Contributors

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Republican Brain Part Two: Liberal Denial and A New Framework

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a guy I know from the club the other day about the military. He served in Vietnam and we always like to discuss history as we pump iron. I mentioned to him that the Pentagon these days has their eyes on the larger threat of climate change and the implications it presents for destabilization around the world.

He instantly became enraged and began to caterwaul about how it was all made up, a hoax etc....the usual response that comes from a plethora of right wing propaganda. I tried to explain to him that the science was solid but he would have none of it. I walked away in frustration, as I invariably do when I try to let facts pierce the bubble, and wondered what I could have said differently to change his mind. Since that time, I have been reading Chris Mooney's book, The Republican Brain and, as the rest of the introduction shows us, I failed to recognize key traits of the conservative brain,.

In short, I was a liberal in denial.

As seen in my first post about Mooney's book, the distribution of falsehoods is not equal or symmetrical across the political spectrum. As Mooney puts it, "It's not that liberals are never wrong or biased...it's that political wrongness is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers." Worse,

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome and that's precisely where our country stands now with regard to conservative denial of reality.

Sadly, we have been trained to "equivocate" by the media and, indeed, our culture at large. In order for us to move forward, non conservatives have to end this behavior immediately. Why?

The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had-or will have-world changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what's true-which they both generate and perpetuate.

No doubt. The falsehoods regarding guns, detailed on this site, are directly responsible for thousands of deaths from gun violence every year. What are some other patently wrong ideas? Here are a few from pages 4-5 of the book.

1. The Affordable Care Act-government takeover, death panels, increase federal budget deficit, cut Medicare benefits, subsidize abortions, health care for illegal immigrants.

2. Abortion increases risk of breast cancer and mental disorders

3. The Iraq War-Saddam had WMDs.

4. Economics-Tax cuts increase government revenue 

5. Science-Climate change is a hoax, evolution not accepted by 43 percent of conservatives

As Bill Maher would put it, these are all Zombie Lies. They keep coming back...again and again, and as they do, Mooney warns...

Errors and misconceptions like these can have momentous consequences. They can ruin lives, economies, countries, and planets. And today, it is clearly conservatives-much more than liberals-who reject what is true about war and peace, health and safety, history and money, science and government.

In other words, political conservatives have placed themselves in direct conflict with modern scientific knowledge, which shows beyond serious question that global warming is real and caused by humans, and evolution is real and the cause of humans. If you don't expect either claim, you cannot possibly understand the world or our place in it.

Now that we have established that this is the case with today's conservative, we have to understand why the believe what they do. This is the road map to where Mooney will be going with the rest of the book. Half of the explanation lies with what Mooney calls the environmental reason or the "nurture" aspect of conservative development. In a nutshell, the GOP did what it had to do to get ahead. They embraced the religious right and corporate interests that directly conflict with the obvious solutions to the list above. Conservative culture arose out of these interests and this is how they are weened as they develop.

Further, they reacted to the 1960s counter culture movement in classic fashion, deriding "too much change, too much pushing of equality, and too many attacks on traditional values-all occurring too fast." If you put baby in a corner, a right wing authoritarian emerges:)

Of course, this doesn't account for the psychological side of the equation which is the other half of the explanation for why conservatives believe as they do. The conservative platform offers a solution to this way too fast change that hits people on a deeply psychological level. As Mooney puts it, "it's something certain in a changing world; wanting to preserve one's own ways in uncertain times, and one's one group in the face of difference." Ideology is, after all, deeply personal and emotional so, naturally, it's directly tied to psychology.

I've written about this many times. This need arises from fear as one ages. Personal, physical failings stoke the fires of blame for the outside world. This, in turn, leads to that adolescent behavior and a desire to live life like we used to "back in the day." I always chuckle about this when some of my conservative friends wax nostalgic about eating what they want, not wearing a helmet, and being gone all day playing when they were kids. This is a direct response to fear of getting old and dying. There's a reason we don't do these things anymore....because we have progressed and evolved to live a higher quality of life!

Mooney then explains how this path will not be one of reductionism (conservatives are like this because their psychology...blah blah blah). The path will be one of determinism, encompassing all of the aspects that human beings deal with on a daily basis in their interactions with an emphasis on psychological reactions. This path must explore all the variables that lead to why conservatives are more closed, fixed and certain in their views and why liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced. On page 12, he issues the following warning...

[Conservatives]...won't like hearing that they're often wrong and dogmatic about it, so they may dogmatically resist this conclusion. They may also try to turn the tables and pretend liberals are the close minded ones, ignoring volumes of science in the process.

Turn the tables? Conservatives? Nah....:)

With the foundation now more or less set, the core reason for that path we are about to take is then revealed by Mooney. Regarding liberals,

On the one hand, we're absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about death panels. Obama is a Muslim. Climate change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can't comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a fellow liberal say, "I can't believe the Republicans are so stupid they can believe X!"

And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them-to argue, argue, argue about why we are right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right wing misinformation's defeat is nigh, if we could just make people wise and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information. 

In this, we both underestimate conservatives, and we fail to understand them.

Stunning. Remind you of anyone?:)

These passages led me to serious reflection. Eventually, the facts will win but how long will that take simply because liberals are in denial about the nature/nurture of conservatives? How many more people will suffer simply because liberals are stuck thinking that facts alone will change things..that we fail to note "how people work," as Mooney puts it? I've started down this path somewhat, I suppose, when I talk about gun violence. The Gun Cult won't change until they are personally affected very deeply by tragedy. But this isn't enough.

So what are the basics of how conservatives work?

So it's not that Schlafly, or other conservatives are stupid or can't make an argument. Rather, the problem is that when Schafly makes an argument, it's hard to believe that it has anything to do with real intellectual give and take. He's not arguing out of an openness to changing his mind. He's arguing to reaffirm what he already thinks (his "faith"), to defend the authorities he trusts, and to bolster the beliefs of his compatriots, his tribe, his team.

This paragraph pretty much sums up every blog discussion with conservative commenters for fucking ever!! This is exactly the motivation behind conservatives' arguments and why they behave and think the way they do. This is how they work. By denying this reality, liberals are helping to perpetuate the erosion of country. We must understand this is the place from where they define themselves.

We need a new strategy and the rest of Mooney's book details such a new strategy. I'm looking forward to the answers that he's going to offer because, while I'm please with the progress we have made since the president took office, we obviously have a much longer way to go. We can get there if we have a deeper understanding of how the conservative really operates and functions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Progress Defined


Audi Makes Diesel out of Thin Air (and Water)

German automobile giant Audi has a pilot program to produce diesel from carbon dioxide pulled out of the air, combining it with hydrogen electrolyzed from water with electricity from wind turbines. According to Audi's website:
Production of Audi e‑diesel involves various steps: First, water heated up to form steam is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by means of high-temperature electrolysis. This process, involving a temperature in excess of 800 degrees Celsius, is more efficient than conventional techniques because of heat recovery, for example. Another special feature of high-temperature electrolysis is that it can be used dynamically, to stabilize the grid when production of green power peaks.

