Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Knives Are Coming Out

The other day Ann Coulter had a discussion with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, in which she expressed a great deal of contempt for Donald Trump. I have long said that when Trump supporters figure out that he's been playing them for suckers, they will -- as the Trump phrasing goes -- turn on him like a bitch.

Now Ann Coulter is saying the same thing:
Bruni: The $1.3 trillion spending bill that he signed last week sent you over the edge.

Coulter: Yes. This is a different category you’re seeing now: Former Trumpers. That should be terrifying to the president. Maybe he’ll actually keep his promises. Unlike Marco Rubio. Unlike the rest of them. Unlike Mitch McConnell. We have been betrayed over and over and over with presidents promising to do something about immigration. If he played us for suckers, oh, you will not see rage like you have seen.
"If?" Lady, Trump has played everyone he's ever done business with for suckers (remember the $25 million settlement he paid for Trump "University"?). Trump voters thought that since he was a vulgar, bragging racist and pandered to their basest instincts, he was somehow more "authentic" than politicians who pretended to be nice to brown people.

But Trump has always been a dishonest, incompetent, multiply bankrupt lying real estate huckster and sexual predator. Just because his racism was the only thing that was authentic about him did not mean he would be able to carry through on his useless wall. He has proved to be as incompetent a manager and negotiator in the Oval Office as he was in the casino business.

Donald Trump is a lying braggart, seeking only to bloat his own ego. Nothing he says can be trusted. And anyone should have known this, after seeing him constant lie and brag, and the obnoxiously cloying way he talked and prissily preened during the campaign. He might have been entertaining to some people on television, but he's worthless as a president.

The immigrants Ann Coulter wants to keep out pick our fruit and vegetables, clean our houses and hotel rooms, butcher our livestock, cook our food, take care of our children and our grandparents, mow our lawns, roof our houses and help hospital patients go to the bathroom. In short, they do all the poorly paid, dirty and dangerous jobs Americans refuse to do.

But as long as businesses don't pay Americans a living wage to work for them, there will be a demand for immigrant labor. And Trump himself is a prime example of the problem: he hires hundreds of foreign workers for his golf courses, hotels and resorts like Mar a Lago: in fact, Trump refuses to hire Americans for those jobs.

Trump voters knew (or should have known) this before the election and yet they still voted for him!

To remove the need for immigrant labor, we would need to unionize all service jobs, institute a $20 minimum wage and universal health care, as well as beef up regulations in dangerous work places so that Americans could take those tedious, dangerous and dirty jobs. Which means increasing the budgets for EPA and OSHA, not cutting them.

But hard-core Trump voters don't care about real solutions to our problems. They just want to bitch about immigrants. They want a giant wall on the southern border as a symbol of their racism, even though it would do almost nothing to limit illegal immigration and drug trafficking, because of things called "boats" and "airplanes."

I have an idea: let's just move all those Confederate statues across the South to the Mexican border and declare MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Guns: What The Experience of Each State Shows

Take a look at this article (I had to scan it in because it's not available online).

There are several things I love about this article. First, it's a nice summary of all the states that have decent gun safety laws and the ones that are severely lacking.

Second, it illustrates quite clearly that the states that have lax gun laws have higher rates of gun violence per 100,000 people. Take a look Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. They have very high rates of gun violence and very lax gun laws. Compare those three states with the favorite punching bag of the gun humpers, Illinois. Very tough gun laws and lower rates of gun violence per 100,000 people. Look at New York, for pete's sake. It's the lightest color of red on the map!

Third, it gives gun safety advocates a path forward for each of their states. With the current make up of the federal government being run by cowards, the state governments are where the battle should be fought. Look at how much success we have seen so far.

Fourth, this article is free of emotion about guns. It's just the facts. The good thing about facts is that they are true whether you believe them or not.

Laura Ingraham vs. New Reality

Laura Ingraham made fun of one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Now she is getting exactly what she deserves: lost advertisers and a forced vacation.

Let this be a message to all of you right wing trolls out there. The tide has shifted. Gun rights activists and 2nd amendment apologists no longer have the upper hand. You don't get to fuck with us anymore.

And we are most definitely coming for your guns...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I Spoke Too Soon

I wrote a post the other day about how the father of the Maryland school shooter should be made an example of for letting his son get hold of his Glock pistol. The father's malfeasance resulted in the deaths of his son and the boy's girlfriend. It had been almost a week since the incident, and I thought I had waited long enough for all the facts to come out.

But I hadn't.

At first it seemed that the NRA's dream scenario had come true: a good guy with a gun had stopped a bad guy with a gun.

But it hadn't.

Because the Maryland school shooter committed suicide.
Austin Wyatt Rollins, the 17-year-old who opened fire on classmates at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland last week, injuring one and killing another, died from shooting himself in the head, officials investigating the case said Monday.

According to details released by the St. Mary's County sheriff's office, Rollins parked his car at 7:50 a.m. and walked through the school's main entrance two minutes later.

At 7:57 a.m., he approached classmate Jaelynn Willey, 16, and shot her once in the head with his father's Glock 9-mm pistol. That bullet also struck 14-year-old Desmond Barnes in the leg.
After firing the handgun, Rollins kept walking through the school, where he was confronted by school resource officer Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill just after 8 a.m. Their weapons went off simultaneously 31 seconds later, with Rollins shooting himself in the head and Gaskill shooting Rollins in the hand, officials said. 
Rollins was despondent and suicidal, following the typical pattern of domestic abusers: kill the girlfriend and commit suicide. He apparently had no interest in shooting up the school, but if he had, he could have shot dozens of other students in the three minutes between the shootings of his girlfriend and himself.

In summary: the NRA "good guy with a gun" theory is total bullshit.

This is why the only solution to preventing gun violence is to keep guns out of the hands of likely shooters. As long as the NRA gets its way, shooters are guaranteed have easy access to guns, and will have the ability to kill dozens of people before anyone can react.

Because, as we've seen countless time before, guns are not protection. In fact, for every instance that a gun in the home is used for self defense, there are 22 (twenty-two!) instances of suicide, assault perpetrated by the gun owner or family member, or an accidental shooting.

These one-off murders and suicides are the real problem with guns in America, not the flashier mass shootings that gets everyone so worked up.

The lesson parents should learn: people with kids just should not have guns.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Make an Example Out of the Maryland Shooter's Dad

Last week a boy shot a girl in the head at a high school in Maryland. She died two days later, when her parents took her off life support. Another boy was shot in the thigh (he survived). A school resource officer exchanged gunfire with the shooter and killed him.

The incident, occurring less than a month after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in Florida, illustrates perfectly why the NRA's mantra of more and more guns can't work.

The situation in Maryland was set up exactly as the NRA said it should be: a good guy with a gun was right there, johnny on the spot. This was the best possible outcome with the NRA policy, yet two kids are dead, and another was shot.

