certainly jibe with his overall philosophy of placing more importance on helping the poor and sick of the world rather than being inordinately preoccupied with sex. Certainly caring for the needy of the world is mentioned far more often in the Bible than homosexuality, abortion, and birth control so it's clear which is more important.

Sadly, I'm sure it won't be long now before the Pope is accused of not being a Christian.

Good Words

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814

Friday, September 20, 2013

Good Words

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802

What's the True Cost of an Unsafe Pain Killer? 150? 33,000? 78,000? Or Billions?

ProPublica published an article about how easy it is to overdose with acetaminophen, best known under the brand name Tylenol. If you take just 25% more, only 2 extra pills a day over a few days, you can cause liver damage. Higher overdoses can cause liver failure and death.

Accidental overdoses killed 1,567 people between 2001 and 2010, or about 150 people a year. In a given year, double that many die, but the other cases are either intentional or the intent is unclear.

Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the emergency room annually and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year, federal data shows. Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure, according to data from an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes for Health.
In addition:
In 2010, only 15 deaths were reported for the entire class of pain relievers, both prescription and over-the-counter, that includes ibuprofen, data from the CDC shows. 
And finally:
The London-based Lancet declared in a 1975 editorial that if [acetaminophen] “were discovered today it would not be approved” by British regulators. “It would certainly never be freely available without prescription. 

One major problem is that many drugs contain acetaminophen (such as Nyquil), so it becomes extremely easy for people with a pounding headache and a bad cold or the flu to overdose when they take Nyquil and Tylenol at the same time.

This allows us to draw three conclusions. 1) Anything containing acetaminophen (including Tylenol and Nyquil) should be more tightly controlled, probably prescription-only. 2) The warnings on Tylenol and Nyquil should be much more explicit and obvious: even a small overdose can send you to the hospital, especially in combination with alcohol. And 3) if you can tolerate safer pain relievers, you should use those preferentially.

Fine. The FDA should tell these drug companies to stop pretending their product is absolutely safe. Case closed.

But then I came to the comments at the end of the article. The first commenter said, basically, "Only 150 dead people? So what!" Other commenters chimed in with stuff like, "More people die from can opener accidents." Would they think that if their daughter just died because they just tried to soothe her suffering with a spoonful of medicine? Or she was forced to undergo months of waiting for a liver transplant?

The trolls intentionally obscure the real point of the article: 78,000 emergency room visits and 33,000 hospitalizations annually. If the average emergency room visit costs $1,283, that's $100,000,000. If the average hospital stay costs $15,734, that's another $519,000,000. Many victims of acetaminophen poisoning will suffer permanent liver damage, and some will require liver transplants, which means they'll spend their entire lives taking anti-rejection drugs. If the average liver transplant costs half a million dollars and the antirejection drugs cost $12,000 a year, acetaminophen poisoning will directly cost billions of dollars annually.

And then there are the indirect costs: some victims will suffer other debilitating medical problems as a result of liver failure, which will prevent them from working, or will require expensive special care. Some of these people will wind up on welfare and Medicaid. Parents and spouses will miss work to care of them.

The real cost of lax regulation of Tylenol is not just 150 dead people a year. It's billions and billions of dollars in medical costs, plus millions of hours of lost productivity, plus an incalculable amount of human suffering.

So, who are these guys who troll the web, who minimize other people's pain and defend the profits of giant corporations who market dangerous products? Are they paid shills? Rabid libertarians who think companies should be able to make money any way they can, and let everyone else clean up the mess while they laugh all the way to the bank? Conservatives who hate it when people sue corporations? Why do they leap to these companies' defense and obscure these drugs' true costs to society?

Don't they get that dangerous products hurt everyone, even conservatives and Republicans?  Republicans like Antonio Benedi, for example. Benedi was once an assistant to president George H. W. Bush. He took some Tylenol, as per the label, and it almost killed him. He had to get a liver transplant. He sued Tylenol's manufacturer and a jury awarded him $8.5 million.

I don't think people should sue companies at the drop of a hat. But these companies are selling a product that has been known to be dangerous for decades. They've tried to make it safer and have failed. They've even produced an antidote for acetaminophen poisoning. So they know exactly how dangerous it is. Yet they're using their economic and political clout to prevent the FDA from enacting additional safety measures. All the while still telling parents that Children's Tylenol is completely safe (when used as directed).

