Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Real Life Episode of "Fargo"

Fargo is a 1996 movie by the Coen brothers about a series of senseless murders in northern Minnesota. Fargo also a series running on the FX cable channel about a different series of senseless murders in northern Minnesota.

A real life episode of Fargo just played out in Little Falls, 30 miles south of Brainerd, where the events of both Fargos took place.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2012, Byron Smith, a former State department security specialist, shot and killed two teenagers who had broken into his home (from the Star Tribune):

After repeated break-ins to his home in the months leading up to that day, Smith had prepared his home with recording devices and himself with guns, he later told authorities. He was in his favorite basement reading chair with a paperback that day, he said, when he heard someone rattle the door handles to his house and saw a shadow through a picture window.

The Morrison County jury heard glass break, movement, then two shots as Brady groaned “Oh.” Smith responded with another gunshot, saying, “you’re dead.”

Almost immediately after Brady was shot, rustling of the tarp was heard, then a dragging sound, then heavy breathing. Smith had moved Brady’s body to a workshop in his basement to keep blood from staining the basement carpet, he later told authorities.

The audio continued with the sound of a gun reloading, then more deep breaths and the sound of footsteps — first getting fainter and then becoming louder again. A few minutes later, in a quiet, low voice, a female mumbled “Nick.”

Soon, there was another booming gunshot and the sound of Kifer falling down the stairs. Smith quickly said, “Oh, sorry about that.”

“Oh, my god!,” Kifer said, and screamed.

“You’re dying,” Smith responded amid more gunshots. “Bitch.”

After more heavy breathing and a dragging sound, Smith said “bitch” once more. Jurors heard more movement, and the crack of a gun.
Yesterday the 65-year-old Smith was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. It took the jury only three hours to find him guilty.

How is this case different from the Trayvon Martin murder? Well, it was tried in Minnesota, so the murderer didn't have NRA-authored laws to hide behind. The victims were popular white kids. And Smith had carefully recorded the murders, apparently thinking it would exonerate him.

In his defense, Smith said he was deathly afraid of another break-in, because burglars had previously stolen his shotgun (and why wasn't it locked in a gun safe to prevent that?). Byron Smith was a trained security expert. Guarding facilities had been his job. It's just not credible that this kind of man was shaking in his boots, a-feared for his life. He thought these kids were vermin and he wanted their blood.

The victims were tweaked-out idiots who were so stupid they didn't even think to run away when they heard gunshots in house they're breaking into. They were addicted to prescription meds and committed several burglaries to get them (nice job, big pharma!).

But the penalty for B&E isn't death. There are hundred ways Smith could have dealt with the break-in that didn't involve killing these two nitwits. His murder plot was extremely risky. He exposed himself to a great deal of danger. Why didn't he lock the basement door and call the police when he heard the breaking glass? What if his pistol had jammed and the kids actually did have the stolen shotgun? Smith either knew they were no threat or was so bent on retribution that he didn't care.

But after shooting two teenagers with disabling wounds, Smith administered kill shots to both of them. He had planned to do this the entire time, even putting out a tarp on his basement floor to collect the blood.

Just as creepy and cold-blooded as Billy Bob Thornton's character on Fargo.

What's incredible is how many people think these murders were justified. The last time I looked, a non-scientific poll on the Star Tribune website had 41% of respondents disagreeing with the jury's verdict. Are they not familiar with exactly how blood-thirsty and deranged Smith's actions were, or do they really think you can kill people like that?

Just the other day, a Montana man set a trap with a purse as "bait" in a garage, and killed a 17-year-old exchange student from Germany, being careful to aim high with his shotgun to avoid hitting his car. Creepy...

You don't automatically lose all your rights just because you're on someone else's property, invited or not. If Smith had instead raped Haile after wounding her instead of capping her in her head, how many people would think it was justified? Exactly nobody. Why do so many people blithely accept killing her, people who almost certainly classify themselves as "pro-life?"

This is the dark place that the gun-mad NRA mindset leads to. Their constant state of paranoia turns every shadow on the street and every thump in the night into a threat that must be met with deadly force, not just to stop them, but to hunt them down and kill them like vermin.

Bill Maher on Racism

Hey, Look! Sarah Palin Needs Some Attention

At the recent NRA gathering, Sarah Palin said "Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists." So all conservatives need to thump their chests and holler, "Hoo-Ra!" and all liberals need to get super outraged and pay a lot of attention to her.



Oh, and freedom died too...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

So Much For The Free Market

I thought conservatives were all about the free market. I guess they aren't. 

Armatix said it had an agreement with the Oak Tree Gun Club, a large gun range and retailer about 20 minutes north of Los Angeles, to sell its iP1 pistol, which can be fired only after the owner enters a five-digit PIN into a watch that transmits a signal to the gun. The gun, which retails for about $1,800, disables itself if it is more than 10 inches from the watch. But once Oak Tree’s owner, James Mitchell, went public in The Washington Post saying the iP1 “could revolutionize the gun industry,” Second Amendment activists went into overdrive, flooding social media with threats to boycott the club. They took to, a forum for gun owners, and called for vigilante-style investigations of Ms. Padilla and Armatix.

Ms. Padilla is also receiving threats of violence as well. They simply can't allow technology like this to be available for sale to the general public. Imagine what would happen...gun SAFETY and RESPONSIBILITY. Gadzooks!

So much for allowing the free market to work itself out...

So Much For Government Force

It really sucks that the Cliven Bundy kerfuffle has now all become about race. What it should be about is a deadbeat receiving a government handout who thinks, as a communist would ironically, that land belongs to everyone. I thought conservatives were all about property rights...

But what really perplexes me about all of this is how the government, which I have been told many, many times will come with guns and force citizens to pay taxes if they haven not, has given up for the time being. Obviously, they don't want another Waco and with all the attention on Bundy, as well as the militia guys frothing at the mouth to fire their guns, any sort of forceful action would still look bad even given how much of an asshole Bundy has shown himself to be.

I guess the government really isn't in the "force" business after all and apparently is a lot weaker than we think.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Real Johnnycab?

Remember the movie Total Recall, when Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a ride in a Johnnycab?

That ride didn't turn out so well, but Eric Jaffe's ride in one of Google self-driving cars was a lot better.

Google has been testing its self-driving cars on California freeways for years. Now they're moving to city streets, which are orders of magnitude more complicated. That's because so many things share regular streets: bicycles, pedestrians, jaywalkers, delivery trucks backing up, garbage trucks stopping suddenly, buses constantly weaving in and out of traffic, right-turn-on-red, cats, dogs, walk signals, crossing guards, potholes, patches of ice, red-light runners and left-turn-lane jumpers -- it's crazy out there.

Jaffe's story is highly complimentary to Google's system, even though the first rule of self-driving cars is to not compliment the self-driving car. However, the test driver had to intervene twice during the ride: once when some traffic cones appeared on the road and the computer stupidly couldn't figure out what to do, and again when a truck appeared out of nowhere and the computer didn't appear to respond to the impending collision fast enough (though the Google team said later that the machine would have stopped in plenty of time). Jaffe was favorably impressed. It is an impressive system.

But I'm much more skeptical about the practicality. One of the most difficult problems in artificial intelligence has been computer vision. Though the software is getting better at recognizing its surroundings, Google's system is completely dependent on extremely intricate maps and GPS. (Though, truth be told, a lot of people are now equally helpless without their GPSs.)

But what happens when conditions on the road don't match the map (say, because of road construction or an accident), or when the computer can't get a GPS signal? The machine is highly dependent on a laser array on the car's roof to make a 3D map of its surroundings. Does that laser system work in rain, in fog, or snow? Can the machine see brake lights through the windows of the car ahead and know that means traffic is stopping?

