Contributors

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Profile in Courage

The media tends to love talking about conservative activists like James O'Keefe, Bill Whittle or Erick Erickson  but they never really talk about the liberal ones like Zack Kopplin. Man, is he making life hell for the creationists down in Lousiana.

Encouraged by Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University — and a staunch critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute — Kopplin decided to write a letter that could be signed by Nobel laureate scientists in support of the repeal. To that end, he contacted Sir Harry Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Kroto helped him to draft the letter — one that has now been signed by 78 Nobel laureates.

I can't figure out why creationists and intelligent design folks aren't content with teaching their stuff in church. They can talk about how Jesus rode dinosaurs or whatever they want in there. Kopplin had gone after the voucher program as well.

School vouchers, he argues, unconstitutionally fund the teaching of creationism because many of the schools in these programs are private fundamentalist religious schools who are teaching creationism. "These schools have every right to teach whatever they want — no matter how much I disagree with it — as long as they are fully private," he says. "But when they take public money through vouchers, these schools need to be accountable to the public in the same way that public schools are and they must abide by the same rules."

Those rules being a strict adherence to the scientific method. There is nothing scientific about creationism.

"Creationism is not science, and shouldn't be in a public school science class — it's that simple," he says. "Often though, creationists do not, or are unwilling, to recognize this." Science, he argues, is observable, naturalistic, testable, falsifiable, and expandable — everything that creationism is not. But what also drives Kopplin is the inherent danger he sees in teaching creationism. 

"Creationism confuses students about the nature of science," he says. "If students don't understand the scientific method, and are taught that creationism is science, they will not be prepared to do work in genuine fields, especially not the biological sciences. We are hurting the chances of our students having jobs in science, and making discoveries that will change the world."

"We don't just deny evolution," he says, "We are denying climate change and vaccines and other mainstream science. I'm calling for a Second Giant Leap to change the perception of science in the world."

In the final analysis, this is really the crux of the problem. In an age of globalization. we can't afford a bunch of religious nonsense to interfere with our economic growth and security. Young men like Zack Kopplin give me a lot of hope that intelligence is alive and well in young people in the deep south and the time to put this assinine, anti science garbage behind us is yesterday.

Honestly, I thought we already did that in the Age of Enlightenment but I guess we still have a few stragglers:)

Gun Myth #3

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society. 

Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.

 • Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without. 

• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Long?

Man, here is some really fucked up paranoid shit... a United Nations-driven conspiracy to harness private property through rezoning and planned-use ordinances passed by local governments.

I wonder how long it will be before this now becomes mainstream on the Right, if it isn't already.

 

Gun Myth #2

Continuing on with the gun myths...

Myth #2: Guns don't kill people—people kill people. Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements.


























Sources: Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Robbing Peter to Teach Paul

There's a kid, call him Thomas, that costs a Minnesota school district $100,000 a year to educate. That's twice what it costs to go to Harvard. This kid is so violent that he has to be driven to school in his own personal bus, attended by an aide during the ride, and then he has to tutored by a teacher one-on-one, often assisted by another aide. And he needs a special classroom, all to himself, with a swing in it because he goes nuts if things are too still.

Special ed kids cost the states a ton of money. Because the laws mandate kids get the education they deserve, but don't give the schools enough funding to provide it, that means the money to teach special ed kids reduces the amount of money for other kids. That means schools have to fire tutors for kids who are less disabled but could do well with instruction in small groups, who would then have much higher chances of making it than the $100K kid. It also means increased class sizes for regular kids, perhaps making it less likely that they'll get into the college of their choice. That means librarians have to be fired. That means, frankly, that the majority of kids will suffer so that a tiny minority of kids like Thomas will a receive an education that will almost certainly fail to prepare them for anything resembling a normal and productive life.

Then there are charter schools, the darlings of the right. They often have special purposes (science, art, etc.) and receive special dispensations, so they often expel kids that cause trouble or aren't performing. This has been a problem around the country, including Washington D.C. and Minneapolis. Many of these charter schools are a haven from the mayhem that rules in many public schools, which have become dumping grounds for problem kids. That's great for the kids who can get into the charters. But again, it benefits a few kids at the expense of the majority.

It's good that we try to give kids like Thomas who got a bum deal some help. But at some point we have to perform some triage. Special ed is crushing many school districts. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Minnesota kids with autism spectrum disorders rose from 3,800 to 15,000. We're turning our schools into psychiatric care facilities, and it's just plain wrong.

Who's to blame? Liberals, for insisting that all kids get the education they need? Or conservatives, by making it harder for women to have access to birth control and abortion, and insisting that women on welfare get a job so they can't stay home and take care of their kids themselves? How much do the barriers conservatives erect for women's reproductive services increase the number of special-needs kids who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, drug addiction at birth, and severe birth defects?

The right is constantly hacking away at school budgets, interfering with the way schools are run, insisting on standardized tests that make schools facing massive challenges waste even more time teaching kids to pass the stupid tests, and No Child Left Behind constantly threatening to shut down these schools because so many of the kids dumped there by the charters are too hungry or too poor or too afflicted by ADHD and autism to pass those standardized tests.

And now they want to divert billions of dollars from real education by turning all our schools into armed camps to protect them from a few crazed gunmen who have easy access to guns because the NRA doesn't want to be burdened by universal background checks or magazine size limits.

Forcing one crack-addicted woman to bear a child that she doesn't want can wind up costing the welfare and education system literally millions of dollars over the child's school-age years, and then, when that kid "graduates" he'll go on public assistance and cost millions of dollars more.

I'm not suggesting some eugenics program to clean up the human race. I'm suggesting that the right get off its high horse and stop interfering with people's most intimate decisions, let women have unimpeded access to birth control and abortion, stop trying to stifle the free speech rights of doctors advising their patients of all their options, and let women decide the most responsible course for themselves and their families.

We should make sure that all pregnant women have access to prenatal health care, especially in the early stages, to prevent birth defects and other developmental disorders that cost so much later in life. That means money for women's health clinics like Planned Parenthood, who lost funding in Oklahoma for nutritional programs for pregnant women because of politics.