Medicine is supposed to make us better. Not poison and kill us.

Good Words

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” ~John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Fucked Up?

When children throw a temper tantrum, they usually end up breaking something. Mom's dishes or dad's sports memorabilia isn't quite on the level of the US Economy.

Republicans are far more likely to oppose raising the debt limit than anyone else; they say don’t raise it by 61-25. Republicans, however, also believe overwhelmingly that not raising it would cause serious economic harm — by 66-27.

At least we now have confirmation as to just how fucked up the Right is there days.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Two men with concealed-carry weapon permits shot each other dead in Michigan in a road-rage incident
Witnesses tell WZZM 13 one driver was following another driver too closely. The first driver pulled into the Wonder Wand Car Wash parking lot and the other driver followed him into the lot.

Witnesses say the driver of the following car fired shots, and the first driver returned fire. Both drivers were shot and killed. Authorities say both men had licenses to carry concealed weapons.
These weapons sure did a bang-up job protecting these two guys. I bet this makes you feel so much safer.

Back in the day nuclear Armageddon loomed over us: the Mutually Assured Destruction of two gigantic nuclear arsenals pointing at each may have prevented World War III. There's no incentive to shoot first if you know that your entire country will be wiped out.

But the small-scale Mutually Assured Destruction of handguns provides no such protection. The mindset is that whoever shoots first wins. Obviously, this is a failed strategy: you need to shoot the other guy in the back proactively in order to really protect yourself.

Welcome to the nightmare world of the NRA.

First Star To The Right, Straight On Until Morning

This recent piece in the Times about Voyager I leaving our solar system filled me with melancholy. What happened to our country's spirit of exploration? One of my criticisms of the president is his continued belief that the space program should be privately funded. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to see a future that looks like the Aliens universe. I'd rather it be more like Star Trek.

Think about what Voyager will see as it leaves our solar system after having traveled 11.7 billion miles. It's simply mind boggling!

From the article...

Dr. Gurnett and his team have spent the past few months analyzing their data, trying to nail down whether what they were seeing was solar plasma or the plasma of interstellar space. Now they are certain it was the latter, and have even pinpointed a date for the crossing: Aug. 25, 2012.

I have to admit that part of me is wondering if some alien ship will snap it up and transmit a message back to us.

We Dodged a Bullet in 2008

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, there were two main Russian newspapers: Pravda ("Truth"), which was the official organ of the Communist Party, and Izvestiya ("News"), which was the official organ of the government.

These ironic names elicited a popular saying: "In Pravda there is no news, and in Izvestiya there is no truth."

Both of these publications still exist, though there are two versions of Pravda: one is still the Communist Party organ, and the other is just a Russian news website.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin published an article in the The New York Times arguing against an American strike on Syria to avenge gas attacks on Syrian civilians, Putin articulated many of the same arguments that most Americans already believed. Though Putin's article was obviously slanted, it was relatively tame, stating many obvious truths, and even co-opted conservative Republican language, ending with, "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

John McCain apparently saw Putin's article as a direct slap in the face, as it completely gutted every argument McCain had made for attacking Syria. McCain complained bitterly about the Times letting Putin speak to the American people, saying that Russian citizens don't have the right to criticize Putin in their own country.

So a Russian website took McCain up on that, and his article has now appeared in McCain's column ripped Putin a new one. Where Putin's article was a reasoned argument against American intervention in Syria and a call for peaceful decommissioning of Syria's weapons of mass destruction, McCain's article was a petty, personal diatribe against Putin. It had nothing to do with Syria, and made no case whatsoever for an American strike against Assad. McCain had to personally attack Putin because the Russian president dared criticize McCain's entire ethos of attacking any country that he feels like.

In the end, the publication of McCain's article showed that his main argument was false: people can criticize Putin in Russia. McCain only made himself sound like a maniacal blowhard, compared to Putin's smooth arguments calling for peace and reasoned cooperation. Which is bad, because many of McCain's criticisms of Russia are dead on. His pettiness discredits himself and the arguments he is  trying to make.