With the NRA's "solution" of doing absolutely nothing to prevent people from obtaining firearms and reactively killing people who start shooting up schools, there will be bloodshed 100% of the time. There will be at least one death basically 100% of the time (the shooter), with the shooter being able to unload a full magazine at a minimum (six to 100 rounds) on his targets every time, likely killing anywhere from 1 to 20 other people depending on shooter accuracy, magazine capacity, and security response times.

The NRA policy is like turning on the stoplights at an intersection only after there has been a car crash.

Gun advocates insist that measures to prevent gun violence won't stop every shooting. Yep, that's true. But the NRA policy of doing nothing stops zero shootings: by allowing shooters to get guns in the first place, they are guaranteed to be able unload a full one magazine of ammo every time.

Just because a law won't stop every shooting doesn't make the law useless. Stoplights at intersections don't stop every car crash, but they allow traffic to flow smoothly and prevent millions of crashes every day.

Each of the following laws will stop some percentage of deaths -- including murders and suicides:
  • Take guns away from domestic abusers. 
  • Raise the age requirement to purchase firearms.
  • Impose longer waiting periods for firearms purchases.
  • Strip firearms licenses from gun dealers whose weapons are consistently used in crimes.
  • Strict firearms storage requirements and trigger locks, especially in homes with children.
  • Strict background checks on all sales, including gun shows and private sales.
  • Ban bump stocks, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.  
  • Severe penalties for individuals who supply or allow firearms to illegally fall into the hands of shooters.
None of these laws impose any hardship on legitimate hunters, sharpshooters or gun collectors.

If each law stopped, say, 2 to 10% of would-be shooters from getting hold of weapons, we're talking about reducing the firearms death rate from murder and suicide by as much as 50%. Which means saving 10,000 to 20,000 lives a year.

These types of laws really do work: states that have adopted them have lowered their murder rates, and states that repealed them have increased their murder rates (as was illustrated in Connecticut and Missouri).

Gun laws won't stop all murders because criminals break laws. Duh. But such laws will reduce the number of would-be shooters who get guns, especially people who act impulsively out of mental illness or emotional duress. And stricter laws definitely make it harder for criminals to get guns.

It's tempting to call the shooting in Maryland a tragedy. The kid doesn't seem to have been a mass shooter, but was in some sort of argument with his girlfriend. He appears to have focused solely on shooting her.

But this wasn't a tragedy. This wasn't a terrible accident: it was a completely preventable disaster that was the logical outcome of the NRA's despicable lie that "guns protect you." The shooter's father swallowed that lie and now his kid is dead.

If this kid's dad had kept his gun locked away, two people would still be alive, and the officer who killed him wouldn't have a death on his conscience.

This has to be the dad's worst nightmare: his kid is dead and dozens of other lives are shattered because he foolishly thought a gun would "protect" him.

Maryland law forbids possession of firearms by teenagers, and it's not clear whether the shooter's father will face any charges for letting his kid get hold of the murder weapon. Some people might argue that he's suffered enough.

But if his family had been Muslim you can be damn sure that all those law-and-order Republicans would be demanding the father's head on a platter. An example must be made! they would scream.

The father shouldn't have his life destroyed, or have trumped-up accessory to murder charges thrown at him. But he should be quite publicly charged with illegally providing a weapon to a minor, improper storage of firearms, and whatever other laws he broke.

Making a very public example out of him could save countless lives if other parents secure their firearms properly, or even better, get rid of them altogether.

Because kids and guns don't mix.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Ambush Proposals, Romance, Love and Marriage

The other week my wife and I were watching the second season of Jessica Jones. At one point a man ambushes a woman with a marriage proposal in front of all her friends and family. She of course has to say yes, but her reaction speaks volumes: she's only doing so under duress.

Wow, I thought to myself, that was really cruel and selfish. Do men really do that?

It seems so. Today I saw an article in the Atlantic entitled "Marriage Proposals Are Stupid:"
The marriage proposal is one of the most ritualized moments in modern American life. Growing up, many girls are instilled with a specific idea of how it should go: He’ll take us somewhere romantic—we’ll have no idea what’s happening—he’ll get down on one knee—we’ll start crying—he’ll pop the question—we’ll immediately say yes. It should be magical.

But for a lot of heterosexual couples, the proposal—as movies portray it, as many millennial women have internalized it—doesn’t reflect the kind of modern, egalitarian relationships many women want today. Whom to marry is among the most important decisions most people will ever make in their lives, and yet it’s not a choice made in the course of a conversation—the normal way two grown humans make big life decisions. Instead, it has to be a show, with a prefixed grand finale: “yes.”
But the marriage fantasy doesn't end there. Recently, the gimmick is extravagant "destination weddings." Two recent ones I'm personally familiar with were on Caribbean or Mexican beaches, where all the attendees had to pay for an expensive weekend trip, one to an island that turned out to be in the path of a hurricane.

Last year the average cost of a wedding was over $35,000. That's almost nine months of the average American's salary.

The Atlantic writer concludes that the whole idea of a fantasy marriage proposal is totally stupid, and that marriage should be a joint decision, carefully discussed and considered. I couldn't agree more.

My wife and I have been married 38 years. We went to college together (she studied electrical engineering, I studied computer science and Russian), and in our junior year we decided to get married. Neither of us can recall any proposal. Over time we just decided that we wanted to get married. I can remember the day we talked to the priest to arrange the wedding, but that's about it.

I was living in an apartment with a friend at the time and I didn't have any extra money. My wife and I went to the jewelry store together to pick out the rings she wanted and we (mostly she) spent a couple hundred bucks on a modest engagement ring and wedding bands.

After graduation, her parents footed the bill for a modest church wedding and reception with family and friends (as the eldest son and daughter, we were the first children in our families to marry). Our honeymoon consisted of a weekend trip to small hotel on Lake Superior, paid for out of the savings from our library and programming jobs. We moved into a modest apartment, got jobs in our respective fields, and within a year bought a small starter home in a Twin Cities suburb.

When people talk about marriage, they always throw around the dreaded statistic: 50% of all marriages end in divorce. If this is true, does it really make sense to spend all that money on an engagement ring, a fancy wedding and a honeymoon? Does spending all that money improve the chances of a lasting marriage? Or does it have the opposite effect?

Before we go too far, let's acknowledge that the dreaded statistic is a lie: 50% of all marriages may end in divorce, but because those include second, third and fourth marriages, it doesn't really tell the whole story.

Despite what popular culture likes to say, the divorce rate is actually going down:
About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist.
This is borne out in my wife's and my immediate families. Among the 13 marriages (12 kids, two sets of parents and one stepmother) five ended in divorce and two ended in death and the rest are still intact. Three of the divorces involved the same sister. Out of the 17 people in our families only three are divorced (17%), even though we have a "divorce rate" of 38%.