We should have preschool programs that identify and help kids with problems early on, perhaps saving millions of dollars in the long run.

Once kids are born we all have a moral obligation to help them. It's crazy to force a woman to bear a child and then throw them out on the street when she can't support the kid she never wanted.

All too often the right's ideological social dogmas run completely counter to their ideological budgetary dogmas. If we got rid of all the dogma we'd earn a lot more karma.

Gun Myth #1

Mother Jones recently put a list of gun myths that I'm going to spend the next few days highlighting. Before we get started, we should all remember the scientific method, critical thinking, and the definition of genetic fallacy:)

First up is that ol' chestnut "they's a comin' to git muh gun."

Myth #1: They're coming for your guns. Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it's clear there's no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you'll rest easy knowing that America's roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1. (Sources: Congressional Research Service, Small Arms Survey)

There isn't any feasible way to seize the guns that people own. I'd say it's nearly impossible given the numbers. So, when your strange uncle starts making strange comments about the government as Easter, just say, "79 to 1."

Monday, February 25, 2013

WAR

Two questions,

If war is natural, why are there hundreds of suicides amongst our military returning from the battle field? 

Do you think our military really fights for the interest of its citizens or the corporate interest that gain monetary profit from war? 

Consider this source and this source when answering the questions.

Their Own Worst Enemies

The Republican Party's biggest opponent is no longer the Democrats — it's the Republican Party.

One of the more notable rifts is between Karl Rove and the Tea Party Patriots. After Rove announced that he was going to make sure that candidates like Todd Akin would never happen again, the Patriots sent out an email portraying Rove as a Nazi (yeah, he does bear a passing resemblance to Heinrich Himmler if you put a mustache on him...). Newt Gingrich has entered the fray on the Tea Party side, because, well, who else would have him? Bobby Jindal made waves in January when he said that the Republicans had to stop being the stupid party.

Now the National Organization for Marriage is going after Branden Peterson, a Minnesota state senator, for cosponsoring a same-sex marriage bill.
“Republicans like Branden Petersen don’t realize that not only is voting to redefine marriage a terrible policy, it is also a career-ending vote for a Republican,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. “NOM will do everything in our power to defeat any Republican who votes in favor of same-sex marriage.”
This constant drive for ideological purity at any cost will be the death of the Republican Party long before the demographic shifts coming in the next decades. With gay marriage, the writing is on the wall: it's over, it's a done deal. Even Dick Cheney is just waiting for the dead-enders' last gasp.

The reason the Republican Party has a majority in the House of Representatives is that they have gerrymandered several states that Democrats win in presidential elections, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, and have concentrated all the Democrats in just a few districts, giving them 70, 80 and 90% majorities. Meanwhile, the Republican districts in those states have much smaller majorities, on the order of maybe 55 to 60%.

If the Tea Party succeeds in driving the Republicans further to the right, they're going to alienate suburban Republicans who have grown weary of the bickering over gay marriage, abortion, contraception, immigration reform and universal background checks for gun purchases. The small Republican majorities in those suburban districts could flip at any time. A relatively small exodus of well-to-do Democrats moving from the city to the suburbs, and continued population growth in the Sunbelt could flip even more districts from R to D in solid red states.

If the economy continues to improve and the internecine war between the Tea Party and old-guard Republicans continues, their numbers in the House could collapse as early as 2015 as the gerrymandering backfires.

And I don't like that at all, because when I first started out I was a Republican: the Democrats had a lock on everything in Minnesota, and it wasn't pretty. They had to get beat a bunch of times to straighten them out, and a repetition of that scenario nationwide won't be good for anyone.

The Republican Party needs to get its act together and start acting like a real political party, instead of a fanatical religion or a bunch of rabid British football hooligans.

Impressive

I saw two stories recently that are indicative of the kinds of steps that we need to take regarding gun safety. The first comes from Castle Rock, Colorado where policemen are now doing all their arrest reports and paperwork in school parking lots.

"The kids get to see us in a new light. We're not showing up after something bad has happened," said Sgt. Chris O'Neal of the Douglas County Sheriff's Department south of Denver. O'Neal spoke while filling out paperwork outside Fox Creek Elementary School — one of six schools he visits daily.

Every local community should adopt this standard at a minimum or, if possible, follow the lead of the Jordan, Minnesota police department and simply move all of their offices into the schools. Our school already has police officers  with fully functional offices and I honestly hope this is the direction we are heading.

In the final analysis, this problem is going to be solved at the local level. The federal government can only do so much and it's up to local communities to follow the example of Castle Rock and Jordan.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Good Words

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. (Adam Smith, 1776)

It's always amused me when conservatives bring up Adam Smith and point to him as the King of Unbridled Capitalism. As is usually the case, they miss the complexity.

Smith was firmly grounded in reality and recognized the dangers of special interests. He concluded that employers "always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages above their actual rate" and sometimes entered "into particular combinations to sink the wages even below this rate." He also condemned the deadening effects of division of labor and that's why he called for government intervention to raise workers' living standards.

So, while he was indeed the father of economic liberalism, he was decidedly not the cold-hearted capitalist that the Right will have you believe he was.



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Let It Happen

There are a whole lot of folks that are worried these days about the sequester. The cuts that are going to happen, they say, are going to be damaging to our country and Congress must reach a deal by March 1st. I say let it all happen.

In fact, let's see how our county does for a while when federal spending is significantly cut as it will be next Friday. We should operate with these new spending levels for at least six months to illustrate exactly what it means to make the cuts that the Right perpetually whines and cries over.  It's a big opportunity for the Ayn Rand worshipers out there to strut their stuff.

Let's see how a 16 trillion dollar economy does with minimal services. Have at it, people!

Best Picture: Lincoln

The last of the nine Best Pictures nominees is Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. To put it simply, it is a film made specifically for a 9th grade civics class. Contrary to what you might expect, this is not a bio pic. It is a story about how the 13th Amendment passed the House of Representatives in January of 1865....the actual way it passed, not the sanitized, history book version.