The article mentions that they're working on getting the software to recognize people standing behind poles. Working with incomplete data is something that humans are good at; if I see the bottom of the rim of a bicycle tire under a truck I know there's a biker up ahead. Can Google's hardware recognize those kinds of details, and can their programmers code that kind of knowledge into the software? On the other hand, if the car perceives everything as a potentially deadly situation, it will never go anywhere.

One of the arguments for self-driving cars is that they should be better at obeying traffic laws: they should obey the speed limit and yield the right of way (as long as they can reliably detect other cars). The software shouldn't get impatient and pull into a lane of fast-moving traffic from a parking spot.

But the technical aspects are probably the least of Google's problems in making self-driving cars a reality. I predict that legal and liability issues will be the biggest stumbling block. If a self-driving car runs down a child chasing a ball into the street, whose fault is it?

One could argue that a cautious driver, seeing children playing next to a street, would slow down  to 5 mph and shift out of the right-most lane, and on a narrow street perhaps even move into the oncoming traffic lane to ensure that there would be enough time to avoid any darting children.

What if Google's algorithm doesn't include that specific scenario? Were the programmers negligent? Could the car company and Google be sued for the child's death, and could the programmers be held criminally and financially liable for this oversight? And if the self-driving car was programmed perfectly to follow all the laws and take all the precautions, would there be any humans who would want to be chauffeurred by such a slow and timid vehicle?

Jaffe says that 90% of car accidents are due to human error. Self-driving cars, the argument goes, will eliminate human error and make the roads much safer. Except that's completely false. Humans will write the software and build the hardware that control the car. Yes, those humans will take a lot of time and do a lot of testing to make that software and hardware as reliable as possible. But, as we know from all the bugs we find in the software in our computers and mobile phones and cars and microwave ovens, that human-designed software and hardware is far from perfect. Will that software be open-source, available for everyone to examine?

To make it worse, these cars will almost certainly have black boxes that will record every piece of data recording during the trip, allowing the entire country to second-guess every traffic accident these cars are involved with. Let's say a baseball rolled out from between two parked cars. Any decent driver would immediately slam on the breaks, assuming a child would be chasing it. Will Google's software do the same? If it doesn't, and a child is run down by a car that doesn't know what a baseball is, what kind of liability will Google and the car company have?

Of course, people make these kinds of driving errors and kill themselves and others all the time (at a rate of 33,000 each year). At this point the car companies (and Google) can just shrug and say, "human error."

In fact, the biggest legal protection that car manufacturers have is that 90% human error rate: they can almost always blame accidents on the driver. But when we have self-driving cars, these companies will be legally exposed to everything that happens on the road.

Airplanes have autopilot systems, but they're typically used in very controlled circumstances, in clear skies when the aircraft is at cruising altitude. Autopilots can land and take off, but typically human pilots are in control at critical junctures. But even in those cases, airports are tightly run by air traffic controllers. Planes have several pairs of eyes watching them at all times. Google is proposing that no one will be watching any of the cars on the road, except some hardware and software.

Admittedly, driving on a freeway is a lot like flying an aircraft on autopilot in open skies. I can see how Google's system could be made to work on a sunny freeway with light traffic. City streets, however, are completely different. At any point something totally random can happen. Such streets are far more unpredictable than an airport runway, and there's no air traffic controller monitoring all the comings and goings.

I can see technically how Google's system could be made to work. I would even grant that it could be made to work if only cars were on the street, because most car-on-car collisions at city-street speeds are very survivable with the seat belts and air bags found in today's cars. It would be even safer if the vehicles were operated in their own zones, say on monorail tracks suspended above the streets.

But when you have a mix of cars, pedestrians, children, bicycles, buses, and massive trucks on surface streets, I find it hard to believe that any company's lawyers would allow them to relinquish the "human error" they can now blame for almost all car accidents. Everything will be the company's fault, even accidents caused by weather, because the car should have "known" it was going too fast for the conditions.

I'm not sure if Google's programmers realize it, but people are going to want the software to incorporate Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. They're going to expect these robot cars to make moral and ethical judgments about what to do in an emergency. Suppose your car is tooling down the road, and an old man steps right in front of your car. There's barely enough time to swerve, but on the right is a sidewalk restaurant packed with bearded hipsters drinking lattes, and on the left is a school bus filled with adorable children into which you would run into head-on.

How will the car decide who will live and who will die? Run down the geezer because he has the fewest years left (and based on his ratty clothing is least likely to have a good lawyer)? Front-end the bus, assuming that its greater mass will protect the children and the car's airbag will miraculously save you? Or plow through the restaurant, because, well, bearded hipsters drinking lattes.

I'm afraid Google's vision of Johnnycabs ferrying us around the city is going to be crushed by those meanies in Legal.

Photo #1=Bad, Photo #2=Good

Remember this photo?

This was the "evidence" the Right trotted out in 2008 that the New Black Panthers were bad guys engaged in voter intimidation. So, BAD, right?

Yet the photo below, taken at Cliven Bundy's ranch, which shows one of the militia guys ready to shoot someone is GOOD.

So, just to recap...Photo #1=BAD....Photo #2=GOOD. Got it.

Oh, and no racism. That's over in 'merica.

Who Is Ben Carson?

Politico has a piece up about Dr. Ben Carson, the latest conservative darling who is fast becoming as revered as Thomas Sowell inside the bubble. I'm always amused when the Right flocks to people like this.

In October, Carson made headlines again when he said that the Affordable Care Act’s framework of mandates, insurance exchanges and federal subsidies amounted to “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” He meant the comparison literally. “It is slavery in a way,” Carson, who is African American, went on, “because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.” 

First of all, who gives a shit if he is black? He's still a moron. Buying regulated private insurance is the same thing as human bondage? Really?

I don't see the GOP learning anything from 2012 which means the Democrats are going to keep winning elections.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

He Brought A Black Guy To The Game

Here We Go Again...

First Nevada rancher and federal government denier Cliven Bundy declaims what he "knows" about "the Negro." Now Donald Sterling, a rich guy who owns a basketball team, tells his girlfriend not to show up with black guys at his games, or post photos of her with Magic Johnson (Magic Johnson!) on the Internet.

How can anyone possibly claim that we are "over" racism in this country?

In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News Clippers center Jermaine O'Neal said:
"It's just strange that he would say those things and feel that way when you have a team that is predominantly African-American, a coach who's African-American, a staff that's African-American, basically."
No, it's not strange at all if this Sterling guy thinks he owns the black guys on his team. Like the slave owners of old, he doesn't appear to have problems with blacks working for him, picking his cotton, and toting his bales. He says he doesn't even mind if they service his girlfriend:
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people," he is heard saying. "Do you have to?"

Stiviano says that all she did was take a picture with someone she admires. "I think the fact that you admire [Magic] -- I've known him well, and he should be admired," Sterling replies. "And I'm just saying that it's too bad you can't admire him privately. And during your ENTIRE FUCKING LIFE, your whole life, admire him -- bring him here, feed him, fuck him, I don't care. You can do anything. But don't put him on an Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games. OK?" 
To be fair, I suppose any man would hate getting phone calls when his girlfriend posts pictures of her with a guy people assume she's cheating with. But Sterling goes out of his way to mention that it bothers him she's associating with black people. Would he care if she posted pictures of herself with Larry Bird?

The thing is, I am perfectly willing to believe that Sterling has tried his entire life to get over this kind of racism. I'm sure he says (and believes) he's not a racist, citing as proof the fact that he works closely with blacks, hires blacks, gives blacks positions of responsibility in his organization, has a girlfriend who's part African American, and so on.