And it turns out McCain published his article in the wrong Pravda: it appeared on the website, not the Communist Party's Pravda. The editor of the Communist daily called "Oklahoma City Pravda." Not that it really matters, because the Communist Party no longer controls the Russian government: Putin's party is called United Russia, and holds more than 50% of the seats in the Duma. It's basically a collection of plutocrats bent on self-enrichment, rather than Communist ideologues who use the Party apparatus for self-enrichment. A subtle, yet important, difference.

What we have here is another example of John McCain's overweaning egomania. The only reason McCain was ever considered a "maverick" is that he has always felt the need to exact revenge from anyone he felt wronged him, even erstwhile political allies. For example, George Bush unfairly trashed McCain in the presidential primaries in 2000, so McCain got his revenge by cosponsoring the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law.

And how seriously did McCain take the whole Syria debate in the first place? Apparently, not very: he was playing poker on his iPhone during the Foreign Relations committee meeting on Syria.

All this shows that the American people really got it right when they rejected John McCain in 2008. This guy is egotistical, unbalanced and monomaniacally bent on attacking any country that crosses him. As president McCain would have gotten us back into Iraq, and he would have started three more wars in Libya, Iran and Syria. In short, he is the last guy you would want to have the nuclear football.

At this point, even die-hard Republicans have to agree that we almost literally dodged a bullet when Obama beat McCain in 2008.

Good Words

“Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.” ~John Adams, (“A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88))

Look To Your Right

If you look to your right, you will see that I have a new contact form on the site. This replaces the old email contact which got lost at the bottom of the page and I think disappeared for awhile when I went through my last redesign. I've had a few emails of late from people who don't want to comment but would like to send me information to share on the site if we so desire. Likely, there are others so this note will go directly to my email. Speaking of which...

I've had more than a few emails regarding my Neighborhood Mental Watch post from Tuesday. Interestingly, many of them told me that they already have community organizations like it in place where they live and have had them since Columbine. One email suggested that, rather than start a new organization, we should simply add it in to the already effective Neighborhood Watch program. After all the support George Zimmerman enjoyed in tracking suspicious characters, one would think that keeping an eye in mentally ill people with guns would spark a bipartisan bonanza of neighborhood vigilance, right?

It seems like it would be easier to take what the Lemmers did with their son and Pete Hoffmeister suggested we all do with troubled young men and fold it into the already existing USAonWatch program. Certainly, it would address the more common problem of gang violence in addition to shooting sprees. Our president sets a great example of what a community organizer can do so why not follow his lead?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Good Words

“The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”   ~1797 Treaty of Tripoli signed by John Adams

On Stiglitz: Part Eight

The next chapter in Stiglitz's book, The Price of Inequality, is called "The Battle of the Budget." Written around the time of the 2011 budge battle (see also: When the Right Lost the 2012 Election Due to Moonbattery), it's frustrating that in 2013 we are still having the same fight and have not progressed.

This budget brinksmanship obscured the real economic challenges facing the country: the immediate problem posed by the high level of unemployment and the gap between the economy's potential output and its actual output, and the long term problem of growing inequality. The brinksmanship shifted attention away from these fierce problems to the issues of deficit and debt reduction.

Stiglitz describes this shift as being caused by what he terms " debt and deficit feitishists." Ironic that these people ignored the actual causes of our debt and deficit and, instead, ascribed the cause to their emotional feelings (see: psychosis) about government spending. I'll get to spending later but as he notes correctly, the four main causes of our debt and deficit are: the Bush Tax Cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Medicare D (a huge rent for the drug companies) and the underperformance of the economy itself due to contraction. The figures for each of these causes are: $3.3 trillion dollars, $2.5 trillion dollars, $500 billion dollars, $900 billion dollars. Given that we have made some small improvements in the tax structure earlier this year, these numbers aren't quite as bad anymore but they still illustrate the need for improvement.

But we still have a fundamental and systemic problem with our tax structure. The people that contribute the least to our economy (the financial sector) are taxed at a ridiculously low rate for the amount of money they make. As Stiglitz notes, the lower tax rates on capital gains did not lead to higher, sustainable growth but rather, two speculative booms (1997, early 2000s) in the technology sector and the housing sector.