My only complaint of the film (similar to my beef with Django Unchained) is that it should have ended 20 minutes before it did. There is a fantastic moment when President Lincoln puts on his hat and walks off down the hallway of the White House residence to go to the theater. His butler watches him go and....the film goes on. We see his son's reaction to the news of his father being shot and a massive historical inaccuracy when they lay him out on the bed at the Petersen House and he fits in the frame! No doubt, Hollywood needs to learn how to end a film.

Yet, the performances of dazzling. Of course, Daniel Day Lewis is amazing but we expect that from him, right? The true diamond in the rough in this picture is Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens. A remarkable portrayal, to be sure, but interestingly accurate. Stevens was a true intellect with a sharp wit, relying on both to carry through whatever legislation he supported. It is worth the price of admission just for his performance.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Best Picture: Argo

Even thought I knew exactly what was going to happen in Ben Afleck's Argo, I was still on the edge of my seat for the entire two hours. The film is positively riveting as it relates the story of how a few people from the American consulate in Iran in 1979 made it to safety in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Yes, the film does take some liberties with events as they happened but this is a work of fiction, after all, based on real events.

I've enjoyed watching Ben Afleck's career trajectory over the years. The Town saw some real growth after Good Will Hunting and Argo shows he continues to mature.



O.J. II: the Pistorius Edition

The shooting of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius on Valentine's Day is garnering world-wide attention, and it's no wonder: it pushes every button.

First, there's the "modern miracle" button. The author of nearly every story I've ever read about this case feels duty-bound to mention that Pistorious is a double-amputee Olympian. The fact that he uses modern technology to accomplish what most of us do on a daily basis is no longer newsworthy. It would be like mentioning in every story about Nicole Simpson's murder that O.J. Simpson was severely near-sighted and only able to play professional football because of technologically advanced hydrophilic contact lenses. (I don't know if Simpson wore contacts -- it's just a hypothetical.)

Speaking of O.J., this is the Simpson case all over again. Renowned athlete kills girlfriend. Incompetent police detectives botch initial stages of investigation. Fortunately we'll be spared a jury trial that makes a nation scream about nullification and berate black jurors -- South Africa does not have jury trials for criminal cases.

Next button: prosecutorial overreach. It is preposterous for prosecutors to claim that the murder was premeditated because Pistorius walked seven meters with a gun. The evidence presented at the initial hearing supports manslaughter or second-degree murder at best (domestic argument turns into murder). The reason they jacked up the charges is because they wanted to deny Pistorius bail, for fear that he'll flee the country (which is not an unreasonable fear -- his job takes him out of the country constantly, and the guy can run really fast). Now, if it turns that Pistorius told the workman who left the ladder leaning against his bathroom window to knock off work early, providing a rationale for why he would be shooting blindly into the bathroom, then the case for premeditation gets a whole lot better. But as long as Pistorius has to surrender his passport and running blades, his ability to flee should be sufficiently reduced.

Next button: scary black dude. Pistorius says he mistook his blonde white girlfriend for a scary black dude -- a scary black dude that he never saw. It's not clear what Steenkamp was doing in the bathroom that set Pistorius off. Was she taking a huge steaming dump that made the whole house smell like a Soweto slum? Did she pass gas with such amazing volume that made Pistorius believe only a huge home intruder could have possibly made such a trumpeting blast?

Next button: shoot first, ask questions later. This is the inherent problem with guns in the home, and it happens all the time. Last December a Minnesota a pastor shot his granddaughter out on the patio. He has since been charged with intentional discharge of a firearm and endangering safety. I don't know if South Africa has a such a law, but shooting blindly into a bathroom door without making any attempt at all to find out who is in there is a reckless and dangerous act, worthy of a charge of criminally negligent involuntary manslaughter at a minimum.  Pistorius claims he thought someone might have been in the bathroom because a workman left a ladder leaning against the house. This is like killing a pedestrian while roaring down a residential street at 100 miles an hour because you thought you heard a car chasing you, and you saw one parked alongside the road a mile back.

Next button: destruction of forensic evidence.  Pistorius claims he shot Steenkamp through the door without his prosthetic legs. The prosecution says Pistorius put on the prosthetics first and then fired. Forensic examination of the door should provide some evidence along these lines: one assumes that Pistorius is somewhat taller in prosthetics. So, did he break the door apart to hide that fact? Maybe things are different in South Africa, but in every American home I've been in, bathroom doors can be unlocked from the outside with a safety pin or paper clip. Did he really need a cricket bat to break down the door? Pistorius also picked Steenkamp up and carried her downstairs "to render assistance." Was that after he took the time to put on his prosthetics? After he called for an ambulance, ignoring the two iPhones in the bathroom and two Blackberries in the bedroom? The last thing I'd want to do is carry an injured person around -- the most important thing to do is stop the bleeding and get paramedics on the scene ASAP. Isn't the bathroom where you keep bandages, gauze pads and tape that you'd use to stop the bleeding?

Next button: incessant weeping. Man, is Pistorius a crybaby. Every story about Pistorius' hearing mentions how he is constantly bawling. Right after he shot Steenkamp Pistorius whimpered on the phone. He wailed at press conferences. He wept during the hearings. I suppose it's better than looking like a stone-faced sociopath, but come on. He's supposed to be a tough guy who overcame such adversity, a swaggering macho gun nut who had applied for six more gun licenses three weeks before shooting Steenkamp (his first application, five years ago, was rejected). Is the crying all an act, or is this guy really that emotionally unbalanced and overwrought, maybe strung out on steroids or some other kind of drugs? Doesn't it seem quite possible that such an emotional person would snap and shoot his girlfriend? Is his excessive emotionalism why his application for a gun license was initially denied? (It requires three character references, including a neighbor and a relative.)