But this episode shows again what I've long maintained: most of us are just recovering racists. Saying "I'm not a racist" is, for way too many people, simply not true. It's more accurate to say, "I don't want to be racist, but my dad was and some of it rubbed off on me," or "I have racist impulses but do everything in my power to ignore them. I'm only human."

Many whites believe that racism is what Hitler and his followers preached against the Jews, or what the Ku Klux Klan was doing when they lynched blacks. That's not racism, that's genocide and murder motivated by racism. Real racism is much more subtle.

Racism, and sexism, and homophobia, creep into decisions about who your friends are, who executives promote, who store owners watch on surveillance cameras, who cops frisk on the street.

Racism is a normal human impulse: we tend to distrust the unfamiliar. We are pattern-recognizing creatures, and we immediately form opinions about groups based on what our parents and friends (members of our "tribe") say about those groups, or on observations of one or two individuals from another "tribe." This stood us in good stead when we were cavemen fighting with other tribes over basic resources needed to survive.

But that time is long gone. We will not starve or even be inconvenienced in the slightest if we give a few paltry foodstamps to underprivileged black and Latino families.

But why do so many Americans begrudge a few hundred bucks a month for the poor, and just shrug when multimillionaires like Donald Sterling get billions in tax breaks?

Jesus Appears To Mary

A Curious Find

I had this link in my religion "to post" file and have no idea why. Perhaps it had something to do with people thinking that Paul is near to the same level as Jesus. A curious read nonetheless, especially the last line...

Considering how the quote in all its variants has been used primarily to ridicule the backwardness of unnamed Christians (a farmer, a pious deacon, and so forth) wary of new approaches to the Bible, I highly doubt Ma Ferguson ever said it — or if she did, she probably would have said it in self-effacing jest. My guess is that this was a free-floating bit of preacher humor that unfairly got attached to Ma Ferguson, much as Winston Churchill attracts various apocryphal witticisms.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I'm On Quora

Thanks to Kevin Baker, I have discovered the wonder and greatness that is Quora. Here is my page if any readers are interested. Thus far, I have enjoyed all the comments and discussions my questions have generated. They are a great mix of a variety of points of view. My only gripe is that you really have to spend time to drill down and see all the comments that each comment and/or question generates. There is a lot of threading that goes off on multiple tangents and it can be hard to keep track.

Of course, it's also nice to see the right wing blog mentality challenged so regularly and effectively. Not surprisingly, facts, logic, evidence and reason just bounce off the bubble. I encourage my five regular conservative commenters to join in and see how they fare against a much a larger group of people than is found here:)

Gun Making Up For Small Penis In Georgia

Looks like the new Georgia gun law is working out about like I expected...

Parents at a Forysth County park abruptly stopped a children's baseball game after growing suspicions of the behavior of a man carrying a gun in a waist holster Tuesday night. "He's just walking around [saying] 'See my gun? Look, I got a gun and there's nothing you can do about it.' He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing," said parent Karen Rabb.

Park users flooded 911 with 22 calls about the man. Forysth County deputies questioned the man, and found that he had a permit for the handgun. Authorities said since the man made no verbal threats or gestures, they could neither arrest him nor ask him to leave the park. Another parent questioned what point the man was trying to prove. 

"Why would anyone be walking around a public park, with a lot of children and parents and people here playing baseball, and he's walking around with a gun?"

Uh, because they are fucking insecure assholes who have control issues? Just a wild guess:)

"I'm Not a Racist"

After getting caught saying racist things, Cliven Bundy had to go and say it in an interview on CNN:
Chris Cuomo: Are you a racist?
Cliven Bundy: No, I'm not a racist. But I did wonder that. Let me tell you something. I thought about this this morning quite a bit.
It's like Richard Nixon proclaiming, "I am not a crook. I thought about this morning quite a bit, and even asked my attorney general and co-conspirator about it, and we decided that I'm not a crook."

It's amazing how frequently racists say, "I'm not a racist." Of course, they don't think they're racist because they don't understand what racism is. They make judgments about an individual based on the color of the person's skin or ethnicity or sexual orientation, or other factors that are completely out of the individual's control. They can't understand why everyone doesn't see the world exactly the same way they because it's so obvious to them, especially when they see black folks sitting on the porch. White people never sit on the porch. I mean, what are are porches made for, after all?

As with alcoholism, the first step in dealing with your racism problem is to admit that you have it. Of course Cliven Bundy is a racist. Most people are, to some degree. Racists are the first to see racism in other people. They're constantly complaining that it's blacks who are the real racists. But somehow they are completely blind to their own racism, because they don't perceive it as racism: they think their prejudices are how the world really is. They just know that all blacks are lazy, all Jews are money grubbers, all Arabs are violent terrorists, and on and on.

I'll be the first to admit to having my own prejudices, racial and otherwise, but I recognize them and try not to let them influence my judgment. I try to see every person as an individual and not an "other" indistinguishable from every "other" who has the same skin color or accent. If you don't realize that you have these prejudices, you'll never know when you're succumbing to them.

Racists and bigots frequently complain that liberals or blacks or gays are themselves bigoted and intolerant when they denounce homophobic and racist speech, or conservative attempts to enforce religious dictates on everyone, or political activities that undermine the rights of others (like when the CEO of Mozilla was ousted when it was revealed he donated to Prop 8 in California). Yes, you are free to speak your mind in this country; the rest of us are equally free to tell you to shut your racist homophobic yap. There are social consequences for being a jerk; dressing it up as your religion or god-given right of free speech doesn't make it any less offensive.

But there's a major difference here: reacting to the speech and behavior of specific individuals is not the same as choosing to offend others with racism and bigotry aimed at entire groups of people who have no choice about being a member of that group. Racists and bigots are offended by the very existence of minority groups and are often not shy about saying it because they just know they're right.

Being a member of a wacko church or the Tea Party or a communist is a choice. Being black is not. Though it's still slightly controversial, it's now completely obvious that being gay is also not a choice.

So, railing against neolithic conservatives or idiot liberals or stupid Catholic cardinals or shrill NAACP members or Wahabi Muslims is fine, because those people choose to be those things, though lumping all people who voluntarily belong to the same group is still a little short-sighted.

But pontificating about what you know about "the Negro" is racist, plain and simple. Just take your lumps, Cliven, and shut your yap.

Oh. And don't forget to pay your grazing fees, like all the other ranchers.

How Much Should We Spend on the Illusion of Safety?

Since 9/11 we've spent a trillion dollars on homeland security. We make everyone take off their shoes and buy special three ounce bottles of shampoo to get through airport security, where people wait hours at the checkpoints. Yet a Somali teenager can just hop a fence, hide in the wheel well of a jet plane and fly to Hawaii.

Apparently, it is trivial to walk on to the tarmac and plant a bomb on a plane's landing gear. Apparently, anyone can walk up to a chemical tank, punch a whole in it and poison a river (check it out on Google Earth). Apparently, anyone can put an obstacle on a train track, cause a derailment and a major fire. Apparently, anyone can walk into a fertilizer plant, start a fire and destroy several city blocks. Apparently, anyone can buy a gun, go to a school and shoot dozens of kids. Apparently, anyone can intentionally wipe out on a freeway during a snowstorm and hurt dozens of people.

These incidents weren't acts of terrorism, per se. But all of them could be. There's an infinite number of ways to cause deadly mayhem. We spend billions trying to prevent terrorists from repeating the same old tricks on airplanes, while totally ignoring equally deadly threats that we know exist but have completely ignored because terrorists haven't tried them yet.

Is all this homeland security stuff just a CYA exercise for government officials and a trillion dollar payout to the security industrial complex for a false sense of safety? Are we just pasting a happy face over an insoluble, intractable problem and pretending we're actually able to do something about it?