In two further steps, the hydrogen reacts with the CO2 in synthesis reactors, again under pressure and at high temperature. The reaction product is a liquid made from long‑chain hydrocarbon compounds, known as blue crude. The efficiency of the overall process – from renewable power to liquid hydrocarbon – is very high at around 70 percent. Similarly to a fossil crude oil, blue crude can be refined to yield the end product Audi e‑diesel. This synthetic fuel is free from sulfur and aromatic hydrocarbons, and its high cetane number means it is readily ignitable. As lab tests conducted at Audi have shown, it is suitable for admixing with fossil diesel or, prospectively, for use as a fuel in its own right.
Audi also has a pilot plant that produces "e-gas," creating methane (natural gas) with a similar process. Natural gas can be used to power vehicles, heat homes, cook food, etc.

The "blue crude" idea is kind of cool, as it would allow existing vehicles to be powered by carbon-neutral fuel. But it's limited: when we start cleaning up our act and reducing carbon emissions, over time the level of CO2 will drop as the carbon dioxide is sequestered in animals, plants, the earth and the ocean.

The real promise of this process is the extremely efficient high-temperature electrolysis that creates hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used to power fuel cells, which emit water as their waste product. Fuel cells powered the Apollo moon missions: the astronauts drank the water. Fuel cells are used in cars like the Audi h-tron, the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity. Fuel cells can also generate electricity for general consumption.

As mentioned on the Audi website, this would allow load balancing of the grid: when wind and solar are making more electricity than is being consumed, the excess can be diverted to hydrogen production, which can then be stored. That hydrogen could be used to power fuel cells to generate electricity when wind and solar are offline, or to power vehicles.

Storage of excess energy from wind and solar has always been a major criticism of the technologies. And conservatives don't have to worry: these "green" energy production techniques will still piss off environmentalists. Solar and wind farms will kill some birds and displace some endangered species, and large-scale electrolysis will have to use ocean water, which means there will be briny waste that kill some fish.

We will still be the undisputed rulers of the earth, wielding the power of life and death: it'll just be a little more life and a little less death.

Everybody wins!

The "Liberal" Media v The City of Baltimore

While the (ahem) liberal media continues to show images of crazy niggers looting the city of Baltimore, I thought I would share some other images.






































































And these images are where on MSNBC?


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Portrait of A Right Wing Blogger

This is who you are arguing with, folks.

































Feel some pity for them as they were likely picked on a lot in their lives (hence the gun humping) but, really and truly, don't waste your time.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Breathing Democrat

In the coming presidential election in 2016, the Democrats need only nominate a breathing human and they will likely win. Here's why:

In looking at the electoral map, the Democrats essentially have 246 EVs baked in the cake.

Take a look:

California-55
New York-29
Illinois-20
Pennsylvania-20
Michigan-16
Washington-12
Minnesota-10
Wisconsin-10
Oregon-7
Maine-4
Vermont-3
Mass-11
Rhode Island-4
New Hampshire-4
Connecticut-7
New Jersey-14
Delaware-3
Maryland-10
Hawaii-4
DC-3

One could also throw in Iowa with its 6 EVs as its only gone GOP in 1984 and 2004 but let's just leave that as a tossup. Some might argue Wisconsin is a tossup but let's remember that they have been blue since 1984, including voting for Dukakis in 1988!

So, the Democrats only have to run a breathing human and they will win these states. Webb or O'Malley would win all of these states. Sanders would likely win them as well, especially if the GOP nominates a REAL CONSERVATIVE as they promise to do in 2016. With a base of 242, that only leaves 28 EVs so the Democrats could pick up Florida and be done. Or they could snag Ohio and a couple of western states and do the same thing. Their path to the White House can take many forms. 

The GOP candidate, on the other hand, starts with a much smaller base, 206 EVs. To get to 270, they have to run the table in nearly all of the swing states and hold the ever changing North Carolina. 64 EVs is a steep climb and if they really do nominate a far right candidate, they simply won't get any of the swing states. The independents won't go for them.

Now, if it is indeed going to be Hillary, then you can start ticking off Ohio and a couple of the western states like Colorado and New Mexico. Even if she runs a weak campaign and is continually hounded by scandal, she will still eek out a win. Of course, that's assuming that conservative leaning women/moderate women don't really vote for her. If they do, well...it could be 1988 except of the Dems, all over again.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Anger Translator

Mainstreaming McVeigh

A great piece from Josh Horwitz about how the Gun Cult has mainstreamed Timothy McVeigh's ideas.

When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Building, he was wearing a t-shirt he purchased at a gun show. It had a picture of President Abraham Lincoln on the front with the words "SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS [THUS ALWAYS TO TYRANTS]." ... It's remarkable to think that, 20 years after we buried 168 Americans in a horrific act of terrorism, we are hearing the same exact perverse philosophy being promoted by Republican candidates running for the office of President of the United States.

Do they even understand what they are fomenting?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scientific Consensus On Guns

In addition to their being a scientific consensus on climate change, there is also one on guns.

So, for example, one survey asked whether having a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide. An overwhelming share of the 150 people who responded, 84%, said yes.

I also found widespread confidence that a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).

Yep.

We Solve Our Problems In Murca With Guns!

Police: Man pulls gun at softball game because granddaughter didn't play

Thanks, Gun Cult!

Giving Guns To Criminals

It looks like a new "gun rights" bill in Missouri would end up allowing the following convicted felons to still obtain a gun.

  • Attempted Rape in the First Degree (when no injury results)
  • Attempted Forcible Rape in the First Degree (when no injury results)
  • Deviate Sexual Assault
  • Sexual Assault/ Rape in the Second Degree
  • Statutory Rape in the First Degree (unless victim under 12)
  • Statutory Rape in the Second Degree
  • Abusing an Individual through Forced Labor
  • Trafficking for the Purpose of Slavery, Involuntary Servitude, Peonage, or Forced Labor
  • Trafficking for the Purposes of Sexual Exploitation
  • Sexual Trafficking of a Child
  • Voluntary Manslaughter
  • Involuntary Manslaughter
  • Assault in the Second Degree (unless a special victim)
  • Assault in the Third Degree
  • Domestic Assault in the Second Degree
  • Domestic Assault in the Third Degree
  • Assault while on School Property
  • Assault of a Law Enforcement Officer in the Second Degree § 565.082
  • Felonious Restraint
  • Child Abduction
  • Invasion of Privacy in the First Degree
  • Infanticide
  • Promoting Prostitution in the First Degree
  • Promoting Prostitution in the Second Degree
  • Promoting Prostitution in the Third Degree
  • Promoting Travel for Prostitution
  • Robbery in the Second Degree
  • Arson in the Second Degree
  • Knowingly Burning or Exploding
  • Causing Catastrophe
  • Use or Possession of Metal Penetrating Bullet During the Commission of a Crime
  • Sexual Exploitation of a Minor
  • Promoting Child Pornography in the First Degree
  • Promoting Child Pornography in the Second Degree
  • Possession of Child Pornography
  • Repeated Cross Burning
  • Rioting
  • Promoting a Civil Disorder in the First Degree
  • Making a Terrorist Threat
  • Killing or Disabling a Police Animal
  • Trafficking Drugs in the First Degree
  • Treason
  • Supporting Terrorism
I thought the Gun Cult supported enforcing existing laws, not making it easier for criminals to obtain guns.