At this point it's impossible to know for sure whether Pistorius is lying or telling the truth. If he's lying, is he a self-promoting celebrity stone-cold killer and cynical manipulator, or a hot-head who just can't stop bawling? If he's telling the truth, is he a puling coward or a hair-trigger menace to society?

In the end Oscar Pistorius is the perfect cautionary tale against the all-guns all-the-time mindset of the NRA.

Chuck Hagel, An Honorable Republican

Chuck Hagel’s Record: Myths and Facts

Myth # 1: Senator Hagel is not supportive of Israel

Fact: Senator Hagel is a strong supporter of Israel, and he has worked throughout his career to strengthen Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Hagel’s support has been well documented in his Senate floor speeches, opinion pieces, interviews, public speeches and 2008 book.

In January 2013, Danny Ayalon, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that, “I know Hagel personally. When I was ambassador in Washington, we had many meetings. I cannot say that we agreed on everything, but he was a decent and fair interlocutor and you can reason with him. I think he believes in the relationship, in the natural partnership between Israel and the United States.”

As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel voted consistently to support Israel – including voting to provide nearly $40 billion in military and security assistance over the 12 years he served in the Senate.

In his 2008 book, Hagel wrote that “there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense.” Hagel also wrote that there can be no compromise on Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.

He has said the United States is committed to Israel’s security, that Israel has an “undeniable” right to defend itself against aggression, and that the security of its borders is non-negotiable.
He has strongly supported a two-state solution and has opposed any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

Myth #2: Senator Hagel is soft on Iran

Facts: Senator Hagel is committed to President Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He believes that all options must be on the table – including military options – to achieve that goal. Hagel strongly supports the unprecedented sanctions the international community has imposed on Iran under the leadership of the Obama administration the toughest sanctions ever put on the regime.

In September 2012, Senator Hagel wrote in a joint op-ed with Admiral William Fallon, Congressman Lee Hamilton, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and General Anthony Zinni that, “Our position is fully consistent with the policy of presidents for more than a decade of keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force, thereby increasing pressure on Iran while working toward a political solution.”
Hagel recently called on the United States to “keep ratcheting up sanctions” on Iran to further increase pressure, while keeping the military option on the table.

While in the Senate, Hagel supported tough sanctions on Iran through the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act of 1997, the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and the Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006. These measures punished entities that assist Iran in developing or acquiring nuclear, biological, chemical weapons, or ballistic missiles.

Hagel is clear-eyed about the Iranian government’s destabilizing activities in the region. He has said that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that it provides material support to the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

He also co-sponsored legislation in the Senate condemning Iran’s arrest of members of its Jewish community and called for their release.

Myth # 3: Senator Hagel has been soft on Hezbollah and Hamas

Facts: Senator Hagel has been clear that Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations that
pose a threat to Israel, the stability of the Middle East, and the United States.

Hagel has condemned Iran’s support of the terrorist group Hezbollah and has said that Hezbollah poses a direct threat to Israel, Lebanon, and to peace in the Middle East.

Hagel co-sponsored resolutions in the Senate calling on Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

He also co-sponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which urged the international community to withhold support from Hamas until it agreed to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm and accept prior agreements. The lead sponsor of that legislation was Senator Mitch McConnell, and other co-sponsors included Senators Harry Reid and Joe Biden.

As an active member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Hagel helped bolster U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East.

Myth #4: Senator Hagel opposes LGBT rights

Facts: Like many leaders of his generation, Senator Hagel’s views on LGBT issues have evolved over the past two decades. He has clearly stated that he is fully supportive of gay and lesbian men and women serving openly in the United States military, and he is committed to a full implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the Department of Defense.

Michael Guest, an openly gay career Foreign Service officer who served as ambassador to Romania from 2001 to 2004 and worked with Hagel, said, “He was true to his word. And if Hagel says he would fully implement the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I take him at his word.”

Senator Hagel said he was wrong and apologized to former Ambassador James Hormel and to the LGBT community for comments he made in the 1990s. Hagel said, “My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

In response, Ambassador Hormel said, “Senator Hagel’s apology is significant – I can’t remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted – perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.”

Human Rights Campaign’s President Chad Griffin said, “Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Myth #5: Senator Hagel would weaken our nuclear deterrent

Facts: Senator Hagel believes it is in the interest of the United States and mankind to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons – a goal that is squarely in line with the vision President Obama outlined in his 2009 speech in Prague. At the same time, Senator Hagel has always believed that as long as nuclear threats exist, the United States must maintain a strong and ready nuclear arsenal.

In his 2008 book, Hagel wrote that “the world would be far more secure if no one had nuclear weapons, or, at the very least, no new nations joined the nuclear club. We must work closely with our allies and world institutions to make every effort to ensure that this club does not grow.”

As a Senator from Nebraska, where headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command is located, he developed a keen understanding of the critical importance of fielding a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.
Hagel joined President Obama in strongly supporting Senate ratification of the New START Treaty, which had the unanimous support of America’s military leadership and was endorsed by six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense, and three former national security advisers – both Republicans and Democrats.

In a 2010 Washington Post op-ed, Hagel, along with former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright and Senator Gary Hart, argued that New START“strengthens international efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, and it opens the door to progress on further critical nonproliferation efforts, such as reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons.”

Hagel understands the complexities of nuclear security issues. He served on the Secretary of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future co-chaired by General Brent Scowcroft and Congressman Lee Hamilton.

Myth #6: Senator Hagel would gut the defense budget

Facts: Senator Hagel has always believed that we should never take any steps that would weaken America’s national security,and he strongly opposes the automatic, across-the-board defense cuts that would be imposed under sequestration. His entire career has been predicated on the belief that the security of this nation is the government’s highest priority.

Senator Hagel consistently voted for increases in the defense budget and the size of the armed forces in order to meet the demands of the post-9/11 conflicts.

Like Secretaries of Defense Panetta and Gates, Hagel believes that the Department of Defense must do its part to help the nation address its deficit problem, while at the same time maintaining our military as the strongest fighting force in the world.