Bush argued successfully in 2003 for a (temporary) cut on the tax on dividends, to a maximum of 15 percent, less than half the rate paid by someone who receives a comparable income in the form of wages and salaries. The claim was that it would lead to more investment by firms in plant and equipment, but it didn't. Arguably, it may have had the opposite effect. Firms were, in effect, encouraged to pay out dividends while the tax rates were low, leaving fewer funds inside the corporation for a good investment project, should have turned up.

Stiglitz goes on to argue the need for stiffer taxes on rents and how we need to put more taxes on the toxic things in our economy. He makes a very interesting point that considering the fact that the financial sector nearly brought down the world economy, they are "polluters" and need to be taxed accordingly. For those of you unfamiliar with basic economic theory, taxing good things distorts markets and can do harm. Taxing bad things corrects the erosion of consumer surplus and inefficiency of markets due to the public expense of something like pollution. The public has born a great deal of expense as a result of the financial collapse and the people in those markets should be taxed at a higher rate.

In addition, the financial sector (along with many other sectors of our economy ), no longer need subsidies. It continually amazes me that the Right argues vociferously for less social welfare but wants corporate welfare to continue in earnest. The tax breaks we give to the multi-billion dollar oil industry are ridiculous.

So, Stiglitz has six action items in regards to our tax system'

1. Raise taxes on the people at the top
2. Eliminate loopholes and special treatment for upper incomes
3. Eliminate subsidies
4. Tax rents at higher rate
5. Tax pollution
6. Tax the financial sector similar to the ways we tax pollution given the costs they impose on the rest of society.

As I stated above, the deal on the budget reached earlier this year is a beginning down this path but it's not enough.

Now, seeing the word "tax" is sure to cause the mouth foamers' blood to rise. They will caterwaul and bloviate about how it hurts businesses and they won't hire people but they are pushing a myth, which is a polite way of saying they are lying, as Stiglitz notes on page 225. Suppose you own a business and calculate that hiring a worker will yield you a return of $100,000. $50,000 of that will go to costs the firm has to pay (including taxes, salary, other costs etc). This leaves a profit of $50,000. Now, you had to pay an extra tax of $2500 (5 percent) on that employee, would you still hire? Of course you would. Taxes don't prevent people from hiring if there is profit involved. What prevents people from hiring is a lack of demand (discussed many times on this site) which would push that $100,000 figure downwards. If they don't have the business coming through the door, they won't hire.

Moving past the issue of revenue, let's turn our attention to spending. Stiglitz argues for more spending to really get the economy going again. He dismisses the deficit/debt fetishes and notes...

The United States is an especially good position to pursue this strategy, both because returns to public investments are so high, as a result of underinvestment for a quarter of a century, and because it borrow so cheaply long term. Unfortuneately, especially among the Right (but, even, alas, among many in the center) deficit fetishism has gained ground. The ratings agencies-still trusted despite their incredibly bad performance in recent decades-have joined in the fray, downgrading US debt. But the test of the quality of debt is the risk premium that investors demand. As the book goes to press, there is a demand for US T-bills at interest rates near zero (and, in real terms, negative)

Exactly right. The fetishists don't get to determine the quality of our debt. The free market does. It simply isn't justified on the basis of economic principles. Stiglitz goes on to note that economic stimulus can be achieved through a long standing principle called the balanced budget multiplier (increasing taxes and expenditures simultaneously while taking care to not add any more to the current deficit). He argues that if this happens, GDP would increase two to three times the rate of spending. This growth would decrease the national debt over the intermediate term (pages 217-218).

But won't all this spending make us "like Greece?" No, says Stiglitz...and everyone else who doesn't let their emotions about spending dictate policy (side note: why is it that the Right cite power hungry human nature as the reason why people in the government should not be allowed to spend money yet believe, in the same head, that people are little angels when they make financial decisions privately?). Greece owes money in euros of which they have no direct control. US debt is in dollars and we control the printing presses. The idea that we would default is pure moonbattery. Sure, you'll hear bloviating about inflation but, again, the free market does not see that happening.

One can infer that both from the very low interest rate that the government has to pay on its long-term debt and even more from what it has to pay for inflation-protected bonds (or more accurately, the difference between the returns on ordinary bonds and inflation protected bonds). Now, the market could be wrong, but then the rating agencies giving a downgrade to the United States should have explained why the market was wrong, and why they believed that there is a much higher risk of inflation than the market believed. The answers have not been forthcoming.