Huh.


GOP Supporting the Affordable Care Act?

From Hot Air via Talking Points Memo...(say what?!!)

Senate GOP leadership wants to restore federal ObamaCare subsidies through 2017 if SCOTUS strikes them down

Heavy majorities, including a majority of Republicans, want the subsidies restored if the White House loses in Halbig, an ominous sign for the congressional GOP. In theory, voter anger could be so intense that both chambers of Congress will end up back under Democratic control, ensuring that the subsidies will be restored anyway.

Just as I predicted. 

And now even Hot Air is admitting what the rest of us already knew: the ACA is gaining popularity because it's effective and working. 

It looks like it may not matter much how SCOTUS rules on King v Burwell in June.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Truly Dismal Science

There are a lot of cop shows on TV. There have been four versions of Law & Order (vanilla, SVU, LA, Criminal Intent and UK). There've been four versions of CSI (vanilla, New York, Miami and Cyber). There've been three versions of NCIS (vanilla, Los Angeles and New Orleans), which completely baffles me: why is the Navy so riddled with crime, and anyway, doesn't the Posse Comitatus Act prevent NCIS officers from messing around in civilian cases? (Turns out, it does.)

According to an analysis on Details.com, 42% of all the characters on American television are cops (including FBI agents, forensic analysts, medical examiners, secret agents). And that's not even counting vigilantes like the Arrow and the Winchester brothers who fight superhuman and supernatural threats.

Now, I'm not going to bemoan the fact that so much of our entertainment is focused on crime, or that average American children see 16,000 murders by the time they're 18, or that seeing this endless parade of death and destruction gives us a warped view of the world, making us think things are far more dangerous than they really are.

For example, child abductions by strangers are much rarer than you'd think based on TV shows. Most kids are taken by relatives:
Only a tiny minority of kidnapped children are taken by strangers. Between 1990 and 1995 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children handled only 515 stranger abductions, 3.1 percent of its caseload. A 2000 report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs reported that more than 3/4 of kidnappings were committed by family members or acquaintances of the child. The study also found that children abducted by strangers were harmed less frequently than those taken by acquaintances.
But perhaps the most misleading aspect of TV cop shows is the accuracy of forensic analysis. Crime scene investigators (CSIs) are wrong a heck of a lot more than the TV shows make you think.

Admittedly, I've always been skeptical of how quickly and easily the guys on CSI identify which implement was was used to hack someone up based on tool marks. Or whether it was this or that suspect based on teeth marks. Or matching hair samples or bullets in a microscope, just by eyeballing it.

FBI forensic hair examiners gave flawed testimony in 95% of the cases examined.
It turns out that my skepticism was warranted. As reported by the Washington Post, an FBI investigation of 268 cases determined that the forensic hair testimony in 257 of those cases was flawed, or an error rate of more than 95%. Worse, 32 of those were death penalty cases. In one of them they matched human hair to a dog.

For something supposedly straightforward like ballistics, the error rate is variously claimed to be 1.2% or 10% or not really known. Given that bullets that hit people are pretty smashed up, the error rate will intrinsically be quite high. Ditto for fingerprints: various studies have found false negative results as high as 10%, though fortunately the false positive rate is typically much less than 1%. DNA testing still boils down to an analyst sitting down and comparing a couple of blotches on a printout.

The cop shows like to emphasize that crime scene analysis is Science!. But that's a mischaracterization of what's really going on. CSIs are technicians who use scientific tools like microscopes, DNA analysis and mass spectrometers to gather information about crime scene evidence, which they then interpret.

They need technical training to make sure that they properly prepare samples for analysis, avoid cross-contamination and understand the limitations of their measurements.

But that doesn't make the real task they perform "science," any more than using a pH tester makes the guy who installed your water softener a scientist, or your accountant an electronic engineer because he uses a calculator.

Crime scene analysis is an interpretive art, not a science.
Analyzing the data from testing of crime scene evidence is an interpretive art, not science. Scientists run statistical analyses on large samples of data. They conduct experiments over and over again, or verify the results of other scientists' experiments. They formulate new theories based on mathematical models of matter and the universe, and then predict results of experiments before they do them. They control as many variables at once and then vary them one at a time to make sure they're really measuring what they they think they're measuring.

The guys at Mythbusters are more like scientists than crime scene analysts.

And that's not CSIs' fault. They have to decide who committed a crime based on one or two tiny bits of evidence. Their samples are frequently contaminated by victims and paramedics. They can't reproduce results by getting the criminal to commit the crime multiple times. Their job is intrinsically difficult, made more so by the demands of the justice system and the expectations of victims.

The scientific method can be utilized to determine the accuracy of the methods CSIs employ -- experiments and statistical analyses can be run on the performance of these experts. But that's only marginally useful: molecules and atoms and photons follow the laws of chemistry and physics, and always behave the same way under the same conditions.

Human beings don't: they get distracted, bored, tired. Their vision gets blurry from lack of sleep and dirty contacts. They go through divorces. They're influenced by the detectives in the case, or the brutality of the crime. They have large backlogs of cases and are in a hurry to catch up. From the results of the FBI's analysis of hair forensics, it's clear that these factors have as much influence on crime scene analysis as any underlying science.

If crime scene analysis is a science, it -- rather than economics -- is truly the dismal science.

Free Trade=Jobs and Growth

The president's trade agenda is going to face opposition...from the Democrats. In point of fact, they are the ones this time around that are ignoring reality and behaving illogically while the Republicans support the president's policy. The trade agreement proposed by the president would increase exports, insource jobs and take away foreign countries ability to demand that goods be built on their soil. Thus, more manufacturing could return home.

Further, it would allow our country more say in the rules of trade in Asia, as opposed to China and Japan. This agreement also allows the president to fast track trade pacts without Congress rewriting the legislation to the point of insanity. The legislative branch can only vote up or down. Given its dysfunction, it would be a very good thing to give the president this power.