In a 2011 interview, Senator Hagel said that the Pentagon needed to reduce excess spending and look at itself critically and strategically – which is exactly the process the Department undertook in developing the new defense strategy, announced by President Obama with the full support of the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon in January 2012.

Myth #7: Senator Hagel lacks management experience

Facts: Senator Hagel has extensive government, corporate and non-profit experience that has
prepared him well to be Secretary of Defense and to lead a large and complex organization.

He served in the United States Army in 1967 and 1968, volunteering for service in Vietnam in 1968.

In the Reagan administration, Hagel was the number two official in the federal government’s second largest agency when he served as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration – helping to lead and manage 250,000 VA employees.

Hagel co-founded Vanguard Cellular Systems, which became a publicly traded company and was one of the largest independent cellular systems in the country.

Hagel served as President and CEO of the World United Service Organizations (USO), which supports military service members and military families worldwide, and led two nonprofit organizations as President and CEO of the Private Sector Council and Chairman of the Atlantic Council

Additional business, nonprofit and government management positions include serving as Co-Chair of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board; Chairman of the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration Advisory Committee; Chief Operating Officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit) in Houston, Texas; Manager of Government Affairs for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company; and President of an Omaha investment bank. 

Good Words

I think the idea of background checks across the board, I'm not opposed to them. I disagree with people who say that this is going to be the first step to gun registration, which leads to gun confiscation.

---(Republican Representative Joe Heck from Nevada)

And the tide continues to turn...






























Yes, they are (see: should be) committed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Here's to a New Depth!

Two things happened after I watched this clip. First, my respect for John McCain has gone back up again. Second, my level of disgust for the Right has achieved a new depth that I didn't think was possible.

 

They'll Never Back Down From Fiction

The last few years have seen me shocked and amazed at the lies the Right will believe. I suppose they have to because they have nothing else left. Of course, being pompous, stubborn and filled with biblical levels of pride works against them constantly. The recent flap over Chuck Hagel and the Friends of Hamas show that they completed their descent into utter madness and are now incapable of distinguishing reality from fiction.

The whole thing started with the New York Daily News’ Dan Friedman.

On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed? Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the “Junior League of Hezbollah, in France”? And: What about “Friends of Hamas”? 

The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them. 

 Or so I thought.

The next day, the right wing blogsphere, hyper focused on trying to "win" on something, exploded. Ben Shaprio at Brietbart put out a story that Chuck Hagel spoke at a Friends of Hamas event and got 25,000 dollars. When it came out that Friends of Hamas did not exist, Shapiro said the following.

The story as reported is correct. Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure.

Uh....huh? Talk about Newspeak! But this is illustrative of a much larger problem.

The Right is filled with such a titanic level of hubris that they simply can't admit when they get something wrong. There is no such organization as "Friends of Hamas" in reality but, inside the bubble, somehow, there is such a group and, by gum, Chuck Hagel spoke at their event because we want to WIN DAMMIT!!!

Of course, it doesn't stop there. Now Shapiro and the rest of the asshats at Brietbart are attacking anyone trying to get them to admit their mistake. Hmm...sounds awfully familiar...:) And he and the rest of his merry band are doing the "just release all the records" dance like the good little liars that they are.

Oh well. I guess I can't take comfort in the fact that if this sort of insanity continues, we'll take back the House in 2014.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Best Picture: Life of Pi

My daughter and I went to see Life of Pi a few months back and both of us were very, very moved by this inspiring story. I remember several points throughout the film looking over at her and watching her face run the full range of emotions...wonder...terror...sadness...joy....intellectual satisfaction...all of these are present in this amazing film.

The films tells the story of Pi Patel, first in his quest to know God and become a devotee of all religions and then in his fight to survive after the ship he is on sinks, killing his entire family. We left the film with many, many things to talk about. My daughter thought it was amazing that he was a  Hindu, Christian and a Muslim at the same time. Pi, in the movie, explains this.

"I just wanted to be as close to God as possible."

She was very moved by his spiritual quest.

The rest of his journey across the ocean is filled with adventure and suspense coupled with that innate, human characteristic to survive at all costs. Life of Pi is definitely one of the best of the nine films that have been nominated for Best Picture.




Republican War on Women Continues Unabated

A Republican-backed bill introduced in the North Carolina legislature would make exposing "the nipple, or any portion of the aureola, of the female breast" a crime punishable by up to six months in prison for a first offense. This bill is a direct response to topless women's equality protests that had been held in Asheville, NC in 2011 and 2012. In other words, it's a blatant attempt to criminalize a form of political statement that applies only to women.

Why are Republicans so afraid of titties? Why is an exposed breast so much more dangerous than  carrying a loaded weapon in public? In the last year tens of thousands of people have died from gun violence, but there are apparently no deaths caused by bared breasts. (Though there is that case from 1998 where a Florida man claimed he got whiplash from a stripper with 60-HH breasts who tit-slapped him upside the head.)

I can see passing a law that prohibits the exposure of hairy manboobs out of concern for the sanity of anyone who might see such a horror. But under this law such a man could freely flaunt  his grotesquely huge mammaries in public, while a slender woman with far smaller breasts would go to jail. A simple nipple slip could land a mother breastfeeding her child in the slammer for 30 days. A young woman flashing her breasts during Mardi Gras could go to prison for six months.

Are Republicans in North Carolina completely oblivious to the realities of modern life? Any 10-year-old boy can find countless naked breasts to ogle just by doing an image search on the Internet. Go into any art museum and you'll find numerous paintings and statues of the naked female form. Go to the library and dig through back issues of National Geographic and you'll find pictures of topless African and South American indigenes.

This is exactly the same Taliban mindset that kept Afghan girls out of schools, prevents women in Saudi Arabia from driving and forces women in some Muslim countries to wear head-to-toe chadors. This kind of thinking blames women for "inciting" lust in men, but it is in fact men who are incapable of controlling their basest impulses and want to blame and hurt those who they feel are tempting them.