There are many reasons why divorce is declining: people are waiting longer before getting married, birth control is better (resulting in fewer shotgun weddings), prior cohabitation, more people are marrying out love rather than economic necessity (women are more independent), the birth rate has declined (kids cause a lot of stress in marriage), and men taking on more domestic duties. In addition, the marriage rate is down among groups that tend to get divorced -- in particular, people without college degrees.

The real problem with these fantastical marriage proposals and destination weddings is that they confuse romance and love. Romance is a combination of physical attraction and play-acting: it is a fleeting and ephemeral thing that cannot last because people cannot keep up the charade their entire lives.

Life is driving to work, vacuuming the floor, doing the dishes, making breakfast, lunch and dinner, raising kids, not getting enough sleep, paying the rent, and finally, when you find the time, and aren't sick with a cold or having a period, making love.

When the romance ends -- and it always ends -- there has to be enough love to keep people together through the humdrum details of daily life. And the most important part of that love has to be the desire for your spouse to be happy in everyday life.

Extravagant proposals and weddings set the wrong expectation for the realities of life: if you think dropping a major chunk of change on a fancy wedding ring proves your man loves you, do not get married!

An extravagant proposal, a pricey ring, an expensive wedding and honeymoon set the stage for economic disaster by putting the newlyweds in debt immediately. And when the reality of work, and kids and having too little free time destroys the romantic fantasy, if you are wedded to the romance -- and not your spouse -- the disappointment will crush you and the marriage.

Life after marriage is the same as life before marriage, only you're not alone any more.

If that isn't enough romance for you, you should watch reruns of The Bachelor instead of getting married. And as we just saw, The Bachelor brand of romance really sucks.

A Noun, A Verb and A Liberal

I'm on spring break this week so I've been hitting the gym more than I usually do and working out. Yesterday morning, I ran in to Pastor Ed and decided to take his temperature on Donald Trump. Recall the last time I spoke with this hard core evangelical conservative he was not a fan.

His first remarks were not about Trump but about Obama and how he gutted the military. Then he launched in to a tirade about Hillary, how she is a crook, and how Comey changed the law to help her out. I asked him again about Trump. More comments about liberals, the debt and Obama's gutting of the military.

I then pulled out my phone and showed him this.

But Obama, notwithstanding his own opposition to nuclear weapons, has committed to modernizing the U.S. arsenal. He supports the Air Force's new bomber, a new ballistic missile submarine for the Navy, revitalizing a fleet of nuclear bombs, a potential new nuclear cruise missile and other commitments. Some estimates put the cost for the program Obama supports at around $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Ed didn't care about the nuance. Obama. Bad. Gutted. Military. Why?

Facts, he said storming off.

I didn't really want to argue with him because I find myself less and less interested in doing Vladimir Putin's work for him. But the whole exchange did reinforce the core value that conservatives have today. They only stand for one thing.

Trolling liberals.

Any sort of criticism or questioning of Trump results in denials, redirects and sentences which contain the following.

A noun, a verb and a liberal.

I suppose that's what happens when Donald Trump is the leader of your party.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Kim Jong Un, Trump and American Decline

The shock over Donald Trump's announcement he would meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un without any preconditions has started to fade after Trump started waffling about the whole thing.

But it will ultimately come to nothing. Kim will never give up his nukes. Even if Kim signs an agreement to do so, we know that he will not abide by it. Look at what happened to the other dictators with WMDs:

After the Bush II administration lied about Saddam Hussein having WMDs and started a preemptive war, Saddam was found hiding in a hole and was executed after being put on trial for crimes against humanity.

After giving up his WMD programs, Muammar Gaddafi was captured and reportedly shot in the stomach or head, stabbed in the anus and dropped off the back of a truck.

Trump made a show of attacking Syria for using chemical weapons, but the Syrians have since repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians. Trump has done nothing since the first retaliatory attack (which didn't hurt Syria because Trump told the Russians it was coming hours beforehand). Why? Syria has the backing of Russia, and Trump never acts against Russia. He has only praise for Putin.

Iran signed a treaty with Europe and the United States to scale back its nuclear ambitions, allowing for inspections and other restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program. But by threatening to scuttle the treaty, Trump has completely undermined the credibility of the United States.

If Trump does indeed break the Iran treaty (and his appointment of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state increases this likelihood), then he will prove that the United States is not a reliable negotiating partner.

If treaties with the United States are agreements with the current president, and not the law of land, no one will enter into good faith negotiations with the United States.

Furthermore, Trump himself has personally reneged on countless contracts, declaring multiple bankruptcies and stiffing hundreds of contractors out of money he owes them.

So anyone -- Kim Jong Un in particular -- negotiating with Trump is clearly not expecting Trump to abide by any agreement he makes: they're just playing for time. They're just buttering him up, playing to his sense of self-importance, while they either develop their nuclear weapons or cement their relationship with the Russians.

Bush's disastrous Iraq war taught dictators that to survive they have two options: get nuclear weapons or Russian backing. Syria and Iran have the Russians. North Korea has nukes and the Russians. Turkey is going with the Russians. Egypt is going with the Russians. Saudi Arabia is going for nukes.

Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland are selling out to the Russians. Geeze, even Italy is selling out to the Russians.

Meanwhile, Trump is doing everything he can to alienate our European, Asian, North American, South American, Caribbean, Australian and African allies. After Rex Tillerson completely dismantled the State Department and destroyed our diplomatic corps, Trump fired him by tweet and put the CIA in charge of our diplomats and a torturer in charge of the CIA.

The United States used to be a force for peace and democracy across the world. But Trump appears to have entered into a deal with Putin: Russia can have all of Europe and Asia and the United States can have ... the United States.

Trump's America First is America Alone.

The United States used to project power and hope across the globe. Now, under Trump, we have become a nation in moral and psychological decline. We have lost any sort of moral authority: Like Trump, Americans are quickly becoming whiners who just bitch about how unfair life is, blaming everyone else for their problems and lashing out violently.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the latest epidemic of of miserable white men who shoot dozens of kids in schools, mow down hundreds of people at Las Vegas concerts and blow up innocent people in Austin with no discernible motive.

Trump's Problem in a Single Tweet

Eleven days ago Donald Trump wrote the following tweet:
Earlier this week Trump did in fact add another lawyer to his legal team, and yesterday John Dowd, with whom Trump said he was VERY happy, quit and/or was fired.

The Times was right and Trump's tweet was a total lie: everything he claimed was false was actually true and came to pass within 10 days.

Dowd quit because Trump won't listen to his lawyers' legal advice. Which has been, essentially: shut up and stop making yourself look guilty by lying constantly and doing massively stupid things that are clearly intended to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Trump keeps saying and tweeting lies like the one above on a daily basis, which are then proved to be lies within a week a two. Yet Republicans keep defending him. Why?

Trump supporters think the mainstream media are after Trump because their reporting on him is so negative. But the problem is Trump: he keeps lying and doing negative things. The media just report what he says and does. You can't blame Trump's lies and mistakes on the people who report them.