We can't return to the age of protectionism, folks. It was this kind of behavior that was the direct cause of war. Breton Woods set us on a path to change all that. We need to continue all policies that promote free trade and leave the ghost of mercantilism behind.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Amazing Words

A response on Quora regarding Wayne LaPierre's speech at the NRA convention this year.

Fear, fear, and more fear. Keep the boogeyman alive, lurking in the shadows, ready to jump out and snatch our children, our guns, and our freedom. It rallies the base and keeps the donations coming.

To paraphrase Mr. LaPierre, all around the country people tell him they have never been more worried about their country. They "feel" like their freedoms are slipping away, and lie awake at night worrying about their families, their children, and the future.

What a miserable existence they must have, and all unwarranted.

To quote directly from his speech:
"In a nation in which, almost everywhere you look, in profoundly troubling ways, freedom has been diminished. Our right to gather, our right to speak, our financial freedom, our right to care for our families as we see fit, our religious freedom, our right to privacy - all of it in decline."

What the hell is he talking about? 

Our right to peacefully gather is still safe. Does he not remember the March for Life in Washington in January? Or the Occupy movement?


Our right to speak? What? What was he doing at the NRA convention? Isn't Fox News and MSNBC still on the air? Can he name one newspaper the government has shut down? Aren't birthers still challenging President Obama's citizenship?

Our financial freedom? Sure, the economy took a dive in 2008. People lost their jobs and suffered economically. Banks and corporations suffered, though many got immediate government assistance. Some regulations have been restored to about what they were in the mid 1990s, when the economy was booming. There is bickering about raising taxes, like there has been over the last century. But can he name one instance where the government has seized assets of an individual or company without cause? Or one instance where the government without cause specifically restricted the ability of an individual or company to do business? No, laws and regulations are equally applied.

Our right to care for our families as we see fit? Can he name one instance where the federal government interfered with what a law-abiding family did in their own home as far as what they taught their children, chose for their diet, what media they watched, what entertainment they chose, or dictated what places they went, or what church they intended? If a family uses any public service, such as the schools, what family has been forced to live under rules that did not apply to everyone else?

Our religious freedom? Can he name one church, synagogue, or mosque that has been shut down? Or one instance where a government official walked into a place or worship and told the minister, priest, rabbi, or imam they could not express what they believed (as long as they did not illegally advocate violence against others)? Certain conservative groups have tried to prevent the building of new mosques, but not the government.

Can Mr. LaPierre name one instance where Christians or those of any other religion have been denied the right to peacefully assemble or express their views? Did he miss the following events where they did so?


Again, as far as religious freedom, can he name one instance where a church or individual has been told they could not display a nativity scene or other religious symbol on private property? 

There are those who feel the government should favor and support their religion above others in government-funded institutions, and these issues are being sorted out in court as they always have been. However, as far as direct government restrictions upon individuals or places of worship, there is not one instance where a US citizen has been prohibited free exercise of religion while in their home, place of worship, or in a lawful public assembly.


Now, on our right to privacy, I agree that both liberals and conservatives have questioned the provisions of the Patriot Act and Executive Orders issued under both President Bush and President Obama. That will be sorted out by the courts and Congress, as is appropriate.

The rest of it is the usual rhetoric, and by usual I mean baseles and inaccurate, to create enough fear to rally the base into a frenzy and oppose anything linked to a Democratic initiative or President Obama. And of course, to keep financial donations to the NRA coming so the NRA can save us from all this peril.

Does anyone wonder why US politics and culture are polarized?

And as far as the Second Amendment right to bear arms, The ten-year ban on assault rifles that started in 1994 expired in 2004. Legislation was proposed in 2013 to basically renew the ban, but it failed to pass. If it had passed it would have banned the sale of assault weapons but would not have affected the ones already owned. President Obama's Executive Orders concerning the purchase of firearms merely clarified existing regulations or brought them to levels that previously existed. 


As far as gun laws passed by state legislatures after the shooting at Sandy Hook, about two thirds of those laws loosened restrictions on firearms. 

Like it or not, the right to buy and own firearms in the United States has not changed in any significant way during the administration of President Obama. Some may see that as a failure, others as success, but that is the reality of the situation.

One of the finest comments I have ever read. I hope it will change some minds. 

Good Words


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Oklahoma Acknowledges Reality

For a long time it's been fashionable for conservative governors in states like Florida and Wisconsin to issue fiats against state employees saying the phrase "Climate Change." They seem to think climate change is like Beetlejuice: if you say it three times it will suddenly appear.

So it's refreshing to see the conservative governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, finally acknowledge the reality that disposing of fracking waste by injecting it into the earth causes earthquakes. They even have a website that admits it:
Oklahoma experienced 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014 compared to 109 events recorded in 2013. This rise in seismic events has the attention of scientists, citizens, policymakers, media and industry. See what information and research state officials and regulators are relying on as the situation progresses.
This is hard for Oklahoma to admit because they depend heavily on fossil fuel production for tax revenues, and they've been heavily pressured to keep denying reality by major employers and campaign donors in the oil business.

Fracking takes millions of gallons of clean water and fills with carcinogens and radioactive elements.
The basic problem is that fracking oil and gas fields takes millions of gallons of water that has been laced with toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. To top it off, fracking fluid also dredges up a lot of radioactive elements. This polluted waste water has to be dealt with, and for decades the cheapest solution was to just pump it into the ground and forget about it.

But Oklahoma has pumped so much waste water into the ground that the fault lines under the state have become lubricated, allowing them to move. That causes earthquakes. These are now happening several times a day in Oklahoma, making it impossible to ignore the problem any longer.

The picture on the Oklahoma earthquake website (shown above) shows a wheat field. That's supposed to make us think that Oklahoma is a state filled with clean air, fresh water and amber fields of grain.

But the reality is more like the picture on the right: barren fields of ugly pump jacks, giant plumes of flame from natural gas flaring, and ugly black smoke.

Extracting fossil fuels from the earth is a dangerous, dirty, ugly business. Moving it around the country is a dangerous, dirty, ugly business. Refining it is a dangerous, dirty, ugly business.

It's necessary business, no question about it. But just because we need oil and gas and coal doesn't mean we have to allow the people who produce fossil fuels take all the profit and pass off all the risks to the rest of us. The risks from fossil fuel extraction include not only earthquakes, but also polluted aquifers, increased air pollution around drill sites, pipeline explosions, oil train explosions, mine explosions, emissions of carcinogens from refining operations, massive coal fly ash spills that kill millions of fish and pollute streams and lakes. And that doesn't even consider the environmental damage from burning the oil, gas and coal for energy.