By stigmatizing the female body as indecent they're programming their children to think that women are somehow unworthy and inferior. Half those kids will have breasts when they grow up, and -- I presume -- these Republican lawmakers will want the other half to marry someone who has breasts. And as any parent should know, they more you try to keep things away from kids, the more they want the forbidden fruit. So it's ultimately counterproductive.

Sadly, it's not at all surprising that this happened in North Carolina. They, like several other conservative states, passed a law that required invasive vaginal ultrasound probes before having an abortion. And last year Steven Colbert mocked the state for outlawing science when they passed a law that banned the sea level rise that's occurring due to higher ocean temperatures.

There's an old saw, usually attributed to Mark Twain, that goes, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." It needs to be updated to, "No woman's freedom, body and privacy are safe while Republicans control the legislature."

Indeed, David

David Frum's recent piece on guns is simply brilliant. He's right. The president does need a Plan B. What should that be?

First: The president can direct the surgeon general to compile a scientific study of the health effect of individual gun ownership.

The second step that might be taken -- again without the need for any congressional vote -- is for the Senate to convene hearings into the practices of the gun industry analogous to those it convened into the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

Agree and agree.

Actually, we need more than just one scientific study on the health effects of guns. As Frum notes in an earlier piece, there's a whole lot of lying going on. And bad social science. This jibes with a recent article from the Christian Science Monitor that illustrates, despite the convoluted bullshit from the Right, there is very little date to support the assertion that guns make us safer.

As a 2012 Congressional Research Service report on gun issues points out, law enforcement agencies do not collect self-defense information as a matter of course, and the available research thus depends on limited numbers of surveys and other self-reported information.

That's why Frum points out the obvious in his comment regarding Gayle Trotter's testimony before Congress.

Thrilling. Also wholly imaginary. Such Rambo-like defenses of home and hearth do not happen in real life, unless the home also happens to contain a meth lab. (The oft-cited statistic that gun owners draw in self-defense 2.5 million times a year is a classic of bad social science.)

Yes, managing a fantasy. These types of situations are pure fantasy but that certainly won't stop the right wing media industrial complex from brainwashing their all to willing followers whose brains are already hard wired for more fear. So, we need to fucking bury them in scientific studies that show the effects that guns have on public health.

The other important step is to unfuck the gun makers.

Gun makers often design their weapons in ways that present no benefit for lawful users but that greatly assist criminals. They don't coordinate the issuance of serial numbers so that each gun can be identified with certainty. They stamp serial numbers in places where they can be effaced. 

They reject police requests to etch barrels to uniquely mark each cartridge fired by a particular gun. They sell bullets that can pierce police armor. 

They will not include trigger locks and other child-proofing devices as standard equipment. 

They ignore new technology that would render guns inoperable by anyone except their approved purchaser. 

Why? Why? And why?

Seriously, WTF, gun manufacturers? I had no idea that any of this was happening.

Frum's piece draws an important comparison with the cigarette industry and I think we may be seeing the nascence of a very effective way to deal with gun violence in this country. If we do to the gun manufacturers what we did the tobacco lobby, we're going to reduce the gun violence in this country. If we combine that with dealing with mental health more effectively, it's going to make for an even further reduction in gun related deaths.





















The obvious being completely lost on them...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chinese Cyberwar against US Heating Up

China now appears to be waging all-out warfare against the United States in the technology arena. Mandiant Corporation has analyzed cyber attacks on American companies and have determined that many of them originated in a Shanghai office building owned by the People's Liberation Army. Not only have they infiltrated high-tech companies, critical infrastructure like dams and the power grid, they've gone after companies like Coca-Cola to get information about business deals in the works. Thus, any American company is at risk.

Not long ago it was discovered that Chinese hackers had been going after The New York Times to learn the identities of sources who told the Time about the Chinese prime minister's relatives accumulating billions of dollars through questionable business dealings.

And the Financial Times reports that Shane Todd, an American engineer working in China, may have been murdered after he became concerned about the advanced gallium nitride technology (useful for military communications technology) he was working on would fall into the hands of the Chinese military.

The technique used in many of these infiltrations involve "spear-phishing" attacks, in which an email is sent to an employee containing an attachment or link, which contains some kind of Trojan horse that allows the attacker to gain access to the company's network.

Which raises the question: why do these government and corporate email systems even allow attachments on emails? And why do companies allow employees to access unknown web sites from computers on their internal networks? And why are people foolish enough to open said attachments and visit said links in the first place?

These techniques aren't used just by Chinese army hackers, they're also used by criminals trying to steal your bank account information. So everyone, not just corporate and government employees, needs to understand the risks of attachments and links.

A big part of the problem is the "easy and automatic" mindset that has possessed software developers since Apple first implemented the auto-execute floppy disk that allowed viruses to propagate simply by plugging a floppy disk into a drive. It's only gotten worse with ubiquitous USB flash drives (all made in China, by the way) and web browsers that automatically launch applications and documents at the click of a mouse button.

Operating systems like Windows Vista and 7 have some safeguards, such as bringing up an extra dialog that force you to enter an administrator password when an application is about to modify the system. But since users are inundated constantly by such prompts for regular software updates, they always just click Yes because they have no idea what they're supposed to do.