Likely because it was politically motivated. The United States knows that the Fed will buy government bonds. Greece has no idea if the ECB will buy their bonds at all. Essentially what's going on here is that the adolescents are playing make believe and saying that there is less faith in the US government than there actually is. Considering they are big believers in the free market, this makes no sense to me.

Some other bits from the chapter...

Reagan supply side economics, which held that lowering tax rates would increase economic activity, so much so that tax revenues would actually increase, has (as we noted in chapter 3) been disproved by what happened after both the Bush and the Reagan era tax cuts.

Ah, but we should never let reality get in the way of a good fantasy, right?

No deficit reduction group suggested a frontal attack on corporate welfare and the hidden subsidies (including the financial sector) that we've stressed in this book, partly because the Right has succeeded in convincing many Americans that an attack on corporate welfare is "class warfare." 

Of course, when Reagan said it, it was okey-dokey.

Regarding Social Security and Medicare...

In the most hopeful scenarios, the Right would privatize both services. Privatization, of course, is based on yet another myth: that government run programs must be inefficient, and privatization accordingly must be better. In fact, the transaction costs of Social Security and Medicare are much, much lower than those of private sector providing comparable services. This should not come as a surprise. The objective of the private sector is to make profits-for private companies, transaction costs are a good thing; the difference between what they take in and what they pay out is what they want to maximize. 

Social Security and Medicare can be fixed quite easily with very simple adjustments phased in over time (increasing retirement age, means testing etc). Unfortunately, no one in Congress seem willing to move towards that end. Privatization is absolutely the wrong answer and we all know the real reason why the Right wants to get their hands on that money. As Stiglitz notes..

The agenda for privatization of Social Security was not about providing more money to America's retirees or more security or about increasing efficiency. It was about one thing only: providing more money to the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent-more money to Wall Street. The magnitudes involved are potentially enormous. Think of the $2.6 trillion in the Social Security Trust fund. If Wall Street could get just 1 percent per year for managing that money, that would be an extra bonanza for the managers of $26 billion dollars a year.

It's about as obvious as the smell of pig shit.

Stiglitz round out the chapter with a discussion of how the Right likes to blame the victim (in this case, the middle class) for our economic woes. Cuts in wages reduce economic demand so, again, it makes no sense to blame your average worker, especially considering how well the wealthy have done despite the contraction. On the last few pages of the chapter he offers a scathing indictment of austerity (pages 230-231) as well as an evisceration of the myth of the failed stimulus (page 232)., explaining in detail just how awful it would have been had we not had it and how the Obama administration failed to note just how deep the hole was that we dug ourselves.

He challenges anyone to find historical examples of austerity actually working in more than just rare cases in countries that are small and had trading partners experiencing a boom. He blows apart the myth of how a government budget should be like a household budget. Considering that the former can change the macro-economy and the latter counter, one would think the differences are obvious.

So, as this latest round of budget battles gets underway, Stiglitz is correct when he says government spending can be very effective. Funds directly spend on high productivity, structural reform, and basic infrastructure will increase productivity which will include an increase in demand. One need only look at examples from the past like Grand Coulee Dam or the current return on government investment in research to see that this is true.

(Note: the link to The Price of Inequality in the first line of this post takes you to where you can look inside and read the entire book and source material)


The Usual Malarky

The gun community and the Right are foaming at the mouth again about gun free zones after the Navy Yard shooting. As usual, they aren't really thinking. If they allowed anyone to carry a gun in a place like the Navy Yard, then guys like Aaron Alexis, a gun enthusiast with mental health problems, would have free access to roam around as they please. Further, Alexis was going in to kill people no matter what the state of defense in the Navy Yard. This was a very mentally disturbed man who was angry at his employer.

This military directive, issued in February 1992 under George HW Bush, explains the policy of the Department of Defense on Use of Deadly Force and the Carrying of Firearms by DoD Personnel Engaged in Law Enforcement and Security Duties. It is a very reasonable policy that makes perfect sense which is why the gun community hates it.