Avoiding bad coverage is easy: don't lie, don't bang porn stars, don't grab women's pussies, don't brag about grabbing pussies, don't congratulate foreign dictators on their rigged election victories, don't obstruct justice, don't conspire with foreigners to win elections, don't insult your own attorney general, and above all don't unjustly fire the people who will ultimately provide the testimony in the impeachment trial that will bring you down.

Why is the Republican Party letting Donald Trump drag them into the pits of hell?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why Facebook is Evil

Some people are accusing Facebook of a "massive" data breach, in which a foreign company took a bunch of data about tens of millions of Americans and used it to influence them to vote for Donald Trump.

Others are saying that Facebook did nothing wrong, that they didn't do anything that wasn't listed in the terms of service. From the Atlantic, here's a brief summary of what happened:
In June 2014, [an England-based Russian] researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.
The key thing here is that while only 270,000 people explicitly gave their consent for their personal data, this Russian professor got hold of 50 million people's data because Facebook let "friends" look at personal data.

That data included all kinds of personal information that can be used not only to influence you, but to commit identity theft. This data not only included Facebook posts, personal photos, and Facebook likes, but also birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, educational histories, lists of family and friends, names of pets, what people ate, where people went, what what people did and when they did it, and tons of other sensitive information on whatever people happened to blab about themselves on Facebook.

The reason this enables identity theft is that much of this information is used by various web sites to validate your identity: birthdate, addresses, mother's maiden name, names of your schools, names of your pets, etc.

Facebook thinks it's doing nothing wrong. They claim that apps need to have access to information on your friends so companies can write apps to perform critically important services that we simply could not survive without, like wishing you happy birthday.

If Facebook friends were actually real, close friends and family, this wouldn't be as big a problem -- but it would still pose a serious breach of personal data. Do you really trust your elderly grandmother to understand that taking a pop quiz on Facebook -- and getting paid a dollar! -- can give information on her family and friends to hackers and Russian spies?

What makes it worse is that many people somehow think that the number of Facebook friends is an indicator of social importance. So they accept friend requests from people they barely know. A lot them were phony accounts created by Russians trying to influence American politics.

But the real root of Facebook's evil is that the public image of what it does has nothing to do with its true purpose.

People mistakenly think that they are Facebook's customers and that Facebook's communications service is the product. This is utterly false.

Businesses, advertisers, opinion researchers and political operatives like Cambridge Analytica are Facebook's real customers. The real product is you and your data.

Facebook sells your secrets to anyone who will pay for them, be it advertisers, identity thieves, political operatives, foreign governments, or private investigators working for people looking for dirt on cheating spouses.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to destroy your Facebook account, delete all the data and never log in to Facebook again, hoping that your data hasn't already fallen into the wrong hands and that Facebook will actually honor their commitment to delete it.

The second-best thing you can do is unfriend everyone except your family and your closest real friends. Of course, since those people already know all that stuff about you, there's really no reason for Facebook to have that information in the first place.

The third-best thing you can is enter false information in your profile: never use your real birthday, or address or other personal data for social media accounts. The whole idea that companies need your birthday to make sure children don't see "adult" material is preposterous, since kids can just lie anyway.

Deleting your Facebook account will have immediate benefits. You will get back an hour of your time every day.  You will feel less depressed. You will be less angry.

Ditto for Twitter. If Donald Trump deleted his Twitter account, the world's net happiness quotient would increase by 7 billion!

Economist Cost of Living Survey Slanted for the Wealthy

Minnesotans were astonished when the Economist magazine said Minneapolis was the third most expensive American city to live in, after New York and Los Angeles.

"How is this possible?" they wondered.

Housing is one of the biggest expenses in any budget. The median home price in Minneapolis is $244,000, whereas most every city in California's Bay Area has home values in the million dollar range (San Jose: $1,036,000, Sunnyvale: $1,819,000, San Francisco: $1,285,000), and places like San Diego are in the half million dollar range (San Diego: $608,200, Escondido: $479,200, Chula Vista: $514,000).

Average apartment rent in Minneapolis in $1,390 a month, while in San Jose it's $2,616.

Another large expense is fuel costs. According to Gas Buddy, the price of gas is about $2.45-2.50 around Minneapolis. It's between $3.05 and $3.89 in the Bay Area.

The web site Expatistan has a comparison function that shows the difference in the cost of living between any two cities. Using that, we see that San Jose is 21% more expensive than Minneapolis, while Houston is 11% cheaper than Minneapolis (in large part to lower transportation costs -- i.e., cheaper gas, and a large immigrant work force that is paid less than native Americans).

One of the most common things that make Minneapolis more expensive than other cities is entertainment, including alcohol and cigarettes. That is, completely unnecessary expenditures.

So what exactly does the Economist survey measure that other economic surveys ignore that makes a magazine targeted at the wealthy rank Minneapolis as more expensive than dozens of cities in California that are clearly more expensive for the average person to live in?
The survey is compiled using the prices of 160 products and services in each city, including, “food, drink, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, home rents, transport, utility bills, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs.”
The primary flaw in the Economist survey is that it omits house prices, because it's targeted at corporations who ship executives around the world. Those people don't buy houses.

Domestic help is expensive in Minneapolis, because it's mostly performed by Americans, rather than undocumented workers, as it is in California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc. I know people who provide maid service in Minnesota and they make significantly more than minimum wage. Because a decent wage is the only way to get average Americans to clean other people's toilets.

Private schools are of concern mostly for the wealthy or the rabid religious right. Public schools in Minnesota are generally good. Teachers are mostly paid a decent wage.

So, yeah, if you're a millionaire executive who needs an army of underpaid chauffeurs, maids, and cooks, send your kids to private schools where non-unionized teachers get paid peanuts, and buy lots of booze and tobacco, you don't want to live in Minneapolis. You want to live in a place where you can lord over those less fortunate than yourself. A place where you don't give a damn about what happens to the people who live there in five, ten or 20 years.

The cost of living has to be balanced with the quality of life. For example, US News' 2018 state rankings list Minnesota second in the nation for citizen outcomes. Minnesota consistently comes out on the high end of surveys that measure income and the health of average citizens.

Which is a far superior measure for society than how much millionaires can flaunt their wealth.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Surprise! A Russian's Behind the Facebook Data Breach!

There's a firestorm in Washington and London now with multiple senators and MPs calling for the CEOs of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to testify before various committees about the gigantic data breach at Facebook.

Cambridge Analytica worked with Trump campaign operative Steve Bannon to target users on Facebook. There have also been accusations that the data was used by Russian hackers to target users with fake news and to otherwise manipulate American voters.

The Trump campaign denies there was any collusion. But if you dig a tiny bit, you learn that Cambridge Analytica didn't actually write the code that stole the data, it was a company called GSR (great acronym, right?). The guy who runs GSR is Aleksandr Kogan. When I saw that name a red flag immediately went up.