There are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
  • Never directly click on links in unsolicited emails -- even from people you think you know. That friendly note and the link to the hilarious video may have been sent by a virus that infected your friend's computer, and going to that website may infect your computer as well.
  • Never directly execute attachments in emails or from the Internet. Always save them in quarantine directory until you've ascertained their reliability.
  • Make sure that your computer installs security updates on a regular basis.
  • Get anti-virus software and make sure it stays up to date.
  • Just because your anti-virus software doesn't flag a file doesn't mean it's safe. Anti-virus software works by searching for patterns of known threats, and new malware won't be in the anti-virus program's database. Some day a clever programmer will write a virus that "mutates" every time it propagates, and there will be no pattern for anti-virus programs to detect. You should assume that has already occurred.
  • Change your computer's settings to prevent the automatic execution of "autorun" files on removable media such as CDROMs, floppies, USB thumb drives, etc. In Windows 7 go to your Control Panel and click AutoPlay. I've set all my devices to take no action so I have to initiate potentially dangerous transactions. Also, don't double-click the icons of CDROMs since under some versions of Windows that will invoke the autorun feature.
  • Whenever you click a link on the web, first hover the mouse button over the link and look at the website's URL, usually displayed at the bottom of the browser window. If it's not what you expect, take extra care. Hackers frequently use domain names that are close to legitimate ones, so be on the lookout for extra characters or misspellings. Automatically distrust all "bit.ly" links.
  • Don't send friends emails containing unsolicited jokes, links to funny videos or cute pictures, or attachments including photos and videos. Sending large attachments is an imposition in the first place, as the receiver will have to download them. If you want to share files, it's better to place them on a shared and trusted location on the web, such as Facebook or Dropbox. If attachments and links are rare in emails the bad ones will be easier to spot.
  • An most importantly: if something pops up and you're not sure what it is, stop, read it carefully and don't let it run. If you don't know what it is, you probably don't need it.
The People's Liberation Army isn't out to hack all our computers, but if you assume it is, you'll have a better chance of keeping the Russian mafia out of your bank account.

Best Picture: Amour

I've seen some pretty depressing films in my time (Melancholia being the winner of that particular award) but I have to admit that I wasn't quite prepared for the stark realism of Michael Heneke's Amour.

The film tells the story of an elderly Parisian couple named Georges and Anne. One day, Anne has a stroke and becomes mentally and physically disabled. Georges now must take care of her. In a deeply sad way, the film depicts her slow descent into infirmity and, ultimately, death.

With its typical European existentialism, Amour moves slowly in both theme and style. The camera lingers without a cut on many shots much longer than it seems it should but that is Heneke's point. He successfully illustrates the physical, mental and emotional strain of end of life care. It's a tough film to watch for a number of reasons but well worth it as I walked out of there realizing that my wife and I are woefully behind in our later life planning.

I'd recommend Amour only if you are prepared to watch a slow and maudlin film.


Science!

I've always thought that conservatives are simply wired differently than liberals. Now we have the proof, courtesy of...

(drum roll please)

Science!

Conservatives Big on Fear, Brain Study Finds

I suppose we could simply file this one under NO SHIT but the details of this study are quite fascinating.

Peering inside the brain with MRI scans, researchers at University College London found that self-described conservative students had a larger amygdala than liberals. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety. Liberals had more gray matter at least in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that helps people cope with complexity.

Yep.

This would be why conservatives are so hard to understand by other people. Their fight or flight reflexes are at DEFCON 1 more often than not. It must really suck to be in such a state all the time. It's no wonder they are such assholes about everything! This study also shows why they have such a difficult time understanding more complex issues and have trouble with qualitative analysis. They simply don't have the brain matter to handle it.

In many ways, this study is a relief. Now we truly do know that conservative will never change their minds. They physically can't!

Monday, February 18, 2013


Why Did Mindy McCready Still Have a Gun?

Yesterday former country star Mindy McCready committed suicide by shooting herself in the head. She had attempted suicide at least three times since 2005. Just last month David Wilson, her boyfriend and the father of their nine-month-old child, shot himself in the head. McCready apparently killed Wilson's dog before shooting herself.

McCready had a long history of drug abuse and alcoholism, arrest for fraudulently obtaining prescription medications, probation violation, and misdemeanor assault. She had been in "Celebrity Rehab 3," and is the fifth participant in the show to die and the third from season three alone.

McCready had a long-running custody dispute with her mother, who undoubtedly feared for the lives of her grandchildren — it is not uncommon for suicidal people to kill their children, spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends before taking their own lives. McCready had just regained custody of her son Zander in December. Thankfully, McCready just killed a dog.

You're twice as likely to die of gun suicide than you are to be shot by someone else. In 2010 20,000 of the approximately 30,000 gun deaths in the United States were suicides:
Guns are particularly lethal. Suicidal acts with guns are fatal in 85 percent of cases, while those with pills are fatal in just 2 percent of cases, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
Gun suicides accounted for half of the 38,000 successful suicides in 2010. Poisoning and suffocation each accounted for about a quarter, but those methods are much less effective. There are an estimated 11 suicide attempts for every successful one, though this statistic is tricky to compute because not all attempts are reported. The risk of suicide is three times higher in homes with guns than it is in homes without.


The question is, why did McCready still have a gun? And would the NRA and the Republican Party defend her right to have one? Why doesn't the "pro-life" Republican Party's demand that people in such a tenuous mental state have their weapons confiscated not just for their own safety, but especially for the safety of their loved ones?



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ah, Macca...


299

One of my great joys on Sunday is to crack open the paper and have a nice, long and leisurely read. Today, though, there was nothing pleasant about this headline.

Appeals of denied permits get guns into questionable hands

Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Toni Beitz said the reason for some reversals is that the carry-permit law puts a high burden on a sheriff to prove that someone shouldn't be issued a permit. Under the carry-permit statute, for example, criminal allegations that are not investigated and documented aren't grounds for denial. "The statute is very limited as to what evidence the sheriff can look at. He's got a very short period of time, and there's only a very narrow room for him to use discretion," Beitz said. "That was the big shift when it used to be in the hands of chiefs of police. They had a lot of discretion to look at maybe whatever they wanted to look at."

Interesting. So, the gun lobby, who was spent the last couple of years screaming at the top of their lungs about gun walking, is now essentially doing the same thing. In their fervent zeal over their warped interpretation of the second amendment, 299 people who have a criminal history get to have guns in my home state.

Perhaps they should heed their own warnings about laws and unintended consequences.