Speaking of making perfect sense, props to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for politely asking his customers to leave their guns at home. This comes on the heels of some gun supporters playing a role in "ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.” I guess there was an incident recently at the Newtown, Connecticut Starbucks. Man, these folks are all class. I love the first photo in the link that shows the woman working on her laptop next to the nutjobs.

Note that Mr. Schultz did not call for a ban on the premises of his stores which means people can still bring guns into Starbuck's. Essentially what he is saying is, "Hey, jack wagons, take your psycho elsewhere."

Good Words

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” ~John Adams, (“A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Neighborhood Mental Watch

As more information comes out about Aaron Alexis, it's becoming very clear that we, as a nation, are falling short in terms of mental health. Someone that hears voices should not be allowed to own firearms. Period. Yet, as is usually the case now with these shootings, the gun community is falling all over themselves to make sure that none of our nation's gun laws are changed in terms of mental health restrictions. Since we've seen the piles of dead children's bodies won't move them, this latest incident won't either. Further, the Bloombergs and Bradys of the world will be equally as impotent in bringing about change. So, it's time to turn the whole debate on its ear.

I propose bypassing civil law (for the most part) and creating private, community based organizations around the nation that keep an eye out for mentally unwell people and raise a red flag if they own firearms, specifically focusing on young men as they seem to fit the profile of these spree shooters. We can use Bill and Tricia Lemmers, along with suggestions from Peter Brown Hoffmeister, as the models for how to intervene in such situations. Think of it as a Neighborhood Mental Watch.

The structure could be set up in a similar way to MADD or DARE (so we would need to come up with a cool acronym...NMW doesn't really pop...any ideas?) juxtaposed with a local militia. The gun community has their views on militias being allowed to protect local communities. Fine. So will we. It will be staffed by mental health experts, community leaders, retired law enforcement officials, teachers, ministers, and other concerned citizens who will keep on eye out for the next Adam Lanza. Like George Zimmerman patrolling his community for thieves, the Neighborhood Mental Watch will be ever vigilant and seek to keep towns safe.

Perhaps it's time to admit that the gun community is correct. Police are inadequate in terms of providing protecting from criminals. So is the law. It's time to take matters into our own hands.

Good Words

"We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition… In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.” ~George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another Incident With Alexis

It looks like Aaron Alexis has a real problem with guns (see: not mentally fit to own one). Ah well, 12 people are dead. Who cares? At least there are plenty of other mentally unhealthy people that have their 2nd amendment rights protected by 12 year olds with massive insecurity complexes.


I wrote this over the weekend before the Navy Yard shooting and planned to post it tonight...

I'm trying to figure out what I hate more after the Colorado recall election of two state senators over their support for new gun safety laws: the usual bloviation from the gun community or the hand wringing from the left that gun control is dead. I think it's the latter.

It's always amazed me how opponents of the gun community (and other conservative causes) cower in the face of defeat. Maybe they should take a page out of the Right's playbook and lie, foam at the mouth, and scream that America is being raped. Nah, they can't do that...sensible people are too reflective and honest!

What they should do is realize that the recall election was actually a failure. They wanted to recall five senators but only got two. The Democrats still have the majority in Colorado. It's amusing that the "liberal media" is spinning this as a loss.

Further, the only thing now that is required in the Great Gun Debate is patience.  Eventually, we are going to see something like this  on a larger scale within the gun community and all this nonsense will be over. Likely, it will come from the area of mental health as it relates to gun ownership and gun rights groups themselves will be falling all over each other to pass the legislation.

Until it affects them personally, nothing will be done.

As of right now we know that Alexis was a military contractor and a gun enthusiast. He was arrested in 2010 on gun charges (firing his weapon within city limits in Fort Worth). So, how did he get the guns he used in today's shooting? And I thought that mass shooters don't attack gun full zones like a military base...

Shooting at the Navy Yard

There has been another shooting. Multiple gunmen. We don't know yet if it is home grown or international as of yet. We do that one of the shooters is dead  and is identified as Aaron Alexis. One or two others may be at large.

A House With No Rules

It's been pretty obvious for quite some time now that the Right in this country behave like adolescents, specifically 7th graders. Two of the four quarters every year, I amble over to the junior high and teach a block at that level in US History. It is truly remarkable how similar they are to conservatives' words and actions (see: blurting, temper tantrums, bullying, game playing) that I see in that class. Specifically, they have real problems behaving and following the rules they don't like.