Or is the threat of terrorism really that much less than the security industrial complex wants us to think?

Clive Bundy A Go Go

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Piketty Plan

With his book, Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty has engendered a series of dueling op-eds in The New York Times (The Piketty Panic and The Piketty Phenomenon), the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The National Review, and so on.

The basic thrust of the book is that capital grows faster than the economy: examining historical data, Piketty found that return on capital is historically about 5%, while economies grow at less than half that rate. That means that the rich will get richer much faster than people who actually have to work for a living, because salaries are limited to the growth of the economy. It also means that, in today's global economy, middle-class and poor Americans will get poorer.

I haven't read the book, but I understood its core message back in the 1980s with two simple calculations: 50,000 x 20 = 1,000,000 and 1,000,000 x 0.05 = 50,000.

That is, if you saved $50,000 a year you could have a million bucks in 20 years -- not even counting compounded returns. If you get a modest return on a million bucks -- I picked 5% back then, which happens to be Piketty's historical average -- you could make enough to live on through investment returns alone: you can retire in 20 years. In reality you wind up with $2 or $3 million because you're earning returns on your investments the whole time, even considering the ups and downs in the markets.

Let's call this "The Piketty Plan."

I made this calculation during the Reagan administration when IRA accounts were being debated. Later, laws were passed to allow companies to set up 401Ks. I was wondering whether these accounts were a good deal, because they had three serious limitations: you weren't taxed when you put the money in, but when you took it out; you were limited to contributing a few thousand a year; and you couldn't get at that money until you were old (unless you paid the taxes, plus a stiff penalty).

Since I planned on being rich when I took the money out, the tax rate "feature" was just a dumb gimmick -- returns on some investments are taxed at a lower rate (zero for tax-free bonds). Also, during the Bush II administration taxes on capital gains were drastically lowered, but money withdrawn from IRAs is still taxed as regular income, at the much higher rate. Which means that since we avoided IRAs and 401Ks, investing like rich people, we pay much lower taxes on our investment income than if we had socked all our cash in those programs, which we still wouldn't be able to get at yet. Thank you, George Bush!

All these "investment" vehicles for the common man were pushed by the finance industry, who wanted to get their hands on more of our money. Company pensions disappeared almost overnight. Instead of investing in their employees' retirements, companies outsourced the management of retirement funds to Wall Street, which took hefty fees for "managing" everyone's retirement accounts.

Companies like Enron put their employees' 401Ks into their own company stock, with disastrous results.  Other companies raided employee 401K funds, or played tricks with employee contributions, hanging on to the money for months before transferring it, "legally" stealing millions of dollars of interest from their employees. Over time, companies have cut back or stopped contributing to employee 401Ks, leaving most Americans up to their own devices -- and Social Security -- for retirement.

IRAs and 401Ks were sucker bets. Rich people would almost never use them: they diversified, put their money in T bills, stock, tax-free bonds, real estate, and so on. And it only got better for rich people during the Bush years, when taxes on capital gains were reduced to less than half the tax rate of people who do real work.

Because my wife and I both worked and had no kids, we were able to follow the Piketty Plan. We invested the way rich people do. We eschewed debt and all the trappings of wealth -- no boat, no vacation home, no ostentatious jewelry or fancy clothes. After the house we didn't buy anything we couldn't pay for outright. Then we paid off our mortgage years early. We never paid a nickel of interest on our credit cards. Still, we regularly bought new (never used) cars, took regular vacations, bought TVs and VCRs and computers and horses, and other Stuff. But we always saved one of our salaries (the "two can live as cheaply as one" trope). We were therefore able to retire in our forties, after putting up with corporate BS for 20 years.

The vast majority of middle-class Americans simply cannot do this, mostly because they have kids. They have to house and feed and clothe them, and pay for their daycare. They have to pay back student loans. They have to save for their kids' college. They bow to  nattering children, social pressures and advertising, buying houses that are too big for them and too far from their jobs, and expensive cars that waste gas, and cell phones and cars for all the kids. They waste hours a day idling their cars in long lines waiting to drop off and pick up their kids from school and shuttling them to soccer practice and music lessons and the mall. They eat fattening fast-food and pizza instead of cooking their own food, because they have no time.

I mean no insult to these people: that's just the way life is here. Most people cannot do what my wife and I did, because the country needs people to have kids. And the fact is, our economy depends on that mass consumption. If everyone followed the Piketty Plan, the American economy would collapse. The problem is, that lifestyle never leaves any money for the future: it's all going into the pockets of the rich heirs who are selling us Stuff at Walmart, or the rich heirs who drill the oil that fills our gas tanks, or the rich Wall Street bankers who mortgage our houses and fondle the money in 401Ks and IRAs.

Six of the ten richest Americans got their wealth from daddy (the Waltons and Kochs). Most of the richest Americans are elderly and will be leaving their money to their heirs any day now. A lot of them are in the oil and pipeline business (I can't imagine why they're denying climate change...). 

I don't have it in for rich people in general, because I'm one of them. But the kids of today deserve the same shot that I had. Fighting against them are the Kochs and Waltons and Adelsons, who are using their vast fortunes to buy laws and regulations that entrench inherited wealth, enhance capital formation and denigrate labor.

Everyone should have a shot at the Piketty Plan. Every kid in America should be able to start at the same point: a good education, college if they can hack it, and clear of debt, regardless of how rich their parents are. We should be working to secure the economic futures of all American kids, not just the heirs of the wealthy few.

Getting Behind the ACA

It looks like Democrats are taking my advice and getting behind the ACA. Check out this ad from "imperiled" Democratic Senator Mark Begich of Alaska.

The Times has a piece on how more Democrats are jumping on board with the ACA.

Real Men!

I look at the photo below and have to wonder...just how much of an inferiority complex to conservatives have?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cliven Bundy, Revealed

Why is it that so many people who claim to be real Americans and true patriots, who clothe themselves in the American flag and spend their every waking moment railing against the injustices of big government, just turn out to be crooks and racists?

I'm talking about Cliven Bundy, the darling of Sean Hannity. In an interview with the New York Times Bundy had the following to say:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
If Bundy doesn't believe that the US government doesn't exist, why is he hiding behind the US flag? As Jon Stewart pointed out in last night's episode of The Daily Show, the Founding Fathers would approve of going after Bundy with armed federal agents for non-payment of grazing fees: they sent 13,000 militiamen against farmers who failed to pay excise taxes on whiskey they distilled during the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion.

Bundy doesn't have a leg to stand on. Thousands of ranchers pay fees to graze their cattle on federal land in the West, including Glenn Beck. Even people like Raymond Yowell, a Shoshone Indian, can't skip out on the fees, according to Fox News. If anyone has a legitimate claim to "ancestral grazing rights" it's Yowell, whose ancestors made treaties with the federal government over land use more than a century and a half ago. Where was Bundy when the BLM took Yowell's cattle? And I wonder, in light of what Bundy said about "the Negro," what he would say about Yowell's people?

Cliven Bundy is just a thief and a racist. He's using the guise of patriotism to clothe his greed in the finery of "principle" and his racism with the magic words of "states rights."

I also noticed that Bundy's got a lot of guys just sitting around on his ranch with nothing to do buy play with their guns. Don't they have jobs? Or can they afford to diddle away the days playing rebel because they're on government assistance? Does Bundy, who's 67, draw Social Security checks?

But since they're white, I guess it's all good.

Republican Victory in 2014?

The recent New York Times Kaiser Family Foundation Poll illustrates that the Republican "victory" seven months ahead of the 2014 elections may be a bit premature. It looks like Mark Pryor isn't as much on the hot seat anymore. And Kay Hagan is holding her own in North Carolina. As expected, Mitch McConnell is on the hot seat in Kentucky and it will be interesting to see if this race stays as deadlocked into the fall.