Who is Aleksandr Kogan?
Dr Kogan – who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan – is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didn’t know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks”. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.
There are other dramatic documents in Wylie’s stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: “We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that “they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections” but that they were “failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers”. The work, he said, would be “shared with the CEO of the business”, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov. 
British researchers working for a Russian professor in England were discussing American elections in a sales pitch to a Russian oil company run by a pal of Vladimir Putin. And then those same people worked with the Trump campaign to target American voters.

If it looks like collision, if it quacks like collusion, it is collusion.

But let's fire Andrew McCabe so we can yell about the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's emails instead.

The NRA Hearts Russia

The FEC is now looking in to whether or not the NRA colluded with Russia to tip the election towards Donald Trump's favor. Here's the best part...

Under FEC procedures, the preliminary investigation is likely to require the NRA to turn over closely guarded internal documents and campaign finance records. Depending on what FEC investigators and lawyers find, the agency could launch a full-blown investigation, impose fines or even make criminal referrals to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, people familiar with the probe said.

Closely guarded internal documents...campaign finance records...this is starting to smell an awful lot like what was the beginning of the end of the tobacco industry.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Teacher in a Gun Store

Quote of the Day

"Yet this uprising of the young against the ossified, monolithic power of the National Rifle Association has reminded me that the flaws of youth — its ignorance, naïveté and passionate, Manichaean idealism — are also its strengths. Young people have only just learned that the world is an unfair hierarchy of cruelty and greed, and it still shocks and outrages them. They don’t understand how vast and intractable the forces that have shaped this world really are and still think they can change it. Revolutions have always been driven by the young."

---Tim Kreider, from "Go Ahead,Milennials, Destroy Us." 

Friday, March 16, 2018

How Russian Trolls Operate

The above is a very informative video that all of us should use as a benchmark in online discussions. I don't engage in comments with anyone that I don't know personally anymore.

This video also makes me wonder if the former commenters here were actual US citizens are troll farm douchebags. It certainly would make a lot of sense. Even if they weren't, they are still doing the bidding of totalitarians which I find fucking hilarious.

Their hatred of liberals trumps everything else, including being loyal to their country.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Real" Democrats

Since Pennsylvania's special election for a seat vacated by Tim Murphy -- who resigned after it came to light he demanded his mistress have an abortion -- Republicans have been trying to paint the humiliating loss as a win.

Their claim is that the winner, Conor Lamb, isn't a "real" Democrat because he is pro-life, pro-gun and doesn't like Nancy Pelosi.

Let's take these claims one at a time.

Lamb, a Roman Catholic, considers himself "pro-life" because he personally opposes abortion, but he thinks that women should be able to choose for themselves. I'm basically in that same camp: even though we never wanted kids, if my wife had become pregnant I wouldn't have wanted her to have an abortion. Unless she wanted to, or the fetus tested positive for serious birth defects, or if the pregnancy would harm her health.

Most Republicans who consider themselves "pro-life" are actually just anti-abortion, which is really code for denying women control over their own bodies. As Tim Murphy showed, Republicans are all for abortion when it's convenient for them.

But to say that Republicans are pro-life is a joke. Republicans are all for the death penalty. They think people should be able to buy guns and shoot people on the street. They heartily endorse George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin. How very pro-life of them.

When Trump was in Pennsylvania ostensibly campaigning for the Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate, he proposed the death penalty for drug dealers. I can't find anything describing Lamb's stance on the death penalty, but the Catholic Church is very much opposed to it, and that's where Lamb takes his cues on moral issues. Trump is now taking his cues from a murderous dictator in the Philippines who has had thousands of people killed without trial. How very fascist of him.

On guns, Lamb says that we don't need new laws, we just need to have better background checks. He also said he's open to other measures, but wants to start on issues that have broad agreement. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the NRA's guns everywhere-all-the-time stance. It sounds like he will vote for reasonable limits on firearms if they are brought before the House, which is exactly what the vast majority of Americans want.

And Nancy Pelosi? You don't have to support Nancy Pelosi, the senior Democrat in the House, to be a real Democrat. She's too old, too easily ridiculed, and not the best spokeswoman for the Democratic Party. I think we would be served better by someone younger, who connects with more Americans and isn't the punch line to every Republican joke.

Saying that Nancy Pelosi's time has passed isn't disloyalty, it's acknowledging reality.

And if you want to talk disloyalty, just look at the behavior of Republicans over the past several years with respect to their House leaders.

How many Republicans wanted the head of fellow Republican House Speaker John on a pike? Boehner was forced out of office by angry conservative Tea Party Republicans for not being a big enough dickhead.

How many Republicans right now, today, want the head of Paul Ryan -- the current speaker of the House -- on a pike? Many of them have never forgiven Ryan for refusing to defend Trump's disgusting behavior during the 2016 election. As recently as last October they were writing political obituaries for Ryan.

Real Democrats represent the people of the districts that elect them. Real Republicans consistently represent the Republican party line, which is dictated by the moneyed interests of corporate America.

Conor Lamb represents a right-of-center district in Pennsylvania, so that's how he rolls. Pelosi represents a liberal district in California, so that's how she rolls. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator, represents the centrist views of most Minnesotans. So that's how she rolls.

Democrats from different parts of the country will have different interests because their constituents do, so it's natural that they won't all agree on everything. But they'll work together to find a solution that won't give everyone exactly what they want, but everyone can live with.

That's how democracy is supposed to work.

Republicans, on the other hand, all back Donald Trump and his mo-money tax cuts for oil barons and Wall Street bankers. They back the dismantling of the EPA, allowing the fossil fuel industry to pump more poisons into our air and water. They want to sell off the national parks to mining interests. They want to eliminate Dodd-Frank so Wall Street can repeat the Great Depression of 2008. They want to take away health care for all Americans and destroy the public school system.

Some of them, like my Republican representative, Eric Paulsen, aren't bombastic in their support for Trump's outrageous policies, but they quietly vote for Trump's agenda every time.

The Democratic Party represents all of America, while the Republican Party represents a tiny sliver of the elites. Republicans seem to be so hung up on the idea of duty to party that they'll blindly follow Donald Trump into an authoritarian nightmare, because for them "loyalty" is more important than doing the right thing.

But, as we've seen, Donald Trump is loyal to no one. He constantly insults and stabs his allies in the back. He is immoral, selfish and narcissistic. He lies constantly, and then brags about lying.