Fracking takes a lot of water and much of the American West is in severe drought.
The fracking waste disposal problems underlines another problem, particularly in Texas and the American West: drought. Fracking takes a lot of water, and much of Oklahoma is in severe drought.

As the earthquakes around the country show, injecting fracking waste into deep wells is foolish and shortsighted. But it's worse than that. Fracking takes millions of gallons of desperately needed clean water, adds carcinogens, pumps it into the ground, pulling up radiation and other toxic chemicals and then injects it miles deep somewhere else. All that clean water is made filthy and is lost. Forever. Well, we hope it's forever...

Can the West really afford to waste that much water for fracking? Don't Oklahoma farmers need that water to grow their wheat?

It seems there's a simple solution: instead of dumping this water, frackers should filter the water and recycle it for use in fracking.

Yeah, it would make gas cost more. But the people who cause problems -- poisoned aquifers, earthquakes, pipeline and rail explosions, air pollution -- should pay for the damage they're causing.

Why should they get all the profit and pass the costs off to everyone else?

Somehow Racist and Sexist at the Same Time

Check out Wayne LaPierre's remarks on President Obama, starting at the 8 minute mark

 

"Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough"

Wow.


Zombie Lies – Environmental Edition

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How 'Bout We Apply Conservative Logic to CEO Salaries?

Last week Seattle CEO Dan Price announced that he was going to pay a minimum wage of $70,000 at his credit card processing company. It makes a ceratin sense: shouldn't the people who actually do all the work at a company make the money?

The right went nuts:
Perhaps the most prominent attacker was Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio host, who labeled the move “pure, unadulterated socialism, which has never worked.”

He added: “That’s why I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”
Why does the right believe this?
Most critics were not as ideological as Mr. Limbaugh but were nevertheless put off by Mr. Price’s deviation from trusting in the market, both to set wages (his own as chief executive and that of his employees) and to maximize his own profits. Overpaying workers may make them lazy and is likely to inspire resentment among colleagues who once sat on the higher end of the pay divide, they warned.
Bloomberg reports that in the 1950s, the golden era of American prosperity, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker did. That rose to 42-1 in the 1980s, and 120-1 by 2000. In 2009 it was 179-1, and last year it had already increased to 204 to 1, up 20% since the recession.

What's really disturbing about the experts' dire warning is that they claim raising the wages of lower-paid workers will anger the  higher-paid workers. Why? Because they can't lord their bigger paychecks over the plebes anymore? Are people really so morally deficient that they derive pleasure from other people making less money than they do?

But back to CEOs: by Rush Limbaugh's own logic, overpaying CEOs makes them lazy and incompetent. And this seems to be the case. For example, Ron Johnson, the former CEO of J.C. Penney, made 1,795 times the average worker. He was let go after 18 months because he was destroying the company, making changes that drove the department store chain's most loyal customers away.

Remember Mitt Romney's famous "I like being able to fire people" quote from the 2012 campaign? According to conservative ideology, wielding this kind of power over people makes them do a better job. The threat of losing their job is supposed to improve performance.

First, how is being fired a threat if you just got paid $10 or $20 or $50 million last year?

Then, when CEOs do get fired, they almost always get gigantic severance packages:
[Target executive] Robert Ulrich retired with a $138 million package. Exxon Mobil’s Lee Raymond left in 2005 with a whopping $321 million. Gillete’s James Kilts took $165 million. Home Depot’s Robert Nardelli received $223.3 million. And yes, you can be a shady character and still collect. UnitedHealth Group’s William McGuire, embroiled in a options scandal, exited with $286 million.
By any sort of conservative logic, these mammoth severances are completely indefensible. What kind of leverage does the board have over a CEO if getting fired nets the guy 10 times the average Powerball winner?

And it doesn't matter how much CEOs screw up. Even after Ron Johnson pooched J. C. Penney, some idiots have given him $30 million to "reinvent" the shopping experience.

Clearly, paying an annual salary that allows someone to live the rest of his life without having to work another day is wrong-headed, counterproductive and socialistic.

CEO salaries didn't increase tenfold over sixty years because of the "market." Salaries rose because greedy, self-dealing CEOs all sit on each other's compensation boards and incestuously vote each other bigger and bigger salaries. It's one giant back-scratching quid-pro-quo scam.

By conservative lights, the best way to increase CEO performance, is to cut them all down a peg. Slash their salaries and take away their golden parachutes. Keep them hungry and competitive. Put the fear of god into them. Make firing them mean something. If you pay them too much they'll go soft.

If these kind of "market forces" are supposed to work for teachers, janitors and factory workers, they should work for CEOs too. And because CEO salaries are so huge, pay cuts for execs will really crank up corporate profits at the same time!

Or, as a highly-compensated CEO might say, "Net-net: win-win!"

The End of the Liberal Media Meme

Today, I formally declare the death of the liberal media meme so often used by conservatives. With the admission that the New York Times and the Washington Post have joined Fox News for exclusive deals to anti-Clinton research, this signals the end of that giant pile of shit.

The media has always been interested in what sells and sensationalizes, not propping up liberal leaders and candidates. Conservatives don't like when the media reports on liberals succeeding because it reveals the contrast they don't want the voters to see. There's no bias in illustrating that liberals are generally better at solving problems than conservatives. It's simply a fact. Whether it's the economy, foreign policy, the environment, health care or education, liberals do a better job. Period. Relating these facts doesn't make the media liberal.

Every major news outlet is going to be reporting about the emails, the donations and Bill Clinton's shenanigans for the next 18 months...just like they reported about Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, Benghazi, and all the other "OMG!" moments in the political career of Barack Obama. The difference between their reporting on this stuff as opposed to say...WMD's in Iraq...is that conservative mistakes invariably result in massive disaster (terrorists attack on US soil-loss of 3000 lives, city of New Orleans falling into the sea, economy collapsing).

Perhaps if conservatives don't like that, they should do a better job of being more competent. Of course, that begins with an admission that the core tenets of their ideology are complete failures.

Sam Brownback-Personal Shopping Assistant!


Monday, April 20, 2015

We're All Alone!

Last week several articles appeared reporting that there are no super-advanced societies in the 100,000 galaxies they searched. We're all alone in the universe!

But that's not really what it means. What the study (which started in 2012) really found was that there were no infrared emissions that have the signature of a Dyson sphere.

A Dyson sphere (postulated by physicist Freeman Dyson) is a structure that completely surrounds a star and captures all its energy. Dyson theorized that an advanced civilization will dismantle all the planets in its solar system and build a huge structure to house its ever-growing population. The only energy that escapes is a small amount of "waste heat" emitted as infrared from the outer surface of the Dyson sphere. That waste heat was what the  researchers were looking for.

Dyson spheres have appeared in many science fiction novels and shows, including Star Trek. Larry Niven's Ringworld was a variation on a Dyson sphere, a ring of superstrong metal that circled a star.