So, why is this happening? I thought that the GOP was going to be able to cruise to victory on the evils of Obamacare. The numbers from Arkansas and Kentucky, where two Democratic governors embraced Medicaid expansion, say otherwise. Kentucky also ran its own exchange which did very, very well so if I were ol' Mitchie, I'd lay off the anti-Obamacare talk. Does he (and other Republicans, for that matter) really want to stand for taking away people's health care?

The key for the Democrats, as Dan Balz notes, is to get the same level of turnout in a presidential year.  It's helpful that the president's approval ratings are on the rise to the mid 40s from the lower 40s where they have been stuck for quite some time. But his good news isn't getting across and that needs to happen ASAP. Oddly, he seems to be doing a better job with the ACA than with the economy.

Democrats need to take heart that some of the worst nightmares for the Republicans are coming true. The ACA is working and will help the Democratic vote in the tossup states. The economy is growing at a 3 percent rate. Even if just these two issues coalesce in November, nothing will change in the Senate and the Democrats may surprise a few people in the House.

Thinking Beyond Keystone

The anti-Keystone people need to think beyond the TransCanada pipeline they are so vehemently against. Take a look at this graphic from a recent piece in the Times. Honestly, what Keystone would represent in terms of carbon emissions is a sliver compared to everything else. So, what does this mean and what is being done about it?

Experts say that to make a serious dent in American carbon emissions, Mr. Obama’s administration would have to enact policies that would force the two most polluting sectors of the nation’s economy — cars and coal plants — to slash their emissions. Mr. Obama has already signed a United Nations accord pledging that the United States will cut its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050; there is simply no way to hit those targets, experts say, other than by going after cars and coal. And he then would have to make the case to other nations that the United States had taken action — and that they must, too.
He is making some headway on those fronts. 

In his first term, Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. used the authority of the Clean Air Act to issue tough new vehicle fuel-economy standards of 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025. The regulations forced automakers to build fleets of fuel-sippers, and according to the E.P.A. they will lead to a cut of about 180 million tons of carbon a year by 2020, rising to 580 million tons by 2030 and 1.1 billion tons annually by 2050. 

The agency is now drafting a regulation, expected in June, to slash pollution from existing coal-fired power plants. Details aren’t yet available, but experts estimate that it will cut an average of 200 million to 500 million tons of carbon emissions annually within a decade. And the E.P.A. estimated that regulations on building and appliance efficiency have cut or prevented the annual emission of 350 million tons of carbon. That means the combined impact of the current and forthcoming E.P.A. regulations could lead to cuts of over one billion tons of emissions annually.

So, if the anti-Keystone people really want to make a dent in carbon emissions, they should support and help the president to reach his goal. I'm very tired of liberals who say the president has done nothing for the environment. His actions speak for themselves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Heart and Soul of Russia

I always have a copy of Roberts and Westad's History of the World handy whenever I need it. It's a great source for a basic overview of...well...everything in human history. I was thumbing through it yesterday for some information on the crusades when I came across this on page 378.

Half a century or so after the legendary Rurik, Rus was a reality: a sort of river-federation centered on Kiev and linking the Baltic to the Black Sea. It was pagan, but when civilization and Christianity came to it, it would be because of the easy access to Byzantium which water gave to the young principality, which was first designated as Rus in 945. Its unity was still very loose. An incoherent structure was made even less rigid by the Vikings adoption of Slav principle which divided an inheritance. Rus princes tended to move around rulers among the centres of the principality, of which Kiev and Novgorod were the main ones. Nevertheless, the family of Kiev became the most important.

This summarizes why Ukraine is so vital to Russian interests. It is their origin point as a culture and the very foundation of their identity in the world. Beyond mere economic reasons, it is their heart and soul and they will fight for as much of it as possible.

Humanism From Stephen Fry

Some interesting ideas here but is he really anti-God or is he anti-organized religion? Humanists seem to always pick the wrong enemy...

The NRA Finally Backs Off

It looks as though the NRA is finally backing off domestic abusers right to carry guns. Whew! I, for one, am very relieved that people that beat the shit out of their wives. But why?

Bassett and Wilkie speculate that the change may in part be a reaction to the involvement of a former NRA official, Richard D’Alauro, in a domestic abuse case; a judge ordered the seizure of all 39 of D’Alauro’s innocent guns. Needless to say, the NRA had no comment on that. Bassett and Wilkie also cite polling that shows 80 percent of respondents favor judges removing weapons from those involved in domestic violence, but we’re not terribly persuaded that the NRA would find that very convincing, considering that similar percentages of Americans support universal background checks.

Because if affected them personally. Hmm...:)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John Paul Stevens v The Gun Cult

Well, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens went and done did it. He has taken on the Gun Cult. Here is how he would change the 2nd Amendment.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.

Holy SHEEEIT! Look out!!! Here comes that boiling pit of sewage frothed with a fresh set of bowels blown!!!

Props out to him for having the guts to go that far and shine a spotlight on the people in this country who have very serious control and authority issues. The link above should also be noted for this passage.

He recalls a colorful remark on the topic by the late Warren Burger, who served as chief justice from 1969 to 1986. Responding to the NRA’s lobbying campaign opposing gun control laws in the name of Second Amendment rights, Burger, a lifelong conservative, remarked during a television interview in 1991 that the amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat, fraud—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Completely agree. I would not go as far as to ban private ownership of guns as Stevens suggests but I do think it is way past time in allowing the assholes of the Gun Cult free reign on the 2nd Amendment. Just like Republican Jesus believers, they are not the sole interpreter of the Constitution simply because they act like the biggest dicks.

We All End Up In The Same Place

There has been some talk over the years that the reason I talk so much about inequality is that I am really envious of the wealthy. Some of it is clearly projection by those who believe in the "haves and soon to haves" lie. There's also the adolescent chiding angle as well.

The photo below sums up exactly how I feel about money and there is honestly no need to comment on it further.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The President's Victory Lap

Last week, the president announced that 8 million people had enrolled in the online exchange during the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. Juxtaposed with the CBO's data which details how the ACA will be $100 billion dollars lower than expected and that 35 percent of the enrollees are under 35 this is remarkably good news that no one thought was possible after the botched roll out of the web site.

So, it's understandable that the president took a victory lap and wondered, “I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been. They still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working. They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that. They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that.”

Well, Mr. President, it's because they are 12 year old boys who can't stand to be wrong. Worse for them, we are starting to see stories like this.

And even bolder ones like this. 

Of course, these are the same folks who predicted just a few weeks ago that the Senate would fall to the GOP so take it all with a boulder of salt. It's going to all depend who the candidates are and we don't know that yet. If the GOP can't dampen the far right fervor of the base that decides the candidates in the primaries, they will lose their chances at the Senate.

In addition, I think there has been sufficient warning given to the Democrats to use the same get out the vote mechanisms that helped the president win in 2012. Combine this with the realities of millions of newly insured people who will vote this fall and all the doom predicted for the Democrats washes away. I think it's time to ask a serious question of the Republicans.

Are they really going to run on a platform of taking away people's health care?

Common Core Kerfuffle

Only conservatives could take voluntary guidelines passed by the Governor's Association with plenty of Republican support and turn it into the federal government coming to gin' ya! Sadly, that's just what they've done with Common Core State Standards for public schools and this link clears up all the absolute fucking lies that are being told about this policy.

I don't get it. For years, all we here about is how our schools are failing and the states and local school districts (not the federal government) need to set better and more rigorous guidelines for students. Common Core does that. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. All they can do is criticize. It's second nature to them now. And they've gotten themselves so hysterical over anyone else solving problems better than they can that there first reaction is to hate, vilify, and appeal to fear.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

There God Dwells Among Men

Take a look at the photo below.