From this we can see that Republican loyalty isn't real loyalty, it's fear. Republicans are just knuckling under to bullies -- Trump, campaign contributors, oil barons, Wall Street bankers -- because they're too cowardly to do the right thing for the people they're supposed to represent.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

This Is What Happens When You Put Guns in Schools

One of the keystones in the NRA/Republican reaction to mass shootings is the delusion that more guns make us safer. This is what happens when you put guns in schools:
A teacher who is also a reserve police officer trained in firearm use accidentally discharged a gun Tuesday at Seaside High School in Monterey County, Calif., during a class devoted to public safety. A male student was reported to have sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
Apparently the student was struck in the neck by some kind of shrapnel when the teacher fired the weapon into the ceiling, making sure that the gun wasn't loaded.

What an idiot! If he'd been at home he could have shot his own child sleeping in the bed upstairs.

You never, ever, ever pull the trigger to make sure a gun is unloaded. To do that, you unload the weapon! For a semi-automatic you remove the magazine, pull back the slide and check for a round in the chamber. If you do this wrong you can shoot yourself, like this ATF agent.

For double-action revolvers you swing out the cylinder and push the extractor rod to force the rounds out. Unloading a single-action revolver (a 170-year-old design that requires pulling back the hammer for each shot) is more complicated and more error-prone, and involves pushing each round out separately. To make matters worse, most revolvers don't have safeties.

The teacher did not have clearance to have a weapon on campus. What the hell was this clown thinking?
Exactly why the teacher was displaying the weapon at all was not entirely clear. Police said he was “providing instruction related to public safety.”

The father told KSBW that the teacher was preparing to use the gun to show how to disarm someone.
Why would anyone in their right mind use a real gun loaded with real rounds for a demonstration? A bright orange plastic water pistol would do the job. If more realism is required, an air gun with the same look and heft would be far safer -- though as we all know from The Christmas Story, you can still shoot your eye out. Or use a decommissioned gun with a plugged barrel.

Most guns are seriously defective products with antiquated design flaws.
This incident points out a major design flaw in firearms design: you can't tell when they're loaded. Guns are not only inherently dangerous, they're seriously defective products with antiquated design flaws that magnify that danger.

Pretty much every product -- from cars, to computers, to microwave ovens, to chainsaws -- has some sort of indicator to show that it is turned on. But not guns.

When you pick up a gun, you have no idea whether it'll go off. Many guns have safeties, but if the safety's off, there's generally no way to tell by looking at a gun whether there's a round in the chamber. For this reason, every single day across the country there are dozens if not hundreds of accidental firearms discharges, even among seasoned professionals like cops and firearms instructors.

Most guns were designed more than a century ago (even modern semiautomatic handguns are clones of the Colt 1911). If there are going to be guns in schools, they should be designed with safety first and foremost. Such guns should have an easily visible indicator of a chambered round and a display for the number of shots remaining in the magazine.

Furthermore, guns in schools should be limited to firing only for authorized personnel ("smart guns"). This would prevent students and perpetrators from stealing and using them.

Almost 500 people were killed in accidental shootings in 2015, and thousands more were injured. The exact number of non-fatal injuries isn't really known, because those statistics aren't tracked -- intentionally, by Congressional order. But they result in billions of dollars of lost wages, as well as health care and funeral expenses.

The NRA has resisted the very idea of smart guns for years. I don't know exactly why: their backers, the firearms industry, would stand to profit handsomely if they could get every gun owner to melt down their old weapons and replace them with safer modern firearms.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The people that cry "fake news" are the ones actually putting it out there

This headline was not surprising.

Informant had no evidence Clinton benefited from uranium sale: Democrats

“Mr. Campbell identified no evidence that Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton, or anyone from the Obama Administration took any actions as a result of Russian requests or influence,” the summary says.

It's easy for them to lie because they have so many hate filled assholes that believe them.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How To Buy A Gun In Japan

 Japan 1Take a firearm class and pass a written exam, which is held up to three times a year. 2Get a doctor’s note saying you are mentally fit and do not have a history of drug abuse. 3Apply for a permit to take firing training, which may take up to a month. 4Describe in a police interview why you need a gun. 5Pass a review of your criminal history, gun possession record, employment, involvement with organized crime groups, personal debt and relationships with friends, family and neighbors. 6Apply for a gunpowder permit. 7Take a one-day training class and pass a firing test. 8Obtain a certificate from a gun dealer describing the gun you want. 9If you want a gun for hunting, apply for a hunting license. 10Buy a gun safe and an ammunition locker that meet safety regulations. 11Allow the police to inspect your gun storage. 12Pass an additional background review. 13Buy a gun.

Some countries require buyers to accurately hit a target or demonstrate safe handling procedures.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Trump Tariffs Hurt America, Europe, and South America, Boost Russia

Donald Trumps imposition of global tariffs on steel and aluminum (except for Mexico and Canada) makes no sense.

First off, China is the real villain on metals, and there are already sanctions in place on China for dumping. Trump dismisses this, saying that China is shipping steel through other countries, getting around the existing tariffs. But Trump's own commerce department says only 2% of our steel comes from China.

There's no evidence of any significant transshipping of Chinese steel. And there's no motive for anyone to do it -- there are significant criminal penalties, and competitors are extremely eager to rat you out.

Second, the tariffs will hurt American industry. Wilbur Ross made ridiculous claims about how little steel is used when he said that the price of a $2 can of soup will only go up .6 cents because of the tariffs.

Remember the huge infrastructure projects Trump promised? You know, all the oil pipelines, buildings, roads and bridges Trump will make happen? Those projects literally use tons and tons and tons of steel. They'll all cost a lot more if the price of steel goes up 25%.

Third, it will take a while before American steel producers can ramp up production. And when they do, they'll increase their prices, by probably 20%. Because they can. Giving American producers a monopoly on steel will make everything artificially cost more.

Fourth, other American businesses will take a direct hit from this. Not just from the tariffs that Europe will put on Harley Davidson motorcycles (which will cost more to make because of pricier steel and aluminum), jeans and other signature American products. But because American industry supplies foreign steel producers with raw materials.

For example, Brazil imports metallurgical coal from the United States for use in steel manufacturing. Minnesota exports iron ore and other raw materials used to make steel. Trump's tariffs will hurt all those miners he promised to help during the campaign.

The United States was on track to be a net energy exporter by 2022, but if Trump continues this foolishness for any length of time, that would hurt American natural gas and petroleum exporters, as those industries are natural targets for tariffs in a world that is oversupplied with fossil fuels.

Finally, who really benefits from these tariffs? Russia.

After insulting our European allies for years, Trump is again widening the rifts between the United States and the rest of the world. That inevitably means that Russia gains more power. Europe will drop sanctions against Russia to buy Russian oil and natural gas.

Trump doesn't seem to be colluding with Russia as much as he's a puppet following Putin's orders to hurt America's standing in the world.

The reason that the United States has a trade deficit in the first place is that we are a very rich country. Other countries are able to make steel cheaper than America because their people are poor.

So, yes, Trump's tariffs will eventually eliminate the trade deficit, as American wages drop to the same level as workers in Russia, Brazil, China and Vietnam.