Praying For His Death

Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal made me think about Voltaire again. In an email to supporters, O'Neal wrote

At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president! Look it up — it is word for word! Let us all bow our heads and pray. Brothers and Sisters, can I get an AMEN? AMEN!!!!!!

and then recommended Psalm 109:8 which reads

Let his days be few; and let another take his office

This verse is followed by this, in Psalm 109:9

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 

As Volatire astutely noted, religious intolerance always leads to fanaticism and savage, inhuman action.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook

Just got back from a matinee with the missus and we saw the absolutely wonderful Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man released from a mental institution for beating the crap out of his wife's lover after discovering them in the shower together. Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman who lost her husband in an automobile accident. The two end up finding each other in their mental and emotional challenges and, of course, love.

In addition to capturing Philadelphia's culture perfectly, the focus on mental health and how it affects people's lives is most welcome. There are several points in the film that drive home how complex this problem is and how each family struggles with it in their own unique way. There need to be more films like this so our culture can see that there is no stigma to mental health issues. Everyone has them and seeking to be more mentally healthy is something that should be vigorously pursued throughout one's lifespan.


 

Everything is the Holocaust

So, in addition to any changes in gun laws being like the Holocaust, I guess we can add Obamacare to the whole "Jews being taken away on trains" meme.

The insurance companies are creating their own tombs. Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange. Several years from now, the federal government will want nothing to do with private insurance companies. The feds will have a national system of health insurance and they will pull the trigger on the insurance companies.

Yes, and then the anal probes will begin with the express purpose of building a warrior race to enslave us all.

And take away our guns.

Relatively Inelastic Demand Curve


Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Do Meteors Like Siberia So Much?

Earlier today a meteorite exploded over Siberia, near the city of Chelyabinsk. The meteorite, called a bolide, was captured on cell phones and video cameras by numerous observers, many of whom immediately uploaded their videos to YouTube.

The explosion caused an intense flash of light, a loud boom and a shock wave that broke windows over a large area. More than a thousand people were injured, mostly by broken glass caused by the explosion's shockwave, as they rushed to see what caused the flash.

The Chelyabinsk event calls to mind the Tunguska explosion of 1908. That meteorite flattened all the trees in 770 square-mile area. People have theorized all sorts of causes for the Tunguska incident, from mini black holes to alien spacecraft. But as the Chelyabinsk event shows, the most likely explanation is just a larger bolide, estimated to be 100 meters across.

So why do meteorites like Siberia? It's big. Siberia covers almost 10% of the earth's land surface. It's 77% of Russia's territory, and also includes parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China.

It's estimated that the Chelyabinsk bolide was the size of an SUV, just a few tons. A bolide is a meteorite that explodes in the atmosphere with an apparent magnitude of -14 or brighter. Apparent magnitude is an astronomical term that describes the relative brightness of celestial objects. Magnitude is a logarithmic scale, and negative numbers are brighter. The sun as seen from Earth is about magnitude -27, or 400,000 times brighter than the full moon, which is almost magnitude -13. Planets like Venus and Jupiter are magnitude -4.89 and -2.94 at their brightest. The brightest star, Sirius, is magnitude -1.47, and the dimmest star visible to the human eye is about +6.50 under the best expected conditions.

Because there are nuclear weapons facilities nearby, there was initially some concern that the Chelyabinsk event was some kind of nuclear weapon. Russian news reports have repeatedly stated that "background radiation is normal."

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet in general get a lot of heat for spreading rumors, misconceptions and lies across the world at the speed of light. But in this case cellphone technology and the Internet served to provide direct and immediate evidence of a natural cause for an event that in different times, say November, 1962 during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, could have sparked nuclear war.

The Chelyabinsk event comes on the same day that an asteroid, 2012 DA14, will pass within 17,000 miles of the earth (the two incidents are apparently unrelated). That's closer than geosynchronous communications satellites orbit the earth.

DA14 is estimated to be 45 meters across, or half the size of the Tunguska bolide. If it were to hit the earth, it would have the potential to kill thousands. But since most of the earth is covered by water, and a lot of the earth's land surface is empty like Siberia, the chances of a major death toll are low.

But the explosion over Chelyabinsk is a concrete reminder that the threat of asteroids and comets hitting the earth is not just science fiction. A relatively small asteroid could kick up enough dust and smoke into the atmosphere to start an ice age, as some scientists believe happened 2 million years ago. Sixty-six million years ago a bigger one hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. At some point we will know that an asteroid or comet is going to hit the earth and we'll actually have enough time to do something about it.

And we should make sure we're ready. NASA has the Near Earth Observation program to track such objects and predict their paths. President Obama's plan for an asteroid mission is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing. And it's exactly the kind of thing you need a big government and international cooperation to do, because no business or single country should be held responsible for protecting the planet.

With all the arguments about the deficits and tax cuts everyone should take a step back. Some things are bigger than our petty squabbles about who really won a mandate in the last election. Instead of wasting all our energy on bickering we should start building things, going new places and making the world a better, safer place.

They Deserve A Vote

On Monday night, 34 year old Nhan Tran stood at a busy intersection in Oakdale, a suburb of St. Paul, and started shooting. 9 year old Devin Aryal was shot several times and killed in the back of his mother's minivan. Now, Melissa Aryal becomes yet another parent in a collection of far too many who have lost a child to gun violence. And the response from the Right?

Fuck you. Don't take away my gun, Hitler.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said the following.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned. 

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. 

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house. 

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. 


Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. 


The families of Newtown deserve a vote. 


The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote. 


Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government. 


We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.


Indeed, we should. So why hasn't their been a vote?

In listening to the chest thumping bravado and imperial declarations of the gun rights folks, one would think that all changes to existing gun laws will fail. Fine. Prove it. Put your vote where your mouth is, ass hats. The Republicans in the House should put together a bill and vote on it. Harry Reid should do the same thing in the Senate. In short, get it fucking done.

Let the American people see where their leaders stand on the issue of gun violence. I want to see who is going to vote no and stand with the old gun laws that are clearly not effective anymore. You can add Melissa Aryal to the list of people who deserve a simple vote. You can rest assured that there will be more added to the list each and every day that passes until there is a vote.

The time is now.