Compelling, isn't it?

This actually a sculpture at St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C titled "Jesus the Homeless." It's caused quite a bit of controversy, particularly due to the fact that St. Alban's is in such an affluent area and people either think it's a real person scumming up their town or they believe in Republican Jesus who worshiped money.

I think it sums up this verse perfectly..

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

John 13:34

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Voices In My Head (Adolescent Edition)

Now they are reduced to flicking away dolls? Hilarious...

Stronger Capital Required

Liberals can't seem to let go of the "Obama is really a corportist" meme just in the same way that conservatives can't let go of the "Obama is a commie" meme. Neither are right, of course, which means the president is doing exactly what he should be doing.

Yet this recent story on FDIC and the Treasury Department's new rule on capital should torpedo the idea that the president is secretly doing the bidding of our financial sector.

Regulators are acting to require U.S. banks to build a sturdier financial base to lessen the risk that they could collapse and cause a global meltdown. The eight biggest banks will have to meet stricter measures for holding capital – money that provides a cushion against unexpected losses – under a rule that regulators are adopting Tuesday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency voted to require those banks to raise their minimum ratio of capital to loans to 5 percent from the current 3 percent. The Federal Reserve will vote at a public meeting later Tuesday. The banks’ deposit-holding subsidiaries will have to achieve a ratio of 6 percent. Because the deposits are insured by the government, the subsidiaries are subject to a stricter ratio requirement.

The new regulation won't take effect until 2018 but it is progress. More importantly, it is exactly what I wanted to see in terms of a return to Glass Steagal-type regulation on the financial sector. The banks should not be gambling with my fucking money. Period.

Justice for Bullies!

Yeah, I'm thinking this is what should happen to right wing blog commenters as well...:)

Friday, April 18, 2014


A Handy List of Lies

Here's an interesting piece on our Age of Ignorance. It contains a nice and concise list of the lies that people believe in this country.

  • Christians are persecuted in this country. 
  • The government is coming to get your guns. 
  • Obama is a Muslim. 
  • Global Warming is a hoax. 
  • The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military. 
  • Schools push a left-wing agenda. 
  • Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare. 
  • Obama hates white people. 
  • The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe. 
  • The safety net contributes to poverty. 
  • The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.

#6 is a big one as this is how the Right perpetuates these lies. In all too typical Cult like behavior, they accuse teachers of brainwashing their kids and attempts to prevent them from being critical thinkers. This is exactly where logical fallacies like misleading vividness, appeal to fear enter the mix.

So when you here one of these or some sort of combination, ask to see the unbiased evidence based on peer reviewed study to support their assertion. The response will undoubtedly be anecdata.

Easter Bunny Portraits?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

1974 All Over Again

Say something about President Obama's critics and race and it's like 1974 all over again for Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron.

"We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he's treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go. The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts."

After the interview?

"Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)'' read an email from a man named Edward, according to USA Today.

Well, it's a good thing we have no more racism in this country and that was simply the retort of some mentally deranged time traveler from the 1950s!

Conservatives love to whine about how they can't make a critical comment about the president without race being brought into the mix but do you know what's worse than people that play the race card? People that fucking whine about people playing the race card.  Like shrill old ladies in a nursing home that shriek when their oxygen tank gets stuck making a turn around a corner, the Right sure does love themselves playing the anti race card. No one is allowed to play the race card any longer because racism is over. Everything said about racially based blah blah blah is wrong forever and ever amen, fuckers! Even people who talk about "Jew run banks" get a pass these days. Why?

Because like all their other peachy personality traits, their frozen in time adolescence won't allow them to admit fault. It doesn't occur to them that they are being racially insensitive and, well, damnit...THEY DON'T WANNA!!!

Change, that is...:)

Increase The Wage Gap?

Oh, look, Phyllis Schlafly's tired old white ass is trying to sound relevant.

The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.

Hey Phyllis, 1952 called and they want you back in the kitchen slaving away for your man...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Voices In My Head (Anti Semitic Edition)

So, Frazier Glenn Miller is Jew hater and shot up two Jewish community centers in Kansas over the weekend, killing two people neither of whom was Jewish. I was willing to let it go because neo Nazis are sadly always going to be around but then I read that the Mayor of Marionville, Dan Clevenger, agreed with Miller but not his actions. In fact, Clevenger has said all sorts of things over the years...

He also spoke of the "Jew-run government backed banking industry turned the U.S into the world's largest debtor nation." Years later, Clevenger's views haven't seemed to change. "There some things that are going on in this country that are destroying us. We've got a false economy and it's, some of those corporations are run by Jews because the names are there," he said. "The fact that the Federal Reserve prints up phony money and freely hands it out, I think that's completely wrong. The people that run the Federal Reserve, they're Jewish."

No racism here, folks. That's all over with in our country, Please move along...

I wonder if Clevenger is an Obama voter:)

Good Words

But the thing that is really killing Mitch McConnell, I think, is the incredible success of Kentucky Kynect. They don't call it Obamacare, very smartly. But this is probably the best run state exchange in the country. Governor Beshear, a Democrat. And the fact that these people have health care after all this time and Mitch McConnell did everything he could to stop them from getting health care. That's got to be a factor here. 

You are going to see this all over the country, in fact you already are seeing this all over the country. There's a poll today, the folks suggested that we ought to be on the offensive on Obamacare. We ought to be supporting it. We ought to be proud that we supported it because it is in fact providing people with health care. And nobody knows that better than the people of Kentucky. This is a poor state. A lot of people uninsured. A lot of those people have insurance [now]. That's not going to help Mitch McConnell.

(Howard Dean April 15, 2014)

Turning Seawater Into Fuel

Mention the Defense Department these days and you'll get shit from both the left and the right. The left hates everything they do and fails to recognize how they are leaders in non military activity such as breast cancer research. The right complains about how much money they spend and how they are in a constant state of intervention around the world.

Yet, it's stories like this that show that they are of enormous benefit to our society.

After decades of experiments, U.S. Navy scientists believe they may have solved one of the world’s great challenges: how to turn seawater into fuel.The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel could one day relieve the military’s dependence on oil-based fuels and is being heralded as a “game changer” because it could allow military ships to develop their own fuel and stay operational 100 percent of the time, rather than having to refuel at sea.

Consider the implications of this as related to climate change. Obviously, seawater is in ample supply and this technology could massively reduce carbon emissions and put us on a path for renewable and sustainable energy for quite a long time.

Way to go, US Military!

A Disgraceful Opportunist and Moral Coward

I miss Christopher Hitchens. I didn't always agree with him but man, he said some very accurate and funny shit. Take, for example, this quote from 2010 regarding Sarah Palin.

Don’t be too hard on her. She didn’t write that piece and she probably hasn’t read it. I doubt she could either read or write it. Everything she does is for effect, she’s, and is always deniable. She could switch back in a minute. At the moment she thinks her tea party crowd wants to hear this kind of thing so she’ll say that. She’s been out to say, ‘well, I don’t know but I think the President ought to produce his birth certificate. I’m not saying it isn’t a good question. Then later, cause she’s got to go to the Gridiron dinner in Washington, and learn how to use a knife and fork and be taught by Fred Malek. She takes it back. She’s a disgraceful opportunist and a real moral coward.

I'd say that last line pretty much sums up most conservatives these days. I wonder if we'll see one that has fucking spine any time soon...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NCAA Athletes: Employees, Amateurs, Volunteers, Indentured Servants or Slaves?

A couple of weeks ago the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players were employees and could form a union.
[Peter Ohr, the regional NLRB director,] ruled that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be eligible to form a union based on a number of factors, including the time they devote to football (as many as 50 hours some weeks), the control exerted by coaches and their scholarships, which Mr. Ohr deemed a contract for compensation.