However, a truly advanced society would never find itself needing to build such a huge structure to house unchecked population growth. Long before they had the technological capability to dismantle entire planets and build structures hundreds of millions of miles across, they would have to learn to control their reproductive urges. If they didn't, they would wind up warring over limited resources, bringing their civilization to ashes time and time again until they finally killed everyone off, long before they were capable of building a Dyson sphere.

Furthermore, if you're really advanced, a Dyson sphere isn't that great an idea. First, it makes you completely dependent on a single star. That's a single point of failure, which is always a bad idea.

Then, the sphere itself is also a single point of failure. It's a really big and really heavy target with a massive star at its core. Every piece of junk in the star system and its environs is eventually going to be yanked into a collision with the sphere, in much the same way that Jupiter and the other gas giants keep pulling comets out of the Oort cloud toward the sun.

And this Dyson sphere would be huge, like two hundred million miles across. Every sizable piece of junk in its way as it orbits the core of its galaxy is going to put a big hole in it. An advanced engineer would make the design failsafe, which means all its defenses would have to be completely passive. A planet can take a big hit from an asteroid because its gravity will retain its atmosphere no matter how big a hole is punched in it (within limits, of course). Holes in a sphere will make it leak and eventually come apart. A Dyson sphere would require constant repairs, and a wise designer wouldn't assume that future inhabitants would always have the technology and knowledge to make such repairs.

Then, stars are messy. They have massive flares, spewing out lots of radiation and a constant flux of solar wind. All those waste products would have to be dealt with in a Dyson sphere. Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from that stuff. Most of the bad stuff just slips around earth into space. In a Dyson sphere you'd have to collect it all and deal with it, converting it to useful energy or ejecting it.

Over time stars grow, explode, shrink and ultimately die. That takes billions of years. But a civilization that builds on such a scale would be used to thinking in such terms. Building a structure that's supposed to be the eternal home for your race around a star with a finite lifetime is counterproductive.

Practically speaking, where's everyone going to live while you're dismantling all the planets in your star system and constructing a giant sphere that occupies the same space where your planet is orbiting? It just doesn't seem possible unless you build it around another star and then move everyone there. But if you can do that, why build Dyson spheres at all? There are billions of planets that could be made habitable with far less effort than building a Dyson sphere.

Finally, a civilization that wants to ensure its survival doesn't put all its eggs in one ... giant egg. It makes much more sense to build a lot of little planets that are all independent instead of a single gigantic system that's stuck around a single star.

Since the 1960s, when Dyson made his proposal, human technology has advanced. We've discovered a lot of ways to do things more efficiently. In some cases, much more efficiently. A truly advanced civilization will ultimately figure out an efficient means to produce energy via nuclear fusion, or using other principles that we've only speculated on -- antimatter or zero-point energy, for example.

The more advanced a civilization, the more efficient it would be, making it less likely that we would be able to detect its waste products. For example, as time has gone on, our communications technologies have become much more focused and lower powered. For our fastest data transmissions we use fiber optic cables. Our TV, radio and mobile phone broadcasts have been digitized and drastically lowered in power. Our powerful microwave transmitters are aimed in tight beams at receivers instead of broadcast like old-style AM radio.

We have concentrated on increasing the sensitivity of our receivers, decreasing the size of our electronics and reducing the power of our transmitters. This saves on battery life. Our cars and industrial processes are constantly doing more with less fuel and raw materials.

In other words, an advanced civilization won't need the entire energy output of its star. They would be smarter than that.

In the 1960s when Dyson came up with his idea, we were obsessed with bigness. We were building rockets to the moon. We were building nuclear aircraft carriers the size of cities. We still do big stuff, but now we know bigger isn't always better.

Dyson's underlying assumptions were that everything will grow bigger and bigger, and population will grow without check, resulting in energy consumption without check. These assumptions are without historical precedent: one thing history has shown us is that resources and technology have limits. Civilizations that recognize and work within -- or increase -- those limits survive.

Those that ignored these limits died.

The New Hampshire Cattle Call

In looking at the cattle call last weekend in New Hampshire for the GOP, it's very clear that the Republicans have too many fucking people running for president. Politico has their takeaways, of course, but I didn't see a mention of the sheer number of candidates.

Cruz, Paul and Rubio are declared.

Carson and Huckabee are announcing soon.

Bush, Christie, Walker, Graham, Fiorina, Jindal, Bolton, Kasich, Lynch, Perry, Pataki, Santorum, Bolton, Elrich, Gilmore, King, Snyder, and Trump are all exploring.

Dudes, that's 25 people.! Reince Priebus must be shitting himself right now. Imagine that first debate with all those people up on stage collectively spouting wacky, ideological nonsense for all of the United States to see.

And where exactly are their new ideas? Senator Rubio announced last week that "yesterday is yesterday." Yet he is against abortion under any circumstance and vehemently against gay marriage. Smells an awful lot like yesterday to me...

25 people...good grief...that's just too damn many candidates. Did they learn anything from 2016?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Walker Down 12 Points Versus Clinton

Check this out.

To look ahead to a possible 2016 presidential matchup, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads Walker in Wisconsin, 52 percent to 40 percent.

In his own home state...wow...

Do The Facts Matter Anymore?


You Are What You Eat


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Are Liberals Better at Comedy?

Reportedly, Ted Cruz loves the Simpsons. Which is funny, because when the Simpsons makes a political point, it's almost always a liberal one (like when it ridiculed Fox News and Rupert Murdoch). Members of the Simpsons creative team reportedly have liberal leanings.

To be fair, the Simpsons mocks everyone, from Elon Musk to George Bush to Al Gore to Leonard Nimoy to Lady Gaga. Everyone gets their share of ridicule.

Why? Liberals are willing to gore sacred cows. Some of the best humor is self-deprecating, and conservatives are always worried about winning and proving their point, and just can't cut loose the way liberals do.

When conservatives do satire they typically just make fun of the people they don't like. And those people are frequently powerless and poverty-stricken. How much chutzpah does it take to make fun of welfare moms and Mexicans who risked their lives to pick tomatoes in California for less than minimum wage?

Liberals tend to go after hypocrisy wherever they see it, especially in the halls of power. Comedy like The Daily Show reserves some of its harshest criticism for icons like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Harry Reid, when they don't live up to the ideals they espouse.

Perhaps the problem is the lack of empathy. Conservatives seem to have a really hard time understanding why other people feel the way they do. And I don't limit this criticism to American conservatives -- conservative Muslims and Jews are as bad or worse. Conservatives either can't comprehend why someone with different experiences might feel differently, or they don't dare make the attempt to understand for fear of falling off the true path.

If satires of Mohammed or Allah or Jesus or Xenu send someone into a murderous rage, then that person's faith is pretty weak. If these gods are so powerful and their messages so profound, how can an insignificant gnat of a comedian possibly harm them?