This point was driven home recently be a discussion on FB with Reverend Jim. He and I are good friends and do see eye to eye on some issues of the day but he has fully bought into the American Taliban line of thought. Recall that the people calling themselves conservatives these days can be accurately characterized by the following characteristics
  • Ideological purity 
  • Compromise as weakness 
  • A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism 
  • Denying science 
  • Undeterred by facts 
  • Unmoved by new information 
  • Fear of progress 
  • Demonization of education 
  • Need to control women's bodies 
  • Severe xenophobia 
  • Intolerance of dissent 
  • Pathological hatred of government
One need only spend a few minutes exchanging views with a conservative today and it is clear this is the bedrock of their ideology. Stylistically, they use a wide range of logical fallacies to "prove" their point. Here is a handy one sheet that you can use as a checklist when talking with a conservative. I have found that their favorites are Appeal To Fear, Hasty Generalization, Ad Hominem, Appeal to Probability, Slippery Slope, and Misleading Vividness. They also employ other tactics that summed up most wonderfully by Cynthia Boaz.

Reverend Jim used many of these themes and styles in his assertion that religion was under attack by the state. Interestingly, he used the exact same examples that I have heard from other conservatives (wedding planners not accepting gay people etc). It's almost as if they get their news from the same source...hmmm...

Based on a couple of examples, religion was under attack everywhere...ahhh, the secular state...look out!!! (of course, the exact opposite is true). He employed DARVO and laughingly played the victim card. He seemingly threw out previous complaints about our country being too outraged at everything and became outraged himself (we hate in others what we fear in ourselves). He ignored the words of the founding fathers on the separation of church and state and proceeded to rewrite history. He took issue with a person's right to take to social media and other avenues to call out these businesses as prejudiced. Given his belief in the free market, this made no sense. He was adamant about taking away government power yet failed to realize that doing that would accomplish the exact opposite of what he desired: protection of the rights of the people. In short, he was completely irrational...just like a 7th grader.

The most glaring illustration of this was his disappointment that life wasn't fair and our system of justice isn't perfect. How many times have we told that to our teenagers? Very odd that we have to tell it to adults, especially ones that rail against self esteem culture and too much fairness.

Anyway, the discussion ended when I asked him to present his ideal, in terms of the law. If someone can turn someone away based on their religious beliefs, does that mean businesses can turn away women that aren't submissive? How about other beliefs? If I don't want black people coming in to my business, can I turn them away? Where do we draw the line? As of today, he has not yet responded.

At that point it occurred to me that the Right may not want to draw the line anywhere. One might think they would still like to have laws about murder and stealing. But given how much they love their guns and go into anaphylactic shock over financial regulation, it seems that they don't. Most conservatives take a dim view of police and think that people should just police themselves. Cops are slow and can't be counted on to get there on time. After all, nothing says civic justice like your local Oathkeeper. They have a direct line to what God intended to the law!!

Like the 12-13 year olds in my class, they want a house with no rules. In the same way they rebel against their parents and me, they only want to follow the laws they like which honestly seem like not very many. Like an adolescent that is told to be home by 10pm, they foam at the mouth about paying taxes and view it as stealing. Just like those same conversations with teenagers, the challenge is always the same: if you don't like it, leave. No one is keeping you prisoner here.

I used to think this way when I was their age. And then I grew up. They never did and they put the government in some sort of daddy-mommy role and then proceed to rebel against it, never taking into consideration that human nature is such that we do need laws otherwise people wouldn't behave themselves. The centerpiece of this is civil rights, the very foundation of our society. People should not be refused service because of the color of their skin, their gender, their physical and mental abilities, and their sexual orientation. We don't discriminate in this country. Period.

My entire conversation with Reverend Jim boiled down to his inability to accept the changes that were happening for the betterment of our society. We are constantly improving the way we treat people and that's exactly what we should be doing, especially if we consider ourselves a Christian nation. Jim doesn't get to decide who is better and who is worse in our country. No one does. That's why we have laws.

Maybe someday conservatives in this country will grow the fuck up and accept that simple fact.