“It cannot be said that the employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students,’ ” the decision said.
The decision started a firestorm of debate.

A common sentiment is that NCAA players have an easy ride and that they don't deserve monetary compensation or unionization. The NCAA sells a fiction that amateur "student athletes" should play for the love of the game while delivering professional levels of performance. Meanwhile, their "non-profit" monopoly pays no taxes on the tens of billions of dollars it hauls in TV contracts and licensing fees. The NCAA's president Jack Emmert makes almost $2 million annually. In 2012 66 NCAA Division I football coaches made more than $1 million (13 made more than $3 million, with a top salary of $5.47 million). In 40 states the highest-paid public employee is a football coach.

Why do so many highly paid individuals insist that the players who do all the real work get nothing for their efforts? And just how easy do these players have it?

For 20 years I've had a peripheral connection to NCAA women's volleyball, and I've seen firsthand the demands of an NCAA sport. For the most part, volleyball players are like regular college students: most of them have real majors (nursing, engineering, speech pathology, etc.), though some have typical "sports" majors like sports marketing, communications or kinesiology. Unlike football and basketball players, most volleyball players have no false expectations of a professional sports career. They therefore take their classes seriously and most get decent grades despite having real majors.

So, the NCAA's fairy tale about student athletes might be true for volleyball, and many other "minor" NCAA sports like wrestling, track and field, soccer, gymnastics, softball, swimming, and so on. But it's a joke when it comes to the "major" sports.

NCAA football and basketball programs are notorious for phony majors, phony classes, grade rigging, "tutoring" and outright cheating. This is because the only reason these players are enrolled in college is to play sports; the degree is just annoying requirement that keeps getting in the way. In basketball this is completely obvious, with many kids ditching college after a year or two to go pro, or jumping into the NBA directly from high school.

What's it like to play an NCAA sport? College athletes have very little control over their lives for four full years -- often five years for redshirts. Their entire lives revolve around training, practices, travel and matches. The NCAA and coaches step directly into the personal lives of recruits and players, often while they're still in middle school. The NCAA imposes restrictions on who athletes can associate with and how they can interact. Coaches monitor players' Facebook and Twitter accounts. At many colleges players can't even choose what they eat: their diet is dictated by the coaching staff, sometimes all year round. Coaches dictate what time players get up, when they go to bed, how much they should weigh, how fast they should run, how much they should be able to lift, and literally how high they should jump.

Many football players are told to put on weight simply to increase their inertia so that when they tackle opponents they do more damage. The amount of lean muscle you can gain quickly is extremely limited, which means many players are encouraged to pack on the pounds in fat. This kind of weight gain is not easily shed after a football career is over, and has serious consequences for long-term health.

Players are subjected to hazardous training and practice regimes that push their endurance and strength to the limit. Injuries are expected: sprained ankles, broken wrists and fingers, torn rotator cuffs and ripped ACLs are common in volleyball; football players suffer those and far worse injuries, including frequent concussions and spinal injuries. Worse, players are expected to continue playing while injured. Many injured players lose their scholarships. Over a five-year period ending in 2009 NCAA football players suffered 318 ACL tears. That means every weekend four or five NCAA football players were out for at least the season, and for many their careers are ended.

These injuries stay with the players, often causing pain and disability for the rest of their lives. Football players in their 20s and 30s have the arthritic knees of a 70-year-old. Some football players have hidden injuries that could suddenly paralyze them if they get hit the wrong way. Some volleyball players and baseball pitchers can barely lift their arms above their heads. And many football and hockey players suffer brain trauma that can cause debilitating cognitive diseases later in life.

Then there are the coaches. Some of them are are great guys, but too many of them are thugs and crooks. Coaches regularly assault players without repercussions.

So, yes: playing an NCAA sport isn't a job. It's four years of boot camp.

Those who are argue that NCAA athletes aren't employees note that they don't receive monetary compensation. They do, however, receive college tuition, room and board. For some schools this can be worth several hundred thousand dollars over the course of a four-year career. Most NCAA programs also have non-scholarship players, called walk-ons, who don't get their tuition paid but who go through all the same rigors of training as the rest of the team.

All players receive training, coaching and medical care, the exact value of which is difficult to calculate: a small percentage of players go on to professional careers in major league football, baseball or basketball where they can make millions of dollars a year. Even in the case of volleyball, there are European and Asian leagues that pay anywhere from a few thousand to a million dollars a season, or lead to a handful of spots on the national team, which could mean a medal at the Olympics.

But the vast majority of NCAA athletes will have no career in professional sports. There are far more college players than there are positions in professional leagues and national teams.

If, despite the compensation that athletes receive, they aren't employees, what are they? Dedicated amateurs? Well-trained volunteers? Indentured servants? Slaves?

NCAA sports is a multibillion dollar industry that pumps up the profits of television networks like CBS and Fox, cable companies like Comcast, satellite TV companies like Dish Network, apparel and shoe companies like Nike and Reebok, sports equipment companies like Wilson and Spalding, bookmakers and betting parlors in Las Vegas. A hel of a lot of money is made off the blood, sweat and tears of these kids.

NCAA conferences are essentially farm teams for the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. A very good argument could be made for spinning them out of colleges into local semi-pro club teams, which is how it's done in Europe. Club teams are already where the real action is in many high-school sports. But the thought of all that money drying up makes administrators at Division I schools heartsick.

The best thing that could come from the NLRB decision would be medical pensions for all NCAA players (including walkons) -- the NCAA's cost of business shouldn't be offloaded onto our already overburdened health care system. Too many athletes are stuck with huge medical bills ten years down the road for injuries they suffered playing in games the NCAA got paid billions in broadcast rights for.

A minimum standard of professionalism for coaching staff should also be guaranteed, to protect players from abusive coaches.

The American system of collegiate sports makes no sense whatsoever: college is where you should go for an degree in economics, medicine or engineering, not train for the NFL. But this is the system we're stuck with; the NCAA should do right by the kids who are making them bucketloads of money.

Still No Obamacare Boiling Pit of Sewage In Which We Will All Roil and Scream

The CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation released a series of new estimates Monday on the law’s costs and the number of people it will cover. Here are the numbers and main points:
  • Insurance premiums under Obamacare are projected to rise less than 3 percent in 2015, a smaller-than-expected jump as the health insurance exchanges enter their second year.
  • 12 million more Americans will have health coverage in 2014 than would have been the case without the ACA
  • Coverage through the law will cost the federal government about $5 billion less than expected this year.
  • The law’s 10-year cost for the coverage provisions is pegged at $1.383 trillion — $104 billion less than prior calculations. Both figures are lower than prior estimates mostly because the CBO and JCT anticipate premium subsidies being smaller.
  • The budget estimates now project premiums to be about 15 percent lower in 2016 than initial projections four years ago.

SMALLER premium rises? Really? That's not what the folks are telling me inside the bubble.

Name Changed to Protect the Guilty

Samuel Warde has a piece up about political discussions on digital media that is fucking hilarious. It looks like it's been up for awhile but has just now been making the rounds in my social media circles. Check out some of the lines from "Name Changed to Protect the Guilty."

Well, first you commie fucktards would have to change the law and that is not likely to happen, but if you somehow manage it, I and many others will fight.

I can barely tolerate you leftist/statists as it stands.

Hillary doesn’t stand a chance, not now. You are stuck on stupid, Sam, and you deserve whatever insults are thrown your way. You have ignored the truth and support Statism. It’s your religion. You are as bad as a Muslim in my opinion.