Do they think God can't take a joke?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is Not Having Kids Selfish, or Is Having Them Selfish?

Recently Pope Francis answered the question for us:
“A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope said. “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”
This seems rather hypocritical: current Catholic dogma requires all priests, monks and nuns in the Catholic Church to be celibate. The Orthodox and Anglican Churches, which are similar to the Catholic Church in many ways, have no prohibition against married priests, and most Protestant sects allow their pastors to marry. Most Islamic and Jewish sects also allow married clerics.

By the pope's own definition, then, choosing to become a Catholic priest or nun is an inherently selfish act. If he was truly selfless, he would have married and joined the Episcopalian Church instead. Then he could have joined the Catholic Church when Pope John Paul II decreed it possible. In fact, there are hundreds of married Anglican priests who quit that Church and became Catholics.

But is the basic premise even true? Let's turn the question around. Is it selfish to have kids? Is it selfish to have five kids rather than one or two? Why do people want kids in the first place?

Historically, there are lots of reasons: people had kids because they wanted to have sex and couldn't avoid getting pregnant. They wanted to create workers to till their soil and milk their goats. They wanted to have lots of kids because child mortality was extremely high and the more workers they produced the wealthier they would be. They needed someone to care for them when they were old.

These days the reasons are a little more abstract. Some of the old reasons still exist: they want someone in the family to carry on the family business. They don't want to be all alone when they're old. They want someone to carry on the family name. They're pressured into having kids by their parents, who expect it. Some have kids out of duty to their religion. Some people just love children, and like taking care of them, in the same way that some people like having pets to care for.

The real reason people have kids is because they have sex.
But, still, the real reason people have kids is because they have sex. Cynically, the Catholic Church forbids birth control: if you want to have sex, you have to have kids. But only a paltry percentage of American and European Catholics are still suckered by that nonsense.

Unfortunately, there are more sinister reasons for having kids. Some people have as many as possible in the hopes that they can out-reproduce others, so that "their kind" (typically, their race or religion) will have more numerical power and influence. This is the underlying reason that some religions encourage large families. Religion is most effectively transmitted by indoctrination from childhood: you never get a chance to question any of the underlying assumptions of a religion if you're brainwashed from birth. Mormonism was founded on this concept -- your ascent into godhood depends on maximizing the number of descendants, and it's why they practiced polygamy at the beginning.

These days a lot of white Americans want more whites to have kids because they're afraid they'll be outnumbered by Latinos and other non-Europeans in a couple of decades. These same fears were expressed in the 19th century when the Irish, Swedes, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and other "lesser" immigrants threatened to outnumber "real" Americans of English extraction.

Kids are the only practical form of immortality
But perhaps the biggest reason that people have kids, when you boil it all down, is that they are the only practical form of immortality. If they have kids some part of them will live on. That's why parents put such pressure on their children to give them grandchildren: they went through all that work to have kids to grant themselves a bit of immortality, and without grandchildren they will "die off."

All those reasons are selfish: they accrue some personal benefit, or satisfy a selfish demand another person made upon them, or provide an advantage to their in-group. Having kids because your pope demands it is not a selfless act, because the pope's rationale is not selfless: his personal goal is to propagate Catholicism. We wouldn't perceive Iranians obeying the ayatollah's command that they have more children in order to outnumber the infidels as selfless, would we?

The only selfless reason for having children is that the future survival of humanity depends on them. With seven billion people in the world, this is not a really big concern at the moment.

Now, what are the reasons people don't have kids? The selfish answer is that they don't want to be bothered with the responsibility.

But are you selfish if you know that you lack patience and think you would be bad a parent? What if you knew that you couldn't love a child that was mentally retarded, and didn't to want risk having to face that kind of agony?

What if your parents always argued, were bitterly unhappy, got divorced and have bickered endlessly and made your life miserable ever since? Would you be selfish if you recognized those same traits in yourself and wanted to avoid inflicting such tragedy on your own child?

Are you selfish for not having kids if you've socked away so much money (which was possible because you didn't have kids) that you won't have to depend on someone else to care for you when you're old?

Every child takes some social resources: they take up spots in daycare, seats in classrooms, money in education aid. People without kids pay property and income taxes to support schools, even though they don't personally use those facilities. Conservatives are always bitching about high property and income taxes, but the largest expenditure of state and local governments is educating kids.

People with kids pay less in taxes and are a greater burden on society, though it's a price we should all be willing to pay.
People with kids pay less in taxes and are a greater burden on society. We should be glad to help them, because there's no question that the world needs kids. But how many kids do we need?

Because there are limits. There are more than seven billion people in the world. The planet is finite. There are only so many acres of farmland in the world, and there's a limit to how much food each acre produces. In 2100 it is projected that there will be 11 billion people in the world. By that time we will have used up all the oil and gone through a good chunk of the coal. The world will be much warmer, there will be more droughts in some areas, sea level will be much higher, forcing people in coastal areas inland. Our highly productive petroleum-based agriculture will be a distant memory.

People fool themselves into thinking that we'll always be able to figure out some way of feeding more people with fewer resources. But history shows this is false. Drought and famine have destroyed civilizations time and again. The Romans had the best technology in the world: they built aqueducts to bring water from afar and they built ships and roads to import food from other continents. At the height of the Roman Empire they were convinced it was eternal. But nothing is.

If we don't carefully plan ahead our empire will come crashing down as well.

The carrying capacity of the planet might be 1 billion people, it might be 2 billion, it might be 10 billion. It will depend on the level of technology and the sustainability of our agricultural practices. But we know that the number, whatever it is, is finite. It's not a trillion. It's not 100 billion. At some point humanity's population on earth has to reach a steady state, where births equal deaths.

If that number happens to be, say 5 billion, and we've got 11 billion when all the aquifers and coal and oil run out and we have to depend on wind and solar generation for all our power, what happens to 6 billion extra people?

Is it right to keep barreling ahead, madly procreating without regard to the limits that humanity has crashed into countless times before, on the vain hope that "we'll figure something out" when disaster strikes again?

Is it selfish to not have kids of your own so that the kids and grandkids of people who want them will have better lives? Is it right to criticize people who are giving up their effective immortality so that you can have yours?

#Loserswithguns

There's a guy that posts on Quora who I have come to respect a great deal. His name is Rich Kennerly and he identifies as "Former Police Officer, NRA Life Member, Tx DPS Police Firearms Instructor, MPA, BA-Pol Sci." On the surface, you would think that Rich and I wouldn't get along, right? Yet Mr. Kennerly has come up with a meme that is completely fucking brilliant.