What a lovely vision of the future Trump paints: all the workers in the world making the same dismally low salaries.

If you don't think that's what's on the minds of Trump's cronies in big business, just look at what the stock market does every time the jobs report indicates wage increases (stocks tank) and stagnant wages (stocks soar).

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Militia or Not?

Some gun enthusiasts claim that, rather than granting the people of the several States the right to form Armed Militias, the Second Amendment provides an individual an untrammeled right to own and carry guns. They are not, these people claim, members of the Militia.

You may be able legitimately make this argument if you use your guns only within confines of your home and property and never take them outside. But as soon as you arrogate yourself the right to shoot people outside your home, you are performing the function of the militia, which these days is essentially the police.

But the gun nuts of the NRA do not stop at their property line. They demand the right to carry guns anywhere they want, any time they want -- except at NRA conventions and Trump rallies.

They claim they can shoot people outside their homes, like the Louisiana man who killed a Japanese student who knocked on his front door.  They claim they can patrol the streets and don't have to back down when they pull their guns on people minding their own business. They consider George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin a righteous act. But patrolling the streets is a police function.

They claim they need guns to protect themselves as they drive along traffic-clogged streets and interstates. This frequently results in road rage incidents, like the shooting David Michael Keene was found guilty of in 2008. Keene is the son of David A. Keene, who was a member of the NRA board of directors at the time.

They claim they need guns to protect themselves from muggers while walking down the street, though muggers will nearly always get the drop on you and take your weapon from you. They then pivot to the idea that they will protect others who being accosted by muggers. This is a function of the police.

They claim, as Donald Trump implied during the meeting where he asserted the right to confiscate guns from people without due process, that they need guns to rush into schools and stop shooters. This is a function of the police. Except when they sit outside the school and do nothing.

If individuals are taking it upon themselves to perform the functions of the police, they are claiming the right to deputize themselves as members of the police.

If they are protecting the public, then they are either members of the "Militia" -- the armed citizenry -- or they are lawless vigilantes.

So, if you've got a gun, and consider yourself as a protector of your fellow citizens, then state and federal governments have the right to regulate your use of that gun. They can impose the same kind of licensing, training and storage requirements that they impose on members of the military and the police force.

Otherwise gun owners are just a bunch of lawless vigilantes. The idea that any random moron should be able to wave deadly weapons around on the streets and in churches and bars (!) without any restrictions is, at best, catastrophically naive.

This is why the Heller decision is restricted to guns in the home and nothing more. The justices were angling for a "Castle Doctrine" excuse to prevent the District of Columbia from stopping people from owning handguns.

But this completely ignores the reality of handguns. They can be taken outside the home. DC was trying to prevent carnage in the streets from too many handguns in circulation. The activist conservative justices completely ignored reality to cook up a legal excuse for a political quid pro quo on guns.

They did the same thing when they ruled corporations can contribute unlimited amounts of cash to political campaigns with Citizens United. It is catastrophically naive to assume that wealthy corporations -- which are often owned by foreign interests -- would never buy politicians and spend anyone who opposes them into the ground.

These two decisions were overt political acts, overturning decades and centuries of legal precedents, and have engendered a horrible climate of fear and division in this country.

Nixon's Chief Justice on the Second Amendment

Let's hear what Warren Burger, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon in 1969, has to say about the Second Amendment (via NPR):

In the interview Burger said:
This [the Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.
Burger goes so far as to say that he would not have included the Second Amendment if the Bill of Rights were being written today, but that is unnecessary: the Constitution clearly grants the Congress and the President the authority to regulate Arms.

In particular, the Second Amendment grants "the people" the right to bear Arms. The people is a collective noun that does not mean all persons. Where the Constitution means an individual person, it says a person. For example:
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.
Don't you just love that "importation of such Persons" and the ten-dollar tariff part?
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State. 
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. 
This last paragraph illustrates the difference between the people and a person. The Second Amendment grants the right of the collective people (i.e., the Militia of a State) to bear arms, but persons cannot be denied life, liberty, property and equal protection of the laws.

If the Second Amendment meant every person can own whatever guns they hanker for, it would have been written without any preamble about Militias and States, thusly: "The right of a Person to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." It does not say that.

Congress can pass laws as Congress sees fit to regulate Arms, and all individuals must be treated equally under those laws. The government cannot deprive persons of lawfully owned Arms without due process.

The Second Amendment does not grant an individual the absolute right to own any kind of weapon, including hand guns, AR-15s, hand grenades or nuclear weapons, or the right to carry guns around wherever they feel like it in order to threaten others. It grants the people of the States' Militias the right to bear Arms, as regulated by the Congress.

Congress can pass gun laws. States can pass gun laws. The Heller decision acknowledged that states can regulate guns, it simply ruled that the District of Columbia went too far in banning handgun ownership in the home.

In essence, Heller says that regulating gun ownership is just a matter of degree. The error in Heller is in denying the state's right (remember states' rights?) to decide what that degree is.

The conservative justices who decided Heller were using the Second Amendment as a lame excuse to prevent the District of Columbia from stopping them from keeping guns under their pillows.

I'm not a liberal, wild-eyed gun-confiscating nut: all I'm saying is that federal and state governments have the right to pass laws that regulate gun ownership. Those laws should include those that make sure that the persons who own guns are not criminal or violent, and are mentally stable and competent in firearm use; that weapons in private hands are not overly dangerous; and that weapons are properly stored so that children and unstable people can't steal or otherwise access them.

If you want a wild-eyed, gun-confiscating nut look up this guy named Donald Trump: he thinks that he can seize people's guns without due process.

Monday, March 05, 2018

How To Buy A Gun in Israel

 Israel 1Join a shooting club, or prove that you live or work in a dangerous area authorized for gun ownership, including certain settlements.2Get a doctor’s note saying you have no mental illness or history of drug abuse. 3Install a gun safe. 4Release your criminal and mental health history to the authorities. 5Buy a gun and a limited supply of bullets, usually around 50. 6Demonstrate that you can use your gun or a similar gun at a firing range before taking it home.

Many countries, including Israel, also allow people with certain jobs to more easily obtain guns, including security, research and pest control.

Trump Using Tariffs for Extortion

Donald Trump announced that he's going to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, annoying pretty much everyone except a small minority of nutjobs. 

The stock market has reacted quite negatively. Most Republicans have reacted negatively. All our allies have reacted negatively. Pretty much every economist has blasted the move. So why is Brain-Dead Donald (his new nickname -- everyone is using it!) imposing tariffs?

Trump plans to use the tariffs to extort campaign contributions from companies:
A top trade adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday a process will be in place for businesses to get exemptions from the White House plan to place steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, offering the first indication a tariff hike could be less broad than first thought.
Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, said countries will not be excluded from the tariffs because that would become a slippery slope, but there will be a mechanism for corporate exemptions in some cases. 
What will that mechanism be? They haven't said. But we can only assume, since this is Donald Trump, that it will involve secret contributions to his presidential campaign and patronizing Trump businesses.