Diversity causes division. America was once the melting pot of the world but the leftist trumpets diversity and division, not unity. I do respect the American way of life, you’re the one that hates it and wants to change it into a socialist State. The wheels are coming off the administration and this will be the year of scandal. I’ll be pretty happy if we see some resignations and an impeachment proceeding. Hopefully we will drive a stake through the heart of statism forever. 

Don’t act like the Democrats are any better than Republicans because they have pretty much helped bring this country down. The slide has not stopped. Freedom will soon be a thing of the past.

Seems awfully familiar, doesn't it? :)

Rand Paul's Party of Justice

A very interesting speech from a man obviously trying to broaden his base in a run for the presidency in 2016. There's a lot of the usual libertarian nonsense but how much of it is just what he has to say?

Pay attention to what he says starting at about the 10 minute, 30 second mark regarding the institutional racism in the criminal justice system. More importantly, note how is trying to get a crowd of old, white people to understand that they have to change their message and broaden their appeal.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Racist or Not Racist

Question for my readers...I was recently engaged in a discussion about the racism in our judicial and criminal justice system (see this link for one of the many studies that show this to be factual) with someone who said, "Maybe black people commit more crimes."

Racist or not racist?

I ask the question because it seems that there seems to be so many bowels blown over "playing the race card" and I want to be sensitive to those folks who, like black people in this country, are under near constant attack for their inability to reflect and admit fault.

Hey, they are people too!!

We Are Less Free Than North Korea

At least that's what Mike Huckabee thinks. 

How many times can "freedom die" tonight before we stop listening to these infants?

Now That Is A Teacher!

Religious Freedom in Saudi Arabia

A very hopeful piece which I found illustrates that it's best to leave behind stereotypes.

Mr. Awda, alone among Saudi clerics, openly welcomed the Arab uprisings of 2011, and even published a book called “Questions of Revolution.” Promptly banned here but widely disseminated on the Internet, the book drew on Islamic texts and history to reach some very unorthodox conclusions: that democracy is the only legitimate form of government; that Islam does not permit theocracy; that separation of powers is required; that the worst despotism is that practiced in the name of religion.

I've come a long way with my horrible bias and prejudice towards Muslims. I let my anger over the 9-11 attacks cloud my judgment and that was very short sighted and fundamentally flawed. Most of what changed me I don't write about much on here. The general reason are the students that I have had the absolute honor to know in the last few years that are of the Islamic faith. These young men and women have showed me that there is always hope for a strong bridge between the East and the West.

Of course, the hope extends beyond me. The conservatives of the Islamic world (like our own conservatives here) aren't going to last if they don't change.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jesus Was Married

A fragment of an ancient Egyptian papyrus known as the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," unveiled in 2012, shows no evidence of being a modern forgery, as some critics had charged, according to an article published in the Harvard Theological ReviewCertainly, this will cause millions of bowels to be blown around our nation and indeed the world but I don't see how this changes anything.

Does it make Him less of the Son of God if He was married? No. He was a rabbi and there were no priests during that time that took vows of celibacy. He and His wife would stand as shining examples of a loving, committed relationship that should be emulated. After all, He spoke frequently of the evil of adultery and how couples should stay committed to one another. It seems now that He not only talked the talk but walked the walk and that illustrates just how perfect and deep his integrity ran.

A Nation of Laws

Here's a handy chronology of the history of United States immigration laws. A few points to take note of...

Chinese Exclusion Acts / Immigration Exclusion Act (1882): prohibited citizenship for Chinese immigrants. Subsequent acts reinforcing the exclusion of Chinese immigrant were passed in 1884, 1886 and 1888. "In 1882, 1884, 1886, and 1888, Congress passed Chinese exclusion acts, suspending immigration of Chinese laborers and barring reentry of all Chinese laborers who departed and did not return before the passage of the Act" (Lowe 180-81fn14).


Immigration Act of 1917: Exclusion of Asian Indians (1917) "A geographical criterion was used to exclude Asian Indians, because their racial or ethnic status was unclear" (Lowe, 180-81fn14).

I bring both of these laws to light because they were, at one time, the law of the land and then they were changed. It's not the fucking end of all that is holy if we change immigration law (or any law for that matter) that isn't working and/or not applicable to the times.

Our current system of immigration isn't working. We have over 11 million undocumented workers that are effectively being given amnesty. We are not going to deport the vast majority of them. 40% of them didn't sneak across the border. They stayed beyond their work visas which means that all the border securing mouth foaming isn't applicable. It's time for the House to pass Marco Rubio's bill so we can finally have immigration law that fits the time.

Sounds Like a Good Time!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Good Words (Bill Maher)

“The GOP has kind of become talk radio, an echo chamber where people are not interested in actually legislating or compromising or fixing America, just in screeching about how liberals have ruined it." 

---Bill Maher, 11 April 2014. 

Check out the whole video, folks, as it is an excellent summation of the Right today. There's also a mention of "voices in their heads" which I fond amusing.

Yet it was his brief mention of why conservatives bitch about people that don't work and yet still seem to have so much time during the day to listen to talk radio got me wondering. Don't they have jobs? It reminds me of this time I had to go downtown for a meeting. I parked my car in a underground ramp and when I got out, I could here Rush Limbaugh's voice blaring out of a car. Some dude was sitting in his car, staring straight ahead with an ultra angry look on his face, fervently glued to his radio and hanging on every word Rush said. What a miserable life that fellow must have had...

The End of the Benghazi Mouthfoam

GOP Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, says he’s satisfied with how the US military and the Obama administration responded to the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.The news also exonerates expected Democratic presidential nominee, and then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

“I think I’ve pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did,” McKeon said to reporters today, as quoted by AP.

Will they finally leave it alone? Personally, I hope they keep talking about it for the next two years through both election cycles. Between their obsession with the ACA and the IRS, they are like this...

The Only Health Care Nightmare? Pure Spite

Paul Krugman's recent piece on the Affordable Care Act pretty much sums everything up to current status. Some choice cuts...

But wait: What about all the people who lost their policies thanks to Obamacare? The answer is that this looks more than ever like a relatively small issue hyped by right-wing propaganda. RAND finds that fewer than a million people who previously had individual insurance became uninsured — and many of those transitions, one guesses, had nothing to do with Obamacare. It’s worth noting that, so far, not one of the supposed horror stories touted in Koch-backed anti-reform advertisements has stood up to scrutiny, suggesting that real horror stories are rare.

Rare indeed. So much so that you really don't here about them much except for in the right wing blogsphere with the sole intention of increasing mouth foam.

Republicans clearly have no idea how to respond to these developments. They can’t offer any real alternative to Obamacare, because you can’t achieve the good stuff in the Affordable Care Act, like coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, without also including the stuff they hate, the requirement that everyone buy insurance and the subsidies that make that requirement possible. Their political strategy has been to talk vaguely about replacing reform while waiting for its inevitable collapse. And what if reform doesn’t collapse? They have no idea what to do.

This is especially true since it was their idea to begin with!

What’s amazing about this wave of rejection is that it appears to be motivated by pure spite. The federal government is prepared to pay for Medicaid expansion, so it would cost the states nothing, and would, in fact, provide an inflow of dollars. The health economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the principal architects of health reform — and normally a very mild-mannered guy — recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.

Motivated by pure could extend that to pretty much every issue the Right whines about. They really don't have any there there...

Gruber's point really drives home how this issue ties into all the other ones that will part of this year's election. Last Wednesday, in a single committee meeting, Republicans voted against the Minimum Wage, Equal Pay, LGBT Rights, and Mine Safety. Add in a decided lack of movement on the immigration issue and the Republican party is pretty much the same one that ran behind Mitt Romney in 2012. Have they learned anything?

More importantly, do they honestly think voters aren't paying attention to this?