#Loserswithguns

Mr. Kennerly thinks that we need to address the losers with guns problem and not the guns problem. He is adamant about all sides of the gun issue being able to work together to stop losers from getting weapons. Check out some of his words.

We'd like to find a way to deal with the #LosersWithGuns problem and do not accept that "nothing can be done."

The bad guy, the psychotic always has the upper hand in any situation. He knows what he's going to do and what he wants to do. Most self-defense strategies are fantasies in reality. OTOH, through education, training, testing and licensing we've made driving, flying, food handling, medicine, and a myriad of other potentially deadly endeavors into some of the safest, most productive in the world, but somehow resist applying the same civilized methodology to firearms, even to the point of prohibiting the scientific study by the CDC and NIH.

Well, they certainly have not been very forthcoming on uniting to help on workable solutions to the nation's #LosersWithGuns problem. That common gound issue should unite both camps, pro-gun & anti-gun alike.

Great stuff and very appropriate considering this.

Nearly 9% of Americans are angry, impulsive - and have a gun, study says.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#Orangepantsguy

Check out the media running after Hillary, especially the orange pants guy from the early 1970s...

Should You Spend More than You Save to Stop Cheaters?

Recently there's been a stir in Minnesota due to a transit report indicated that between $800,000 and $1.5 million in fares are lost because 6.8% of light rail passengers weren't paying fares. 

The light rail lines use the honor system: you just buy your ticket at the platform and walk on the train. Transit officers occasionally check that passengers have tickets.

Of course, this news brought on the outrage from the right wing:
"Met Transit has over 200 police officers who are supposed to be monitoring this. What are they doing? They're not doing their job," Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, said during a Monday transportation bill discussion in a House committee meeting. "We have $1.5 million in taxpayers' money that we're being cheated out of."
So the Metropolitan Council, the governmental body overseeing Metro Transit, has looked into the problem to determine how much a solution would cost:
Retrofitting light-rail stations to include turnstiles would cost about $100 million, [Met Council government affairs director Judd Shetland] said. Adding them from the start is cheaper but still pricey: Adding turnstiles to the proposed Southwest and Bottineau light-rail lines would cost a combined $34 million.

Once installed, turnstiles would cost about $1.3 million per year to operate, he said.
It would take about a century to make back that $100 million it would cost to put turnstiles in. In addition, it would cost as much each year in maintenance as you would make from the all the skipped fares. But in subway systems that do have turnstiles there's still a 2-3% fare dodging rate, so adding turnstiles would wind up costing much more than it would save.

By the way, it's curious to hear a Republican demanding that government increase regulation, especially when enforcing those regulations would cost more than they would save.

And it's more than just the money: turnstiles suck. Getting through them is hard for the elderly, anyone with children and anyone carrying anything. They're impossible for people in wheelchairs. Turnstiles slow everyone down, wasting everyone's time. And missing your train because the nitwit in front of you is taking forever to get through the turnstile because they forgot where they put their ticket is really annoying

So, how does this conservative outrage over cheaters transfer to other sectors?

Minnesota has "sane lanes" (also called High Occupancy Vehicle lanes) on some freeways. These HOV lanes charge a variable fee to let you scoot by all the other cars stuck in traffic. Single-passenger commuter cars are supposed to get a MnPASS transponder so their account can be charged each time they use the HOV lanes. People in car pools (two or more people) can also use the lanes at no cost.

Estimates are that as many as 9% of the cars using the carpool lanes are cheating. Some people have even been caught with inflatable dolls in their cars to make it look like they have a passenger (at least that's what they say the doll is for...).

Somehow, there's no sense of outrage among Republicans over carpool lane cheaters, even though more freeway drivers cheat than light rail passengers. I'm guessing that's because a thick percentage of those cheaters are rich Republicans from the boondocks who commute fifty miles a day and believe it's their right to zip by all those suckers who obey the rules.

And I don't hear them demanding that we beef up audits at the IRS to nab the millions of people who are cheating on their taxes (reportedly $100 billion a year). Instead, Republican congressmen want to gut the IRS's budget and some of them are childishly demanding that we get rid of the IRS completely.

When it's poor people who don't have enough money to pay for a ride on the train, Republicans are out for blood. But when it's Apple socking away hundreds of billions in profits in Ireland to avoid paying taxes to the United States of America -- the country that educated all their employees at public school systems and universities, making made their business possible -- Republicans root for the cheaters.

Ah, you can always tell the legislature is in session by the constant din of self-serving selective outrage spewing from the capitol.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Will Climate Change Debate Literally Heat Up in 2016?

Climate change denialists like Ted Cruz have insisted for years that global warming just stopped in 1998. The fact is, the earth has continued to get hotter: 2014 was the warmest year on record and the 10 hottest years are all after 1998, according to NASA.

There have been claims of a "hiatus" since 1998, but that's not quite true. The atmosphere has continued to warm, albeit somewhat more slowly than the remarkable increases over the previous 40 years. Scientists believed that more of the heat trapped by the CO2 in the atmosphere was being transferred into the oceans, since ocean temperatures have continued to increase faster than air temperatures, especially in the Arctic.

Now there is a report out that explains exactly why the atmospheric temperature increase slowed: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a current in the northern Pacific Ocean. The PDO is similar to the El NiƱo Southern Oscillation which has a significant effect on weather in North America.

The PDO entered its "cooling phase" in 1999, causing ocean temperatures near the equator cool and while warming the subtropics to the north and south, sucking heat out of the atmosphere and into the ocean to a depth of 700 meters.
"Because the ocean is in contact with the atmosphere, there's heat exchange between the atmosphere and the surface ocean," [oceanographer Braddock Linsley] said. "It seems that about 90 percent of the heat that should be in the atmosphere right now with all that extra CO2 [humans have emitted since 1999] has gone into the ocean."
The problem?
In April 2014, the PDO moved to a positive phase [several years ahead of schedule]. Whether this is a temporary change remains to be seen. The signs so far have been ominous—2014 was the warmest year on record (ClimateWire, Jan. 9).

If it is permanent, "it is logical to suggest that the winds and ocean currents change accordingly and switch us into a new regime where heat is not buried so deeply, and we jump to the next level in global warming," [climatologist Kevin] Trenberth said.
If the PDO really has shifted, the summer of 2016 may be very hot and -- if Ted Cruz is the Republican candidate -- very embarrassing for climate change denialists.

Republicans And Democrats Working Together?

I think I may have slipped into an alternate reality.

Congress approves formula fixing Medicare doctors pay.

Congress on Tuesday approved a bill to repair the formula for reimbursing Medicare physicians, marking a rare bipartisan achievement just in time to head off a 21 percent cut in the doctors' pay.


What the-??!! Did I wake up in an alternate reality?

It gets better.

The legislation includes a two-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for low-income children and a two-year extension of funding for community health centers.

Maybe there is some hope...