And even though Navarro said that countries will not be exempt, Trump has already said that Canada and Mexico will be exempted if they do what he wants on NAFTA. Which is blatant, naked extortion.

Pretty much everything Trump does as president includes a component that allows him to profit personally.

Trump is the poster boy for corruption.

Site Policies

Our site traffic has increased a great deal here at Zombie Politics over the last couple of months so I thought it might be a good time to review our comments policies. Here is the link to my original post on comments and how they will be moderated. Let's review the main points.

Comments that refute points or ideas presented in the posts or by other commenters are just fine. Criticisms about groups of people (liberals are all blah blah blah...conservatives are all blah blah blah) are also acceptable. Criticism about public figures are fine (Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim! John Boehner is a corporate shill!) as well. Personal remarks about posters or other commenters that take the form of insults, childish baiting, answering questions with questions or arguments about arguments will not be allowed.

In short, no trolling. This was a recent comment I had to delete.

Nowhere else in The Constitution does "The People" mean anything other than ALL THE PEOPLE. The law has never once been applied in this country to deny people the right to bear arms based on militia membership. Heller simply stated the obvious, de facto reality we've all been living under for the last 200+ years. The tortured mental gymnastics you had to go to try and make your argument are laughable. You don't want to try to repeal the 2nd amendment because you know you can't. You're also not going to neuter it with this militia nonsense. Get fucked.

The first part was fine. The bolded part was not. It was childish, baiting, insulting and made an argument about an argument. Those comments will be deleted.

Any questions or concerns, please use the comment form on the right side of the site. Thanks and welcome new readers!

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Norwegian Oil Company's Floating Wind Farm

When it comes to wind power people come up with the most ridiculous complaints. 

One is that it "wastes" land. This one is a complete crock, as most wind farms are sited on productive farmland in places like Iowa and Minnesota.

Another is that wind kills birds. It does, by the hundreds of thousands. However, glass buildings -- like all the hotels and office buildings that Donald Trump owns -- kill billions of birds every year. Cats kill an additional two or so billion birds in the United States alone.

Another is that wind power is unsightly. What's more unsightly: A) tall, graceful turbines spinning in the wind, B) giant smokestacks spewing thick, black, sulfer-laden coal smoke, or C) nuclear power towers built along rivers and lakes, emitting huge gouts of slightly radioactive steam.

Well, the Norwegian oil company has a solution: offshore floating wind turbines.
The world's first commercial floating offshore wind farm, called Hywind, started sending electricity to the grid last October. Since then, the six-turbine, 30MW installation has been working well. Really well. In fact, Hywind has had a 65-percent capacity factor over the last three months according to Statoil, the Norwegian mega-corporation that built the wind farm off the coast of Scotland. (Capacity factor measures a generation unit's actual output against its theoretical maximum output. A capacity factor of 100 percent means the wind farm would be sending 30MW of power to the grid every minute of every day since it's been in operation.)
That 65% capacity factor is higher than land-based wind and solar, and greater than many hydroelectric facilities, which have an average of 45% capacity. Since the wind is stronger and more consistent during the winter, Hywind's figure will be lower for the full year.

The wind farm is 15 miles offshore, eliminating all the complaints about wasting land, killing birds and being unsightly.

It uses the same technology that oil drilling uses: a floating platform anchored to the seafloor with suction anchors. This allows the platforms to withstand high winds and hurricanes, just as oil platforms do:
In October, the proximity of Hurricane Ophelia exposed Hywind to wind speeds of 125 km/h (80 mph), and later in December, another storm delivered "gusts in excess of 160 km/h (100 mph) and waves in excess of 8.2 m (27 ft)."
If you compare this success story to the abject failure that was the Kemper "clean coal" facility, which has now been abandoned after wasting billions of dollars, it becomes clear that the future of energy is renewables.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Overturn DC vs. Heller, Not the Second Amendment

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, there have been many calls to repeal the Second Amendment. This is completely unnecessary, as the Second Amendment itself reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The key phrases are "well regulated Militia," a "free State" and "the people." It's clear from context that "the people" are the Militia of the State, not an individual person. Furthermore, if you scan the Constitution for the word "Militia," you'll find these references that describe the powers that the President and the federal Congress have over the militias:
The Congress shall have the power to ...

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. 
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. 
From these references it's clear that the Congress is responsible for arming, disciplining and training the Militia, i.e., the people armed by Second Amendment. The President is the Commander in Chief of the Militia of the several States. The Militia in these times is the National Guard.

All this means that the federal government has the right and responsibility to regulate the Arms and discipline the people in the Militia who keep and bear those Arms.

Speculation about what the Founding Fathers "really meant" or what English common law said about owning arms should irrelevant to strict conservative constructionists who claim to abide by the letter of the Constitution.

Even if you don't agree that one needs to be a member of the National Guard to keep Arms (i.e., we're all citizen soldiers), it's clear that the Constitution indicates that the President and Congress have the right to regulate Arms and impose training and discipline on people who keep and bear arms. If you've got a gun, you've got to obey the laws imposed by the Congress and enforced by the President.

Which means Congress can pass laws to regulate or ban dangerous weapons in civilian hands -- AR-15s, silencers, machine guns, hand grenades, and kevlar vests. Congress can discipline those who bear Arms by requiring licensing and training, or barring incompetent or unstable individuals from keeping Arms.

Furthermore, since the Second Amendment is concerned with the security of a free State, the States should be able regulate Arms as they see fit. The Second Amendment is about states' rights, after all. If States want tighter gun laws than the Congress imposes, they should be able to have them, just as they can have tighter laws for automobiles, gambling, pollution regulation, health care and most anything else.

This was the view of Constitutional scholars -- and even the NRA -- for two centuries. And then, some time in the 1970s, the NRA went off their rockers and began clamoring for an unlimited ability to murder and maim. The 2008 DC vs. Heller Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual right to bear Arms was not a Constitutional decision, it was a political act of conservative justices kowtowing to a tiny minority of Americans and the arms industry.

The Second Amendment doesn't need to be repealed: the illegitimate DC vs. Heller decision simply needs to be overturned.

How To Buy A Gun In Australia

 Australia 1Join and regularly attend a hunting or shooting club, or document that you’re a collector. 2Complete a course on firearm safety and operation, and pass a written test and practical assessment. 3Arrange firearm storage that meets safety regulations. 4Pass a review that considers criminal history, domestic violence, restraining orders and arrest history. Authorities may also interview your family and community members. 5Apply for a permit to acquire a specific type of weapon. 6Wait at least 28 days.7Buy the specific type of gun you received a permit for.

In response to a 1996 mass shooting, Australia made guns a privilege, not a right. Gun owners must provide a valid reason for owning a weapon, such as farming or hunting, and gun clubs must inform the authorities of inactive members.